Book Review | Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull

Imagine a world on the fringes of our own where imagination can create real things. Now allow me to tell you that such a world exists (possibly because you imagined it) between the covers of Brandon Mull‘s Five Kingdoms series.

sky_raidersIn Sky Raiders, the first of the series, Cole follows his kidnapped friends into the Outskirts, made up of five kingdoms and populated by mysterious powers and people. It isn’t long before Cole is marked as a slave and drafted into the dangerous service of the Sky Raiders, a cross between flying pirates and a salvaging crew. With flying castles, magical objects, and a mysterious power running rampant in the Outskirts, Mull knows how to create a captivating fantasy world.

This should come as no surprise to readers of his previous series, Fablehaven (reviewed here) and the Beyonders (which is next on my reading list). In Five Kingdoms, Brandon Mull seems to borrow some familiar fantasy elements (flying ships, pirates, and swords from Peter Pan, magical objects from the Brothers Grimm, and a ragtag group of misfits from every teen fantasy ever written), but he infuses them with new life and wonder.

Sky Raiders is a quick-paced adventure and a delightful read. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in teen fantasy in general and well-written teen fantasy in specific.

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?

2013 Holiday Gift Guide for Teen Readers

I rarely emerge from my office at work, especially during the holiday season. There’s too great a chance that I’ll be stopped by a customer and asked a question for which I have no good answer. That’s the problem with working off the floor at a bookstore, I’m mostly oblivious when it comes to knowing things like product location and which book is Karen Kingsbury’s latest. I could probably solve that by visiting the sales floor more often, but again, that raises the chance that I’ll be asked a question by a customer. It’s a vicious cycle of ignorance, but I’m pretty happy inside of it.

That is, until I get thrown under the bus by my coworkers. It’s happened twice in the last week that one of my coworkers has called me out to the sales floor to help a customer with a product recommendation. Fortunately, the customers in question were trying to find books for their teenagers and my coworker knows that I read a lot of YA Fiction. In each instance, I was able to guide the customers to some products that might suite their needs.

I’d like to do the same for you. Here are my book recommendations for 2013.

For fans of the Hunger Games or Divergent

9781441261021The Staff and the Sword Series by Patrick Carr – Although getting into this series took me a few chapters, it wasn’t long before I was hooked. The first two books (A Cast of Stones & The Hero’s Lot) are available now and book three (A Draw of Kings) comes out sometime this Spring. Fans of the fast-paced, weapon-filled, society-on-the-brink-of-revolution genre will appreciate the struggles of Errol Stone as he tries to navigate each new threat, be it from foe or friend.

For fans of the Hobbit or Chronicles of Narnia

edge-bookThe Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson – First and foremost, Andrew Peterson is a gifted storyteller. Whether it comes through in his prolific musical career or his youth fiction, Peterson’s ability to incite mirth as well as sadness ranks him among the greats in fantasy literature. The first three books are out now, with the final installment coming this Spring.

For college-bound readers

4981 168668Catch-22 by Joseph Heller or Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – These books won’t be for everyone. To be honest, less than half the people to whom I have recommended them actually appreciate the message or the tenor of the writing. But these are classics for a reason. They are anti-war books that transcend specific grievances against military debacles and cause the reader to ask the age-old question central to growing up: Have I been sold a lie? These titles get to the core of what it means to be independent, so I’ll keep on recommending them to people. Because, whether you like them or not, they will make you grow up.

For a bit of Christmas fun

Hhogfatherbookogfather by Terry Pratchett – Things are a little different in the Discworld. For one thing, the world is flat and propels through space on the backs four elephants standing atop a giant turtle. For another, there is no Santa Claus. There is the Hogfather. And things are about to get messy when an “uncommonly psychotic member of the Assassin’s Guild” vows to kill the spirit of Hogswatchnight (Christmas) himself. This novel features some of my favorite characters (Death and his granddaughter Susan) in a clever and fun take on most wonderful time of the year.

As for recommendations for fans of books like Twilight and the like, I recommend reading better books. Hope this short list is helpful!

Innermost Secret 54 | The Final Secret (My Nose Job)

DSC00863The end is here. This is my final post in my Innermost Secrets series. It’s been fun reliving old memories from my days at Camp Manitou-Lin, but now it is time to say goodbye to them and start creating new and ever more horrifying secrets.

Want to start at the beginning? Try these: Innermost Secrets 1-8, 9-15, 16-21, 22, 23-27, 28-32, 33-37, 38-4243-48, and 49-53.

54th (and final) Innermost Secret

  • One time, I broke my face.

It happened while I was in high school. My church’s youth group was participating in some kind of multi-church event. The games were of a competitive nature. The winning church got more of God’s love. Just kidding. The winners just got bragging rights, which I guess means that they actually sinned more. Oh well.

Anyway, the game that broke my face was one played with a large ball, probably about four feet in diameter. Each of the four churches designated ten players to represent them. The players were organized by height along one of the four lines and assigned corresponding numbers (10=tallest, 1=shortest). Numbers were then called out and the people associated with them ran to the center of the square and tried to both prevent the giant ball from crossing their team’s line and get the giant ball across a different team’s line. When things got boring, multiple numbers were called.

It was during one of these boring moments when three numbers were called out. A small mob soon formed around the ball, and then it was airborne. Once it was up, the mob gathered below, all waving fists and elbows, anything to guide the ball away from their team’s line.

And then I made contact. Not with the ball, but with someone’s elbow. Possibly, it was the back of their head. At the flash of pain, I fought my way out of the scrum. When I touched my nose, my fingers came away red.

Now, nose bleeds and I are no strangers to each other. When I wrestled in middle school, not a practice went by without my nose leaking a bit of heart-juice. I would just wad up some toilet paper, shove it up my nose, and return to the mat.

When I saw the blood that night, I thought, Man, that’s really bleeding, but I didn’t think anything other than that. I excused myself to get some toilet paper from the bathroom. My trick about stuffing a was up my nose wasn’t working though. The flow was just too strong. I ended up pinching my nose shut and waiting for the flow to staunch itself.

After ten or fifteen minutes, it slowed enough for me to look in the mirror and assess the mess that I would need to clean up. But in looking at the bloody mess that lived below my nose, I noticed something else. My nose was no longer centered on my face. It was noticeably off, probably by half and inch or so.

When the event was over, my parents were called, and I went off to the emergency room. This wasn’t my first trip to the emergency room after a youth group event, and I feel bad for my youth pastor that he had to make at least two calls to my parents that preceded hospital visits for me.

The doctor who looked over my x-rays said about the least helpful thing a doctor could say, which was to state the obvious. “It’s broken,” he said. I knew that, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I asked. “Well,” he said, “in a little while, we’ll have to re-break it and set it properly so you can breathe normally through it again.”

Great.

By the time we left the hospital, my nose no longer hurt. It just looked strange. I imagined that I looked ruggedly handsome in a way, but that didn’t really help the breathing issue.

I soon met with the Otolaryngologist  (Ear, Nose & Throat Doc), and we scheduled my nose job over Christmas break, so I wouldn’t have to miss any school while I healed. Very thoughtful, I thought. I mean, what kid wants to miss school?

By the way, my nose doctor’s name was Dr. Nosanov. I just think that’s funny. Okay, back to the story.

For the surgery, I got to be put all the way under. I remember hearing Simon and Garfunkel playing when I started counting backwards and wondering if I would wake up thinking about the same thing as when I went under the anesthetic. When I woke up, I wasn’t thinking that. I was thinking about the episode of Seinfeld when Jerry goes to the dentist, gets anesthesia, and wakes up to blurry images of what he thinks are people just putting their clothes back on. Thus, I thought, “I hope people aren’t having sex in front me,” as I woke.

My second thought was one of discomfort. The initial break had taken only a second and within an hour, my nose no longer hurt. The surgery left me with two black eyes, swelling so bad that I couldn’t see or hear well, no sense of smell (my nose had been packed with gauze and between my ears, a little sling had been fashioned to catch anything that dripped out), and no sense of taste. In fact, the only sense that was working well was touch, and since the only thing I could feel was pain, it was the one I wanted least.

The rest of my Christmas vacation was pretty grim, but by the end of it, the swelling had gone down enough to hear and see and such. I went back to the doctor to get my gauze out and he said that it would take a little while for all of the swelling to go away.

I don’t remember how long it took, but when the swelling did go all the way down, I was in for another surprise. As shocked as I was to see my nose on the wrong side of my face when it broke, I was more shocked when I looked in the mirror and saw that my nose, though centered, was a stranger to me.

Before the surgery, my nose had something that I like to call, “The Mosey Bump”. My brother had it, my father had it, and his father before him. In the picture below, you can see it quite clearly. It was quite a feature.

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The Infamous Before.

But after the surgery, my bump was gone. Where once stood a mogul, now I had a clear ski slope. I had gone under thinking that the doctor was just going to straighten things out, but apparently, once he got in there, he couldn’t help himself and he just had to make my nose prettier.

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The Beautiful After (I’m on the right)

It wasn’t until I got a chance to read through the surgery notes (which I had procured for my Army ROTC scholarship documentation) that I learned what happened to my Mosey Bump. It fell victim to a tool called a Bone Scraper. I kid you not. It didn’t even stand a chance.

Now, I’m fine with my new nose. That happened quite a while ago and I’m used to it. When I see pictures of the old nose, that is the one that looks strange to me. But now I have children of my own, and I fear for them. What happens if they inherit the Mosey Bump and start thinking that they are not mine? What if they want to get some kind of plastic surgery, like their old man had?

Oh well. All that for another day I guess. Sorry for the long post, but it was the last of my Innermost Secrets and I wanted to do it justice. Also, unlike many of my secrets, this story is all true, so the details were just sitting there, ripe for the writing.

Thanks for reading!