Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Nightshade Chronicles #2: The White Assassin by Hilary Wagner

The White Assassin (Nightshade Chronicles, #2)My name is Juniper, and I am keeping a life-changing secret from the other rats in Nightshade City. We've  imprisoned Billycan, but many of my friends don't understand why I haven't had the murderous rat executed. I'm hoping the serum we've given him will reveal a kinder rat than the most vicious killer we've known. I fear what might happen if Julius ever discovers Billycan is his real father. However, there is a more serious problem threatening our city. There's a traitor among the council. That's the only explanation for how Billycan obtained maps of our secret tunnels as he prepared for an invasion. The serum seems to be having a positive effect on him, but will it force him to reveal the identity of his accomplice? Are the changes just another sign of his trickery? How can I doubt the trust of my friends, when I'm keeping terrible secrets of my own?

I recommend you read the first book in the series to fully understand Billycan's evilness. This book had more mystery in it due to the unknown traitor. All of the characters are suspect, but several of them will be central in readers' minds. Clues are presented to change the attention, but my first instincts were correct. The author includes flashbacks to Billycan's time in the lab, and they help to explain his disturbing behavior. A couple of other lab rats return to become key characters in the current events. Juniper is the main character in this plot, as he tries to coax the truth from Billycan and battles with his own internal struggles. Again, I suspected his big secret, but I'm not sure it was as devastating as he made it seem. This book is more similar to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH than book one, as the lab experiments were key factors in the conflict. As in that book, it's revealed that mice were also test subjects and have unusual intelligence and life expectancy, just like the test rats. Overall, I'm enjoying the series and recommend you give it a shot.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Nightshade Chronicles #1: Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner

Nightshade City (Nightshade Chronicles, #1)My name is Clover, and time is running out. Killdeer, leader of the Catacombs, has made me a Chosen One and plans to put me on display during the Grand Speech. My Uncle Juniper has been secretly watching out for me since my parents' deaths, but Killdeer and Billycan will kill him if they discover he's still alive. They murdered the previous ruler, and Billycan thought he'd killed Juniper during their coup. Juniper is now creating a new city for escapees and will overthrow Killdeer when the time is right. However, he doesn't know the Grand Speech has been moved up two weeks earlier. I have no way of contacting Juniper, and I'm getting desperate. The disgusting and dangerous Killdeer came to my home and tried to force himself on me, when ironically, Billycan stopped him. Tomorrow, I am to become Killdeer's Chosen One and my life will be lost. 

You'll enjoy this book if you liked the Redwall books. Some parts also reminded me of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, since a couple of characters had escaped experimentation in a lab. Billycan was the most notable due to his large size and viciousness. Even though Killdeer was the ruler, Billycan was the most feared character. The setting mostly takes place underground, and the land of humans is known as Topside. It was creative and amusing to see earthworms aiding the rebels by helping with the digging of tunnels. Although I enjoyed the book very much, there wasn't one main character to connect with. The focus shifted from Clover, to Juniper, to other characters. I would have liked to mostly follow one rat throughout the plot. Also, there were several moments where I was sure the plot would take a suspenseful turn, only to have the characters escape danger. I was okay with the way things turned out, but these moments seemed like missed opportunities for more excitement and suspense. It looks like this book is part of a trilogy, so that may explain the decisions to move things along. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and suggest you give it a shot.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Dragon's Boy by Jane Yolen

The Dragon's BoyMy name is Artos, and I've mostly enjoyed my life as a foster child to Sir Ector and Lady Marion. However, I've discovered a dragon living in a nearby cave who has promised to teach me wisdom each day. I'm able to read, unlike my illiterate brothers, but I don't understand what the dragon meant when it said I need to learn to read inter linea. It also called me Artos Pendragon, but I don't remember my real parents. I used one of the dragon's gems to buy a wonderful sword, and after that, my brothers finally accepted me as an equal. However, I ran to tell the dragon about my sword, but the cave was empty. Where did it go? I appreciate all of the knowledge I've gained, but I'm angry that the dragon left without telling me. Now what do I do?

This book was based on a short story written by the best-selling author. It was surprising that a plot containing a dragon didn't have much action or suspense. The story was about the growth of Artos's character. He was feeling like the forgotten child in the family and wanted to be welcomed by his three brothers. The dragon's teachings gave him confidence, and he was clearly more intelligent than the other boys. Even as Artos became closer to his brothers, he realized their differences. He had more compassion for others and cared about their feelings. In the end, this short story left me wanting more. The last pages of the book introduced the next phase of Artos's life, and I suspect it would have made an entertaining tale. 

Beast & Crown #1 by Joel Ross

Beast & Crown (Beast & Crown #1)My name is Ji. I helped Brace get permission to leave for the city where he's being mentored by Proctor. It was the only way I could think of for Sally, Roz, and me to free Chibo from the tapestry factory. Brace is going to participate in the Diadem Rite, and I'm to be his assistant. The rite is held to select the heir to the Summer Crown, and he will become the holder of all human magic. This person will be the only thing keeping ogres and goblins from invading the realm. I just discovered the identity of the Red Mask, a roof-hopping spy who helped me free Chibo, and it surprised me. However, I wasn't prepared for what happened during the Diadem Rite when I interrupted the ceremony. Now, all of the Summer Queen's soldiers want to kill us, and I'm not sure Brace can still be trusted.

This book will probably not appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it. Some readers don't have a high tolerance for made-up vocabulary, and this book was full of it. The human characters used it a little bit, but the goblins did it a lot. In essence, they broke normal words into similar sounding word parts, which led to some confusing conversations. The first half of the book was all about saving Chibo, but the focus of the plot changed to the Diadem Rite after that. I don't want to give away what happens during the ceremony, but suffice it to say things dramatically changed for the main characters. I correctly predicted what I thought would happen, but then everything got twisted around. The cast of characters was an interesting mix. Ji was a lying thief, Sally was a brave knight-wannabe with high morals, Roz was the mature young lady, Chibo was the immature little brother, and Nim was the confusing ally. Of them all, Ji was the one who made the hard decisions. He kept saying he didn't care about others, but Sally and Roz kept telling him he was wrong. The banter between Ji and Sally was especially entertaining, as they constantly teased each other. Overall, I really liked the book and may read the sequel, but as I said, it's going to appeal to a select audience of fantasy-lovers. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Sorcerer's Ring #2: A March of Kings by Morgan Rice

A March of Kings (The Sorcerer's Ring, #2)My name is Reese, and my father, the king, has been murdered by someone he knew. My best friend Thor was accused of the crime, but my father's last words proclaimed his innocence. Now, the Legion recruits must leave on the traditional One Hundred; we may be selected as Legion members when we return from this retreat in three months, assuming we survive. However, Thor will be troubled by several thoughts. He'll be separated from my sister for one-hundred days, he promised to avenge my father's death, and he's been told his destiny is bigger than the king. In addition, my power-hungry brother Gareth now rules the kingdom, despite my father's wishes, and there is no one less qualified to rule. Our enemies are watching, and I fear their invasion is imminent.

This book is the sequel to A Quest of Heroes, and you should really read it first. Also, it's most appropriate for upper middle grade readers due to some suggestive content between Thor and Gwen. I really enjoyed Thor's character, as he sincerely wanted to make the best choices for himself and others. His bravery, compassion, and integrity were admirable character traits. In contrast, Gareth was a great antagonist, as his scheming for power started to encompass the kingdom and his siblings. Once he gained power, he wanted to make sure he didn't lose it. He ignored the advice of his counsel and chose to alienate his father's loyal subjects. I was hoping he'd take his obsession too far, and I suspect he will in the near future. I don't often focus on the social aspects of books, but this one seemed to send a mixed message about femininity. Of all the children, Gwen's father chose her to succeed him as ruler of the kingdom. He felt she was the most qualified, legitimate heir to the thrown. At the same time, the kingdom's greatest knight was required to go on a quest to select his wife, since he hadn't chosen one by the time he turned twenty-five. Women tried to impress him, so they would be chosen. The demeaning of women really struck me after most of the women in a duke's realm had been paraded in front of the knight. The duke asked if he had chosen his wife yet based almost entirely on appearance! Overall, I'm enjoying the series, but I suspect the mature situations may outgrow the appropriateness for middle grade readers.

Phoenix Burning by Bryony Pearce

Phoenix Burning (Phoenix Series)My name is Toby, and Ayla has stepped onto the deck of the Phoenix again. I thought she liked me up until the moment she had me imprisoned on her mother's ship, the Banshee. My father installed solar panels to power our ship, but we can't use them without an inverter. That's why Ayla is here; she needs one too for her mother's ship. Ayla has an idea. The two of us will win a competition on the island of Gozo and steal their inverters. There are a few problems with her plan. We don’t know where the inverters are kept, we don’t know how to escape, and we’ll be immediately blinded if we win. Now, that we’re here, I see the Sun and Moon competition is all about surviving the challenges. And despite teaming up with Ayla, I know she may stab me in the back at any moment.

This book is the sequel to Phoenix Rising, and you need to read it first. You need to know the story of Toby and Ayla’s relationship and the complications arising from their families’ past histories. The setting is in the future, far enough ahead to present creative worlds but close enough to the past to remember how things used to be. Much of this book takes place on Gozo, and the inhabitants have cult-like beliefs. Their whole world is centered on the sun and moon, and they resent other cultures that have misused the sun’s power. Having the contest winners sacrifice their sight in honor of the sun is pretty radical, but sacrifices made by the losers isn’t much better. Throughout the plot, the focus is on the fragile teamwork between Toby and Ayla and their contrasting motivations. The author leaves a dramatic surprise for the climax that is sure to affect the sequel. The utopian island the characters seek is still a mystery, but they discover exciting clues in the book’s resolution. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Sorcerers Ring #1: A Quest of Heroes by Morgan Rice

A Quest of Heroes (The Sorcerer's Ring, #1)My name is Thorgrin, and all I wanted was to become a member of the King's Legion. I wasn't invited to join like my three brothers, so I ventured to the king's castle on my own. Once I arrived at the Legion's training grounds, I proved my worth and became squire to the kingdom's greatest knight, Erec. The king's youngest son Reese and I have become best friends along with another boy named O'Connor. I was as shocked as anyone when I summoned magical powers to save Erec’s life during a joust! Now, things have gotten more complicated. I've become a hero for doing nothing special, the kingdom is facing a possible invasion, and the king's daughter has taken a liking to me. However, the queen and another boy have vowed to make my life miserable if I don't stay away from Gwen. The king and Erec sense that I'm different from others, but I don't know if that's a good thing or bad. 

I sometimes find gems when I randomly select titles to read while toiling through my gym workouts. This book has the underdog main character, action, devious scheming to gain power, and loyal friendships and bravery to overcome all evil. Thor's character changes immensely and quickly, as he went from sheep shepherd to hero. The relationship with Gwen is especially confusing for him. Despite Thor's virtues, he receives mixed feelings from other characters. The Legion recruits are angry and jealous, while the guards and trainers make it clear he won't get any special treatment. In contrast, Reese and O'Connor immediately become his friends, and later, a bully has a change of heart and joins Thor's group. Thor's brothers were missing from the story as the book progressed. I found myself wondering about them. The plot contains a feud that's been going on for centuries, and the king is doing all he can to maintain the peace. It seems inevitable that a war will break out, but it doesn't start in this book. Nevertheless, the threat of violence is always lingering in the background. The author hints at people living outside the Ring and gives the impression they're violent savages. They provide a basis for future problems, I imagine. In addition, Thor is told his mother came from a far-off land, so that adds a little mystery to his character. The plot has some suggestive moments and bit of hearty drinking, so it's probably more appropriate for tweenage readers. I've also discovered there are over a dozen books in the series!