Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Forbidden Library #2: the Mad Apprentice by Django Wexler

The Mad Apprentice (The Forbidden Library, #2)
My name is Isaac, and I've been sent to capture the apprentice who murdered his Reader. I'm joined by several other apprentices including Alice, who I haven't seen since stealing The Dragon from her. I can't talk to her now, or I might let my secret slip. Together, we defeated the dragon in a prison-book, but it doesn't talk to me and hasn't given me any of its abilities. We're challenged with maneuvering through a labyrinth controlled by a giant wolf called Tempest. It can manipulate the paths we follow, and it has managed to separate our group and attack us with vicious creatures. My powers are weakening, and I'm not sure how much longer I can survive. Alice has the power to create short-cuts throughout the maze, but I don't know if it will help. Tempest is toying with us but seems to be tiring of the game. I know it said it doesn't want to harm Alice, but it won't have any problems killing the other apprentices and me. 

This book is the sequel to The Forbidden Library, and you'll need to read it first. Readers inherit the abilities of creatures they defeat inside prison-books, and they can summon them to help with challenges. Alice uses the powers of a tree-sprite, dinosaur, dragon, and swarmers. Even though she only recently discovered she's a Reader, her abilities have been more useful than other apprentices. She is the only one who experiments with the limits of her powers, and she helps the others test theirs. The new connection to the dragon is curious, since it allows Alice only partial use of its powers. This is unusual, and you're forced to wonder what is actually going on. Some of the antagonists maintain a connection across different settings, and they have no love for Readers. It feels like the Readers have their goals and objectives, but these other characters have something going on too. Alice is bringing a new attitude to Readers, since past Readers have a reputation for violence and ruthlessness. Alice displays kindness, empathy, and compassion for her fellow apprentices, and the others find this surprising. She discovers a terrible secret about her mentor that will have a huge effect their future relationship. Overall, it's a very entertaining series. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

An Epic Series of Failures #1: The Legend of Greg by Chris Rylander

The Legend of GregMy name is Greg, and I unexpectedly discovered I'm a Dwarf and now live underground with others of my kind. I learned Elves and Dwarfs have never gotten along, which is funny since my best friend Edwin is the son of the Elf Lord. My father was captured by Elves after he discovered a new source of magic, but Edwin insists his parents had nothing to do with it. It's good that I'm a Dwarf with magical ability, but it's bad that a new war with the Elves seems imminent. I guess I rekindled all this trouble by insulting a man in my dad's store, but how was I to know he'd change into an angry Troll? Anyhow, I'm now training for battle with other young Dwarfs, but I'm a little uneasy about a legendary Dwarf weapon called Bloodletter; it speaks to me! It's calling for the blood of Elves, and stories say it will help defeat my enemies. However, the stories also say it will eventually lead to disaster. 

Dwarfs are usually sidekicks and minor characters in other novels, so it's cool to see them in a featured role. Greg is told the portrayal of Dwarfs in Lord of the Rings is inaccurate. Greg lacks confidence and feels like his family is cursed with bad luck, but it turns out all Dwarfs are pessimistic. Edwin is very supportive of Greg, both as classmates and as the plot moves outside the school. All Dwarfs distrust Elves, so Greg is constantly forced to question his friend's honesty and motivations. This is a shame, since Edwin seems to sincerely want to help his Dwarf friend. The Dwarf magic doesn't use words or spells, as it uses deep desires and feelings to control elements of the earth. Much of the magic seems instinctual rather than logical spells. Greg is unaccustomed to having friends, but he is supported by several other young Dwarfs. It's amusing to see the strongest and most aggressive friend is actually a female named Glam with an alluring mustache. Dwarf attractiveness takes some getting used to. Greg develops an affection for Ari, and I assume their relationship will be developed more in the book's sequel. That's a problem with reading new books in a series; I need to wait until 2019 for the next one to come out!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Shadow Weaver #1 by MarcyKate Connolly

Shadow Weaver (Shadow Weaver, #1)My name is Emmeline, and I've been blessed with an ability to control shadows. As a matter of fact, my best friend is my own shadow named Dar. She gives me advice, plays with me, and is my favorite companion. However, my parents are becoming concerned and frightened, and they want me sent away to be "cured". Dar said she wouldn't let that happen, and the next morning a man was found in a coma. Now, we're on the run, staying with Lucas and his family in the forest. Lucas has light magic and can control it with his songs. Dar isn't happy about our situation and only wants me to complete a ritual that will bring her back to life. I can't shake my unease that she's keeping things from me, and Lucas's family has secrets too. I fear these unknowns will come together and explode into one unbelievable disaster.

The author was able to weave a wonderful adventure surrounding a nice, but mischievous, young girl. Emmeline enjoyed her life but became very upset when others threatened to take away her best friend Dar. I imagine most of us would have the same feelings. Dar was by far the most interesting character. She clearly had a hidden agenda, and Emmeline was correct to question her. However, their inseparable relationship kept Emmeline from seriously doubting Dar's intentions. She always took Dar's side despite any troubling evidence. In contrast, Lucas's family showed Emmeline nothing but trust and kindness, so this created a big internal conflict for her. The family's secret inserted an unexpected conflict into the plot. They were so supportive and open with Emmeline that it made me wonder what they could possibly be hiding. Clearly, it had something to do with Lucas's ability and his safety, but I didn't fully expect the truth. In looking back, I probably should have seen it coming. I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first part, and it should appeal to many speculative fiction lovers. 

The Forbidden Library #1 by Django Wexler

The Forbidden Library (The Forbidden Library, #1)My name is Alice, and I used to think fairies were make-believe. That’s back before my father disappeared, and I've come to live with my "uncle". I wasn't supposed to enter his strange library, but I was shocked by what I found. Talking cats guarding the building, an evil fairy, and a young boy named Isaac who says he's a Reader. I didn't know what that meant until I found myself trapped inside a prison-book. I've learned that I too am a Reader and can gain power from the words found in books! I don't fully understand how my life has changed, but other people are trying to control. Mother, a cat magically guarding the library, wants me to find a book called The Dragon to keep it away from my uncle. Mother has said he can't be trusted and that his kindness will lead to violence and killing. 

I randomly found this book in my local library's catalog. As with many middle grade novels, the main character learns she has untapped powers that can disrupt the current world. Alice is pulled into prison-books where she gains abilities of the dangerous creatures she defeats. It’s fun to anticipate how she’ll use them to overcome future challenges. She also doesn't master the powers right away and must negotiate them. She displays empathy for the creatures which complicates her role as a Reader, since most Readers are violent and ruthless. Alice prefers to force the prison-book creatures to submit rather than kill them. Not easy to do when those same creatures are trying to destroy her. Alice’s ability to control swarmers (I pictured them as small kiwi birds with needle-sharp beaks) is her main weapon during most of the plot, and it becomes more developed along the way. It's unclear which characters can be trusted, and Alice's kindness is tested at every turn. Her mentor seems nice enough, but she's warned that he's the worst Reader of them all. While finding The Dragon is important, it isn't the story's climax; Alice still wants to find out what happened to her father and must pursue other secret missions to discover useful information.

Friday, June 15, 2018

BOB by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead

BobMy name is Bob, and Livy said she’d be right back to let me out of the closet. I think I’ve been pretty patient considering it's been five years now! I thought I was a zombie in a chicken outfit, but Livy says I’m not really dead. I guess I must agree, but we still don’t know what I am or where I come from. I remember I was in the chicken coop when Livy first saved me, and she was soaking wet. Actually, Livy thinks she might have fallen into the well first, and then I rescued her. I’m sorry Livy’s grandmother might lose her home because of the severe drought, but I just want to go home. I’ll miss the black licorice and cookies. 

This book was a quick read and told a cute story of friendship. The beginning of the book was unusual, since Livy remembered very little about her previous visit to Australia. She didn’t even recall Bob’s name but quickly agreed to help him. Her memory came back in pieces, but she couldn't understand why she’d then forget Bob even existed. This situation added a creative element to the story, as Livy’s memories came and went. Bob’s character was humorous, as he considered himself a not-zombie and described his five years living in a small, bedroom closet. How many things can you create in five years with a bunch of Lego blocks? Early in the plot, it was clear to me the drought had something to do with Bob's existence, and Grandma’s well was an important part of the setting. All issues were taken care of in the end, and I appreciated how the author resolved the relationship between Livy and Bob. Overall, this book told an emotional, fun story without any complicated twists. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

The ChangelingMy name is Martha, and my best, and only, friend Ivy says she's a changeling. She said she replaced the Carson baby when she was two years old. My parents don't like her as my friend, since I tend to get in more trouble with her. Dumping purple paint on the Girl Scout leader was an accident, but I guess stealing a horse could have been a bigger problem. I feel comfortable around Ivy and get to use more of my imagination. We invented a world in the trees called The Land of the Green Sky, and Ivy just announced she doesn't plan on getting any older. We like to act out our creative lives, and Ivy says I'm really good at pretending to be the evil queen. The only problem is we always need to leave the tree and return to the real world. I never would have imagined the problems between Ivy and my neighbor Kelly Peters would result in such dramatic consequences.

 I was puzzled as I read the book, since the big conflict wasn't clear and I wasn't sure if it was actually a speculative fiction book. Ivy called herself a changeling and said she had abilities, but she didn't seem that different. She was confident and free-spirited but didn't do anything fantastic. The magic in the book was found in the girls' imaginations. The time span of the plot began with them in elementary school and ended with them in tenth grade. The girls grew from fun-loving little kids into more mature young ladies. The aging process was a bit confusing, as they continued to enjoy their imaginary world. I was surprised they didn't get hassled more by their classmates, as they entered middle school. Strangely, Ivy entered and left the story several times due to her family's shady history. My biggest issue with the book, as mentioned, was that I wasn't sure where the plot was headed. It seemed like a collection of stories until the book neared its end. At that point, a big problem arose and was solved. Overall, it was a good book, but didn't wow me. 

The Trials of Apollo #3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan

The Burning Maze (The Trials of Apollo, #3)My name is Apollo, and the Burning Maze is destroying the lands all across California. Of course, my quest will require this flabby human body of mine (thanks Zeus!) to enter the maze in order to free one of my oracles. A vision told me the rescue is a trap set by Caligula, and he wants to capture what's left of my godly powers to become the new sun god. Not gonna happen! Meg and I have been joined by Grover, Piper, and Jason, but I know our success will depend on my bravery and sacrifice. The path through the underground Burning Maze can only be found by stealing Caligula's special shoes. Unfortunately, his fleet of yachts is being guarded by an army of mercenaries and magical creatures. And, a prophecy has foretold that one of us will die during the mission.

I recommend you read the previous books in the series, although it's not necessary to enjoy The Burning Maze. It features the same exciting adventures and action found in Riordan's other books. The premise established in book one of the series is that Apollo is being punished by Zeus who has changed him into a pimply-faced teenage boy. Apollo doesn't have any godly powers except for a magical ukulele. He doesn't complain about his situation as much this time and starts to appreciate the lives of humans. Meg is a wonderful character, as her insecurities blend with her anger and amazing fighting skills. In a twist of circumstances, she is Apollo's boss and can force him to obey any of her orders. They've become close companions, but their interactions are still amusing. Apollo's comments supply most of the book's humor and are a highlight of its entertainment. However, the plot includes some sadness, as a major character doesn't survive the dangerous events. This adds to Apollo's empathy for others, and he promises to remember his time as a human when (if?) he becomes a god again. The book ends with Apollo and Meg heading off on the next quest found in book four. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

The Book of BoyMy name is Boy, although some call me monster because of my hunchback. Father Petrus told me I'm a miracle, but I should never reveal myself. This is most important! Now, I'm on the road with a pilgrim named Secundus who is collecting relics of Saint Peter. He says he was once in Hell but hopes taking the relics to Rome will get him into heaven. He can't touch them without getting burned, so I've agreed to help. I don't like how people look down on me, so I'm also hoping this quest will help cure my hunchback and make me a real boy. However, I made a big mistake last night and accidentally revealed the truth of my hunchback to Secundus. He's frightened of me and has told me to go away. I can't believe what he says about my back, but what am I to do?

I must admit this book won't appeal to everyone, but it offers an unusual story with a strong spiritual twist. Saint Peter was the first pope, and all of the characters believed his relics would create miracles. Secundus professed that he wanted to protect the relics from thieves, but Boy started to wonder about his motivation. The pilgrim's story about being from Hell made his character difficult to figure out. Did his character have positive virtues, or did his character create more of a conflict? I'm not sure. The real story surrounded the revelation of Boy's secret about his hunchback, a truth his character was not willing to accept. The revelation occurred at the mid-point of the plot, but I don't want to spoil it's importance by sharing it here. On a humorous note, Boy attracted animals all along the way, and Secundus playfully suggested they have a contest by guessing what kind of animal would be laying next to him in the morning. This unusual ability actually offered another curious clue regarding Boy's true identity. Overall, I liked the story, although it wasn't the kind of book I'd normally choose. For that reason, I won't give it a strong recommendation. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Magicalamity by Kate Saunders

MagicalamityMy name is Tom, and I've just learned that my father is a fairy, wanted for murder in the Realm. I have three fairy godmothers, although Lorna is the only one who actually answered the call to help me. She says I'm a demisprite, half human and half fairy, and plans to help me rescue my parents. Her magic skills are a little rusty, but I seem to have a natural talent for flying. I've met my other godmothers, and they're not as nice as Lorna. One of them has no love for demisprites, and the other has enslaved all of her "dead" husbands. I'm trying to understand everything they're saying about my father's life as a fairy, and it's clear there's more to his murder charge than we thought. 

This book offers a bit of adventure and mystery with humor added in. I mean, Lorna is the first magical character you meet, and she's forgotten most of the easiest spells; Tom is unexpectedly forced to help her relearn how to fly. The contrast between godmothers creates interest and humor, as they reconnect after being close college friends. Two of them say they've adjusted to the mortal world without using magic, but they clearly have not. One uses it to have children steal for her own profit, and the other uses it to control all of her ex-husbands to profit from their money. It sounds bad, but it's funny; the husbands are okay in the end! The author also includes humorous descriptions, as Tom is flown through disgusting sewers and is forced to disguise himself as a female dancer. It's surprising Tom didn't display more abilities even though it's said that demisprites sometimes develop unusual powers. He could fly and that was it. Overall, this book tells an entertaining story of fairies and evil rulers, and I recommend you give it a try.