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Fantasy Book Review: Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill

Jett is wandering the Old West, in search of her brother who was lost during the Civil War. But to keep safe out on her own, she disguises herself as a young man. When she enters this latest town, Jett is expecting trouble, but not an army of invading zombies. Jett manages to escape and happens upon Honoria Gibbons, an eccentric young female inventor, and White Fox, a white man raised in a Native American tribe. Gibbons and White Fox don’t really believe her account, but help her investigate anyway. And when they witness the zombie horde the next night, they realize the mindless undead are being controlled by someone – a madman with a dark purpose.

Jett is the central character, and most of the suspense is built around her and her point of view. Both Jett and Honoria Gibbons are fun characters who reject the stereotypical woman’s role of the time period. Jett thinks she has no choice but to pretend to be a young man in order to get by on her own. And Gibbons has obviously been given more freedom to be who she wants to be, regardless of what others think. And while White Fox has an interesting backstory, he takes a backseat to the strong female characters.

Lackey and Edghill have created a fun and unique mash-up of Western, zombie and steampunk that I was excited to get my hands on. And I wasn’t disappointed in the least. As with most zombie novels, there is plenty of heart pounding and intense suspense. Though, the gore and violence was certainly minimal in this story marketed for young adults. Instead, the story focuses more on mystery and adventure – which I thoroughly enjoyed. Solid characters, a clever genre blend, and a fast-paced intriguing story made Dead Reckoning irresistible.

SciFi Book Review: The Lost Code

The Lost Code

The Lost Code: Book One of the Atlanteans by Kevin Emerson

The polar ice caps have melted; the oceans have risen; and the Earth is now a harsh, barren place. Pockets of societies either live below the surface or in domes with controlled environments. When Owen Parker attends Camp Eden, he quickly learns there is more going on behind the scenes than everyone is letting on. The shields on the dome seem to be degrading more than they’re told. And mechanical bugs with cameras seem to be observing everything. But Owen’s biggest shock is when he drowns in the lake, but somehow survives after 10 minutes without air. Owen’s body is changing and adapting, and he’s not the only one. And, as he discovers, the key to humanity’s survival lies within Owen’s own genetic code.

Emerson’s far future dystopian world is grim and desolate. Eden is an eerie and mysterious place, holding dark secrets and a vast conspiracy. Owen is an awkward teen who doesn’t excel at much and is often forgotten or ignored. It serves him well when his changes start occurring. And he also catches the eye of the lovely Lilly, who brings in a sweet romance facet to the story.

While the story starts out as a dystopian scifi adventure, it changes course to more of a fantasy hybrid with the Atlantean aspect. There are some confusing times when Owen is experiencing his changes and suddenly some mysterious, unseen “technicians” talk about him in his head. That was never fully explained, and would have been better to leave out completely unless the reader is to believe Owen is somewhat mentally unstable. Otherwise, The Lost Code was a fast-paced, fun-filled adventure with plenty of twists and surprises. With a pulse-pounding, climactic ending, readers will be itching for the next book in this new series with plenty of promise.

Fantasy – Fiction Book Review: Dark Frost

Dark Frost by Jennifer Estep

Gwen Frost is back at Mythos Academy after a ski trip adventure that led to the imprisonment of a Reaper spy. She continues to interrogate him with her psychometry magic – a magic that not only gives her the history of an object but people as well. In fact, she learns that her gift has the potential to affect people in a much more direct way. Meanwhile, Gwen knows that the Reapers are looking for the Helheim Dagger and will stop at nothing to find it. The Helheim Dagger is the only thing that can unlock the evil god Loki’s prison. So, Gwen makes it her mission to find where her mother hid the dagger before they do.

As if her problems with the Reapers weren’t enough, Gwen isn’t sure what the status is with her relationship with Logan Quinn. They have a complicated relationship. He is holding back a secret. And any time Gwen touches him, she sees things about him that she has no control over. Then, after her best friend’s powers manifest, their relationship becomes strained as well when Daphne becomes distant. Gwen is a fantastic character, sympathetic and easy to like. She’s a reluctant hero who doesn’t understand her own potential.

Dark Frost is the third novel in the Mythos Academy series. Full of action, mystery, and suspense – this fast-paced adventure was impossible to put down. Amidst teen angst and drama, this fun YA fantasy is not to be missed. Both young adults and older adults alike will enjoy. As with most of Estep’s novels, there are plenty of plot twists and surprises – and this was no exception. I’m a huge fan of this exciting and highly entertaining series.

Mystery – Audio Book Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins: Rebel Fire

Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins: Rebel Fire by Andrew Lane

Sherlock Holmes is excited to have his brother Mycroft home for a visit. But when Mycroft pulls Sherlock’s tutor Amyus Crowe aside for a private conversation. Sherlock discovers that Mycroft’s visit wasn’t just to see him. News has come that presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth may be not be dead, but hiding out nearby in England. Despite warnings from both his brother and Crowe, Sherlock decides to investigate. His latest adventure takes him on a wild ride across the ocean to America where Sherlock uncovers a massive conspiracy.

Fourteen-year-old Sherlock still has a lot to learn. But he’s brave and extremely resourceful. Once again, his adventurous spirit gets Sherlock and his friends in all sorts of trouble. With plenty of danger, suspense, and intrigue – this fast-paced thrill ride is less of a whodunit mystery like Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and more of an Indiana Jones-style adventure. I listened to the audio version of the story (thanks to Macmillan Audio), and noticed there was quite a bit more gruesome violence than most young reader novels. I doubt it would be as cringe-worthy just reading a novel, but when narrated by the talented Dan Weyman the action is much more engrossing. Once again, Weyman does an excellent job of capturing the diverse characters and their accents. Though, his female American accent is still a bit muddled. Sherlock Holmes fans will get a kick out of this creative new series with eccentric characters, exciting exploits, and a bit of history blended for an extremely enjoyable story.

Sci-Fi – Fiction Book Review: Predator’s Gold

Predator’s Gold by Philip Reeve

Tom and Hester have been living aboard the airship they confiscated. But danger soon follows after they pick up a passenger in a hurry to leave the area. When they come under fire, they seek refuge in Anchorage, a city that barely survived a devastating plague. Anchorage heads for America, a dead land rumored to be green again. But they have unknown stowaways on board, as well as several people who want to stop Tom, Hester and their passenger at any cost.

Predator’s Gold is the second book in the Predator Cities quartet. Hester once again shows her darker side in some of the decisions she makes in response to jealousy. Tom is still a good natured young man, who gets caught in a love triangle. And the relationship between Tom and Hester is certainly put to the test. Technology isn’t so much the focus in this story, as character development and relationships. This installment in the fantastic steampunk series is another fast-paced adventure with plenty of suspense, drama, and intrigue. I can’t get enough of Philip Reeve’s stories.

Predator’s Gold will be redistributed by Scholastic Press on June 1, 2012.

Fantasy – Fiction Book Review: Enchanted

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Sunday is the youngest of seven sisters – all named after days of the week. All of her sisters have special gifts, but Sunday’s is the most dangerous as whatever she writes down in one of her stories comes true. And the results are rarely predictable. Sunday loves to write stories, but her family rarely has time for her. So when she happens upon an enchanted frog in the forest who actually wants to hear her stories, they instantly become friends. Each time that she leaves him to return home, she gives him a kiss in hopes he returns to his human form but nothing changes. After time their friendship grows, and one day after kissing him goodbye, the frog changes back into his original human form – Prince Rumbold. Unfortunately, Sunday’s family holds the prince responsible for the death of Sunday’s eldest brother. But Prince Rumbold has fallen in love with Sunday, and will try to win her heart. But both of their families hold powerful secrets that may stand in the way of their happiness.

Sunday is a likeable girl with a good heart. Her romance with Rumbold is straight out of a fairy tale – instant and all-consuming. It doesn’t work in real life, but it somehow makes sense in a fairy tale. Kontis has brilliantly woven together many well-known fairy tales into one fantastic story that is both inspired and riveting. Readers of all ages will enjoy this eclectic and exciting novel. Full of magic, mystery, and colorful characters – Enchanted is a heartwarming and beautiful tale. This is definitely one I’ll want to read again and again.

Fantasy – Fiction Book Review: Bitterblue

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Since the death of her parents eight years ago, Bitterblue has been the Queen of Monsea. Buried in paperwork, she longs to see more of her city and hear stories from local taverns. But following the reign of her evil father Leck, Bitterblue must deal with the aftermath of his mind control over the entire realm. With everyone around her, including her closest advisors, acting a bit crazy at times, Bitterblue decides to get to the truth behind what all her father did during his reign. But someone is desperate to keep the secrets hidden and will even murder to keep the past buried.

Bitterblue is an extremely likeable young woman, with a good heart eager to make her country whole again. Though, she never quite feels like a queen – as she doesn’t command enough authority or assertion. She’s meek and humble – which is great for a storybook character but not believable as queen. I enjoyed her friendship with the two thieves she meets while exploring the city on her own and in disguise. Though the romance with Saph never comes close to the level of the main characters in Graceling and Fire. Which worked here. There was too much conspiracy, danger and confusion going on for her to form an actual relationship with someone like Saph and have it be rational. Bitterblue puts her country and its people above everything, even her happiness at times.

Fire (book 2) seems to stand apart a bit and was somewhat of a prequel to Graceling (book 1). And Bitterblue (book 3) is a direct sequel to Graceling. It may seem confusing to those that haven’t read them! Yet by the end of Bitterblue the storyline of Fire is woven in wonderfully. This YA fantasy is an epic adventure with complex codes, mystery, and suspense. The colorful characters and fast-paced story was thoroughly enjoyable and captivating. Bitterblue is a fantastic conclusion to an inspired trilogy.

Fantasy – Fiction Book Review: Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

Jessica Packwood spots a mysterious stranger on the way to school one morning. Lucius Vladescu has arrived from Romania claiming Jessica is his betrothed. And a vampire princess. Jessica thinks he’s crazy, until he makes a miraculous recovery after getting kicked by a horse. But by the time Jessica realizes her feelings for Lucius, it might be too late. As a malicious classmate has already claimed Lucius for her own. Jessica must get Lucius back on track and marry him in order to stop a vampire war and save her people.

Jess and Lucius have a fun chemistry. Jess is attracted to him, but his bizarre behavior and talk of vampires make him seem a bit too insane. Then there’s the part of being betrothed that Jess rebels against immediately as well. Jess is likeable and relatable. I liked that she doesn’t fall head over heels with Lucius immediately. And the book Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions that he gives her is just too funny. In fact, I would have loved to see more excerpts from the guide come into play. The humor really sets this vampire romance apart from other YA fantasies. Fantaskey blends vampire romance with a fairy tale-like reluctant princess that I thoroughly enjoyed. Full of drama, laughs, romance, and suspense – I flew through this surprising and entertaining read.