Thursday, September 28, 2017

House of Secrets #2: Battle of the Beasts by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

Battle of the Beasts (House of Secrets, #2)My name is Eleanor, and I should have made a better wish to get rid of Dahlia forever. Once again, Kristoff House has deposited us into another book, actually a combination of three different books, and the Wind Witch is still tormenting us. We're stuck in ancient Rome where Nazi robot soldiers have attacked the emperor's citizens. Brendan is enjoying his new post as the emperor's general, and he actually wants to stay in this world! It looks like we may also be stuck here after I destroyed The Book of Doom and Despair. However, there may be a way for us to return to San Francisco. We now find ourselves in the frigid, snowy German mountains with peaceful monks, surrounded by ferocious frost beasts. We'll probably be killed if we fight the monsters, but we'll be sacrificed to them if we don't. Fighting may be worth the risk, because the monks believe we may find the Door of Ways inside the beasts' cave and will be able to return home.

You should probably read the first book in the series before this one. It establishes the ground rules for the books and describes the ongoing conflict with Kristoff and his daughter. The most intriguing aspect of Battle of Beasts is the mixture of characters from different Kristoff books. We have the three kids and a WW I pilot from the first book joining a Roman gladiator to fight monsters, robot Nazis, and the Roman soldiers. The setting is a mixture of two Kristoff books, but the kids aren't sure about the third one. This third book offers the unexpected possibilities. The authors adds some tweaks to the characters. Cordelia had a crush on Will, the WW I pilot, in book one, but the Roman gladiator complicates things. Brendan's insecurities make it easy for him to be influenced by his new-found fame in ancient Rome. Predictably, the fame does not grow in the ways he expected, so a new conflict is created. Eleanor is the youngest sibling, but she takes a leading role in saving the day. She's the one responsible for using the magic book this time, although it's destruction complicates matters. A diary from Kristoff's wife is found, but the author doesn't reveal its contents until near the end. The secret was very unexpected, but its impact remains to be seen.

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

The WonderlingMy name is Arthur, and I was a one-eared fox groundling at Ms. Carbunkle's orphanage. I won't describe the terror I felt around her or try to explain the strange widgets she forced us to make. My friend Trinket talked me into escaping, and I now find myself alone in Lumentown with my new friend Quintus. He's the only one other than Trinket who knows about my sensitive hearing. He's taught me how to become a thief, but I don't want to take things that don't belong to me. However, while inside a woman's home, I've discovered a terrible secret about Ms. Carbunkle's plans. I know she hates music, but she wants to eliminate it everywhere. I came to Lumentown to learn about my past, but I must do something to save all of the beautiful sounds in the world.

I enjoyed the overall book, although the early part left me wondering where it was headed. It was clear the widgets were a very important part of the plot, but few clues were given about their purpose until Arthur came to LumentownThe author was able to effectively describe the loneliness and despair of the orphans, as they had no freedom, no hope, and were discouraged from developing any friendships.  Arthur's character was the shining star in the book. I developed a sympathy for him when I read about his isolation, punishment, and bullying. Despite all the negativity in his life, he kept a positive attitude. Admittedly, fear of the unknown made him reluctant to escape the orphanage, but he kept his virtuous personality once he left. He was honest and pure and I feared for his innocence. It was clear that Quintus was trying to corrupt him (it was a matter of survival), but Arthur refused to use his thieving skills against other people. Arthur's bravery and moral compass led him to a dramatic conclusion back in the orphanage. I recommend The Wonderling to lovers of adventure and animal characters. The conclusion is most enjoyable!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Gravedigger's Son by Patrick Moody

The Gravedigger's SonMy name is Ian, and I want to be a Healer, not a Digger. My ancestors have answered the Call for centuries and have helped restless souls move to the Great Beyond. I didn't think I had the ability until Fiona urged me to give new life to Thatcher's skeleton. We then followed the Pumpkin Trail into the forbidden forest, and an old woman said she needed my blood to complete a terrible spell. Now, I've learned this Weaver is my grandmother and wants revenge against my family for losing her daughter, my mother. She wants to open the rift between the Void and the Netherworld, returning the dead into the living world. My father is away, and I'm not even a real Digger, so what can I do to stop her? The portals have already started to open, and thousands of corpses are rising from their graves. The power of Diggers doesn't seem to stop my grandmother, but I can't let her destroy the world!

I always love when I come across a book that turns out to be a gem. I really liked how the grandmother's spell kept getting stronger, and Ian's attempts to stop her failed. These events caused the tension to grow, and the situation became desperate. As a reader, I expected a surprise to arise that would resolve the conflict, and the author presented it. However, that idea didn't work either, so I was back to wondering if the problem could be solved! A constant conflict within Ian was between his dream to be a Healer and the expectations of his family's legacy. As it turns out, this conflict became very important in saving the world. The supporting characters provided interesting aspects to the plot. Although Fiona was there to support Ian, it started to feel like she was the one getting him into deeper trouble. Thatcher added a humorous twist as a living skeleton who was once a mischievous young boy. He also offered a period of compassion, as Ian needed to support him during his journey to the Great Beyond. With Halloween fast approaching, this book will make an outstanding addition to bookshelves. A wonderful blend of dynamic characters, adventure, and suspense!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Heroes of Olympus #2: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

The Son of Neptune (The Heroes of Olympus, #2)My name is Percy Jackson, and you probably know more about my life than I do. I know I'm a demigod, but I don't remember much about my life before Camp Jupiter. I know Annabeth is searching for me, but memories of her are getting fuzzy. The Roman demigods in the camp have accepted me even though a couple of their gods have taken an interest in me. The camp is going to be attacked in four days by an army of monsters, and a son of Gaea will be leading them. Mars has given Frank, Hazel, and I a quest to free Thanatos, the god of death, since recently slain creatures are not staying dead. All we have to do is travel to Alaska, beyond the protection and help of our gods, and locate an island that no one can find. Then, we must free Thanatos and Camp Jupiter's eagle to save our friends from the attacking army. Easy peasy, right?! 

The format of this book is very similar to other books written by Rick Riordan. This one deals with Roman mythology and has the adventure, action, and humor found in his other series. Percy's amnesia allows readers to remember his past deeds with Annabeth and Grover and to understand the dreams he's having. It's not a big deal if you haven't read about Percy before; you'll just miss those references to his past. Added twists to the plot and characters can be found in the secrets held by Frank and Hazel. Frank carries a piece of burned wood, and a prophecy has foretold that he will die when it burns away completely. Hazel was once dead, and has a connection to the earth's valuable ores. However, gems pop up near her at times, and they'll kill others if they're touched. An unexpected description of the Roman and Greek gods is that the two cultures simply have different names for the same "person". I always thought the gods were different in the two cultures, and I don't know if the author's interpretation is correct. It makes Percy's transition between cultures very easy though. 

Monstrous Maud #1: Big Fright by A.B. Saddlewick

Big Fright (Monstrous Maud #1)My name is Maud, and I was expelled from boring and stuffy Primrose Towers and sent to my new school in the middle of the woods. The bus ride was a little strange, but I didn't realize how different Rotwood was from my old school until I got to my classroom. Wilf is covered with hair, Isabel is invisible, and the teacher's son is a vampire! Mr. Von Bat says he's going to send me back to Primrose, because I don't have any monster powers. The other kids don't know my secret, and Mr. Von Bat will let me stay if I can scare him by the end of the week. He says you can use people's weaknesses to scare them, but I don't think he has one. It may sound strange, but I feel like I fit in here and don't want to leave. I've tried everything I can think of; how do you scare a fearless vampire?

This book tells a cute story where the expectations are flip-flopped and will appeal to younger readers. Maud sits among creepy monsters, but she is able to frighten them with innocent things like a toy doll and a tutu. Her secret life as a human creates a conflict that continues throughout the plot, but another character's secret is the key to solving her big problem. The school includes a bully, although I'm sure you've read about much worse. Maud's sister is a pain and creates more problems for here. Milly is favored by the parents and school, but it's admirable that Maud is comfortable with herself. She doesn't show much jealousy and doesn't get too upset with her sibling. Despite all the monster characters, young readers should be able to appreciate Maud's good heart and personality.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Kane Chronicles #2: The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

The Throne of Fire (Kane Chronicles, #2)My name is Carter, and my sister Sadie and I must find and free the Egyptian god Ra or the world will be destroyed! Hmmm... you don't seem surprised by this news. Unfortunately, other magicians from the House of Life are trying to stop us from finding the three parts of the Book of Ra that we need to free the god. Desjardin is supposed to be leading the House of Life, but Vlad Menshikov seems to be influencing him. During a trip with my ba, I discovered Vlad wants to free Apophis and bring Chaos back into the world. I must help Sadie in our quest, but I'm torn and want to rescue Zia. I kind of developed a crush on her shabti, and Sadie would say I've now become obsessed with saving her mortal body. I know we only have two days left to free Ra and rescuing Zia is probably a trap, but I have a sense that saving her is important to completing our quest. And if the mortal Zia ends up loving me too, all the better.

This series of Riordan books is based on Egyptian mythology with a tiny bit of Roman mixed in. The format is very similar to his other books with kids inheriting powers from their ancestors, dealing with godly affairs, with a good dose of adventure and humor thrown in. The story is told through the eyes of Carter and Sadie, and their brother/sister banter is entertaining. Carter is usually the level-headed one, but he lets his heart and emotions guide some decisions in this book. Sadie becomes the sibling more focused on the mission, although her emotions become complicated too. Walt reveals a secret that is a matter of life and death, literally. Carter and Sadie's characters are further complicated by their past connections with the gods Horus and Isis. The gods still occasionally speak to the siblings in their minds, and other characters question their motives and try to stop them. Bes is a dwarf god, and he provides a major comedic element. Without going into great detail, let me just say his major power is being ugly. I'm serious; he uses ugly and a Speedo swimsuit as his weapon. It might help to read The Red Pyramid first, but I don't think it's necessary to enjoy The Throne of Fire on its own. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Century #1: Ring of Fire by P.D. Baccalario

Ring of Fire (Century, #1)My name is Elettra, and three new friends and I have been thrown into a dangerous mystery. We knew something was strange due to our February 29th birthdays, and then a professor gave me his briefcase, minutes before he was murdered. He said, "It's begun", but I had no idea what that meant. The briefcase contained a scratched up box, a checkered umbrella, and four little tops. We're following the clues we find, but the murderer is hunting for us. The man's violin can put people to sleep, and he used the bow to slit the professor's throat. I wonder if my effect on lights and computers may have something to do with all this, but I hope even more that we'll survive to find the answers.

As you might have gathered, this book reads like a mystery, as the kids follow the clues found in the suitcase. The clues weren't clearly understood, and the threat of the assassin amped up the conflict. Elettra had a confusing ability that exploded a lamp and ruined mirrors, but it affected a couple of other characters when she touched them. I expected the other kids in the group to have special abilities too, but they weren't able to do anything on her own. My biggest problem with the book was the lack of clarity concerning the Ring of Fire. Everything in the book led to the kids finding it, but they never fully knew what was going on. The kids weren't quite sure what the Ring of Fire did even after Elettra activated it. Also, I'm not sure why the adults were kept in the background and weren't allowed to help the kids. It's frustrating to finish a book and still not understand what happened, unless you consider the last two pages of the book enough explanation, which I don't. The book left too many questions for me. Nevertheless, the mystery, adventure, and action were entertaining, and the series has potential. It continues with Star of Stone, but I'm not sure if I will read it.