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!

Monday, April 24, 2017

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.

Danny's Inferno: 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. 

Tuesday, April 11, 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.

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.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fablehaven Adventure #1: Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull

Dragonwatch (Fablehaven Adventure #1)My name is Kendra, and my brother Seth and I have become the human caretakers for a dragon sanctuary. The most important part of our role is to keep the dragons from ravaging and destroying mankind. The leader of the dragons in this sanctuary has been attacking the boundaries, and they have been weakening. The medallion used to strengthen them draws its power from a hidden scepter, but that presents a dangerous problem. Seth and I must somehow locate the scepter, but this will require us to leave the protected paths. The dragons don't respect us as the new caretakers, so they won't have any problem frying us to a crisp. Seth isn't known for making wise choices, and I hope he doesn't do something stupid. However, I'm not holding my breath!

This is a sequel series to the popular Fablehaven books, and they're very similar. You can expect the same creatures and same enemies, but I don't think reading the original Fablehaven series is required. I liked the addition of the tiny nipsy character who rode around in Seth's pocket. He swore his allegiance to Seth, but the impact of a three-inch tall nipsy was very questionable. He was the voice of reason, and his used his size to great advantage. I didn't really like how Seth was willing to risk the safety of his cousin, more than once, to get what he wanted. The creatures weren't able to harm the cousin as long as he didn't have the imagination to see them, but his safety was still in doubt. However, Seth's questionable choices added to the suspense of the plot. I liked how Kendra and Seth were willing to risk their lives to save the Fablehaven and the sanctuaries even though they didn't fully understand what was going on. My issues with this book were minimal, and I highly recommend it and the Fablehaven series.

Friday, March 31, 2017

House of Secrets #1 by Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini

House of Secrets (House of Secrets, #1)My name is Brendan, and the lives of my family members took a terrifying turn immediately after we moved into Kristoff House. Our new neighbor transformed into the Wind Witch, my parents disappeared, and my sisters and I were transported to a world of giant creatures, warriors, and pirates. We now realize the home was transported into a mix-up of three Kristoff novels, and the Wind Witch is out for revenge. Our grandfather was a con man and became close friends with Kristoff before something happened. We must locate a powerful book before the witch will free us from this terrifying world, but we want to discover why Kristoff developed a hatred for our grandfather. The book can only be found by making selfish decisions, and opening it will help the Wind Witch spread more evil.

Yes, this book was written by the Chris Columbus famous for his work with the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson movies. It started off sounding like another ghost story, but it quickly evolved into much more. The mixture of characters was interesting. Cordelia was the responsible older sister, Brendan was the moody middle brother, and Eleanor was the underestimated youngest child. They were joined by various characters from the three novels including a British pilot from the early 1900's, and Cordelia immediately developed a crush on him. The setting is in Kristoff House although it's floating in the ocean most of the time. The idea was fun at first, but I became tired of it after a while. It limited the plot a bit, as the kids were constantly climbing through hidden hallways, a dumbwaiter, or on the roof. Other characters had to come to the house so events could change. The actual conflict of finding the book before being killed by pirates or other dangers was engaging, but the events could have been developed more if the characters could have moved around. The house always seemed to be taking on more water, but it took a heck of a long time to sink.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Simon Thorn #1: 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.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Septimus Heap #2: Flyte by Angie Sage

Flyte (Septimus Heap, #2)My name is Simon, and I will be the apprentice for the great ExtraOrdinary Wizard DomDaniel once I deal with my youngest brother Septimus. Of course, DomDaniel was killed, but I will help him arise from his bones. It angers me that Septimus popped up after everyone thought he died shortly after he was born, and it infuriates me that Marcia made him her apprentice. I snuck into the Palace as part of my plot for revenge, but I didn't intend to kidnap Princess Jenna, my adopted sister, while I was there. I underestimated her and she managed to escape, but I can find her anywhere with my Tracker Ball. I have mastered the ability of Flyte, and none of them know how powerful I've become. It's only a matter of time before DomDaniel and I take over.

You need to read Magyk before reading this book. The plot in Flyte seemed to move more quickly, and it had more tension. There were threats to Jenna, Septimus, the Dragon Boat, and others, so someone was always in trouble. A new "character" was introduced when a dragon was born, although I don't think it was needed. It added some amusing moments, but it didn't add much to the major conflicts except for one chase scene. I'm also not sure why the author had Jenna kidnapped, since she escaped fairly quickly and easily. However, it was ironic that Simon, the eldest brother to Septimus and Jenna, became the main antagonist. His jealousy, envy, and ambition have consumed his emotions, and he's become relentless. In contrast, the goodness and positive mindsets of Jenna and Septimus always provided hope. It's an entertaining series, and I recommend you give it a shot.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

Stormbreaker (Alex Rider, #1)My name is Alex Rider, and I had two weeks of training before replacing my uncle as a spy for MI6. A millionaire plans to donate computers to all of the students in England, but my uncle was killed after investigating him. Now, I'm pretending to be the winner of a contest in order to uncover the truth about the millionaire's plans. He has an army guarding his facility, and he has a huge, mute henchman who scares me. I was able to try the new computer, and it really is amazing and makes learning fun. However, there's a hidden compartment in each of them, and I know it's not for anything good. I discovered this after secretly exploring the facility, although I now realize I wasn't secret enough. My cover is blown, and I'm running for my life. I only hope my two weeks of spy training and my MI6 "toys" will help me escape in time to save the lives of all the English school children. 

I know I've read this book before, but I just noticed it's not on my blog. This book is the first one in the wildly popular Alex Rider Adventure series. Alex is a "normal" teenager, although you learn that his uncle, before his death, was actually training Alex to become a spy. Alex learned martial arts, rock climbing, diving, and can speak four languages. While he is given a fancy video game suitable for spying (it can x-ray through concrete walls), everything else he does is possible. The author has Alex explore the facility alone, so I missed the camaraderie that might have arisen from working with other characters. However, the book is full of adventure and action, so readers will probably finish it quickly. I did. There are at least ten books in the series, so you'll have plenty more to read if you enjoy Stormbreaker. The Young James Bond books are very similar, so you can check them out too.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Kronos Chronicles Book 2: The Celestial Globe by Marie Rutkoski

The Celestial Globe (The Kronos Chronicles, #2)My name is John Dee, and I've rescued Petra from four Gray Men, the prince's assassins. I got confirmation from an air spirit that she's a chimera and has multiple powers, which makes her very special. I keep her in my home for her own protection, although she feels like she's in prison. I'm trying to solve the murder of an advisor to Queen Elizabeth, and I've agreed to a deal presented by young Petra. I've agreed to free her if she's able to uncover the murderer before I do; this should be amusing. The bigger mystery surrounds the Terrestial and Celestial Globes. The person who holds both of them will have access to all the portals in the world, able to enter and leave countries without resistance. A ruthless ruler like the prince might even get thoughts of ruling all of Europe.

I've enjoyed the first two books in this series, and you should read the first one before reading this sequel. Petra is a strong, independent character. She's determined to find her father and is frustrated at Dee's mental connection with her. She does all she can to improve her abilities, but she secretly schemes to get free of him. Petra carries a mechanical spider named Astrophil in her hair, and he acts as Petra's conscience. He understands the consequences of decisions and tries help Petra make wise decisions. I said tries. Astrophil is hungry to learn, so Petra tries to collect things for him to read in order to gain knowledge. This relationship is fun to follow and usually works out in the end. The story of Neel and Tomik was interesting, but it seemed a little disconnected from Petra's story until the end. It will be interesting to see where the next book goes, as the plot's resolution takes the characters to a whole new setting.

Septimus Heap #1: Magyk by Angie Sage

Magyk (Septimus Heap, #1)My name is Jenna, and I'm being stalked by one of the assassins known as Hunters. I recently discovered my birth mother was the queen, and she was murdered ten years ago, soon after I was born. Silas and Sarah Heap secretly raised me along with their six sons, but we did not know our neighbor was a spy. Now, Silas and I, along with the ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia, have fled to the White Witch's cottage hidden in the Marram Marshes. We've brought along a ten-year-old boy who was near death when we found him buried in the snow. As a member of the Young Army, he's called Boy 412, but I know there's something special about him. Marcia was teaching me a disappearing spell, but Boy 412 mastered it immediately without even talking! Although I didn't know it at the time, I later discovered this boy is Magyk. I also discovered the amazing secret hidden under the White Witch's cottage!

This book had fun, interesting characters, and the author developed engaging conflicts. The baby Septimus Heap, a seventh son of a seventh son, "dies" in the first few pages of the book, but it's clear there's more to it. I suspected his new identity, but the author was still able to create some doubt. Boy 412 was mysterious due to his "name" and the fact he never spoke to anyone. He knew his life had improved with the wizards, but he was leery to accept it due his harsh upbringing in the army. The White Witch had a pet cat that she changed into a duck, and her cottage was guarded by Boggart, who kept watch and repelled most of the magical creatures in the marsh. The White Witch and Marcia were quirky characters, as they teamed up to fight the Darke but still managed to irk each other with small aggravations. The ghost of a former ExtraOrdinary Wizard appeared to act as a spy for the main characters, and he helped to bring the settings together. He was tied to places he had visited while alive, so this limited his participation in the plot. Boy 412's identity wasn't officially revealed until the book's resolution, so it will exciting to see where the next book goes.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Shadow Magic #2: Dream Magic by Joshua Khan

Dream Magic (Shadow Magic, #2)My name is Lily, and people don't respect me, and fear me, as the new queen of Gehenna. I've been secretly learning magic, even though laws forbid it, and this scares them. Meanwhile, trolls appear to be invading my kingdom, as homes are destroyed, adults are killed, and children are taken. My best friend Thorn thinks the actual danger is from jewel spiders. These creatures feed off dreams, but something doesn't make sense. Someone must be controlling the spiders, but why? What do they want? I would normally send my assassin to investigate, but he's disappeared. I'm sure Thorn will do something reckless to help, just like me. I've uncovered a secret about my father that may explain everything.

This book is the sequel to Shadow Magic, a 2016 winner of the Cybils Award. What do I like about this book? I enjoy Lily and Thorn, as they defend Gehenna from internal and external threats. Thorn's character is interesting and relatable to readers. He's respected and appreciated by those who know him best, but other people treat him as a mere peasant. He's a "normal" boy without any super powers, other than being able to ride an enormous bat. However, he is a very brave and loyal friend. Lily cares about her citizens, but she's leery of using magic. It changes her when she uses it and scares her people. She has a deep love for her ancestors and is frustrated when she can't talk to her father's spirit. Lily and Thorn have a cute relationship. It's obvious they're more than just friends, but they have trouble showing it. I mean, she's the queen, and he's a servant. I wish Tyburn had been involved more in this book; I like his role as Thorn's mentor, and I like their interactions. You should read Shadow Magic first in order to fully understand the characters, conflicts, and plot. The adventure and mystery will captivate you!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Boy X by Dan Smith

Boy X
My name is Ash, and my mother has twenty-four hours to live. Cain and Pierce exposed her to a deadly virus called Kronos, and I must steal the antidote back from them. However, I must survive a trek through the thick Black Island jungle full of experimental plants, animals, and Thorn, Pierce's henchman. He'll gut us if we're found. I must pause here and tell you something else. I awoke this morning in a laboratory and discovered I've changed in the past couple days; all of my senses and physical abilities are stronger. I can hear your heart beat, I'm stronger, and I don't get tired like you. The cuts I got on my feet an hour ago are now healed. Luckily, I'm not alone in the jungle now. Isabel helped me escape from the lab and knows exactly where we're going. However, my mom said Kronos was confined to one room in the lab... but she was wrong. Isabel has the virus and is quickly dying too.

This book should appeal to lovers of science fiction and adventure. Once again, we have a young character discovering his new powers, although Ash's natural abilities are just enhanced; he's Ash Plus. The author does a nice job of keeping readers guessing about the characters' motives. It's hard to tell if Cain, Thorn, or even the howler monkeys are evil or good. Thorn says he's there to help, but Ash still has his doubts. Throughout the plot, a pessimistic voice in his mind keeps telling Ash how he's going to fail and die. I don't think this is necessary, although I like how he reminds himself of his strength when things get tough. The author strikes a balance between Ash's fears and his new-found abilities. The chapter titles tick down the time until Shutdown; the moment when Ash's mother will die. This countdown adds to the suspense of the plot. The resolution of the book reveals there's a sequel in the works. I suspect the sequel will be much different from Boy X.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Black Year Series #1: Black Fall by D.J. Bodden

Black Fall (The Black Year Series, Book 1)My name is Jonas, and until last week, I thought I was human. My parents are vampires and were enforcers for the Agency; my mom is one of the most feared vampires in centuries, but she's been kidnapped. The Agency controls all of the supernaturals in the world, but there is unrest. My vampire abilities are slowly developing, so I've started training at the Agency. My new training partners consist of a young vampire and werewolf. The werewolf is learning to control his anger, but I can sense there is something special about him. The Agency Director is friends with my parents, but he's struggling to control the demon trapped inside his body. It will be disastrous if the demon takes over the Director's thoughts, since supernaturals will be unleashed on humanity. My family name is usually enough to keep the peace, but my abilities will be challenged by werewolves, vampires, and other creatures.

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley, and it quickly captured my interest. It will probably be more appealing to tween-age readers. I don't read many vampire books, but the author added creative twists to the plot. Many of the confrontations were set inside Jonas's mind. I don't mean they were imagined; I mean there were actual battles being fought in his mind. He spent much of his time building a fortress to defend his thoughts against the mental attacks of other vampires, and it became a major factor in the climax of the story. He even had a mental character named Sam who was left in charge of Jonas's defenses when the setting moved to the "real" world. The plot's movement between these two settings was sometimes tricky to follow, but it's what made the book great. So many vampire books have been written that it's hard to find ones with fresh ideas. The author indicated this book is supposed to be the first in a four-part series, and I can't wait for the second one to be published. Check it out if you're looking for some imaginative reading!

Bounders #2: The Tundra Trials by Monica Tesler

The Tundra Trials (Bounders #2)My name is Mira, and people would be shocked if they discovered Earth Force is waging a secret war against an alien race. I don't communicate verbally with anyone else, but I'm now able to secretly "speak" mentally with Jasper thanks to a new invention Waters attached behind our ears. We are now on the planet Gulaga with our podmates, Cole, Marco, and Lucy. Most of our time is spent with the Tundra Trials where we travel across the cold, barren planet trying to collect more hidden caches than the other pods. Jasper is in the middle of a feud with another cadet that got my gloves stolen, stranding us on the planet's surface, and almost got us killed. However, our bigger worry is about a mysterious, upcoming summit meeting and the likelihood that Earth Force plans to use us as soldiers in the brewing war against the Youli. It's getting hard to tell if the greater enemy is them or the Earth Force.

You must read Bounders before reading this book. The plot deals with the Tundra Trials and Youli War, but a major focus is on the feud with Regis's pod and relations with the Gulagans. The Gulagans are not happy to have humans on their planet, and Earth Force oppression is evident. This underlying conflict addresses the effect powerful armies have on the inhabitants of the host countries. The army's motives may seem admirable, but the effects may not be as virtuous. The feud between Regis and Jasper was amusing in the beginning, but Regis took it to dangerous levels as he tried to get even. Mira's character has always been the most interesting, since she doesn't openly communicate and seems to have abilities beyond the other cadets. These qualities make her more mysterious, but she's clearly a key character in the group's dynamics and its successes. Her secret bond with Jasper becomes an additional conflict between the characters.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Stian the Viking #1: Worthy of Song and Story by Neal Chase

Worthy of Song and Story (Stian the Viking, #1)My name is Stian, and I've learned that my real father is Loki, the mischievous Norse god, and I'm supposed to free him from the eternal chains that have imprisoned him. Dahlia, a dark elf, has reluctantly joined me on this quest. I must first retrieve Gram from a Valkyrie spirit, although everyone who's tried before me has failed. This powerful sword can cut through anything, so I'm sure it can cut through Loki's chains. However, I wasn't expecting the huge, strong son of Thor to be searching for Gram too. The Vikings will tell amazing stories about me and my shape-shifting ability, as long as Dahlia, Thor's son, or the Valkyrie don't kill me first. 

I got this book from the Net Galley website. It's always interesting to read a book where a character tells me everything I thought I knew is wrong. This book tells the story of how Odin and Thor aren't heroes, and Loki was wronged when they imprisoned him. Dahlia and Stian are entertaining characters, as they bicker back and forth. Be prepared for Stian's name-calling and his use of phrases like "sticks and stones". It's amusing to hear the son of a god talking like a little kid. Two of Stian's main motivations are to save his father and to become a famous Viking. His interactions with Thor's son are especially fun, and I hope they continue in the sequel. The book reads like a Rick Riordan novel, but on a much simpler level. The plot is a fast-paced adventure that provides plenty of action, humor, and suspense. Net Galley is known for promoting lesser-known authors, and Neal Chase seems like he's one to watch.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ranger's Apprentice, The Early Years #2: The Battle of Hackham Heath by John Flanagan

The Battle of Hackham Heath (Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years #2)My name is Halt, and we know Morgrath is plotting revenge against King Duncan. I ventured into the mountains to learn more about the army of Wargalsp Morgrath is amassing. He controls the ape-like creatures with his mind, and they form a ferocious killing machine. This army is four times larger than the king's forces, and the Wargals are now terrorizing the fiefs in the kingdom. These attacks are designed to deplete our food sources and will delay the villagers from joining the king. We don't stand a chance against a siege on the castle, and our only hope is to face Morgrath and the Wargals at a location of our choosing. Our Ranger skills will be tested if we hope to survive.

I feel like I keep repeating myself, but all of the books written by Flanagan have a similar feel and format. A lot of adventure, interesting characters, and a little touch of magic. It's fun to compare/contrast Halt's character in this book with his character in the original Ranger's Apprentice series. He's a new Ranger in this series but has already earned the respect of more seasoned Rangers; there's a moment of uncertainty in the plot when Halt is left in charge of his peers. However, he is able to prove himself through his archery skills and decision-making, and Rangers from the last book speak up to support him. It's clear from the beginning that this book will lead to a battle with Morgrath, and as always, the odds are totally against the Rangers. The conclusion of this book introduces a familiar Ranger to readers, as an orphan baby named Will is left in Halt's care. Lovers of Flanagan's books, like me, were probably anticipating this moment.

Pillage #2: Choke by Obert Skye

Choke (Pillage, #2)My name is Kate, and my parents have forbidden me from speaking to Beck. Of course, he did cause dragons to devastate half the town, and he did destroy the shack used for our school's shop classes. But he's kind of cute, and things are never dull around him. A very pale man in a hooded robe told him that he must care for the last black stone and allow the queen dragon to be born. That doesn't sound like a good idea considering what happened last time. Beck's never been known for following good ideas, so he's hidden the stone in an abandoned cave in the mountain behind his manor. It seems like a matter of time before a dragon will be born, only to grow and pillage the surrounding lands.

You should probably read Pillage first, since events from it are referenced many times. It's very similar to the first book in that the plot builds up to the dragon being born and then all heck breaking loose. The Pillage family is cursed, and their obsession with dragons is more evident in this book. It's hard to tell if some of Beck's poor choices arise from his rebellious personality or influences from the curse. Beck's father behaves strangely, especially considering he was just united with his son, as he left Beck to deal with problems on his own. I was a little surprised when Wyatt didn't play a bigger role in this book. The last book ended with the bully becoming one of Beck's two friends, so it didn't make sense when Wyatt was absent as the plot progressed. It became an issue with the characters. If you enjoyed Pillage, you'll definitely like Choke.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Journal of Curious Letters #1: The 13th Reality by James Dashner

The Journal of Curious Letters (The 13th Reality, #1)My name is Tick, and I may have gotten myself into more trouble than I can handle. That first letter said danger was in my future, and it said I could stop the whole thing by burning it. I didn't. Each letter after that has left me confusing messages, and I've been attacked by hundreds of stinging insects, ambushed by a screaming wraith, and had a rental car crash and explode into flames. The letters give me clues about something I must do on May 6, but I don't have it all worked out. I'm supposed to stomp my foot in a cemetery at 9:00 pm, but I haven't worked out the magic words yet. It all has something to do with quantum physics and alternate realities. The 8-foot tall woman and 3-foot tall man haven't been much help, but everyone seems to fear Mistress Jane. I haven't met her yet, but I guess she's the one responsible for the exploding car. I've found two other people in the world receiving the same clues as me, a girl in Italy and a boy in Florida, and May 6 is fast-approaching. I know my whole life will change on that date, but I have no idea what will happen.

Most of this book is spent solving the clues in the twelve letters. An unusual difference from other novels is that Tick actually asks his father for help, and he does! How many heroes in other books set out to save the world while keeping everything a secret from their families? Tick comes off as a simply average boy, while Sofia is brash and competitive. Paul is like a laid-back surfer dude, and a fourth character joins the book after May 6. The author presents the different realities like branches on a tree. Have you ever wondered what might have happened if you'd made different choices in your life? The trunk of the tree is the reality we're aware of based on those choices, but the branches are alternate realities arising from alternate decisions we might have made. All of the realities are occurring at the same time. The characters learn that this power of choice is literally the greatest power in the world. It's an imaginative concept, and I enjoyed the book. I felt like the plot took a little too long in getting to May 6, but the characters, mystery, and twists kept me interested. Give it a shot!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Nethergrim Trilogy #2: The Skeleth by Matthew Jobin

The Skeleth (The Nethergrim, #2)My name is Katherine, and Lord Aelfric has forced me to leave the stables and become a castle servant. Lord Wolland has arrived at the castle and professes a need for war. He always has an annoying smile on his face, but he behaves as a bully. I have learned that war is coming to our lands, and someone has unleashed the Skeleth. These creatures use the bodies of mortals in their destruction and will switch to other bodies if the mortals are killed. Tom left with my father to find Lord Tristan, but it wasn't until later that I discovered my father is now being controlled by the Skeleth and Lord Tristan is an old, blind man. Edmund is still learning to master magic, but he has been forced to teach himself. He believes an apprentice magician is helping him, but I suspect he's being manipulated. It's becoming clearer that Lord Wolland will have his war, and I feel as though I may be the only person willing to oppose him.

This book is the second in the series, and you need to start with the first one. As in the first book, it's nice to see Edmund unable to quickly master magic, unlike most characters in other books. Some readers may not like that, but it makes Edmund a more "realistic" character. The author is able to develop a conflict with increasing suspense. The skeleth seem invincible, no one seems willing or able to oppose them, and Lord Wolland's plans seem to be proceeding without a problem. Book one presented a confusing "love" triangle with Edmund and Tom both displaying affection for Katherine. That situation gets muddled in this book, as their affections are diverted to new characters. The author chooses to tell the story through three different plots which is one of my pet peeves. I get annoyed when a plot reaches a suspenseful moment only to have the author switch away to another problem and not return for a couple chapters. By then, the suspense and excitement have gone away, so the description loses its effectiveness.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Phoenix Rising by Bryony Pearce

Phoenix RisingMy name is Toby, and my father is captain of the Phoenix. The Phoenix may appear to be a pirate ship due to the criminals manning the small crew, but we mostly sail the garbage-filled seas looking for wreckage to salvage. Resources are scarce, and our hopes rest in finding the location of a sunken ship containing solar panels. However, a rival pirate ship called the Banshee is hunting us down and is determined to loot our ship. The hunt for our ship seems to be personal to the Banshee's captain, and that became obvious during their recent attack. The captain said she wanted to kill me in front of my father before killing him. The captain's daughter Ayla, also her first mate, is a fearsome fighter, but she's also very cute. She scares me, but I can't help liking her. I thought we had left the Banshee far behind us, but Ayla reappeared at a most unexpected time. My father was taken prisoner in Tarifa and now she's come aboard the Phoenix, offering to help in his rescue. What is she up to?

I enjoyed this new book, and I'm looking forward to the sequel. The unusual relationship between Toby and Ayla, both enemies and friends, creates an interesting conflict. Toby's affection for Ayla is evident even though he doesn't trust her. Even though Ayla risks her life to save Toby's father, I kept waiting for the moment when she would turn on them. You must read the book to find out if that moment ever comes. It's hard to imagine a setting with the level of pollution described in the book. The front of the Phoenix was extra strong to enable it to move through oceans full of debris. It's similar to a navy destroyer cutting through ice in Arctic waters. It took awhile to figure out where the plot was headed, but it later introduced the solar panels and the search for an uninhabited island. The fact that Toby has never set foot on land in his entire life reinforces the importance of finding a land where the pirates can settle. I highly recommend you give this book a shot!

The Nethergrim Trilogy #1: The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin

The Nethergrim (The Nethergrim, #1)My name is Edmund, and my father found my hidden magic books and tossed them in the fireplace! Animals have been disappearing, and Tom narrowly escaped some creature in the night while watching his master's sheep. Katherine, Tom, and I later found my brother and his friends being attacked by bolgugs and a thornbeast. I cast my first spell to drive the creatures away, but two of the kids were taken, including my brother. I stole a wizard's book from a customer at my father's tavern, and I now realize the Nethergrim needs seven live children to give it eternal life. Katherine's father supposedly killed the Nethergrim twenty years ago. He's gone out in search of it again, but his horse has returned without a rider. Now, my friends and I must face the Nethergrim to save Katherine's father and everyone else for miles around.

I found Edmund's magical powers refreshing. I've read so many books with characters using their new-found powers at every opportunity, but Edmund wasn't like that. He kept trying to learn spells but couldn't get them right. I think he only cast two spells during the whole book, but they were doozies. He wanted to save the captured children, and his vulnerability added to the uncertainty. Family love was evident, as Edmund was determined to rescue his bratty brother. Edmund, Katherine, and Tom formed a tight group, and both boys displayed affection for Katherine. Despite this conflict, their loyalty to each other never wavered. The Nethergrim started to communicate directly with Edmund near the end of the book, so this added a new dimension to the conflict. Overall, this was a great book, and I've already gotten my hands on the sequel, The Skelleth.

Friday, February 10, 2017

future flash by Kita Helmetag Murdock

Future FlashMy name is Laney, and I was left in a car seat on Walt's doorstep when I was a baby.  I can see into the future of people I touch, but I don't tell anyone about my ability. It's hard to explain, and they won't understand. A new boy came to school, and I flashed on him and me trapped in a burning building, Lyle covered in blood. I feel like I should look out for him, but it's not smart to become friends with the new target of the school bully. But I did anyhow. Lyle should tell someone about the beatings he's getting, and I guess I should tell Walt about my visions. However, I've become distracted by a painting I found in a shack behind Lyle's house. The picture showed a baby in a car seat, on Walt's doorstep!

Laney's ability to foresee the future is what makes this book fit into the speculative fiction category. However, most of it read like realistic fiction. Laney's visions caused me to anticipate future events which helped increase the suspense. She was a reluctant hero, as she found ways to avoid the bully issue and feared the day she would finally face the burning building. Her sense of right and wrong won out in the end. Even though visions foretold her death, Laney discovered that she still had some control over future events. Fate did not control her. The book kept me wondering, as I knew there were secrets surrounding Walt, Laney's mother, Lyle, and his mother. The book was a quick-read for me, as I finished it in one day. Give it a shot!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Pillage #1 by Obert Skye

Pillage (Pillage, #1)My name is Beck, and following my mother's death, I now live atop a huge hill in my uncle's mansion. He won't leave the domed room above the sixth floor, and everyone says he's crazy. The staff has treated me nicely, but I can't say the same at school. The school bully and his buddies targeted me during lunch, but something bizarre happened. Vines wrapped around them and carried them right out the window. Plants seem to listen to me! Even though I was told to stay out of the woods in back of the manor, I discovered eight black rocks behind a giant wall. Who knew these rocks could cause such disaster? The history of the black rocks tells the story of greed, insanity, dragons, and destruction!

In the end, I enjoyed this book and am curious about what might unfold in the sequel. The plot in the first half of Pillage seemed to meander around the estate. Beck was bullied, spent much of his time alone, and explored the six floors of the mansion and the surrounding grounds. Having the plants step in when they were needed became interesting, but this angle was slow to develop. However, the second half of the book was great. The uncle's mystery was revealed, another character was secretly plotting for riches, and the uncontrollable dragons were hatched. Beck's character was troubled but had good intentions, and he didn't understand the power he possessed. Even the dragon-hatching was an accident. Once he found out he had control over plants, he realized the possible consequences. He was slow to develop close friendships, but it looks like he'll have a couple when the next book begins. I recommend you give this one a try.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Secrets of the Pied Piper #2: The Magician's Key by Matthew Cody

The Magician's Key (The Secrets of the Pied Piper, #2)My name is Max, and I hated leaving my little brother trapped in a world with witches, ogres, giant rats, and the Pied Piper. We had to break the only portal between our worlds to stop the Piper from kidnapping millions of children, but I hear a magician holds the key to another one. The Winter Children will do their best to protect Carter, but that still won't get him home. The Piper and two sister witches want to get their hands on him, and they'll do anything, even kill, to succeed. I must get back to save Carter. It's not until later that I discover Carter has disappeared, the rats are using children as slaves, and the rats and ogres have joined forces. They'll try their best, but there's no way the Winter Children can stop them.

This book is the second one in a trilogy, and you need to read book one first. The Magician's Key tells three different plots, which is a pet peeve of mine, but the stories are easy to follow. The Winter Children plot is more adventurous, Carter must deal with internal issues in his story, and Max's tale reads like an adventure mystery. The Piper captures Carter, but their relationship becomes complicated. Carter says he will help the Piper get his pipe back, but he also thinks he's leading the Piper into a trap. Along the way, the Piper offers to help Carter become a magician. This power begins to give him confidence and makes him question his thoughts about the Piper. Is the Piper evil? Why would the Piper help him overcome his fears? While the Piper still shows his evil qualities, the end of the book continues the doubt surrounding his past and his true motivations. I'm anxious to read the last book in the trilogy.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Five Elements #1: The Emerald Tablet by Dan Jolley

The Emerald Tablet (Five Elements #1)My name is Brett, and I control Water. Gabe's going to move away, so my twin sister, Kaz, and I did a friendship ceremony in an underground chamber. It turns out we each bonded with a different element, and we didn't find out until later that magick is the fifth element. I also didn't tell the others that a mysterious voice has been talking to me in my dreams and telling me what to do. It's my fault that my brother died last year, and the voice says I can still save him. The voice neglected to tell us that a psycho cult wants to get their hands on us now to unite our world with Arcadia, a world of pure magick. That's probably a bad idea based on the terrifying monsters that have already escaped Arcadia and are now hunting us. 

This book is similar to others in which characters develop powers and must save the world. Having the powers arise from a seemingly innocent friendship ceremony is unusual, and having one of the main characters manipulate his friends makes it more so. Kaz is an interesting character to follow. He is the character who reluctantly participates in the adventure but knows that they're in over their heads. He's also the character who fully embraces his powers when he discovers he can control the Earth. Quite a transformation! It was a little sad to see how the voice used Brett's despair for his brother to make him do things. Readers will know that all of his decisions have secrets behind them. This book is the beginning of the series, and I'm curious to know how the next one begins. Arcadia was introduced, but I imagine it will become a much bigger factor. The question is, how much bigger?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Unwanteds #7:Island of Dragons by Lisa McMann

Island of Dragons (Unwanteds, #7)My name is Aaron, and I know I must leave Artime soon. My twin brother Alex and his friends seem to have forgiven me despite all the evil I've done in the past, but I don't understand how to live among kindness. I can sense that Alex is jealous of my magical abilities, but he doesn't know about the mistakes I've made. We've discovered pirates have been traveling to Warbler Island, and that can only mean trouble. The queen is determined to retrieve the prisoners we helped escape, so we're now preparing for an attack. But Alex just told me a disturbing secret. He gave me a medicine that makes me immortal; I can't be killed. He also asked me to become Head Mage of Artime, but my deep thirst for power is starting to consume me. I don't know if I can control it.

This book is the last one in the series, and you really need to read the others first. It has a lot more happening than some of the earlier books, as Artime prepares for war. Actually, the battle itself takes up much of the plot, since it goes on for days. Alex is unaware of his brother's hidden demons, so allowing him to become Head Mage could be disastrous. Aaron's internal conflicts become major issues, and the truth eventually come out. The author does a wonderful job of bringing the series to an end, although there are some parts that may upset readers. War is destructive, and some main characters are killed or suffer serious injuries that can't be healed. I've been reading this series for five years as it was written which creates some problems for me. Many, many characters have been introduced during the series, some of them people but many of them magically-created creatures. Waiting a year for books to be written sometimes makes it hard to remember all of the characters' personalities and relationships. However, you shouldn't have that problem if you're just starting the series. Since I read all seven books, I can obviously recommend the series.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Memory Thief by Bryce Moore

The Memory Thief by Bryce MooreMy name is Benji, and I didn't mean to become a memory thief. My parents were fighting again at the fair, I was being chased by bullies, and I ducked into Louie's tent to get away. Louie is a memory thief, and he already knew what I was thinking and even put one of his memories right into my mind! He warned me to stay away from a lady with tattoos, but I didn't listen. She showed up, my twin sister forgot who I was, and then Louie died right in front of me! Before he died, Louie put all of his memories into my head, which is how I became a memory thief. Now, the lady has ruined my parents' and sister's memories and the memories for most of the visitors to the fair. I tried stopping her once but failed miserably. She says she'll fix my family if I give her all of Louie's memories, but I can't trust her. She'll just erase my knowledge when she gets the chance, and then who'll be left to stop her?

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Book Award in the category of Elementary and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. The conflict was imaginative, and Benji soon understood the consequences of his new power. He wanted to erase his parents' memories of fighting with each other, but he realized those memories helped to create their personalities. He felt guilty about visiting people's memories, but he temporarily overcome that when things got serious. The author added an additional problem through whispers. Benji heard them whenever he was thieving memories, and their power almost trapped him. Benji is a very likable character and displays admirable qualities. He is caring for others and even has compassion for the women causing him problems. He wonders how she became so evil and ends up helping her when she needs it. He wants to help his family with its problems, but he doesn't want to change his parents or sisters. An important moment occurs when he's trying to help his twin sister, as he discovers how others may have totally different points of view for the same events. A very valuable lesson indeed! I highly recommend you give this book a read.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

When the Sea Turned to SilverMy name is Pinmei, and Amah, my grandmother, has been taken by the emperor. Everyone calls her the Storyteller, but I remember all of her stories too. The emperor is forcing all of the men in the kingdom to build a Vast Wall, but I don't know why he took Amah. Maybe he'll let her go, if we can find a Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. The emperor now seems to be invincible and impossibly strong, and I wonder if it has something to do with the missing Black Tortoise. Yishan has been helping me find my grandmother, but I think he's keeping secrets from me. There is magic in Amah's stories, but a story of my own creation may be the one to save the kingdom.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. It is wonderfully written and tells a descriptive tale of adventure. Amah's stories tell of fantastic events that mirror reality. I wasn't sure how to handle them while I read the book, but they provided clues about what was actually happening in the kingdom. Pinmei's character was dependent on Amah, but she became much more confident along the way. She cared about others and even displayed compassion for the emperor, up to a point. I found the short stories disrupted the flow of the plot, but others may disagree. The philosophical tone of the plot may turn off less mature readers, but the book was very well written. Readers can expect an Asian setting with characters able to transform into amazing creatures and immortal beings. I recommend you give this book a shot!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

The Evil Wizard SmallboneMy name is Nick, and my best friend is a bookshop. The evil wizard Smallbone won't teach me any magic, so the bookstore has been teaching me spells. All Smallbone has done is change me into a spider, a rock, and a rat! There's something strange about the people in this town, and they say Smallbone is supposed to protect them from coyotes. He says the defenses he's set up around the boundaries are failing, because the people have broken the promises in their contract. I don't fully understand it all, but I know there's danger lurking. A powerful, magical white wolf is building a gang of biker coyotes, and Smallbone isn't sure he can be defeated. The bookshop has been teaching me about transformations and other spells, but I don't know if it will be enough to help.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. It's surprising to find an evil character like Smallbone who's also endearing. He might change characters into different animals or objects, but he will then come to their defense. He is strict about his expectations and punishes Nick when he doesn't meet them. Nick seems to be secretly practicing magic, but then Smallbone seems to know exactly what's going on. This game of cat and mouse is fun to follow. The threat of the white wolf grows throughout the plot and ends with the inevitable showdown with Smallbone. However, it's clear that Nick's growing power will become very important in the end. I recommend this book to lovers of magic, with a twist of fun and humor.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hagwood Trilogy #1: Thorn Ogres of Hagwood by Robin Jarvis

Thorn Ogres Of Hagwood (The Hagwood Trilogy, #1)My name is Gamaliel, and I can't even succeed at wergling into a mouse. Changing into different animals is the key to our survival, and I'm thankful that Finnen is trying to help me. No one can wergle better than him; it's almost unnatural. Later, I'd only heard stories about the High Lady, but Finnen took me along to secretly see her and her army of terrifying creatures. They really exist, and Frighty Aggie too! Frighty Aggie bit me and I almost died, but I think the poison has affected me in some strange way. Smith, the Pucca who saved me, told us about the High Lady's growing power, and he says he has a way to stop her. However, the death of Mufus has changed everything. Finnen has been exiled, and the other wergles don't believe the great danger that will soon befall them. I must do something to help my friend, and save my village.

Hopefully you won't mind animals as characters. This book is much better than I anticipated, and I'd like to read the next book in the trilogy. Gamaliel is just like other inept main characters who turn out to be heroes. He can't learn to wergle until his life depends on it, and then the results are very unexpected. Finnen's character had many of the same issues as Gamaliel, but he took a shortcut to help with his wergling. Now, he regrets the decision, and his secret makes him a reluctant hero. Strangely, Frighty Aggie, a fearsome creature of legend, takes an interest in him. The author kept a nice pace to the plot and included enough action to keep readers engaged. Besides several skirmishes, there are some larger fights with Frighty Aggie and the High Lady's secret army. The climax to the book is the battle with the army, and the wergles accidentally figure out a way overcome the overwhelming odds. I recommend you give this book a shot!

The Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers

The Voyage to Magical NorthMy name is Brine, and Peter and I have been "rescued" by a pirate. Cassie O'Pia, the pirate captain, planned to sell us off to repay a debt, but things didn't work out as she thought. The buyer turned out to be Marfak West, the most evil and powerful magician of all time, and the sworn enemy of the Cassie. I guess she hadn't really killed him like she thought. He believes the stories of Magical North are true, and he is the only person who knows the way there. I suppose Cassie allowed him aboard our ship to find the treasure, but Magical North is also the strongest source of magic in the world. Marfak West doesn't care about the treasure, and we don't know what he really wants. We do know he's up to no good and can't be trusted. Peter wants to keep his magical powers a secret, but that's no longer an option. I think he's stronger than he believes, and I know he'll be thrown into the center of the looming fight between Cassie and Marfak West. It's believed a person standing atop Magical North can see the entire world, past and future, and I truly want to find out where I come from.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. The plot was creative, as I thought it would focus on Brine's past. It was often on her mind, but the problem revolved around the search for Magical North. The whole concept of Magical North was intriguing, and the "partnership" of Marfak West and Cassie created an interesting conflict. It was obvious Marfak had plans, and it was equally obvious that Cassie knew more than she let on. Peter's character faced a huge internal conflict. He liked that Marfak West took an interest in him and taught him magic, but he feared the knowledge would make him become evil too. It was a neat twist to put limits on the magical power, as it could be used up and needed recharging. The struggle to reach Magical North was complicated by bears, whales, and penguins. They weren't called penguins, but it was strange to view the flightless birds as a dangerous threat. I always appreciate stories that require characters to have faith in each other. Peter and Brine quarreled quite a bit, but they always trusted and cared about each other.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Shadow Magic #1 by Joshua Khan

Shadow Magic  (Shadow Magic #1)My name is Thorn, and the executioner if Castle Gloom purchased me from a slave trader. I've heard there are vampires and dark magic in Gehenna, but Lady Shadow, Lily, doesn't fit the darkness and gloom of the kingdom. I guess she likes my unusual talents, including the ability to fly atop a fifty-foot bat, and we've become friends. 
Lily's ancestors used to be able to raise the dead, but it's against the law for her to perform magic. Her parents and brothers were murdered, and she's supposed to marry a prince from a neighboring kingdom to stop a war. However, someone has tried to kill Lily twice, and we don't know how to keep her safe. Lily may need to break the law to find the assassin, but I was shocked to hear who the executioner thinks killed Lily's parents. No one has ever survived the executioner's search, but this time he must fail.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. I really enjoyed the characters and plot, despite the darkness of the book. Some people might describe the book as having a Gothic twist, and ghosts, zombies, and bats should be expected. Lily is supposed to rule over Gehenna, but the adults treat her like a kid. She's a rebellious sort of girl, so that doesn't sit well. Thorn is a peasant boy, but Lily likes his sneakiness, honor, and courage. Other characters don't take kindly to Thorn's behavior, mainly enemy royalty, but it makes him an endearing character. The plot often breaks away into two storylines, but they always follow Lily or Thorn, who are working together. I appreciated the trust and caring displayed between these characters, and it was nice to see a dirty peasant become the key to saving the kingdom. The plot built to an exciting climax, and it left some surprises for the end. I highly recommend this book to lovers of magic and mystery; you won't be disappointed.

The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore

The Firefly CodeMy name is Mori, and at the age of thirteen, we're told our genetic codes and have a surgery to reveal the latency, or special talent, locked in our brains. I love everything about plants, but I wonder what my latency will be. I live in New Harmonie where everyone works for Krita,  and I suppose someday I'll work for the giant corporation too. Oh! A new girl named Ilana just moved onto our cul-de-sac, and she's amazing! She's tall, beautiful, athletic, and she shares my interest with plants. However, my best friend Julia doesn't like her, and my other friends think she's different. I admit she's freakishly perfect and can't answer some questions about her past, but she's been a great friend to me. Ilana even agreed to enter the abandoned House Number 9 with me where a founder of New Harmonie once lived. I discovered some old files about Krita research, but I noticed a computer file that has me confused. I think it might have something to do with Ilana.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in EMG Speculative Fiction. The setting is in the future where the citizens of New Harmonie are protected from the evils found outside the city. There's no starvation, people get what they need, and all of their medical needs are fulfilled. The kids are allowed to have some genetic modifications, and Mori had some done to correct her vision. The book addresses the ethical issues surrounding genetic engineering, robotics, and artificial intelligence. The plot isn't full of action, but the author slowly develops the conflict and keeps readers thinking. It moved a little too slowly for me, as I still wasn't sure of the conflict a fourth of the way into the book. I thought it was about the latencies, but that seem to take a backseat as I got further into the plot. Ilana became the main issue, but her problem slowly evolved. The last third of the book was much more engaging once the conflict became clear. However, the conclusion of the book left me with more questions than I wanted to answer. It felt unfinished.

The Goblin's Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton

The Goblin's Puzzle: The Adventures of a Boy With No Name and Two Girls Called AlliceMy name is... actually, I don't have a name. I've run away from my master, but I keep thinking that I'm still a slave. I rescued a goblin, and he's reluctantly granted me three vows (He insisted I keep two for myself, but I still wanted to grant to my master). One vow forces him to always tell me the truth, but it's all very confusing. He says I'm not a slave, but I'm still a slave. What? I know I must defeat three monsters and save a princess, because that's how it's told in all the Tales. My first quest was to free Princess Alice from an ogre, but she turned out to be Plain Alice. The real princess was captured by a dragon, but the dragon is being controlled by an evil sorcerer. I must save her from the beast, but Plain Alice has made me promise to not hurt the dragon. How is a simple boy like me supposed to do that? I didn't find out until later, but the princess's uncle has put a spell on the dragon and is trying to take over the kingdom. I must free the princess, because I've promised on my honor to do it. However, I must figure out some way to prove I'm not a slave, or I'll be hanged when this all over.

This book is a finalist for the 2016 Cybils Award in Elementary and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. The main character is very endearing, even though he doesn't have a name! He feels like he has no control over his life, but he has a great sense of honor and doing what's right. Actually, a major theme in this book addresses the issue of fate versus control of one's life. Many of the boy's decisions are influenced by the belief that his fate is to remain a slave, but Plain Alice continuously points out the illogical thinking. Another big theme deals with the concept of slavery. The boy supports it because that's all he's ever known, but the other main characters believe it's wrong for any human to own another human.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Cybils Finalists in EMG Speculative Fiction

I've started my role as a Cybils panelist to choose the best book of 2016 in Elementary and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. Here are the books we're considering:

When the Sea Turned To Silver, by Grace Lin
The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman
Shadow Magic, by Joshua Kahn
The Memory Thief, by Bryce Moore
The Firefly Code, by Megan Frazer Blakemore
The Goblin's Puzzle, by Andrew Chilton
The Voyage to Magical North, by Claire Fayers