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!