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. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Tin by Kenny Padraig

TinMy name is Jack, and my friend Christopher has been taken away by the Agency. He always looked out for mechanicals like me and the others, even though our "engineer" offered broken promises of repairs. We liked to hear Christopher's stories about his mom and dad, but he couldn't remember anything that happened before the fire. Then the Agency showed up. There was a rip in Christopher's arm, and we discovered the machine inside him. Until that moment, Christopher didn't know he was a mechanical too! However, his model was banned and shouldn't exist. Where did he come from and who made him? Why does the Agency want him? Gripper, Round Rob, Estelle, and I must find some way to rescue Christopher, but we're going to need help.

This book is unique, as most of the main characters are robots called mechanicals. They behave almost like humans, although it's illegal for an engineer to endow them with souls. Those kinds of mechanicals have been banned, and that creates the crux of the plot's conflict. Mechanicals like Jack have no malice, which in some ways makes them better than Proper ones. This quality creates moral questions, as they abhor injuring others. One of the characters is distressed late in the book when he accidentally steps on a snail. However, a human inventor takes advantage of the mechanicals' inability to cause harm, which makes them sympathetic and endearing characters. Overall, I enjoyed the book and recommend you give it a shot. It will appeal to lovers of robots and machines, or those who enjoy dystopian worlds. 

Jerry the Squirrel: Volume One by Shawn P. B. Robinson

Jerry the Squirrel: Volume OneMy name is Jerry, and I like to invent things. I'm actually pretty good at it, although my inventions don't always work exactly as I planned. I had a great idea once and created warm slippers that would listen to my commands and take me wherever I wanted. Unfortunately, the slippers got minds of their own and caused quite a disturbance with all the other squirrels. Another time, I invented a machine to pick nuts out of the trees. All of the other squirrels were very excited and thankful that I'd be saving them from their annual Fall work. However, the machine went a little haywire and had all of the squirrels running for their lives. All I want is for the other squirrels to like me, and I'm sure one of my creations will help. Someday.

I read this as an eBook from Net Galley. It's a collection of stories based on bedtime tales the author told to his children, and that's what you should expect. You won't find a novel with a compelling conflict that's full of action. Jerry usually wants to make life easier for himself and the other squirrels, but his inventions always go awry. In a couple of the stories, the inventions seem to develop minds of their own and revolt. The result of all the events is a humorous book that develops wacky images of a community of squirrels. Simple problems and inventive solutions result in squirrelly chaos. Uncontrollable slippers and an out-of-control nut collector are only two of Jerry's inventions. Overall, this book should appeal to mid-elementary readers, and they should not be disappointed. Readers enjoying this book will be able move on to Jerry the Squirrel: Volume Two or Jerry the Squirrel: The Novel. Give them a shot.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Wormling #2: The Sword of the Wormling by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry

The Sword of the Wormling (The Wormling, #2)I'm called the Watcher, and I'm supposed to help the Wormling find the king's son. I don't understand why the Wormling is a weak kid instead of the huge, brave warrior I hoped for. His presence cost Bardig his life, but I've sworn to accompany the boy and warn him of danger. He must go through an initiation first, but there's no one to perform the ceremony. Unless... I wonder if Mordecai is still alive. The traitor hasn't been seen since fleeing the kingdom ten years ago, but he would know the words to the initiation. I will take the Wormling through the mountains and Badlands hoping we'll find Mordecai on a remote island. However, the Dragon wants the Book of the King back, and he wants the Wormling dead. I'll vigilantly watch for attacking Invisibles and pray the boy will learn to defend himself.

This book is the second in the series, and I'm enjoying them very much. Owen is the Wormling, and he passed through a portal in The Book of the King. Finding the king's son is supposed to unite the worlds, and this book hinted at Owen's need to return to his own world. I assume that will occur in a sequel. I like that Owen remains a simple, thoughtful boy even as he grows as the Wormling. Reading the Book of the King has given him wisdom, and it seems to have become a part of him, if that makes sense. Owen's transformation has been slow, and I'm surprised the pace hasn't bugged me. The author has managed to infuse other issues to keep me interested. Owen's mom may still be alive, the king's son is dead or hidden somewhere, Owen might be captured or killed himself, and the Dragon seems to have made some kind of agreement with the king. A big question I have is the identity of the voice that Owen hears during desperate moments and why this Invisible is helping him. I recommend you give this series a shot, as I've already checked out The Wormling #3, The Changeling. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Snared #2: Lair of the Beast by Adam Jay Epstein

Snared: Lair of the Beast (Wily Snare, #2)My name is Wily Snare, and I don't think I'll ever be able to perform the role of king. As the prince, everyone looks to me to make decisions, but there's too much pressure knowing that my choices will impact others. What if I make a mistake? There's also the fact my father was a wicked man, and many people fear I'll become just like him. To top things off, it seems Stalag is amassing an army of stone golems that will be indestructible, and he'll use them to annihilate the entire kingdom. Our only hope is to find the three-headed lair beast and somehow get it to battle the golems with us. Of course, it will probably devour us as we approach, and no one knows how to control it. Except... there is one person who might be able to help, but will she? Abandonment and hurt feelings may leave us on our own. 

You can probably still enjoy this book without reading the first book in the series, Escape to the Above. While the book is full of fantastic, magical creatures, I enjoyed Wily most of all. He didn't have any special powers and was able to escape dangerous situations with his mind. He was also vulnerable due to his insecurities about being a prince. His mother told him it was okay to make mistakes and that he'd never become like his father. However, Wily's self-doubt was a major factor throughout most of the plot. His best friend was Roveeka, his adopted hobgoblet sister, and she was adept at hurling her two knives named Mum and Pops. He was also accompanied by a brave knight and his severed arm. The arm was called Righteous, and it was ready to fight all threats "single-handedly". An elf named Odette and a moss golem named Moshul rounded out the team and created an interesting dynamic. There was great caring between the group members that was key in facing impending perils. Overall, this is an entertaining series, and I recommend you give it a shot. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Nightmare Academy #1 by Dean Lorey

Nightmare Academy (Nightmare Academy #1)My name is Charlie, and my parents don't believe my nightmares are responsible for the disasters. They think it's me and that I'm a danger to others. They won't even let me attend the regular school. I can't explain the preschool destruction, the Naptime Catastrophe, or the Sleepover Apocalypse. I don't know why the giant spider didn't attack me too. Everything changed when I woke up one night, and a creature from my nightmare stood right in my bedroom! It probably would have killed me if Rex, Tabitha, and Pinch hadn't shown up. Rex said I released a Class 5 monster, and Tabitha said my Gift is the strongest she's ever seen. Now, I'm on my way to the Nightmare Academy where I'll learn to master my abilities, if I don't unleash one of the Named and kill everyone first. 

As in many books, Charlie's character has powers that are rarely seen. He may be the savior the High Council has been waiting for, or he may be a catalyst for its destruction. The premise of the book is that kids' creative nightmares sometimes release monsters into the world, and the Nightmare Academy graduates are trained to send them back to the Netherworld. The Named monsters are the worst, and one was accidentally freed many years ago. It hasn't been heard from in awhile, so readers can predict that it will pop up sometime in the book. Charlie almost makes the same mistake and complicates the situation. Despite the academy being in the title of the book, it isn't a major part of the plot. Charlie attends two classes before things go out of control. I'm hoping he'll get more formal training in the sequel, Monster Madness, and get his abilities under control. On the other hand, the uncertainty of how he'll respond in tense situations adds to the suspense. I'm enjoying the book more than I expected, and I'll probably check out book two. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Wormling #1: The Book of the King by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry

The Book of the King (The Wormling, #1)My name is Owen Reeder, and I've learned some strange things around my father's used book shop. I've wondered why he doesn't like me to read fantasy stories, and he's never been a warm, loving man. However, I've overheard him talking to people in hooded cloaks, in a room hidden below the floorboards. I accidentally discovered the room and barely managed to escape a giant guardian creature. Then, an old man appeared in the store and wanted to give me a large book. My father was very upset about that, and I couldn't understand why. I still don't fully get it, but my life has been turned upside down. A book, a dragon, a portal, oh my!

I randomly came upon this series while looking for a new eBook. This initial story slowly related Owen's destiny to fulfill a prophecy, but he wasn't endowed with amazing powers or abilities. Once the book was opened, it became a source of magic, with Owen acting as its keeper. Owen was able to make some things happen, but he didn't really know what he was doing. I like this more "realistic" approach to a character learning about new abilities. It bugs me a bit when a character quickly masters them without a learning curve. Owen was briefly joined by an annoying younger girl, and I assumed she'd become a sidekick. Some clues were dropped along the way, even though she disappeared from the story later in the book. She added spunk to the events! The author portrayed Owen as some kind of savior, but I'm still trying to figure out how he fits in. Is he a king's son? Does he have undiscovered powers? I've already started the sequel, The Sword of the Wormling, so we'll see what happens.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Riders of the Realm #2: Through the Untamed Sky by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Through the Untamed Sky (Riders of the Realm, #2)My name is Rahkki, and I must help Sula free her captured pegasi herd from the giants. However, I must learn to ride her first, and my fear of heights complicates things. I've also learned there are rebels plotting to overthrow the queen, and I've been approached to become a rebel leader. I don't want to get involved, since the queen already wants to see me dead. I've survived an assassination attempt, and I've been put into other situations where I was likely to die. Many people think I have magical powers now, and I'm discovering it may be best not to correct them. Even the queen is fearful that I can control dragons. She's decided I'm going to lead the land armies against the giants and dragons even though I have no training. In her mind, if all works well, I'll be killed.

The summary above describes the gist of the plot, but there are many other issues. Rahkki learns that his mother may be alive which would be a big problem for the queen. However, if she's alive, why hasn't she returned? Sula injured Rahkki's brother in book one, and that has created problems. Rahkki is smitten with the queen's daughter, and she may be deceiving him. What is she up to? The entire adventure is told through the eyes of Rahkki, a "landwalker", and Sula, a pegasus. Sula is a main character and is known as Echofrost to the other pegasi. The author freely uses both names depending on the other characters involved. Echofrost's entire focus is on saving the herd, and she once swore she'd kill Rahkki someday. Rahkki's kind ways are slowly changing her, and she's surprised that they might actually become friends. She's always wanted to be free, but what does that actually mean? Overall, I'm enjoying the series, and you really need read Across the Dark Water first. Unfortunately, I'll need to wait a year for the next book in the series to be published.

Green Sky Trilogy #3: Until the Celebration by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Until the CelebrationMy name is Raamo, and the great Rejoyning has begun. A council has been formed to unite the Erdlings with Kindar, but things are not going smoothly. Fears and distrust have long festered between the two societies, and trying to merge them into one culture creates conflict. Many leaders were pleased when D'Ol Regle fled into the forest, but I was leery of his disappearance. Most of the people have renewed hope, yet I can't explain my reservations. I feel they've bestowed too much reverence upon my little sister Pomma and her Erdling friend Teera. They could become targets for the discontented rebels hiding in the forest. My visions of the future give me hope, but sacrifices will need to be made. Only time will tell if peace will prevail.

Remember the peace and serenity of book one? Well, that's gone now. The story highlights the difficulty of fostering peace when uniting different cultures. The author creates mystery and tension as the plot develops. It's clear D'Ol Regle will do something, especially with Raamo's uneasy feelings, and there have been Erdling rebels causing disturbances in books two and three. These antagonists weren't going to just disappear. Raamo is the main character, although he's not always present in the story. He was also reluctant to fully share his thoughts and feelings. These strategies by the author caused some disconnection from the book, as it's more difficult to empathize with characters who are more reserved and appear inconsistently. The author saved a couple of surprises for the plot's climax, so you'll be able to look forward to that. Overall, I liked the book, but it left me wanting something more.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Bears of the Ice #3: The Keepers of the Keys by Kathryn Lasky

The Keepers of the Keys (Bears of the Ice #3)My name is Froya, and I'm so thankful to have found Stellan, Jytte, and my brother Third. I never felt like part of a family until I met these polar bears, and I can't believe Third has forgiven me for my cruelty. We're determined to stop the Grand Patek and his followers. Their worship of The Clock is costing the lives of young cubs, and the violence has started to spread. We went to request help from the owls of Ga'Hoole, and they agreed, with a couple of conditions. We must venture across the dangerous lands and seek alliances with the diverse range of animals. Why would any leaders listen to the words of four young cubs, especially the mysterious, fearsome wolves of the Beyond? The quest seems impossible, but allowing innocent bears to die is not an option.

I was hoping this book would conclude the series, but no luck. It's been interesting and entertaining, but it's run its course with me. I liked how the first book was mostly "realistic", but the series has slowly diverged from that as the cubs meet other creatures. It's still a source of learning about the wildlife and nature. The cubs learn to use the sun and stars to navigate the lands, and they discover information about owls and wolves that will be useful. Third and Froya became companions along the way, and it's nice to see the author allowing them to make important contributions along the way. Third is able to see the future in his dreams, and he's provided sound advice to Stellan and Jytte. Froya memorizes the stars and helps with navigation. The team is joined by a tiny owlet named Rags, who didn't know how to fly, and even she performs critical deeds. The Grand Patek is the primary antagonist, but the author adds some other complications to the conflict. Secret motivations and alliances arise that will impede the bears' efforts. Overall, I'm enjoying the series and will probably end up reading the fourth book, when it's published.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Bears of the Ice #2: The Den of Forever Frost by Kathryn Lasky

The Den of Forever Frost (Bears of the Ice #2)My name is Jytte, and Stellan and I are determined to save the cubs from the Roguer bears. We must figure out a way to destroy their false idol, and our first step is to find a father we've never met. Our mother, now a Roguer prisoner, has told us many stories about him and how he once led the rebels. However, we've learned he was captured and tortured, and Stellan thinks he may be dead. My brother may be losing faith, but I'm sure our father is alive. He has to be! We've asked others about the Den of Forever Frost, but they all say it's a myth. It's the key to everything, so we can't stop searching for it. We're discovering lands and creatures we never imagined, and we've met unexpected allies. We must continue facing the dangers of the ice world, or the survival of all polar bears may be lost.

You should read The Quest of the Cubs first. The interesting aspect of Den of Forever Frost is how it's mostly based on the qualities of real polar creatures. You can actually learn about this habitat by reading the adventure, although it's not in-your-face information. The cubs face natural perils and must constantly be on the lookout for food, shelter, and other predators. They're often reminded that polar bears may be the largest predators, but other animals are capable of injuring and killing them. I'm not crazy about changes introduced later in the book. Weapons are included, which strays from the natural feel of the story. The cubs don't typically do things that real bears couldn't do, other than Stellan can pense the thoughts of others and Jytte can sense connections with the ice. Overall, the series has been entertaining, and this book has created a transition to a dramatic conclusion. I enjoyed the first book a little better, but I recommend you give the series a shot. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Green Sky Trilogy #2: And All Between by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

And All BetweenMy name is Teera, and I find myself above the Root for the first time. I've heard wonderful stories of the Kindar people living among the treetops, but I'm terrified being by myself. I'm living with Raamo's family now, but I can't let them know I'm an Erdling. The best thing is sharing a space with Pomma. We've learned to Image with each other, so Pomma has discovered most of my secrets. I trust she won't tell anyone else, but I'm still afraid she'll let something slip. I'm sure the Ol-zhann won't be happy if they know of my true identity, and I fear what they'll do to the other Erdlings. I'm happy Raamo is willing to help, but I'm not sure about his friends. I've just met another novice Ol-zhann named Genaa, and her angry emotions toward Erdlings frighten me.

You should read Below the Root first, as book two described how Teera came to find Raamo, the main character in book one. It covered many of the same events but from a different point of view. The intrigue was how Teera's presence could endanger everyone living below the Root, as her appearance could reveal the Ol-zhann's secrets. The conflict arose when the Ol-zhann exiled a segment of its citizens from the treetops many years ago. The crux of the issue concerned how much historical truth should be revealed to maintain a peaceful culture. Should the citizens be aware of their ancestors' past acts of aggression and violence, or should those kinds of thoughts and behaviors be taboo for discussion and knowledge? The early settlers of Green Sky battled with these questions until the believers of historical openness were banished below the Root. The controversy arose again with the appearance of Teera. It was evident the Ol-zhann wanted to keep the Kindar in blissful ignorance, but the leaders became willing to use the banned behaviors to preserve it. The story will make you think, which I like. Overall, I'm enjoying the series and recommend you give it a shot.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Five Realms #2: The Gift of Dark Hollow by Kieran Larwood

The Gift of Dark Hollow (The Five Realms #2)I'm a bard and have a story to share with you. I'll pick it up after our young heroes narrowly escaped the Gorm's camp. There seemed to be no way to stop them, so Podkin and his friends hid for over a month in Corm's abandoned warren. The rabbits had deserted it when they believed their home was cursed. Now Podkin explored the forgotten rooms and depths of the burrow and discovered a relic meant to be lost. It gave him a magical connection to shadows that would help him in the moonlight. Secrets were also discovered that impelled Podkin and his friends to breach another Gorm camp. Little did they know their survival would rest with the efforts of their smallest hero.

I recommend you read Podkin One-Ear first even though you can still enjoy this book without it. As in the first one, Pook the bard continued the story of Podkin, but this time he reluctantly took on an apprentice named Rue. Pook wanted to keep his identity secret, which brought about a sense of mystery beyond the Podkin story. Somebody wanted him dead for some reason. The Podkin story still went unfinished, as it's the thread holding the books together. Podkin continued to feel useless, as the other characters stepped up when needed. Podkin felt he had no special talents, but he's turned out to be the uniting factor among the group. It was an interesting contrast to his character in the first book. The Gorm continued to be an overwhelming juggernaut, terrifying creatures throughout the forest. Their connection to iron made them an almost indestructible army, but Podkin has managed to find a way, so far. Overall, this has been an entertaining series that can be enjoyed by most middle grade readers. I recommend you give it a shot. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Luck Uglies #3: Rise of the Ragged Clover by Paul Durham

Rise of the Ragged Clover (The Luck Uglies, #3)My name is Rye, and the Fork-Tongue Charmers and Bog Noblins are making the woods more and more dangerous. Once rarely seen, the Bog Noblins are becoming especially bold, as they ravage villages during the night. I finally found my father, leader of the Luck Uglies, but someone else is challenging him to become chieftan. This divide may explain the growing boldness of the Bog Noblins and may lead to the destruction of Drowning. To complicate matters, the town orphans are stuck in the middle. My father is not as strong as he once was, and he needs my help. I've gathered some friends and come up with a daring plan. It may require the sacrifice of someone dear to me, and I'm not sure I'm willing to pay that price.

This book concludes the trilogy, and I recommend you read the first two installments. I hadn't read them in awhile and felt like I was missing some details. I couldn't always visualize the descriptions of creatures or characters, although there were brief descriptions at the end of the book. The Bog Noblins were the source of a physical conflict, but the unrest within the Luck Uglies was the more significant problem. It affected Rye's family and the safety of everyone in Drowning. Rye's role in everything was curious, as she bravely fought to help her friends, family, villagers, and orphans. On the other hand, she obediently took a back seat when her father told her too. That may sound strange, but young heroes in other books often take matters into their hands no matter what anyone else says. Rye usually found herself in a position to help anyhow, but it wasn't from disobedience or rebellion. Overall, I enjoyed the series but wish I'd read it straight through. I'm not sure why I didn't. Give it a shot!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Five Realms #1: Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood

Podkin One-Ear (Longburrow)I am a bard of Thornwood, and I've a story to share about Podkin One-Ear. My story differs from others you've heard, because mine is true. As son of the chieftan, Podkin was destined to someday rule over the rabbit warren. However, he was a lazy sort and chose to skip his lessons and nap whenever he could. He came to regret these decisions once the Gorm appeared. The Gorm were evil rabbits with an eerie connection to metal. They attacked other warrens and killed the inhabitants or transformed them to join the Gorm army. Podkin's own warren was invaded, and he was forced to escape with his older sister Paz and baby brother Pook. Before leaving, he was given one of the Twelve Gifts, a dagger called Starclaw. While the weapon could cut through almost anything, it was a magical treasure hunted by Scramashank, the relentless Gorm leader.

I randomly chose this book from the library shelves and was pleasantly surprised. Its curious twist was how the bard narrated a story that he told to the bunny listeners, and his identity was a surprising reveal at the end. The rabbits weren't the timid creatures we're used to, as Podkin just lacked motivation and purpose. The plot became another tale of a reluctant hero overcoming overwhelming odds. The Gorm weren't just a ruthless army, as they were able to transform others into their ranks. The origin of the Gorm and the Balance are important factors that you'll learn along the way. Paz and Pook added interesting dynamics to the plot. Paz was frustrated that she couldn't become chieftain, and she seemed much more qualified for the position. This created a bit of jealousy within Podkin. Pook was a baby, but his babbling sometimes revealed important details the others had missed. Starclaw was an underwhelming magical weapon, as its uses were limited. While Podkin found ways to utilize it, it wasn't very effective in fighting an enemy clad in metal. Overall, I found the book entertaining and plan to check out the sequel, The Gift of Dark Hollow.

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 Trilogy #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.