Top 5 Children’s Fantasy Book Series for Your Kids

Hi folks! Hope everyone is still taking the time to take care of themselves. Things are still really tough, so I figured I’d give an easy breeze of content this week. Let’s leave the logistics of this semester’s academic season behind and just kinda talk about books for your kids and family! Maybe some kids are readers at home, or maybe some students just need a new book to pick up, right? It’s 2020, and I can guarantee you kids are bored of the Harry Potter books and movies, or maybe Percy Jackson wasn’t cool enough. Maybe the pre-teens don’t like all those intense YA books like The Hunger Games, or Divergent, and are sick and tired of The Maze Runner always running the maze! (That’s a joke, that’s not how the book goes.)

Anyway, this year has definitely made me feel old, and has got me reminiscing over some of the books I grew up reading, and it made me want to share my top five children’s sci-fi fantasy books!

NUMBER FIVE – Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant

A Fun Horror Mystical Romp

A tale for those who thrive on mystic endeavors into the secret unknown, Skulduggery Pleasant was one of those classic middle-grade novel series. Focusing on a young girl named Stephanie Edgely and her sudden apprenticeship under the mysterious detective, Skulduggery Pleasant. And yes; he is an ancient magical skeleton. Pretty rad stuff. The first book had humor, dark fantasy elements, and an expansive mystical world built in London that can keep readers shuffling through the dozens of books in this series. A fantastic series to start any young reader on that may love this genre.

NUMBER FOUR – Jeff Smith’s Bone

Fantastic High Fantasy Comic Series

This comic series might actually be the first comic I ever picked up. Forget the superheroes, and forget the manga, because these old school fantasy comics made up the hot wave of middle-grade literature in the late 90’s. Aside from maybe one character smoking a tobacco cigar, this series is a great pickup for a young reader who loves treasure hunting high-fantasy stories about a Chosen one taking on magic evildoers to protect the villagers’ home. A great series for middle-grade readers on that can help them branch out into reading fantasy novels and Western comic books.

NUMBER THREE – Michael Scott’s The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

This Book Series Has Groovy Historic References

So, for those of you who read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, this book series takes the legend of that philosopher, Nicholas Flamel, and brings him to the modern era where he mentors a pair of twins with his wife in their small little bookstore. When other ancient evil immortals track Flamel down, they steal a book that contains most of his hidden secrets, and the twins are then thrown into a race across the country, meeting many magical and historically well-known characters in the series like Joan of Arc, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, and Mars, the Roman God of War. This series explores fantasy magic, sci-fi mythos and ancient legends that make Harry Potter seem like a snore fest. Highly recommend this series for any fantasy lovers and readers who love history.

NUMBER TWO – Z Brewer’s The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod

Perfect Teen Angst and Drama

This series is a classic. Yes, it is a teen vampire book series, but it stands out from the other cheesy vampire romances; The Chronicles of Vladimir Todd has humor, angst, and intense drama that kept me as a reader wanting more and more. The lore of vampirism, and even being half-vampire (which is interpreted as a culture in a very neat way) doesn’t feel dramatized or even forced in this series. Vlad’s story is just the story of a young teenager struggling to get by in a really difficult life, given his circumstances; between murderous teachers and students, to vampire hunters, and the general anxieties and depressions behind being an orphaned kid in a small town. It became a bit of a comfort series to read for me as a young kid, if I’m being honest. I feel as though other kids might enjoy this series as well, and would definitely recommend this to others as well.

NUMBER ONE – M.T. Anderson’s The Game of Sunken Places

“The Game of Sunken Places” by M.T. Anderson

M.T. Anderson’s The Game of Sunken Places was an amazing children’s fantasy novel because of the sheer imagination and concept behind it. It’s like Jumanji, but with three times the mysteries and plot twists, with dangers and terror that made this fantasy sci-fi book series a wildly underrated top tier series. With a game that two boys come across during a vacation trip, they discover that the rules of the game aren’t so clear after all, and if they don’t work together, then they may not make it out alive. M.T. Anderson deserves more praise for this series than he’s ever gotten, and it stays firmly on top of this list of fantasy children’s book series.


And there you have it. Some great new sci-fi fantasy children’s books to pick up (for you or your kids) and not a moment too soon either, which each of these carrying enough spooky vibes to make this fall a great reading season! Thanks for sticking around, folks. Stay safe, and stay lovely ✨

Super-Gods, Sick Mixtapes, and a Surreal Universe: Leaders of the Free World Review (#1 – #2)

If Gods blessed you with powers, would that make you one? Or does that just place you on a tier-level below the source of your abilities? It’s okay, don’t dwell on the existential question for too long, because thankfully we’ve got the answers for you. Hi, folks, and thank you for being patient with this anticipated post (just getting back to the day job grind) and welcome to my first ever Official Stars and Monsters comic review!

I was honored to be offered an opportunity to review the comic series Leaders of the Free World by one of the creative minds behind it, Corey Pruitt (better known as Task on Twitter) and quite frankly, it might have been the one of my most exciting experiences since the initial launch of this blog. Task is not only a comic writer, but also a podcast host on Supersuit Show, but also a major source of influence in the vortex that is the comic twitter community (Spider-Man fans hate Spider-Man, it’s the truth!) Task allowed me to preview his first two issues of his series, drawn by Elijah Johnson (also known as @artbyatlas0 on Twitter), and share some of my thoughts on Leaders of the Free World #1 and #2. So without further ado, let’s jump right into it!

Leaders of the Free World #1 – “A Surreal World”

I dove right into the first issue with the same initial thought that new readers to any series worry about; “Will I be overwhelmed by the world that was built before me?” I suppose the breakdown of the Free World mythos stems from the origin of the Godsend, a group of super-powered gods who arrived to the planet, each instilling themselves in one nation, and essentially committing to their nation’s image, government policies. In return, the Godsend provided tech and knowledge to help advance the world, which inadvertently birthed a new generation of super-powered beings: the Archetypes, a less powerful group of people who created more conflict than safety in the world. After a war killed a third of the world’s population, the Godsend issued laws to limit an Archetype’s activity to only their respective country. This is the lore of Leaders of the Free World.

This series starts with an excellent brief look at the world’s history in the form of a history class, narrated by Surreal, a teenage Asian-American descendant of the an ancient god known as the Monkey King. He fits every relatable aspect of being a teen whose heritage holds more power than they realize. With great power comes great responsibility, and thankfully, we don’t have another Uncle Ben-esque character to reminds Surreal of that. Instead, he meets Eco, the Son of Gaia, who is a superstar wrestler with abilities drawn from, well, Gaia. When these two characters meet and share scenes together, there’s definitely an undeniable chemistry between the two when it comes to the hilarity in their bantering back and forth, and Eco’s unconditional support towards Surreal. The young Monkey King doesn’t know his own true worth yet, and thankfully, the powerful and wise Eco stands beside him from the very beginning, showing a kind of trust that makes me reminisce about the days when Luke Cage and Iron Fist teamed up in Marvel’s Heroes for Hire series.

“Timber”, Eco’s wrestling signature move. Also named after my dog.

As I continued through the issue, I enjoyed the spotlight on these two characters a lot, while also finding myself more enthralled by the joy in seeing Surreal’s old school hip hop playlist scattered across text-boxes in the comic. It creates an entertainingly new and fun experience in a comic book that feels as authentic as a classic comic series as you go through each panel. It was one of the things I was most excited about discussing with Task. When asked where the inspiration for this came from, Task said, “I always listen to music when I write. So I thought ‘What if each issue had its own soundtrack?’ It’s a way for the reader to see where my headspace was at during the creative process.” Nicely done, Task. We love it.

One of my other favorite story threads in this issue specifically included the introduction of Moonshine, the wildly erratic and drunken female superhero whose abilities appear to rival even Superman. It was just one of the many things I enjoyed in this first issue, and I could easily list more, but I have LOTS more to gush about!

Leaders of the Free World #2 – The Beginning’s of Freedom

Aright folks, this is my favorite issue of the two for sure! In Leaders of the Free World #2, we are introduced to my absolute pairing of characters in this set universe. Like Ying and Yang, we meet Medic and Doctor Seance. Medic is, well…if God was a woman, to put it perfectly. As an angel of war and peace, she’s a balance between life and death. In nothing but merely scrubs, she manages to kick enough ass to make Jessica Jones second guess her career as a comic book badass. Alongside her is Doctor Seance, an evil necromancer whose character visual design homages aspects of Robbie Reyes’s Ghost Rider, with a symbiotic relationship to Medic like that of Venom, and a sinister and calculating villain mind that crosses between Lex Luthor and the Batman Who Laughs. These two characters, joined together by a holy and flaming halo over Medic’s head, embark on a quest to join the other lead heroes as they prepare for a crisis of epic proportions.

This, however, prompted me to ask Task about the bonds between the various characters, like the development between Surreal and Eco, or between Medic and Doctor Seance. Task’s response was, “When I came up with the characters I had to ask myself ‘Who would get along the most? Who would hate each other?’ Surreal and Eco are both mythical beings born into a life that they never asked for. So they relate to each other the most. Medic and Seance have history that will be explored throughout the series. I don’t want to reveal everything now but let’s just say you will be surprised.”

Comics can mend ya heart, kid.

As I continued on in this issue, completely enthralled by the concept of Medic and Doctor Seance (and Surreal’s Mix scattered through this issue as well to help set the tone), we soon learn more about the hardships that some of these characters hold in their personal lives. Medic, being a superhero and all that, is still a medical doctor, and has a duty to both the world she saves and the world she inhabits. When she turns to work from battle, she unfortunately fails to save her patient’s life. She storms out, completely broken, and her coworker consoles her by stating a sad, but accurate fact of life. She says, “You can’t save everyone all the time.” When I read this comic panel, it was then that I knew this was going to continue to become a really powerful story, with a really exceptional writer behind this stunning and beautiful line work. And, just as the moment on the page was beautifully had, it was interrupted by a beautifully nostalgic shot…

*CUE FREEZE FRAME*

FREEZE FRAME!

The story returns to the initial group, with Surreal. Eco, Tech-Neek, and Moonshine briefly meeting, but it’s just as an invasion brews in the sky above them. From that, to their hilarious first encounter with Doctor Seance, we get really funny dialogue, awesome action sequences, and super dope nostalgic homages to things in nature of, say, giant mechas, or Power Rangers, or maybe even Dragon Ball Z, or just plenty of West Coast classics to keep the action seamless like a swift breeze under Surreal’s feet. Another one of my favorite shots out of this back half of this issue is most definitely Eco’s greeting to the invaders, known as the ominous Outreach. We get some top-tier Samoan representation, some more amazing character moments amidst the action, and an epic finale shot that may tease an epic clash between two of the most powerful beings on the team. Both beautiful and strong women, might I add.

One of my last questions, more of a fanboy-gushing moment, was me asking about what could be teased to other fans of this series, whether it be epic shonen-styled fight scenes between certain highly powerful characters, or the brief tease of the mysterious Mr. Excellent. Task answered with, “I’m trying to make this world seem as big and alive that I can. And that there’s more going on than what is happening in the books. Mr. Excellent’s story will lead to another story arch that I am excited to share. And it’s funny how you brought up the fights with Lunar because let’s just say she’s not entirely sold on the idea of this team up yet. Where she comes from she reigns over these beings, not collaborate with them. Issue 3 is on the way folks. Stay tuned.”

Well done, Free World. You have a special place in my love for comics now, and I cannot wait to see what an amazing franchise this becomes soon.

A Cybrogi. That’s it. ‘Nuff Said.

No weekly plugs this week, folks. Not like I usually do, I mean. No, all I want to suggest to my readers is to check out this new comic book ASAP. This is seriously one of the most enjoyable comic reads I’ve had in a very long time, for sure. It’s pretty amazing, and the series is available on Comixology right now, or, if you’d like, you can follow the writer @uptotask, or the artist @artbyatlas0 on Twitter.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Leaders of the Free World #3!

Switchin’ up my outro like I usually do too, folks. This time, I’m quoting Gamer Presidential Candidate, Mr. Ace Watkins.

*ahem*

Not solo; squad.

So, a Mandalorian and a Witcher Walk into a Bar…

Greetings! Hope everyone had a lovely holiday season. Classes start up again soon, and people are getting back into the work grind, and I have been ITCHING to get through the week and find time to write another post. I was debating what the first post of the year should be about, but after having went through all of The Witcher on Netflix and slowly watching The Mandalorian on Disney+, I realized what I had to talk to you guys about.

It’s no secret that these two shows started to take the world by storm, really. With Disney+ being a big step as far as streaming services go, getting all of the content that Disney now owns onto one platform for families was exciting. That being said, majority of the content really is just for families. Like, The Simpsons are there, and it might be the only FOX property as far as I know (which is weird because they don’t even have FOX’s X-Men movies or anything, just their old cartoons), but majority of the content really is tailored for family oriented viewers and, like, a stupid amount of unscripted series and documentaries. Like, this might very well be a streaming service for your grandparents. That being said, Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian fits in that demographic and then some, seeing as it’s an expansion of Star Wars lore (your grandparents’ franchise), while also creating a solid and enjoyable series for fans who pretty much know nothing about Star Wars. I’ve considered myself a casual fan of the series, having seen all of the movies excluding the latest (just haven’t had time), and I absolutely adored The Mandalorian.

“It’s easier to lie with this helmet on.”

There are really two kinds of viewers watching the show who know nothing about Star Wars. You’ve got people who start the series because of the hype it’s gained and go in entirely blind and find that they really can enjoy it without all of the context of the Star Wars universe, because what’s needed to be understood is in the series anyway. You’ve also got the people who want to watch the series, but believe that watching the Star Wars movies will enhance the experience and is almost required. That being said, I don’t think that’s the case, and I think that’s what made this series a real treat.

“This isn’t much of a Star Wars easter egg but rather more of an E.T. reference.”

On the other side of the nerd spectrum, you have fans raving about Netflix’s The Witcher. Now, not much needs to be said about Netflix at this point, it’s been around, it might always be around, and right now it’s Disney+’s biggest contender (sorry DC Universe, maybe just market your service a little better, because I’ve only ever seen ads for Harley Quinn on Adult Swim, and that’s after the platform has been out for over a year), and most of their credit goes to Lauren Hissrich’s The Witcher being one of the most streamed shows to date. That title also went to The Mandalorian for a while, both of which topped Stranger Things, which is a pretty big accolade to earn. Now, when it comes to viewing The Witcher, which is based off of a video game series that is based off of the book series, it kind of feels difficult to encourage anyone to say that they need to go to the source material to enjoy the series, because that’s not the case. I didn’t play the games, even though they seem super rad, and I haven’t read the books either, but this show was REALLY neat.

“I just think it’s neat!”

That could have something to do with the queer subtext I got to enjoy between Geralt, the titular character of the series, and Jaskier, the bard who would GLADLY toss a coin to the Witcher’s taut ass, or just seeing Henry Cavill shirtless that many times (as opposed to a dude who literally never removes his armor). It could have also been seeing these female characters completely owning the series, more so than Geralt himself sometimes, especially when there’s SO MANY OF THEM! I didn’t know who I desired to kick my ass more, the Princess Ciri, her dope (but arguably racist) grandmother and Queen Calanthe, Yennifer the Witch, or Renfri, the chick from the first episode that never come back (she might’ve been my favorite, hot take!)

“Well, I can’t think of any reasons why we SHOULDN’T have sex…so there’s that.”

There was a lot to enjoy in both of these series. A lot of which the shows have in common (sexy angsty freelance dads earnin’ big bucks while becoming adoptive fathers), but that isn’t to say that these shows don’t have critical differences (like one being in space and the other being in a fantasy realm).

Both The Mandalorian and The Witcher both feature protagonists who embody the warrior archetype; they both are seemingly the last of their kind, and carry the weight of that with them, which leaves these two with walls built between them and other people. They have been betrayed, and have had their trust broken, and now live their lives as nomads who kill for coin and credits, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake and tales of their endeavors told in rumors and songs. That is, until their journeys go from simply taking jobs in self-contained anecdotes to bringing children into Mando and Geralt’s arms. Mando is tasked with killing the child, but he’s not a heartless monster, so he decides to save the child! Geralt has no intention of having a child, but he sort of stumbles his way into becoming a godfather of a princess in comedic Stooge fashion.

Now, the only reason I’m not writing about how these shows are pretty much the same thing as one another and giving them shit for it is because, well, these shows really aren’t the same at all, despite the warrior-dads thing. And yes, it goes beyond the surface and is more than just the sci-fi and fantasy aesthetics. In terms of what the shows do, they have episodes that each focus on a singular event occurring, like, “The One About The Prison Break In Space”, or “The One Where I Join A Quest To Slay A Dragon”, which makes it feel as though each of their eight episodes truly are a single chapter, or a peek into these character’s lives in a journal of sorts. The structures of these shows are what really get me. In The Mandalorian, Mando doesn’t meet the child until the end of the first episode, which is sort of the inciting incident, but from there, the story progresses forward in a way where time isn’t necessarily tracked, but we know that everything is occurring sequentially. It doesn’t feel as though there are big gaps or time jumps between scenes or episodes aside from, but we don’t really get much detail as to how much time has passed. This doesn’t make for a jarring experience, though.

However, when one is viewing The Witcher, we are watching Geralt’s story occur, along with Ciri and Yennifer, two of the wonderful female characters I mentioned earlier. Now, each of these three characters’ stories all start at a certain point. Geralt’s story starts with him meeting Renfri in a village. Yennifer’s story starts with her as a hunchback being sold to witches and inducted in their academy of sorts. Ciri’s story starts with her fleeing her kingdom after it is conquered by an enemy kingdom (who don spooky black armor that couldn’t scream “we’re the bad guys” any louder). Now, as these stories progress throughout the episodes, there’s a lack of an overlap until a certain point. Like, we’re seeing things happening to Geralt, and to Yennifer, and to Ciri, and they all go places and do things, and for a while, we’re like “huh, when do they…?” and then we start to get to points where certain characters that, say, died in certain episodes reappear later, and interact with Geralt, or Yennifer, or Ciri (the Big Three, so to speak), and then it starts to dawn on us…the show’s structure isn’t linear at all.

See, that’s what got me. The Witcher is told from three perspectives, all of which pretty much start at different points in time, and only one of which is actually taking place in the present. This isn’t explicitly clear right off the bat, which might’ve confused some viewers, and would’ve upset me if it hadn’t all come together by the finale. It isn’t until the last episode that we see these three characters make it to the same point and place in time (and no, I don’t mean TIME TRAVEL, that’s another post I’m writing soon). The last episode is also when we finally get a child in Geralt’s arms, which is a wild contrast to Mando’s parental journey. One gains a child by the start of the show, while one gains a child by the end. One follows a linear plot, and the other jumps between years in the story. Favreau and Hissrich both follow drastically different writing structures, but somehow utilize wildly similar formulas in how their protagonist’s arcs progress, which in turn has created the new archetype we all love and appreciate now: grumpy warrior dad!

“Bonus eye candy: Aunt Cara shows us her GUNS!”

Anyway, that’s all I really have. I’m not over here writing essays, so this might be the cleanest wrap-ups I will write for a while. If you’re wondering which of the two my favorite was, it’s pretty close, but I’d have to go with the show with the dude who was naked more often (Sorry, Disney, your family-oriented marketing is wholesome, but that’s all it is). But in all seriousness, The Witcher is a series I went in completely blind for, which might of left me with a lot less expectations than I did for The Mandalorian. I knew Star Wars, so I might’ve expected a certain type of show, and despite thoroughly enjoying the series, The Mandalorian never made me go WOW (except scenes showing off Cara’s guns…as she holds her rifles and stuff). I did go “aw” a couple of times, but that’s what I’m talking about. It wasn’t saucy like I had hoped. The Witcher scratched that naughty itch for me, while also having me go “WAIT A MINUTE” when the plot lines converged, leaving me pleasantly more entertained than the former. That’s just my hot take, and anyone else’s take is just as valid! Let me know some of your thoughts. Stay lovely, folks!

(Sorry, I don’t have a punchline for the title. Maybe comment some if y’all think of one.)