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. 

Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones

Time StoppersMy name is Annie, and I am a Stopper. I lived with twelve different, horrible foster families, but I've escaped to a town called Aurora with Jamie. Jamie was going to be eaten by his troll father and grandmother, but I don't think he'll become a troll himself when he turns thirteen. I guess we'll soon find out for sure. Aurora is a town of magical creatures and non-magicals who don't fit in. The town is now in danger because the protective lawn gnome was stolen, and the Raiff's minions can now enter it. The townspeople were overjoyed to see me arrive to save Aurora, because they see me as a savior. They seem to think I have some great power to protect them, but I'm just plain old Annie. The Raiff was banished from the town, but I can see why everyone is terrified of him. He's appeared to me in reflected images, and I'm afraid he'll find some way to escape his prison. With the Raiff's monsters closing in on me, I hope the people are right and I discover my talent in time.

This book will appeal to lovers of strange creatures and magic; that's what Aurora is all about. I didn't like reading the early chapters, because they described the unhappy home lives of Annie and Jamie. It was necessary to develop the plot. The plot wasn't overly creative or unique, but the story was solid. Annie needed to discover her special power in order to save the town. The antagonist was able to control his creatures but never actually appeared in person. I was surprised when the town was attacked and almost everyone was easily frozen, including the Stopper protecting them. I enjoyed the playful banter between the helpful elf and dwarf who were always trying to outdo the other. The dwarf was amusing, as she was constantly boasting about her great deeds and bravery, but then fainted when things got too stressful. Overall, it was a fun book to read.

The Dragon King Trilogy #3: The Sword and the Flame by Stephen R. Lawhead

The Sword and the Flame (The Dragon King, #3)My name is Toli, and the king has blamed me for the kidnapping of his son. And he's right, I should have protected him better. Now, the king has lost all hope, and he's in danger of losing his throne. I've learned the kidnapper is Nimrood; we should have made sure he was dead when we had the chance. He is demanding the king's sword as ransom for the prince's safe return, but the sword has disappeared. However, the king's greatest threat may come from within the kingdom. His faith and devotion to a new God Most High has frightened many of the townspeople, and they may rebel. I must do what I can to help save the prince, the king, and the kingdom, or I must die trying.

As with the previous books, this one has a strong spiritual aspect to it that may turn off some readers. It will probably appeal to more mature readers. The king's faith in a new god is a driving force for many of the characters. I found the descriptions of their struggles to understand the god's motives and beliefs to be a distraction from the plot. It kind of stopped the flow in its tracks. I'm not anti-religion or anything; I'm just reacting as an avid reader. I enjoyed the loyalty of the king's close friends, as they maintained faith in him even as he lost faith in himself. Much like the first book, an innocent young boy displays great bravery to become a hero. The boy in the first book became King Quentin. The plot had its moments of action and suspense, and once again the climax involved a giant battle. Most of the characters live happily ever after.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Under Their Skin #1 by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Under Their Skin (Under Their Skin, #1)My name is Eryn, and my brother and I are not allowed to meet our stepsiblings! Isn't that unbelievable? Our mom says it's because we're so different, and Nick and I have now found out she wasn't exaggerating. It started with a snow day. Okay, so Mom never said we weren't supposed to pick the locks on the bedroom doors down the hall, so technically we didn't disobey her. We figured out where our stepsiblings live and decided to check them out! Now, our lives have been turned upside down. I don't know if I can handle the truth about Jackson and Ava. About Mom. About ourselves and everything else! What happened to everyone? How can anyone in their right mind expect two sixth graders to save the future of the entire human species? 

I'll try not to give away the secret in the whole plot. I think I'm looking forward to the next book more than this one, as the author ends things with dramatic reveal. Haddix always writes good stuff, and she lets readers know right away that something is not right about the stepkids. Once Eryn and Nick figure out what's going on, things get real interesting! The problem blows up way beyond their little town. I enjoy looking for clues, and the book reads kind of like a mystery. However, I wasn't ready for the truth about the world that was revealed near the end of the book. I never read I Robot, but my impressions of it seem similar to Under Their Skin. Once again, Man's advancements in science and technology may ultimately result in the end of civilization! 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Steel Trapp: The Challenge by Ridley Pearson

This is the first book in a series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Steel Trapp is the name of a teenage boy with a photographic memory and a genius mind. While on his way to an invention competition in Washington, D.C., Steel notices a briefcase left behind on the train, and this begins his adventure. He discovers a photograph of a kidnapped woman and doesn't know who to trust with the information. Obviously, not the police! Steel is joined by a runaway genius from Chicago, and together they help solve the mystery and espionage. Steel's FIDOE, a scent-tracking robot, and his dog, Cairo, are very helpful in stopping Chicago gangsters from funding terrorists with American money.

This was an entertaining book, and I enjoyed the concept of the plot. Steel's photographic memory was almost a superpower, but he was basically a normal, frightened kid. Of course, he was unaware that his father was actually an undercover FBI agent working on the same case. The reader knows this information about the father early in the book, so I'm not really giving away a secret. It always amazes me in these books how the teenager manages to rationalize why it doesn't make sense to contact the police when they uncover criminal activity. Do our own teenagers lack the drive to be heroes, or do they have common sense? :o)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The League of Seven by Allan Gratz

The League of Seven (The League of Seven, #1)My name is Archie. My parents look for signs that Mangleborns might be escaping from their underground prisons, and the Swarm Queen is gaining power. I barely escape her mind-controlling bugs, but my parents weren't as lucky. In the past, a League of Seven has always appeared to stop the Mangleborns, and I wonder if they have again. My new companions, Hachi and Fergus, may be the warrior and tinker, but does that mean I'm the leader? We are searching for Septemberists who might be able to help, but the minds of everyone we've found has been taken over by the bugs. In my dreams, the Swarm Queen called me Jandal a Haad, but the Great Bear turned on his friends. The Great Bear's coat has saved my life, but am I actually a Mangleborn, destined to kill Hachi and Fergus?

This book mixes Native American heritage with elements of technology and modern culture. The characters come from various tribes, and the book mentions cities and history that are similar to what we know. Lektricity is a bad thing, and the characters are trying to keep it secret. Edison, the main antagonist, tries to harness its power to free the Swarm Queen. However, he experimented on Fergus, and the boy has now become a conductor. Archie's visions create an internal conflict. He wants to lead his friends, but he's afraid he may lose control and become a monster. The author has managed to weave a clever tale that is both familiar and imaginative. Three kids band together to fight a rising evil, but they're also trying to suppress everything related to electricity. Ironically, one of Fergus's abilities involves controlling it. I'm already planning to read the sequel!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Steel Trapp #2: The Academy by Ridley Pearson

The Academy (Steel Trapp, #2)My name is Steel. I have an "amazing" ability to remember everything. Everybody seems to know about it, but it's real hard to be normal! Kayleigh and I have noticed some weird things going on at Wynncliff Academy, and I discovered secret tunnels that connect most of the buildings on campus. Four boys have been using them after curfew to meet with one of the teachers. I overheard them talking about an operation and not wanting to get caught. What are they up to? I feel like I'm getting sucked into it, but I'm not sure who I can trust. Kayleigh thinks we should forget about it, but we may not have a choice. I can't forget anything, remember, plus I'm really curious. What do they say? Curiosity killed the cat?

This is a series similar to the Alex Rider and Young James Bond books. Steel's perfect memory is a central part of the plot. He obviously uses to excel in school, but he's learning to use it for surveillance and playing an academy game called Ga-Ga. I don't know if it's a real game somewhere in the world, but it sounds like a cool variation of dodgeball played in an octagonal pit. Many characters interact with Steel, so it's easy to wonder which ones are good and bad. This uncertainty adds to an intriguing plot. The truth behind the secret meetings isn't revealed until much later in the book, so things seem to happen pretty fast as the plot nears the climax. The resolution of the plot sounds like Kayleigh and Steel will have future adventures around the world. However, this book was published in 2010, and I haven't been able to find a sequel since then. Shame, I was enjoying the series.

The League of Seven #2: The Dragon Lantern by Alan Gratz

The Dragon Lantern (The League of Seven, #2)My name is Cody. I'm a soldier inside a ten-story mechanical man that is commanded by Captain George Custer. We've been ordered to help Archie, a boy made of stone, capture a fox girl who stole some kind of lantern. This lantern is mighty powerful; it changes people into hideous monsters! Archie says I'm supposed to be the leader of this League of Seven, but I not sure what that means. Catching this fox girl has been a pain in the butt, since she's able to make us see things that aren't real. This lantern she had was supposed to have something to do with what happened to Archie, but that ain't true. The real truth is unbelievable, and he's pretty upset about how it will affect his friends. Hachi's down in Louisiana trying to find out the names of the people who murdered 100 members of her tribe, but her quest is tangled up with Archie's past. I told Archie it's going to be okay, but I'm not sure what's going to happen when they get back together.

You should read the first book in the series before reading this one. Archie was the first character in that book, and the plots have been focused on him. However, the author has done a nice job of developing subplots, most notably the story about Hachi's need for revenge. This book offers up some surprises, as an important character is uncovered as a main antagonist. Another character seemed to be joining the League of Seven, but that changed before it really got started. I enjoy the twists to real places and events in history, although young readers may not understand them. The book includes some humor, as the spirit of Buster the dog is transferred to the mechanical man/ten-story tank. Imagine a 100-foot tall robot chasing trains and scratching for fleas! I'm anxious to read the next book in the series, The Monster War.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Voyagers #5: Escape the Vortex by Jeanne DuPrau

Escape the Vortex (Voyagers #5)My name is Anna. My Omega team must retrieve zero crystals, the fifth element needed to create the Source, from inside ice crawlers before the Alpha team. The fact that ice crawlers are huge snow creatures, and that the frigid temperatures on the planet will kill us instantly, will be a problem. I know the Alpha team is still ticked off that I kidnapped Piper, but it guarantees they won't leave us behind when it's time for Gamma Speed. My crew seems upset by this, but hey, I'm the leader. Winning is everything. Right now, I'm on the planet's surface, and things aren't going as I planned. My first attempt at the crystals failed, and I've discovered how angry mother ice crawlers can be when protecting their babies. We're nearing the end of our quest to save Earth, but I have a bad feeling that I won't survive this mission.

My comments about this book are very similar to the previous books in the series, so you should read my other posts. A couple of my earlier predictions have come true in this book. Dash's illness, storage of an earlier element, and morale on the Omega ship have all become big issues in this book. I enjoy the fast pace of the books, as I've been able to read each of them in about a day. The plots are easy to follow, and they're full of adventure and action. The books are accompanied by a website that has additional information and activities. I know there is a sixth book in the series, and I assume it will be the last even though it's titled The Seventh Element.