Sunday, February 26, 2017

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

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

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

Pillage #2: Choke by Obert Skye

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

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

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

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

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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Nethergrim Trilogy #2: The Skeleth by Matthew Jobin

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

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Phoenix Rising by Bryony Pearce

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

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

The Nethergrim Trilogy #1: The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin

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

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

future flash by Kita Helmetag Murdock

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

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Pillage #1 by Obert Skye

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

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

Monday, February 6, 2017

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

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

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