Friday, April 26, 2019

TURBO Racers #1: Trailblazer by Austin Aslan

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

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

Endling #1: The Last by Katherine Applegate

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

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

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Elementals #2: Scorch Dragons by Amie Kaufman

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

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

Friday, April 19, 2019

Elementals #1: Ice Wolves by Amie Kaufman

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

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

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Ghosts of Stone Hollow by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Wizard of Washington Square by Jane Yolen

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

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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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

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

Friday, April 12, 2019

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville

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

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

Thursday, April 11, 2019

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Goblins in the Castle #1 by Bruce Coville

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

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

Friday, April 5, 2019

Children of Exile #1 by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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

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

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell

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

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

Monday, April 1, 2019

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

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

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