Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Alchemist's Apprentice by Kate Thompson

The Alchemist’s ApprenticeMy name is Jack, and I made a big mistake that means I can never return to my role as a blacksmith's apprentice. I later found a sealed pot floating in the river that was created by an alchemist, Mr. Barnstable. I accepted his offer to become his apprentice, and my life became an adventure. Barnstable sent me off to find my prima materia, a stone that is the most important ingredient in alchemy. I wandered across the country, learning to steal for my survival. Finally, events led me to a life of wealth that did not bring me happiness. No one cares about me, and I’ve been used by others all along. I’m now convinced the mercury fumes have gotten to Barnstable’s brain, and he’s delusional. I don’t know what to do.

This book is not at all what I expected. Once Jack leaves on his quest for the prima materia, alchemy takes a backseat in the plot. The story becomes a tale of self-awareness and contentment. Jack finds various characters who help him along the way, but he seems to be searching for his place in the world. Finding a lost horse lifts him out of a life of poverty and changes his life dramatically. However, he continues to search for happiness. You will be disappointed if you’re looking for a story full of spells and magic normally associated with books concerning alchemy. This book is more philosophical and explores the growth of Jack’s spirit. It may be a little deeper than middle graders expect, but it can be enjoyed by more mature readers.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Problematic Paradox by Eliot Sappingfield

A Problematic ParadoxMy name is Nikola Kross, and circumstances have dumped me straight into a war pitting humans and parahumans against the Old Ones. My father has been taken prisoner by the ancient creatures, and I now find myself in an advanced, secret school for geniuses. The school is in the middle of nowhere and is guarded inside a dimensional dome by thousands of robotic bees. Teachers and other students don't understand my natural ability to manipulate quantum agar, but many people would have been killed without it. Tabbabitha, the Old One who captured my dad, has been trying to figure where I am, but I have no idea why. My roommate and I have now discovered a startling and impossible truth. Somehow, Tabbabitha has gotten past the school's defenses, and it's only a matter of time until she finds me!

I was unsure about this book when I started, because it's a bit odd and wacky. Nikola had an abrasive personality, and her home in an old department store building was eccentric. The paranormals were strange and diverse characters with abilities and habits that take getting used to. However, the plot became more "normal" when Nikola was first attacked by the Old Ones. I appreciated that the author didn't attempt to explain Nikola's ability with the agar, but it became the main weapon and defense. All of the characters were highly intelligent, so you need to be prepared for descriptions of science concepts, computer talk, and far out ideas; Nikola's roommate took an afternoon to whip up a wormhole allowing her to quickly travel across the town. I appreciated the author's creativity in developing a unique and inventive setting and conflict. Overall, the book may not be for everyone, but I found it engaging and interesting. I recommend you give it a shot.

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth Durst

The Stone Girl's StoryMy name is Mayka, and my father has died. The etchings on our stone bodies are fading, and the marks are what give us life. I'm leaving our home on the mountain for the first time, and I must find a new stonemason to fix the carvings. I'm happy that Risa and Jacklo are with me. The stone birds can fly ahead to warn me of danger, although Jacklo tends to get distracted and off course. We've met a small, stone dragon named Si-Si, and she's helped us find the city of Skye. Unfortunately, the Stone Quarter is closely guarded, and Jacklo didn't returned from exploring behind the wall. We've now managed to sneak inside and found a highly-skilled stonemason who fixed Jacklo's wing! However, I've examined the new carvings used to heal my friend, and something isn't right. I fear the stonemason has discovered a new mark that will bring terrifying consequences to every stone creature in Skye!

I received an advance copy of this book from Net Galley, and it was an exciting surprise. Parts of the plot reminded me of The Wizard of Oz, as the creatures searched for a mysterious man who would grant their greatest wishes. Mayka was a wonderfully adventurous and naive character, driven by her will to help other stone animals. She had an ability to read the stories etched on the animals she met, and the author allowed her to share their short tales throughout the book. An important message was that everyone has a story that defines them. On a deeper level, the creatures were seeking their independence without being controlled by others. Free will and individual choice were key issues. The main characters were kind and caring, and they were able to maintain these traits throughout the story. Amazingly, the author was able to resolve a destructive and violent climax in a relatively peaceful manner. Overall, I highly recommend you read this book. It's an inspiring, magical story!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Switchers #1 by Kate Thompson

SwitchersMy name is Tess, and I have a secret not even my parents know. A strange boy named Kevin shows up and threatens to tell them I have the ability to change into any kind of animal. He’s another switcher and says he needs my help to stop the snow and deep freeze that is creeping down from the Arctic. A crazy woman named Lizzie says Krools are to blame and that Kevin and I are the only ones who can stop them. We don’t know if what she says is true, but we need to fly north and find out. During our flight, Kevin reveals his own secret; his birthday is approaching in the next few days. On that day, he'll lose his ability to switch and will be stuck in one animal form for the rest of his life. What if we're in the middle of saving the world, and he's stuck as a dolphin, polar bear, or albatross?

I liked the idea of characters transforming into animals in order to save the world. However, the overall effect of the book left me a little disappointed. The plot took too long to reveal details of the problem, as too many pages were spent describing the chatacters’ trek to find Lizzie. Then, the climactic face-off with the Krools didn’t meet my anticipation. The solution felt too simple. Kevin’s age problem provided an interesting twist, and the resolution of the entire plot was satisfying. So what am I saying? If you have the patience for slow plot development and you like animals, then you should enjoy this book. Really, the concept was good, but the suspense was lacking compared to other books I’ve read recently.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Father of Lies Chronicles #3: Arthur Quinn and Hell's Keeper by Alan Early

Arthur Quinn and Hell's KeeperMy name is Arthur, and Loki has finally succeeded in killing me, kind of. The good thing is that I'm still alive on Earth, but the bad thing is history has changed and no one remembers me. Dublin is totally underwater, and the area is patrolled by Loki's army of wolves. I was captured and thrown into a prison camp full of other human refugees. I managed to escape and discovered a group of rebels led by my best friend Ash; except she doesn't know who I am and isn't willing to fully trust me. I showed her my pendant and Thor's hammer to support my story, but things didn't change until she was able to share one of my visions. She now knows we must stop Loki, or everyone and everything on Earth will be erased from existence.

I suggest you read the first two books in the trilogy before reading this one. There are recurring characters with background stories that you'll miss out on, and this plot picks up where the last book left off. For example, the World Serpent returns and Fenris's daughter is now the general of Loki's army. Arthur is still a brave young boy, although he lost an eye in book two. This handicap becomes an asset, as his remaining eye now allows him to see hidden truths. The book seems to have more action than the previous ones, as Arthur spends much of his time running from Loki's army of wolves. The setting with all of Dublin, Ireland covered in water is creative and causes the characters to move around on jet skis and boats. The plot twist with all characters forgetting Arthur adds additional suspense, since he doesn't know if anyone will be able to help stop Loki. Even though Loki doesn't see how it's possible, he's still open to the possibility of Arthur's reappearance and has some tricks up his sleeve. This book concludes the trilogy, but the author has left open a chance that Loki might return someday.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes #1: The Gift by Jeri Anne Agee

The Gift: The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes #1My name is Birdie Mae Hayes. The biggest news in town is a new family is moving into old lady Miller's house, and Daddy's not too happy about it. He has the only grocery in town, but Peter Doolittle's daddy will be opening another one soon. My other big thing is still kind of a big secret, because I don't know what to think about it. I think I can tell the future. The first time it happened was when I got a stomachache, closed my eyes, and in my mind I saw Doyle Baker fall out of a tree. I tried to warn him, but the big dummy still went ahead and broke his foot. The visions have happened a couple more times, and I think something's wrong with me. I told my best friend Sally, but she just thinks it's pretty cool. I think it's weird, and I don't know if I'm ready for the responsibility.

This book can be read quickly, as it's written for readers who are younger than my blog's normal middle grade target audience. Birdie Mae is a likable character with the innocence of a young child living in a very small town. Bubba is her free-spirited, two-year-old brother, and he adds some cute humor to the events. All of the people, except for Birdie Mae's daddy, are looking forward to a bouncy house and pony rides set for the new grocery store's grand opening, and a Halloween party at the Doolittle's house is the talk of the town. Now that's small-town news! The plot doesn't have a dramatic conflict or climax, as I've described in the summary above. The major "problem" is Birdie Mae learning to accept her new ability. Although the story is simple, it's nice to read a story for a change that doesn't include any profanity, violence, or major complications. Overall, the author has created a fun story that can be enjoyed all young readers.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Harper #3: Harper and the Night Forest by Cerrie Burnell

My name is Harper, and the Wild Conductor needs our help. He wants to win back his place in the Circus of Dreams, but we need to travel to the Night Forest where the fairy tales first began. There, he says we'll find the Ice Raven whose song can tame the fiercest heart. However, I've now met the keepers of the fairy tales, and they've shared the love story of a prince and a witch's daughter. The witch became angry and changed the prince into the Lone Wolf and her daughter into the Ice Raven. They will forever be separated until an ending to the only unfinished fairy tale in the forest can be found. The Wild Conductor needs the Ice Raven, but it will never change back into the witch's daughter if it ever leaves the forest. Music is magic, and it may be the only way to solve this problem.

This book is targeted for a younger audience than my normal middle grade readers. Harper and her friends carry musical instruments whose tunes have magical effects. Harper's music is the most powerful when played on her harp. The author certainly has a vivid imagination, as the fairy tales are recorded on tree bark, the conductor travels on a bicycle carried by ravens, and Harper's mode of transportation is an upside down umbrella. I didn't read the previous two books in the series, and I felt like I was missing some background information on the characters' relationships. I still enjoyed the story, so it wasn't a big factor. The characters got along very well and had compassion for each other. Harper's group was immediately ready to help the Wild Conductor, but they also displayed empathy toward the plight of the Ice Raven and Lone Wolf. The plot was easy to read and understand, and it came to a satisfying conclusion. Overall, it was a very entertaining book that I can recommend to young readers with an interest in fairy tales and music.