Sunday, August 26, 2018

Thrones and Bones #1: Frostborn by Lou Anders

Frostborn (Thrones & Bones, #1)My name is Thianna, and my father says I'm all frost giant. However, I wish I could expel the half-human within me. He gave me a horn that once belonged to my mother, and I had no idea it was so important. I got my first clue when three warriors riding wyverns tried to kill me. It seems strange to say, but I'm thankful the little human Karn was with me. He loves his board game, and I'm starting to see it's made him a strong thinker. I'm not sure how that's going to stop undead warriors from chasing him, but at least we can work together. I never really knew my human mother, but she risked her life to hide the horn. I'm still not sure what it does, since I can't even get it to make any noises. However, I won't give it up to the evil warriors as long as I'm still breathing.

The title referred to a board game (seemed like chess) played by Karn, and he learned to apply its strategies to life-threatening situations. His problems began as a result of some annoyingly gullible decisions, but I'll forgive the author since the rest of the book was pretty good. Karn used his smarts to transform from a reluctant heir to his father's farm into a formidable ally. Thianna was a dynamic character with a huge chip on her soldier because of her human mother. At one point, Karn got annoyed and told her to stop trying to prove she was a giant. She was small for a giant, but she was a powerful fighter against her human-size foes. Karn and Thianna maintained a friendly banter that added humor to the story. The plot was a mixture of adventure and action, although the battles were solved more by intelligence than muscle. A family member was traitorous, but it wasn't hard to figure out the bad intentions. It was nice to see justice served against the antagonists, as their actions led to their own demises. I plan to read the sequel called Nightborn, although I have no idea where it will lead. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Arlo Finch #1: In the Valley of Fire by John August

Arlo Finch in the Valley of FireMy name is Arlo, and I've quickly discovered Pine Mountain can be a very dangerous place. I joined the Rangers, and my new friends have told me about the mysterious things found in the Long Woods. I've seen a ghost dog, and I was almost lured to my death by two wisps during my first Ranger campout! A young girl went missing eight years ago, and a reflection of her appeared in my bedroom. It can't be a coincidence that she had one green eye and one brown eye, just like me. Maybe that explains the creatures and language I can see that others cannot. I need to find out more about the girl and her disappearance, and I need to understand why monsters are being sent after me. Why would anyone be afraid of me and want me dead? It must have something to do with the eldritch lands and the Realm beyond the Long Woods. 

I randomly found this book on my library's shelf for new 2018 releases. The plot began as a tale about a magical forest but quickly evolved into a mystery. What happened to Katie Cunningham, and why was Arlo in danger? The book introduced clues along the way until it became clear that Arlo wasn't an ordinary kid. I imagine the inclusion of Rangers may not appeal to some readers, as scouting is not as popular as it used to be. However, the meetings, contests, and outings allowed camaraderie to develop between Arlo and the other characters. It was strange to hear the Rangers explain to Arlo how they weren't able to perform magic. Can you snap your fingers and create little bits of light and can you cast wards to protect yourself from monsters? Each member of his patrol offered unique talents, and together they became a special team. Arlo faced off against the mysterious antagonist in the climax, and a regional Ranger competition led into the resolution. Teamwork and spirit were key elements in the patrol's success. I enjoyed the mysterious magic in the plot, and I assume a sequel will be coming out in 2019. I think you should give it a shot.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Shadow Magic #3: Burning Magic by Joshua Khan

Burning Magic: A Shadow Magic NovelMy name is K'leef, and my life has been turned upside down. People from all the different kingdoms came to town for my brother's coronation as the new sultan, but somehow his magic failed and he died. My good friend Thorn complicated matters, as usual, by freeing some prisoners and destroying one of our most sacred landmarks. He's from House Shadow and doesn't understand our ways. I've now been forced to challenge my older brother Jambiya to become the new sultan. I must venture into the Shardlands and be the first to return with a new phoenix. I'm thankful to have Thorn and Hades, his huge bat, as we enter this land of deadly creatures and ancient magic. Unfortunately, something terrible has happened to Lily Shadow that may lead to our doom.

The series began with the 2016 Cybils Award winner Shadow Magic, and you'll need to read the previous books first. As usual, most of the action followed Thorn, since he created much of the conflict or found his way into the middle of it. As Lily said, he didn't always have the smartest plans, but he had great bravery. He didn't have magic like Lily and K'Leef, but he had a special bond with Hades and a remarkable talent with the bow and arrow. He was a righteous character and didn't let any rules or laws stop him from helping those in need of help. Lily's magic was dark, and you seldom see positive characters who communicate with the dead and control shadows. However, Lily's name struck fear into most characters, but she was forced into a more minor role due to a devious character. Throughout the series, Thorn and Lily have become close friends, and this book hinted at a more emotional connection. They had trouble expressing their feelings to each other, so their unspoken affection will continue into the next book. I highly recommend you read this series; you won't be disappointed!

Joshua Dredd #1 by Lee Bacon

Joshua Dread (Joshua Dread #1)My name is Joshua Dredd, and my mom and dad are supervillains. I knew my body would change once I entered middle school, but I never expected to receive a Gyft, my superpower. My Gyft is spontaneous combustion (I can make things blow up), but I have trouble controlling it. My bigger problem right now is the new girl named Sophie. She has super strength, and her dad is bad news for my family. The Dread Duo, my parents, and other villains have a disturbing dilemma too, as human-like cloud shapes invaded the Vile Fair and disappeared with several master criminals. Nobody knows what the clouds might be or who might have sent them, but they've started popping up all around town. Now, the clouds have gotten my parents, and I need help. I never would have imagined the person who answered my call.

This story was told with a unique point of view, as Joshua loved his unlawful parents. Everyone hated them and cheered for the hero, but Joshua had a different take on what they were doing. Strange as it is to say, it made me have some empathy for characters threatening to destroy the world. The conflict between Joshua's parents and Sophie's dad created a huge complication for the kids. How could they possibly be partners on a school project and become friends when their parents wanted to kill each other? Captain Justice was the world's greatest hero, but he had some issues. It was clear from the beginning that he was overly concerned with his public image and marketing. He posed for pictures, handed out autographs, and promoted his breakfast cereal, beef jerky, and collectible products. This vanity was a major cause of the plot's big problem, as others were ready to exploit it. At first glance, the book appeared to be a silly story with super good guys and bad guys battling it out. However, it became the story of two kids trying to deal with their parents' baggage, and Joshua learning to handle his adolescent changes. Overall, the book was entertaining along with its silly moments, and young middle grade readers with a love for superheroes and comics should enjoy it. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Tombquest #2: Amulet Keepers by Michael Northrop

Amulet Keepers (TombQuest, #2)My name is Ren, and our flight was complicated by blood-red rain that nearly crashed the airplane. Several people have disappeared here in London, and Alex and I are sure its because of the Order and another Death Walker. We know the Order has kidnapped Alex's mother, but he's becoming reckless. The scarab amulet around his neck gives him a weapon against the Death Walker, but it doesn't protect me. He makes me so angry! We need to figure out the identity of the Death Walker while it was alive in order to choose the correct spell from the Book of the Dead that will defeat it. However, I feel drained and need a break from Alex. I'll let him go search for information in the British Museum, but I'm sure I'll be safer checking out Rembrandt paintings while he's gone.

It's been a few years since I read the first book; not sure why it took me so long to read this one. You should read the first book to understand the backstory of Alex, his mom, and the amulet. The strength of the series is still the action-packed plot. It has bad guys popping up all over the place, strange creatures lurking in the dark, and mysteries with mummies and Egyptian magic. As hinted above, a conflict between Alex and Ren develops, as Alex gets tunnel-vision to save his mom. He ignores everyone else, makes rash and risky decisions, and endangers others. This slowly eats away at Ren until she gets fed up with it. Consequently, their bond becomes strained, which results in more tension for our reading enjoyment. Alex discovers a disturbing disappointment during the search for his mother, but Ren discovers a beneficial wonder. The climax concludes with a suspenseful showdown, but the resolution leads into the book's sequel. This series should appeal to lovers of magic, the undead, and Egyptian mythology. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Dragon's Guide #2: A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder

A Dragon's Guide to Making Your Human Smarter (A Dragon's Guide, #2)My name is Miss Drake, and Winnie, my pet human, has started school at Sprigg's Academy, a school for magics and mortals. I've been secretly watching to make sure her temper doesn't get her into trouble again, especially with Nanette's attempts to bully her. She seems to be adjusting well, although I should have spent more time over the summer teaching her about magical history. Unfortunately, Winnie's mother knows nothing about magic, and my shape-changing has kept her from discovering I'm a dragon. Our biggest problems are that Winnie's grandfather Jarvis is plotting to get custody of her, and the school is requiring Nanette and Winnie to spend every minute together. Winnie is a strong girl, but an Internet video may bring an end to our friendship.

Unfortunately, I did not read the first book before reading this one. The story is told from alternating points of view, but the author added a cute twist. Winnie and Miss Drake each believe the other is her pet, especially Miss Drake, although it's clear they're close friends. I found the mixture of magic and technology amusing. Miss Drake, the teachers, and other creatures performed spells, but Miss Drake still needed to check her texts and emails. An endearing character is Small Doll. This small doll cleaned the house every night, but no one ever saw it move or heard it speak. It especially loved sweets. Winnie carried it with her on her first day at the magical school, and Small Doll was able to foresee problems and turn the tables on would-be pranksters. Jarvis created the conflict in the plot, but he wasn't an active character. The threat of his behind-the-scenes actions was the big problem. For most young readers, the issues at school are probably most relatable. Winnie didn't want to stand out, and she wanted to make friends. Nanette didn't like her, but that was partly due to Winnie's innocent intentions. It wasn't Winnie's fault the teacher's liked her better than Nanette. Overall, this was a cute story that should be enjoyed by most young readers. 

RuneWarriors #1 by James Jennewein and Tom S. Parker

RuneWarriors (RuneWarriors, #1)My name is Lut the Bent, and I should have spoken sooner about my disturbing dreams. I saw Dane, Voldar's son, riding a great wolf amid blood and chaos, as members of our tribe were slaughtered. I knew I had to tell Voldar when Thidrik the Terrifying entered our village. Thidrik is pure evil and not to be trusted. Unfortunately, Dane took the Shield of Odin into the woods along with Astrid, our most beautiful maiden, and left the village defenseless. Now, Voldar has been killed by Thidrik, Astrid has been taken, and the blame has been lain upon Dane. I convinced the villagers to give him a chance at redemption, but the small band of boys and three old men, including me, must face the tyrant and his Berserkers. Little did we know that our quest would lead to the most powerful weapon on earth.

This book was an interesting mix of Norse mythology and magic. Characters prayed to Odin and believed their lives were fated by the gods. Along the way, Dane and his group found water that bestowed intelligence or idiocy, and Lut's runes mystically foretold the future. The concepts of faith and free will were addressed, as Dane started to question his destiny. The others were shocked when he questioned the power of the gods and their influence over mortal decisions. The story offered a curious blend of characters. Jarl was a self-centered boy and Dane's closest rival, but they became co-leaders of the quest. Dane's two best friends were known for their stupidity and body odor. Jarl's best friends were known for their drinking and fighting. Astrid was a beautiful maiden, but she was also a formidable warrior. The plot offered many opportunities for Dane and Jarl to clash, as there were physical conflicts and opposing thoughts about important decisions. Dane was more diplomatic in these situations, while Jarl always believed himself to be right or that his thoughts were the will of the gods. Overall, this is a good book that will appeal to lovers of Viking tales. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Clockwork Chronicles #1: The Brimstone Key by Derek Benz and J.S. Lewis

The Brimstone Key (Grey Griffins: The Clockwork Chronicles, #1)My name is Max Sumner, and I am the leader of the Grey Griffins. Most of the students and staff at Iron Bridge Academy already know we've successfully battled monsters. However, most of the students also know my father is an evil man, and many of them have lost family members because of him. I haven't seen my faerie in weeks, and changelings have been disappearing from the school. My friend Ernie is a changeling with super speed, and the disappearances have made him even more nervous than usual. My focus has been distracted from the upcoming Round Table tournament where everyone is expecting a big showdown with Xander, the most popular kid in school. I'm not jealous of him... am I? We've discovered the rare Round Table cards we found may hold dangerous creatures, but the greatest terror comes from a man who disappeared a hundred years ago. 

The story jumped right into the action, as the kids were stuck deep underground by page ten. Even though this was the first book in the series, it felt like a sequel. It didn't take any time to describe how the Grey Griffins formed, and it made references to their past deeds without sharing any details. It didn't explain how Max's dad became an evil character or anything else about his life growing up. It mentioned these past events like they'd been covered in an earlier book, but the lack of information became a distraction. It made me ask questions with no answers. With that being said, the premise of the story had potential. There were close friends with unique abilities, trying to solve a mystery, while adjusting to a new middle school. Max was the guardian of the Codex, an enchanted book holding dangerous magical creatures. However in the novel, the Codex was mostly depicted as a magical ring and gauntlet worn by Max as a weapon, but there was no further explanation until near the end. The problem was this book appeared to be a spin-off from a Grey Griffins series. I guess you'll need read that series first to appreciate this one.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Earthfall #1 by Mark Walden

Earthfall (Earthfall, #1)My name is Sam, and I finally discovered I'm not alone on Earth. I've been hiding from Hunters in the sewers of London ever since the alien ships arrived a year and a half ago. Rachel saved me from a Hunter attack and then introduced me to the small group of humans still in control of their minds. I'm learning special ops like a guerrilla soldier, and it feels good to finally be fighting instead of running away. However, I'm not comfortable with the secrets Dr. Stirling is keeping from everyone. He won't say what his laboratory used to do, and he won't say how he was able to locate me in the middle of a devastated city. I know I'm different from the others, but I don't know why. Why did I survive a Hunter sting that usually kills within minutes, and why can't anyone else hear the sounds from the Threat like I do?

This is a dystopian novel with mechanical aliens like in the Jack Blank trilogy. I envisioned the invasion happening similarly to how it occurred during the Independence Day movie. Gigantic Motherships parked above major cities around the world and sent smaller ship and "soldiers" down to the planet. Almost every human on Earth became mindless workers for the aliens, including Sam's sister. His father was significant to the story, but his whereabouts were unknown. Sam's character was the most engaging part of the book, because there was something mysterious and compelling about him. He was obviously the protagonist hero, but he had some kind of connection to the antagonist aliens. Why didn't the sting kill him, and how could he almost hear voices in sounds that no one else could detect? Then, there was the unexplained scar on the back of his head and uncertainty about Stirling's secrets. All of these factors created a suspenseful plot with an exciting ending. Actually, the climax included a huge surprise that will have a dramatic effect on the sequel. I still don't totally understand the Servant or the Illuminate, but I'm sure they will become clearer in the next book. You'll enjoy this book if you like science fiction and aliens, and I recommend you give it a shot. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Jack Blank Adventure #1: The Accidental Hero by Matt Myklusch

The Accidental Hero (Jack Blank Adventure, #1)My name is Jack Blank, and I don't
know my true past, only the life I had in the orphanage. A Rustov robot creature tried to kill me, so an android named Jazen has taken me far away to an island called Imagine Nation where aliens, Mechas, and superheroes live together. The citizens are wary of another Rustov invasion, and everyone knows I've been infected by the parasite. Nevertheless, I have a chance to improve my power over machines by being accepted to the School of Thought, but I must be approved by all memebers of the Inner Circle, powerful beings governing Imagine Nation. That's a daunting challenge, since Jonas Smart is constantly spreading news that I’m  Rustov spy. I better learn something quickly, since an indestructible Rustov named Revile is determined to kill me.

I found this book by chance, and I really enjoyed it. Jack was another reluctant hero who was just discovering his new abilities. The author did a wonderful job of creating problems for Jack with Smart’s disdain, Rustov attacks, the citizen’s fear and anger, and Jack’s own self-doubts. A major focus of the plot dealt with Jack’s efforts to survive and prove himself to the Inner Circle. As mentioned, receiving a favorable vote from Smart seemed impossible, and Smart seemed to have ulterior motives. The question of Jack’s mysterious past simmered throughout the plot, and a story-changing secret was revealed during the climax. The book was a blend of science fiction and fantasy. Smart developed all kinds of inventions including SmartCams that followed Jason everywhere. Superheroes flew around quelling typical superhero problems. Overall, the book may not appeal to everyone, but I highly recommend you give it a shot.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Dreaming Dangerous by Lauren DeStefano

Dreaming DangerousMy name is Plum, and I have an unusual ability to share dreams with my three closest friends. Dr. Abarrane asks us to keep a diary of them, and doctors frequently check our health. However, our dreams have been getting stranger, and I've started wondering about the doctors questions. Artem has disappeared, and in our dreams he's warned us that someone is coming to get us. Who is he talking about? Gwendle, Vien, and I have decided no one can be trusted, so we've started lying to the doctors and in our diaries. We used to be in control of our dreams, but something's changed. I don't feel safe in them anymore, and sometimes I can't wake up. I've got to find Artem and figure out what's going on. He doesn't seem to be in Brassmere Academy anymore. If we can't trust the doctors, what can we do?

The beginning of the plot seemed innocent enough, but it quickly sucked me in. (I read it in one afternoon) I found myself very curious about the dreams and trying to figure out what was happening at this isolated academy. It seemed like the plot was equally split between reality and the dream world. The four friends would often go to sleep in order to be together and to speak in private. The dreams were very imaginative and created a lot of drama. Even though I enjoyed most of the book, I didn't care much for the climax and resolution. I figured the plot would amp up a bit once the secret was revealed, but it actually signaled the end. Also, there seemed to be a bit of magic with the gargoyles that wasn't found earlier in the book. In the end, I wanted to know more about what the doctor was doing and why he was doing it. I still don't know what happened to him after everything was resolved. I'm wondering if there's going to be a sequel, although it didn't feel like that was in the plans. Overall, I really enjoyed most of the book, and you may not have the same feelings about the ending. Everyone is different!

Magickeepers #3: The Chalice of Immortality by Erica Kirov

The Chalice of Immortality (Magickeepers #3)My name is Nick, and my father is dying from evil magic. Theo says doctors can't help him, and his only hope is the Chalice of Immortality. The Shadowkeepers are everywhere, and Rasputin still wants to get his hands on me. I'll still do anything to save my dad. I'm thankful that Isabella is with me, and her connection to animals has come in very handy. We would have been torn apart by possessed wolves if her powers hadn't been so strong. We've traveled to England a couple of times now, and I'm wondering if the woman I've seen might know something about the chalice. She wears a white scarf around her neck, and I've noticed her watching me from a distance. We need to find the chalice soon, or I'll lose my father forever.

This book concluded the trilogy, and the books have been fun to read. Obviously, magic was very important, as it was used in almost every chapter. Communication, transportation, and self defense all required magic. Nick's visions from the past provided important information to locate the chalice. While the Chalice of Immortality was a very powerful relic, the holders of it often found themselves under its spell. Consequently, possessing the chalice might have been a curse despite any of its positive effects. Nick was told he'd become more powerful than Theo and Damian, and a flashback indicated he would someday rule over the family. This book was different from the previous two, since the ruling cousins displayed more support and trust for Nick than they ever had before. Nick didn't sneak around as much this time, and he was allowed to accompany his cousins on missions. As usual, there were flashbacks of famous names in history. This time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini, Shakespeare, and Amelia Earhart made appearances and displayed their roles in the chalice's history. Overall, the series was very entertaining, and lovers of magic should truly enjoy it. 

My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord by David Solomons

My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord (My Brother is a Superhero, #2)My name is Luke, and I was angry and lonely before I screwed everything up. Don't tell anyone, but my brother Zack is Star Guy, and my neighbor Lara is Dark Flutter. They're too busy saving the world to spend time with me, and I can't hang out with my best friend Serge since his parents say I'm a bad influence. So... that's how I came to play the new Puny Earthlings! video game and showed aliens how to defeat Star Guy. I can't convince my brother of the alien invasion, so it looks like it's S.C.A.R.F.'s time to shine. However, my teammates aren't talking to me, and I'm asking for help from Christopher Talbot, the comic book store owner who once tried to take over the world. You know your plans to save the planet are shaky when you need to trust a supervillain.

As you may have sensed, this book tells a silly, corny story of good versus evil. The alien plot concerns an intergalactic reality show, and it uses Luke's thoughts to frighten him. The spaceship looks like his school, and all of the aliens appear as his PE teacher. Luke is annoyed that a guy from another dimension gave Zack and Lara superpowers, while he's the lover of comics who most wants to be a superhero. To be fair, Zorbon couldn't give Luke powers in book one, since Luke was taking a bathroom break. Luke's conflicted, since it's hard for a hero without powers to defeat supervillains and aliens. His intelligence and imagination are keys to resolving the conflicts, but he doesn't get any public recognition. The entertainment in this book comes from the wacky situations, characters, and goofy jokes. Heck, TV remote controls are alien weapons. The last page drops a huge surprise that leads right into a sequel. Overall, you need to have a high tolerance for goofiness to enjoy this book. I do, and I did.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Magickeepers #2: The Pyramid of Souls by Erica Kirov

The Pyramid of Souls (Magickeepers, #2)My name is Isabella, and my worst nightmare has reappeared. Maria, daughter of Rasputin, has returned and wants to steal my essence. Nick and I saw her in the stables with a jackal and ravens, and we later saw an evil-looking woman enter our hotel wearing black and a headdress of black feathers. Magicians from all over the world have come to our Las Vegas home for an annual conference, but something terrible just happened. Shadowkeepers stole the Pyramid of Souls, and it's clear Rasputin is behind it. He’ll become even more powerful if he can capture the magical essences, but Nick's destiny is to stop him.

You should probably read the first book, but you can still enjoy The Pyramid of Souls without it. Nick is the main character, and he is learning to master his new-found magical powers. He also has a habit of concealing the truth from Damian and Theo, the powerful leaders of the family, and then getting himself into bigger trouble. Isabella is his cousin and best friend, and he always pulls her into the danger he creates. Theo and Nick have an ability to use crystal balls, and Theo uses his ball to see past events that are relevant to the plot. This book includes flashbacks to Edgar Allan Poe and Alexander the Great to emphasize the danger of the Shadowkeepers, the importance of a special elephant, and the mystery of the raven woman. The book is a quick-read, as the plot moves quickly through the 146 pages. The conflict between Nick and Rasputin carries over from the previous book, and the resolution was similar to book one. Rasputin hints that he will eventually be defeated by Nick, but it turns out not in this book. It looks like this series is a trilogy, so The Chalice of Immortality should wrap everything up. Overall, it's not a fantastic series, but it's entertaining.

Jack Blank Adventure #3: The End of Infinityby Matt Myklusch

The End of Infinity (Jack Blank Adventure, #3)My name is Allegra, and Jonas Smart has gone too far. I knew he would accuse Jack of being a Rostov spy again, but he ordered his soldiers to attack him with thousands of innocent civilians around. I don't know exactly what the Rustov did to Jack while he was captive for a year, but he announced they're planning an all-out invasion of Imagine Nation. Smart ignored Jack's warning, and his unjust xenophobia has led to Jazen's imprisonment and has the citizens nearing a civil war. Jack's supporters are accused of being pro-Rustov, and the timing couldn't be worse. The Rustov invasion is here, and no one is prepared. Jack is the wild card. He's my best friend, but his fear of becoming Revile sometimes paralyzes him. A Rustov parasite is inside his head, and the Rustov surgically implanted a power cell into his chest. We're all doomed if Jack can't suppress Khalix and become our most powerful weapon again. 

You must read the previous books to understand this one. Even though many characters had superpowers, the series read more like science fiction due to the significance of machines in the plot. The robotic parasite had been inside Jack since the beginning and was growing stronger. It created an ongoing internal conflict that seemed impossible to resolve without Jack's death. How could he overcome Khalix, as the Rustov machine slowly took over his body? The Rustov prince spoke in Jack's head and kept reminding him how futile it was to resist the transformation. I loved how the author continued to weave all kinds of twists into the plot that required my thought and imagination. The Rustov had been planning the invasion for a decade and were always one step ahead. However, one decision dramatically back-fired on them, and one character hinted about it all through the series. Characters changed sides, and another character made a surprise reappearance. In addition, a lingering question about Jack's past is finally answered during the plot's resolution. Overall, the series may not appeal to everyone, but lovers of robots and science fiction should really enjoy it. I did!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Thorn Queen by Elise Holland

The Thorn Queen: A NovelMy name is Meylyne, and I've been forced to break the first commandment, again, and reenter the Above-World. My only hope of avoiding life in the Shadow Cellars is to find a cure for the prince's aging disease. The Old Well of M'Yhr has said I must travel to the Valley of Half-Light where the soul-eating sphers live. Hope has been a loyal companion, and we've been joined by Blue, a tiny warrior. I never would have imagined an ogre named Grimorex would become such a valuable ally. However, something is seriously amiss in the Above-World. Conflicts have war looming in Glendoch, the Great Oaken Mother has been poisoned, and sphers are spreading discord. The Great Oaken Mother said she was poisoned by the Thorn Queen, but why would Queen Emery want to start a war? I'm embarrassed that my terrible alchemy skills are no help. My mother is the most powerful alchemist around, but I can't ask her for assistance. What can I do?

I enjoyed the plot and the complications to Meylyne's quest. She needed to discover many secrets about her past and her abilities that became keys to resolving the conflict. I kept wondering about the "allergy pills" she religiously took, because they were concealing something important. Blue was a great character, as he lived up to the hype of being a brave warrior. Despite his lack of height (thanks to Meylyne's flawed spell) he stepped up to defend his new friends against all kinds of creatures and dangers. His past was a mystery, but the truth was actually anticlimactic. I wish I could tell you about more intriguing secrets, but they would be spoilers. I enjoy stories that keep me guessing, and this book kept me going until the final pages. The antagonist's true identity was unknown until a critical moment, Meylyne's mother revealed a devastating secret at an important time, and the plot's resolution revealed a final surprise. The ending sounded like it was leading into a sequel, but I haven't seen any indication that one is coming. Overall, The Thorn Queen was a fantastic book, and I recommend you add it to your reading list. 

Spindrift and the Orchid by Emma Trevayne

Spindrift and the OrchidMy name is Spindrift, and I had a bad feeling about the customer in grandfather's shop asking if I'd ever seen a black orchid. I hadn't at the time, but that night a black orchid appeared in the glass ball my mother left to me. It changed into a woman who will grant me wishes, and she says there are six more hidden around the world! My grandfather has started sharing letters left by my mother before her death; she died in a shipwreck while searching for the other orchids. Then, that man returned to the shop and threatened us for our black orchid. He's trying to collect all seven orchids, which will make him the most powerful person in the world. I now know the only way to stop him is by getting all of the orchids first. The flowers created an obsession in my mother, and it eventually led to her insanity, and ultimately to her death. I feel the same compulsion and don't know if I can avoid the same fate.

Often, the adult characters in these situations try to control the younger characters with new abilities. The young characters then ignore advice and do their own things. Half of that is true in this book. It wasn't clear how much grandfather knew, but he gave Spindrift (her name comes from sea mist) clues and didn't do much to stop her. She then went off on her own to foil the plans of the mysterious man. There were a couple of unique ideas in this book. Seven sages were contained in the seven glass balls, and each one controlled a different power. The sages did this to put limitations on the wishes and so one person couldn't have all the power, but that obviously became the main conflict. Secondly, Spindrift's mother was overcome by the power of the orchids, and the change was displayed through her letters. She eventually considered killing in order to collect all the flowers. The conflict between Spindrift and the man became more threatening and wasn't settled until the very last chapter. The actual resolution was predictable, although the personality of the black orchid complicated things a little bit for Spindrift. Overall, it was an entertaining story, and I recommend you give it a chance.