Saturday, June 16, 2018

Monsterland by James Crowley

Charlie Cooper is still grieving for his beloved cousin Billy. On Halloween night, Charlie sees a figure that reminds him of Billy. Charlie follows the figure and he is led along an unfamiliar path deep into a neighboring mountain valley. But when Charlie catches up with the figure, he’s shocked when he sees a hideous vampire. The vampire, known as the Prime Minister, governs a monster sanctuary called Vampyreishtat or Monsterland. The Prime Minister asks Charlie about why he followed him, so Charlie tells him about Billy. In Monsterland there is an island where lost souls reside and the living can see them again. The Prime Minister says that Charlie can go there because one of his trusted associates is journeying that way. That associate is the monster created by Dr. Frankenstein. Charlie joins the monster’s expedition and together they encounter many dangers along the way.

Monsterland is a fantastic coming-of-age story about finding the courage within oneself while overcoming grief. Charlie keenly misses Billy and feels somewhat responsible for his cousin’s death. So when the Prime Minster gives Charlie a chance to see Billy again, Charlie is more than willing to encounter any hardship just so he can find peace with himself. The reason why Charlie prospers in Vampryeishtat is because of his grief. Charlie can look past any monsters’ grotesque facades and see that many are grieving in their own ways. With this special perspective, Charlie is able to sympathize and connect with them. What makes Crowley’s story so rich and helps Charlie’s character to beautifully develop, is the clever, solid world Crowley has created. Crowley takes the monsters of old horror stories and turns them into relatable, flawed characters who just want to live as normal of an existence as they can. Any fans of Brandon Mull or Jennifer Nielsen will thoroughly enjoy this adventure through Monsterland. For ages 12 and up.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Sink or Swim by Steve Watkins

Twelve-year-old Colton Graham admires his older brother, Danny. Danny has worked hard to provide for Colton and their mother ever since their father died. To bring in better income, Danny enlisted in the Navy soon after Pearl Harbor. But before Danny leaves for boot camp, he is seriously injured in a boating accident. With Danny in the hospital and their family desperately needing money, Colton takes Danny’s enlistment papers and his identity.

Sink or Swim is a gripping novel loosely based on the true story of Calvin Graham. Twelve-year-old Calvin ran away to join the Navy and was injured while serving in the South Pacific. Thinking Calvin was living with relatives, his mother saw a newsreel showing Calvin after he rescued several of his shipmates. She contacted the Navy and, at thirteen, Calvin was sent home but not before receiving a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for bravery. It is very apparent that Watkins did extensive research to authentically showcase what many WWII sailors experienced during that time. On this bed of fruitful research, Watkins can spend quality time developing Colton’s character and crafting a meaningful read. A fantastic historical-fiction story for ages 12 and up.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye

Seven-year-old Ozzy Toffy and his PhD parents spontaneously move to an off-grid cabin deep in the Oregon woods. But soon after moving in armed men kidnap Ozzy’s parents leaving him on his own. Thankfully a basement full of canned goods, a talking mechanical bird, and Ozzy’s own determination help him to survive. Seven years later, fourteen-year-old Ozzy finally escapes the confines of his forest home to experience the world and search for his parents. A magazine ad catches his eye to hire a wizard to solve any problem. Ozzy employs the wizard, Rin, and their adventures begin. Several hearty breakfasts, road trips, car chases, and snoopings later, Rin and Ozzy discover the corporation behind the Toffy’s disappearance.

What do you get when you mix adventure, heart, and mystery, with magic and humor, plus survival and science-fiction? You get the rich, complex recipe behind Wizard for Hire. Readers follow Ozzy as he creates a happy life in his forest-cloaked cabin. Eventually that type of existence is not enough for him. Ozzy wants his parents and he needs answers. But the more he involves the authorities, the more his secluded way of life is threatened. Having no choice, he turns to an unusual source for help, a so-called “wizard”. Ozzy wants Rin to wave a magic wand and solve it all effortlessly, but no one works that way, not even a wizard. Only hard work, persistence, and faith can solve Ozzy’s problems, but Rin adds just a pinch of magic to the mix. A fun, action-packed read for ages 12 and up.

Dragonwatch: A Fablehaven Adventure by Brandon Mull

The dragons may have helped Kendra, Seth, and the fairies to thwart the demons, but their unstable alliance is cracking under pressure. With a newfound taste for power & freedom, Celebrant, the dragon king, encourages his subjects to defy their sanctuary confines so that they can return the world to the Age of Dragons. However, all dragons are magically bound inside their sanctuaries’ borders by the powers of the Dragonwatch society and by special magical artifacts. But something is making the borders of the Wyrmroost sanctuary weaken, causing Celebrant to challenge any caretaker’s authority. After close scrutiny, it is decided that Kendra and Seth’s combined powers can refortify Wyrmroost against Celebrant. However, once the siblings become the new caretakers, they still detect a magical weakness. Together, Kendra and Seth go on a treacherous mission to find a missing magical artifact that can help swing the balance of power back to their favor and keep the rebelling dragons in line.

Mull returns to the roots of his writing career by revisiting the colorful, fully-fledged world he created in Fablehaven. With Dragonwatch, Mull brings back his loveable, heroic protagonists, Kendra and Seth, as they face another life-threatening power against all magical creature sanctuaries. How would Kendra and Seth react to a new threat after all that they have been through? For Kendra, her extensive experience has made her more mature and ready to face almost any situation with confidence. For Seth, he has matured some but he still fosters an impetuous nature that can either get him into trouble or save lives. When the siblings are called as caretakers to Wyrmroost, Kendra wants to be super cautious while Seth throws caution to the wind. Only by working together do they find a powerful balance. A fun, more mature read great for old and new fans of the Fablehaven series.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Never That Far by Carol Lynch Williams

Libby Lochewood just lost Grampa Lochewood, her best friend and confidant. Libby feels incredibly alone, because her dad is not handling the loss well. The night after the funeral, an angelic version of Libby’s grandfather visits her. He tells her she has the gift of seeing her deceased family members. He also tells her that he has left her a treasure somewhere in their nearby lake. Leaving her grieving father, Libby sets off to search the lake. However, several life-threatening experiences cause Libby to invite her friend & neighbor, Bobby, to join her search for the treasure.

Williams story is a delightful mixture of humor, loss, and heart. Through Libby’s vibrant voice Williams beautifully explores how deep-rooted relationships don’t end when a loved one passes away. Williams shows how actively concerned deceased loved-ones are for those still struggling to make sense of life. One weakness for Williams book was Libby’s search for her grandfather’s treasure. This story element was dramatically built up at the beginning of the book, but was lost or fizzle out near the end. It doesn’t seem quite clear what the treasure really is in the end. However, Never That Far is a great recommendation for young readers who have lost anyone they have loved.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Assassin's Curse (Blackthorn Key #3) by Kevin Sands

Because of Christopher and Tom’s heroic efforts to save London, they receive an invitation from King Charles II to attend a party. During the party, Christopher stumbles upon a poisoned guest and is attacked by an assassin. Acting quickly Christopher and Tom save Charles and the king’s sister, Minette. But a clue left by the fleeing assassin uncovers a Templar curse that has plagued the French royal family. Minette is married to King Louis XIV’s brother and Charles fears for her safety. Charles asks Christopher, Tom, and Sally to join Minette’s entourage to Paris so they can stop the assassins.

Sands delivers another death-defying, wild ride through history in his third Blackthorn Key novel. Luckily, fans of the codes and clues found prevalent in Sands’ first book will receive a hearty helping to whet anyone’s sleuthing appetites. Compared to Sands’ previous two books, The Assassin’s Curse is a cleaner, sharper, and better structured story. This is because Sands gives more background on the historical events and locations he bases his mystery on. Sands also breathes new life and relatable personalities into the pivotal characters of King Charles II and King Louis XIV. In these ways, history is brought vividly and solidly to life for readers to savor and enjoy.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Player King by Avi

Almost all of Lambert Simnel’s orphaned life has been spent slaving away in a filthy tavern. This all changes when Brother Simonds buys Lambert and whisks him off to meet the Earl of Lincoln. Lambert resemblances the missing Prince Edward, true heir to the English throne. Plotting together, the two men believe they can transform Lambert into a convincing prince and use his influence to challenge the new king, Henry VII. Lambert’s intelligence drives him to slip into his new royal role. But Lambert’s newfound power makes him unwittingly bane Simonds from his presence.

In his Author Note, Avi reveals Lambert Simnel was a real person used as a false royal to challenge Henry VII. But the real beauty of Avi’s creativity comes from telling the story from Lambert’s perspective. Very little is known about the young man who played such a unique part in English history. Through Avi’s addictive writing, Lambert Simnel comes vividly to life as readers gain a glimpse of what might have been going through his head as he dramatically rose to a flicking spark of power. How would power feel to someone who has never had it? What lines would someone cross to stay alive while deceiving others? These unique perspectives still prove Avi is a master at giving historical events a fresh, new life through thought provoking narratives.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Edgeland by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski

On the island of Edgeland, the main business is funerals. People from all over the world ceremonially float their dead into a nearby ocean hole called the Drain. Many believe the Drain is a gateway to purgatory, the waiting place before moving on to heaven or hell. Alec works for the best funeral home on the island and he acquires a major client. Unfortunately, his payment is accidentally placed on a barge heading for the Drain. Alec and Wren, Alec’s best friend, attempt to retrieve the funds, but they get sucked into the Drain.

Edgeland is a deliciously complex story granting a unique perspective on religion, death, and the afterlife. Death is displayed from the viewpoints of both faith and profit. Alec strongly believes in a comfortable afterlife and uses his faith to promote his funeral services. Hardened by life on the streets, Wren survives on the discarded monetary devotions of believers. However, once in purgatory, both Alec and Wren’s afterlife expectations melt away as they see the dilemma the dead are facing. Together they develop a new belief in fighting for a heaven the dead deserve. A compelling work of master world-building, solid story, and deep character development for ages 12 and up.