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: 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: 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.

Book review: Giant Pumpkin Suite, by Melanie Heuiser Hill

Hill, Melanie Heuiser. Giant Pumpkin Suite. Candlewick, 2017. $16.99. 434p. ISBN 978-0-7636-8155-4. Ages 12-15. P7Q9

Talented twelve-year-old Rose is driven to do everything to perfection, especially playing the Bach Cello Suites that could get her a scholarship with a famous maestro. Her life changes in a second, however, when an accident on a table saw badly injures her hand, and she is forced into different paths. Fortunately, she had started to build a support system when a project in growing a giant pumpkin with her twin, Thomas, and her elderly neighbor had caused her to reach out more to the people around her. First-time author draws out the characterizations of these people and Rose’s other family, her mother and grandmother. The theme of change, sometimes from unwanted circumstances, is prevalent as Rose learns to face her recovery from surgery, her growing relationship with Thomas, and her developing understanding of people as she discovers that they are not all one-dimensional.

Verdict: Rose’s frustrations, including body image as she towers 14 inches over her twin and has overly curly hair, are skillfully dealt with in her third-person narrative, and her personal growth throughout her twelfth summer shows the value of adaptation to different situations. One criticism might be that the book addresses too many issues, but it is long—another potential criticism—and can handle these. Young people concerned about the length probably read series books, and this book almost has a break in the middle. Reading the book, replete with multicultural characters bonding over the pumpkin growing, is like watching a warm family movie. This excellent beginning promises more good writing from this author.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: A Fiery Friendship, by Lisa Fiedler, created by Gabriel Gale, illustrated by Sebastian Giacobino

Fiedler, Lisa. A Fiery Friendship. (Gabriel Gale’s Ages of Oz, book 1). Illus. by Sebastian Giacobino. Created by Gabriel Gale. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017. $17.99. 418p. ISBN 9781481469715. Ages 11-15. P7Q7

Before a tornado in Kansas sweeping up a girl with her dog, Toto, 13-year-old Glinda, later the Good Witch of the South in Frank’s Baum’s series, lived in Oz with her mother who broke the four Wicked Witches’ rule by trying to return Princess Ozma to the throne. When they are separated, Glinda makes friends with three very different characters and sets off in the midst of danger to save her mother from a castle. Characters such as a winged monkey and Nick Chopper reflect Baum’s books.

Verdict: The social issues in the book include the inequality of the genders, and the rich writing provides vivid images of Glinda’s surroundings. Fantastical detailed black and white full-page illustrations bring more dimension to the characters and adventures. The beginning of the book draws in the reader as Glinda struggles in school, but the increasingly frenetic adventure leads to chaos that focuses on plot with little character development. The next book in the series is The Dark Descent. 

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti

Sedoti, Chelsea.  As You Wish. “Advanced Readers Copy.” Sourcebooks Fire, release date January 2, 2018.  ISBN 978-1-4926-4231-2.  $17.99. 400 pages.  Ages 14 and up.  Q7P8

What would you wish for if you could wish for anything you want on the day you turn 18?  Of course there are guidelines to follow because the town would not survive if the townspeople wished for the extravagant.  Money?  The love of another?  Ms. Sedoti explores all avenues to the answer of this question; delving into the most mundane wish, but also the well thought out and meticulously planned wish.  From the main character’s, Eldon, perspective, wishing has only caused pain, not just in his family, but throughout the town.  Wishing for him isn’t the answer to his dreams, but something to be feared.

Overall I liked this book, especially the detail and thought behind the wishes wished and the aftermath.  The main character is a teenage boy with an ego problem and the issues he faces with his wish seem too philosophical for his character.  I can’t decide if it makes his character more appealing or just unbelievable.

One notable typographical error on page 10:  “But if I blow her, off she’ll launch into…” should be “But if I blow her off, she’ll launch into…”  I’m sure this will be corrected in the published version.

Verdict:  This is a well thought out story with a not so well thought out main character.

December 2017 review  by Terri Lippert.

[Editor’s note: Despite the title, this book does not seem to reference any part of The Princess Bride.  Alas.]