Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bounders #3: The Forgotten Shrine by Monica Tesler

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

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Five Kingdoms #5: Time Jumpers by Brandon Mull

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

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

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

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

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

Magic, Madness, and Mischief by Kelly McCullough

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

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

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Mad Wolf's Daughter by Diane Magras

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

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

Brass Monkeys by Terry Caszatt

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

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

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Wizardmatch by Lauren Magaziner

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

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

Friday, March 30, 2018

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Abode by Patricia Mather Parker

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

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Boy From Tomorrow by Camile DeAngelis

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

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

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Simon Thorn #3: Simon Thorn and the Shark's Cave by Aimee Carter

Simon Thorn and the Shark's Cave (Simon Thorn, #3)My name is Jam, and the General, my father, has allowed me to bring my friends back to my home. This has allowed Simon and me to search for the underwater kingdom's piece of the Predator before Orion steals it. The ruler of the bird kingdom wants to unite all the Predator's pieces, so he can use its powers to reign over all Animalgam kingdoms. Unfortunately, the General wanted to move his piece from its hiding place, and we were ambushed by sharks working for Orion. Simon saved us from death by changing into an orca whale, but the General was seriously wounded. We've learned Orion is planning an attack on the compound and has been secretly getting information from a spy inside Atlantis. A war between the Animalgam kingdoms is waiting to erupt, Simon may be charged with treason, and my sister wants to kill his mother. And I may become the next ruler of the underwater kingdom!

You don't need to read the previous books to enjoy this one, but I recommend you do. The format is similar to book two, as Simon and friends try to keep Orion, Simon's grandfather, from getting his hands on the pieces of the Predator. The weapon will allow Orion to change into any animal, which other Animalgams fear. Although he is the main antagonist, his actual character is not directly involved in most of the plot. Simon wants to get all the Predator pieces first to destroy it, so this quest is the main conflict. An added twist to the whole series is that Simon and his twin brother are naturally able to become any animal, although Simon is keeping his ability secret. Even his brother doesn't know, which adds another source of suspense between the characters. The underwater setting of the book limits which characters are able to leave Atlantis and enter the deep ocean waters. For that reason, most of the action in the plot focuses on Jam and Simon. You won't like this book if you don't like humans becoming animals. However, you might learn a little bit about underwater creatures if you give it a shot.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Alchemist's Apprentice by Kate Thompson

The Alchemist’s ApprenticeMy name is Jack, and I made a big mistake that means I can never return to my role as a blacksmith's apprentice. I later found a sealed pot floating in the river that was created by an alchemist, Mr. Barnstable. I accepted his offer to become his apprentice, and my life became an adventure. Barnstable sent me off to find my prima materia, a stone that is the most important ingredient in alchemy. I wandered across the country, learning to steal for my survival. Finally, events led me to a life of wealth that did not bring me happiness. No one cares about me, and I’ve been used by others all along. I’m now convinced the mercury fumes have gotten to Barnstable’s brain, and he’s delusional. I don’t know what to do.

This book is not at all what I expected. Once Jack leaves on his quest for the prima materia, alchemy takes a backseat in the plot. The story becomes a tale of self-awareness and contentment. Jack finds various characters who help him along the way, but he seems to be searching for his place in the world. Finding a lost horse lifts him out of a life of poverty and changes his life dramatically. However, he continues to search for happiness. You will be disappointed if you’re looking for a story full of spells and magic normally associated with books concerning alchemy. This book is more philosophical and explores the growth of Jack’s spirit. It may be a little deeper than middle graders expect, but it can be enjoyed by more mature readers.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Problematic Paradox by Eliot Sappingfield

A Problematic ParadoxMy name is Nikola Kross, and circumstances have dumped me straight into a war pitting humans and parahumans against the Old Ones. My father has been taken prisoner by the ancient creatures, and I now find myself in an advanced, secret school for geniuses. The school is in the middle of nowhere and is guarded inside a dimensional dome by thousands of robotic bees. Teachers and other students don't understand my natural ability to manipulate quantum agar, but many people would have been killed without it. Tabbabitha, the Old One who captured my dad, has been trying to figure where I am, but I have no idea why. My roommate and I have now discovered a startling and impossible truth. Somehow, Tabbabitha has gotten past the school's defenses, and it's only a matter of time until she finds me!

I was unsure about this book when I started, because it's a bit odd and wacky. Nikola had an abrasive personality, and her home in an old department store building was eccentric. The paranormals were strange and diverse characters with abilities and habits that take getting used to. However, the plot became more "normal" when Nikola was first attacked by the Old Ones. I appreciated that the author didn't attempt to explain Nikola's ability with the agar, but it became the main weapon and defense. All of the characters were highly intelligent, so you need to be prepared for descriptions of science concepts, computer talk, and far out ideas; Nikola's roommate took an afternoon to whip up a wormhole allowing her to quickly travel across the town. I appreciated the author's creativity in developing a unique and inventive setting and conflict. Overall, the book may not be for everyone, but I found it engaging and interesting. I recommend you give it a shot.

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth Durst

The Stone Girl's StoryMy name is Mayka, and my father has died. The etchings on our stone bodies are fading, and the marks are what give us life. I'm leaving our home on the mountain for the first time, and I must find a new stonemason to fix the carvings. I'm happy that Risa and Jacklo are with me. The stone birds can fly ahead to warn me of danger, although Jacklo tends to get distracted and off course. We've met a small, stone dragon named Si-Si, and she's helped us find the city of Skye. Unfortunately, the Stone Quarter is closely guarded, and Jacklo didn't returned from exploring behind the wall. We've now managed to sneak inside and found a highly-skilled stonemason who fixed Jacklo's wing! However, I've examined the new carvings used to heal my friend, and something isn't right. I fear the stonemason has discovered a new mark that will bring terrifying consequences to every stone creature in Skye!

I received an advance copy of this book from Net Galley, and it was an exciting surprise. Parts of the plot reminded me of The Wizard of Oz, as the creatures searched for a mysterious man who would grant their greatest wishes. Mayka was a wonderfully adventurous and naive character, driven by her will to help other stone animals. She had an ability to read the stories etched on the animals she met, and the author allowed her to share their short tales throughout the book. An important message was that everyone has a story that defines them. On a deeper level, the creatures were seeking their independence without being controlled by others. Free will and individual choice were key issues. The main characters were kind and caring, and they were able to maintain these traits throughout the story. Amazingly, the author was able to resolve a destructive and violent climax in a relatively peaceful manner. Overall, I highly recommend you read this book. It's an inspiring, magical story!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Switchers #1 by Kate Thompson

SwitchersMy name is Tess, and I have a secret not even my parents know. A strange boy named Kevin shows up and threatens to tell them I have the ability to change into any kind of animal. He’s another switcher and says he needs my help to stop the snow and deep freeze that is creeping down from the Arctic. A crazy woman named Lizzie says Krools are to blame and that Kevin and I are the only ones who can stop them. We don’t know if what she says is true, but we need to fly north and find out. During our flight, Kevin reveals his own secret; his birthday is approaching in the next few days. On that day, he'll lose his ability to switch and will be stuck in one animal form for the rest of his life. What if we're in the middle of saving the world, and he's stuck as a dolphin, polar bear, or albatross?

I liked the idea of characters transforming into animals in order to save the world. However, the overall effect of the book left me a little disappointed. The plot took too long to reveal details of the problem, as too many pages were spent describing the chatacters’ trek to find Lizzie. Then, the climactic face-off with the Krools didn’t meet my anticipation. The solution felt too simple. Kevin’s age problem provided an interesting twist, and the resolution of the entire plot was satisfying. So what am I saying? If you have the patience for slow plot development and you like animals, then you should enjoy this book. Really, the concept was good, but the suspense was lacking compared to other books I’ve read recently.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Father of Lies Chronicles #3: Arthur Quinn and Hell's Keeper by Alan Early

Arthur Quinn and Hell's KeeperMy name is Arthur, and Loki has finally succeeded in killing me, kind of. The good thing is that I'm still alive on Earth, but the bad thing is history has changed and no one remembers me. Dublin is totally underwater, and the area is patrolled by Loki's army of wolves. I was captured and thrown into a prison camp full of other human refugees. I managed to escape and discovered a group of rebels led by my best friend Ash; except she doesn't know who I am and isn't willing to fully trust me. I showed her my pendant and Thor's hammer to support my story, but things didn't change until she was able to share one of my visions. She now knows we must stop Loki, or everyone and everything on Earth will be erased from existence.

I suggest you read the first two books in the trilogy before reading this one. There are recurring characters with background stories that you'll miss out on, and this plot picks up where the last book left off. For example, the World Serpent returns and Fenris's daughter is now the general of Loki's army. Arthur is still a brave young boy, although he lost an eye in book two. This handicap becomes an asset, as his remaining eye now allows him to see hidden truths. The book seems to have more action than the previous ones, as Arthur spends much of his time running from Loki's army of wolves. The setting with all of Dublin, Ireland covered in water is creative and causes the characters to move around on jet skis and boats. The plot twist with all characters forgetting Arthur adds additional suspense, since he doesn't know if anyone will be able to help stop Loki. Even though Loki doesn't see how it's possible, he's still open to the possibility of Arthur's reappearance and has some tricks up his sleeve. This book concludes the trilogy, but the author has left open a chance that Loki might return someday.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes #1: The Gift by Jeri Anne Agee

The Gift: The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes #1My name is Birdie Mae Hayes. The biggest news in town is a new family is moving into old lady Miller's house, and Daddy's not too happy about it. He has the only grocery in town, but Peter Doolittle's daddy will be opening another one soon. My other big thing is still kind of a big secret, because I don't know what to think about it. I think I can tell the future. The first time it happened was when I got a stomachache, closed my eyes, and in my mind I saw Doyle Baker fall out of a tree. I tried to warn him, but the big dummy still went ahead and broke his foot. The visions have happened a couple more times, and I think something's wrong with me. I told my best friend Sally, but she just thinks it's pretty cool. I think it's weird, and I don't know if I'm ready for the responsibility.

This book can be read quickly, as it's written for readers who are younger than my blog's normal middle grade target audience. Birdie Mae is a likable character with the innocence of a young child living in a very small town. Bubba is her free-spirited, two-year-old brother, and he adds some cute humor to the events. All of the people, except for Birdie Mae's daddy, are looking forward to a bouncy house and pony rides set for the new grocery store's grand opening, and a Halloween party at the Doolittle's house is the talk of the town. Now that's small-town news! The plot doesn't have a dramatic conflict or climax, as I've described in the summary above. The major "problem" is Birdie Mae learning to accept her new ability. Although the story is simple, it's nice to read a story for a change that doesn't include any profanity, violence, or major complications. Overall, the author has created a fun story that can be enjoyed all young readers.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Harper #3: Harper and the Night Forest by Cerrie Burnell

My name is Harper, and the Wild Conductor needs our help. He wants to win back his place in the Circus of Dreams, but we need to travel to the Night Forest where the fairy tales first began. There, he says we'll find the Ice Raven whose song can tame the fiercest heart. However, I've now met the keepers of the fairy tales, and they've shared the love story of a prince and a witch's daughter. The witch became angry and changed the prince into the Lone Wolf and her daughter into the Ice Raven. They will forever be separated until an ending to the only unfinished fairy tale in the forest can be found. The Wild Conductor needs the Ice Raven, but it will never change back into the witch's daughter if it ever leaves the forest. Music is magic, and it may be the only way to solve this problem.

This book is targeted for a younger audience than my normal middle grade readers. Harper and her friends carry musical instruments whose tunes have magical effects. Harper's music is the most powerful when played on her harp. The author certainly has a vivid imagination, as the fairy tales are recorded on tree bark, the conductor travels on a bicycle carried by ravens, and Harper's mode of transportation is an upside down umbrella. I didn't read the previous two books in the series, and I felt like I was missing some background information on the characters' relationships. I still enjoyed the story, so it wasn't a big factor. The characters got along very well and had compassion for each other. Harper's group was immediately ready to help the Wild Conductor, but they also displayed empathy toward the plight of the Ice Raven and Lone Wolf. The plot was easy to read and understand, and it came to a satisfying conclusion. Overall, it was a very entertaining book that I can recommend to young readers with an interest in fairy tales and music.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Father of Lies Chronicles #2: Arthur Quinn and the Fenris Wolf by Alan Early

Arthur Quinn and the Fenris Wolf (Father of Lies Chronicles, #2)My name is Ash, and Loki has returned to wreak havoc in the world. Our first warning was when Arthur's pendant started glowing a bright green light, while I almost drowned under the ice near my Cousin Maggie's home. Luckily, Arthur's hammer came soaring from his house to break the ice and rescue us. Now, Loki has attacked Arthur in the museum, while his warriors raided the artifacts. The objects weren't worth much, so what was the Norse trickster god after? Arthur believes a new student Ellie and her brother are okay, but I'm not so sure. We once trusted a boy named Will, but he turned out to be Loki in disguise. Arthur is suspicious of the wolf puppy we rescued at the lake, but I know his fears are wrong. A Viking soldier is watching over our homes, even though he's been dead for a thousand years, but I'm still very uneasy not knowing what Loki wants. I'm afraid we're going to find out soon.

You should probably read Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent before reading this book, since it establishes the main characters and format of the series. Arthur is a normal Irish boy other than the fact the gods have chosen him to save the world. He has an innocent attraction to Ash, as he encounters his first feelings of a boy/girl relationship. The pendant gives him the ability to understand ancient Viking language and acts as a warning when danger is nearby. The first book provided clues that his hammer was in fact Thor's hammer, and it's officially confirmed in this book. The hammer has the powers I expected from Norse mythology, although it seems almost anyone is able to hold it. Ash takes a lesser role than she did before, and she isn't on the same page as Arthur. The author does a nice job of presenting two possible antagonists (besides Loki) in the form of the wolf puppy and the new students. They are equally distrusted by Arthur and Ash, and the evil motives of one of them is revealed in the end. The role of Fenris is a bit surprising once he enters the story, not at all what I expected. His child is hidden in this book but will become a major factor in the sequel.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Nightshade Chronicles #3: Lords of Trillium by Hilary Wagner

Lords of Trillium (Nightshade Chronicles, #3)My name is Billycan, and I've changed since the effects of lab experiments have slowly weakened. Other creatures should still fear me, since I've killed more rats than I can count. However, I don't like the old me, and the Tuscans have told me about the terror of a former major. I've returned to Nightshade to stop her from destroying the peaceful city and murdering my brother and son. However, something else is happening too. I still have nightmares from my time in the Trillium labs, and it seems events are leading me back there. I've learned the scientists wanted my race of rats due to the effects of living above an extinct volcano. They did unspeakable experiments on us that caused the vicious killings in my past. Memories of the lab incense me, but its secrets may lie below the old library.

I recommend you read the previous books in the series, especially book one, to fully appreciate the transformation of Billycan's character. Seldom do you see a terrifying evil character become a major protagonist. Most of the minor characters found this hard to believe, although Billycan's brother, son, and niece were more supportive. The uncertainty behind his change added suspense to the story, since it was unclear if he might revert back to his violent past. The author does a nice job of describing Billycan's inner turmoil, as battles memories and urges of violence. The issue of experimenting on animals in lab research is a central theme, but it's told from the lab rats' points of view. The scientists are trying to discover a way to reverse human aging, but the side effects of the serum are devastating. This book especially reminds me of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, since the plot leads to a face-off between the human scientists and the lab animals. I'm not sure where the sequel will lead. The end of this book is rather cryptic with three unidentified lab rats heading out into the world. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically MindedMy name is Chantel, and Miss Ellicott and all the other sorceresses who control the wall protecting Lightning Pass have been taken away. Anna, Bowser, and I met a young Marauder named Franklin who has told us strange things about our home city. It seems our rulers charge heavy tolls to people outside the walls wanting to use the nearby roads and port. We thought the Marauders kidnapped the sorceresses for ransom, but we have now discovered they're not to blame. We've met our king and question his motives. I didn't understand why Miss Ellicott seemed to take a special interest in me until I spoke to His Highness. It all comes down to my familiar, a snake. It was strange when it entered my head, but it was more shocking when it came back out. My familiar's real name is Lightning, and he is the most powerful dragon ever!

This book was a finalist for the 2017 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction and was a very strong contender for the title. Be forewarned that the first part of the plot is slow-moving. The interest level picks up after Miss Ellicott disappears and the kids find themselves outside the wall. The snake character was a little confusing early on, as it was very independent of Chantel, coming and going as it pleased. Once it entered Chantel's head, I expected it to communicate with her, but she was only able to sense its emotions and restlessness. I expected more from the character and got it after it became the dragon. I found out it was learning about Chantel while inside her head. Chantel was able to control the dragon, but there was an interesting twist to their relationship. The dragon wouldn't do anything that Chantel wouldn't do herself. For example, the dragon would not kill other villagers. Another element to the book involved the role of women in this culture. They were expected to be submissive and obedient to the men. Chantel was chastised for questioning the men in power, and the female adult characters even gave her a hard time for not being proper. Despite these expectations, Chantel challenged unfair decisions and tried to determine which people were looking out for the city's best interests. Overall, the plot started off slow, but it was well worth the wait in the end. I enjoyed the book very much.

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh

Spirit HuntersMy name is Harper, and I hate that we've moved to Washington D.C. My bedroom is stifling hot, but my four-year-old brother Michael's room is eerily cold. I've noticed he's been talking to himself recently, although he says he's talking to his "best friend" Billy. It's making me feel uneasy. I thought I felt hands in my back before falling down the stairs, and Michael's fire truck struck my face, requiring me to get twenty-five stitches. If Michael's not yelling at me, he's staring into space with blank eyes. I've lost part of my memory from before the move, and I think it's important to what's happening now. I was sent to a mental hospital after setting a fire at school, but I don't know why I did that. I now believe my brother's change in behavior is because of a dangerous spirit haunting this house. Then, an old friend reappeared, and I learned there are more dangers in this house than I ever imagined.

This book is a finalist for the 2017 Cybils Book Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. It's a throwback to traditional ghost stories, and the author did a great job of creating a spooky atmosphere. There were the traditional creepy sounds, whispering voices, cold rooms, and glimpses of hazy images. The added twist of Harper's memory loss left additional possibilities open to the imagination. Harper was a typical seventh grader, except for having been sent to an asylum and having an unusual aptitude for sensing ghosts. Given the evidence, I was a little surprised at how long it took her to accept the fact there were spirits haunting the house. Also, she felt like nobody would believe her even though her friend was the first person to say Harper was actually living in a haunted house. She was still reluctant to tell her friend about Rose later in the plot. Harper was frightened by the house and didn't know what to do, but she was determined to stop the spirits. The book was very engaging and exciting, and I found myself reluctant to put it down as I neared the climax. The description during the climax itself will be pretty intense for younger readers. Overall, it was a very entertaining book and is worthy of a best book nomination.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like GlassMy name is Neverfell. I snuck away from Master Grandible but was imprisoned when my mask fell off. My face clearly changes expressions with my thoughts and emotions, and this frightens the people of Caverna; they don't have the ability. I was placed in the custody of the Grand Steward, but I've become a pawn in the politics of different families seeking power. Some people thought I was an assassin, but assassins have been trying to kill me! Everyone calls me an outsider,  but I don't understand why I'm different. I know Master Grandible discovered me seven years ago, but I don't remember anything of my life before that. I have dreams of the overground, but what if they're actually memories? The truth is slowly emerging in my mind. Madame Appeline and Maxim Childersin hold horrible secrets that will rock the Council and all of Caverna. It's up to me to make things right. 

This book is a finalist for the 2017 Cybils Book Award in Elementary/Speculative Fiction. It's most appropriate for more mature readers due to the abstract concepts presented. Major aspects of the plot involve foods and drinks designed to influence others, and the back-stabbing drama found in the Caverna culture won't appeal to younger readers. Characters use wine to make others forget or remember past events, but some of them use wine on themselves. Neverfell is a wonderful main character and evokes sympathetic feelings. She's clueless in a society that doesn't accept her, and many of her "friends" use her for selfish reasons. She trusts everyone, but her face puts her at a disadvantage. Her thoughts and feelings are clearly displayed in her facial expressions, but everyone else in Caverna has learned to display a limited number of them. Their faces don't always match their intentions, and their desire for more "faces" is a key part of the plot's conflict. Overall, this book offers a very creative view of a dystopian society that will appeal to tween readers.

Chronicle of the Dark Star #1: Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson

Last Day on Mars (Chronicle of the Dark Star, #1)My name is Liam, and we needed to leave Mars before the sun went supernova, killing all living things in the solar system. Phoebe and I were scheduled to board the last ship, but our parents needed to finish some key experiments first. We climbed to the surface to open some vents for the lab when a powerful explosion rocked the planet. Phoebe and I discovered a huge structure that mysteriously no one had seen before. It's becoming apparent that alien lifeforms have visited Mars and someone, or something, is trying to sabotage the mission. I found an alien bracelet that allows me to briefly travel into the future, and what I've seen is disturbing. The adults will not believe me, so it's up to Phoebe and I to save hundreds of millions of human lives.

This book was a finalist for the 2017 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. The second half of the book was full of adventure, mystery, and action. The author introduced characters plotting the elimination of all humankind, but there was another character Liam met during his visions into the future. This person's motives were less clear. There were secret terrorist threats along with combat between characters, and the result was an exciting build-up to the climax. My biggest concern for this book was the first third of the book slowly moved along before developing any tension. It was clear the inhabitants needed to leave the planet within hours, but there was no sense of urgency until the explosion in the lab. Also, this novel is book one of a series, and the conclusion felt like it. A couple of conflicts were left to be resolved in the sequel.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, #1)My name is Aventurine, and I’ve been transformed into a puny human by enchanted hot chocolate. I could devour the food mage who did this to me, but I'm left will an obsession for chocolate! As a human, I understand that I must become an apprentice in order to survive. Impossible as it may seem, I've started working for Marian, making chocolate in the Chocolate Heart kitchen! Despite my bliss, a couple of things have happened recently that have me upset and frightened. I overheard battle mages talking about an attack on my dragon family living in the mountains, and I've ruined Marian's chocolate restaurant. Dragons never run away, but I've failed to protect my new hoard. I can't go back back to Marian, even though she's my new family, and my dragon family is preparing to attack.

This book is the winner of the 2017 Cybils Book Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, and it was my personal favorite of all the finalists! I was expecting a cute story of dragons and chocolate, but it presented dragons in a unique way. They were intelligent, cultured creatures that feared humans, as humans feared them in return. The author highlighted the highs and lows of humanity, as Aventurine had been raised to believe all humans were liars. The kingdom was full of prejudice toward social classes; the city was divided into three socioeconomic regions. Aventurine's character faced self-doubt and spent the whole book trying to discover herself. Being changed into a human was a creative vehicle to explore her own feelings and human behavior. It was fun reading about a "human" girl with dragon thoughts running through her mind. If someone angered Aventurine, she wanted to eat them or engulf them in flames. I loved the philosophical siblings and how the royal family mirrored her own. Overall, the book was entertaining, thought-provoking, and humorous.

The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky

The Countdown ConspiracyMy name is Miranda, and I’m the American cadet training for an international mission to Mars. However, Esteban and I were attacked on our way to the Antarctic training site; why would anyone want to kill us? As time has gone on, it seems apparent that we were not the targets; I am the one the assassins want dead. I'm trying to immerse myself in training, but the classes are really hard. I've never struggled with anything before. We've started practical exams in the spaceplane, and I'm feeling better actually doing something. The first exam was interrupted by an exploding helicopter outside the hanger, but I thought the new exam would go well. All of the cadets felt ready, but none of us expected the simulation to be so real. Now, our lives depend on focusing on our individual strengths and working together as a team. 

This book is a finalist for the 2017 Cybils Book Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. It was a science fiction version of six talented kids facing problems created by world conflict. Miranda was a robotics expert who experienced failure for the first time in her life. The other characters had their own special talents, and their support for Miranda varied over time. Miranda's self-confidence wavered, but I liked how she was able to persevere. The conflicts grew throughout the plot until the characters found themselves fighting for their lives. They were forced to set aside their differences and self-doubt in order to work as a team. The hero supporting the efforts was Ruby, Miranda's hand-built robot. It became her sidekick, kind of like a loyal dog. The spidery bot was able to perform difficult and dangerous tasks the humans could not, and made a human-like sacrifice in the end. The book addressed world politics and the fragility of maintaining peace. This was a central focus to the plot, and the action and mystery made it especially entertaining. It's definitely worthy of being considered the outstanding speculative fiction novel of 2017.

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander

A Properly Unhaunted PlaceMy name is Rosa, and I'm so ticked at my mom for bringing us to this small town of Ingot. She's the best appeasement specialist in the world, but this town is probably the only one without a single ghost! It's BORING here! That is until the huge mountain lion with the antlered deer skull charged down from the forest. Something possessed it and later controlled the giant tree that stole my mom's voice; it took all of the words she's ever known. Something is hidden up in the woods above town, but everyone here is afraid to go up there. Heck, they've all forgotten anything ever happened or don't think it's a big deal. I've followed the road up here until it reached a dead end. Banishment is never a good idea, and what I've found here may kill everyone in the valley once it breaks!

This book is a finalist for the 2017 Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. The strangeness of the conflict is what attracted me to this book. The young appeaser is really pissed that there aren't any ghosts in this town. Rosa quickly discovers the big problem may be the townspeople have forgotten anything happened. Her character is very easy to relate to, since her appeasement methods use everyday materials. She uses salt, circles, and fire to keep the spirits away, but the big conflict is caused by someone else's banishment of the town's ghosts. A simple circle of copper wire has great power. Rosa is forced to take the lead in solving the problem, but it seems that she gained a lot of experience while working with her inept, deceased father. Much of Rosa's anger is connected to her father's death, although we don't know what happened to him until later in the plot. Rosa is obsessed with fighting ghosts the right way, and treating them with respect is a priority. However, the tension is jacked up when the banishment creates a figurative bomb that's about ready to blow up. The characters aren't overly developed, the plot isn't overly descriptive and intriguing, but I really enjoyed the book over all. It's a pretty quick read and should appeal to lovers of simple ghost stories with a twist. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Father of Lies Chronicles #1: Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent by Alan Early

Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent (Father of Lies Chronicles, #1)My name is Arthur, not Artie, and I've been having some really strange dreams lately about a giant snake, underground caverns, and strange writing. After our class field trip to the new Metro tunnel, it's clear something magical is going on. I found a bronze amulet, and a strange green light narrowly saved Ash, Will, and I from drowning. The amulet also translated some Viking runes saying something about the Jormungand rising to destroy the world. I know Odin imprisoned and tortured Loki for eternity, but digging the huge tunnel for the Metro may have disastrous results. It's awakening the giant serpent, and I'm pretty certain Loki has escaped. No adults will believe anything I might say, so it's up to Ash, Will, and I to save all humankind.

The World Serpent is very similar to Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase novels, but it's easier to read. The plot doesn't get complicated, but that doesn't mean the author doesn't include some surprises. An antagonist is disguised from the main characters, although plenty of clues are presented early in the story allowing readers to expect his treachery. Loki manipulated events to get Arthur's father in charge of the digging project, but beyond that Arthur is a random hero. Knowing a little bit about Norse mythology, a couple of things confused me. Arthur didn't gain any super powers other than understanding the Norse runes, so his ability to battle Loki was unexpected. Also, he gained possession of a heavy hammer, but Thor's hammer is the only one I know from mythology. However, Thor was the only one who could lift it. Details of Arthur's weapon were lacking, so it left me to wonder about its origin. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I've already started reading the sequel, Arthur Quinn and the Fenris Wolf.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill

The Beginning WoodsMy name is Max, and adults have been Vanishing all over, even my adopted parents. I traveled to the Beginning Woods, searching for my Forever Parents, but I’ve now discovered the Vanishings began with my Appearance. I know I Appeared on a library shelf, but I still don’t know how it happened. In The Woods, I’ve seen lampposts with New Light that can kill the fairy folk, and groups of dragons are attacking cities. Something’s terribly wrong. The Dark Man told me I must stand inside dragon fire to learn where I came from, but only Dragon Hunters can survive. I know I'm different from others, but I don't want to be a Dragon Hunter. Martha, are you there? I don’t know what to do and could really use your advice. C’mon my queen! Martha?

This book is probably for more mature readers, as the author has a very interesting and creative imagination. I must admit that I was confused myself while reading the early parts of the book. Things cleared up a bit once Max arrived in the Beginning Woods. The conflict that emerged pitted science against creative thought. Electric light was fatal to creatures of The Woods, and the Vanishings were blamed on the useless ideas found in books. A very unique situation was presented inside Max’s character, literally. Martha was a dead girl who entered Max through a cut on his finger and was able to use Max as an anchor instead of her gravestone. This allowed her to communicate inside his head and appear to him when needed. In addition, the setting where Martha died was also found inside Max, and she would drown again in the same pond whenever she lost hope. It will make more sense once you read the book. Overall, it was an entertaining book that made me think, a great combination!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Fairy Tale Reform School #3: Tricked by Jen Calonita

Tricked (Fairy Tale Reform School #3)My name is Gilly, and I've gotten myself thrown back into the FTRS to correct my "bad behavior". This time, I did it on purpose to save my little sister Anna. Rumpelstiltskin has become headmaster, and he's made some major changes that are very suspicious. His rules encourage delinquent behavior, and students are rewarded for fawning over him. My friends and I have found evidence that he's collecting gold and forbidden magic beans, but we don't know why. The Royal Family is clearly concerned, but Rumpelstiltskin was given complete control over the school. Since the adults can't do anything about it, it looks like it's up to me to stop him. However, no one, including myself, was prepared for what happened next. Nobody with half a brain would make a deal with the trickster Rumpelstiltskin, but I've accepted his challenge to find a magical, mythical creature. I didn't read the fine print in the contract, so who knows what will happen if we survive the quest?

I didn't read the previous two books in the series before reading this one, but I still enjoyed it. It tells an entertaining story of fairy tale characters living together in Enchantasia. Gilly is a mischievous, impulsive girl with a need to protect others and to fight injustice. Jax, a prince, is her best friend and shares the same values. The idea of students teaming up to fight an evil character isn't terribly unique (see Harry Potter), but Gilly is an enchanting protagonist. She doesn't have any superpowers, and others admire her leadership and tricky thinking. Who better to defeat the ultimate trickster, Rumpelstiltskin? Gilly is burdened with a couple of extra conflicts. Her younger sister resents following in Gilly's footsteps and doesn't want to be rescued from Rumpelstiltskin. Also, Gilly's father expects her to take over his cobbler business, but she doesn't want to. During her adventures, she learns that she has the power to create her own future despite the expectations of others. In the end, she's not sure what she'll do with her life, but she's excited for the possibilities. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Flower Moon by Gina Linko

Flower MoonMy name is Tally, and it's really hard to be near my twin sister. No, no, no... It’s the Greenly Curse, so twins in our family are repelled from each other because of the Flower Moon. It's why my mom and aunt haven't seen each other in years, and it's getting worse between Tempest and me. It could become explosive, and I nearly killed my sister while trying to save us! Tempest thinks it gives us other abilities, but I don't know how her wires and technology can help. Even though we're able to communicate mentally and I saved one of the wolf cubs using my power, being near Tempest is dangerous. I can't imagine being forced to never see her again. The next Flower Moon is tomorrow, and I can feel the energy between us getting stronger. I'm now realizing I must trust my sister before disaster strikes and destroys everything we love.

This book presents a creative take on the close relationship between twins. Tally and Tempest have been tight, like two halves of a whole, but they're each unique and different. It seems to be taking Tally longer to accept the situation, since she's always been the protector of the pair. It's clear Tally loves her sister, so I didn't completely understand why she had so much trouble communicating with her during this ordeal. Tally was very stubborn and felt like she was the only one who could solve the problem. Her inability to trust her sister almost led to Tempest's death. A creative twist to the potentially deadly curse was the power it gave the girls. The girls had brief mental communications early in the plot, and Tempest opened a carnival booth using her ability to "see" important numbers. Tally first realized her own power when she saved the wolf cub. The whole plot was about trying to save the twins' relationship, and the approaching Flower Moon created a suspenseful deadline. Events and past stories revealed how disastrous the curse might become. However, the curse didn't stand a chance against twins who refused to be separated. Once again, love conquered all.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Nightshade Chronicles #2: The White Assassin by Hilary Wagner

The White Assassin (Nightshade Chronicles, #2)My name is Juniper, and I am keeping a life-changing secret from the other rats in Nightshade City. We've  imprisoned Billycan, but many of my friends don't understand why I haven't had the murderous rat executed. I'm hoping the serum we've given him will reveal a kinder rat than the most vicious killer we've known. I fear what might happen if Julius ever discovers Billycan is his real father. However, there is a more serious problem threatening our city. There's a traitor among the council. That's the only explanation for how Billycan obtained maps of our secret tunnels as he prepared for an invasion. The serum seems to be having a positive effect on him, but will it force him to reveal the identity of his accomplice? Are the changes just another sign of his trickery? How can I doubt the trust of my friends, when I'm keeping terrible secrets of my own?

I recommend you read the first book in the series to fully understand Billycan's evilness. This book had more mystery in it due to the unknown traitor. All of the characters are suspect, but several of them will be central in readers' minds. Clues are presented to change the attention, but my first instincts were correct. The author includes flashbacks to Billycan's time in the lab, and they help to explain his disturbing behavior. A couple of other lab rats return to become key characters in the current events. Juniper is the main character in this plot, as he tries to coax the truth from Billycan and battles with his own internal struggles. Again, I suspected his big secret, but I'm not sure it was as devastating as he made it seem. This book is more similar to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH than book one, as the lab experiments were key factors in the conflict. As in that book, it's revealed that mice were also test subjects and have unusual intelligence and life expectancy, just like the test rats. Overall, I'm enjoying the series and recommend you give it a shot.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Nightshade Chronicles #1: Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner

Nightshade City (Nightshade Chronicles, #1)My name is Clover, and time is running out. Killdeer, leader of the Catacombs, has made me a Chosen One and plans to put me on display during the Grand Speech. My Uncle Juniper has been secretly watching out for me since my parents' deaths, but Killdeer and Billycan will kill him if they discover he's still alive. They murdered the previous ruler, and Billycan thought he'd killed Juniper during their coup. Juniper is now creating a new city for escapees and will overthrow Killdeer when the time is right. However, he doesn't know the Grand Speech has been moved up two weeks earlier. I have no way of contacting Juniper, and I'm getting desperate. The disgusting and dangerous Killdeer came to my home and tried to force himself on me, when ironically, Billycan stopped him. Tomorrow, I am to become Killdeer's Chosen One and my life will be lost. 

You'll enjoy this book if you liked the Redwall books. Some parts also reminded me of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, since a couple of characters had escaped experimentation in a lab. Billycan was the most notable due to his large size and viciousness. Even though Killdeer was the ruler, Billycan was the most feared character. The setting mostly takes place underground, and the land of humans is known as Topside. It was creative and amusing to see earthworms aiding the rebels by helping with the digging of tunnels. Although I enjoyed the book very much, there wasn't one main character to connect with. The focus shifted from Clover, to Juniper, to other characters. I would have liked to mostly follow one rat throughout the plot. Also, there were several moments where I was sure the plot would take a suspenseful turn, only to have the characters escape danger. I was okay with the way things turned out, but these moments seemed like missed opportunities for more excitement and suspense. It looks like this book is part of a trilogy, so that may explain the decisions to move things along. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and suggest you give it a shot.