Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Project Z #1: A Zombie Ate My Homework by Tommy Greenwald

A Zombie Ate My Homework (Project Z #1)My name is Norbus, but my new moniker is Arnold Z. Ombee. I'm a zombie, and I conceptualized the name myself. Oops, Lester told me to stop using big words if I'm going to fit in at school. Don't worry about me eating your brains, since there would be terrible consequences if I eat anything but jelly beans. My "uncle" Bill Kinder says we can't let the people from the Territory know where I am, since I escaped from their human regeneration program. He figures it's best if I act like a normal fifth grader. We've come up with stories to explain my pale skin and other differences, but some of the kids have let their imaginations get carried away. I trust the Bender family, but I'm worried that my presence has put them in danger. 

I was very surprised that I enjoyed the book as much as I did. I expected a silly story about a zombie boy, but the author added some depth to the plot. Arnold (Norbus) was a harmless, kind zombie and only wanted to fit in. He was physically, mentally, and emotionally different from the other kids at school, and he did all he could to be accepted. Readers should easily embrace him and identify with his character. One of his two best friends suffered from childhood leukemia and had a leg amputated. Arnold was drawn to him, and their friendship became a key element in the story. Luckily, his other best friend was accepted by most of the other students, so she helped buffer some of the teasing. The book really displayed how people from different backgrounds can be misunderstood but still accepted for their character. The most important aspect of the book was Arnold's moral code. Imagine someone saying that about a zombie! He was trusting, he was honest, and he had empathy for other characters. Arnold didn't want to hurt anyone else and always wanted to do the right thing. The story would have turned out much differently if he'd displayed different values. I'm not sure what to expect in the book's sequel, Zombies are People, Too, but I'm looking forward to finding out. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

An Epic Series of Failures #2: The Curse of Greg by Chris Rylander

The Curse of Greg (An Epic Series of Failures, #2)My name is Bloodletter, and I am the most fearsome battle ax of all time. As a legendary weapon, I chose Greg to wield me in the Dwarves' war against the Elves. Unfortunately, he sometimes lacks the stomach for the bloody attacks needed, because he thinks I only want to destroy the Elves. What's wrong with destroying your enemies? His team is a little distracted right now due to the increase in monster sightings. However, a rock troll told Greg about Elves planning something big in New Orleans, so the team snuck down there to investigate. Greg also hopes to discover a remedy for his father's illness, and he might find out what happened to his "best friend" Edwin, that stinking Elf! I haven't seen Greg for days, and there's going to be a lot of stabbing and destruction when we're reunited. 

I recommend you read The Legend of Greg first in order to better understand the background story. However, I honestly forgot I'd already read the book, as memories of it slowly came back to me. The essence of the conflict is that Elves and Dwarves don't like each other. Most of them are stuck with prejudices toward the other, but Greg is willing to rethink those ideas. Being able to see both sides of an issue is a valuable quality. Fairies took magic away long ago, but it's slowly seeping back. The question of magic being good or bad is another conflict that will continue in the next book. The fact that Greg's former best friend is the new Elf leader with a radical idea about magic creates an ongoing internal conflict for Greg. Again, he understands what Edwin is thinking and wonders if he might be correct, but it goes against everything Greg has been taught. You may find yourself pondering your own ideas about the real world after seeing how the characters handle their own issues. Don't get me wrong, this is not a philosophical story, and lovers of mythical or fairy tale beings should enjoy this book. I believe there's one more book in the series, and I recommend you give the series a shot. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Gideon Trilogy #1: The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley-Archer

Gideon the Cutpurse (The Gideon Trilogy, #1)My name is Peter, and Kate and I are slowly discovering what must have happened to us. We're not exactly sure how, but  we've been transported over two hundred years back in time. The Tar Man took the machine responsible for our predicament, so we're forced to find some way to track him down in London. To complicate matters, something is happening to Kate and I that is hard to hide. Kate has been fading from time to time, and she says she's able to see friends back in the present. I've done it after falling asleep, so both of us feel like it's dangerous to doze off. Gideon has been helping us, but he's being hunted by the Tin Man's boss. I'm not sure what's going on with him, but I've got to find some way back to my family. I only hope Peter doesn't find a way home first and leave me behind. Alone. 

As you can see from the graphic, this book also goes by the title Gideon the Cutpurse. It's always fun to see how author's handle time travel. Can characters in the past change future events? This author adds a unique twist, as she has Peter and Kate fade back to the present at times. An uncertainty is created with the characters existing in limbo between the present and past. They are learning to control it, but it usually arises when they're asleep or very tired. Their ghostly appearances provide hope and a clue for their parents and the detective trying to solve the mystery. Relationship issues are addressed, as Kate comes from a close-knit family but Peter's busy parents live thousands of miles apart. Peter's last words to his father are "I hate you." Gideon's situation is a little complicated, since his past is unclear. There's something he's not saying about his relationship with the people hunting him. This mystery adds an additional conflict to the plot. It seems like there's a slim chance of the kids returning to the present, but then something unexpected happens late in the book. I didn't like that part. The plot was moving toward a happy conclusion, but the author dropped a huge surprise near the end. It leads right into a sequel. 

Jaclyn Hyde by Annabeth Bonder-Stone and Connor White

Jaclyn HydeMy name is Fatima, and my best friend Jaclyn has always been perfect. She aces every test, she's creating an exact scale model of a volcano, and she's the ideal understudy in Fog Island: The Musical. However, Jaclyn wants to be more perfect and stole a "Perfection Potion" from the creepy house down at the end of Cedar Street. And that's when Jackie first appeared. Paige and I have discovered Jackie's mission is to make Jaclyn look perfect, and her methods are really evil. We're never quite sure when Jackie will pop up, but disaster is sure to follow. It's hard enough keeping her a secret from everyone else, but our principal is on the warpath. Students aren't allowed to use lockers anymore, the musical must be perfect, and my friends and I have been assigned detention. Is there any way to stop the principal, and Jackie?

I was hooked by the book's concept, a young girl with an evil alter ego. The plot moved very quickly, and I was able to read it in just a couple hours. The root of Jaclyn's problem was her inability to accept anything less than perfection. She had imperfect school papers hidden away in boxes, because she didn't want to show the B and C grades to her parents. She also created a problem in third grade due to the self-imposed pressure, and that mistake unfairly punished someone else for five years. Some of the pressure may have come from living up to the exploits of her older sister. The plot wasn't overly complicated, and some parts of it were predictable. However, the author created a cute story of a middle grade girl trying to be perfect. The entertainment factor came from Jackie, since her actions were unpredictable. She was motivated to help Jaclyn, but her methods were mean to other characters. The lesson was to do your best but accept that you'll sometimes make mistakes or fall short. Overall, I liked the book and recommend you give it a shot. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Monster Club #1: Hunters for Hire by Gavin Brown

Monster Club: Hunters for HireMy name is Spike, and my friends and I want to become monster hunters. Tommy always wants to use his muscles, Karim can get his hands on magical weapons, and we've just captured a basilisk in our school. We've decided to sign-up with AppVenture, so we can get paid while catching monsters. We'll stick with level one and twos, maybe a level three if it comes to that, so we can learn and get better before tackling the more dangerous monsters. Things have been going pretty well with our team, but we just saw something disturbing on Mad MacKenzie's podcast. She caught a gremlin with the indentation of a ring on its head... an imprint of my ring! How did a gremlin we captured manage to get captured again by Mad MacKenzie? Something fishy is going on at AppVenture!

This book will probably appeal to upper elementary students. Monster hunting is common in the plot, and Karim's crippled dad has retired from the business. Spike and her friends are ordinary kids, but there's nothing extraordinary about them. They behave the way you'd expect amateurs to behave, including making amateur mistakes. Karim's terrified to let his dad know what he's doing, and Tommy looks forward to any chance to show off his muscles. The second half of the book is much better than the first, as the author develops larger conflicts. Obviously, the kids are destined to face more deadly monsters to put themselves in perilous situations. AppVenture has a secret conspiracy going on, and the kids are determined to stop it. A David and Goliath scenario is created. Spike's parents are divorced, so this adds an important twist to the plot. She's very angry with her father and then finds out he's working for AppVenture. Luis wants to get back in Spike's life, but she's not having any of it. This bitterness is a common emotion in cases of divorce. I was ready to dismiss this book as a cute story for young readers, but it slowly grew on me. Overall, I liked the plot and am curious about the sequel. Give it a shot if you enjoy monster hunting. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Addison Cooke #1: Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas by Jonathan W. Stokes

Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas (Addison Cooke #1)My name is Addison Cooke, and I must find the second key to seven hundred and fifty TONS of Incan treasure. My Uncle N, the second greatest archaeologist in the world, found the first key but was beaten and kidnapped by a former colleague. My Aunt D, the greatest archaeologist in the world, was taken too, so urgent circumstances dictate I must rescue them. I've called a Code Blue for my sister Molly, Raj, and Eddie, and they've agreed to join me on my mission to the Andes Mountains. My knowledge of Incan culture, Raj's survival skills, and Eddie's ability to speak Spanish make us a good team. Unfortunately, our adversary will probably kill us, and many explorers lose their lives in the Andes every year. This situation is quite a sticky wicket. 

The adventure is more "realistic" than some others, as the characters are normal, middle grade kids. There's a lot of luck involved, but everything they do is technically possible. It's nice to see protagonists who aren't infallible, as the characters make their share of fortunate mistakes. They escape caimans (like crocodiles), a tumble off a waterfall, and a tribe of cannibals in  their search for the treasure. Raj is always able to point out the worst possible hazards found in the jungle. The plot's climax is similar to a scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Booby traps and cave disasters await. The kidnapping and treasure bring up some conflicting issues for Addison. Is it more important for him to find the gold and silver, or is it more important to save his aunt and uncle? The choice may seem obvious, but Addison's behavior makes it unclear. In addition, the treasure is full of ancient Incan artifacts, so wouldn't it be wrong for the characters to profit from it? Overall, the plot was amusing and entertaining. It's not the best book I've read, but adventure lovers should enjoy it. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Wormling #5: The Author's Blood by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry

The Author's Blood (The Wormling, #5)My name is Owen Reeder, but the people of the Lowlands know me as the Wormling. However, few of them know I'm also the King's Son. The Dragon's armies have wiped out the forces opposing him, and he's enslaved most of the remaining villagers. They find it difficult to hold out hope after their families have been slain, but we must trust the King's words. I had to leave my sister and my future bride in the Highlands, and I pray they are safe from the Dragon's time minions. I'm willing to sacrifice myself to save my family and the entire kingdom, but I have faith in my father. The Book of the King says the Dragon will be defeated, and those loyal to the King will celebrate and rejoice. 

This book concluded the series, and I've enjoyed the journey. The entire series was told from a second person point of view, which was a bit uncommon. This strategy allowed the narrator to speak directly to readers and draw them into the book. A devastating tragedy at the end of the fourth book carried over to this one, and I was left wondering how the authors would resolve it. Owen kept telling other characters to have faith, so I was forced to have faith along with them. The Book of the King essentially promoted the Yin and Yang of life. Tragedies are necessary for positive experiences to evolve. Everything has purpose, and there is good and evil in the world. The words in the Book had a Biblical feel to them, as they preached faith and hope. This preachiness was probably my main reservation toward the series. Younger readers may not have a tolerance for philosophical dialogue. Overall, I recommend you give this series a shot; I don't think you'll be disappointed.