Trusted: Dragons’ Trust Book 1, by Krista Wayment

trusted

MMGM is hosted each Monday on Shannon Messenger’s blog.

Another dragon book. That was my rather reluctant thought when I picked this one up. There are a lot of dragon books out there, more than I realized when I wrote my own. But I’d been told this one was good…

I liked it more than Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, the dragonesque Newbery honor book I reviewed a few weeks ago.

Okay, I have to admit Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is arguably better literature, in that it makes better use of literary devices—word pictures, sensory details, a circular package where the story’s head comes around to bite its tail, if you know what I mean. But if I compare that gut feeling of contentment that settles over me after I close the back cover, Trusted wins, hands down. I just liked the plot and characters better.

It did take a little while for this one to grow on me. Fourteen-year-old Renick finds himself stranded in a huge, unfriendly wilderness with two other passengers who survived the flyer wreck—twelve-year-old Lainey, who aside from some chatterbox moments that don’t really remain consistent, usually seems older, and Thane, the sometimes stand-offish son of a nobleman. Together the three children discover a baby dragon and must avoid the dragon hunters, who come off quite stereotypically. (Think Disney’s evil dogcatcher type.) Also, I sometimes found it difficult to distinguish which of the three kids was talking when they were in a group. However, once the kids make it to the dragon city high in the mountains, I was completely hooked. The action and characterization just kept getting better and better. I came away really liking Renick, in particular.

This is a story of nobility, honor, trust (which you can probably discern from the title), and attempts at reconciliation between two ancient enemy races—dragons and humans. It’s one of those hopeful, feel good tales that leave you smiling at the end. But it’s also a survival story that will fill that craving for adventure. Two thumbs up! Appropriate for listeners as young as 7 or 8, but recommended for readers at a fourth or fifth grade level.

Grab a copy of Trusted for just 2.99.

Ragesong: Awakening, by J. R. Simmons

ragesong awakening

MMGM is hosted each Monday on Shannon Messenger’s blog.

I love surprises. I especially love good surprises. And I really, really like it when that good surprise turns out to be only the first of several. That’s the case for Awakening. I loved the book, and it’s the first of a series. Book two, Uprising, just released in June. I’m getting it.

Since I’ve already spent too many hours reading this week and not enough time working on my own book, I’m going to paste in part of the Amazon blurb:

Jake starts his first day of junior high completely oblivious to the fact that he has been chosen for something incredible. That same afternoon, he learns that he has been marked as one with the power to save an entire kingdom. Through the course of his journey, Jake discovers that his advanced musical abilities are peculiarly connected to a mysterious power known as Ragesong. Joined by a shy, young girl with similar musical talents and two Changelings that hold a fierce loyalty to their homeland and king, Jake must learn to harness this ability in order to survive the dangers of a hostile new world.

This was a wild ride! I know there are many alternate world fantasy adventures on the market, but this one has an edge. Sometimes I make an allowance for a trace of clunkiness in the prose if the story is compelling, but this one had prose as sharp as a knife edge and a plot to go with it. And the dialogue? Spunky, quirky, light, and exactly right. That touch of lightness is necessary. It balances out a series of events that could be overwhelming to readers under ten. That’s because Jake is called on to battle, not monsters, but an army of men. There is killing involved, and some of it’s done by a junior higher. That is my one and only qualm. On the other hand, this world is ruled by the most evil of villains, and it is kill or be killed. It’s a battle for re-conquest. The violence is not gratuitous, it’s often video game-like, but it’s there.

This book will hold special appeal for gamers as the main character is an avid gamer himself and often references them in the text. I am not a gamer. I am a mom who is tired of monitoring video games, tired of redirecting children to alternate activities, and who often wishes they’d never been invented. However, if this book can hook a few of those kids and turn them into readers even for a while, I’ll gladly suspend my own disinterest and shout out that particular attribute. But regardless of whether the reader games or not, this is a finely told story with a superb dialogue and a twist of imagination. Recommended for ages 10+

Find it on Amazon:

Ragesong: Awakening
Ragesong: Uprising

Lost in the Bayou, by Cornell DeVille

lost in the bayou

MMGM is hosted each Monday on Shannon Messenger’s blog.

I love this cover. It sucked me in immediately. I’ve always liked survival stories, and this one looked intriguing. Whoa! It got intense in a hurry.

Andy and Robin are orphans, or so everyone “official” is telling them, even though the bodies of their parents have not been found. It’s a new role for them and they don’t like it. Not at all. Especially now that Uncle Conrad has come. Robin has no doubt, Conrad wants them dead, and he’s crazy enough to do it. With the children out of his way, Conrad would inherit their fortune.

So the kids take off into the swamp.

This one is fast-paced all the way through. The danger is immediate, and the setting is absolutely fabulous. Check this out:

To my left, the moon is breaking through the gray clouds now and frosting the landscape with a pale silver glow. It lights our way somewhat, but it makes the moss-covered limbs of the trees look like grotesque arms in ragged sleeves, beckoning as our shadows dance along beside us.

Now add to the foggy swamp alligators, the legend of an asylum escapee, and the mystery of the missing parents, and you have a real page-turner.

I do have a couple cautions: There are a few minor language incidences and some omg’s. And Uncle Conrads’ threats are pretty disturbing. He’s a real wacko who makes a game out of killing the children. It might be pretty freaky for younger readers, although I wouldn’t hesitate to hand it off to an eleven-year-old. There’s danger and some intense moments, but the outcome is quite mild. I read the whole thing in one sitting. I highly recommended it for adventure-loving boys.

Dream Warriors (Joey Cola, 1), by D. Robert Pease

joey colaI loved Noah Zarc, Mr. Pease’s MG trilogy. And I enjoyed his recent grown up fantasy, Shadow Swarm. But this is his best book yet.

Just as Noah was a loose parody of the Bible story, so Joey has similarities to the biblical story of Joseph. If you’re familiar with those old favorites, I’ll let you pick out the parallels–there’s a bunch. But Joey soon takes a dive into the fantasy world that’s full of originality, fun, danger, romance, and suspense. There are some great twists and turns in here that I never saw coming!

Joey’s father is a well-to-do former ambassador to Italy and the patriarch of a large Italian American family. Joey is the eleventh of twelve sons and routinely persecuted for being the favorite. But when his father gives him an amulet, a family heirloom that traces back to ancient Egypt, Joey suddenly finds himself in a position of strength–as a warrior in the world of dreams. The alternate world, however, is more closely linked to reality than he first assumed. And friends and enemies can’t be taken at face value.

This one is appropriately billed as YA. There is some violence, but it’s mostly, well, dreamlike. Dream warriors have some great gladiator scenes, but they can’t die. Mortal blows simply send them back to wakefulness. But they can be killed if they’re followed back to their physical bodies. Also, romance is sweet. There’s some very mild sensuality. Nothing I’d censor for my kids (and I’m pretty conservative), but it might be enough to gross out fourth or fifth graders. Language is 100% clean. I highly, highly recommend this one for anyone eighth grade or older.

Grab a copy from Amazon.

Navigating Early, by Clare Vanderpool

navigating earlyThis is a strange book, one that has beautiful moments I’ve come to associate with Clare Vanderpool, but it doesn’t always resonate with me. At times, the book even feels over-written and abstract with images that are too great a stretch. And I struggled to get a handle on Early.

Early Auden is a young boy whose behavior is sometimes simplistic, sometimes remarkably advanced. He kept me puzzled and guessing throughout the entire story. Only after I reached the end of the book did I realize the author had modeled his behavior on what we now define as autism. But as the story takes place at the close of WWII, it has no name or diagnosis. I sort of wish I’d read the author’s note first. It changed the whole way I think of the story…and the story did make me think.

Jack Baker finds himself miles from home at the close of the war and after his mother’s death, enrolled in a school for boys. There he meets Early Auden who has a fascination for the number pi. Early sees the sequence of numbers as landscape and color and tells an entire story about the character named Pi that closely follows the boys’ own real-life adventures. But when a mathematician suggests that the number pi might end, Early throws a tantrum. That’s when Jack realizes Early is suffering a loss of his own, a loss he just won’t accept.

“Connecting the dots. That’s what Mom said stargazing is all about. It’s the same up there as it is down here, Jackie. You have to look for the things that connect us all. Find the ways our paths cross, our lives intersect, and our hearts collide.” Taken from the epilogue, that’s a pretty good summary of the message of this book.

I give this one a recommendation with a minor caution (not against content). While it’s deep and beautiful and a “thinker”, this book is a little slow, and Early is hard to relate to. Great for diehard  readers, but I’d probably point less motivated kids in another direction.

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz

splendors-and-glooms

MMGM is hosted each Monday on Shannon Messenger’s blog.

I liked this book far more than the cover and title made me think I would. (The title comes from an old Percy Shelley poem, which is not my forte, and the cover is downright creepy.) I grabbed it simply because it took Newbery honors last year, and when it comes to the Newbery award, I have more hits than misses. This one was a definite hit.

This is a difficult book to summarize. There is much more going on and much deeper characterization than I can explain in a paragraph. So I’m going to do something I rarely do—cheat. (It’s okay, I have an excuse. I’m camping.) This is the blurb taken from Goodreads:

The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants.

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall.

As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.

See? A lot going on. And this summary doesn’t come close to doing it justice. It’s a mixture of sweet, sad, and plain old creepy. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It had almost a Dickens feel to it, with its rich characters and Victorian London setting. I loved, loved the two orphans, especially Parsefall, who’s a tough street kid with motives that are never sugar-coated. Ms. Schlitz did a fine job of never compromising his character and yet was still able to make him so likeable. The book prompts no content warnings. I give this one a high recommendation. 10+

Grab Splendors and Glooms on Amazon.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

where the mountain meets the moon

MMGM is hosted each Monday on Shannon Messenger’s blog.

This was a sweet little story that took Newbery honors a few years ago. Minli lives in a small, poor village in ancient Asia with her Ma, who has become bitter at their poverty, and Ba (father), who tells stories to lighten it. After a visit by a traveling peddler, Minli sets out to change her family’s fortune—which she does, but not in any way she might expect.

This was not a terribly compelling tale. Rather, it’s sweet, unhurried, and magical. I really enjoyed the magic: dragons, goldfish who talk, an evil magistrate whose spirit still haunts the earth, and the Man of the Moon who ties together each human’s destiny with red thread. The sacrificial friendship that evolves between Minli and a flightless dragon is just as magical. But what I loved most was the way Ba’s stories come full circle and wrap around the entire adventure. By the end, all is well but nothing is the same. Minli, her parents, her town, her neighbors, and even the dragon, are all different as a result of Minli’s courage and choices.

I’d rate this one an easy 4 star. The adventure really didn’t grip me—it’s pretty tame—but the style is engaging. I was equally intrigued by the Asian setting, having just finished Fire on the Mountain. Coincidental timing. A great read for ages 9-12. It would also be a super accompaniment to a unit on China.

If you do pick this one up, be sure to read the afterward that tells how the tale came to be. It made the story even more interesting to me to hear the author explain how she came to embrace her own Asian background.

Grab Where the Mountain Meets the Moon on Amazon.