Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Hotel Between #2: The Key of Lost Things by Sean Easley

The Key of Lost Things (The Hotel Between #2)My name is Cass, and I wish my brother Cam would stop worrying about me. He's now Concierge-in-Training for The Hotel Between, but he still thinks he needs to control me. Sure, my spina bifida forces me to move about in a wheelchair, but my new one has all kinds of cool modifications. Plus, I have new abilities my brother doesn't even know about, and I need to do my part to prevent Stripe from taking over the hotel. Maybe I shouldn't sneak anyone like I do, and I'm a little sorry if it distracts Cam from his preparations for the Embassy gala. I'm not sure he was ready to become the event coordinator for Admiral Dare's 400th binding, but it would be easier if he'd learn to let others do their jobs. Strange things are happening around the hotel, and Cam needs to get it together. 

You should read The Hotel Between before reading this one. A large issue in this book is Cam's attitude toward others. To him, asking for help is the same as admitting he's incapable of doing a job. However, part of being a leader is allowing others to do their jobs and working as a team. It takes Cam a long time to figure this out. In addition, Cam has problems with his father and twin sister. His father reappeared in the last book, but Cam hasn't accepted him with open arms. Cam was left to protect his sister, and he resents his father returning to offer advice. Cam compounds the problem by continuing to "protect" his sister even though she doesn't need it. The lack of trust creates a wall between them. The plot offers a few mysteries, as there's no clear explanation for the strange occurrences around the hotel. Cam assumes it's Nico, but it doesn't make sense. Cam also discovers a hidden area but doesn't fully understand it either. Overall, the series is entertaining, and I think you should give it a shot. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews

If We Were GiantsMy name is Kirra, and I know I made a horrible mistake four years ago. I have foggy visions of a volcano and something large moving through the trees, but my mind won't allow me to remember. I now live with the Tree Folk, but I'm still vaguely aware something tragic happened back then. It's terrifying when I feel the Memory Trap starting to creep into my head. I can't let it. The families here in the trees live apart and are reluctant to share with each other. The strangeness of it reminds me that I'm an Outsider. My "brother" is adventurous but has been forbidden from crossing the river. I'm not sure that will stop him but the rumors might. Giant hunters have been sighted on our side of the river. The Memory Trap reminds me they should be feared.

The plot shared Kirra's ongoing conflict with the Takers, sometimes physical and sometimes mental. A commonality between her two communities was they both strove to live in isolation. Her first family secretly lived atop a dormant volcano, and her second family lived hidden among the trees. In contrast, one culture was seeded with cooperation, while the other valued independence. As hinted above, much of the story focused on Kirra dealing with the loss of her parents and brother. Her mind was in denial and did all it could to avoid the pain of remembering until Kirra was finally forced to deal with it. She also felt tremendous guilt and was afraid to let anyone know. Her own sense of adventure was erased following her tragic past. The emotions behind the story were what enhanced the conflict and made it more engaging. Ironically, or perhaps not, Kirra was being trained to become the village Storyteller when the book began. She was aware of the importance of eliciting emotions in order to truly entertain her audience. Overall, I enjoyed the book and recommend you give it a shot. I'm not sure what's in the works, but the door was left open for a sequel. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Johnny Dixon #1: The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs

The Curse of the Blue Figurine (Johnny Dixon, #1)My name is Johnny Dixon, and I found a blue figurine and a note in the church basement. The story of the pastor's ghost was already on my mind, and I was wondering if I'd unlocked a curse by removing the figurine from the church. The professor assured me nothing was going on, and he apologized for sharing story and said it probably put the magical thoughts in my head. However, the class bully really got on my nerves, and I wished something bad would happen to him. I freaked out when he later broke his arm! I went to church and prayed, but I met a man I'd never seen before. He also assured me nothing magical was going on, and he said I could talk to him again next week. I felt a little better after the visit, but I wondered why I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone about him. 

The plot started off innocently enough, but its intensity grew as the events progressed. For me, the blue figurine didn't play as big of a role in the plot as the ring Johnny received later. It was unclear if anything supernatural was actually going on, but that changed when the mysterious man showed up. There was a strong religious context to the book, as Johnny attended a Catholic school and attended church regularly. The pastor's questionable history was legendary among the people, but no one knew exactly what had happened to him. He was rumored to have been consorting with dark magic when a couple of his critics died under unusual circumstances. Most people believed they were coincidences, but there was still an air of uneasiness. The puzzling facets of the plot created a spooky scenario. Was there a ghost? Was Johnny cursed? How could the questions be resolved if no one even knew what was happening? This book would make a good bridge between innocent ghost stories and those that are more chilling, since that's how the plot was presented in the book. Overall, this was a fun book to read, and I recommend you give it a shot. I'll probably end up reading its sequel, The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Darkdeep #2: The Beast by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs

The Beast (The Darkdeep, #2)My name is Opal, and my friends and I are tasked with secretly guarding any figments that might emerge from the Darkdeep. We're called Torchbearers, but we don't have any instructions about what we're supposed to do. We stop creatures that escape from the dark waters, but we don't really know where they come from. I'm afraid to tell the others about the voice in my head, but it's been giving me useful clues. They'll probably think I'm crazy; I wonder about that myself. The whole town is excited about celebrating legends about the Beast on Halloween, and tourists are flocking in. There's even a video crew from the online hit Freakshow, and they'll only make it harder to keep the Darkdeep a secret. The unpredictable appearances of figments, glowing hail, and red tide are making things stranger, but at least we know the Beast isn't real, right?

Once again, I've started a series without reading the first book. I'm guessing a lot of information was repeated, since the kids were still learning to be Torchbearers. The figments were a little confusing. A character said they could get rid of the creatures fairly easily, but they always had trouble when it came to actually doing it. Maybe I would have seen this as a clue of changes happening if I'd read the first book. The main characters formed a tight bond with their unique personalities. It felt like Nico was the leader, although they quickly supported each other when it came to Torchbearer business. Tyler viewed himself as a brave hero, while Logan became obsessed as an entrepreneur. The author included a couple of twists, as the identities of the antagonists shifted a bit. The gang needed to come up with new ways to combat the figments, and the new strategies were risky. Overall, the book wasn't an intense adventure, but it captured my interest. I imagine I'll probably end up reading the previous book, and I think you should give it a chance too. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Tapestry #4: The Maelstrom by Henry H. Neff

The Maelstrom (The Tapestry, #4)My name is Max, and Rowan is bracing for war. Prusias is waging a war against the other demons, and he has a secret weapon to guarantee his armies will win. After his victory, he'll turn his forces and that weapon on Rowan. David and I discovered the secret has something to do with spider-like creatures that have been combined with technology. Rowan's experts are studying this problem, and I hope they'll figure it out before it's too late. I'm doing what I can to help by training a group of unwanted refugees called the Trench Rats, but I've got to watch my back too. I've been targeted for death by a group of relentless assassins whose stories of success are legendary. These executioners can take any form, even possessing my friends, so I can't trust anyone. 

You really need to read the other books in the series to fully understand what's going on. Demons in the last book prepared for war, and this book continued the hostilities. Prusias and Astaroth are the main antagonists, although Astaroth is waiting for his moment. The most intriguing parts of the series are the dynamics of Max's character. Max has been dealing with internal issues since the series began, and he continues to struggle with his own identity. There is Old Magic and power coursing through him, but there is also a chance he'll be overwhelmed by it. Most people in Rowan are awed by Max which makes it hard for him to develop close friendships. Luckily, he still has David, but another character becomes very important in Max's life. The series basically tells a story pitting good versus evil, but it also delves into humanity. Rowan is fighting for the survival of all humans on earth and all that goes along with it. The Demons see love, caring, and compassion as weaknesses. Max constantly deals with these emotions, but he always comes out on top in the end. I recommend you give the books a shot. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Hotel Between#1 by Sean Easley

The Hotel BetweenMy name is Cam, and Nico allowed me to enter a hotel that can transport me anywhere in the world. My father worked at the Hotel before he disappeared when I was little. I just want to bring him home, so he can help care for my younger sister's spina bifada. However, Nico says I can't trust anyone else at the Hotel, except for Sev, and I can't let anyone know why I'm here, especially the Old Man. I've agreed to become an employee, so I can do some searching during my ten-day probation. I've learned magic from the Vesima tree has been powering the Hotel, but the Greenhouse's disappearance has caused the bindings to weaken. I'm dreaming memories from my father, and he went missing around the same time as the Vesima tree. Could there be a connection?

I won't try to fully explain the whole scenario of the Hotel. It's like a living entity, but its motivations aren't clearly known. The Maids, the Hotel's security, collect children from around the world, but it's unclear why. A man at the Museum wants to stop the Hotel, and Cam gets caught in the middle of the conflict. Consequently, the book presents a creative plot that will require some imagination from readers. Matters are complicated with misdirection, as Cam isn't sure which characters can be trusted. His impressions swing back and forth, even with his "blood brother" Nico, and this continues all the way until the plot's climax. The uncertainty of character honesty adds to the tension, since their future behavior can't be predicted. This causes Cam to regret some of his own decisions based on false information. The secrets surrounding Cam's parents are at the core of the battle between the Hotel and the Museum, and Cam finds some answers he didn't want to know. The wording of contracts is also an important factor in the story's events. Overall, I enjoyed this first book in the series, and I'm waiting to get my hands on its sequel, The Key of Lost Things. Give it a shot. 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Legends of the Sky: Dragon Daughter by Liz Flanagan

Legends of the SkyMy name is Milla, and while hiding in a tree, I witnessed a murder. I didn't tell anyone about the victim's secret pouch, especially when I discovered it contained four dragon eggs! However, Nestan found out where I'd stashed them and gave the eggs to Duke Olvar. The duke may be ruler of the island of Arcosi, but I don't trust him. He's a Norlander and clearly despises people of Sartolian decent, like his wife and me. His laws are unfair, and I can see tempers rising around the town and in the market. He blames all of Arcosi's problems on Sartolians, but he doesn't understand how his own decisions make everything worse. Surprisingly, he allowed me to raise my blue dragon inside his castle walls after Iggie and I bonded during his hatching. Maybe war can be avoided if the dragons can help unite all Norlanders and Sartolians. 

This book was unexpectedly good, as the conflict had depth and the plot included unexpected twists. The main conflict centered on the duke's discrimination and persecution of Sartolians, and it drew comparisons in my mind to the way President Trump has treated immigrants. The similarity wasn't identical, but similar enough to bring it into my thoughts. The duke promoted fear against the Sartolian immigrants, as he described them as violent trouble-makers. He thought their presence created problems, so he wanted to send them back to their own country. The fact that many Sartolians had actually lived in Arcosi before being driven out by the arrival of Norlanders was ignored. Surprisingly, it seemed the duke ignored his prejudices when he displayed love and concern for his Sartolian wife. The dragons were introduced to the plot fairly early, but instead of keeping them a secret from the duke, the author chose to have the story's antagonist house the dragons and the story's protagonists. The dynamics of Milla's friendships changed and provided additional surprises. Overall, I loved this book and can give it a high recommendation. Give it a shot.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Camelot Code #2: Geeks and the Holy Grail by Mari Mancusi

Geeks and the Holy Grail (The Camelot Code #2)My name is Stu, and Sophie has received her first quest as a a Companion, guardian of King Arthur's spirit throughout history. Of course I'll help, but I can't find the right time to tell her that I must move across the country for my mom's new job. Sophie has bigger things to worry about, since Morgana wants to get her hands on the Holy Grail. Luckily, Morgana doesn't know the magical cup was transformed into a small, red dragon by Merlin's new apprentice. Unfortunately, the apprentice doesn't know how to reverse the change, so we must return to the 21st century and search for Merlin in Las Vegas. Sophie's not crazy about her future stepsister Ashley joining the quest, but we don't have much choice. 

This series has shared an entertaining adventure, as it's blended magic with "reality". It was amusing to see Merlin playing video games back in medieval times, and he saved some of his spells on a handheld computer. Getting it recharged became an important conflict in the plot. By the same token, medieval characters traveled to the future, and Las Vegas offered its own share of obstacles. Leaping to different time periods wasn't that unusual, as minor characters made the trip too. It seemed to be a bigger deal in the first book. Ashley was an interesting addition to the team, since she was Sophie's biggest enemy, an her future stepsister. She was the glittery cheerleader, although Sophie discovered some admirable, vulnerable qualities hidden under that image. Merlin might have been a magical genius, but his knowledge of women became an issue needing resolution. It was hard to get help in the Faerie world when the queen hated his guts. Overall, The Camelot Code has shared amusing action/adventure stories, and I recommend you give it a shot. Sophie's role as a Companion should offer many opportunities for future exploits. 

The Tapestry #3: The Fiend and the Forge by Henry H. Neff

The Fiend and the Forge (The Tapestry, #3)My name is Max, and I'm worried that everyone has given up their defiance of the takeover by Astaroth and the demons. It was especially insulting when Prusia came and built an "embassy" right in the middle of Rowan. Then, Vyndra waltzed into Rowan and arrogantly baited me into a fight. I've been able to control my anger so far, just barely, but I'm now ready to unleash my fury upon the demons. I found my father murdered in the woods. I know Vyndra is responsible, and he will suffer my wrath. The Director cannot condone and support my behavior, so I must leave Rowan and venture alone into the Kingdom of Blys. I'm not certain where I'm going yet, but I won't stop my search until my father's death is avenged. 

I didn't like this book as much as the first two books in the series. The hunt for Vyndra was the main conflict, but it became a bit muddled due to events Max faced along the way. It was also a little disturbing to think Max's sole motivation was revenge and the death of another character. I've enjoyed the interactions between main characters, but Max spent much of this plot by himself or with new characters. He had an internal struggle going on in his head, since he wouldn't accept defeat at the hands of Astaroth and the demons. Everyone else seemed resigned to the situation, but Max continued his private, solo battle. The journey into Blys became a soul-searching experience, although Max never fully gave up the anger burning inside. Overall, I still liked the book and have already started the sequel, The Maelstrom

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Dragon PearlMy name is Min, and I can’t believe what the inspector has said about my brother Jun. He would never desert from the Space Forces. He’s accused of running away to find the Dragon Pearl, although most people don’t believe it exists. Its powers could save the people of Jinju, or it could be a devastating weapon, if it were to fall into the wrong hands. If it existed. I really didn’t have a good plan to find Jun when I left home, but an unusual opportunity has developed. My abilities as a Fox will be most useful, even though we’re distrusted by most people. However, Jang’s ghost has struck a bargain with me that will get me aboard a Space Forces battle cruiser. The only problem is I’ll need to become Jang.

This book was nominated for a 2019 Goodreads award in middle grade fiction. It's hard for me to find truly unique stories anymore, but this book included some interesting twists. Min's abilities as a Fox were the biggest factor in all the events. She was able to shape-shift and nudge ideas into other characters' minds, as she fooled everyone else by impersonating Jang. Her motivation was to save her brother, but she also agreed to help discover who had killed Jang. Jang's ghost would check in from time to time to give feedback to Min. The big conflict revolved around the mythical Dragon Pearl, which could create life from barren lands. Obviously, it existed in the story, or the title wouldn't make any sense. Its importance, and danger, to the Thousand Worlds and beyond naturally created a competition between both honest and dishonest searchers. The covert nature of this competition cast uncertainty on many characters. Their backgrounds and motivations were often secret. It felt like the story's resolution left the door open for a sequel, but I don't know if that's in the works. I recommend you give this book a shot, and I'll be on the lookout for a part two. 

Saint Lupin's Academy for Consistently Dangerous and Absolutely Terrifying Adventures #2: The Adventurer's Guide to Dragons, and Why They Keep Biting Me by Wade Albert White

The Adventurer's Guide to Dragons (and Why They Keep Biting Me) (The Adventurer's Guide Series #2)My name is Penelope, and our team has accidentally been given a quest, again. As usual, a medallion attached itself to Anne’s gauntlet and activated an unauthorized quest. We’re supposed to slay the dragon queen, or are we supposed to save her from being slain. I’m not sure. Anne and Hiro seem to be okay with Valerian joining our team, but I don’t trust the thief. He was working with the Copper Knights that attacked us, but he says the creatures were actually using him. He also has a secret that sounds unlikely. Whatever, we need to find the blade of fifteen fingers before the Copper Knights do, or an all-out war between the humans and dragons may erupt.

It would help to read the first two books in the series, but you can still enjoy this book without them. I read the first three books out of order and can still recommend them. Floating islands form the setting, and characters can travel quickly using dragon fire. Technology is included through the use of robots, but there's an underlying computer factor that's briefly addressed at times in the series. I don't fully understand it yet, but I think that's the way it's supposed to be. The plot is all about an adventure, but you can expect a whole lot of silliness too. Many characters have goofy names, there are zany rules to follow, and the characters have amusing interactions. I enjoy the humor, but it may challenge the tolerance of some readers. The backbone of the story is a clever conflict with numerous twists and turns. The team is following a false quest, but someone caused it to be activated. Who did it, and what was the reason behind it? Several characters have false identities, so the reality of some events isn’t always clear. Many of these identities aren't revealed until the book nears its climax. Overall, the series is funny and entertaining, and I think it's worth a shot. 

The Camelot Code #1: The Once and Future Geek by Mari Mancusi

The Once and Future Geek (The Camelot Code #1)My name is Sophie, and Merlin has pulled me back in time to help save King Arthur. However, I found out Arthur is back in the 21st century with his magical scabbard. Things are getting all mixed up! My best friend Stu is impersonating Arthur after pulling the sword from the stone. Arthur has joined the middle school football team and may not want to return to Camelot. If he doesn't, the whole time continuum may get screwed up and change the world's history. I'm already noticing some disturbing changes. My worst enemy now thinks we're best friends, and no one has ever heard of pepperoni pizza! In addition, Morgana has plans of her own to kill Arthur. I must find a way to correct history before it's beyond fixing, and Stu is burned at the stake.

The beginning of the book sounded like a familiar story of a character traveling through time, but other characters started going back and forth. Then, Arthur considered not returning to the throne and that really twisted things around. His lack of confidence was a huge factor and should resonate with many young readers. Emerging emotions of middle grade readers are also addressed through Arthur and Guinevere's relationship, as well as the friendship between Stu and Sophie. The author added creativity to the plot with Stu's efforts to rule Camelot, including challenges to his new-found fame. She also complicated the story through the changes to history. These changes made it more difficult for Sophie to communicate with Merlin and brought into question her ability to return Arthur to the past. I wasn't sure how the author would make this book into a series until a secret about Sophie's past was revealed. Overall, I enjoyed this book more than expected, and I already plan to check out the sequel Geeks and the Holy Grail. I recommend you give it a shot. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Chronicles of Prydain #4: Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain, #4)My name is Taran, and I can't start a life with Eilonwy unless I know who I truly am. Who were my parents, and what happened to them? Who is Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper? I've set out to answer this question, although I don't really know where I'm going. Loyal Gurgi has eagerly volunteered to accompany me, but he's fearful of my plan to revisit the three witches. I'm sure they'll have some ideas for me if they don't choose to turn us into toads first. I'm now headed for the Mirror of Llunet in the Llawgadarn Mountains, and I'm meeting many kind, interesting people along the way. However, I've also come upon a man with a devastating story to share, living on a decrepit-looking farm. His tale causes me great concern, and I must again ponder the question of my past. 

This book was much different from others in the series. The plot revolved around Taran's quest to find himself, so there wasn't a clear antagonist or conflict. I wasn't sure if there would be a climax where he'd discover royal parents, or if some other event would resolve his mental anguish. How would Taran find his answers? In the end, a series of philosophical experiences led to a resolution that felt anti-climatic. The plot meandered across Prydain, as Taran came across other characters who presented both opportunities to learn and life-threatening perils. The encounters with danger provided action for the adventure. Once again, Taran was the most engaging character, as he displayed compassion, honesty, bravery, and valor. A couple of those traits were challenged along the way, but his goodness persevered through it all. Overall, I liked the book, but it's my least favorite of the first four books in the series. I still plan to read the next book, The High King, as it was the winner of the Newbery Medal in 1969. It should get back to the clearer confrontations and action found previously in the series.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Tapestry #2: The Second Siege by Henry H. Neff

The Second Siege (The Tapestry, #2)My name is David, and the Director was surprised when a witch showed up at Rowan Academy. The Director was further shocked when the witch said an agreement from centuries ago gave her the right to take Max and I to live with the other witches. It's clear Max has special abilities, but most people don't fully understand what I can do. The members of Rowan understand keeping the Book of Thoth from the Enemy is crucial, especially since the return of Astaroth. He's already wreaking havoc across the world, but the book will allow him devastating control over all living things. The Rowan will lose its alliance with the witches if Max and I escape, but finding the Book is more important. We'll need help in our quest, although anyone assisting us will immediately become rebels.  I have a feeling Max will be a very different person when we return.

This book is the second in the series, and I recommend you start with the first. The threat of a siege looms for much of the plot and finally occurs before the book's conclusion. The intensity has been amped up, as the conflicts literally deal with life and death. Characters die. There are instances of physical combat, but mysticism is a large part of the events. Max is the main character, although there are hints that David is even more important. David has the strongest mystic powers seen in hundreds of years, and the limit of his abilities is still unknown. Likewise, Max's abilities haven't been seen in centuries, and he continues to learn and grow. A twist to this character surrounds his temper. He sometimes loses control when he becomes angry, so the possibility of an emotional eruption could occur at any time. As in the previous book, the plot includes a traitor within the Rowan who isn't revealed until late in the book. Astaroth is an all-powerful antagonist, although his powers are a bit confusing. I don't fully understand how he can control most of the world then get stymied when facing Max and David. Overall, I'm liking the series but fear what the sequel will bring. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Pages & Co. #1: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James

Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co. #1)My name is Tilly, and I live with my grandparents in their bookstore, Pages & Co. I love reading books but wonder why I can't find any adventure in real life. For school, I'm supposed to read a book I've never read before, so I think I'll do Treasure Island. I've been noticing some unusual people around the store, but I must be mistaken. How can I possibly be talking to Anne of Green Gables, Sherlock Holmes, and Alice from Alice in Wonderland? Granddad says I'm a bookwanderer like my mom, and he helped me get registered at the British Underlibrary. There are important rules for bookwandering, and the one thing I've learned is there are terrible consequences if you don't follow them. 

You know how some readers can really get into their books? That was the premise of the plot, as bookwanderers could enter books and interact with characters when they had strong connections to them. I'm not sure I totally understood the rules for bookwandering, but it didn't bug me too much. As mentioned above, the rules were important, and Tilly's character was pretty reckless. She chose to ignore warnings without good reason and found herself in precarious situations. I usually find characters have strong motivations when they neglect important advice, but curiosity isn't a good excuse. However, the author included some surprises in the story, most notably with Tilly's parents and the plot's antagonist. When reading books, if characters die but bodies aren't found, don't be surprised if they reappear later. The antagonist in this book was a stickler for rules, and he was clearly hiding something. No one liked him, but it was unclear why he still had such an important job at the underlibrary. It took over half the book to finally discover why he was the antagonist. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I'm considering whether I'll read the sequel. With the way the first book ended, I assume the conflict in the next one will be clearer. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Tapestry #1: The Hound of Rowan by Henry H. Neff

The Hound of Rowan (The Tapestry, #1)My name is Max, and I found a note in my pocket saying I'm a Potential. Unfortunately, a woman from the Enemy showed up at my house and tried to kidnap me! Later, a man from the Rowan Academy offered me a scholarship to the school where I'll take classes with other Apprentices. I learned that Rowan is the last fortress in the world combating evil forces of the Enemy. The Enemy snatched forty-two other Potentials before they could be recruited to Rowan, and my roommate David thinks it has something to do with the return of Lord Astaroth. He disappeared, but wasn't destroyed, centuries ago, and I may be the key to helping him arise from his undiscovered, mystical prison. Old Magic is at work here.

I agree with other reviewers who say this book is reminiscent of Harry Potter books, although it's unique enough to set itself apart. As with Voldemort, this book has cult followers striving to resurrect their malevolent leader. While magic is involved in the plot, Max's greatest powers arise from his innate abilities. He's able to enhance those abilities to remarkable levels, although he's sometimes on the brink of losing control. His temper is unpredictable and helps to complicate the problems. As with most middle-grade readers, Max is struggling to learn how to deal with the opposite sex. A classmate clearly likes him, but a third-year girl's presence creates a confusing dynamic. David is a highly intelligent friend who clearly has secret talents. I thought his illness might become a factor, but it hasn't, so far. Like the Hogwart's owls or witches' familiars, the characters in this book are required to care for fantastic creatures and may be severely punished if they fail to do so. These animals mostly add levity and relief to the seriousness of the conflict. Overall, I enjoyed this first book in the series and have already started reading the sequel, The Second Siege. I recommend you give the series a shot. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Chronicles of Prydain #3: The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

The Castle of Llyr (The Chronicles of Prydain, #3)My name is Gurgi. Bold, valiant Gurgi is glad to follow kindly master Taran and noble Princess Eilonwy on the boatings and floatings to the Isle of Mona. Poor Gurgi's head is full of whirlings and twirlings on the boat, but Gurgi must make sure young Princess arrives safely. Friendly Princess must learn to behave as Princess's do, but daring master fears for her safety. There are rumblings and grumblings that evil queen survived crumbling castle and wants to hurt fine Princess. Now, gentle Lady is missing. Gallant Gurgi and heroic master are on quest to rescue her from villainous captor Magg. Dark woods are full of creepies and crawlies, but brave warriors must save Princess from wicked dangers.

Taran first showed Gurgi great kindness in The Book of Three, so the creature became Taran's loyal companion. He was a strange blend of bravery and terror, but his dialogue added a lightness to the events. Unlike earlier books, this one didn't present the main antagonists until it neared the climax. The suspense and tensions came from the setting and characters met along the way. The primary problem was a large cat, and I mean LARGE, called Llyan that kept popping up during the adventure. The characters feared they would be eaten at any moment, although the bard's songs calmed it. Each book has found Taran helping another character with a personal issue. Prince Rhun was an inept prince in this book, and Taran resented him. However, the prince knew his title was due to his royal birth, and he desperately wanted to earn respect. Taran soon realized this and assisted the prince in fulfilling his goals. The phrase "You can't judge a book by its cover" comes to mind. Overall, this book was good even though it didn't have the level of drama found previously in the series. I still plan to read book four, Taran Wanderer

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup

The Book of Story BeginningsMy name is Lucy, and I love learning about my family's history. My great aunt left her farmhouse to my father, and she even mentioned me in her will. Her brother Oscar disappeared in a rowboat back in 1914, and he was never seen again. However, no one believed her story that he had rowed the boat out into a sea, since they lived in the middle of nowhere on an Iowa farm. My aunt believed I could help solve the mystery, so I've been looking for clues ever since we arrived. My dad looked at her notes on alchemy, but now he's disappeared. I think it has something to do with a story I started in the book, except Oscar just reappeared! The book must let stories play out on their own, which means Oscar and I now find ourselves in the middle of an adventure. 

The plot began as I expected with Oscar returning from his ordeal, however the rest of the book included enough twists to keep things interesting. A key element of the story involved a king and a queen who couldn't live together. The king loved cats and the queen loved birds, so you can imagine the problems this created. The plot addressed the concepts of parental relationships and what it takes to have happy marriages. Oscar and Lucy's parents had similar issues, since the spouses seemed so different from each other, just like the king and queen. There were many character transformations, beginning with Oscar's return from being a cat. You'd think Lucy and Oscar could have written happy endings to the book's stories, but the book wouldn't let that happen. The kids didn't fully understand how the book worked, so that made its magic unpredictable. The king was magical and impulsive, so his behavior provided surprises too. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this book, since I'd never heard of the author and didn't really know what to expect. You'll like it if you enjoy magic and cats; the cats are especially important to the plot. I suggest you give the book a shot. 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Brotherband #8: Return of the Temujai by John Flanagan

Return of the Temujai (Brotherband Chronicles, #8)My name is Hal, and my Heron brotherband has become Erak's most trusted crew. The Temujai have been trying to find a way into Skandia, so they can conquer the surrounding lands. We've already helped to strengthen a key Skandian outpost and quelled a raid, but Erak fears the Temujai may discover another way into our country. It's unlikely they'll try crossing the icy, perilous rivers to the north, but we're not sure what secrets might be found in those barren lands. We've sailed up the river, portaged the rapids and are exploring the area around the lake. We've noticed a few Temujai patrols moving along the shore, so we need to discover where they go at night. A few of them aren't a problem, but a huge army of warriors would be disastrous. 

I always enjoy books written by John Flanagan, and this book was no exception. The Skandians are comparable to your image of Vikings, but most of this book takes place on land. The most enjoyable part of this series is Hal's inventiveness and imagination. The Heron ship epitomizes his ingenuity with its creative design and devastating Mangler weapon. Hal's uncanny knack for foreseeing enemy options allows him to develop remarkable battle strategies. Unlike some of the books in the series, most of this book involves fighting, strategizing, or preparing for battle. It doesn't include as much nautical vocabulary as usual, although those descriptions are still present. I don't mind, but some readers might let it bother them. The pages before Chapter One define all of the sailing terms you'll need to know. Flanagan develops an exciting adventure that builds to a suspenseful climax. The survival of the Heron is actually in peril, and it's unclear if it will withstand the dangers. Overall, I loved the book and recommend you give it a shot. 

The Chronicles of Prydain #2: The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain, #2)My name is Princess Eilonwy, and I can't believe that Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran tried to keep me from going on Gwydion's quest for the Black Cauldron. The boy sometimes lacks any sense at all, but I believe he has a good heart. Arawn uses the cauldron to create his army of undead, so it must be destroyed. Taran and I have been reunited with our group of friends, and we've been joined by two others. Adaon will lead our small band, but we've also added Prince Ellidyr. He's a pompous, troublesome sort, and Taran seems to have rubbed him wrong. Our job was to guard the horses, but we were attacked by powerful, unbeatable warriors. So, we're now headed to the swamps where we hope to find the missing cauldron. It was Taran's silly idea, but I suppose it may work out in the end.

You should read the books from this trilogy in order, starting with The Book of Three. Once again, Taran is the main character and finds himself in the middle of the most important events. Ellidyr's character really causes Taran to consider what makes others tick. The prince is a royal pain in the butt, but Taran learns to put the mission first. Saving the kingdom is more important than achieving glory for himself. Based on comments by Prince Gwydion and Dallben, I still get the feeling there's something extra special about Taran's character. There's nothing remarkable about him, but other characters are willing to trust him and believe in his leadership. The ongoing plot is a battle of good versus evil. The Cauldron-born were the main evil warriors in the previous book, but the warriors in this book are especially difficult to fight. If one warrior is killed, the others absorb his energy and become stronger. The enemy actually becomes more powerful as its warriors die. Overall, this trilogy has withstood the test of time, and I can easily recommend it for your enjoyment. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Rise of the Dragons #1 by Angie Sage

Rise of the Dragons (Rise of the Dragons, #1)My name is Joss, and the egg of a silver dragon actually rolled down a hill and landed at my feet. Silvers are very rare, and Lysander is growing unbelievably quickly. I think it has something to do with quicksilver. He just started flying, and he even carried me on his back. However, we were attacked by Edward Lennix and his Raptor, but somehow Lysander escaped through a portal to another world. We returned right away, but I must be more careful about keeping my dragon a secret. My sister Allie and I will ride him away someday where we can live freely. Allie thinks I messed up our plans when a mysterious traveler found me, but the woman knows all about dragons. She bought us from the Zolls so we can go live with her. Allie doesn't trust the woman, and I’m starting to realize I probably should have listened.

I randomly found this book at my local library. The story is told from three different settings. There's Joss and his sister, the Lennix family, and then a modern setting with a girl named Sirin. The modern setting is referred to as the Lost World, although that's not clear until the portal is breached. It took awhile to understand how Sirin's story fit into the dragon plot, but it finally got there in the last chapter. Consequently, her story felt more like a distraction in this book, but it will clearly become a key element in the sequel. D'Mara Lennix is a wonderful villain, as she plays the role of cold, despicable matriarch. She sometimes presents a kind persona the same way a spider traps prey in its net. An interesting twist is her relationship with her husband. The man resents her condescending and controlling behavior, and the friction makes the husband unpredictable. Their kids are mostly following in their parents' footsteps, but they each have distinct personalities. Their behaviors display the clear dysfunction found in the family. Overall, I enjoyed the book more than I anticipated, and I plan on reading the sequel whenever it gets published.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Chronicles of Prydain #1: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain, #1)My name is Taran, and I dream of being warrior hero. Alas, I can only call myself Assistant Pig-Keeper. I can't even do that job well, since Hen Wen, the oracle pig, has escaped her pen and is now lost in the forest. I had no choice but to follow her trail, but I happened to come upon the great Lord Gwydion. Unfortunately, we were captured by the Cauldron-Born, and I've been forced to mourn Gwydion's death as he was buried under the rubble of the Spiral Castle. I must now complete his quest to warn Caer Dathyl that the Horned King is amassing a fearsome army of Cauldron-Born. These warriors, risen from the dead within the Black Cauldron, cannot be stopped. I feel I should complete the mission alone, but I've been joined by an infuriating girl, a wandering bard, and a strange creature named Gurgi. I pray we do not cross paths with the Horned King along the way.

Lloyd Alexander was my favorite fantasy author back when I started teaching, so I thought I'd revisit some of his books. Taran has aspirations to become a hero, but the adventure transforms him. The loss of Gwydion causes him to become selfless, and he's determined to warn the kingdom of the impending dangers. He also finds himself missing the small farm he once wanted to escape. The most fun comes from his interactions with Eilonwy. This girl constantly questions his intelligence and stifles any signs of cockiness. She carries a powerful sword but won't let Taran touch it, although it seems like it should be destined for his hands. The bard adds some amusement due to his magical harp. He's prone to exaggerate, and the harp strings tend to snap when he goes too far. Overall, I'm enjoying this book once again and plan to start the The Black Cauldron soon. Books written many years ago aren't any less entertaining today, so give this series a shot. 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Ranger's Apprentice, The Royal Ranger #3: Duel at Araluen by John Flanagan

Duel at Araluen (Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger #3)My name is Horace, and bad information has resulted in my small force of soldiers being trapped in an old fort. An army of mercenaries four times our size has us surrounded, and I can't see any easy way to escape. Luckily, I have Gilan, the Ranger commander, with me, but he's at a loss for ideas too. I suspect we're being detained here while another force lays siege to Castle Araluen, but that would never work without assistance from someone within the castle. Still, I wonder. We've managed to repel the enemy's efforts to penetrate our fortification, but we won't be able to hold out much longer with our supplies running low. Gilan and I were surprised this morning when we found a message attached to a Ranger arrow. My daughter Maddie is hiding somewhere outside our fortress walls.

This book continued the style of other books by Flanagan. The action-adventures taking place in medieval-type settings has always appealed to me. Maddie is the star of the show and puts her Ranger skills into practice. She's an intriguing character, since she's a blend of princess and Ranger. There's never been a female Ranger, and other characters are often skeptical of her abilities, even her father. Maddie must remain incognito, so she's not taken hostage by the rebels. With all that, the survival of her parents and the kingdom is depending on her talents as a fourth-year apprentice. The plot clearly builds to an exciting climax between the Red Fox Clan and the royal troops, although the author stacks the odds against the king's supporters. However, if you've read other books by Flanagan then you'll know you can never underestimate the Rangers, Sir Horace, and the Brotherband. Overall, the book does not disappoint, and I strongly recommend you give it a shot. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Max Einstein #2: Rebels with a Cause by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Max Einstein: Rebels With A Cause (Max Einstein, #2)My name is Max Einstein, and I am the smartest twelve-year-old in the world. Unfortunately, Dr. Zimm  of the Corp wants to capture me, so I can help his organization make evil weapons and more money than they'll ever need. It's clear that I'm no longer safe in New York, so Ben (teenage billionaire and head of CMI) has flown my team over to Ireland to help the people of Siobhan's hometown. It's what we do. People in the town have become seriously ill from drinking tainted well water, so we need to figure out a sustainable way to solve the problem. When we're done here, I hear there's another water issue across the planet. It seems there's a shortage of water, and local officials are using the situation to make money off the citizens.

Well, here's another series where I didn't start by reading the first book. It will probably appeal to a select audience of middle grade readers. While the conflicts were big and important to the world, they didn't create much tension in the plot. I didn't get a sense of urgency as I read, and the obstacles were easily overcome. Some readers might be turned off by the many references to science, physics, and Einstein, although I enjoyed them. The group of kid geniuses used science and technology to resolve the problems, so the solutions were realistic and feasible. Including a team member who wanted to replace Max as leader added an amusing angle to some events. The other team members didn't take him seriously, but the situation added a twist to a climax. Overall, this was a fun book that can be enjoyed by many young readers, and you may want to give it a shot. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Ranger's Apprentice, The Royal Ranger #2: The Red Fox Clan by John Flanagan

The Red Fox Clan (Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger, #2)My name is Maddie, and I've become a fourth-year Ranger's apprentice to Will Treaty. It was unfair when I wasn't given a perfect score on my assessments, but I now realize bad luck is always a possibility. I wish I could travel with Will and Halt as they search for rebels called the Red Fox Clan, but I'm forced to perform my role as a princess. I've been exploring secrets within the castle while also patrolling the nearby abbey. I've heard reports of secret meetings being held there, but I haven't found any evidence yet. My mother wouldn't mind if I became romantically interested in the captain of the castle guard, but the young Skandian named Hal is much more intriguing. With my father gone, along with half the guard, I'm realizing the castle could be vulnerable to attack. The Red Fox Clan wouldn't dare lay siege to this impenetrable fortress, would it?

The first book in this series is The Royal Ranger: A New Beginning, although I read it with the title Ranger's Apprentice #12: The Royal Ranger. I enjoyed the Ranger's Apprentice series, as I watched Will grow, and The Royal Ranger series allows me to experience those feelings once again through Maddie's training. Another unexpected treat in this book is the inclusion of characters from all three of Flanagan's related series. The main conflict in The Red Fox Clan centers on King Duncan's law change that will allow female descendants to rule. Some citizens don't like the new law, especially any male heirs to the thrown. Maddie possesses many Ranger skills, although she favors her sling over the customary longbow. She's forced to conceal her abilities, since her mother will become queen. I appreciate the suspense this creates, since Maddie must perform her Ranger duties while remaining anonymous and her mother doesn't like the idea of her daughter being a Ranger. It's clear Maddie will be the most important character in quelling the uprising, but how will she manage that from the background and alone?

The Trials of Apollo #4: The Tyrant's Tomb by Rick Riordan

The Tyrant's Tomb (The Trials of Apollo, #4)My name is Apollo, although you probably don't recognize me in this flabby, pimply, adolescent body called Lester. Meg and I have returned Jason's body to Camp Jupiter, but I know the armies of the Triumvirate will attack the camp within days. The prophecies I've read are confusing, and it sounds like we need godly help. However, Zeus has forbidden the gods from assisting me for fear of suffering his wrath. The prophecy also says something about a god needing to die, and I hope it doesn't mean me. I'm feeling the effects of a poisonous scratch that will cause me to become a zombie after my death. I don't want my friends trying to chop off my head after I'm dead. Camp Jupiter doesn't stand a chance against the Triumvirate's secret weapon, so I must do all I can to fulfill the prophecy. 

This was the 2019 Goodreads Best Book in middle grade fiction. You should read the series by starting with the first book, The Hidden Oracle. The humorous twist to the series is how Apollo has lost all of his powers as punishment from Zeus, a contrast from other books where the main characters are often bestowed with new magical abilities. An additional twist is how Apollo bonded with Meg, but as a consequence, he's forced to obey all of her orders. It was a slow time coming, but Apollo's character is finally changing. He's always been pompous and "godly", but he now shows signs of compassion and humility. He regrets many of his past decisions and has promised to remember human feelings when he regains his powers. He's now able to place the needs of others before his own. These qualities may allow him to return to Mt. Olympus. I assume this book's sequel will end the series, as Meg and Lester will be returning to New York. Apollo seems to be getting some of his godly powers back, and there's one last foe they must face. The showdown with Nero should be the climax of the series, since he's been an antagonist from the start. Meg has some unresolved issues with him, and I'm anxious to see home things turn out. 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Scourge: A Grim Doyle Adventure by David H. Burton

Scourge: A Grim Doyle Adventure (Grim Doyle Adventures, #1)My name is Grim, and my fathers were forced to flee from Earth with my sister, me, and the other four children. We've returned to a world where our lives are in danger, so our dads have hidden us in an orphanage. The chores stink, especially cleaning the crappers, and the way we're treated by the privileged residents makes me angry. I'm not sure what to think of my new roommate, but I think there's more to Quinn than he wants to let on. I'd love to leave this place and have my family reunited,  but I know it's not safe. However, dangers have found a way inside these walls. My brother has been stricken by a mysterious plague that no one has seen before, and it's spreading its way through the orphanage. 

First off, the plot took awhile to get into the conflict. The family was attacked and fled from Earth, but things slowed down when the kids entered the orphanage. There was clearly danger for the kids, but it was put on the back burner. The second half of the book was better, as the bigger conflict came back to the forefront. The kids were heirs to royalty, and their parents' rivals wanted them dead. The identity of the attacker within the orphanage was unknown which created the mystery and suspense. The dynamics of Grim's family were uncommon and were confusing at times. The two dads were very minor characters, and Grim's attitude toward his siblings seemed to change. His blood-sister had a bit of darkness, as she liked to take the heads off dolls and complain there was no blood. This detail was dropped once the kids left Earth, so why even include something like that? Grim would sometimes point out the other kids were not his siblings and then turn around and become protective of them. He had a competitive relationship with Rudy, but they became close allies as the story moved along. Overall, the book was good, so I read a related book, Simian's Lair. It was one chapter in length, and I'm not sure of its purpose.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Project Z #2: Zombies are People, Too by Tom Greenwald

Zombies Are People, Too (Project Z #2)My name is Evan, and my best friend Arnold is a zombie. He doesn't judge me for my handicap, and we have lunch together every day. You don't want to know what happens if he doesn't eat jelly beans. A scientist showed up from The Territory and wants Arnold to help other zombies learn to live among humans back at the facility. It's only supposed to be for a week, and I suppose he'll be back before I know it. But what if he's not? I know the Kinder family didn't want him to leave, but it seemed like they didn't have much of a choice. It's kind of funny that Sarah Anne is the one who got Kiki and I to start wondering about the situation. I'm not sure what's going on behind the facility's walls, but we're convinced we need to do something.

You should read A Zombie Ate My Homework to fully appreciate Arnold's character. He's overcome the misconceptions of zombies, and his classmates have embraced him. Bullies have asked him for friendship advice, and he tutors many of his fellow students. The funniest moments can be found when Arnold tries to explain human behavior to the other zombies. He can't explain why girls put make-up on every day but wipe it back off every night. How can throwing balls at each other be fun? Why don't human kids like green food? The main characters are an odd blend of personalities. Kiki is liked by everyone, while Evan has been ignored by many classmates, except for the bullies. Sarah Anne has special needs that require her to spell her thoughts on an electronic board. Then add a zombie who's still learning to be human. I'm not totally sure why this series entertains me so much. Arnold is a sympathetic character whose fate is controlled by the government. I feel empathy for his situation due to the political dishonesty at the center of the problem. This book is not classic literature by any stretch of the imagination, but it has a captivating quality to it. I suggest you give the series a shot, if you're interested in an amusing twist to zombies. 

Bran Hambric #1: The Farfield Curse by Kaleb Nation

The Farfield Curse (Bran Hambric, #1)My name is Bran, and I was "born" in a bank vault. Actually, that's where Sewey found me, and city laws forced him to make me part of his family. Strange things have been happening that I'm slowly starting to understand. There was the monster on the roof (that knew my name!), the speeding truck I stopped from crushing me, and the mysterious girl, Astara, I met in the back of the bookstore. I must now accept that I'm a mage. I've also learned that my mother was also a mage and may not have been the kind mother I've imagined. She worked with dark magic and had something to do with the Farfield Curse. Now, evil mages are after me, and I may be the key to completing the scourge. 

I read The Specter Key first, so this book included information I wish I'd known before reading book one. As with many middle-grade novels, Bran discovered he had magical powers but needed to learn how to use them. Much of the magic arose without his thought, and I think he only conjured one intentional spell. Consequently, he was able to wield more power than he should have been able. It bugs me when characters go from "normal" to all-powerful without much of a learning curve. Ala Harry Potter, Bran had the potential for good or evil, and his mother had chosen evil. This internal conflict continued for much of the plot. Sewey was the most interesting character, as he was very narrow-minded and set in his ways. He was able to take any bad situation and blame it on gnomes, magic, or mages. He had no problem spending money, but paying the ensuing bills was a waste of his time. Those were strange thoughts for a banker. He resented needing to take care of Bran, but he was quick to recruit Bran when anything needed done. Overall, I enjoyed the book more than some other reviewers, but I think you should give it a shot. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Bran Hambric #2: The Specter Key by Kaleb Nation

The Specter Key (Bran Hambric, #2)My name is Bran, and I've found a strange box that once belonged to my deceased mother. It's clearly protected by her magic, so I need to keep it a secret. I've been contacted by Specters, and I don't know if opening the box will be a good thing or if it will unleash evil. Plus, it projected a bright green energy that destroyed my house and took away my best friend Astara. Later, I met someone from my past, and I don't know if it should make me happy or angry. The bitterness is winning that battle right now, but I truly believe Astara is not dead. I need to keep my focus on rescuing her, even though some people say that may lead to disaster. I've still got to try. 

I didn't read The Farfield Curse first, and I wish I had. Bran's mother had an important past, and I really needed to know what she'd done. She apparently was an evil woman, but she was also Bran's mother. It's hard to envision a mother being evil, but her use of powerful, dangerous magic didn't leave a positive impression. I also couldn't fully grasp Bran's relationships with other characters and didn't know the extent of his magical abilities. As a result, I was able to follow the plot but felt like I was still missing something. That's not the author's fault, since I didn't read the books in order. Bran's virtue carried the story, as he wouldn't give up hope for his friend. He was told several times that she was gone, and he knew his efforts might be futile with no chance of success. His relationship with his father was complicated but understandable. Genetics doesn't make someone a true father. It was nice to see another complicated man enter his life who offered some comfort and compassion. I plan to read the first book in the series next and then move on to the third one, once it gets published. Give the series a shot, but I suggest you read them in order!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Project Z #1: A Zombie Ate My Homework by Tommy Greenwald

A Zombie Ate My Homework (Project Z #1)My name is Norbus, but my new moniker is Arnold Z. Ombee. I'm a zombie, and I conceptualized the name myself. Oops, Lester told me to stop using big words if I'm going to fit in at school. Don't worry about me eating your brains, since there would be terrible consequences if I eat anything but jelly beans. My "uncle" Bill Kinder says we can't let the people from the Territory know where I am, since I escaped from their human regeneration program. He figures it's best if I act like a normal fifth grader. We've come up with stories to explain my pale skin and other differences, but some of the kids have let their imaginations get carried away. I trust the Bender family, but I'm worried that my presence has put them in danger. 

I was very surprised that I enjoyed the book as much as I did. I expected a silly story about a zombie boy, but the author added some depth to the plot. Arnold (Norbus) was a harmless, kind zombie and only wanted to fit in. He was physically, mentally, and emotionally different from the other kids at school, and he did all he could to be accepted. Readers should easily embrace him and identify with his character. One of his two best friends suffered from childhood leukemia and had a leg amputated. Arnold was drawn to him, and their friendship became a key element in the story. Luckily, his other best friend was accepted by most of the other students, so she helped buffer some of the teasing. The book really displayed how people from different backgrounds can be misunderstood but still accepted for their character. The most important aspect of the book was Arnold's moral code. Imagine someone saying that about a zombie! He was trusting, he was honest, and he had empathy for other characters. Arnold didn't want to hurt anyone else and always wanted to do the right thing. The story would have turned out much differently if he'd displayed different values. I'm not sure what to expect in the book's sequel, Zombies are People, Too, but I'm looking forward to finding out. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

An Epic Series of Failures #2: The Curse of Greg by Chris Rylander

The Curse of Greg (An Epic Series of Failures, #2)My name is Bloodletter, and I am the most fearsome battle ax of all time. As a legendary weapon, I chose Greg to wield me in the Dwarves' war against the Elves. Unfortunately, he sometimes lacks the stomach for the bloody attacks needed, because he thinks I only want to destroy the Elves. What's wrong with destroying your enemies? His team is a little distracted right now due to the increase in monster sightings. However, a rock troll told Greg about Elves planning something big in New Orleans, so the team snuck down there to investigate. Greg also hopes to discover a remedy for his father's illness, and he might find out what happened to his "best friend" Edwin, that stinking Elf! I haven't seen Greg for days, and there's going to be a lot of stabbing and destruction when we're reunited. 

I recommend you read The Legend of Greg first in order to better understand the background story. However, I honestly forgot I'd already read the book, as memories of it slowly came back to me. The essence of the conflict is that Elves and Dwarves don't like each other. Most of them are stuck with prejudices toward the other, but Greg is willing to rethink those ideas. Being able to see both sides of an issue is a valuable quality. Fairies took magic away long ago, but it's slowly seeping back. The question of magic being good or bad is another conflict that will continue in the next book. The fact that Greg's former best friend is the new Elf leader with a radical idea about magic creates an ongoing internal conflict for Greg. Again, he understands what Edwin is thinking and wonders if he might be correct, but it goes against everything Greg has been taught. You may find yourself pondering your own ideas about the real world after seeing how the characters handle their own issues. Don't get me wrong, this is not a philosophical story, and lovers of mythical or fairy tale beings should enjoy this book. I believe there's one more book in the series, and I recommend you give the series a shot. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Gideon Trilogy #1: The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley-Archer

Gideon the Cutpurse (The Gideon Trilogy, #1)My name is Peter, and Kate and I are slowly discovering what must have happened to us. We're not exactly sure how, but  we've been transported over two hundred years back in time. The Tar Man took the machine responsible for our predicament, so we're forced to find some way to track him down in London. To complicate matters, something is happening to Kate and I that is hard to hide. Kate has been fading from time to time, and she says she's able to see friends back in the present. I've done it after falling asleep, so both of us feel like it's dangerous to doze off. Gideon has been helping us, but he's being hunted by the Tin Man's boss. I'm not sure what's going on with him, but I've got to find some way back to my family. I only hope Peter doesn't find a way home first and leave me behind. Alone. 

As you can see from the graphic, this book also goes by the title Gideon the Cutpurse. It's always fun to see how author's handle time travel. Can characters in the past change future events? This author adds a unique twist, as she has Peter and Kate fade back to the present at times. An uncertainty is created with the characters existing in limbo between the present and past. They are learning to control it, but it usually arises when they're asleep or very tired. Their ghostly appearances provide hope and a clue for their parents and the detective trying to solve the mystery. Relationship issues are addressed, as Kate comes from a close-knit family but Peter's busy parents live thousands of miles apart. Peter's last words to his father are "I hate you." Gideon's situation is a little complicated, since his past is unclear. There's something he's not saying about his relationship with the people hunting him. This mystery adds an additional conflict to the plot. It seems like there's a slim chance of the kids returning to the present, but then something unexpected happens late in the book. I didn't like that part. The plot was moving toward a happy conclusion, but the author dropped a huge surprise near the end. It leads right into a sequel. 

Jaclyn Hyde by Annabeth Bonder-Stone and Connor White

Jaclyn HydeMy name is Fatima, and my best friend Jaclyn has always been perfect. She aces every test, she's creating an exact scale model of a volcano, and she's the ideal understudy in Fog Island: The Musical. However, Jaclyn wants to be more perfect and stole a "Perfection Potion" from the creepy house down at the end of Cedar Street. And that's when Jackie first appeared. Paige and I have discovered Jackie's mission is to make Jaclyn look perfect, and her methods are really evil. We're never quite sure when Jackie will pop up, but disaster is sure to follow. It's hard enough keeping her a secret from everyone else, but our principal is on the warpath. Students aren't allowed to use lockers anymore, the musical must be perfect, and my friends and I have been assigned detention. Is there any way to stop the principal, and Jackie?

I was hooked by the book's concept, a young girl with an evil alter ego. The plot moved very quickly, and I was able to read it in just a couple hours. The root of Jaclyn's problem was her inability to accept anything less than perfection. She had imperfect school papers hidden away in boxes, because she didn't want to show the B and C grades to her parents. She also created a problem in third grade due to the self-imposed pressure, and that mistake unfairly punished someone else for five years. Some of the pressure may have come from living up to the exploits of her older sister. The plot wasn't overly complicated, and some parts of it were predictable. However, the author created a cute story of a middle grade girl trying to be perfect. The entertainment factor came from Jackie, since her actions were unpredictable. She was motivated to help Jaclyn, but her methods were mean to other characters. The lesson was to do your best but accept that you'll sometimes make mistakes or fall short. Overall, I liked the book and recommend you give it a shot. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Monster Club #1: Hunters for Hire by Gavin Brown

Monster Club: Hunters for HireMy name is Spike, and my friends and I want to become monster hunters. Tommy always wants to use his muscles, Karim can get his hands on magical weapons, and we've just captured a basilisk in our school. We've decided to sign-up with AppVenture, so we can get paid while catching monsters. We'll stick with level one and twos, maybe a level three if it comes to that, so we can learn and get better before tackling the more dangerous monsters. Things have been going pretty well with our team, but we just saw something disturbing on Mad MacKenzie's podcast. She caught a gremlin with the indentation of a ring on its head... an imprint of my ring! How did a gremlin we captured manage to get captured again by Mad MacKenzie? Something fishy is going on at AppVenture!

This book will probably appeal to upper elementary students. Monster hunting is common in the plot, and Karim's crippled dad has retired from the business. Spike and her friends are ordinary kids, but there's nothing extraordinary about them. They behave the way you'd expect amateurs to behave, including making amateur mistakes. Karim's terrified to let his dad know what he's doing, and Tommy looks forward to any chance to show off his muscles. The second half of the book is much better than the first, as the author develops larger conflicts. Obviously, the kids are destined to face more deadly monsters to put themselves in perilous situations. AppVenture has a secret conspiracy going on, and the kids are determined to stop it. A David and Goliath scenario is created. Spike's parents are divorced, so this adds an important twist to the plot. She's very angry with her father and then finds out he's working for AppVenture. Luis wants to get back in Spike's life, but she's not having any of it. This bitterness is a common emotion in cases of divorce. I was ready to dismiss this book as a cute story for young readers, but it slowly grew on me. Overall, I liked the plot and am curious about the sequel. Give it a shot if you enjoy monster hunting. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Addison Cooke #1: Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas by Jonathan W. Stokes

Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas (Addison Cooke #1)My name is Addison Cooke, and I must find the second key to seven hundred and fifty TONS of Incan treasure. My Uncle N, the second greatest archaeologist in the world, found the first key but was beaten and kidnapped by a former colleague. My Aunt D, the greatest archaeologist in the world, was taken too, so urgent circumstances dictate I must rescue them. I've called a Code Blue for my sister Molly, Raj, and Eddie, and they've agreed to join me on my mission to the Andes Mountains. My knowledge of Incan culture, Raj's survival skills, and Eddie's ability to speak Spanish make us a good team. Unfortunately, our adversary will probably kill us, and many explorers lose their lives in the Andes every year. This situation is quite a sticky wicket. 

The adventure is more "realistic" than some others, as the characters are normal, middle grade kids. There's a lot of luck involved, but everything they do is technically possible. It's nice to see protagonists who aren't infallible, as the characters make their share of fortunate mistakes. They escape caimans (like crocodiles), a tumble off a waterfall, and a tribe of cannibals in  their search for the treasure. Raj is always able to point out the worst possible hazards found in the jungle. The plot's climax is similar to a scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Booby traps and cave disasters await. The kidnapping and treasure bring up some conflicting issues for Addison. Is it more important for him to find the gold and silver, or is it more important to save his aunt and uncle? The choice may seem obvious, but Addison's behavior makes it unclear. In addition, the treasure is full of ancient Incan artifacts, so wouldn't it be wrong for the characters to profit from it? Overall, the plot was amusing and entertaining. It's not the best book I've read, but adventure lovers should enjoy it. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Wormling #5: The Author's Blood by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry

The Author's Blood (The Wormling, #5)My name is Owen Reeder, but the people of the Lowlands know me as the Wormling. However, few of them know I'm also the King's Son. The Dragon's armies have wiped out the forces opposing him, and he's enslaved most of the remaining villagers. They find it difficult to hold out hope after their families have been slain, but we must trust the King's words. I had to leave my sister and my future bride in the Highlands, and I pray they are safe from the Dragon's time minions. I'm willing to sacrifice myself to save my family and the entire kingdom, but I have faith in my father. The Book of the King says the Dragon will be defeated, and those loyal to the King will celebrate and rejoice. 

This book concluded the series, and I've enjoyed the journey. The entire series was told from a second person point of view, which was a bit uncommon. This strategy allowed the narrator to speak directly to readers and draw them into the book. A devastating tragedy at the end of the fourth book carried over to this one, and I was left wondering how the authors would resolve it. Owen kept telling other characters to have faith, so I was forced to have faith along with them. The Book of the King essentially promoted the Yin and Yang of life. Tragedies are necessary for positive experiences to evolve. Everything has purpose, and there is good and evil in the world. The words in the Book had a Biblical feel to them, as they preached faith and hope. This preachiness was probably my main reservation toward the series. Younger readers may not have a tolerance for philosophical dialogue. Overall, I recommend you give this series a shot; I don't think you'll be disappointed. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Charlie and Frog and The Boney Hand by Karen Kane

Charlie and Frog The Boney HandMy name is Charlie, and my best friend Frog is not "cute". Don't ever call her that unless you want to feel her wrath! I'm the only hearing student at the deaf school, and I've become the chief suspect in the Boney Hand's theft. The story of the Boney Hand is legendary around here, and it's disappearance has upset long traditions. I'd like to blame the school bully, but it looks like someone else is responsible. Luckily, Frog wants to be a serious detective, so we're going to team up and solve this case. Unfortunately, my grandparents want to help. Ugh! There must a logical explanation for the Boney Hand, but what if there isn't? What if the Boney Hand has actually come back to life?!

Charlie wasn't sure if the legend of The Boney Hand was true, but I decided to include this book with the speculative fiction anyway. Having a deaf main character was a unique twist, and many of the other characters were deaf too. This factor made communication between characters trickier than normal, but it really wasn't a big deal. Readers can actually learn a bit about sign language. The author included humorous elements to the plot in the form of Charlie's parents and grandparents. His mom and dad didn't want to be bad parents, so they read all the books they could find on the subject. They tried everything except for experiencing life with their son. The grandparents spent most of their time in their recliners until they received detective outfits in the mail, including fake mustaches. They had several mysteries of the their own to solve, like the missing remote. My biggest drawback to the story was how everyone was so wrapped up in the ghost story surrounding the Boney Hand. It was strange that so many adult characters accepted it as fact, while the children main characters were skeptical. The story just felt unbelievable. I think this book will most appeal to students in grades 4-6.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Wormling #4: The Minions of Time by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry

The Minions of Time (The Wormling, #4)My name is Owen, and my top priority was to find the King's Son. Most of the Lowland people now realize I'm the Wormling, and that knowledge has given them hope. I don't think they're ready to hear something else I've discovered, but it will be revealed when the time is right. The Dragon is doing all it can to locate and destroy me, and I know he's planning something devastating under the White Mountain. I wish my good friend Watcher was with me, but it was best for us to separate and let her protect The Book of the King. It's now time for the people to amass a great army to defeat the Dragon. The book has prophesied the Son will lead them, but my quest requires me to return to the Highlands first. 

You should read the entire series starting from the beginning. Owen follows the teachings in The Book of the King, because he's put all of his faith into it. He's grown as a warrior and leader, but his true strength comes from a compassion for others. He even empathizes with some of his enemies and skeptics, and his faith often wins them over. He quotes lines from the book that offer inspiration and guidance. The book seems to know the future, although it was written by the King. How is that possible? The King has physically been missing from the previous books, but he finally makes an appearance near the end of this one. I've been mentioning the probability of Owen's return to the Highlands in the past two books, and it finally comes true. The authors have still cast doubt regarding some characters' identities, so that will keep you wondering about who Owen will eventually marry. The philosophical scriptures from The Book of the King are balanced with action and adventure. Owen and his followers are ambushed throughout the plot, and the Changeling returns to cause confusion. Overall, I'm enjoying the series, and I'm looking forward to its conclusion in The Author's Blood.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Water Dragon Races #1: Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races by K.D. Holbrook

Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races (Water Dragon Races, #1)My name is Silver Batal, and I've always dreamed of becoming a great water dragon rider. Many people think it's a crazy dream for the daughter of a jeweler, living in a hot, dusty desert. Now, I must recover my friend's water dragon, stolen by my hero, Sagittaria Wonder. I'm thankful my cousin Brajon has offered to help, but I'm not sure what we'll do once we reach Calidia. We can't exactly walk up to the queen and tell her the most famous dragon rider in the world is a thief. No, the only thing I can do is enter the water dragon races, and win. My plan is complicated, since I've bonded with a young water dragon that's still learning to swim. The fact he's an Aquinder presents an even bigger problem. If anyone discovers this mythical water dragon exists, things will get very dangerous.

The concepts of water dragons and racing them interested me enough to read the book, but the early pages were slow. It was clear Silver would do anything to become a rider, but nothing would happen in the plot until Sagittaria came to visit her village. The book became much more interesting after about eighty pages, once Silver left for Calidia. She was accused of stealing jewelry and Sagittaria knew who she was, so Silver had to move stealthily across the lands and streets. She could also lose her water dragon, Hiyyan, even though they were bonded. They could be registered together if they raced, but Silver would need to teach Hiyyan how to swim and how the fly. Complicating things was a law saying all Aquinders needed to be killed, so how could they practice flying without anyone seeing? The author tossed in some "natural" dangers with wild creatures popping up along the way. Silver made a couple of allies during her adventure, and she discovered some conspiracies. The races were much more than races to political foes, and secrets were hidden in watery caves. Overall, the book made up for the slow start, and I recommend you give it a shot. Lovers of "nice" dragons should enjoy the story. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Wormling #3: The Changeling by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry

The Changeling (The Wormling, #3)My name is Owen, and I am the Wormling. The Book of the King has been my guiding light and tells me the King will provide what I need if I put my faith in him. I must find the King's Son, so he can unite the worlds and end the Dragon's reign of terror. No one knows where the Dragon is holding him captive, so I'm on my way to find the Scribe. I failed in my duty to protect the book from the Dragon, and I'm hoping the Scribe can provide some guidance. I regret my presence endangers everyone I meet, and I will use my Wormling skills to protect them, if I can. My first priority is to find the King's Son. I've learned a secret about The Book of the King, and I must travel alone in pursuit of my quest. I will not fail, because my undying faith is in the King.

Owen's quest is the conflict driving all of the books. The Book of the King has taught him a way of thinking that is almost spiritual, and he often speaks as though he's much older. He quotes the book as if it's a bible, although it also foretells future events. Most of the villagers have heard exaggerated stories about the coming of the Wormling, so their first impressions of Owen are usually amusing. He's not ten feet tall, he can't shoot flames from his armpits, and he can't fly. However, he earns their respect through his wisdom, bravery, and belief in the King. Villagers are amazed that Owen can read, since the Dragon banned reading and destroyed all books. An ongoing subplot has been the possibility that Owen's mother is still alive and living in this world. This book shines some light on that topic, but it creates new questions too. All three books continue to bring up Owen's life in the other world, and I expected he would have returned by now. Owen even asks another character when it will happen. The author reveals a huge "surprise" at the end of the book. It's something I've suspected since the series started, but it might surprise some middle grade readers.