Tuesday, October 10, 2017

5-Minute Adventure Stories for Minecrafters: Extreme Stories From the Extreme Hills by Greyson Mann

5 Minute Adventure Stories for Minecrafters: Extreme Stories from the Extreme HillsMy name is Sophia, and my adventures with Zack and Anthony have gotten exciting and dangerous. I
was lucky to have milk or Zack might have died from the bite of a cave spider. Anthony slipped and almost burned up in molten lava. Okay, we've found a huge diamond, some gold, and treasure chests, but we've also suffered from starvation, zombies, and more spiders! Every time we saw a spawn, something terrible popped out of it. Its been wonderful exploring with Zack and Anthony, but I hope we'll be able to survive the skeletons and Endermen and escape this world. And then start our next adventure!

I received an advance copy from the publisher, and its appropriate for readers younger than the target audience for my blog. As the title suggests, the book was made up of short stories that could be read very quickly. I've never played Minecraft, and I'm guessing it would have helped me understand some of the terms used. I didn't know what creepers, spawns, and mobs were, but I started to figure them out after awhile. The characters faced deadly spiders, zombies, lava, and bats, as they searched for treasures in the mountains and caves. The bats weren't that bad except to Zack, who was deathly afraid of them. The boys seemed to be more obsessed with treasure hunting, while Sophia was more concerned with keeping all of them alive. She seemed braver and more level-headed than the boys. Her remedies were healthy, as she helped her pals with milk and vegetables. While the plots were appropriate for younger readers, the battles with spiders and zombies offered a taste of more mature reading. There was nothing bad about the stories, but slaying zombies or spiders weren't the most innocent things characters could do. This book will be great for lovers of Minecraft and adventure stories for young readers. I'm thinking of using it with some primary students I'll be tutoring.

Lockwood & Co. #4: The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud

The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co., #4)My name is Lucy, and I came to Lockwood for help after having assisted him with the capture of the ghost of a nasty, cannibalistic murderer. The Sources of ghosts are supposed to be destroyed, but I suspected some of them weren't being burned properly. I was certain after the talking skull, a level 3 spirit, was stolen from my apartment. I know the skull is annoying, insulting, and moody, but I need him. No one in England can Listen as well as me, but hearing the spirits can still put me in dangerous situations. The skull has saved me more than once, and he's helped me locate Sources. Now he's gone. Someone is buying up the most powerful Sources around, but I don't know why. So now I'm with Lockwood, George, and Holly again to solve the mystery. What we found out will shock you!

The books in this series make awesome reads for the Halloween season! If you haven't read any of them, what are you waiting for?! The author is able to create very eerie descriptions of the characters' encounters with ghosts. He does this through soft noises, shadowy images, dropping temperatures, and the characters' spooky feelings. It helps that these events happen at night, in dark places, and the ghost-touch is deadly. Lucy is able to hear the movements and voices of ghosts which adds to the creepiness. Lucy left the company in the third book, so working with the other characters again creates awkward situations. The fact that Sources are not being destroyed properly is a wonderful twist to the series, but the Creeping Shadow doesn't enter the plot until later in the book. The two issues eventually come together in a small, remote town called Aldbury Castle to create a very interesting problem. Lockwood has  been at odds with the two largest ghost-hunting agencies in London, and stunning secrets are revealed about them when Lockwood and Co. rid the town of its ghost problem. Actually, the Problem is what the characters call the outbreak of ghosts that began about fifty years earlier. A surprise is revealed in the last chapter, although I had some suspicions about it already. Again, you need to read this series if you haven't tried it yet.

The Heroes of Olympus #3: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

The Mark of Athena (The Heroes of Olympus, #3)My name is Percy Jackson, and Greek and Roman demigods must join a god to stop Gaea from destroying the world. Gaea can see into the future and has deadly mythological beasts waiting to ambush us at every turn, and who knows if any god will actually be willing to help us in our quest? Also, the Romans think we attacked Camp Jupiter, so they're hunting us down and are moving to attack Camp Half-Blood. Even though our group of seven demigods have joined to complete the quest, we are having problems. I've gotten used to being a leader in the past, so I'm not sure how to behave as an equal part of a team. Also, a vision shows me drowning in a pool of water, but how is that possible? A son of Poseidon can't drown. Our team has been forced to separate, and some of worst fears must be faced. The survival of Earth is doomed if we can't overcome them.

It would help to read the previous books in the series, but it's not necessary to enjoy this one. There's a continuous problem to stop Gaea, but each book has its own quest and can stand alone. The Mark of Athena continues the same format of adventure and humor found in Riordan's other books. The characters have interesting twists, as many of them are dealing with their own internal issues. Leo is feeling like a seventh wheel and discovers a hidden connection to another character. Annabeth must perform part of the quest alone, so Percy finds it difficult to let her go. Percy has doubts about his own abilities and questions whether he will be able to sacrifice loyalties in order to save the world. Riordan describes many visions and foreshadowing through characters' dreams, so readers will have a good idea of what to expect in every chapter. On the other hand, it feels like unexpected twists and surprises are lost, since you've already been told about upcoming events. You'll like this book if you've enjoyed any of the author's other books.

House of Secrets #3: Clash of the Worlds by Chris Columbus, Ned Vizzini, and Chris Rylander

Clash of the Worlds (House of Secrets, #3)My name is Brendan, and the Wind Witch has opened a portal to Krystoff's books. The creatures from his imagination will soon invade our world if my sisters and I can't stop the witch, our great grandmother. Once again, the house has dropped us inside Krystoff's creative mind, but this time all of his books have come together as one. We've faced dinosaurs, Nazi soldiers, robots, and blue aliens, but we must still collect three artifacts hidden within the novels to close the portal forever. Unfortunately, this is forcing Cordelia, Eleanor, and I to separate in three directions. Things never work out well when we're apart. I've hooked up with an annoying alien who thinks he knows everything (which he does), but I now find myself trapped by a mummy in a pharaoh's tomb. I hope the girls are having better luck, but I fear their troubles may be even worse than mine.

You should read the previous books in the series first, as this one concludes the trilogy. Clash of the Worlds has a focused quest for the siblings to complete but requires them to separate and travel to different settings. This results in the plot jumping to three different locations and becomes annoying at times. Some of the chapters are fairly short before skipping to a different plot and this makes the book tricky to follow, especially if you don't read it every day. The Wind Witch is still the main antagonist, and she has developed a connection to Cordelia, the oldest sibling. Cordelia is usually the most mature and knowledgeable character, but she's forced to take a backseat to her brother and sister. The witch can see through Cordelia's eyes, so this makes the siblings' planning trickier. The witch also has many hidden allies in the book worlds, so you need to be suspicious of every character the kids meet. Consequently, you can expect surprises, as Brendan and his sisters complete their quests to find the artifacts. The plot builds to a dramatic battle in the climax, so you'll enjoy this excitement. As allies become enemies and enemies become allies, you'll enjoy the conclusion to this three-book adventure!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

House of Secrets #2: Battle of the Beasts by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

Battle of the Beasts (House of Secrets, #2)My name is Eleanor, and I should have made a better wish to get rid of Dahlia forever. Once again, Kristoff House has deposited us into another book, actually a combination of three different books, and the Wind Witch is still tormenting us. We're stuck in ancient Rome where Nazi robot soldiers have attacked the emperor's citizens. Brendan is enjoying his new post as the emperor's general, and he actually wants to stay in this world! It looks like we may also be stuck here after I destroyed The Book of Doom and Despair. However, there may be a way for us to return to San Francisco. We now find ourselves in the frigid, snowy German mountains with peaceful monks, surrounded by ferocious frost beasts. We'll probably be killed if we fight the monsters, but we'll be sacrificed to them if we don't. Fighting may be worth the risk, because the monks believe we may find the Door of Ways inside the beasts' cave and will be able to return home.

You should probably read the first book in the series before this one. It establishes the ground rules for the books and describes the ongoing conflict with Kristoff and his daughter. The most intriguing aspect of Battle of Beasts is the mixture of characters from different Kristoff books. We have the three kids and a WW I pilot from the first book joining a Roman gladiator to fight monsters, robot Nazis, and the Roman soldiers. The setting is a mixture of two Kristoff books, but the kids aren't sure about the third one. This third book offers the unexpected possibilities. The authors adds some tweaks to the characters. Cordelia had a crush on Will, the WW I pilot, in book one, but the Roman gladiator complicates things. Brendan's insecurities make it easy for him to be influenced by his new-found fame in ancient Rome. Predictably, the fame does not grow in the ways he expected, so a new conflict is created. Eleanor is the youngest sibling, but she takes a leading role in saving the day. She's the one responsible for using the magic book this time, although it's destruction complicates matters. A diary from Kristoff's wife is found, but the author doesn't reveal its contents until near the end. The secret was very unexpected, but its impact remains to be seen.

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

The WonderlingMy name is Arthur, and I was a one-eared fox groundling at Ms. Carbunkle's orphanage. I won't describe the terror I felt around her or try to explain the strange widgets she forced us to make. My friend Trinket talked me into escaping, and I now find myself alone in Lumentown with my new friend Quintus. He's the only one other than Trinket who knows about my sensitive hearing. He's taught me how to become a thief, but I don't want to take things that don't belong to me. However, while inside a woman's home, I've discovered a terrible secret about Ms. Carbunkle's plans. I know she hates music, but she wants to eliminate it everywhere. I came to Lumentown to learn about my past, but I must do something to save all of the beautiful sounds in the world.

I enjoyed the overall book, although the early part left me wondering where it was headed. It was clear the widgets were a very important part of the plot, but few clues were given about their purpose until Arthur came to LumentownThe author was able to effectively describe the loneliness and despair of the orphans, as they had no freedom, no hope, and were discouraged from developing any friendships.  Arthur's character was the shining star in the book. I developed a sympathy for him when I read about his isolation, punishment, and bullying. Despite all the negativity in his life, he kept a positive attitude. Admittedly, fear of the unknown made him reluctant to escape the orphanage, but he kept his virtuous personality once he left. He was honest and pure and I feared for his innocence. It was clear that Quintus was trying to corrupt him (it was a matter of survival), but Arthur refused to use his thieving skills against other people. Arthur's bravery and moral compass led him to a dramatic conclusion back in the orphanage. I recommend The Wonderling to lovers of adventure and animal characters. The conclusion is most enjoyable!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Gravedigger's Son by Patrick Moody

The Gravedigger's SonMy name is Ian, and I want to be a Healer, not a Digger. My ancestors have answered the Call for centuries and have helped restless souls move to the Great Beyond. I didn't think I had the ability until Fiona urged me to give new life to Thatcher's skeleton. We then followed the Pumpkin Trail into the forbidden forest, and an old woman said she needed my blood to complete a terrible spell. Now, I've learned this Weaver is my grandmother and wants revenge against my family for losing her daughter, my mother. She wants to open the rift between the Void and the Netherworld, returning the dead into the living world. My father is away, and I'm not even a real Digger, so what can I do to stop her? The portals have already started to open, and thousands of corpses are rising from their graves. The power of Diggers doesn't seem to stop my grandmother, but I can't let her destroy the world!

I always love when I come across a book that turns out to be a gem. I really liked how the grandmother's spell kept getting stronger, and Ian's attempts to stop her failed. These events caused the tension to grow, and the situation became desperate. As a reader, I expected a surprise to arise that would resolve the conflict, and the author presented it. However, that idea didn't work either, so I was back to wondering if the problem could be solved! A constant conflict within Ian was between his dream to be a Healer and the expectations of his family's legacy. As it turns out, this conflict became very important in saving the world. The supporting characters provided interesting aspects to the plot. Although Fiona was there to support Ian, it started to feel like she was the one getting him into deeper trouble. Thatcher added a humorous twist as a living skeleton who was once a mischievous young boy. He also offered a period of compassion, as Ian needed to support him during his journey to the Great Beyond. With Halloween fast approaching, this book will make an outstanding addition to bookshelves. A wonderful blend of dynamic characters, adventure, and suspense!