Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Cross-Road Travelers #1: The Key to the Demon's Gate by Daniel M. Quilter

The Key to the Demon's Gate (The Cross-Road Travelers #1)My name is Henry, and somehow I touched a demon and was sent to its world along with my two friends, Alana and Karl. A prophecy says the demon will return in a year, and I'll be part of its destruction. The demon's touch gave me power over fire, and it's come in pretty handy. I was able to burn through a steel lock to free myself, and my guardian Ace. I'm not sure if it was smart to choose a pirate as my guardian, but I couldn't allow him to be killed. Now, I'm in a race to find the key to the Demon's Gate. I'm not totally sure who we're racing against, but I know they work for the wicked king. We need to recover a magical orb that I swapped for a small boat (hey, I didn't know what it could do!), and I need to free a young girl from her private school. I don't understand why the others keep asking about my dress size.

I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley. Despite the three main characters being around seventeen years old, the author's voice was not that mature. It's very readable for middle grade. Alana was Henry's secret crush, but she frequently got caught up in the thought of possibly having magical powers and a new cool name. The most interesting aspect of the book was how the characters' paths varied due to the first characters they met in the new world. Although they entered at the same time, they entered at different locations. Two of them ended up fighting for good, while the third was unknowingly influenced by evil. In addition, another dynamic was created when each teen chose a guardian for life even though they'd just met. Alana and her reluctant guardian shared amusing exchanges along the way. I was a little surprised when the book came to an end, but I guess it made sense. I wanted the characters to make more progress by acquiring at least one artifact before things wrapped up in this book. Oh well, it's my personal taste. I'm anxious to read the sequel.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Adventurers Wanted #5: The Axe of Sundering by M.L. Forman

The Axe of Sundering (Adventurers Wanted, #5)My name is Alex, and I've agreed to help Whalen destroy his nephew Jabez. Jabez is an evil wizard using dark magic, and we suspect he has connections to the Brotherhood. We can't use any of our magic during our journey or Jabez will sense our presence. Luckily, he can't sense my dragon magic. Whalen and I are pretending to be merchants as we travel across the land, and I've made some good friends. However, it upsets me that I must lie to them in order to keep my true identity secret. When we reach Jabez's castle, I must first locate the Axe of Sundering in order to break his connection to living spirits. If I don't, I won't be able to kill him, and evil will spread across the lands. A prophecy says a nameless dragon will appear someday and vanquish the evil. I don't understand what that means, so I must continue my quest until its conclusion.

The prologue described how Alex couldn't remember anything about himself, so I was ready for some serious surprises. I had mixed emotions about this book, since Alex wasn't on an official quest with other adventurers. I missed the closeness of the past adventurer groups and the sense of teamwork and camaraderie. Honor and loyalty were still important elements of Alex's character and were keys to his success. This book felt a little more violent than other books in the series, as Alex's end goal was to kill Jabez. Alex killed wicked men and creatures in the past, but it wasn't usually planned from the beginning. The author has managed to introduce creative weapons and tools to the stories, and white orbs and the Axe of Sundering were examples this time. New powers continued to find Alex, so his solutions to conflicts were often surprises. I expected to find another sequel waiting when I reached the end of the plot, but all issues were resolved in the last fourth of the book. Overall, I enjoyed the series, especially the first three books, and recommend you give it a shot. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Ollie Oxley and the Ghost: The Search for Lost Gold by Lisa Schmid

Ollie Oxley and the Ghost: The Search for Lost GoldMy name is Teddy, but that's all I remembered when I first appeared to Ollie. He moves a lot and is having a rough time since he's moved to Granite City with his mom and sister. I love helping him handle the school bully, although he's not as excited as he should be about challenging her for class president. His bigger problem is that he may need to move again, but I have the solution. His mom needs money to save the Bingham Theater, and my father buried his gold under a tree in our backyard. It would be helpful if I could remember where I lived, or even remember my last name. Ollie's trying to find clues about my identity and where I may have lived, but time is running out. The bully's mother is causing trouble again.

I received an advanced copy from NetGalley. The book blended the mystery and tension of the conflict with Teddy's mischievousness and humor. A big, creative part of the problem was the fact that Teddy remembered almost nothing about his past. Ollie became an amateur detective, and random pictures and stories sparked new clues from Teddy's memories. Teddy's "appearance" created an embarrassment for Ollie, as others saw him talking to himself. The bully is a common problem in middle-grade novels, and the one in this book didn't do anything unexpected. It felt like the author was creating some sympathy for the character, but my feelings about her were still uncertain in the end. Ollie was a good guy and was the highlight of the story. He teased his younger sister, as many siblings do, but he had great compassion for his family. His big motivation throughout the plot was to save his family from moving again. The election race for class president was a nice twist to the events and offered Teddy more opportunities for mischief. Overall, this book was a cute introduction to a new series, and upper elementary readers should enjoy it. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Nevermoor #2: Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, #2)My name is Hawthorne, and my best friend Morrigan is a Wundersmith. Most people fear her because the only other Wundersmith alive is the most evil man known. Wundersmiths control Wunder, the magical energy powering our world, so people fear Morrigan will use it against them. We are the newest members of the Wundrous Society, and our group of nine has a unique mixture of knacks. We've taken an oath to support each other forever, but secret blackmail notes are putting us to the test. Morrigan and I are also very worried about other wuns who've disappeared, and she's discovered the Ghastly Market still exists. We want to help with the investigation, but there's a complication. Wunder seems to be controlling Morrigan, and she fears her destiny may be to become evil. 

You should read The Trials of Morrigan Crow first, as it was a nominee for a 2018 Cybils Book Award.  The story in this second book offered a surprising blend of characters. The group of nine students was supposed to become like brothers and sisters and always have each other's backs. However, one girl was aloof to the others, and most of the group feared Morrigan. The secret notes added a mystery to the plot to go along with the missing wuns. Morrigan's character became more adventurous than the previous book, although outside forces transported her to dangerous locations several times. Her Wundersmith abilities were supposed to make her a super powerful character, but her lack of control made her dangerous to herself and others. Ironically, the first two books in the series have found the most evil character in the world to be her most effective "teacher". He's hinted of an unidentified enemy they both share, so that will be an continuing issue in upcoming books. Overall, I enjoyed the creativity of the setting and the imaginative twists to the story. Magic didn't always behave the way one might expect. The Wunder was treated almost like a sentient being with thoughts, feelings, and intent. I recommend you give it a shot, starting with The Trials of Morrigan Crow.

Adventurers Wanted #4: Sands of Nezza by

Sands of Nezza (Adventurers Wanted, #4)My name is Rallian, and Alex Taylor does not fit any description I've ever learned about wizards, except for his immense power. I'd still be a prisoner of my uncle and his evil sorcerer if Alex hadn't chanced upon my cell while rescuing his friend. The different regions of Nezza have been fighting for years, and all-out war seems to be imminent. I'm rumored to be the true heir of Nezza, but I don't know if I want to declare my intentions. I'm just a boy, and I fear the rulers of the regions will reject me. However, my uncle must be stopped, and his sorcerer's evil magic is still enchanting the lands. Alex thinks there's something called the Brotherhood actually controlling the sorcerer, and its influence spreads beyond Nezza. Alex has proven to be a formidable force, and I'm thankful he's staying with me until I'm accepted as king.

You should at least read Slathbog's Gold before this book to get a sense of the background story. This one differs from the previous books in that Alex, the main character, isn't officially part of the group of adventurers. He is magically summoned by an imprisoned friend and is uncertain of what he'll find in Nezza. It's the first land in the series where wizards and magic are openly feared by most of the minor characters. In the previous books, I've enjoyed the camaraderie between adventurers, and that's lost a little bit this time. Even Alex feels the disconnect. However, he still displays his honor and loyalty, as he risks his life for his friends and the prince. The early books mentioned a possible underlying evil, but this one fully embraces the problem. The Brotherhood has come to the forefront and will be a conflict in this book's sequel. As the threats grow, Alex's magical powers are stretched to their limits. This wasn't always the case in the earlier books. Overall, I'm still enjoying the series, although I miss the dynamics of a group of adventurers working together on a quest. Alex is mostly flying solo right now. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Adventurers Wanted #3: Albrek's Tomb by M.L. Forman

Albrek's Tomb (Adventurers Wanted, #3)My name is Thrang, and I'm leading the quest to find the Ring of Searching that will help dwarves with their mining. We're trying to follow Albek's travels from hundreds of years ago, because we aren't sure where he left the relic. I'm thankful my friend Alex is now a full wizard and has joined our group. He seems so much older than when I met him on his first adventure. Alex and our seer can sense an underlying evil across the lands, but they can't tell where the feeling comes from. We must now travel to the Isle of Bones, but it's difficult finding anyone to sail there. The fisherman are all superstitious and fear the island, but I hope one of them will do it for a price. I'm not sure what we'll find there, and I'm afraid Alex will one day face an opponent with magic greater than his own. 

I recommend you read the previous two books in the series first, but the first one will give you necessary background information. Each book presents a unique adventure and a mixture of familiar and new characters. Alex is the main character, and he's clearly becoming one of the most powerful wizards ever. He's not the same innocent boy he once was and feels much older now. The author could easily have presented him as a supreme being, but Alex maintains his humbleness and insecurities to make him a vulnerable character. He continues to battle angry feelings that threaten to unleash an uncontrollable magic. The journey to the Isle of Bones reveals a secret about his past that even Alex was unaware of. Each book is divided into smaller quests, so they can be read very quickly. The author adds little surprises along the way, although Albrek's Tomb seems to have more major revelations than usual. Alex and another character undergo changes that will affect them forever. The plot continues to include an unseen evil, and a conspiracy is introduced this time. These conflicts will continue to create an underlying tension that I assume won't be resolved until the series ends. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Adventurers Wanted #2: The Horn of Moran by M.L. Forman

The Horn of Moran (Adventurers Wanted, #2)My name is Sindar, and our group is lucky to have Alex along on this quest for the Horn of Moran. His wizarding skills have greatly improved since our first adventure, although he's asked me for help in controlling his emotions. We need to retrieve the horn before the Spring Festival and return it to Bregnest's cousin. The horn will cement his cousin's claim to the throne before war breaks out. We know we'll need to pass through gates guarded by a sphinx and griffins and death awaits if we fail their challenges. Alex's mentor Whalen is writing fewer letters and seems to be letting him learn from his experiences. As an elf, my unique abilities will be an asset to the group, but Alex will be the key to our success. 

This series is a pleasant change from many adventure stories. It includes dwarfs, elves, goblins, dragons, and other familiar creatures. Alex is the main character and is full of kindness and compassion for others. He maintains an air of humbleness even as his powers and abilities grow stronger. However, his emotions challenge his self-control, which is a potentially disastrous situation for a wizard. The plot includes action, fighting, and some killing. It doesn't dwell on the fighting and death, and Alex always tries to find ways to avoid it. As with the first book, honor is a huge theme. Characters stick to their promises and display respect for their foes. A recurring event in each book finds Alex returning treasure bags to the heirs of deceased Adventurers. Even these exchanges display respectful negotiations that require the characters to avoid insulting high, or low, offers. An evil Shadow is a constant threat that appears in each of Alex's adventures, and I assume it will again in the sequel. It has tested Alex's abilities to the max and has been the most challenging antagonist. The book doesn't acknowledge its existence in the story until it makes surprise appearances to jeopardize Alex's mission. Overall, I'm really enjoying these adventures with tempered violence and recommend them to anyone loving medieval-type books. I suggest you read Slathbog's Gold first to fully appreciate the background story.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Wereworld #3: Shadow of the Hawk by Curtis Jobling

Shadow of the Hawk (Wereworld, #3)My name is Drew, and I woke up to find myself sold into slavery. The Werelord here expects me to fight and kill in the ring, but I refuse to do his bidding. The other gladiators have given up hope, but I'm slowly convincing some to consider escape. The Werecats have returned to Lyssia, and their evilness is spreading to the other kingdoms. I hear they helped King Leopold escape his imprisonment, but he was killed shortly after. The prince has taken his place, and I don't think that's any better. I hope my friend Hector is well and that he's been able to rescue Lady Gretchen. I hope he's fully recovered from communing with his dead father; that's very dangerous dark magic. It's time for me to accept my destiny to unite the seven kingdoms, but I hope it's not too late.

I've enjoyed Drew's plight, as he slowly brings hope to the citizens oppressed by the Werecats. However, violence and its graphic description are still central to the plot, and I'm still not crazy about how Hector's character has changed. The vile in his head is leading him astray, and he's slowly becoming another antagonist. Drew's character continues to be virtuous and compassionate toward the disadvantaged citizens. He constantly steps up to help others who might be bullied or abused. However, he frequently finds himself outmatched and in need of being rescued by one of his friends. Luckily, he makes many new talented friends along the way. I'm happy to see Drew finally seems to be making progress toward uniting different realms. He's been on the run since the start of book one and has been losing key supporters along the way. However, there's now hope of success leading into book four. Reunions between Drew and his brother and Drew and Hector seem inevitable, although the results should be dramatically different.