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.

The Land of Stories #6: Worlds Collide by Chris Colfer

Worlds Collide (The Land of Stories #6)My name is Connor, and a portal between the fairy tale world and the Otherworld is about to be opened forever. Unfortunately, my twin sister Alex, a powerful fairy, is being controlled by Morina and other witches, and they're making her do terrible things. Their armies of magical creatures are about to invade New York City, and I don't know if they can be stopped by the Otherworld forces. The Fairy Council has been turned to stone, and all of my allies are scattered throughout the worlds. I hope the armies from my own stories will be able to defeat the witches, but they may be unstoppable with the help of Alex's powers. Alex left a message in my dreams, and she's asked me to kill her before she hurts anyone. I don't want to kill my sister, but there may be no other way to stop her.

You really need to read the rest of the series before reading the finale. The fact that Alex is helping the antagonists in this book is a dramatic twist to the plot and makes the conflict more dramatic. This is the first edition in the series where the setting takes place mostly in the real world. It's a bit strange to see the fantasy characters moving through New York's landmarks and see the United States Marines fighting the witches and their soldiers. As in many books, the bad guys, or gals, seem invincible and have removed their most powerful obstacles. Connor takes the lead in opposing the witches, although other characters take leadership roles too. King Arthur, Froggy, and Mother Goose are in charge of the efforts at different times in the book. The cast of characters can get overwhelming at times with Goldilocks, Captain Hook, Flying Monkeys, Gingerbread soldiers, and dozens of others. The series includes all of the most well-known fairy tale characters. Even Goldilocks and Jack's baby Hero becomes an important part of the story. The overall series is written by Chris Colfer, the Golden Globe-winning actor and best-selling author, and has been very entertaining. Lovers of fantasy and fairy tales won't be disappointed.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Edge of Extinction #2: Code Name Flood by Laura Martin

Code Name Flood (Edge of Extinction, #2)My name is Sky, and my friends and I are trekking through lands full of vicious dinosaurs to deliver a critical message somewhere to the middle of Lake Michigan. We've discovered a lab at the bottom of the lake that is actually breeding more dinosaurs! They say it's necessary to balance nature, and we're beginning to understand their thinking. However, the message I was carrying revealed the Noah's plan to eliminate all dinosaurs using nuclear bombs which will also kill all humans living on the surface! Somehow, he discovered the lab's location and bombed it, killing my best friend Spencer. There may be a way to stop the Noah from destroying the world, but I will need to get past his soldiers to enter his compound. But how can I travel a hundred miles in a day without becoming a meal for thousands of dinosaurs.

This book is the second in the series, but I didn't read the first book yet. I suggest you do, since it would help explain the situation and the layout of the world. It sounded like humans used DNA to bring dinosaurs back from extinction, but the dinosaurs carried a disease killing most of the people on the planet. The surviving humans created compounds in different areas but had little contact with each other. The plot was full of adventure, action, and suspense with the Noah's army searching for Sky and her friends. Dinosaur lovers will enjoy the book, as it blended information into the plot. Chaz was a girl working in the lab before the attack, and she informed Sky's group about the dinosaurs they faced. For science lovers, the whole concept of the conflict stressed the importance of letting the environment keep itself balanced without human interference. Predators and plant-eaters would keep each other's populations in check, and humans could co-exist among them. The author found a way to include "monsters" in his story without inventing new monsters. The book was a fun blend of dinosaurs and modern technology, and I recommend you give it a shot.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting #1 by Joe Ballarini

A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting (Babysitter's Guide to Monsters #1)My name is Kelly, and I've lost a little boy on my first babysitting job. He was taken by one of his nightmare monsters (yeah, I didn't believe in them either), so I called his regular sitter Liz. She's a babysitting, ninja monster hunter! It's all my fault Jacob was taken, but I don't know how to help. Liz keeps telling me to read the handbook, but I know she really thinks I'm a whiny loser. Our search for Jacob leads us to the huge, eighth-grade Halloween party. OMG, Victor's there, and he's looking sooooo cute! Liz and I find a Shadow Monster in the basement, and we rescue another little girl. Monsters don't usually kidnap this many kids at once. What do the monsters want with Jacob and the others? Jacob's last drawing looked like a monster I once saw in my dreams, but that's impossible. And, now? You'll need to read my babysitting handbook to find out the other unbelievable secrets I discovered.

I was expecting a cutesy story of teenage girls watching little kids, however this book describes a fast-paced, adventure. Kelly's character only wants to make money for summer camp, but she feels morally responsible for Jacob. She wants to be a cool eight-grader, but the cool kids at school mock her. The book doesn't provide any super-imaginative ideas, but it's written with a blend of humor, action, and suspense. The conflict even has a 1:00 am deadline, since that's when Jacob's parents will be home. As a parent and former teacher, I wasn't excited with toddlers being terrified, but it was necessary to develop the conflict. I can't think of any part of the plot where it seemed to slow down. The monsters were introduced early, and Kelly spent the rest of the time awkwardly trying to find Jacob. I'm still not totally clear about her abilities and the little voice she hears in her head. The author indicates there's something special about Kelly, but it's never spelled out for readers. Did she just become really brave and resourceful, or is there more to it? Either way, I was pleasantly surprised with this book, and I can easily recommend it to young lovers of monsters.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Noble Warriors Trilogy #2: Jango by William Nicholson

Jango (Noble Warriors Trilogy, #2)My name is Echo, and I must find a Noble Warrior to save our Glimmen. An invading tyrant captured me and has threatened to burn it down if I refuse to marry one of his disgusting sons. I'm forced to travel with the Jahan's army as villages are destroyed and the male peasants are murdered. The Jahan will slaughter everyone in the city of  Radiance if the Radiant Leader refuses to kneel before him. I've heard the Nomana have great power and may be able to stop the Jahan's juggernaut. Unfortunately, the two people I've found say they left the Nomana and are not able to stop an army. However, they say their friend is more powerful than all, so I will find him. He cannot refuse to save my people; the Nomana have sworn to help the less fortunate. I was not prepared for his answer.

You need to read Seeker before reading this book, and the trilogy is probably more appropriate for teens. The main characters aren't kids. The plots jumped around to several settings, which I don't care for, but they all started to come together in the end. I most enjoyed the plot that followed Seeker, since he is the hero of the trilogy. He slowly discovered his hidden abilities but needed to learn what to do with them. Echo was a great character added to the plot, since she had a defiant attitude throughout. Her bravery and intelligence helped her stand up to the terrifying Jahan. An interesting twist was how the Jahan didn't restrain Echo, since she knew he'd burn down her forest if she tried to escape. The Jahan's army rode atop Caspians, and all of the other characters were amazed by these creatures. Readers will know something the characters don't, since Caspians are actually horses. The trilogy has a spiritual aspect to it, as the Nomana are devoted to their god. These characters did quite a bit of self-reflection, as they searched for their inner purposes. This led to unexpected decisions by several main characters and added to the conflicts. Overall, I recommend this series.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Enchanted Forest Chronicles #4: Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Talking to Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #4)My name is Daystar. My mother gave me a sword and sent me into the Enchanted Forest, but she didn't say why. I've since discovered I hold the Sword of the Sleeping King and must find the Dragon King Kabul. I'm now accompanied by a fire-witch named Shiara, but she must learn to control her temper in this forest. Evil wizards are searching for us everywhere, but the sword is able to sense and absorb magic. A dragon says he knows a shortcut to the castle and the Dragon King, but the path has changed. There are invisible barriers and new trees popping up. The trees seem innocent enough, but the dragon says there haven't been any new magical trees in a long time. I still don't know what it all means, but I do know that we must arrive safely to the castle soon, before a war between the dragons and wizards breaks out.

This book was written before the other book in the series, but the introduction says they're all prequels to Talking to Dragons. A helpful hint I had forgotten: remember that Cimorene was pregnant throughout the previous book. We already knew characters like Cimorene, Telemain, and Morwen, so it was strange to read about Daystar and Shiara meeting them for the first time. The magic sword must have been the same one as in earlier books, but it wasn't clear why a peasant boy was wielding it. Why wasn't his mother, a queen in earlier books, living in the castle, and where was her husband King Mendenbar? All of the questions were answered in the last quarter of the book, and all issues appeared to be resolved. Overall, the series was a quick-read and was very enjoyable.

Outlaws of Time #2: The Song of Glory and Ghost by N.D. Wilson

The Song of Glory and Ghost (Outlaws of Time #2)My name is Glory, and we must save Peter's life or everything is lost. Sam may be destined to kill The Vulture, but The Vulture's assassins have gone back in time to kill Peter as a baby. The Ghost said I'm a time-walker and has given me the power to locate Peter, but Sam and his arms will need to protect me. A girl named Samra joined us on our last jump, after her father overpowered and tied our friends, and I'm not sure what we should do about her. I don't really know what I'm doing as a time-walker, and we have less than a day to save Peter. If Peter dies at birth, all of the Father Tiempos in time will disappear, and Sam will also die. Then, there will be nothing left in the world able to stop The Vulture from destroying the world as we know it. 

You need to read The Legend of Sam Miracle before reading this one, or it won't make any sense. Time traveling and alternate realities make the series challenging enough as it is. Honestly, be prepared to think and use your imagination or you'll be lost. The setting jumps to vastly different times and places in history, and sometimes in between. Glory is more of the focal point than she was in book one. She's been advising Sam before this time, but now she is dictating their new missions. This book reveals more about her past. Peter is the main priority, since his death will allow The Vulture to destroy the world. To complicate things, The Vulture is amassing an army of creatures without loyalty; they will become uncontrollable once they're unleashed. Once again, Sam's arms have their own subplots. Cindy, the snake controlling his left arm, only wants to kill, while Speck is the more cooperative snake controlling his right arm. Sam is learning to better deal with their personalities. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Horizon by Scott Westerfield

Horizon (Horizon, #1)My name is Javi, and our plane to Japan has crashed in... I'm not sure where. We were flying over the Arctic, the plane started falling apart, and now we're stranded in the middle of a tropical jungle. You don't find any jungles around the frigid Arctic Circle. Most of the passengers, including all the adults, disappeared before the crash, and this jungle is unnatural. Anna found a strange device that can turn off gravity, but it also seems to attract the shredder birds that attacked me. (I wish I'd come up with that cool name!) Yushi found a source of water, but there are deadly, bizarre creatures lurking in the trees. Where are we? Two of the girls were able to see above the mist blocking the sky and discovered a red moon and green moon among the stars. Are we still on Earth? Is there any way back to our homes, and will we live long enough to find it?

This book was okay. The beginning had a creative hook to pull me in, the middle presented interesting problems, but that's where it ended. It didn't build to a climax, and I felt like the end just stopped. I assume the next book in the series will pick up where this one left off, but this book didn't feel finished. Four of the main characters were members of a winning robot team, so the plot reflects a focus on science. I didn't mind it, but you should be aware. The book was easy to read, but I just felt like the plot wasn't going anywhere. The kids explored and faced some dangers, but they weren't able to figure out what was going on and didn't meet any other intelligent life. By the time they made any significant discoveries, the book was over. I'm sure this book will have an audience, but it didn't work for me.