Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Last Phoenix by Linda Chapman and Steve Cole

The Last PhoenixMy name is Jason, and the only phoenix on earth needs help from my siblings and I. Fenella has laid an egg for only the second time in her thousand-year life (the first egg disappeared), but she needs us to collect four ingredients from around the world, some found in the future and some in the past, or the egg won't hatch. She's nearing the end of this life and should soon be reborn from her ashes, but she's looking sicker each day. We fear she might die this time. Our travels to the jungle, ancient Egypt, and atop a mountain are dangerous enough, but we've been warned that someone is watching our every move. We've noticed a man in a trench coat hiding and following us around town. Who is he, and what does he want? Magic may be able to help us, but it sometimes has bad consequences. Just ask the kids playing soccer with me during the school challenge. We must find some way to save the egg and the last phoenix on earth!

This book is the sequel to Be a Genie in Six Easy Steps, but it can be read on its own. The plot offered fun scenes where the kids were challenged during their own lives and during the four quests. Young Milly wanted to be chosen for the lead role in "Annie", Jason wanted to successfully do something athletic, and Jess was stressed about doing well in school. The quests were interesting and fun to read, but they weren't overly suspenseful. However, the climax of the book offered a surprising twist. There were some clues and suspicions earlier in the plot, but I still wasn't fully prepared for the identity of the secret antagonist. This book offers a compassionate cast of characters, as the step-siblings have their little spats but truly care about one another. Despite their differences and personal issues, they were committed to helping Fenella.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

In Over Their Heads by Margaret Peterson Haddix

In Over Their Heads (Under Their Skin #2)My name is Ava, and I've been raised as a young girl, not a teenage robot. My brother Jackson, my human stepbrother Nick and stepsister Eryn, and I have discovered shocking secrets hidden in Mammoth Cave. Nick and Eryn found papers directing humans to kill all robots, and then we found a cave full of cribs with young robot children in them. However, a young girl living in the cave found us, and we're not sure if she can be trusted. She's been helpful, but she becomes very defensive when we ask about her family or home. She's warned us about an approaching blizzard but then ran out of the cave; we fear she's going to kill our parents. I know it's just a matter of time before robot society discovers my illegal existence, and then my brother and I will be killed. But, is another war between robots and humans looming?

This book is the sequel to Under Their Skin, which you need to read first. There are only two books in the series, so go for it! The first half of this book took a little too long to get to the point, but the second half was very gripping. I don't think my first paragraph effectively communicates the suspense of the plot. The antagonists weren't clear, since the humans and robots each displayed a history of violence toward the other. The book addresses a fear that technology might become so advanced that it will threaten human existence. Will robots become too intelligent and powerful to be stopped? I don't generally like stories that are told from multiple points of view, but it works in this book. The setting doesn't jump around much, so the plot is easy to follow. Actually, using different points of view was a good choice, since the characters had such different feelings about the situation. Eryn became frightened and had some extreme views, while her brother was more understanding. Jackson's situation was totally different from everyone else. Good job!

Donny's Inferno #1 by P.W. Catanese

Donny's Inferno (Donny's Inferno #1)My name is Donny, and I've been sent to Hell. That's the price I paid for being saved by a demon named Angela from the top of a burning building. Things have changed a lot in Sulfur, the new name for Hell, but trouble's brewing. Lucifer has left, and Angela stopped the practice of eternally burning souls in the Pit of Fire. However, many of the creatures down here don't like that change, and they fear Lucifer's wrath when he returns. Now, Destruction Fire has been stolen, mysterious black clouds have formed, and Sooth was murdered after predicting "After the light comes the fall." Angela is mad at me, and I deserve it, but I still need to warn her and other members of the council about the terrific danger they're in. I suspect Havoc is behind all of this, but how can we prove it?

The whole idea of this book is very creative and possibly controversial. I mean, the setting is in Hell, and endearing characters exist to punish evil souls. A central part of the conflict concerns how to punish the souls. Burn them eternally or torment them until it's time for the souls to move on? Donny and Angela even have a brief discussion about the existence of heaven, but the book doesn't preach religion. Angela is an interesting, dynamic character. She believes it's necessary to punish evil souls, but not forever. She enjoys terrorizing nasty people, but her one wish is to hug or pet an animal. Strange, but it humanizes her character. I'm still not totally sure why she needs Donny's help, but they make an entertaining team. Zig Zag is a symbolic, two-headed creature. Zig believes in the new changes, while Zag believes in the old ways. The heads constantly argue, as they help Angela and Donny unravel the mysteries. This book is the first in a new series, and I can't wait for the sequel.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Danny's Inferno #2: Down in Flames by P.W. Catanese

Down in Flames (Donny's Inferno #2)My name is Danny, and I am a mortal human now living in Sulfur (a place you might know as Hell) serving a demon named Angela. She led the reform that stopped the tormenting of souls for eternity in the Pit of Fire, but some creatures still want a return to tradition. The king of the ferryman spoke to the council and said there are souls being taken in the mortal world instead being delivered to Sulfur. He also said he may start his own revolution back to the old ways if the persons responsible are not stopped. Angela eagerly accepted the challenge, but we have no idea how dangerous it might be. She has a habit of overlooking the dangers I face when I help her, but I always thought she had my best interests at heart. However, I overheard her telling someone that she doesn't care if I live or die; she'll just find another mortal to replace me. I'm crushed. I may have a way to leave her, but is it the right thing to do? And will she allow it without killing me?

You should read Donny's Inferno first. It explains all of the background knowledge you need to understand Down in Flames. The premise underlying the series is unusual. Who would ever think demons in the underworld might have a moral problem with forcing damned souls into a burning pit of fire for eternity? Angela believes souls should have a chance for redemption with the possibility of eventually finding eternal rest. Donny's character is obviously in a bizarre situation. A human teenager living among demons in the underworld? The conversation he overheard with Angela added a whole new dimension to the plot and became a major problem for him. He wants to please Angela, but he has mortal fears and thinks he's being taken for granted. I felt like the mystery of the missing souls took a backseat to Donny's issues until he resolved them. I was fine with that. Angela is a great character, because she has great power and can become a terrifying creature but seems naive about the mortal world. She can act like a mother to Donny then immediately strike terror into everyone around her. Overall, I'm enjoying the series very much, and recommend it to readers. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Thickety #4: The Last Spell by J.A. White

The Last Spell (The Thickety, #4)My name is Kara, and my brother Taff and I must find the rest of the original grimoire called Vulkera before Rygoth can collect all four parts. The legendary spell book will give her indescribable power, and she will use it to destroy the world. She's already sent the twins and an army of witches to kill us. We spoke to a man who helped locate the four parts of the book, but Taff may soon pay the price. Rygoth beat us to the first cover of the book, so we've traveled to an abandoned castle in the middle of the desert to capture the small chest containing the pages. However, the chest is guarded by a creature that won't stay killed and only exists to protect it. We killed it with an arrow, but it rose again with new defenses for our attacks. To complicate matters further, I've allowed Grace to travel with us despite the treachery she's shown in the past. I believe there's good in everyone, but what if this time I'm wrong?

This book is the last one in a four-book series, and you need to read the others first. Grace's character wonderfully complicates the conflict, because you never know if she's good or bad. She says she's given up magic and helps Kara along the way, but Kara continues to have doubts. The question is never clearly answered even at the end of the book. Kara and her brother make a good team. She has all the magical power, but Taff has the brains (even though he's only eight years old!). Kara has an ability to make mental bridges with other living things, but it costs her memories. The greater the connection, the greater the memory loss. This creates conflicts, as she tries to defeat Rygoth. Kara's doubts and Rygoth's seemingly unlimited power will hold the interest of adventure lovers. Surprisingly, the book's epilogue even holds an unexpected twist that resolves a final issue.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dragons vs. Drones #2: Enemy of the Realm by Wesley King

Enemy of the Realm (Dragons vs. Drones)My name is Dree, and Marcus and I are Furies, the rarest of dragon riders. Hopefully, our immunity to fire and our ability to create it will help us stop the evil prime minister Francis Xidorne. He is sending attack drones to obliterate cities, murder citizens, and slay dragons. He's even using Marcus's Baby Hybrid, a combination drone and dragon, against us, so Marcus hopes to work with his Uncle Jack to create a new Teen Hybrid. We were successful in bringing the Egg back through the portal, and we planned to use its power is key to strengthening Teen Hybrid. We must destroy the factory to stop the production of more drones, and we must somehow get Francis out of the palace. However, I'm wondering if humans have the right to harness the power of dragon magic found within the Egg. My choices may doom the Resistance to defeat.

This book is the sequel to Dragons vs. Drones, and you need to read it first. This one does not have as much action as book one, and the events dramatically lead to a climactic battle. An intriguing part of this series is dragons and humans fighting the deadly drones, but there are few actual confrontations between them until the end. Marcus and Dree learn more about the history of Furies and are alarmed to hear the last Fury became evil. This causes them to question themselves and what they might become. On the positive side, there have never been two Furies together, so the possibilities of these two characters are unknown.  In book one, the creation of Baby Hybrid was fun to follow, as it became a new character. However, it takes on a cameo role this time, and Teen Hybrid isn't completed until much later in the plot. I would have liked to have seen Teen Hybrid become more of a character instead of another weapon. Overall, it's a fun book, and I think you'll enjoy it!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dragons vs. Drones by Wesley King

Dragons vs. DronesMy name is Marcus, and the deaths of hundreds of people are all my fault. Drones followed me through a portal into Dracone, and the citizens immediately came under attack. I was only trying to find my father who disappeared eight years ago. I met Dree and discovered her best friend is a dragon that she raised since he was little. She must keep her relationship secret, since the prime minister has made it his mission to kill all the dragons in Dracone. There are three kinds of drones destroying homes, slaughtering citizens, and slaying dragons, but for some reason they haven't touched the palace. We must find a way to stop them, and I have an idea that will mix my talents with computers and Dree's welding skills to create a hybrid dragon/drone. However, we are slowly discovering the crisis may be much greater than the drones, and we must locate the Dragon's Egg.

The description above only begins to tell the plot of the book. It doesn't touch on Dree's massive guilt for her little brother's death, the conflicts between dragon clans, and the real story behind the disappearance of Marcus's father. I had serious doubts about a book that combined technology and dragons, but the author made it make sense. I was very pleasantly surprised! Dragon's fire was able to fill in some of the blanks when needed. Speaking of which, Dree and Marcus shared an immunity to fire and an ability to produce it. They were the only characters able to ride dragons without being burned by the scales. This fact displayed a clear clue that there were secrets about Marcus's character that even he didn't know. The Flame dragons offered an interesting twist, since they didn't get along with anyone else. They had no use for humans or weaker dragons and wanted to eliminate all of them. This created a conflict when Dree and Marcus asked them for help and hoped they wouldn't be killed in the process! This book may sound a bit strange, but I think you'll like it in the end. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Space Runners: The Moon Platoon by Jeramey Kraatz

The Moon Platoon (Space Runners #1)My name is Benny, and I was one of the kids from Earth chosen to spend two weeks at the Lunar Taj, a luxurious resort located on the moon! I was hoping for some adventure, but I wasn't expecting the mysteries we uncovered. A girl's space runner was hit by an asteroid during a race, but that may not have been the truth. The asteroid contained unknown elements and wires, not the kind of things found in our solar system. My new friend Drue is an annoying pain in the butt, but he's helped us discover surprising secrets around the Taj. I'm not sure we're alone in space. We should probably tell Elijah, the genius billionaire creator of the resort, but I suspect he already knows what's going on. I don't know why he's hiding the truth, and I fear the survival of Earth may be in danger.

This book reminds me a bit of the Bounders series, as kids are sent into space, only to find the people in power are keeping dangerous secrets from them. The author introduces creative inventions to help the characters survive on the moon. The Taj is protected by a dome, but protective bubbles appear around the characters heads if there's a breach. The electronics are controlled by a computer hologram with a real personality. I like how small decisions by the kids lead to huge problems or discoveries, although the kids are never seriously punished. In the beginning, Benny isn't respected by any of the other scholarship winners due to his background, but he becomes their leader based on his courage, humility, and survival skills. It's a little unbelievable (actually a lot unbelievable) that Elijah never consulted other adult experts, and the kids were able to solve the problem. The next book will be very interesting, since we'll already know the major conflict. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Thickety #3: Well of Witches by J.A. White

Well of Witches (The Thickety, #3)My name is Kara, and I am a witch with no powers. Rygoth is recruiting new witches by offering grimoires to young girls across the lands. The grimoires force the girls to cast harmful spells, and I'm trying to help my friend Safi withstand its call. My father's body is possessed by the witch hunter Timoth Clen, and he is recruiting an army of graycloaks to destroy the witches, threatening innocent people along the way. I must rescue my father, but the only plan I can think of may lead to my death. I must enter the Well of Witches, containing the souls of past witches, and try to convince Grace to reverse her spell on my father. People don't believe there are good witches, especially Timoth Clen, so I must avoid the graycloaks while trying to stop the evil witches. But what can I do without my powers? 

I feel like the books in this series are getting better, so I'm looking forward to the final book coming out soon. I always enjoy Kara's character, especially in this book. There're all kinds of evil enveloping her world which includes the "good guys", the graycloaks. These characters are reminiscent of New Englanders during the Salem Witch Trials. In those days, women accused of being witches had little chance of survival. Kara was becoming a powerful, good witch in the previous book, so losing her powers presents a huge change for her character. She became very insecure, since she placed so much importance on her magical abilities. However, in the end, she discovered her greatest power when she accepted herself and stopped second-guessing. Her character also displayed compassion for many of the young witches, as she realized the grimoires were taking advantage of their weaknesses. They generally weren't bad girls. The author showed wonderful creativity in the Well of Witches. The characters, setting, and connections to the grimoires were very intriguing. You should read the first two books in the series, but I think you'll enjoy them.

Joplin, Wishing by Diane Stanley

                            JOPLIN, WISHING by Diane Stanley
My name is Joplin, and who knew a broken platter from my grandfather's possessions could dramatically change my life. After having the small pieces professionally reunited, I loved the scene of the lovely girl sitting in the picture. I don't have many friends anymore, actually none at all, and I wished this girl could become one. Then Sofie came into my life right out of the blue, actually right out of the dish. She told me of her life hundreds of years ago, how she came to be part of the painting, and how she was forced to grant wishes to the rightful owner of the platter. However, we weren't ready for the dangers to come. A wicked man has been spying on us, and Sofie just got a good look at him. Impossible as it seems, he is the same man who magically imprisoned her in the dish hundreds of years ago. We don't know what he wants, but I must find a way to help Sofie get back to her family.

This book is based on magic without a bunch of spells being cast at every turn. After reading some dark books on magic, it was nice to read one with a more positive spin. Joplin's only motivation throughout the entire plot was to help Sofie return to the family she lost centuries ago. With magic, it was possible. The antagonist was evil, but not vicious and ruthless, so he presented an effective conflict. Surprises? I was amazed at how quickly Joplin, her schoolmate, and her mom and aunt accepted Sofie's story. The evidence was there, but there had to be a logical explanation, right? Also, the climax lost some oomph when the antagonist displayed some humanity. If you're looking for a nice, fun story about magic, give this book a shot.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fablehaven Adventure #1: Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull

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

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