Friday, December 29, 2017

The Dragon's Boy by Jane Yolen

The Dragon's BoyMy name is Artos, and I've mostly enjoyed my life as a foster child to Sir Ector and Lady Marion. However, I've discovered a dragon living in a nearby cave who has promised to teach me wisdom each day. I'm able to read, unlike my illiterate brothers, but I don't understand what the dragon meant when it said I need to learn to read inter linea. It also called me Artos Pendragon, but I don't remember my real parents. I used one of the dragon's gems to buy a wonderful sword, and after that, my brothers finally accepted me as an equal. However, I ran to tell the dragon about my sword, but the cave was empty. Where did it go? I appreciate all of the knowledge I've gained, but I'm angry that the dragon left without telling me. Now what do I do?

This book was based on a short story written by the best-selling author. It was surprising that a plot containing a dragon didn't have much action or suspense. The story was about the growth of Artos's character. He was feeling like the forgotten child in the family and wanted to be welcomed by his three brothers. The dragon's teachings gave him confidence, and he was clearly more intelligent than the other boys. Even as Artos became closer to his brothers, he realized their differences. He had more compassion for others and cared about their feelings. In the end, this short story left me wanting more. The last pages of the book introduced the next phase of Artos's life, and I suspect it would have made an entertaining tale. 

Beast & Crown #1 by Joel Ross

Beast & Crown (Beast & Crown #1)My name is Ji. I helped Brace get permission to leave for the city where he's being mentored by Proctor. It was the only way I could think of for Sally, Roz, and me to free Chibo from the tapestry factory. Brace is going to participate in the Diadem Rite, and I'm to be his assistant. The rite is held to select the heir to the Summer Crown, and he will become the holder of all human magic. This person will be the only thing keeping ogres and goblins from invading the realm. I just discovered the identity of the Red Mask, a roof-hopping spy who helped me free Chibo, and it surprised me. However, I wasn't prepared for what happened during the Diadem Rite when I interrupted the ceremony. Now, all of the Summer Queen's soldiers want to kill us, and I'm not sure Brace can still be trusted.

This book will probably not appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it. Some readers don't have a high tolerance for made-up vocabulary, and this book was full of it. The human characters used it a little bit, but the goblins did it a lot. In essence, they broke normal words into similar sounding word parts, which led to some confusing conversations. The first half of the book was all about saving Chibo, but the focus of the plot changed to the Diadem Rite after that. I don't want to give away what happens during the ceremony, but suffice it to say things dramatically changed for the main characters. I correctly predicted what I thought would happen, but then everything got twisted around. The cast of characters was an interesting mix. Ji was a lying thief, Sally was a brave knight-wannabe with high morals, Roz was the mature young lady, Chibo was the immature little brother, and Nim was the confusing ally. Of them all, Ji was the one who made the hard decisions. He kept saying he didn't care about others, but Sally and Roz kept telling him he was wrong. The banter between Ji and Sally was especially entertaining, as they constantly teased each other. Overall, I really liked the book and may read the sequel, but as I said, it's going to appeal to a select audience of fantasy-lovers. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Sorcerer's Ring #2: A March of Kings by Morgan Rice

A March of Kings (The Sorcerer's Ring, #2)My name is Reese, and my father, the king, has been murdered by someone he knew. My best friend Thor was accused of the crime, but my father's last words proclaimed his innocence. Now, the Legion recruits must leave on the traditional One Hundred; we may be selected as Legion members when we return from this retreat in three months, assuming we survive. However, Thor will be troubled by several thoughts. He'll be separated from my sister for one-hundred days, he promised to avenge my father's death, and he's been told his destiny is bigger than the king. In addition, my power-hungry brother Gareth now rules the kingdom, despite my father's wishes, and there is no one less qualified to rule. Our enemies are watching, and I fear their invasion is imminent.

This book is the sequel to A Quest of Heroes, and you should really read it first. Also, it's most appropriate for upper middle grade readers due to some suggestive content between Thor and Gwen. I really enjoyed Thor's character, as he sincerely wanted to make the best choices for himself and others. His bravery, compassion, and integrity were admirable character traits. In contrast, Gareth was a great antagonist, as his scheming for power started to encompass the kingdom and his siblings. Once he gained power, he wanted to make sure he didn't lose it. He ignored the advice of his counsel and chose to alienate his father's loyal subjects. I was hoping he'd take his obsession too far, and I suspect he will in the near future. I don't often focus on the social aspects of books, but this one seemed to send a mixed message about femininity. Of all the children, Gwen's father chose her to succeed him as ruler of the kingdom. He felt she was the most qualified, legitimate heir to the thrown. At the same time, the kingdom's greatest knight was required to go on a quest to select his wife, since he hadn't chosen one by the time he turned twenty-five. Women tried to impress him, so they would be chosen. The demeaning of women really struck me after most of the women in a duke's realm had been paraded in front of the knight. The duke asked if he had chosen his wife yet based almost entirely on appearance! Overall, I'm enjoying the series, but I suspect the mature situations may outgrow the appropriateness for middle grade readers.

Phoenix Burning by Bryony Pearce

Phoenix Burning (Phoenix Series)My name is Toby, and Ayla has stepped onto the deck of the Phoenix again. I thought she liked me up until the moment she had me imprisoned on her mother's ship, the Banshee. My father installed solar panels to power our ship, but we can't use them without an inverter. That's why Ayla is here; she needs one too for her mother's ship. Ayla has an idea. The two of us will win a competition on the island of Gozo and steal their inverters. There are a few problems with her plan. We don’t know where the inverters are kept, we don’t know how to escape, and we’ll be immediately blinded if we win. Now, that we’re here, I see the Sun and Moon competition is all about surviving the challenges. And despite teaming up with Ayla, I know she may stab me in the back at any moment.

This book is the sequel to Phoenix Rising, and you need to read it first. You need to know the story of Toby and Ayla’s relationship and the complications arising from their families’ past histories. The setting is in the future, far enough ahead to present creative worlds but close enough to the past to remember how things used to be. Much of this book takes place on Gozo, and the inhabitants have cult-like beliefs. Their whole world is centered on the sun and moon, and they resent other cultures that have misused the sun’s power. Having the contest winners sacrifice their sight in honor of the sun is pretty radical, but sacrifices made by the losers isn’t much better. Throughout the plot, the focus is on the fragile teamwork between Toby and Ayla and their contrasting motivations. The author leaves a dramatic surprise for the climax that is sure to affect the sequel. The utopian island the characters seek is still a mystery, but they discover exciting clues in the book’s resolution. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Sorcerers Ring #1: A Quest of Heroes by Morgan Rice

A Quest of Heroes (The Sorcerer's Ring, #1)My name is Thorgrin, and all I wanted was to become a member of the King's Legion. I wasn't invited to join like my three brothers, so I ventured to the king's castle on my own. Once I arrived at the Legion's training grounds, I proved my worth and became squire to the kingdom's greatest knight, Erec. The king's youngest son Reese and I have become best friends along with another boy named O'Connor. I was as shocked as anyone when I summoned magical powers to save Erec’s life during a joust! Now, things have gotten more complicated. I've become a hero for doing nothing special, the kingdom is facing a possible invasion, and the king's daughter has taken a liking to me. However, the queen and another boy have vowed to make my life miserable if I don't stay away from Gwen. The king and Erec sense that I'm different from others, but I don't know if that's a good thing or bad. 

I sometimes find gems when I randomly select titles to read while toiling through my gym workouts. This book has the underdog main character, action, devious scheming to gain power, and loyal friendships and bravery to overcome all evil. Thor's character changes immensely and quickly, as he went from sheep shepherd to hero. The relationship with Gwen is especially confusing for him. Despite Thor's virtues, he receives mixed feelings from other characters. The Legion recruits are angry and jealous, while the guards and trainers make it clear he won't get any special treatment. In contrast, Reese and O'Connor immediately become his friends, and later, a bully has a change of heart and joins Thor's group. Thor's brothers were missing from the story as the book progressed. I found myself wondering about them. The plot contains a feud that's been going on for centuries, and the king is doing all he can to maintain the peace. It seems inevitable that a war will break out, but it doesn't start in this book. Nevertheless, the threat of violence is always lingering in the background. The author hints at people living outside the Ring and gives the impression they're violent savages. They provide a basis for future problems, I imagine. In addition, Thor is told his mother came from a far-off land, so that adds a little mystery to his character. The plot has some suggestive moments and bit of hearty drinking, so it's probably more appropriate for tweenage readers. I've also discovered there are over a dozen books in the series!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Polaris by Michael Northrop

My name is Henry. The crew of the Polaris mutinied, killed the captain, and then abandoned ship after setting it on fire. The ship boys and I escaped from a locked room and put the fire out. Why would the crew want to destroy the ship after fighting to gain control of it? Owen was the captain's nephew, so he's now giving orders to sail us to the United States. The other boys are willing to let him, for now, but I'm not sure how long it will last. Thacher is stirring up trouble. I haven't told you this yet, but something else has all of us frightened; we're not alone on this ship. We've been hearing eerie sounds, but we're certain something is living in the dark down below. I can now tell you that we were not prepared for what we found, and it's difficult to explain. It's Obed Macy... but it's not.

This book was not the swashbuckling story I'm used to when reading about old sailing ships. It became a "ghost" story. The author blended several different conflicts to create a creepy adventure. The inexperienced sailors needed to survive the voyage across dangerous seas, Owen's control over them was weakening, two crew members were keeping secrets, and the thing below deck terrified them all. The author left images of the creature to my imagination until he slowly let it emerge. This helped develop suspense until it confronted the boys. It could have come from a science fiction novel, and Henry's background in science caused him to look at the creature as a living organism, not necessarily a monster. The conflict between Owen and Thacher was allowed to fester, as Thacher slowly undermined Owen's authority. Owen wasn't sure how to respond, since he didn't want to lose control of the other boys. He tried to work with Thacher and gave him responsibility, but there was no way the author would allow them to resolve the problems peacefully. Overall, if you read this book as an adventure story, you won't like it. If you read it as a ghost story, you will.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

The Real BoyMy name is Oscar. Caleb chose me to collect and organize his magical ingredients, but now I've messed up everything. I don't understand people very well, so I'm sure I've insulted quite a few of his customers. No one knows I've been reading books from Caleb's library, and I've learned to mix some tinctures on my own. Callie, the Healer's apprentice has agreed to help me with people if I'll help her with patients. However, I was devastated to find something had destroyed the garden and the glass greenhouse, and City kids are getting sick; City kids never get sick. While searching for answers in Caleb's workshop, I discovered he's been keeping a huge secret from me. Something terrible has happened to the workshop and him, and I now realize what's happening to the children. For years, people have been using magic from the earth, and now the soil wants its magic back!

I can usually figure out conflicts in plots pretty quickly, but this book kept me wondering. There was obviously something different about Oscar, but his past was based on assumptions. Plots usually clear up as they near the climax, but the author chose to insert some unexpected twists. Callie's character offered a point of view that differed from the City's dependency on magic. She didn't possess magical abilities like most healers, so she wanted Oscar's help with creating remedies. In return, she counseled him in ways to interact appropriately with others, one of his major weaknesses. The source of the biggest problems in the plot were the result of the gluttonous use of magic in the City. Citizens became segregated into the haves and the have nots. Similar notions of the division of power in our society can be seen today. The truth surrounding the City children was surprising and became a huge issue in resolving the problem. The book won't appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

The Wizards of Once (The Wizards of Once #1)My name is Wish, and I've always been told Warriors must kill all Wizards; all magic is evil. I don't understand why my mother, the Warrior Queen, had a magical sword hidden in the castle. Later in the woods, I met a Wizard prince named Xar who can't do magic. That didn't stop him from stealing the magic sword from me, taking me to his castle, and having a Witch attack me in his room. The dead Witch embedded in Xar's floor proves they're not extinct as everyone believes. One of Xar's fairies touched the Witch's green blood, so we're going to take him back to the queen's castle to save it from the evil magic. My mother has a stone that can remove magic from creatures simply by touching it. However, no one has asked why the stone is taking the magic, and the answer is very important. It wasn't until too late that we discovered the horrible danger waiting to escape the stone.

This book was very entertaining, and the plot moved along nicely. An intriguing part of the book was the narrator. Early on, it told readers that it was one of the characters, so I kept wondering which one. In the end, the narrator asked me to guess its identity without revealing the truth. I can't tell if the narrator is good or bad, but maybe I'll find out in the book's sequel. Xar seemed to be the main character, but Wish became more interesting. Xar was very self-centered and was obsessed with getting his magic. He was even willing to absorb evil magic, so he'd have magic of some kind. Wish was much more logical and compassionate toward other characters and was willing to make hard decisions to help them. Her ideas about magic became more confused as she learned more about the Wizards, and the plot presented an ironic twist during the climax. The resolution lasted longer than I expected and set a foundation for the sequel. An underlying theme dealt with parent expectations. Xar's father was frustrated with his son's poor decisions and inability to perform magic. Xar was an embarrassment. Wish was short with straggly hair and wore an eye-patch, hardly the image of a Warrior princess. The story behind the eye-patch was a mystery that even Wish didn't know. Her abilities weren't a real surprise, but the secret of her eye was. Overall, this book told a wonderful adventure that included suspense, humor, and the unexpected. I recommend you read it!

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond

The Tale of Angelino BrownMy name is Betty Brown, and while driving his school bus, my husband found a tiny angel in his pocket! We're calling him Angelino, and he's brought so much joy to our family. I took him to school with me, and the students and teachers all love him, except for Mrs. Mole. The other day, a school inspector came to our building and had Mrs. Mole in a tizzy. However, I recognized this person as Kevin Hawkins and realized he should still be in school. Kevin was always a master of disguises, but he was easily led by others. Tell him to jump off a rooftop, and he'd do it. I'm not sure why he was in our building. Now, Angelino has been kidnapped, and I don't think the police will be much help. The officers we spoke to don't believe our boy is a real angel... I don't know if anyone else can help us.

The whole plot was about Angelino even though the angel spoke very little. Farting is something he did a lot! He also slowly grew throughout the book, so it was easy to anticipate the plot's final resolution. Betty and Bert missed the son they once had, and they quickly "adopted" Angelino when he appeared. Even though several students were the heroes in the book, I think my favorite characters were actually the kidnappers. Kevin is the misguided boy that Betty remembered, and his Boss wasn't much different. Betty felt they missed out on positive guidance growing up and weren't really bad boys. The plot came to a pleasant conclusion once Betty got a hold of them, and everyone lived happily ever after. The story was told in present tense, which is not something I typically enjoy. It's my personal taste and doesn't mean it's something that will bother you. The book was a quick-read for me, and overall I enjoyed it very much. I've also read Skellig written by David Almond.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Brotherband #7: The Caldera by John Flanagan

My name is Stig, and the Heron's crew is on a mission to free the son of an empress who was kidnapped by a ruthless pirate named Myrgos. We've discovered the pirate's fortress is located on the caldera created by a volcano in the middle of the ocean. My father is an added complication to the rescue. I'd never met him until he appeared one night to ask Hal and our crew for help. He was once a great Skandian, until many years ago he turned on his crew and stole their treasures. My mother was left to raise me amid the embarrassment and disgrace. Now, the crew doesn't know if he can be trusted, and I'm not sure either. But he's my father. It doesn't help that the empress has offered a reward for his capture, or that villagers and fishermen in these waters are deathly afraid of Myrgos. They'll betray us in a heartbeat out of fear. Despite our concerns about my father and the dangers we'll face, a young boy's life is counting on us.

It's possible to read this book on its own, but you should read the whole series to get the full effect of the Heron's history. Also, this book is not really a fantasy, although some Flanagan's books have a a mystical quality. You'll find the book has many references and descriptions concerning the art of sailing ships, and it's something I enjoy. It's not something I fully understand, but I appreciate the skill it takes to steer a vessel in the open sea. There's a glossary in the front of the book to help you with the nautical terms. Hal is the star of the show, as his intelligence and strategies are the keys to surviving. He built the Heron by hand in the first book of the series, so he's developed an amazing control over it. His creative designs for the small ship make it faster and more elusive than most other ships the crew encounters. Myrgos is an experienced pirate, so he presents a formidable opponent to Hal. Hal has been a natural leader since the series began, so it's admirable to see his aura as skirl grow. He's developed a respected reputation across the seas among sailors he's never even met. As always, Ulf and Wulf add a comedic element to the plot, although not as much as in other books. They're highly competitive with each other and enjoy confusing others. Hal wonders if it's a good idea for Jesper to be teaching them how to pick locks! I've been loving everything Flanagan has written over the years, and if you're like me, you'll love The Caldera too. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Pendragon Legacy #1: Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

Sword of Light (Pendragon Legacy, #1)My name is Rhianna, and my father King Arthur has been murdered by his nephew Mordred. I didn't know my father existed until Merlin came to Avalon with his body. I must retrieve Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, and then I must travel to Camelot. The magic sword may be able to return my father to the throne, but Mordred's forces are searching for me everywhere. I rescued one of Arthur's knights from torture, but I was touched by the black arm of Mordred, the arm Arthur severed in battle. The evil magic from Mordred's mother makes the limb dangerous, and his forces surround Camelot. How am I to motivate Arthur's soldiers to follow me, since they all think I'm a weak, red-headed girl? The only thing that will convince them is getting my hands on Excalibur.

I was surprised to see a number of reviewers on Goodreads did not finish this book, but it seems like they were reading it from an adult's perspective. The book was written for middle grade kids, and it's a perfect fantasy for them. Rhianna was a great main character, as she was thrust into the role of King Arthur's unknown heir. She was determined to stop Mordred even though she just found out about her father. In addition, Merlin disappeared from the plot pretty quickly, so Rhianna was left to experience the "real" world on her own. She was probably too brave for her own good, but she behaved like a leader. Elphin was a fairy from Avalon and supported Rhianna's character with his magic harp. He was selfless and would do anything to help her. During a stressful stretch of the plot, he continued playing his harp even though his fingers were bleeding. Excalibur was the key to Rhianna's hopes, but it came with complications. Mordred had a connection to the hilt, so his image was able to pop up and present challenges. In addition, the blade's magic would be lost if any blood touched it. Imagine how difficult it would be to enter a battle knowing you can't use your weapon to hurt anyone. I really enjoyed the book, but unfortunately my library system doesn't offer any other books in the series.

Emily Windsnap #7 and the Falls of the Forgotten Island by Liz Kessler

Emily Windsnap and the Falls of Forgotten Island
My name is Emily, and I swore to my best friend Shona that I wouldn't get caught up in an adventure or put us in danger for a month. Well, that didn't work out. How was I to know I'd find people living on a forgotten island that had only been discovered one year before? Or that the people had been trapped on it for hundreds of years and a prophecy foretold my arrival? They are convinced a devastating earthquake has been gaining strength and will soon obliterate the island. The tsunami caused by the disaster will then surge across the ocean and destroy other islands full of unaware humans. The leader's necklace shows a picture of a mermaid who will lead the island people to safety. I am the mermaid in the picture, and a drawing of my boyfriend is shown in another drawing. I barely survived the journey into the island, and no one else knows I'm here. The islanders believe it's impossible to leave the island, so I guess it's my job to do the impossible or thousands of people will die.

This book is actually the seventh one in a series, but I didn't read any of the others first. I was still able to enjoy it, although I was curious about Emily’s past adventures. She had a history with the god Neptune, but I didn’t know if she had any powers (like Percy Jackson) other than being a mermaid. It was strange to read about a setting where mermaids lived alongside humans; the vacation resort had rooms for both groups. Emily was a semi-mer and could walk around on dry land, while her father and Shona needed to remain in the water at all times. This created some seemingly minor problems. The big conflict in the plot was complicated by Emily's spats with her boyfriend Aaron and her best friend Shona; they were tired of her thinking about herself and getting everyone involved in dangerous situations. However, the prophecies indicated Aaron would end up helping Emily, while her relationship with Shona took more work. Emily’s thinking toward Shona was hard to understand, although it all worked out in the end. I recommend you read the previous books first, but this one was still very entertaining on its own.