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.