Friday, March 30, 2018

Sci-Fi Junior High #2: Crash Landing by John Martin and Scott Seegert

Sci-Fi Junior High: Crash LandingMy name is Kelvin, and my eighth grade year is not starting off well. My klutziness is giving me more embarrassing nicknames than I can handle, and I'll have another chance to make a fool of myself at a mandatory dance. Plus, my four-year-old little sister is a genius and will be coming to my school next week. I'm a little distracted right now, since I can't believe my dad is keeping Zorb in his lab. He's a genius scientist with a terrible sense of humor, but the Zorb's energy is way too dangerous to keep around here. He won't destroy the object, so I guess it's up to my group of friends to do it. We can't figure out a way to get past the robot guards, and my genius friend Brian's brain goes to pickles under stress. Maybe this can be my great thing that will make everyone forget about my horrible reputation.

I feel like I have a high tolerance for goofy stories, but this book really put me to the test. Alternate chapters shared the story of the antagonist's plans to steal the Zorb, and the character happened to be an evil bunny. He had a scheme to kidnap Kelvin but didn't join the other characters until the plot reached its climax. These characters were a blend of creatures from various planets. One of Kelvin's friends had six eyes, and Brian's brain was visible in his head. Drawings were used creatively, as the cartoons shared events and characters' thoughts. These pictures also identified the speakers of dialogue. I guess this book is the second one in a series, although I didn't read the first one. If silly science fiction brings you joy, you'll love these books.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Abode by Patricia Mather Parker

The AbodeMy name is Fel, and I escaped from the Abode but returned through the Mist to free my friend Molly and the other children. I found Molly at the bottom of the Great Hole where fish guts are tossed, but she wasn’t alone. A dragon named Ywyn used the Summoning to tell us about our past. I don't fully understand yet how it happened, but we were once dragons too! Ywyn's brother Gwyr has imprisoned him in this cave for years, and Molly is the key to freeing him and all the other dragons. Gwyr used two of the three magical orbs for evil purposes, but Molly has possession of the third one. Everyone in the Abode fears Gwyr's ruthless power, but Molly is the new Black One. She is the only one who can rescue all the dragons from eternal servitude. 

I received a copy of the book from the author, and I was very impressed with the quality of the writing. After so many years of reading middle grade novels, it's rare when I find new ideas for common topics. The Abode developed surprising twists to the plot that kept me wondering what might happen next. I clearly understood the plight of the dragons, but I wasn't sure how Molly and Fel might resolve the conflict. The characters didn't fully understand the problem until later in the book, as the Visitor was a mysterious, unknown villain; I won't reveal his identity here. The suspense in the plot ebbed and flowed. Characters escaped and made plans to stop the Visitor, while others were captured or punished. The main characters became trusted friends and developed a family feeling. It was cool to see humans working with dragons to resolve a dragon problem. The author offered a bit of humor, as a parrot and pirate captain bantered with a general dislike for each other. It became clear this dislike masked a growing respect. Overall, I loved the book and recommend you add it to your reading list.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Boy From Tomorrow by Camile DeAngelis

The Boy from TomorrowMy name is Josie, and I've been using a Ouija board to communicate with a boy named Alec who lives in my house, one hundred years in the future! I found it hard to believe at first, but he's shared information that proves he's real. My mother makes a living by communicating with spirits, but I wouldn't tell her about Alec. She's never been very loving, but her behavior is disturbing. She hit my little sister Cassie, locked her in a closet, and fired our tutor! Somehow, she found out about Alec and has forbidden me from talking to him. She wants to gain power and respect in society by taking credit for his information about the future. I wish I could someday meet Alec and escape this house, but can never be. He's given me ideas, but I am the only one who can save my future. 

I found this book on Net Galley, and I enjoyed how the author slowly developed the conflict and suspense. It started as innocent curiosity between children from different eras but became a more serious tale of a powerful mother's domineering control of her home. The story used alternating chapters to share the events in the lives of Alec and Josie. Josie and Cassie were treated like prisoners, as they were often punished by being confined to their room and denied meals. Alec became obsessed with Josie and her problems and offered all the help he could from his world in 2016. Luckily, he had a friend named Danny to support him in his efforts. Alec's mom chalked up his strange behavior to her impending divorce, but she reluctantly had to accept the reality of the magic between her son and Josie. I normally read more adventurous and mysterious stories, but this one had me totally engaged. Perhaps it's my past experiences in working with young people, but I was very sympathetic to Josie's issues and Alec's attempts to help. The author and characters needed to balance the paradox of using knowledge of the future to affect those same events. It presented an intriguing conflict. Overall, this book was an emotional adventure of young people striving to make the most of their lives.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Simon Thorn #3: Simon Thorn and the Shark's Cave by Aimee Carter

Simon Thorn and the Shark's Cave (Simon Thorn, #3)My name is Jam, and the General, my father, has allowed me to bring my friends back to my home. This has allowed Simon and me to search for the underwater kingdom's piece of the Predator before Orion steals it. The ruler of the bird kingdom wants to unite all the Predator's pieces, so he can use its powers to reign over all Animalgam kingdoms. Unfortunately, the General wanted to move his piece from its hiding place, and we were ambushed by sharks working for Orion. Simon saved us from death by changing into an orca whale, but the General was seriously wounded. We've learned Orion is planning an attack on the compound and has been secretly getting information from a spy inside Atlantis. A war between the Animalgam kingdoms is waiting to erupt, Simon may be charged with treason, and my sister wants to kill his mother. And I may become the next ruler of the underwater kingdom!

You don't need to read the previous books to enjoy this one, but I recommend you do. The format is similar to book two, as Simon and friends try to keep Orion, Simon's grandfather, from getting his hands on the pieces of the Predator. The weapon will allow Orion to change into any animal, which other Animalgams fear. Although he is the main antagonist, his actual character is not directly involved in most of the plot. Simon wants to get all the Predator pieces first to destroy it, so this quest is the main conflict. An added twist to the whole series is that Simon and his twin brother are naturally able to become any animal, although Simon is keeping his ability secret. Even his brother doesn't know, which adds another source of suspense between the characters. The underwater setting of the book limits which characters are able to leave Atlantis and enter the deep ocean waters. For that reason, most of the action in the plot focuses on Jam and Simon. You won't like this book if you don't like humans becoming animals. However, you might learn a little bit about underwater creatures if you give it a shot.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Alchemist's Apprentice by Kate Thompson

The Alchemist’s ApprenticeMy name is Jack, and I made a big mistake that means I can never return to my role as a blacksmith's apprentice. I later found a sealed pot floating in the river that was created by an alchemist, Mr. Barnstable. I accepted his offer to become his apprentice, and my life became an adventure. Barnstable sent me off to find my prima materia, a stone that is the most important ingredient in alchemy. I wandered across the country, learning to steal for my survival. Finally, events led me to a life of wealth that did not bring me happiness. No one cares about me, and I’ve been used by others all along. I’m now convinced the mercury fumes have gotten to Barnstable’s brain, and he’s delusional. I don’t know what to do.

This book is not at all what I expected. Once Jack leaves on his quest for the prima materia, alchemy takes a backseat in the plot. The story becomes a tale of self-awareness and contentment. Jack finds various characters who help him along the way, but he seems to be searching for his place in the world. Finding a lost horse lifts him out of a life of poverty and changes his life dramatically. However, he continues to search for happiness. You will be disappointed if you’re looking for a story full of spells and magic normally associated with books concerning alchemy. This book is more philosophical and explores the growth of Jack’s spirit. It may be a little deeper than middle graders expect, but it can be enjoyed by more mature readers.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Problematic Paradox by Eliot Sappingfield

A Problematic ParadoxMy name is Nikola Kross, and circumstances have dumped me straight into a war pitting humans and parahumans against the Old Ones. My father has been taken prisoner by the ancient creatures, and I now find myself in an advanced, secret school for geniuses. The school is in the middle of nowhere and is guarded inside a dimensional dome by thousands of robotic bees. Teachers and other students don't understand my natural ability to manipulate quantum agar, but many people would have been killed without it. Tabbabitha, the Old One who captured my dad, has been trying to figure out where I am, but I have no idea why. My roommate and I have now discovered a startling and impossible truth. Somehow, Tabbabitha has gotten past the school's defenses, and it's only a matter of time until she finds me!

I was unsure about this book when I started, because it's a bit odd and wacky. Nikola had an abrasive personality, and her home in an old department store building was eccentric. The paranormals were strange and diverse characters with abilities and habits that take getting used to. However, the plot became more "normal" when Nikola was first attacked by the Old Ones. I appreciated that the author didn't attempt to explain Nikola's ability with the agar, but it became the main weapon and defense. All of the characters were highly intelligent, so you need to be prepared for descriptions of science concepts, computer talk, and far out ideas; Nikola's roommate took an afternoon to whip up a wormhole allowing her to quickly travel across the town. I appreciated the author's creativity in developing a unique and inventive setting and conflict. Overall, the book may not be for everyone, but I found it engaging and interesting. I recommend you give it a shot.

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth Durst

The Stone Girl's StoryMy name is Mayka, and my father has died. The etchings on our stone bodies are fading, and the marks are what give us life. I'm leaving our home on the mountain for the first time, and I must find a new stonemason to fix the carvings. I'm happy that Risa and Jacklo are with me. The stone birds can fly ahead to warn me of danger, although Jacklo tends to get distracted and off course. We've met a small, stone dragon named Si-Si, and she's helped us find the city of Skye. Unfortunately, the Stone Quarter is closely guarded, and Jacklo didn't returned from exploring behind the wall. We've now managed to sneak inside and found a highly-skilled stonemason who fixed Jacklo's wing! However, I've examined the new carvings used to heal my friend, and something isn't right. I fear the stonemason has discovered a new mark that will bring terrifying consequences to every stone creature in Skye!

This book was a finalist for the 2018 Cybils Book Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. Parts of the plot reminded me of The Wizard of Oz, as the creatures searched for a mysterious man who would grant their greatest wishes. Mayka was a wonderfully adventurous and naive character, driven by her will to help other stone animals. She had an ability to read the stories etched on the animals she met, and the author allowed her to share their short tales throughout the book. An important message was that everyone has a story that defines them. On a deeper level, the creatures were seeking their independence without being controlled by others. Free will and individual choice were key issues. The main characters were kind and caring, and they were able to maintain these traits throughout the story. Amazingly, the author was able to resolve a destructive and violent climax in a relatively peaceful manner. Overall, I highly recommend you read this book. It's an inspiring, magical story!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Switchers #1 by Kate Thompson

SwitchersMy name is Tess, and I have a secret not even my parents know. A strange boy named Kevin shows up and threatens to tell them I have the ability to change into any kind of animal. He’s another switcher and says he needs my help to stop the snow and deep freeze that is creeping down from the Arctic. A crazy woman named Lizzie says Krools are to blame and that Kevin and I are the only ones who can stop them. We don’t know if what she says is true, but we need to fly north and find out. During our flight, Kevin reveals his own secret; his birthday is approaching in the next few days. On that day, he'll lose his ability to switch and will be stuck in one animal form for the rest of his life. What if we're in the middle of saving the world, and he's stuck as a dolphin, polar bear, or albatross?

I liked the idea of characters transforming into animals in order to save the world. However, the overall effect of the book left me a little disappointed. The plot took too long to reveal details of the problem, as too many pages were spent describing the chatacters’ trek to find Lizzie. Then, the climactic face-off with the Krools didn’t meet my anticipation. The solution felt too simple. Kevin’s age problem provided an interesting twist, and the resolution of the entire plot was satisfying. So what am I saying? If you have the patience for slow plot development and you like animals, then you should enjoy this book. Really, the concept was good, but the suspense was lacking compared to other books I’ve read recently.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Father of Lies Chronicles #3: Arthur Quinn and Hell's Keeper by Alan Early

Arthur Quinn and Hell's KeeperMy name is Arthur, and Loki has finally succeeded in killing me, kind of. The good thing is that I'm still alive on Earth, but the bad thing is history has changed and no one remembers me. Dublin is totally underwater, and the area is patrolled by Loki's army of wolves. I was captured and thrown into a prison camp full of other human refugees. I managed to escape and discovered a group of rebels led by my best friend Ash; except she doesn't know who I am and isn't willing to fully trust me. I showed her my pendant and Thor's hammer to support my story, but things didn't change until she was able to share one of my visions. She now knows we must stop Loki, or everyone and everything on Earth will be erased from existence.

I suggest you read the first two books in the trilogy before reading this one. There are recurring characters with background stories that you'll miss out on, and this plot picks up where the last book left off. For example, the World Serpent returns and Fenris's daughter is now the general of Loki's army. Arthur is still a brave young boy, although he lost an eye in book two. This handicap becomes an asset, as his remaining eye now allows him to see hidden truths. The book seems to have more action than the previous ones, as Arthur spends much of his time running from Loki's army of wolves. The setting with all of Dublin, Ireland covered in water is creative and causes the characters to move around on jet skis and boats. The plot twist with all characters forgetting Arthur adds additional suspense, since he doesn't know if anyone will be able to help stop Loki. Even though Loki doesn't see how it's possible, he's still open to the possibility of Arthur's reappearance and has some tricks up his sleeve. This book concludes the trilogy, but the author has left open a chance that Loki might return someday.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes #1: The Gift by Jeri Anne Agee

The Gift: The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes #1My name is Birdie Mae Hayes. The biggest news in town is a new family is moving into old lady Miller's house, and Daddy's not too happy about it. He has the only grocery in town, but Peter Doolittle's daddy will be opening another one soon. My other big thing is still kind of a big secret, because I don't know what to think about it. I think I can tell the future. The first time it happened was when I got a stomachache, closed my eyes, and in my mind I saw Doyle Baker fall out of a tree. I tried to warn him, but the big dummy still went ahead and broke his foot. The visions have happened a couple more times, and I think something's wrong with me. I told my best friend Sally, but she just thinks it's pretty cool. I think it's weird, and I don't know if I'm ready for the responsibility.

This book can be read quickly, as it's written for readers who are younger than my blog's normal middle grade target audience. Birdie Mae is a likable character with the innocence of a young child living in a very small town. Bubba is her free-spirited, two-year-old brother, and he adds some cute humor to the events. All of the people, except for Birdie Mae's daddy, are looking forward to a bouncy house and pony rides set for the new grocery store's grand opening, and a Halloween party at the Doolittle's house is the talk of the town. Now that's small-town news! The plot doesn't have a dramatic conflict or climax, as I've described in the summary above. The major "problem" is Birdie Mae learning to accept her new ability. Although the story is simple, it's nice to read a story for a change that doesn't include any profanity, violence, or major complications. Overall, the author has created a fun story that can be enjoyed all young readers.