Friday, March 31, 2017

House of Secrets #1 by Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini

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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Septimus Heap #2: Flyte by Angie Sage

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

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

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

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

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

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

Septimus Heap #1: Magyk by Angie Sage

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

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Shadow Magic #2: Dream Magic by Joshua Khan

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

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Boy X by Dan Smith

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

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

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

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

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

Bounders #2: The Tundra Trials by Monica Tesler

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

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

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

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

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