Sunday, December 30, 2018

Wereworld #2: Rage of Lions by Curtis Jobling

Rage of Lions (Wereworld, #2)My name is Whitley, and Drew and I are searching for Lady Gretchen. She was taken by the Werelion Prince Lucas, and I've managed to pick up their trail. However, I've been injured by an undead creature which means someone is practicing dark magic. Drew has been captured by the Werelion's supporters, and I don't know what's happened to him. He's been reluctant to accept his destiny to become king and doesn't understand how much the citizens need him. King Leopold has been trapped in his castle for two months, but something tells me the evil monarch hasn't given up. Is it possible he's hatching a plan to take back his crown? I don't know who would help this tyrant, but support for Drew hasn't been overwhelming. It feels like something huge is about to happen.

You should read Rise of the Wolf before reading this book. I must give you fair warning that the series contains explicit violence. The wereanimals don't fight cleanly, especially when their lives are at stake. I've been a little surprised by how fragile the cast of characters has become. I can usually sense when new/minor characters might become more important in the future, but several prominent characters don't survive this book. There are numerous battles between supporters of Drew and Leopold, but there is in-fighting too. Some characters can't be trusted, but their traitorous behavior isn't always foreseeable. Hector has been a good friend to Drew, so I haven't liked the changes he's been experiencing. He'll be a character to watch in the future. Overall, I've enjoyed the first two books in the Wereworld series, although I could do without some of the graphic violence. I like Drew's story as he tries to understand his new life, and I'm anxious to see something positive happen in the third book. If my comments haven't scared you off, give the series a try. 



Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #7: Flashback by Shannon Messenger

Flashback (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #7)My name is Fitz, and I'm irate the Council is sparing my brother's life. Alvar says he can't remember his despicable crimes, and he's going to be allowed to serve his sentence at Everglen! The Neverseen are always one step ahead of us, but Gethen says this isn't part of their plans. Sophie and I are frustrated that we're forced to lay in bed, while we recover from echoes resulting from a Shadow attack. Emotions cause them to flare up and undo our healing. We've decided that we must learn to fight back even though elves aren't used to violence. However, the Neverseen have no problem hurting and killing us. And as if these problems aren't enough, we're sure the alicorns need help. Five kingdoms of intelligent creatures are uniting for the first, but it seems like we're always missing something when it comes to the Neverseen. 

This series is very entertaining if you're ready for a lot of reading. This book lacked the adventure and action of the first six books, at least until the plot arrived at the climax. Sophie and Fitz were injured and were under medical care for most of the first half of the plot. Other characters were off doing things, while Sophie was confined to bed rest, dealing with internal struggles/scars. It was hard to describe much action and drama, while the main character was stuck in one room. At least Sophie's love life became clearer. She also gained a few more bodyguards, but the pattern has become tiresome. Her defenders have always said she shouldn't leave without them, but she ends up doing just that. Also, the defenders have said they'll be ready for the Neverseen next time, but they never are. It's become annoying, since nothing has changed. I would expect Sophie and her friends to have learned from past mistakes. Overall, I'm still enjoying the series, but I hope the next book shows Sophie becoming more intelligent and the elves making progress toward stopping the Neverseen. The rebels have clearly been out-thinking the elves, and it would be nice to get a sense the elves might be able to stop them.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Wereworld #1: Rise of the Wolf by Curtis Jobling

Wereworld : rise of the wolfMy name is Josh, and I ran away from home when my father tried to kill me. I didn't understand the changes happening to me, but I was thankful for help from strangers. I've been told I'm a Werelord, but I'm not fully sure what that means. All I know is I have nowhere to go while being hunted by the king's troops. Hector fled with me, and I was forced to take his cousin Gretchen along with us. She’s supposed to marry King Leopold’s son and doesn’t think much of me. Now, Gretchen’s disappeared, and we have no idea where she went. It feels like everything’s going wrong, even though Hector thinks I’m destined for great things. Nothing good will happen if I can’t control the power within me.

I wasn't sure how I'd like a book with many characters changing into animals, but it was okay. They remained in human form most of the time, as Josh learned to control his changes. The animals emerged during conflicts and fighting. Actually, there was a good amount of violence, and the description of creatures fighting wasn’t pretty. I always enjoy a good underdog story, and this book fit the bill. Josh’s powers needed controlling, and most of the citizens were against him. His body’s unusual ability to heal came in very handy for much of the book, as the king’s soldiers were especially nasty. More importantly, Josh's compassion and character were much more significant to the plot. Despite his insecurities, he found it difficult to ignore injustices and stepped in to help while others stepped back. His honorable character gave others hope and motivated them to stand up for themselves. The climax to the story wasn’t unexpected, although the author saved a couple of surprises for the end. His growing affection for Gretchen will likely be an important topic in the future. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and plan to read its sequel, Rage of Lions.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Adventurers Wanted #1: Slathbog's Gold by M.L. Forman

Slathbog's Gold (Adventurers Wanted, #1)My name is Alex, and my head is spinning. I quickly became the eighth member of a team on a quest to kill a dragon called Slathbog. I don't understand half of what the others are telling me, and I think the shopkeeper made a mistake when he said I have wizard abilities. My brain is still finding it hard to believe in magic, but some recent events have changed my mind. I thought I was lucky to survive a troll attack, but now I'm not so sure. An oracle believes in my potential, but she says I must stop doubting myself. Can I possibly become a powerful wizard? Can I become a fierce warrior too? It's hard to believe I'm now in the middle of my first adventure, and the others seem to be glad that I'm here. I don't think there's nothing special about me, but what if I'm wrong?

As you read this book, you should remember what the characters say. Once you believe magic is real, everything else is easy. The same goes for  the rules for Adventurers; don't try to figure them out. Don't question how Alex can stow his belongings in a four-room storage bag or how the Adventurers decide to divy up the treasures they collect. Many novels allow young characters to discover their powers in a big way. Alex's biggest accomplishment for the first half of the book is starting and dousing fire. Bigger questions surround his elfin sword and the ring he collects. The ring is magical, but Alex is warned not to use it until he knows more. Actually, Alex is much more cautious than most characters with his emerging powers, as he  understands the horrible, possible consequences from uncontrolled magic. I'm most impressed by the code of conduct displayed by all of the Adventurers. Their behavior exhibits dignity toward each other and creatures they meet, and it's important to honor the memories of the deceased. These qualities are in the forefront throughout the entire book. Overall, Slathbog's Gold is the start of a series, and I'm excited to get my hands on the sequel. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford

The Left-Handed FateMy name is Max, and I must find the second piece to a devastating weapon that could end a budding war and prevent others. I only have cryptic clues about its capabilities, but I can't let it fall into Napoleon's hands. Lucy and the crew of the Fate helped me find the first part, but locating the second one has become an adventure. The Americans and Britain are now at war, so it makes sailing the Atlantic more treacherous. A mysterious brig has been materializing along with eerie lights, and we've only barely managed to escape. Now, the Fate has been overtaken by an American ship and is being controlled by a very young lieutenant. He's helping us protect the first piece of the weapon, but we'll soon be without a ship and on our own. 

This book follows Bluecrowne but didn't have the same amount of supernatural detail. Other than the secretive weapon and strange lights, the rest of the events were fairly realistic. There were a few references to the previous book, but this plot described a totally unrelated story. Lucy was still the main character, but her feisty personality was muted a bit due to circumstances aboard the Fate. She displayed compassion and honor, even with her enemies, but wasn't able to utilize all of her talents. She became more of a detective than an adventurer. My biggest issue with the story concerned the weapon. It was the focus of the conflict, but the characters weren't sure what it was or what it could do. It was hard to understand how weaving cards could have anything to do with a destructive device. How can readers understand the problem if the characters can't explain it? Overall, I enjoyed the characters, including the new lieutenant, and I liked the idea of the problem. I enjoyed the climax. However, the whole project wasn't as entertaining as Bluecrowne. More clarity and more supernatural elements would have helped. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Fairy Tale Reform School #1: Flunked by Jen Calonita

Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School, #1)My name is Gilly, and I need to be home with my family, not here at the FTRS. I look around at the teachers and other students, and I'm not so sure anybody's getting reformed in a positive way. I mean, the Evil Stepmother is running the place, and her wicked daughter is the biggest bully in the school. Something fishy is going on. The surrounding forest is dangerous and off-limits, so why would a teacher enter it? The gargoyle statues creep me out, and I could swear one of them was watching me! Miri the magic mirror is always spying, so it's hard to sneak around the hallways and rooms. However, I think I can get out of the FTRS immediately if I can find dirt on the evil stepmother, so I've got to keep snooping around. Little did I know the trouble I'd find.

It took me awhile to realize I'd already read the third book in the series earlier this year! I enjoy Gilly's sassy attitude and her compassion for others. She's in reform school for trying to help feed her family, and she lied to the teachers to protect her new friends. Kayla becomes her roommate, but I was surprised when the girl disappeared for most of the plot. Jax is Gilly's closest ally, but he's keeping a huge secret that isn't revealed until later in the story. The plot reads as a mystery, as Gilly searches for a scandal that will allow her to get early release from reform school. All of the adult characters come from familiar fairy tales, but the students are unknown variables. Which ones are good, and which ones are part of the problem? The book teaches a nice lesson on honesty, as Gilly slowly learns that stealing may not be the best way to solve her problems. This is ironic, since Kayla and Jax are first drawn to her ability to lie and her sneakiness. Overall, the series shares a fun adventure of conspiracy and magic, and I think most younger readers will enjoy it.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #6: Nightfall by Shannon Messenger

Nightfall (Keeper of the Lost Cities #6)My name is Sophie, and my human sister seems to be adjusting to my elvin world better than I expected. However, my human parents were kidnapped by the Neverseen and are being held in a place called Nightfall. I keep thinking there must be a bigger reason why the rebels spread Everblaze throughout California, but I wasn't ready for the truth. The Neverseen helped a mysterious criminal escape from prison, and the rebel leaders have horrifying plans for humans. All of this has led the Black Swan to create a trial alliance with the ogre king. Who would have ever believed elves could cooperate with their enemies? Ro, the king's daughter, has been a formidable ally, and I'm starting to realize we may have misunderstood the ogres. Who knows if it will be enough to stop the Neverseen's devastating plans?

You need to read this series from the beginning. Much of it reads like a mystery, as Sophie and her friends try to thwart the Neverseen's evil schemes. Even though Sophie is the leader, it's fun to see how all of her friends are able to coordinate their talents as a team. The rebels have always been one step ahead of the group in past books, but this time Sophie's team starts to anticipate what's going to happen. The mysterious convict adds more uncertainty to the plot, since her identity, ability, and motivations are unknown. Her twisted thinking is the platform for all of the Neverseen's plans. However, her vision has been twisted by recent leadership, so a new conflict develops. If you've read my posts about other books in the series, you're aware of my annoyance with Sophie's obliviousness to potential love interests. Three characters have clearly displayed affection toward her, and she finally eliminates one of them. I'm not sure how many books will eventually be in this series, but I'm on a waiting list for the recently-released seventh installment Flashback. Overall, I'm really enjoying the journey and recommend you give it a shot.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children #3: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, #3)My name is Jacob, and I'm traveling through time to rescue peculiars captured by the wights. Addison is able to follow their scent, but I'm not thrilled about where it's led. Emma, Addison, and I now find ourselves in Devil's Acre, a dark, disturbing slum full of scoundrels ready to attack us. However, we've uncovered the reason behind the recent rash of peculiar disappearances, and it stems from Miss Peregrine's brothers. Caul has wicked dreams of a land full of souls from dead peculiars, but his brother Bentham is helping us stop him. Both of them have plans for me due to my growing ability to control Hollows. These deadly creatures are usually unstoppable and feared by all peculiars, but I've never controlled more than one of them. If I can't master my talent, the lives of all peculiars is doomed.

You really need to read the whole series in order, or you won't fully understand this conclusion. It's been several years since I read the previous books, and I wish they had been fresher in my mind. Old, black and white pictures of odd characters fill the pages, as seen above, and it's fun to see how the author works them into the story. Each peculiar has an unusual talent that makes them unique. Anna can create fire, Addison is a talking dog, and another character is invisible. A subplot deals with the budding relationship between Jacob and Anna. Anna once loved Jacob's grandfather (she doesn't age in her loop), but her heart now belongs to Jacob. It may sound weird, but it makes sense in the context of the book. I found Jacob's interaction with the Hollows intriguing, as his empathy for the deadly beasts was ironic. He had a strong connection to his first Hollow, and a form of trust seemed to grow. I kind of felt sorry for the creatures and wish they had come to better fates. Overall, this series is imaginative and deserves your attention. Give it a shot!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #5: Lodestar by Shannon Messenger

Lodestar (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #5)My name is Keefe, and I know my decision to join the Neverseen is dangerous, and probably stupid. I need to get answers about my mom, as I don't understand why she joined these rebels. Is she still alive? Fintan is a powerful pyrokinetic and won't hesitate to torture and kill me with Everblaze if he discovers my deceit. Luckily, Sophie is able to telepathically communicate with me and believes I'm not a terrible person. She's uncovered a symbol called the Lodestar, but I've never seen it before. Sophie wants me to leave the rebels, but I've heard Fintan talking about a Lodestar Initiative. I've got to gain his trust, so I can mess up his plans for violence. I've already blown up part of Foxfire, my old school, to prove my loyalty. I've told Sophie that I know what I'm doing and hope I won't regret the decisions I've made.

You probably won't enjoy this book without reading the previous ones, as many of the conflicts have manifested throughout the series. Sophie is the main character and savior, as her genetics were modified to address many of the elves' problems. She still displays insecurities and makes rash decisions that sometimes backfire. If you've read my posts about previous books in the series, I've been annoyed about her seemingly obliviousness that three boys like her. Finally, the author has characters openly address the problem with her, but she remains clueless. Amazing! Fintan has become the main protagonist, and his plans are difficult to predict. The characters anticipate his motivations only to discover they've been focusing on the wrong things. This results in a more suspenseful and entertaining plotThe story includes the death of a main character, so it will be interesting to see how the next book handles the void. This book presents another surprise at the end, but it's not as significant as in the earlier books. I've already gotten my hands on Nightfall, and I'm anxious to see how the series ends. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Greenglass House Story: Bluecrowne by Kate Milford

BluecrowneMy name is Lucy, and I'm pretty upset that my father is forcing me to live ashore in a huge house. I miss helping the crew aboard my father's ship, as we sailed across the seas. However, my half-brother Liao is excited, and he even has his own shed where he can practice making rockets and other explosives. He has a natural talent for pyrotechnics, and it's attracted the interest of two strangers. One man has promised to teach Liao more about his skill, but the other one said something about time that seemed strange. I've tried to distract myself by repairing my new, small sailboat, and Liao likes the spot on it where he can fire his new rockets. Little did I know the strangers had treacherous plans for my little brother, nor did I have any idea of my stepmother's true identity.

I'm not totally sure how this book fits in with other Greenglass House stories, but I was still able to enjoy it. I must admit I felt some early uncertainty about the novel-specific vocabulary, as the author needed to come up with words and descriptions for impossible ideas. It wasn't enough to confuse the story. The plot was told from two points of view that focused on Lucy and the strangers. One stranger was an expert in time travel, and he was hired by a ruthless, unforgiving boss. His partner was an expert with pyrotechnics. I don't always enjoy multiple points of view, but both accounts in this book meshed well and enhanced the descriptions. I felt like I was missing something regarding events happening prior to this book, so I plan to read The Left-Handed Fate. I think it precedes Bluecrowne, although I'm still not sure if there's a specific order to the author's books. Regardless, I enjoyed Bluecrowne and recommend you give it a shot. 

Keeper of the Lost Cities #4: Neverseen by Shannon Messenger

Neverseen (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #4)My name is Fitz, and my friends and I have left our homes to join the Black Swan. Mr. Forkle says Sophie and I can connect to make our telepathic abilities more powerful, but we're still learning how. The Neverseen and ogres have spread a deadly virus among the gnomes, but Forkle won't let us help him find the rebels. We've run out of clues and may need to sneak into dangerous and forbidden places. Keefe's afraid he may follow in his mom's footsteps to help the enemy, even though he's been my best friend for years. It's hard getting information without being caught, since we've been banished. We've been surprised by the true identities of some Black Swan members, but we were shocked to discover secrets behind the plague. War may be imminent.

This book picks up immediately where the third book ends, so you'll need to read the previous books first. There are a total of six in the series. Sophie is still the main character, and others continue to say she's the key to everything. The author allows characters to expand their powers with Black Swan training, so that keeps the plot interesting. Biana perfects her invisibility, and Dex creates some handy technology used to hack files and defend his friends. The Black Swan presented the answers to questions that have been lingering since the series began. How was Sophie created? What's behind the conflict between the elves and ogres, and why have the gnomes been targeted? The author continues the mystery of the Neverseen, although this book reveals their motivations. She also manages to save another huge surprise for the end of the book that will make you eager to read the sequel. I recommend you start this series right away!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Magdalena Gottschalk #1: The Crooked Trail by M. Gail Grant

Magdalena Gottschalk: The Crooked Trail (Magdalena Gottschalk, #1)My name is Magdalena. Gabriel, Hubert, and I only wanted to explore, but we seem to have awakened something demonic. The others couldn't hear the noises and voices, but they stayed with me as we ventured through the dark cave and into the giant, vacant treehouse. I felt like we were being controlled and lured along. We've since learned some adults in our village know about the noises and voices, and they held a secret meeting in the dungeon below the church. Gabriel and I hid behind the dungeon's stone walls, and again, he couldn't hear the adults confirm our worst fears. However, I was stunned to discover how different I am from my friends, and I may be the only one who can save our town.

I think the target audience may have been toward the lower end of middle grade readers. The plot was interesting but slow-moving, especially in the beginning. Characters retold previously described events to their friends, rather than summarizing, which was like a teacher re-explaining something in class that everyone else already knew. The characters were creeped out by their strange encounters, but the evidence was so vague that it didn't create any kind of emotional reaction in me. The threat to the village was identified, but the actual danger wasn't really developed. The vocabulary used by the kids was more formal than expected. It felt strange to hear them not use contractions when speaking to each other, and some words seemed more mature than young kids might use. With all that being said, I enjoyed the concept of the plot and characters. A village was being hidden from an evil force, and young children inadvertently awakened the danger. I don't think the book lived up to what it could have been, but it still had entertaining moments.

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

InklingMy name is Ethan, and my dad is a famous graphic novelist, so people expect me to be a great artist too. I'm not. Actually, I'm pretty terrible unless you like stick figures. However, a blot of ink dropped off my dad's sketchpad, and it's come to life! I call him Inkling, and he's able to read and learn from all the ink he eats in printed materials. Oh well, I used to have some awesome graphic novels and comic books. He's teaching me to draw "better", but my dad could use a lot of help too. He has writer's block and hasn't started a new novel in months. What would happen if he found out Inkling exists? I'm guessing something bad. Inkling and I were doing okay together until our secret got out. Now, my world is all messed up, and I've got to figure out a way to make things right. 

This book was a finalist for the 2018 Cybils Book Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. I've enjoyed the author's other books in the past, and Inkling reminded me of my imagination as a young child. How creative is it to have ink become a live character with abilities to learn and communicate? Ethan's artistic problems created a conflict due to a group project at school. It's complicated by a classmate eager to reveal his secret and prove he's an awful artist. Inkling had his own dilemma, but it was less clear. He (or she) sensed he had a purpose for becoming animated, but he didn't know why. As you might expect, his purpose was the key to solving the family problem. Ethan's little sister had Downs Syndrome, and her light-heartedness contrasted sharply with her father's emotional issues. He was battling a lack of inspiration, and he wasn't dealing well with his wife's death. Ethan's sister talked about herself in the third person ("She's hungry"), but the girl had a lot of fun and love to share. She was adorable. Overall, the book told a clever story of ink coming to life in order to save a family. It was very creative, and I recommend you give it a shot. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #3: Everblaze by Shannon Messenger

Everblaze (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #3)My name is Keefe and spending more time with Sophie has been the adventure I expected. Okay, it's almost killed me, but it's fun helping Sophie protect Silveny and learning about the Black Swan. We found a tracker on the alicorn's tail but were shocked to discover its connection to an ogre weapon. Sophie's trying to get information from the Black Swan, but the group won't share anything. I'm wondering if there's spy in their group, and secret Council information is now leaking into the public. Somehow, people have learned Sophie's been ordered to save Fintan's mind, and most of them are frightened of his evil pyrokinetic powers. Why should she help a criminal who nearly killed her and what if something goes wrong? I'm an empath, and I don't feel good about this healing.

Overall, I recommend the series and strongly suggest you begin with the first book. The feel of Everblaze is very similar to the previous book, as Sophie tries to uncover secrets while avoiding threats and dangers. Keefe continues a more prominent role in the events due to his ability to sense other characters' feelings. Dex's talent with technology becomes public knowledge, but he remains jealous of Sophie's feelings. Many (most?) novels with teenage characters explore the attraction between a boy and a girl. However, Sophie blushes around Dex, Keefe, and Fitz, so a romantic connection with any of them is muddled. As mentioned above, the plot centers on Sophie's efforts to investigate the Black Swan and the rebels. It's clear the rebels are bad, but the jury is still out on the Black Swan. Sophie has suspected Jolie had a connection to the Black Swan before her suspicious death, but more dramatic thoughts about her have entered Sophie's mind. Consequently, the plot now reads like a mystery novel with the suspense amping up in the last third. It's hard to imagine Sophie getting into more complicated situations, but she does it. The result of the author's efforts is an exciting adventure into the world of elves.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Joshua Dredd #2: The Nameless Hero by Lee Bacon

The Nameless Hero (Joshua Dread #2)My name is Milton, and I wasn't invited to Gyfted and Talented like Joshua and Sophie. Luckily, my friends stood up for me, and Gavin let me stay at the summer camp for future superheroes. Even nFinity is here, and my costume includes rockets in my boots! Gavin is calling us the Alliance of the Impossible, but things aren't all rosy. Joshua thinks something strange is going on, since no one's heard of this camp and security cameras watch our every move. We just had our first mission, and I'm a little ticked off. I thought we were a team, but one of us seems to think he's the only hero in the group. How are we supposed to work together and stop the Multiplier from vandalizing all of our country's national monuments? And now one of Gavin's other heroes has stolen some of his files and may be working against us. And we have paparazzi following us everywhere. Geez!

You don't need to read the first book in the series to enjoy this one. As you might be able to tell, the story is a wacky version of a world where superheroes are common. Joshua is the main character, and his life is complicated due his parents being super criminals. His father creates many questionable inventions, and his new robot leaves as much destruction as it does help situations. Sophie's dad is the world's most famous superhero, but he's spending most of his time with a new reality show and his endorsements. The author drops enough clues early in the book, so you shouldn't be surprised by the plot twists. A major villain from book one returns, but he's kept in the background for most of the story. However, he returns with a vengeance, as the plot builds to an exciting climax. The main conflicts deal with the Magnifier and the internal group problems resulting from fame. Overall, the book is entertaining if you're prepared for a light-hearted tale of superheroes. It's a fun read.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #2: Exile by Shannon Messenger

Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #2)My name is Sophie, and I don't understand the changes that are happening. How can the alicorn I found mentally communicate with me, and why is this beautiful creature so important to the Council? Is it because elves are losing faith in the Council? Who kidnapped me, and why did the Black Swan come to my rescue? Is this group good or evil? I was hoping my return to school would make my life more normal, even though I was dreading my Impaling classes with Councilor Bronte, but then something horrible happened to Alden at the opening ceremonies. He's a father figure to me, so I was devastated when he suddenly collapsed. The doctor says there's no way to save him, but I won't give up. My abilities should be able to help him... unless they're broken.

You must read the first book in the series to fully understand what's going on. I'm enjoying the mystery surrounding Sophie's past, since it's unclear why the Black Swan created her. She has more talents than any other elf, and there are memories hidden inside her mind. This makes the Council leery of her, and she has questions about herself. Her telepathic ability has always been important to the story, but it takes on a crucial role with Alden's problem. Her relationships with Dex, Fitz, and Keefe are confusing. Often, middle grade novels will develop boy/girl relationships, but she blushes at times with all three boys. Blushing implies an emotional connection beyond friendship, so her feelings are unclear. Dex clearly wants to be more than friends, while there are hints the other two boys  might feel the same way, especially Keefe. This whole situation causes some uncomfortable situations. The introduction of the alicorn called Silveny is an interesting addition to the cast of characters. Sophie develops a connection to her, but she's under tremendous pressure to acclimate Silveny to other elves. Sophie's relationship with Silveny is a subplot, but there's a strong sense that it will become important to resolving the bigger conflicts in the plot. Overall, I recommend you give the series a shot.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The House With a Clock In Its Walls by John Bellairs

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt, #1)My name is Lewis, and I've come to live with my Uncle Jonathan after my parents died. Did I mention he's a real wizard!? There's a ticking clock somewhere inside the house, but we don't know if it's harmless or evil. It's hard for me to make friends, so I was stunned and excited when Tarby, the most popular boy in school, started hanging out with me. I told him about my uncle's magic, but then I made a big mistake. I told him I could cast a spell too. I met him in a cemetery, on Halloween, at midnight, and I was terrified when the incantation worked! I'm afraid my uncle will get rid of me if I tell him what I've done, but I know he senses something is seriously wrong. What have I done? Is this really The Last Judgment... the End of the World?

This book was a quick-read with a little over one-hundred pages. It was surprising the first half of the story didn't feel eerie at all despite the mysterious clock inside the walls of an old house. The mood clearly changed following Lewis's major, magical mistake. His character was overweight and lacked confidence in performing any physical activities. He was the target of bullying, which included his new "friend" Tarby. The plot evolved into a spooky mystery, since none of the characters understood what had happened. The author did a nice job of introducing the puzzling behavior of the home's previous owner and then blending it with the current events. The tension increased as the uncle was frightened of something but wouldn't share his concerns with Lewis. Imagining what might be wrong created more suspense than revealing the actual threat. With all this being said, I was underwhelmed after having high expectations for a book made into a movie. The story was good, but not great. I've read quite a few speculative fiction books, and this one didn't offer many surprises. Overall, this book is a wonderful choice if you're looking for a mysterious book that's also a quick-read.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Keeper of the Lost Cities #1 by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #1)My name is Sophie, and my past is frustrating. First, I'm an elf, not human, so I don't know my real parents. I'm now learning to develop my elfin powers at an exclusive academy, although I'm forced to keep my telepathy a secret. I'm trying hard to pass my classes, but one Council member is set on getting me kicked out. I don't understand why I'm doing questionable things; it's like someone's manipulating me. Elfin memories pop into my head that only complicates why I was raised by a human family, not my real parents. There are fears that a secret organization may have locked dangerous ideas in my brain that could endanger the human and elf worlds. I'm starting to put pieces together, but I'm afraid the path to my past will lead to disaster.

I normally like to know the big conflict early in the plot, but this book didn't do that. However, I found it still held my interest and kept me wondering about what was going on. The first half of the book seemed like a story about a young girl adjusting to her newly-discovered life as an elf. She struggled with her unusual classes and tried to fit in with other students. She also had trouble adapting to her guardians, since they had their own troubled past. The second half of the book developed the "lost" big conflict and became more of an adventure. The heroine continued to master her telepathic powers, tried to understand cryptic messages, and made hasty assumptions. She ignored the advice of others and made some poor decisions. However, how interesting would books be if characters did what they were supposed to do? In the end, the problems were mostly resolved, but some big questions were left for the book's sequel. I'm looking forward to reading Exile, but I'll need to wait for it to become available at my local library. Looks like it's pretty popular with other readers too!

Twelve Minutes to Midnight #1 by Christopher Edge

Twelve Minutes to Midnight (Twelve Minutes to Midnight, #1)My name is Penelope Tredwell, and no one knows I've been running a best-selling magazine called The Penny Dreadful. People love the chilling stories I've written, but they're very curious about the reclusive author. I decided to hire an actor named Monty to fool them, but a reporter has been dogging me for information. Now, the local mental hospital has patients all waking up at the same time every night, writing strange messages about things called MTV, an unsinkable ocean liner going down in the Atlantic, and a quotation saying "The eagle has landed". Monty's love for drinking makes him less than helpful, but his presence allowed me to get inside the hospital.  I don't understand how a rough-looking orderly, a mysterious heiress, and spiders might be involved, but I'm getting close. Maybe too close.

The second half of the book was better than the first. The problem of patients waking up with cryptic messages about the future was very interesting, but the first half of the plot was predictable. There were only a couple of suspects, so the focus of the investigation was limited. The problem seemed to be solved around the book's midpoint, but that's when things became more compelling. The issues in the hospital were resolved, but the cause was not. Penelope's young age handcuffed her ability to collect evidence, so the plot moved along slowly with expected events. However, things picked up once she ignored the limits her age presented. Spiders were quite important to the plot, so be warned if they make you squeamish. The most intriguing part of the book was the use of poison-induced dreams, and the way the author used them as a tool or weapon. How does a person stop a mass psychosis? Overall, the book offered an interesting mystery with a unique heroine. Trying to remain anonymous created an unusual subplot. It might be worth your while to give the book a shot. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Riders of the Realm #1: Across the Dark Water by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Across the Dark Water (Riders of the Realm #1)My name is Echofrost, and I swore Shysong wouldn't remain captive as long as I was alive. I thought escape from the Landwalkers would be easy, so I allowed myself to be captured. I didn't expect them to clip my wings, and I slowly realized resisting them only hurt myself. I was growing weaker and starving to death. I was surprised when I developed a bond with a Landwalker cub despite my best efforts against it. The cub actually fought three Giants to protect me even though he had no fighting ability! I'm supposed to be sold in a few days, but I've got to escape before then. Even if I get away, where will I go? I don't know where my wild herd went, and the jungle contains dangers I've never faced, including the Giants. And what will I do if Shysong refuses to leave?

The plot was more interesting than I expected due to the unique storytelling. The thoughts and dialogue were creatively blended between the humans and Pegasi. Rather than sharing the different points of view through alternating chapters, the author did it with one narrator. It could have been confusing, but the strategy worked. Rahkki, the human "cub", and Echofrost shared common traits of compassion, bravery, and determination. Echofrost displayed a grittiness to help Shysong, but she quickly felt a responsibility to free the Kilhari, the humans' trained Pegasi. Their ancestors had fled the same homeland centuries before, but most of these Pegasi didn't understand freedom and were reluctant to leave. Freedom was scary for them. In contrast, Rahkki only wanted the best for Echofrost, and he quickly decided the Pegasus should be released. However, he'd be punished, maybe killed, if he helped her escape. An additional level of conflict was found between the queen and Rahkki and his brother. The queen had killed their mother and would be happy if the boys were dead too. This subplot continued throughout the book, and a surprise was dropped near the end. I wished the first half of the book had moved more quickly, but I found the overall book very entertaining. Give it a shot.

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.

This book was a finalist for a 2018 Cybils Book Award. 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. This book was fun to read, and I recommend you give it a shot.

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.