Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Endangered Files #1: The Case of the Cursed Dodo by Jake Panda

The Case of the Cursed Dodo (The Endangered Files, #1)Jake Panda flies to Morocco after receiving a frantic phone call from The Professor, a rare hispid hare. His search for the hare leads to a mystery involving a suitcase found in the middle of the Sahara Desert and dodo birds, thought to be extinct for many years. A fortune teller says there's a Green Bird in Jake's future, and he must look beneath a tree stump and a vine. Poachers sidetrack him, and there are many criminals trying to get their hands on Jake and the contents of the suitcase. Jake meets an old special friend, and the Endangered Underground works in the shadows. It's hard to tell the good guys from the bad, but Jake must find a way if he hopes to save The Professor and the Green Bird.

The style reminds me a bit of Bruce Hale's Chet Gecko stories. The characters in this book are endangered animals, which is an interesting twist, and the story is told as though the reader is watching an old black and white movie. The characteristics of the animals are used in the plot and create some humorous mental pictures; a manatee floats on an inner tube, and a snake is tied in knots to a rickshaw. The story was easy to read and flowed nicely. The adventure, mystery, and humor made this a very fun book to read!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Winterling by Sarah Prineas

Winterling (Winterling, #1)Jennifer, or Fer, unknowingly opens a portal to a new world, through a pond near her home. Despite her grandmother's objections, Fer insists on going into this magical world. Her grandmother gives her some herbs and spells for protection, which she'll need against the false Lady of the land. This Lady tries to teach Fer to be her ally, but Fer knows something isn't right. The Lady won't talk about the disappearance of Fer's parents. Also, Spring is not coming, and it's spilling over into her grandmother's world. The Lady performs hunts, so the killing will bring about Springs, but Fer senses she has done something very evil in the past. Few characters are able to help Fer, but she won't return to her world and leave them as victims. There's a power within her, but is it greater than the ruler of the land?

The author added some unusual twists that complicated things for the characters. A question asked three times had to be answered. Many characters were forced to obey the Lady even if they didn't want to. Some characters chose to change into animals while others were forced to. The conflict was a typical good versus evil with an emphasis on the value of life and nature. Overall, a very enjoyable story.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dreamdark #2: Silksinger by Laini Taylor

Silksinger (Dreamdark, #2)Magpie's quest is to find and return the five fire elementals to Dreamdark before the kingdom is plunged into nothingness. She is a faerie with great power, and she is the Djinn King's champion. Mags recovers the first djinn, but she doesn't know where to find the second one called Azazel. Its ember is hidden inside a copper tea kettle protected by Whisper, the last member of the Silksinger clan. Hirik is disguised and secretly watching over her since he is a Mothmage, hated by everyone due to a false story of his clan's cowardice. The elemental djinns are being hunted down by the evil Ethiag and his huge and powerful army of Devils. The Devils are attacking caravans, killing everyone they meet as they search for Azazel. The survival of the djinns may rest with the outcast Mothmage and his magical scimitar, but a friend is actually an enemy in disguise.

I was able to enjoy this book without reading the first one in the series, but there were references to events and characters not in this book. The plot was adventurous as Mags, Whisper, and others tried to defeat Ethiag and his army of Devils. Ethiag had a secret master, but the author provided clues about his identity. I liked how Hirik was given a second chance, and he erased the bad feelings about his people. There were twists to the plot as characters were ambushed, captured, and lost their powers. The author left the resolution open for the next book in the series, although I was unable to find it at my local library. I copied these comments from the author's blog. "Though I have every intention of returning to complete the Dreamdark series, it is not now on the slate, for which I am very very sorry! I promise you I do not abandon Magpie and crew lightly, and dearly look forward to reuniting with them in the future."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Summerkin by Sarah Prineas

Summerkin (Winterling, #2)This book is the sequel to Winterling. Fer returns to rule over Summerland, but she's in for a surprise. The High Ones require her to face any challengers in a contest to decide who will be the new Lady or Lord of the land. The High Ones are concerned that Fer won't accept any oaths from her subjects, and they're very concerned that she's half human. She brings her best friend, Rook, with her to the contest, but he's a mischievous puck and plans to steal the Lord's silver crown. The contest consists of a race, archery, and mastery of the glamorie, an enchantment that controls the thinking of others. Fer is learning to master her powers, but her kindness as a human may be her downfall.

I was worried this book might not have the drama found in the first book, but the author was able to develop it through one of the challengers. This character concealed his true identity, cheated, and tried to blame Rook for a major problem. I liked Fer's kindness and trust, and she never gave up on others. The author was able to describe Fer's internal conflicts as she tried to win the contest while saving the lives of her friends and competitors. Score one for the good guys, or girl!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

Odd and the Frost GiantsOdd lives among Vikings with his mother and stepfather. His leg was crushed so he limps, but he always has a smile on his face that irritates others. One day, he walks into the woods, away from his stepfather, and travels to his father's old cabin. He spots a fox and follows it until he finds a bear trapped under a tree, an eagle soaring overhead. After freeing the bear, Odd discovers the three animals are actually the gods Thor, Odin, and Loki. Loki was tricked by a frost giant, so they were changed into animals and banished from their land. Odd decides he will help them, but what can one small boy do to defeat a giant?

This book reads like a Norse folktale and is a quick-read. Odd's character is overwhelming kind, but his smile has great power. It usually drives others crazy, but it also helps defeat the frost giant. The underdog story is easy to enjoy as Odd faces a powerful foe. It's amusing to see a small boy accomplish things three powerful gods were unable to do. As with many folktales, the plot teaches lessons about kindness, loyalty, and love for one's mother.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

 The Water CastleAll things are impossible until they are discovered. Ephraim and his family travel to a small town to help his father recover from a stroke. His father hasn't spoken or moved on his own since the attack, and Ephraim just wants him to get better. The strange house was built by a family ancestor who was searching for the Fountain of Youth. Ephraim's new classmates are all much smarter than himself, and his brother sets a new pool record the first time he gets in the water. Then, the house seems to hum at night leading up to a huge flash of blue light in the sky. Weird. Ephraim and two new friends explore tunnels located under the house, and the truth about his relative's experiments start to emerge.

The plot was a mixture of science and magic. Actually, the second half of the book reminded me of Tuck Everlasting as the author explored the possibility of eternal life. You won't find any action in the plot, but it unfolded like a mystery. The families of the three main characters had decades of history behind them, and Will hated Ephraim, a lot, for quite awhile. I didn't expect them to join together in search of the truth. Mallory's mother was rarely seen, but she had an unusual story, if you put the clues together.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Land of Stories #1: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, #1)This book was written by the actor on Glee, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Alex and Connor, twin sister and brother, are transported into a world of fairy tales and stories after a book from their grandmother turns magical. The kids meet a talking frog, and he gives them the journal of a man who used the Wishing Spell to travel to an unknown world. The kids assume it's their only way home. The children need to collect eight items before they can use the spell, so they head off on a scavenger hunt throughout the kingdoms. They need to collect things like one of Cinderella's slippers, a piece from Red Riding Hood's basket, and the crown off a troll king's head. Meanwhile, a pack of wolves is hunting down the kids, the guards in the kingdoms are searching for them too, and a powerful, evil character is searching for the same items to activate the Wishing Spell first. The kids may be stuck in this world forever if they lose this race.

The author was creative in adding twists to the characters and plots found in fairy tales. Goldilocks was a fugitive from the law, and she was very skilled with a sword. Red Riding Hood was a queen with a very self-centered personality. Even Snow White's evil stepmother had a new story that may surprise readers. The quests to collect the eight items almost broke the book up into eight short stories. However, the surprises in the second half of the book made the plot very adventurous and exciting.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Magic Thief #1 by Sarah Prineas

The Magic Thief (Magic Thief, #1)
Something is draining magic from the town, and the town will eventually die. Nevery, a wizard exiled from the city, returns to help, but a pickpocket, Conn, steals his magic stone. When the stone's magic doesn't kill the boy, Nevery decides to accept the boy as his apprentice. Conn shows a sensitivity to magic, and he has some interesting thoughts about what's going on. He believes the loss of magic is being caused by another wizard and the Underlord. The Underlord has already been hunting for Conn, and the wizard wants the boy too after he catches him spying. Conn figures out what they're trying to do, but Nevery won't believe him, especially after he discovers a secret about Conn's past. What can an apprentice wizard do to save the magic and the town?

The plot is another underdog story, as the main character learns to perform magic. I liked the relationship between Nevery and Conn; Conn was able to teach his master a few things along the way. Conn needed to find his own magic stone, and I knew it would be something special. Magic was different for him. He seemed to be getting chased by something throughout the story, so the pace moved along nicely.

The Land of Stories #3: A Grimm Warning by Chris Colfer

A Grimm Warning (The Land of Stories, #3)Alex remained in the fairy world, learning magic from her grandmother. Mother Goose informs her brother, Conner, that there may be a huge army from the human world, stuck in a portal, waiting to attack the kingdoms. While checking it out, Conner is sucked back into the fairy world, along with the army and two innocent humans. The invading general frees criminals from the prison, and a masked man says he can find a dragon, insuring their victory. Alex becomes the new leader of the fairies when her grandmother weakens, and she must unite all of the kingdoms, including the elves, trolls, and goblins. Even then, the invading army will outnumber them two to one.

This book had more action than the previous episode. There were some unexpected twists to the plot; Queen Red lost her kingdom to Little Bo Peep, and Alex and Conner found special friends. Despite the cutesy character names, the story is not a simple children's story. The threat of a dragon created a looming problem throughout the book, and the masked man added an element of mystery. Alex's new title as acting Fairy Godmother made the conflicts a little more complicated. In the resolution, the identity of the masked man came as a huge surprise.

Michael Vey #1: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25This book was recommended by one of my students, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Michael is an ordinary ninth grade student except for the fact that he can fire off an electric charge like an eel, only with more power. He finds out that one of his classmates, the prettiest girl in school, also has a power based on electricity, but they discover something that is even stranger. Their birthdays are one day apart,and they were born in the same hospital. Michael's genius friend, Ostin, uncovers that the hospital was doing research at that time with a high-powered electric MRI-type invention, and only seventeen babies lived past the age of two DAYS! The scientists are trying to collect all of the children to create a super-race, and they've kidnapped Michael's mother as bait to catch him. The big problem is that most of the other electric children are using their powers to help the scientists. Nichelle is a particularly nasty one.

I like plots about kids with special powers, and this plot had the kids using similar powers against each other. I like that the author gave Michael an unexpected advantage to offset the fact that he was badly outnumbered. Be prepared for the sequel. I wonder if Nichelle will return.

The Magic Thief #2: Lost by Sarah Prineas

Lost (Magic Thief, #2)Beware the Shadows! Something is killing people in Wellmet during the night, turning them to stone. There is nothing natural about it. Since Conn lost his stone in the last book, it exploded while defeating the Underlord, he is no longer able to cast spells. He learned that Wellmet's magic is a living thing, and he was able to use the stone to talk to it. Conn is forced to leave, so he heads to the neighboring town of Desh, which may be the source of the deadly shadows. He's not totally sure what's going on, but he is certain the wizard in Desh is behind all of the trouble. And the closer he gets to the truth, the more dangerous his quest becomes.

If you liked the first book, The Magic Thief, you'll like this book too. Once again, Conn finds himself mostly working alone, but I like his character's determination to not give up. He seems to do things to make his friends crazy with him (blowing up a whole house), but he never lets them down in the end. The author was clever to have the black birds and lizards act as spies for the magic in their cities. A big battle is brewing between the predator magic and the magic in Wellmet.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Magic Thief #3: Found by Sarah Prineas

Found (Magic Thief, #3)Conn has been exiled from Wellston, but he's still secretly helping Nevery prepare for the attack of a destructive magic. Two problems...the others wizards don't believe an attack is coming, and Conn doesn't have a locus stone to perform any spells. With Nevery's help, a trail is blazed, literally, across the country leading to a new stone for Conn. However, the town leaders sentence Conn to death if he ever returns, so he sets out alone in search of his locus stone. It's a long journey and takes much longer than he expects. Time is ticking away, but he's willing to risk his life to save Wellston from Arhionvar, the predator magic. There are dragons in Conn's future, and a small one really complicates  his plans. The secret behind magic will be revealed.

The addition of dragons freshened the series for me. The little one became an amusing character, and I assume it will have an even bigger role in book four. The explanation of the origin of magic was unexpected, but it helped to resolve the big conflict. I still like the relationship between Nevery and Conn. Nevery cares about him like a son, but Conn has trouble doing what he's told and makes Nevery nuts. Something surprising happens to Conn in the resolution, and I'm anxious to see how the author handles it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Magic Thief #4: Home by Sarah Prineas

The Magic Thief: Home (Magic Thief, #4)Despite all of the problems he's created in the first three books, Duchess Rowan names him her ducal magister, the most powerful wizard in Wellmet. He doesn't want the job, and the other wizards don't want the boy either, except for Nevery, his master. Conn senses something bad is brewing with the city's magic, and the wizards' locus stones are being stolen. Of course, Conn is blamed for all the problems and must go into hiding. He returns to the streets as a gutterrat, trying to get information, but he must keep his eye out for thugs trying to kidnap him. However, he is not aware that a terrible evil has returned to Wellmet.

This book is the conclusion of the series, and fans of the other books must read this one too. You must read the previous three books to fully understand the events. The author was able to keep me guessing. I thought I knew what was going to happen, but then she provided clues that made it seem impossible. Conn and his dragon, who had swallowed his locus stone, form a close bond and need each other to survive. Conn knows he's no longer a gutterrat, and he's not  a ducal magister, and he spends most of the book trying to figure out his role on the world. This book brings the series to a satisfying conclusion.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Magisterium #1: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Iron Trial (Magisterium, #1)Call's father wants him to do his worst, so he won't be chosen to attend the school for mages. His father says he doesn't trust the teachers at the Magisterium, but Call starts to wonder if there's something different about himself. Despite getting negative scores on the tests, he is chosen as an apprentice to Master Rufus along with the top two scorers. The apprentices learn to control the elements of the world, and Call starts to show some magical talent. The students are told stories about the Enemy, a mage who turned dark and killed Call's mother. He controls chaos elementals and the Chaos-ridden, mages consumed by the elements. The Magisterium is always looking for a Makar, a mage who is able to control the chaos, to lead them against the Enemy. One Makar is among the new group of apprentices, but another apprentice holds a powerful secret of evil.

I'm excited about this new series. It has similarities to Hogwarts, and the plot focuses on three main characters, two boys and one girl. Call's character has always had trouble getting along with others, and a little bit of that continues even after he develops some actual friendships. His sarcastic comments can be funny, but they sometimes create tension. Call is mischievous and doesn't always listen to his teachers and friends. This behavior creates adventure in the plot and keeps things interesting. The dynamics of two characters' relationships will create conflict in future books, and the Enemy's army will be a constant threat.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Land of Stories #2: The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer

The Enchantress Returns (The Land of Stories, #2)Alex and Conner find a new way back into the Land of Stories, a world full of fairy tale characters and creatures. The evil Enchantress has returned, and she kidnaps their mother from the real world. The Enchantress wants to take over all the kingdoms, and her power is greater than all the other fairies. She captures the soul of the Fairy Godmother, the twins' grandmother, and it seems like there's no way to stop the Enchantress. Connor reads a story about the Wand of Wonderment that will make the holder invincible, but there's a problem. To make the wand, they must collect the most prized possessions of the six most hated people in the world, including the Enchantress.

You should read the first book in the series before reading this one. The personalities of many fairy tale characters.are unexpected. Red Riding Hood is a mean princess, Goldilocks is a fierce warrior, and they both like Jack and the Beanstalk. The spells are clever; the Enchantress makes thorn bushes grow all over the castles, and she's collected the souls of people who have hurt her feelings. I most liked the author's twisting of elements in familiar fairy tales. I knew what to expect, but then the author made them different.

Sammy Feral's Diaries of Weird #2: Yeti Rescue by Eleanor Hawken

Yeti Rescue. Eleanor HawkenSammy's family of ex-werewolves owns the Feral Zoo and has its share of strange animals. A Mongolian Death Worm shows up and says Bert, Chief of the Yetis, has been kidnapped. He says the wish frog has been hiding at the zoo, and it will grant wishes, although the wishes sometimes end in disasters. Sammy and his group discover the kidnapper used the yeti as bait in order to find the wish frog. When the kidnapper shows up, one-hundred angry yetis aren't able to overpower him. There seems to be no way to stop him, and time is running out. The Yeti Snarls are the last chance.

If the plot seems rather silly, it is. However, it's an easy story to follow, and the silliness makes it entertaining. It's not meant to be classic literature, and it doesn't have any hidden, deep messages about life. This book is the second book in a series, I didn't read the first one, but this story stands by itself. There are references to the first book, but they don't affect this book.

Michael Vey #4: Hunt For Jade Dragon By Richard Paul Evans

Hunt for Jade Dragon (Michael Vey, #4)Dr. Hatch kidnapped a young girl, Jade Dragon, at the end of the last book, and she has knowledge that will allow him to create an army of Elgen. The Electroclan, led by Michael, are recovering at a hidden ranch, but they know they'll need to rescue her. However, she's imprisoned in an Elgen power plant, guarded by Elgen forces, Glows, and the Taiwanese army and coast guard. The mission seems impossible, and the Electroclan may need help from a former enemy. To make matters worse, Michael is tricked into giving up information that may endanger the lives of his mom and other members of the resistance.

You can browse the previous books in the series by typing Michael Vey in the search box at the top left of the screen. The members of the Electroclan have special powers, and some of their enemies have powers too. For example, Michael is able to control electricity, Taylor can read minds, and Ian can see things behind walls and miles away. You'll need to read the other books in the series before this one. The first half of the book focused on the relationship between Michael and Taylor and planning the mission. I didn't understand why the author spent so much time describing how Michael could change the direction of bullets; he never used the power during the mission. The second half of the plot has all the action we've come to expect in this series. Fighting, shooting, explosions!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

Handbook for Dragon SlayersTilda is a princess and future ruler of Alder Brook. While her mother is away, she is kidnapped by her cousin, Prince Ivo, who plans to take over her family's lands. She is rescued from her cell by Prince Parz who wants to become a dragon slayer. Parz was kicked out of training, so Tilda help him search for a small dragon to slay. They don't really know what they're doing, so she plans to write a manual about dragons to help future slayers. Along the way, she frees two magical horses, one made of silver and one made of bronze, and decides she doesn't want to rule a kingdom anymore. However, Tilda may not get a chance to make her decision if she can't survive the dragons, Ivo, and the leader of the Wild Hunt.

The magical horses become a big part of the story, so horse lovers will like this book (even though one normal horse is eaten by a dragon). The first half of the book didn't move as quickly as I like, but the second half was full of adventure. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the book, because it was well-written. The climax had a creative, unexpected twist that helped Tilda learn powerful lessons about life and her role as a princess.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

The BoundlessWill is traveling across the continent on the first railroad tracks through the mountains. The train is miles long and is carrying the dead body of the former owner of the company. This railroad car is electrified to protect the body and some other secret treasures, including a golden spike worth thousands of dollars. There are only two keys into the car; Will's father has one and the guard has the other. Will manages to get his hands on a key after he witnesses the guard's murder, but the killer is now after Will. Will gets help from the owner of a circus traveling on the train, but there aren't many places to hide. He discovers the murderer has other helpers on the train, and they're getting closer to finding Will. To make matters worse, he finds there are other dangers that may worse than this killer!

 Most of the story reads like an adventure, but there are elements of fantasy. A Sasquatch is introduced early in the plot, and it reappears later in the book. The circus owner is a magician, and he's trying to find a painting with the power to save his life. There are also supernatural moments with time and a deadly hag. The story's setting created suspense, because Will was forced to stay on the train knowing that killers were nearby. The circus acts added some entertaining moments and helped save Will's life several times.