Thursday, July 19, 2018

Jack Blank Adventure #1: The Accidental Hero by Matt Myklusch

The Accidental Hero (Jack Blank Adventure, #1)My name is Jack Blank, and I don't
know my true past, only the life I had in the orphanage. A Rustov robot creature tried to kill me, so an android named Jazen has taken me far away to an island called Imagine Nation where aliens, Mechas, and superheroes live together. The citizens are wary of another Rustov invasion, and everyone knows I've been infected by the parasite. Nevertheless, I have a chance to improve my power over machines by being accepted to the School of Thought, but I must be approved by all memebers of the Inner Circle, powerful beings governing Imagine Nation. That's a daunting challenge, since Jonas Smart is constantly spreading news that I’m  Rustov spy. I better learn something quickly, since an indestructible Rustov named Revile is determined to kill me.

I found this book by chance, and I really enjoyed it. Jack was another reluctant hero who was just discovering his new abilities. The author did a wonderful job of creating problems for Jack with Smart’s disdain, Rustov attacks, the citizen’s fear and anger, and Jack’s own self-doubts. A major focus of the plot dealt with Jack’s efforts to survive and prove himself to the Inner Circle. As mentioned, receiving a favorable vote from Smart seemed impossible, and Smart seemed to have ulterior motives. The question of Jack’s mysterious past simmered throughout the plot, and a story-changing secret was revealed during the climax. The book was a blend of science fiction and fantasy. Smart developed all kinds of inventions including SmartCams that followed Jason everywhere. Superheroes flew around quelling typical superhero problems. Overall, the book may not appeal to everyone, but I highly recommend you give it a shot.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Dragon's Egg by Sarah L. Thompson

Dragon's EggMy name is Mella, and I have the rare ability to care for our Inn's herd of domestic dragons. There are rumors of wild dragons roaming the forest, but no one had actually seen one... until I came across a black egg left in a cave. Unfortunately, my discovery led to a dragon's death, and I've promised to guard the egg and return it to the land of the dragons. Thankfully, Roger, the dragonslayer's apprentice, has offered to accompany me, since I've never been this far into the forest. We must trek into the mountains,find an opening near a huge waterfall, and the Hatching Ground will be found between the Fangs. Everything had been going fairly well until we were captured and tied up by a nasty man named Damien. It seems Roger has failed to tell me about an important secret from his past.

The plot moved along quickly with moments of suspense caused by Damien and the dragons. Mella was an admirable character, as she was determined to honor her promise to a dying dragon. Honor was very important to Mella and Roger, and it was a big factor in the resolution of the conflict. Mella constantly cared for the egg and was concerned when she thought it might cool. She was willing to protect it with her life. On the other hand, she felt guilty for leaving her herd of dragons behind at the Inn; her absence would upset them greatly. Roger's character was a paradox. He was apprenticed to a Defender, guardians against wild dragons, yet he offered all of his support to aid Mella in her quest to save the dragon egg. The problems created by Roger's secret lingered throughout the whole story, and it was clear the secret would need to be addressed by the end. I could have seen this book being written as a more detailed adventure for older readers, but it worked well for an upper elementary audience. Overall, it was an entertaining book that most young readers will enjoy.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Worldquake Sequence #1: Dragon's Green by Scarlett Thomas

Dragon's Green (Worldquake Sequence, #1)My name is Effie, and the Otherworld is real! My grandfather left me all of his books when he died, and I'm angry that my father sold 499 of them to a Diberi named Leonard Levar. The evil Diberi want to absorb the magic within them to grow more powerful. My grandfather hid the 500th book, Dragon's Green, so I can use it to find the Otherworld. I faced a princess-eating dragon within the book's story that allowed me to find my cousins and my grandfather's lawyer. They said I'm a true hero, and a ring I inherited has endowed me with strength to fight the Diberi. I'm still learning to manage my magical force, and I'm happy for the support from my new friends. The spectacles I've given Maximillian provide him with great knowledge, but I pray they can help us develop a plan to rescue my grandfather's library. 

The plot moved a little slowly for me in the beginning, as a clear conflict with tension didn't appear until I was over a hundred pages into the book. However, everything came together in the second half and grew into an exciting climax. I liked the use of boons that helped Effie unknowingly form a team, as the magical objects could only be activated by various characters. A letter opener became a sword, a glass ball helped with healing, and a wand enhanced a young witch's powers. Worldquake Sequence referred to the separation of worlds occurring sixty years prior to the story. The way books were used as portals to the Otherworld was creative, as the stories themselves became the gateway, not the book. The grandfather's training popped up throughout the plot, including Effie's unusual method for stopping the dragon. Also, the grandfather's death may not be permanent, since Effie was told he might return to the Otherworld sometime in the future. Again, I had a little trouble making sense of the events in the first half of the book, but I enjoyed the plot much more once things cleared up. Overall, I think I'll be giving the sequel, The Chosen Ones, a chance sometime soon.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Dragonwatch #2: Wrath of the Dragon King by Brandon Mull

Wrath of the Dragon King (Dragonwatch, #2)My name is Seth, and Celebrant continues to test the defenses at Wyrmroost. Surprisingly, the Dragon King invited Kendra and I to a feast, and there would be terrible consequences if we didn't go. The event began with Celebrant killing one of his guards who had challenged him for the crown. Then, as food was served, the king declared war on anyone opposing him! Our griffins were killed in the royal stables, and we now have two days to trek home. 

Unfortunately, I only read about a fourth of the book in a preview copy. The format and characters are the same as previous books about the magical creatures of Wyrmroost and Fablehaven. Seth always seems to be the wildcard, as his impulsiveness often leads to problems. In this book, he wants to steal dragon bones after Celebrant's duel which would negate any protective spells during the feast. Another wildcard may be Seth's cousin. He just knowingly saw magical creatures for the first time, and it's unknown what he'll do with the knowledge. I assume it will have an important effect, since the author chose to include it. I'll withhold any further comments until I finish the book this fall when it comes out. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting #2: Beasts and Geeks by Joe Ballarini

My name is Liz, and I am a babysitter, sworn to protect innocent kids from deadly monsters. Kelly defeated the Grand Guignol last month, so the other six Boogeymen will be seeking revenge against her. She babysat baby Theo for me while I searched for the Spider Queen Serena, but I wasn't prepared for the anger I felt when I found my little brother changed into a big, blue, furry monster. Serena is biting humans to create an army of minions, so it looks like war has already been declared. She always seems to be one step ahead of us, and Mama Vee is missing too. Luckily, Kelly does a pretty good job for a newb, and the Spider Queen hasn't gotten her fangs into Theo yet. He's destined to grow up and become a great monster killer. Unfortunately, right now, monsters have a super sense of smell that can detect his stinky diapers!

I continue to be amazed at the entertainment value of this series. I never would have imagined being enamored by a worldwide group of young babysitters. I'm impressed by the adventure, action, and humor in the fast-paced plot. Kelly is the main character, and everyone can relate to her life as a middle school student. There are moments of forgetting her homework, problems with an old friendship, and complications of first love. However, most of the story focuses on the monsters' efforts to capture little Theo. You must keep reminding yourself that this diapered baby is supposed to grow up and defeat all of the monsters. In addition, his unexplained wails are actually warnings that monsters are nearby. An unusual twist to the plot is that Serena is transforming most of the minor characters into her puppets. Consequently, readers must constantly question everyone Kelly meets along the way. Are they under Serena's control. Another emotional complication pops up early in the story when Kelly fails to pass her babysitter training. How can she be a special monster hunter when she can't even pass her classes? I can highly recommend this series to you; you don't really need to read the first book in order to enjoy this one.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Lost Books #1: The Scroll of Kings by Sarah Prineas

The Scroll of Kings  (The Lost Books, #1)My name is Alex, and I am the royal librarian. At least until the queen figures out I've been lying about my identity. I never received any proper training, but everybody assumes I know what I’m doing. The queen’s given me two weeks to organize a cavernous library that's been neglected for years, but she doesn't even know the dangers found here. The books are frightened of something hidden on the shelves, volumes with strange covers that have already killed three other librarians. I've barely survived books that conjured up strangling vines, devastating earthquakes, and raging storms. Why are all the books targeting me and trying to end my life? There are so many secrets to uncover! The Lost Books, the queen’s uncle, and the Red Codex.

I randomly found this book on my library's shelf of new releases, and I'm glad I did. The story oozed with imagination, as paper was used to create different characters. The characters weren't made from paper, the sheets of paper were Alex's flying assistants. Evil books mesmerized readers into deadly situations, and the cause of this dangerous change was unclear. The young queen found the library hard to understand, and she found Alex annoying. However, she admired Alex's honesty, loyalty, and determination. The author included many subplots that were easy to follow; authors sometimes make their books confusing by describing too many problems. Alex had issues with his father, the queen was unaware of her uncle's plans, the prince felt useless, and Alex wanted to save all of the books, even the ones trying to kill him! The conflicts overlapped, and the author neatly blended them together. The thing I liked best about the book was the fact Alex was always the underdog. The queen gave him two weeks to perform an impossible task for which he was totally unprepared. He was forced to act alone, and the Red Codex was a constant mystery in his mind. Some readers may not like this book, but I highly recommend you give it a try.

Casper and Jasper and the Terrible Tyrant by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Casper and Jasper and the Terrible TyrantMy name is Casper, and my twin brother Jasper and I were literally thrown into a crowd of people when we were only six months old. Of course, it wasn't until now that we learned our real parents have been slaving away as prisoners all these years. We don't even know what they look like. Jasper and I have never been known as rule-followers (just ask our teachers), so any sensible person could have predicted we'd run away to rescue our parents. I must admit I was a little uncomfortable about being eaten by werewolves and drowning in the swamp, but the giant troll named Guthrum the Sinister came in pretty handy. I'm sorry we tricked him into burying "magic" yarn, but desperate times called for creative thinking. I'm not sure how we'll rescue our parents and mess up the count's plans for the deadly black ice, but we'll think of something.

Some readers might not enjoy the word play in the book, but I found it amusing. Younger readers will probably miss the references to old pop culture. The twins had a special bond, and their teamwork was formidable. They used language as a weapon or tool, as they confused and manipulated people they met. They managed to get past Guthrum by bribing him with yarn, and they later escaped from the same troll by using their words. Guthrum was an endearing character, since he was sincere and only wanted to do his best. I'm not sure I've ever read a book where all of the antagonists are so simple and gullible. The only one with an actual sense of evil logic was the "princess". She was a poor, needy girl who managed to become Count Wilhelm Scream's most powerful confidante using confusion and trickery. She was as ruthless as the count, as they both enjoyed inflicting pain on others. The plot jumped around to several settings, which I don't enjoy, but the imprisoned parents displayed the same magical tongues as their sons. They were able to persuade the guards into making the prison arrangements more bearable for their fellow inmates. The author left some unfinished business after the climax, but everything was resolved in the end.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1: The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta

The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond, #1)My name is Kiran, and I was rescued by two princes after a rakkhosh destroyed my home. My parents always called me a princess, but Lal and Neel have taken me to a kingdom in another dimension. I'm slowly realizing my life in New Jersey wasn't real, as my twelfth birthday broke a protective spell. I've learned that my mother is actually a moon maiden and my father is the Serpent King. He wants to change me into a snake like my seven older brothers, but Lal and Neel are tasked with my protection. Neel has a right to be angry with me, but I’m getting tired of being reminded about it. Lal’s kinda dead now because of things I mistakenly said, so Neel and I must venture into the Serpent Kingdom, where my father will probably want to kill me.

The rakkhosh is a Hindu demon, and the kingdom in this book definitely has an old Indian feel to it. The princes wore turbans with shoes that curl up at the toes, and there were many references to Indian folklore. Kiran seemed to be an ordinary girl, although she sensed her own uniqueness. The true impact of her parentage wasn’t revealed until the climax. A highlight to the story was her relationship with Neel. While her first attraction was to the kind and handsome Lal, she developed a shakier realationship with Neel. She found him arrogant and annoying but slowly came to a mutual understanding. Neel was angered by his father but fully understood why Lal was the crown prince, even though it left Neel feeling invisible in his father’s eyes. The book included some humor, as one character liked to share silly bird riddles throughout the whole plot. It also shared several life lessons including the message to not judge people based on social status. Overall, this was an entertaining book to read, and I think you should give it a shot.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Forbidden Library #4: The Fall of the Readers by Django Wexler

The Fall of the Readers (The Forbidden Library, #4)My name is Alice, and the fate of the world rests on my shoulders. I successfully imprisoned Geryon, but the other Readers are laying siege on me. I can't let them continue their cruelty toward magical creatures and the labyrinthine. Ending says she will help me if I take control of the Great Binding that holds a powerful prisoner. She says I must enter a labyrinth created by all the Readers that is protected by many formidable guardians. I don't know what will happen once I complete the quest, but I trust Ending and I will be able to make things right. However, Geryon and the Dragon have warned me the labyrinthine cannot be trusted, despite the fact Ending has always helped me and supported me in the past. I wasn't ready for the truths to be revealed, but I probably should have seen the signs. 

You need to read the whole series; it will be worth your while! Alice's quest completed the first half of this book, but Part Two was much more interesting. The "truths" mentioned above added creative complications to the whole situation and explained all of Alice's unique abilities. She was the most admirable character due to her empathy for others and her desire to make things right. She wanted to keep her friends safe, so she needed to learn how to share dangerous tasks. All of the creatures trusted Alice and rallied around her. She owned all of her decisions, since her desire for revenge against Geryon led to disastrous consequences. Ending was a cat-like creature in charge of guarding the library. Her power was clear from the beginning, but the author included details throughout the plot that questioned her motives and true self. This created an underlying conflict that continued through the whole series. I found these books by randomly choosing the first one on-line, but I can highly recommend the series to lovers of fantasy and magic.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Forbidden Library #3: The Palace of Glass by Django Wexler

The Palace of Glass (The Forbidden Library, #3)
My name is Alice, and I must get revenge against Geryon for killing my father. I don't have the power to stop him, but Ending says I can trap my mentor by using a book called The Infinite Prison. An opportunity to travel to the land of fire-sprites arose when Geryon announced he was going to be gone for seven days. Ending says the fire-sprites  may help me locate the Palace of Glass where I'll find the book I need. However, she says I'll face the most dangerous perils in existence, and I might not be able to escape. I'm learning how much other people detest Readers, but I'm not like them. It's hard to convince these people that I'm not violent and deceitful like Geryon. Ak fire-sprite named Flicker is now my guide, but I can tell he doesn't like me. It won't really matter if I don't survive my quest. 

You need to read the previous books in the series first. This one was different from the others, since Alice ventured out on her own. In previous books, she needed to coordinate her efforts with other apprentices. Alice’s mission to defeat her powerful mentor created a tremendous amount of danger and suspense. This was the man who trained her and was the most feared Reader in the world. The author amped up the tension even more by imposing a time limit on Alice’s quest and having her carry a watch to insert reminders. In addition, it seemed like the climax would be facing Geryon, but the author managed to add an unexpected twist to it. Alice was an admirable character, as she tried to maintain her positive qualities. Every new character despised Readers, and Alice displayed an unusual empathy for them. Eventually, many of these characters changed their views, although it didn’t carry over to the older Readers. The plot brought up a huge issue about how Alice’s quest might affect others, and I’m sure it will continue in the sequel.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Unwritten by Tara Gilboy

UnwrittenMy name is Gracie, and I should have trusted my mother. I now know I shouldn't have gone to the author's book-signing, and I shouldn't have let her sign the parchment. How was I to know she’d disappear? My mom wouldn't have been captured by Queen Cassandra, and I wouldn't have had to enter a portal into the storybook land of Bondoff. My mom told me the author had me killed by the queen in the original story, but I’ve now learned that I was the actual evil character. My behavior is being pulled by the story, but there’s some way for it to be rewritten. If not, my friend Walter will die a fiery death.

This book had a creative premise with Gracie and her mother escaping from inside a story by traveling to the "real world". She had disturbing dreams about Cassandra but didn't know much about her previous life. The author added a unique twist to the plot once the setting returned to Bondoff. The characters were controlled by the words previously written in the story, except for Cassandra and Gracie. This complicated things for Gracie, since her mom didn't remember anything about events outside the story. If I could change the book, I would have given examples of the queen’s evilness to build suspense. All of the characters said she was bad, but the worst  example ended up not being true. I typically like to learn about characters by their own actions and words, so I wanted to see more about the queen. The plot was easy to read and moved along swiftly. Younger middle grade readers should love it!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Forbidden Library #2: the Mad Apprentice by Django Wexler

The Mad Apprentice (The Forbidden Library, #2)
My name is Isaac, and I've been sent to capture the apprentice who murdered his Reader. I'm joined by several other apprentices including Alice, who I haven't seen since stealing The Dragon from her. I can't talk to her now, or I might let my secret slip. Together, we defeated the dragon in a prison-book, but it doesn't talk to me and hasn't given me any of its abilities. We're challenged with maneuvering through a labyrinth controlled by a giant wolf called Tempest. It can manipulate the paths we follow, and it has managed to separate our group and attack us with vicious creatures. My powers are weakening, and I'm not sure how much longer I can survive. Alice has the power to create short-cuts throughout the maze, but I don't know if it will help. Tempest is toying with us but seems to be tiring of the game. I know it said it doesn't want to harm Alice, but it won't have any problems killing the other apprentices and me. 

This book is the sequel to The Forbidden Library, and you'll need to read it first. Readers inherit the abilities of creatures they defeat inside prison-books, and they can summon them to help with challenges. Alice uses the powers of a tree-sprite, dinosaur, dragon, and swarmers. Even though she only recently discovered she's a Reader, her abilities have been more useful than other apprentices. She is the only one who experiments with the limits of her powers, and she helps the others test theirs. The new connection to the dragon is curious, since it allows Alice only partial use of its powers. This is unusual, and you're forced to wonder what is actually going on. Some of the antagonists maintain a connection across different settings, and they have no love for Readers. It feels like the Readers have their goals and objectives, but these other characters have something going on too. Alice is bringing a new attitude to Readers, since past Readers have a reputation for violence and ruthlessness. Alice displays kindness, empathy, and compassion for her fellow apprentices, and the others find this surprising. She discovers a terrible secret about her mentor that will have a huge effect their future relationship. Overall, it's a very entertaining series. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Legend of Greg by Chris Rylander

The Legend of GregMy name is Greg, and I unexpectedly discovered I'm a Dwarf and now live underground with others of my kind. I learned Elves and Dwarfs have never gotten along, which is funny since my best friend Edwin is the son of the Elf Lord. My father was captured by Elves after he discovered a new source of magic, but Edwin insists his parents had nothing to do with it. It's good that I'm a Dwarf with magical ability, but it's bad that a new war with the Elves seems imminent. I guess I rekindled all this trouble by insulting a man in my dad's store, but how was I to know he'd change into an angry Troll? Anyhow, I'm now training for battle with other young Dwarfs, but I'm a little uneasy about a legendary Dwarf weapon called Bloodletter; it speaks to me! It's calling for the blood of Elves, and stories say it will help defeat my enemies. However, the stories also say it will eventually lead to disaster. 

Dwarfs are usually sidekicks and minor characters in other novels, so it's cool to see them in a featured role. Greg is told the portrayal of Dwarfs in Lord of the Rings is inaccurate. Greg lacks confidence and feels like his family is cursed with bad luck, but it turns out all Dwarfs are pessimistic. Edwin is very supportive of Greg, both as classmates and as the plot moves outside the school. All Dwarfs distrust Elves, so Greg is constantly forced to question his friend's honesty and motivations. This is a shame, since Edwin seems to sincerely want to help his Dwarf friend. The Dwarf magic doesn't use words or spells, as it uses deep desires and feelings to control elements of the earth. Much of the magic seems instinctual rather than logical spells. Greg is unaccustomed to having friends, but he is supported by several other young Dwarfs. It's amusing to see the strongest and most aggressive friend is actually a female named Glam with an alluring mustache. Dwarf attractiveness takes some getting used to. Greg develops an affection for Ari, and I assume their relationship will be developed more in the book's sequel. That's a problem with reading new books in a series; I need to wait until 2019 for the next one to come out!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Shadow Weaver #1 by MarcyKate Connolly

Shadow Weaver (Shadow Weaver, #1)My name is Emmeline, and I've been blessed with an ability to control shadows. As a matter of fact, my best friend is my own shadow named Dar. She gives me advice, plays with me, and is my favorite companion. However, my parents are becoming concerned and frightened, and they want me sent away to be "cured". Dar said she wouldn't let that happen, and the next morning a man was found in a coma. Now, we're on the run, staying with Lucas and his family in the forest. Lucas has light magic and can control it with his songs. Dar isn't happy about our situation and only wants me to complete a ritual that will bring her back to life. I can't shake my unease that she's keeping things from me, and Lucas's family has secrets too. I fear these unknowns will come together and explode into one unbelievable disaster.

The author was able to weave a wonderful adventure surrounding a nice, but mischievous, young girl. Emmeline enjoyed her life but became very upset when others threatened to take away her best friend Dar. I imagine most of us would have the same feelings. Dar was by far the most interesting character. She clearly had a hidden agenda, and Emmeline was correct to question her. However, their inseparable relationship kept Emmeline from seriously doubting Dar's intentions. She always took Dar's side despite any troubling evidence. In contrast, Lucas's family showed Emmeline nothing but trust and kindness, so this created a big internal conflict for her. The family's secret inserted an unexpected conflict into the plot. They were so supportive and open with Emmeline that it made me wonder what they could possibly be hiding. Clearly, it had something to do with Lucas's ability and his safety, but I didn't fully expect the truth. In looking back, I probably should have seen it coming. I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first part, and it should appeal to many speculative fiction lovers. 

The Forbidden Library #1 by Django Wexler

The Forbidden Library (The Forbidden Library, #1)My name is Alice, and I used to think fairies were make-believe. That’s back before my father disappeared, and I've come to live with my "uncle". I wasn't supposed to enter his strange library, but I was shocked by what I found. Talking cats guarding the building, an evil fairy, and a young boy named Isaac who says he's a Reader. I didn't know what that meant until I found myself trapped inside a prison-book. I've learned that I too am a Reader and can gain power from the words found in books! I don't fully understand how my life has changed, but other people are trying to control. Mother, a cat magically guarding the library, wants me to find a book called The Dragon to keep it away from my uncle. Mother has said he can't be trusted and that his kindness will lead to violence and killing. 

I randomly found this book in my local library's catalog. As with many middle grade novels, the main character learns she has untapped powers that can disrupt the current world. Alice is pulled into prison-books where she gains abilities of the dangerous creatures she defeats. It’s fun to anticipate how she’ll use them to overcome future challenges. She also doesn't master the powers right away and must negotiate them. She displays empathy for the creatures which complicates her role as a Reader, since most Readers are violent and ruthless. Alice prefers to force the prison-book creatures to submit rather than kill them. Not easy to do when those same creatures are trying to destroy her. Alice’s ability to control swarmers (I pictured them as small kiwi birds with needle-sharp beaks) is her main weapon during most of the plot, and it becomes more developed along the way. It's unclear which characters can be trusted, and Alice's kindness is tested at every turn. Her mentor seems nice enough, but she's warned that he's the worst Reader of them all. While finding The Dragon is important, it isn't the story's climax; Alice still wants to find out what happened to her father and must pursue other secret missions to discover useful information.

Friday, June 15, 2018

BOB by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead

BobMy name is Bob, and Livy said she’d be right back to let me out of the closet. I think I’ve been pretty patient considering it's been five years now! I thought I was a zombie in a chicken outfit, but Livy says I’m not really dead. I guess I must agree, but we still don’t know what I am or where I come from. I remember I was in the chicken coop when Livy first saved me, and she was soaking wet. Actually, Livy thinks she might have fallen into the well first, and then I rescued her. I’m sorry Livy’s grandmother might lose her home because of the severe drought, but I just want to go home. I’ll miss the black licorice and cookies. 

This book was a quick read and told a cute story of friendship. The beginning of the book was unusual, since Livy remembered very little about her previous visit to Australia. She didn’t even recall Bob’s name but quickly agreed to help him. Her memory came back in pieces, but she couldn't understand why she’d then forget Bob even existed. This situation added a creative element to the story, as Livy’s memories came and went. Bob’s character was humorous, as he considered himself a not-zombie and described his five years living in a small, bedroom closet. How many things can you create in five years with a bunch of Lego blocks? Early in the plot, it was clear to me the drought had something to do with Bob's existence, and Grandma’s well was an important part of the setting. All issues were taken care of in the end, and I appreciated how the author resolved the relationship between Livy and Bob. Overall, this book told an emotional, fun story without any complicated twists. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

The ChangelingMy name is Martha, and my best, and only, friend Ivy says she's a changeling. She said she replaced the Carson baby when she was two years old. My parents don't like her as my friend, since I tend to get in more trouble with her. Dumping purple paint on the Girl Scout leader was an accident, but I guess stealing a horse could have been a bigger problem. I feel comfortable around Ivy and get to use more of my imagination. We invented a world in the trees called The Land of the Green Sky, and Ivy just announced she doesn't plan on getting any older. We like to act out our creative lives, and Ivy says I'm really good at pretending to be the evil queen. The only problem is we always need to leave the tree and return to the real world. I never would have imagined the problems between Ivy and my neighbor Kelly Peters would result in such dramatic consequences.

 I was puzzled as I read the book, since the big conflict wasn't clear and I wasn't sure if it was actually a speculative fiction book. Ivy called herself a changeling and said she had abilities, but she didn't seem that different. She was confident and free-spirited but didn't do anything fantastic. The magic in the book was found in the girls' imaginations. The time span of the plot began with them in elementary school and ended with them in tenth grade. The girls grew from fun-loving little kids into more mature young ladies. The aging process was a bit confusing, as they continued to enjoy their imaginary world. I was surprised they didn't get hassled more by their classmates, as they entered middle school. Strangely, Ivy entered and left the story several times due to her family's shady history. My biggest issue with the book, as mentioned, was that I wasn't sure where the plot was headed. It seemed like a collection of stories until the book neared its end. At that point, a big problem arose and was solved. Overall, it was a good book, but didn't wow me. 

The Trials of Apollo #3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan

The Burning Maze (The Trials of Apollo, #3)My name is Apollo, and the Burning Maze is destroying the lands all across California. Of course, my quest will require this flabby human body of mine (thanks Zeus!) to enter the maze in order to free one of my oracles. A vision told me the rescue is a trap set by Caligula, and he wants to capture what's left of my godly powers to become the new sun god. Not gonna happen! Meg and I have been joined by Grover, Piper, and Jason, but I know our success will depend on my bravery and sacrifice. The path through the underground Burning Maze can only be found by stealing Caligula's special shoes. Unfortunately, his fleet of yachts is being guarded by an army of mercenaries and magical creatures. And, a prophecy has foretold that one of us will die during the mission.

I recommend you read the previous books in the series, although it's not necessary to enjoy The Burning Maze. It features the same exciting adventures and action found in Riordan's other books. The premise established in book one of the series is that Zeus is being punished by Apollo who has changed him into a pimply-faced teenage boy. Apollo doesn't have any godly powers except for a magical ukulele. He doesn't complain about his situation as much this time and starts to appreciate the lives of humans. Meg is a wonderful character, as her insecurities blend with her anger and amazing fighting skills. In a twist of circumstances, she is Apollo's boss and can force him to obey any of her orders. They've become close companions, but their interactions are still amusing. Apollo's comments supply most of the book's humor and are a highlight of its entertainment. However, the plot includes some sadness, as a major character doesn't survive the dangerous events. This adds to Apollo's empathy for others, and he promises to remember his time as a human when (if?) he becomes a god again. The book ends with Apollo and Meg heading off on the next quest found in book four. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

The Book of BoyMy name is Boy, although some call me monster because of my hunchback. Father Petrus told me I'm a miracle, but I should never reveal myself. This is most important! Now, I'm on the road with a pilgrim named Secundus who is collecting relics of Saint Peter. He says he was once in Hell but hopes taking the relics to Rome will get him into heaven. He can't touch them without getting burned, so I've agreed to help. I don't like how people look down on me, so I'm also hoping this quest will help cure my hunchback and make me a real boy. However, I made a big mistake last night and accidentally revealed the truth of my hunchback to Secundus. He's frightened of me and has told me to go away. I can't believe what he says about my back, but what am I to do?

I must admit this book won't appeal to everyone, but it offers an unusual story with a strong spiritual twist. Saint Peter was the first pope, and all of the characters believed his relics would create miracles. Secundus professed that he wanted to protect the relics from thieves, but Boy started to wonder about his motivation. The pilgrim's story about being from Hell made his character difficult to figure out. Did his character have positive virtues, or did his character create more of a conflict? I'm not sure. The real story surrounded the revelation of Boy's secret about his hunchback, a truth his character was not willing to accept. The revelation occurred at the mid-point of the plot, but I don't want to spoil it's importance by sharing it here. On a humorous note, Boy attracted animals all along the way, and Secundus playfully suggested they have a contest by guessing what kind of animal would be laying next to him in the morning. This unusual ability actually offered another curious clue regarding Boy's true identity. Overall, I liked the story, although it wasn't the kind of book I'd normally choose. For that reason, I won't give it a strong recommendation. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Magicalamity by Kate Saunders

MagicalamityMy name is Tom, and I've just learned that my father is a fairy, wanted for murder in the Realm. I have three fairy godmothers, although Lorna is the only one who actually answered the call to help me. She says I'm a demisprite, half human and half fairy, and plans to help me rescue my parents. Her magic skills are a little rusty, but I seem to have a natural talent for flying. I've met my other godmothers, and they're not as nice as Lorna. One of them has no love for demisprites, and the other has enslaved all of her "dead" husbands. I'm trying to understand everything they're saying about my father's life as a fairy, and it's clear there's more to his murder charge than we thought. 

This book offers a bit of adventure and mystery with humor added in. I mean, Lorna is the first magical character you meet, and she's forgotten most of the easiest spells; Tom is unexpectedly forced to help her relearn how to fly. The contrast between godmothers creates interest and humor, as they reconnect after being close college friends. Two of them say they've adjusted to the mortal world without using magic, but they clearly have not. One uses it to have children steal for her own profit, and the other uses it to control all of her ex-husbands to profit from their money. It sounds bad, but it's funny; the husbands are okay in the end! The author also includes humorous descriptions, as Tom is flown through disgusting sewers and is forced to disguise himself as a female dancer. It's surprising Tom didn't display more abilities even though it's said that demisprites sometimes develop unusual powers. He could fly and that was it. Overall, this book tells an entertaining story of fairies and evil rulers, and I recommend you give it a try.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

William Wenton #2: William Wenton and the Secret Portal by Bobbie Peers

William Wenton and the Secret PortalMy name is William Wenton, and Abraham's body has been stolen from the Institute's cryogenic lab. My grandfather sent me back there after I nearly passed out while on a television show. A high-pitched sound causes the seizures, and I've been getting a vision of a gold ring floating inside a Himalayan cave. I can tell it's upset Goffman and Professor Bengamin, and I now know why. Abraham has been taken to the portal by a robotic assassin named Cornelia, and I think it has something to do with bringing more luridium to earth. The supermetal creates a robotic connection to living organisms, and that can't be a good thing for mankind; it nearly wiped out all humans over three-hundred million years ago. Since I'm the one who was tricked into activating the portal, Goffman says I'm the only one who can stop Abraham.

This series will not appeal to everyone, but I find it interesting. William's body is 49% luridium which gives him a super-ability to break codes. However, several times the book says it's unclear what will happen if he becomes 50% luridium; it's possible the material will take control of his mind. The most enjoyable part of the book is the myriad of new inventions. The characters wear suits that can change and adapt to whatever is needed, and the assassin has a detachable hand that can wreak havoc. There are robots for guarding secure places, escorting people through hallways, and William even has a talking door. The robots are able to speak and possess their own thoughts and feelings, so William learns to manipulate their gullibility. The plot moves along fairly quickly, and it's clear another sequel will follow. There's some tragedy during the book's climax, but it's semi-reversed during the resolution. The book didn't knock my socks off, but I've enjoyed the series so far. You'll like it too if you have a love for robotics.

Monday, May 28, 2018

William Wenton #1: William Wenton and the Impossible Puzzle by Bobbie Peers

William Wenton and the Impossible PuzzleMy name is really William Wenton, and I’m the only person in the world to solve the Impossible Puzzle. Of course, I had no idea it would put my life in serious danger. My house was attacked by a robotic creature, and I ended up in an institute for code breakers, co-founded by my grandfather. I had no idea how I reached level four with the Orb on my first day there, passing the other six candidates who had been there much longer. I’ve now learned there’s a supermetal called luridium that bonds with living organisms. It happened to some crazy guy named Abraham, and now he’s after me. I was supposed to be safe at the Institute, and I was safe until Abraham’s robots attacked. Now, I’ve got to find my missing grandfather and the rest of the luridium.

William doesn’t exactly have superpowers, but his code-breaking ability seems like it. His Orb acts as a protective sidekick and seems to know when it’s most needed. I’m not sure why the author chose to describe the Institute and Center for Misinformation as the safest places for William to hide. Abraham had no problem wrecking both locations once he knew William was there. I figured the complexes should have some kind of defense against him. The most enjoyable aspect of the book is the use of robotics. The Institute has all kinds of useless robots, as described by the characters, including one designed to argue and one to go up stairs. There was a whole cybernetic garden full of strange robotic creatures. William bonds with one candidate at the Institute, and I assume she’ll be back in book two. I’m hoping the other candidates will have bigger roles in the sequel.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Whatshisface by Gordon Korman

WhatshisfaceMy name is Cooper, and my cellphone is being haunted by a young boy named Roddy from the year 1596! My new school is presenting Romeo and Juliet, but Roddy says Shakespeare stole the script from a play he wrote! I have an idea to right this wrong, but it involves the town’s billionaire. Plus, Jolie is the only one at school who knows my name, and she’s co-starring in the play with the biggest jerk in seventh grade. Roddy’s giving me advice on how to talk to her, but he doesn’t fully understand kids today. I can’t speak old English to her, and Roddy’s embarrassed me more than once. I'm now known as the kid who made the school smell like rotten eggs. Roddy’s discovered how to escape the phone by himself, and I’m worried about the new trouble he’ll create for me.

You can usually rely on Korman to write entertaining stories. The majority of the plot is about Cooper’s efforts to gain Jolie’s favor, as she is free-spirited with a love for thrills and adventure. That description doesn't fit Cooper, but Jolie and Roddy help him leave his leave his comfort zone. Many middle school students can identify with his character, as they try to be accepted by their peers. Sadly, Roddy is Cooper's only close friend until the book’s resolution. Roddy is the most interesting character. He loves television and other electronic inventions and is enamored by Vanna White on “Wheel of Fortune”. His advice to Cooper is amusing, since kids don’t profess their love so quickly and openly. If he had his way, Cooper and Jolie would have married during the first week of school. Roddy challenges Cooper to take risks, and things usually work out okay. I don’t know if there’s any truth to Shakespeare stealing ideas from other authors, but it’s an interesting twist. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Books of the Beginning #3: The Black Reckoning by John Stephens

The Black Reckoning (The Books of Beginning, #3)My name is Emma, and I am the keeper of the Reckoning. It's the book of death, but I must travel to the land of the dead to retrieve it. The Dire Magnus always seems to be one step ahead of Kate, Michael, and I, and I have no doubts he has plans for me. We must bring the three books together to stop the Dire Magnus, but a prophecy says this will also result in our deaths. Kate's feelings have become confused, since her friend Rafe's life has been absorbed into the Dire Magnus. The Atlas is changing her, and she's afraid to continue using the magic. I've learned that when we use the magic within the books, the fabric of all existence is being torn apart. I don't fully understand what that means, but it seems like the Reckoning and I are the keys to saving the world. 

This book is the conclusion to The Books of Beginning trilogy. I recommend you try it out, since it's full of magic, adventure, and action. The author adds some complications to the magic to keep things interesting. Michael experiences the memories of others when he uses his book, and Emma must judge people's lives when using her book. Michael's character is the most dynamic, as he undergoes dramatic changes. He gains more confidence and isn't afraid to take charge. He now accepts his relationship with a fairy princess, and it's an important factor in the plot. The author includes another twist, since the princess is able to change into a dragon when needed. It adds another dimension to Michael's feelings for her. The children's parents reappear after ten years away, and they may provide information that will allow their kids to survive the books. Once again, three young characters must face  a seemingly impossible conflict and somehow find a way out of it.

Last Descendants 3: Fate of the Gods by Matthew Kirby

Fate of the Gods (Assassin's Creed: Last Descendants, #3)My name is Owen, and we must stop Isaiah from completing the Trident and destroying the world. He already has two prongs, and he'll be unstoppable if he gets his hands on the third. Natalya, Grace, and I have entered the Animus to experience the Ascendance Event, a collective memory within all of mankind's DNA. We faced challenges of fear, devotion, and faith, and a creator (goddess?) said we now have a shield within us to defeat the power of the Trident. I don't feel any different, so I don't know what she's talking about. However, I do know Isaiah is using Sean to locate the third Piece of Eden, and he's very close to finding it. We found his letter left inside a book of mythology, and I don't think anyone realized the crazy thoughts going on inside his head. 

I think this book concluded a trilogy, although the last page seemed to leave a door open for a sequel. There were a lot of things going on in this book, and you must read the other two books in order to understand the centuries-long conflict between the Brotherhood of Assassins and the Templars. Those books will also explain the Animus, a key technology to the plot. The six teenagers were the main characters, and they each had their own issues. Sean was confined to a wheelchair, Owen was dealing with his father's death while in prison, Grace felt like she always needed to protect her brother David, and he wanted her to back off. Isaiah was able to use the issues for Sean and Owen against them until they learned to accept their fears. The author left a lot of action and drama for the last fifty pages of the book, and I didn't think there was any way he could wrap up all the conflicts. It made the end exciting, but I felt like things were rushed. Overall, I enjoyed this trilogy for young adults and can recommend it to you.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Books of Beginning #2: The Fire Chronicle by John Stephens

The Fire Chronicle (The Books of Beginning, #2)My name is Michael, and my older sister Kate vanished into the past and hasn’t returned. A prophecy says my sisters and I will reunite three books, but that may not be a good idea. Kate disappeared with the Atlas, and I’m going to become the keeper of the Chronicle. My little sister Emma and I have journeyed to Antarctica where we’re being hunted by the Dire Magnus’s army of Screechers and Imps...... This is Kate. Tell Michael I've traveled two hundred years in the past and don't know how to get back. I've been helped by a boy named Rafe, but I can't tell if he's my friend or an enemy. The Dire Magnus seems to have plans for Rafe and I, and that can’t be a good thing.

I recommend you read the first book in the series first. The more important plot this time focuses on Michael's quest to find the Chronicle, while the subplot follows Kate's difficulties in returning to the future. Rafe’s character adds an interesting twist to the book. He helps Kate with while in the past, but it's evident he's going to become the main antagonist in the series. Kate's not sure how to deal with him; is he a friend or an enemy? Michael is the middle child and seriously accepts the responsibility of protecting his younger sister Emma. His character matures a lot, as he becomes more decisive. Absorbed memories provide him with impressions and feelings that lead him toward the second book. Michael, Emma, and Gabriel travel to the South Pole but discover a few magical surprises once they arrive. We're talking elves, dwarves, and an enchanted dragon. Michael picks up a close elf "friend" along the way. Emma doesn't have a large role in the plot, but I assume she'll be the main character when the kids eventually search for the Reckoning in the third book. I'm enjoying the series and have already started reading the sequel to The Fire Chronicle

Monday, May 14, 2018

Last Descendants #2: Tomb of the Khan by Matthew J. Kirby

Tomb of the Khan (Assassin's Creed: Last Descendants #2)My name is David, and my sister and I were captured by the Templars. I've been enjoying the simulations in the Animus using my grandfather's DNA, but my sister says it's not a game. I know we're searching for the three Pieces of Eden, but it's been a blast experiencing combat missions with the Tuskegee Airmen. However, one night I went exploring in more secure areas of the compound and overheard a disturbing conversation. Isaiah told his men to infiltrate the Assassins and kill our friends Owen and Javier; what kind of people would murder kids! My sister, Sean, and Natalya don't believe my story, but I'm now sure these Templars can't be trusted. I think Natalya is on the fence about them, so I hope she'll come with me when I escape. I'm almost positive she's discovered the location of the second prong of the trident, and we've got to retrieve it first. 

You need to read book one first. I wasn't crazy about the Animus simulations this time, since several characters were experiencing unrelated events. It got a little muddled between those descriptions, and the multiple names for characters and their ancestors added to the confusion. It wasn't unmanageable, but it created some difficulty after a day or two of not reading. Whereas the simulations were most important in the first book, I found the "real world" problems more interesting this time. The ages-long conflict between the Assassins and the Templars continued, with Monroe's status unclear in the beginning. He reappeared to change the dynamics, but there was a new player involved who had gotten the first Piece of Eden. This person was finally revealed during the book's climax. There was some killing involved in the plot, but it wasn't as bad as the cover words "Assassin's Creed" might imply. Actually, the creed guides the Assassins' actions, and they seemed more honorable than the Templars. The book continued the question as to whether either group was totally good or totally bad. With the identity of the new player now known, I'm looking forward to reading the third book.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Map to Everywhere #1 by Carrie Ryan and John Park Davis

The Map to Everywhere (Map to Everywhere, #1)My name is Fin, and no one can remember me. The wizard Ardent says it's not magic, but even he forgets me once his attention changes. Marrill is the only exception, and we have a common goal of finding our mothers. She says the Pirate Stream, a river of creation that touches every place and time from the beginning to the end of history, suddenly appeared in someplace called Arizona. Ardent says there's a map that can locate places you need to go, but it's been separated into several pieces. We've found one piece, but finding the second piece was a lot more difficult. I didn't tell the others that I stole a key belonging to a crazy, powerful wizard called the Oracle, and he's the reason the Gibbering Grove was left in flames. Now, he's hunting us down and won't stop until he has the key and the map in his possession.

This book told an entertaining adventure through the lands along the Pirate Stream. This flowing mass of magic would kill anyone trying to drink it, and it transformed objects that fell in. The kids thought it would be fun to experiment until a pepper shaker turned into a sea monster. Fin's character was definitely the most interesting. As I said above, everyone forgot him and some didn't even notice his presence. This helped him become an excellent thief, but it was upsetting that no one cared about him. For that reason, his motivation to find his mother was very powerful. Marrill's character created new difficulties for him, since she considered him a friend. He'd never had a friend before and wasn't used to worrying about anyone else. Escaping captivity from animated vines was more troublesome once he remembered Marrill was left behind. The Oracle's insanity amped up the suspense, since his vision of the future would result in the Pirate Stream's destruction. This would cause the obliteration of all lands surrounding it. Overall, the story was creative and kept my interest, so I recommend you give it a shot. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Goolz Next Door #1: A Bad Night for Bullies by Gary Ghislain

A Bad Night for Bullies (The Goolz Next Door, #1)My name is Harold, and I have some good news and some bad news. A beautiful girl named Ilona has moved in next door, but her father activated a stone that brought a dead woman back to life. I used the stone once, and the creature let me stand up from my wheelchair. Ilona says the stone will slowly kill you when it’s used, so she’s hidden it away from her father and sister, and me. Now, two bullies have disappeared up by the deserted church and cemetery, and we’re sure the dead woman is responsible. Her creepy eyes, rotten teeth, and decaying skin gave me the heebie jeebies, but Mr. Goolz says it’s important for us to find out her identity. Then, maybe we can figure out what she wants and come up with a plan to stop her. You might think I was brave, if I wasn’t so terrified inside!

I randomly chose this book from the new releases shelf at my local library, and I really enjoyed it. It was immediately clear that Ilona's character was going to do unexpected things. Harold’s first encounter found her rescuing him by shoving a bully off the pier, right in front of his gang. She made Harold forget about his special needs and helped him become a full participant in this adventure. I thought her little sister would have a larger role in the plot, but she moved into the background about halfway in. The story was told through Harold’s eyes and shared his inner conflict with being confined to a wheelchair. The Goolz family seemed to accept his situation better than his own mother. She insisted they were living a good life even after Harold voiced his true feelings. Harold felt she was overly protective. The book read as a mystery novel with a supernatural focus. A ghosts existed and was at the center of the conflict. However, past histories had a huge impact on the current events, and the conflict couldn't be resolved until they were settled. I really liked this first book about the Goolz, and I'm looking forward to the sequel. 

Assassin's Creed #1: Last Descendants by Matthew Kirby

Last Descendants (Assassin's Creed: Last Descendants #1)My name is Owen, and my life has gotten very weird. A man named Monroe says I'm a descendant of two groups who've been battling to control mankind for thousands of years, the Templars and the Brotherhood. He has a machine that allows me, along with others, to travel back in time to the minds of our ancestors. He says our small group is unique, because our ancestors' pasts have intersected around three prongs of the Trident, the Pieces of Eden. Monroe has sent us back to Civil War times in hopes of finding the location of one of the blades that will be critical in the North winning the conflict. My ancestor is an Assassin named Varius, and his mission is to retrieve the artifact from the Aztec Club. However, my friend Javier's relative is a Templar whose mission is to stop me. The future of mankind hinges on which ancestor is successful.

This book presented an interesting take on the time travel paradox of changing past events that might affect the future. The boys and girls were mostly observers in the minds of characters from the past and weren't supposed to change their behaviors. The kids would be kicked out of the simulation if they caused their ancestors to act out of character, since those actions might change the future. The competing Brotherhood and Templars were both working for the betterment of mankind, although their philosophies were very different. One believed in free will with guidance, while the other believed in more control. The book never prescribed which group was good or bad, and the characters became confused about this question. It made me wonder which group the kids should be helping and added to the suspense of the plot. In a way, each group was good and bad. The characters could experience the thoughts and feelings of their ancestors, and this ability created additional conflict for them. How could the black character remain silent, while a white character was insulting and abusing them? How could another character sit quietly, while his ancestor enjoyed the hunting and killing of others? The book didn't contain as much killing as I imagined, although it is a major factor in the plot. Overall, I enjoyed it and plan on reading the sequel.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye

Wizard for HireMy name is Ozzy, and my parents were kidnapped seven years ago. I've been living alone in the woods ever since, except for my robotic raven named Clark. I decided to try finding my parents and hired a wizard named Rin to help, although I've never actually seen him cast a spell. I found some tapes hidden in the cloaked house and discovered my parents were working on a way to control minds. They moved to these remote woods in Oregon to hide, but my home is no longer hidden. Someone broke in and ransacked the place! I can't go to the police, since the school discovered I strolled into the building without any records. I wish Rin could just cast a spell to find my parents, but he says it doesn't work that way. It still seems like it would be a lot safer than car chases, hiding from the police, and facing men with guns!

I was expecting a book full of spells and magic, but that's not what I found (Although Rin would disagree). Even up until the end, I kept wondering if Rin actually possessed the powers he claimed to own. A few amazing things occurred, but they could have been flukes or luck. Magic would have made things much easier, but I liked how the author kept it uncertain. The most magical part of the book was Clark. He was a talking robotic raven with independent thought. He saved the human characters a couple times, but his most endearing quality was his love for birds and metal objects. He wasn't shy about sharing his affection for the school flagpole and a trash dumpster. The whole plot was presented like a mystery, as Ozzy tried to uncover the truth about his parents. Living in the middle of the woods without electricity created problems, and having the police hunting him created more of them. Rin's eccentric character was helpful, and but his unusual thinking made his actions unpredictable. Imagine being in a high-speed chase, flipping off a mound of dirt, and landing atop a moving train. Luck or magic? The early part of the book didn't move along as fast as I would have liked, but overall I really enjoyed the story.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Demon Notebook #1 by Erika McGann

The Demon Notebook (The Demon Notebook #1)My name is Grace, and my friends and I just wanted to see if we could cast a few spells. We wrote them in a notebook, but none of them worked. Until... we tried using Rachel's new Ouija board. Una started acting very strangely, and the spells we had written down started to work in reverse order. James fell in love with me, a boy peed his pants, and a blizzard snowed-in our town. However, then we remembered our first spell... for the school bully Tracy to get hit by a bus. We don’t know what we’re doing, and we’re taking turns watching over Una. At first, we thought she simply couldn’t handle the stress, but now the problem may be worse than we thought. Her glowing red eyes are a big clue that something has gone terribly wrong!

This book told a story of young girls messing with powers they didn’t know existed. The first spell was written out of anger, but the other eight were just silly. The spells occurring in reverse order created a countdown to the most serious one and added some suspense. The girls were mad at Tracy, but they didn’t want her dead. Then, Una’s situation transformed her from a victim into an antagonist and really complicated the problem. Even though Grace was the main character, her friends took turns having more important roles in the plot. Adie was more timid, Jenny was more athletic, and Rachel was quicker to take action. Ironically, Adie stepped out of character during the climax to help save Tracy. The girls received support from a couple adults with an interesting back-story of their own. Mrs. Quinlan offered spells to dispose of the demons, but she made it clear that she would not take direct action in the conflict. I was a bit surprised when it took Mrs. Lemon so long to get involved, since she taught in school. Overall, this is a fun book and includes a sequel, The Broken Spell.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bounders #3: The Forgotten Shrine by Monica Tesler

The Forgotten Shrine (Bounders #3)My name is Lucy, and my pod has been sent to Alkalinia, a world of snake-like creatures. Admiral Eames says they're our allies, but Jasper was the first to suspect something sneaky's going on. Our virtual reality rooms seemed awesome until we realized we hadn't left them for a week! Later, we were hunting for a way to shut down the occludium shield when we discovered a secret room with a giant serpent named Serena. She fears the Alaklinians have forgotten their past mistakes and are on the verge of another war. Against whom? Jasper and I figured out our pod members are being secretly drugged, and something is happening to us while we sleep. Despite the admiral's order to stop, we've got to keep investigating our hosts. It would be a lot easier if Marco would stop inviting Jasper's little sister along!

I recommend you read the previous books in the series to understand what's going on with bounding, the many references to the Youli, and Jasper's special connection with Mira. I liked the mystery of this book's plot, as the kids tried to uncover the Alakalinans' plans. The admiral complicated things by ordering them to not mess up relations with their allies. However, it was clear to the pod members that these creatures were not friends. I was disappointed the author chose not to use bounding as a major factor in the story. Other than traveling to the planet, bounding could have been totally left out without any impact to the other events. Jasper's little sister Addy was a huge addition to the cast, as she kept forcing herself into pod activities. Her presence really bugged Lucy and created friction throughout much of the plot. Jasper's claustrophobia and Marco's fear of snakes also created some issues.The last chapter left Mira and Jasper in a very surprising setting with many questions to be answered. Overall, I loved this book, and I'm looking forward to the next one. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Five Kingdoms #5: Time Jumpers by Brandon Mull

Time Jumpers (Five Kingdoms, #5)My name is Cole, and it's inevitable that Ramarro will escape the Void and conquer all the kingdoms. My powers are slowly coming back since I've left the echolands, and I am the only one who might have a chance at stopping him. With the help of a Wayminder named Violet, I'm able to instantly travel anywhere in the Five Kingdoms with my friends Mira, Jace, and Twitch. We're searching for two Grand Shapers named Lorenzo and Kendo Rattan who are rumored to still be alive. Kendo created the Void, so he may have knowledge that can help us. However, Owandell controls the Enforcers, and they're searching for us everywhere. Now I've learned that I must travel back in time to get the information we need to stop Ramarro, if the information ever existed at all. 

I highly recommend you read all the other books in the series, or this one won't make much sense. A creative twist in the series is that different characters have unique powers, but they only work in specific kingdoms. Leave the kingdom, and the power leaves too. Cole has the ability to connect with other characters' powers and can neutralize or enhance them. Books dealing with time travel always need to address the paradox of characters' actions in the past changing events in the future. This book indicates characters might be able to change things in the past, but those actions become part of the past and don't affect the future. Confusing? It's really not. Previous books in series saw characters scattered across the Five Kingdoms, but Cole starts to reconnect with all of them. He's even able to reunite several princesses with their mother, although they all disappear. The castle personnel believe Cole and his friends are the kidnappers, so this adds another conflict to the mix. Ironically, the king and queen both endorse Cole's efforts, so it's strange to him become a suspect in their disappearances. Overall, this book was a nice conclusion to an exciting series.

Ninja Librarians #1: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey

The Accidental Keyhand (The Ninja Librarians #1)My name is Dorrie, and my brother Marcus and I have literally fallen into Petrarch’s Library. The lybrarians ensure the survival of free thought by traveling back to key moments in history. Keyhands are carefully trained to open portals in time, but somehow I opened a new one from the 21st century. Marcus accidentally tore a page from a History of Histories book, and it’s now missing. This can be disastrous if The Foundation finds it! The head of security Francesco already thinks Marcus and I are working for them, and I’m afraid my brother may have dropped the page in Ancient Greece! We seem to be keeping more and more secrets from everyone, and it feels like it's too late to come clean with the truth. But if we don't tell someone, history may be changed forever.

This book told a fun story about two kids being dropped into an unbelievable situation. The lybrarians are taught the basics of the job, but they also learn other necessary skills to protect free thought throughout history. Lucky for Dorrie, sword fighting is one of those skills, and her training became an important subplot. An early conflict involved a duel for honor that found her very unprepared. On the other hand, her brother's main focus was on getting a date with a cute instructor. The missing page became the main conflict and developed into a mystery with many suspects. The kids thought they knew what had happened but later realized the page must have been stolen. The thief wasn't revealed until near the end, and this event kicked off an exciting adventure toward the climax. I first heard about this book in a Goodreads discussion group. Overall, I enjoyed the novelty of the story and recommend you give it a shot. 

Magic, Madness, and Mischief by Kelly McCullough

Magic, Madness, and MischiefMy name is Kalvan, and I don’t suppose you’ve ever met a talking red hare. Sparx is teaching me about my life as a child of fire, which I knew nothing about until he showed up. I can control the element, although I almost burned down some woods by blowing fire out of my mouth. I told Sparx about a strange feeling I had down in my stepfather Oscar’s basement that really shook me up. With my friend Dave’s help, we explored the room and found something hidden in a model of the city. Sparx says it’s ancient, deadly, and a powerful enemy to people like us. We also discovered a terrifying secret about Oscar... the Winter King is living in my house and has a plan to rule forever!

This book was okay but didn't knock my socks off. I most enjoyed Sparx's character as the sarcastic sidekick. He had been alive for a very long time and showed little patience for Kalvan's lack of knowledge regarding the power of fire. He was an impatient mentor who didn't have answers for all of Kalvan's questions. As in many middle grade novels, Kalvan was just discovering his powers but was forced to face overwhelming odds. Using Kalvan's stepfather as the main antagonist was a nice twist and complicated life at home. The story was set during the approaching winter season which provided Oscar with even more strength. Kalvan had a strong affection for his mother and was very protective of her. Despite her emotional issues, the mother's fond words for Kalvan were key motivators for her son. Again, I enjoyed the book but imagine some other readers might enjoy it more. It's a matter of taste, and I just felt like a little something was missing.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Mad Wolf's Daughter by Diane Magras

The Mad Wolf's DaughterMy name is Drest, and my father and brothers have been taken prisoner. They'll be hanged in five days unless I can save them. I'm hoping to exchange an injured knight named Emerick for them, but we have many miles to travel. Emerick didn't believe me when I said he was injured by one of his fellow knights, and I suspect there's more going on here. I know how to wield my brother's sword, and I can hear advice from the others in my head. They've both been immeasurably important, as I've encountered many different people during my trek. Some of them have great respect for my father, The Mad Wolf, while his name enrages others. Some say he's helped and protected them, while other people say he's poisoned and murdered. However, I trust my father and will do all I can to save him and my brothers. 

The Mad Wolf's Daughter didn't read like a regular speculative fiction book. The most fantastic aspect was when Drest heard her brothers' voices in her mind. This adventure told the story of a young girl who discovering conflicted truths about her family. Her father's reputation preceded her, but she unknowingly created a reputation of her own. Many people expected her to be barbaric but were shown compassion instead. She was fiercely loyal to her new friends. Emerick was clearly a foe in the beginning, but she nursed him and helped him cover the many miles of travel. She rescued a boy and a witch along the way and spared the life of a bandit who would have killed her. There were episodes of action when Drest was rescuing someone or was defending herself. Her relationship with Emerick morphed into friendship, as was expected, but it became a little more complicated again near the story's climax. I assume there will be a sequel to the book due to its resolution. Suspicions were confirmed, and other hidden stories were revealed. 

Brass Monkeys by Terry Caszatt

Brass MonkeysMy name is Eugene Wise, and you must admit I look nothing like a hero. I'll spare you the details, but my new friends think I'm the savior of all school kids across the country. A crazy woman named Ming has taken kids down to Monkeyopolis where she's going to suck out their Amberlight, stealing their hopes and dreams. A strange man said I can stop her by giving a red book to McGinty. However, I don't know where he is, and Ming has all of her Stormies searching for me! I need to save Harriet and my other friends who've already been changed into monkey drones. The only plan I can think of is to sneak into Ming's fortress, sneak through the sewer pipes, and sneak into a secret cave where McGinty might be hiding. Sounds crazy, but "C'mon, me, don't give up now!"

If you don't have a tolerance for silliness, you won't enjoy this book, as kids traveling to the underground world become monkeys once they arrive. There are many references to items and ideas found in schools that are used in strange, new ways. Ming's guards use weapons that fire old tests and erasers. The tests will cause you to become terribly depressed, while the erasers will wipe out all of your memories. Buildings and vehicles are made from old desks and chalkboards. Despite the unusual plot, the book describes an entertaining adventure with an unassuming protagonist. Eugene doesn't think he's anything special, yet he's constantly talking himself into performing brave deeds. He won't leave his friends and allies in danger, which sometimes created bigger problems. The story includes many references to classic middle grade literature, and music plays a very important role in the plot. Eugene thinks he's carrying a dinged-up trumpet for courage, but it becomes an "instrumental" weapon used to save the day. It sounded like a sequel might be expected, but I can't find one written by this author.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Wizardmatch by Lauren Magaziner

WizardmatchMy name is Lennie, and I couldn’t believe my mom chose Michael to compete against our cousins in the Wizardmatch! Poppop told her to pick him, but she should have stood up for me! It's so unfair! I deserve to be the next Prime Wizard, and I need to do something big. I found Uncle Humphrey secretly living in the borderlands, and he's the only person who believes in me. He's going to become my mentor and teach me how to master my power of invisibility. But the Wizardmatch is still unfair, and it's got all the relatives at each other's throats. I can't even stand to be around my little brother anymore. My uncle has a plan that might solve everything, but it will require me to use my power in ways I've never imagined. 

It was strange to see a grandfather being such a jerk toward his kids and grandkids. He was self-centered, superficial, and played favorites. Even though Lennie was the protagonist, she was clearly motivated by anger and jealousy. I didn't have a lot of empathy for her character, as her actions often didn't make her much better than her grandfather. She behaved in a selfish manner despite mentioning some unfairness to her older cousins and females. Her temper drove her behavior, but it was nice to see more positive qualities emerge when her plans fell apart. Be prepared for some goofiness, as the magic was used in unusual ways. Poppop's estate included a moat made of chocolate pudding, a cemetery made of goulash, and one floor in the castle was made of jelly. One cousin was able to eat things and cough up birds, while another had the ability to control his hair. Overall, the story was entertaining and created a fun tale. It provided a positive message regarding respect and family relationships. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Sci-Fi Junior High #2: Crash Landing by John Martin and Scott Seegert

Sci-Fi Junior High: Crash LandingMy name is Kelvin, and my eighth grade year is not starting off well. My klutziness is giving me more embarrassing nicknames than I can handle, and I'll have another chance to make a fool of myself at a mandatory dance. Plus, my four-year-old little sister is a genius and will be coming to my school next week. I'm a little distracted right now, since I can't believe my dad is keeping Zorb in his lab. He's a genius scientist with a terrible sense of humor, but the Zorb's energy is way too dangerous to keep around here. He won't destroy the object, so I guess it's up to my group of friends to do it. We can't figure out a way to get past the robot guards, and my genius friend Brian's brain goes to pickles under stress. Maybe this can be my great thing that will make everyone forget about my horrible reputation.

I feel like I have a high tolerance for goofy stories, but this book really put me to the test. Alternate chapters shared the story of the antagonist's plans to steal the Zorb, and the character happened to be an evil bunny. He had a scheme to kidnap Kelvin but didn't join the other characters until the plot reached its climax. These characters were a blend of creatures from various planets. One of Kelvin's friends had six eyes, and Brian's brain was visible in his head. Drawings were used creatively, as the cartoons shared events and characters' thoughts. These pictures also identified the speakers of dialogue. I guess this book is the second one in a series, although I didn't read the first one. If silly science fiction brings you joy, you'll love these books.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Abode by Patricia Mather Parker

The AbodeMy name is Fel, and I escaped from the Abode but returned through the Mist to free my friend Molly and the other children. I found Molly at the bottom of the Great Hole where fish guts are tossed, but she wasn’t alone. A dragon named Ywyn used the Summoning to tell us about our past. I don't fully understand yet how it happened, but we were once dragons too! Ywyn's brother Gwyr has imprisoned him in this cave for years, and Molly is the key to freeing him and all the other dragons. Gwyr used two of the three magical orbs for evil purposes, but Molly has possession of the third one. Everyone in the Abode fears Gwyr's ruthless power, but Molly is the new Black One. She is the only one who can rescue all the dragons from eternal servitude. 

I received a copy of the book from the author, and I was very impressed with the quality of the writing. After so many years of reading middle grade novels, it's rare when I find new ideas for common topics. The Abode developed surprising twists to the plot that kept me wondering what might happen next. I clearly understood the plight of the dragons, but I wasn't sure how Molly and Fel might resolve the conflict. The characters didn't fully understand the problem until later in the book, as the Visitor was a mysterious, unknown villain; I won't reveal his identity here. The suspense in the plot ebbed and flowed. Characters escaped and made plans to stop the Visitor, while others were captured or punished. The main characters became trusted friends and developed a family feeling. It was cool to see humans working with dragons to resolve a dragon problem. The author offered a bit of humor, as a parrot and pirate captain bantered with a general dislike for each other. It became clear this dislike masked a growing respect. Overall, I loved the book and recommend you add it to your reading list.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Boy From Tomorrow by Camile DeAngelis

The Boy from TomorrowMy name is Josie, and I've been using a Ouija board to communicate with a boy named Alec who lives in my house, one hundred years in the future! I found it hard to believe at first, but he's shared information that proves he's real. My mother makes a living by communicating with spirits, but I wouldn't tell her about Alec. She's never been very loving, but her behavior is disturbing. She hit my little sister Cassie, locked her in a closet, and fired our tutor! Somehow, she found out about Alec and has forbidden me from talking to him. She wants to gain power and respect in society by taking credit for his information about the future. I wish I could someday meet Alec and escape this house, but can never be. He's given me ideas, but I am the only one who can save my future. 

I found this book on Net Galley, and I enjoyed how the author slowly developed the conflict and suspense. It started as innocent curiosity between children from different eras but became a more serious tale of a powerful mother's domineering control of her home. The story used alternating chapters to share the events in the lives of Alec and Josie. Josie and Cassie were treated like prisoners, as they were often punished by being confined to their room and denied meals. Alec became obsessed with Josie and her problems and offered all the help he could from his world in 2016. Luckily, he had a friend named Danny to support him in his efforts. Alec's mom chalked up his strange behavior to her impending divorce, but she reluctantly had to accept the reality of the magic between her son and Josie. I normally read more adventurous and mysterious stories, but this one had me totally engaged. Perhaps it's my past experiences in working with young people, but I was very sympathetic to Josie's issues and Alec's attempts to help. The author and characters needed to balance the paradox of using knowledge of the future to affect those same events. It presented an intriguing conflict. Overall, this book was an emotional adventure of young people striving to make the most of their lives.