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.

Underworlds #4: The Ice Dragon by Tony Abbott

The Ice Dragon (Underworlds, #4)Owen, Dana, Jon, and Stephen head to Iceland to stop Loki from defeating Odin, king of the Norse gods. Loki has already released monsters that are setting fire to the kids' home town, and he's now heading to the land of snow. He needs to find the Crystal Rune, but he doesn't know it's location. However, Dana thinks she knows where to find it from a childhood story her parents once told. Their journey leads them to an old volcano that might be extinct. Might be. Eventually, they witness Loki killing Odin's son. Odin tells the kids that Loki doesn't fully understand the consequences of finding the Crystal Rune; it will actually kill all living things. The kids are the only ones who can stop Loki and the monsters, but how?

This book is like all of the others, and it brings the series to an end. The plot again moves quickly and is filled with plenty of action. The kids use their talents to work together, but Owen's lyre always seems to be the key weapon. The tunes he plays have magical effects, but the instrument takes a beating in this book. This whole series is a great read for reluctant readers.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Cloak Society #1 by Jeremy Kraatz

The Cloak Society (The Cloak Society, #1)Alex is the son of two super villains, leaders of Cloak. He uses his telekinetic power to help other Betas, like criminal trainees, but they're stopped by Rangers and Junior Rangers. Alex saves one of them from death, so his parents wonder if he should be part of the plan to banish all of the Rangers into the Gloom, kind of limbo between life and death. He runs into the Junior Ranger again, and he becomes confused when she offers to help him leave Cloak. He feels like there's more to the raid than the Cloak leaders are telling, and he starts questioning the whole organization. It turns out Alex a good reason to be concerned, but what will he do about it? What will his parents do?

It's pretty unusual to find a main character who's also a criminal. Alex is a fourth-generation villain with superpowers, but the author creates a strong internal conflict. He looks forward to destroying the Rangers until he saves the girl's life. The author slowly makes him reflect on what Cloak is doing, but his parents keep,putting pressure on him to become the strongest supervillain. The characters have some intriguing powers. They include sound energy, controlling plants, changing the temperature, and changing into animals. Gabe doesn't have any powers, but he is a young genius who creates all of the technology for Cloak.

The Cloak Society #2: Villains Rising by Jeramey Kraatz

Villains Rising (The Cloak Society, #2)Don't read any further if you haven't read the first book in the series! Alex, Mallory, Gage, and Misty are now teamed up with the surviving Junior Rangers, Kirbie, Kyle, and Amp. A stranger appears at their hideout, and he has the ability to communicate with insects. Alex doesn't trust Bug, but he is only one who seems to have a conflict with Bug. They make plans to rescue the Rangers trapped in the Gloom, but it won't be easy. They target Cloak's Omegas, their special ops assassins, and their aided by a girl with her own powers. Alex wants to let her join the group, but the others are a little suspicious. He starts to question his sanity after seeing his mother appear, and then disappear, in an alley. Cloak is making moves to discredit the Junior Rangers and take over the city. Is there any way to stop them?

You must read the first book before this one. The plot includes fight scenes between the good and evil characters, but the author adds a twist to the conflict. Cloak uses the media to turn the Rangers into the bad guys and make themselves the heroes. Adding new characters creates more mystery, since readers aren't sure which ones are secretly bad. Alex's mother is able to control people's minds, and other characters are able to hide their appearances. I'm enjoying the series and am looking forward to the next book.

The Cloak Society #3: Fall of Heroes by Jeramey Kraatz

Fall of Heroes (The Cloak Society, #3)Don't read any further if you haven't read the first two books in the series! Alex distracts his mother and other members of Cloak, while Gage and Amp sneak into the Gloom. All of their hopes rely on rescuing Lone Star and Lux, leaders of the Rangers, but the Gloom sucked away their powers. Things don't go well after that. Cloak manages to fool the public and takes over law enforcement from the police. They recruit Deputies, citizens with untrained powers, and start to amass a secret army. Alex's parents and Cloak seem unstoppable, and Alex wonders if his new friends have any chance defeating them. What can they do? You'll be surprised!

Misty has become an important character despite being the youngest, and newest, hero. She's able to secretly move others characters around, and she seems to be the one who swoops in to save them. Alex has been dealing with an internal conflict throughout the series. He's battling Cloak, but his parents are leaders of the criminals. Alex used to be part of it that group, I and his mother constantly plays mind games with him. I like how the characters use their strengths and weaknesses to work together. Even Gage, who doesn't have any super powers, is a key member of the team.

The Luck Uglies #2: Fork-Tongue Charmers by Paul Durham

Fork-Tongue Charmers (The Luck Uglies #2)Good Harper collects gold and silver for the needy, but he's robbed by a dangerous, rogue Luck Ugly named Slinister. The new Constable for the town of Drowning burns down Rye's home and starts to publicly punish citizens for minor offenses. Harmless, Rye's father and leader of the Luck Uglies, returns to the town to make things right. Between Slinister and the Constable, things aren't safe for Rye or her mother, so Harmless sends them away to her mother's home island. Rye meets her grandfather for the first time and learns why her father is no longer welcome. They could use her father's help, as danger finds its way to the island. How can farmers and fisherman defend themselves from the Constable's heavily armed soldiers?

The book reads like an adventure, but it has some small elements of the supernatural. Rye has a stone that glows when Bog Goblins are near, and the villagers talk about Shellycoats haunting the island. Otherwise, the plot describes a realistic adventure. Many characters don't like the Luck Uglies since they're thieves, but the Luck Uglies always seem to show up to defend people. Rye's grandfather was the last effective leader on the island, but he seems to have given up on the villagers. He lives in the hills above the town and doesn't want to come down to speak to the citizens. The author creates suspense and mystery, since Slinister is focused on Rye. No one seems to know why, but that doesn't make her any safer.

The Trap by Steven Arntson

The TrapCarl, the brother of Henry's best friend, punches Henry in the nose. This is not too surprising, since Carl is a big bully, but he disappears later that day. Henry finds a book about our subtle selves and recites some numbers before falling asleep. He "awakens" in a spirit form, looking down at his own body. Carl's subtle form finds Henry and says he needs help. Henry wakes up and tells his friends, and they agree to solve the mystery of Carl's disappearance. However, Henry later finds his subtle form is snared in a bear trap, in the middle of a graveyard. It turns out someone is trying to live forever by experimenting on others. Will Henry be the hero or the next victim?

Overall, I enjoyed the book. The idea of subtle forms was interesting, and the characters treated the whole thing as a mystery. They fell asleep at the same time and were able to meet up again in the subtle world. The characters could walk through doors and were indestructible in that world, but their other experiences were fairly normal. The book basically had two realities, but it wasn't too hard to imagine them. The plot also addressed family issues, as parents dealt with unemployment and alcoholism. There was a little bit of racism, but that seemed to be resolved by the end of the book.