Monday, October 9, 2017

The Emperor's Riddle by Kat Zhang

To reconnect to their family’s roots, siblings Mia and Jake Chen, their mother, and their aunt, Lin, spend their summer vacationing in China. The best part for Mia is hearing about Aunt Lin’s upbringing. As a teenager, Aunt Lin was a laborer in the Fujian countryside. While there she and fellow laborer, Ying, heard about the deposed emperor, Zhu Yunwen, and his hidden treasure. After 600 years, no one has found his hoard. During Mia’s vacation, Ying surprisingly arrives to see Aunt Lin. The next day, Aunt Lin leaves without telling Mia. Thinking Aunt Lin may have been kidnapped, Mia searches for clues in Aunt Lin’s room. Mia finds a list of Chinese riddles and an incomplete map all relating to Zhu Yunwen’s fortune. If Mia solves the riddles and completes the map, Mia believes she can rescue Aunt Lin. 

The Emperor’s Riddle is a delightful mix of history, mystery, and adventure that will keep readers glued to it’s pages. However, the heart of Zhang’s story is about an insecure girl whose intelligence rescues someone she loves. Mia is unsure about who she is and her immediate family don’t know how to treat her. Jake partially abandoned Mia once he became popular at school. Mia’s driven and determined mother doesn’t have the patience to understand Mia. Only Aunt Lin notices and loves Mia for who she is. When Aunt Lin is kidnapped, Mia is momentarily lost but her love for Aunt Lin drives her towards resolving all the emperor’s riddles and becoming a strong heroine. A fun, engaging read for ages 12 and up.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Trail by Meika Hashimoto

Toby and Lucas were two inseparable friends after Toby moved in with his grandmother. Lucas was brave and outgoing, while Toby tagged quietly along. Together, the boys planned several daring summer activities to do before school started. One activity was hiking the risky Appalachian Trail. Unfortunately, Lucas is killed attempting another of their activities. To aid his grief, Toby follows through with their hike, except he goes alone and doesn’t tell anyone. Soon the hazards of the outdoors threaten Toby’s life. Luckily two seasoned teenage hikers take in Toby and teach him better survival skills. Toby gleans what he can from the hikers but leaves them so he can develop his own bravery, determination, and self-reliance.

Hashimoto’s story is an addictive adventure with realistic thrills, chills, and spills. Toby felt discarded by his parents after their divorce. These feelings defined Toby’s existence, making him want to disappear. Except when Toby moved in with his grandmother, Lucas immediately noticed Toby and wanted to be his friend. Toby’s association with Lucas changed his life, so losing Lucas cut incredibly deep. To avoid reverting to his previous non-existent state, Toby goes on the trail to find himself and his courage. Any fans of Roland Smith, Gary Paulsen, Brandon Wallace, or Will Hobbs will enjoy The Trail.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Wilder Boys by Brandon Wallace

Jake and Taylor Wilder have had a difficult life since their father left to live in the wilds of Wyoming. Their mother started a relationship with an abusive boyfriend, Bull, and then she became crippled by depression. All Jake and Taylor want to do is take care of their mother and keep out of Bull’s way. One day the boys find a suspicious bag of cash in the house and witness Bull shooting a man. Bull knows the brothers saw his crime, so he beats up their mother to keep the boys quiet. Fearing Bull’s wrath, Jake, Taylor, and their dog Cody escape to find their dad by following clues to his location from their father’s letters and journal.

Wallace reintroduces the classic story of wilderness survival to a new generation with Wilder Boys. But Wilder Boys is a very modern story dealing with such problems as abuse, depression, and broken families. With these horrors under their belts, it seems Jake and Taylor do not fear the wild since they have endured the ugliness of real life. But this courageous spirit does not make the boys able to survive in the wild. However, their courage and their faith in finding their father are two huge factors that aid in their ability to survive. Any fans of Gary Paulsen, Roland Smith, Sneed B. Collard III, or Will Hobbs would thoroughly enjoy this book. Wallace has a sequel called The Journey Home.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Crown of Three: A Kingdom Rises by J. D. Rinehart

While Elodie is imprisoned by Lord Vicerin, she uses her powers to summon dead warriors Vicerin had killed. With the dead’s help, she and her friends escape and fight their way to Melchior & troops loyal to the triplets. Meanwhile, Gulph wakes up from his fatal jump into the chasm fully healed by Celestis’s waters. Returning to Celestis, Gulph overthrows Lady Redina and leads Celestis’s inhabitants up to Idilliam. Tarlan soon arrives to fly Gulph and their mother to Elodie. Together the siblings lead an army of local men, the dead, and animals to contend with a new invading force and Vicerin. 

The final book in the Crown of Three series resolves all the countless calamities the siblings have endured. But a new, internal problem arises with Tarlan. At the beginning of this novel both Elodie and Gulph have accepted their royal roles. Tarlan, however, can’t quite accept his part in the prophecy. The constant fighting, the loss of his animal friends, and his uncomfortable human interactions cause Tarlan to fly away from his life. When Tarlan finally lands, he runs into Captain Leom: one of the men who smuggled Tarlan and his siblings away so they could have a chance to fulfill the prophecy. Realizing the realm needs his help and that Tarlan can’t run away from his destiny, Tarlan accepts his royal life and reunites with Elodie and Gulph. At times the plot gets muddled with three perspectives of the same event and drawn out wars, but the story gets back on track to create a clean, satisfactory finish. A complex, captivating trilogy any fantasy fan would enjoy.

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.