Friday, December 30, 2016

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by

The Charmed Children of Rookskill CastleMy name is Kat, and I don't know how much danger I'm in. My little brother, sister, and I were sent to an academy in Scotland to escape the German bombings in London. We were surprised to find there are only a few other students, and I've now begun to notice some other unusual events. A little girl appears to be fishing out back, but she quickly disappears. A little boy was out there playing with cats, but he disappears too. The Lady won't let us wander around the castle, and she locks all of us in our rooms every night. And then there's Jorry. He's another student at the academy, but we haven't seen him for days. The Lady says he's terribly sick and can't be disturbed, but I don't believe her. Other students start to disappear, and I wonder if something more evil is going on. My aunt gave me an old chatelaine and said it can protect me from magic, but someone has stolen it from my room. I now know the Lady is more powerful and dangerous than I imagined.

This book allows readers to know what's really going on before the main characters find out. We know right away that the Lady is stealing the souls of children to give her more power, but she loses part of her humanity each time she does it. She needs twelve souls to complete the process, so the plot ticks down to the climax as each child is taken. Of course, Kat will be last. The Lady brings cold-hearted cruelty to the conflict, and Kat doesn't understand how to fight her. Kat doesn't even believe in magic, so she's at a great disadvantage in the fight. The book offers a subplot involving a German spy, but I don't think it was necessary. I wondered about his identity, but it didn't really add much to the plot. The role of the academy's teachers is more interesting, since it's clear they're holding secrets. It's also clear they're under the Lady's spell, so that confuses the issue even more. Overall, it's a great book.

Bounders #1 By Monica Tesler

BoundersMy name is Jasper, and I've been raised to become one of Earth's first bounders. Bounding allows people to instantly transport themselves anywhere in the universe, but there's something about my genetics that will make me better at it. I'm now in deep space with other kids like me, learning everything we need to know about bounding, where we are grouped into pods. We hope to win the overall contest between the pods, but one girl on our team may doom us. Mira is spacey, keeps to herself, hasn't spoken to anyone, and our mentor says she's the key to our success. Wait, I need to tell you that there's something bigger going on here at the Earthbound Academy. I saw an alien being held captive here, and it's being kept in a specially-designed cell. Even though people don't talk about it, I think this alien might be responsible for the Incident at Bounding Base 51. I thought I was being trained to explore the universe, but I now wonder if I'm being trained to become a soldier.

This book was very entertaining, and I plan to read the sequel soon. Jasper's self-doubt makes him an unlikely leader for his pod, but the other kids always look to him for guidance. He makes their individual talents work together, and he's the only one able to understand Mira. Mira continuously adds mystery to the plot, as she mentally communicates with Jasper from time to time and communicates with the imprisoned alien. She's also able to harness the energy needed to bound better than anyone else, and the mentor seems to be keeping secrets about her. Jasper notices inconsistencies in what they're being told, so it's difficult to identify the good guys from the bad guys. This makes the plot more enjoyable, and I assume the overall conflict will become clearer in the next book.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Warren the 13th #1: The All-Seeing Eye by Tania Del Rio

Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing EyeMy name is Warren, and I've inherited a hotel with an All-Seeing Eye hidden somewhere inside the hotel. Uncle Rupert is my guardian, but his new wife Annaconda is a witch. The Eye may just be a legend, but I now suspect Annaconda only married my uncle to find it. Her evil sisters have moved into the hotel, but not before they told others about the Eye. Now, all of the hotel rooms are filled with people looking for the jewel, or crystal ball, or magic spectacles, or enchanted rock. No one knows what the All-Seeing Eye might be, or if it really exists. But Annaconda believes, and she thinks I'm the key to finding it. After finding a coded message in the hedge maze, I'm beginning to think she's right.

Warren's honesty and determination make him an admirable character. His uncle is very lazy and lets the hotel fall into disrepair, but Warren still works hard every day to keep the rooms clean and ready for guests. He shows remarkable patience when the mass of rude guests arrive, and he befriends a creature in the basement while being punished by his aunt. The mystery of the All-Seeing Eye will capture the interest of readers, as Warren uncovers clues about its true power. Heck, Warren doesn't even know what he's looking for. The plot takes many twists and turns, as different characters reveal their true motivations. Petula befriends Warren, but he's unaware that she's Annaconda's apprentice. Or is she? This book ends with Warren seeking new adventures across the land, but you'll need to read it for an explanation.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Kronos Chronicles #1: The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski

The Cabinet of Wonders (The Kronos Chronicles, #1)My name is Petra, and the prince has cut my father's eyes right out of his face! My father had an ability to see the magic within metals, and he created an amazing new clock for the prince that can potentially control the weather. I'm not sure why the prince took my father's eyes, but I've decided I'm going to sneak into the prince's castle and steal them back. I've managed to get a job inside the castle, and I've now been assigned to work for an old woman with acid skin. This has allowed me to sneak around the castle, but I just ran into a strange man from England. He said he's a spy, and my quest to retrieve my father's eyes is more important than I ever imagined. Europe may be ravaged by war if I fail!

The plot of this book was surprisingly engaging. The author was able to spin a descriptive tale that made me want to keep the book in my hands. I'm trying to figure out how she did it, although I'm not losing any sleep! The idea of having a father's eyes stolen was creative, but the creativity didn't knock my socks off. I think it was Petra's character that sucked me in. She loved her father immensely and just wanted to get his eyes back. She mostly worked alone, although she received help from a gypsy boy. The complications arising from the spy, the looming war, and the ruthlessness of the prince made her quest even more dangerous and important. Although Petra survives this book, the series is far from over.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Earning My Spots by Mark Eastburn

Earning My SpotsMy name is Sam, and my family has been kidnapped by harpies and other werecreatures. I'm a werehyena, and my new friend Manny, a werejaguar, says I'm the great hunter he's been searching for. Really? Hyena's aren't known for their hunting, and I get bullied by my own sister! We've made our way down to New Orleans where I've met the queen of the hyenas. She says I'm the warrior who must stop the brewing war between the werecreatures and the no-tails. She says there's a powerful condor down in South America who's amassing an army that will soon strike out against the no-tails. He has a mysterious magic that he's using to control the werecreatures, including my family. I'm starting to learn about my heritage and abilities, but I don't see how that will help me defeat an army of thousands.

I was a little skeptical at first; I mean, werewolves is one thing but a book full of werecreatures from all species of animals? However, I really enjoyed what this author was able to create. Sam was a character with doubts about his own abilities, but he was the key to saving the world. How many other books have that? (Lots) The idea of a hyena main character was very unique, and I learned a lot about the animals along the way. There was an underlying theme dealing with man's destruction of nature and the need to protect animal habitats. I didn't see that coming! The plot contains enough action and conflict to satisfy most readers, and I highly recommend you give this book a try. It's kind of like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. Open a book and you never know what you're going to get. In this case, I got way more than I expected!

Michael Vey #6: Fall of Hades by Richard Paul Evans

Fall of Hades (Michael Vey, #6)My name is Michael Vey, and I founded the Electroclan. My friends and I have unique electrical powers, but I'm not sure they'll help us escape from Hatch. The man wants to control all the power in the world, and he's close to doing it. We've discovered Hatch intends to kill several "electrics" in his prison, and we've been contacted by Welch, the former leader of Hatch's forces and another person he plans to kill. Hatch put a million dollar bounty on Welch, so now Welch wants our help. My small group plans to rescue the imprisoned electrics, steal Hatch's command ship, and end his plans to control the world. There are problems. My electrical powers are growing, but I'm having trouble controlling them. My group of a dozen must battle Hatch's group of thousands. And, I suspect there's a "friend" who plans to sell us out.

You need to read the previous books in the series to fully understand what's going on. This book focuses on uniting former enemies to fight against Hatch. Hatch has a habit of imprisoning or killing characters who disappoint him. Welch was a ruthless enemy, so some members of the Electroclan are reluctant to trust him. The imprisoned electrics used to fight for Hatch, so again some members of the Electroclan are reluctant to trust them. The entire plot leads to a final battle between Hatch's Elgen forces and the Electroclan. This books introduces a new character working for "The Voice". That was unexpected, but the question of "The Voices" identity will need to be resolved before the series end. I believe the next book will be the last one.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Spooksville #1: The Secret Path by Christopher Pike

The Secret Path (Spooksville, #1)My name is Adam, and Sally may be the craziest girl I've ever met. She says monsters and witches exist, and people frequently disappear around here. She says Ann Templeton is an evil witch, but I don't think she's that evil. Another new friend, Watch, is showing me the Secret Path which supposedly leads to other dimensions of Spooksville. The path follows the life of the original witch of the town, and maybe we'll find some of the lost kids at the end. However, there's also a possibility we'll become victims ourselves. There's more than one witch in our futures.

This book is a quick read, as are the following books in the series. The simplicity of the mysteries and the interactions of the characters make this book enjoyable. Sally's character is my favorite. She seems to be in love with Adam as soon as they meet, but she frequently preaches about evil and doom. Adam isn't sure how to react. The path provides elements of danger and suspense, but Sally's reactions to them are most entertaining. She talks big, but she's reluctant to face danger. Until she needs to. She constantly rags on Adam about his lack of knowledge and risky choices, but then she shows how much she likes him. Overall, this book should entertain lovers of ghosts and mysteries.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Spooksville #2: The Howling Ghost by Christopher Pike

The Howling Ghost (Spooksville, #2)My name is Sally, and I live in the scariest town in the world. Of course, Adam doesn't believe me, but he's learning. I read about a girl losing her little brother out by the old lighthouse, and I told Adam and Watch that we should help find him. The police don't believe her story about a beam of light coming from the lighthouse and a howling ghost grabbing her brother. I know she's telling the truth. I convinced the boys to help me investigate, but I didn't expect Adam to risk his life in shark-infested waters or climbing the abandoned lighthouse. Of course, I was right in the end, and it was my idea that rescued the little boy.

You don't need to read the first book in the series to enjoy this one. I enjoyed this book a bit more, because it focused on one clearly-defined problem. A little boy is missing, and the kids work to solve his mystery. Book one had the kids traveling to an alternate dimension, whereas they use their knowledge and resources to solve the problem in this one. The first book showed Sally's loving feelings for Adam, and she becomes a bit jealous in this book when he shows kindness for Cindy, the sister of the little boy. Once again, Adam doesn't know what to think. The books in this series are easy to read, and they present mystery and adventure for readers. I recommend them for light-hearted mystery lovers.

The King of Average by Gary Schwartz

The King of AverageMy name is James, and my mom's always telling that I'm a big disappointment and have ruined her life. I want to prove I'm the most average kid in the world, but I came upon a talking goat on my way home one day! I followed him through a hedge and found myself in a whole new world, The Land of Possibility. Now, somehow, I find myself possibly being the next king of the Land of Average. I must complete a quest, of course, by finding the former king and discover why he left. Am I average enough to rule a whole kingdom?

If you enjoyed reading The Phantom Tollbooth, you'll love this one too. There is A LOT of word play for you to think about, and you may miss much of it. Characters' names, names of kingdoms and cities, and words in conversations have literal and figurative meanings. Ever heard someone say "A little bird told me"? The bird is in the book, and James's goat is a scapegoat, taking all the blame for him. James journeys into a land of possibilities and pessimism, but he finds it difficult to live with average expectations. The adventure of quests and helping others kind of makes you take risks and become un-average. How many people in the real world are afraid to stand out and be different? It's not always easy going against what is "normal", but go ahead, take a chance and care about other people. Make it a better place.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

100 Cupboards by H. D. Wilson

100 Cupboards  (100 Cupboards, #1)My name is Henry, and my parents have been kidnapped. Actually, I really don't understand why that doesn't bother me more. I've moved to Kansas to stay with my aunt and uncle, and I sleep in the attic. I've discovered a bunch of cupboard doors lining the ceiling next to my bed, and they seem to be portals to other worlds. There is darkness behind one of the doors, and I can feel someone, or something, lurking behind it. I'm afraid to open any more doors, but my cousin is more reckless. She's disappeared, and I know she's trapped behind one of them. A letter from one of the worlds has warned me that opening the doors will be disastrous, but what else can I do?

The setting of the story is a little creepy, since most of it occurs inside an old house, in the attic. There's mystery behind the cupboard doors, and they're sealed with combination locks. Grandfather's room adds to the spookiness, as no one has been able to open it since his death two years ago. Henry's uncle even took a chainsaw to it! I wish the book had answered more questions than it created. The main antagonist appeared late in the book, and Henry made only a few trips behind the doors. He discovered some information about his past, but then the book ended. Plan to read the sequel after finishing this one.

Hatched by Bruce Coville

Hatched (The Enchanted Files, #2)My name is Gerald, and I'm a griffin. You know, eagle head and wings with the body of a lion. I'll bring shame to my family if I don't find my tenth treasure within the next two weeks, so I've decided to run away. My teacher, a gnome, actually tricked me into entering the human world, so he could find his twin brother in New Batavia, a lost colony of gnomes. I've entered a forbidden world, let a human see me, and I still have no idea how I'm going to get my tenth treasure. I can never return to the Enchanted Realm without it. What else can go wrong? How about all of the gnomes in New Batavia are going to be killed?

The idea of having an insecure griffin as the main character, and his teacher being a gnome, was very creative. The theme was a familiar one, as Gerald needed to learn to have confidence in himself. I don't normally like plots that are told from more than two points of view, and this book bugged me in that way. However, I finally got used to it and most of the views came from Gerald and Brad, his new human friend. Brad was an underachieving student, and his grandmother was a leader in protecting the gnomes. There was a balance between humans and gnomes. The gnomes helped the humans magically (they had saved Brad's life the summer before), and humans helped keep the gnomes secret. The author, Bruce Coville, also wrote the My Teacher is an Alien series, and this book seems to be the first in a new winning series.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Henry Hunter and the Beast of Snagov by John Matthews

Henry Hunter and the Beast of Snagov (Henry Hunter #1)My name is Dolf, and life around Henry Hunter is an adventure. This time, we're traveling to Europe in search of the truth about Dracula and vampires. People around here don't want to talk much about it, but Henry won't give up. We found some papers saying Dracula and vampires actually existed, but the papers also said The Beast of Snagov was far worse. We've found Dracula's first castle and met his daughter. Bella is pretty terrifying, but she says even vampires fear the beast. Henry thinks we should locate the Beast of Snagov, but now he's disappeared. I'm afraid he's been kidnapped, and the only person who can help me is the daughter of Dracula!

This book tells a fun, short story of monster chasing. Hunter's character is amazingly calm in the most stressful situations. He is insatiably curious, and he's very knowledgeable about... everything. Hunter is free to explore strange things around the world, because his father is a billionaire and also travels the world for humanitarian causes. Dolf is Hunter's loyal sidekick and classmate, although he's pretty ordinary when compared with Hunter. The pair come across as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson with more supernatural adventure tossed in. Bella is a surprising character, because you wouldn't expect Dracula's daughter to become an ally. She has a life-altering effect on Hunter that actually helps them solve the mystery of the beast. However, it looks like the effect may be permanent! I think most readers will enjoy this book, as it provides adventure and mystery mixed in with a bit of humor.

Spy School #4: Spy Ski School by Stuart Gibbs

Spy Ski School (Spy School #4)My name is Ben, and I'm in Vail, Colorado, for my first official spy mission. The CIA is worried about the evil plans of a mysterious Chinese billionaire, and they want me to get information from his daughter Jessica during a ski vacation. My friend Erica thinks I'll fail, because I have feelings for Jessica. Okay, she's super cute, but I can do this despite all the huge, dangerous bodyguards around her. I was getting close to Jessica until my best friend Mike showed up. He doesn't know I'm a spy, and now she's interested in him. The bodyguards are already suspicious of me, Jessica's father hates me, and other agents have been killed trying to spy on the guy. As if things couldn't get any worse, now all of the other agents helping me are bickering with each other. What else can go wrong?

This book is the fourth one in the series. I don't think you need to read the other books to appreciate this one, but I recommend them. Ben's character is likable, as he doesn't have any super spy skills but is successful because of his intelligence and personality. The author throws a fun twist into this story through Erica's character. She's a legacy spy; her spying heritage goes all the way back to Nathan Hale in the Revolutionary War. She amazes everyone with her superior talents in... everything. Until skiing. The cool, confident, skilled student spy can't get the hang of skiing at all. She also needs to act like a normal teenage girl, which she hasn't done before. The story is an adventurous tale of a mysterious plot that could devastate the planet. There are fights and shootouts with plenty of action in the Rocky Mountains.The actual catastrophic event wasn't known until Ben figured it out at the end. He does that in all the books. The series is fun to read, and I recommend all the books.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Amos Daragon #2: The Key of Braha by Bryan Perro

Amos Daragon. Trilogie 2: La malédiction de Freyja, La tour d'El-Bab, La colère d'EnkiMy name is Amos, and I have been murdered. Yeah, that surprised me too. As a mask wearer, I already had power over the air, but a young princess arrived to bring me a mask with the potential to control fire. However, this same princess stabbed me in the stomach shortly after giving me the gift! My soul went to the River Styx, where I've been told that the doors to heaven and hell suddenly closed. Spirits started overwhelming Braha, City of the Dead, and the specters in charge thought I'm the only one who can bring a balance between evil and good. There are things I need to discover down here while I'm dead, but I must come back to life to finish the quest. However, the things I need to figure out first are why the doors closed in the first place and who's trying to use me!

I'm enjoying the series, but I can't find a book three. Amos's intelligence gets him out of many bad situations, and his kindness gains favor with some bad characters. That's what I like most about his character, his ability to think and his compassion for others. The author allows readers to be aware of the characters who are trying to trick Amos, so it's fun to see how long it takes him to figure things out. Then, twists are thrown into the plot, as an ally reveals her motivation to help Amos. The new problem may be worse than the original one. The conclusion was very unexpected.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2; The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #2)My name is Magnus, and I'm dead. My soul was sent to Valhalla, and now I'm a warrior with an amazing sword named Jack. Thor has lost his hammer, again, and giants will invade Midgard  unless he gets it back. Now, it gets complicated. Loki, the god of mischief, is trying to force his daughter, and my friend, Sam to marry a giant in order to get the hammer back. However, we're supposed to give the giant a devastating sword that will kill everything it cuts, before the giant will give us the hammer. Loki is in the middle of all this, so I know he has some devious plan in mind. He never does anything to help others, and he has no positive feelings for Thor. Sam's sister/brother Alex (it's hard to explain) wants to help, but I'm afraid Loki has an irresistible control over her.

You should probably read the first book in the series. This book is similar to the Percy Jackson books, but it has stranger humor. Jack is a deadly weapon that has the hots for other cute weapons. There's a dwarf with a keen fashion sense. All of the warriors in Valhalla practice killing each other every day (by actually killing each other) but are back in the cafeteria by dinner time. There's a god who likes to take selfies, and Thor plays air hockey in his man cave. A new character is Alex and he/she can change into other creatures. She/he also changes from girl to boy, and back, without knowing when it might happen. Charming characters for an adventurous plot. The conflict has huge consequences with the invasion of giants looming, but Loki's trickery is always on your mind. An entertaining book for lovers of mythological adventure stories.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Amos Daragon #1 by Bryan Perro

Porteur de masques (Amos Daragon, #1)My name is Amos, and I am a mask wearer. I didn't even know what that meant until recently. A dying mermaid gave me her trident and told me to give this small stone to  a queen of the fairies. I helped my parents flee the control of a cruel king only to find ourselves in the kingdom of another. I guess I'm a pretty clever boy, but Yaune the Purifier didn't appreciate being tricked out of executing Beorf, the humanimal. Most of the humanimals had been slaughtered, but I admired Beorf's ability to become a bear and accepted him as friend. Karmakas, and his army of gorgons, has now taken over the castle, and he's trying to find a pendant stolen by Yaune. He will use the pendant to destroy all humans. I don't know what a boy and a humanimal can do, but Beorf and I are willing to forfeit our lives to stop him.

I seem to be finding some hidden gems recently. Another young savior is nothing new, but I found Amos's honor, loyalty, and cunningness very admirable and entertaining. He managed to trick two kings without being killed, and he was willing to give up his life to save Beorf. The plot contains a good amount of action and adventure, as Amos traveled to different villages and faced dangerous enemies. The gorgons easily turned all of the soldiers to stone, so how was one boy supposed to stop them? Beorf's character was admirable too, as he joined Amos in his quest. Humanimals had no reason to trust humans, but Beorf was willing to put his faith in Amos. He understood Amos's strength was his ability to think and resolve problems without fighting. He knew Amos had a good heart. This book is the first in a series, but I haven't been able to figure out how many are in it. Everything I've seen on Goodreads has been written in French, and I haven't found more than the first two books in the Central Ohio library system.

Monsterville by Sarah S. Reida

Monsterville: A Lissa Black ProductionMy name is Lissa, and there's a goblin living behind my new home in the country. He seemed harmless enough when Adam and I first found him, but we've since discovered the terrible truth of Down Below. This goblin used to be a little boy who disappeared last year, and he escaped from the monster world under the earth. The goblin is terrified of a creature called Atticus, and more kids around the world are kidnapped by him every Halloween. They have all become monsters. I'm afraid my little sister is in danger, and Halloween is coming soon. I have a strange feeling that Monsterville, a board game I found in the basement, is the key to stopping these creatures.

I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed this book! On the surface, my review may not seem overly impressive, but the author managed to creatively develop an entertaining plot. It never seemed to settle into a rut with uneventful moments. Lissa didn't like the move to a new house, she found a cutish goblin in the woods, she learned the truth about monsters and Blue's secret, then had to work to save her sister. I felt sympathy for a goblin. What I didn't like? I don't like that this book begins a new series. I don't know what's going to come in the sequel, but I would have been very satisfied to have had this conflict resolved and ended the story. Now, I'm curious about the sequel and will probably check it out! This book is not a classic, but Monsterville is entertaining and fun to read.

Jerry's Mystery by W.W. Rowe

Jerry's MysteryMy name is Jerry, and this Fox is a problem. Fox is a new kid from France, and he's got all the girls thinking he's so special. Suzie and I are a thing, but even she is always hanging around him at recess. Wilcox is always telling me to be the best person I can be and to listen to my inner self. I guess I've let my anger get the best of me, and I may have done some mean things to Fox. Wilcox has told me to be careful around him, and I think he's trying to kill me. I mean it! He tried to push me off the top of a dangerous hill! Now, I've been told he has a plan that will hurt Suzie, but I will not let that happen.

You know, the books in this series teach important lessons about living life the right way. We must be true to ourselves and have compassion for others. Don't let anger control our behavior. Despite that, it felt like Jerry gave in to his anger more frequently in this book and didn't pass up chances to embarrass Fox. Wilcox lived down by the dump but provided spiritual advice to Jerry. Jerry regretted some of his decisions and was still learning to meditate to control his emotions. Jealousy seemed to be a larger emotion for him, although for some reason, he was reluctant to officially say Suzie was his girlfriend. The dialogue was geared for upper elementary kids, and the books are quick-reads. Considering I normally read more adventurous plots, I've found this series to be very refreshing and enjoyable.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Ministry of SUITS by Paul Gamble

The Ministry of S.U.I.T.SMy name is Jack, and I've just started a job at SUITs that may kill me. Think of all the strange and unusual things you can; they're all true. Dinosaurs, not extinct. Werewolves, exist. Actually, there are werehamsters too, but they're not so bad. Tooth Fairy is a huge, mean six foot, six inch dude. I got into this job, because I suspect unpopular kids are being kidnapped from schools. I'm afraid my best friend David is in danger. A company has become my school's partner, but I don't understand the changes they're making. New polyester uniforms the same as our old ones? Carpet in the hallways, wind turbines, and modular classes? I've also discovered Trudy, a bully at my school, also works at SUITs, and she's my new partner. We've uncovered secrets leading us to hundreds of missing kids, but why have they been kidnapped? The truth is another strange and unusual thing.

I have a pretty high tolerance for weird plots, and this book fits that description. The strange events mentioned above are a tiny taste of the absurdity. Jerry and Trudy gain The Speed by thinking about depressing thoughts. Live animals in museums don't move only because they're playing musical chairs, so people only think they're dead. Actually, the animals remain still, because there's no music playing. The plot and craziness are actually fun to read if that kind of thing doesn't bug you. However, the footnotes and informational pages from the Ministry of S.U.I.TS handbook are too much. I found them a distraction (every chapter has at least one of them), so I skipped over them after a couple chapters. I'm sure they were funny, but they interrupted the flow of the plot. I still found the overall book amusing and fun to read. I like absurdity!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Jerry's Madness by W.W. Rowe

Jerry's MadnessMy name is Jerry, and I have The Look. I can make people do things by staring into their eyes, although my mom might disagree. I wish I could stop myself from feeling so angry, but Wilcox is helping. Some people think he's just a crazy old man living by the dump, but he has magical powers. It's going to take something strong to keep me from exploding on the school bullies. They're making fun of Suzie, my girlfriend, and Monty can't help it when he lisps. Also, I'm still a little worried about the bald man who tried to kidnap me. He knocked me out and tied me up, but I used The Look on him and sent him walking south for the next three weeks. Or did I? A man came by the next day saying he was the guy's twin brother, and he said this brother needs mental help. Wilcox says they're the same person, but that can't be. Right?!

This book is pretty spiritual, especially considering the plot is fairly straight-forward. This homeless man, Wilcox, is like Jerry's guru or life coach, as he provides advice and guidance. He talks about karma, staying true, and listening to his inner self. They meditate together. It might provide a tool for kids to deal with their own anger and other emotions. However, I question whether kids at this age will appreciate it. I'm impressed with Jerry's character, as he stands up for poor Monty and finds ways to handle the bullies. He's human, because he feels anger, embarrassment, and has the urge to lie. Wilcox helps Jerry reflect on his decisions to determine if they're pure; he must always try to stay true to his inner self and keep a positive karma. Too heavy? I'm amazed at Jerry's ability to stay positive amid negative surroundings and his sense of right and wrong. Anyhow, the books are easy to read, and they're all under 100 pages in length. Give it a shot.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Youngest Templar #1: Keeper of the Grail by Michael P. Spradlin

Keeper of the Grail (The Youngest Templar, #1)
My name is Tristan, and I am holding the greatest religious artifact in history, the Holy Grail. Sir Thomas found me in St. Alban's monastery and asked me to become his squire. Being an orphan with dreams of adventure, I decided to join the troop of Templars. Sir Hugh, leader of the men, has chosen to hate me for some reason and has pummeled me on more than one occasion. The king, Richard the Lionhearted, has vowed to drive the Saracens from Jerusalem, so we have joined other soldiers in retaking the town of Acre first. However, the enemy regrouped with thousands of reinforcements surrounding the city, and they are now laying siege on us. Sir Thomas has drawn the Holy Grail from hiding and is entrusting me to escape the city and get the grail safely to Scotland. Friends and foes alike will do anything to get their hands on it, but I will give up my life before letting Sir Thomas down.

This book read mostly like realistic fiction, except that the grail seemed to have some kind of power. Tristan heard a hum emanating from it whenever he was in mortal danger, although what the grail might have been doing was unclear. Tristan was kind, brave, and loyal, so he was an admirable character. Most of the other characters liked him and respected him, so Sir Hugh's hatred was hard to understand. However, it's clear it stems from Tristan's birth parents, even though his past was never fully explained in this book. There were numerous battles and fights that will satisfy lovers of action, and the mysteries of Tristan and the grail will appeal to lovers of adventure. This book ended with Tristan unconscious in the Mediterranean Sea, so I'm anxious to start the next book before he drowns!

The Youngest Templar #2: Trail of Fate by Michael P. Spradlin

Trail of Fate (The Youngest Templar, #2)My name is Maryam, and Robard and I have joined Tristan on his quest to deliver an important message to a priest in Scotland. Sir Hugh remains on our trail, hoping to capture or kill Tristan, although I don't understand his obsession with my new friend. We parted ways with a girl named Celia several days ago, and Tristan insists we travel to a mountain fortress to protect her from treacherous soldiers. Why is he willing to delay his quest to help her? I also believe there's more to this quest than he's letting on. There's something special about this boy, and I will use all of my assassin skills to protect him.

You need to read the first book, because this series probably could have (should have) been written as one longer book. The conflicts in the first two books aren't really resolved, and the second and third books pick up immediately where the previous ones left off. That being said, I am enjoying the underdog story. Although Tristan is only a squire, characters are willing to follow him, and it's clear his parentage is an issue. He is able to come up with ingenious plans to overcome impossible problems even though there are unexpected snags to them. The power of the grail being carried by Tristan is still unclear; several characters have heard it humming in critical situations. The series won't end until the issue with Sir Hugh is resolved. I'm wondering if Tristan will be reunited with Celia and if Sir Thomas actually died in the siege on Acre (in book one).

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Youngest Templar #3: Orphan of Density by Michael P. Spradlin

Orphan of Destiny (The Youngest Templar, #3)My name is Robard, and I didn't think it was possible for Tristan, Maryam, and I to anger so many people. I've lost count of the number of different soldiers trying to kill us. I know there's more to Tristan's quest than simply delivering a message, but I've promised to accompany him to the end. Sir Hugh and the Templars are after him, the King's Guards are after him, and now I've insulted and embarrassed Shire Reeve, the wicked cur stealing property from the citizens of Nottingham. I'm honored that he's made me a wanted man! Even though I've just returned to my home in Sherwood Forest, I must leave to help Tristan his quest. He's revealed the truth of it to me, but the real reason for the pursuit of the King's Knights was shocking. I must keep him alive at all costs!

I enjoyed this series very much. The conclusion seemed to be a bit rushed after the trials and tribulations of the extended plot, but the events were interesting and satisfying. It contained plenty of adventure and action, as the trio always seemed to be getting into trouble. Tristan constantly said he had plans, but that didn't keep the others from teasing him, especially Robard. Their back-and-forth banter was entertaining. However, the three main characters were tight and fiercely loyal to each other. There was a dog named Angel that traveled with the group. This dog saved them numerous times during the plot, but the resolution revealed an interesting truth about her. If you know anything about Robin Hood, you should enjoy the many references to his tale. The characters are aided by a friar named Tuck, a blacksmith named John Little, and the Merry Men who are loyal to Robard Hode. As I mentioned in my book 2 post, I think this series could have been written as one long book, but I still recommend it very much.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

Uglies (Uglies, #1)My name is Tally, and I couldn't wait to become Pretty like all the other sixteen-year-olds. After the operation, I'd be able to move into New Pretty Town and be with back with my friend Peris. Then I met Shay, and Special Circumstances found me. Shay left for The Smoke, a community in the woods for runaway uglies, and Special Circumstances wants me to help with finding them; I can't get my operation unless I do it. I followed Shay's directions to The Smoke, and now I just need to give up its location to Special Circumstances. However, I met David and learned there's more to becoming Pretty than just the looks. Now, I find can't betray these people, but I fear it may be too late.

I first read Uglies before creating this blog back in 2009, and I enjoyed the first three books in the series. This is a dystopian novel that addresses some obvious issues with our current culture. The whole infatuation with physical appearance is the main force behind making everyone pretty. Citizens are allowed to think they have freedom of choice, but the people in charge are doing all they can to prevent it. Ruins of large cities are scattered around outside New Pretty Town, and the characters are amazed at how wasteful we once were. Why, we cut down trees to create magazines and newspapers that would only be thrown away! Tally's character is at the center of the plot's conflict, as she is exposed to both sides of the Pretty problem. Her role as a spy for Special Circumstances actually gives her some power over them, and that becomes very important in the sequel Pretties. I generally like novels written by Scott Westerfield, and this one did not disappoint.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Legends of Orkney #1: The Red Sun by Alane Adams

The Red Sun (Legends of Orkney #1)My name is Sam, and apparently I'm a son of the Norse god Odin. I was brought through a portal to Orkney in the Ninth Realm after a witch named Endera tried to kill me. Some people in this realm see me as a savior, while others fear I'll follow my mother's witch bloodline and ruin everything. My own powers are poisoning the sun here, killing plants and animals. The High Council wants me to find Odin to save the sun, but Endera will free my friends only if I steal the Horn of Gjall from him. She wants the horn to free witches imprisoned in stone along with their ancient magic. I must use dark magic to save this world, but the power of the anger and evil within me are strong. I don't understand my strength, and I only hope it doesn't destroy everyone and everything in this realm, and beyond.

I actually read the second book in the series before this one, but I suggest you read The Red Sun first. This book introduces another character with unknown powers who controls the fate of the world. Think Percy Jackson in Norse mythology. Sam's internal conflict against his own anger is a major battle that affects pretty much everything he does. His friends are supportive, but they have little understanding of what he's going through. The plot is spiced with scenes of action, as Sam faces the mythological creatures, the witches, and the illusions in his mind. You'll find yourself reading sections of the book, only to realize later the events never actually happened. The uncertainty surrounding Sam's magic and his decisions will keep you guessing, which is a good thing. Lovers of witch novels and magic will enjoy this book.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Bridget Wilder #2: Spy to the Rescue by Jonathan Bernstein

Bridget Wilder: Spy to the RescueMy name is Bridget, and only a couple of people know I'm a part-time spy. My real father is a retired CIA agent, but I've just discovered he's been kidnapped. I manage to track him to New York, and I've "convinced" my adopted parents to let me fly across the country. They think I'm going to visit my friend Joanna, and they insist that my brother and his girlfriend go along as chaperones. Once I arrive, things don't go quite as I had planned. I find my father, but he's been taken by a powerful man in charge of thieves, assassins, and all kinds of evil criminals. His daughter turns out to be an even worse pain in the butt, and she plans to murder the son of a foreign diplomat, which will probably start a new war between countries. On the positive note, I finally meet my real mom, although she's actually another assassin. I don't know if I'm ready for all the drama!

I didn't read the first book in the series, but it didn't seem necessary to enjoy this one. The most unbelievable parts of this book are the marbles in Bridget's pocket and other technology. The marbles are tiny nanobots that come to her rescue throughout the plot; the red one becomes a loyal companion. The red marble knows anything Bridget needs done, and the story seems to lose characters when other marbles are destroyed. The plot describes a fun adventure with a brave, determined female protagonist. Bridget's spy work is complicated by normal teen issues. Boys like her, her friend has changed, and her real parents might get back together again. Bridget even has cheerleaders bullying her, and she develops a rivalry with the daughter assassin. The daughter has family issues too! Overall, it's an entertaining book for readers wanting a female spy story with a bit of humor mixed in.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Land of Stories #5: An Author's Odyssey by Chris Colfer

An Author's Odyssey (The Land of Stories, #5)My name is Alex, and the fairy-tale world is in grave danger. My evil uncle has formed an alliance with storybook villains and has created a massive army. He's already destroyed castles, forests, and villages across the realm, and all of the citizens and creatures are in hiding. We're desperate, but my brother has a crazy idea that just might work. Connor and I will use a magical potion and travel into stories he's written, and we hope to use the heroes in them to help us form our own army. He thinks we can add pirates, robots, superheroes, and mummies to our forces. I'm not sure Mom will like supervising them in our house while we visit the different stories, and who knows if they'll even get along.

You should read the first four books, or you'll be lost. This book read much differently than the others, since most of the settings were not in the fairy-tale world. It was like a collection of short stories that took place in the various settings created in Connor's mind. I enjoyed how these worlds mirrored the realities imagined by him, and I liked comparing the new characters in the short stories with personalities from the previous books. The plot from the fairy-tale world was still developed between Connor's stories, but the uncle's situation became more complicated. He was kicked out by his "allies", and an important secret about him was revealed. This book seemed to be a placeholder in the overall series, since the actual war brewing in the last book wasn't fully addressed in this one. I assume book six will have a major confrontation between the armies, but the resolution in this book revealed a dramatic change in Alex's character.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Darkmouth #2: Worlds Explode by Shane Hegarty

Darkmouth #2: Worlds ExplodeMy name is Emmie. Finn's father is trapped on the Infested Side, a world teeming with all kinds of mythical monsters waiting to kill all humans, so we've passed through a portal to rescue him. Finn is an apprentice Legends hunter, but a prophecy says the Legends are rising and Finn will die in this world. We can hear the Legends all around us as we travel, but they aren't attacking. Why not? Something about Finn changed when he used a red crystal to open the portal, and it's frightening the Legends. A Legends dog with a talking-snake tail is now leading us through the Infested Side, but we're not sure where it's taking us. We think it's leading us to Finn's father, but can we trust it? Looking back now, the truth was stunning, but Finn nearly causing a catastrophe in both worlds was worse.

This book jumps in right where the first one left off, so you should read it first. This sequel is more adventurous, because the setting mostly takes place in the Infested Side. I remember wondering in the first book why the author calls the monsters Legends, but they're just mythical creatures like minotaurs and dragons. I liked seeing Finn with more confidence in himself, as he took charge. Emmie and Finn were accompanied by an inspector from the Council, but he just added some humor to the events, always quoting rules and regulations they were violating. The mystery character appearing in the middle of the book wasn't totally unexpected, but his plans are a surprise. The power building within Finn adds a suspense to the conflict, since it's obvious it will be released at some point. There are clues from earlier in the series about what might happen, but the anticipation is a nice twist. The resolution reintroduces a previous character that I'm sure will become the focus of future problems.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes by Wade Albert White

The Adventurer's Guide to Successful EscapesMy name is Anne, and I'm in the middle of a level 13 quest. Not impressed? Well, level 13 is impossible. Penelope and I just escaped from an orphanage, and we'll spend the rest of our lives in a dungeon if we fail... if we survive the quest. Oh, and the Matron wouldn't hesitate to chop off my arm to get the gauntlet and medallion attracted to it. We must follow the clues in a riddle to find our way across the tiers, but it seems there's more than one way to read them. We must trek across a desert, climb, a tower with no door, and survive attacks from a dragon and armored giants. If we successfully complete the quest, the tiers will be saved, and I will claim the throne. However, only one day left to complete it.

I read an advance copy of this book through Net Galley. You know, I really enjoyed this book, but some readers might not. It's a bit silly. For example, the Matron announced that she would be filling the role of antagonist in the story, and a little sparrow provided assistance to Anne. The Adventurer's Guide kept changing to fit Anne's needs; it started off with all blank pages! I was okay with things like that, although I didn't need the periodic, very-short chapters with additional silly comments. The quest needed to be resolved in an unreasonably short time, with extremely severe consequences, by characters with no experience. Silly, but fun. Penelope filled the role of brave warrior, but she had to use a wooden practice sword. Another member of the team could conjure spells, but he couldn't control the power. He blew up the whole school while trying to create a small explosion. Readers who enjoy adventure, mixed with humor, should love this book. It looks like there may be a sequel coming, so I'll be on the lookout for it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Secret KeepersMy name is Reuben, and I spend my days hiding from everyone. The shopkeepers and police fear the dangerous Directions, who work for the Counselor, who fears the mysterious man known as The Smoke. Let me ask you a question. How much would a round watch with no minute hand be worth to you? Not interested? What if it could make you invisible? Ah, now I have your attention! I've found such a watch, but The Smoke now has his crews and henchmen searching every corner of the city, looking for me. I follow an inscription on the watch to a lighthouse where a family of guardians shares the secret they've been keeping for generations. I then realize The Smoke will kill my mother and me whether we give him the watch or not. 

I received a digital copy of the book from Net Galley, and it turned out to be a page-turner for me. I found myself sucked into the conflict, as the author described Reuben's uncertainty and love for his mother. The Directions were a problem, the watch became a mystery, and The Smoke became a life-threatening danger. Penny and Jack became key allies. Jack's character was in stark contrast to his strictly honest family, as Penny could never tell a lie. There were limits to Jack's dishonesty, and his motivations were honorable. The Smoke's mansion was full of trap doors and other obstacles, so this setting complicated the events. The build-up to the climax epitomized the notion that the best-laid plans can easily go wrong. Remember, don't count your chickens before they hatch. Net Galley is known for nurturing new authors, and Trenton Lee Stewart looks like a winner.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Trelian #1: The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

The Dragon of Trelian (Trelian, #1)My name is Princess Meglynne, and I am dragon-linked. Our lives and minds are joined, but if one of  us dies, the other will too. Calen, the mage's apprentice, has been helping me keep the secret and is teaching me about them too. However, there are serious problems brewing in the kingdom. Huge, mysterious creatures are lurking in the forest, and one of them actually attacked me outside the castle walls! Calen and I accidentally overheard a plot to kill my sister and bring about a war with a neighboring kingdom. Unfortunately, we were discovered in our hiding place, and worse yet, the woman who found us is an unmarked mage wanting to start the war. Being unmarked is unheard of, and she has dangerous power. Calen and I have now awakened in a strange forest, and it seems to be far from home. How did we get here, and more importantly, how do we get home and save my sister?

Meg and Calen were a dynamic pair of characters, as they helped each other develop their abilities. Calen researched the connection with dragons and helped Meg understand how to control it. Meg and the dragon communicated with feelings, not specific ideas, and their emotions confused each other and caused them to overreact. Calen didn't take his mage training seriously until he displayed some unusual abilities. With Meg's support, he started to try different spells as survival skills. Perhaps we all have hidden talents that can be developed by trusting ourselves. Calen's master seemed to be a stern, serious character, but a sense of caring for Calen could be detected. The female mage was an unpredictable character, since her entire existence went against all the rules of the Magistratum, the society of mages that controlled their actions. I've already gotten my hands on the sequel to this book and started reading it today!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Artemis Fowl #5: The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer

The Lost Colony (Artemis Fowl, #5)My name is Holly Short, and once again it's up to Artemis and I to save the world of fairies. Even though I recently quit my position as captain in the LEPrecon, I've reunited with friends now running a super-secret fairy squad. We've discovered portals are quickly opening and closing around the world leading to a land of demons, at different moments in time. A demon recently appeared but was captured by another teen genius. She wants to win a Nobel prize, but she's not aware the demon island of Hybras will soon be destroyed. Artemis figured out the portals are deteriorating which will wipe Hybras from existence, killing almost all of the demons. Now, we've been captured, and I only hope the boy genius has another plan to get us out of this predicament.

I'm enjoying all of the books in the series, although this one left me wanting something more. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but it seemed like some of Artemis's plans were dependent on chance. That's never been the case in the past. Also, Butler and Mulch Diggums had very minor roles in the plot. I've liked their back-and-forth banter with one another, and Mulch especially added humor to the stories. That was missing in this book. However, I've always appreciated Artemis's careful planning and how he's been able to anticipate future events. It may have seemed like things were getting out of control, but then I realized he had everything under control. This book introduced the effects of puberty on Artemis's character, as he found it a curious nuisance. It affected his logic. The series has been very entertaining, and I recommend it for all!

Atherton #1: The House of Power by Patrick Carman

The House of Power (Atherton, #1)My name is Edgar, and the Highlands are sinking into the ground. The people up there control our food and water, but I've been and searching for a message hidden in the cliff. I finally find a leather-bound book, but I've got to find someone who can read it. It's forbidden for people in my lands to read. I scale the rocks up to the Highlands and find a boy to help. The book says Atherton was created by a young man, but he may have gone crazy while doing it. The book goes on to say changes are coming that may lead to destruction and war. What is war? I later discover Mr. Ratikan's experiments are hurting people in my lands, and I must search for answers by scaling down more cliffs to the Flatlands. Many of my questions are eased, but I may also have discovered an end to all of the inhabitants of Atherton.

Visualize the setting as a three-tiered cake. Each level was a different part of the Atherton society with the House of Power located at the top. The residents of each level did not interact, and the people knew little about each other. The author did a great job of describing Edgar's hardships. He was singled out for extra work, had no friends, and was beset by numerous injuries. The kid lost a finger! I was easily able to visualize Atherton, but I had trouble understanding its creation. It was created by this genius kid, but I couldn't figure out where in the world it might be found. Was it even on earth? It was finally explained late in the book, but it bugged me. The pages following the resolution provide more information about the creation of Atherton. Overall, this was a solid book.

Trelian #3: The Mage of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

The Mage of TrelianMy name is Mage Krelig, and all of these other weak mages infuriate me. Now that I have Calen in my possession, I will destroy everyone who opposes me. I know the boy hates me, but I've finally taught him to tap into his tremendous hidden powers. Of course, this only came about after Calen unleashed his anger toward me. I've convinced the kingdom of Lourin to wage war on Trelian, and the Magistratum of mages has fallen apart. I'm building an army of mages who fear me, as well they should. I am the most powerful mage in history, and I will rid the world of all the rules established by the Magistratum. Mages will once again reign the world, and I will lead them all.

This book concludes the trilogy, and you need to read the others first. It has the most action of all three due to the war and Krelig's growing forces. The author very effectively described Krelig's evilness, as Calen and the other mages were ruthlessly punished or killed during training. The conflict was a classic good versus evil, but the two main characters dealt with internal issues as well. Calen loved his growing power, but he was being taught by a crazy, magical tyrant. Would he be able to withstand Krelig's persuasion to join him in battle? Princess Meg mused about her role as princess heir and how it conflicted with her role in the army. I highly recommend the series if you're into dragons, magic, and adventure.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Darkmouth #1: The Legend Begins by Shane Hegarty

My name us Finn, and my family has been hunting Legends for forty-two generations. I'd rather be a vet than desiccate minotaurs and other monsters, and I always manage to mess up when they're around. Only yesterday, I almost sank a ship! Darkmouth is the last place on earth with Legend attacks, and my dad and I have been finding blue crystals attached to the new Legends. The last Legend looked at me and said, "The boy shall fall", but my dad won't tell me what this prophecy means. He's working on a machine to desiccate all of the Legends in existence at once, but something's not right. The crystals, portals opening more frequently, and a mysterious human standing next to a recent opening make me feel like something bigger is going on. Little did I know at the time, but a huge Legend army in our world was ready to invade!

Here is another story of a reluctant hero, as he tries to develop his new abilities. However, Finn doesn't have any special powers, and his protective "armor" is bits of metal that have been pieced together. He tries to complete the training and Legend hunts, but he always manages to fail. You normally expect the main character to eventually "get it" and succeed, but Finn doesn't fit that mold. I've never seen a hero get bumped or tripped so many times just when he's about to make the shot. The plot includes a little mystique when a new girl at school actually wants to hang out with him; everyone else thinks he's creepy, and Finn must deal with the standard middle school bullies. Finn's normalness makes him engaging and identifiable, and he shows great perseverance. He has an internal conflict between empathy for living creatures and desiccating them. By the resolution, Finn realizes he needs to embrace the hunter mentality. This book is the start of a fun new series, and I've already gotten my hands on the sequel.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Trelian #2: The Princess of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

The Princess of Trelian (Trelian, #2)My name is Calen, and many of the other mages think I'm a danger to the Magistratum. The ceremony for my first marking should have been special, and it was special until creatures made of magical energy attacked everyone there. An attack inside the Magistratum should have been impossible, and some mages think I was involved! My master helped me escape, but we quickly discovered the princess was in trouble. Now, Trelian is on the brink of war with a neighboring kingdom, and Meg says Sen Eva is behind it all. We know the unmarked mage is crazy, and she's trying to open a portal and help Mage Krelig return from his 400 year magical exile. The Magistratum fears his awesome power, and some members think I will team up with him. Why does my master not trust me? What must I do to prove I'm not a threat?

You need to read the first book in the trilogy before this one. The plot centers around Calen and Meg, with Calen becoming the major focus by the end. In the first two books, he's been Meg's source of strength and reason, as she struggles with her link to her dragon. However, Calen has his own issues, and it doesn't seem like he has anyone to help clear up his confusion. Not a good situation for a young mage learning to control his growing powers. His ability to see the colors of magic is an unusual twist, since no other mages are able to do it. I recently read Kalifus Rising by Alane Adams and noticed it has a similarity to this book. Calen's character also seems to overestimate his magical abilities and thinks he can face the antagonist alone. I really enjoy the interactions and teamwork between the princess and Calen, and I wonder if they might become even closer by the end of the trilogy. It seems inevitable, but it may be taboo. We'll see.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Legends of Orkney #2: Kalifus Rising by Alane Adams

Kalifus Rising (Legends of Orkney, #2)My name is Keely, and all of Orkney is under attack from Catriona and the Volgrim Witches. I had a vision of Sam fighting against us, side by side with them and their army of huge, hairy creatures. I have faith in my friend Sam, but I must complete my quest to prevent the vision from coming true. I must trek through the mountains of ice giants and then face an eight-legged creature to retrieve the Moon Pearl. Drinking water from Mimir's well allowed me to see visions of the future, but it seems to have changed me in other ways. My hair turned white, and I feel magic growing inside me. What is happening? Odin declared Howie the protector of Skara Brae, but he is definitely not a warrior hero. I hope the city is still standing when I return.

I did not read the first book and really felt like I was missing some background information. Namely, how/why did Sam and his friends leave earth and travel to this fantasy world? (I have since read the first one and had my questions answered) The book involves Norse mythology, as Sam is a descendant of Odin and a witch, and Loki pops up in the later pages. I enjoyed Sam's internal conflict, as he battled with feelings of loyalty and abandonment toward his friends. The blood of Odin was fighting to keep his witch blood from taking over, but the temptation of power was overwhelming. Kalifus is Sam's witch name. With Sam captured, Keely seemed to be the glue keeping the other friends together in the plot even though they had separate quests. It's always nice to see females in leadership roles and becoming heroes. Kalifus Rising is an exciting adventure of good versus evil. I accessed this book through Net Galley.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Voyagers #1: Project Alpha by D.J. MacHale

Project Alpha (Voyagers, #1)
My name is Dash. Earth must discover a new energy source, because all fossil fuels will soon be gone. I was chosen to lead a crew of other kids to planet J-16 where we'll return with the Source, a new form of energy. Mr. Phillips told me that I might die during the trip, but I suspect there are even worse things he's still not saying. Why would our training include holograms of dinosaurs and giant snow creatures? My questions are answered once we arrive at the planet, and we are informed the mission is much more difficult than we were first told. The Souce comes from something biological, if you know what I mean, and the scientists' information about the planet is missing some facts. However, failure is not an option.

I'm not sure why I enjoy this book so much. It's not super creative, as the plot is similar to other books on space travel. It can be easily read by middle grade students, and the events aren't overly complicated. It's the original "Star Trek" in a book! However, I really like the blend of characters, and the conflict is interesting. Dash has leadership qualities, Gabriel is the thinker and pilot, Carly is the science expert, and Piper zooms around in her wheelchair to take care of their health. The author seems to have ideas up,his sleeve, and he tosses in surprises to complicate the mission. And, the characters aren't aware yet of a subplot going on. I assume the plots will come together in a future book, but I'm not sure if it will be in the sequel. There is a website that goes along with the book.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Voyagers #6: The Seventh Element by Wendy Mass

The Seventh Element (Voyagers #6)My name is Piper, and we're nearing the end of our mission to save Earth. We must travel to the planet Dargon to retrieve the final element needed to create the Source. Without it, we will never be able to return home, and the people of Earth will be doomed. I was able to escape the Omega team's ship before the explosion, but now we're forced to work with their crew. I don't trust Anna and Colin though. It was Anna's idea to kidnap me in the first place. Now, we must work with elves, ogres, and dragons on Dargon, but they do not get along at all. The ogres attack the elves and anger the dragons, and the dragons burn the trees where the elves live. We need the dragons to attack, or the mission will fail. How do we get the fairies to help us force dragons to attack their own fairy village?

You need to read the series from the beginning, or this book will not make sense. All of the books are fast-paced, adventurous, and exciting; I read each of them in less than a day. The author saved new ideas for this last book, as he combined the two teen crews that had been competing in all of the previous books. Colin kept things from running smoothly during the final mission, but Dash was able to take care of him with some creativity. Dash's illness became a major obstacle and created a deadline, literally, to complete the mission. The author made him vulnerable and uncertain but realized his leadership skills were needed to succeed. The two crews were mostly able to work together and brought back memories of the first book when the kids were competing to be chosen for the mission. I highly recommend the series!

Artemis Fowl #4: The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer

The Opal Deception  (Artemis Fowl, #4)My name is Butler, and it's my duty to protect young Artemis. I just grabbed him and jumped out a third-story window in order to survive the impact of a bio-bomb. However, Artemis disappeared, and I discover a disgusting little dwarf named Mulch Diggums in Fowl Manor. A dwarf? He says we're friends and shows me a computer file that explains all kinds of lost memories about the fairies and other creatures living deep underground. Also, LEP fairy Captain Holly Short is accused of murdering Commander Root, and there's video of her shooting him in the chest. Root was like a father to Holly, so why would she kill him? We later learn that Opal Koboi is free and has devised an elaborate plan to discredit Holly, kill everyone involved in her imprisonment, and reveal the existence of the fairy world to humans. Disaster!

I never had an interest in reading these books while I was teaching, but they're very entertaining. You can probably enjoy this book without reading the others, but you'll miss out on the background stories and relationships. I like how Artemis's character has transformed from a ruthless teenage criminal into a boy with compassion for others. He's still a genius, and his mind is still the key to solving all the problems. Mulch is a great character. He's disgusting, whiny, loyal, and brave, and did I mention he's disgusting? Holly is the focus of this plot, as Artemis comes to her rescue. Butler and Artemis had their memories wiped at the end of the previous book, but Artemis figured out a way to get around the fairy technology. I recommend this series if adventure is what you need.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Secrets of the Pied Piper #1: The Peddler's Road by Matthew Cody

The Peddler's Road (The Secrets of the Pied Piper, #1)My name is Carter, and I've been kidnapped. Actually, remember the story of the Pied Piper? It's true! My sister Max and I woke up in New Hamelin where the kids from the fairy tale haven't aged in 700 years. Lukas tells us about a prophecy saying I'm the one who will help them all escape their timeless existence and return to the Human world. However, I will first need to free the Piper from his prison. But how could the Piper have kidnapped me if he's still imprisoned in the Black Castle? The castle magically appeared on Lukas's map, so our small group must follow the Peddler's Road to reach it. Huge rats, trolls, an evil witch, and the Piper himself await, but there's no other way to get home.

I always enjoy reading books based on fairy tales and myths. I wonder what happens to the children of Hamelin once they disappear. The plot isn't overly dramatic, suspenseful, or adventurous, but it's entertaining and easy to follow. It's a solid story with engaging characters. Carter is the key character, and his crippled leg adds to the intrigue. Other people underestimate him, so his leg brace motivates him to be a hero. Lukas is 700 years old, but he's still a boy and rarely leaves the community of New Hamelin. He takes his role as Eldest Boy very seriously and is determined to protect Carter at all costs. Although New Hamelin is full of magic, the book is not overly magical, which is not a bad thing. There's something magical about Carter's character, but he has no idea about his power. Actually, he doesn't do anything amazing until the plot nears the climax. Overall, this book is a winner, and the sequel is called The Magician's Key.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

School of the Dead by Avi

School of the DeadMy name is Tony, and I may lose my soul on Halloween. My grandfather just died, but he really wanted me to attend the Penda School in San Francisco. I see his ghost there, and the ghost of the Penda Boy who died over a hundred years ago. The principal says I should stay away from Jessica, but Jessica says I smell like death and thinks the Penda Boy is trying to steal my soul. She says she'll help me enter a school tower on Halloween to kill the ghost once and for all, but she doesn't say how. Something about her scares me, and I wonder if she's actually working with the ghost. Why am I the only person who can see the Penda Boy? Why did my grandfather want me to come here, and what does seeing his ghost mean? Who can I trust? 

Eerie is a great word to describe this book. Like Tony, I had no idea which characters were lying and which ones actually wanted to help. The tension in the conflict never let up, because the uncertainty lasted until the plot neared its climax. The San Francisco fog helps too! Tony's thoughts changed as he got more information, but they always seemed logical at the time. Jessica, the principal, the teachers, and the ghost seemed to switch back and forth between helpful and dangerous characters. Many times I thought I had things figured out only to discover I may have been wrong. An unusual aspect of the plot was how Tony was pretty much on his own. This was strange considering the school was full of people trying to help Tony and make him feel welcome. This conflict reminded me of some old Lois Duncan novels, although a little less intense. It's an excellent supernatural mystery.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase by Wendy Mass

The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase
My name is Logan, and there's something wrong with the contest-winning Harmonicandy. My friends and I must figure out where the magical chocolate in our original recipe came from, but a cardboard box has turned up with some strange information about my grandfather. There's a contract about keeping secret any information about the blue cocoa bean and a mysterious land called Paradise. We're going on a tour across the country to promote the Harmonicandy, so hopefully this will give us a chance to answer our questions. Luckily, Daisy is able to make the trip, along with her spy partner AJ, and an amazing suped-up RV. What would make my grandfather stop making the greatest chocolate bar of all time? Who are the people with him in the photograph? Is there any way I can help Henry?

The plot became very interesting once all of the chapters started describing the main events, about a third of the way into the book. I enjoy a good mystery, and this story raised several unexplained issues. There were the mysteries of the amazing cocoa bean, the secret land and contract, and unknown relationships between characters. Finding a cat that barked like a dog was an amusing addition to the cast. Daisy and AJ contribute their spy skills to keep things adventurous, but the real story is the history of Logan's grandfather. I didn't read the first book and felt like I was missing some understandings between characters, like I was an eavesdropper on conversations. I still don't understand the full story behind Logan's scars, and this topic came up often. The early chapters were grouped into parts, and they focused on each of the four main characters. I ended up reading about events from the same time span, so it felt like the plot kept rewinding. With that being said, this book described a mystical journey into the world of candy! Can't go wrong with that!

The Big Dark by Rodman Philbrick

The Big DarkMy name is Charlie. Are you terrified about that huge burst of light on New Year's Eve that knocked out all the electricity in the world? Hopefully, our firewood, water, and food will last until winter ends, but the big problem in our small New Hampshire town is much worse. Webster Bragg is a crazy hater, and no one in our town is safe. With everybody hurting for food and medicine, he even burned down the only store in these parts! Now, my mom's health is getting worse, and her medicine will run out soon. I know it's the middle of winter with sub-freezing temperatures and six feet of snow on the ground, but I've got to try to ski the thirty-five miles to find help. I don't know what I'll find in the next town over, and I only hope our town survives Mr. Bragg while I'm gone.

I usually like more action and adventure in my plots, and I wanted more development of the conflict with Bragg. His was certainly a problem, but he kind of came and went, until later in the plot. I wanted to feel more tension from him. He was a bigoted man with some disturbing ideas, so be prepared for that when reading the book. The volunteer policeman, who was also the school janitor, was an admirable character. He stood up for the townspeople, not always successfully, even though their support for him wavered. He showed remarkable bravery during the story's climax. Charlie witnessed the good and bad in people during his trip to find medicine for his mom, but the emotions were understandable. Bragg was intelligent, but nuts. This book provides an interesting look at people's fears and the resulting consequences when our society's rules fail to control them.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Five Kingdoms #4: Death Weavers by Brandon Mull

Death Weavers (Five Kingdoms, #4)My name is Cole, and my quest to help Mira and save Destiny has carried me into the echolands. I've been told to avoid making deals with other echoes, but I've already screwed that up with disastrous results. All of my friends have been captured. An evil torivor named Nazeem is controlling echoes to help him escape from a prison, so he can control the echolands and the Outskirts. He seems to have a special interest in Destiny, but I'm not sure why. I'm starting to hear the song of the Other and feel its pull, but I must fight it. I'll be lost forever if I give in. My own power is mangled and useless, and I don't see any way that my quest can succeed. However, I can't give up on saving the princesses and my friends, or everything in existence will be lost. No pressure there!

I recommend you start with book one, or things won't make any sense. An unexpected treat in this book is the introduction of Ferrin and Drake from Mull's Beyonders series. Harvan is an entertaining character, as he's an adventurer and storyteller. Yes, he's helping Cole, but it seems he's mostly in it for the tales he'll be able to exaggerate later. I can't say that I fully understand the concept of shaping and how things work in the echolands, but it hasn't kept me from enjoying the plot. There are different kinds of echoes, and none of them can lie. However, seemingly harmless agreements with them can be twisted into major mistakes. Echoes never get tired, and they don't need to eat or breathe. Consequently, this keeps the plot moving, since the characters never need to stop for rest. A mysterious horse, Cole calls it Thunder, pops up several times to save the day and is a key element in the events leading up to the climax. This book will make you think and use your imagination, but it's worth it!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Brotherband Chronicles #1: The Outcasts by John Flanagan

This book is a spin-off from The Ranger's Apprentice series, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Hal is the son of a great Skandian warrior, but his mother is Araluen. He becomes an outcast after his father dies, and the other children make fun of his mother. However, things change when Hal joins the Brotherhood training, when Skandian boys learn to become warriors. He becomes the skirl, or leader, of a band of boys who are also unliked by others. His crew is made up of a hot-head, a thief, a powerful boy who can't see more than three feet in front of his face, and twins who argue with each other about the simplest things. They must work together despite these problems to defeat the crew led by the Skandian bully.

I like plots that deal with underdogs overcoming impossible situations. Hal uses his brain to outthink his opponents and to teach his crew to work together. The Brotherhood training offers many opportunities to create problems and to introduce action. A subplot involves pirates who want to steal the Skandians greatest treasure. This problem leads into a sequel. You'll probably enjoy this book if you enjoyed Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Brotherband #6: The Ghostfaces by John Flanagan

The Ghostfaces (Brotherband Chronicles, #6)
My name is Stig, and I am first mate aboard the Heron. I don't know how we survived weeks in that massive storm on the Endless Ocean, but Hal's smartness always amazes me. The land we've found has plenty of food and shelter, so we'll wait until the winds change before trying to find our way back to Skandia. Lydia and Thorn found claw marks on tree from a bear that's three meters tall! There's also evidence of people spying on us. We have no idea if they're friendly or dangerous, so we're on guard at all times. I've just been awakened from my sleep, because Hal needs me at the palisade. It seems an old man and two armed warriors have just shown up outside our defenses.

This book captured the magic of the acclaimed Ranger's Apprentice and the other books in the Brotherband series, but it lacked a little of the adventure and intrigue. The beginning of the book had the adventure of surviving a massive storm on the ocean, but I found myself losing interest. It's hard to keep things interesting when the characters, setting, and problem don't change, which is what happened when the characters were battling Mother Nature. Once they found land, they needed to survive for weeks, but a significant problem wasn't presented until a huge bear showed up. The threat of the Ghostfaces was hinted at mid-book, but they weren't an actual problem until later on. The action built up to final battle, but even that wasn't much of a contest. I found this plot lacking when compared to other outstanding books by Flanagan.