Friday, December 29, 2017

The Dragon's Boy by Jane Yolen

The Dragon's BoyMy name is Artos, and I've mostly enjoyed my life as a foster child to Sir Ector and Lady Marion. However, I've discovered a dragon living in a nearby cave who has promised to teach me wisdom each day. I'm able to read, unlike my illiterate brothers, but I don't understand what the dragon meant when it said I need to learn to read inter linea. It also called me Artos Pendragon, but I don't remember my real parents. I used one of the dragon's gems to buy a wonderful sword, and after that, my brothers finally accepted me as an equal. However, I ran to tell the dragon about my sword, but the cave was empty. Where did it go? I appreciate all of the knowledge I've gained, but I'm angry that the dragon left without telling me. Now what do I do?

This book was based on a short story written by the best-selling author. It was surprising that a plot containing a dragon didn't have much action or suspense. The story was about the growth of Artos's character. He was feeling like the forgotten child in the family and wanted to be welcomed by his three brothers. The dragon's teachings gave him confidence, and he was clearly more intelligent than the other boys. Even as Artos became closer to his brothers, he realized their differences. He had more compassion for others and cared about their feelings. In the end, this short story left me wanting more. The last pages of the book introduced the next phase of Artos's life, and I suspect it would have made an entertaining tale. 

Beast & Crown #1 by Joel Ross

Beast & Crown (Beast & Crown #1)My name is Ji. I helped Brace get permission to leave for the city where he's being mentored by Proctor. It was the only way I could think of for Sally, Roz, and me to free Chibo from the tapestry factory. Brace is going to participate in the Diadem Rite, and I'm to be his assistant. The rite is held to select the heir to the Summer Crown, and he will become the holder of all human magic. This person will be the only thing keeping ogres and goblins from invading the realm. I just discovered the identity of the Red Mask, a roof-hopping spy who helped me free Chibo, and it surprised me. However, I wasn't prepared for what happened during the Diadem Rite when I interrupted the ceremony. Now, all of the Summer Queen's soldiers want to kill us, and I'm not sure Brace can still be trusted.

This book will probably not appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it. Some readers don't have a high tolerance for made-up vocabulary, and this book was full of it. The human characters used it a little bit, but the goblins did it a lot. In essence, they broke normal words into similar sounding word parts, which led to some confusing conversations. The first half of the book was all about saving Chibo, but the focus of the plot changed to the Diadem Rite after that. I don't want to give away what happens during the ceremony, but suffice it to say things dramatically changed for the main characters. I correctly predicted what I thought would happen, but then everything got twisted around. The cast of characters was an interesting mix. Ji was a lying thief, Sally was a brave knight-wannabe with high morals, Roz was the mature young lady, Chibo was the immature little brother, and Nim was the confusing ally. Of them all, Ji was the one who made the hard decisions. He kept saying he didn't care about others, but Sally and Roz kept telling him he was wrong. The banter between Ji and Sally was especially entertaining, as they constantly teased each other. Overall, I really liked the book and may read the sequel, but as I said, it's going to appeal to a select audience of fantasy-lovers. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Sorcerer's Ring #2: A March of Kings by Morgan Rice

A March of Kings (The Sorcerer's Ring, #2)My name is Reese, and my father, the king, has been murdered by someone he knew. My best friend Thor was accused of the crime, but my father's last words proclaimed his innocence. Now, the Legion recruits must leave on the traditional One Hundred; we may be selected as Legion members when we return from this retreat in three months, assuming we survive. However, Thor will be troubled by several thoughts. He'll be separated from my sister for one-hundred days, he promised to avenge my father's death, and he's been told his destiny is bigger than the king. In addition, my power-hungry brother Gareth now rules the kingdom, despite my father's wishes, and there is no one less qualified to rule. Our enemies are watching, and I fear their invasion is imminent.

This book is the sequel to A Quest of Heroes, and you should really read it first. Also, it's most appropriate for upper middle grade readers due to some suggestive content between Thor and Gwen. I really enjoyed Thor's character, as he sincerely wanted to make the best choices for himself and others. His bravery, compassion, and integrity were admirable character traits. In contrast, Gareth was a great antagonist, as his scheming for power started to encompass the kingdom and his siblings. Once he gained power, he wanted to make sure he didn't lose it. He ignored the advice of his counsel and chose to alienate his father's loyal subjects. I was hoping he'd take his obsession too far, and I suspect he will in the near future. I don't often focus on the social aspects of books, but this one seemed to send a mixed message about femininity. Of all the children, Gwen's father chose her to succeed him as ruler of the kingdom. He felt she was the most qualified, legitimate heir to the thrown. At the same time, the kingdom's greatest knight was required to go on a quest to select his wife, since he hadn't chosen one by the time he turned twenty-five. Women tried to impress him, so they would be chosen. The demeaning of women really struck me after most of the women in a duke's realm had been paraded in front of the knight. The duke asked if he had chosen his wife yet based almost entirely on appearance! Overall, I'm enjoying the series, but I suspect the mature situations may outgrow the appropriateness for middle grade readers.

Phoenix Burning by Bryony Pearce

Phoenix Burning (Phoenix Series)My name is Toby, and Ayla has stepped onto the deck of the Phoenix again. I thought she liked me up until the moment she had me imprisoned on her mother's ship, the Banshee. My father installed solar panels to power our ship, but we can't use them without an inverter. That's why Ayla is here; she needs one too for her mother's ship. Ayla has an idea. The two of us will win a competition on the island of Gozo and steal their inverters. There are a few problems with her plan. We don’t know where the inverters are kept, we don’t know how to escape, and we’ll be immediately blinded if we win. Now, that we’re here, I see the Sun and Moon competition is all about surviving the challenges. And despite teaming up with Ayla, I know she may stab me in the back at any moment.

This book is the sequel to Phoenix Rising, and you need to read it first. You need to know the story of Toby and Ayla’s relationship and the complications arising from their families’ past histories. The setting is in the future, far enough ahead to present creative worlds but close enough to the past to remember how things used to be. Much of this book takes place on Gozo, and the inhabitants have cult-like beliefs. Their whole world is centered on the sun and moon, and they resent other cultures that have misused the sun’s power. Having the contest winners sacrifice their sight in honor of the sun is pretty radical, but sacrifices made by the losers isn’t much better. Throughout the plot, the focus is on the fragile teamwork between Toby and Ayla and their contrasting motivations. The author leaves a dramatic surprise for the climax that is sure to affect the sequel. The utopian island the characters seek is still a mystery, but they discover exciting clues in the book’s resolution. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Sorcerers Ring #1: A Quest of Heroes by Morgan Rice

A Quest of Heroes (The Sorcerer's Ring, #1)My name is Thorgrin, and all I wanted was to become a member of the King's Legion. I wasn't invited to join like my three brothers, so I ventured to the king's castle on my own. Once I arrived at the Legion's training grounds, I proved my worth and became squire to the kingdom's greatest knight, Erec. The king's youngest son Reese and I have become best friends along with another boy named O'Connor. I was as shocked as anyone when I summoned magical powers to save Erec’s life during a joust! Now, things have gotten more complicated. I've become a hero for doing nothing special, the kingdom is facing a possible invasion, and the king's daughter has taken a liking to me. However, the queen and another boy have vowed to make my life miserable if I don't stay away from Gwen. The king and Erec sense that I'm different from others, but I don't know if that's a good thing or bad. 

I sometimes find gems when I randomly select titles to read while toiling through my gym workouts. This book has the underdog main character, action, devious scheming to gain power, and loyal friendships and bravery to overcome all evil. Thor's character changes immensely and quickly, as he went from sheep shepherd to hero. The relationship with Gwen is especially confusing for him. Despite Thor's virtues, he receives mixed feelings from other characters. The Legion recruits are angry and jealous, while the guards and trainers make it clear he won't get any special treatment. In contrast, Reese and O'Connor immediately become his friends, and later, a bully has a change of heart and joins Thor's group. Thor's brothers were missing from the story as the book progressed. I found myself wondering about them. The plot contains a feud that's been going on for centuries, and the king is doing all he can to maintain the peace. It seems inevitable that a war will break out, but it doesn't start in this book. Nevertheless, the threat of violence is always lingering in the background. The author hints at people living outside the Ring and gives the impression they're violent savages. They provide a basis for future problems, I imagine. In addition, Thor is told his mother came from a far-off land, so that adds a little mystery to his character. The plot has some suggestive moments and bit of hearty drinking, so it's probably more appropriate for tweenage readers. I've also discovered there are over a dozen books in the series!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Polaris by Michael Northrop

Polaris
My name is Henry. The crew of the Polaris mutinied, killed the captain, and then abandoned ship after setting it on fire. The ship boys and I escaped from a locked room and put the fire out. Why would the crew want to destroy the ship after fighting to gain control of it? Owen was the captain's nephew, so he's now giving orders to sail us to the United States. The other boys are willing to let him, for now, but I'm not sure how long it will last. Thacher is stirring up trouble. I haven't told you this yet, but something else has all of us frightened; we're not alone on this ship. We've been hearing eerie sounds, but we're certain something is living in the dark down below. I can now tell you that we were not prepared for what we found, and it's difficult to explain. It's Obed Macy... but it's not.

This book was not the swashbuckling story I'm used to when reading about old sailing ships. It became a "ghost" story. The author blended several different conflicts to create a creepy adventure. The inexperienced sailors needed to survive the voyage across dangerous seas, Owen's control over them was weakening, two crew members were keeping secrets, and the thing below deck terrified them all. The author left images of the creature to my imagination until he slowly let it emerge. This helped develop suspense until it confronted the boys. It could have come from a science fiction novel, and Henry's background in science caused him to look at the creature as a living organism, not necessarily a monster. The conflict between Owen and Thacher was allowed to fester, as Thacher slowly undermined Owen's authority. Owen wasn't sure how to respond, since he didn't want to lose control of the other boys. He tried to work with Thacher and gave him responsibility, but there was no way the author would allow them to resolve the problems peacefully. Overall, if you read this book as an adventure story, you won't like it. If you read it as a ghost story, you will.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

The Real BoyMy name is Oscar. Caleb chose me to collect and organize his magical ingredients, but now I've messed up everything. I don't understand people very well, so I'm sure I've insulted quite a few of his customers. No one knows I've been reading books from Caleb's library, and I've learned to mix some tinctures on my own. Callie, the Healer's apprentice has agreed to help me with people if I'll help her with patients. However, I was devastated to find something had destroyed the garden and the glass greenhouse, and City kids are getting sick; City kids never get sick. While searching for answers in Caleb's workshop, I discovered he's been keeping a huge secret from me. Something terrible has happened to the workshop and him, and I now realize what's happening to the children. For years, people have been using magic from the earth, and now the soil wants its magic back!

I can usually figure out conflicts in plots pretty quickly, but this book kept me wondering. There was obviously something different about Oscar, but his past was based on assumptions. Plots usually clear up as they near the climax, but the author chose to insert some unexpected twists. Callie's character offered a point of view that differed from the City's dependency on magic. She didn't possess magical abilities like most healers, so she wanted Oscar's help with creating remedies. In return, she counseled him in ways to interact appropriately with others, one of his major weaknesses. The source of the biggest problems in the plot were the result of the gluttonous use of magic in the City. Citizens became segregated into the haves and the have nots. Similar notions of the division of power in our society can be seen today. The truth surrounding the City children was surprising and became a huge issue in resolving the problem. The book won't appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

The Wizards of Once (The Wizards of Once #1)My name is Wish, and I've always been told Warriors must kill all Wizards; all magic is evil. I don't understand why my mother, the Warrior Queen, had a magical sword hidden in the castle. Later in the woods, I met a Wizard prince named Xar who can't do magic. That didn't stop him from stealing the magic sword from me, taking me to his castle, and having a Witch attack me in his room. The dead Witch embedded in Xar's floor proves they're not extinct as everyone believes. One of Xar's fairies touched the Witch's green blood, so we're going to take him back to the queen's castle to save it from the evil magic. My mother has a stone that can remove magic from creatures simply by touching it. However, no one has asked why the stone is taking the magic, and the answer is very important. It wasn't until too late that we discovered the horrible danger waiting to escape the stone.

This book was very entertaining, and the plot moved along nicely. An intriguing part of the book was the narrator. Early on, it told readers that it was one of the characters, so I kept wondering which one. In the end, the narrator asked me to guess its identity without revealing the truth. I can't tell if the narrator is good or bad, but maybe I'll find out in the book's sequel. Xar seemed to be the main character, but Wish became more interesting. Xar was very self-centered and was obsessed with getting his magic. He was even willing to absorb evil magic, so he'd have magic of some kind. Wish was much more logical and compassionate toward other characters and was willing to make hard decisions to help them. Her ideas about magic became more confused as she learned more about the Wizards, and the plot presented an ironic twist during the climax. The resolution lasted longer than I expected and set a foundation for the sequel. An underlying theme dealt with parent expectations. Xar's father was frustrated with his son's poor decisions and inability to perform magic. Xar was an embarrassment. Wish was short with straggly hair and wore an eye-patch, hardly the image of a Warrior princess. The story behind the eye-patch was a mystery that even Wish didn't know. Her abilities weren't a real surprise, but the secret of her eye was. Overall, this book told a wonderful adventure that included suspense, humor, and the unexpected. I recommend you read it!

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond

The Tale of Angelino BrownMy name is Betty Brown, and while driving his school bus, my husband found a tiny angel in his pocket! We're calling him Angelino, and he's brought so much joy to our family. I took him to school with me, and the students and teachers all love him, except for Mrs. Mole. The other day, a school inspector came to our building and had Mrs. Mole in a tizzy. However, I recognized this person as Kevin Hawkins and realized he should still be in school. Kevin was always a master of disguises, but he was easily led by others. Tell him to jump off a rooftop, and he'd do it. I'm not sure why he was in our building. Now, Angelino has been kidnapped, and I don't think the police will be much help. The officers we spoke to don't believe our boy is a real angel... I don't know if anyone else can help us.

The whole plot was about Angelino even though the angel spoke very little. Farting is something he did a lot! He also slowly grew throughout the book, so it was easy to anticipate the plot's final resolution. Betty and Bert missed the son they once had, and they quickly "adopted" Angelino when he appeared. Even though several students were the heroes in the book, I think my favorite characters were actually the kidnappers. Kevin is the misguided boy that Betty remembered, and his Boss wasn't much different. Betty felt they missed out on positive guidance growing up and weren't really bad boys. The plot came to a pleasant conclusion once Betty got a hold of them, and everyone lived happily ever after. The story was told in present tense, which is not something I typically enjoy. It's my personal taste and doesn't mean it's something that will bother you. The book was a quick-read for me, and overall I enjoyed it very much. I've also read Skellig written by David Almond.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Brotherband #7: The Caldera by John Flanagan

My name is Stig, and the Heron's crew is on a mission to free the son of an empress who was kidnapped by a ruthless pirate named Myrgos. We've discovered the pirate's fortress is located on the caldera created by a volcano in the middle of the ocean. My father is an added complication to the rescue. I'd never met him until he appeared one night to ask Hal and our crew for help. He was once a great Skandian, until many years ago he turned on his crew and stole their treasures. My mother was left to raise me amid the embarrassment and disgrace. Now, the crew doesn't know if he can be trusted, and I'm not sure either. But he's my father. It doesn't help that the empress has offered a reward for his capture, or that villagers and fishermen in these waters are deathly afraid of Myrgos. They'll betray us in a heartbeat out of fear. Despite our concerns about my father and the dangers we'll face, a young boy's life is counting on us.

It's possible to read this book on its own, but you should read the whole series to get the full effect of the Heron's history. Also, this book is not really a fantasy, although some Flanagan's books have a a mystical quality. You'll find the book has many references and descriptions concerning the art of sailing ships, and it's something I enjoy. It's not something I fully understand, but I appreciate the skill it takes to steer a vessel in the open sea. There's a glossary in the front of the book to help you with the nautical terms. Hal is the star of the show, as his intelligence and strategies are the keys to surviving. He built the Heron by hand in the first book of the series, so he's developed an amazing control over it. His creative designs for the small ship make it faster and more elusive than most other ships the crew encounters. Myrgos is an experienced pirate, so he presents a formidable opponent to Hal. Hal has been a natural leader since the series began, so it's admirable to see his aura as skirl grow. He's developed a respected reputation across the seas among sailors he's never even met. As always, Ulf and Wulf add a comedic element to the plot, although not as much as in other books. They're highly competitive with each other and enjoy confusing others. Hal wonders if it's a good idea for Jesper to be teaching them how to pick locks! I've been loving everything Flanagan has written over the years, and if you're like me, you'll love The Caldera too. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Pendragon Legacy #1: Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

Sword of Light (Pendragon Legacy, #1)My name is Rhianna, and my father King Arthur has been murdered by his nephew Mordred. I didn't know my father existed until Merlin came to Avalon with his body. I've traveled into the land of men where I must retrieve Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, and then I must travel to Camelot. The magic sword may be able to return my father to the throne, but Mordred's forces are searching for me everywhere. I rescued one of Arthur's knights from torture, but I was touched by the black arm of Mordred, the arm Arthur severed in battle. The evil magic from Mordred's mother makes the limb dangerous, and his forces surround Camelot. How am I to motivate Arthur's soldiers to follow me, since they all think I'm a weak, red-headed girl? The only thing that will convince them is getting my hands on Excalibur.

I was surprised to see a number of reviewers on Goodreads did not finish this book, but it seems like they were reading it from an adult's perspective. The book was written for middle grade kids, and it's a perfect fantasy for them. Rhianna was a great main character, as she was thrust into the role of King Arthur's unknown heir. She was determined to stop Mordred even though she just found out about her father. In addition, Merlin disappeared from the plot pretty quickly, so Rhianna was left to experience the "real" world on her own. She was probably too brave for her own good, but she behaved like a leader. Elphin was a fairy from Avalon and supported Rhianna's character with his magic harp. He was selfless and would do anything to help her. During a stressful stretch of the plot, he continued playing his harp even though his fingers were bleeding. Excalibur was the key to Rhianna's hopes, but it came with complications. Mordred had a connection to the hilt, so his image was able to pop up and present challenges. In addition, the blade's magic would be lost if any blood touched it. Imagine how difficult it would be to enter a battle knowing you can't use your weapon to hurt anyone. I really enjoyed the book, but unfortunately my library system doesn't offer any other books in the series.

Emily Windsnap and the Falls of the Forgotten Island by Liz Kessler

Emily Windsnap and the Falls of Forgotten Island
My name is Emily, and I swore to my best friend Shona that I wouldn't get caught up in an adventure or put us in danger for a month. Well, that didn't work out. How was I to know I'd find people living on a forgotten island that had only been discovered one year before? Or that the people had been trapped on it for hundreds of years and a prophecy foretold my arrival? They are convinced a devastating earthquake has been gaining strength and will soon obliterate the island. The tsunami caused by the disaster will then surge across the ocean and destroy other islands full of unaware humans. The leader's necklace shows a picture of a mermaid who will lead the island people to safety. I am the mermaid in the picture, and a drawing of my boyfriend is shown in another drawing. I barely survived the journey into the island, and no one else knows I'm here. The islanders believe it's impossible to leave the island, so I guess it's my job to do the impossible or thousands of people will die.

This book is actually the seventh one in a series, but I didn't read any of the others first. I was still able to enjoy, although I was curious about Emily’s past adventures. She had a history with the god Neptune, but I didn’t know if she had any powers (like Percy Jackson) other than being a mermaid. It was strange to read about a setting where mermaids lived alongside humans; the vacation resort had rooms for both groups. Emily was a semi-mer and could walk around on dry land, while her father and Shona needed to remain in the water at all times. This created some seemingly minor problems. The big conflict in the plot was complicated by Emily's spats with her boyfriend Aaron and Shona; apparently they'd gotten tired of her thinking about herself and getting everyone involved in dangerous situations. However, the prophecies indicated Aaron would end up helping Emily, while her relationship with Shona took more work. Emily’s thinking toward Shona was hard to understand, although it all worked out in the end. I recommend you read the previous books first, but this one was still very entertaining on its own.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby

The TurnkeyMy name is Flossie, and it's my responsibility to see that all of the dead in Highgate Cemetery rest in peace. Turnkeys like me are able to move throughout the world of the living just by thinking about places, but the other dead are confined to their cemeteries. Imagine my surprise when I found a twilight German SS officer atop St. Paul's Cathedral; how could he possibly be here and what was he doing? I've since discovered this Viktor Brun is spying on the English army, and he's discovered a way to communicate with the living? The crystal skull he carries is the key to everything, and I've felt the evil within it. However, there's another soul inside the skull that argues with Viktor. More disturbing, I've learned he knows my name, and he's the man responsible for sinking a navy ship, sending a thousand men to the bottom of the ocean, including my father. 

I assumed this book would be a cute story about a girl living around a cemetery, but I wasn't expecting the seriousness of the plot. The setting was in World War II London, through the eyes of the deceased characters. Most of them were loyal English citizens, so they were doing all they could to help their country win WW II. That was the main conflict in the book, and Brun's connection to Flossie's father added a big complication to things. Violet was a supporting character from a different cemetery, and her brother kept secrets, which left the door open for him to do something unexpected. His secret, and the help of a seemingly insignificant character, were keys to resolving the climax. Flossie had deep compassion for all of the deceased in Highgate Cemetery, although she had self-doubts about being an effective Turnkey. The role of Turnkeys and their unique abilities was the creative charm in the book. Flossie was able to freely move anywhere she wanted among the living, but she still needed to hide from Viktor whenever he was around; it was strange to picture dead spirits trying to hide. She didn't see any way to stop this cruel Nazi, but that made her character even more determined. The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery tells a wonderfully exciting adventure, and I recommend you give it a shot!

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Olympians #5: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5)My name is Percy Jackson, and my sixteenth birthday is only a few days away. Why does that matter? Because I'm dealing with a prophecy saying I'll die on that day, and a decision I make will destroy Olympus. No worries, right? A titan is slowly moving across the continent, but the Mist makes humans believe a storm is leaving behind the devastation. Kronos has his sights set on the entrance to Olympus found at the top of the Empire State Building, and he may be unstoppable once the other titan reaches New York. Kronos has taken over Luke's body, so I bathed in the River Styx to become mostly immortal like Luke. But will it make any difference? The gods are off fighting the titan, while I'm left in New York leading the demigods from Camp Half-blood against Kronos and his army of creatures. His forces are larger and more powerful, and the prophecy seems to be on his side. 

This book concludes the series, although there are several spin-off series if you're interested. Just type Riordan's name in the search box at the top of my blog's homepage. The prophecy about Percy's sixteenth birthday has been hanging over all the plots since the beginning of this series. Percy's character is the focus of this book, and he almost becomes overwhelmed with the responsibilities. Annabeth has always been Percy's closest friend, but her life is complicated by Luke. Percy lacks the confidence to become her official boyfriend, since she obviously has feelings about Luke. It's just that her true feelings about Luke are unclear. What is clear is that Annabeth will need to face these feelings in there is any hope of defeating Luke/Kronos. As in all of Riordan's books, this one includes numerous examples of foreshadowing. Percy gets messages from other characters and visions of future events whenever he falls asleep. Sometimes when he's still awake. These visions became hints about upcoming events rather than revelations of the exact details. I appreciated Percy's wish during the plot's resolution; it reinforced his concern for others. He never forgets the minor characters (or minor gods and demigods). The Olympians is a great introduction to Riordan's style, so read this series before undertaking the spin-offs, which are written in much greater length.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Have Sword, Will TravelMy name is Odo, and the river has dried up for some unknown reason. I discovered a sword at the bottom of Dragonfoot Hole, and the enchanted blade called Biter told me it could only be awakened by a knight! I thought, "What? Me?" My best friend Eleanor has dreamt of living a life of adventure as a knight, while I'm content to become a miller like my father. Anyhow, I'm now Sir Odo, Eleanor has agreed to be my squire, and we're on a quest to bring water back to the river. We've passed many travelers heading south while we trek north to face a legendary dragon rumored to be terrorizing the lands up there. Biter is forcing me to learn sword strokes and fighting techniques as we go, and we've managed to help a few people along the way. I'm doing the best I can, but I've told Eleanor that defeating the dragon will be my first and last quest. If I survive. 

I've read other books by Nix, and I really enjoyed this one. Some heroes are reluctant to accept their responsibilities, and Odo fit that description. Biter was very aggressive as a knightly sword and often helped get Odo involved in conflicts. Biter had his own mind and voice, and his answer to most problems was to attack. Odo needed to fight to control his sword but ended up saving a village or someone in distress. Eleanor graciously supported him even though she wanted to be in his place as the knight. Good things happened to the two of them due to their bravery, compassion for others, and strong sense of right and wrong. Biter was an entertaining character, as he urged Odo and Eleanor to complete the quest. He tried to teach Odo about being a proper knight, although something caused him to forget a large chunk of his past. This question was never answered. The author introduced Biter's sister later in the plot, and she added a little bit of information and humor. Her views on knighthood were often quite different from her brother. However, she had a pessimistic attitude, since she believed she was cursed and would cause the death of Eleanor. Overall, I loved the book and am anxious to read the sequel, whenever it gets written.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Heroes of Olympus #4: House of Hades by Rick Riordan

The House of Hades (The Heroes of Olympus, #4)My name is Annabeth, and Percy and I must somehow battle our way through Tartarus to reach the Doors of Death. This trek seems impossible, since we're surrounded by death and despair. I mean we're literally trying to survive among creatures that have died and been sent to the Underworld. Percy and I have slain quite a few of them in the mortal world, and they'd like nothing more than to get revenge against us down here. The Doors of Death are our only hope to escape back to the lands of the living, but more importantly, we must seal these doors before Gaea gains enough power to unleash her monsters and destroy Olympus. But we can't succeed in our quest unless Jason and our other friends are able to defeat the forces guarding the doors on the mortal side.

I still enjoy these books by Riordan, although there are some aspects of them that become annoying. As I've mentioned in other posts about his books, the characters have frequent dreams that are actually visions from other settings or predictions of the future. The effect of this style is that potential surprises in the plot are lost, since readers already have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen. Also, I have a bit of a problem with books being told from multiple points of view, and a half dozen characters are used this time. That wouldn't be a big problem except that the plot jumps around to different settings too. Together, these techniques create some confusion unless you plan to read the book straight through. However, it was sometimes hard to pick up where I left off when I skipped a day or two of reading, as is the case for most of us. For me, a highlight of the book is Bob. This titan helps Percy and Annabeth navigate Tartarus, but Percy defeated him in the mortal world and took away all of his memories. This creates an ongoing problem where Bob could possibly regain these thoughts and turn against the pair of demigods. Bob turns out to be a dynamic character, although what becomes of him at the end is unclear. There are clues, but I still hold out hope. You must first read the previous books in the series if you really want to enjoy this one.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike

The Secret of KaMy name is Sara, and who knew a trip to Turkey would throw my life into turmoil? I guess I have some royal blood inside me that allows me to control an ancient flying carpet! Amesh and I found temples containing Djinn, but he did not fully understand the laws of wish-making. I fear he has made a third wish, so he's now being strongly influenced by an evil Djinn. A Djinn queen named Lova must now follow my orders, but she will quickly become my master if I say the wrong thing. I must be very careful if I hope to have any chance of freeing Amesh. However, I've recently discovered powerful people in my father's company hired thugs to cut off Amesh's arm, and those same men have now attacked me. I don't think there's any way my father can be involved, but how can I be sure?

I was expecting a traditional story about genies and wish-making, but this book became much more. Sara is taken to an island of Djinn where she becomes a key figure in an age-long war. She gets information about the history of the war and rules of wishes by communicating with a voice through the carpet. It's not until later in the book that we learn whose voice has been talking to her. In addition to her shaky battles for control with the Djinn, Sara's problems are complicated by a huge change in Amesh's character. He's obsessed with revenge for his injured arm, so he's blinded to the consequences of his choices. Sara still cares about him, but he's not exactly working with her anymore. Sara's relationship with Lova is the most interesting part of the plot. Lova grants wishes with the hope she'll eventually be able to enslave her "master" after the third wish. Sara is well aware of this and learns to phrase her comments very carefully. She uses commands to control her Djinn at times and seems to know the rules of wishes better than Lova. They form a very strange team of characters. There are surprising twists to the plot, and secrets are revealed as the book nears its climax. Overall, I think you'll love this book if you don't have a big problem with genies.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Olympians #4: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #4)My name is Annabeth, and Kronos's armies are trying to find a way to attack Camp Half-Blood using Daedalus's Labyrinth. Most people would get lost and die in the magical maze, but Luke thinks he can make the creator guide him through it using Ariadne's string. Percy thinks we need to kill Luke, but I know there is still some good inside him. I can't believe Luke is totally under Kronos's power, but I admit he's done some horrible things. He has a special hatred for Percy and has sent his minions to capture, or kill, him more than once. We've met up with Nico, and we aren't sure what he's thinking. He still blames Percy for Bianca's death and is being influenced by a ghost from the underworld. Nico has no idea the danger he will be in if Kronos or Luke realize he's a son of Hades. With Grover lost in the Labyrinth looking for Pan, I don't know how our quest to find Daedalus first can succeed. 

I've recently been reading many of Riordan's books from different series, and I feel like my reactions to them are very similar. The characters and cultures change, but the conflicts between the gods remain the same. Percy is still trying to figure out his relationship with Annabeth, but the issues with Luke complicate the problem. In addition, Nico has been motivated by his anger toward Percy, so Percy isn't sure how to deal with him. He wants to trust Nico, but his companions don't always feel the same way. This book adds an ecological twist with Grover's search for Pan and presents a commentary on our society. Grover and the other characters conclude we must all join together in order to save nature. This book continues the overall conflict in the series where Kronos is plotting to return and overthrow Olympus. You almost need to read the next book, The Last Olympian, to discover how it all turns out. Hint... if you've read Riordan's other series, it's highly likely that Percy and his friends will prevail!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Lockwood & Co. #5: The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

The Empty Grave (Lockwood & Co. #5)My name is Lockwood, and the Fittes Agency is slowly eliminating all the other ghost-hunting businesses in London. Penelope Fittes and her cronies are watching my team closely, waiting to pounce on us to take over. Marissa Fittes founded her agency before dying fifty years ago, but Lucy's skull claims Penelope has the same essence as the "dead" Marissa. I'm now beginning to believe it. We've found Marissa's tomb empty, and George has done further research that is even more disturbing. He thinks she learned how to enter the Other Side and may have started the Problem that unleashed the epidemic of ghosts into the world! But now someone has attacked George and nearly killed him. By someone, I mean the Fittes Agency. Penelope thinks we're weak, but she has no idea what I might do. We're going to strike back and take her down!

You should read the whole series to fully appreciate what's going on. The early books focused more on ghost-hunting, while the conflicts in the last two books have morphed into a battle with the Fittes Agency. The books are descriptive and well-written, and the author is able to evoke a myriad of strong feelings. The ghostly encounters are eerie, and Lockwood's team develops great annoyance and anger toward the Fittes Agency, especially after the attack on George. I was able to experience the team's dangerous trek through the Other Side with its frigid, silent, creepy threats. Lucy's interactions with the skull are highlights in the story, although she's the only person who can hear the level 3 spirit. The skull is confined to a jar, but it doesn't hesitate to make annoying comments about events or other characters. It always thinks it would be best to kill or dismember various characters. Lockwood and George were once concerned about Lucy's relationship with the skull, however they are now starting to actually think of it as a contributing member of the team. The climax of the series involves more human versus human fighting than usual, but the skull finally gets a bigger role too. I would have liked to have seen the problem found on the Other Side resolved during this book, but that happens sometime in the future. It would have been nice to see the spirits finally achieve peace. Overall, I can highly recommend this whole series!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Olympian's #3: The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #3)My name is Percy Jackson, and Annabeth was kidnapped while we were rescuing Bianca and her brother. Artemis convinced Bianca to join the Hunters, but now both of them have disappeared too. A mysterious "General" wants to keep Artemis from attending the annual council meeting on Olympus in order to give the Titans more time to gain power. Of  course, there's always a prophecy involved, and it says two of the quest members will be lost, one killed by a parent. Zoe, the acting leader of the Hunters, doesn't want any men going on the quest, but there's no way I'm not going to help save Annabeth. She's very special to me even though I know Artemis is the priority. An unknown monster awaits us, and time is running out. How do I always find myself in the middle of world-saving quests where I'll probably be killed?

I've read books in Riordan's other series, so it's interesting to read about characters when they first enter the discussion (i.e. Bianca and Nico). Percy's character is still uncertain of his abilities, but his feelings (love) for Annabeth are becoming clearer. Percy's magical sword called Riptide is a formidable weapon, and he has great loyalty for his friends. However, the gods have told him that this loyalty is his greatest weakness, and a prophecy from earlier in the series hints that he may overthrow Olympus. The Hunters do not see much value in men, and they have all sworn to dismiss any feelings they might have toward them. Zoe exemplifies these thoughts and won't let Percy forget them. The books in the series can be read much more quickly than books in the spin-off series, but they have the same characteristics. You can expect adventure and action, and moody gods with secret agendas. The gods tend to stay out of mortal business most of the time, but then they'll surprise you and do something to influence events. You should enjoy reading The Titan's Curse, and I recommend you try the spin-off series featuring Egyptian, Roman, and Norse mythology.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Magisterium #4: The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Silver Mask (Magisterium #4)My name is Tamara, and I've helped Call escape from the mage prison. I don't believe he's being controlled by the soul of Constantine Madden or that he's the Enemy of Death. However, Anastasia tricked me and now Call is being held prisoner by Master Joseph in Constantine's old fortress. I was stunned to see Alex walk into the room; he's the one who murdered Aaron and stole his Makar powers. Constantine was experimenting with bringing the dead back to life, and Master Joseph now believes Call will finally succeed. I can tell Alex thinks he should be the lone master of chaos and is jealous of Call getting all the attention. Call doesn't want to help Master Joseph, but I can tell he misses his best friend Aaron. He's not the Enemy of Death and can't bring Aaron back to life. What should I do if I'm wrong?

You really should read the whole series to fully appreciate what's going on. The books aren't that long and should hold your interest. It looks like The Silver Mask is the conclusion to the series, although it left me with a couple of questions. What happened to Constantine's soul? Why did the epilogue talk about Alex if this is the end of the series? This book addressed many of Call's conflicting emotions, and they controlled most of the plot. Should he try to bring his best friend back to life even though it might help the followers of chaos? Should he try to control chaos magic? Does Tamara really like him even though Aaron was the more charismatic Makar? Where can he go, since the Magisterium leaders think he's a criminal? It was easy to empathize with Call, as he tried make difficult decisions. He always wanted to do the right thing, but his choices managed to hurt the people he cared for. His decisions concerning Aaron dealt with the concept of death and how people handle it. Overall, I recommend you read the series; you won't regret it!

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #3: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #3)My name is Magnus, and my friends and I must stop Loki from starting Ragnorak and destroying the world. We're sailing across the seas in an obnoxiously yellow ship, and we've managed to survive a battle with giants and retrieved the whetstone after killing Hearth's father. I have no idea how the whetstone will help stop Loki, but I know everything hinges on winning a flyting against him. Loki is a trickster, and no one has ever defeated him in the contest of insults. We first need to get past the guardians of Kvasir's Mead, and find Loki on the Ship of the Dead, and survive the other monsters and gods that are sure to pop up. The gods and goddesses are moody and hold grudges, so I'm never sure when I might anger them. Oh well, it won't really matter if we all die during Ragnorak.

If you've read other books by Riordan, you'll know how amazing it is that we've managed to survive all the disasters planned by Norse, Greek, and Roman gods and goddesses. This series is a bit different from Riordan's other series in that Magnus's close friends are more unique; an elf, a dwarf, a berzerker, and a sword. That's right, Magnus's sword called Jack is an emotional, talking romantic. In addition, Hearth is deaf, and all of his comments are in italicized sign language. Sam is observing Ramadan, so she is fasting during the adventure. Alex's character wakes up each morning as a boy or girl; you're never quite sure until she/he starts talking. Magnus has feelings for Alex, but he doesn't know how to act toward him/her. As usual, the plot blends action, mystery, and humor to create a very entertaining story. Each step of the journey is sure to end with a fight or some type of trickery. The flyting made me very curious to get to the climax. After all the godly intervention and fighting, the defeat of Loki would come down to a battle of insults? It was either going to be very interesting or a huge letdown. Actually, it was well done and fit Magnus's character.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Liesel & Po by Lauren Oliver

Liesl & PoMy name is Will, and I am useless and pathetic. At least, that's all the alchemist ever calls me. He sends me on errands in the middle of the night, and the only positive part is when I pass the window of the girl in the attic. I imagine she'd be my friend if we ever met. One night, I mixed up the delivery of a box to the Lady Premiere, a huge mistake! I guess I gave her someone's cremated ashes instead of the most powerful magic ever seen. Oops! I barely escaped the alchemist's clutches and quickly hopped a train out of town. I kind of devised a plan during the following hours, but they quickly changed during a stop when I saw the girl from the attic walking outside the window! I finally met Liesl a few hours later, but I wasn't prepared for her ghostly friends. However, I didn't know it at the time, but Po and Bundle soon became the keys to saving our lives!

This book is one of those where seemingly separate series of events all come together in the end. Liesl's sole focus is on returning her father's ashes to the pond where her mother is buried. Will's focus is on staying alive and helping Liesl. The alchemist's focus is on pleasing the Lady Premiere by giving her the magic to raise spirits of the dead. Other random minor characters get mixed up in the events but become important in the unified resolution of the issues. Liesl maintains an innocence throughout the plot, as she's motivated by love. She tries to teach Po about friendship, things he's forgotten since his death. Po doesn't understand emotions but quickly trusts Liesl and wants to help her. His ability to travel between the living and the Other Side is important in helping Liesl. It's interesting that the author makes the ghosts' identities less defined. Po isn't a boy or girl, and Bundle isn't a dog or cat. This adds to the endearing confusion of these spirits. Overall, I enjoyed the story more than I expected and can recommend it to average-level middle grade readers.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

5-Minute Adventure Stories for Minecrafters: Extreme Stories From the Extreme Hills by Greyson Mann

5 Minute Adventure Stories for Minecrafters: Extreme Stories from the Extreme HillsMy name is Sophia, and my adventures with Zack and Anthony have gotten exciting and dangerous. I
was lucky to have milk or Zack might have died from the bite of a cave spider. Anthony slipped and almost burned up in molten lava. Okay, we've found a huge diamond, some gold, and treasure chests, but we've also suffered from starvation, zombies, and more spiders! Every time we saw a spawn, something terrible popped out of it. Its been wonderful exploring with Zack and Anthony, but I hope we'll be able to survive the skeletons and Endermen and escape this world. And then start our next adventure!

I received an advance copy from the publisher, and its appropriate for readers younger than the target audience for my blog. As the title suggests, the book was made up of short stories that could be read very quickly. I've never played Minecraft, and I'm guessing it would have helped me understand some of the terms used. I didn't know what creepers, spawns, and mobs were, but I started to figure them out after awhile. The characters faced deadly spiders, zombies, lava, and bats, as they searched for treasures in the mountains and caves. The bats weren't that bad except to Zack, who was deathly afraid of them. The boys seemed to be more obsessed with treasure hunting, while Sophia was more concerned with keeping all of them alive. She seemed braver and more level-headed than the boys. Her remedies were healthy, as she helped her pals with milk and vegetables. While the plots were appropriate for younger readers, the battles with spiders and zombies offered a taste of more mature reading. There was nothing bad about the stories, but slaying zombies or spiders weren't the most innocent things characters could do. This book will be great for lovers of Minecraft and adventure stories for young readers. I'm thinking of using it with some primary students I'll be tutoring.

Lockwood & Co. #4: The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud

The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co., #4)My name is Lucy, and I came to Lockwood for help after having assisted him with the capture of the ghost of a nasty, cannibalistic murderer. The Sources of ghosts are supposed to be destroyed, but I suspected some of them weren't being burned properly. I was certain after the talking skull, a level 3 spirit, was stolen from my apartment. I know the skull is annoying, insulting, and moody, but I need him. No one in England can Listen as well as me, but hearing the spirits can still put me in dangerous situations. The skull has saved me more than once, and he's helped me locate Sources. Now he's gone. Someone is buying up the most powerful Sources around, but I don't know why. So now I'm with Lockwood, George, and Holly again to solve the mystery. What we found out will shock you!

The books in this series make awesome reads for the Halloween season! If you haven't read any of them, what are you waiting for?! The author is able to create very eerie descriptions of the characters' encounters with ghosts. He does this through soft noises, shadowy images, dropping temperatures, and the characters' spooky feelings. It helps that these events happen at night, in dark places, and the ghost-touch is deadly. Lucy is able to hear the movements and voices of ghosts which adds to the creepiness. Lucy left the company in the third book, so working with the other characters again creates awkward situations. The fact that Sources are not being destroyed properly is a wonderful twist to the series, but the Creeping Shadow doesn't enter the plot until later in the book. The two issues eventually come together in a small, remote town called Aldbury Castle to create a very interesting problem. Lockwood has  been at odds with the two largest ghost-hunting agencies in London, and stunning secrets are revealed about them when Lockwood and Co. rid the town of its ghost problem. Actually, the Problem is what the characters call the outbreak of ghosts that began about fifty years earlier. A surprise is revealed in the last chapter, although I had some suspicions about it already. Again, you need to read this series if you haven't tried it yet.

The Heroes of Olympus #3: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

The Mark of Athena (The Heroes of Olympus, #3)My name is Percy Jackson, and Greek and Roman demigods must join a god to stop Gaea from destroying the world. Gaea can see into the future and has deadly mythological beasts waiting to ambush us at every turn, and who knows if any god will actually be willing to help us in our quest? Also, the Romans think we attacked Camp Jupiter, so they're hunting us down and are moving to attack Camp Half-Blood. Even though our group of seven demigods have joined to complete the quest, we are having problems. I've gotten used to being a leader in the past, so I'm not sure how to behave as an equal part of a team. Also, a vision shows me drowning in a pool of water, but how is that possible? A son of Poseidon can't drown. Our team has been forced to separate, and some of worst fears must be faced. The survival of Earth is doomed if we can't overcome them.

It would help to read the previous books in the series, but it's not necessary to enjoy this one. There's a continuous problem to stop Gaea, but each book has its own quest and can stand alone. The Mark of Athena continues the same format of adventure and humor found in Riordan's other books. The characters have interesting twists, as many of them are dealing with their own internal issues. Leo is feeling like a seventh wheel and discovers a hidden connection to another character. Annabeth must perform part of the quest alone, so Percy finds it difficult to let her go. Percy has doubts about his own abilities and questions whether he will be able to sacrifice loyalties in order to save the world. Riordan describes many visions and foreshadowing through characters' dreams, so readers will have a good idea of what to expect in every chapter. On the other hand, it feels like unexpected twists and surprises are lost, since you've already been told about upcoming events. You'll like this book if you've enjoyed any of the author's other books.

House of Secrets #3: Clash of the Worlds by Chris Columbus, Ned Vizzini, and Chris Rylander

Clash of the Worlds (House of Secrets, #3)My name is Brendan, and the Wind Witch has opened a portal to Krystoff's books. The creatures from his imagination will soon invade our world if my sisters and I can't stop the witch, our great grandmother. Once again, the house has dropped us inside Krystoff's creative mind, but this time all of his books have come together as one. We've faced dinosaurs, Nazi soldiers, robots, and blue aliens, but we must still collect three artifacts hidden within the novels to close the portal forever. Unfortunately, this is forcing Cordelia, Eleanor, and I to separate in three directions. Things never work out well when we're apart. I've hooked up with an annoying alien who thinks he knows everything (which he does), but I now find myself trapped by a mummy in a pharaoh's tomb. I hope the girls are having better luck, but I fear their troubles may be even worse than mine.

You should read the previous books in the series first, as this one concludes the trilogy. Clash of the Worlds has a focused quest for the siblings to complete but requires them to separate and travel to different settings. This results in the plot jumping to three different locations and becomes annoying at times. Some of the chapters are fairly short before skipping to a different plot and this makes the book tricky to follow, especially if you don't read it every day. The Wind Witch is still the main antagonist, and she has developed a connection to Cordelia, the oldest sibling. Cordelia is usually the most mature and knowledgeable character, but she's forced to take a backseat to her brother and sister. The witch can see through Cordelia's eyes, so this makes the siblings' planning trickier. The witch also has many hidden allies in the book worlds, so you need to be suspicious of every character the kids meet. Consequently, you can expect surprises, as Brendan and his sisters complete their quests to find the artifacts. The plot builds to a dramatic battle in the climax, so you'll enjoy this excitement. As allies become enemies and enemies become allies, you'll enjoy the conclusion to this three-book adventure!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

House of Secrets #2: Battle of the Beasts by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

Battle of the Beasts (House of Secrets, #2)My name is Eleanor, and I should have made a better wish to get rid of Dahlia forever. Once again, Kristoff House has deposited us into another book, actually a combination of three different books, and the Wind Witch is still tormenting us. We're stuck in ancient Rome where Nazi robot soldiers have attacked the emperor's citizens. Brendan is enjoying his new post as the emperor's general, and he actually wants to stay in this world! It looks like we may also be stuck here after I destroyed The Book of Doom and Despair. However, there may be a way for us to return to San Francisco. We now find ourselves in the frigid, snowy German mountains with peaceful monks, surrounded by ferocious frost beasts. We'll probably be killed if we fight the monsters, but we'll be sacrificed to them if we don't. Fighting may be worth the risk, because the monks believe we may find the Door of Ways inside the beasts' cave and will be able to return home.

You should probably read the first book in the series before this one. It establishes the ground rules for the books and describes the ongoing conflict with Kristoff and his daughter. The most intriguing aspect of Battle of Beasts is the mixture of characters from different Kristoff books. We have the three kids and a WW I pilot from the first book joining a Roman gladiator to fight monsters, robot Nazis, and the Roman soldiers. The setting is a mixture of two Kristoff books, but the kids aren't sure about the third one. This third book offers the unexpected possibilities. The authors adds some tweaks to the characters. Cordelia had a crush on Will, the WW I pilot, in book one, but the Roman gladiator complicates things. Brendan's insecurities make it easy for him to be influenced by his new-found fame in ancient Rome. Predictably, the fame does not grow in the ways he expected, so a new conflict is created. Eleanor is the youngest sibling, but she takes a leading role in saving the day. She's the one responsible for using the magic book this time, although it's destruction complicates matters. A diary from Kristoff's wife is found, but the author doesn't reveal its contents until near the end. The secret was very unexpected, but its impact remains to be seen.

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

The WonderlingMy name is Arthur, and I was a one-eared fox groundling at Ms. Carbunkle's orphanage. I won't describe the terror I felt around her or try to explain the strange widgets she forced us to make. My friend Trinket talked me into escaping, and I now find myself alone in Lumentown with my new friend Quintus. He's the only one other than Trinket who knows about my sensitive hearing. He's taught me how to become a thief, but I don't want to take things that don't belong to me. However, while inside a woman's home, I've discovered a terrible secret about Ms. Carbunkle's plans. I know she hates music, but she wants to eliminate it everywhere. I came to Lumentown to learn about my past, but I must do something to save all of the beautiful sounds in the world.

I enjoyed the overall book, although the early part left me wondering where it was headed. It was clear the widgets were a very important part of the plot, but few clues were given about their purpose until Arthur came to LumentownThe author was able to effectively describe the loneliness and despair of the orphans, as they had no freedom, no hope, and were discouraged from developing any friendships.  Arthur's character was the shining star in the book. I developed a sympathy for him when I read about his isolation, punishment, and bullying. Despite all the negativity in his life, he kept a positive attitude. Admittedly, fear of the unknown made him reluctant to escape the orphanage, but he kept his virtuous personality once he left. He was honest and pure and I feared for his innocence. It was clear that Quintus was trying to corrupt him (it was a matter of survival), but Arthur refused to use his thieving skills against other people. Arthur's bravery and moral compass led him to a dramatic conclusion back in the orphanage. I recommend The Wonderling to lovers of adventure and animal characters. The conclusion is most enjoyable!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Gravedigger's Son by Patrick Moody

The Gravedigger's SonMy name is Ian, and I want to be a Healer, not a Digger. My ancestors have answered the Call for centuries and have helped restless souls move to the Great Beyond. I didn't think I had the ability until Fiona urged me to give new life to Thatcher's skeleton. We then followed the Pumpkin Trail into the forbidden forest, and an old woman said she needed my blood to complete a terrible spell. Now, I've learned this Weaver is my grandmother and wants revenge against my family for losing her daughter, my mother. She wants to open the rift between the Void and the Netherworld, returning the dead into the living world. My father is away, and I'm not even a real Digger, so what can I do to stop her? The portals have already started to open, and thousands of corpses are rising from their graves. The power of Diggers doesn't seem to stop my grandmother, but I can't let her destroy the world!

I always love when I come across a book that turns out to be a gem. I really liked how the grandmother's spell kept getting stronger, and Ian's attempts to stop her failed. These events caused the tension to grow, and the situation became desperate. As a reader, I expected a surprise to arise that would resolve the conflict, and the author presented it. However, that idea didn't work either, so I was back to wondering if the problem could be solved! A constant conflict within Ian was between his dream to be a Healer and the expectations of his family's legacy. As it turns out, this conflict became very important in saving the world. The supporting characters provided interesting aspects to the plot. Although Fiona was there to support Ian, it started to feel like she was the one getting him into deeper trouble. Thatcher added a humorous twist as a living skeleton who was once a mischievous young boy. He also offered a period of compassion, as Ian needed to support him during his journey to the Great Beyond. With Halloween fast approaching, this book will make an outstanding addition to bookshelves. A wonderful blend of dynamic characters, adventure, and suspense!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Heroes of Olympus #2: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

The Son of Neptune (The Heroes of Olympus, #2)My name is Percy Jackson, and you probably know more about my life than I do. I know I'm a demigod, but I don't remember much about my life before Camp Jupiter. I know Annabeth is searching for me, but memories of her are getting fuzzy. The Roman demigods in the camp have accepted me even though a couple of their gods have taken an interest in me. The camp is going to be attacked in four days by an army of monsters, and a son of Gaea will be leading them. Mars has given Frank, Hazel, and I a quest to free Thanatos, the god of death, since recently slain creatures are not staying dead. All we have to do is travel to Alaska, beyond the protection and help of our gods, and locate an island that no one can find. Then, we must free Thanatos and Camp Jupiter's eagle to save our friends from the attacking army. Easy peasy, right?! 

The format of this book is very similar to other books written by Rick Riordan. This one deals with Roman mythology and has the adventure, action, and humor found in his other series. Percy's amnesia allows readers to remember his past deeds with Annabeth and Grover and to understand the dreams he's having. It's not a big deal if you haven't read about Percy before; you'll just miss those references to his past. Added twists to the plot and characters can be found in the secrets held by Frank and Hazel. Frank carries a piece of burned wood, and a prophecy has foretold that he will die when it burns away completely. Hazel was once dead, and has a connection to the earth's valuable ores. However, gems pop up near her at times, and they'll kill others if they're touched. An unexpected description of the Roman and Greek gods is that the two cultures simply have different names for the same "person". I always thought the gods were different in the two cultures, and I don't know if the author's interpretation is correct. It makes Percy's transition between cultures very easy though. 

Monstrous Maud #1: Big Fright by A.B. Saddlewick

Big Fright (Monstrous Maud #1)My name is Maud, and I was expelled from boring and stuffy Primrose Towers and sent to my new school in the middle of the woods. The bus ride was a little strange, but I didn't realize how different Rotwood was from my old school until I got to my classroom. Wilf is covered with hair, Isabel is invisible, and the teacher's son is a vampire! Mr. Von Bat says he's going to send me back to Primrose, because I don't have any monster powers. The other kids don't know my secret, and Mr. Von Bat will let me stay if I can scare him by the end of the week. He says you can use people's weaknesses to scare them, but I don't think he has one. It may sound strange, but I feel like I fit in here and don't want to leave. I've tried everything I can think of; how do you scare a fearless vampire?

This book tells a cute story where the expectations are flip-flopped and will appeal to younger readers. Maud sits among creepy monsters, but she is able to frighten them with innocent things like a toy doll and a tutu. Her secret life as a human creates a conflict that continues throughout the plot, but another character's secret is the key to solving her big problem. The school includes a bully, although I'm sure you've read about much worse. Maud's sister is a pain and creates more problems for here. Milly is favored by the parents and school, but it's admirable that Maud is comfortable with herself. She doesn't show much jealousy and doesn't get too upset with her sibling. Despite all the monster characters, young readers should be able to appreciate Maud's good heart and personality.

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically MindedMy name is Chantel, and Miss Ellicott and all the other sorceresses who control the wall protecting Lightning Pass have been taken away. Anna, Bowser, and I met a young Marauder named Franklin who has told us strange things about our home city. It seems our rulers charge heavy tolls to people outside the walls wanting to use the nearby roads and port. We thought the Marauders kidnapped the sorceresses for ransom, but we have now discovered they're not to blame. We've met our king and question his motives. I didn't understand why Miss Ellicott seemed to take a special interest in me until I spoke to His Highness. It all comes down to my familiar, a snake. It was strange when it entered my head, but it was more shocking when it came back out. My familiar's real name is Lightning, and he is the most powerful dragon ever!

This book is a finalist for the 2017 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. Be forewarned that the first part of the plot is slow-moving. The interest level picks up after Miss Ellicott disappears and the kids find themselves outside the wall. The snake character was a little confusing early on, as it was very independent of Chantel, coming and going as it pleased. Once it entered Chantel's head, I expected it to communicate with her, but she was only able to sense its emotions and restlessness. I expected more from the character and got it after it became the dragon. I found out it was learning about Chantel while inside her head. Chantel was able to control the dragon, but there was an interesting twist to their relationship. The dragon wouldn't do anything that Chantel wouldn't do herself. For example, the dragon would not kill other villagers. Another element to the book involved the role of women in this culture. They were expected to be submissive and obedient to the men. Chantel was chastised for questioning the men in power, and the female adult characters even gave her a hard time for not being proper. Despite these expectations, Chantel challenged unfair decisions and tried to determine which people were looking out for the city's best interests. Overall, the plot started off slow, but it was well worth the wait in the end. I enjoyed the book very much.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Kane Chronicles #2: The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

The Throne of Fire (Kane Chronicles, #2)My name is Carter, and my sister Sadie and I must find and free the Egyptian god Ra or the world will be destroyed! Hmmm... you don't seem surprised by this news. Unfortunately, other magicians from the House of Life are trying to stop us from finding the three parts of the Book of Ra that we need to free the god. Desjardin is supposed to be leading the House of Life, but Vlad Menshikov seems to be influencing him. During a trip with my ba, I discovered Vlad wants to free Apophis and bring Chaos back into the world. I must help Sadie in our quest, but I'm torn and want to rescue Zia. I kind of developed a crush on her shabti, and Sadie would say I've now become obsessed with saving her mortal body. I know we only have two days left to free Ra and rescuing Zia is probably a trap, but I have a sense that saving her is important to completing our quest. And if the mortal Zia ends up loving me too, all the better.

This series of Riordan books is based on Egyptian mythology with a tiny bit of Roman mixed in. The format is very similar to his other books with kids inheriting powers from their ancestors, dealing with godly affairs, with a good dose of adventure and humor thrown in. The story is told through the eyes of Carter and Sadie, and their brother/sister banter is entertaining. Carter is usually the level-headed one, but he lets his heart and emotions guide some decisions in this book. Sadie becomes the sibling more focused on the mission, although her emotions become complicated too. Walt reveals a secret that is a matter of life and death, literally. Carter and Sadie's characters are further complicated by their past connections with the gods Horus and Isis. The gods still occasionally speak to the siblings in their minds, and other characters question their motives and try to stop them. Bes is a dwarf god, and he provides a major comedic element. Without going into great detail, let me just say his major power is being ugly. I'm serious; he uses ugly and a Speedo swimsuit as his weapon. It might help to read The Red Pyramid first, but I don't think it's necessary to enjoy The Throne of Fire on its own. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Century #1: Ring of Fire by P.D. Baccalario

Ring of Fire (Century, #1)My name is Elettra, and three new friends and I have been thrown into a dangerous mystery. We knew something was strange due to our February 29th birthdays, and then a professor gave me his briefcase, minutes before he was murdered. He said, "It's begun", but I had no idea what that meant. The briefcase contained a scratched up box, a checkered umbrella, and four little tops. We're following the clues we find, but the murderer is hunting for us. The man's violin can put people to sleep, and he used the bow to slit the professor's throat. I wonder if my effect on lights and computers may have something to do with all this, but I hope even more that we'll survive to find the answers.

As you might have gathered, this book reads like a mystery, as the kids follow the clues found in the suitcase. The clues weren't clearly understood, and the threat of the assassin amped up the conflict. Elettra had a confusing ability that exploded a lamp and ruined mirrors, but it affected a couple of other characters when she touched them. I expected the other kids in the group to have special abilities too, but they weren't able to do anything on her own. My biggest problem with the book was the lack of clarity concerning the Ring of Fire. Everything in the book led to the kids finding it, but they never fully knew what was going on. The kids weren't quite sure what the Ring of Fire did even after Elettra activated it. Also, I'm not sure why the adults were kept in the background and weren't allowed to help the kids. It's frustrating to finish a book and still not understand what happened, unless you consider the last two pages of the book enough explanation, which I don't. The book left too many questions for me. Nevertheless, the mystery, adventure, and action were entertaining, and the series has potential. It continues with Star of Stone, but I'm not sure if I will read it.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander

A Properly Unhaunted PlaceMy name is Rosa, and I'm so ticked at my mom for bringing us to this small town of Ingot. She's the best appeasement specialist in the world, but this town is probably the only one without a single ghost! It's BORING here! That is until the huge mountain lion with the antlered deer skull charged down from the forest. Something possessed it and later controlled the giant tree that stole my mom's voice; it took all of the words she's ever known. Something is hidden up in the woods above town, but everyone here is afraid to go up there. Heck, they've all forgotten anything ever happened or don't think it's a big deal. I've followed the road up here until it reached a dead end. Banishment is never a good idea, and what I've found here may kill everyone in the valley once it breaks!

This book is a finalist for the 2017 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. The strangeness of the conflict is what attracted me to this book. The young appeaser is really pissed that there aren't any ghosts in this town. Rosa quickly discovers the big problem may be the townspeople have forgotten anything happened. Her character is very easy to relate to, since her appeasement methods use everyday materials. She uses salt, circles, and fire to keep the spirits away, but the big conflict is caused by someone else's banishment of the town's ghosts. A simple circle of copper wire has great power. Rosa is forced to take the lead in solving the problem, but it seems that she gained a lot of experience while working with her inept, deceased father. Much of Rosa's anger is connected to her father's death, although we don't know what happened to him until later in the plot. Rosa is obsessed with fighting ghosts the right way, and treating them with respect is a priority. However, the tension is jacked up when the banishment creates a figurative bomb that's about ready to blow up. The characters aren't overly developed, the plot isn't overly descriptive and intriguing, but I really enjoyed the book over all. It's a pretty quick read and should appeal to lovers of simple ghost stories with a twist. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Monsterland by James Crowley

MonsterlandMy name is Charlie. I should have done more when Billy disappeared underwater, and he's been gone for over a year. However, I could have sworn I saw him on Halloween, and I followed the vampire costume into the graveyard. I was surprised to discover it was actually the Prime Minister of Vampyreishtat, or Monsterland, and this place is where monsters were sent after World War II. The Prime Minister thinks Billy might be found in uncharted regions of this world, where horrific monsters roam wild. Franklin Prometheus reluctantly agreed to go with me, and he's already saved my life more than once. He's on a peace-keeping mission to avert a brewing war between the kingdoms of rival siblings. Franklin keeps saying he should take me back before it gets too dangerous, and I'm not ready to admit that he might be right. I must find Billy, and ogres, witches, mummies, werewolves, and war won't stop me.

At first glance, this book appeared to be a cutesy story about monsters, but it became more than that. I mean, a boy and his dog were lost in a strange world with many of the traditional eerie creatures like vampires, werewolves, and ogres. However, the dangers and attacks were a step up from cute, and there were serious conflicts going on in this world. The wild region was teeming with thieves and kidnappers looking to score large ransoms. Charlie's character was the main focus of the plot, but Franklin was the star. He was based on the Frankenstein monster, but he was much more graceful and intelligent than you would expect. He had the familiar size, strength, and stitches, but he had the honor, courage, and compassion of his former Ranger status. In many ways, I found myself comparing him to Halt in the Ranger's Apprentice series. Despite coming to Charlie's rescue on numerous occasions, Franklin had his own personal demons. He would go off alone to pray or roar out his rage as a way to soothe his soul. This book could probably stand alone, but it seems like a sequel might be on the way.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Dark Gravity Sequence #3: The Rogue World by Matthew J. Kirby

The Rogue World (Dark Gravity Sequence, #3)My name is Uncle Jack, and I've been thrown into a world of Concentrators, ley lines, aliens, and being hunted by the G.E.T. My niece Eleanor and I have a connection to the Concentrators that are sucking energy from Earth, and she has already shut down three of them. We headed to the Himalayas to shut down the main Concentrator that will hopefully end this new ice age, but Watkins, leader of the G.E.T., took us prisoner and said an alien ship has landed at Stonehenge. I don't trust Watkins after all he's done, but he teamed up with Eleanor to shut down the Himalayan Concentrator. Eleanor doesn't trust him either, but she believes we need Watkins to stop the intelligence in that alien ship. However, on our way to Stonehenge, Watkins learned he'd been fired by the G.E.T. right before we were shot down by fighter jets! My cracked ribs are hurting something fierce, but there's no way I'll let my niece finish this mission without me.

This book concludes the trilogy, and you need to read the first two books. The characters travels to mysterious locations on Earth make this an entertaining adventure. The series lands in Incan ruins, the Himalayas, the pyramids of Egypt, and Stonehenge. The least exotic setting was found in frozen Alaska in book one. Each book has its own antagonist, but we always learn there is someone above them. Different leaders run the G.E.T., and then we learn someone else is controlling it. In the end, the rogue planet is the key to everything. An unusual thing about Eleanor's character is her ability to display empathy and understanding for others, even her enemies. All of the main characters rightfully hate Watkins for his decisions and Preservation Protocol, but Eleanor can see that he truly wants to save the earth. She doesn't trust him, but she believes he has good intentions. In the same way, she is able to understand the motivations of others' decisions and us that information to make her own choices. Fittingly, Eleanor's character traits make the climax and resolution of the plot very understandable, although surprising.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Dark Gravity Sequence #2: Island of the Sun by Matthew J. Kirby

Island of the Sun (Dark Gravity Sequence, #2)My name is Eleanor, and the G.E.T. is searching for us all across the planet. I was able to destroy the Concentrator in Alaska and stopped it from sucking away the earth's energy and sending it to a rogue planet. However, we believe there are more Concentrators located around the world that must be shut down. These alien machines have caused another Ice Age that is slowly consuming the earth. The G.E.T. and UN have kept all this information secret from the public, and we're treated like terrorists. We've arrived in South America, but my mother is concerned about my connection to the Concentrators and the rogue planet. I don't understand how, but I'm able to sense, feel, and hear them. The G.E.T. has people everywhere, and they've captured Finn's father and brother. The rest of us are trapped under an island mountain, but we must trust the technology of an ancient culture to escape. How can our small group possibly succeed in saving the planet?

You need to read The Arctic Code before reading this one. It's nice to see the setting move to a warmer climate, as the characters don't need to wear all the heavy clothing from book one. G.E.T. is an energy company that plans to control the Concentrators and selectively decide which humans will survive, the Preservation Protocol. G.E.T. presents a formidable antagonist, and some "innocent" characters are manipulated into helping it. This situation makes readers question the motivations of new characters entering the plot. With fears of climate change in our world, this book creates a reflection of an alternative prediction for our future. It makes you think about treating nature with more respect and wondering if all the cultures in the world can unite to save it. It was clear in book one that Eleanor was different from other characters, and the mystery isn't cleared up in this book. She has a connection to alien technology, but it's not clear why or how. We also learn in this book that there are others in the world with similar connections. This book's resolution separates the protagonists once again, but I assume everyone will be happily reunited in The Rogue World, the last book in the trilogy.