Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Olympian's #3: The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #3)My name is Percy Jackson, and Annabeth was kidnapped while we were rescuing Bianca and her brother. Artemis convinced Bianca to join the Hunters, but now both of them have disappeared too. A mysterious "General" wants to keep Artemis from attending the annual council meeting on Olympus in order to give the Titans more time to gain power. Of  course, there's always a prophecy involved, and it says two of the quest members will be lost, one killed by a parent. Zoe, the acting leader of the Hunters, doesn't want any men going on the quest, but there's no way I'm not going to help save Annabeth. She's very special to me even though I know Artemis is the priority. An unknown monster awaits us, and time is running out. How do I always find myself in the middle of world-saving quests where I'll probably be killed?

I've read books in Riordan's other series, so it's interesting to read about characters when they first enter the discussion (i.e. Bianca and Nico). Percy's character is still uncertain of his abilities, but his feelings (love) for Annabeth are becoming clearer. Percy's magical sword called Riptide is a formidable weapon, and he has great loyalty for his friends. However, the gods have told him that this loyalty is his greatest weakness, and a prophecy from earlier in the series hints that he may overthrow Olympus. The Hunters do not see much value in men, and they have all sworn to dismiss any feelings they might have toward them. Zoe exemplifies these thoughts and won't let Percy forget them. The books in the series can be read much more quickly than books in the spin-off series, but they have the same characteristics. You can expect adventure and action, and moody gods with secret agendas. The gods tend to stay out of mortal business most of the time, but then they'll surprise you and do something to influence events. You should enjoy reading The Titan's Curse, and I recommend you try the spin-off series featuring Egyptian, Roman, and Norse mythology.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Magisterium #4: The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Silver Mask (Magisterium #4)My name is Tamara, and I've helped Call escape from the mage prison. I don't believe he's being controlled by the soul of Constantine Madden or that he's the Enemy of Death. However, Anastasia tricked me and now Call is being held prisoner by Master Joseph in Constantine's old fortress. I was stunned to see Alex walk into the room; he's the one who murdered Aaron and stole his Makar powers. Constantine was experimenting with bringing the dead back to life, and Master Joseph now believes Call will finally succeed. I can tell Alex thinks he should be the lone master of chaos and is jealous of Call getting all the attention. Call doesn't want to help Master Joseph, but I can tell he misses his best friend Aaron. He's not the Enemy of Death and can't bring Aaron back to life. What should I do if I'm wrong?

You really should read the whole series to fully appreciate what's going on. The books aren't that long and should hold your interest. It looks like The Silver Mask is the conclusion to the series, although it left me with a couple of questions. What happened to Constantine's soul? Why did the epilogue talk about Alex if this is the end of the series? This book addressed many of Call's conflicting emotions, and they controlled most of the plot. Should he try to bring his best friend back to life even though it might help the followers of chaos? Should he try to control chaos magic? Does Tamara really like him even though Aaron was the more charismatic Makar? Where can he go, since the Magisterium leaders think he's a criminal? It was easy to empathize with Call, as he tried make difficult decisions. He always wanted to do the right thing, but his choices managed to hurt the people he cared for. His decisions concerning Aaron dealt with the concept of death and how people handle it. Overall, I recommend you read the series; you won't regret it!

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #3: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #3)My name is Magnus, and my friends and I must stop Loki from starting Ragnorak and destroying the world. We're sailing across the seas in an obnoxiously yellow ship, and we've managed to survive a battle with giants and retrieved the whetstone after killing Hearth's father. I have no idea how the whetstone will help stop Loki, but I know everything hinges on winning a flyting against him. Loki is a trickster, and no one has ever defeated him in the contest of insults. We first need to get past the guardians of Kvasir's Mead, and find Loki on the Ship of the Dead, and survive the other monsters and gods that are sure to pop up. The gods and goddesses are moody and hold grudges, so I'm never sure when I might anger them. Oh well, it won't really matter if we all die during Ragnorak.

If you've read other books by Riordan, you'll know how amazing it is that we've managed to survive all the disasters planned by Norse, Greek, and Roman gods and goddesses. This series is a bit different from Riordan's other series in that Magnus's close friends are more unique; an elf, a dwarf, a berzerker, and a sword. That's right, Magnus's sword called Jack is an emotional, talking romantic. In addition, Hearth is deaf, and all of his comments are in italicized sign language. Sam is observing Ramadan, so she is fasting during the adventure. Alex's character wakes up each morning as a boy or girl; you're never quite sure until she/he starts talking. Magnus has feelings for Alex, but he doesn't know how to act toward him/her. As usual, the plot blends action, mystery, and humor to create a very entertaining story. Each step of the journey is sure to end with a fight or some type of trickery. The flyting made me very curious to get to the climax. After all the godly intervention and fighting, the defeat of Loki would come down to a battle of insults? It was either going to be very interesting or a huge letdown. Actually, it was well done and fit Magnus's character.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Liesel & Po by Lauren Oliver

Liesl & PoMy name is Will, and I am useless and pathetic. At least, that's all the alchemist ever calls me. He sends me on errands in the middle of the night, and the only positive part is when I pass the window of the girl in the attic. I imagine she'd be my friend if we ever met. One night, I mixed up the delivery of a box to the Lady Premiere, a huge mistake! I guess I gave her someone's cremated ashes instead of the most powerful magic ever seen. Oops! I barely escaped the alchemist's clutches and quickly hopped a train out of town. I kind of devised a plan during the following hours, but they quickly changed during a stop when I saw the girl from the attic walking outside the window! I finally met Liesl a few hours later, but I wasn't prepared for her ghostly friends. However, I didn't know it at the time, but Po and Bundle soon became the keys to saving our lives!

This book is one of those where seemingly separate series of events all come together in the end. Liesl's sole focus is on returning her father's ashes to the pond where her mother is buried. Will's focus is on staying alive and helping Liesl. The alchemist's focus is on pleasing the Lady Premiere by giving her the magic to raise spirits of the dead. Other random minor characters get mixed up in the events but become important in the unified resolution of the issues. Liesl maintains an innocence throughout the plot, as she's motivated by love. She tries to teach Po about friendship, things he's forgotten since his death. Po doesn't understand emotions but quickly trusts Liesl and wants to help her. His ability to travel between the living and the Other Side is important in helping Liesl. It's interesting that the author makes the ghosts' identities less defined. Po isn't a boy or girl, and Bundle isn't a dog or cat. This adds to the endearing confusion of these spirits. Overall, I enjoyed the story more than I expected and can recommend it to average-level middle grade readers.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

5-Minute Adventure Stories for Minecrafters: Extreme Stories From the Extreme Hills by Greyson Mann

5 Minute Adventure Stories for Minecrafters: Extreme Stories from the Extreme HillsMy name is Sophia, and my adventures with Zack and Anthony have gotten exciting and dangerous. I
was lucky to have milk or Zack might have died from the bite of a cave spider. Anthony slipped and almost burned up in molten lava. Okay, we've found a huge diamond, some gold, and treasure chests, but we've also suffered from starvation, zombies, and more spiders! Every time we saw a spawn, something terrible popped out of it. Its been wonderful exploring with Zack and Anthony, but I hope we'll be able to survive the skeletons and Endermen and escape this world. And then start our next adventure!

I received an advance copy from the publisher, and its appropriate for readers younger than the target audience for my blog. As the title suggests, the book was made up of short stories that could be read very quickly. I've never played Minecraft, and I'm guessing it would have helped me understand some of the terms used. I didn't know what creepers, spawns, and mobs were, but I started to figure them out after awhile. The characters faced deadly spiders, zombies, lava, and bats, as they searched for treasures in the mountains and caves. The bats weren't that bad except to Zack, who was deathly afraid of them. The boys seemed to be more obsessed with treasure hunting, while Sophia was more concerned with keeping all of them alive. She seemed braver and more level-headed than the boys. Her remedies were healthy, as she helped her pals with milk and vegetables. While the plots were appropriate for younger readers, the battles with spiders and zombies offered a taste of more mature reading. There was nothing bad about the stories, but slaying zombies or spiders weren't the most innocent things characters could do. This book will be great for lovers of Minecraft and adventure stories for young readers. I'm thinking of using it with some primary students I'll be tutoring.

Lockwood & Co. #4: The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud

The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co., #4)My name is Lucy, and I came to Lockwood for help after having assisted him with the capture of the ghost of a nasty, cannibalistic murderer. The Sources of ghosts are supposed to be destroyed, but I suspected some of them weren't being burned properly. I was certain after the talking skull, a level 3 spirit, was stolen from my apartment. I know the skull is annoying, insulting, and moody, but I need him. No one in England can Listen as well as me, but hearing the spirits can still put me in dangerous situations. The skull has saved me more than once, and he's helped me locate Sources. Now he's gone. Someone is buying up the most powerful Sources around, but I don't know why. So now I'm with Lockwood, George, and Holly again to solve the mystery. What we found out will shock you!

The books in this series make awesome reads for the Halloween season! If you haven't read any of them, what are you waiting for?! The author is able to create very eerie descriptions of the characters' encounters with ghosts. He does this through soft noises, shadowy images, dropping temperatures, and the characters' spooky feelings. It helps that these events happen at night, in dark places, and the ghost-touch is deadly. Lucy is able to hear the movements and voices of ghosts which adds to the creepiness. Lucy left the company in the third book, so working with the other characters again creates awkward situations. The fact that Sources are not being destroyed properly is a wonderful twist to the series, but the Creeping Shadow doesn't enter the plot until later in the book. The two issues eventually come together in a small, remote town called Aldbury Castle to create a very interesting problem. Lockwood has  been at odds with the two largest ghost-hunting agencies in London, and stunning secrets are revealed about them when Lockwood and Co. rid the town of its ghost problem. Actually, the Problem is what the characters call the outbreak of ghosts that began about fifty years earlier. A surprise is revealed in the last chapter, although I had some suspicions about it already. Again, you need to read this series if you haven't tried it yet.

The Heroes of Olympus #3: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

The Mark of Athena (The Heroes of Olympus, #3)My name is Percy Jackson, and Greek and Roman demigods must join a god to stop Gaea from destroying the world. Gaea can see into the future and has deadly mythological beasts waiting to ambush us at every turn, and who knows if any god will actually be willing to help us in our quest? Also, the Romans think we attacked Camp Jupiter, so they're hunting us down and are moving to attack Camp Half-Blood. Even though our group of seven demigods have joined to complete the quest, we are having problems. I've gotten used to being a leader in the past, so I'm not sure how to behave as an equal part of a team. Also, a vision shows me drowning in a pool of water, but how is that possible? A son of Poseidon can't drown. Our team has been forced to separate, and some of worst fears must be faced. The survival of Earth is doomed if we can't overcome them.

It would help to read the previous books in the series, but it's not necessary to enjoy this one. There's a continuous problem to stop Gaea, but each book has its own quest and can stand alone. The Mark of Athena continues the same format of adventure and humor found in Riordan's other books. The characters have interesting twists, as many of them are dealing with their own internal issues. Leo is feeling like a seventh wheel and discovers a hidden connection to another character. Annabeth must perform part of the quest alone, so Percy finds it difficult to let her go. Percy has doubts about his own abilities and questions whether he will be able to sacrifice loyalties in order to save the world. Riordan describes many visions and foreshadowing through characters' dreams, so readers will have a good idea of what to expect in every chapter. On the other hand, it feels like unexpected twists and surprises are lost, since you've already been told about upcoming events. You'll like this book if you've enjoyed any of the author's other books.

House of Secrets #3: Clash of the Worlds by Chris Columbus, Ned Vizzini, and Chris Rylander

Clash of the Worlds (House of Secrets, #3)My name is Brendan, and the Wind Witch has opened a portal to Krystoff's books. The creatures from his imagination will soon invade our world if my sisters and I can't stop the witch, our great grandmother. Once again, the house has dropped us inside Krystoff's creative mind, but this time all of his books have come together as one. We've faced dinosaurs, Nazi soldiers, robots, and blue aliens, but we must still collect three artifacts hidden within the novels to close the portal forever. Unfortunately, this is forcing Cordelia, Eleanor, and I to separate in three directions. Things never work out well when we're apart. I've hooked up with an annoying alien who thinks he knows everything (which he does), but I now find myself trapped by a mummy in a pharaoh's tomb. I hope the girls are having better luck, but I fear their troubles may be even worse than mine.

You should read the previous books in the series first, as this one concludes the trilogy. Clash of the Worlds has a focused quest for the siblings to complete but requires them to separate and travel to different settings. This results in the plot jumping to three different locations and becomes annoying at times. Some of the chapters are fairly short before skipping to a different plot and this makes the book tricky to follow, especially if you don't read it every day. The Wind Witch is still the main antagonist, and she has developed a connection to Cordelia, the oldest sibling. Cordelia is usually the most mature and knowledgeable character, but she's forced to take a backseat to her brother and sister. The witch can see through Cordelia's eyes, so this makes the siblings' planning trickier. The witch also has many hidden allies in the book worlds, so you need to be suspicious of every character the kids meet. Consequently, you can expect surprises, as Brendan and his sisters complete their quests to find the artifacts. The plot builds to a dramatic battle in the climax, so you'll enjoy this excitement. As allies become enemies and enemies become allies, you'll enjoy the conclusion to this three-book adventure!