Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Noble Warriors #3: Noman by William Nicholson

Noman (Noble Warriors Trilogy, #3)My name is Seeker, and I have one last task to complete. I must kill the last two savanters and protect the All and Only. I almost killed one, but it released its inner lir before the mortal body died. I have heard the last savanter is recruiting thousands of followers by promising them Joy, but he actually plans to achieve immortality by absorbing their lir. I no longer have friends. Wildman is now leading the spiker army, and Morning Star has fallen under Joy Boy's spell; she once was my best friend. Many people along the way have pleaded with me for help, but I have no time for that now. I once used my immense powers to defeat armies attacking the Nom, but it will be of no use in restoring faith in the All and Only. People are searching for a god to lead them out of despair, but their desperation may lead them to death.

This book is the conclusion of a trilogy, and you must read the previous two books first. The audience is more for teenagers, as the series involves more spiritual and religious concepts. This third installment especially focused on the abstract ideas surrounding god, so less mature readers might lose interest. Seeker's efforts since the beginning have been to serve the All and Only. His obsession with his mission and his lack of empathy for others was a little disconcerting when compared to his character in book one. I was especially bothered by the ease with which Joy Boy was able to manipulate the minds of others. My concerned reactions are a testament to the author, since effective writing should touch the emotions of readers. This series is more thought-provoking than books I normally read, and it's probably more than middle-grade readers want. I can't recommend the series for these readers, but teens may enjoy it. Readers with strong religious faiths might find the subject matter bothersome.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Unwanteds Quest: Dragon Captives by Lisa McMann

Dragon Captives (The Unwanteds Quests, #1)My name is Thisbe, and my twin sister and I are the most powerful mages in Artime. However, Alex doesn't trust Fifer and I enough to teach us how to properly cast spells. I understand he's upset because we're a little reckless at times, and people are afraid I might lose my temper and kill them. We need to convince Alex that we can do something good with our powers, but our plan will be risky. The dragons need help, so we'll sneak off and save them ourselves. However, we now realize we may be in over our heads. No one in Artime knows where we've gone, and the people of Grimere want to capture us as thieves. We don't know who we can trust, since we've never left Artime. We must reach the castle at the top of the mountain and hope it doesn't put us in more danger. I'm kind of sure we can succeed, but there's also a good chance things will go terribly wrong. As we near the castle, I'm terrified to discover my worst fears are coming true.

This book is the first in a spin-off series, and it might help to read The Unwanteds first. It's not 100% necessary, since this book reviews most of the major events from ten years before. Two-year-old Thisbe and Fifer ended the war in that series by unintentionally displaying their immense powers, and bad things still tend to happen when they get angry. This explains why they still frighten everyone else. They have huge internal conflicts going on in their minds, as they want to do good but don't have the experience to foresee the consequences of their actions. So how can they prove themselves if they're never given the chance or training? Simber was a major character in the original series as a protector of Artime and Alex's confidant, and he continues that role in this book. The giant, flying beast made of stone is key in saving the twins from their imprisonment. Other familiar characters are included to help readers who are adjusting to this spin-off series.

The Land of Stories #6: Worlds Collide by Chris Colfer

Worlds Collide (The Land of Stories #6)My name is Connor, and a portal between the fairy tale world and the Otherworld is about to be opened forever. Unfortunately, my twin sister Alex, a powerful fairy, is being controlled by Morina and other witches, and they're making her do terrible things. Their armies of magical creatures are about to invade New York City, and I don't know if they can be stopped by the Otherworld forces. The Fairy Council has been turned to stone, and all of my allies are scattered throughout the worlds. I hope the armies from my own stories will be able to defeat the witches, but they may be unstoppable with the help of Alex's powers. Alex left a message in my dreams, and she's asked me to kill her before she hurts anyone. I don't want to kill my sister, but there may be no other way to stop her.

You really need to read the rest of the series before reading the finale. The fact that Alex is helping the antagonists in this book is a dramatic twist to the plot and makes the conflict more dramatic. This is the first edition in the series where the setting takes place mostly in the real world. It's a bit strange to see the fantasy characters moving through New York's landmarks and see the United States Marines fighting the witches and their soldiers. As in many books, the bad guys, or gals, seem invincible and have removed their most powerful obstacles. Connor takes the lead in opposing the witches, although other characters take leadership roles too. King Arthur, Froggy, and Mother Goose are in charge of the efforts at different times in the book. The cast of characters can get overwhelming at times with Goldilocks, Captain Hook, Flying Monkeys, Gingerbread soldiers, and dozens of others. The series includes all of the most well-known fairy tale characters. Even Goldilocks and Jack's baby Hero becomes an important part of the story. The overall series is written by Chris Colfer, the Golden Globe-winning actor and best-selling author, and has been very entertaining. Lovers of fantasy and fairy tales won't be disappointed.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Edge of Extinction #2: Code Name Flood by Laura Martin

Code Name Flood (Edge of Extinction, #2)My name is Sky, and my friends and I are trekking through lands full of vicious dinosaurs to deliver a critical message somewhere to the middle of Lake Michigan. We've discovered a lab at the bottom of the lake that is actually breeding more dinosaurs! They say it's necessary to balance nature, and we're beginning to understand their thinking. However, the message I was carrying revealed the Noah's plan to eliminate all dinosaurs using nuclear bombs which will also kill all humans living on the surface! Somehow, he discovered the lab's location and bombed it, killing my best friend Spencer. There may be a way to stop the Noah from destroying the world, but I will need to get past his soldiers to enter his compound. But how can I travel a hundred miles in a day without becoming a meal for thousands of dinosaurs.

This book is the second in the series, but I didn't read the first book yet. I suggest you do, since it would help explain the situation and the layout of the world. It sounded like humans used DNA to bring dinosaurs back from extinction, but the dinosaurs carried a disease killing most of the people on the planet. The surviving humans created compounds in different areas but had little contact with each other. The plot was full of adventure, action, and suspense with the Noah's army searching for Sky and her friends. Dinosaur lovers will enjoy the book, as it blended information into the plot. Chaz was a girl working in the lab before the attack, and she informed Sky's group about the dinosaurs they faced. For science lovers, the whole concept of the conflict stressed the importance of letting the environment keep itself balanced without human interference. Predators and plant-eaters would keep each other's populations in check, and humans could co-exist among them. The author found a way to include "monsters" in his story without inventing new monsters. The book was a fun blend of dinosaurs and modern technology, and I recommend you give it a shot.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting #1 by Joe Ballarini

A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting (Babysitter's Guide to Monsters #1)My name is Kelly, and I've lost a little boy on my first babysitting job. He was taken by one of his nightmare monsters (yeah, I didn't believe in them either), so I called his regular sitter Liz. She's a babysitting, ninja monster hunter! It's all my fault Jacob was taken, but I don't know how to help. Liz keeps telling me to read the handbook, but I know she really thinks I'm a whiny loser. Our search for Jacob leads us to the huge, eighth-grade Halloween party. OMG, Victor's there, and he's looking sooooo cute! Liz and I find a Shadow Monster in the basement, and we rescue another little girl. Monsters don't usually kidnap this many kids at once. What do the monsters want with Jacob and the others? Jacob's last drawing looked like a monster I once saw in my dreams, but that's impossible. And, now? You'll need to read my babysitting handbook to find out the other unbelievable secrets I discovered.

I was expecting a cutesy story of teenage girls watching little kids, however this book describes a fast-paced, adventure. Kelly's character only wants to make money for summer camp, but she feels morally responsible for Jacob. She wants to be a cool eight-grader, but the cool kids at school mock her. The book doesn't provide any super-imaginative ideas, but it's written with a blend of humor, action, and suspense. The conflict even has a 1:00 am deadline, since that's when Jacob's parents will be home. As a parent and former teacher, I wasn't excited with toddlers being terrified, but it was necessary to develop the conflict. I can't think of any part of the plot where it seemed to slow down. The monsters were introduced early, and Kelly spent the rest of the time awkwardly trying to find Jacob. I'm still not totally clear about her abilities and the little voice she hears in her head. The author indicates there's something special about Kelly, but it's never spelled out for readers. Did she just become really brave and resourceful, or is there more to it? Either way, I was pleasantly surprised with this book, and I can easily recommend it to young lovers of monsters.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Noble Warriors Trilogy #2: Jango by William Nicholson

Jango (Noble Warriors Trilogy, #2)My name is Echo, and I must find a Noble Warrior to save our Glimmen. An invading tyrant captured me and has threatened to burn it down if I refuse to marry one of his disgusting sons. I'm forced to travel with the Jahan's army as villages are destroyed and the male peasants are murdered. The Jahan will slaughter everyone in the city of  Radiance if the Radiant Leader refuses to kneel before him. I've heard the Nomana have great power and may be able to stop the Jahan's juggernaut. Unfortunately, the two people I've found say they left the Nomana and are not able to stop an army. However, they say their friend is more powerful than all, so I will find him. He cannot refuse to save my people; the Nomana have sworn to help the less fortunate. I was not prepared for his answer.

You need to read Seeker before reading this book, and the trilogy is probably more appropriate for teens. The main characters aren't kids. The plots jumped around to several settings, which I don't care for, but they all started to come together in the end. I most enjoyed the plot that followed Seeker, since he is the hero of the trilogy. He slowly discovered his hidden abilities but needed to learn what to do with them. Echo was a great character added to the plot, since she had a defiant attitude throughout the book. Her bravery and intelligence helped her stand up to the terrifying Jahan. An interesting twist was how the Jahan didn't restrain Echo, since she knew he'd burn down her forest if she tried to escape. The Jahan's army rode atop Caspians, and all of the other characters were amazed by these creatures. Readers will know something they don't know, since Caspians are actually horses. The trilogy has a spiritual aspect to it, as the Nomana are devoted their god. These characters did quite a bit of self-reflection, as they searched for their inner purposes. This led to unexpected decisions by several main characters and added to the conflicts. Overall, I recommend this series.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Enchanted Forest Chronicles #4: Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Talking to Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #4)My name is Daystar. My mother gave me a sword and sent me into the Enchanted Forest, but she didn't say why. I've since discovered I hold the Sword of the Sleeping King and must find the Dragon King Kabul. I'm now accompanied by a fire-witch named Shiara, but she must learn to control her temper in this forest. Evil wizards are searching for us everywhere, but the sword is able to sense and absorb magic. A dragon says he knows a shortcut to the castle and the Dragon King, but the path has changed. There are invisible barriers and new trees popping up. The trees seem innocent enough, but the dragon says there haven't been any new magical trees in a long time. I still don't know what it all means, but I do know that we must arrive safely to the castle soon, before a war between the dragons and wizards breaks out.

This book was written before the other book in the series, but the introduction says they're all prequels to Talking to Dragons. A helpful hint I had forgotten: remember that Cimorene was pregnant throughout the previous book. We already knew characters like Cimorene, Telemain, and Morwen, so it was strange to read about Daystar and Shiara meeting them for the first time. The magic sword must have been the same one as in earlier books, but it wasn't clear why a peasant boy was wielding it. Why wasn't his mother, a queen in earlier books, living in the castle, and where was her husband King Mendenbar? All of the questions were answered in the last quarter of the book, and all issues appeared to be resolved. Overall, the series was a quick-read and was very enjoyable.

Outlaws of Time #2: The Song of Glory and Ghost by N.D. Wilson

The Song of Glory and Ghost (Outlaws of Time #2)My name is Glory, and we must save Peter's life or everything is lost. Sam may be destined to kill The Vulture, but The Vulture's assassins have gone back in time to kill Peter as a baby. The Ghost said I'm a time-walker and has given me the power to locate Peter, but Sam and his arms will need to protect me. A girl named Samra joined us on our last jump, after her father overpowered and tied our friends, and I'm not sure what we should do about her. I don't really know what I'm doing as a time-walker, and we have less than a day to save Peter. If Peter dies at birth, all of the Father Tiempos in time will disappear, and Sam will also die. Then, there will be nothing left in the world able to stop The Vulture from destroying the world as we know it. 

You need to read The Legend of Sam Miracle before reading this one, or it won't make any sense. Time traveling and alternate realities make the series challenging enough as it is. Honestly, be prepared to think and use your imagination or you'll be lost. The setting jumps to vastly different times and places in history, and sometimes in between. Glory is more of the focal point than she was in book one. She's been advising Sam before this time, but now she is dictating their new missions. This book reveals more about her past. Peter is the main priority, since his death will allow The Vulture to destroy the world. To complicate things, The Vulture is amassing an army of creatures without loyalty; they will become uncontrollable once they're unleashed. Once again, Sam's arms have their own subplots. Cindy, the snake controlling his left arm, only wants to kill, while Speck is the more cooperative snake controlling his right arm. Sam is learning to better deal with their personalities. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Horizon by Scott Westerfield

Horizon (Horizon, #1)My name is Javi, and our plane to Japan has crashed in... I'm not sure where. We were flying over the Arctic, the plane started falling apart, and now we're stranded in the middle of a tropical jungle. You don't find any jungles around the frigid Arctic Circle. Most of the passengers, including all the adults, disappeared before the crash, and this jungle is unnatural. Anna found a strange device that can turn off gravity, but it also seems to attract the shredder birds that attacked me. (I wish I'd come up with that cool name!) Yushi found a source of water, but there are deadly, bizarre creatures lurking in the trees. Where are we? Two of the girls were able to see above the mist blocking the sky and discovered a red moon and green moon among the stars. Are we still on Earth? Is there any way back to our homes, and will we live long enough to find it?

This book was okay. The beginning had a creative hook to pull me in, the middle presented interesting problems, but that's where it ended. It didn't build to a climax, and I felt like the end just stopped. I assume the next book in the series will pick up where this one left off, but this book didn't feel finished. Four of the main characters were members of a winning robot team, so the plot reflects a focus on science. I didn't mind it, but you should be aware. The book was easy to read, but I just felt like the plot wasn't going anywhere. The kids explored and faced some dangers, but they weren't able to figure out what was going on and didn't meet any other intelligent life. By the time they made any significant discoveries, the book was over. I'm sure this book will have an audience, but it didn't work for me.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Trials of Apollo #2: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo, #2)My name is Apollo, and Zeus is punishing me by making me a mortal, teenage boy. The next prophecy in my quest to return to my godly status is to free the oracle in Indianapolis. Commodus has control over it, and he has been imprisoning residents and creatures from the Waystation. The caretakers of the Waystation want me to free their daughter first, and there seems to be a possibility that I'm her father. Honestly, how am I supposed to remember? The girl has lost her mind after being taken to the Oracle, and unfortunately so has my master and friend Meg. Commodus has a nasty temper and blames me for his problems. Maybe I had something to with his death. Okay, I kind of held his head underwater until he drowned, but I saved many lives by doing that. Anyhow, I must rescue his prisoners and stop him from destroying the Waystation. Being a mortal without powers will make it difficult. Heck, I could die!

The fun part of this series is Apollo's "adjustment" to becoming mortal. I'm a little tired of his whining about his old powers and the way things used to be, but its part of his character. Honestly, I'm learning to accept it, and it helps to make his character more endearing. However, I'm not totally sure why the author still allows Apollo to have temporary control over his former powers at critical moments. Why would Zeus allow this? The story is told through Apollo's eyes, which makes sense, but I would like to know more about Meg's thoughts. She has a lot going on in her head after abandoning Apollo, returning to her evil/crazy "father", and learning to master her powers. This book is written similarly to other books by this author, and it looks like Percy Jackson's buddy Grover will be in the sequel. I'm looking forward to it.

Noble Warriors Trilogy #1: Seeker by William Nicholson

Seeker (Noble Warriors Trilogy, #1)My name is Mornng Star, and I've always wanted to be a Nomana like my mother. I care about others and would use the Nomana powers to help the less fortunate. However, I was rejected by the Community and discovered my mother is not here either. What's happened to her? I've met another reject named Seeker, and we've joined the crazy killer Wildman on his boat. Seeker has an idea to get an invitation from the Nomana by performing a great deed they cannot do themselves. He says a secret, powerful bomb is being built in Radiant that will be used to destroy the whole island of Anacrea. I know there is more to Wildman than asking if I want my throat slit, and the green color I see around him tells me he's uncertain. Perhaps there's a slim chance the Nomana will accept him too. 

I must admit the first part of the book didn't grab me. It was establishing background information and setting up the conflicts and subplots, but nothing was overly compelling. It became much more interesting once the characters were rejected and teamed up with Wildman. The teens needed to teach him compassion for others and how to control his urge to hurt those people. The characters had their own stories beyond the Nomana, but they all came together in the end. Seeker wanted to find his brother after he had his mind cleansed and was banished from the island. Morning Star wanted to find her mother, and Wildman wanted power and peace. He just didn't understand how the power needed to be used to help the weak and less fortunate. Morning Star had the ability to see colors surrounding others that allowed her  to sense their emotions and thoughts, while Seeker heard a voice in his mind that drove him to a higher calling. The author introduced many twists and turns to the plot that made the overall book very entertaining.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Skulduggery Pleasant #6: Death Bringer by Derek Landy

Death Bringer (Skulduggery Pleasant, #6)My name is Melancholia, and I am the Death Bringer who will save the world. Of course, I must kill billions of people to begin the Passage, but it will unite the living and dead. Some necromancers think Valkyrie Cane is the one, but I will squash her soon and end those thoughts. I've already beaten her within an inch of her life, but she's now recovered and ready for more. Skulduggery Pleasant is her amusing partner, but I'm going to enjoy tearing the skeleton man apart. The only concern I have is the reported sighting of Lord Vale and his connection to Skulduggery. Although he was the last Death Bringer, I'm certain he won't be able to stop me. Some of the necromancers fear me, because they haven't fully embraced the idea of the living and dead existing together. Their deaths only make me stronger, so I'm sure they appreciate  the idea now. 

This book again displays Skulduggery's sense of humor, as Valkyrie and he fight the evil characters trying to ruin the lives of mortals. It also presents a couple of secrets that have been brewing in the past, and it's unclear how China's secret may change things in the future. Skulduggery and Valkyrie's secrets kind of cancel each other out. While I've been enjoying the series immensely, I'm not sure how much farther I want to go. There are still several more books to come, and the plots are getting redundant to me. Some super powerful entity wants to destroy the world, Skulduggery and Valkyrie take their lumps trying to stop it, and they finally figure out some way to save the day. What surprises me is the author keeps introducing unexpected twists, so I'm not sure why I have a problem. Maybe I've read too many in a row and need a break. I recommend you give the series a shot. The author's imagination and Skulduggery's sense of humor make it a winner!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Outlaws of Time #1: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N. D. Wilson

The Legend of Sam Miracle (Outlaws of Time #1)My name is Sam, and I have died more times than I can remember. Actually, I don't remember much at all. I thought I was just some messed up boy, with messed up arms, living in a messed up desert boys' home until I met Glory and Father Tiempo. Father Tiempo takes me back in time, and all I need to do is figure out a way to not get shot, stabbed, or blown up and to keep my sister alive. So far, I've failed miserably over and over again. A book tells the story of me as a character named Poncho shooting The Vulture in a gunfight, but the outlaw is also able to travel through time and keeps killing me before it happens. Father Tiempo says this journey back will be my last, but this time I have Glory to help me remember. My arms are still destroyed, but they've been replaced with two snakes. I still have my hands, but my arms have minds of their own. The snake on the right shoots my pistol to defend me, but the snake on the left only wants to kill. And I can't control her!

I thought I'd read enough to not be surprised anymore. The concept of a character continually traveling back in time in order to save his own life is novel. Having damaged arms and memory problems help complicate the issue, but the snake arms are truly unique. They are parts of Sam's character that he's not able to control, and the left arm creates its own problems and tension. It even tries to kill Sam himself! I'll tell you, for me, the biggest tension was created during Sam's interactions with his own arms. The snakes were unpredictable, so the expectations were unpredictable. The antagonist has set himself up in a future life of riches, power, and violence, but he needs Sam's heart to keep it from falling apart. One version of The Legend of Poncho has him being killed by Sam, so Sam must die forever to keep that version from happening. Confusing? It's really not that bad. There were some jumps through history, but that mostly ended when Father Tiempo sacrificed his life (or did he?). This book is the first in a series, so I'm curious about what the sequels will reveal. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Skulduggery Pleasant #5: Mortal Coil by Derek Landy

Mortal Coil (Skulduggery Pleasant, #5)My name is Skulduggery Pleasant, and all hell has broken loose. All of the Remnants have been released and are possessing hundreds and hundreds of host bodies. The only way to kill the Remnants is to kill the innocent hosts. That option is not desirable, plus many of the most powerful sorcerers and mages are among the victims. We have a soul catcher that would help with one Remnant but will be useless with thousands of them. I'm also concerned about Valkyrie's secrets. I know she's worried about becoming the Darquesse and destroying the world, so I'm afraid of what she might do. I would never judge her, but she'll probably do something moronic, simple-minded, and imbecilic. We're trying to reform the Sanctuary, Remnants are running wild, and my partner may destroy the world. Geez, I love the excitement of being a detective!

The humor is back in full force! The banter between Skulduggery and Valkyrie is very amusing, and Skulduggery enjoys teasing his friends and foes. As described above, the plot in this book goes a little haywire. It seemed like it was going to focus on undermining the reformation of the Sanctuary, and then the Remnants went nuts. The second half of the book describes their takeover of mortals, then sorcerers, then characters with power within the organization of magic. It wasn't clear when this epidemic would stop and how the protagonists might be able to stop them. I'm impressed with how well the author introduces the unexpected and keeps me guessing. At different times, good guys become bad, and bad guys help the good, usually temporarily. Valkyrie is the main character, and her issues are compelling. She might destroy the world, but the Necromancers think she will become a savior. She still wants to be part of the mortal world with her parents, but she must keep magic a secret and her reflection is behaving strangely. The arrival of a new sibling will further complicate her life, and it's unclear how her cousins will affect the future. All of these factors make me look forward to reading Death Bringer.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Skulduggery Pleasant #4: Dark Days by Derek Landy

Dark Days (Skulduggery Pleasant, #4)My name is Valkyrie, and I couldn't let Skulduggery be lost forever. I know it was a terrible idea to open the portal again, but I had to rescue him from the Faceless Ones. Now, Scarab spent two hundred years in prison after being framed for an assassination and has united several of our past enemies. Scarab is set on revenge and has plans to wipe out all the Sanctuaries. He had Dusk and an army of vampires attack the Irish Sanctuary, and they stole the Desolation Engine, a weapon of mass destruction. The Head Mage says its been disarmed, but Kenspeckle's been kidnapped and may be smart enough to fix the bomb. Even if we stop this attack, Scarab will have a Plan B. These headaches are making it hard to think, but it might be that I've seen my future. A Sensitive shared a vision where  I'm killed after letting my parents die.

This book is the first in the series where the antagonists aren't trying to bring back the Faceless Ones. A couple are followers of the gods, but the main motivation is revenge. I was a little confused with Crux's character. He was a lead Sanctuary detective in the last book, but now he's a devout follower of the Faceless Ones. It was a pretty quick, extreme change. I like the interactions within the protagonists and antagonists. Even though each group has its own goals, the members have their own secrets, issues from the past, and private agendas. This book got back to more of the humor found in the first two books, especially when Valkyrie was reunited with Skulduggery. He was literally in pieces and thought she was a hallucination. The plot had many twists and turns. Just when you think Scarab's plans are thwarted, we learn he isn't finished. It was clear that Valkyrie's headaches were an omen, but the truth wasn't really a surprise. The revelation about her ancestry was related to it, but it felt more unexpected. There are very dark days in her future.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Skulduggery Pleasant #3: The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy

The Faceless Ones (Skulduggery Pleasant, #3)My name is Skulduggery Pleasant, and I've been fired by the Sanctuary. That's okay since, the Head Mage is a traitor and his new lead detective is an idiot. There is only one surviving Teleporter, all the rest have been murdered, and it has something to do with bringing back the Faceless Ones. The Diablerie is behind it, and they already have their sights set on the Grotesquery's remains. They plan to use it and the last Teleporter to open a portal for the Faceless Ones to return and kill mankind. Unofficially, I'm protecting the last Teleporter, but he's an obnoxious, arrogant, young twit. We need to reassemble the Scepter as a last resort against the Faceless Ones, but Valkyrie is the only one who can touch the black crystals. She has the blood of Ancients running through her veins, but I worry that I always put her in danger. She should be enjoying her life as a teenager, not helping me save humanity.

Important aspects to Skulduggery's character are his confidence and sense of humor, although he is least humorous in this book. He still gets his jibes in, but there always seems to be something dire and serious going on. A major issue in the series is Valkyrie's role as his sidekick versus life as a normal teenage girl. Skulduggery wonders about it, but other characters tell him he should not be putting her into these situations. However, Valkyrie points out that she'll only disobey if he tries to keep her out of the investigations. The return of the Faceless Ones has been the ongoing problem since book one, and each book introduces new characters to take up the cause. The author has the characters use magic as tools or weapons, but Skulduggery still likes driving his Bentley, although in this book he's forced to drive the Purple Menace. I'm enjoying the adventure in the books, as the detectives are constantly forced to save mankind. Skulduggery comes up with plans that rarely work, but he likes the unexpected surprises. The last few pages of this book present a surprise ending that will have a dramatic effect on the next book. I've already started reading Dark Days.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Trials of Apollo #1: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo, #1)My name is Meg, and I have claimed Apollo to be my servant. Of course, Zeus has  taken away his godly powers, so he looks like any goofy teenager. I'm a demigod and only recently discovered my mother is Demeter. I have some control over plants, have curved blades springing from my rings, and have summoned a powerful karpos. Other demigods at Camp Half Blood have been disappearing, and the Oracle of Delphi is no longer offers prophecies. We are slowly realizing the two problems are related. Apollo is in charge of protecting the oracles, but he's now hearing voices in the nearby woods. Is this a sign he's going crazy, or is it a clue we must follow? I wish he could remember the memories tickling his brain, but I'm afraid of the devastating secret I'm keeping from him.

Riordan mixes the style found in his other highly successful mythology books with an uncommon main character, an actual god. Apollo's character has the insecurities of a human teenager while keeping the pompous arrogance of a deity. It's a fun, humorous combination. The humor continues with other characters too. Rhea talks like a flower child from the 60's, and the two geyser palikos are most concerned about travel brochures and customer surveys. The adventure is entertaining, and a surprise or two are left for the end. I thought the plot would end with the climax, but another climax soon follows. This provides an exciting conclusion. It looks like the sequel will continue with Apollo in his mortal state, but his partnership with Meg is less certain. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles #3: Calling on Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Calling on Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #3)My name is Morwena, and wizards have returned to the Enchanted Forest. I notified the king, but he won't be much help at this time. Mendenbar's sword has been stolen, so he must stay within the kingdom to keep the defensive barrier going. I'm leading the queen, a magician, and Kazul, the king of the dragons, to retrieve the sword. We must find it before the wizards start absorbing its powers, and ultimately all the magic in the Enchanted Forest. However, we're finding the journey difficult. Dangers lurk among the trees, something is distorting Telemain's spells, and a mysterious stranger seems to be helping the wizards. During our last communication with Mendenbar, we learned more wizards have started sneaking back into the kingdom which means the protective spell is weakening. Time is running out!

You can enjoy this book without having to read the previous ones. The author introduces humor into the plot with references to characters and events from familiar fairy tales, but this book has a bit more. A seven-foot rabbit named Killer begins the plot, and he's always hungry. His habit of eating almost anything creates problems when he tries to digest food tainted by magic. The combination of spells results in unexpected consequences (See the flying donkey on the cover). Morwen's cats are loyal companions, and they provide their own funny comments, especially toward Killer and each other. The plot doesn't develop any real suspense, but the story is still entertaining. The problems caused by wizards continue to drive the protagonists, but character interactions seem to drive the plot. This is a fun series to read!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Skulduggery Pleasant #2: Playing With Fire by Derek Lindy

Playing with Fire (Skulduggery Pleasant, #2)My name is Valkyrie, and Baron Vengeous is trying to raise a Grotesquery with the powers of a Faceless One combined with other creatures. This could lead to the arrival of other Faceless Ones and the ruination of mankind! Skulduggery has been training me in elemental magic, since I'm a descendant of the Ancients. My new skills have come in handy, but Vengeous still seems determined to capture me. I don't know why. He's sent a murderous vampire after me, and I've made it even more dangerous after scarring its face and stealing its razor. Skulduggery always appears whenever I most need him, but I've had some real close calls recently. Vengeous has the magical armor he needs to complete his plan, and we have only two days to figure out how to stop him.

It will be helpful to read Skulduggery Pleasant first. Skulduggery is a fun character, as he solves mysteries with bravado and a sense of humor. Most of the evil characters fear or respect him, but his teasing usually irritates and annoys them. Valkyrie was known as Stephanie in book one and joined the world of magic after her uncle died. The plot follows her character, as the evil characters are focused on her, in addition to raising the Faceless Ones. This book touches on her conflicting emotions about leaving her pre-magic life and missing "normal" life with her parents. She's able to absorb the memories of the mirror image that is replacing her at home and school, but it's not the same as experiencing that life. The book is mostly an adventure story even though Skulduggery is a detective trying to solve a mystery. There are plenty of action scenes, and Skulduggery brings a sense of playfulness. Even when he's losing an arm! I'm enjoying the series and recommend you give it a try.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Septimus Heap #5: Syren by Angie Sage

Syren (Septimus Heap, #5)My name is Beetle, and our trip to bring Jenna back to the Castle has gotten complicated. Septimus and I found her on her father's ship, and he has a secret cargo below deck. Jenna chose not to return hone on her father's ship and got aboard Sep's dragon Spit Fyre with us. However, we're now stranded on an island, and Spit Fyre is struggling for his life. Something strange is going on here, and Sep thinks he's heard someone calling his name. I'm loving spending time alone with Jenna, but Sep's always worried. We didn't know it at the time, but several of our friends will reunite on this island in a fight to save the Castle's future.

You will need to read the previous books before this one. The plot leads to a thrilling climax, although the actual conflict wasn't clear until you're halfway into it. The events in the first half seemed a bit disjointed. It wasn't clear how Merrin and Lucy fit in, as their characters were introduced and then forgotten for awhile. However, it all made sense in the end. The author has done a nice job of reusing characters from earlier in the series, so it's easy to quickly understand their personalities. Septimus is the one holding all of the books together. His wizarding skills are superior, Marcia made him a senior apprentice years early, but he still has wonderful humility and compassion. His concern for his friends and family is a driving force. Somehow, he always manages to find himself in the middle of terrifying situations, but the safety of others is still at the forefront of his thinking. On a side note, I still haven't figured out why the author chooses to capitalize certain words. It's not a big deal. Overall, I recommend you give this series a chance.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Septimus Heap #4: Queste by Angie Sage

Queste (Septimus Heap, #4)My name is Septimus, and my brother Nicko is lost five hundred years in the past. Jenna and I have been given letters and a map written by Snorri and him, but the ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia has confined me to the castle. She wants me to prepare for the Projection, but neither one of us was ready for the sudden Gathering called by the ghost of Tertius Fume. Most of the past ExtraOrdinary Wizards voted for me to draw a Queste. It's usually assigned to apprentices with seven years experience (I only have one), and none of them have ever returned alive. Snorri's map and my Queste seem to be leading to the same destination, the House of Foryx where All Times Do Meet. I still have hope that I can save Nicko and Snorri, if only I can survive my Queste.

You should read the previous books in the series, since this book involves a number of past relationships between characters. As always, Jenna is determined to save Nicko, no matter what, and she hates to be treated like royalty. Septimus's Queste amps up the tension in the plot's conflict, since all of the past apprentices have died trying to complete it. It's clear from the Queste Stone's colors that Septimus is on the right track, and it becomes clear that Nicko's destiny is part of it. Merrin's character returns to the series to stir up trouble, but Simon's character was a surprise. Simon is Septimus's brother and tried to kill him in an earlier book; he was a major antagonist. Now, Simon seems to have repented and wants to change his Darke ways, but other characters are not so forgiving. It will be interesting to see what becomes of him and if he has actually become a good character. The series continues to be entertaining, and the plots manage to travel to different realms and times. This book moves from the past and present day Castle, the forest, and into the House of Foryx. Many interesting characters, new and old, await. I've already checked out the next book in the series Syren.

A Quinnie Boyd Mystery: Vampires on the Run by C.M. Surrisi

Vampires on the RunMy name is Quinnie, and there are vampires living in my best friend's house! They are Ella's famous aunt and uncle, but I need to tell her what I've noticed. Her aunt is pale and sickly, won't come out in the sunshine, insists that all the mirror's in the house be covered, walks the beach at night, and looks healthier the day after a cat was killed. Ella probably won't believe me, but what if her life is in danger? Dominic and I have also noticed the fishermen from Ohio snooping around Ella's house. What's that about? Are they vampire hunters or paparazzi, because they sure aren't fishermen? My mom is the sheriff in this Maine town (and mayor, and real estate agent, and mail carrier...), but I'm not sure if she can help. Things seem to be getting more serious, so I'm going to need to do something soon.

This book is a nice introduction for young readers interested in vampire stories, but more mature readers won't care for it as much. You should expect to read this book as a mystery, not a vampire story. The whole plot read like a mystery, as Quinnie and friends tried to discover what was going on. All of the evidence could be viewed from different angles, so readers are never quite sure of the truth until the end. I enjoyed the small-town feel of the story, as most of the action occurred around two homes and the local restaurant, all located along a beach. Quinnie was a caring young girl with a vivid imagination, but she wasn't an impulsive character, mostly. She enlisted the help of friends, and it was cool how quickly Dominic was accepted. Overall, this story is a fun mystery involving world-famous authors of vampire books.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Septimus Heap #3: Physik by Angie Sage

Physik (Septimus Heap, #3)My name is Septimus, and I'm afraid I'll never be able to return to the Castle. I've been pulled through the Glass and find myself trapped five hundred years in the past with the alchemist Marcellus Pye. He's created a tincture for eternal life, but his evil mother Queen Ethelredda wants it for herself. Her spirit caused my dilemma, and some people believe she's killed her other children. I know my sister Princess Jenna will try to find a way to travel to this time to free me, but it seems impossible. The only positive is that I've learned is a remedy for the deadly Sicknesse plaguing the realm. However, what good is the cure if I can't return to my time to help the people?

I'm enjoying the series very much and recommend it to you. The book provides adventure and suspense, as Septimus and Jenna try to solve the problem from different points in time. This book doesn't have a bunch of spell-casting. Pye seems to be a nice alchemist and takes Septimus on as his apprentice, but he was the one who pulled Septimus through the portal in the first place. His mother is an evil queen, and he is the one creating a potion that might make her live forever. The queen is a detestable character, as she rules through fear and is obsessed with power and living forever. A couple new characters are introduced to the series, mainly the Spirit-Seer named Snorri and her companion. The companion is a Night-Ullr, an orange cat during the day that changes to a fierce black panther when the sun sets. Ullr comes to the rescue on more than one occasion. Some readers may not like the language used by characters in Pye's time; even Septimus commented it was hard to understand them. However, you should be able to get used to it, just like Septimus did, without much trouble. The author throws in a bunch of extra e's and has the characters speak in a form of Old English. You can probably read this book on its own, since the conflict is totally separate from the events in the previous two books.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Simon Thorn #1: Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den by Aimee Carter

Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den (Simon Thorn, #1)My name is Simon, and I just learned that I am an Animalgam, a human with the ability to change into an animal. Actually, I'm a Hybred, since my parents were from different animal kingdoms. I haven't been able to morph yet, so I don't know what animal I will become. I never would have believed this if I hadn't been able to speak to animals for years, and I witnessed my mom changing into an eagle and my uncle changing into a wolf! My grandfather rules over the bird kingdom, and my mom has been taken captive by the mammals and is being held in the L.A.I.R. at the Central Park Zoo. I've been allowed in, since my grandmother is the Alpha, ruler of the mammals. I've learned that she is trying to get all five pieces of a scepter that will allow her to take the powers of animals from other kingdoms. I'm even more surprised to discover I have a twin brother, and one of us may be killed for being the heir to the Beast King.

This book is the first in the series, although I read the Simon Thorn and the Viper's Pit first. I actually preferred the second book more,  but this one helped me understand Simon's situation better. I  now understand why Simon is helped by a black widow spider, a dolphin, and a cottonmouth snake. Unlike most other books where characters are discovering new powers, Simon doesn't display any abilities until the book's climax. Other characters take turns helping him, but he doesn't really have one sidekick, except for Felix. Felix is a tiny mouse who is also Simon's best friend, although one character describes him as a bloodthirsty rat. Action is spaced throughout the plot, and mystery is included too. The secrets of the scepter, Simon's father, and the conflicts between the kingdoms are slowly revealed. Simon's brother has a hard time accepting this relationship, but the big question is which boy might have inherited abilities of the Beast King. The truth is surprising and leads directly into the sequel.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Simon Thorn #2: Simon Thorn and the Viper's Pit by Aimee Carter

Simon Thorn and the Viper's Pit (Simon Thorn #2)My name is Simon, and no one, not even my twin brother Nolan, the King Beast heir, knows that I'm able to transform into any animal. Other Animalgams believe my brother is the only person to have that ability, so he has great power over the different animal kingdoms. Which is why they'll have no problem killing him, and it's a reason why I keep my abilities secret. My mother is being held captive by Orion, the bird king, in Arizona, and I will not stop until I've rescued her. My uncle, Alpha of the mammals, is trying to bring me back to the L.A.I.R., and Orion is determined to have the birds capture me too. And my friends have reminded me that Orion is trying to assemble the five parts of the Predator, which he will use to kill my brother and take his powers. My friends have agreed to help me, but the chances for my stupid plan to be successful are slim. 

I didn't read the first book, and it probably would have helped to understand relationships and motivations. I wish I knew more about how Simon became an Animalgam and why he wasn't raised with his mom and twin brother. Simon's partners had different talents: Winter became a poisonous snake, Ariana a Black-widow spider, and Jam could change into a dolphin. It would seem that Jam's talents might be useless on land, but it turned out that a dolphin's keen sense of direction is handy when traveling cross country. The plot contained ample adventure, but I wish there had been more action. There were animal fights, but they felt more like skirmishes until the story's climax. I forgot to mention that Orion also happens to be Simon's grandfather, so it's unusual that he wants to capture and kill his grandsons. Overall, the book was entertaining, and I expect I'll probably go on and read Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den, the first book in the series.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Peter Nimble #1: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes (Peter Nimble, #1)My name is Peter, and I'm supposed to save the Vanished Kingdom, whatever that might be.  The only clues I've found about its existence come from a short, cryptic rhyming poem. This quest is pretty momentous for a young thief who happens to be blind; my eyes were pecked out by ravens when I was a baby. I have a box containing three pairs of eyeballs, and the golden ones have transported me to a strange world. I've met a brave knight, Sir Tode, to be my eyes, but a witch changed him into a horse/cat. He's become the first friend I ever had. Our journey has taken us across a desert full of banished criminals, and we fought for our lives against an army of ravens. We've now met a princess who has been hiding from her evil uncle for the past ten years. It seems like our destinies are linked, but the full truth of our futures remains to be discovered.

I enjoyed this book more than I expected. The eyeballs had different "powers", and the black ones were used the most. They allowed Peter to become whatever creature he last touched, whether it be a raven, beetle, or sea monster. Predictably, Peter's character had an important connection to the Vanished Kingdom. The most intriguing part of the plot was how his character's blindness seemed to have advantages over everyone else. He could sense elements of the setting that others missed using his senses of touch, smell, and hearing. Rather than pity him, other characters tended to see him as a leader. Sir Tode was an entertaining character, as he was more exaggeration than actual hero. However, he was extremely loyal to Peter, and they worked well as a team. The story sends a message that people may be more than they seem, and faith and loyalty will be rewarded. It's a fun book!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Enchanted Forest Chronicles #2: Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Searching for Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #2)My name is King Mendenbar, although I find most of the royal rituals stuffy and boring. It appears a dragon has burned away part of the Enchanted Forest and sucked away the magic in that area, but the Dragon King's cook/librarian (don't tell anyone that Cimorene is really a princess) says the scales I found are from a traitorous dragon who was turned into a toad. She also informed me the Dragon King is missing, so I'm accompanying her during her search through the Enchanted Forest. It wouldn't look good if she died in the forest I rule. It's looking more and more like the Council of Wizards is trying to start a war between the dragons and myself, but I can't figure out why. Cimorene and I have been joined by a magician who knows quite a bit about spells, but even he is confused by the magic going on here. The power emanating from my sword may attract wizards from all over, but it may also be the key to stopping their plans.

Although this book is the second in the series, I have not read the first one yet and didn't find it to be a problem. Cimorene's character reminds me of Dragon Slippers, as both princesses are annoyed by the thought of being rescued from dragons by princes. She adds her own wisdom and abilities in helping Mendenbar. The plot is fast-paced and adds in some mystery and humor to make it very entertaining. The author includes references to familiar fairy tales, but it's not done in a cutesy, distracting way. For example, Rumpelstiltskin is depressed due to his curse of spinning gold and taking first-born children from royalty, but Mendenbar thinks of a way to solve the problem by opening a boarding school. Soapy water with a bit of lemon is a great weapon in fighting wizards. As I read what I've just typed, don't get the impression this book is just a silly, goofy story. Most of the book tells the tale of an exciting adventure, and I recommend you give the series a shot. It's a fun story!

Peter Nimble #2; Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard (Peter Nimble, #2)My name is Sophie, and I am the Last Storyguard. Inquisitor Prigg is the architect of the No Nonsense movement and is burning anything he considers a waste of time (like books!). A blindfolded boy named Peter Nimble brought me The Book of Who, but all four books in the set together may give me the power to stop Prigg and save the world (that's what the Professor said). However, Madame Eldritch, an evil woman with a knowledge of spells, has discovered the truth of the books and is competing to get them first. I was able to stop her once with the help of Peter and Sir Tode, but we must now escape a horrifying menagerie and a deadly swamp bog. She has an unstoppable creature doggedly pursuing us, and she's willing to kill for the books.

This book is the sequel to Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, and it might help to read it first, but probably isn't necessary. The first book will help you understand Peter's character better. He lost his eyes as a child but has magical green eyes now that allow him to see. However, he prefers to wear a blindfold and use his other senses, because it makes him feel more like his real self. He's an amazing thief and fighter, and his actions border on magical. Sophie is the reluctant hero but has no idea what makes her special. The Book of Who has chosen her for some reason; perhaps it's because her deceased mother was once a Storyguard herself. Sir Tode is a wonderfully loyal and determined partner who is cursed to live forever as a horse/cat/knight. The embellished tales of his feats are amusing. The book provides plenty of action and adventure as the trio travel across the country. Magic portals and unconsciousness help them cover distances more quickly, so there aren't wasted pages describing their time between stops. I'm looking forward to reading book three in the series.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Keepers Trilogy #1: Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

Museum of Thieves (The Keepers, #1)My name is Goldie, and the Blessed Guardians have imprisoned my parents and have been hunting me for weeks. I've found refuge in the Museum of Dunt, but I'm sure you won't believe what I'm going to tell you. Its rooms shift around as it gets upset, and that's been happening more and more recently. The caretakers sing to calm the museum, and they're training me to join them. I've learned when to steal, how to pick locks, and three ways to become invisible. However, the Blessed Guardians are becoming more aggressive in the museum, and it's getting more angry. If we don't find a way to stop them, the museum may open the Dirty Gate. The gate holds all the evils in the world (war, famine, and plague), and they may soon be unleashed on mankind.

It takes an imagination to read this book due to the life of the museum. Characters new to it weren't sure where they were going and ended up walking in circles. As a reader, this made it difficult to picture the setting in my mind. I enjoyed Goldie's interactions with Toadspit, an antagonistic boy who was asked to train her. They bickered like brother and sister but eventually became effective allies. The book presented an interesting message about society and young people. Children were chained to their parents until being separated during a formal ceremony, and independence in their young people was taboo. Parents were punished, and children were retrained. This culture was designed to protect the kids, but it actually resulted in adults who lacked courage and couldn't adapt to change. Broo was an engaging character, as he could appear as a cute little dog but could quickly change into a huge, vicious beast. He wasn't able to control the changes, so his reactions to situations were unpredictable. I plan to start the sequel tomorrow.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Wing and Claw #2: Cavern of Secrets by Linda Sue Park

Cavern of Secrets (Wing & Claw #2)My name is Raffa, and animals are being trained to attack Afters living in the slums. My uncle is the one who discovered how to create mixtures using the red vines, and he believes he's doing something good. I don't know if he realizes his creation is being used to attack humans. I've created a mixture to counteract the effects on animals, but I don't know how to get it into them. The Chancellor has guards searching for me everywhere. I've discovered my parents' home burned to the ground, and don't know if they're alive or dead. Trixin doesn't want to get involved, but her brother Jimble and his friends have proven to be a tremendous help. He's willing to do whatever I need of him, but Trixin will kill me if he gets into serious trouble. The animals must be cured and freed tonight, or it may be too late.

You should read the first book in the series to fully understand the red vine, and Raffa's history with the problem. I've enjoyed how Raffa and Kuma have worked together, although Raffa spent the second half of the book alone. Characters helped him, but he was mostly independent. An entertaining aspect of the story is his relationship with a bat named Echo. The red vine enables Echo to speak in very short phrases, and he mostly acts as Raffa's lookout. He's very innocent and communicates literally. This creates some miscommunication, since Raffa isn't always able to foresee things from the bat's viewpoint. The plot doesn't have a great deal of action, although it has its moments. The most engaging part of the book is found in the conflict. Most readers will probably have an issue with experiments being performed on innocent animals, and Raffa even has second thoughts about the effects on his friend Echo. The series continues in the sequel Beast of Stone.

The Keepers Trilogy #2: City of Lies by Lian Tanner

City of Lies (The Keepers, #2)My name is Goldie, and Toadspit and his sister Bonnie have disappeared; I know they've been kidnapped by Harrow, but I don't know why. I've traced them to a city called Spoke where they're holding a befuddling celebration. For the next few days, everyone in the city must lie when they are speaking. A fortune-telling mute boy has been very helpful, but I suspect his friend will probably rat me out as soon as he gets the chance. I must learn to listen to the little voice in the back of my mind, and recent events have led me to believe it is the voice of a warrior princess who died five hundred years ago. However, it scares me. Ever since the Big Lie, the the wolf-sark, a powerful thirst for fighting, has almost overtaken me, and I'm not sure I can control it. 

You need to read the first book. I like how the story is told through Goldie's eyes, and this book offers some new insights into her thinking. A little voice has offered advice in both books, but it takes on more of a personality in City of Lies. It also created a little confusion in the middle of the plot for Goldie and me. During a Big Lie, it wasn't always clear if the spoken words came from her or from the princess. Not a big problem, but it was something to note. The festival also offered a challenge for readers, since I had to remember to think about the opposite of whatever characters were saying (everyone was lying). Mouse was an admirable character with a caring heart, but it was clear that his partner couldn't be trusted. They made an unlikely pair. The ongoing conflict concerns which character will rule Jewel, the Protector or her brother the Fugleman. Even though most of the plot took place outside of Jewel, this conflict was driving the events. I'm enjoying the series and looking forward to the last book in the trilogy.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Keepers Trilogy #3: Path of Beasts by Lian Tanner

Path of Beasts (The Keepers, #3)My name is Goldie, and we must stop the Fugleman and his terrifying control of Jewel. Toadspit and I were able to create problems between the Fugleman's Guardians and his mercenaries by stealing the mercenaries' payments, but the Fugleman has imprisoned more children in retaliation. We created the Hidden Rock to start a rebellion, and some parents are finally willing to do something more than cry and moan about their lost children. However, the spirit of an ancient warrior princess buried within me is trying to take control of my thoughts. She gives me useful ideas to fight the Fugleman, but she wants to erupt into a fury of rage and killing. I was barely able to stop myself from slaying my best friend. All of this turmoil is causing the pressure in the museum to reach a boiling point. If we can't stop the Fugleman, the museum will release the vicious armies and plagued rats hidden within its walls, and they will kill everyone in Jewel before they are done.

This book is the conclusion of a trilogy, and you need to read the other two books first. The ongoing conflict is the Fugleman's drive for power and his use of children as pawns. The trilogy began with all children being chained to their parents until the Separation, but they're now being sold to slavers. While Goldie leads the rebellion, she is keeping her internal battle with the spirit of the warrior princess a secret. She's afraid her friends will think she's lost control even though she is very close to that point. The plot contains plenty of action and suspense, as Goldie and Toadspit face the Fugleman, mercenaries, and slavers. Their plan to cause a rift between the Fugleman and his mercenaries is ongoing and successful, and I enjoyed their trickery. However, the Fugleman becomes more ruthless in response, and the head mercenary accuses him of having no honor. While the trilogy may not be for everyone, I found it very entertaining.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Defender of the Realm #1 by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler

                            DEFENDER OF THE REALM by Mark HuckerbyMy name is Alfie, and I am the king of Great Britain. Seriously. I thought my father had a boring, useless job until he was killed and I took over the thrown. You're one of the few people in this world who now know my role as king also makes me the Defender. For the past five hundred years, amazing powers have been passed along to the next heir in line for the throne. Even with these powers, how am I supposed to defeat the black lizard that killed my father? The king couldn't do it, and the lizard is getting stronger and is slowly becoming a huge dragon. I must find the remaining hidden pieces of the original Defender's crown, but the lizard is becoming more powerful by the two pieces he's already collected. Why couldn't my younger, more athletic, charming twin brother have been born ten seconds before me? A screw-up like me shouldn't be ruling Great Britain and surely can't be the Defender of the Realm.

Wow, what a surprisingly fun story! Alfie is another reluctant hero,  but this time he is thrown into the role of king. While the king doesn't hold much power, Alfie's role as Defender must be kept top secret. He has several adults to advise, train, and support him, but a young girl inadvertently discovers the secret and creates a security problem for them. She becomes a cohort in defeating the increasingly powerful black lizard. The plot is full of adventure and action, as Alfie is an impulsive young boy who doesn't always consider the consequences of his actions. He likes the idea of becoming a superhero, but he lacks self-confidence, which becomes an issue. An interesting twist is found with Alfie's twin, as abdicating the throne (giving it up) is an option. I suspect the twin will have an even larger role in the sequel. This book is fast-paced and easy to read, and I can't think of anything I dislike about it. I recommend it to followers of my blog.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Last Phoenix by Linda Chapman and Steve Cole

The Last PhoenixMy name is Jason, and the only phoenix on earth needs help from my siblings and I. Fenella has laid an egg for only the second time in her thousand-year life (the first egg disappeared), but she needs us to collect four ingredients from around the world, some found in the future and some in the past, or the egg won't hatch. She's nearing the end of this life and should soon be reborn from her ashes, but she's looking sicker each day. We fear she might die this time. Our travels to the jungle, ancient Egypt, and atop a mountain are dangerous enough, but we've been warned that someone is watching our every move. We've noticed a man in a trench coat hiding and following us around town. Who is he, and what does he want? Magic may be able to help us, but it sometimes has bad consequences. Just ask the kids playing soccer with me during the school challenge. We must find some way to save the egg and the last phoenix on earth!

This book is the sequel to Be a Genie in Six Easy Steps, but it can be read on its own. The plot offered fun scenes where the kids were challenged during their own lives and during the four quests. Young Milly wanted to be chosen for the lead role in "Annie", Jason wanted to successfully do something athletic, and Jess was stressed about doing well in school. The quests were interesting and fun to read, but they weren't overly suspenseful. However, the climax of the book offered a surprising twist. There were some clues and suspicions earlier in the plot, but I still wasn't fully prepared for the identity of the secret antagonist. This book offers a compassionate cast of characters, as the step-siblings have their little spats but truly care about one another. Despite their differences and personal issues, they were committed to helping Fenella.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

In Over Their Heads by Margaret Peterson Haddix

In Over Their Heads (Under Their Skin #2)My name is Ava, and I've been raised as a young girl, not a teenage robot. My brother Jackson, my human stepbrother Nick and stepsister Eryn, and I have discovered shocking secrets hidden in Mammoth Cave. Nick and Eryn found papers directing humans to kill all robots, and then we found a cave full of cribs with young robot children in them. However, a young girl living in the cave found us, and we're not sure if she can be trusted. She's been helpful, but she becomes very defensive when we ask about her family or home. She's warned us about an approaching blizzard but then ran out of the cave; we fear she's going to kill our parents. I know it's just a matter of time before robot society discovers my illegal existence, and then my brother and I will be killed. But, is another war between robots and humans looming?

This book is the sequel to Under Their Skin, which you need to read first. There are only two books in the series, so go for it! The first half of this book took a little too long to get to the point, but the second half was very gripping. I don't think my first paragraph effectively communicates the suspense of the plot. The antagonists weren't clear, since the humans and robots each displayed a history of violence toward the other. The book addresses a fear that technology might become so advanced that it will threaten human existence. Will robots become too intelligent and powerful to be stopped? I don't generally like stories that are told from multiple points of view, but it works in this book. The setting doesn't jump around much, so the plot is easy to follow. Actually, using different points of view was a good choice, since the characters had such different feelings about the situation. Eryn became frightened and had some extreme views, while her brother was more understanding. Jackson's situation was totally different from everyone else. Good job!

Donny's Inferno #1 by P.W. Catanese

Donny's Inferno (Donny's Inferno #1)My name is Donny, and I've been sent to Hell. That's the price I paid for being saved by a demon named Angela from the top of a burning building. Things have changed a lot in Sulfur, the new name for Hell, but trouble's brewing. Lucifer has left, and Angela stopped the practice of eternally burning souls in the Pit of Fire. However, many of the creatures down here don't like that change, and they fear Lucifer's wrath when he returns. Now, Destruction Fire has been stolen, mysterious black clouds have formed, and Sooth was murdered after predicting "After the light comes the fall." Angela is mad at me, and I deserve it, but I still need to warn her and other members of the council about the terrific danger they're in. I suspect Havoc is behind all of this, but how can we prove it?

The whole idea of this book is very creative and possibly controversial. I mean, the setting is in Hell, and endearing characters exist to punish evil souls. A central part of the conflict concerns how to punish the souls. Burn them eternally or torment them until it's time for the souls to move on? Donny and Angela even have a brief discussion about the existence of heaven, but the book doesn't preach religion. Angela is an interesting, dynamic character. She believes it's necessary to punish evil souls, but not forever. She enjoys terrorizing nasty people, but her one wish is to hug or pet an animal. Strange, but it humanizes her character. I'm still not totally sure why she needs Donny's help, but they make an entertaining team. Zig Zag is a symbolic, two-headed creature. Zig believes in the new changes, while Zag believes in the old ways. The heads constantly argue, as they help Angela and Donny unravel the mysteries. This book is the first in a new series, and I can't wait for the sequel.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Danny's Inferno #2: Down in Flames by P.W. Catanese

Down in Flames (Donny's Inferno #2)My name is Danny, and I am a mortal human now living in Sulfur (a place you might know as Hell) serving a demon named Angela. She led the reform that stopped the tormenting of souls for eternity in the Pit of Fire, but some creatures still want a return to tradition. The king of the ferryman spoke to the council and said there are souls being taken in the mortal world instead being delivered to Sulfur. He also said he may start his own revolution back to the old ways if the persons responsible are not stopped. Angela eagerly accepted the challenge, but we have no idea how dangerous it might be. She has a habit of overlooking the dangers I face when I help her, but I always thought she had my best interests at heart. However, I overheard her telling someone that she doesn't care if I live or die; she'll just find another mortal to replace me. I'm crushed. I may have a way to leave her, but is it the right thing to do? And will she allow it without killing me?

You should read Donny's Inferno first. It explains all of the background knowledge you need to understand Down in Flames. The premise underlying the series is unusual. Who would ever think demons in the underworld might have a moral problem with forcing damned souls into a burning pit of fire for eternity? Angela believes souls should have a chance for redemption with the possibility of eventually finding eternal rest. Donny's character is obviously in a bizarre situation. A human teenager living among demons in the underworld? The conversation he overheard with Angela added a whole new dimension to the plot and became a major problem for him. He wants to please Angela, but he has mortal fears and thinks he's being taken for granted. I felt like the mystery of the missing souls took a backseat to Donny's issues until he resolved them. I was fine with that. Angela is a great character, because she has great power and can become a terrifying creature but seems naive about the mortal world. She can act like a mother to Donny then immediately strike terror into everyone around her. Overall, I'm enjoying the series very much, and recommend it to readers. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Thickety #4: The Last Spell by J.A. White

The Last Spell (The Thickety, #4)My name is Kara, and my brother Taff and I must find the rest of the original grimoire called Vulkera before Rygoth can collect all four parts. The legendary spell book will give her indescribable power, and she will use it to destroy the world. She's already sent the twins and an army of witches to kill us. We spoke to a man who helped locate the four parts of the book, but Taff may soon pay the price. Rygoth beat us to the first cover of the book, so we've traveled to an abandoned castle in the middle of the desert to capture the small chest containing the pages. However, the chest is guarded by a creature that won't stay killed and only exists to protect it. We killed it with an arrow, but it rose again with new defenses for our attacks. To complicate matters further, I've allowed Grace to travel with us despite the treachery she's shown in the past. I believe there's good in everyone, but what if this time I'm wrong?

This book is the last one in a four-book series, and you need to read the others first. Grace's character wonderfully complicates the conflict, because you never know if she's good or bad. She says she's given up magic and helps Kara along the way, but Kara continues to have doubts. The question is never clearly answered even at the end of the book. Kara and her brother make a good team. She has all the magical power, but Taff has the brains (even though he's only eight years old!). Kara has an ability to make mental bridges with other living things, but it costs her memories. The greater the connection, the greater the memory loss. This creates conflicts, as she tries to defeat Rygoth. Kara's doubts and Rygoth's seemingly unlimited power will hold the interest of adventure lovers. Surprisingly, the book's epilogue even holds an unexpected twist that resolves a final issue.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dragons vs. Drones #2: Enemy of the Realm by Wesley King

Enemy of the Realm (Dragons vs. Drones)My name is Dree, and Marcus and I are Furies, the rarest of dragon riders. Hopefully, our immunity to fire and our ability to create it will help us stop the evil prime minister Francis Xidorne. He is sending attack drones to obliterate cities, murder citizens, and slay dragons. He's even using Marcus's Baby Hybrid, a combination drone and dragon, against us, so Marcus hopes to work with his Uncle Jack to create a new Teen Hybrid. We were successful in bringing the Egg back through the portal, and we planned to use its power is key to strengthening Teen Hybrid. We must destroy the factory to stop the production of more drones, and we must somehow get Francis out of the palace. However, I'm wondering if humans have the right to harness the power of dragon magic found within the Egg. My choices may doom the Resistance to defeat.

This book is the sequel to Dragons vs. Drones, and you need to read it first. This one does not have as much action as book one, and the events dramatically lead to a climactic battle. An intriguing part of this series is dragons and humans fighting the deadly drones, but there are few actual confrontations between them until the end. Marcus and Dree learn more about the history of Furies and are alarmed to hear the last Fury became evil. This causes them to question themselves and what they might become. On the positive side, there have never been two Furies together, so the possibilities of these two characters are unknown.  In book one, the creation of Baby Hybrid was fun to follow, as it became a new character. However, it takes on a cameo role this time, and Teen Hybrid isn't completed until much later in the plot. I would have liked to have seen Teen Hybrid become more of a character instead of another weapon. Overall, it's a fun book, and I think you'll enjoy it!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dragons vs. Drones by Wesley King

Dragons vs. DronesMy name is Marcus, and the deaths of hundreds of people are all my fault. Drones followed me through a portal into Dracone, and the citizens immediately came under attack. I was only trying to find my father who disappeared eight years ago. I met Dree and discovered her best friend is a dragon that she raised since he was little. She must keep her relationship secret, since the prime minister has made it his mission to kill all the dragons in Dracone. There are three kinds of drones destroying homes, slaughtering citizens, and slaying dragons, but for some reason they haven't touched the palace. We must find a way to stop them, and I have an idea that will mix my talents with computers and Dree's welding skills to create a hybrid dragon/drone. However, we are slowly discovering the crisis may be much greater than the drones, and we must locate the Dragon's Egg.

The description above only begins to tell the plot of the book. It doesn't touch on Dree's massive guilt for her little brother's death, the conflicts between dragon clans, and the real story behind the disappearance of Marcus's father. I had serious doubts about a book that combined technology and dragons, but the author made it make sense. I was very pleasantly surprised! Dragon's fire was able to fill in some of the blanks when needed. Speaking of which, Dree and Marcus shared an immunity to fire and an ability to produce it. They were the only characters able to ride dragons without being burned by the scales. This fact displayed a clear clue that there were secrets about Marcus's character that even he didn't know. The Flame dragons offered an interesting twist, since they didn't get along with anyone else. They had no use for humans or weaker dragons and wanted to eliminate all of them. This created a conflict when Dree and Marcus asked them for help and hoped they wouldn't be killed in the process! This book may sound a bit strange, but I think you'll like it in the end. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Space Runners: The Moon Platoon by Jeramey Kraatz

The Moon Platoon (Space Runners #1)My name is Benny, and I was one of the kids from Earth chosen to spend two weeks at the Lunar Taj, a luxurious resort located on the moon! I was hoping for some adventure, but I wasn't expecting the mysteries we uncovered. A girl's space runner was hit by an asteroid during a race, but that may not have been the truth. The asteroid contained unknown elements and wires, not the kind of things found in our solar system. My new friend Drue is an annoying pain in the butt, but he's helped us discover surprising secrets around the Taj. I'm not sure we're alone in space. We should probably tell Elijah, the genius billionaire creator of the resort, but I suspect he already knows what's going on. I don't know why he's hiding the truth, and I fear the survival of Earth may be in danger.

This book reminds me a bit of the Bounders series, as kids are sent into space, only to find the people in power are keeping dangerous secrets from them. The author introduces creative inventions to help the characters survive on the moon. The Taj is protected by a dome, but protective bubbles appear around the characters heads if there's a breach. The electronics are controlled by a computer hologram with a real personality. I like how small decisions by the kids lead to huge problems or discoveries, although the kids are never seriously punished. In the beginning, Benny isn't respected by any of the other scholarship winners due to his background, but he becomes their leader based on his courage, humility, and survival skills. It's a little unbelievable (actually a lot unbelievable) that Elijah never consulted other adult experts, and the kids were able to solve the problem. The next book will be very interesting, since we'll already know the major conflict. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Thickety #3: Well of Witches by J.A. White

Well of Witches (The Thickety, #3)My name is Kara, and I am a witch with no powers. Rygoth is recruiting new witches by offering grimoires to young girls across the lands. The grimoires force the girls to cast harmful spells, and I'm trying to help my friend Safi withstand its call. My father's body is possessed by the witch hunter Timoth Clen, and he is recruiting an army of graycloaks to destroy the witches, threatening innocent people along the way. I must rescue my father, but the only plan I can think of may lead to my death. I must enter the Well of Witches, containing the souls of past witches, and try to convince Grace to reverse her spell on my father. People don't believe there are good witches, especially Timoth Clen, so I must avoid the graycloaks while trying to stop the evil witches. But what can I do without my powers? 

I feel like the books in this series are getting better, so I'm looking forward to the final book coming out soon. I always enjoy Kara's character, especially in this book. There're all kinds of evil enveloping her world which includes the "good guys", the graycloaks. These characters are reminiscent of New Englanders during the Salem Witch Trials. In those days, women accused of being witches had little chance of survival. Kara was becoming a powerful, good witch in the previous book, so losing her powers presents a huge change for her character. She became very insecure, since she placed so much importance on her magical abilities. However, in the end, she discovered her greatest power when she accepted herself and stopped second-guessing. Her character also displayed compassion for many of the young witches, as she realized the grimoires were taking advantage of their weaknesses. They generally weren't bad girls. The author showed wonderful creativity in the Well of Witches. The characters, setting, and connections to the grimoires were very intriguing. You should read the first two books in the series, but I think you'll enjoy them.

Joplin, Wishing by Diane Stanley

                            JOPLIN, WISHING by Diane Stanley
My name is Joplin, and who knew a broken platter from my grandfather's possessions could dramatically change my life. After having the small pieces professionally reunited, I loved the scene of the lovely girl sitting in the picture. I don't have many friends anymore, actually none at all, and I wished this girl could become one. Then Sofie came into my life right out of the blue, actually right out of the dish. She told me of her life hundreds of years ago, how she came to be part of the painting, and how she was forced to grant wishes to the rightful owner of the platter. However, we weren't ready for the dangers to come. A wicked man has been spying on us, and Sofie just got a good look at him. Impossible as it seems, he is the same man who magically imprisoned her in the dish hundreds of years ago. We don't know what he wants, but I must find a way to help Sofie get back to her family.

This book is based on magic without a bunch of spells being cast at every turn. After reading some dark books on magic, it was nice to read one with a more positive spin. Joplin's only motivation throughout the entire plot was to help Sofie return to the family she lost centuries ago. With magic, it was possible. The antagonist was evil, but not vicious and ruthless, so he presented an effective conflict. Surprises? I was amazed at how quickly Joplin, her schoolmate, and her mom and aunt accepted Sofie's story. The evidence was there, but there had to be a logical explanation, right? Also, the climax lost some oomph when the antagonist displayed some humanity. If you're looking for a nice, fun story about magic, give this book a shot.