Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

Valor is both relieved and happy when she is arrested for the attempted assassination of Prince Anatol.  She didn't actually want to kill him, so her plan hinged on her accuracy with a bow.  She just wants to go to prison.

Valor's twin sister Sasha is already in the notorious prison, Tyur'ma, for stealing a valuable music box from the palace that should have been a pivotal piece in an alliance with another country.  Now the alliance is off, and Sasha, once an advisor to Princess Anastasia is now locked away in a harsh and frozen prison.  Valor is going to break her out.

Tyur'ma is a prison for children, but Valor's days are full of hard work and punishment.  She has a plan to escape, and she promised herself she wouldn't form any attachments.  That gets harder as the days go by, and she learns to care for some of the other inmates.  Should Valor bring them into her plan?  Can she really trust them?

Aside from the formidable task of escaping an inescapable prison, Valor knows that finding the real thief and restoring the music box is the only way she and Sasha will ever be truly safe.

Ruth Lauren's new book is a fast-paced action adventure with plenty of twists and turns.  There's no hint of romance, just friendship, and a great sister relationship.  Lauren wraps up the story nicely but still sets up book two for her eager readers.  This is perfect for the middle-grade reader.  Highly recommended!

My only complaint is the cover art.  The cover is beautiful, but Lauren describes Valor as having bronze skin and hair.  The girl on the cover is just a little too pink.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


It's Min's sixteenth birthday, and she knows what's going to happen.  The man in the black suit is coming to kill her.  Again.  Every two years since she was eight years old, the man appears and sends Min to a bloody and violent end.  Then she wakes up in a clearing hours later, alive and unharmed.

But now she's had enough.  She's kept the truth hidden since everyone tried to convince her she was crazy and sent her to Dr. Lowell, her psychiatrist.  Now, with the help of her best friend, Tack, she's looking for answers starting in Lowell's office.  It's there that she learns the words "Project Nemesis," and her investigation begins to heat up.

Noah spends most of his time alone in his father's big house on the mountain.  Every two years on his birthday he dreams he is murdered by a man in a black suit.  Then, he somehow sleepwalks and wakes up in a cave.  The only person he trusts is his psychiatrist, Dr. Lowell.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is waiting in an anxious fervor to find out if an asteroid is going to hit the earth and destroy all life.

Is Project Nemesis somehow connected to the asteroid?  What about the secret military base on the outskirts of town?  Most importantly, who are the other beta test subjects, and can Min trust them?

I think Brendan Reichs has created a world fans of Divergent and The Maze Runner will really enjoy.  The stories are quite different but tonally similar.  I definitely powered through to the end to find out what would happen next, but there were a couple of things that disappointed me.  Min's mother points out that her IQ is off the charts, but it still took her sixteen years to really start questioning things.  Also, if she' really so smart, she should have figured out the identity of one of the other betas almost immediately.  There are still lots of unanswered questions that I hope Reichs will get to in the next installment.  How do you kill and restore a regular human being within a few hours?  What were the blue pills really?

That being said, Reichs does a great job with character development.  None of the major character shifts seem out of the blue.  He plants plenty of clues along the way.

Recommended for 8th grade and up for violence and profanity.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Princess Anya of Trallonia has a problem.  Well, she has several problems, but they all seem to center around her stepstepfather, Duke Rikard the evil wizard.  Most recently he has transformed her older sister's "true" love into a frog.  With weeping and wailing, Morven makes Anya promise she will find Prince Denholm and return him to human form.

Nevermind the fact that Morven changes her mind every five minutes!  How is Anya supposed to accomplish this without true love's kiss?  With magic lip balm, of course!  The only problem is the ingredients are hard to come by.  Enter the royal dogs and their matriarch, Tanitha, who decide this is the perfect opportunity for Anya to go on a Quest!

So with few provisions, a transformed prince, and an overeager young dog named Ardent, Anya sets out.  It doesn't take long, however, before she meets other transformed individuals and learns that Rikard is just one of a gang of evil wizards bent on seizing complete control of all the kingdoms.

In a world where the Right Minded Sorcerers are evil and the League of Responsible Robbers in good, Anya must decide if her quest will end with simply freeing a few of the transformed or if she is up to the immense task of restoring rights to all the people of the land.

Garth Nix is one of my favorite authors, and Frogkisser! does not disappoint!  This is a tongue in cheek adventure, that will please the casual reader and the fairy tale fanatic alike.  Those who know their fairy tales will keep turning the pages and chuckling as they discover which fairy tale tropes and gender norms Nix will upend next!  Also refreshing, this is a fairy tale without a romance subplot.  Highly recommended!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bone Jack

Ash has been chosen to be the stag boy in a yearly race through Welsh mountains near his village.  The race is steeped in ancient tradition, and it is a great honor to be selected as the stag boy who will be pursued by the hound boys.

Ash is particularly happy to carry on in his father's footsteps.  His father was stag boy almost twenty years ago, and now he's been away from home in military service.  He returns shortly before the race, but something is different.  Ash's father is not the expert outdoorsman with the easy smile anymore.  He's sullen, moody, depressed, and locks himself away in the spare bedroom.  After such a long separation, Ash struggles to be sympathetic to his father's PTSD.

Something else strange is happening.  Ash discovers his former best friend, Mark, has been living in the wilderness since his father committed suicide.  Mark warns Ash to drop out of the stag race because this year the stag boy will have to die.  The land is sick with drought, and the sheep were all slaughtered after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.  The land requires a sacrifice.  Blood for blood.

Ash is horrified by what his friend has become, and he can't deny the strange things he's seen.  Bone Jack, an ancient myth with many names, has been haunting the mountains, and he has seen runners in another stag race from long ago.  Are they just echoes of the past?  They seem too real to be just ghosts.  Despite all this, Ash is determined to run.  He hopes that winning the stag race will somehow bring back his father.

Sara Crowe's debut novel is full of haunting echoes from the past and the horrors of one boy's slavish devotion to bringing back his dead father.  This is a horror story with personal growth that also touches on the real horrors of PTSD and agricultural disaster.  This was an engaging and disturbing story.  Recommended for grades 7 and up

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Girl from Everywhere

Nix has spent her life aboard her father's ship.  The small crew is her family, and she's pretty happy with that.  This is no ordinary crew and no ordinary ship.  With her father, Slate, as captain and navigator, The Temptation can sail across time and place.

How does it work?  They need a map.  It has to be a new to the crew map, authentic, perfectly accurate, and it must lead to a time in a place they've never been before.  Slate fell in love with Nix's mother in Honolulu of the late 1860's.  He left to make money to build a home, but by the time he returned, Lin was dead leaving an infant daughter.  Slate has spent the last 16 years trying to get back to the island early to save his beloved from the infection that killed her--regardless of what that might mean for Nix's very existence.

Once again they are on a quest to get back to the right time and place on the island with what they believe is an accurate map, but once they sail into port, Nix and Slate both know that they have landed in the 1880's--too late to save Lin.  But they soon become involved in a plot to steal money from the Hawaiian king's treasury in exchange for a new map, the one that will finally reunite Slate and Lin.

Heidi Heilig's debut novel promises swashbuckling time travel and romance, and it sometimes delivers.  I wanted more character development for ship's crew who come from diverse times and places.  I also kept waiting for the big explanation of how the conspirators knew the right hook to drag Slate into their plot.  Maybe I missed something?  This was a pretty good story, but I doubt I will take time on the sequel.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Labyrinth Lost

Alex has been fighting against her magic all her life.  After a terrifying experience as a child, she's tried to hide the truth from herself and from her family, all of whom are gifted brujas.  But now the truth is out, and she wants to find a way to get rid of her "gift" forever.

Her plan backfires, and instead of losing her magic, she loses every member of her family including her long-dead ancestors.  Her magical interference banished them to Los Lagos, a land of wondrous and strange creatures.

Now her family, along with many other spirits, have been imprisoned by the Devourer, a powerful creature of darkness who feeds on the magic of others.  The Devourer is destroying Los Lagos, and Alex may be the only person who can stop her.

With the help of Nova, a boy she's only known for a few days, Alex opens a portal to Los Lagos, and the two begin their journey through dangerous and corrupted lands to find Alex's family.

In Los Lagos, nothing is what it seems, and Alex will meet friends who look like enemies and enemies in the guise of friends.  She'll also get some unexpected help from her best friend, Rishi.  But it's not just Alex's family that is at stake, the Devourer is always hungry, and she's looking for a way into the human realm.

Zoraida Cordova's newest book is an interesting look at the hero's journey through the lens of Latin American and Afro-Caribbean cultures.  There were some pacing and characterization issues during the second quarter of the book, but the second half picks back up.  There are a couple of animal sacrifices in the book and references to others as a regular part of the religion.  This book was ok, but I would be more likely to recommend Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall and Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel

Stevie has lived her entire thirteen years cocooned in the circle of her parents' love in Taos, New Mexico.  When they are both killed in a sudden accident, her world is shattered.  Not only are her parents gone, but she has to leave her beloved farm to live with a grandfather she's never met.

Winston lives in Little Ethel, Texas, a tiny town outside of Dallas.  His home and his business are the Texas Sunrise Motel.  Winston doesn't talk much and never about Stevie's mother, the only topic she really wants to discuss.  Despite this, she makes friends with the other denizens of the motel.

There's Arlo, repairman and handyman for everything at the outdated Motel, and his son Roy, who is pretty cute and sweet.  There's Violet, the front desk clerk who seems stuck in the past with her 50's dresses and obsession with Turner Classic Movies.  Horace and Ida are permanent residents of the motel who are wheelchair bound.

Instead of sending her to regular school, Winston enrolls Stevie with the ancient and narcoleptic Mrs. Crump who is fiercely independent and also taught Stevie's mother.  The more people she meets in Little Esther, the more Stevie realizes there are a lot of things she doesn't know about her parents.

Kimberly Willis Holt's new novel is sweet, slow, and quiet.  There's nothing new here, but the story is told in Holt's wonderful style, and the beautiful cover will draw readers in.  It won't be for people who love fast-paced stories with lots of action, but kids who enjoy a quiet gentle story will be satisfied.

Bonus for me and all my East Texas friends, Stevie passes through Tyler and Longview briefly!

Monday, May 1, 2017


This book doesn't come out until September, but I was lucky enough to get the ARC at TLA.  After hearing the pitch and seeing the cover, I couldn't wait to get started, and I wasn't disappointed!  Invictus has everything:  time travel, plot twists, the fate of the universe up for grabs!  This is one of the best books I've read this year.  Seriously, pre-order it now, and wait anxiously for September's arrival.

Farway McCarthy was born out of time.  His mother was a recorder in the Corps, traveling throughout time to record the past for enlightenment and entertainment.  On a trip to ancient Rome, she got pregnant, and the baby, Far, was born on a time ship in the grid, the void outside of time.

The lack of a real birthday and the mystery of his parentage have always been a minor annoyance to Far but nothing more.  By the time Far is ready to take his own final exam sim to be a member of the Corps, his mother and her crew have been missing for years.  He doesn't just want to be a time traveler for adventure's sake.  He is hoping to find his mother.

When Far fails his exam under suspicious circumstances, he is bereft.  But then another opportunity arrives.  Far has the chance to be captain of his own ship with his own crew stealing artifacts from the past.  This kind of time travel is riskier, but the pay is much better, and he'll have plenty of chances to search for his mother.

Far is enjoying his rebel existence until a strange girl shows up to ruin a job and blackmail her way onto the crew.  Who is Elliot, and what game is she really playing?

Ryan Graudin's new book is a thrilling time travel adventure that will keep you guessing and missing sleep as you race toward the conclusion.  Highly recommended for grades 8 and up.