Tuesday, January 17, 2017

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

When the Sea Turned to SilverMy name is Pinmei, and Amah, my grandmother, has been taken by the emperor. Everyone calls her the Storyteller, but I remember all of her stories too. The emperor is forcing all of the men in the kingdom to build a Vast Wall, but I don't know why he took Amah. Maybe he'll let her go, if we can find a Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. The emperor now seems to be invincible and impossibly strong, and I wonder if it has something to do with the missing Black Tortoise. Yishan has been helping me find my grandmother, but I think he's keeping secrets from me. There is magic in Amah's stories, but a story of my own creation may be the one to save the kingdom.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. It is wonderfully written and tells a descriptive tale of adventure. Amah's stories tell of fantastic events that mirror reality. I wasn't sure how to handle them while I read the book, but they provided clues about what was actually happening in the kingdom. Pinmei's character was dependent on Amah, but she became much more confident along the way. She cared about others and even displayed compassion for the emperor, up to a point. I found the short stories disrupted the flow of the plot, but others may disagree. The philosophical tone of the plot may turn off less mature readers, but the book was very well written. Readers can expect an Asian setting with characters able to transform into amazing creatures and immortal beings. I recommend you give this book a shot!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

The Evil Wizard SmallboneMy name is Nick, and my best friend is a bookshop. The evil wizard Smallbone won't teach me any magic, so the bookstore has been teaching me spells. All Smallbone has done is change me into a spider, a rock, and a rat! There's something strange about the people in this town, and they say Smallbone is supposed to protect them from coyotes. He says the defenses he's set up around the boundaries are failing, because the people have broken the promises in their contract. I don't fully understand it all, but I know there's danger lurking. A powerful, magical white wolf is building a gang of biker coyotes, and Smallbone isn't sure he can be defeated. The bookshop has been teaching me about transformations and other spells, but I don't know if it will be enough to help.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. It's surprising to find an evil character like Smallbone who's also endearing. He might change characters into different animals or objects, but he will then come to their defense. He is strict about his expectations and punishes Nick when he doesn't meet them. Nick seems to be secretly practicing magic, but then Smallbone seems to know exactly what's going on. This game of cat and mouse is fun to follow. The threat of the white wolf grows throughout the plot and ends with the inevitable showdown with Smallbone. However, it's clear that Nick's growing power will become very important in the end. I recommend this book to lovers of magic, with a twist of fun and humor.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Haywood Trilogy #1: Thorn Ogres of Hagwood by Robin Jarvis

Thorn Ogres Of Hagwood (The Hagwood Trilogy, #1)My name is Gamaliel, and I can't even succeed at wergling into a mouse. Changing into different animals is the key to our survival, and I'm thankful that Finnen is trying to help me. No one can wergle better than him; it's almost unnatural. Later, I'd only heard stories about the High Lady, but Finnen took me along to secretly see her and her army of terrifying creatures. They really exist, and Frighty Aggie too! Frighty Aggie bit me and I almost died, but I think the poison has affected me in some strange way. Smith, the Pucca who saved me, told us about the High Lady's growing power, and he says he has a way to stop her. However, the death of Mufus has changed everything. Finnen has been exiled, and the other wergles don't believe the great danger that will soon befall them. I must do something to help my friend, and save my village.

Hopefully you won't mind animals as characters. This book is much better than I anticipated, and I'd like to read the next book in the trilogy. Gamaliel is just like other inept main characters who turn out to be heroes. He can't learn to wergle until his life depends on it, and then the results are very unexpected. Finnen's character had many of the same issues as Gamaliel, but he took a shortcut to help with his wergling. Now, he regrets the decision, and his secret makes him a reluctant hero. Strangely, Frighty Aggie, a fearsome creature of legend, takes an interest in him. The author kept a nice pace to the plot and included enough action to keep readers engaged. Besides several skirmishes, there are some larger fights with Frighty Aggie and the High Lady's secret army. The climax to the book is the battle with the army, and the wergles accidentally figure out a way overcome the overwhelming odds. I recommend you give this book a shot!

The Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers

The Voyage to Magical NorthMy name is Brine, and Peter and I have been "rescued" by a pirate. Cassie O'Pia, the pirate captain, planned to sell us off to repay a debt, but things didn't work out as she thought. The buyer turned out to be Marfak West, the most evil and powerful magician of all time, and the sworn enemy of the Cassie. I guess she hadn't really killed him like she thought. He believes the stories of Magical North are true, and he is the only person who knows the way there. I suppose Cassie allowed him aboard our ship to find the treasure, but Magical North is also the strongest source of magic in the world. Marfak West doesn't care about the treasure, and we don't know what he really wants. We do know he's up to no good and can't be trusted. Peter wants to keep his magical powers a secret, but that's no longer an option. I think he's stronger than he believes, and I know he'll be thrown into the center of the looming fight between Cassie and Marfak West. It's believed a person standing atop Magical North can see the entire world, past and future, and I truly want to find out where I come from.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. The plot was creative, as I thought it would focus on Brine's past. It was often on her mind, but the problem revolved around the search for Magical North. The whole concept of Magical North was intriguing, and the "partnership" of Marfak West and Cassie created an interesting conflict. It was obvious Marfak had plans, and it was equally obvious that Cassie knew more than she let on. Peter's character faced a huge internal conflict. He liked that Marfak West took an interest in him and taught him magic, but he feared the knowledge would make him become evil too. It was a neat twist to put limits on the magical power, as it could be used up and needed recharging. The struggle to reach Magical North was complicated by bears, whales, and penguins. They weren't called penguins, but it was strange to view the flightless birds as a dangerous threat. I always appreciate stories that require characters to have faith in each other. Peter and Brine quarreled quite a bit, but they always trusted and cared about each other.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Shadow Magic #1 by Joshua Khan

Shadow Magic  (Shadow Magic #1)My name is Thorn, and the executioner if Castle Gloom purchased me from a slave trader. I've heard there are vampires and dark magic in Gehenna, but Lady Shadow, Lily, doesn't fit the darkness and gloom of the kingdom. I guess she likes my unusual talents, including the ability to fly atop a fifty-foot bat, and we've become friends. 
Lily's ancestors used to be able to raise the dead, but it's against the law for her to perform magic. Her parents and brothers were murdered, and she's supposed to marry a prince from a neighboring kingdom to stop a war. However, someone has tried to kill Lily twice, and we don't know how to keep her safe. Lily may need to break the law to find the assassin, but I was shocked to hear who the executioner thinks killed Lily's parents. No one has ever survived the executioner's search, but this time he must fail.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. I really enjoyed the characters and plot, despite the darkness of the book. Ghosts, zombies, and bats should be expected. Lily is supposed to rule over Gehenna, but the adults treat her like a kid. She's a rebellious sort of girl, so that doesn't sit well. Thorn is a peasant boy, but Lily likes his sneakiness, honor, and courage. Other characters don't take kindly to Thorn's behavior, mainly enemy royalty, but it makes him an endearing character. The plot often breaks away into two storylines, but they always follow Lily or Thorn, who are working together. I appreciated the trust and caring displayed between these characters, and it was nice to see a dirty peasant become the key to saving the kingdom. The plot built to an exciting climax, and it left some surprises for the end. I highly recommend this book to lovers of magic and mystery; you won't be disappointed.

The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore

The Firefly CodeMy name is Mori, and at the age of thirteen, we're told our genetic codes and have a surgery to reveal the latency, or special talent, locked in our brains. I love everything about plants, but I wonder what my latency will be. I live in New Harmonie where everyone works for Krita,  and I suppose someday I'll work for the giant corporation too. Oh! A new girl named Ilana just moved onto our cul-de-sac, and she's amazing! She's tall, beautiful, athletic, and she shares my interest with plants. However, my best friend Julia doesn't like her, and my other friends think she's different. I admit she's freakishly perfect and can't answer some questions about her past, but she's been a great friend to me. Ilana even agreed to enter the abandoned House Number 9 with me where a founder of New Harmonie once lived. I discovered some old files about Krita research, but I noticed a computer file that has me confused. I think it might have something to do with Ilana.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in EMG Speculative Fiction. The setting is in the future where the citizens of New Harmonie are protected from the evils found outside the city. There's no starvation, people get what they need, and all of their medical needs are fulfilled. The kids are allowed to have some genetic modifications, and Mori had some done to correct her vision. The book addresses the ethical issues surrounding genetic engineering, robotics, and artificial intelligence. The plot isn't full of action, but the author slowly develops the conflict and keeps readers thinking. It moved a little too slowly for me, as I still wasn't sure of the conflict a fourth of the way into the book. I thought it was about the latencies, but that seem to take a backseat as I got further into the plot. Ilana became the main issue, but her problem slowly evolved. The last third of the book was much more engaging once the conflict became clear. However, the conclusion of the book left me with more questions than I wanted to answer. It felt unfinished.

The Goblin's Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton

The Goblin's Puzzle: The Adventures of a Boy With No Name and Two Girls Called AlliceMy name is... actually, I don't have a name. I've run away from my master, but I keep thinking that I'm still a slave. I rescued a goblin, and he's reluctantly granted me three vows (He insisted I keep two for myself, but I still wanted to grant to my master). One vow forces him to always tell me the truth, but it's all very confusing. He says I'm not a slave, but I'm still a slave. What? I know I must defeat three monsters and save a princess, because that's how it's told in all the Tales. My first quest was to free Princess Alice from an ogre, but she turned out to be Plain Alice. The real princess was captured by a dragon, but the dragon is being controlled by an evil sorcerer. I must save her from the beast, but Plain Alice has made me promise to not hurt the dragon. How is a simple boy like me supposed to do that? I didn't find out until later, but the princess's uncle has put a spell on the dragon and is trying to take over the kingdom. I must free the princess, because I've promised on my honor to do it. However, I must figure out some way to prove I'm not a slave, or I'll be hanged when this all over.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in Elementary and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. The main character is very endearing, even though he doesn't have a name! He feels like he has no control over his life, but he has a great sense of honor and doing what's right. Actually, a major theme in this book addresses the issue of fate versus control of one's life. Many of the boy's decisions are influenced by the belief that his fate is to remain a slave, but Plain Alice continuously points out the illogical thinking. Another big theme deals with the concept of slavery. The boy supports it because that's all he's ever known, but the other main characters believe it's wrong for any human to own another human.