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 Lily 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 of 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 the winner of 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