Book review: Never Say Die, by Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz, Anthony.  Never Say Die. (Alex Rider series, #11) Philomel Books, 2017. 349 pages. $17.99. ISBN 9781524739300. Ages 13+. P8Q7

This book about a brilliant teen spy is packed with crazy adventure! I haven’t read the other books, so sometimes felt like I was missing something about his motivations, but I still enjoyed it very much and felt like the character of Alex was believable, even though unbelievable things happen to him. It was really fast paced, and I got carried along and wanted to see what would happen next.

VERDICT: Any teen who likes action/ adventure movies or books will love this one.

January 2018 review by Siletz Public Library volunteer.

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Book review: Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element, by Jeannie Mobley

Mobley, Jeannie. Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element. Holiday House, 2017. 229 pgs. $16.95. ISBN 9780823437818. Ages 8-12. P8Q8

Bobby Lee Claremont, age 13, decides to leave New Orleans after losing his mother to consumption and realizing that he has no future in that city. He embarks on a life of crime by robbing the poor box at the Sisters of Charitable Mercy Orphanage. He buys a train ticket to Chicago, since it looks like the best bet for a clever kid who wants to join a gang and cash in on the illegal alcohol business that prohibition created. His plans don’t quite work out though- he gets thrown in with some nasty gangsters on the train, and finds that the life of crime may not be for him. Together with two quick witted African American boys (the grandsons of a train employee), Bobby Lee gets to the bottom of a murder mystery. I really enjoyed this fast paced adventure, with its villains, believable characters, jazz musicians, and train culture. Bobby Lee learns a lot about the Jim Crow laws that were in place at the time, and comes to believe that segregation and racism are very wrong. The author’s note gives further information about Jim Crow laws, segregation on trains, and gangsters in the 1920s.

VERDICT: I think young readers will find this a fast and fun read. It could be used in the classroom to provide background in a history class as well.

January 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Otto and the Secret Light of Christmas, by Nora Surojegin, illustrated by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin

Surojegin, Nora. Otto and the Secret Light of Christmas. Illustrated by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin. Floris Books, 2016. English Version 2016. 101 pgs. $24.95. ISBN 9781782503231. Ages 5-10. P8Q8

Otto the elf goes on a quest through the dark forests of Finland looking for the Light of Christmas to brighten the dismal winter on the coast. This is a beautiful Christmas tale that is rich in references to Finnish folklore and culture, and the soft, intricate, glowing illustrations added so much to my appreciation of the story. I enjoyed the richness of the language. The descriptions of the forest, scenery, and characters are absolutely magical, and new vocabulary is used. I can imagine parents and children cuddled up, drinking hot chocolate and reading this book together over the Christmas holidays. The kindness and generosity that Otto encounters throughout the story are a nice reminder of how people should behave. The format of the book is pleasing too- it’s a large size with a sturdy cover. Every spread has an illustration, and the text is divided into short chapters that will help young readers keep pace with the story, and will make the book a good bed time story to read over the course of several nights. The author and illustrator are mother and daughter.  Originally published Finland in 2010.

VERDICT: I think this book will become a holiday favorite at my library in the years to come.

January 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Tempests and Slaughter, by Tamora Pierce

Pierce, Tamora. Tempests and Slaughter. “Advance Reader’s Copy.” (The Numair Chronicles, book 1) Random House Books for Young Readers, on sale February 6, 2018. $18.99. [480] pages. ISBN  978-0-375-8471-0. “Ages 12-up.” P8Q8

Fans of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series will welcome this new prequel series about the early life of mage Numair Salmalín, once called Arram Draper.  At the age of 10, Arram becomes a student at the Imperial University of Carthak. The opening scenes with his father and uncle at the Imperial Games introduce Arram to the gladiator Musenda, who saves his life, and begin his lifelong aversion to slavery.  In many ways, Tempests and Slaughter is a fantasy tale in the form of a school story.  Arram faces classroom challenges, dormitory dominance issues, beginning friendships, and growing confidence in his own abilities. Also typical of school stories, Arram’s story focuses on new classes and growing mastery, not on extraordinary quests and tests.  In this first book of a planned trilogy, Pierce introduces major players and conflicts that tie into the later books in the world of Tortall.

Verdict: Highly recommended for public, middle and high school libraries.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Have Sword, Will Travel, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Nix, Garth, and Sean Williams. Have Sword, Will Travel. Scholastic, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780545259026. Ages 10-14. P7Q

Small, quicksilver Eleanor wants to be a knight, like her mother.  Odo, the miller’s son, is brawny, but has no desire to leave their small village.  However, the once mighty Silverrun River has slowed to a trickle and as the two friends fish for eels, they find a magical sword which chooses Odo as its knight, leaving Ellie to be the squire.  The two friends and the sword– Hildebrand Shining Foebiter (Biter for short)—take on the quest to free the dying river, facing and solving numerous problems along the way.

Verdict: Australian authors Nix and Williams have worked together on previous books, though Williams has not been published in the United States as often as has Garth Nix.  Have Sword, Will Travel is a solid fantasy for middle grade readers that shows both protagonists growing and changing as they accomplish their quest.  Highly recommended for public, middle and high school libraries.  This story leaves room for sequels, so be prepared to purchase not only the first, but also subsequent titles.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Apprentice Witch, by James Nichol

Nichol, James. The Apprentice Witch. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9781338118582. 318 pages. Ages 12-16. P7Q8

After blowing up the magical testing apparatus in front of the entire school, including her arch-enemy, mean girl Gimma Alverston, apprentice witch Arianwyn Gribble accepts a continuing apprentice position in the town of Lull. Arianwyn makes new friends and begins to rebuild her confidence as she deals with various otherworldly infestations and incursions from the Great Wood.  When Gimma turns out to be the niece of Lull’s mayor and comes to Lull for an extended stay, Arianwyn has to work with her on the problems in the village.  A failed spell creates a disaster for the village just as Arianwyn’s second evaluation comes due.

Verdict: The author’s voice in this coming of age fantasy novel creates a realistic setting, real people and relationships, and real dilemmas for the new witch.  Issues of creating a new life away from home and family ring true, making this fantasy feel like a British cosy.  (I found myself looking forward to a cup of tea and a biscuit.) This book will probably not appeal to fans of dystopian fiction; it is wonderful debut novel and I am looking forward to the second book in the series.  Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries, as well as public library juvenile collections.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Apex, by Mercedes Lackey

Lackey, Mercedes. Apex. (Hunter Novels, book 3) Hyperion, 2017. $18.99. ISBN 9781484707869. 295 pages. Ages 12-16. P7Q7

In the third book of Mercedes Lackey’s Hunter trilogy, Elite Hunter Joyeaux Charmand is a member of a special forces squad tasked with defending the city of Apex from the monsters and denizens of the Othersiders.  Joy’s Hounds—also denizens of Otherside—work with her to hunt and destroy the monsters attacking human homes and settlements.  Apex is also guarded by the PsiCorps, powerful psychics under the command of the politically ambitious Abigail Drift. With attacks both from within the city and from outside, the Hunter Corps are whittled down and the advent of a Folk Mage directing and controlling armies of monsters threaten to overwhelm the city.  When ex-boyfriend and PsiCorps member Josh asks Joy for help, she is at first wary of a possible trap, but instead, Josh offers information that points to a political trap aimed at her uncle and at the Elite Hunters.

Verdict: A dystopian military fantasy with a good sprinkling of political maneuvering.  Hunter, the first volume in the series, received a starred review from Kirkus, and Apex is a gripping finale to the series.  I have not read the first books in the trilogy and because the author included hints of the backstory, I was able to understand the complicated personal and political pieces from the earlier stories.  Recommended for public, middle- and high-school libraries.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.