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. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Ghosts of Greenglass House (Greenglass House #2) by Kate Milford

It’s another Christmas Break and Milo is missing Meddy. However, things start to resemble the previous Christmas when Georgie and Clem arrive at Greenglass House to hideout from their theft that went wrong. Meddy soon reappears because she can sense trouble arriving on Greenglass’s doorstep. A day later, that trouble comes in the form of carolers hailing from a local asylum. The caroler’s traditional Christmas visit to Greenglass House goes haywire when two carolers are mysteriously injured, a third caroler is slightly poisoned, and Georgie and Clem’s stolen goods from their caper are taken.

Ghosts of Greenglass House somewhat falters from the cleverness, tightness, and wit established in Milford’s first book. There are still many of the same winning elements Milford uses from her beginning story: memorable characters, intriguing mysteries, clever connections, vivid setting, and unique folktales. But Milford’s climax drags out for too long because of cluttering details that distract from the main dilemma. For example, Milford spends several chapters on Milo figuring out a new avatar and avatar’s background just to solve the mysteries behind the carolers’ intentions. How does this help the story? Also, the climax occurs in less than 24 hours. Milford drags out this short timespan into almost 400 pages. However, Milford’s infectious writing style will still keep readers glued to the end.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Bayberry Island (Brambleheart #2) by Henry Cole

Twig, Lily, and Basil have set sail in search of Char’s family. Their voyage takes them out to sea where a terrible storm destroys their vessel. However, a friendly sea turtle transports the bedraggled group to a small island. Soon after their landing, the friends encounter several of Char’s siblings but still no mother dragon in sight. Before Twig and Lily can go search for her, Basil betrays his friends by leading his Uncle Burdock to the group.

This sequel to Cole’s Brambleheart is a light-hearted adventure great for young readers. Cole’s graphite illustrations continue to set a lively pace for Twig’s follies and successes. In this story, Twig gains some much needed confidence because his friends are looking to him for direction and leadership. However, when Burdock arrives, Twig retreats within himself, due to his hurtful history with Burdock. It is only when Char and his siblings are kidnapped and Lily is threatened that Twig rallies his confidence to face Burdock head on. Luckily, Twig gets a huge boost with a humongous mother dragon by his side. A sweet and satisfying end to Cole’s Brambleheart duology.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Brambleheart by Henry Cole

The young chipmunk, Twig, feels like an outsider in the woodland community of the Hill. This is because Twig doesn’t feel confident in the crafts he is taught at school. In the Hill, craft mastery determines a creature’s social standing. After a disastrous day, Twig runs away to escape his problems. However, he runs across a new problem: a newborn dragon. Seeing no mother dragon, Twig adopts the baby and returns home to secretly care for it. Twig enlists his best friend, Lily, to care for the baby dragon and together they call it Char. But how long can Twig and Lily keep Char a secret from the Hill?

Cole’s Brambleheart is a Pete’s Dragon story downsized to a forest-floor adventure. Cole’s expressive graphite illustrations help readers to tag right alongside Twig as he stumbles with his choices and succeeds in protecting Char. Twig believes he is worthless in the Hill community. It seems Twig is only good at imagining life outside of the Hill. When Twig finds Char, Twig’s imagination is ignited by Char’s abilities. However, when Char’s health declines, Twig realizes he has put Char’s life in danger just to improve his social standing. Pushing aside the judgments of the Hill, Twig relies on the power of close-knit friendships to save Char’s life. A fun and fast-paced woodland adventure ideal for young readers ages 8 and up.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir by Frank L. Cole

Gordy Stitser is gifted in the art of potion making. Most twelve-year-olds are clueless about potion-makers—known as Elixirists. Luckily, Gordy’s mother, Wanda, is a master Elixirist and she nurtures Gordy’s talent. While Wanda is out-of-town, Gordy opens a package intended for her. Inside is a potion labeled the Eternity Elixir. After Gordy runs tests to identify the potion, an eccentric woman named Esmerelda and her henchman come enquiring about the parcel. After being turned out from the Stitser home, Esmeralda attacks the house so she can take the potion.

Cole has created a fascinating fantasy series that approaches the richness and depth found in the works of J. K. Rowling, Brandon Mull, and Rick Riordan. Cole introduces readers to Gordy Stitser and the Elixirist community: a secret society that uses potions to help the world run a little smoother and safer. Gordy is not a newbie to the society, nor does he have to hide it from his friends. These are two themes not commonly found at the start of a fantasy series. But these additional elements allow readers to delve more deeply into Cole’s world to face such personal dilemma’s like the history behind Gordy’s evil grandfather. Excellent character development, intense action, and great humor all create an intensely tactical world any readers would enjoy. For ages 12 and up.

Check out the book trailer:

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Max Tilt: Fire the Depths by Peter Lerangis

Twelve-year-old Max Tilt’s life is slowly falling apart. His mother’s cancer has returned and his father can’t work because of her condition. When Max’s parents leave to start her treatments, they put Max’s older, Canadian cousin, Alex, in charge. But as soon as Alex arrives, she and Max uncover a mountain of unpaid bills that will lead to their eviction. Desperately searching the house for items to sell, Alex and Max find a lost manuscript left by their famous ancestor, Jules Verne. Verne’s manuscript reveals that his science-fiction tales were based on Verne’s own experiences and that he left a treasure for his descendants if they can decipher the clues he left behind.

Lerangis proves he is a master of middle-grade fantasy with his heart-racing, new series based on the works of Jules Verne. Lerangis weaves a unique twist to his tantalizing tale by bringing up the fact that the fantastical technology Verne described in his stories was eventually invented. In other words, science-fiction became reality. So why not apply it to Verne’s personal life? Lerangis plunges Verne’s legends into a modern story to prove that Verne’s fiction was fact. Lerangis’ adventure is told through the synesthesia-suffering, intelligent tween, Max and his spunky, courageous cousin, Alex. Readers will cheer on the cousins as they piece together the Verne’s puzzles while avoiding doom, gloom, and bad smells. A great series for newbie or seasoned Verne fans, ages 12 and up.