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.