Friday, November 30, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #5: Lodestar by Shannon Messenger

Lodestar (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #5)My name is Keefe, and I know my decision to join the Neverseen is dangerous, and probably stupid. I need to get answers about my mom, as I don't understand why she joined these rebels. Is she still alive? Fintan is a powerful pyrokinetic and won't hesitate to torture and kill me with Everblaze if he discovers my deceit. Luckily, Sophie is able to telepathically communicate with me and believes I'm not a terrible person. She's uncovered a symbol called the Lodestar, but I've never seen it before. Sophie wants me to leave the rebels, but I've heard Fintan talking about a Lodestar Initiative. I've got to gain his trust, so I can mess up his plans for violence. I've already blown up part of Foxfire, my old school, to prove my loyalty. I've told Sophie that I know what I'm doing and hope I won't regret the decisions I've made.

You probably won't enjoy this book without reading the previous ones, as many of the conflicts have manifested throughout the series. Sophie is the main character and savior, as her genetics were modified to address many of the elves' problems. She still displays insecurities and makes rash decisions that sometimes backfire. If you've read my posts about previous books in the series, I've been annoyed about her seemingly obliviousness that three boys like her. Finally, the author has characters openly address the problem with her, but she remains clueless. Amazing! Fintan has become the main protagonist, and his plans are difficult to predict. The characters anticipate his motivations only to discover they've been focusing on the wrong things. This results in a more suspenseful and entertaining plotThe story includes the death of a main character, so it will be interesting to see how the next book handles the void. This book presents another surprise at the end, but it's not as significant as in the earlier books. I've already gotten my hands on Nightfall, and I'm anxious to see how the series ends. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Greenglass House Story: Bluecrowne by Kate Milford

BluecrowneMy name is Lucy, and I'm pretty upset that my father is forcing me to live ashore in a huge house. I miss helping the crew aboard my father's ship, as we sailed across the seas. However, my half-brother Liao is excited, and he even has his own shed where he can practice making rockets and other explosives. He has a natural talent for pyrotechnics, and it's attracted the interest of two strangers. One man has promised to teach Liao more about his skill, but the other one said something about time that seemed strange. I've tried to distract myself by repairing my new, small sailboat, and Liao likes the spot on it where he can fire his new rockets. Little did I know the strangers had treacherous plans for my little brother, nor did I have any idea of my stepmother's true identity.

I'm not totally sure how this book fits in with other Greenglass House stories, but I was still able to enjoy it. I must admit I felt some early uncertainty about the novel-specific vocabulary, as the author needed to come up with words and descriptions for impossible ideas. It wasn't enough to confuse the story. The plot was told from two points of view that focused on Lucy and the strangers. One stranger was an expert in time travel, and he was hired by a ruthless, unforgiving boss. His partner was an expert with pyrotechnics. I don't always enjoy multiple points of view, but both accounts in this book meshed well and enhanced the descriptions. I felt like I was missing something regarding events happening prior to this book, so I plan to read The Left-Handed Fate. I think it precedes Bluecrowne, although I'm still not sure if there's a specific order to the author's books. Regardless, I enjoyed Bluecrowne and recommend you give it a shot. 

Keeper of the Lost Cities #4: Neverseen by Shannon Messenger

Neverseen (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #4)My name is Fitz, and my friends and I have left our homes to join the Black Swan. Mr. Forkle says Sophie and I can connect to make our telepathic abilities more powerful, but we're still learning how. The Neverseen and ogres have spread a deadly virus among the gnomes, but Forkle won't let us help him find the rebels. We've run out of clues and may need to sneak into dangerous and forbidden places. Keefe's afraid he may follow in his mom's footsteps to help the enemy, even though he's been my best friend for years. It's hard getting information without being caught, since we've been banished. We've been surprised by the true identities of some Black Swan members, but we were shocked to discover secrets behind the plague. War may be imminent.

This book picks up immediately where the third book ends, so you'll need to read the previous books first. There are a total of six in the series. Sophie is still the main character, and others continue to say she's the key to everything. The author allows characters to expand their powers with Black Swan training, so that keeps the plot interesting. Biana perfects her invisibility, and Dex creates some handy technology used to hack files and defend his friends. The Black Swan presented the answers to questions that have been lingering since the series began. How was Sophie created? What's behind the conflict between the elves and ogres, and why have the gnomes been targeted? The author continues the mystery of the Neverseen, although this book reveals their motivations. She also manages to save another huge surprise for the end of the book that will make you eager to read the sequel. I recommend you start this series right away!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Magdalena Gottschalk #1: The Crooked Trail by M. Gail Grant

Magdalena Gottschalk: The Crooked Trail (Magdalena Gottschalk, #1)My name is Magdalena. Gabriel, Hubert, and I only wanted to explore, but we seem to have awakened something demonic. The others couldn't hear the noises and voices, but they stayed with me as we ventured through the dark cave and into the giant, vacant treehouse. I felt like we were being controlled and lured along. We've since learned some adults in our village know about the noises and voices, and they held a secret meeting in the dungeon below the church. Gabriel and I hid behind the dungeon's stone walls, and again, he couldn't hear the adults confirm our worst fears. However, I was stunned to discover how different I am from my friends, and I may be the only one who can save our town.

I think the target audience may have been toward the lower end of middle grade readers. The plot was interesting but slow-moving, especially in the beginning. Characters retold previously described events to their friends, rather than summarizing, which was like a teacher re-explaining something in class that everyone else already knew. The characters were creeped out by their strange encounters, but the evidence was so vague that it didn't create any kind of emotional reaction in me. The threat to the village was identified, but the actual danger wasn't really developed. The vocabulary used by the kids was more formal than expected. It felt strange to hear them not use contractions when speaking to each other, and some words seemed more mature than young kids might use. With all that being said, I enjoyed the concept of the plot and characters. A village was being hidden from an evil force, and young children inadvertently awakened the danger. I don't think the book lived up to what it could have been, but it still had entertaining moments.

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

InklingMy name is Ethan, and my dad is a famous graphic novelist, so people expect me to be a great artist too. I'm not. Actually, I'm pretty terrible unless you like stick figures. However, a blot of ink dropped off my dad's sketchpad, and it's come to life! I call him Inkling, and he's able to read and learn from all the ink he eats in printed materials. Oh well, I used to have some awesome graphic novels and comic books. He's teaching me to draw "better", but my dad could use a lot of help too. He has writer's block and hasn't started a new novel in months. What would happen if he found out Inkling exists? I'm guessing something bad. Inkling and I were doing okay together until our secret got out. Now, my world is all messed up, and I've got to figure out a way to make things right. 

This book was a finalist for the 2018 Cybils Book Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. I've enjoyed the author's other books in the past, and Inkling reminded me of my imagination as a young child. How creative is it to have ink become a live character with abilities to learn and communicate? Ethan's artistic problems created a conflict due to a group project at school. It's complicated by a classmate eager to reveal his secret and prove he's an awful artist. Inkling had his own dilemma, but it was less clear. He (or she) sensed he had a purpose for becoming animated, but he didn't know why. As you might expect, his purpose was the key to solving the family problem. Ethan's little sister had Downs Syndrome, and her light-heartedness contrasted sharply with her father's emotional issues. He was battling a lack of inspiration, and he wasn't dealing well with his wife's death. Ethan's sister talked about herself in the third person ("She's hungry"), but the girl had a lot of fun and love to share. She was adorable. Overall, the book told a clever story of ink coming to life in order to save a family. It was very creative, and I recommend you give it a shot. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #3: Everblaze by Shannon Messenger

Everblaze (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #3)My name is Keefe and spending more time with Sophie has been the adventure I expected. Okay, it's almost killed me, but it's fun helping Sophie protect Silveny and learning about the Black Swan. We found a tracker on the alicorn's tail but were shocked to discover its connection to an ogre weapon. Sophie's trying to get information from the Black Swan, but the group won't share anything. I'm wondering if there's spy in their group, and secret Council information is now leaking into the public. Somehow, people have learned Sophie's been ordered to save Fintan's mind, and most of them are frightened of his evil pyrokinetic powers. Why should she help a criminal who nearly killed her and what if something goes wrong? I'm an empath, and I don't feel good about this healing.

Overall, I recommend the series and strongly suggest you begin with the first book. The feel of Everblaze is very similar to the previous book, as Sophie tries to uncover secrets while avoiding threats and dangers. Keefe continues a more prominent role in the events due to his ability to sense other characters' feelings. Dex's talent with technology becomes public knowledge, but he remains jealous of Sophie's feelings. Many (most?) novels with teenage characters explore the attraction between a boy and a girl. However, Sophie blushes around Dex, Keefe, and Fitz, so a romantic connection with any of them is muddled. As mentioned above, the plot centers on Sophie's efforts to investigate the Black Swan and the rebels. It's clear the rebels are bad, but the jury is still out on the Black Swan. Sophie has suspected Jolie had a connection to the Black Swan before her suspicious death, but more dramatic thoughts about her have entered Sophie's mind. Consequently, the plot now reads like a mystery novel with the suspense amping up in the last third. It's hard to imagine Sophie getting into more complicated situations, but she does it. The result of the author's efforts is an exciting adventure into the world of elves.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Joshua Dredd #2: The Nameless Hero by Lee Bacon

The Nameless Hero (Joshua Dread #2)My name is Milton, and I wasn't invited to Gyfted and Talented like Joshua and Sophie. Luckily, my friends stood up for me, and Gavin let me stay at the summer camp for future superheroes. Even nFinity is here, and my costume includes rockets in my boots! Gavin is calling us the Alliance of the Impossible, but things aren't all rosy. Joshua thinks something strange is going on, since no one's heard of this camp and security cameras watch our every move. We just had our first mission, and I'm a little ticked off. I thought we were a team, but one of us seems to think he's the only hero in the group. How are we supposed to work together and stop the Multiplier from vandalizing all of our country's national monuments? And now one of Gavin's other heroes has stolen some of his files and may be working against us. And we have paparazzi following us everywhere. Geez!

You don't need to read the first book in the series to enjoy this one. As you might be able to tell, the story is a wacky version of a world where superheroes are common. Joshua is the main character, and his life is complicated due his parents being super criminals. His father creates many questionable inventions, and his new robot leaves as much destruction as it does help situations. Sophie's dad is the world's most famous superhero, but he's spending most of his time with a new reality show and his endorsements. The author drops enough clues early in the book, so you shouldn't be surprised by the plot twists. A major villain from book one returns, but he's kept in the background for most of the story. However, he returns with a vengeance, as the plot builds to an exciting climax. The main conflicts deal with the Magnifier and the internal group problems resulting from fame. Overall, the book is entertaining if you're prepared for a light-hearted tale of superheroes. It's a fun read.