Monday, November 12, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #3: Everblaze by Shannon Messenger

Everblaze (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #3)My name is Keefe and spending more time with Sophie has been the adventure I expected. Okay, it's almost killed me, but it's fun helping Sophie protect Silveny and learning about the Black Swan. We found a tracker on the alicorn's tail but were shocked to discover its connection to an ogre weapon. Sophie's trying to get information from the Black Swan, but the group won't share anything. I'm wondering if there's spy in their group, and secret Council information is now leaking into the public. Somehow, people have learned Sophie's been ordered to save Fintan's mind, and most of them are frightened of his evil pyrokinetic powers. Why should she help a criminal who nearly killed her and what if something goes wrong? I'm an empath, and I don't feel good about this healing.

Overall, I recommend the series and strongly suggest you begin with the first book. The feel of Everblaze is very similar to the previous book, as Sophie tries to uncover secrets while avoiding threats and dangers. Keefe continues a more prominent role in the events due to his ability to sense other characters' feelings. Dex's talent with technology becomes public knowledge, but he remains jealous of Sophie's feelings. Many (most?) novels with teenage characters explore the attraction between a boy and a girl. However, Sophie blushes around Dex, Keefe, and Fitz, so a romantic connection with any of them is muddled. As mentioned above, the plot centers on Sophie's efforts to investigate the Black Swan and the rebels. It's clear the rebels are bad, but the jury is still out on the Black Swan. Sophie has suspected Jolie had a connection to the Black Swan before her suspicious death, but more dramatic thoughts about her have entered Sophie's mind. Consequently, the plot now reads like a mystery novel with the suspense amping up in the last third. It's hard to imagine Sophie getting into more complicated situations, but she does it. The result of the author's efforts is an exciting adventure into the world of elves.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Joshua Dredd #2: The Nameless Hero by Lee Bacon

The Nameless Hero (Joshua Dread #2)My name is Milton, and I wasn't invited to Gyfted and Talented like Joshua and Sophie. Luckily, my friends stood up for me, and Gavin let me stay at the summer camp for future superheroes. Even nFinity is here, and my costume includes rockets in my boots! Gavin is calling us the Alliance of the Impossible, but things aren't all rosy. Joshua thinks something strange is going on, since no one's heard of this camp and security cameras watch our every move. We just had our first mission, and I'm a little ticked off. I thought we were a team, but one of us seems to think he's the only hero in the group. How are we supposed to work together and stop the Multiplier from vandalizing all of our country's national monuments? And now one of Gavin's other heroes has stolen some of his files and may be working against us. And we have paparazzi following us everywhere. Geez!

You don't need to read the first book in the series to enjoy this one. As you might be able to tell, the story is a wacky version of a world where superheroes are common. Joshua is the main character, and his life is complicated due his parents being super criminals. His father creates many questionable inventions, and his new robot leaves as much destruction as it does help situations. Sophie's dad is the world's most famous superhero, but he's spending most of his time with a new reality show and his endorsements. The author drops enough clues early in the book, so you shouldn't be surprised by the plot twists. A major villain from book one returns, but he's kept in the background for most of the story. However, he returns with a vengeance, as the plot builds to an exciting climax. The main conflicts deal with the Magnifier and the internal group problems resulting from fame. Overall, the book is entertaining if you're prepared for a light-hearted tale of superheroes. It's a fun read.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #2: Exile by Shannon Messenger

Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #2)My name is Sophie, and I don't understand the changes that are happening. How can the alicorn I found mentally communicate with me, and why is this beautiful creature so important to the Council? Is it because elves are losing faith in the Council? Who kidnapped me, and why did the Black Swan come to my rescue? Is this group good or evil? I was hoping my return to school would make my life more normal, even though I was dreading my Impaling classes with Councilor Bronte, but then something horrible happened to Alden at the opening ceremonies. He's a father figure to me, so I was devastated when he suddenly collapsed. The doctor says there's no way to save him, but I won't give up. My abilities should be able to help him... unless they're broken.

You must read the first book in the series to fully understand what's going on. I'm enjoying the mystery surrounding Sophie's past, since it's unclear why the Black Swan created her. She has more talents than any other elf, and there are memories hidden inside her mind. This makes the Council leery of her, and she has questions about herself. Her telepathic ability has always been important to the story, but it takes on a crucial role with Alden's problem. Her relationships with Dex, Fitz, and Keefe are confusing. Often, middle grade novels will develop boy/girl relationships, but she blushes at times with all three boys. Blushing implies an emotional connection beyond friendship, so her feelings are unclear. Dex clearly wants to be more than friends, while there are hints the other two boys  might feel the same way, especially Keefe. This whole situation causes some uncomfortable situations. The introduction of the alicorn called Silveny is an interesting addition to the cast of characters. Sophie develops a connection to her, but she's under tremendous pressure to acclimate Silveny to other elves. Sophie's relationship with Silveny is a subplot, but there's a strong sense that it will become important to resolving the bigger conflicts in the plot. Overall, I recommend you give the series a shot.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The House With a Clock In Its Walls by John Bellairs

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt, #1)My name is Lewis, and I've come to live with my Uncle Jonathan after my parents died. Did I mention he's a real wizard!? There's a ticking clock somewhere inside the house, but we don't know if it's harmless or evil. It's hard for me to make friends, so I was stunned and excited when Tarby, the most popular boy in school, started hanging out with me. I told him about my uncle's magic, but then I made a big mistake. I told him I could cast a spell too. I met him in a cemetery, on Halloween, at midnight, and I was terrified when the incantation worked! I'm afraid my uncle will get rid of me if I tell him what I've done, but I know he senses something is seriously wrong. What have I done? Is this really The Last Judgment... the End of the World?

This book was a quick-read with a little over one-hundred pages. It was surprising the first half of the story didn't feel eerie at all despite the mysterious clock inside the walls of an old house. The mood clearly changed following Lewis's major, magical mistake. His character was overweight and lacked confidence in performing any physical activities. He was the target of bullying, which included his new "friend" Tarby. The plot evolved into a spooky mystery, since none of the characters understood what had happened. The author did a nice job of introducing the puzzling behavior of the home's previous owner and then blending it with the current events. The tension increased as the uncle was frightened of something but wouldn't share his concerns with Lewis. Imagining what might be wrong created more suspense than revealing the actual threat. With all this being said, I was underwhelmed after having high expectations for a book made into a movie. The story was good, but not great. I've read quite a few speculative fiction books, and this one didn't offer many surprises. Overall, this book is a wonderful choice if you're looking for a mysterious book that's also a quick-read.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #1 by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #1)My name is Sophie, and my past is frustrating. First, I'm an elf, not human, so I don't know my real parents. I'm now learning to develop my elfin powers at an exclusive academy, although I'm forced to keep my telepathy a secret. I'm trying hard to pass my classes, but one Council member is set on getting me kicked out. I don't understand why I'm doing questionable things; it's like someone's manipulating me. Elfin memories pop into my head that only complicates why I was raised by a human family, not my real parents. There are fears that a secret organization may have locked dangerous ideas in my brain that could endanger the human and elf worlds. I'm starting to put pieces together, but I'm afraid the path to my past will lead to disaster.

I normally like to know the big conflict early in the plot, but this book didn't do that. However, I found it still held my interest and kept me wondering about what was going on. The first half of the book seemed like a story about a young girl adjusting to her newly-discovered life as an elf. She struggled with her unusual classes and tried to fit in with other students. She also had trouble adapting to her guardians, since they had their own troubled past. The second half of the book developed the "lost" big conflict and became more of an adventure. The heroine continued to master her telepathic powers, tried to understand cryptic messages, and made hasty assumptions. She ignored the advice of others and made some poor decisions. However, how interesting would books be if characters did what they were supposed to do? In the end, the problems were mostly resolved, but some big questions were left for the book's sequel. I'm looking forward to reading Exile, but I'll need to wait for it to become available at my local library. Looks like it's pretty popular with other readers too!

Twelve Minutes to Midnight #1 by Christopher Edge

Twelve Minutes to Midnight (Twelve Minutes to Midnight, #1)My name is Penelope Tredwell, and no one knows I've been running a best-selling magazine called The Penny Dreadful. People love the chilling stories I've written, but they're very curious about the reclusive author. I decided to hire an actor named Monty to fool them, but a reporter has been dogging me for information. Now, the local mental hospital has patients all waking up at the same time every night, writing strange messages about things called MTV, an unsinkable ocean liner going down in the Atlantic, and a quotation saying "The eagle has landed". Monty's love for drinking makes him less than helpful, but his presence allowed me to get inside the hospital.  I don't understand how a rough-looking orderly, a mysterious heiress, and spiders might be involved, but I'm getting close. Maybe too close.

The second half of the book was better than the first. The problem of patients waking up with cryptic messages about the future was very interesting, but the first half of the plot was predictable. There were only a couple of suspects, so the focus of the investigation was limited. The problem seemed to be solved around the book's midpoint, but that's when things became more compelling. The issues in the hospital were resolved, but the cause was not. Penelope's young age handcuffed her ability to collect evidence, so the plot moved along slowly with expected events. However, things picked up once she ignored the limits her age presented. Spiders were quite important to the plot, so be warned if they make you squeamish. The most intriguing part of the book was the use of poison-induced dreams, and the way the author used them as a tool or weapon. How does a person stop a mass psychosis? Overall, the book offered an interesting mystery with a unique heroine. Trying to remain anonymous created an unusual subplot. It might be worth your while to give the book a shot. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Riders of the Realm #1: Across the Dark Water by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Across the Dark Water (Riders of the Realm #1)My name is Echofrost, and I swore Shysong wouldn't remain captive as long as I was alive. I thought escape from the Landwalkers would be easy, so I allowed myself to be captured. I didn't expect them to clip my wings, and I slowly realized resisting them only hurt myself. I was growing weaker and starving to death. I was surprised when I developed a bond with a Landwalker cub despite my best efforts against it. The cub actually fought three Giants to protect me even though he had no fighting ability! I'm supposed to be sold in a few days, but I've got to escape before then. Even if I get away, where will I go? I don't know where my wild herd went, and the jungle contains dangers I've never faced, including the Giants. And what will I do if Shysong refuses to leave?

The plot was more interesting than I expected due to the unique storytelling. The thoughts and dialogue were creatively blended between the humans and Pegasi. Rather than sharing the different points of view through alternating chapters, the author did it with one narrator. It could have been confusing, but the strategy worked. Rahkki, the human "cub", and Echofrost shared common traits of compassion, bravery, and determination. Echofrost displayed a grittiness to help Shysong, but she quickly felt a responsibility to free the Kilhari, the humans' trained Pegasi. Their ancestors had fled the same homeland centuries before, but most of these Pegasi didn't understand freedom and were reluctant to leave. Freedom was scary for them. In contrast, Rahkki only wanted the best for Echofrost, and he quickly decided the Pegasus should be released. However, he'd be punished, maybe killed, if he helped her escape. An additional level of conflict was found between the queen and Rahkki and his brother. The queen had killed their mother and would be happy if the boys were dead too. This subplot continued throughout the book, and a surprise was dropped near the end. I wished the first half of the book had moved more quickly, but I found the overall book very entertaining. Give it a shot.