Thursday, March 31, 2016

Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince by John Claude Bemis

The Wooden Prince (Out of Abaton, #1)My name is Pinnochio. I am an automa, like a robot, and I've been sent to replace the son of the ruler's former alchemist, Geppetto. My new master is wanted as a traitor, and I just discovered he's been locked up in the same prison as Prester John, ruler of Abaton and my creator. I've managed to escape with help from some new friends, but something is happening to me. I'm feeling emotions, and my hands are losing their woody texture. I seem to be slowly turning into a real human boy! I must free Prester John and Geppetto before their captors reach Abaton. The land of magic may fall if I can't figure out a way to succeed.

Bravo to the author for a weaving a creative tale based on the story of Pinnochio. It doesn't read like a fairy tale at all. Pinnochio is a wonderful character, as he changes back and forth between being an automa and a human boy. He's a good, honest character, and that allows him to easily make friends (except for Cinnabar). It is exciting to see him transform from a simple robot into a natural leader, and saving his "father" is the most important thing on his mind. Captain Toro reminds me of an arch-villain in a superhero movie. He continually popped up to stop Pinnochio, only to be outsmarted by the automa. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion and leaves the door wide open for a sequel. It will be interesting to see how Pinnochio adapts to being a real leader of people.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Hollow Earth #1 by John and Carole Barrowman

Hollow Earth (Hollow Earth #1)My name is Matt. The drawings my twin sister Em and I create become reality and now we're on the run from the Hollow Earth Society, a group protecting a supernatural world of demons and monsters. We are the first children of a Guardian and an Animare, and our powers are growing stronger under the training of our grandfather. However, he is now in the hospital in a coma, and our mother has disappeared. We're not sure if she was kidnapped or if someone was searching for the satchel we found in her room. Now, a mysterious, hooded man has shown up near the island, and a demon from a painting is terrorizing us. Does this have anything to do with my dad's disappearance, and I'm now wondering if he was involved with the Hollow Earth Society?

The idea of animated drawings has been used before, but this book used them as tools. Something bad happened, and the kids can drew a giant bird, a sword, or a place to hide in a cave. It was a little hard to believe the kids could draw pictures while being attacked, but I didn't let that fact keep me from enjoying the plot. Zach was a deaf character helping the kids, so it was cool to see him signing his comments. He became Em's Guardian, and they were able to communicate with their minds. The book read like a mystery and adventure story, and there were many elements that should appeal to most readers.

Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye

Witherwood Reform SchoolMy name is Tobias. Okay, maybe I shouldn't have put tadpoles in the gravy, but our nanny shouldn't have taken such a huge bite. And that's no reason for our father to leave my sister and I stranded on a mesa, outside a spooky school. The people here treat us like prisoners. We work for hours in kitchen, and the only class we've had is about adapting to the school. My sister is still brainwashed, but I'm now thinking more clearly. There are dangerous, clawed creatures wandering outside the walls, and I noticed some strange things in the rooms upstairs while exploring in the middle of the night. I need to find some way out of here, but I'm worried about something called Catchers. I overheard a comment about an extraction tomorrow. Not sure what that is, but I don't think it's anything good.

I enjoyed the overall book, but I had some issues with it. The problem of kids "imprisoned" in a strange school was interesting, but the actual conflict was still a little foggy. I wasn't sure WHY the kids were being kept there. However, I wanted to read on in order to find out what was going on. Also, the minor characters weren't developed, so it was difficult to connect with them. It was hard to feel totally sympathetic for Tobias, because he was frequently mischievous and disobeyed almost all adults. He had a motive to disobey later in the book, but he seemed to be simply defiant earlier. In contrast, his sister's shirt symbolically displayed the word "Hope". Tobias developed a strong sense of smell during the plot, and his sister's hearing became stronger; I feel like that will be important in the future. This book is the first in the series, but I haven't decided if I'll read the next one.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Wing & Claw #1: Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park

Forest of Wonders (Wing & Claw #1)
My name is Raffa. I'm learning to become an apothecary like my father and uncle, and we've all been invited to work for the Chancellor in the Commons! But my da says no, and my uncle and cousin Garith leave without us. Grrr! I create a poultice from a rare vine I found in the Forest of Wonders and use it to cure an injured bat, but now the bat can talk! However, I also discover the vine's effects can be very dangerous, so I sneak  away to warn my cousin. I meet a girl named Kuma in a prison wagon (long story), and she's trying to save a large bear taken captive in the Commons. At first, I'm excited to hear Garith has been experimenting on the vine with amazing results, but now I'm not so sure. My doubts start when I help two injured baby raccoons, and now I'm not sure who can be trusted. Bad things are happening to animals, and my uncle may be in the middle of it!

This book is the first in a new trilogy by an award-winning author. Raffa's character should appeal to all readers. His intuition for mixing plants makes him a gifted apothecary. He's a good, honest boy who strongly feels that his medicines should not be used to cause harm. He wants to try new mixtures but never wants to fail. Even though Echo can talk, he doesn't exactly have conversations. The author has him speak in short phrases that sometimes make his meanings unclear, and it works. The issue of animal experimentation is a focal theme, as Raffa uncovers the truth around his uncle's new job. I'm wondering how Raffa's father will react when he finds out what's going on. I'm looking forward to the next book in the trilogy, Cavern of Secrets.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Unwanteds #6: Island of Graves by Lisa McMann

Island of Graves (Unwanteds, #6)My name is Alex. I am the leader of Artime, and we have survived several attacks by Gondoleery and the citizens of Quill. I'm tired of always preparing to defend ourselves from them, so I've convinced my friends that Gondoleery must be killed. We were able to knock her out, but I couldn't allow anyone to kill her while she was unconscious. I may have made a mistake. Gondoleery got away and is now murdering her own citizens to practice her magic. Her power is greater than all of the combined magic in Artime. Should I leave our island and find my twin brother Aaron.? He murdered my mentor, he's evil, and he can't be trusted! Are we that desperate? Aaron may be able to get the Necessaries in Quill to revolt against Gondoleery, but he might just take her place.

You need to read the previous books in the series to understand what's going on. I enjoyed the first few books, but the next few plots didn't grab me. This book was much more interesting. The author makes Gondoleery a ruthless monster to create a threat, and all the other characters fear her. Alex's character displays self-doubt, and Aaron goes through an amazing metamorphosis. All the other characters can't believe it, which becomes an ongoing problem. A new girl is rescued from an island of saber-toothed gorillas and she says she's from the United States. This girl represents the first time America is mentioned in the series, so it will be interesting to see if that's important in the future. I hope the resolution doesn't mean the author plans to add another book. I like how this book ends, and I don't need to read an additional story about a conflict with pirates. However, the clues seem to indicate a sequel is coming, and I'll probably read it anyhow.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Last Dragon Charmer #2: Quest Maker by Laurie McKay

Quest Maker (The Last Dragon Charmer #2)My name is Brynne. I was unable to use my magic to help Prince Caden and myself return to the a Greater Realm, so we're stuck in Asheville, North Carolina. Criminals from our home are banished to the school, and they all fear a powerful Elderdragon disguised as the assistant principal. We were shocked to see Caden's brother, Prince Jasan, show up; the king thinks Jasan murdered Prince Chadwin. There was a smelly explosion in a science room, a swarm of bees attacked students in the auditorium, and the principal has been receiving letters of complaint. Now, Caden has until next Tuesday to discover who is embarrassing the school, or the Elderdragon has promised to eat him and Jasan. We know the evil sorcerer, and math teacher, Rath Dunn must be behind it all, but the dragon demands proof. There is unrest between teachers, there may be a traitorous prince, and I only hope Prince Caden will still be alive on Wednesday.

The author does a marvelous job of blending the issues from the Greater Realm with the mortal world in a way that makes it almost believable. Caden always tells his foster mother the truth about the evil staff at the school, but of course she never believes him. He finds evidence of spells being cast but then gets grounded for breaking into the school. Despite being a prince and future knight, Caden's character can't read English very well and does poorly in school. This fact is ironic, since he has the power to automatically speak any language, including the ancient language of the Elderdragon. The plot is adventurous and has a mysterious quality to it. You should read the first book in the series, although you may be able to enjoy it on its own.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Dragon King Trilogy #2: The Warlords of Nin by Stephen R. Lawhead

The Warlords of Nin (The Dragon King, #2)My name is Queen Alinea. My husband rules the kingdom of Mensandor, but I fear he is slowly dying. He feels something evil has entered our lands, so he sent two of his most loyal knights out to investigate. We've waited and waited but there is still no word. My husband has finally accepted that his health is declining, so he's asked our adopted son Quentin to succeed him as king. Quentin is a former acolyte but has proved his devotion to the king and myself beyond any doubt. He's spoken to the God of all Gods which gives him unexplained powers, and he is wise beyond his years. We've just received word of an imposing army led by Nin the Destroyer that is slaughtering our citizens and burning our towns to ashes. The number of Ningaal warriors is far superior to our own forces, and the juggernaut is bearing down on us. The king is dying and Quentin is missing, so who will lead us?

You need to read the first book in the series. I was a little surprised when magic wasn't a bigger part of the plot in this book, as Quentin can't call upon his special abilities whenever he wants. His powers are more spiritual, and they're called upon in times of greatest need. This book had more action than the first one, and the climactic battle scene described the clash between the armies spanned a couple chapters. This series probably appeals more to mature middle grade readers, as most of the main characters are adults. Quentin's character changed dramatically from book one, and I wish the story had been told from his point of view. He was such an important and dynamic character that I missed his thoughts and feelings. It would make the plot more attractive for middle grade readers to have the plot follow this young boy.

Otherworld Chronicles #3: The Dragon King by Nils Johnson-Shelton

The Dragon King (Otherworld Chronicles #3)My name is Merlin. I've helped Artie Kingfisher, or King Arthur II, reopen the gateways to the Otherworld and retrieve Excaliber, but I'm done with him now. The boy is meeting with my enemy, Morgiana, so I may even need to kill him. I don't care that he's assembled a new band of knights; they don't stand a chance against my immense magical powers. It irks me that the Lady of the Lake and others are helping Artie, but I don't think there's any way for him to enter the King's Gate and retrieve the Holy Grail. There are too many dangerous obstacles, but I'll still destroy him if he manages to succeed. Anyhow, he has no idea that I'm kidnapping kids using the Otherworld video game, and he has no idea about my secret plans. This boy king is merely an annoying pest.

You need to read the first books in the series. I enjoy Artie's character and how he's grown as a ruler. It's funny how his sister gets upset when he's giving orders, so he must watch how he asks her to help. The plot in this book is a complete twist from the first one. Merlin mentored and trained Artie in the first book, but now he's the main villain. I don't recall reading a series where an important protagonist became the most important antagonist in a plot. I'm not sure why, but I grew tired of the plot near the end. It still had adventure and mystery, but it just seemed like Artie was getting into one tough situation after another. Same ideas, just different obstacles. I don't know if most readers will feel the same way, and you may love it. I was probably in the wrong mood for some reason. It's a solid book.