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The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp

untitled The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides

A fantastical tale that will especially delight mature elementary and middle grade readers, but also charm any older teens (or adults) who might like a clean adventure fantasy. Definitely a possible read-along but with some mention of romantic attractions.

Former circus trick rider, young Kit Bristol has served as the lone manservant, or only servant really, to a mysterious country gentleman for the last two years, and has gotten used to the quiet simplicity of his new life, even if he still yearns for adventure. In all that time, he’s never once noticed the notorious highwayman Whistling Jack that has everyone in the nearby village upset. When Kit wakes up one night and finds his master lying gravely injured geared up as a highwayman, he knows Whistling Jack’s real identity. As ruffians attempt to break in, Kit dons his master’s clothes to save him and escapes when he finds his master has died, instructed to find a witch and perform one last duty. As he rides his master’s brilliant horse, Midnight, Kit is chased by soldiers and attacked by goblings. After some surprising magic from an unknown source, Kit finds himself safe with the witch and given a quest, to rescue a faerie princess who is being forced to marry King George II. For Kit, who’s only an accidental highwayman, a quest to rescue the princess turns into a lively journey: a dunk in a river, gobling and monster pursuers sent by the princess’s father and the evil Duchess, a soldier captain who’s intent on revenge, a traveling circus complete with senile old man, a monkey and a woman who’s very unlucky in love, two tiny faeries, and one persnickety princess. Though the quest was his master’s, Kit comes to find he cares for the princess and will do anything to help her, even battle a soul-stealing flying Duchess and a tyrannical old father.

I found this a delightful read, if more suited for younger readers. I especially enjoyed the older literary trick of pretending the narrator (Kit) is a real person and has really experienced those things (see much of 18th/17th century literature) and is writing from a historical point-of-view. It blends a little bit of historical fiction and fantasy. Our hero Kit is very likeable and funny but easygoing, while the princess and Lily are moody females, which lends a bit of gender humor to the story though not overdone. Possibly the hardest to understand is the dimensions of Faerie and this world, which contains odd creatures and odd rules that Kit does not bother to describe or make full sense of, lending to his own credibility as our “real” author.

Will be a series, but no forthcoming dates as of yet.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Fantasy, Young Adult/Teen

 

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The Terminals by Royce Scott Buckingham

Perfect for this year’s Summer Reading Heroes theme comes this adventuresome novel about a group of teens who are dying of brain tumors and recruited to join a team of special ability fighters to save the world.

 51cnV-7YDGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ The Terminals

When soccer star and college freshman Cam Cody is diagnosed with a glioblastoma, a fatal brain tumor that means he will die within the year, he is presented with a choice from a mysterious man: die in a hospital bed with a gown that shows off his derriere or join a top secret organization that offers kids like him a chance to do extraordinary things like saving lives before dying. Cam, dejected at the thought of missing college and a real future, joins with gusto and is packed into a helicopter, flown somewhere secret, made to parachute out into a jungle and rappel into a heady competition among pharmacologically gifted teens, all unbelievably with glioblastomas. There’s Zara, as sexy as she is fierce; Ari, who’s so smart he’s almost Einstein; Donnie, the muscled athlete; Calliope, a musical genius; and Jules, Tegan, Owen, Wally, and now team-player Cam. Their only two contacts are their trainer, Ward, and their pilot, aptly termed Pilot. Occasionally they visit doctors who supervise the experimental wonder drug, TS-9, which everyone but Cam is given and causes extraordinary abilities. As Cam learns the ropes and they start on their missions, he begins to receive strange notes. Little does he know that they’re from a survivor of last year’s terminal team, and she’s about to blow the lid on all of the secrets, turning Cam’s world upside down and starting a chain reaction to take down the organization.

Marketed as yet another addict read like The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, etc., I didn’t find this to live up to the promise. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll be entertained, but I rather thought it was a quick amp up, crash down sort of novel. The events seemed to be too close together and just as soon as you got used to one scenario, another was throwing you for a loop. Too much action and not enough believability for it to succeed as greatly as THG etc. Still, an intriguing plot, a fast-paced story, and exciting and mysterious characters keep you reading. Beware of the high body count though and some predictable circumstances.

Note: Strong language, brief sexual circumstances.

 
 

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Asylum & Sanctum by Madeleine Roux

A creepy mind-twisting murder mystery that melds psychology and the mania of an old mental hospital and teases the story accompanied by hauntingly eerie photographs.

asylum-cover  Asylum

Dan Crawford has just arrived at college-sponsored camp for gifted high schoolers where the students have been moved to the oldest dorm Brookline, previously a mental hospital, because the others are being remodeled. A former foster kid, he’s pretty self-aware and independent. Immediately, he makes two friends: Jordan, a brilliant mathematician with a religious family who is also secretly gay, and Abby, a creative art geek whose family has ties to the asylum. Dan also has a roommate, Felix, an odd nerdy boy who is awkward and suddenly becomes obsessed with working out. When Dan first arrives at the asylum, he discovers an old photograph of a man with his eyes scratched out. Seeking a thrill, Dan, Jordan and Abby go exploring and find old records and other disturbing photographs in the depths of the old asylum. Suddenly, Dan is getting odd notes and having nightmares, dreaming and communicating with the disturbed man known as the warden, also named Daniel Crawford. Is this really happening or is Dan losing his mind? When the body count starts to rise, Dan knows he has to solve the mystery of Brookline or worse, he must suspect himself of the most horrible of crimes.

19346471 Sanctum

When Dan left Brookline, he thought all the episodes would be over. When he still is having nightmares, also shared by friends Abby and Jordan, Dan decides the asylum isn’t through with him. Worse, he’s been asked to visit Felix who has been under constant watch in a real mental facility. A deranged Felix connects the dots that send him, Abby, and Jordan back to college searching for clues behind , their nightmares, creepy antique carnival photographs, and four mysterious addresses. Pretending to be prospective college students, they are stuck with student mentors and discover that the carnival tradition has just returned after a long hiatus. New Hampshire College and Camford, the town, are hiding something awful, and Dan, Abby, and Jordan are determined to find out what and rid themselves of the horrors of Brookline forever. With Dan seeing visions and Abby hearing voices and people attacking them, will they succeed before they die or do they belong to this carnival of madness?

Though this series has been compared as a Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children read-a-like, all that it really has in common is the genre and possessing photographs. The overall feel and draw of this series is unlike Miss Peregrine in my mind. I think it is sufficient to read but not fantastic. It needs more depth, creepiness, and a more clear progression of events. That is to say, it shouldn’t be an easy mystery, but I can’t figure out if being mentally confusing was the purpose of the novel or just a side-effect. I liked Sanctum overall much better than I liked the first, but I liked the atmosphere of Asylum better than Sanctum. I think the character development wasn’t fully fleshed out, and the pace seemed somewhat slow for a creepy book. Still, if you like horror and you enjoy a bump-in-the-night read with quirk, you won’t be disappointed.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Horror, YA Mystery/Thriller, Young Adult/Teen

 

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The Testing series by Joelle Charbonneau

What if grades and test results determined the rest of your life and there was nothing you could do about it? For teens and preteens who are aggravated at the numerous important testing regimens in the education system (EOGs, SAT, ACT, etc. etc.), this series will be both familiar and horrifying. A more middle grade The Hunger Games/Divergent read-a-like that is furiously fast-paced, the Testing series describes a dystopian United States which is now a series of colonies after a great war. One girl stands in the balance towards a revolution or a civil war.

13326831 The Testing

In the rural Five Lakes Colony, Malencia “Cia” Vale longs to be a chosen candidate for the Testing, a rigorous exam necessary for entry into the University at Tosu City, because she wants to help mend the destruction caused by the Great War. Upon her graduation from high school, she and three others from her colony are selected for the Testing. The catch? There are over 100 candidates vying for only 20 spots at the University. Before Cia was a Testing candidate, her father, who had graduated from University and gone through the Testing, told her how his memories of the Testing were wiped but he managed to keep a few. She should trust no one and think about everything. Though one of the tests is on paper, the next two progress quickly and have dire, maybe fatal, consequences for candidates who fail. For the final test, it is a matter of survival in a controlled testing environment, the wilds outside of Tosu City that are contaminated with biological weapons, chemical warfare, and unknown beings exposed to radiation. Her only ally is Tomas, one of her colony-mates, and even he makes Cia nervous. She has to trust someone because now that she’s in the Testing, she must succeed or die trying.

independentstudy Independent Study

Cia is now a University student, as is Tomas, only instead of going into the mechanical studies track, she was put into Government, much to her disappointment and surprise. There she must compete against her fellow new members, a few from the colonies but more from Tosu City who did not have to go through the Testing, and get a good internship or she’s as good as dead. To make matters worse, she remembers part of her Testing and if the examination board finds out, she will be Redirected and secretly disappear or be killed. No matter the consequences to herself, she’s determined to save the United Commonwealth from the brutal horrors behind the Testing and University. However, are her methods to judge the truth and her allies just as morally wrong as the government’s? Cia must make smart choices to survive and beat her competition or more people will be killed in the name of the greater good.

9780547959214_hres Graduation Day

Cia’s final and highest stakes test is here. Two factions are about to wrestle for control over the United Commonwealth and the Testing. Cia must find her allies and embrace her calling as a leader much earlier than planned. As the President’s assistant, Cia is perfectly poised to see both sides but also be in a lot of danger as political factions wage civil war. It’s a murky battle of he-said, she-said. Cia must discover who is telling the truth and who deserves to die because she is the key to the revolution ahead. It will take loyal allies and great courage to do the right thing but there can be no more waiting. It’s graduation day.

While this series was certainly entertaining and kept me on my toes, I just didn’t find it as emotionally wrenching or captivating as The Hunger Games or Divergent. It seemed to be as easy as an already smart character simply finding her own two feet and standing on them, which is great as an empowering message, but might have been resolved too simply for me. I spent the greater part of the three books half terrified for Cia and mostly distrusting Tomas. Well, I won’t reveal what really happens, but my expectations didn’t, which is both good and bad; there didn’t seem to be as many consequences as I thought there should have been. For this reason, this is particularly great for middle grade readers as it does not have any sexual situations, does have romance, and lessens the brutal death from THG but also gives a satisfying ending. Don’t expect this to be your new favorite series but it is worth a read.

 
 

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The Lunar Chronicles (1-3) by Marissa Meyer

Everyone has been raving about how great these books are and I just had to read for myself.

Asdfghjkl!!!! I LOVED THEM. AM BUYING!

They have been labeled as retellings of classic fairytales, and while they are, you are so engrossed in the rest of the other details that they are practically nothing like any other fairytale retellings that I’ve ever read. The base material is pulled from the fairytale but the rest of the story is like having a science fiction/Star Wars-esque Once Upon a Time where there are mashups and epic battles and such, but many of the heroines/heroes have to stick together to succeed. Read on and I hope you’re prepared to fall in love.

419rjQNqYhL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ Cinder

In a dystopian future, great advances have been made in technology, leading to common use of androids and cyborg operations while humans are dying of a deadly plague. Even worse still, another evil is looming greater than the plague deaths. The Lunars, a race of space people who live on the moon, and their queen, Levana, are at any minute about to wage war on the planet.

However, our story begins in the hot and crowded city of New Beijing. Orphaned Cinder is a mechanic and a cyborg. Despised by her stepmother and one stepsister and looked down upon by most citizens, Cinder desires her freedom more than anything else, which is hard considering she has no legal power or money. For such a talented person in seemingly hopeless circumstances, it surprises her when she catches the notice of Prince Kai who is seeking to have his android repaired. Then her favorite stepsister suddenly gets the plague and Cinder is devastated. Her stepmother signs her up to be a vaccine test subject, and since Cinder is a cyborg, she is basically property. Hauled off to the medical center at the palace against her will, Cinder discovers she is immune to the plague and receives an allowance for her participation in the medical studies. There, Cinder once again runs into Prince Kai who invites her to be his guest for the ball and begs for the information on his broken android. Determined to get out of New Beijing once and for all, Cinder declines and begins plotting her escape until she repairs the droid that is so vitally important to the prince. Suddenly, Cinder is thrust into the center of the conflict between Queen Levana and Prince Kai. She must do everything she can to stop their engagement because the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Scarlet Scarlet

With the conclusion of Cinder, our former heroine was thrown in jail.(No other spoilers here!) Now, with the help of Captain Carswell Thorne, she’s on the lam though she’s a wanted fugitive, but she still needs more answers to save Prince Kai from the Lunars. Chasing the answers sends her to France where we meet our new heroine…

In a faraway little French town, Scarlet Benoit is worried about her missing grandmother, a former military pilot who long since retired to run her own picturesque farm. Scarlet cannot find any clues as to where she’s gone, but two things make her suspicious. One, her drunk father returns telling tales of kidnapping and something that’s lost, and two, enter Wolf, a powerful street fighter with predatory instincts and a hidden past who seems to have a thing for Scarlet. When she decides to go after the gang to rescue her kidnapped grandmother, Wolf accompanies her as her protection. Their adventure brings them to Cinder who is also searching for Scarlet’s grandmother, and together they must find the answers they’re looking for while evading capture and death from the Lunars and their newest homicidal weapon, packs of mind-controlled Lunar wolves who are ruthless killers.

13206828 Cress

Briefly, we met Cress in the first book as she was the girl who told of Levana’s plan to marry Kai and take over Earth. After the end of the last book, Cinder, Thorne, Iko, Scarlet and Wolf know they need more help exposing Levana’s plans for war and decide they need to rescue Cress to do it.

Cress has been trapped for years in a satellite orbiting the moon by Queen Levana’s second-in-command Sybil Mara. Cress is a shell, or a Lunar that has no capacity for glamours and manipulations, and must do as the Queen commands. Mostly, she is solely responsible for cloaking ships and spying on earth but she is secretly an excellent hacker. In fact, she’s been helping Cinder and rebelling against her Queen, despite instructions to find the cyborg fugitive and turn her in. Ever since Cinder escaped from prison, she’s actually been cloaking their ship while mooning over the handsome Captain Carswell Thorne. When they attempt to rescue her, things go wrong as Sybil Mara discovers their plan, leaving Cinder with an enemy Lunar and a very injured Wolf while Sybil Mara escapes with Scarlet as hostage and Thorne and Cress are stranded in a plummeting satellite. Each group must band together to save the world or let Levana doom Earth into an eon of submission. Their time is running out as Queen Levana is marrying Prince Kai in only a few days. Their second mission? Kidnap Prince Kai and stop that wedding!

This series has it all! Romance, adventure, science fiction/geeky technical descriptions…I read them in three days I was so addicted! I just love how these are strong female characters who are determined to do what’s right even if it means they must sacrifice their own comfort to save the world. The men in the book are admirable too, in fact, very similar to the strong-willed cast of Divergent. Even timid and naive Cress has her own strength and part to play that could mean possible victory or utter defeat. I can’t say enough great things about this series. They are clean reads and perfect for all ages.

Fairest, the prequel novella starring Queen Levana, comes out today!  22489107

Winter, the fourth book in the series, comes out November 2015.

Find out more behind this great series click here!

 

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