Book Review: “The Serpent’s Shadow” by Rick Riordan
Book Reviews / June 6, 2014

The third and (for now) final book in the “Kane Chronicles” begins with an apology “for any inconvenience the end of the world may have caused you.” As the story unfolds, narrated alternately by siblings Carter and Sadie Kane, you’ll become increasingly inclined to accept their apology. Some catastrophes are really hard to prevent. And though the young Kanes often feel responsible even for things that are out of their control, they are finally ready to save the world, once and for all, from the ancient Egyptian serpent-god Apophis and the chaos he represents.

Book Review: “Side Jobs” by Jim Butcher
Book Reviews / May 27, 2014

Here’s what you want to know about these stories in general: Their writing was spread out over most of the years Butcher has been working on the Dresden Files. They fill cracks in the canon between the Dresden novels and blanks in the background of Harry and his friends. They spotlight a rich variety of themes, tones, and secondary characters. They cover a range of moods between deep cold terror and urgent panicky thrills, between laughter and tragedy, between light detective jobs with a side of magic and crises that shake the fabric of creation. Two of them are told from the point of view of characters other than Harry, while he himself remains in the background. And yet all of them are charged with the unmistakable energy of fun that we have come to associate with a certain wisecracking, tough-as-nails wizard.

Book Review: “Seeds of Rebellion” by Brandon Mull
Book Reviews / May 26, 2014

After reading the first book in the “Beyonders” trilogy, I decided to drop everything and go to the library to fetch Book 2. This turned into a whirlwind tour of five library branches, after which I came home with two armloads of books to read. Happily, I was able to get my hands on this, the middle book of the trilogy, and read it with an exquisitely tuned balance between relish and haste. And since I already have Book 3 in hand, my only regret will shortly be that it’s over too soon.

Review: “A World Without Heroes” by Brandon Mull
Book Reviews / May 24, 2014

Thirteen-year-old Jason is an ordinary, baseball-playing, zoo-volunteering kid from Colorado, until the day he hears music coming out of a hippopotamus. Leaning closer, he falls into the hippo’s mouth, slides down a long chute, and comes out at the bottom of a hollow tree in a completely different world. It’s not how most visitors from our reality find their way to the magical land of Lyrian. Later, Jason meets a girl his age named Rachel, who followed the more usual route by walking under a stone arch and suddenly finding herself elsewhere. From the moment they arrive, they are in danger. Things are going on in Lyrian that they don’t understand. Weird races, created long ago by a group of wizards, are doing weird things, following an agenda that either serves or seeks to overthrow an evil wizard emperor named Maldor. And just when Jason thinks he’s on the scent of a way home, he reads something in a forbidden book that makes him Public Enemy Number One.

Book Review: “Hot Lead, Cold Iron” by Ari Marmell
Book Reviews / May 23, 2014

Give a Chicago private eye a magic wand, and what do you get? Well, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, mostly. But Harry Dresden is a wizard of our time—a little rusty with high-tech gadgetry, to be sure, but also a VW Beetle-driving, pop-culture-riffing, very human wizard. One reviewer frequently quoted in jacket blurbs of the Dresden novels likens him to a mash-up of Philip Marlowe and Merlin. But actually, he’s a lot more like Richard Castle combined with Harry Potter. If you really want your wand-wielding detective hard boiled, you should try Mick Oberon. He has the period for it: the 1930s, the age of bootleggers and Chicago gangsters like Bugs Moran and Al Capone. He also has a shoulder holster in which he packs a high-caliber wand, best used for giving and taking luck and maybe spinning the occasional glamour. He talks in a clipped voice loaded with period slang, like “flivver” for “automobile” and “gink” for “man.” He could almost have stepped out of a pulp novel by James M. Cain or Raymond Chandler. Only, he isn’t human.

Book Review: “Brother Odd” by Dean Koontz
Book Reviews / May 17, 2014

In Book 3 of the “Odd Thomas” series, the young fry cook who sees dead people has retreated to a monastery in the mountains for a needed break from the stress of his quiet hometown. He only wants a little time to heal from two harrowing encounters with monsters in human form. But his respite is cut short by the appearance of bodachs at the abbey—or more precisely, in the school for mentally and physically disabled children run by nuns, next door to the monastery. These silent, shadowy creatures always seem drawn to places where there will soon be violence on a big scale. For reasons Odd cannot begin to guess, the gloating bodachs have started to crowd around these defenseless and unwanted children. He has only a day or two to figure out how to protect them, and from whom. Or what.

Book Review: “The Mystery” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Book Reviews / May 6, 2014

The third book of the “Troubletwisters” series pits young Wardens-in-waiting Jaide Shield and her twin brother Jack against yet another threat to the wards that protect the town of Portland from the Evil. You know, that force of emptiness that comes from another dimension and wants to take over everything. They have thwarted the Evil twice before. But if there’s one lesson the Evil seems to learn faster than Grandma X and the other good guys, it’s that keeping secrets from the twins makes them vulnerable. And if they’re vulnerable, so is Portland… and the world.

Book Review: “The Monster” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Book Reviews / April 28, 2014

The second book in the “Troubletwisters” series finds the small seaside town of Portland threatened by a fragment of the Evil that menaced it in Book 1. At least, so the Shield twins suspect. Jack and Jaide are still a bit jumpy after their narrow victory in their first adventure. The wards are all intact, protecting Portland, and the world, from the all-consuming hunger that lurks outside our universe. But Jack can never forget how it felt to have the Evil invading his mind, tempting him to join it. And neither Jack nor Jaide finds it easy to take Grandma X at her word since she hardly ever gives their questions a straight answer. “Mind your own business” simply doesn’t cut it with these curious kids, even though they know they have a lot to learn about controlling their gifts as future Wardens—and that it is these still unruly gifts that give them the name “troubletwisters.”

Book Review: “Troubletwisters” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Book Reviews / April 26, 2014

The cover art of this book gives a misleading impression of what kind of trouble the “troubletwisters” specialize in. The fact that the book actually does feature several tornadoes and a hurricane may add to that impression. So you may be surprised to learn that the term “troubletwisters” in this book does not have anything to do with cyclones, as such. Troubletwisters are kids who have started to manifest powers—powers that, if brought under control and properly harnessed, will enable them to serve as Wardens – specially gifted people who dedicate their lives to keeping the Evil (with a capital “E”) out of this world. More on that later. While they are still coming into their powers, troubletwisters have a tendency to cause unintended chaos and twist a little trouble into a big problem. Hence the name.

Book Review: “Darksolstice” by Sam Llewellyn
Book Reviews / April 25, 2014

The second book of Lyonesse concludes this most unusual variant of the Arthurian legend, based on the folklore of the author’s native Isles of Scilly, off the southwest tip of Britain. It follows up on “The Well Between the Worlds”, which seemed such an engaging and original work of fantasy that I had read half of it before I realized that the resemblance between its characters’ names and figures associated with King Arthur was more than a coincidence. Now on board with the secret, I read the second half of the tale and met even more familiar characters under a different guise. Amazingly, knowing what I already know from having read several tellings of the deeds of King Arthur and his knights, I didn’t know enough to spoil the plot of this book. I guess you’d have to grow up in the Isles of Scilly to know what to expect. Maybe even then the creative touches added by the author of the “Little Darlings” series, and of many other novels for adults and children, would be enough to make the story seem new, richly inventive, and full of surprises.