Friday, December 25, 2015

The Grisha #1: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)Alina is sent to an orphanage along with her best friend, Mal. An examination shows they have no magical abilities, but that decision is proven wrong years later. They are heading to the Shadow Fold with the Darkling, the most powerful being in Ravka, and the king's army, when they're all attacked from the sky by hundreds of deadly volcra. Alina feels talons dig into her back but passes out in a huge blast of white light. When she awakens, she discovers she is actually a Grisha, specifically a rare Sun Summoner, and may be able to destroy the Shadow Fold. She has no idea how to use her powers, so she's sent to the king's castle for training. There, she learns to control her power to control light, but she also learns how it may be used to bring about the destruction of Ravka.

The idea of a character struggling to accept her new ability is not uncommon, but Alina has a real battle with her power. She fails to master the most basic ability for days, weeks, and months, and she becomes very frustrated. The plot focuses on her conflict with this problem, but it becomes a love story too. Alina has feelings for Mal but doesn't hear from him for months. The Darkling expresses a passion for her, but it can't be called love. His dark power is obviously the opposite of Alina's white light, and it always seems like his character is guarding a secret. There is some mature content in the book, nothing terrible, and I recommend it to middle school readers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Destiny is an Adventure #1: Infinitas by David N. Sebastian

Infinitas (Destiny is an Adventure #1)Kali and her cousin, Drake, have just turned sixteen when a dragon barely saves them from an assassination attempt by three harpies. A prophecy says a descendant of Arturo will raise his great broadsword and end the reign of fear and madness of the dragon sorceress, Marigot. Kali and Drake carry the blood of Arturo, and the harpies were sent by Marigot. The teens begin a quest to find the great sword at the bottom of the pool of life, but the journey will not be easy. The sorceress offers a reward for their capture, so everyone they meet is a potential bounty hunter. They encounter fairies, mummies, and kangaboons; some creatures are helpful, while others viciously attack them. Kali and Drake must reach Infinitas and stop the sorceress. However, she's indestructible in her dragon form, and every descendant to face her has been slain, just as Arturo was slain in the beginning.

This book is a fantastic adventure story, climaxing in an exciting battle between good and evil. The author keeps readers guessing about the identity of the true dragon slayer; a "clear" prophecy provided by a seer is still misleading. I always enjoy adventure stories with lots of action, where the odds are obviously against the main characters. Although Drake is very strong and brave and Kali is an amazing archer, the sorceress has magic and has never been beaten. Kali has a charm that protects her from natural dangers, but it doesn't help much against magical creatures and the undead. It seems like this series will at least be a trilogy, since Marigot had two sisters; one sister is specifically mentioned on the last page of the book. I anxiously await the sequel!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #1)Think Percy Jackson with Norse gods. Magnus is killed on his sixteenth birthday, but he's sent to a world of heroes who died bravely; the mortal world is only one of the Nine Worlds. He doesn't seem to fit in, and his prophecy says he'll be the cause of Doomsday. Magnus must recover the Sumarbrander sword he lost when he was killed and keep it away from the god who will burn and destroy all nine worlds. He's helped in his quest by a dwarf, an elf, and a daughter of Loki, the god of mischief. They must survive an enormous squirrel, huge giants, and Fenris Wolf, and they must discover a way to defy the prophecy and save the worlds from destruction.

This book was chosen Goodreads 2015 Book of the Year for middle grade readers. The author included some unusual elements that created a strangeness to the plot and added some humor. Magnus learned that his sword had a personality, so it became a character, not just a prop. The dwarf is challenged to a crafting contest to the death. Thor had a habit of losing his weapons, and some gods tended to over drink. The plot was generally a good versus evil story with a main character who was a reluctant hero. Magnus announced on the first page that he was going to describe his own death, so that kind of grabs you! If you've already read other series by Riordan, you'll probably find this book more light-hearted and has more fun with the characters.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Spirit Animals #3: Blood Ties by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Blood Ties (Spirit Animals, #3)Meilin leaves the group to join her father in defending their homeland from the Conquerors. Meanwhile. Conor, Abeke, and Rollan journey to the Lake of the Elephant to retrieve the third talisman, the Slate Elephant, and keep it out of the hands of the enemy. Their quest takes them deep into the jungle where Rollan becomes seriously ill. They decide to take an easier route through the land of the Rhino Riders, but this plan is more dangerous, as they soon discover. They're captured by the tribe and told Rollan will die before sunset the next day. With Conquerors closing in, the children will need the help of their Great Beasts to save Rollan and complete the quest.

I still haven't been able to get my hands on the first book in the series! I recommend you read the first two books before reading this one. Each book is written by a different, well-known author. The characters seem to be bonding more with their animals in this book, and the animals are developing more character. Jhi, the Giant Panda, is slow-moving and annoyingly calm, which makes Meilin a bit crazy. Rollan's falcon is pretty independent and doesn't always seem to listen to him. Abeke and Conor work well with their leopard and wolf. The kids are still learning to act as a team, and they're learning to trust the instincts and senses of their spirit animals. The plot leads the characters through challenging settings, and the authors throw in battles along the way. It's an interesting journey, and animal lovers will enjoy it too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Spirit Animals #2: Hunted by Maggie Stiefvater

Hunted (Spirit Animals, #2)Many people in Erdas are able to bond with spirit animals, but Conor, Rollan, Meilin, and Abeke have bonded with the legendary Great Beasts called the Fallen Four. The Conquerors are using force to take control of the people, and they want to collect talismans that will strengthen their power. Conor and his group set out to find the first talisman, the Iron Boar. They hear the prophecy of a boy bonding with a black wildcat in the North, and they discover the Conquerors are able to force bonds between children and beasts. The evil forces are spreading across Erdas, but the Great Beasts must learn to work as a team if they have any hope of stopping them.

I did not read the first book in the series before reading this one, so I didn't fully understand the background story. The conflict is easy to understand, as the good children are fighting an evil force. Abeke's character adds a twist to the group, since she worked with the enemy in the first book. Her leopard is constantly part of the cast, while the other spirit animals (a falcon and Giant Panda) tend to appear only when needed. Early in the book, I had some difficulty understanding a battle, since the Great Beasts and other spirit animals doubled the number of characters in the scene. There were a dozen humans and animals fighting, so it was hard to keep track of the characters. My confusion decreased as the book went on, and it might not have been an issue at all if I'd read the first book. The climax ended with a big battle, and a surprise from a main character to brought it to an exciting end.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey

Seven Dead PiratesLewis's grandfather leaves the family a historic old house, and Lewis chooses a bedroom in a tower at the top of the house. The ghosts of seven pirates appear and say they need his help. They want Lewis to help them get their ship back from the local museum, so they can sail to paradise called Libertalia. Lewis is extremely shy and lacks confidence, so he's an unlikely hero in this story. How is he supposed to get these ghosts into the museum without attracting attention, and how can he admit to the pirates that he has no plan? When his mom announces that she's going to sell the house and have it torn down, Lewis knows he must overcome his fears and help these lost souls.

This book was fun to read and moved along nicely. Lewis's insecurity added to the conflict and was probably the biggest problem in the story. He had to deal with a bully at school, and his father was kind of bullied by his mother. It was obvious the father didn't always agree with his wife, but it was assumed they would do what she wanted. The pirates were the stars of the book. They always had faith in Lewis and trusted his decisions, even when Lewis was didn't know what he was doing. They added humor to the plot, since they didn't understand the living world. Cars terrified them, and they loved colorful, ugly clothes from the thrift store. The climax was unexpected, so that helped bring the book to an exciting, enjoyable conclusion.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

The Dragon Heir (The Heir Chronicles, #3)The Weir world is a dangerous place after the wizard uprising in the last book. Jason steals the Dragonstone, the source of all magical power, and brings it back to Trinity, Ohio. Something about Madison has changed since the climax in the last book, and Seph becomes seriously ill whenever he's close to her. Her ability to absorb wizards' powers makes her a potential weapon for the Roses, so there are suspicions that she's acting as a spy for them. Seph survives several attacks from assassins, including a hex coming from one of Madison's paintings, so a magical barrier is built around the town. The safety of Trinity is fading, and the town is becoming a potential battleground for wizards.

You need to read the other books in the series before reading this one. The main characters in this book were minor characters in them. This style is cool, since readers are familiar with most of the characters even though the focus changes. The author adds old problems from Madison's hometown, and it's a little surprising when wizards appear down there too. Bullies are involved, and mortal problems and magical problems overlap. Hints are dropped throughout the plot that Madison's character has hidden powers even though the wizards believe she does not. One thing I liked less in this book is how the plot jumped around to several settings. It caused me to adjust my thinking at the start of each chapter, although I still enjoyed the overall book.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Lockwood & Co. #3: The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co. #3)Lockwood, George, and Lucy are very busy hunting down ghosts; so busy that they rarely work together anymore. Lockwood decides to hire a new girl, Lucy, to take care of the office and keep things organized. Lucy finds it hard to get along with her;  maybe it's just jealousy. Lucy is sensitive to hearing ghost talk, so she tries to actually communicate with them. She's able to safely communicate with a spirit the first time she tries, but it endangers everyone to the deadly ghost touch. Lockwood orders her to never try it again, but will she listen? The bigger story is that a major outbreak of ghosts has ravaged Chelsea over the past few weeks, and a number of people have died. All of the major agencies have been called to find the Source, where the hauntings started, and Lockwood & Co. are finally asked to join when things get really bad. However, once they discover how bad things are, they may wish they hadn't.

You don't need to read the previous two books to enjoy this one, but it would help to understand the background stories. This book reveals a little bit about Lockwood's past, and Holly's appearance changes the behavior of the main characters. Lucy thinks the boys are overly fond of Holly, and it hurts her feelings. The skull in a jar is a fun character. Lucy is the only person who can talk to him, and his comments range from helpful information to sarcastic comments about hoping everyone dies. The climax of the plot is suspenseful, as the Source is found. The author leaves some mysteries unsolved, and a huge surprise awaits on the last page!

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Wizard Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

The Wizard Heir (The Heir Chronicles, #2)Seph is a wizard without training, and his powers lead to the death of a close friend. He's sent away to a private school and finds the headmaster is also a wizard. However, the headmaster wants to bind their powers, and it doesn't feel right to Seph. When Seph refuses, the headmaster punishes him mentally and physically. After months of torture, Seph is rescued by a guardian he's never met, but danger follows him to Trinity, Ohio. There's a battle brewing between wizards and other groups of Weir, and secrets about Seph's past will be revealed.

This book is a sequel to The Warrior Heir. It's probably for more mature readers, since the main characters are in their mid-teens or are adults. Characters from the first book reemerge halfway through the plot and support Seph in his struggles. Most of the main characters are in their mid-teens. Reading the first book will help with understanding the relationships between wizards and the centuries-old feuds between the different houses. Seph is a powerful wizard, but his lack of training makes him an underdog in the book. His kindness and compassion for others makes him a very likable character. As in the first book, characters are manipulated, and wizards are scheming against each other. For these reasons, surprises pop up when characters seem to change sides or reappear after being forgotten. It makes the book interesting and entertaining.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Mysteries of Cove #1: Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage

Fires of Invention (Mysteries of Cove, #1)Trenton lives in the community of Cove, sealed below the earth's surface, to escape from the death and destruction caused by man's inventions and new technology. Trenton is fascinated by machines, and he has a talent for making them work. However, new ideas are forbidden in Cove, and being called an inventor is about the worst thing anyone can call him. He wonders about a strange piece of metal he found down in the mines, and he meets a girl named Kallista who happens to be the daughter of a crazy inventor. Her father died in an explosion, and the piece of metal is a clue from him. The kids find other pieces and secretly assemble them. They're shocked when they finally realize what they're making, but it's a good thing they did it. They discover the history of Cove is a lie, and danger is waiting to destroy everything they know.

This dystopian novel is the first one in a new series. I've read other books where the government tries to control people's thinking, but this book makes creativity a crime. Trenton's character shows that it's real hard to stop people from thinking and wondering how things could be better. The theme of the book seems to deal with how technology and greed can ruin our planet, and some of that may be true. The actual danger to Cove is something totally different. I wasn't expecting the truth about Cove's history, although I probably should have expected something like it after the kids built their machine.The plot requires readers to think, although the last fourth of it has more action. The book probably won't appeal to all readers, but I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dragon Slippers #3: Dragon Spear by Jessica Day George

Dragon Spear (Dragon Slippers, #3)Creel and Luka visit the new home of Shardas and Velika, the king and queen of all dragons. Velika is carrying her first batch of eggs when she's kidnapped. A dragon they rescued in book two leads a band of smaller dragons who take the queen to a faraway island. These smaller dragons are dying off, including their queen, and they need a new queen to help their colony grow. With the help of the king and other friendly dragons, Creel tracks Velika to the island and finds she's being held captive in a volcanic cave. Her plan to help Shardas rescue Velika becomes complicated when it's time for the queen to lay her eight large eggs. The captors will fight anyone trying to take Velika or the eggs, and they'll hunt her down again if she somehow manages to get away.

You should probably read the first two books in the series, but this book can be enjoyed on its own. This book doesn't have the action found in the other books, but it's able to develop a good amount of suspense. The dragons are the main characters in this book, although the plot follows Creel. The conflict belongs to the dragons. Creel's younger brother has a bigger part than he had in the previous books. He's never seen dragons before, but he becomes an apprentice to one of them, learning to make potions. I've enjoyed the series and recommend it to other dragon lovers.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Heir Chronicles #1: The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

The Warrior Heir (The Heir Chronicles, #1)Jack was going to die as an infant until he had surgery. The surgeon was a wizard and transplanted a warrior stone into his heart. The stone gives Jack warrior powers, but he takes a medicine for sixteen years to hide them. Now, the summary gets tricky. There are two main families of wizards, the White Rose and the Red Rose, and they've been battling for centuries. They decided to create a competition, to the death, between warriors from the families, and the family of the surviving warrior rules the Wizard Council. There are very few warriors left in the world now, and Jack doesn't know about any of this history until wizards attempt to kill him. He begins intense training to prepare him for a competition that he has little chance of surviving.

This series is probably for more mature readers, since all of the main characters are in their mid-teens or are adults. It took me a little time to get into the book, as I tried to understand the history of the wizards, warriors, and other characters. However, I quickly became engrossed in the plot and couldn't put it down. Jack transformed from an average teenager into a powerful warrior. He had conflicts with a bully, he had girl problems, but he had two loyal friends to support him. The plot included twists, as some characters turned out to be evil. The wizard attacks provided action, and not knowing the characters' motivations added mystery. The plot built up to a suspenseful climax with a very unexpected surprise. I really enjoyed the beginning of this series and plan to read the next book, Wizard Heir.

Dragon Flight by Jessica Day George

Dragon Flight (Dragon Slippers, #2)Creel  became a hero in the first Dragon Wars, but she's now returned to her life as a seamstress. However, when an alarming report arrives that an army of dragons with human riders is preparing to invade the kingdom, she volunteers to enlist help from the local dragons to go on a scouting mission. She is good friends with the king and queen of all dragons, but they are secretly hiding, trying to heal from their injuries. Everyone else believes the king and queen died in the war. Creel discovers the army of dragons is being controlled by leather collars, but the identity of the one controlling them is a surprise. A new dragon war is looming, and it will pit brother against brother.

You can probably understand this book without reading the first book in the series, Dragon Slippers, but I really enjoyed both of them. Creel's character doesn't have any special standing in the kingdom other than being a war hero and being the good "friend" of the younger prince. The king doesn't appreciate these facts or help from the local dragons, and this becomes a problem later in the book. I was surprised when the conflict with the dragon army was resolved midway through the book, because the secondary conflict was anti-climatic.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Afterlife Academy by Frank L. Cole

The Afterlife AcademyWalter is struck by lightning and wakes up three days later, only to discover he's dead! He aces his orientation test and is immediately sent on his first assignment for The Afterlife Academy, skipping the required four years of training. His job is to protect Charlie from any evil creatures, like wraiths, shades, and demons. Charlie has discovered The Summoner's Handbook, a book that will allow him to summon all of the evil creatures into the mortal world, and neither Walter nor Charlie truly realize the power of the book. Walter accidentally possesses Charlie's body, and it's clear that he doesn't have the training to handle the importance of this mission. He manages to fend off several attacks from shades and demons, but it's only a matter of time before Charlie and he lose the book and open the door to disaster.

This book is not among the classic novels of all time, but it was really fun to read. Walter and Charlie become unusual partners, since Charlie knows more about the evil creatures than Walter. Walter gives Charlie middle school advice to help him deal with bullies and the cutest girl in school. The plot is able to mix the "serious" problem of demons possibly overrunning the mortal world with interpersonal problems between Charlie and Walter, and between Hoonga (the main demon in the book) and other evil creatures. The book includes humorous moments, as Walter and Charlie try to work through middle school and after-death problems, and Hoonga plays terrible games like Old Maid, Monopoly, and a Jenga-like game played with bones. I recommend this book, and it's great for fans of the "Men in Black" movies.

The Books of Umber #3: The End of Time by P.W. Catanese

The End of Time (The Books of Umber, #3)Umber and Hap have safely returned home, but trouble soon follows. Hap is supposed to master his unique powers to become one of the most powerful Meddlers ever. It's the only way he'll be able to save millions of lives in the world Umber came from. However, an evil sorceress grows more powerful in her prison cell, and it's no secret the prince detests Umber. Umber's life will be in danger if the king's failing health does not improve, and the prince gains control of the kingdom. And word is spreading of a terrible fire monster bringing death and destruction from the Far Continent. And, oh yeah, the Executioner has already killed the other Meddlers, and Hap is his next target. There's a whole lot of disaster going on!

This book is the last one in the trilogy, and you need to read the first two books. You can type "Umber" in the search box found at the top of my blog to see my other reviews. The plot in this book followed a straighter path than the first two books. The prince was a threat to Umber, and everything revolved around that problem. The other conflicts became the focus at different times, but the prince was a constant. A surprise from Umber's previous life pops up to create a huge problem. I liked how the author resolved the climax. Hap used his new-found powers to travel to many settings from the previous books. Problem creatures from those plots became solutions to Hap's problem in this book. Creative thinking by the author!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel

Darkwing (Silverwing, #0.5)Dusk's father is leader of the chiropters, bat-like creatures, on the island, but Dusk is not fully accepted. Chiropters glide through the air, but Dusk wants to flap his wings and fly. Dusk is able to use clicking sounds to help him see in the dark. The other chiropters are angry that he wants to be a bird, and the birds are angry when he actually learns to fly. A serious battle is brewing. Meanwhile, a side story tells the tale of Carnassial, a rebellious fetid. The fetids teamed up,with other beasts to destroy all of the eggs of a common enemy. However, eating the eggs gives Carnassial a taste for meat, so he starts secretly killing other beasts to feed his hunger. He's kicked out of his prowl for it, but his destiny will soon collide with Dusk and the chiropters.

I started reading this book thinking it was a sequel to Silverwings, but it's not. All of the characters and the setting are totally different. The names of the creatures in the book were based on real animals, but they're very early versions of the animals, like fifty million years ago. I had trouble visualizing some of the ground creatures. A theme in this book is definitely about conforming to the expectations of society while still having confidence in yourself. Dusk was afraid to tell his parents about his unique abilities, because he didn't want to get kicked out of the group. Carnassial was in the same situation. It was easy to see Darwin's theories, evolution, at work, as Dusk's abilities made it much easier to hunt and protect himself. To describe the plot simply, it's about predators, prey, and the food chain; animals trying to eat while not being eaten. Only the strong and cunning will survive.

Michael Vey #5: Storm of Lightning by Richard Paul Evans

Storm of Lightning (Michael Vey, #5)Michael, Taylor, and the rest of the Electroclan are on the run again after escaping from Dr. Hatch and his Elgen army. They head to Mexico where Michael's mother and Ostin's parents were hiding in a compound, but they learn it was attacked and obliterated. The Elgen atrackers were unaware the families and members of the resistance escaped earlier, but now the Elgen have arrested Taylor's mother. They're using her as bait, so they can kidnap, or kill, Taylor. Meanwhile, Dr. Hatch is continuing his invasion of Tuvalu, complete with newly invented war ships. He hopes to control 98% of the world's energy production within the next couple of years. He makes Quinten king of Tuvalu, but there's trouble brewing.

Type Michale Vey into the search box found in the top left corner of this site to see my reviews of the previous books in the series. You need to read the other books first, or you'll have no idea what's going on. The Electroclan are teenagers with amazing electrical powers, although Dr. Hatch has his own small force of powerful teenagers. The early books in the series had more action than this one, but it still has its own adventure. This book focuses on character relationships, and Dr. Hatch is teaching everyone, including his own followers, that dictators don't trust anyone. Ostin is an interesting character in the series, because he's the only member of the Electroclan without any powers, other than being really, really smart. The resolution of the book brings back Schema, a bad guy ousted by Hatch earlier in the series. He's grabbed by members of the resistance, so I assume they'll all play bigger roles in the next book, coming out in 2016.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Books of Umber #2: Dragon Games by P.W. Catanese

Dragon Games (The Books of Umber, #2)Umber is intrigued to attend an event with real dragons, but he despises the kingdom hosting the games. The king and his son are cruel barbarians who rule their kingdom through fear and torture. Hap's friend, Sophie, once beat the prince in an archery contest, so the prince chopped off her hand. Hap, Umber, and Oates, Umber's bodyguard, make the long voyage from Kurahaven to Sarnica with a couple of stops along the way. When they arrive, the first thing they find is a young boy, stabbed by the prince, being nursed by his parents beside the road. However, this bit of violence is minor compared to what awaits the fascinating creatures in the Dragon Games. And what will happen to Hap after he outruns the prince in the Running of the Harbor race? Violence is in the future!

You should read the first book in the series to learn about Hap's character as a Meddler. Hap has no memory of his past, and this book presents some new information about his youth. Meddlers are able to change destiny, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. Oates is cursed to always tell the truth, so that creates some humorous situations, and some problems. Some things should remain secret! The book offers many strange creatures as characters. There are crabs that capture the souls of humans they eat and spider-like creatures that provide the crew for a balloon. There's a man who rules over creatures that will do whatever he commands, but there's a fatal catch to the situation. I'm enjoying the series.

Silverwings by Kenneth Oppel

Silverwing (Silverwing, #1)Shade is a silverwing bat and has the same curiosity as his deceased father, but it causes him to break a long-standing treaty with the owls. The owls destroy the bats' home, and Shade gets lost in a storm while migrating to their winter home. He finds another bat, Mariam, to help him, and she has a metal band on her leg just like his father. An all-out war between the bats and all other flying creatures looms, so finding the rest of Shade's tribe becomes even more dangerous. The threat worsens further when two giant bats with three-foot wingspans escape from a zoo and start killing pigeons and owls for food. The jungle bats join Shade and Miriam, but Miriam doesn't like they way look at her. She doesn't know the smaller bats are on their menu!

Shade is a runt bat, so he's constantly trying to prove himself. He's also trying to follow a map that was sung to him, so the plot seems like he's following a prophecy. There is an actual prophecy about the future of the silverwing bats, but the message is unclear. The jungle bats present an obvious conflict, and  they have their own plans for silverwings. A theme looks at Man's role in nature, as some bats think Man is a saviour while others think Man should be feared. The metal bands are seen differently too. Some bats think they identify the chosen ones, but others think they identify bats who are doomed. The fact that bats aren't supposed to fly during the day gives that part of the book a folktale quality.

A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson

A Pocket Full of MurderIsaveth lives in a world where citizens may perform common magic, but only nobles may use more powerful spells. However, most people don't practice magic, so she helps her widowed father by selling spell tablets. Then, the Lawkeepers arrest her father for the murder of Master Orien. Isaveth knows everyone already thinks he's guilty, so it's up to her to prove his innocence. A secretive boy named Quiz comes to her rescue one day, and he becomes her partner in solving the mystery. They discover Master Orien was killed by noble magic, and the murderer must be a very powerful person in the kingdom. The search leads them to the darkest parts of the city as well as the most regal parts. The suspects become fewer, but Isaveth doesn't know who she can trust.

This book has a lot going on and addresses many issues of society. There's obviously the murder, but the plot also deals with religious freedom, the haves and the have-nots, bullies, and governmental corruption. Isaveth's family must keep its religious beliefs secret, and it's part of the reason her father is arrested. The government keeps the citizens from having a right to vote, and many of them are working to change the laws. Quiz seems to be a positive main character, but his secret life leaves that in doubt. The book reads like a mystery, as the main plot deals with solving the murder.

The Books of Umber #1: Happenstance Found by P.W. Catanese

Happenstance Found (The Books of Umber, #1)Hap is found by Umber, blindfolded within the walls of an underground, ancient city, under an active volcano. Umber is an adventurer, inventor, and author, and Hap is a curious case. He has shimmering, green eyes, is able to leap high into the air, is able to see clearly in the dark, and he has no memory of his past. Many people are freaked out by his eyes and aren't sure what to make of him. Then, a strange, mysterious person tracks Hap across the ocean and attacks him once he arrives back at Umber's city. I call the attacker a person, because he's unlike anything Hap has every seen. Hap discovers additional powers but learns people may have a right to be wary of him. An archivist and imprisoned sorceress believe his race of people are able to alter fate, and that may result in great fortune, or in disaster.

I enjoy stories where the characters learn about themselves, although most of the time they know their own identities! You get the sense in this book that Hap has many secrets and powers waiting to emerge. An interesting twist involves Umber. It's evident he's different from everyone else, and the story says he basically appeared out of nowhere. In my mind, I compare him to the Wizard of Oz, because it looks like he came from some other world and has knowledge that is new to all of the people in this land. They think he's a genius, and he's one of the most respected men in the kingdom. However, his past secrets haunt him, and he falls into fits of depression. This book is the first in a series.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

The Riverman (The Riverman Trilogy, #1)Alistair hasn't spoken to his neighbor in years, so he's surprised when Fiona asks him to write her biography. Plus, she's only thirteen years old. She tells him of her visits to Aquavania, a world where all of her dreams come true. She creates a tropical island, flying bandicoots, paisley giraffes, and a talking bush baby named Toby. Everything is wonderful until she discovers The Riverman is sucking the souls from other kids in Aquavania. Fiona tells Alistair that The Riverman may be in the Solid World, looking for her. "A dangerous man. Missing children. A girl too scared to tell the truth."

Interesting story with a lot going on. The idea of a wonderful dream world being haunted by a soul-sucking creature is creative. Many of the characters had their own problems which muddied the plot for me. Alistair had mixed emotions about his best friend, Charlie, and Charlie's troubled brother just wanted to get out of town and start over. Fiona became Charlie's first girlfriend, and that complicated things. While The Riverman was the main conflict in the book, I wanted his character to be more of a presence in the plot. The threat of his character would have been stronger if he had actually appeared earlier in the book.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

Fuzzy MudTamaya is having typical middle school problems. Her parents are divorced, she gets teased for being goody goody, and her friends are getting interested in boys. However, her problems take a dramatic turn for the worse. While taking a shortcut home through the woods, she smashes a strange-looking mud into a bully's face. The mud gives Tamaya a rash on her hand, but the next day it gets large blisters, gives off a powder, and then starts to bleed. It keeps getting worse, and the bully doesn't show up at school the next day. If the rash on her hand is this bad, what could possibly have happened to the bully? And just how dangerous is this strange, fuzzy mud?

The fuzzy mud is a single-celled life form created by scientists as a new energy source. It's not supposed to be able to,live when exposed to oxygen, but that hypothesis may be wrong. The author includes brief chapters that describe a congressional hearing with the scientist. These chapters provide information about the dangerous cells, as the rest of the book describes Tamaya's worsening rash. However, these chapters also take place several months in the future. I'm used to reading flashbacks, but I don't know that I've read any other books with flash-forwards. It wasn't necessarily bad, just different. I enjoyed how the award-winning author handled mankind messing with Mother Nature. If you try to control her, she can do some serious damage.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Plague of Bogles by Catherine Jinks

A Plague of BoglesJem knows Alfred has retired from killing bogles, monsters that hide in dark places, but young children are still disappearing mysteriously in the city. Alfred agrees to use Jem as bait for the bogles, but something has changed. Bogles are popping up in the same area of the city, near an abandoned prison, but Alfred has never seen them living this close together. Fighting more than one bogle at a time is extremely dangerous, and the sewers offer many places to hide. To complicate matters further, Jem suspects Sarah Pickles, a woman who tried to kill him, is lurking around and may have something to do with the bogles. Jem wants revenge against her, but Alfred fears his anger may lead to his death.

This book is the second one in the series, and I recommend both of them. You should read the first book to fully understand what's going on. Birdie is no longer a main character in this book, as the story focuses on Jem. He wants to get off the streets, but he's afraid Alfred will kick him out or replace him with a Birdie. This insecurity causes Jem's character to make some poor decisions. The suspense kicks up every time Alfred and Jem hunt bogles, because the boy must let the monster almost grab him before Alfred slays it. Subplots are developed with Birdie and Sarah, and the author introduces the owner of a freak show to cause problems for Alfred. At the end of the book, Birdie says she's giving up bogling for good, but who knows? All in all, the author has created a very entertaining story.

Nightmares! #2: by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

The Sleepwalker Tonic (Nightmares!, #2)Charlie discovers the citizens of neighboring Orville Falls are walking around town like zombies, because a potion they've taken stops them from dreaming. The consequences are felt in the Netherworld, as a huge hole is causing the dreamworld version of the town to disappear. Charlie and his little brother Jack learn a lighthouse in the Netherworld may be the problem, and it may hold a second portal between the worlds. Goblins are surrounding the lighthouse by the hundreds, and a little girl may be trapped inside. The problem worsens, as a store will be opening tomorrow, offering the potion to Charlie's hometown. Netherworld creatures are entering the human world, Charlie's family may lose its home, and the portal in the upstairs bedroom will fall into evil hands.

I'm not sure you need to read the first book in the series, but I highly recommend it. It will provide background knowledge that will help you understand the plot and characters in this book. The Netherworld is where our nightmares live, and we learn to face our fears. This book deals with real feelings and focuses on the conflict between hope and despair. The plot makes those feelings very important to the events in the story, but it includes many other subplots and character relationships. I like how the author addresses serious human emotions without preaching to readers. Book one dealt with the anger associated with the death of a mother and the resentment of a stepmother trying to take her place. It's an entertaining series with book three coming out in 2016.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Demon Notebook #2: The Broken Spell by Ericka McGann

The Broken Spell (The Demon Notebook, #2)Grace and her friends are secretly receiving magic lessons from two teachers, but they're getting tired of just memorizing herbs and other plants. While the teachers think the girls must learn the basics before learning any magic, a new teacher, Ms. Gold, agrees to teach them some simple spells. Grace tries a spell to see back in time, but she finds herself actually traveling back and forth to 1977 where she finds her three teachers, as kids! She is followed by a scary man in a dark trench coat, The Mirrorman, and Ms. Gold tells the girls they shouldn't look at or listen to him, and to run away if he shows up. The Mirrorman poses a great danger to all witches. Things get complicated as Grace becomes frightened of one her friends, and spells start to get out of control.

I didn't happen to read the first book in the series. I was curious about some references to it, but I was still able to enjoy this book. The author included several different conflicts, but they all worked together. The teachers didn't get along with each other, The Mirrorman, Grace's problems with her friends, and Grace had an internal conflict about her friends and demon. Two teachers wanted the girls to be responsible with their spells, but Ms. Gold felt that they should be able to explore their powers. The climax was surprising, as the hero was someone I didn't expect. I recommend the book!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Tombquest #1: Book of the Dead by Michael Northrop

Book of the Dead (TombQuest, #1)Alex is in the hospital with a life-threatening illness, but doctors don't know the cause. His mother is an expert on ancient Egyptian culture, and her museum just opened a new exhibit featuring the Book of the Dead, including the mythical Lost Spells. When Alex's heart stops beating, she uses a spell to save his life. However, her use of ancient magic has effects that ripple across the planet. Spirits start to stir, and the museum's mummy, Stung Man, comes to life looking for souls to eat. When Alex's mom is kidnapped by an evil cult, he joins his best friend and a German professor to save her. Alex learns to use the powers of his mom's scarab amulet, but will it be enough to battle the cult, an army of scorpions, and a mummy that has risen from the dead?

This book begins a new series, and it's full of adventure. Egyptian magic flying around, an unstoppable mummy, and a dangerous cultist wearing a hyena's head pose lethal obstacles for the kids. Alex's best friend provides the brains, although Alex is the expert on ancient Egyptian culture. The plot is pretty straightforward and easy to follow, but the action is what will capture you. I don't think more than two chapters passed without somebody getting chased, threatened, or killed by the cultist or mummy. Scorpions kept popping up all over the city. I highly recommend this book, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

A Curious Tale of the In-Between (Pram, #1)Pram is living with her aunts, but they're concerned that she talks to herself out by the pond. Actually, Pram is able to communicate with ghosts and enjoys talking to Felix. She's forced to attend school for the first time and becomes fast friends with Clarence, a boy who lost hugs mother too. He wants to say a final goodbye to his mother, so Pram goes with him to visit a spiritualist. Pram doesn't realize the woman has a special interest in her until her dreams are invaded. Pram is kidnapped, Clarence is dropped to the bottom of a pond, and an adventure between the real and spirit worlds ensues. Pram's soul is being stolen!

The story reminds me of Mary Downing Hahn novels. Ghosts are a big part of it, although they're all good characters in this book. Pram is able to interact with them, but their limits aren't quite clear. No one else can see Felix the ghost even though Pram can see him, hear him, and touch him. No one else can see him splash water unless he wants them to. Felix has kept the emotion of jealousy, so it's not always easy to predict what his character will do. The plot includes some danger, some humor, and a bunch of emotions. In addition to the evil spiritualist, Pram has a strong desire to learn about her father, and curiosity about her mother's death. This book is a wonderful tale of the spirit world that won't leave readers with nightmares.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Savvy #3: Switch by Ingrid Law

Switch (Savvy, #3)This book continues the Savvy series, but you can enjoy this story without reading the first two. Gypsy's savvy now allows her to have visions of other people's past or present, although she's not yet able to control it. A new power arises when she develops the ability to freeze time. The savvies of her other family members have gone goofy too. One brother starts to give off fire, and another brother grows to the size of a giant when he's angry. To make matters worse, the family gets word that Grandma Pat will be moving in, and she's never liked any of them. Gypsy has a vision of her grandmother standing at the top of a snowy steeple, now Grandma has run away during a sudden blizzard. She's not thinking clearly and believes she's headed to her high school dance. Grandma's life depends on the kids finding her before she falls to her death.

This book follows the same format as the first two books, so fans of the series should enjoy it too. The savvies aren't super strange, but the fact that they're strange to the characters adds some fun to the plot. Gypsy is still trying to figure out her savvy visions, when she accidentally stops time and doesn't know how to restart it! This plot has more adventure than previous books, as the characters visit a new setting and are forced to search for Grandma. The characters must balance their use of their savvies with the need to keep them secret. It's an enjoyable book for savvy fans.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Nightmares by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

Nightmares! (Nightmares!, #1)Charlie hasn't gotten a good night's sleep in weeks. He's afraid of his dreams, and he believes his new stepmother is a witch. Charlie learns that his nightmares are in the Netherworld, but someone wants to lure him in and trap his body there. When Charlie refuses to let a witch take him there, his little brother is captured instead. Charlie follows them into the Netherworld where he must face his worst fears. He encounters the nightmares of other children, and the son of Medusa helps him. Charlie learns that his own fears are spreading throughout his town, and a creature from the Netherworld has been traveling through a portal between the worlds. The portal will remain open, and evil creatures will invade the real world, unless Charlie can overcome his own nightmares.

There's the lesson; face your fears, or they'll only get worse. The plot includes many common phobias including spiders, clowns, goblins... and gym teachers! The Netherworld is an interesting balance between the complicated thoughts of our brains and how a "real" boy might exist with those thoughts. In addition to Charlie's issues, there's another conflict going on within the Netherworld itself. The president there has changed the way nightmare creatures think, but some of them don't agree with his plans. Two people are stronger than one, and three people are stronger than two. The book is a creepy blend of bad dreams, but it has adventure, emotions, and good beats evil. I was hooked.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Enchanted Files: Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville

The Enchanted Files: Diary of a Mad BrownieAngus is a brownie and travels across the ocean, from Scotland to the United States, to be with his new human, a girl named Alex. Angus is bound to her family by an old curse, but it also has a curious effect on the boys. They become obsessed with writing poetry, really bad poetry, and Alex's father even quits his job to write terrible songs. The only way to stop the curse is to return what the queen has lost... which happens to be her daughter... who happens to have died. Angus doesn't know how to stop the curse, and the curse won't let him leave Alex's family.

The conflict is a bit strange, but Angus's character is a strength of the book. Brownie's must clean for their humans, and his human likes to live a messy life. Angus only stands twelve inches tall, but he has a huge, quick temper. Some people count to ten to calm down; Angus counts to over a thousand! He's able to communicate with animals and even becomes friends with Alex's nasty pet cat. The plot doesn't create much suspense, but overall the book was entertaining. It kept my interest and made me laugh.

Jinx's Fire by Sage Blackwood

Jinx's Fire (Jinx #3)This book is the end of the trilogy, and you need to read the first two books before reading Jinx's Fire. Three huge armies are at war, and Urwald has become their battleground. The trees call Jinx the listener, because he is a wizard's apprentice with the ability to communicate with them. Leaving the paths through the trees is very dangerous, since all kinds of beasts and creatures are ready to eat any humans foolish enough to do so. However, Jinx must unite all of them in order to save their homes and land in Urwald. He gets a little nervous while planning with a werewolf, because he knows it may lose control and attach him at any moment. Jinx won't get much help from his mentor, Simon, because the Bonemaster imprisoned him in the last book. Jinx is usually able to draw power from the fire deep within the ground, but he learns the Bonemaster is using Simon to bridge the paths of fire and ice, lifeforce and deathforce. Jinx must break this connection, but he may need to kill in order to accomplish the feat.

I've enjoyed the creativity of this trilogy over the past few years. Jinx's motivation is to save Urwald and ALL of the creatures living within it. He draws his energy from natural sources and knowledge. He's learned to use Knip to create spells, which stands for knowledge is power. It's interesting that these spells based on people's knowledge can't be undone, since it's not possible to unknow things. Jinx is the most powerful character in the book, but he's reluctant to use his full power on others. I like a leader who's unsure of himself. Also, Jinx hasn't learned the importance of using his words carefully, so he offends many other characters. It makes him more human. One of his best friends is cursed to always tell the truth, so it's fun to see how others talk to her. She hates to answer questions. I highly recommend the trilogy!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Alistair Grim's Oddaquaticum by Gregory Funaro

Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum (Odditorium, #2)The public believes Alistair Grim is a criminal following the adventures in book one of the series, and Grubb is now an apprentice to his father. Alistair's plan to defeat Prince Nightshade requires finding King Arthur's sword Excalibur, but they must travel to another dimension in order to reach the magical sword. They pass through the secret, underwater entrance to Avalon, but their hopes for success rely on a shaky alliance with a captured banshee. Grubb finds a wall painting that reveals a vague prophecy, and it seems he is more important to Prince Nightshade than anyone expected. However, no one truly knows what makes Grubb so special.

You really need to read the first book in the series before reading this one. Grubb is a thoughtful, caring young twelve-year-old boy, or there abouts, who always ends up at the center of the action. The author continues to drop clues about his mother, who died when he was an infant, but it's still not clear where the story is headed. She appears to have connections to Avalon. I enjoy the relationships of the characters created by the author. Alistair is learning to be a father to Grubb, and Grubb is learning to be a son after living with a mean foster-father for most of his life. The captured banshee is in love with the Odditorium's banshee, but he has a duty to the banshee council to arrest her. I'm looking forward to the next book.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Magisterium #2: The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Copper Gauntlet (Magisterium, #2)Call was told the soul of the Enemy of Death lives inside him, so he's trying to decide if he'll soon become an Evil Overlord. Before returning to school for mages, he learns that someone tried to steal the Alkahest from it, and he believes it was his father. The gauntlet made of copper can be used to kill the Makar, the only mage able to control chaos. All of the mages recently discovered that Aaron, Call's best friend, is the new Makar. When the Alkahest is actually stolen, Call's father becomes a wanted man, dead or alive. Now, Call and his friends must find him and the copper gauntlet before it's too late. And if Call's evil soul takes over, will his destiny lead to a battle to the death with his best friend?

The mages create magic using earthly elements like soil, air, and water, but chaos is the evil element most mages cannot control. Many mages and creatures have become Chaos-ridden and fight for the Enemy of Death. There are similarities between Call and Harry Potter, as they both attend a magic school, both have a bit of evil inside them, and both are still learning to master their immense powers. They both were able to communicate with evil characters using languages no one else could understand, and they both are keeping secrets from their closest friends. Call has a huge, Chaos-ridden wolf named Havoc that is a playful, dangerous pet. The second half of this book contains more action than the first part, but I find the book easy to get into. You should read the first book in series,  The Iron Trial, before this one to understand the background stories of the characters, the school, and the conflict. It may not be essential, but it will help to fully understand what's going on.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Keepers of the Labyrinth #1 by Erin E. Moulton

Keepers of the LabyrinthLilith travels to Crete to attend a two-week conference for Future Leaders International. Teens from around the world are grouped into teams of four that will compete for scholarships. However, Lil and her new friends quickly discover there's something more serious going on. Lil sees their mentor holding a "key" that looks very much like a necklace her mother once wore, before she committed suicide. Lil and her team are thrust into a dangerous conflict, as they tumble underground into a labyrinth. The maze is marked by confusing clues, and incorrect decisions are deadly. The path leads to a powerful treasure from Zeus, and his worshippers are willing to kill to get their hands on it first.

The plot is based on Greek myths, but the author adds a unique twist. This book describes the origin of the myths as being based on humans who actually existed. The plot reads more like an adventure than a fantasy story. It often hints at supernatural powers and characters, but everything can be explained by science. So far. The mentors are guardians of archives that hold the secret to immortality. Another unique aspect of this book is that all of the main characters are females. The four mentors and four young girls are the protectors of the labyrinth. It's a nice change to see females play such a big role in an adventure book.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Rebels of the Lamp #1 by Michael M.B. Gavin & Peter Speakman

Rebels of the Lamp (Rebels of the Lamp, #1)Parker is used to getting in trouble, but he's not ready to be sent 3,000 miles away to live with his aunt, uncle, and cousin. Within a few days, he steals an old cylinder from a museum that will drastically change his life. A genie, Fon-Rahm, emerges when Parker's life is threatened, and Parker becomes its master. He commands the genie to to do trivial things: make him a sports car, teach him foreign languages, and make him a hockey star. However, several problems arise. Parker and the genie become seriously weakened whenever they are separated. Thirteen genies were created 3,000 years ago, and the other twelve are all evil. And Xaru, the first evil genie, has been released by his worshippers and is coming after Fon-Rahm to rule the world. Parker finds himself in the middle of a war between the genies that will determine the future of mankind.

The authors created a wonderful spin on the age-old battle between good and evil. While the war is between the genies, the wizard who first created them will regain his powers if any of them are destroyed. This wizard will be bad news if he returns. Fon-Rahm is a formidable genie, but his actions are controlled by a seventh-grade boy. Boys that age don't always make the best decisions, and Parker has never put much trust in friends. The dynamic characters undergo significant changes, sometimes reluctantly, but they become a close team in the end. I anxiously await the chance to read the next book in the series.

Monday, August 31, 2015

My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons

My Brother Is A SuperheroLuke is obsessed with superheroes, but his brother is the one chosen to defend the world. A visitor from another dimension chooses to give Zack six powers to help him protect trillions of people living in both dimensions. Since Luke is the expert on superheroes, he gives Zack advice about how to behave and calls him Star Guy. They agree that Zack's identity must remain secret, but a girl in Luke's class, Lara, decides she's going to find out the true identity of Star Guy. This complicates matters, especially when she makes Luke help her, but then things get even worse. A super villain wants to stop Star Guy, a gigantic meteor is going to destroy Earth, and Zack loses his powers!

This book is a "realistic" story about a boy receiving super powers. He doesn't immediately run out to battle evil beings; he really has no idea what to do and doesn't even know his own powers. He wears a black hoodie and jeans, because tights and a cape look goofy. The plot becomes an adventure, as Luke and Lara team up and realize there are bigger problems than they imagined. The author adds humor to the story, since Zack doesn't understand his powers, he rides the city bus around town, and Lara manages to misuse many figures of speech. Solomons has succeeded in creating a light-hearted, entertaining tale about a reluctant hero.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Blood Guard #2: , The Glass Gauntlet by Carter Roy

The Glass Gauntlet (The Blood Guard Series Book 2)Ronan and his friends head to the hills, literally, to learn the skills of the Blood Guard, protectors of the Pure. Thirty-six purely good people exist on Earth, and their existence balances the evil in the world. Greta, one of Ronan's friends, is unaware that she's actually a Pure, and matters are complicated as Ronan's father is the leader of Bend Sinister, the evil group trying to kill the Pures. The kids travel to a home pretending to be part of an intelligence contest, but they're actually searching for a special invention. It can suck the souls out of Pures, but it may also be able to return the soul of a Pure attacked in the first book. The mission seems simple enough until their cover is blown. Bend Sinister is on the way.

I don't think you need to read the first book to enjoy The Glass Gauntlet, but it will help to understand how everything started. This book reads more like an adventure, although Dawkins, one of the Blood Guard, is able to cut off his own hand without dying. I enjoy the caring and teamwork shown by the characters, and their ability to work together gets them through the challenges. The fact that Greta's death could disrupt the balance of life throughout the whole world adds to the suspense. The author mixes action and humor throughout the plot, and a new character will change sides in the conflict.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Goblins on the Prowl by Bruce Coville

Goblins on the ProwlFauna is invited to a celebration party after her friend, William, frees the goblins in book one of this series. She is officially a "Goblin Friend", so she's surprised when five goblins wearing red headbands sneak into her home. They keep saying "Blackstone" and "Helagon", but they don't find whatever they're searching for. The next day, William receives a book from an unknown woman, but he's warned by others that it may be dangerous. Later, when he reads from it, a stone toad comes to life and carries him away. Fauna discovers Helagon is an evil, powerful wizard, and his name was at the base of the statue. Fauna sets out to rescue William, and finds Helagon may be able to steal magic from others that will make him unstoppable.

The author is able to mix adventure, mystery, and humor to create an entertaining plot. Fauna's rescue group is a ragtag mix of characters. They range from a small goblin, to a huge woman with a lisp, to a ghost. The suspense is created, as a time limit is set for the lives of William and the Baron. Also, Fauna's character has a secret she's keeping, and she tells readers that she will need to leave her friends within the next year or two. The secret is revealed near the end of the book. Goblins are not normally portrayed as good guys, but this book changes that expectation. They are mischievous characters, but they are loyal to \Fauna and William. Apparently, the book that preceded this title was written in the early 90's, so this book can be read without knowing exactly what happened in the first episode.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Alistair Grim's Odditorium by Gregory Funaro

Alistair Grim's Odditorium (Odditorium, #1)Grubb is treated poorly by the chimney sweep caring for him, and he sneaks into a wagon to escape more punishment. He ends up in the Odditorium, and the owner, Alistair Grim, agrees to let him stay if he promises to never share what he might see. Grubb sees some strange things including a talking pocket watch. One day, Grubb leaves the building but forgets the watch is in his pocket, and that leads to disaster. The watch is powered by blue magic which attracts shadow hounds who are on the lookout for evil spirits. The Black Fairy attacks the Odditorium, and Prince Nightshade arrives to finish the job. Grim has something the prince wants, and the prince plans to use it to create a huge army of undead. However, when Grim starts to play the organ, something truly amazing happens!

This book got better as I got farther into it, to the point where I think it's the best speculative fiction I've read in 2015. Odditoria are simply things, living or not, that are powered by magic. Grubb is a curious character whose fear of getting into trouble creates additional problems. He's very likable, and readers will be able to connect with him. Grim's character is not easily rattled, even when things seem to be going wrong. While the first part of the book was interesting as I learned about the Odditorium, the rest of the book was adventurous and action-packed. There were chases, captures, escapes, and battles. Each chapter seemed to reveal new secrets about Grim's past, and Grubb's past too. I highly recommend this book!

School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough

School for SidekicksEvan Quick has always wanted to become a superhero in order to join Mask and fight bad guys along side his hero, Captain Commanding. It seems impossible, since he's a scrawny, unpopular kid in school. However, the day after his thirteenth birthday, Evan's life takes a dramatic turn. While visiting the heroes' amusement park, he is injected with something that gives him superpowers. The next thing he knows, he's saving Captain Commanding from a group of super villains, and wakes up later in Mask school. Evan discovers that life in Mask is challenging, and the truth about their existence is complicated. Evan discovers Captain Commanding is actually a pain in the butt, and OSIRIS, the organization overseeing Mask, is up to something. Why would the organization not want to capture all of the super villains, and how are the criminals escaping so easily from prison? Something huge and unexpected is coming!

I liked the idea of recruiting superheroes and putting the kids into training. Some of the superpowers were unusual, as one blind character could see through other people's eyes and another could change by touching metals. I enjoyed the author's choice for Evan's mentor. His mentor was a washed up, ex-drunk superhero who didn't really want to fight crime anymore. He only offered to mentor Evan in order to tick off his ex-partner, Captain Commanding. Overall, the mystery behind OSIRIS, the character interactions, and the adventure and action scenes resulted in a wonderful plot. The only thing I didn't like was the author's decision to create some cutesy characters. Seriously, Fluffinator? The first part of the book moved a little slowly for me, since the author had a lot of background information to work into the story. However, the rest of the book made up for it! Overall, it's an entertaining book for lovers of superheroes.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn

Took: A Ghost StoryDaniel's parents move the family out of the state and into the mountains, but no one is happy. Daniel and Erica, his little sister, are teased at school, and the other children tell them  stories about their new house. It seems a girl about Erica's age disappeared from the house fifty years ago, and fifty years before that and fifty years before that. The rumor is that an old witch has taken the little girls to her rundown cabin at the top of Brewster's Hill where they live with the skeleton of her wild razorback, Bloody Bones. Of course, Daniel doesn't believe the stories until Erica starts acting strange. She walks alone into the woods, and Daniel watches her talking to someone he can't see. Then, one day Erica disappears in the trees and bushes but doesn't return. The witch has struck again.

I love this author's books! Her ghost stories are eerie and spooky, but they can easily be read  and enjoyed by middle grade students. She allows readers to know what the evil character is thinking, as Erica falls into her trap. The suspense is heightened, as all of the people in town believe the tales and are too frightened to help. I highly recommend Hahn's books for readers looking to get a taste of ghost stories. They're not gentle stories, but they're not going to give you nightmares either.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

The Emerald Atlas (The Books of Beginning, #1)Kate, Michael, and Emma are taken into an "orphanage" by Dr. Pym, but they are the only children living there. While exploring the new home, they find a magical book. It transports the kids back in time, fifteen years back, where they find an evil countess who has imprisoned the children in a small town. The children discover humans and magic used to live together, and the wizards recorded the magic in three secret books. The first book is called Atlas, and it has made a connection with the kids. Kate is able to use the book to travel to different moments in history, but she's confused and challenged by what she sees. The countess uses Kate to get her hands on Atlas, but she'll use its power to change the history of the world.

The conflict is a classic battle of good versus evil. The author throws in a couple of twists, as the countess has a mysterious master and the children long to find their parents. The jumps in history are pretty easy to follow, although the inability to have two copies of the same object exist at the same time requires some imagination. All three children have unique personalities, but Emma and Michael stand out. Emma is a feisty little girl, always looking for a fight. Michael loves to learn, and he's infatuated with dwarfs. Of course, the book includes dwarfs, and they become important to the plot.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Banished of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler

The Banished of MuirwoodMaia has two secrets that could lead to her death. She is able to read, which is forbidden for all girls in the kingdom. She can also summon magical powers from the Medium using the kystrel hanging around her neck. Her father, the king, hates the queen for not giving him a son, so he banishes the queen and Maia from Comoros. The king's decisions are hurting the kingdom, and opposing armies are waiting to invade. However, Myriad Ones, ancient spirits that bring about ill will and violence, are spreading evil across the lands. Maia's powers are growing each day, but a Myriad One takes over her body when she sleeps. She travels to an abbey for help, but the spirit forces her to burn it down. She has two men risking their lives to help her, a king who wants to marry her, but her uncontrollable powers may destroy them all.

Maia's character has the strength of her powers, a compassion for others, but the vulnerability of her emotions. I enjoyed the plot's adventure but found some parts confusing. Some chapters were flashbacks to different moments in Maia's past, but it sometimes took a page or two to figure out this was going on. The end of the book reveals secret forces that were influencing events, and they will probably become a major factor in the next book. Despite my confusing moments, I found the book very entertaining and adventurous. Lots of magic going on!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Aoleon the Martian Girl: Part 1 First Contact by Brent LeVasseur

Aoleon The Martian Girl: Science Fiction Saga - Part 1 First ContactGilbert lives amid Midwestern farms, and he's been having strange dreams about outer space. Maybe it's because of all the crop circles found in the surrounding fields. One night, he awakens and follows a strange light flying around in the sky. He's surprised to find a young Martian girl standing in the middle of his neighbor's field. Their meeting is interrupted by the angry farmer and his shotgun, so Gilbert hops aboard Aoleon's spaceship. His adventure is just beginning, as the alien eventually transports him to her home planet, Mars.

This book is the first one in a five-part series. The plot moves quickly, with plenty of action and humor, but readers must have a tolerance for silliness. Half of this book describes the Air Force chasing the spaceship with fighter jets and a new rocket designed to intercept UFOs. For Aoleon, it's just playtime, since her ship has superior technology. Her ship is controlled by her thoughts, can travel thousands of miles in seconds, and can instantly change directions without losing speed or control. I'm guessing the other books in the series may be strange, since some Martians have a plan to conquer Earth. However, our cows are a big part of it.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Land of Stories #4: Beyond the Kingdoms by Chris Colfer

Beyond the Kingdoms (The Land of Stories #4)Alex insists the evil Masked Man is her father, and she's determined to stop him. The Fairy Council thinks she's lost it, and they remove her as Fairy Godmother. Alex and her twin brother Connor discover the Masked Man is actually an uncle they thought was dead, and he is planning to create a formidable army. He steals a potion from his mother that lets him enter the worlds of any books. Alex and Connor chase him through the open portals, but they encounter obstacles along the way. Deadly poppy fields, dangerous creatures, and evil characters in the books await them. However, the kids always seem to be one step behind their uncle, and he sets a trap that may doom them forever.

This book is an exciting continuation of the series, but you need to read the first three books first. A big difference found in this book is the setting. It begins in the fairy tale world, but it continually changes, as the kids search for their uncle. They travel to the land of Oz, Neverland, and Sherwood Forest, and add characters from the different plots. It was unusual to see the Tin Woodman mixed with the Lost Boys, Little Red Riding Hood, and Robin Hood. An important character is lost in this book, but Bree, a character from the "real world", will probably become a more important character in the next book. She discovers she's related to the Brothers Grimm and has magic in her blood. She's not aware that the uncle plans to invade her world too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Copernicus Legacy #2: The Serpent's Curse by Tony Abbott

The Serpent's Curse (The Copernicus Legacy, #2)Wade and his friends have collected the first relic and are now searching for the second. They're trying to keep the Teutonic Order from getting all twelve relics; the twelve relics together will create a time machine designed by Nicholas Copernicus in the 1500's. The Order has captured Wade's stepmother and plans to send her back in time. The kids must decode Copernicus's 500-year-old clues, as they search throughout Russia and Italy. The Order has spies all over the world, their leader is ruthless, and she has sent an assassin after the kids. And Wade's mom has less than two days before she disappears into the past. She'll be stuck in the year 1517 forever, if she survives the trip back in time.

You should read book one before reading this one. As with the first book in the series, the time machine offers an element of fantasy, but this book reads like an adventure story. The clues left by Copernicus provide mystery to the plot, as the characters try to decode messages and locate the relics. The Order creates suspense, as it tries to find the relics first and tries to kill or capture the main characters. The plot hints that there might be something special about one of the kids, as the evil woman orders the death of all of the main characters except for "the one". The fantasy, mystery, and adventure are sure to interest most middle grade readers.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ms. Peregrine's Peculiar Children #2: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #2)Jacob and the other peculiars narrowly escape from the wights and hollows, but Ms. Peregrine's home has been destroyed. She's a ymbryne, kind of the guardian of the peculiars, but she's now stuck in her bird form, possibly forever. The children discover a loop and travel back in time where they meet many other peculiars. It seems someone is trying to capture all of ymbrynes in the world, but the peculiars don't know why. The children must travel to 1940's London to find Ms. Wren, the only free ymbryne left who might be able to save Ms. Peregrine. The journey will be dangerous with WW II bombs dropping and wights and hollows hunting them down. The peculiars are doomed if they can't save Ms. Peregrine and the other ymbryne.

Peculiars are gifted (cursed?) with special abilities or powers. One of the main characters is invisible, one can create heat and fire, and another can control bees. The author creates a conflict by having Ms. Peregrine stuck in bird form. She's still able to communicate with the peculiars in her own bird-like way, but her time is running out. Each character performs a role with the group in order to survive. Emma is the brains, Jacob is the hollow fighter, and Bronwyn is the muscle. A unique addition to the book is the collection of unusual photographs. The plot describes a girl with a hole in her stomach and a foldable man, but it also displays old-time photographs of them. Some of the pictures are a little freaky. You should read the first book in the series before reading this one, but it's not absolutely necessary in order to enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Underworlds #2: When Monsters Escape by Tony Abbott

When Monsters Escape (Underworlds, #2)Owen, Sydney, and Jon rescued Dana from the Greek Underworld in the first book, but they had to make a deal with Hades. He let Dana leave if they would capture two giant Cyclops and return them to the Underworld. Somehow, the Cyclops are able to change their shapes and sizes, so the kids are having trouble finding them. They follow the giants to an abandoned power plant and discover they're building something made of metal for Loki, God of mischief. Loki has a plan to take over all the Underworlds, and the kids are the ones who need to stop him.

These books are great for middle grade, reluctant readers. They're full of action and adventure, and they're pretty short; this book was only fifty-six pages long. The author doesn't spend a lot of time developing the characters personalities, so the action moves along quickly. Actually, the whole series of books could be combined to create one entertaining novel. Owen is the narrator of the story, and he learned to use a magical lyre in the first book. It gets them out of many problems, but Loki seems to have a special interest in Dana. The reason is not clear in this book, but I assume it will be one more evident in the future.

The Underworlds #3: Revenge of the Scorpion King by Tony Abbott

Revenge of the Scorpion King (Underworlds, #3)Owen, Dana, Sydney, and Jon sneak onto Loki's sleigh and follow him to the Babylonian Underworld. Loki is searching for the Crystal Rune, and he plans to use it to defeat Odin, king of the Norse gods. Loki hopes to control seven Babylonian monsters to burn our world in ashes. The first person to reach the top of a seven-story tower  will control them, however one of the monsters guards each floor. Once, Loki destroys Odin, there'll be no one left to stop him from ruling the world.

You should provably read the first two books in the series, but it's not absolutely necessary. I recommend you start with the first book. All of the books in the series are very short; the first three books are less than sixty pages long. The action moves along very quickly, and the whole series can be read like one average-length book. It's a great series for readers who enjoy adventure but don't want to take weeks to finish a book.