Friday, February 15, 2019

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, #1)My name is Morrigan, not Mog like Jupiter keeps calling me, and I was illegally smuggled into the land of Nevermore. I'm thankful for that, since I'd be dead if Jupiter hadn't. However, he's entered me in a four-step trial to become a member of the Wundrous Society. All of the candidates must have a knack, something to make them special, but being cursed is the only thing that makes me unique. Jupiter keeps saying I should trust him, but it's hard. Inspector Flintlock and the Stink officers are on my trail as an illegal, and they're ready to pounce if I'm not chosen as one of the nine winners of the trials. Then there's the Wundersmith. I don't know who/what it is, but everyone is terrified when they hear the name.

This book was the winner of the 2018 Cybils Book Award in Middle Grade Speculative Fiction! The story was creative and quirky and a lot of fun to read. The first couple of chapters were a little confusing, since the prologue notified readers that the main character, Morrigan, had died. She ended up living in the Hotel Deucalion, found in the Free State of Nevermore. Hotel employees included a giant cat with a surly personality and a vampire dwarf (not a dwarf vampire!), and Morrigan's best friend Hawthorne had a knack for riding dragons. The trials included unusual challenges and a cliquish group of girls who were easy to dislike. Their patron added to their unpleasantness, as he was an obnoxious cheater. The plot included underlying, mysterious issues that added occasional salt to the events. Strange accidents and deaths were mentioned, and the Wundersmith was a terrifying threat from folklore. Much folklore is based on truth, so there's no surprise when the Wundersmith is revealed near the end. However, he drops a figurative bombshell to the events, and it seems Jupiter knew it all along. I'm anxious to read The Calling of Morrigan Crow and already have it reserved at my local library.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her MonsterMy name is Charlie, and I am not a human bean; I'm made from chimney soot. I've been with Nan ever since the Sweep disappeared six years ago. I used to stay in her pocket, keeping her warm, but something changed when she called for help. After saving her life, I started to move and learned to talk. Nan has left her cruel boss and is sweeping chimneys on her own, and I'm getting too big to help. The man will be very angry if he discovers she's still alive, so we're hiding in an abandoned house. I like it here, and I've made a new friend named Dent. I've changed a room into a garden to make him happy. Nan knows she can't sweep forever, but she's worried about the other sweeps too. Kids die from fire, falls, and disease, and no one seems to care. 

This book was a finalist for a 2018 Cybils Book Award. At times, it described a simple story about a girl and her monster friend, but then it addressed important topics of child labor, death, and personal empowerment. Nan decided to take control of her life and was determined to help other characters who couldn't help themselves. The narrator's voice was almost poetic, and it included verses and song lyrics. It periodically shared italicized chapters about Nan's past, special relationship with the Sweep. He was her guardian, mentor, and friend, and early on, it wasn't clear where he had gone. Charlie obviously had a connection to the Sweep, and he said he had a message to share. However, he couldn't remember what it was, so that question lingered until the end. I must admit I found the early parts of the book a little slow. Nan was on her own and learning all about Charlie, but I wasn't sure where the plot was headed. What was the big conflict? What was Nan trying to accomplish? Later, she became more concerned about her fellow sweeps and wanted to do something to help them. The problem with Nan's former boss grew in severity as the events moved on. Overall, this was a well-written story about a rough time and place in history. It was easy to develop sympathetic feelings for the characters, and I recommend you give it a shot. 

Love Sugar Magic #1: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic, #1)My name is Leo, and I'm the youngest daughter in my baking family. However, no one will let me do anything, and I'm treated like a baby! I hid in our popular bakery one day and discovered an amazing secret. All of the girls in my family are baking brujas! Isabella says I have magical ability too, but I shouldn't do anything with it for another four years. Yeah, right. My best friend Caroline needs help with our friend Brent, and I'm sure I can figure out some recipe to fix things. I just need him to show Caroline a little more affection, and a batch of cookies should do it. Now, I realize I should have listened to my sisters, but I can't admit my mistake without telling them what I've done. Maybe another spell will fix the first one.

This book was a finalist for a 2018 Cybils Book Award. It's a new version of an old story where a magic spell goes wrong. As in many of these kinds of stories, the main character was warned, made a bad choice, and wouldn't admit it to anyone who might be able to help. Then, she continued to make bad choices that compounded the problem. In this book, I was a little surprised, since Leo's family was so kind and supportive. I didn't understand why she wouldn't at least confide in one of her sisters, especially Isabella. The most interesting aspect to the book was its focus on the Spanish culture and cooking. It included descriptions of family life, celebrations, and food. The end of the book even included recipes mentioned during the plot. I assume the recipes are accurate and tasty. They were described in Spanish which added to the conflict, since Leo couldn't read or speak the language. Caroline was learning the language and was able to help Leo later in the story. Overall, the book told an engaging story of family, culture, and magic, and I recommend you give it a shot. 

Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain #1 by Zac Gorman

Thisby Thestoop and the Black MountainMy name is Thisby, and I'm the gamekeeper for creatures living under Castle Grimstone. I've been caring for the monsters all of my life, and I'm the only one who shows them respect. People fear the beasts, but even the monsters fear what's in the Deep Down. Nothing is supposed to be able to pass through the Darkwell, but what if that's wrong? Princess Iphigenia arrived for a tour of the dungeons, but now her twin brother has disappeared. Now, the princess and I are trekking through the far reaches of the dungeon, trying to find our way back up to the castle. Something's happening in these dark depths. Could it have anything to do with the stories of the Eyes in the Dark? It's up to Iphigenia and me to unravel the mystery.

This book was a finalist for a 2018 Cybils Book Award. You're in luck if you love reading about bizarre monsters. The highlight of the book is Thisby, as she tries to cope with a princess who is used to having her orders followed without question. She carries a huge backpack everywhere that creates an amusing mental image. Thisby fears the creatures she oversees, but she understands their behaviors and needs. That's where her careful note-taking comes in. She even takes notes about the princess and learns to understand her. The princess is a dynamic character and grows throughout the plot, as she adopts some of Thisby's positive virtues. The princess has never had a friend and slowly warms to Thisby. Thisby is accompanied by a sentient slime that normally is frightened of his surroundings. Surprisingly, this minor character turns out to be a key factor in the story's conflict and resolution. Overall, this book tells an entertaining adventure, and the imagination of the dungeon-world is a highlight. It shares moments of suspense and humor that should captivate lovers of speculative fiction. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Extraordinary eTab of Julian Newcomber by Michael Seese

The Extraordinary Etab of Julian Newcomber
My name is Julian, and my father creates semi-successful inventions, if they don't blow up first. He gave me a cool one called the eTab. It looks like a black piece of paper, but it can email, make phone calls, and browse the Internet. However, I figured out that it can also let me travel through time. I was trying to figure out the best way to use it when my future self showed up! I guess he (or is it I?) dropped a cellphone during the Battle of Gettysburg, and now he/I need help going back to that time. Future-me's eTab doesn't have enough power to complete the trip, and I don't know how to charge it without telling my dad. My future self will be stuck here if we don't figure out something by tomorrow.

I received an advance copy of the book from NetGalley. It offered an unexpected twist to the plot due to my expectations from other novels involving time travel. I figured the cellphone would be the major conflict, and it kind of was, but the real problem was trying to find a way to charge Future-Julian's eTab. The answer to that issue was strange but fit the tone for the rest of the book. The author created humor using science and language. Julian's father had inventions for all kinds of weird uses (a cream used to stop floors from creaking), and explosions were a definite possibility. Julian was always the new kid in school, since home destruction caused the family to frequently move. His dad tended to translate things he said to Julian, and Future-Julian kept trying to tell Young-Julian about future events. His motives seemed pure, but Young-Julian worried about disturbing the time continuum. The author included the typical school bully to torment Julian, but he was inadvertently helpful in resolving the big conflict. Overall, the book was fun to read, and I recommend you give it a shot. Although the characters were older middle school students, younger readers can easily enjoy it too. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Saint Lupin's Academy for Consistently Dangerous and Absolutely Terrifying Adventures #3: The Adventurer's Guide to Treasure (and How to Steal It) by Wade Albert White

The Adventurer's Guide to Treasure (and How to Steal It)My name is Anne, and I fear Saint Lupin's has been destroyed by pirates. The Wizard Council has forbidden us from going on any quests, but now Penelope, Hiro, and I have accidentally reactivated an old quest (I didn't think that was possible). A pirate captain in a wheelchair has stolen the quest medallion, and we had to join her crew to avoid arrest. Unfortunately, Octo-Horse Pirate stole the medallion from her, and his motives are terrifying. He wants to open a barrier that will kill millions of people. Now, we're fighting doppelgangers and iron knights, and trying to elude the Wizard Council's officers. Time is running out, as Octo-Horse Pirate nears his destination. One way or another, tomorrow the world will change forever.

Well, I think this book officially had the longest title I've ever read. It was a curious blend of adventure, humor, and technology. The quest provided the action and drama, as Anne and her friends tried to save the world. Anne's gauntlet created her "superpower". The previous two books involved copper and silver medallions that activated quests in the gauntlet, and this book's color was gold. This book ended the series, since all three medallions were required to resolve the conflict. The humor came from the characters. A GPS sparrow popped out of Anne's gauntlet to provide guidance during the quest, Hiro and Penelope had bickering issues at times, and the Wizard Council officers were gullible goofs. Octo-Horse Pirate's name conjured a strange mental image. Computers and holograms provided the technology, although I won't profess to fully understand how it integrated with everything. It wasn't confusing, just a lot going on. The plot presented many creative twists (secret identities!) but answered most of the series' questions. Overall, the series won't appeal to everyone, but I found it entertaining and worth my time. Give it a shot.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Last Timekeepers#1: And the Arch of Atlantis by Sharon Ledwith

The Last Timekeepers and the Arch of Atlantis (The Last Timekeepers, #1)My name is Amanda, and a few "friends" and I have discovered an arch allowing us to travel through time. We've been told that we're the new Timekeepers for this arch, but the fifth arch is being controlled by a corrupt man. Robin Hood's legend is in jeopardy, so our quest is to return to his time and set things right. The big problem is that we have no idea what we're supposed to do, and the cryptic riddle I've uncovered isn't much help. Robyn isn't entirely what I expected, and his weapon is a crossbow, not the longbow I've heard about. Our task must be completed very soon, so I suspect our efforts will lead us to the archery contest at tomorrow's local festival. I think we might have a chance for success, if we don't clobber each other along the way.

The time travel and conflict weren't super original, but the dynamics of the group were most interesting to me. The kids were brought together as punishment for a school food fight, and they didn't especially like each other. The group included a jock, a young genius, and an actress, and their bickering continued throughout the book. Most of the activities were completed during medieval times, but the characters blended their modern-day knowledge, sometimes not so discretely. They carried amulets to ensure their return after the quest's completion and to translate any language differences. This struck me as odd, since Robyn and his friends spoke English, albeit Old English. I enjoyed the blend of the two cultures, and the "realistic" problems the characters encountered. The antagonists mostly worked in the background, with a time-traveling character taking the place of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Amanda's big problem was figuring out how to turn Robyn into the Robin Hood of legend, who gave the citizens hope. Overall, the book was entertaining, and I can recommend it for your reading pleasure. I plan to check out the sequel, The Last Timekeepers and the Dark Secret.