Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Lorien Legaices #1: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I first heard of this title as a movie, but I gave the book a rating of five out of five. "John Smith" and eight other gardes escape from their planet, Lorein, and go into hiding on Earth. Their planet has been invaded by Mogadorians who intend to kill all of the inhabitants and take all of the planet's resources. Earth is the Mogadorians next target. The gardes will develop legacies, or special powers, while on Earth which will hopefully make them strong enough to defeat the enemy. Due to some special protection, the Mogadorians are only able to kill the gardes in numerical order as long as the gardes are separate from each other. John and his guardian move to Paradise, Ohio, to go into hiding and wait for John's legacies to develop. Of course, John makes friends with a diverse group of humans, but he must try to hide his secret identity and powers from them. His presence endangers the humans, but John has never had close friends before. What will he do when the Mogadorians discover his location?

The plot jumped into the action immediately as the third garde was killed in the opening pages. I enjoyed John's character as he tried to balance his need to survive with his need for friendship and love. The plot held my interest very well, and I ended up reading the book in one day. While training with his guardian, John often had flashbacks to his early life on Lorein which might confuse readers who aren't paying attention. John also had a budding romance with Sarah, so readers may be turned off if they're not willing to accept frequent hugging and kissing. Overall, I really enjoyed the book, and I'm hoping to get my hands on the sequel, The Power of Six.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars by Nick James

This book is the first in a new series (2011), and I gave it a rating of five out of five. In the year 2095, Earth's environments and governments have changed after a horrific, devastating world war. Jesse Fisher lives above the planet with his friends in the Skyship Academy, other people live near big cities on the Surface, and everyone else lives in wasteland outside the cities. People living above the Earth are not allowed to come down to its surface, and the large cities are run like fortresses. The key energy source during this time period is pearls, balls of energy that fall from space, and Earth's inhabitants fight over them. Jesse nearly dies during a mission to retrieve pearls when he falls from a twelve-story building. Cassius, the boy who made Jesse fall, is unaware that Earth's future depends on these two boys. Jesse seems to be the least likely person to hold the key to survival in his hands. Literally.

The action opened quickly on page one with Jesse dangling from a rooftop. The plot and conflict seemed to be pretty clear as the different characters fought over pearls and planned secret missions. However, little hints started popping up that there was more going on than first thought. Jesse and Cassius had undiscovered powers that they weren't able to control, while the people around them had secrets and weren't always trustworthy. I was a little bothered at how the verb tenses changed in different chapters, and I'm not certain why it was done. That's the language arts teacher in me, but I'm looking forward to the sequel. It was a new, well-written science fiction novel.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

I gave this book a rating of four out of five. Matt Cruse works on a luxury airship that travels around the world. One year after rescuing a delirious man in a hot-air balloon, Matt meets the man's granddaughter, Kate, who is trying to find the strange flying creatures described in the man's journal. The airship is hijacked by pirates, and their damaged airship is forced to land on an unmapped island. Matt and Kate explore the island and discover a very unusual skeleton. It's large teeth indicate it was a dangerous animal, but can these creatures actually be alive. The plot takes off from there in a twisting adventure full of action, and more pirates!

It's an interesting conflict and plot, but I would have liked the action to move a bit quicker. The first half of the book held my interest, but I kept wanting more to happen. The plot picks up significantly once the pirates attack, and I enjoyed the surprises that followed. Kate's impulsiveness gets her into trouble but also allows leads to several interesting discoveries.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tut, Tut by Jon Scieszka

This book is the sixth in The Time Warp Trio series, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Joe's sister accidentally opens The Book, and they are transported to ancient Egypt along with Joe's friends, Sam and Fred. The boys are accused of robbing a pharaohs tomb, but they discover the high priest is trying to steal some of the treasure. The boys are rescued by the Pharaoh's son, but they must still prove their innocence to his father. They've also lost The Book and Joe's sister, so they are unable to return to the present.

This book can be finished quickly by most readers. It has an interesting plot with a basic vocabulary, so it's an easy-read. Since it's a very short book, the plot is pretty simple and easy to follow. However, the climax ends up being one of my pet peeves. I hate when the conflict is resolved by the characters waking up, or in this case, when the characters return to the present. The resolution tries to explain what happened, but it's not the same as describing the action.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George

This book was recommended by one of my students, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Creel comes from a poor family, so it is decided that she will be captured by a dragon, rescued by a handsome prince, and then live richly ever after. However, she strikes a deal with the dragon and receives a pair of blue shoes instead. She heads off to the King's Seat in hopes of using her sewing and embroidery skills to find a job. Another dragon named Shardas saves her from some thugs, and she becomes the dragon's friend. He hints that there is something very special about her blue shoes, but Creel doesn't realize their full power until they're stolen by an evil princess from a rival country. The power of the shoes may lead to the downfall of the kingdom, and Creel may be the only person who can stop it.

Creel was an interesting character as she transformed from a fair maiden into the heroine of the kingdom. She used her skills, her mind, her bravery, and the goodness of her heart to help achieve greatness. The plot offered many character conflicts, a number of action scenes, and a budding romance. The climax had a very unexpected twist, and the resolution left the door open for the sequel, Dragon Flight.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sidekicks By Jack Ferraiolo

This book has a fun plot, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Scott is a normal middle-school boy, except for the fact that he's also a superhero named Bright Boy. He's a sidekick to the main superhero named Phantom Justice, and they spend most of their time fighting their arch enemies, Dr. Chaos and Monkeywrench. When he's not worrying about his enemies stealing top secret inventions, Scott is trying to adjust to life at school. Bright Boy's tight-fitting outfit reveals some physical changes as he goes through puberty, and it becomes very embarrassing when pictures hit the television and Internet. These events add to the difficulty of hiding his secret life, and it's not until later in the book that Scott discovers the identify of his true enemy.

The idea of the plot sounds kind of goofy, but it was entertaining. There was a lot of action and a good deal of character development. A subplot develops into a Romeo and Juliet story, and the conflict twists in an unexpected way. The author added frequent humor through the dialogue as the foes exchanged standard, superhero comments, and Scott tried develop his first real relationship. As long as readers don't take it too seriously, I think most of them will enjoy the book. The author left the door open for a sequel too.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Reckless by Cornelia Funke

I gave this book a rating of four out of five. Jacob Reckless passes back through a mirror into a world of dwarfs, witches, and Goyl, creatures made of stone. However, this time his younger brother, Will, also passes through with his girlfriend. The Goyl king's wife, a powerful witch, puts a spell on Will that is slowing turning him to jade. Will, as the jade Goyl, will make the king immortal. Jacob must find a way to stop the spell before his brother completely changes and forgets about his past. In addition, the Goyl king plans to marry the daughter of the human empress to bring peace to that part of the land. Jacob discovers that the only way he can save his brother is to face the evil witch. No one has ever challenged her, and lived.

I found the exposition of the plot a little confusing. It may have been the strange names and creatures. The plot and conflict became clearer, and the author did a nice job of developing the suspense. The slow-working spell was like a time bomb, and many obstacles were created to stop the characters from saving Will. Some of the obstacles were in the form of fights while others were more magical. Fantasy lovers should enjoy the story.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow by Nathan Bransford

This is a goofy, entertaining book, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Jacob Wonderbar is known for getting into trouble and for scaring away substitute teachers. Jacob, Dexter, and Sarah trade a corn dog for an alien's spaceship and zoom off into space. They accidentally destroy a few uninhabited planets (the cosmic space kapow) and are then kidnapped by a twelve-year-old space pirate. They are stranded on a planet that smells like arm pits, and Jacob later serves a jail sentence on a planet of substitute teachers. The kids' hopes to return to Earth are complicated, because radiation and debris from the cosmic space kapow are blocking the way. They may need to turn to Mick's father, the king of the universe, for help.

This novel is not classic literature with a wonderful plot or with an important message about life. It's slapstick comedy in a book. Jacob wants to see his father again, his parents divorced several years ago, and his friendships with Dexter and Sarah are very strong. That is as serious as this book gets. There is a planet with thirty-second days and nights, and another planet that worships mice. The spaceships are able to talk to their pilots, and they are able to be bored and jealous. The story is so strange that it's fun, so don't expect to take anything seriously. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Merlin's Dragon #3: Ultimate Magic by T.A. Barron

This book is the final book in the trilogy, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. You can see my postings for the first two books below. Ultimate Magic picks up right where the second book left off. Merlin has left Avalon to return to Earth, and Basil is losing hope that he can stop Rhita Gawr's evil by himself. Basil, along with the other creatures of Avalon, fight off an evil army, only to then face a force of Rhita Gawr's evil leeches. Merlin's son helps Basil discover the location of the source of the evil power in Avalon, and Basil realizes that their only hope is to destroy it. However, Rhita Gawr is making plans to leave the Otherworld, so he can conquer Avalon himself. He is soaking up power from unimaginable sources and may become too mighty to overcome. Basil can't defeat Rhita Gawr by himself and receives help from unexpected allies. Will the help arrive in time, and will it be enough?

This book was the best of the trilogy and held my interest throughout. It reunited many of the characters from all three books, and a couple of them sacrificed their lives to save Avalon. Basil also found himself near death before friends came to his rescue. There were a number of enemies to defeat during the plot, but I knew the climax would be a showdown against Rhita Gawr. The resolution had an ironic element to it and left me wondering about the future of Avalon.

Merlin's Dragon #2: Doomraga's Revenge by T.A. Barron

This book is the second in the trilogy, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Basil has grown into the most powerful dragon Avalon has ever known. However, Rhita Gawr sends messengers of evil into the realms of Avalon in the form of leeches. The leeches influence the residents to spread chaos, panic, and hatred throughout the land and give Doomraga, Rhita Gawr's chief minion, more power. Basil and Merlin travel all over Avalon stopping the uprisings of evil, but it causes Merlin to lose his family. His son disowns him, because he was never around to be a father.; Merlin didn't show his son attention once he discovered his son had no magical powers. The evil has overtaken many of the residents and others have given up hope. The evil power is growing and Basil and Merlin may not be able to stop it.

You need to read the first book before this one; you can see my post for it below. I like the strength and power that Basil has gained in this book, but I miss his underdog character from book one. This books develops more character relationships with Basil as the other people start to notice him. Many young adults may be able to identify with Merlin's relationship to his son. Parents who are too busy to give attention to their kids and parents who have exceedingly high expectations for their kids are common issues in our society. This series is great for fantasy lovers.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Merlin's Dragon #1 by T.A. Barron

This book is the first in a trilogy, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The setting of this story is in the magical land of Avalon, a land beyond Earth where Merlin has returned to be married. One day, a small creature hatches from an egg and is named Basil due to the fact that he smells like that herb. None of the other creatures can identify his species, and he wants to become someone who makes a difference in the world. Basil dreams that a large beast attacks and kills Merlin, and he becomes determined to warn Merlin of the danger. Basil goes on a quest to eat a piece of soil from all of the realms in Avalon, and there are hints that this will make him something special. However, an evil being invades Avalon, and its presence puts the entire land in peril. Basil must find Merlin and warn him that the being may be gaining strength, but how can this little creature help in saving Avalon?

The plot follows the life of Basil as he grows up in Avalon. He doesn't grow much, so he spends much of his early life trying to survive the predators. I liked how Basil struggled to accept himself, because he seemed so small and insignificant. Some other characters were curious about him and sensed that he was something special. The conflict grew once he left the realm of his birth and attended Merlin's wedding. The plot builds to a climax against a seemingly unbeatable enemy, and Basil does something totally unexpected to defeat it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

I gave this novel a rating of three out of five. The setting is sometime in the future where the Officials control almost every part of the citizens' lives. Cassie's best hopes are realized when she is matched to be married to her best friend, Xander. However, the day after the matching ceremony, Cassie sees that she's also been matched with another boy named Ky. The Officials say that Ky's matching was a mistake, but Cassie starts to wonder. She finds herself doing group activities with Ky and starts to have feelings for him. Cassie can't go against the plans of the Officials, so she must keep her feelings secret. She starts to notice some strange things about the Officials and wonders if there is something they're hiding. She also remembers the message shared by her grandfather before he died. How can one girl fight an entire society?

Readers who enjoy romance will probably love this book, but I needed more to the plot. The main conflict was Cassie and Ky's relationship against the Officials. The plot of this novel seemed to move slowly as the relationships between Cassie and Xander and Ky developed. The book has some strong feelings about the future of society, but it didn't interest me enough. Other novels like The Hunger Games and The Barcode Tattoo had similar messages about future societies, but they had more action to keep the plot flowing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

This book has a rather unusual setting, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Incarceron is a prison with a life of its own, literally. Finn is the main character living inside the prison, while Claudia is the main character living on the Outside. Finn believes he's from the Outside and has visions of past memories, but most people doubt that he came from somewhere else. He receives a crystal key as part of a ransom and hopes to use it to escape Incarceron. However, the band of thieves ruling inside the prison, the warden and queen living on the Outside, and Incarceron will not let that happen. Meanwhile, Claudia's father oversees Incarceron, although they live on the Outside. He's not a kind man and has arranged for Claudia to marry the son of the queen. Claudia was originally supposed to marry the queen's stepson, but he died unexpectedly. Claudia suspects murder, but she has no evidence. She finds a crystal in her father's study and discovers she can see and communicate with Finn. Little do they know how closely their past and futures are joined.

I had some trouble early on as I tried to grasp the meaning behind the setting of Incarceron. It's location should surprise you! The conflict and plot became clearer as Finn made plans to escape, and Claudia's wedding day drew nearer. I liked how the author kept me wondering about what was really going on even as Finn made his way through the prison. There always seemed to be lingering, unanswered questions. The questions are answered as the plot nears the climax, and a sequel seems likely with the way things were left during the resolution. The themes of friendship and trust are strongly demonstrated.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout

Apparently, this book hasn't been published yet, but I gave it rating of four out of five. The setting is many years in the future after Man has managed to destroy himself. However, a young boy survives in an ark and is awakened by his robot protector when the ark comes under attack. The boy, Fisher, is accompanied by the robot, Click, and a small woolly mammoth, Protein, as he searches for other humans. Fisher discovers the existence of a second ark, but must survive attacks by deadly machines, mutant crocodiles, and giant parrots. He travels along what used to be the Mississippi River in search of other human survivors. The human race will become extinct if Fisher is unable to complete his quest. However, the whole quest may be useless if no other humans remain.

The conflict is interesting, and the author has a good amount of action to keep readers interested. Fisher's group is an unusual blend of characters as Click keeps trying to stop him from taking risks, and Protein leads the way while eating and pooping most of the time. I like how the author had the three characters bond even though they were so different. Fisher risked his life several times while trying to save the robot. The conflict became more and more difficult to resolve, and the climax was suspenseful and unexpected. It's a good read for people who enjoy science fiction.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Undertakers: Rise of the Corpses by Ty Drago

The book I read was an advanced copy, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. This book is also the first in a new series. Our world is full of Corpses, an army of dead bodies that have been taken over by some type of beings, but most humans cannot see them. The corpses can be slowed down with salt water, swords, and other weapons, but they can't be killed. However, a small group of Undertakers, young teenagers who can see the true forms of the Corpses, have created a force to stop them. Will learns that his dead father was the founder of the Undertakers, and he was the only adult known to have the ability to see corpses. Will trains with them and learns about the history of the war, but there's a sense that something is different about him. He seems to have natural instincts, and the Corpses have made his capture their number one priority. He has visions of a woman speaking to him, and leaving "gifts", but who is she? Will goes on a couple of missions without permission from Tom, leader of the Undertakers. The missions almost end in disasters as friends are killed, and Will falls into the hands of the enemy. Will's antics may cost all of the Undertakers their lives.

The corpses make an interesting conflict for the plot. They are not slow-moving zombies; they are swiftly-moving warriors. The fact that they can't be killed makes the problem even larger; how can the Undertakers stop them? The plot jumped right into the action as Will gains the ability to see the corpses, and an undercover Undertaker saves him from them. Will's training took a little longer than I would have liked, but there was still some action along the way. The author did a nice job of keeping the Corpses/Undertaker war as the main conflict, but there were several subplots mixed in too. For example, Will's missions constantly challenged the authority of the Undertaker's leader which could eventually lead to its downfall. Also, who was the mystery woman who spoke to Will while he was unconscious? How did his broken arm heal so quickly? Can the Undertakers stay organized if Will's disobedience to Tom's orders causes others followers to disobey?

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Devil's Footsteps by E.E. Richardson

This book was recommended by several students, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Bryan's brother disappeared five years earlier while they were in the woods. His brother stepped on some stones, The Devil's Footsteps, while saying a rhyme and was never seen again. Bryan figures out that the Dark Man has been taking children for many years, but he doesn't understand why the adults don't seem to notice or care. The Dark Man uses the fears of children against themselves, so how can they battle their own thoughts? Bryan joins up with Stephen, whose sister disappeared a year ago, and Jake, who recently moved to the town. Together, they must face their fears and figure out some way to stop the Dark Man from killing more children.

The beginning of the book seemed pretty simple and unimaginative, but I was wrong. What started out as a story like the bogeyman turned into a much larger tale of evil. The boys needed to uncover a secret hidden beneath the town, a terrible tragedy the town had forgotten. I thought the conflict was creative and offered a unique challenge, and the plot built up to a nice climax. The solution seemed pretty simple, but Bryan had a hard time overcoming his own fears and needed to make a very difficult decision in the end.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

This book was recommended by a number of students over the past few years, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Kayla is turning seventeen, and it's expected that she'll get the bar code tattoo on her wrist like most other people. However, she suspects there's more to the tattoos than just for identification purposes. Her father commits suicide and blames it on the tattoo. Her best friend's parents lose their jobs and money, apparently because of the tattoos. Kayla joins several other young people who support the Decode movement of a national senator, but there may be a spy among them. Kayla eventually finds herself wanted by the government and is forced to run for her life.

This book reminds me a great deal of the Uglies, Pretties, and Specials series written by Scott Westerfield. The government is out to control the citizens, and a group of young people decide to rebel. This book kept me wondering about the hidden secret behind the tattoos and included some action, especially once Kayla was on the run. It's also a book that makes readers think about society and government power. Citizens today wonder about personal privacy, and this book takes it to the extreme.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Bar Code Rebellion by Suzanne Weyn

This is the sequel to The Bar Code Tattoo, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. The supporters of the Decode movement travel to Washington to force the president to repeal the bar code tattoo law, but the rally doesn't end well. Kayla escapes the ambush with the help of a truck driver from book one. The truck driver delivers bootleg tattoos around the country, and Kayla travels along with her. They see many signs and commercial ads with Kayla apparently saying the tattoos are great, and she's happy that she changed her mind about them. However, Kayla still doesn't have a tattoo on her wrist. There's a new secret about the tattoo that's even worse than the secret revealed in the first book, and Global 1 is determined to capture Kayla. Perhaps the fact that Kayla is meeting other people who look just like her is a clue. Global 1's master plan goes far beyond simple cloning. It's a secret that will change the world as we know it.

This book had a bit more action than The Bar Code Tattoo. The thing I enjoyed most was the way it made the reader look at society. It's all about government control and the ethical use of scientific discoveries. For example, if we could find a way to make everyone live forever, should we? I liked the addition of new characters mixed with the old ones. I also liked reading about this author's version of the future, although the new secret sounds like something someone in the world might actually believe but should never be used. Jack came up with a pretty cool way of traveling that's never been seen before, and Global 1 created some amazing ideas about the integration of nanotechnology, computers, and biology.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques

This book was the second I read in the Redwall series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. In the first book, Redwall, Martin has been dead for quite a while, but he is spoken of as a hero of the castle and takes on an almost god-like status. Martin the Warrior explains his life. Martin loses his father's sword to an evil ruler. He escapes and vows to free all of the slaves and get his sword back. The plot follows the escapees as they try to find reinforcements to help rescue the other captives. Martin's group is captured and attacked by other forces along the way. In the meantime, the evil ruler is combating some problems within his own fortress caused by a former partner and rebels.

I enjoy the mystery and adventure in the book, although some people might want a bit more action. Some of my students have complained that they can't understand some of the characters, especially the moles. The author writes the dialogue the way they speak, and it can be a challenge. My suggestion, don't worry about the moles' individual words; you can usually figure out what they're trying to say from the context. The plot skips back and forth between three settings, so that may confuse some readers also. One setting is in the evil fortress, and the other two settings follow the escapees after they are separated.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett

This book is interesting, but maybe bizarre for some readers, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Johnny enjoys video games, and he's currently playing "Only You Can Save the Earth." While playing, a message appears on his screen that appears to be coming from the captain of the enemy spaceships. Johnny finds himself between reality and a dream world as he discovers that the aliens in the game are "really" being killed by his fighter. The aliens call him "The Chosen One" and beg him for protection from other players. The alien fleet can be saved if they can reach "The Border". Johnny must convince himself that he's not crazy and then must decide if he should help the aliens. After all, it's only a game, right?

I like the creativity of the conflict, although I would never recommend it for an award. Readers who enjoy alien novels should like this book, and it's a fairly quick-read. Some parts confused me a bit as Johnny tried to figure out if he was dreaming, playing a video game, or it was reality. If you don't like science fiction or aliens, move on to something else.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder

This book was recommended to me, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. It was interesting, but it just didn't grab me. Four children, ages six to twelve, live in the country and spend the summer hanging out together. However, they discover a wall in the middle of a cornfield that performs magic. They eventually realize that the wall's magic power is that it can transport them to other places that also have walls. The four children take turns making wishes that take them to other places in the world, past or future, which creates some adventures. A couple of the characters they meet along the way are Merlin and the son of Blackbeard the pirate.

Some readers may love this book, but there was something missing for me. Finding a magic wall in the middle of a cornfield was pretty random, and the early adventures weren't very intriguing. I must admit that I enjoyed the plot more as I read farther into the book. I found it more entertaining once they met Blackbeard's son and, later in the book, Bernice. Emma, the six-year old girl, was a curious character. She often gave the older children logical advice, like she belonged in the Mysterious Benedict Society. It was probably the author's intent, but I found it strange for the group to be using a first grader as their advisor.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien

I reread this Newbery-winning novel for the blog, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Mrs. Frisby's son, Timothy, is seriously ill and can't be moved for several weeks. However, the farmer is going to be plowing up the field in five days, so her home will be destroyed. She is advised to seek the help of the rats found under the rosebush, but she has little hope that they'll even listen to her. She discovers that these rats have amazing talents, and she also finds out many secrets about her deceased husband's life. The suspense rises as the rats race to move Mrs. Frisby's house before plowing day arrives without being eaten by the farmer's cat, Dragon. All the while, the rats must be on the lookout for the scientists from NIMH.

It's been a number of years since I read this book for the first time, and I still enjoy it. I think the thing I like most about the plot is that everything in the it is possible if the science experiments performed on the rats were as effective as described. It's not full of fantasy and magic like the movie version of the book. In addition to literature, I have a love for science and math, and the characters use those skills to solve their problems.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Redwall by Brian Jacques

This book is the first in a very long series, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Redwall is a fortress run by mice, and its purpose is to help needy creatures. They believe in peace and caring, although the legendary Martin the Warrior fought an enemy many years before. A beautiful tapestry on the castle wall honors his memory. However, Cluny the Scurge and his army of ruthless rats now plan to attack Redwall. Matthias views himself as the new protector of Redwall, and discoveries are made that link him to Martin. Matthias knows he must find Martin's sword in order to save Redwall. He helps to battle Cluny's army, has confrontations with attacking sparrows, a cat, an owl, and eventually a poisonous snake. Cluny is relentless in his attacks on Redwall, and Matthias is its final hope.

This series was very popular among students just a few years ago, so I'm happy to reintroduce it to current readers. All of the characters are animals, which I'm okay with. I also enjoy the idea of the weak defeating the powerful. I liked how the author introduced the main conflict, Cluny's attack on Redwall, very early in the plot but added more conflicts as Matthias tried to learn about Martin the Warrior to find his shield and sword. Cluny made repeated attempts to enter the fortress, so the plot didn't depend on one big battle. The sub-conflicts kept the plot fresh, while I knew there would eventually be a showdown between Matthias and Cluny. There's a great deal of action and suspense, so that should hold the interest of most readers. Many students have found it difficult to understand the moles, and some of the characters had trouble too. One of the characters comments that she can understand about every third word they say, and that was enough for me to get the gist of what they meant. It's a great book.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell

This book was recommended by our librarian, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Barnaby Grimes is a messenger boy who likes to travel throughout the city by rooftop. This job gives him many opportunities to meet very interesting characters. One of his sickly friends finds a doctor with a miracle cure to his ailments, and Barnaby is suspicious that the medicine actually works. He becomes a messenger for the mysterious doctor and becomes even more suspicious of his activities. Although the doctor lives in the rich part of town, many of his patients are found in the most run-down parts of the city. Also, the doctor doesn't charge a fee for his treatments. Barnaby digs even deeper into the situation when many of the patients turn up missing or dead.

This book is the first in a series. The conflict in the story is unique, so it held my interest. I knew that the plot involved werewolves, but I wasn't totally sure how Barnaby and the doctor fit into it. That was a good thing, because it kept me wondering. The first page of the book grabbed my attention, because it described Barnaby's transformation into a werewolf. However, the introduction was a teaser, and I didn't find out what was really going on with him until much later in the book. Again, it held my interest by making me wonder about Barnaby would becoming a werewolf and how he would resolve the problem.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

This book was recommended by a student, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Stephanie's grandfather passes away, and he leaves her the majority of the fortune from his fantasy writing. However, she discovers that much of his writing is based on true events, and her biggest friend and partner turns out to be a skeleton named Skulduggery Pleasant. They discover that a character named Serpine has broken a truce and wants to find the mythical, powerful Scepter of the Ancients, but the Elders don't believe it. Stephanie and Skulduggery team up to battle all types of creatures and magicians/sorcerers in an attempt to stop Serpine. Serpine killed Skulduggery once to make him a skeleton, and he wouldn't mind killing him again with the power of the scepter. It turns out that Stephanie may possess some unknown powers of her own, but she's not able to summon them.

This book is the first in a series. I initially thought Skulduggery was a goofy character; I mean, he's a walking, talking skeleton. However, he has a quirky personality, and I enjoyed the dialogue between Stephanie and him. For example, Skulduggery informed her that his real head was stolen, and he won this one in a poker game. And later, when Stephanie asked if there was a way to tell if she had the ability to perform magic, Skulduggery said, "Yes, we cut off your head. If it grows back, you can do magic."

"You're being funny again, aren't you?"

"So glad you noticed."

It's corny dialogue, but I guess Skulduggery's dry sense of humor is similar to my own.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

This is the first book in a series, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. A young boy, Ged, learns some spells from his mother, but he has dreams greatness. He leaves home with a wise, old wizard who will become his mentor. The boy is impatient and doesn't feel as though he is learning anything. He leaves the wizard to attend a school of magic and becomes one of the top students. However, on a dare, Ged performs a spell that releases an evil shadow that will hunt him down throughout the rest of the book. Most of the plot is spent fleeing, and then chasing, the shadow.

I had heard of this book for years, and the book jacket gave a very interesting summary of it. The actual writing did not live up to the hype. I found the plot rather boring as Ged did not perform much meaningful magic and there were few conflicts. He wandered from place to place, trying to become a great wizard, and then regretted his misuse of power. A potentially exciting scene, where Ged battles eight dragons, falls short. "Two dragons like the first rose up from the base of the highest tower. Even as the first one they came driving straight at Ged, and even so he caught both, hurled both down, and drowned them: and he had not yet lifted up his wizard's staff." Not much of a conflict; they're just gone. Even the climax lacked suspense.