Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cirque de Freak: The Vampire's Assistant by Darren Shan

This book is the second in the Cirque de Freak series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. In book one, Darren Shan, the main character, sacrifices himself by becoming a half-vampire in order to save his friend. In this second book, Darren's big conflict is to withstand the urge to drink human blood, even though Mr. Crepsley has told him he'll die without it. The two rejoin Cirque de Freak when Darren starts to feel lonely, and Darren becomes friends with Evra, a snake boy. Cirque de Freak is full of many unusual creatures/characters, and an actual wolfman is one attraction everyone stays a good distance from. The camp is joined by Mr. Tiny and some hooded creatures called Little People; they make Evra very nervous and require large quantities of meat for their meals. Things become a bit more complicated when Darren and Evra become friends with a local boy and meet an eco-warrior. Unsuspecting humans in this setting are entering a very dangerous situation.

The book was easy to read, and I enjoyed the plot. The author introduced new ideas frequently and kept the plot moving nicely. Darren's relationship develops with Mr. Crepsley, and the reader can infer that the vampire is actually acting in the best interest of his new assistant, even though it may seem a little gross. The suspense added by Mr. Tiny and the Little People kept me wondering, and I always had that wolfman in the back of my mind. The boys have some light-hearted moments, but the ending is not happy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rewind by Ian Page

This book was recommended by one of my students, and I gave it a rating of 4 out of 5. It reminded me a bit of Back to the Future. The main character, Liam, wants to create a band even though none of his band members have any talent. The group enters a battle of the bands contest where Liam "dies" in an accident. He awakens back in time, five months before his birth actually. His ghost is able to communicate with Welly, a junk shop owner he met while still alive. Liam is able to watch his teenage parents and discovers they were once in a band together. Liam decides the mission of his ghost is to stop the death of a band member, with Welly's help, but the final outcome is surprising yet predictable.

I enjoyed the twists in the plot as Welly flip-flops between believing he's talking to a ghost and then believing he's actually nuts. The novel has a nice message and is not a topic usually written about. My biggest concern was a slowish beginning to the book. It gets much more interesting once Liam "dies". I had a couple of other small questions about how the author wrote the book. Why did the author have a little girl see Liam when his ghost first appeared? No one else besides Welly could see him, and the little girl never reenters the plot. Also, why is Liam's ghost trapped inside rooms? He was stuck in his future mother's house all night until someone opened a door for him. Not very ghostlike.

The Pig Scrolls by Gryllus the Pig by Paul Shipton

This is the first book in a series, and I gave it a rating of 4 out of 5. The novel is a humorous twist on Greek mythology, and follows the adventures of Gryllus, a talking pig. All of the gods and goddesses have gone into hiding, and a prophetess, Sibyl has been told by Apollo that the talking pig and a goatherder are the keys to saving the world. Gryllus is, well, a lazy pig and is reluctant to help. There are obstacles faced along the way as Gryllus, the goatherder, and Sibyl try to fulfill their quest.

I enjoyed the unusual plot; you don't often find gods and goddesses running away in terror. Greek mythology was the backbone of this novel, but I enjoyed the humorous references to the future. For example, Thales invented an electromagnet that was used to defeat attacking birds, and he split an atom to power his toaster. There was a nice twist to the climax of the plot. Good readers would realize the apparent solution to the problem was not the climax; there were too many pages left in the book, and it was solved too easily. A better climax evolved at the end.

Although I enjoyed the book, I am not looking to read more books in the series. I can understand people wanting to read the continuing adventures of Gryllus the pig, but I grew tired of his characterization. I know he's a lazy pig, but I got tired of being reminded of it throughout the book.

Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman

This book was recommended by one of my students, and I gave it a rating of 4 out of 5. I thought the conflict and plot were imaginative, although I felt the author neglected to put much effort into making it believable for the reader. Blake's brother is found in a coma, and Blake quickly figures out that his brother must be at a secret carnival location. The author didn't really try very hard to establish this novel as a fantasy before having the main character decide his brother's soul must be in a different place than his body. The conflict is that Blake must survive seven carnival rides before midnight in order to save his brother from a mysterious woman.

Adolescent readers will probably enjoy this book, and I thought it had some nice messages to share. I found myself curious to see how seemingly innocent carnival rides could turn into death traps. Blake displays love for his brother and perseveres through all obstacles to save him. However, he realizes that his brother must take control of his own future in order to be truly saved. Hope is a key thought that helps Blake battle the lethal rides and his own inner demons. This hope spreads to other characters as the story reaches its final climax.

Here, There Be Dragons by James Owen

This book was recommended to me by our school librarian, who is not a great fan of fantasies. She thinks it might be the best fantasy she's ever read, and I gave it a ranking of 5 out of 5. In the novel, three men from England become caretakers of the Imaginarium Geograhica, a kind of magic atlas. The atlas shows maps of lands full of fauns, centaurs, elves, trolls, dragons, and other strange creatures. The men have no idea what's going on, so a strange little fellow named Bert leads them into the fantasy world before they can be murdered by followers of the Winter King. The Winter King wants the book in order to rule the world. There, the men discover they are key players in an epic battle between good and evil, but they spend much of the book learning about their own special talents and how they can be used to stop the Winter King.

There are many references to other fantasy books and authors throughout the novel. The Winter King is able to use Pandora's Box to create Shadow-Born warriors who cannot be killed. This aspect of the book reminds me of Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron. The caretakers are referred to as sons of Adam and Eve, ala The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A magic ring and its ability to summon dragons may remind readers of JRR Tolkein's books. There's even a character who built an ark in order to save all of the animals in world from a worldwide flood. This all makes more sense when you get to the end and discover the identities of the present and past caretakers.

My favorite line is near the end when the caretakers and Bert are discussing connections between our world and the fantasy land they've just left. John talks about his hope that a quick, magical solution to the world's problems exists and refers to Alice in Wonderland. Bert replies "That's just a story. We should stay focused on the real world, don't you think?"

Peeps by Scott Westerfield

I gave this book a rating of 4 out of 5. Cal becomes parasite positive, called a "peep", and starts working for an organization that controls other peeps. Many of the peeps become dangerous to others, while Cal is only a carrier. He develops some of the powers of peeps, but he keeps his sanity. The conflict evolves into a conspiracy of major proportions as Cal seeks out the peep who infected him. His investigation leads him deep under the city among thousands of vicious rats and red-eyed cats. Something else, large and evil, is also lurking down there.

I enjoyed the idea of the plot, so I gave this book a good score. However, there were a couple of things about it that I didn't like. I found the first couple of chapters very strange and confusing, to the point that I was ready to stop reading the book. It talked about a girl, a peep, who was afraid of anything related to Elvis, rats that followed her, and how she was Cal's former girlfriend but now might attack him. Then, the author finally informed me that peeps are his version of vampires, and he explained all of the strange things I'd been reading in the previous chapters. I also didn't care for the short chapters throughout the book that explained the scientific effect of various parasites and diseases. I didn't think too much about them, and I felt they weren't necessary. I skimmed those chapters as I got farther into the book. I also like conflicts that are more resolved than the one in this book. I felt like I was left hanging, probably for a sequel. Despite my concerns, I obviously felt the book was entertaining, since I gave it a pretty good rating. Other readers may not be bothered by my concerns, and knowing that the book is about vampires may help reduce their confusion.

The Secret History of Tom Trueheart by Ian Beck

I gave this book a rating of a "weak" four out of five. Tom Trueheart is the seventh son but is the only one whose name is not a variation of Jack. In this world, writers for the bureau create the beginnings to stories that are finished by the Trueheart brothers, except for young Tom, and their adventures become books. One of the writers decides he doesn't like the Truehearts receiving all of the glory for the stories, so he captures the six older brothers. Tom's first adventure becomes the rescue of his brothers. He encounters all of the characters from familiar, but unfinished, fairy tales such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Rapunzel. He must free his six brothers, so they may go back and finish their stories.

I liked the concept of the book, but it didn't live up to its potential for me. I thought the idea of writers creating story starters was clever and allowing the characters to finish their stories left a number of possibilities open. However, the first half of the book was about the brothers starting their stories and described information the reader already knew from fairy tales. During the second half of the book, Tom climbs a beanstalk to face the giant, who is helping the evil story writer. The plot didn't really build up to a dramatic climax. I enjoyed the concept of the book and characters, but there weren't any surprises for the reader. I haven't checked, but there may be a sequel to this novel based on how the resolution is described.

The Akhenaten Adventure by P.B. Kerr

This is the first book in the "Children of the Lamp" series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Two twins, John and Phillipa, travel to England to visit their uncle and discover they are djinn (genies). The worldwide balance of good and bad luck threatens to be thrown out of balance if the evil clan discovers the location of seventy djinn who were trapped thousands of years ago by the Egyptian ruler, Akhenaten. The twins must still learn to use their djinn powers, but they are thrown into the middle of the conflict and must battle Iblis, the leader of the evil clan. A trip to the North Pole helps them save the day.

I felt the plot moved along nicely, and I've not read any stories before that featured djinn as the main characters. It was a nice "fantasy trip" from the usual wizards, witches, and goblins. The variety of settings was unique too. The twins started in the United States, then traveled to England, Egypt, Russia, and then toward the North Pole. The wishes granted by a djinn are unpredictable, so the reader always wondered what might go wrong when powers were used. The twins had to overcome numerous obstacles and a couple of protagonists at different times. Friends turned out to be foes on several occasions. The plot ends in a way that a sequel is inevitable.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost! by Cornelia Funke

This is the first book in series, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Ten-year-old Tom discovers a ghost in the basement of his apartment building, but it's only an ARG, an averagely spooky ghost. He enlists the help of his grandmother's friend, and they must tackle an IRG to solve their ghost problem. They gather their graveyard dirt, violet perfume, and mirrors to combat the creature.

This is a humorous, entertaining book. The conflict and details regarding the ghosts are amusing, but this book is definitely not a classic must-read. However, this book may catch your fancy if you're looking for something quick and easy to read.

Z. Rex by Steve Cole

This is the first book in a new series, "The Hunting", and I gave it a rating of four out of five. I'm not sure how to explain the book without it sounding too goofy or outrageous, but I did enjoy it. A virtual reality programmer disappears, and his son, Adam, is left alone in New Mexico. The next thing he knows, some men arrive to kidnap him, but he is saved by...a Z-rex dinosaur. The dinosaur was created through a mixture of cloning, accelerated regeneration, and virtual programming. You can read about the dinosaur's abilities on your own. Adam and the dinosaur must work together to rescue "their father" and stop the scientists who are trying to create a dinosaur army. Z-rex battles his own evil clone in the climax.

As I was reading the book, I was thinking about the strange and bizarre plot. I like my fantasy books, but this intelligent, super dinosaur just seemed weird. After getting over my initial reaction, I just took the plot as a means for entertainment and read for enjoyment. Don't over-analyze the plot and conflict, and you may agree that it's a creative idea for a story. I'm not sure about making it into a series, but I am curious as to what the sequel may have in store.

Red Rider's Hood by Neal Shusterman

I forgot I'd read this book last year, but I still enjoyed it. I gave it a rating of five out of five. Red has his refurbished Mustang stolen by Cedric, the leader of a gang called the Wolves. He discovers that the Wolves are actually all werewolves, and he works with a girl named Marissa to stop them from killing people. A twist to the problem is that Marissa's brother, Marvin, is a member of the gang. Red decides he's going to go undercover and pretend that he wants to join the Wolves. He'll collect information for Marissa and a secret wolf hunter in order to stop the gang. If the gang finds out though, he's wolf chow.

This is not a classic novel, but I found it entertaining. There were numerous times throughout the plot where it looked like the gang would discover what Red was doing, but he always seemed to use his head, and some luck, to get away. My only criticism was that the author tried to make Red have this big internal conflict between his loyalty to humans and the gang. I didn't think this conflict was developed very well, and I didn't understand why he felt any loyalty to the Wolves at all. However, this internal problem helped make the actual conflict better, because Marissa and the wolf hunter started to question Red's loyalty and left him out of the showdown with the werewolves. Of course, there was no way the main character was going to miss the climax of the whole book!

The Thief and the Beanstalk by P.W. Catanese

I gave this book a rating of four out of five. It's obviously a spin-off from the fairy tale about Jack and the beanstalk. The grown up Jack gives three magical beans to a thief named Nick. Nick intends to climb the beanstalk and bring back treasures, just like Jack did fifty years earlier. However, Nick discovers some unexpected dangers and meets the giant's wife and sons. One son is very intelligent and creative, while the other son is strong but not very smart. Nick realizes that the two sons take after their evil father and not their kind mother. Nick must make a choice between stealing the treasure that he desperately wants and saving a special person, as well as the lives of the millions of people on Earth.

This book was more entertaining than I expected. It sat on my classroom bookshelf for a couple of years, and it always interested me. However, I always seemed to find something "better" to read. I was expecting a story much like the fairy tale, but I was surprised at the creativity of the plot. The introduction of the two evil sons was an unexpected surprise. The beanstalk itself becomes more than just a piece of the setting; it's very important to the conflict and the resolution. The characters surviving the conflict end up living happily ever after.

The Giant Slayer by Iain Lawrence

I rated this book a 4 out of 5, although it's much different from other books I've read. It's mostly realistic fiction, but a great deal of it is fantasy. The conflict begins in 1950 when Laurie's best friend is stricken with polio. She visits him in the hospital and creates a fantasy story to entertain the three children in iron lungs. Iron lungs were used to keep serious polio victims alive, since they could not breathe on their own. The conflict grows to a climax when Laurie herself is stricken by the disease.

The fantasy story revolves around a small boy who is destined to kill a giant. The small boy will never grow beyond the height of 31 and 3/4 inches due to the greedy deal his father made with a wishman. The plot features greed, love, kindness, ingenuity, and folklore. The author chose to include creatures from various mythologies, but that was not a problem for me. The small boy meets up with various creatures and characters during his adventures to fulfill his quest to kill the giant. The polio victims begin to identify themselves as characters in the story and make analogies with their own lives. They immediately identify the giant as a symbol for polio.

I would guess that some readers may not enjoy this book due the combination of genres. The fantasy itself isn't overly creative, but the true plot of the book is about the polio victims' battles with the deadly disease. They all take the fantasy story personally and use it as motivation in their own lives. They even struggle together to finish the story, because they are convinced that Laurie will not survive without it. The story is even more compelling when you realize that many of the facts about polio included in the plot are actually true.

Curse of the Spider King by Batson and Hopper

This is the first book in the new Berinfell Prophecies series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The spider king opens the book by waging war on the elves with the intent of killing them all to extinction. He orders his soldiers to kill the captured babies of the seven Elven Lords, the elves' only hope for survival. However, to avoid the curse for killing the babies before their Age of Reckoning, the soldiers decide to banish them to the human world where they won't cause any trouble to the spider king when they grow up. The chidren grow up believing they are humans, however, they each develop unique powers when they reach the Age of Reckoning. They discover their true identities when the spider king sends assassins into the human world to kill them. Elven sentintels appear, save the children, and give them magical books to educate them of their pasts. The seven youths must return to Allyra to save themselves and the other elves who have been in hiding.

The plot is similar to some other novels, most recently Here, There Be Dragons that I read back in November. I really liked the description of the young elven lords discovering their new powers in the human world. One child is able to walk on air, another can read minds, and another can foretell the future. Another elf has super strength and healing powers and a fifth elf is a super archer. I liked how the author did not have the sixth and seventh young Elven Lords discover their powers until the climax of the story. It kept me in suspense and the powers were crucial to escaping the spiders king's assassins.

My biggest complaint about the book is with the numerous changes of settings. The setting changes for each of the seven young Elven Lords, because they grow up in differnt places. The setting also changes when the children read the magic book, and they each start at different chapters. It got a bit confusing in the first half of the book, but I thought it would improve once the kids stopped reading the magic book and came together. That is exactly what happened. I assume the next book, due out next summer, will have less need to change settings and will be even better and easier to follow.

The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French

This is the first book in the Five Kingdoms series, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. A witch has the idea of turning princes and princesses into frogs and then asking their families for ransom money to change them back. A beautiful, but evil, young girl named Foyce offers to help, but she intends to cheat the witch in the end. Foyce's stepsister, Gracie, is the heroine in the story and is assisted by Marcus, a reluctant prince. The two of them are assisted by the Old Crones to stop the evil magic.

The idea of turning princes into frogs is as old as folk tales, but this plot evolves in a unique way. The witch wants the ransom to pay for a new dress. She has a troll for an assistant, but she literally knocks his head off when she gets angry. A bat named Marlon guides Marcus and Gracie throughout the adventure, and he offers some humorous dialogue with the characters. Unusual events and descriptions in the book provide some endearing qualities. The path to the home of the Old Crones happily greets Gracie when she first visits them, and the home seems to have a life of its own. A sleeping soup only works on evil people but does not harm those with true hearts. Old Crones' solution to the problem was enjoyable and creative.

I didn't enjoy the negativity in the first half of the book, and I considered not finishing it. I suppose it was necessary to develop the conflict, but it seemed like Gracie and Marcus were the only good people in the whole book who were not evil, shallow, or self-centered. The second half of the book was better and included some action as the plot built to the climax. I can see where this series might develop a following of readers, but I do not intend to read the second book at this time.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

This science fiction book is the first in a series, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Actually, it's one of my favorite books from all that I've ever read. Ender is recruited at age six to be trained as a space battle commander. The thought is to identify and train geniuses while they're young, so they'll be ready to lead when the buggers mount their third invasion of Earth sometime in the future. The adults at the space training facility make things as difficult as possible for Ender, and he sometimes feels hopeless. He is isolated by the adults, and he's several years younger than other recruits. They are jealous of his genius, but Ender always finds a way to win the simulation contests in the battleroom. He uses creative tactics that have never been seen before, and his armies dominate the others. The adults decide to break up his army and give him new soldiers with no experience. He still finds a way to win, but things really change when Ender is sent to command school. The climax of his simulation battles at the command school will be surprising.

I enjoyed how the author made Ender's conflicts as difficult as possible, seemingly impossible to overcome. He felt pressure due to his isolation, peer pressure, pressure to win all of his battles, and pressure to be the best when he was told that the whole human race was depending on him. Some readers might be turned off by the political angle of the novel that centers around Ender's brother and sister. This part of the plot lends itself to more mature readers, and the political angle is more prominent after the third book in the series. Ender's Shadow is the sequel to Ender's Game and is excellent. It follows Bean, the recruit introduced in the middle of Ender's Game.

The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley

This was a nice little book, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. It's over 200 pages, but it's literally a little book. The main setting for this story is within the pages of a book called The Great Good Thing. The characters in the book are told that the number one rule is never look into the eyes of the Reader. Sophie, the protagonist and princess in the story, goes past looking into the eyes and decides to leave the book and enter Claire’s dreams; Claire is the Reader of the book. Claire, Sophie, and a mysterious, blue-eyed girl have many adventures in Claire’s mind. Sophie’s book world starts to fall apart as Claire gets older, starts to forget the story. No copies of the book can be found to preserve their memories, so Sylvie and all of the book characters may disappear if Claire’s memories die with her.
I really enjoyed the imagination of the author and the uniqueness of the plot. Reading this book will require you to think. Placing the settings within the pages of a book, inside dreams, and inside memories is very unusual. Sophie is a remarkable and believable character, and she is the key to solving the problem. The mysterious, blue-eyed girl is always around to give advice, and you may be surprised at her true identity. There is foreshadowing, so look for the clues. I also liked how the author included this character into the resolution of the problem.

Hatching Magic by Ann Downer

This book is about dragons and magic, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The conflict surrounds two wizards, Gideon and Kobold, the good and the evil. They are the obvious protagonist and antagonist. They are half brothers, and Kobold is jealous that Gideon became the kingdom’s main wizard. Kobold also blames Gideon for the mental illness of Gwynlyn, the king’s daughter. It seems throughout most of the book that Kobold is trying to punish Gideon to get revenge, but the reader discovers that an unknown character is controlling him.

Gideon travels into the future to find his dragon, Wycca. Wycca, travels through a bolt-hole, or a portal through “Time”. Gideon learns about electricity, elevators, and the subway, and meets the wizard Merlin driving a taxi. Wycca steals a falcon’s nest for her own, considers dive-bombing some humans, and hides out in a skunk’s nest. Theodora Oglethorpe, a human infatuated with dragons, finds Wycca's baby, and she also finds Gideon's dragon power card. This card is the key ingredient in the conflict between Gideon and Kobold.

I like how the author mixed magic with real-world twists. It added some humor and reality to the fantasy. The reader is kept guessing about how the problem will be resolved, and the author leaves a little surprise about Theodora until the end. There is a sequel to this book called The Dragon of Never-Was.

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

This fantasy is based on Norse mythology, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. The story begins like The Last Apprentice, then turns into a little Vampirates, and then goes off on its own, distinct tale. Jack and Lucy are kidnapped by berserkers, and they sail away to the berserkers country. Think of the berserkers as werewolves on steroids! Jack was being trained as an apprentice bard before his capture, and he is able to summon some powers of the Earth. As an apprentice, this magic didn't always work as planned. Olaf, the head berserker, presents Lucy to his queen, and Jack performs a spell that makes the queen quite ugly. Jack is sent on a quest to find magic that will return the queen's beauty, but Lucy will be sacrificed to the gods if he doesn't get back in time.

Many of the characters come from Norse mythology: the god Odin, trolls, and even the berserkers. Some of the events in the novel refer to actual events in Norse history. Although I've read similar plots in other books, I enjoyed this author's twists as mythology was woven in. The use of magic isn't overdone, and the plot has much symbolism with deeper meaning. The description makes reference to the life force in the Earth and the balance of life on the planet. Good cannot exist without evil. The life force does not respond well to anger. The book makes you think.

Jimmy Coates: Assassin? by Joe Craig

I gave this book a rating of four out of five. Eleven-year-old Jimmy Coates finds himself being chased by mystery people with green stripes. He has no idea why they want him and doesn't know who to trust. Throughout the book, Jimmy discovers he has many amazing powers that seem to emerge from inside him (Have your ever seen the NBC TV show "Chuck"?) Jimmy has strength, speed, fighting skills, night-vision, and the ability to breathe underwater. He is a secret weapon created by the prime minister of England and his scientists to kill anyone against their way of running the government.

Jimmy has the external conflict of surviving people who want to hurt, if not kill, him, and he has the internal conflict of having the urge to kill people but the conscious feeling against it. The plot is fast-paced and has plenty of action. The author drops a number of hints throughout the book that Jimmy has a history with the man he is sent to kill, and there may be more to his relationships with other characters than first meets the eye. I assume a seemingly unimportant cameo appearance by a boy named Mitchell will become a major factor in the sequel.

Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run by Hemphill and Riddleburger

This historical fiction book was on the shelf of recommended readings at my public library, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Stonewall Hinkleman is a twelve-year-old boy whose parents make him participate in Civil War reenactments as a Southern bugler. A mysterious stranger gives him a bugle that ends up sending him back in time to the original Battle of Bull Run. However, a Southern fanatic from modern times also returns to this battle, and he hopes to change the results and help the South win the war. Stonewall's problem is to find a way to stop this man. Along the way, he meets a distant uncle and helps to change his heritage in a more positive way.

The plot is not overly complex, but I enjoyed how the authors wove information about the Civil War and the Battle of Bull Run into it. Readers will learn about landmarks, weapons, famous people, and historic events while reading this book. As I reflect, I think what I like best about the book is the way the authors develop Stonewall's character. He begins the story as a reluctant reenactor and becomes a reluctant Southern soldier in an actual battle. The book is written from a first-person point of view, so readers are able to share Stonewall's thoughts and feelings while he tries to stop the antagonist, impress a girl, overcome his fear, and still save the history of our country.

Urchin of the Riding Stars by M.I. McCallister

This is the first book in The Mistmantle Chronicles series, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Urchin is a squirrel, born on the night of shooting stars when special things happen. Since he "fell from the sky", he is secretly raised in the Anemone Woods and becomes the page of Captain Crispin. An evil squirrel captain, Husk, is trying to dethrone the king of Mistmantle and manages to have Crispin banished from the island. Urchin becomes the page of Padra, a captain otter, and they attempt to save the kingdom. Husk resorts to murder, manipulation, and treason as he slowly takes control of the king's rule. Padra, Brother Fir, and Urchin uncover Husk's plans, and Urchin accidentally discovers a secret, evil place hidden deep below the kingdom. The reader knows that Urchin's prophecy, "He will bring down a powerful ruler", will come true in the end. However, is the prophecy fulfilled in this book, or the next?

If you like the series of books about Redwall, you'll probably enjoy this book too; it's much shorter in length than books in that series. The animals might bother some readers, but they're just characters like in any other book. Squrrels, otters, moles, and hedgehogs are the main characters, but swans play an important role. I enjoyed the action and mystery in the plot. Even though I knew the antagonist and his plans early in the book, it still kept me guessing as secrets were discovered, and Crispin, a major protagonist, was quickly sent away. The omniscient point of view allowed me to know what was happening in all areas of the kingdom, and it also allowed me to know Husk's thoughts and most of the plans of his opponents. The plot grew to an exciting climax in a face-off between good and evil.

Urchin and the Heartstone by M.I. McCallister

This is the second book in The Mistmantle Chronicles, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Urchin is kidnapped and taken away to the island of Whitewings where the king and his followers have plans for him. They believe the prophecy "He will bring down a powerful ruler" applies to their island and was not fulfilled in the first book. King Silverbirch believes Urchin can find silver, so he does not kill Urchin right away, much to the displeasure of his sorcerer. However, the king promises Smokewreath that he will be able to kill Urchin and use his body to create magic when the first snow falls. Urchin learns that he has animals willing to help him and someone he knows may hold special powers. Meanwhile, back on Mistmantle, Crispin vows that he will not be crowned king until Urchin is safely returned to the kingdom. They must also find the missing Heartstone before his coronation. In addition, unbeknown to the kingdom, there are traitors secretly plotting to overthrow Crispin's rule.

Again, I think this series is similar to the Redwall books with a little more mystique sprinkled in. I enjoy the conflicts and subplots, and the author does a nice job of keeping the interest flowing. One question that is addressed in this book is why the mist surrounding the island will not allow citizens of Mistmantle to return by water once they leave. There's still a bit of mystery about it even after the explanation. I also have a hard time keeping track of what animals are represented by the different characters, but it's not a big deal. Readers can remember the main characters, and the minor characters aren't real important.

The Heir of Mistmantle by M.I. McCallister

This book is the third in The Mistmantle Chronicles series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The main problem is that the baby princess, Catkin, has been kidnapped, and the animals of the kingdom spend most of the plot searching for her. In addition, an epidemic spreads, rain and flooding ravage the island, and rumors abound that the evil Husk has returned. Some of the animals start to question Crispin's ability to rule the kingdom and even blame his wife, Cedar, for all of the problems. Urchin is kept busy helping the sick, saving animals from the ravaging waters, and searching for the lost princess. Juniper discovers a secret about his parents that may change his life forever.

To be honest, the first half of the book didn't immediately grab my interest. The animals search for Catkin, but readers already know who did the kidnapping; the only question is when will she be found. The disease and rumors start to spread which isn't overly exciting. However, things get more interesting when the storm hits and adds more action and suspense to the plot. Sightings of Husk are reported, which makes readers wonder if he actually died in the first book; remember that his body was never found! Make sure you read the first two books in the series, or you may not finish reading this one.

Cirque de Freak: Killers of the Dawn by Darren Shan

This book is the ninth in the Cirque de Freak series, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Darren is a half-vampire and is now a prince. The main conflict is that Darren and his small band of friends must defeat the Lord of the Vampeneze, but they're not exactly sure of his identity. They are trapped, escape, arrested, escape, and then trapped again. They're never sure who to trust, since the policeman who helped Darren escape was actually an enemy. There's a great deal of action, and the plot builds to a climax under the ground where Darren and his group face the Vampeneze Lord and his army. The giant fire pit below adds to the problem.

I read the first book in the series a year or two ago, and then read this ninth book. I enjoyed it, but I know I didn't understand many things that must have happened in the previous seven books. I'm thinking about going back to read them. Despite the characters being vampires, there's no biting in the book, and there isn't any graphic violence. I liked the character development, the surprises, and there was enough action to hold the reader's interest.

The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda

This book is the first in a series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Leo discovers that the painting on the outside of his music box is actually the kingdom of Rondo, found inside the music box. The Blue Queen comes out of the music box and kidnaps the dog of his cousin, Mimi, so they enter the world of Rondo to retrieve her pet. They meet many different characters, but they're never quite sure who they can trust. They eventually are taken to a retired hero, Hal, who seems to have something to hide. When they find their door locked and Hal whispering to someone in the middle of the night, they decide things aren't safe anymore. They head off to the castle to face the Blue Queen alone. There is a confrontation with the queen at the climax of the story. The resolution of the plot informs the reader of things that were actually happening despite inferences the reader may have made.

I enjoyed the characters and plot in this story. I liked how Leo and Mimi's difficult relationship improved as they faced problems together in Rondo. The idea of going on a quest to rescue someone isn't uncommon, but the obstacles along the way are unique. The author does a nice job of keeping the reader guessing about what's going on, much like a mystery novel. On more than one occasion, seemingly good characters end up being bad, and the kids misunderstand things they see and hear. The author displays great creativity, especially with her characters, which is what I liked and didn't like. Besides humans that help the kids, there is a talking duck that is a friend, or is he? Their is a vain pig who travels with them to help fight off various creatures. The strangest characters are the hidey-holes. Yes, there are talking holes that help the kids hide from danger.

The Wizard of Rondo by Emily Rodda

This book is the second in a series, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Leo and Mimi return to the music box and discover that a wizard is missing. A boy named Simon is accused of killing the wizard, so the quest team gets back together to prove his innocence. There is also a dark cloud hovering over the forest that is thought to absorb people it chooses. Once again, the team meets many unusual characters with unusual obstacles along the way.

If you liked The Key to Rondo you might enjoy this book too. I liked the imagination of the story, but it started to become kind of random to me. There were so many different unusual events and characters that I started to get tired of it. The action seemed to drag on, because so much time was spent describing the strange characters and unimportant events. I appreciated the creativity in the first book, but it got old for me in this book.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

This book is the first in a series, Maximum Ride, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Maximum Ride is the name of the main character, and she is the leader of a family of mutant children. All six of them were genetically altered to grow wings, and they're able to fly. A man named Jeb helped them escape from the "School", the lab where they were created. However, now the scientists want the youngest of them, Angel, back at the lab. They are hunted down by Erasers, creatures that are part human and part werewolf. As the adventure progresses, Max keeps hearing a voice saying that she needs to save the world.

I enjoyed the idea of the plot and conflict, but I didn't like the "side trips". It seemed as though things kept popping up that distracted me from the actual conflict. The extra events usually involved the characters fighting off an army of Erasers. Actually, the main conflict is still a little fuzzy for me, so the climax didn't really seem to resolve any kind of a problem. It just brought up more questions. I plan to try the sequel, but it will need to have a clearer conflict if I'm going to finish it.

School's Out - Forever by James Patterson

This book is the second in the Maximum Ride series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Max and the other five genetically altered flying "humans" are still searching for their parents. They are frequently attacked by Erasers, but the Erasers in this book are able to fly too. A clone of Max is introduced into the plot which complicates matters. The original Max and her group are able to find Iggie's parents, but that doesn't turn out as well as they expected. Anne, an FBI agent, "adopts" the group, but they're not 100% certain if she's good or bad. As in the first book, members of the group start to discover additional powers that they possess. The group finds a new enemy when they reach Florida.

This series has been very frustrating for me. I find the events very interesting, but I'm still not sure of the actual conflict. After two books, I'm still not sure if Jeb is good or bad. The plot in both books spends much of its time trying to find the parents of the group and fighting off Erasers, but the "saving the world" part is always in the background. Jeb keeps telling Max to trust him and that she needs to save the world, but then he tells Ari that he can attack the group with his Erasers. Jeb says the attacks are tests, but he doesn't seem too concerned as to whether any of them get hurt. The group still acts like nomads, wandering across the country, but I can't foresee an actual destination in sight. I don't feel like the first two books really had climaxes where the conflicts were resolved; I don't like being lured into reading the next book in a series, because the previous book felt unfinished. Again, I've found these books very interesting, but I don't plan on reading any more of them.

A Templar's Apprentice by Kat Black

This book is the first in The Book of Tormod series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The setting begins in Scotland, in 1307, and moves throughout areas of Europe. Tormod is the son of a farmer but ends up delivering a message for a Templar. Templars are specially-trained soldiers for the pope and have vowed to protect the weak and the church. Tormod delivers the message but is drawn into a conflict between King Phillipe of France and the church. He reunites with Templar Alexander, and they travel together to protect a small carving with enormous power from getting into enemy hands. Their quest is to deliver the carving to its original, secret hiding place. Tormod discovers he has the power to foresee future events, and Templar Alexander informs him that he has additional powers that have not yet been realized. The quest to deliver the carving takes them over seas, through mountains, and into strange lands. All the while, King Phillipe's mercenaries keep popping up to capture them.

The conflict is pretty clear for an adventure novel, and action scenes are provided throughout most of the plot. Tormod has the internal conflict of dealing with his visions and the fears that are within him. He learns to master his powers as the story moves along, and they come in very handy. I found the early part of the story required a great deal of concentration and the use of my inferencing skills. The author wrote Tormod's speech in old English with a strong Scottish accent. This was very noticeable to me, although I didn't seem to think about it as much as the book went along. I'm not sure if I got used to it or if the dialogue was written more clearly. The visions also took some getting used to, because they popped up without warning and occurred fairly frequently.