The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson

Aidan has finally made a friend–Robby, who is cooler and more athletic and more popular–and his parents decide they have to move away to take care of his ailing grandfather. Furious, Aidan is in no mood to talk with his parents, and decides to explore the house instead. In the basement he finds scrolls that speak of a place called the Realm, where a king–Paragor–was betrayed by his highest night. The scrolls seem so real but his parents tell him he’s too old for childish fantasy. His grandfather, however, encourages him to believe, allowing him to discover a new world full of beings called Glimpses who are still at war with Paragor. Aidan is called on to be a knight for the king and to seek out a peace with a neighboring kingdom, but what he quickly discovers is that there is more to Realm than meets the eye. It’s more connected to home than he ever expected.

The book felt really slow to start with. It seemed to drag on more than anything else for a while. It finally picked up about halfway through the book and though I found myself enjoying the book, I didn’t find myself wondering what would happen next in the trilogy.

I think the biggest problem I had was that Aidan wasn’t the most interesting of characters. He spent the vast majority of the time thinking about Robby, his friend from home. He spent nearly every moment comparing himself to his friend.

The other thing I found was that the connection between Earth and the Realm felt overkill and unnecessary. I don’t want to ruin it, but it just felt forced.

In addition, the king being more of a god is a little much for me.

Overall, it was an enjoyable book, but not one I’m excited to read the full series of.

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The Magician’s Guild by Trudi Canavan

It has been quite a while since I have read and reported on an adult book, but for some reason this one caught my eye in the bookstore.

Sonea has grown up in the slums of Kyralia where she’s developed, among other things, a great fear and dislike of the Magician’s Guild. The Guild, as the dwells (the lower class) see it, are dangerous and greedy, pushing them around and only using their abilities for helping the rich. They know, above all else, to steer clear of magicians. Which wouldn’t be too difficult, except that Sonea has magic too, strong, untrained magic that the Guild has discovered and cannot let go uncontrolled.

A part of me felt like this book (the first one in a trilogy) took too long to get going. There was too much running and hiding from the Guild and not enough actual magic, for my taste. Not that the story was bad, it just felt a bit redundant. But, being a series involving magic and lessons, it ultimately held my attention despite the meandering start.

I don’t think the different characters were as well developed as they could have been and I disliked the fact that a number of them seemed to disappear halfway through the book. We got to know some people and then never saw them again, which is frustrating and even a bit disappointing.

But what the book lacked in character, it made up for in world and plot twist. While it seemed like more could have been happening, there were certainly a handful of unexpected events and what was a set up for a great overall series. Who in the Guild can you trust?

I was left with the feeling that book 2 and 3 would be even more exciting than the first. I can only hope I’m right since I definitely intend to buy it this week.

How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse by Cressida Cowell

Poor Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, the undersized Viking and only son of the chief, can never catch a break. Each book some awful adventure seems to come his way that requires him to just manage to scrape by. Book 4 is no different, but still the series does not lose any of its charm. It’s just one of those things you read and can’t help but love. It’s just so…honest.

In this book, Hiccup must set out to the Hysterics (a tribe normally separated from the rest of the Vikings) in order to retrieve the antidote to Fishlegs’s illness. Against his father’s strict orders of course, since Stoick the Vast seems to think that Fishlegs is not an appropriate companion for the future chief. As Fishlegs is ill, he is joined by Hiccup’s newest friend Kamacazi, which is fine by me because it changed things up a bit. And because for some reason I like her (though I won’t lie, I still miss Astrid of the movie).

One thing I like about this book is it manages to provide us with a surprising twist without getting too complicated. I can’t say that for many books.

There isn’t much more to say about this book other than that every detail is excellent–even the little drawings and scrawls in the margins. I can only imagine what else will happen to Hiccup before he becomes the Hero the books tell us he will become, but I’m sure each adventure will be enjoyable.

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Burning Bridge (Book 2) by John Flanagan

Not long after the events of book one, Will and Halt find themselves chasing Wargals who happen to be chasing a man. They arrive just in time to see the Wargals kill a man who claims to be in the service of Morgarath, the Wargals’ master. Halt and Will manage to recover Morgarath’s battle plans from the dead body. With plans for the battle being prepared, the king decides he requires more soldiers. Will, Horace, and Gilan are sent to a neighboring kingdom for aid, only to discover something strange happening there.

I’m not sure if I liked this one as much as the first book, but it was still incredibly enjoyable. I didn’t find it particularly surprising when plot twists were revealed (and to be honest I had figured them out immediately and was a bit frustrated that Halt didn’t).

We got a few new characters–Evanlyn is particularly great–and some new relationships. I was glad to see more of Gilan since we’d only gotten a small hint of him in the last book. We also got a nice look at Alys who we didn’t know much about anyway. I’d like to see more about the others as well but maybe we will meet them in future books as well (there are eight in total so far).

There wasn’t as much character growth as there was in the first book, but we still got more on the life of a ranger (though I would have liked even more). Next should be an interesting change of scenery, but I’m wondering where it will take us.

Pillage by Obert Skye

Beck Phillips has had a rough life. His dad left him when he was too young to remember him, he moves around a lot, and there’s something not quite right with his mom. But when his mother dies, he is taken to his uncle’s, who he never knew existed. Things get even stranger as he’s warned to keep out of locked rooms and away from the back of the mansion. Plants seem to obey his every command. And oh right, did I mention the dragons? Beck quickly discovers that his family has a not so pleasant history filled with a number of secrets that he is about to uncover. Secrets that could destroy many lives.

Having really enjoyed the Leven Thumps series, I decided to check out Pillage, book one of the new trilogy he is writing. (Well, this book is from 2008 and the second book, Choke, just came out, but relatively new, anyway.) There were some things I really liked about it. For one thing, because it was in first person, there was none (or almost none) of the annoying interruptions in the story to tell us facts of life that anyone with half a brain knows anyway. The downside to the first person narrative was that it came off as less sophisticated because the character was pretty juvenile.

The one thing he does not lack is the constant surprises and plot twists. I felt like I never quite knew where he was going with things. He does a good job of tricking you into thinking one thing and then showing you something else instead.

The biggest downside of the book for me was how long it took to really get to the heart of the story. It dragged on for far too long with day to day things, at least for my taste. I understand that he was discovering things and we were meant to learn with him, but really, couldn’t he have learned a bit faster? A good example of this issue would be the fact that the characters often went exploring but decided to stop after only a little while to avoid being caught or to go to bed, etc. I would have preferred much more of it to happen all at once, that way the really exciting stuff could begin. But maybe that’s just me.

I do think I’ll check out Choke, though I can’t imagine where exactly it will go from here. (I do have an inkling though and I’d guess it has something to do with plants.)

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan (Book 1) by John Flanagan

I don’t know why it took me so long to read this book. I bought it a few months ago and yet, every time I needed a new book, I picked a different one instead. I don’t love the cover (which I don’t think quite suites the book) and the plot summary on the back is perhaps not the best, but I’m glad I finally decided to read it.

Will has grown up as an orphan and a ward of the Baron’s castle. He has always believed that his father was a great knight and intends to follow him. The only problem is, he is far too small to be a knight. Instead, he is accepted as an apprentice to become a Ranger, mysterious figures that people fear and don’t understand. Will is devastated by this, but it’s that or working in the field, so he accept despite being slightly nervous. It doesn’t help that Halt, the Ranger who will train him, never smiles. He soon discovers that there is more to being a Ranger than being intimidating. They scout the land, track dangerous enemies, lead armies, etc. They played a pivotal role in the last battle against Morgarath, but the evil tyrant has been gathering forces for an even deadlier battle than before. And this time he wants more than power. He wants revenge.

The worst thing about this book is how short it is (just under 250 pages). It feels like the secondary characters (the other wards and Halt’s former apprentice Gilan) could have used a little more development, especially Will’s relationship with Alys, he has grown up with and serves as something of a love interest.

I love books that have training (Harry Potter has Hogwarts, Ranger’s Apprentice has apprentice-style training) and I must admit that I am disappointed about the apprentice test (for reasons which I will not disclose) but I suppose that some even cooler things happen instead. We can see Will’s development and growth clearly and it is hard not to connect with him as he discovers bravery no one ever expected of him.

I bought book 2 before even finishing this book, because I knew I would be satisfied with the ending and want to read more.

My only big puzzlement: why put a preview of book 6 in book 1? Who wants a spoiler of the sixth book when they’re not even close to up to it?

Piece of news: this book is being made into a movie! That should be exciting!

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Mibs is about to turn thirteen, the age that she (like her older brothers before her) will discover what her savvy–magical talent–is. It’s a special but also potentially dangerous day because a savvy can take years to learn to control. Mibs and her family usually start being home-schooled then so as not to put anyone in danger. But things don’t go as planned for Mibs birthday. Her father gets into a serious car accident in the city and while her mother and older brother go to sit with him, the rest of the kids are home with their grandfather (who isn’t the most able person). Mibs decides she has to get to her father and she, two of her brothers, and two kids from the neighborhood stow away in a  delivery man’s bus that they think is headed the right way.

When I first started reading this book I didn’t really like it. It had that super southern twang thing that got on my nerves the same as The Girl Who Could Fly had). But then, as I got further in I was impressed by how in touch with kids’ feelings Law was able to get. The sad moments were particularly poignant and well written out. I found myself engrossed in the book and really enjoying it. I think once it got out of the “here’s the history of my family” to the actually story, it really hit its stride.

I’m excited to see where book two takes the series. I think it has the potential to be even stronger (since we’re no longer in the introduction phase of what savvies are and how they work). Can’t wait to find out if her younger brother has in fact developed his savvy early.

Cave of the Dark Wind (A Neverland Book) by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Aiming for a younger audience than their other Peter Pan books, these Neverland Books are meant to take place while Peter is away. After all, what do they do when their fearless leader has gone to London on his own grand adventures?

At first, nothing. But boys will get bored and James, the de facto leader after Peter, decides he wants to do something. Mostly, he wants to impress Peter (and perhaps make him jealous). When Shining Pearl and Little Scallop (daughters of the Mollusk Tribe’s chief) let slip that there is a mysterious cave where goats disappear and people go blind, James decides this is the place to explore. And he won’t change his mind no matter the protest. What he discovers is GOLD! Hook hears about the gold too and as any pirate worth his salt, he wants it. Even if it makes turns anyone who sees it blind.

But there are more mysteries than the boys anticipate to be solved, such as who or what takes the goats.

Pearson and Barry are so good at catching the way children think. For example everyone is scared but no one wants to be the one to admit it so they end up continuing. It captures the Peter Pan humor I remember from watching the Disney movie when I was little.

I’m not rushing out to buy another Neverland book, but I’m certainly not opposed to reading another one hear and there. There’s something nostalgic but still unique about this book, though I do miss Peter nearly as much as the boys do.

Pendragon: The Merchant of Death (Book One) by D.J. MacHale

Bobby Pendragon grows up a normal fourteen year old boy, until the day his Uncle Press comes to him for help. Not help for himself, but help for some other people Bobby has never met. The catch- those people are on another planet and the outcome for their lives could affect the outcome for the entire universe. It turns out, Bobby is a Traveler, someone who can travel through time and space and usually, is meant to help. But not all Travelers are created equal and one Traveler, Saint Dane, aims to plunge the universe into chaos.

One of the most refreshing things about this book is that Bobby is a very realistic character. He starts out fairly selfish, but not in an awful way, just in a “I’m a kid and I want to go home and I’m scared because people want to kill me!” sort of way. You can hardly blame him. But ultimately, he is a good kid who does the right thing, even though it is hard and dangerous. Nothing he does is particularly extraordinary and yet the end result is something unbelievable.

There are two types of chapters: journal chapters and regular chapters. The journal chapters are firsthand accounts written by Bobby about what has happened to him. The regular chapters are about Mark (Bobby’s best friend) and Courtney (Bobby’s sort of but not really girlfriend) as they search for Bobby and read his journals. The biggest flaw to the book is that it completely lacks suspense. There is never fear that they may not get out of whatever situation they are in. By the very nature of the format, you know it all worked out in the end (more or less). If Bobby wrote it, then he had to live long enough to do so. I also find Mark and Courtney’s storylines 99% pointless. Think about how much more shocking the ending of the book would have been if we didn’t know his parents had disappeared until the moment he discovers it?

I’m assuming that the journals will turn out be important later in the series (at least, there seem to be hints that they will be and if MacHale is a writer of any talent, they will be), but to be honest, I’m not sure I liked it enough to keep reading to find out. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad, it just lacks the edge of my seat aspect that I’ve come to expect from an action-adventure novel.

Night of the Solstice and Heart of Valor by LJ Smith

From the author of The Vampire Diaries, are a pair of books about four siblings–Alys the responsible none, Janie the intelligent one, Charles the laid back one, and Claudia the baby of the family (and I don’t mean crybaby)–who are called upon to help the sorceress Morgana Shee.

In the Night of the Solstice, they are called to service by a talking vixen to help Morgana Shee when she is taken captive. Morgana is the Guardian of the Mirrors, a passageway between the magical Wildworld and our non-magical world (called StillWorld). If she isn’t back by the winter solstice, the passageway will open for anyone to get through and an evil sorcerer will be able to come to StillWorld where he intends to enslave and ruin civilization.

In book two, Heart of Valor, we get to learn more about Morgana’s history (which is nicely mixed with history and legend), picking up where about a year after book one left off. We get to see how things have changed (and how things haven’t) since the kids’ last adventure. The villain is both someone we’ve seen before and someone new. (I don’t want to go into too much detail with this book’s plot because I don’t want to give away too much of book one.)

Unlike Smith’s other books, this is not a love story (which I am glad for). There are a lot of things I really liked about this book, the writing in particular is pretty solid. The story flows really well and you can’t help but find yourself engrossed. Some characters are more relate-able and three-dimensional than others (Alys and Janie are both very distinct and go through obvious growth while Charles and Claudia don’t actually mature very much over the course of the book), but all are interesting enough to hold my attention.

The only thinking lacking for me was some of the more in depth explanations about magic. It felt like there were things we should have learned but never did (like the rules of magic, how one goes about winning a staff, how WildWorld actually runs) and perhaps, if Smith ever intends to write another book, we will learn more. I can only hope she does because I really enjoyed it and would gladly read a third book.