Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #2: Exile by Shannon Messenger

Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #2)My name is Sophie, and I don't understand the changes that are happening. How can the alicorn I found mentally communicate with me, and why is this beautiful creature so important to the Council? Is it because elves are losing faith in the Council? Who kidnapped me, and why did the Black Swan come to my rescue? Is this group good or evil? I was hoping my return to school would make my life more normal, even though I was dreading my Impaling classes with Councilor Bronte, but then something horrible happened to Alden at the opening ceremonies. He's a father figure to me, so I was devastated when he suddenly collapsed. The doctor says there's no way to save him, but I won't give up. My abilities should be able to help him... unless they're broken.

You must read the first book in the series to fully understand what's going on. I'm enjoying the mystery surrounding Sophie's past, since it's unclear why the Black Swan created her. She has more talents than any other elf, and there are memories hidden inside her mind. This makes the Council leery of her, and she has questions about herself. Her telepathic ability has always been important to the story, but it takes on a crucial role with Alden's problem. Her relationships with Dex, Fitz, and Keefe are confusing. Often, middle grade novels will develop boy/girl relationships, but she blushes at times with all three boys. Blushing implies an emotional connection beyond friendship, so her feelings are unclear. Dex clearly wants to be more than friends, while there are hints the other two boys  might feel the same way, especially Keefe. This whole situation causes some uncomfortable situations. The introduction of the alicorn called Silveny is an interesting addition to the cast of characters. Sophie develops a connection to her, but she's under tremendous pressure to acclimate Silveny to other elves. Sophie's relationship with Silveny is a subplot, but there's a strong sense that it will become important to resolving the bigger conflicts in the plot. Overall, I recommend you give the series a shot.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The House With a Clock In Its Walls by John Bellairs

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt, #1)My name is Lewis, and I've come to live with my Uncle Jonathan after my parents died. Did I mention he's a real wizard!? There's a ticking clock somewhere inside the house, but we don't know if it's harmless or evil. It's hard for me to make friends, so I was stunned and excited when Tarby, the most popular boy in school, started hanging out with me. I told him about my uncle's magic, but then I made a big mistake. I told him I could cast a spell too. I met him in a cemetery, on Halloween, at midnight, and I was terrified when the incantation worked! I'm afraid my uncle will get rid of me if I tell him what I've done, but I know he senses something is seriously wrong. What have I done? Is this really The Last Judgment... the End of the World?

This book was a quick-read with a little over one-hundred pages. It was surprising the first half of the story didn't feel eerie at all despite the mysterious clock inside the walls of an old house. The mood clearly changed following Lewis's major, magical mistake. His character was overweight and lacked confidence in performing any physical activities. He was the target of bullying, which included his new "friend" Tarby. The plot evolved into a spooky mystery, since none of the characters understood what had happened. The author did a nice job of introducing the puzzling behavior of the home's previous owner and then blending it with the current events. The tension increased as the uncle was frightened of something but wouldn't share his concerns with Lewis. Imagining what might be wrong created more suspense than revealing the actual threat. With all this being said, I was underwhelmed after having high expectations for a book made into a movie. The story was good, but not great. I've read quite a few speculative fiction books, and this one didn't offer many surprises. Overall, this book is a wonderful choice if you're looking for a mysterious book that's also a quick-read.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #1 by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #1)My name is Sophie, and my past is frustrating. First, I'm an elf, not human, so I don't know my real parents. I'm now learning to develop my elfin powers at an exclusive academy, although I'm forced to keep my telepathy a secret. I'm trying hard to pass my classes, but one Council member is set on getting me kicked out. I don't understand why I'm doing questionable things; it's like someone's manipulating me. Elfin memories pop into my head that only complicates why I was raised by a human family, not my real parents. There are fears that a secret organization may have locked dangerous ideas in my brain that could endanger the human and elf worlds. I'm starting to put pieces together, but I'm afraid the path to my past will lead to disaster.

I normally like to know the big conflict early in the plot, but this book didn't do that. However, I found it still held my interest and kept me wondering about what was going on. The first half of the book seemed like a story about a young girl adjusting to her newly-discovered life as an elf. She struggled with her unusual classes and tried to fit in with other students. She also had trouble adapting to her guardians, since they had their own troubled past. The second half of the book developed the "lost" big conflict and became more of an adventure. The heroine continued to master her telepathic powers, tried to understand cryptic messages, and made hasty assumptions. She ignored the advice of others and made some poor decisions. However, how interesting would books be if characters did what they were supposed to do? In the end, the problems were mostly resolved, but some big questions were left for the book's sequel. I'm looking forward to reading Exile, but I'll need to wait for it to become available at my local library. Looks like it's pretty popular with other readers too!

Twelve Minutes to Midnight #1 by Christopher Edge

Twelve Minutes to Midnight (Twelve Minutes to Midnight, #1)My name is Penelope Tredwell, and no one knows I've been running a best-selling magazine called The Penny Dreadful. People love the chilling stories I've written, but they're very curious about the reclusive author. I decided to hire an actor named Monty to fool them, but a reporter has been dogging me for information. Now, the local mental hospital has patients all waking up at the same time every night, writing strange messages about things called MTV, an unsinkable ocean liner going down in the Atlantic, and a quotation saying "The eagle has landed". Monty's love for drinking makes him less than helpful, but his presence allowed me to get inside the hospital.  I don't understand how a rough-looking orderly, a mysterious heiress, and spiders might be involved, but I'm getting close. Maybe too close.

The second half of the book was better than the first. The problem of patients waking up with cryptic messages about the future was very interesting, but the first half of the plot was predictable. There were only a couple of suspects, so the focus of the investigation was limited. The problem seemed to be solved around the book's midpoint, but that's when things became more compelling. The issues in the hospital were resolved, but the cause was not. Penelope's young age handcuffed her ability to collect evidence, so the plot moved along slowly with expected events. However, things picked up once she ignored the limits her age presented. Spiders were quite important to the plot, so be warned if they make you squeamish. The most intriguing part of the book was the use of poison-induced dreams, and the way the author used them as a tool or weapon. How does a person stop a mass psychosis? Overall, the book offered an interesting mystery with a unique heroine. Trying to remain anonymous created an unusual subplot. It might be worth your while to give the book a shot. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Riders of the Realm #1: Across the Dark Water by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Across the Dark Water (Riders of the Realm #1)My name is Echofrost, and I swore Shysong wouldn't remain captive as long as I was alive. I thought escape from the Landwalkers would be easy, so I allowed myself to be captured. I didn't expect them to clip my wings, and I slowly realized resisting them only hurt myself. I was growing weaker and starving to death. I was surprised when I developed a bond with a Landwalker cub despite my best efforts against it. The cub actually fought three Giants to protect me even though he had no fighting ability! I'm supposed to be sold in a few days, but I've got to escape before then. Even if I get away, where will I go? I don't know where my wild herd went, and the jungle contains dangers I've never faced, including the Giants. And what will I do if Shysong refuses to leave?

The plot was more interesting than I expected due to the unique storytelling. The thoughts and dialogue were creatively blended between the humans and Pegasi. Rather than sharing the different points of view through alternating chapters, the author did it with one narrator. It could have been confusing, but the strategy worked. Rahkki, the human "cub", and Echofrost shared common traits of compassion, bravery, and determination. Echofrost displayed a grittiness to help Shysong, but she quickly felt a responsibility to free the Kilhari, the humans' trained Pegasi. Their ancestors had fled the same homeland centuries before, but most of these Pegasi didn't understand freedom and were reluctant to leave. Freedom was scary for them. In contrast, Rahkki only wanted the best for Echofrost, and he quickly decided the Pegasus should be released. However, he'd be punished, maybe killed, if he helped her escape. An additional level of conflict was found between the queen and Rahkki and his brother. The queen had killed their mother and would be happy if the boys were dead too. This subplot continued throughout the book, and a surprise was dropped near the end. I wished the first half of the book had moved more quickly, but I found the overall book very entertaining. Give it a shot.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Earthsea Cycle #1: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)My name is Ged, and my mentor said I might one day become a great sorcerer. I traveled to Roke where I hungrily devoured all of the training the school could offer. I even started to learn the old language and developed powers well beyond my peers. I'll not be made fun of, and the others will respect me. I know I was told about maintaining balance when working my magic, but I didn't really understand what it meant. Then I learned. I foolishly boasted that my powers surpassed those of another sorcerer, and I challenged him to a contest. I swore I could summon the dead, and I did, but the consequences were drastic. I released a malevolent shadow that now hunts me down, and I fear my powers can't stop it. I don't want harm to come to anyone else, but am I destined to run for the rest of my days? 

This book is for more mature middle grade readers, as the main character is in his mid-teens. There's nothing inappropriate in the story, but the plot moves slowly with Ged's self-reflection. He tries to understand his magic and his place in Earthsea, and he fears the futility of facing the shadow. Ged's actions teach us the powerful influences of jealousy and envy. He becomes obsessed with being the best, and he is angered when he perceives any hint that someone else might be better. He understands his thoughts are irrational, but the lesson is learned too late. I don't typically delve into an author's possible hidden messages, but I'll propose a possible life lesson in this book. Face your fears. Ged spent much of his time running from the threat, and he was powerless until he chose to attack it. Overall, the book isn't action-packed, but it's a good story that may make you think.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Storm Runner #1 by J.C. Cervantes

The Storm Runner (The Storm Runner #1)My name is Zane, and I was stunned to find the creatures in my mythology book are real! A shapeshifter named Brooks told me about a prophecy where I'll free an imprisoned god of the underworld, who will then go on to destroy the world. Why would anyone free an evil god knowing it will lead to death and destruction? Well, it might be because I'm a kind person and good friend. However, I made a stupid deal with Pukeface that may result in me becoming his minion for eternity. My only way out of it is for me, nobody else, to kill the god. Oh, did I mention I'm a half-breed, and my father's a god I've never met? That might have been cool except all the other gods want to kill me, since my father broke some agreement. I only have a couple ways to stay alive and figure out some way to avoid an afterlife as an underworld warrior.

Many books have been written about mythology, but this one describes the Mayan culture. I can't say I've read many of those, if any. Zane has a unique blend of interesting characteristics, as he lives in the desert with two unusual neighbors. He's been home-schooled, has no friends, and his one short leg makes walking difficult. I found his over-the-top devotion to his dog a little hard to understand. I've loved all of my pets, but Zane wasn't willing to accept his dog's death. He was willing to risk the fate of the world to resurrect his pet. A few characters were a little shady, which added another level of mystery. The imprisoned god was predictably dishonest, and I was surprised Zane trusted him more than once. Even Brooks had a mystique, as she was reluctant to share any information about her past. There was a darkness about her that she kept hidden. The story included a good amount of humor through the characters and dialogue. Zane's uncle was a mega wrestling fan, and Zane referred to the main antagonist as Puke or Pukeface. I recommend you read The Storm Runner, and I'm looking forward to the sequel. 

Secrets of Hopelight by Eva Blackstone

Secrets of HopelightMy name is Nubbin, and my family has been forced to keep a secret. We found a man stumbling in the morning heat and discovered he had cut off his own hand! Why would anyone do that? He said he delivered supplies between different enclaves and later revealed a powerful message. The Company is using the enclaves to supply a secret city of elite citizens, and they're using microchips in our brain stems to control us. My friend Piper is suffering from a new disease and may be used to frighten other enclaves. However, her little brother Tug doesn't have a microchip, and the Company will kill him if they find out. My head is spinning from all the secrets I've learned, but how could I be prepared for the secrets within my own family?

This book told a dystopian story of a future Earth. Citizens lived underground due to the hazardous environment above, and the government controlled everything. The microchips monitored everyone's health and kept them from becoming sick. People assumed this control was in their best interest, but Nubbin had reason to question the Company’s motives. It took me awhile to get into the book, as things were happening without a sense of urgency. The government control and secrets were bad, but they didn't feel serious or life-threatening. The first half of the book described threats to freedom but didn't present an overly-engaging adventure. Things picked up once Overseers and another enclave arrived for a cultural exchange and friendly competition. The tension and action definitely leaped a couple levels during the last fourth of the book. The story made me wonder about our own society and the "truths" we're allowed to know. Our beliefs are molded by the information we take in, but who controls our access to information?