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.