Wednesday, August 16, 2017

23 Minutes by Vivian Vande Velde

After a freak accident, Zoe Mahar developed the ability to rewind and redo her present actions for up to 23 minutes. Zoe uses her gift to resolve small mishaps, but when she gets caught in a deadly bank robbery, she must use her ability to save lives. This includes the life of a handsome stranger and young private-eye, Daniel, who sacrifices himself to save Zoe. Tapping into her talent, Zoe goes back in time to reintroduce herself to Daniel before the robbery and strategize how to resolve the incident peacefully.

Velde’s story is a fast-paced thriller sure to keep readers glued to its pages until the end. But aside from the time-travel chase, there is real depth and emotion behind Zoe Mahar. Readers meet foster-care teen Zoe after she has stolen her classified psychiatric evaluations. Zoe is tired of her abusive past determining her present conditions. She juvenilely believes she can erase her emotional past with her records robbery. Trying to dispose of her paperwork, she runs smack into the bank robbery. As she tries to untangle the bank robbery with Daniel, Zoe learns that she must accept her past and rise above it so she can focus on helping others. One criticism of Velde’s story is that Zoe’s lengthy sarcastic reflections sabotage the story’s pacing from time to time. Otherwise plan to read this addictive book in one sitting.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

Pinmei and her Storyteller grandmother, Amah, hear rumors about the Vast Wall the new Emperor is forcing his subjects to build. Pinmei and Amah think they are safe from the Emperor on their mountain until the Emperor’s troops arrest Amah. The Emperor will release Amah if someone delivers the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night to him. Pinmei and her mysterious friend, Yishan, begin a quest to find the stone. As their journey progresses, Pinmei sees the truth behind Amah’s folktales and uses the stories’ insights to guide their path.

When the Sea Turned to Silver is the third book based on the world Lin created with When the Mountain Meets the Moon. Readers follow the three stories of Pinmei, Amah, and the Black Tortoise of Winter. For Pinmei and Amah’s chapters, they both share fairytales to either pass the time or uncover clues about the Emperor’s true motives. With the Black Tortoise, he describes his odd imprisonment, his need for a rescuer, and his eventual release. Along with their stories, Lin provides full-page, colorful illustrations and small character sketches to give vivid imagery and depth to her world. Some readers may find it difficult to remember the important details and characters from the abundant fairytales Amah and Pinmei share because Lin revisits these fairytale elements repeatedly to craft her book. Otherwise, a quick read full of fantasy, faith, and friendship for ages 12 and up.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Further Tales Adventure: The Mirror's Tale by P. W. Catanese

As punishment for misbehaving, twins Bert and Will are separated for the summer. Bert is sent off to his Uncle Hugh’s mountain fortress while Will stays home to train with Andreas the knight. While exploring his new surroundings, Bert discovers a secret chamber housing the mirror the Witch Queen used to plot against Bert and Will’s descendant, Snow White. Bert reawakens the mirror and soon he is poisoned by it’s power. But before Bert is fully enslaved, he writes a letter to Will telling him about the mirror. Bert's letter sets in motion a war no one was expecting.

Catanese’s book may be based on fairytale, but the problems Bert and Will encounter—addiction, deceit, and low self-esteem—are real issues many face. When Bert finds the mirror, it’s deluding influence makes Bert forget how it ruined the lives of Snow White and the Witch Queen. Like most addictions, the mirror seems harmless and enjoyable at first. Then, slowly, the mirror breaks down Bert’s reason and turns him against his family. When the mirror betrays Bert, he still feels sickly dependent for the mirror’s attention. Only Will’s love and the ugliness behind the mirror helps Bert to destroy it’s addictive hold on him. A rich read for ages 12 and up.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Further Tales Adventure: The Thief and the Beanstalk by P.W. Catanese

Destitute orphan, Nick, knows the Jack and the Beanstalk legend. While infiltrating a fortress for a band of thieves, Nick sees evidence of Jack’s adventures, including the magic beans. Nick steals the beans to gain his own fortune. The beans sprout into the sky latching onto a cloud island where three giants live: Gullinda, the giantess who protected Jack, and Gnasher and Basher, her two evil sons. Gnasher and Basher have imprisoned Gullinda forcing her to weave beanstalk ropes for the brothers’ future invasion of Earth. Nick meets the captive Gullinda while searching for gold, but his sympathy drives him to free her. Once she escapes, Finch—the leader of the thieves—arrives to force Nick into stealing the giants’ wealth.

In Catanese’s re-released 2006 series, he uses Jack and the Beanstalk as the foundation for this first book. The original fairytale does not show any consequences for Jack’s illegal actions. Readers excuse Jack for stealing gold, betraying the giant’s wife, and killing the giant because Jack was saving his family. In Catanese’s novel, an older Jack admits greed fueled his behavior, not providing for his family. Jack relies on Nick to resolve the whole “giant” mess because the consequences of Jack’s past decisions are too huge for him to resolve alone. Besides the underlying atonement theme, The Thief and the Beanstalk is also a suspenseful, action-packed adventure appropriate for ages 13 and up.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Blacksouls by Nicole Castroman

Finally reaching Nassau, Anne and her friends, Cara and Coyle Flynn, seek out their uncle, Alastair Flynn, for work and safety. Meanwhile, Teach’s ship, the Deliverance, is attacked by pirates. The captain refuses to fight and is killed, causing Teach to take command and save the ship. Because Teach’s actions can be interpreted as mutinous, Teach and faithful crew members are arrested once they arrive in Nassau. It seems even in the New World, innumerable forces are trying to keep Anne and Teach from being together. But they are determined to find a way, even if it means turning to piracy.

Castroman does not disappoint in her second Blackhearts novel. The suspense, unpredictability, and action is amped up when Anne and Teach enter the New World. Anne becomes a stronger character as she fights for her independence and Teach’s freedom. This is an ironic switch because Teach did the same for Anne while in England. Anne’s profound strength and courage is mostly due to Alastair's wife, Beth. Thanks to Beth, Anne has hope to be with Teach because Beth and Alastair have made a life for themselves in the Caribbean. However, racism, slavery, greed, and Old-World prejudices are still prevalent. When things finally fall apart in Nassau, Anne and Teach realize they must create their own world so they can be together.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming by J. Anderson Coats

After losing her father in the Civil War, Jane Deming gives up her friends and schooling to raise her baby stepbrother while her young stepmother works in the mill. Unexpectedly Jane’s stepmother enlists the three of them in an expedition to bring unmarried women to Washington Territory. Using the expedition’s pamphlet as a textbook, Jane works on developing the social and educational skills needed for surviving in the Pacific Northwest. During their sea voyage, Jane’s stepmother tries to keep Jane from improving her abilities for selfish reasons. Luckily, Jane’s new friends and passengers come to her rescue. When they finally arrive in Seattle, Jane and her stepmother discover that it is a wilder place than they expected. 

Coat’s novel is an unpretentious coming-of-age story full of yearning and determination. When Jane’s father dies, she loses the only person who believed in her potential. Immaturely, her stepmother forces Jane to give up her dreams for their family’s survival. But as they embark on the expedition, Jane’s new friends point out that Jane’s stepmother is using Jane. Quietly, Jane fights for any control over her life. In the end, Jane’s stepmother finally releases her hold on Jane, thanks to Mr. Wright. Once that hold is gone, Jane is free to become her true, independent self. One item Coats should have included is an author’s note stating the historical facts behind her story. This would have given the book more validity and richness. Otherwise, Coats’ tale is a fun, enlightening read for ages 12 and up.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

League of Archers by Eva Howard

Elinor Dray can’t handle being a novice nun. Mercifully, the Reverend Mother uses Elinor’s archery skills to supplement the nunnery’s scarce provisions. Escaping the abbey, Elinor rejoins her friends—her League of Archers—to hunt and daydream about Robin Hood’s deeds. One night Elinor meets a mysterious archer. As they talk, he is shot with a poisoned arrow. While the man dies in the abbey, Elinor learns he is Robin Hood and the Reverend Mother is Maid Marion. As if planned, the constable arrives to arrest Marion—still a wanted criminal—and take Elinor to Baron Lord de Lay’s castle. Once she is there, the baron proclaims Elinor killed the well-loved Robin Hood.

There are many stories based on what happened after Robin Hood and his men finished their excusable plundering days. Most have clumsy structures based more on Hollywood fluff and less on the actual Hood legend. League of Archers, however, is a successful exception. Howard shows the real price one pays when playing a thief, even if it is done for righteous reasons. Trust and communication are lost when one is constantly stealing from others. Elinor and the League must learn from Robin’s mistakes because they are all slipping into his lifestyle, whether they like it or not. Only by building on the solid foundation of friendship and integrity can they have a chance at surviving. League of Archers is a suspenseful, stunning start to a new middle-grade series.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mark of the Plague (Blackthorn Key #2) by Kevin Sands

The plague is sweeping through London’s streets. Christopher Rowe wants to help by using his departed master’s apothecary, but strict rules deny Christopher—still only an apprentice—the right to open the shop to the public. Desperate for money, Christopher finds a cryptic note from Master Blackthorn about a hidden treasure. While Christopher and Tom are out following a clue, an intruder breaks into the apothecary. This break-in entangles Christopher in a deadly conflict between two competing doctors—Melchior and Galen—who claim to be healing plague victims in their own unique ways.

Mark of the Plague seems more like a raw, revealing picture of the past than the code-driven, secret-society fiction used in The Blackthorn Key. Fans of Sands’ codes and cults will still get a taste of these themes with Blackthorn’s cryptic messages and Melchior’s biblically hostile followers. Because Sands based this story on a true event, added selections of the actual Bills of Mortality, and described the crazed, chaotic world Londoners created during the plague, Mark of the Plague has more depth and richness than the first. With such a solid setting, Christopher’s character can be explored and expressed to a greater extent. A little less violent than the first, Sands second book is still a suspenseful ride through Christopher Rowe’s unpredictable world. The next book, The Assassin’s Curse comes out in September.