Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Bears of the Ice #1: The Quest of the Cubs by Kathryn Lasky

The Quest of the Cubs (Bears of the Ice #1)I'm called First, and my mother has left my sister and I alone in the polar region of Ga'Hoole. We've decided we'll try to find our father in the hunting grounds, but we only know we need to travel north. We wish our mother had taught us to hunt before she left, since it's hard to survive blizzards and dangerous creatures when you're weak from starvation. We've also heard stories about Tick Tocks and some kind of machine, but this mystery makes me uneasy. I think rogue bears are behind it, but I don't know anything more. It can't be anything good. The Roguers don't follow the proud traditions of bears and are vicious and deadly. I hope I never see one again, but my senses tell me it's likely.

I wasn't sure what to expect, as most of the characters were "normal", polar animals; except for the fact they could communicate with each other. First and Second (they got actual names later) spent the first half of the book learning to hunt while trying to avoid becoming meals for larger predators. The twins also had spiritual powers, as First could sense the thoughts of others and Second had a special connection to the ice. A later character was able to see the dreams of others. The emerging conflict involved the rogue bears and a giant clock. The clock began as a positive concept but became the source of cult worship and slavery. Unbeknownst to the cubs, their mother sacrificed herself to save them from becoming slaves to the Roguers. This happened in the opening chapters, so it's not a spoiler! The very end of the book became more intriguing once a leopard brought some clarity to the cubs' quest. The cubs aren't royalty, but their efforts will ultimately free all bears, theoretically Overall, the book got better the farther I got into the plot, so I think I'll probably check out the sequel, The Den of Forever Frost.

Friday, June 21, 2019

The House With Chicken Legs by Stephanie Anderson

The House with Chicken LegsMy name is Marinka, and my grandmother says someday I'll also become a guardian of The Gate, leading the dead into the afterlife. However, I just want to have a real friend and do things beyond the boundaries of our house with chicken legs. Baba says something bad will happen if I stray too far away, and the house frequently moves us around to different locations. Which leads me to now. I was desperate and knew I was doing something wrong, and I knew Baba would be upset when she found out. I never imagined the truth she'd reveal about my past, and I never would have believed she'd leave me alone. I'm truly sorry for the foolish decisions I've made.

I must admit I almost stopped reading this book. I was ready to return it to the library when I got to the part about Marinka's secret. That made the book much more interesting. Marinka's desire for a living friend and a normal life blinded her perception of reality. She didn't fully appreciate her importance and didn't accept her destiny. She finally met another Yaga who shared more information about the significance of guardians. The house with chicken legs was the most compelling character. It's sole purpose was to protect the guardian in helping the dead return to the stars. However, the author gave it more of a personality in the second half of the book, and it developed a more important role in the plot. It couldn't speak, but it was still able to communicate emotions. The focus of the book was all about Marinka's struggles to deal with her conflicting emotions about becoming a Yaba and the disappearance of her grandmother. Loneliness and desperation were two strong emotions. Overall, the book will take some patience due to the slow start, but it might be worth your time. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Unwanteds Quests #3: Dragon Ghosts by Lisa McMann

Dragon Ghosts (The Unwanteds Quests Book 3)My name is Thisbe, and I don't think anyone knows I've escaped from the Revinir's dungeons along with Sky and Dev. The Revinir forced me to drink dragon-bone broth, and I know it's having a scary effect on me. I'm trying to conceal the scales on my arms, but the visions I'm having are hard to ignore. I can't tell if they're from the past or from the future. What do they mean? I'm not sure any of my friends are looking for me at this point; they may have assumed I'm dead and returned to Artime. Something's happening here to the dragons and the children with black eyes. I'm feeling a strange pull too, and it's hard to resist. I feel I need to return to the dungeons and free a woman I don't even know. I now find myself alone and wondering what I should do.

You need to read the first two books in The Unwanteds Quests series, and it wouldn't hurt to read The Unwanteds first. Alex died in the previous book, and the early part of Dragon Ghosts covered his history and the history of the magical world of Artime. To be honest, the first half of the book felt like it was getting ready for something to happen without anything actually happening. Characters didn't fully understand Thisbe and Alex's situations and were thinking of plans for what they should do. There were mistaken assumptions that led characters astray. The second half of the book was much more interesting and included a lot more action. The conflicts became clearer, and the opposing positions more defined. As expected, the Revinir continued to be the main antagonist, but underwent some changes. These changes complicated her abilities, so the protagonists weren't sure how to stop her. It will continue into the next book. While the books read like normal middle-grade novels, the author doesn't shy away from death. Important characters may be lost (Alex for example), so potential twists are unpredictable. I wish I didn't need to wait for each edition of the series to be published. 

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Green Sky #1: Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Below the RootMy name is Raamo, and I don't understand why I was Chosen. I'm just an average Kindar teen, so how did I get selected to be an Ol-zhann, one of the wise rulers of Green-Sky?  Maybe it's because I haven't lost my Spirit-skills like most of the other citizens. I'm worried about my sister's health, as she seems to be withering and slowly fading away. I'll receive some training as a Healer, so maybe I'll be able to help her. However, someone has been speaking to me through our minds, but I don't know who it might be or why they're contacting me. This just adds to my confusion. I'm learning that my former classmates might have been encouraged to be deceitful during their training, and the Ol-zhann or harboring secrets. I never could have imagined the shocking truth.

It was clear early on that a conspiracy would be revealed regarding the governing of the Kindars. The setting of the story takes place among the trees in a dense forest. The characters are humanish and spread their clothing to glide between the branches. You should recognize references to technology from our culture. The forest floor is feared, as stories are told about certain death dooming anyone falling down there. The Pash-shan are almost mythical, evil creatures, because none of the Kindars have survived to report about seeing them. Things like that immediately get my mind wondering about the truth. Life in Green-Sky is all about peace and kindness to the point that a word like "killing" is treated like the greatest offense and profanity. Raamo's curiosity gets him into trouble, although the mysterious mind-speaker gets him started. The book shares deep messages about government and social differences. Should citizens be told the truth if it might upset the foundation of the society's beliefs? Leaders are supposed to look out for the welfare of the citizens, but what if the citizens are unaware of the issues in the first place? The book has a dystopian feel to it, and I think I'll probably read the sequel. If you're looking for a short book about government conspiracy, give it a shot.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #2: Game of Stars by Sayantani Dasgupta

Game of Stars (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond, #2)My name is Kiran, and I know the Demon Slayer contest is probably a trap set by my evil Serpent King father. He says the contest will reunite the Chintamoni and Poroshmoni Stones for the Kingdom Beyond or the Serpent Kingdom, but I still think there's more to it. I can't believe the thousands of people determined to become contestants and young girls idolize me. Giant posters say there's romance between Prince Lal and myself, but Prince Neel is imprisoned and says I shouldn't trust his brother. What is going on? None of this makes any sense. Despite Neel's warning against it, I must enter the contest and reach the third round in order to free him. However, the Serpent King doesn't play fair, so I know the rules are rigged in his favor. I'll do anything I can to save Neel.

You should start with the first book in the series, The Serpent's Secret. It's been a while since I read it, but I forgot about some of the silly humor. That's hard to believe since it's all over the place. Imagine Kiran needing to answer banana jokes to get past a security guard and conceited, silly announcers emceeing the contest. Monsters aren't typically slain, as they're often tricked by Kiran's quick-thinking. That's why she's confused when others think of her as a demon slayer. It's clear something's off about Kiran's return to the Kingdom Beyond, but it takes her awhile to fully realize it. I kept wondering when she'd actually think about all of the strange things she was seeing. The author makes many references to the Indian culture and mythology, as that's her style. You can usually figure everything out, so it's not a problem at all. Kiran's character is fun to follow. She wants to be a heroine, but sometimes gets overwhelmed by the experience. She's brave and intelligent, but that can get her into trouble too. Overall, the book is fun to read, and I recommend you give it a shot. You'll need to have a tolerance for silly humor, but the adventure will be worth it.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Wings of Olympus #1 by Kallie George

Wings of Olympus (Wings of Olympus #1)My name is Pippa, and I've been chosen for the greatest honor I could ever imagine! I never would have believed an orphan like me could be part of a horse race for the gods. Unfortunately, the other racers, and a few gods, don't think I belong here either. I love my winged horse Zephyr, and I'm going to train her to win the race and become Zeus's new steed. It would be a lot easier if I could get her to stop chasing butterflies and other distractions! The other kids are getting gifts and visits from their god and goddess sponsors, but Aphrodite hasn't seen me even once. Why did she pick me? What will happen to Zephyr and me if we don't win the race? Maybe fate says we don't have a chance at victory, but I don't have any other option but to succeed. 

This book told a classic underdog story, as the ancient Greeks weren't kind to women or parentless kids. Apparently, it was rare for women to have an opportunity to ride horses. The other contestants came from more privileged homes, while Pippa had been living with the horses she cared for. She had been left on a doorstep as a baby and didn't know why her parents had abandoned her. She was paired with the smallest winged horse and they became the team least likely to win. Zephyr's attention issues and free spirit added an amusing twist to their relationship. Other than that, the plot was fairly predictable, as it didn't offer any surprises to complicate the conflict. Pippa's decision to solve the problem was unexpected and out of character, although I understand why she did it. I wasn't totally satisfied with the book's resolution, but I'll probably read the sequel when it comes out. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

Spy School #5: Spy School Secret Service by Stuart Gibbs

Spy School Secret Service (Spy School, #5)My name is Emily, and I'm the top spy at the CIA's secret academy for kids. Hey, it's a fact, so get over it. Ben was activated for a special mission, but he screwed up and is now wanted for attempting to assassinate the president. I'm kind of a fugitive too, since I helped him evade the FBI, CIA, and everyone else. Ben's pretty sure SPYDER is behind everything, again, and they're really good at framing others for their crimes. Ben's stopped them before (with a BIG assist from me), so they figured let's blow up the spy-in-training along with the oval office. However, they're experts at distraction, and Ben's sure they're up to something else. We need to prove Ben's innocence and thwart SPYDER, but we don't even know what they're planning yet. I don't trust a lot of people, but I think we're going to need help.

I forgot I'd already book 6 in the series first, so I needed to "forget" some things as I read this book. The format of this book was the same as all the others. A secret organization schemed to create an international incident, and an over-matched boy was tasked with stopping them. As mentioned above, Erica was the unbelievably-trained heritage spy (her family of spies traced back to the Revolutionary War), and she did most of the actual spy work. Her contrast to Ben made the story most enjoyable. She wouldn't let anything keep her from becoming the best spy, and Ben had an unanswered crush on her. She believed friendship was a weakness, so her true feelings were unknown. Ben's strength as a spy was mental. He was gifted at mathematical concepts and creative thinking. I won't say he was the brains and Erica was the brawn, because she had way more knowledge at spying. As with the other books, Ben managed to figure out what was going on just in time and helped save the day, just in time. You'll enjoy this book if you like light-hearted spy stories. It's not as silly as some of the others in the series, which actually makes it better.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Mad Wolf's Daughter #2: The Hunt for the Mad Wolf's Daughter by Diane Magras

The Hunt for the Mad Wolf's Daughter (Mad Wolf's Daughter #2)My name is Drest, and I've been declared a wolf's head, a reward of thirty pieces of silver for my death. Sir Oswyn has told everyone I killed his nephew, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I'm the one who thwarted Oswyn's attempt to murder Emerick, and now the lad is my dearest friend. Oswyn sees me as his biggest enemy, so Emerick and I must move carefully in order to avoid those who'd wish us dead. However, we must also find a way to return Emerick to his rightful place as the lord of Faintree Castle. My father has a reputation as a kind, but ruthless, man, and he wants me to remain hidden and under his protection. I've my own legend spreading across the lands, and I'll find a way to help Emerick stop his uncle's treacherous plans, or die trying.

I recommend you read The Mad Wolf's Daughter first. Although the book includes a witch, the most fantasy-like thing for me is when Drest hears her family's voices in her mind. They talk her through situations and provide advice, although she doesn't always listen. Drest's character is the most interesting, as she is the only girl in Grimbol's family of marauding men. Grimbol has a reputation for protecting villagers but viciously destroying anyone he deems disloyal or an enemy. This book sees Drest acting independently of her father's wishes, since she's not the defenseless young girl he imagines. She's learned many fighting techniques from her large brothers and has used them on any unsuspecting foes ever since the first book. Emerick is injured during most of this story, so Drest spends most of her time protecting him. The fact that any man, woman, or child might slay her for the bounty on her head adds unpredictability to any interactions with other characters. Grimbol's temper and over-protection create uncertainty as to what his character is capable of doing. Overall, I'm enjoying the series and wonder what the sequel will be about; I assume it will have something to do with Drest's mother. You'll like this book if you enjoy stories of adventure and independent girls. 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Tales From the Chocolate Heart #2: The Girl With the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis

The Girl with the Dragon Heart (Tales from the Chocolate Heart, #2)My name is Silke, and I have a special talent for spinning stories. It usually gets me out of sticky situations, but I'm not so sure this time. The crown princess has asked me to spy on the visiting faeries to discover their real reason for visiting. I have no trouble spying, but a wharf rat impersonating a member of the royal court will be a challenge. I once helped the king forge a treaty with the dragons, but some citizens are now suspicious and fearful of them. My best friend Aventurine can now transform into her dragon form when she wants, but her temper may get us into big trouble. She detests faeries, and it would be best if she kept far away from the castle. However, I convinced the princess to allow the Chocolate Heart to cater the desserts, and Aventurine will need to be there. I hope she listens to me and doesn't set foot outside the kitchen. Yeah, right!

You should probably first read the first book in the series, The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart, winner of a 2017 Cybils Award. Chocolate is important to the book and equally important to the kingdom. It's treated like nectar of the gods, and the royals present it like the most important food in the world. I'd love to taste chocolate that good! The plot reads like an adventure mystery, although most of it takes place inside the castle. Silke's impulsiveness makes everything unpredictable. She always has good intentions and strategies, but misspoken words and unwise decisions create numerous problems that make the book entertaining. Her family's past becomes important to her motivations but creates new complications. She spends much of her time trying to curb Aventurine's anger! Silke's storytelling is her strength, as she is able to manipulate her words into magical tales. They captivate listeners and communicate subtle messages. Overall, a book grounded in chocolate and stories may not sound exciting, but I highly recommend you give it a shot. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Impostors #1 by Scott Westerfield

Impostors (Impostors, #1)My name is Frey, and the public doesn't know I've been training for years to stop assassins from killing my twin sister. I'm confined to hidden rooms and hallways until I secretly take her place in potentially dangerous public appearances around Shreve. My father is a ruthless man and is distrusted by all the other leaders. For that reason, he's sent me to Victoria as a hostage to guarantee he'll abide by the terms of an alliance. I don't have Rafi's social graces, but I'm excited to finally have an opportunity to leave my secluded life. Col, the leader's eldest son, has been a gracious tour guide, but the fact remains I'm a prisoner. However, I've learned my father plans to do something I never believed possible, and Rafi has sent me an urgent message saying I have two minutes to escape.

This book should be read by more mature readers due to some content and situations. Nothing bad, just mature. It has the same setting as the Uglies series, although it's many years later. It's not necessary for you to read that series, but it will help you understand some references. I've read other books where a parent was evil, but Frey's father actually becomes the enemy. If someone opposes him, his history is to respond in a more devastating way. Frey's actions might make him question her loyalty, so that uncertainty remains a constant conflict throughout the book. In addition, Frey and Rafi are separated for much of the plot, and Frey is determined to rescue her sister from her father. However, this motivation is repeated so often that I found myself wondering if it might be the source of a potential twist. Has Rafi changed due to Frey's absence? You'll need to read the book to find out. If you liked Uglies, you'll like this book. There are references to Pretty surgeries, some characters are Specials, and hoverboards are still used for transportation. Overall, Impostors is an entertaining adventure, and lovers of dystopian wars should enjoy it. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Ronan Boyle #1: Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles by Thomas Lennon

Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles (Ronan Boyle #1)My name is Ronan, and I'm determined to prove my imprisoned parents were framed by Lord Desmond Dooley. I've joined the Garda to find evidence that he stole the Bog Man mummy, but it hasn't been all unicorns and leprechauns. Correction... I've seen a lot of leprechauns. Two of them stole hundreds of bottles of wine and took them to Tir Na Nog, so I've been assigned to help Captain de Valera capture the thieves. I'm doing my best to remember my cadet training, but it's hard when leprechauns are musking. I was never great at shillelagh training or Tin Whistle for Beginners, but I did okay with Irish and Faerie Law. I'm glad I have Captain de Valera and Lily the wolfhound with me, because I don't think I'm fully prepared for what lurks in the underworld of Tir Na Nog. 

I guess this book will most appeal to upper middle school readers. Silly humor is the backbone of the entertainment, but it includes some mature inferences and potentially crass descriptions. Weaponized Poetry is a trainee class, they played leprechaun hide and seek, and there are a number of references to different types of body odor. I was a little surprised the other cadets didn't have a bigger role in the story. A couple of them had unique personalities and backgrounds, especially Log, and she may be a more important character in the book's sequel. Ronan, the captain, and Lily were involved in the most significant events of this book. The conflict with the leprechauns and the underlying problem with Dooley were engaging, but silliness is at the forefront of everything. It tested my patience at times, but I enjoyed it overall. Even during the most "serious" moments, the author managed to find ways to maintain a humorous tone. If you're looking for an absurd story of leprechauns and mystery, give this book a shot. I plan to read the sequel when it comes out. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Endling #2: The First by Katherine Applegate

The First (Endling #2)My name is Khara, and I'm leading a doomed, pointless quest to help Byx find other dairnes. I'm not sure the expedition is truly futile, but I'm questioning my decisions. Sure, we've evaded Murdano's soldiers and survived an attack by one of his assassins, but traveling to Dreyland may be even more dangerous. The ruler here is more vicious than Murdano, as his forces prepare to invade Nedarra. I almost lost all hope when we were buried, destined to suffer slow, painful deaths. Byx and Tobble are heroes, and we've found the floating island. However, I've not told the others about my dream. I must return home and do everything within my power to protect the lands of Nedarra.

You should read the Endling: The Last before reading this one. Byx was the main character, as he was the one everyone else rallied around. He was not the leader and even feared that role. Dairnes were able to detect lies in all other species, so they were invaluable allies (tools?) to others. Tobble was the most endearing character due to his small status, and all other species underestimated him. He was loyal to Byx and was the one character willing to ask the hard questions. He cared about all creatures and believed in the humane treatment of all. He expressed concern when Khara's plans conflicted with those views. The author saved some secrets about Khara that were revealed in the book. It's been clear since the beginning that she hasn't been totally open, but her past came to the forefront later in the plot. The group dynamics of the strange band of characters was the highlight of the book. Blending humans with timid creatures and a predator resulted in colorful, intriguing interactions. Overall, this is a great series, and I can highly recommend you give it a shot. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Arlo Finch #2: In the Lake of the Moon by John August

Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon (Arlo Finch #2)My name is Arlo, and I'm not sure I should have tossed the rusty flashlight to the Blue Patrol. I still don't know how it could have happened, but the Long Woods is a mysterious place. I've now come to Ranger Camp for my first time, but things are strange. Wu and Indra are fighting, our patrol leader Connor is gone, I'm having strange dreams, and I've somehow gotten on Big Breezy's bad side. Indra says the trees predicted my arrival here before I was born! My Uncle Wade and others say there never was a Yellow Patrol, but I've found evidence that's not true. I know Uncle Wade was in the patrol, so why is there a mystery surrounding the group? I feel like the forest spirits want me to do something, but what?

I wish I could read this series straight through instead of waiting for new editions to be written. I enjoyed the teamwork in the first book, but this one included some discord between the main characters. Arlo experienced many events alone, and his partners were varied. Arlo and I had trouble making sense of the events and how they fit together. Everything started to clear up once Arlo and Indra took a canoe across the lake. The flashlight incident occurred in the first chapter but was put on the back burner until the second half of the book. Arlo interacted with characters, including an ornery wind spirit, but he wasn't sure if they were friends or foes. The unpredictability of the characters added some intrigue, but I missed the camaraderie in the last book. I still found the book entertaining and imaginative. The Long Woods were a mystery to the characters, and no one knew what was going on until the end. They knew there was a problem, but they didn't really understand the big conflict. Overall, I would have liked to have seen some things presented differently, but I can still recommend you give it a shot. 

Tales From Lovecraft Middle School #2: The Slither Sisters by Charles Gilman

The Slither Sisters (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2)My name is Glenn, and a snake-monster is a shoe-in to win the election for student council president. That's because Robert and I are the only students who know the true identities of the popular twin sisters. Their bodies were taken over by serpents from another dimension. It's all part of Crawford Tillinghast's plan to overthrow humankind by sending beasts through portals found in Lovecraft Middle School. We were surprised to discover the librarian is Crawford's sister, but she's not crazy like her brother. She has an idea that might change the outcome of the election. She says Robert will have a good chance of winning if he runs for president. Robert thinks that's insane, and the sisters have made threats toward him, but what choice do we have?

I read this book after reading the third one in the series first, Teacher's Pest, and it answered a couple questions I had. The books are simple and entertaining, but they're pretty shallow. This book was a little over a hundred pages and moved very quickly. Both books were written in the same format with the monsters being the main difference. The snake sisters were introduced early in the plot, the boys briefly traveled to the other dimension, and the rest of the story was spent dodging threats and trying to win the election. Reading one of these books was fun, but reading more than one at a time was less fun. Some readers will love them, since they don't require much thought and can be read in a short amount of time. The stories are easy to follow and predictable. Overall, I liked experiencing the series, and you may want to give it a shot. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Spy School #6: Spy School Goes South by Stuart Gibbs

Spy School Goes South (Spy School, #6)My name is Ben, and it was supposed to be an easy mission. All Erica and I needed to do was escort Murray to locate the new SPYDER headquarters, contact the CIA, and then let them take care of things. It didn't work out that way. Not unexpectedly, Murray couldn't be trusted. We ended up in a steamy jungle, fell into an ancient cave, and climbed atop some Aztec ruins. The good news is we found SPYDER, but the bad news is we're on our own, again. It also looks like SPYDER is planning something diabolical, and Erica insists we need to stop them on our own, again. We have no equipment, don't know who we can trust, and we're supposed to stop SPYDER's elite agents. I hope we survive the mission, if Murray's whining doesn't kill me first. 

You should probably read the first book in the series to get the gist of what's going on, although there are twists along the way (like Murray's character). Once again, this book has Ben and Erica fall into the middle of an evil plot and manage to foil everything. Erica is a serious spy and an expert in everything covert. Ben is brainy but struggles to master most of the spy skills. He's always been smitten by Erica, but this books finds him struggling with feelings for Zoe. Typical adolescent boy stuff. Murray adds a humorous angle to everything, as he goes through a dramatic transformation. There's an uncertainty about him, as you're skeptical whenever he talks. Actually, all the characters on both sides know each other so well that their interactions become amusing. There's a bit of personal taunting and teasing that you don't often find during dangerous situations. The dangerous situations don't end in death, although the loss of arms or legs is possible. Overall, you'll enjoy this book if you like light-hearted spy stories that result in thwarted plans for world domination.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Tales From Lovecraft Middle School #3: Teacher's Pest by Charles Gilman

Teacher's Pest (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3)My name is Robert, and I'm worried about my best friend Glenn. He was bitten on the neck by a funky-looking bug, and he started feeling strange. Now, he says he doesn't want to see me anymore, and I can really use a friend. There's a head lice epidemic, and bugs are all over the school building. The janitors are on strike, and it seems like the exterminators are making the problem worse. Pip and Squeak, my two-headed rat, are still with me along with Karina, a ghostly girl confined to the school grounds. No one knows the student council president is actually a giant insect monster in disguise, and I'll bet he's helping Crawford Tillinghast, the demented physicist. He wants to overthrow the human race with his monsters and creatures, but I'll do everything I can to stop him.

I hadn't read the previous two books in the series, but I didn't feel like it affected my understanding. The book reminded me a little bit of My Teacher is an Alien. Robert didn't know which adults could be trusted and which ones were being controlled by Tillinghast. This created an ongoing tension, as did the loss of Glenn. The main conflict was stopping the insect invasion, but then a rescue mission broke out. Robert was determined to save someone, not Glenn, but it was clear the bugs would be exterminated in the process. The whole plot moved along very quickly, as it took only 103 pages to develop and resolve. The quick pace kept things hopping, but it resulted in shallow characters too. The story followed Robert, so his thoughts and feelings were pretty clear. However, all the other characters made appearances as needed without any depth to their descriptions. Overall, the book told a short, amusing story of bugs trying to overthrow humans, but it will probably appeal to a select audience. If the description above interests you, give it a shot. I plan to read the second book in the series to see if it's any different. 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Puddlejumpers by Mark Jean and Christopher C. Carlson

PuddlejumpersMy name is Ernie Banks, although I don't remember my life before the orphanage. I have dreams of twelve-inch creatures and running from giant, hairy monsters, but that's just weird. I have a strange thirst for milk, and I feel a connection to water. Again, weird. I must admit I've been an ornery orphan, and no parents will adopt me. The director hates me and has threatened to send me to juvie. My last chance to avoid jail is spending three weeks on a farm. I'm not sure what to expect, but it will be nice to leave the orphanage for awhile. However, I've discovered an unsolved mystery concerning the farmer's son that no one wants to talk about, and the farmer may lose his farm to some bullies. I hate bullies, and I'm going to do something about it!

This book reminded me of a former student's story about creatures living in fingerprints, as the Puddlejumpers used puddles as gateways to reach their home. That's pretty imaginative. For me, the book broke into three parts. The first was about the young son until the age of three, the second was life at the orphanage, and the third was a return to the farm. All three parts were cohesive and told a compelling story. The most interesting aspects of everything were the Puddlejumpers' dilemma concerning water and their conflict with the Troggs. The Troggs hated water, and the Puddlejumpers needed to groom a new Rainmaker to save their world. The contrast in the two battling groups was distinct as one side was only about a foot tall, while the other stood about eight feet. Didn't seem like a fair fight, except the smaller characters could use "squirt guns" for defense. The farmer and his town were kind of caught in the middle but had no idea of what was going on. Ernie was the main character and should evoke empathy in readers. He was preordained to become a hero only to find himself needing to persevere through a troubled childhood. All the while, Ernie had no memory of his past and no inkling about the significance of his future. In all, this book shared a creative adventure, and I think you might enjoy it. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Little Apocalypse by Katherine Sparrow

Little ApocalypseMy name is Celia, and an earthquake has left me stranded in my apartment building. I met a boy named Dimitri up on my roof, sitting in a circle with some other kids. I'm not sure why his touch left a black mark on my cheek. Later, I met two Hunters named Ruby and Amber who told me about Littles and Bigs, and they said I'm at the center of a prophecy to stop these monsters. Littles are controlled by the Bigs that created them, and Bigs are the most evil and dangerous creatures. Littles have an unending obsession to touch children and change them into monsters. Now, I'm hearing about someone named Krawl, and her name makes Dimitri become enraged. She's searching for Dimitri, and Dimitri wants to find her. I don't want to be around when they meet, but I think I'm going to end up in the middle of it. 

The earthquake abruptly changed the story, but uncovering the truth of the conflict took too long. The plot moved a little slowly for me, as some of the events were overly described. Actually, I understood the characters and what was going on well before the author allowed Celia to understand what was happening. With that being said, I really enjoyed the final product. Celia only wanted to find friends, and she felt the characters were using her because of the prophecy. She became hurt and angry until she realized which ones actually cared about her. The search for companionship was a main conflict, along with the looming battle between Dimitri and Krawl. The hunters' mission was to capture Littles and kill or control the Bigs. They were under orders from the Council of Elders, although the elders were never directly seen or heard. I didn't think they were needed at all. The origin of the monsters was revealed and was the key to resolving the problem. I didn't enjoy the story's resolution and felt it could have ended happier ever after. Overall, it was an interesting tale that will appeal to readers with patience. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

TURBO Racers #1: Trailblazer by Austin Aslan

TURBO Racers: TrailblazerMy name is Mace, and I have a chance to become an actual Turbo Racer. Apparently, somebody noticed I have the highest video game score in the world and invited me to compete to become a real racer. I've met the other three kids, and they're pretty cool. Except for Henryk. That guy's a jerk and cannot be trusted. However, I feel forced to do some dishonest things myself. I already have one strike in this competition, so I can't finish last in another trial. Tempest is actually teaching us different ways to cheat, although she says it's just bending the rules to our advantage. I always believed it's possible to compete as friends, but Tempest doesn't think that way. She thinks we must win at any cost. Becoming a Turbo Racer will change my life, but am I willing to pay the price?

While the central problem was the competition to drive the Turbo Racer, the actual conflict was a huge clash in ethics and Tempest's secret motives. Also, the kids were underage, so their identities needed to stay "cryptic". Tempest believed the kids should do anything to win, even if it endangered the lives of other racers. Mace was very disturbed with that mindset, although he felt pressured to surrender his own morals. Two losses in the trials and he would be sent home. Consequently, it was hard for any of the characters to form close bonds, and the first half of the book became a story of individuals. Some important changes occurred in the plot, and the second half became more of a team effort. The trimorpher was at the center of everything. These racers could travel on land, water, and air at incredible speeds. Races were held all over the world, and the drivers became celebrities. This book may not appeal to everyone, since it involves a lot of racing. The author describes mechanical details of the racers and driving strategies. I liked it more than I expected, and I'll probably check out the sequel, although it won't be released until 2020.

Endling #1: The Last by Katherine Applegate

The Last (Endling #1)My name is Byx, and I may be the last surviving dairn after my family was massacred by the Murdano's soldiers. I'm now accompanied on my journey by a wobbyk named Tobble. I rescued him from poachers, and he insists he must save my life three times to make up for it due to the Wobbyk Code. As the endling of my species, I don't have a home anymore. Khara, a human, thinks a scholar she knows can help, but humans are the most untrustworthy of the six governing species. A new friend told me to never underestimate humans when it comes to duplicity and slaughter. Luckily, dairns can sense all lies, so I'm going to trust Khara. However, I never could have imagined the terrifying truths I've learned since arriving in Cora di Schola. I'm going to need my unlikely group of friends to stay alive, but there's more at stake here than my life.

The author makes the dairns similar to dogs, but they can stand upright, speak to humans, and have opposable thumbs. They only speak the truth and can sense lies from any other creature. The possibility that Byx is the last dairn in existence bumps up the drama level. Extinction is pretty dramatic. Humans are portrayed as the most evil characters due to their dishonesty and violent nature. Ironically, the author adds a human to Byx's band of friends. The group is an unusual mix, since the wobbyks are often mentioned as food for other species (Byx has eaten one before) and another "friend" is the subject of nightmares. Tobble often says you don't want to make little wobbyks angry, so you can look forward to that happening. All of this adds a bit of humor and levity to the overall adventure. The book's theme boils down to a good versus evil story, with conservation of a species the central conflict. The elimination of dairns is only the beginning, and the human race's desire for power is at the root of it. The hints of truth in the book's portrayal of humans is a bit disturbing, but sometimes the truth hurts. I enjoyed this book a lot, but now I'm on the waiting list for when my library receives the sequel. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Elementals #2: Scorch Dragons by Amie Kaufman

Scorch Dragons (Elementals, #2)My name is Lisabet, and the good news is the dragons have decided not to kill us. We've even become students in their special school for gifted students. Returning to the wolves wasn't an option, since they think we're traitors. My wolf classmates came to rescue Anders and me, but they stole the Snowstone, which can be used to kill the dragons. Anders and I just want to keep the dragons and wolves from going to war again, but my mom, the wolf leader, seems set on starting one. We have a risky idea, but we'll need to get a few dragon classmates to help. As a young wolf, I never would have imagined the possibility of wolves and dragons working together. I also could never have predicted what I learned about Anders and his twin sister. Their true identities may be the key to ending the dragon-wolf conflict. 

The interesting aspect of this book was the notion that truth depended on the people spinning it. The young wolves and townspeople believed dragons kidnapped young children for sacrifice and destroyed homes with their fire. The dragons are taught the wolves unfairly captured some dragons and attacked them without reason. The most interesting twist to the plot occurred when the family tree of Anders and Rayna was revealed. It wasn't a total surprise, but the effect on Rayna's powers didn't appear until the book's climax. Again, not unexpected. While the main characters in this book were dragons, they remained in human form most or the time. This made it easier to connect with the characters and made their actions more believable. The book included many more settings than the first one, as the characters needed to accumulate four parts to the Sun Scepter. Anders' and Lisabet's actions have made them refugees since Ice Wolves. The wolves didn't want them since they helped the dragons, and most dragon leaders didn't like them since they were wolves. This situation added to the drama. Overall, I'm enjoying the series and am anxiously awaiting the release of the third book. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Elementals #1: Ice Wolves by Amie Kaufman

Ice Wolves (Elementals, #1)My name is Anders, and I must find some way to save my sister Rayna. We had no idea she'd transform into a scorch dragon during the Trial, and now her life is in danger. The ice wolves have always protected our city from the dragons, and then I watched other scorch dragons chase Rayna across the sky. More surprising, I grabbed the Staff of Hadda myself and transformed into an ice wolf! It's impossible for a dragon and a wolf to transform from the same family. Or is it? The Wolf Guard must have artifacts that can locate the scorch dragons, but I've discovered things are not adding up at the academy. My friend Lisabet has been helping me, and she doesn't understand why the dragons and wolves hate each other and why many of the artifacts are breaking. I know it's treasonous, but I need to escape the academy and find Rayna.

The concept of siblings belonging to opposing forces isn't new, but the ice wolves are unique. Somehow, they're able to use water from the environment to create ice spears for battle. The story focuses on Anders, as he adjusts to the academy while plotting to help his sister. He's learning about his abilities as an ice wolf and finds his development well behind the other students. Most of the wolves say it's not possible for his sister to be a scorch dragon, but a few others talk of unusual powers. Bet you can't guess which of these is revealed later. Lisabet is the first student Anders meets and grows to become his best friend. However, she knows Anders isn't fully truthful with her, and she's keeping a huge secret herself. As a result, the two characters become loyal friends while leaving the door open for unexpected surprises. Overall, I enjoyed this book and have already started reading the sequel, Scorch Dragons. You'll like the book too if you enjoy adventure, humans morphing into animals, and armies on the brink of war. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Ghosts of Stone Hollow by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

The Ghosts of Stone HollowMy name is Amy, and I'm slowly learning why people around here are so frightened of Stone Hollow. Jason, the new boy in school, says he's been up there several times, but I'm afraid to be seen with him. He's really strange, and my classmates would tease and bully me if I'm seen near him. I've learned from my parents that a family died in Spring Hollow, and bootleggers died on the property years later. My aunt thinks people who believe in ghosts are heathens and small-minded, and my mom thinks bad things will happen to me in the woods. Not ghost things; she's sure I'll die of an animal attack or a disease. My dad may be confined to a wheelchair, but he remembers what it's like to be a kid. However, I don't know if he'll understand that I've decided to sneak up to Stone Hollow with Jason.

This book was about ghosts, but it broached many other topics too. The setting was in a rural, wooded area and took place in 1939, late in the Depression Era. The aunt and mother were god-fearing women, and people with different beliefs were heathens. This included an author and Amy's father, a Catholic. Jason pointed out to Amy that she'd been taught so many things to fear, that in effect, she'd been taught what to believe. A lesson might be to remain open to new ideas but think for yourself. Also, you can tell from my summary that bullying and peer pressure were central factors. Amy went to extreme lengths to avoid being associated with Jason, a stranger to the class with an unusual background and beliefs. She displayed a natural curiosity that the town culture discouraged. Again, learn to think for yourself. This was a safe ghost story. There wasn't any intense drama or suspense that might disturb younger readers. There were spirits, but there weren't any spectral ghosts wandering around. Overall, I liked the book, but some readers may be looking for more.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Wizard of Washington Square by Jane Yolen

The Wizard of Washington SquareMy name is David, and being new to this town, I only wanted someone to notice me. I never would have imagined Leilah would introduce me to a real wizard living in the park's water fountain. It took me a while to believe in magic, but this wizard is legit, if not frustrating. He admits he's a second-rate wizard, and he has a terrible memory. It's dangerous to have magical abilities when you can't remember the proper spells. Things weren't too bad until he changed my dog into a statue! I know it was a mistake, but now my pet has been stolen (statue-napped?). The wizard is happy to be needed now, but how much help can he be without knowing any useful magic?

This book shares a short story of magic and can be read in a day or two. The summary above pretty much tells it all. The most entertaining part of the book is the wizard. He's been banished to the United States as a B-level wizard, since few people there believe in magic. He's sincere and wants to help, but his forgetfulness leads to unexpected results. David is reluctant to trust the wizard. especially when his dog is transformed to stone. All of this creates the conflict and uncertainty to drive the plot. The theft and recovery of the dog brings everything home to a pleasant resolution. The book will probably be most enjoyed by upper elementary readers. It's simple and straightforward, with a silly conflict and a bit of humor. Overall, it was a fun story to read.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

The Strangers (Greystone Secrets, #1)My name is Emma, and I'm figuring out that our mom has some untold secrets. Finn, Chess, and I got our first hint of them when the news reported a kidnapping of two brothers and a sister. We thought it was really strange that the kids had the same names and birthdays as us. I love math, but even I couldn't figure out the odds of that coincidence. Our mom seemed a disturbed by the story and then she announced she needed to leave on a business trip. Well, to make a long story short, we now believe she may know more about those kids than she said. We've discovered a coded message she left for us in the Boring Room and a secret passage behind a hidden door. We have no idea what it all means, but we're sure going to find out. 

Overall, this book didn't work for me, although it may appeal to others. The big secret was interesting and creative, but the plot moved too slowly. The information regarding the kidnapped kids and the mother's past were too vague, and there wasn't much clarity until the book's halfway point. The story became more engaging once Emma and her brothers started to decode the mother's message. A curious twist was the mother didn't expect them to discover anything until years had passed. She never imagined her kids would be capable of decoding her message. I felt Emma and Finn's characters were more well-developed. Emma brought systematic, mathematical logic to the problem-solving, while Finn's thoughts were more trusting and simple. Chess was the oldest child, but he didn't seem to fit the leadership role, until later in the book. My feelings are obviously subjective, and I can see how someone else might totally disagree with me. I don't plan on reading the sequel, but I won't be surprised if you love the series. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (Magic Shop #1)My name is Jeremy, and I just experienced the most memorable day of my life. My art teacher embarrassed me in the middle of class, a girl wanted to kiss me, and I was chased by bullies. I ended up lost in our small town and found myself in front of a magic shop. The shopkeeper said a big, shiny marble chose me (huh?), and I bought it for a quarter. Turns out the "marble" was a dragon egg! Now, I have a hungry dragonlet who's still learning to live in our world. My gerbils and guinea pigs are freaking out! Luckily, I'm the only one who can see her, but I don't really know what I'm doing. I don't know how big she'll get or what she'll do when she starts hunting for herself. The patients in my dad's veterinary business may be in big trouble. 

This book is the first in the Magic Shop series, although it looks like each book will be independent from the others. I first heard of the shopkeeper, Mr. Elives, many years ago in The Monster's Ring. In Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, the plot is pretty much what you'd expect. A young boy finds himself in possession of a dragon egg, and has no idea how to care for it. No one else can know about it, but an annoying classmate happens to be the only other person who can see it. Jeremy is the sole main character and acts on his own. Another boy and girl are with him at times, but the boy doesn't know about the dragon and Jeremy doesn't want to be around the girl. This results in a book that's uncomplicated and fun, that can be read quickly. It will appeal more to middle and upper elementary students, as it doesn't have the maturity, seriousness, and/or drama found in middle school books. Overall, the book offers everything you might expect in a story about a boy raising a young dragon. If you're looking for an easy-read, this book's for you. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Magisterium #5: The Golden Tower by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Golden Tower (Magisterium, #5)My name is Aaron, and I now "live" inside Call's mind. Most of the students at the Magisterium think he's evil and dangerous, but he still has a very small group of friends, including Jasper. I don't understand that. I wish Call would share his feelings with Tamara; I'm getting tired of telling him what to say to her. He's back at school now, but he doesn't have much time for classes. We don't know how, but a Devoured of chaos has returned even though we all watched him die. He's bringing powerful monsters and dark magic to destroy Call and the Magisterium. I've found memories locked away in Call's mind, but I'm not sure it's safe to free them. These memories may open new powers to help Call defeat the Devoured ones, or they could overwhelm him and lead to his death. 

I've had to wait months between books as they're written, but you have the advantage of reading the completed set, starting with The Iron Trials. I still see similarities between this series and the Harry Potter books. We have a school for young mages, a main character with a past connection to evil, and a secret group worshipping the potential rise of a wicked magical power. The close bond between Call, Tamara, and Aaron highlights the book. The presence of Aaron's spirit in Call's mind offers moments of levity and allows Call to have an internal counterbalance. Call also struggles to admit his feelings for Tamara even though she clearly has feelings for him. The trio stands strong together despite the challenges. It feels like this book ends the series, but there are a couple things left unresolved. I hate that. The memories locked in Call's brain offer another level of conflict, since they have the potential to overwhelm his consciousness. However, I don't feel this issue was effectively settled and remains an unanswered question. Overall, I've enjoyed the series as it blends adventure, magic, and friendship. I recommend you give it a shot, starting from the beginning. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Goblins in the Castle #1 by Bruce Coville

Goblins in the CastleMy name is William, and I've made a grave mistake. Voices spoke to me from the North Tower, and I released the imprisoned spirits before I was able to stop myself. I unwittingly uncovered a castle secret that's unleashed angry goblins into the surrounding lands. Now what do I do? I guess I need to travel through the forest to find Granny Pinchbottom, but as a young child, I was terrified by stories of this old hag. I don't want her to eat my fingers! At least I have a strange creature named Igor with me. He lives in the castle dungeons and likes to bop things with his teddy bear. I'm not sure how much help he'll be, but I won't be alone when the witch wants to change me into a rat. I guess it's a small price to pay to stop a war with the goblins. 

This book is the first one in the series, although I actually read Goblins on the Prowl first. Not a problem. The story describes a fun adventure and includes a good deal of humor. You probably couldn't figure that out from the teddy-bear-toting Igor mentioned above. This character is often confused and forgetful, but he becomes a loyal friend to William. Herky joins the cast later on, and this miniature goblin is unpredictable. The goblin king has an unusual problem that is the key to resolving everything. The interaction between all the characters is the highlight of the book. The plot's conflict isn't overly complicated. William must complete a quest in order to stop goblins who are determined to attack the evil humans. There aren't any dramatic twists or revelations, so everything is easy to follow. It's a light-hearted tale of a young boy trying to atone for an unfortunate mistake. It should appeal to all young readers, although older readers may find it too light and innocent. Overall, it's not an award-winner, but I enjoyed it. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Children of Exile #1 by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Children of Exile (Children of Exile, #1)My name is Rosi, and my little brother Bobo and I have finally been reunited with our real parents. We've been raised in Fredtown since birth, and the Freds are the only parents we've ever known. They taught us respect, honesty, and empathy for others. However, the parents and everyone else in this rundown neighborhood seem to hate me, and I don't know why. My mother even slapped me in the face! Nobody will talk about what happened around here or explain why so many people suffer from missing body parts or other disabilities. This is not the life the Freds taught us. I'm fearing more and more for Bobo's safety. Something horrible happened here, and I've got to uncover the untold secrets. 

First off, you'll need to get over all adults in Fredtown being called Fred. It was weird, but it contributed to their generic, institutional characterizations. This dystopian novel read like a mystery, as Haddix presented many questions to create the conflict. Why were the children taken from their parents at birth, and why were they being returned now? Why did the adults hate Rosi? Why weren't there other children around that were older than her? The answers to these questions were surprising for Rosi but weren't revealed until the last fourth of the book. This resulted in most of the plot being  about a girl trying to solve a mystery with little freedom to actually investigate. My biggest problem with the book was the treatment of the kids. As a retired teacher, it really bothered me to read about the mistreatment of kids. It was more mental abuse than physical, and the adults didn't offer much affection to others, even other adults. The book's resolution reveals some truths that will change the focus of the rest of the series. Overall, I'm sure many readers will enjoy this novel, as Haddix has a loyal following. I probably won't read the sequel, but I'm not going to pass judgment and say you shouldn't give it a shot. 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell

UnhookedMy name is Gwen, and my mother believes monsters are after us. I now know she's right. Dark Ones grabbed me in the night, and I was rescued by a teen, pirate captain and his crew of young boys. He says he's protecting me from Pan, but there's something else he wants from me. Later, Pan snuck aboard the ship and showed me Hook's terrible secret. Pan swept me off to Neverland, but I don't fully trust him either. I'm finding it difficult to remember my mother and life before the Dark Ones captured me and being around Pan makes it worse. Pan thinks I belong here and maybe he's right. I feel a strange connection to Neverland, and I've learned something about my parents that may explain it. If I really want to get home, I need to do it soon or risk forgetting about that life forever.

I randomly chose this as an eBook and was pleasantly surprised. It compares and contrasts to the familiar fairy tale of Peter Pan. As with some other books I've recently read, the concept of good and bad depends on one's point of view. Who's the antagonist Hook, Pan, someone else, or all of the above? The author does a great job of presenting mixed clues that will keep you wondering, and I find this aspect most compelling. The memory factor adds a time element to the conflict, since Gwen will eventually forget her previous life entirely. She doesn't know if any other characters can be trusted, including her best friend Olivia, so her problem becomes thoroughly complicated. The story includes faeries and little boys, but they're not sweet little characters; they're dangerous. There's violence, death, and a little bit of teenage love, but it's not too graphic when compared to other books. The conclusion is much more intense than expected, but it wraps up all of the issues together. Overall, the book is entertaining and should appeal to lovers of fairy tale twists. However, it's not a cutesy story and doesn't offer much levity. It's pretty intense all the way through.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Goblins in the Castle: Goblins on the Prowl by Bruce Coville

Goblins on the ProwlMy name is Fauna, and William and I accidentally released the stone toad under the castle. To make matters worse, it carried William away in its jaws! I've also learned a powerful wizard named Helagon has returned and wants to get his hands on something called the Black Stone. A strange team of friends has joined me, and we must figure out where the toad has taken William. I don't know how it's connected to Helagon, but rescuing William is our first priority. We must avoid the dangers found across the lands and young goblin mischiefs wearing red headbands. Goblins are naturally mischievous, but these rogues have run away from their parents and are being recruited by a mystery person. I fear I may be forced to reveal a great secret to my friends, but maybe I'll finally learn about my past. 

I guess this book is the sequel to Goblins in the Castle, but the book cover didn't give any indication of that fact. I wish I'd read the first book, since it must have introduced how Fauna and William became friends of the goblins. The author created a strange collection of characters to assist Fauna. There was a large female warrior, an insecure, brave guard from the castle, a small goblin with great spunk, and a ghost thankful for doing something different. I wouldn't call this a laugh-out-loud book, but it definitely included humor. The warrior goblin was afflicted with a lisp and had an attitude. Igor wanted to impress her, but she constantly rebuked his efforts. An interesting twist resulted when Fauna tried on a necklace meant as a birthday gift for William and couldn't take it off. It allowed her to speak with animals and forced her to tell the truth. It also created a conflict for her, since she didn't want to admit the mistake to anyone else. The book shared a fun adventure with humor and a little mystery. It wasn't classic literature, but it was entertaining. Give it a shot if you're looking for something easy and enjoyable to read. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Forgotten City by Michael Ford

Forgotten CityMy name is Kobi, and Seattle's been overrun by the Waste. Scientists thought they were solving the world's problems, but they only managed to create genetically freaky plants and animals. My father's been gone for too long now, so I ventured into the streets in search of him. I wasn't successful, but I never expected to come upon other survivors! The three kids said they live with a bunch of doctors, but the most surprising thing was learning about their abilities. They said the spores have endowed each of them with unique abilities, and they asked about mine. Do I have one? Now, I'm torn by new information about CLAWS. Are they saviors and guardians like the kids have told me, or are they the terrifying enemy I've learned to fear?

As you've probably guessed, this is a dystopian novel where scientists were messing with genetics to solve the problem of future food production. The streets were full of mutant plants and animals, and Snatchers patrolled the area in search of infected lifeforms. The premise of Waste and dangerous plants and animals weren't overly imaginative, but the author offered a few elements to spice things up. The kids introduced a positive view of CLAWS that created an immediate conflict for Harry. Was the apparent antagonist actually bad? Also, Harry's dad kept secrets from him, but that's not totally unexpected in these kinds of books. Adults often hide the truth and their motivations. The lack of character depth was my biggest issue to fully enjoying the book. While I learned something about Harry, there were still questions about his past and family. Surface-level descriptions of the other characters made it difficult to make any connections with them, and once again, there were questions about their pasts. The end of the book became a more exciting adventure and revealed much about the characters' importance. I would have enjoyed the whole book more if it had been written like the last fourth. The final pages opened the door to a sequel, but I'm not sure I'll go on to read it. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Black and Blue Magic by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Black and Blue MagicMy name is Harry Houdini Marco, and when my dad was alive, he always hoped I'd become a great magician. I've been told that someday I'll have a special kind of magic. That's pretty funny considering how clumsy and nonathletic I am, but I wish there was something magical I could do to help my mom find a new husband. I was ready for another boring summer when Mr. Mazeeck took a room at our boarding house. He said he was a traveling salesman, and he never let his suitcase out of his sight. On the day he left, he shared the truth about his past and surprised me with a gift. Many strange things happened that summer, and I wondered if they could somehow help with the Plan. 

This book shares a feel-good story about love, hope, and opportunities. Harry lacks confidence and doesn’t have any close friends. His main quest for the summer is to help his mom find love and a new husband. The boarding house setting in a small neighborhood allows the author to introduce some unique, eccentric characters. Mr. Mazeeck is the strangest and most important, but his appearance in the plot is short-lived. Harry needs to keep his gift a secret and spends much of his time exploring the San Francisco area. However, situations arise that challenge him to make tough decisions, and those choices have unexpectedly positive consequences. In the end, Harry’s mom shares a surprising truth that bodes well for the future. Overall, this book is entertaining despite its lack of suspense. Its message will make you feel better and leave you with a smile.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Where Dragonwoofs Sleep and the Fading Creeps by A.J. Massey

Where Dragonwoofs Sleep and the Fading CreepsMy name is Ben, and the first two things I remember after waking up in the Red Forest are being called a weed and learning the horror of the Fading; the lands are slowly disappearing from existence. I was later joined by Marcus and Avery, along with a translucent elf, and we've set off to stop the Fading. We must travel across the lands to retrieve the sphinx's head. Our efforts are complicated since the Sovereign is sending his armies after us to ensure the Fading continues, and the elves must remain hidden to avoid their genocide. I've just discovered something about Avery, Marcus, and I. In addition to being the only weeds here, we all have no memory of our lives before coming to Meridia. What does that mean?

What a strange adventure. The events described above occurred during Ben and Avery's dreams, although they had no recollections of them when they awoke. There didn't seem to be any clear connections between their conscious experiences and their dreams. Both characters experienced bullying, but I couldn't figure out what the Fading might symbolize in their lives. Labeling Ben, Avery, and Marcus as weeds differentiated them from elves, goblins, and other creatures in the dreamworld, but all three of them had no memories of their lives before arriving in Meridia. I would have been okay with the two "worlds" if there had been some clarity connecting them. It was finally explained 3/4 of the way through the book, but there was no reason why these three specific kids were chosen to come together. While the book told a suspenseful adventure, I was distracted by the unusual details added to the plot. Some characters spoke in ambiguous, literal manners, and there seemed to be confusing, unspoken rules for personal interactions and deals. Overall, I liked the plot and characters, but some "creative" elements muddled things.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Nightbooks by J.A. White

NightbooksMy name is Alex, and I've been imprisoned by a witch on the fourth floor of my apartment building. I've learned my notebook of nightmare stories is the only thing keeping me alive. The witch loves to hear evil tales, and she thinks I have dark thoughts like her. She says my stories also keep the apartment happy. What's that about? She's captured other kids before me, although I've only seen Yasmin. Yasmin is afraid to help, but I've found a hidden message from someone else who may have escaped. I need to figure out a way to freedom soon, because most of the stories in my notebooks have now been destroyed by little chompers. The witch is losing patience, and the apartment sometimes shakes like an earthquake. The secret behind the apartment may be the key to finding my way home.

This book was comparable to tales of Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. The main character's only chance for survival was to keep the antagonist hungry for more stories. However, unlike the Arabian Nights, the witch in this book wasn't going to have a miraculous change of heart. The author blended Alex's scary stories into the book's plot, and they were actually an important factor in resolving the problem. These stories were short and simple, but Alex used them as a tool. The book almost felt like a ghost story, without any ghosts, and that may have been due to the eerie apartment. It seemed to have a life of its own, and the witch was very concerned about keeping it happy. The secret behind the apartment provided some twists for the end and delayed the book's climax. The relationship between the witch and the apartment was a surprise, but I appreciated the irony of the story's climax. Overall, this book offered a creative contrast to other book's I've recently read, and it wasn't the first book in a series! Give it a shot if you like creepy books and writing creepy stories. 

Potion Masters #2: The Transparency Tonic by Frank L. Cole

The Transparency Tonic (Potion Masters, #2)My name is Adilene, and I really hope to become a Dram like my friend Drew. My new friend Cadence may be able to help, although she hasn't made potions herself. I really don't know that much about her and don't know where she came from. Drew's mother has been fired from B.R.E.W., and he's been banned from her basement lab. Drew has Blind Batched some dangerous potions but doesn't remember doing it, and his grandfather Mezzarix is missing from the Forbidden Zone. What's going on?! Actually, I don't know much at all, since Drew really upset me. I don't think he realizes how much becoming a Dram means to me. I haven't spoken to him in a week, and Cadence has been helping me instead. My gut tells me this is wrong, but she's convinced me to try Silt. It'll be fun to become invisible for awhile, but I'm really uncomfortable sneaking into Drew's lab. Something's not right.

I'm don't think you need to read The Eternity Elixir first to enjoy this one, but it won't hurt. This book had a lot more going on than the first one, as Cadence was the mystery character throughout. She appeared out of nowhere, was overly eager to help Adilene, and had a special interest in Gordy and his family. Her true identity and intentions were unknown until the plot neared its end. B.R.E.W. had a new leader with questionable methods, the Vessel was under attack, and a team of evil characters was forming around Mezzarix. Then Gordy had his own issues with B.R.E.W., as its new leader feared he had unusual and dangerous abilities. As a result of all these things, this book was very engaging and entertaining. It had mystery, adventure, and action, as the plot branched out into new conflicts. The potions were still the center of everything. Actually, the potions have reminded me of the magic found in The Unwanteds series. The potions and magic transform everyday objects into tools or weapons. Gordy's ability to sense ingredients was already uncommon, but his ability to create potions without recipes was extremely rare and unpredictable. Overall, I recommend you give this series a shot, although the next book hasn't been released yet. Bummer. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Wereworld #6: War of the Werelords by Curtis Jobling

War of the Werelords (Wereworld, #6)My name is Opal, and I caused quite an uproar when I reappeared in Bast. I revealed my father's secret to the Council, and the lions, panthers, and tigers have now broken their alliance. Allies have become enemies, and I've now pledged my support to the Wolflord Drew. We've returned to Lyssia where Drew is determined to save his friends. I've no doubt my brother Onyx will have his Bastians try to kill me, and King Lucas's soldiers have surrounded major cities. However, there are rumors that Lucas has conjured a force of Wyld Wolves, and they've committed appalling atrocities against men, women, and children. Victims suffering bites but remaining alive are cursed to become Wyer Wolves themselves. Drew has many loyal followers across Lyssia, but I don't know if they'll be able to survive this war. 

This book concluded the series, and you'll need to start it from the beginning. As mentioned above, the battles included heinous violence, as the Wyld Wolves were especially feral and vicious. Be forewarned. War of the Werelords still annoyed me with multiple viewpoints and settings, but the first half was more confusing than previous books due to characters switching sides. There were so many different characters and creatures that it was hard to remember which ones were good and bad. Also, Trent and Hector had additional issues that made their characters unpredictable. When coming back to the book after a day or two, it was sometimes challenging to recall what had already happened. The end of the book was better, as characters came back together to fight the final battles. With all that being said, I'd still invested hours of reading the series, so I wanted to see how Drew finally reunited Lyssia. I was also curious to discover the fate of several characters, and it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns. There was some sadness, and the resolution included surprises. Overall, I enjoyed the plot and its twists, and characters morphing into animals didn't bother me as much as expected. The series won't appeal to everyone, but I liked it. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Blackwell Pages #3: Thor's Serpents by K.L. Armstrong & M.A. Marr

Thor's Serpents (The Blackwell Pages #3)My name is Laurie, and I can't believe what Matt told me about Fen; there's no way he's a traitor! Even if he's really the wolves' new alpha, there's got to be more to the story. Matt's duel to save the world is fast-approaching, and ferocious monsters are still popping up to stop him. Matt says he needs some warm-up fighting before facing the serpent, but this is getting ridiculous. We still don't know the location of the final battle, but one of the Thorsons has the information. It will be hard for Matt to return to Blackwell, since his father doesn't have confidence in him and his grandfather expects him to fail at Ragnorak. I've sworn to help Matt in this quest, and it's my destiny to be by his side. I only hope that I'm not forced to fight my cousin; there's no way I'll ever do that. 

This book concluded the trilogy, and you should read all three of them to get the full story. The culmination of events led to the inevitable climax of Matt squaring off against the Midgard Serpent. The author saved a couple of twists for this moment, so you can still be surprised. Matt's character faced criticism from his friends for being too nice and honorable when facing opponents. They kept telling him that his merciful nature would eventually come back to hurt him. However, his positive traits were key assets in saving the world. The series was full of adventure and action, but the dynamics of the heroic group were the most entertaining part. Fen and Laurie's close relationship added another factor to the conflict, especially when Fen was thrust into role of leading the monsters into Ragnorak. In the end, I was happy with the resolution of all the issues, as all the "good" characters lived happily ever after. Overall, lovers of adventure and Norse mythology should enjoy the series, and I recommend you give it a shot. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Wereworld #5: Storm of Sharks by Curtis Jobling

Storm of Sharks (Wereworld, #5)My name is Hector, and I've heard rumors that my friend Drew is still alive. It seems he's ventured out to sea where the pirates and Baron Bosa are wreaking havoc upon the Bastian navy. Too bad I was forced to kill the Wereshark Vega, but I couldn't trust Drew's buddy. I left the Council when Drew first disappeared, and I've done many things I'm not proud of. He may be destined to become the new king, but he'll need to accept me as I am, or become my enemy. It's taking more effort to stifle my brother's spirit, and I sometimes fear I'll lose control to my necromancy. I don't trust Onyx, the Werepanther, or King Lucas, the Werelion, and I sense there's trouble brewing between them. I'm sure they'll try to invade my Icegarden, and I'm expecting treachery from my "allies" the Crows. However, they should all fear my ability to summon an army of dead.

This book has a couple of elements I don't enjoy, but the story is compelling enough to keep me coming back to finish the series. This book finally evokes hope in the efforts to place Drew on the Lyssian throne. It still has more violence and killing than I usually tolerate, it's told from many points of view, and there are a variety of settings and many characters. Characters are starting to break alliances, and Hector's character is becoming especially complex. I understand why the author has done these things, but it's still a bit much. However, I've followed Drew's story since the beginning, and I'm curious to see how everything turns out in the series' conclusion, War of the Werelords. Drew's endearing quality is a compassion for his friends and his followers. He finds it very difficult to ignore injustice, even when it jeopardizes his missions. He's a formidable warrior when he takes on his wolf form, but he's not indestructible. This keeps him from becoming a literary superhero and allows his character to be more "human". He has flaws and weaknesses just like anyone else. While many characters, not all, can transform into animals, they usually remain in human form when not fighting. These creatures range from bears, to cranes, to a squid, to a crab. Overall, you should enjoy the plot if you can tolerate war and the abominations that come with it. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Potion Masters #1: The Eternity Elixir by Frank L. Cole

The Eternity Elixir (Potion Masters, #1)My name is Gordy, and with my mother's help, I hope to become an Elixirist. She works for B.R.E.W., although I'm not exactly sure what she does. She lets me mix some potions in our basement, but I hope she doesn't find the secret ones I've created. She mysteriously left home again, and then my aunt sent a package to our house. I probably shouldn't have opened it, but I did. There were a couple of glass vials in it, and I now know one of them is an Eternity Elixir. I don't know what it does, but a woman named Esmeralda tried to force her way into our house. Luckily, my mom's wards guard against intruders, but something tells me Esmeralda is a resourceful person. What's so special about this potion, and why do I think it's terribly dangerous?

This book offered a new twist on a budding "superhero". Gordy didn't have unbelievable powers; his strength focused on special abilities to sense and blend ingredients. It wasn't a far stretch to predict his quirky concoctions would become important weapons. His grandfather became an interesting subplot. The man was powerful and cruel, and Gordy had no idea his mom and aunt had a huge conflict with their father. I assume this will create a problem in the sequel. The highlight of the book was the author's imagination with the potions. Some of them required common items, while more exotic ingredients were also used. Some of the potions were comparable to unusual inventions found in other books. Potions were used to capture enemies, cause explosions, control minds, and put characters to sleep. Max was Gordy's best friend and provided comic relief. He had no special talents other than an insatiable curiosity. He was determined to get a glimpse of the rotting mummy kept in Gordy's basement, even though Gordy warned him of its noxiousness. He offered brash and humorous comments despite the dangers he might have been facing. Overall, this was a fun book, and I suspect its sequel, The Transparency Tonic, will be added to my to-read list. 

The Blackwell Pages #2: Odin's Ravens by K.L. Armstrong & M.A. Marr

Odin's Ravens (The Blackwell Pages, #2)My name is Fen, and I continue to defy my fate as a descendant of Loki. Matt, Laurie, and I traveled to Hel in order to rescue Baldwin from his premature death. I never would've thought I could work alongside a descendant of Thor, but Matt Thorson is the one who must lead us in stopping Ragnorak, the end of the world. We must locate Mjolnir, so Matt can use the hammer to battle and slay the Midgard Serpent. We've battled wolves, undead, and giants, and Astrid has reappeared. We'll never forgive her for killing Baldwin. I know Laurie thinks I'm overprotective, but I swore to defend her, even before I fully understood her true importance in the quest. It seems like someone is controlling the creatures we've faced, but I'm not sure Matt is ready to discover their identity. 

You should read Loki's Wolves first to fully understand how things started, as this book picks up where the first one left off. The series has been told through the eyes of the three main characters, but the changes in viewpoint have been seamless. The main characters are usually together, so the setting doesn’t change as the viewpoints vary. The group dynamics are worth watching, as Matt, Laurie, and Fen learn to work together. Fen is especially quick-tempered, so his character is a wild card. He's usually supportive of the group's efforts, but his personality makes him hard to get along with. His motivations are clouded by his vow to protect his cousin. The plot includes a good amount of action, as the characters travel through Hel and close in on Thor's hammer. Matt steps up to fully embrace his heritage. He's an impressive warrior, but he may be too nice to succeed. He's averse to "unnecessarily" killing even though foes left alive can return to create more havoc. This book dabbles more in godly powers than the first one, and it's clearly building to a climax with the Midgard Serpent to conclude the trilogy. I'm enjoying the story so far and have already started reading Thor's Serpents. Give the series a shot if you're into mythology, especially Norse Vikings.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Lock and Key #1: The Initiation by Ridley Pearson

The initiation
My name is Moria, and I've written this book about my troubled brother, James Moriarty. Our father has sent us to Baskerville Academy where we're fourth-generation legacies, descendants of the school's founder. Our family Bible is critically important to the school, and it's been stolen from its display. James has received clues regarding it, but he's become frustrated by the cryptic messages. However, his roommate Sherlock Holmes seems to have all the answers and has enlisted my help. Lock's superior air annoys my brother, but he thinks it's imperative that James pass this test. Before coming here, my father seemed worried and gave me directions in case he disappeared. Now, I'm wondering if James is in the same danger. I know it has something to do with the Moriarty family Bible, but who's behind it all?

I must admit I started this book awhile back and didn't finish it, but the synopsis still interested me. It will probably most appeal to mature middle grade readers. The book doesn't really fit the supernatural theme of my blog, but it has that kind of feeling. The Bible has a mystical power that is the center of generational rituals. Sherlock's logical and analytical manner of speaking may turn off many readers, just as it irked the characters in the book. The story is told as a young version of a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel with Moria's voice being the narrator. The setting is in modern-day America, whereas the original stories took place in old England. Young readers will probably miss the many references to the classic series. Make no mistake, this book will make you think; it's a mystery. Sherlock is unable to ignore clues, so he's constantly analyzing situations and evidence. You'll do the same and find yourself challenged to figure out what's going on before he reveals the truth. As you can tell, this book will not be enjoyed by all, but most lovers of mysteries will like it. I'm not sure if I'll read the sequel, but the secrets revealed during the resolution have intrigued me. We'll see.