The Last Apprentice: Attack of the Fiend (Book 4) by Joseph Delaney

The fourth book in the Last Apprentice series is a little longer than the three preceding novels, but no less enjoyable. Delaney has an excellent ability to balance the horror of his book with the lighter sides (specifically the faith that main character Tom Ward shows in his friend Alice and his master, the Spook).

In book four, our trio head to Pendle to deal with the growing danger of the three witch clans living there. The witches have grown so strong that there is an aura of fear in the area and many people have moved away. The Spook has learned that the three usually warring clans are uniting, which happens only rarely when they intend to unleash something particularly evil and has decided it is time to stop it. Tom has additional problems when he discovers that his brother, sister-in-law, and niece have been kidnapped and he must save them before it is too late. The kidnappers also stole his mother’s trunks, which she left to him and told him to use under extreme circumstances. Can he save his family, stop the witches, and recover his inheritance in time?

I am ever impressed with Delaney’s books. He does not shy away from the gruesome but yet he manages to always keep away from being gratuitously disgusting. Many authors find it difficult to strike that balance. He also continues to make Tom (and by extension the reader) examine their ideas of good and evil. Tom’s mother, though not physically present, is a particular force for this line of thought. Who was she? Tom keeps learning more about her past but it doesn’t resolve his confusion and curiosity. It’s clear that there is still more to learn about her.

This is also the first time where Alice never seemed to stray from the path of good. She wasn’t tempted (or forced) into using dark magic and she was willing to put her life on the line yet again for Tom. Their relationship continues to grow in complexity and closeness, which I like. The Spook doesn’t trust her yet, but maybe he never will, and that’s ok.

There is nothing straightforward about this series and I really have no complaints.

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I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Seeing the movie prompted me to want to read the book. There were a lot of complaints that the story was fairly generic, which is true, but that didn’t stop it from being enjoyable nonetheless. The story, in case you’ve missed the movie previews, is about a teenage boy who has been on the run for his entire life with his guardian, Henri, because he is an alien sent to earth to hide from the other aliens who destroyed his people until he is old enough to fight back. The teenager, named John for most of the book, (though we never learn his real name), is one of nine children who managed to escape the slaughter. When they escaped, a spell was placed on the kids so that they could only be killed in a specific order, as long as they are separated. John is Number Four and the evil aliens–the Magadorians–are coming for him now. John and the other children are nearing the age when they begin gaining special abilities that will aid in the fight to retake their home planet. This is the main story. But the subplot is John’s attempt to fit into yet another school where the girl he likes has a jealous ex determined to make John’s life miserable.

Though it is true that there is nothing groundbreaking about this book, it was still relatable and fun. You could sympathize with him on the love story, which may be doomed to failure since (forgetting even the entire alien and danger aspect) John will eventually need to help repopulate his planet, rather than the super-smart children that result from a Lorian-Human pairing. Sarah was sweet and lovable and their relationship was well developed.

The Lorian culture, which is a bit better explained in the book than in the movie, is a little strange. Sometimes it feels like sci-fi, with an evolved alien species, while other times it feels more like fantasy with magic spells to protect the kids and a living planet. In fact, the best comparison I can make is to the movie Avatar (though the Navi seemed more primitive from an outside perspective). I do wish it was grounded in sci-fi and didn’t have the fantasy element, but I suppose that would make the number aspect (which is sort of the premise) unusable.

I don’t love the first person narrative, which I think takes a particular skill to do well. We didn’t get enough of John’s perspective and memories (at least it didn’t feel uniquely John) to warrant the first person point of view. But that style is pretty popular these days (thank you Hunger Games), so I’m not surprised about it either.

Overall, I’m excited for book two, especially as we are about to meet some of the other Lorian kids. (Plus, Number Six was pretty awesome and I’d like to see more of her.)

The Atomic Weight of Secrets or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black by Eden Unger Bowditch

Why is this cover creepier than the entire book?

I’m not sure if the author/publisher simply couldn’t decide what to call the book and the chapter titles, or if they thought it was clever to have two names for everything. For me, it was sort of distracting and I couldn’t help but wish they had chosen one. (Personally, I would choose The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black over The Atomic Weight of Secrets.)

 

The book is about five young geniuses (thirteen and under) who are the children of geniuses. When men dressed in strange black clothing come to their home, they are taken away and separated from their parents with no explanation. They are brought to a house and school nearby where they get to learn what they missed as young geniuses missed–how to be a kid–and how to care for others. They decide they must find their parents, who might be in trouble, and do so by creating something to help them find their parents.

The strengths of this book were in its smaller moments. Lucy and Jasper’s relationship, for example, was sweet and believable. He takes care of his little sister but sometimes gets annoyed with her, one time even catching himself before yelling. The way that the Wright Brothers and the creation of the first aeroplane are explained was also clever. Faye is also a strong character; she easily goes through the greatest amount of growth from start to finish as she comes to care for people besides herself…

But for all its strengths, there are a number of weaknesses too. One major weakness was the number of children. With five kids, it was hard to really get to know many of them. Noah in particular felt like an unnecessary part of the story. He was barely a character. Due to the number of characters, it took a while to settle into the story itself, having to go back and describe each kids’ respective families and how they ended up in the schoolhouse. It also felt a little too easy and convenient for Faye’s family to be nearby and so easily accessible in the end.

Ultimately, the resolution to the book (this is book one of a series) was unsatisfying. There was no solution born of the kids’ work and creations, it was just resolved (at least partially) for them. We didn’t really finish the story knowing any more than we started with. It left me more frustrated with the ending than excited for a second book.

[UPDATE: The author, Eden Unger, says the duality of the title has a purpose and that more secrets will be revealed in book two.]

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Twelve-year-old super genius Artemis Fowl II is the son of a crime lord and he has decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, he has decided to amass his wealth in a very different fashion: he believes he has discovered proof that faeries exist and with them comes gold, if only he can capture and ransom one.

It’s a strange book, when you don’t quite know who to root for. Artemis, the title character, may not be all bad (he clearly loves his mother and has a loyalty unusual for a criminal mastermind), but he certainly isn’t someone you should want to win. Which isn’t to say you want him to lose either, at least not everything. In the end, we get a satisfying, if somewhat predictable and expected, ending, with a promise for more.

I suppose, if we have to choose a hero, we have Captain Holly Short, the spunky faerie on an elite LEPrecon unit–the first female officer (and thus something of a test case). She is a little more reckless than she should be (not replenishing her magic when she should have and then lying about it), but when it comes down to it, she shows honor and courage in the face of danger.

Funnily enough, Artemis’s goals are similar to those of Chuck Bass on Gossip Girl–he just wants to save his father’s empire. In that regard, you actually feel bad for his predicament and want his success. Of course, his father’s empire is mafia-like in nature. (I do think the issue is dealt with better here than on the show, but that’s besides the point.)

I think this is a good start to the series and has a lot of potential, but I am not ready to put it in my top ten list. I’d like to see where the second book goes, but I don’t know if I am ready to invest in the seven plus books.

Recruited by Suzanne Weyn

Recruited follows Kadeem, the star quarterback of his high school football team. As a senior, Kadeem is starting to think about college and scouts have started taking an interest in him. Teller University, one of the best college teams, is particularly interested in him and begin actively trying to get him interested. It’s a dream come true for Kadeem–a great team that could all but ensure a shot at pro-football, hot cheerleaders interested in him, no worries about grades, money and meals…But when Kadeem learns that Teller’s recruitment policies are illegal (against the rules of the NAACP) and is asked to help catch Teller at it, he doesn’t know what he should do. Should Kadeem give up all the great things he can gain from Teller (and potentially scare away all recruiters in the process) to do the right thing?

A couple of years ago, reading this book I would have said it was a pretty good, standard YA book. The story is clear and easy to read, we see Kadeem first get drawn into the glamor of being courted by a football team and then step back and try to figure out what type of person he is. We also see Ty, his friend and teammate, handle the pressure differently as he struggles to earn a scholarship that would be his only way to go to college. But having read a lot of YA books recently, this book felt like it was lacking.

Kadeem (who I don’t think we ever get a real physical description of) lacks the multi-dimensional characters and world that more recent Young Adult books I have read contain. Sure it was a tough choice for Kadeem, but we barely had any sense of true struggle from him. The entire situation felt very black and white with no complexity. I think one of the things missing form the entire debate of what he should do were the effects of his actions. How would his choice affect his teammates? How might it affect his chances of being recruited elsewhere? Further removing any complexity from the situation was having Alyssa, the cheerleader at Teller that Kadeem liked, exposed as a liar (flirting with him only to get him interested in Teller but not truly interested in him at all) so early and easily. Wouldn’t the story have been more interesting if Kadeem didn’t know for sure? Then his choice about Teller would still be more difficult. There is even the potential for Alyssa to have pulled a “Ten Things”–started out with him for the wrong reasons but ultimately falling for him. Realistically, she is not likely to really fall for a high school student, but a high school student wouldn’t know that. Once the decision was made, everything else basically fell into place with Kadeem’s future as well.

I think that today’s best books are the ones that really dig into the characters and the ambiguities in the issues presented and that, ultimately, was what I felt was lacking from the book. It wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t leave me wanting to go find another book by Weyn.