Thursday, November 21, 2019

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Dragon PearlMy name is Min, and I can’t believe what the inspector has said about my brother Jun. He would never desert from the Space Forces. He’s accused of running away to find the Dragon Pearl, although most people don’t believe it exists. Its powers could save the people of Jinju, or it could be a devastating weapon, if it were to fall into the wrong hands. If it existed. I really didn’t have a good plan to find Jun when I left home, but an unusual opportunity has developed. My abilities as a Fox will be most useful, even though we’re distrusted by most people. However, Jang’s ghost has struck a bargain with me that will get me aboard a Space Forces battle cruiser. The only problem is I’ll need to become Jang.

This book was nominated for a 2019 Goodreads award in middle grade fiction. It's hard for me to find truly unique stories anymore, but this book included some interesting twists. Min's abilities as a Fox were the biggest factor in all the events. She was able to shape-shift and nudge ideas into other characters' minds, as she fooled everyone else by impersonating Jang. Her motivation was to save her brother, but she also agreed to help discover who had killed Jang. Jang's ghost would check in from time to time to give feedback to Min. The big conflict revolved around the mythical Dragon Pearl, which could create life from barren lands. Obviously, it existed in the story, or the title wouldn't make any sense. Its importance, and danger, to the Thousand Worlds and beyond naturally created a competition between both honest and dishonest searchers. The covert nature of this competition cast uncertainty on many characters. Their backgrounds and motivations were often secret. It felt like the story's resolution left the door open for a sequel, but I don't know if that's in the works. I recommend you give this book a shot, and I'll be on the lookout for a part two. 

Saint Lupin's Academy for Consistently Dangerous and Absolutely Terrifying Adventures #2: The Adventurer's Guide to Dragons, and Why They Keep Biting Me by Wade Albert White

The Adventurer's Guide to Dragons (and Why They Keep Biting Me) (The Adventurer's Guide Series #2)My name is Penelope, and our team has accidentally been given a quest, again. As usual, a medallion attached itself to Anne’s gauntlet and activated an unauthorized quest. We’re supposed to slay the dragon queen, or are we supposed to save her from being slain. I’m not sure. Anne and Hiro seem to be okay with Valerian joining our team, but I don’t trust the thief. He was working with the Copper Knights that attacked us, but he says the creatures were actually using him. He also has a secret that sounds unlikely. Whatever, we need to find the blade of fifteen fingers before the Copper Knights do, or an all-out war between the humans and dragons may erupt.

It would help to read the first two books in the series, but you can still enjoy this book without them. I read the first three books out of order and can still recommend them. Floating islands form the setting, and characters can travel quickly using dragon fire. Technology is included through the use of robots, but there's an underlying computer factor that's briefly addressed at times in the series. I don't fully understand it yet, but I think that's the way it's supposed to be. The plot is all about an adventure, but you can expect a whole lot of silliness too. Many characters have goofy names, there are zany rules to follow, and the characters have amusing interactions. I enjoy the humor, but it may challenge the tolerance of some readers. The backbone of the story is a clever conflict with numerous twists and turns. The team is following a false quest, but someone caused it to be activated. Who did it, and what was the reason behind it? Several characters have false identities, so the reality of some events isn’t always clear. Many of these identities aren't revealed until the book nears its climax. Overall, the series is funny and entertaining, and I think it's worth a shot. 

The Camelot Code #1: The Once and Future Geek by Mari Mancusi

The Once and Future Geek (The Camelot Code #1)My name is Sophie, and Merlin has pulled me back in time to help save King Arthur. However, I found out Arthur is back in the 21st century with his magical scabbard. Things are getting all mixed up! My best friend Stu is impersonating Arthur after pulling the sword from the stone. Arthur has joined the middle school football team and may not want to return to Camelot. If he doesn't, the whole time continuum may get screwed up and change the world's history. I'm already noticing some disturbing changes. My worst enemy now thinks we're best friends, and no one has ever heard of pepperoni pizza! In addition, Morgana has plans of her own to kill Arthur. I must find a way to correct history before it's beyond fixing, and Stu is burned at the stake.

The beginning of the book sounded like a familiar story of a character traveling through time, but other characters started going back and forth. Then, Arthur considered not returning to the throne and that really twisted things around. His lack of confidence was a huge factor and should resonate with many young readers. Emerging emotions of middle grade readers are also addressed through Arthur and Guinevere's relationship, as well as the friendship between Stu and Sophie. The author added creativity to the plot with Stu's efforts to rule Camelot, including challenges to his new-found fame. She also complicated the story through the changes to history. These changes made it more difficult for Sophie to communicate with Merlin and brought into question her ability to return Arthur to the past. I wasn't sure how the author would make this book into a series until a secret about Sophie's past was revealed. Overall, I enjoyed this book more than expected, and I already plan to check out the sequel Geeks and the Holy Grail. I recommend you give it a shot. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Chronicles of Prydain #4: Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain, #4)My name is Taran, and I can't start a life with Eilonwy unless I know who I truly am. Who were my parents, and what happened to them? Who is Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper? I've set out to answer this question, although I don't really know where I'm going. Loyal Gurgi has eagerly volunteered to accompany me, but he's fearful of my plan to revisit the three witches. I'm sure they'll have some ideas for me if they don't choose to turn us into toads first. I'm now headed for the Mirror of Llunet in the Llawgadarn Mountains, and I'm meeting many kind, interesting people along the way. However, I've also come upon a man with a devastating story to share, living on a decrepit-looking farm. His tale causes me great concern, and I must again ponder the question of my past. 

This book was much different from others in the series. The plot revolved around Taran's quest to find himself, so there wasn't a clear antagonist or conflict. I wasn't sure if there would be a climax where he'd discover royal parents, or if some other event would resolve his mental anguish. How would Taran find his answers? In the end, a series of philosophical experiences led to a resolution that felt anti-climatic. The plot meandered across Prydain, as Taran came across other characters who presented both opportunities to learn and life-threatening perils. The encounters with danger provided action for the adventure. Once again, Taran was the most engaging character, as he displayed compassion, honesty, bravery, and valor. A couple of those traits were challenged along the way, but his goodness persevered through it all. Overall, I liked the book, but it's my least favorite of the first four books in the series. I still plan to read the next book, The High King, as it was the winner of the Newbery Medal in 1969. It should get back to the clearer confrontations and action found previously in the series.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Tapestry #2: The Second Siege by Henry H. Neff

The Second Siege (The Tapestry, #2)My name is David, and the Director was surprised when a witch showed up at Rowan Academy. The Director was further shocked when the witch said an agreement from centuries ago gave her the right to take Max and I to live with the other witches. It's clear Max has special abilities, but most people don't fully understand what I can do. The members of Rowan understand keeping the Book of Thoth from the Enemy is crucial, especially since the return of Astaroth. He's already wreaking havoc across the world, but the book will allow him devastating control over all living things. The Rowan will lose its alliance with the witches if Max and I escape, but finding the Book is more important. We'll need help in our quest, although anyone assisting us will immediately become rebels.  I have a feeling Max will be a very different person when we return.

This book is the second in the series, and I recommend you start with the first. The threat of a siege looms for much of the plot and finally occurs before the book's conclusion. The intensity has been amped up, as the conflicts literally deal with life and death. Characters die. There are instances of physical combat, but mysticism is a large part of the events. Max is the main character, although there are hints that David is even more important. David has the strongest mystic powers seen in hundreds of years, and the limit of his abilities is still unknown. Likewise, Max's abilities haven't been seen in centuries, and he continues to learn and grow. A twist to this character surrounds his temper. He sometimes loses control when he becomes angry, so the possibility of an emotional eruption could occur at any time. As in the previous book, the plot includes a traitor within the Rowan who isn't revealed until late in the book. Astaroth is an all-powerful antagonist, although his powers are a bit confusing. I don't fully understand how he can control most of the world then get stymied when facing Max and David. Overall, I'm liking the series but fear what the sequel will bring. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Pages & Co. #1: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James

Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co. #1)My name is Tilly, and I live with my grandparents in their bookstore, Pages & Co. I love reading books but wonder why I can't find any adventure in real life. For school, I'm supposed to read a book I've never read before, so I think I'll do Treasure Island. I've been noticing some unusual people around the store, but I must be mistaken. How can I possibly be talking to Anne of Green Gables, Sherlock Holmes, and Alice from Alice in Wonderland? Granddad says I'm a bookwanderer like my mom, and he helped me get registered at the British Underlibrary. There are important rules for bookwandering, and the one thing I've learned is there are terrible consequences if you don't follow them. 

You know how some readers can really get into their books? That was the premise of the plot, as bookwanderers could enter books and interact with characters when they had strong connections to them. I'm not sure I totally understood the rules for bookwandering, but it didn't bug me too much. As mentioned above, the rules were important, and Tilly's character was pretty reckless. She chose to ignore warnings without good reason and found herself in precarious situations. I usually find characters have strong motivations when they neglect important advice, but curiosity isn't a good excuse. However, the author included some surprises in the story, most notably with Tilly's parents and the plot's antagonist. When reading books, if characters die but bodies aren't found, don't be surprised if they reappear later. The antagonist in this book was a stickler for rules, and he was clearly hiding something. No one liked him, but it was unclear why he still had such an important job at the underlibrary. It took over half the book to finally discover why he was the antagonist. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I'm considering whether I'll read the sequel. With the way the first book ended, I assume the conflict in the next one will be clearer. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Tapestry #1: The Hound of Rowan by Henry H. Neff

The Hound of Rowan (The Tapestry, #1)My name is Max, and I found a note in my pocket saying I'm a Potential. Unfortunately, a woman from the Enemy showed up at my house and tried to kidnap me! Later, a man from the Rowan Academy offered me a scholarship to the school where I'll take classes with other Apprentices. I learned that Rowan is the last fortress in the world combating evil forces of the Enemy. The Enemy snatched forty-two other Potentials before they could be recruited to Rowan, and my roommate David thinks it has something to do with the return of Lord Astaroth. He disappeared, but wasn't destroyed, centuries ago, and I may be the key to helping him arise from his undiscovered, mystical prison. Old Magic is at work here.

I agree with other reviewers who say this book is reminiscent of Harry Potter books, although it's unique enough to set itself apart. As with Voldemort, this book has cult followers striving to resurrect their malevolent leader. While magic is involved in the plot, Max's greatest powers arise from his innate abilities. He's able to enhance those abilities to remarkable levels, although he's sometimes on the brink of losing control. His temper is unpredictable and helps to complicate the problems. As with most middle-grade readers, Max is struggling to learn how to deal with the opposite sex. A classmate clearly likes him, but a third-year girl's presence creates a confusing dynamic. David is a highly intelligent friend who clearly has secret talents. I thought his illness might become a factor, but it hasn't, so far. Like the Hogwart's owls or witches' familiars, the characters in this book are required to care for fantastic creatures and may be severely punished if they fail to do so. These animals mostly add levity and relief to the seriousness of the conflict. Overall, I enjoyed this first book in the series and have already started reading the sequel, The Second Siege. I recommend you give the series a shot. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Chronicles of Prydain #3: The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

The Castle of Llyr (The Chronicles of Prydain, #3)My name is Gurgi. Bold, valiant Gurgi is glad to follow kindly master Taran and noble Princess Eilonwy on the boatings and floatings to the Isle of Mona. Poor Gurgi's head is full of whirlings and twirlings on the boat, but Gurgi must make sure young Princess arrives safely. Friendly Princess must learn to behave as Princess's do, but daring master fears for her safety. There are rumblings and grumblings that evil queen survived crumbling castle and wants to hurt fine Princess. Now, gentle Lady is missing. Gallant Gurgi and heroic master are on quest to rescue her from villainous captor Magg. Dark woods are full of creepies and crawlies, but brave warriors must save Princess from wicked dangers.

Taran first showed Gurgi great kindness in The Book of Three, so the creature became Taran's loyal companion. He was a strange blend of bravery and terror, but his dialogue added a lightness to the events. Unlike earlier books, this one didn't present the main antagonists until it neared the climax. The suspense and tensions came from the setting and characters met along the way. The primary problem was a large cat, and I mean LARGE, called Llyan that kept popping up during the adventure. The characters feared they would be eaten at any moment, although the bard's songs calmed it. Each book has found Taran helping another character with a personal issue. Prince Rhun was an inept prince in this book, and Taran resented him. However, the prince knew his title was due to his royal birth, and he desperately wanted to earn respect. Taran soon realized this and assisted the prince in fulfilling his goals. The phrase "You can't judge a book by its cover" comes to mind. Overall, this book was good even though it didn't have the level of drama found previously in the series. I still plan to read book four, Taran Wanderer

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup

The Book of Story BeginningsMy name is Lucy, and I love learning about my family's history. My great aunt left her farmhouse to my father, and she even mentioned me in her will. Her brother Oscar disappeared in a rowboat back in 1914, and he was never seen again. However, no one believed her story that he had rowed the boat out into a sea, since they lived in the middle of nowhere on an Iowa farm. My aunt believed I could help solve the mystery, so I've been looking for clues ever since we arrived. My dad looked at her notes on alchemy, but now he's disappeared. I think it has something to do with a story I started in the book, except Oscar just reappeared! The book must let stories play out on their own, which means Oscar and I now find ourselves in the middle of an adventure. 

The plot began as I expected with Oscar returning from his ordeal, however the rest of the book included enough twists to keep things interesting. A key element of the story involved a king and a queen who couldn't live together. The king loved cats and the queen loved birds, so you can imagine the problems this created. The plot addressed the concepts of parental relationships and what it takes to have happy marriages. Oscar and Lucy's parents had similar issues, since the spouses seemed so different from each other, just like the king and queen. There were many character transformations, beginning with Oscar's return from being a cat. You'd think Lucy and Oscar could have written happy endings to the book's stories, but the book wouldn't let that happen. The kids didn't fully understand how the book worked, so that made its magic unpredictable. The king was magical and impulsive, so his behavior provided surprises too. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this book, since I'd never heard of the author and didn't really know what to expect. You'll like it if you enjoy magic and cats; the cats are especially important to the plot. I suggest you give the book a shot.