Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby

The TurnkeyMy name is Flossie, and it's my responsibility to see that all of the dead in Highgate Cemetery rest in peace. Turnkeys like me are able to move throughout the world of the living just by thinking about places, but the other dead are confined to their cemeteries. Imagine my surprise when I found a twilight German SS officer atop St. Paul's Cathedral; how could he possibly be here and what was he doing? I've since discovered this Viktor Brun is spying on the English army, and he's discovered a way to communicate with the living? The crystal skull he carries is the key to everything, and I've felt the evil within it. However, there's another soul inside the skull that argues with Viktor. More disturbing, I've learned he knows my name, and he's the man responsible for sinking a navy ship, sending a thousand men to the bottom of the ocean, including my father. 

I assumed this book would be a cute story about a girl living around a cemetery, but I wasn't expecting the seriousness of the plot. The setting was in World War II London, through the eyes of the deceased characters. Most of them were loyal English citizens, so they were doing all they could to help their country win WW II. That was the main conflict in the book, and Brun's connection to Flossie's father added a big complication to things. Violet was a supporting character from a different cemetery, and her brother kept secrets, which left the door open for him to do something unexpected. His secret, and the help of a seemingly insignificant character, were keys to resolving the climax. Flossie had deep compassion for all of the deceased in Highgate Cemetery, although she had self-doubts about being an effective Turnkey. The role of Turnkeys and their unique abilities was the creative charm in the book. Flossie was able to freely move anywhere she wanted among the living, but she still needed to hide from Viktor whenever he was around; it was strange to picture dead spirits trying to hide. She didn't see any way to stop this cruel Nazi, but that made her character even more determined. The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery tells a wonderfully exciting adventure, and I recommend you give it a shot!

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Olympians #5: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5)My name is Percy Jackson, and my sixteenth birthday is only a few days away. Why does that matter? Because I'm dealing with a prophecy saying I'll die on that day, and a decision I make will destroy Olympus. No worries, right? A titan is slowly moving across the continent, but the Mist makes humans believe a storm is leaving behind the devastation. Kronos has his sights set on the entrance to Olympus found at the top of the Empire State Building, and he may be unstoppable once the other titan reaches New York. Kronos has taken over Luke's body, so I bathed in the River Styx to become mostly immortal like Luke. But will it make any difference? The gods are off fighting the titan, while I'm left in New York leading the demigods from Camp Half-blood against Kronos and his army of creatures. His forces are larger and more powerful, and the prophecy seems to be on his side. 

This book concludes the series, although there are several spin-off series if you're interested. Just type Riordan's name in the search box at the top of my blog's homepage. The prophecy about Percy's sixteenth birthday has been hanging over all the plots since the beginning of this series. Percy's character is the focus of this book, and he almost becomes overwhelmed with the responsibilities. Annabeth has always been Percy's closest friend, but her life is complicated by Luke. Percy lacks the confidence to become her official boyfriend, since she obviously has feelings about Luke. It's just that her true feelings about Luke are unclear. What is clear is that Annabeth will need to face these feelings in there is any hope of defeating Luke/Kronos. As in all of Riordan's books, this one includes numerous examples of foreshadowing. Percy gets messages from other characters and visions of future events whenever he falls asleep. Sometimes when he's still awake. These visions became hints about upcoming events rather than revelations of the exact details. I appreciated Percy's wish during the plot's resolution; it reinforced his concern for others. He never forgets the minor characters (or minor gods and demigods). The Olympians is a great introduction to Riordan's style, so read this series before undertaking the spin-offs, which are written in much greater length.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Have Sword, Will TravelMy name is Odo, and the river has dried up for some unknown reason. I discovered a sword at the bottom of Dragonfoot Hole, and the enchanted blade called Biter told me it could only be awakened by a knight! I thought, "What? Me?" My best friend Eleanor has dreamt of living a life of adventure as a knight, while I'm content to become a miller like my father. Anyhow, I'm now Sir Odo, Eleanor has agreed to be my squire, and we're on a quest to bring water back to the river. We've passed many travelers heading south while we trek north to face a legendary dragon rumored to be terrorizing the lands up there. Biter is forcing me to learn sword strokes and fighting techniques as we go, and we've managed to help a few people along the way. I'm doing the best I can, but I've told Eleanor that defeating the dragon will be my first and last quest. If I survive. 

I've read other books by Nix, and I really enjoyed this one. Some heroes are reluctant to accept their responsibilities, and Odo fit that description. Biter was very aggressive as a knightly sword and often helped get Odo involved in conflicts. Biter had his own mind and voice, and his answer to most problems was to attack. Odo needed to fight to control his sword but ended up saving a village or someone in distress. Eleanor graciously supported him even though she wanted to be in his place as the knight. Good things happened to the two of them due to their bravery, compassion for others, and strong sense of right and wrong. Biter was an entertaining character, as he urged Odo and Eleanor to complete the quest. He tried to teach Odo about being a proper knight, although something caused him to forget a large chunk of his past. This question was never answered. The author introduced Biter's sister later in the plot, and she added a little bit of information and humor. Her views on knighthood were often quite different from her brother. However, she had a pessimistic attitude, since she believed she was cursed and would cause the death of Eleanor. Overall, I loved the book and am anxious to read the sequel, whenever it gets written.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Heroes of Olympus #4: House of Hades by Rick Riordan

The House of Hades (The Heroes of Olympus, #4)My name is Annabeth, and Percy and I must somehow battle our way through Tartarus to reach the Doors of Death. This trek seems impossible, since we're surrounded by death and despair. I mean we're literally trying to survive among creatures that have died and been sent to the Underworld. Percy and I have slain quite a few of them in the mortal world, and they'd like nothing more than to get revenge against us down here. The Doors of Death are our only hope to escape back to the lands of the living, but more importantly, we must seal these doors before Gaea gains enough power to unleash her monsters and destroy Olympus. But we can't succeed in our quest unless Jason and our other friends are able to defeat the forces guarding the doors on the mortal side.

I still enjoy these books by Riordan, although there are some aspects of them that become annoying. As I've mentioned in other posts about his books, the characters have frequent dreams that are actually visions from other settings or predictions of the future. The effect of this style is that potential surprises in the plot are lost, since readers already have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen. Also, I have a bit of a problem with books being told from multiple points of view, and a half dozen characters are used this time. That wouldn't be a big problem except that the plot jumps around to different settings too. Together, these techniques create some confusion unless you plan to read the book straight through. However, it was sometimes hard to pick up where I left off when I skipped a day or two of reading, as is the case for most of us. For me, a highlight of the book is Bob. This titan helps Percy and Annabeth navigate Tartarus, but Percy defeated him in the mortal world and took away all of his memories. This creates an ongoing problem where Bob could possibly regain these thoughts and turn against the pair of demigods. Bob turns out to be a dynamic character, although what becomes of him at the end is unclear. There are clues, but I still hold out hope. You must first read the previous books in the series if you really want to enjoy this one.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike

The Secret of KaMy name is Sara, and who knew a trip to Turkey would throw my life into turmoil? I guess I have some royal blood inside me that allows me to control an ancient flying carpet! Amesh and I found temples containing Djinn, but he did not fully understand the laws of wish-making. I fear he has made a third wish, so he's now being strongly influenced by an evil Djinn. A Djinn queen named Lova must now follow my orders, but she will quickly become my master if I say the wrong thing. I must be very careful if I hope to have any chance of freeing Amesh. However, I've recently discovered powerful people in my father's company hired thugs to cut off Amesh's arm, and those same men have now attacked me. I don't think there's any way my father can be involved, but how can I be sure?

I was expecting a traditional story about genies and wish-making, but this book became much more. Sara is taken to an island of Djinn where she becomes a key figure in an age-long war. She gets information about the history of the war and rules of wishes by communicating with a voice through the carpet. It's not until later in the book that we learn whose voice has been talking to her. In addition to her shaky battles for control with the Djinn, Sara's problems are complicated by a huge change in Amesh's character. He's obsessed with revenge for his injured arm, so he's blinded to the consequences of his choices. Sara still cares about him, but he's not exactly working with her anymore. Sara's relationship with Lova is the most interesting part of the plot. Lova grants wishes with the hope she'll eventually be able to enslave her "master" after the third wish. Sara is well aware of this and learns to phrase her comments very carefully. She uses commands to control her Djinn at times and seems to know the rules of wishes better than Lova. They form a very strange team of characters. There are surprising twists to the plot, and secrets are revealed as the book nears its climax. Overall, I think you'll love this book if you don't have a big problem with genies.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Olympians #4: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #4)My name is Annabeth, and Kronos's armies are trying to find a way to attack Camp Half-Blood using Daedalus's Labyrinth. Most people would get lost and die in the magical maze, but Luke thinks he can make the creator guide him through it using Ariadne's string. Percy thinks we need to kill Luke, but I know there is still some good inside him. I can't believe Luke is totally under Kronos's power, but I admit he's done some horrible things. He has a special hatred for Percy and has sent his minions to capture, or kill, him more than once. We've met up with Nico, and we aren't sure what he's thinking. He still blames Percy for Bianca's death and is being influenced by a ghost from the underworld. Nico has no idea the danger he will be in if Kronos or Luke realize he's a son of Hades. With Grover lost in the Labyrinth looking for Pan, I don't know how our quest to find Daedalus first can succeed. 

I've recently been reading many of Riordan's books from different series, and I feel like my reactions to them are very similar. The characters and cultures change, but the conflicts between the gods remain the same. Percy is still trying to figure out his relationship with Annabeth, but the issues with Luke complicate the problem. In addition, Nico has been motivated by his anger toward Percy, so Percy isn't sure how to deal with him. He wants to trust Nico, but his companions don't always feel the same way. This book adds an ecological twist with Grover's search for Pan and presents a commentary on our society. Grover and the other characters conclude we must all join together in order to save nature. This book continues the overall conflict in the series where Kronos is plotting to return and overthrow Olympus. You almost need to read the next book, The Last Olympian, to discover how it all turns out. Hint... if you've read Riordan's other series, it's highly likely that Percy and his friends will prevail!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Lockwood & Co. #5: The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

The Empty Grave (Lockwood & Co. #5)My name is Lockwood, and the Fittes Agency is slowly eliminating all the other ghost-hunting businesses in London. Penelope Fittes and her cronies are watching my team closely, waiting to pounce on us to take over. Marissa Fittes founded her agency before dying fifty years ago, but Lucy's skull claims Penelope has the same essence as the "dead" Marissa. I'm now beginning to believe it. We've found Marissa's tomb empty, and George has done further research that is even more disturbing. He thinks she learned how to enter the Other Side and may have started the Problem that unleashed the epidemic of ghosts into the world! But now someone has attacked George and nearly killed him. By someone, I mean the Fittes Agency. Penelope thinks we're weak, but she has no idea what I might do. We're going to strike back and take her down!

You should read the whole series to fully appreciate what's going on. The early books focused more on ghost-hunting, while the conflicts in the last two books have morphed into a battle with the Fittes Agency. The books are descriptive and well-written, and the author is able to evoke a myriad of strong feelings. The ghostly encounters are eerie, and Lockwood's team develops great annoyance and anger toward the Fittes Agency, especially after the attack on George. I was able to experience the team's dangerous trek through the Other Side with its frigid, silent, creepy threats. Lucy's interactions with the skull are highlights in the story, although she's the only person who can hear the level 3 spirit. The skull is confined to a jar, but it doesn't hesitate to make annoying comments about events or other characters. It always thinks it would be best to kill or dismember various characters. Lockwood and George were once concerned about Lucy's relationship with the skull, however they are now starting to actually think of it as a contributing member of the team. The climax of the series involves more human versus human fighting than usual, but the skull finally gets a bigger role too. I would have liked to have seen the problem found on the Other Side resolved during this book, but that happens sometime in the future. It would have been nice to see the spirits finally achieve peace. Overall, I can highly recommend this whole series!