Friday, November 17, 2017

Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike

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

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

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

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

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

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

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

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

Liesel & Po by Lauren Oliver

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

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 28, 2017

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

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

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

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

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

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Gravedigger's Son by Patrick Moody

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

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

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

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

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

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

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

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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander

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

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Monsterland by James Crowley

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

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

Friday, August 25, 2017

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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

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

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

The Sunken Kingdom #1: Ghost Ship by Kim Wilkins

Ghost Ship (The Sunken Kingdom, #1)
My name is Asa, and my brother Rollo and I must constantly be on the lookout for Emperor Flood's spies and patrols. He's already killed our parents, the king and queen, but we just found out our baby sister Una is still alive! Flood's sister hates him more than she hates us, and she secretly took Una away. A former jailer has given us supplies and a ghost ship called Northseeker to help us find our sister. In addition, we've been enchanted with some magic that allows me to fly and my brother to breathe underwater. The quest will be dangerous, but we must rescue Una!

This book is very short, about forty pages including pictures. I read an ebook version and didn't realize it was so short when I started. However, the plot moved quickly and had some interesting aspects to it. I think it would have been much better if it had been more fully developed. The kids didn't really use their powers for anything meaningful, so I assume their magic will be a bigger factor in the sequel. Despite the dangers, the kids found their sister fairly easily. It would have been more entertaining if they had done more than hide from Flood's patrols and spies. Let the kids use their powers, their intelligence, or their determination to escape danger. In addition, it was difficult to develop the personalities of the characters while developing a plot in only forty pages. It would have been nice to be able to get to know the kids. My review is short as was the book. This story was good, but it could have been so so much better.

The Lost Kingdom by Matthew J. Kirby

The Lost KingdomMy name is Billy, and Benjamin Franklin has welcomed me to join my father and others as a member of the Philosophical Society. I didn't even know they existed, but these scientists secretly act as protectors of the colonies. The Society fears a war between France and England is looming, and the colonies will be the battleground. We're following legends and heading west on a flying ship to find the lost Welsh kingdom of Prince Madoc, and we hope to convince the kingdom to become our allies. I've seen people hiding in the shadows spying on us, we need to avoid French forces searching for us, there is a traitor among our group, and our leader is missing. My father has taken over, but I'm doubting his judgment. I once thought I wanted to be just like him, but I now find myself openly questioning his prejudice and leadership.

It seems I like the author's writing style, since this is the third book I've read that was written by Matthew Kirby. The other books were more science fictiony, while this one is based more on historical fiction. A major issue in the plot dealt with prejudice. Billy's father didn't trust any Indians and felt they were all untrustworthy savages. John's feelings were stressed to their limits when a half-Indian joined the group as a guide. Billy liked Andrew and didn't understand why his father distrusted the man. Many of his father's decisions were based on preconceived thoughts, and John ignored the opinions and ideas from others. John and Andrew presented a great contrast in characters, as the half-Indian did his best to ignore the accusations and bravely help the group survive. The author was able to evoke some contempt toward Billy's father which created an emotional connection to the story. A lesson learned in the end was "To err is human, to forgive divine." The plot built to an unexpected battle during the climax, a secret about Madoc's party was revealed, and the success of the mission was debated. It's been awhile since I've read a book that wasn't part of series, and this book was a surprising pleasure.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Dark Gravity Sequence #1: The Arctic Code by Matthew J. Kirby

The Arctic Code (Dark Gravity Sequence, #1)My name is Luke, and I had no idea why a twelve-year-old girl would want to stowaway in my plane headed for Barrow, Alaska. The temperatures drop to 200 degrees below zero, and your lungs can freeze while trying to breathe. Once we arrived, I found out Eleanor's mother works for G.E.T. and went missing while searching for sources of energy. I don't trust the company, and I'm surprised to find the owner up here in this land of ice. He was the one who predicted the arrival of this Ice Age, but his company's all about making money. I'm not sure how seriously they're searching for Eleanor's mother, and Dr. Skinner has been pressuring the girl to turn over her Sync. It's the only connection she has to her mother, and I know she's lying to Skinner about it. I suspect she's keeping more secrets, and she's reckless enough to try something crazy. I've already saved her life once, but I may not be there next time.

You immediately know this science fiction book will be different due to subzero temperatures in Arizona and the Ice Cap now covering most of the country. Eleanor gets secret information from her mother, and that becomes the basis for the whole plot. You're never totally sure what it's all about, but you know it could affect the whole world. The author's inclusion of missing cultures makes the plot interesting. There are characters from the distant past and technology that far exceeds what we should have on Earth. In addition, Eleanor's father is unknown; her mother always blames her questionable behavior on the Donor. Books with adopted kids or mysterious parents always leave open the possibility of unexpected surprises. Although Eleanor's parentage is never revealed, it's clear that her father's heredity is having a huge impact on the events. Eleanor mostly acted alone in this book, with some help along the way, but I'm going to assume there will be more of a team effort in the sequel. I'm curious to find out what happens next, so I've already checked out the next two books in the series. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Five Elements #2: The Shadow City by Dan Jolley

The Shadow City (Five Elements #2)My name is Gabe, and I have the power to control fire. The Eternal Dawn once again is trying to open a gate to Arcadia and bring back Jonathan Thorn. He wants to unite Arcadia, a magical shadow city of San Francisco, with our world and unleash the poison and deadly creatures into our world. My friends and I barely defeated a leviathan sent to destroy us, and we were forced to face it again on our way to Alcatraz. However, we unwittingly leaped into a trap! Now, I find myself lying atop a table, with a knife looming over my chest during a sacrificial ceremony. I don't know if Brett, Lily, Kaz, and Jackson will be able to help me. Brett's been behaving strangely, and he's ready to come to blows with Jackson. Those guys really seem to hate each other. But if they can't save me and stop the Eternal Dawn, who will?

I suggest you read the first book to understand how the five main characters came together. The tensions with Jackson continued in this book, but the author revealed more about Jackson's past to help Lily understand his behavior. The other characters had their own complications too. Brett's the leader of the group, and his behavior has been off. His decisions were questionable, and the conflicts with Jackson became extreme. Kaz had the most "normal" family situation, and his parents' concerns added an unexpected twist to the plot. It was understandable, but it wasn't necessary. Jackson's character became more prominent in this plot, while Kaz seemed to take a lesser role. What will you like about this book? You'll enjoy the battles with strange monsters, and the conflict between the kids and the Eternal Dawn. Thorn is nuts, and that's not a good thing for a powerful leader of a cult. Part of the setting moved to Arcadia, just like in the first book, and that world is pretty strange. I'm still not totally sure how things work there. Characters were affected by the magick, but it wasn't equal. Steve was affected physically but not mentally, while Aria didn't change as much physically but was mentally gone. Overall, it's an entertaining series, and I think you'll enjoy it if my description appeals to you at all.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wandmaker #1 by Ed Masessa

Wandmaker (Wandmaker #1)My name is Henry, and Coralis says it should take years of apprenticeship to screw up as badly as I've done. You've heard of the power of seventh sons, right? Well, my mother and father are sevenths, so Coralis say that gives me extra special powers. I've accidentally changed my annoying sister Brianna into a blue hedgehog, left a gold nugget absorbing negative energy in my house, and captured evil moonbeams in my aura. My parents seemed to be having a fight before abandoning us, and I'm starting to wonder if my father is evil. Now, Coralis is the greatest Wand Maker in the world, and he says he needs my help. We've traveled to land of my ancestors where we've discovered a plot to spread evil across the earth, with catastrophic results.

As you can tell, this is another book with a young hero discovering new powers. Similar to the Harry Potter books and the Magisterium series, we have a protagonist with evil inside that may arise in the future. It leaves a lingering problem that could explode at any time. Henry was ready to believe in his magical ability, although I'm not sure why his little sister wasn't more upset about becoming a hedgehog. She easily transformed into his sidekick. I found it interesting how the characters used different wands for different purposes, since I'm used to a wizard owning one, special wand. Some wands were disposable and could only be used once. The author also slipped in moments of humor to enhance the action. Henry's sister became a blue hedgehog, Coralis was annoyed with modern society, and the two main antagonists had issues with each other and the call of Mother Nature (if you know what I mean). I don't feel like this book is a must-read, but it's entertaining. 

Wandmaker #2: Wandmaker's Apprentice by Ed Masessa

Wandmaker's Apprentice (Wandmaker #2)My name is Brianna, and my brother Henry is leader of the apprentices. Coralis has collected four other boys and girls who are mastering the four elements. Henry is mastering all of them, and I'm being trained as an Enhancer with the ability to strengthen the apprentices' powers. Unfortunately, Coralis neglected his duties to guard the earth, so Malachai's powers have grown. He's gotten his hands on the Pangaea Particle and plans to unleash unspeakable creatures into the world. The particle seems to have a mind of its own and is driving Malachai even crazier. I don't know how this might affect his mental connection to my father, and I don't know if our apprentice training will be enough to stop him. However, I do know we are the only ones with a chance.

You need to read Wandmaker first. I enjoyed this sequel more due to the addition of the other apprentices. One of them had anger issues and had difficulty getting along, and the addition of a boy brought out Henry's jealousy and competitiveness. It would have been easy for Brianna to become an extra character, but her enhancement ability gave her a connection to everyone. It was a huge contrast to her role as a blue hedgehog in book one. She had an additional ability to communicate with rodents, and a couple other characters could talk to birds. Henry's character was the most dynamic even though he had the most experience. He was unsure of his role among the apprentices, and he became less certain when he became leader. As the plot unfolded, the variety of his abilities became evident, and his determination and compassion for others were key. The author did a great job of describing Malachai's ever-increasing insanity, and it created a more complicated conflict. You should enjoy the adventure, action, and magic of the story, and the whole book is based on nature. The apprentices are able to summon water, earth, air, and fire, and heck, even Earth Mother Gaia is a character. It's a shame that I'll need to wait another year until book three comes out.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Darkmouth #3: Chaos Descends by Shane Hegarty

Darkmouth #3: Chaos DescendsMy name is Gerald the Disappointed, and I've been brought back, after being dessicated years ago, to save Darkmouth. The current group of Legend Hunters is pathetic and inept, although I'm slowly beginning to think my grandson and great-grandson might have potential. Hugo and Finn had already Trapped Mr. Glad, but it seems the man now has the power to open a portal to the Infested Side. His abilities give the Fomorian army a huge advantage, as the open portal will allow them to pour into our world. That's why I've been brought back from dessication. However, I can only return once, and I will die in a few hours. I've been told Finn survived a battle on the Infested Side, and he's showing more courage and brains than I expected. I'm a skilled Legend Hunter; I just hope Finn and his father are up for the challenge.

I wasn't sure about this series when I started the first book, but it's growing in me. Finn is once again the main protagonist, but he still doubts himself. He now sees himself as a Legend Hunter, which is a huge development. I enjoy his banter with Emmie, and she keeps him balanced. Gerald is a new, fun character, as he has high standards for Finn and his father. Finn is kind of used to it, but Gerald's comments get under Finn's father's skin. The anticipation of Mr. Glad's arrival takes up most of the plot, and it builds to a major battle between the Legends and Legend Hunters. Finn is the hero once again, but the author leaves a huge surprise for the resolution. I was expecting something from Lucien, a disgruntled employee from the Legend Hunters headquarters, but I was not expecting what he was able to pull off. It will have a huge impact on the next book. You'll enjoy this book if you like monsters and monster hunting. However, read the other books first!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Magisterium #3: The Bronze Key by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Bronze Key (Magisterium,  #3)My name is Call, and there is a spy at the Magisterium who is trying to kill me. Only my close friends know the soul of the Enemy of Death is inside me, and I keep hoping it won't make me evil. My friend Aaron and I are the only Makaris (we have the ability to control chaos magic) and maybe that's why someone wants me dead. Aaron thinks the spy might be a friend of mine, and there is a rumor going around the school that Aaron himself is that person. A fire elemental says the most powerful Makar is behind recent deaths, so that must mean it's Aaron, right? Is there a secret Makar we don't know about? We also discovered suspicious evidence of Anastasia Tarquin's interest in the Enemy of Death. What does it all mean?

It's been a couple years since I read book 2, The Copper Gauntlet, and you will need to read the other books. This series has many similarities to the Harry Potter books, but it's not nearly as long. You have the three close friends, the main character has a connection to a seriously evil character, and the setting is in a school for magic. In contrast, Call is constantly worried about becoming evil, the mages perform elemental magic, Call has a lovable, chaos-filled wolf named Havoc, and the Magisterium is located in caves. An interesting twist to this book is the identify of the spy. Aaron is a best friend of Call, but Call goes back and forth with considering the possibility that Aaron is the one trying to kill him. In addition, the authors introduce adolescent love to Call, but he is insecure and doesn't know what to do. The girl expresses interest but ends up with someone else when Call hesitates. The plot isn't action-packed, but it has plenty of mystery and suspense with the unknown assassin and the attempts on Call's life. The book includes a couple of huge surprises during the climax and resolution. I'm enjoying the series as it unfolds.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Quantum League #1: Spell Robbers by Matthew J. Kirby

Spell Robbers (The Quantum League, #1)My name is Ben. You're an NA, so I won't try to fully explain what it means to be an actuator. I can make things happen with my mind; it's quantum physics, not magic. I've been recruited by the Quantum League, but I'm furious that they've detached me from my mom. She doesn't remember anything about me! Mr. Weathersky says they'll reattach her if I'll complete one mission. The Dread Cloaks have stolen a portable augmenter and have kidnapped Dr. Hughes to perfect it. This machine will become a powerful weapon in the wrong hands, and the leader of the Dread Cloaks is that man. The League says they'll return Ronin's daughter if he'll help me with my mission. I don't know if I can trust this criminal, and I don't know if I can trust the League either. They want me to convince the Dread Cloaks that I'm willing to become a double agent, but I don't know how to do it. Ronin tells me to improvise, so I guess that's what I'll do.

The plot flows pretty well, so it should be easy for most readers to quickly complete the book. There's a lot of double-crossing and lying going on, so expect the unexpected. I really like Ben's skepticism and anger toward the Quantum League. He's not 100% willing to accept that they're the good guys, since they detached him and won't give Ronin his daughter. Would protagonists do that to people? I'm still not sure who's good and bad even after finishing the book. Peter is Ben's best friend at the League, and I expected him to be more involved in the plot. I thought he'd become Ben's sidekick, but he was absent during Ben's mission. The sequel will be interesting, since Ben is a prodigy and has shown unusual abilities. There are five levels of actuation, and no character has been able perform the top two levels. Two characters (three if you count the mystery man) have been able to perform even level three. Actuating a tornado takes uncommon power. Will level four and five be coming in future? Ben makes a huge decision at the end of this book that will have dramatic effects in the next one. I'm still not sure why this book is called Spell Robbers, but I've already reserved the sequel at my local library.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Zodiac Legacy #3: The Balance of Power by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, Andie Tong

The Zodiac Legacy: Balance of Power (Zodiac Legacy, #3)My name is Roxanne, and membership on the Zodiac team has changed drastically. Steven was able to restore our powers, but we've been joined by our former enemies to fight Maxwell, although the Dragon has totally taken him over. These people were trying to kill us only a few, short months ago, and now we're supposed to trust them? Steven's parents showed us a video of the Dragon's devastation in Alaska, but we aren't sure where to find the creature now. Steven doesn't know what we should do; he's had some disturbing visions from ancient Zodiacs, and he had a disturbing visit inside Carlos's comatose mind. The Dragon isn't human and wants to eliminate all of us from the earth. The Dragon is the most powerful Zodiac of all, and we've discovered it plans to coordinate explosions all around the planet. Steven's visions have told him he'll need to make a huge decision and he'll fail, but failure is not an option.

You need to read the first two books in the series. This book didn't have the direct focus found in the first two books. I knew the team would eventually need to face Maxwell/Dragon, but it was put on the back burner for awhile. The plot began with an exciting escape and reclamation of the Zodiac powers, but then it slowed down as Steven tried to figure things out and tried to form the new team. The action amped up again once the Zodiacs went out to stop the Dragon. Personally, there were so many characters that I  felt like their relationships got watered down. There were Steven and Kim, Steven and his parents, the old Zodiacs and the new Zodiacs, Jasmine and Carlos and Maxwell, and additional relationships. There were too many to develop them all fully. Overall, I've enjoyed the series and recommend you give it a shot. It seemed like this book wrapped everything up, but the last chapter hinted that there might be more to come. I can't find a Zodiac Legacy #4 in Goodreads, although I did see a few books related to the series including a graphic novel called The Age of Bronze.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Zodiac Legacy #2: The Dragon's Return by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, Andie Tong

The Zodiac Legacy: The Dragon's Return (Zodiac Legacy, #2)My name is Steven, and my Zodiac team is falling apart. Kim is gone, Roxanne wants to leave, and Carlos has been missing for three months. Jasmine has been taking Carlos's disappearance hard, and I'm not sure if she's able to control the dragon power she absorbed from Maxwell. Sometimes, she scares me. The detection of Zodiac energy led me to Germany, and I woke up, strapped to a table, in Maxwell's Australian fortress. Maxwell transferred my energy to one of his soldiers, and I now find myself imprisoned along with two of his former Zodiacs. I'll need their help to escape, but can I trust them? The answer is no, but I don't have any other choice.

You should read the first book in the series in order to understand the character's relationships. The big twist in The Dragon's Return is Steven's loss of his Zodiac powers. It's less common in adventure novels to find the protagonist losing his abilities, while his enemy grows stronger. In addition, the fragility of the team is a huge deal, as I mentioned above. Several members are questioning their commitments to the cause, and a possible new member might be a spy. It all adds up to some fun conflicts and suspense. The story of Carlos takes an unexpected turn that will affect future events, and Maxwell adds a new crazy scientist. The fact that she's very young and has no concern for right and wrong results in a wild-card character. Who knows what she might do, no matter how terrible? I still don't fully understand the science of the Zodiac powers, and I'm still not sure how to visualize the avatars. None the less, the series is action-packed and full of adventure.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Zodiac Legacy #1: Convergence by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong

The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence (Zodiac Legacy, #1)My name is Jasmine, and young Steven has accidentally been given the power of the Zodiac Tiger. Maxwell and I share the power of the dragon, but he is cruel, crazy, and a danger to the world. He believes he should hold all of the Zodiac power within himself and has already absorbed the energy of seven Zodiac animals. I need Steven's help to protect and recruit the four individuals around the world who now hold the power of the Rooster, Pig, Rabbit, and Ram. They don't understand what has happened, and I hope I can train them and Steven can become their leader. Maxwell's Zodiacs are more powerful and are trained as soldiers, and I'm having trouble fighting off his attempts to steal my power. Steven doesn't know how important he is to our success.

The story is enhanced by comic book drawings, and it reads like a comic too. I mean that in a good way. The plot is fast-paced and full of action. The characters have unique abilities, as Roxanne's voice is a weapon, Liam is indestructible, Kim can transport, and Duane has a connection with computers. Steven is the insecure leader, and the authors leave some surprises about his abilities until later in the book. The momentum of the plot sways back and forth, as the two sides take turns gaining advantages. The success of Steven's team seems to rely on temporary fixes, and the overall success of Maxwell's Vanguard seems inevitable. What did I like best about the book? I enjoyed the non-stop adventure, as the Zodiac crew battled around the world. The conflict seemed insurmountable, so the tension remained high. What did I like least? I had a hard time visualizing the appearance of the Zodiac animals. I imagined them as ghostly apparitions rising from the characters, but that strategy didn't seem to work during some of the scenes. Overall, I can recommend the book and have already started reading the sequel.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Curiosity House #1: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester

The Shrunken Head (The Curiosity House, #1)My name is Thomas, and the new shrunken head exhibit has brought all kinds of trouble to us. It's been stolen, and there have been three unexpected deaths surrounding it; the last two victims were murdered. Now, Mr. Dumfrey says we're running out of money and may lose our home here at the Odditorium, plus the police have arrested him for Mr. Potts' murder! The police aren't even looking for the shrunken head or other suspects, so it's up to Pippa, Sam, Max, and I to solve the mysteries. Trouble seems to pop up wherever we go, and a reporter is implying we're responsible. The guy seems nice enough, and Mr. Dumfrey doesn't seem too worried about him. However, people in the public now recognize us as we search for clues, and it's making our investigation more difficult. The attention usually isn't good. And what about this Dr. Rattigan who's escaped from prison? Is it a coincidence he escaped at the same time our problems began?

This book is the first in a series. The charm of the story can be found in the children and their exceptional abilities. Thomas can bend his body into unbelievable positions, Pippa can kind of read minds, Max has a talent for knife throwing, and Sam is super strong. Thomas is the thinker, Max is more impulsive, and Pippa is the voice of reason. The book is a mystery with the kids being the amateur detectives. The plot meanders along with several deaths, numerous suspects, and a sense there's more going on than meets the eye. In fact, there are several things going on, and not all of them are bad. It's not until very late in the book that the author reveals the second, and perhaps more important, problem. The clues of the two main conflicts overlap throughout the book, so it's not always easy to separate them. It helps make the plot interesting, but it's a little distracting. The mystery wasn't overly compelling or attention-grabbing, and the stolen head was fairly minor. Overall, it's a good story, but I'm not sure if I'll read the sequel.

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.