Thursday, October 11, 2018

Earthsea Cycle #1: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)My name is Ged, and my mentor said I might one day become a great sorcerer. I traveled to Roke where I hungrily devoured all of the training the school could offer. I even started to learn the old language and developed powers well beyond my peers. I'll not be made fun of, and the others will respect me. I know I was told about maintaining balance when working my magic, but I didn't really understand what it meant. Then I learned. I foolishly boasted that my powers surpassed those of another sorcerer, and I challenged him to a contest. I swore I could summon the dead, and I did, but the consequences were drastic. I released a malevolent shadow that now hunts me down, and I fear my powers can't stop it. I don't want harm to come to anyone else, but am I destined to run for the rest of my days? 

This book is for more mature middle grade readers, as the main character is in his mid-teens. There's nothing inappropriate in the story, but the plot moves slowly with Ged's self-reflection. He tries to understand his magic and his place in Earthsea, and he fears the futility of facing the shadow. Ged's actions teach us the powerful influences of jealousy and envy. He becomes obsessed with being the best, and he is angered when he perceives any hint that someone else might be better. He understands his thoughts are irrational, but the lesson is learned too late. I don't typically delve into an author's possible hidden messages, but I'll propose a possible life lesson in this book. Face your fears. Ged spent much of his time running from the threat, and he was powerless until he chose to attack it. Overall, the book isn't action-packed, but it's a good story that may make you think.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Storm Runner #1 by J.C. Cervantes

The Storm Runner (The Storm Runner #1)My name is Zane, and I was stunned to find the creatures in my mythology book are real! A shapeshifter named Brooks told me about a prophecy where I'll free an imprisoned god of the underworld, who will then go on to destroy the world. Why would anyone free an evil god knowing it will lead to death and destruction? Well, it might be because I'm a kind person and good friend. However, I made a stupid deal with Pukeface that may result in me becoming his minion for eternity. My only way out of it is for me, nobody else, to kill the god. Oh, did I mention I'm a half-breed, and my father's a god I've never met? That might have been cool except all the other gods want to kill me, since my father broke some agreement. I only have a couple ways to stay alive and figure out some way to avoid an afterlife as an underworld warrior.

Many books have been written about mythology, but this one describes the Mayan culture. I can't say I've read many of those, if any. Zane has a unique blend of interesting characteristics, as he lives in the desert with two unusual neighbors. He's been home-schooled, has no friends, and his one short leg makes walking difficult. I found his over-the-top devotion to his dog a little hard to understand. I've loved all of my pets, but Zane wasn't willing to accept his dog's death. He was willing to risk the fate of the world to resurrect his pet. A few characters were a little shady, which added another level of mystery. The imprisoned god was predictably dishonest, and I was surprised Zane trusted him more than once. Even Brooks had a mystique, as she was reluctant to share any information about her past. There was a darkness about her that she kept hidden. The story included a good amount of humor through the characters and dialogue. Zane's uncle was a mega wrestling fan, and Zane referred to the main antagonist as Puke or Pukeface. I recommend you read The Storm Runner, and I'm looking forward to the sequel. 

Secrets of Hopelight by Eva Blackstone

Secrets of HopelightMy name is Nubbin, and my family has been forced to keep a secret. We found a man stumbling in the morning heat and discovered he had cut off his own hand! Why would anyone do that? He said he delivered supplies between different enclaves and later revealed a powerful message. The Company is using the enclaves to supply a secret city of elite citizens, and they're using microchips in our brain stems to control us. My friend Piper is suffering from a new disease and may be used to frighten other enclaves. However, her little brother Tug doesn't have a microchip, and the Company will kill him if they find out. My head is spinning from all the secrets I've learned, but how could I be prepared for the secrets within my own family?

This book told a dystopian story of a future Earth. Citizens lived underground due to the hazardous environment above, and the government controlled everything. The microchips monitored everyone's health and kept them from becoming sick. People assumed this control was in their best interest, but Nubbin had reason to question the Company’s motives. It took me awhile to get into the book, as things were happening without a sense of urgency. The government control and secrets were bad, but they didn't feel serious or life-threatening. The first half of the book described threats to freedom but didn't present an overly-engaging adventure. Things picked up once Overseers and another enclave arrived for a cultural exchange and friendly competition. The tension and action definitely leaped a couple levels during the last fourth of the book. The story made me wonder about our own society and the "truths" we're allowed to know. Our beliefs are molded by the information we take in, but who controls our access to information?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Thrones and Bones #3: Skyborn by Lou Anders

Skyborn (Thrones & Bones, #3)My name is Desstra, and I think Thianna is starting to appreciate having a dark elf around. The frost giantess has returned to the land of her mother, and it's not what she expected. The two queens have the second Horn of Osius which they'll use to continue bullying the other city-states. Thianna's nasty cousin Sirena must master the horn before the great hatching, but luckily Thianna is the only one so far who can communicate with the wyverns. I'm not sure what's happened to Karn since we escaped from the queens, but I hope he's getting help. The city-states can stop being bullied by the queens if they'll only work together, but that's easier said than done. If Karn can get the minotaurs to revolt then there's a chance the other groups will join them. However, how do you change the minds of stubborn bulls?

This series has been fun to read, and the three main characters are the reason. Desstra created a trio after the last book, and her relationship with Thianna added lessons in friendship and humor. Desstra tried to kill the giantess in book two, so Thianna was reluctant to accept her help. This past animosity created some tension, but the two characters exchanged humorous banter as they became closer. Karn was the intellectual character and loved the challenge of any kind of game. He was the one connecting the protagonists, and he came up with the strategies to resolve the conflicts. His fighting skills improved across the books, but his mind was his greatest asset. Each book in the series has described a unique game along with directions on how to play them. These contests were woven into the events and became integral parts of the plots. A game was often the key to overcoming dangerous obstacles and antagonists. Overall, the series has been very entertaining, and I suggest you read it, starting with Frostborn.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Arken Freeth & the Adventure of the Neanderthals #1: SeaJourney by Alex Paul

SeaJourney (Arken Freeth and the Adventure of the Neanderthals #1)My name is Arken, and I've earned my place on the SeaJourney by defeating Gate in a sparring match. I hope to become a respected officer during this training voyage, since commoners like me are rarely admitted to the academy. However, Gate is determined to kill me, and his angry glares are a constant reminder. He's much larger than me, and there are many ways to "accidentally" fall off a ship. I've made a new friend who happens to be an ambassador's son. He's even smaller than me and won't be much help in a fight. I'm stronger than others might suspect, and I'm probably the best archer on the ship. I hope my skills will be appreciated. Oops, I need to run! An alarm has sounded, and we need to report on deck. I never would have imagined our ship would play a critical role in a brewing war.

If you've read many of my posts, you know I'm leery of stories told from more than two points of view. Several subplots added confusion early in this book, as my mind couldn't make connections between them. Arken's story was the most compelling, and the book became much more interesting once Arken was the focus. He was the runt of the cadets but was determined to become a successful ship's officer. His small stature was due to his secret heritage, but it also endowed him with unusual strength. His father and grandfather privately trained him, so he was skilled in fighting and archery. The subplots followed a young neanderthal, a captain's efforts to capture a magical necklace, and each chapter began with journal entries written by a princess. The subplots weren't necessary. The neanderthals were a non-factor even though they were cited in the title. I have no idea why they were even in the book! Any information about the captain and princess could have been introduced into Arken's story to avoid confusion and disruption to his plot. In addition, the ending was very abrupt and left the book feeling unfinished. Despite these issues, Arken's adventure was very entertaining! The underdog allowed his virtues and abilities to shine, as he overcame deadly perils. I truly hope the book's sequel sticks to Arken's experiences without other distractions, and I hope the conflicts are resolved.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Rules for Thieves #2: The Shadow Thieves by Alexander Ott

The Shadow Thieves (Rules for Thieves #2)My name is Alli, and I never expected to work with the Thieves Guild again. I've come to enjoy living with my brother Ronan after I was released from prison. However, Beck showed up at the door and shared some disturbing news. Some members of the guild are plotting to overthrow its king, and they've killed his most trusted man. Beck says they have a list of names of people they plan to murder, and the second name belongs to my brother! Why would anyone want to hurt an apprentice at a law firm? I hate sneaking around and lying to Ronan, but I've got to keep him safe. Beck and I need to retrieve a magical coin for the king, and I need to stop whoever is threatening my family.

This book included more magic than the previous one. Beck used his healing powers, magic was bought and sold in a secret market, and Alli used a mirror to help resolve her problems. Alli always wanted to make the correct decisions, but circumstances got in the way. Family life was new to her, since she was separated from her brother at the age of three. She misinterpreted her brother's intentions, as he displayed concern for her safety and future. Her assumption that he wanted to get rid of her clouded some of her choices. The family dynamics were complicated by Ronan's girlfriend living in the apartment next door. She was a protector, a law enforcement officer in this culture. Alli was reluctant to be honest, since a protector would probably throw Beck and her in jail for their association with thieves. However, Alli's assumption again led to questionable judgments. The mystery of the Shadow added some intrigue, as it was unclear if characters were friends or enemies. Some previous characters had switched sides. Overall, I think I felt more of a connection reading book one, but I still enjoyed this one. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Rules for Thieves #1 by Alexander Ott

Rules for Thieves (Rules for Thieves, #1)My name is Beck, and I hope I haven't made a mistake by bringing Alli into the Thieves Guild. I knew she wouldn't survive on the streets, and then I saw the black lines spreading up her arm. She was poisoned by magic and will die within a week. Outsiders are rarely allowed into the guild, so some thieves aren't happy about her arrival. I'm nervous and excited to pass my Trial, but it will allow me to become a permanent member of the Thieves Guild. Alli has received permission to take her Trial too, and she'll be able to get medical help if she passes. The good news is we'll be working together on our Trials. The bad news is we've been given the most difficult mission ever, and we're on our own once we leave the guild. Death is also a huge possibility.

Alli is the main character and has a very abrasive personality. She escaped from an orphanage and doesn't know much about her biological parents. While her family isn't a big issue, the last page in the book reveals a secret that will probably impact the sequel. Alli is sarcastic and has a very hard time holding her tongue, and that's a fatal flaw for a thief. Beck is the character with morals and seems a bit out of place in the guild. He cares for others. The author's use of magic is interesting, since it doesn't play a major factor in most of the plot. As I reflect, it most remember it being used by healers to help the sick and injured, and as a weapon by guards and protectors. Alli's injury adds a time factor to the story, and the black lines in her arm act as the clock. The poison moves from her hand toward her heart and acts as a countdown to death. The main part of the book that bugs me is Alli's Trial. I know it's the author's choice, but it seems strange for an unprepared character to undertake a dangerous mission. On the other hand, the thieves didn't like outsiders and didn't expect her to succeed. Overall, the book is entertaining, and I've already gotten the sequel from my local library. Give it a shot. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Thrones and Bones #2: Nightborn by Lou Anders

Nightborn (Thrones & Bones, #2)My name is Karn, and I must find my friend Thianna and rescue her from dark elves. It feels strange for me to be saving a giantess, but she's my best friend and I'd give my life to save her. I met a wood elf named Desstra, and she's offered to help. I appreciate having her along, but something doesn't feel right. She's handy with darts and poisons, and she's different from other wood elves. Thianna was searching for another Horn of Osius, so that's become part of my mission too. The horn will allow its holder to control dragons, and that would spell disaster. A dark elf named Tanthal has been dogging my trail, and he's ruthless. He'd have no trouble stabbing his own men in the back if it helped get what he wants. Even so, I had no idea my mission to save Thianna would lead me into the middle of war!

A book review compared this book to Lloyd Alexander, and that's an accurate description. I recommend you read the first book to fully appreciate the history and friendship between Thianna and Karn. Thianna is large, strong, and impulsive, while Karn is normally the more thoughtful one. Karn has been training and is a more competent fighter than he was before. He loves games and solving puzzles which are handy traits to own during his adventure. Desstra is an interesting new character, and you'll feel a little sorry for her as she sabotages Karn's plans. She starts off wanting to graduate from her dark elf warrior school until she sees the friendship between Thianna and Karn. You keep thinking she'll turn to the good side, but then she goes and helps Tanthal. You won't like Tanthal at all, and you're not supposed to. A humorous twist to the plot involves the manticores. These beasts say their name means "man eater", and they pull chariots during a race. They even threaten to eat their own drivers if the mood strikes them! It may sound weird or gross, but it's actually pretty funny. I'm really enjoying the series and plan to read the third book sometime soon.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Grimm Legacy #3: The Poe Estate by Polly Shulman

The Poe Estate (The Grimm Legacy, #3)My name is Sukie, and I have an overly protective ghost sister named Kitty. Her presence creeps out the other kids, and she seems to be getting stronger and angrier. I’ve met some strange people recently at flea markets. One guy offered me a lot of money for an old broom and a brass doorknob, but I didn’t trust him. I met a couple of other people from a repository, and they’ve opened my eyes to fictional reality. They collect real things that now exist because they were described in books! The repository even has an exhibit of old haunted houses, and they want my aunt's home! I saw another ghost in my bedroom that wants me to find her treasure, but I don't know what she's talking about. It may have something to do with a pirate in my family's history. 

This book is part of a series, but it’s totally different from the second book. That one involved time travel, whereas this one is about ghosts and hauntings. The repository is the connection between them, but the main characters are not the same. Leo was the focus in book two but only makes a cameo appearance near the climax. The repository contains artifacts arising from literature and creates a myriad of possibilities. Basically, any objects ever described in writing can become reality. This book goes a step further and presents the prospect of fictional characters becoming real. Sukie feels like an outsider, as her classmates treat her like a freak. There's lots of teasing until a boy named Cole takes an interest, and it turns out they have a special connection. A part of the plot I didn't like included the mention and description of numerous arcane books. These titles were unfamiliar and unimportant and distracted my mind from important events and information in the story. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I'm trying to get my hands on the first book in the series, The Grimm Legacy.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The School for Good and Evil #1 by Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1)My name is Sophie, and I was mistakenly placed in the School for Evil. My friend Agatha should be here, but she’s stuck in the School for Good. How am I going to marry King Arthur’s son if everybody thinks I’m evil? Agatha and I have tried to escape and return home, but all I want is to find my prince. We finally met the School Master, but he said our story is being written right now. Why can't Evil have a happy ending? Why does everyone say Good and Evil can't be friends? My teachers say Evil's nemesis will grow stronger as Evil weakens. I don't understand why Prince Tedros doesn't like me and why he keeps messing up my happiness. Is he my nemesis? I won't stop until I get my happiness, and I pity anyone who stands in my way.

The premise of the book is that good and evil fairy tale characters must be trained in school. However, Sophie and Agatha are Readers, so they’re looked down upon by their classmates. They have unusual abilities, and someone is secretly manipulating their lives. The girls offer a contrast in characters. While Sophie professes to be a good character, the school continues to place her back in the evil school. She seems to have good intentions, but she's conceited, vain, and callous. She easily touts her virtues of beauty and performance of good deeds, but her motives are selfish. She reminds Agatha of her ugliness on several occasions. Agatha is willing to sacrifice and help others, and she only wants to return home with her friend. She lacks self-confidence and believes what others say about her. She feels she's unattractive and wonders if she shouldn't be in the school for Evil. The whole idea about what it means to be Good becomes a theme for the book. Actually, there are very few Good characters other than Agatha. Many of the kids in the school for Good behave poorly and have shallow minds. The evil kids predictably do evil things. Overall, the book is entertaining and thought-provoking. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Grimm Legacy #2: The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman

The Wells Bequest (The Grimm Legacy, #2)My name is Leo, and I got a message from myself in the future. I guess I'm going to use a time machine along with some girl named Jaya, and there's something I'm supposed to stop. I told myself to read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. It was all really weird, but I’ve now met the girl Jaya at a wonderful New York repository. Jaya is beautiful and awesome! The repository has artifacts from all across history and literature, and I think I may have figured out how to get the time machine. Jaya and I will need to travel to London, but we'll need to be sneaky. Their repository wants the artifact too, so we can't let them know why we're there. Unfortunately, Simon is in London and is obsessed with Jaya. I didn't know the limits to his craziness until he said he'd destroy New York using Tesla's death ray!

The concept of the book was creative and unique. The premise was that everything was possible even if those things weren't real in our world. Ideas in fictional books became possible in some dimension or reality. Paradoxes were addressed by presenting multiple time machines that could deal with potential changes to history. Anything could happen with Leo's machine, as multiple versions of the same characters could appear. This made it a powerful device and created some head-shaking scenes. I really wasn't sure what to think about this plot as I started to get into it. It was interesting, but I wasn't sure where it was going. The whole time machine issue was important, but Leo didn't spend much time investigating it. It was like he took a side street instead of heading directly toward the issue. I haven't used the word "problem", because it was unclear until I reached the middle of the book. I wasn't sure of the conflict, since Leo didn't even know what he was supposed to do or why he was doing it. Everything became much more focused and entertaining once Leo seriously started searching for the time machine. His goal became clear, and a conflict was created. I didn't read the first book in the series, but I've already started the second. 

The Phantom Tower by Keir Graff

                            THE PHANTOM TOWER by Keir GraffMy name is Colm, and my twin brother Mal and I recently moved onto the fourteenth floor of Brunhild Tower. My mom didn't understand why the rent was so cheap, but her new boss recommended the place. One day, I noticed an elevator button for the thirteenth floor that wasn't there before (the number is unlucky to some people). The button only appears during midday and leads to the Phantom Tower. Tamika joined us in exploring the place, but we've uncovered a disturbing mystery about this spectral world. We don't understand how the elevator and tower work, and we don't know why my mom's boss visits there. He tried to keep me from leaving, and he said he needs twins for his plans. I don't trust the guy, and we may need help from the princess on the seventeenth floor. 

The first third of the book found the twins exploring the building and the surrounding area, and some clues were dropped. It wasn't real interesting. Things got a little more intriguing once Tamika and the princess joined the plot. The book turned into a ghost story, and magic was a possibility. The elevator became the portal between the towers. The introduction of the Phantom Tower was compelling, as it resulted from a brotherly prank that backfired. Colm was very distraught when his brother disappeared! The story behind the tower was unusual, and it needed its own resolution to solve the twins' problems. It included a bit of history, a bit of greed, and a bit of love. As often occurs in novels, the conflict was compounded because the kids needed to keep everything secret from their mother. Colm figured she wouldn't believe him anyhow, since he had a history of lying and making up stories. Overall, the book was quite entertaining and presented unique situations. Lovers of ghost stories and mysteries should really enjoy it.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Snared: Escape to the Above by Adam Jay Epstein

Snared: Escape to the AboveMy name is Wily, and I was the trapsmith for Stalag's Carrion Tomb. However, Stalag the mage lied to me about everything, so I've run away with a small band of tomb raiders. I always believed the sun in the Above would kill me, but I've survived several days under the open sky. Even more surprising, I now know I'm not a hobgoblet. I'm a human! I've agreed to help the thieves raid another tomb, since they need a lot of money to escape the ruthless Infernal King's rule. I may need their help in return, because I've uncovered the truth about my parents. I assumed I came to Stalag because my parents were gone, but that was another one of his lies. My parents are alive, but that's both very good and very bad news.

The cast of characters for the story was intriguing. Wily had a talent for devising traps, as he was able to think creatively and understood how machines worked. Other characters were Wily's sister (a hobgoblet), a golem, and a warrior with a detached arm. Actually, the arm was a free-thinking, sword-toting character with valiant intentions. The story included two separate antagonists. The Scarf was another mysterious character that regularly popped up to save the day, and the true identity was a surprise. Wily's character went through a dramatic transformation. He was raised as the trapsmith for Carrion Tomb, so capturing and imprisoning treasure seekers seemed like a normal and logical thing to do. However, he later learned the value of freedom and became a valiant character like the detached arm. He was willing to face unbeatable odds to help the helpless and stand up for what was right. The plot was a wonderful blend of adventure, action, and character interactions and moved along nicely. I also liked the imagination of the obstacles and joined Wily with enjoying the workmanship behind them. The book won't win any awards, but it was fun to read.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Thrones and Bones #1: Frostborn by Lou Anders

Frostborn (Thrones & Bones, #1)My name is Thianna, and my father says I'm all frost giant. However, I wish I could expel the half-human within me. He gave me a horn that once belonged to my mother, and I had no idea it was so important. I got my first clue when three warriors riding wyverns tried to kill me. It seems strange to say, but I'm thankful the little human Karn was with me. He loves his board game, and I'm starting to see it's made him a strong thinker. I'm not sure how that's going to stop undead warriors from chasing him, but at least we can work together. I never really knew my human mother, but she risked her life to hide the horn. I'm still not sure what it does, since I can't even get it to make any noises. However, I won't give it up to the evil warriors as long as I'm still breathing.

The title referred to a board game (seemed like chess) played by Karn, and he learned to apply its strategies to life-threatening situations. His problems began as a result of some annoyingly gullible decisions, but I'll forgive the author since the rest of the book was pretty good. Karn used his smarts to transform from a reluctant heir to his father's farm into a formidable ally. Thianna was a dynamic character with a huge chip on her soldier because of her human mother. At one point, Karn got annoyed and told her to stop trying to prove she was a giant. She was small for a giant, but she was a powerful fighter against her human-size foes. Karn and Thianna maintained a friendly banter that added humor to the story. The plot was a mixture of adventure and action, although the battles were solved more by intelligence than muscle. A family member was traitorous, but it wasn't hard to figure out the bad intentions. It was nice to see justice served against the antagonists, as their actions led to their own demises. I plan to read the sequel called Nightborn, although I have no idea where it will lead. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August

Arlo Finch in the Valley of FireMy name is Arlo, and I've quickly discovered Pine Mountain can be a very dangerous place. I joined the Rangers, and my new friends have told me about the mysterious things found in the Long Woods. I've seen a ghost dog, and I was almost lured to my death by two wisps during my first Ranger campout! A young girl went missing eight years ago, and a reflection of her appeared in my bedroom. It can't be a coincidence that she had one green eye and one brown eye, just like me. Maybe that explains the creatures and language I can see that others cannot. I need to find out more about the girl and her disappearance, and I need to understand why monsters are being sent after me. Why would anyone be afraid of me and want me dead? It must have something to do with the eldritch lands and the Realm beyond the Long Woods. 

I randomly found this book on my library's shelf for new 2018 releases. The plot began as a tale about a magical forest but quickly evolved into a mystery. What happened to Katie Cunningham, and why was Arlo in danger? The book introduced clues along the way until it became clear that Arlo wasn't an ordinary kid. I imagine the inclusion of Rangers may not appeal to some readers, as scouting is not as popular as it used to be. However, the meetings, contests, and outings allowed camaraderie to develop between Arlo and the other characters. It was strange to hear the Rangers explain to Arlo how they weren't able to perform magic. Can you snap your fingers and create little bits of light and can you cast wards to protect yourself from monsters? Each member of his patrol offered unique talents, and together they became a special team. Arlo faced off against the mysterious antagonist in the climax, and a regional Ranger competition led into the resolution. Teamwork and spirit were key elements in the patrol's success. I enjoyed the mysterious magic in the plot, and I assume a sequel will be coming out in 2019. I think you should give it a shot.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Shadow Magic #3: Burning Magic by Joshua Khan

Burning Magic: A Shadow Magic NovelMy name is K'leef, and my life has been turned upside down. People from all the different kingdoms came to town for my brother's coronation as the new sultan, but somehow his magic failed and he died. My good friend Thorn complicated matters, as usual, by freeing some prisoners and destroying one of our most sacred landmarks. He's from House Shadow and doesn't understand our ways. I've now been forced to challenge my older brother Jambiya to become the new sultan. I must venture into the Shardlands and be the first to return with a new phoenix. I'm thankful to have Thorn and Hades, his huge bat, as we enter this land of deadly creatures and ancient magic. Unfortunately, something terrible has happened to Lily Shadow that may lead to our doom.

The series began with the 2016 Cybils Award winner Shadow Magic, and you'll need to read the previous books first. As usual, most of the action followed Thorn, since he created much of the conflict or found his way into the middle of it. As Lily said, he didn't always have the smartest plans, but he had great bravery. He didn't have magic like Lily and K'Leef, but he had a special bond with Hades and a remarkable talent with the bow and arrow. He was a righteous character and didn't let any rules or laws stop him from helping those in need of help. Lily's magic was dark, and you seldom see positive characters who communicate with the dead and control shadows. However, Lily's name struck fear into most characters, but she was forced into a more minor role due to a devious character. Throughout the series, Thorn and Lily have become close friends, and this book hinted at a more emotional connection. They had trouble expressing their feelings to each other, so their unspoken affection will continue into the next book. I highly recommend you read this series; you won't be disappointed!

Joshua Dredd #1 by Lee Bacon

Joshua Dread (Joshua Dread #1)My name is Joshua Dredd, and my mom and dad are supervillains. I knew my body would change once I entered middle school, but I never expected to receive a Gyft, my superpower. My Gyft is spontaneous combustion (I can make things blow up), but I have trouble controlling it. My bigger problem right now is the new girl named Sophie. She has super strength, and her dad is bad news for my family. The Dread Duo, my parents, and other villains have a disturbing dilemma too, as human-like cloud shapes invaded the Vile Fair and disappeared with several master criminals. Nobody knows what the clouds might be or who might have sent them, but they've started popping up all around town. Now, the clouds have gotten my parents, and I need help. I never would have imagined the person who answered my call.

This story was told with a unique point of view, as Joshua loved his unlawful parents. Everyone hated them and cheered for the hero, but Joshua had a different take on what they were doing. Strange as it is to say, it made me have some empathy for characters threatening to destroy the world. The conflict between Joshua's parents and Sophie's dad created a huge complication for the kids. How could they possibly be partners on a school project and become friends when their parents wanted to kill each other? Captain Justice was the world's greatest hero, but he had some issues. It was clear from the beginning that he was overly concerned with his public image and marketing. He posed for pictures, handed out autographs, and promoted his breakfast cereal, beef jerky, and collectible products. This vanity was a major cause of the plot's big problem, as others were ready to exploit it. At first glance, the book appeared to be a silly story with super good guys and bad guys battling it out. However, it became the story of two kids trying to deal with their parents' baggage, and Joshua learning to handle his adolescent changes. Overall, the book was entertaining along with its silly moments, and young middle grade readers with a love for superheroes and comics should enjoy it. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Tombquest #2: Amulet Keepers by Michael Northrop

Amulet Keepers (TombQuest, #2)My name is Ren, and our flight was complicated by blood-red rain that nearly crashed the airplane. Several people have disappeared here in London, and Alex and I are sure its because of the Order and another Death Walker. We know the Order has kidnapped Alex's mother, but he's becoming reckless. The scarab amulet around his neck gives him a weapon against the Death Walker, but it doesn't protect me. He makes me so angry! We need to figure out the identity of the Death Walker while it was alive in order to choose the correct spell from the Book of the Dead that will defeat it. However, I feel drained and need a break from Alex. I'll let him go search for information in the British Museum, but I'm sure I'll be safer checking out Rembrandt paintings while he's gone.

It's been a few years since I read the first book; not sure why it took me so long to read this one. You should read the first book to understand the backstory of Alex, his mom, and the amulet. The strength of the series is still the action-packed plot. It has bad guys popping up all over the place, strange creatures lurking in the dark, and mysteries with mummies and Egyptian magic. As hinted above, a conflict between Alex and Ren develops, as Alex gets tunnel-vision to save his mom. He ignores everyone else, makes rash and risky decisions, and endangers others. This slowly eats away at Ren until she gets fed up with it. Consequently, their bond becomes strained, which results in more tension for our reading enjoyment. Alex discovers a disturbing disappointment during the search for his mother, but Ren discovers a beneficial wonder. The climax concludes with a suspenseful showdown, but the resolution leads into the book's sequel. This series should appeal to lovers of magic, the undead, and Egyptian mythology. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Dragon's Guide #2: A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder

A Dragon's Guide to Making Your Human Smarter (A Dragon's Guide, #2)My name is Miss Drake, and Winnie, my pet human, has started school at Sprigg's Academy, a school for magics and mortals. I've been secretly watching to make sure her temper doesn't get her into trouble again, especially with Nanette's attempts to bully her. She seems to be adjusting well, although I should have spent more time over the summer teaching her about magical history. Unfortunately, Winnie's mother knows nothing about magic, and my shape-changing has kept her from discovering I'm a dragon. Our biggest problems are that Winnie's grandfather Jarvis is plotting to get custody of her, and the school is requiring Nanette and Winnie to spend every minute together. Winnie is a strong girl, but an Internet video may bring an end to our friendship.

Unfortunately, I did not read the first book before reading this one. The story is told from alternating points of view, but the author added a cute twist. Winnie and Miss Drake each believe the other is her pet, especially Miss Drake, although it's clear they're close friends. I found the mixture of magic and technology amusing. Miss Drake, the teachers, and other creatures performed spells, but Miss Drake still needed to check her texts and emails. An endearing character is Small Doll. This small doll cleaned the house every night, but no one ever saw it move or heard it speak. It especially loved sweets. Winnie carried it with her on her first day at the magical school, and Small Doll was able to foresee problems and turn the tables on would-be pranksters. Jarvis created the conflict in the plot, but he wasn't an active character. The threat of his behind-the-scenes actions was the big problem. For most young readers, the issues at school are probably most relatable. Winnie didn't want to stand out, and she wanted to make friends. Nanette didn't like her, but that was partly due to Winnie's innocent intentions. It wasn't Winnie's fault the teacher's liked her better than Nanette. Overall, this was a cute story that should be enjoyed by most young readers. 

RuneWarriors #1 by James Jennewein and Tom S. Parker

RuneWarriors (RuneWarriors, #1)My name is Lut the Bent, and I should have spoken sooner about my disturbing dreams. I saw Dane, Voldar's son, riding a great wolf amid blood and chaos, as members of our tribe were slaughtered. I knew I had to tell Voldar when Thidrik the Terrifying entered our village. Thidrik is pure evil and not to be trusted. Unfortunately, Dane took the Shield of Odin into the woods along with Astrid, our most beautiful maiden, and left the village defenseless. Now, Voldar has been killed by Thidrik, Astrid has been taken, and the blame has been lain upon Dane. I convinced the villagers to give him a chance at redemption, but the small band of boys and three old men, including me, must face the tyrant and his Berserkers. Little did we know that our quest would lead to the most powerful weapon on earth.

This book was an interesting mix of Norse mythology and magic. Characters prayed to Odin and believed their lives were fated by the gods. Along the way, Dane and his group found water that bestowed intelligence or idiocy, and Lut's runes mystically foretold the future. The concepts of faith and free will were addressed, as Dane started to question his destiny. The others were shocked when he questioned the power of the gods and their influence over mortal decisions. The story offered a curious blend of characters. Jarl was a self-centered boy and Dane's closest rival, but they became co-leaders of the quest. Dane's two best friends were known for their stupidity and body odor. Jarl's best friends were known for their drinking and fighting. Astrid was a beautiful maiden, but she was also a formidable warrior. The plot offered many opportunities for Dane and Jarl to clash, as there were physical conflicts and opposing thoughts about important decisions. Dane was more diplomatic in these situations, while Jarl always believed himself to be right or that his thoughts were the will of the gods. Overall, this is a good book that will appeal to lovers of Viking tales. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Clockwork Chronicles #1: The Brimstone Key by Derek Benz and J.S. Lewis

The Brimstone Key (Grey Griffins: The Clockwork Chronicles, #1)My name is Max Sumner, and I am the leader of the Grey Griffins. Most of the students and staff at Iron Bridge Academy already know we've successfully battled monsters. However, most of the students also know my father is an evil man, and many of them have lost family members because of him. I haven't seen my faerie in weeks, and changelings have been disappearing from the school. My friend Ernie is a changeling with super speed, and the disappearances have made him even more nervous than usual. My focus has been distracted from the upcoming Round Table tournament where everyone is expecting a big showdown with Xander, the most popular kid in school. I'm not jealous of him... am I? We've discovered the rare Round Table cards we found may hold dangerous creatures, but the greatest terror comes from a man who disappeared a hundred years ago. 

The story jumped right into the action, as the kids were stuck deep underground by page ten. Even though this was the first book in the series, it felt like a sequel. It didn't take any time to describe how the Grey Griffins formed, and it made references to their past deeds without sharing any details. It didn't explain how Max's dad became an evil character or anything else about his life growing up. It mentioned these past events like they'd been covered in an earlier book, but the lack of information became a distraction. It made me ask questions with no answers. With that being said, the premise of the story had potential. There were close friends with unique abilities, trying to solve a mystery, while adjusting to a new middle school. Max was the guardian of the Codex, an enchanted book holding dangerous magical creatures. However in the novel, the Codex was mostly depicted as a magical ring and gauntlet worn by Max as a weapon, but there was no further explanation until near the end. The problem was this book appeared to be a spin-off from a Grey Griffins series. I guess you'll need read that series first to appreciate this one.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Earthfall #1 by Mark Walden

Earthfall (Earthfall, #1)My name is Sam, and I finally discovered I'm not alone on Earth. I've been hiding from Hunters in the sewers of London ever since the alien ships arrived a year and a half ago. Rachel saved me from a Hunter attack and then introduced me to the small group of humans still in control of their minds. I'm learning special ops like a guerrilla soldier, and it feels good to finally be fighting instead of running away. However, I'm not comfortable with the secrets Dr. Stirling is keeping from everyone. He won't say what his laboratory used to do, and he won't say how he was able to locate me in the middle of a devastated city. I know I'm different from the others, but I don't know why. Why did I survive a Hunter sting that usually kills within minutes, and why can't anyone else hear the sounds from the Threat like I do?

This is a dystopian novel with mechanical aliens like in the Jack Blank trilogy. I envisioned the invasion happening similarly to how it occurred during the Independence Day movie. Gigantic Motherships parked above major cities around the world and sent smaller ship and "soldiers" down to the planet. Almost every human on Earth became mindless workers for the aliens, including Sam's sister. His father was significant to the story, but his whereabouts were unknown. Sam's character was the most engaging part of the book, because there was something mysterious and compelling about him. He was obviously the protagonist hero, but he had some kind of connection to the antagonist aliens. Why didn't the sting kill him, and how could he almost hear voices in sounds that no one else could detect? Then, there was the unexplained scar on the back of his head and uncertainty about Stirling's secrets. All of these factors created a suspenseful plot with an exciting ending. Actually, the climax included a huge surprise that will have a dramatic effect on the sequel. I still don't totally understand the Servant or the Illuminate, but I'm sure they will become clearer in the next book. You'll enjoy this book if you like science fiction and aliens, and I recommend you give it a shot. 

Friday, August 10, 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.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Dreaming Dangerous by Lauren DeStefano

Dreaming DangerousMy name is Plum, and I have an unusual ability to share dreams with my three closest friends. Dr. Abarrane asks us to keep a diary of them, and doctors frequently check our health. However, our dreams have been getting stranger, and I've started wondering about the doctors questions. Artem has disappeared, and in our dreams he's warned us that someone is coming to get us. Who is he talking about? Gwendle, Vien, and I have decided no one can be trusted, so we've started lying to the doctors and in our diaries. We used to be in control of our dreams, but something's changed. I don't feel safe in them anymore, and sometimes I can't wake up. I've got to find Artem and figure out what's going on. He doesn't seem to be in Brassmere Academy anymore. If we can't trust the doctors, what can we do?

The beginning of the plot seemed innocent enough, but it quickly sucked me in. (I read it in one afternoon) I found myself very curious about the dreams and trying to figure out what was happening at this isolated academy. It seemed like the plot was equally split between reality and the dream world. The four friends would often go to sleep in order to be together and to speak in private. The dreams were very imaginative and created a lot of drama. Even though I enjoyed most of the book, I didn't care much for the climax and resolution. I figured the plot would amp up a bit once the secret was revealed, but it actually signaled the end. Also, there seemed to be a bit of magic with the gargoyles that wasn't found earlier in the book. In the end, I wanted to know more about what the doctor was doing and why he was doing it. I still don't know what happened to him after everything was resolved. I'm wondering if there's going to be a sequel, although it didn't feel like that was in the plans. Overall, I really enjoyed most of the book, and you may not have the same feelings about the ending. Everyone is different!

Magickeepers #3: The Chalice of Immortality by Erica Kirov

The Chalice of Immortality (Magickeepers #3)My name is Nick, and my father is dying from evil magic. Theo says doctors can't help him, and his only hope is the Chalice of Immortality. The Shadowkeepers are everywhere, and Rasputin still wants to get his hands on me. I'll still do anything to save my dad. I'm thankful that Isabella is with me, and her connection to animals has come in very handy. We would have been torn apart by possessed wolves if her powers hadn't been so strong. We've traveled to England a couple of times now, and I'm wondering if the woman I've seen might know something about the chalice. She wears a white scarf around her neck, and I've noticed her watching me from a distance. We need to find the chalice soon, or I'll lose my father forever.

This book concluded the trilogy, and the books have been fun to read. Obviously, magic was very important, as it was used in almost every chapter. Communication, transportation, and self defense all required magic. Nick's visions from the past provided important information to locate the chalice. While the Chalice of Immortality was a very powerful relic, the holders of it often found themselves under its spell. Consequently, possessing the chalice might have been a curse despite any of its positive effects. Nick was told he'd become more powerful than Theo and Damian, and a flashback indicated he would someday rule over the family. This book was different from the previous two, since the ruling cousins displayed more support and trust for Nick than they ever had before. Nick didn't sneak around as much this time, and he was allowed to accompany his cousins on missions. As usual, there were flashbacks of famous names in history. This time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini, Shakespeare, and Amelia Earhart made appearances and displayed their roles in the chalice's history. Overall, the series was very entertaining, and lovers of magic should truly enjoy it. 

My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord by David Solomons

My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord (My Brother is a Superhero, #2)My name is Luke, and I was angry and lonely before I screwed everything up. Don't tell anyone, but my brother Zack is Star Guy, and my neighbor Lara is Dark Flutter. They're too busy saving the world to spend time with me, and I can't hang out with my best friend Serge since his parents say I'm a bad influence. So... that's how I came to play the new Puny Earthlings! video game and showed aliens how to defeat Star Guy. I can't convince my brother of the alien invasion, so it looks like it's S.C.A.R.F.'s time to shine. However, my teammates aren't talking to me, and I'm asking for help from Christopher Talbot, the comic book store owner who once tried to take over the world. You know your plans to save the planet are shaky when you need to trust a supervillain.

As you may have sensed, this book tells a silly, corny story of good versus evil. The alien plot concerns an intergalactic reality show, and it uses Luke's thoughts to frighten him. The spaceship looks like his school, and all of the aliens appear as his PE teacher. Luke is annoyed that a guy from another dimension gave Zack and Lara superpowers, while he's the lover of comics who most wants to be a superhero. To be fair, Zorbon couldn't give Luke powers in book one, since Luke was taking a bathroom break. Luke's conflicted, since it's hard for a hero without powers to defeat supervillains and aliens. His intelligence and imagination are keys to resolving the conflicts, but he doesn't get any public recognition. The entertainment in this book comes from the wacky situations, characters, and goofy jokes. Heck, TV remote controls are alien weapons. The last page drops a huge surprise that leads right into a sequel. Overall, you need to have a high tolerance for goofiness to enjoy this book. I do, and I did.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Magickeepers #2: The Pyramid of Souls by Erica Kirov

The Pyramid of Souls (Magickeepers, #2)My name is Isabella, and my worst nightmare has reappeared. Maria, daughter of Rasputin, has returned and wants to steal my essence. Nick and I saw her in the stables with a jackal and ravens, and we later saw an evil-looking woman enter our hotel wearing black and a headdress of black feathers. Magicians from all over the world have come to our Las Vegas home for an annual conference, but something terrible just happened. Shadowkeepers stole the Pyramid of Souls, and it's clear Rasputin is behind it. He’ll become even more powerful if he can capture the magical essences, but Nick's destiny is to stop him.

You should probably read the first book, but you can still enjoy The Pyramid of Souls without it. Nick is the main character, and he is learning to master his new-found magical powers. He also has a habit of concealing the truth from Damian and Theo, the powerful leaders of the family, and then getting himself into bigger trouble. Isabella is his cousin and best friend, and he always pulls her into the danger he creates. Theo and Nick have an ability to use crystal balls, and Theo uses his ball to see past events that are relevant to the plot. This book includes flashbacks to Edgar Allan Poe and Alexander the Great to emphasize the danger of the Shadowkeepers, the importance of a special elephant, and the mystery of the raven woman. The book is a quick-read, as the plot moves quickly through the 146 pages. The conflict between Nick and Rasputin carries over from the previous book, and the resolution was similar to book one. Rasputin hints that he will eventually be defeated by Nick, but it turns out not in this book. It looks like this series is a trilogy, so The Chalice of Immortality should wrap everything up. Overall, it's not a fantastic series, but it's entertaining.

Jack Blank Adventure #3: The End of Infinityby Matt Myklusch

The End of Infinity (Jack Blank Adventure, #3)My name is Allegra, and Jonas Smart has gone too far. I knew he would accuse Jack of being a Rostov spy again, but he ordered his soldiers to attack him with thousands of innocent civilians around. I don't know exactly what the Rustov did to Jack while he was captive for a year, but he announced they're planning an all-out invasion of Imagine Nation. Smart ignored Jack's warning, and his unjust xenophobia has led to Jazen's imprisonment and has the citizens nearing a civil war. Jack's supporters are accused of being pro-Rustov, and the timing couldn't be worse. The Rustov invasion is here, and no one is prepared. Jack is the wild card. He's my best friend, but his fear of becoming Revile sometimes paralyzes him. A Rustov parasite is inside his head, and the Rustov surgically implanted a power cell into his chest. We're all doomed if Jack can't suppress Khalix and become our most powerful weapon again. 

You must read the previous books to understand this one. Even though many characters had superpowers, the series read more like science fiction due to the significance of machines in the plot. The robotic parasite had been inside Jack since the beginning and was growing stronger. It created an ongoing internal conflict that seemed impossible to resolve without Jack's death. How could he overcome Khalix, as the Rustov machine slowly took over his body? The Rustov prince spoke in Jack's head and kept reminding him how futile it was to resist the transformation. I loved how the author continued to weave all kinds of twists into the plot that required my thought and imagination. The Rustov had been planning the invasion for a decade and were always one step ahead. However, one decision dramatically back-fired on them, and one character hinted about it all through the series. Characters changed sides, and another character made a surprise reappearance. In addition, a lingering question about Jack's past is finally answered during the plot's resolution. Overall, the series may not appeal to everyone, but lovers of robots and science fiction should really enjoy it. I did!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Thorn Queen by Elise Holland

The Thorn Queen: A NovelMy name is Meylyne, and I've been forced to break the first commandment, again, and reenter the Above-World. My only hope of avoiding life in the Shadow Cellars is to find a cure for the prince's aging disease. The Old Well of M'Yhr has said I must travel to the Valley of Half-Light where the soul-eating sphers live. Hope has been a loyal companion, and we've been joined by Blue, a tiny warrior. I never would have imagined an ogre named Grimorex would become such a valuable ally. However, something is seriously amiss in the Above-World. Conflicts have war looming in Glendoch, the Great Oaken Mother has been poisoned, and sphers are spreading discord. The Great Oaken Mother said she was poisoned by the Thorn Queen, but why would Queen Emery want to start a war? I'm embarrassed that my terrible alchemy skills are no help. My mother is the most powerful alchemist around, but I can't ask her for assistance. What can I do?

I enjoyed the plot and the complications to Meylyne's quest. She needed to discover many secrets about her past and her abilities that became keys to resolving the conflict. I kept wondering about the "allergy pills" she religiously took, because they were concealing something important. Blue was a great character, as he lived up to the hype of being a brave warrior. Despite his lack of height (thanks to Meylyne's flawed spell) he stepped up to defend his new friends against all kinds of creatures and dangers. His past was a mystery, but the truth was actually anticlimactic. I wish I could tell you about more intriguing secrets, but they would be spoilers. I enjoy stories that keep me guessing, and this book kept me going until the final pages. The antagonist's true identity was unknown until a critical moment, Meylyne's mother revealed a devastating secret at an important time, and the plot's resolution revealed a final surprise. The ending sounded like it was leading into a sequel, but I haven't seen any indication that one is coming. Overall, The Thorn Queen was a fantastic book, and I recommend you add it to your reading list. 

Spindrift and the Orchid by Emma Trevayne

Spindrift and the OrchidMy name is Spindrift, and I had a bad feeling about the customer in grandfather's shop asking if I'd ever seen a black orchid. I hadn't at the time, but that night a black orchid appeared in the glass ball my mother left to me. It changed into a woman who will grant me wishes, and she says there are six more hidden around the world! My grandfather has started sharing letters left by my mother before her death; she died in a shipwreck while searching for the other orchids. Then, that man returned to the shop and threatened us for our black orchid. He's trying to collect all seven orchids, which will make him the most powerful person in the world. I now know the only way to stop him is by getting all of the orchids first. The flowers created an obsession in my mother, and it eventually led to her insanity, and ultimately to her death. I feel the same compulsion and don't know if I can avoid the same fate.

Often, the adult characters in these situations try to control the younger characters with new abilities. The young characters then ignore advice and do their own things. Half of that is true in this book. It wasn't clear how much grandfather knew, but he gave Spindrift (her name comes from sea mist) clues and didn't do much to stop her. She then went off on her own to foil the plans of the mysterious man. There were a couple of unique ideas in this book. Seven sages were contained in the seven glass balls, and each one controlled a different power. The sages did this to put limitations on the wishes and so one person couldn't have all the power, but that obviously became the main conflict. Secondly, Spindrift's mother was overcome by the power of the orchids, and the change was displayed through her letters. She eventually considered killing in order to collect all the flowers. The conflict between Spindrift and the man became more threatening and wasn't settled until the very last chapter. The actual resolution was predictable, although the personality of the black orchid complicated things a little bit for Spindrift. Overall, it was an entertaining story, and I recommend you give it a chance. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Magickeepers #1: The Eternal Hourglass by Erica Kirov

The Eternal Hourglass (Magickeepers, #1)My name is Nick, and my father is the worst magician in the world. I've learned that I come from a strong lineage of real magic, and I have the rare ability to see into the past. I've come to live with many of my mother's cousins, but the leader of the Shadowkeepers, Rasputin, is determined to get me. His minions have already infiltrated our compound! It must have something to do with an hourglass that can stop time, but I don't know how I fit in. My mother left me a key when she died, but I don't know what it opens or why it's burning my chest. Damian and Theo are the strongest magicians I know, but I've been told I'll be more powerful than them both. Maybe, someday, I can get back to my life of skateboards, cheeseburgers, and pizza.

While this book told another story of a boy discovering his new powers, the scenario was a little different. This type of character is often thrown together with strangers or new friends, but this time he was inserted him into a clan of cousins and other relatives. Isabella became his cohort in this book. I'm always amazed when characters like Nick disregard the orders and suggestions of more knowledgeable characters and put themselves and others in danger. In general, almost all of his talents centered around the family's Vegas magic act, although he later used them to help solve the mystery of the hourglass. The author included historical references to Houdini to describe the power of the timepiece and the coercion of Rasputin and his Shadowkeepers. There was another mini-mystery surrounding Theo. He was supposedly the most powerful magician in the family but allowed Damian to be in charge. It had something to do with the death of Nick's mother, but the truth didn't appear until the book's resolution. Overall, I enjoyed the story and recommend you try it too. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ulysses Moore #2: The Long-Lost Map by Pierdomenico Baccalario

The Long-Lost Map (Ulysses Moore #2)My name is Rick, and I was so excited yesterday to be invited into Argo Manor, that huge, strange house up by the ocean cliffs. Twenty-four hours later I find myself in ancient Egypt, standing in a dark room full of hundreds of slimy snakes. Jason and I can't get back through the time-traveling door until we solve the riddle clues left by Ulysses Moore. We must find a map hidden in The Room That Isn't There, but everyone says the room and map don't really exist. That doesn't make sense. A young girl named Maruk is helping us, and it's a good thing too. We must search through underground tunnels that lead to thousands and thousands of possible hiding places. We now know we're in a race, because a woman named Oblivia Newton is here too. I first met her on my way to Argo Manor when her car knocked my bike off the road. We need to beat this evil woman to the map. 

The story picked up immediately where the first book ended, and you need to read it first. The speculative fiction aspect of this book was the time travel. Nothing else amazing happened, although there was something different about Jason that hasn't been explained yet. He was able to mentally guide their boat to the time portal, and he used his senses to search in a darkened room. Different from the first book, this one added more danger, as Oblivia and her henchman had more prominent roles in the events. Oblivia bribed and threatened Egyptians to help find the map. Manfred was left in the present day setting and planned an assault on Argo Manor. Jason's twin sister Julia had already returned from Egypt and needed to help with defending the home. You know how most (not all) books have happy endings? Well, this one wasn't exactly like that and ended with the conflicts for the next book in the series. Overall, it was a good mystery but didn't knock my socks off. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

School for S.P.I.E.S. #3: Ends of the Earth by Bruce Hale

Ends of the Earth (School for S.P.I.E.S., #3)My name is Max, and it’s really hard being a double-agent, especially trying to hide my plans from Mrs. Frost, the head of LOTUS. I want to escape the headquarters of this evil organization, but Frost says she wants to adopt me!? I'm sure it's just a ploy to capture my dad, but I don't know if I can trust him. I mean, he used to work for LOTUS and tried to get me to turn on my friends. LOTUS has now stolen a mind-controlling device, but I need to find out what they're going to do with it. I need to get into Frost's office, but there are cameras everywhere. They even have vicious dogs and a tiger patrolling the grounds. The only way into the office is by sneaking through a bathroom adjoining the room. That bathroom happens to be Vespa's, a beautiful blond who's already stabbed me in the back once before.

It had been a few years since I’d read the previous books in the series, and I recommend you read them first. This conclusion of the trilogy was told from alternating points of view, since Max was captive and his friends were outside planning for his rescue. Max's situation was a little wacky, since he was kind of treated like a new LOTUS agent while being held captive. He wasn't allowed to leave the fortress on his own, but he was allowed to participate in a kidnapping. Wyatt was my second favorite character. He was a technology whiz and loved breaking codes and hacking computer systems. However, he didn't enjoy doing the other spy stuff like fighting and anything else athletic. Cinnabar was another of Max's friends who didn't have the same reservations about combat. She was determined to rescue Max and was able to adapt during tense situations. The author mixed adventure and action with a bit of humor. Max's friends contributed friendly banter with each other, while Max enjoyed messing with the LOTUS agents. He knew how to push their buttons and liked to push his limits. Overall, this was an entertaining series, and I think you should give it a try.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Jack Blank Adventure #2: The Secret War by Matt Myklusch

The Secret War (Jack Blank Adventure, #2)My name is Jack, and a sleeper agent has announced the Rustov are planning another attack on Imagine Nation in five days. He also mentioned a conspiracy leads all the way to the Inner Circle, but which leader could possibly be involved? The truth about a spyware virus infecting the Mechas has come out even though I haven't completed my secret project to create a cure-code. The virus would allow the Rustov to take control of the androids and use them as tools or weapons. It's hard trying to prevent the invasion, while Smart continues to attack me with accusations that I'm helping the Rustov. He also keeps saying he's going to unveil the SmarterNet to stop them, but people should be concerned when Smart is this excited about anything. He says he's the smartest man on Earth, but sometimes he's really stupid.

You should read The Accidental Hero first. This book continued Smart's efforts to prove Jack was a Rustov spy, and the complications it created for Jack. Some of the accusations were true, and Jack wasn't sure if he might be forced to assist the enemy. Having the virus speak inside his head only added to the conflict, as it seemed to reinforce a possible loss of control. An unexpected twist regarding his virus popped up near the end. Jack's character fell into the common hero problem of trying to cover up problematic secrets only to create bigger problems along the way. He even admitted during the resolution that all of the conflicts and difficulties in the plot might have been avoided if he had told the truth in the beginning. However, it would have created a boring story! This book added a couple more students to the plot, and Jack was finally able to work with a team. This cooperation was very shaky due to Jack's decisions and added to the suspense of the whole book. Jack's alliances seemed to come and go like a yo-yo. There was an anticipation that everything was going to fall apart at some point, probably at the worst possible time. On a pleasant note, a surprise character joined the fray during the book's climax. I'm looking forward to reading the last book in the trilogy, The End of Infinity

Monday, July 23, 2018

Ulysses Moore #1: The Door to Time by Pierdomenico Baccalario

The Door to Time (Ulysses Moore, #1)My name is Jason, and my twin sister and I just moved to Argo Manor. Julia is more athletic than me, but I'm more adventurous. I discovered a hidden parchment with ancient writing, and it's kicked off a mystery surrounding our new home. Rick, a boy I met in school, has joined us and has added knowledge of local stories. The previous homeowner, Ulysses Moore was an eccentric man, and we're sure the messages we've found were written by him. I feel there must be a huge grotto under the manor, but Julia won't believe it until she sees it. I found a secret door behind an armoire, and now we have four strange keys left by Ulysses. I'm sure there must be a secret passage behind the door, and then our adventure will truly begin. The only limit is our imagination. 

Most of this book read like a mystery, as the kids tried to figure out clues left around the property. The fantasy genre didn't kick in until the story neared the end, so the rest of the series should be more fantastic. The three kids made an interesting team due to their different talents. Jason was the adventuring risk-taker, Rick was intelligent with knowledge of local history, and Julia was supportive of her brother, although they maintained some playful banter throughout the plot. The only suspense in the plot came from the pursuit of solving the clues, so I didn't feel emotionally invested. Nothing opposed the children's efforts beyond their own mental and physical abilities. I didn't understand why a female character made a cameo appearance early in the story, since she wasn't much of a factor. She wanted to gain possession of the manor, but her interest and efforts had no effect on the events. I'm guessing she'll become more important in the future, but I didn't think she was needed in this book. Overall, The Door to Time was a nice blend of adventure and mystery and should appeal to most upper elementary readers. 

Dragons in a Bag #1 by Zetta Elliott

Dragons in a Bag (Dragons in a Bag #1)My name is Jax, and Ma received a bouncing package from Madagascar. Ma's not really related to me, and she happens to be a witch. I know Madagascar has many strange animals, but I was not expecting the package to contain three baby dragons! Ma says we need to take them to another dimension, because Brooklyn doesn't have enough magic anymore. Ma and I didn't get along right off the bat, but I think I may want to become her apprentice. Unfortunately, the transporter went wonky, and we ended up in another time, in a world full of toothy dinosaurs. The last thing I heard was a growl in the bushes and then Ma sent me back home. Now, Trouble says he can help me find Ma again, but something’s wrong with one of the dragons.

The target audience for this book is upper elementary, and that seems about right. The story moved quickly and wasn't overly complicated. Jax was leery about staying with a strange lady, and Ma made it clear she didn't want him around. The early parts of the plot were fairly realistic, except when Jax let an intelligent squirrel into the kitchen. Because of the book's title, it was obvious the mysterious package contained dragons, but they were used as props and didn't have an active role in the events. Ma's feelings toward the dragons weren't as clear, as she didn't attempt to hide the package from Jax but didn't share any information about it either. The possibility of the dragons' imprinting with humans most concerned her. Imprinting is when the baby animal connects and identifies with the first animal caring for it. The plot took a big turn once Ma caught up with Jax after he ran away. Even so, the revelation that Ma was a witch and the package contained dragons didn't cause any discomfort or stress for Jax. They quickly planned to travel to another dimension, and the action kicked up. The conclusion seemed too sudden, and it bugged me that things weren't resolved. Luckily, I sequel will be coming. Overall, it was a cute story and should appeal to many eight to twelve-year-old readers. 

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.