Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee (Rick Riordan Presents)

Dragon Pearl (Rick Riordan Presents)

Yoon Ha Lee, Author

Disney Hyperion, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Brother and sister, Space adventure, Korean Mythology, Magical creatures, Ghosts, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Min comes from a long line of fox spirits. But you’d never know it by looking at her. To keep the family safe, Min’s mothers insists that none of them use any fox magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. She dreams of joining the Space Forces like her older brother, Jun. Together they dream of seeing all of the Thousand Worlds and to find a way to help their own neglected, dust-ridden and impoverished planet, Jinju. 

When a special investigator arrives at Min’s home and informs her family that Jun is suspected of deserting the Space Force with other cadets to go search for the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is very wrong. Jun wound never desert his battle cruiser, Pale Lightning, even for a powerful mystical object.  Min has only one option — to search for Jun. Using her fox-magic, she uses her shape-shifting and Charm casting abilities to navigate gamblers, pirates, vengeful ghosts and sneak onto find her brother’s ship. 

 What to like about this book:

This is the second Rick Riordan Presents novel I’ve reviewed (even though I didn’t read his series.)  The blurb I remember seeing for Dragon Pearl was “space opera meets Korean mythology.” This pretty much encapsulates the book.  It isn’t contemporary, but crafted out of Korean mythological themes. The mythology is never explained in this compelling story, because it is the the foundation for the world and characters.

Dragon Pearl is high adventure with a lot of risks. The world-building is seamless. Min is a courageous character dedicated to finding her brother and clearing his name, while risking her own life at the same time. Her fox traits (like heightened hearing and scent recognition) are an immense help to her. And she is clever with charms that distract and manipulate people. There are many unexpected plot twists in Dragon Pearl and a special ending that surprised me. I love not being able to guess the ending and won’t give away any SPOILERS.  

Kudos to Yoon Ha Lee for the way she handles gender variances as an accepted fact of life. Cadets in the Space Force wear pronoun pins that tell them how to refer to each other. Lee also addresses racism through the tension between the supernatural beings, like the dragons, goblins, tigers, and foxes.

I recommend Dragon Pearl to lovers of science fiction, fantasy, mythology and space adventures. It will transport you to a world far beyond your imagination. I hope there is a sequel.

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean American who grew up in both Texas and South Korea, learning folktales of wily foxes, shape-shifting tigers, and benevolent dragons. Yoon was inspired to write about foxes in space because everything is better in space — except the ice cream. Yoon is also the author of the Machineries of Empire trilogy: Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, and Revenant Gun. For more information, follow Yoon on Twitter @motomaratai. 

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Unlocked by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Unlocked

Shannon Messenger, Author

Aladdin, Fiction, Nov. 17, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Fantasy, Comprehensive guide, Novella, Magic, Abilities, Magical Creatures, Evil, Relationships, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Sophie Foster is regrouping — and Keefe is recovering — after the battle in Loamnore. And now, devastating discoveries threaten to destroy everything they’ve been fighting for.

Answers have never been more elusive — or more needed — and each new challenge drives deeper wedges between allies, friends, and enemies. Impossible choices lie ahead. So do necessary sacrifices — if Sophie and her friends are willing to make them.

Told through the perspectives of both Sophie and Keefe, this newest chapter in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series is packed full of hard truths, new powers and game-changing tsits — and that’s not all!

Unlocked Book 8.5 offers a comprehensive guide to the world of the Lost Cities, including never-before-seen artwork, a map of the Lost Cities, character profiles, world details, quizzes, and Iggy coloring page, and elvin recipes. Peek into the Council’s top-secret Registry files, as well as Keefe’s lengthy Foxfire disciplinary record and Sophie’s equally long medical report — and so much more!

Why I love this book:

Fans will find this book different from Shannon’s first eight novels. Unlocked actually gives readers a nice break to peer more deeply into all of the action and details of the first eight novels in greater depth. I find Unlocked a refreshing break to let my mind catch up before Shannon releases the conclusion of the series in Book 9 next fall. I’ve often wondered how she managed to keep all of the intricate details and plots straight in her mind. Unlocked will do the same for readers! The information is enlightening and fun.

The first two-thirds of the book is informational and full of secrets, profiles, information on the Council, the Black Swan and the Neverseens. There is a section on all the intelligent species, culture and their relationship with the elves.  And there are beautiful colorful illustrations of the main characters and eight significant scenes from each of the first eight books followed by a commentary of Keefe’s memories of the major events. What surprised me the most was the youthfulness of the elves — even though readers know that elves live many centuries — it still surprised me to see that the adults looked like they were in their early 20s and 30s. In my mind, Councilor Bronte is ancient — but he’s not.  My favorite illustration is of Flori under Calla’s Panakes tree.

The last third is a 200-page novella that focuses on Sophie and Keefe and is written in alternating voices. The novella picks up after the ending of Legacy, when Keefe’s mother-of-the-year, Lady Gisela, exposes him to a powerful energy with the hopes of triggering dangerous abilities within him. Actually I like this stand-alone novella and see how important it is for readers to hear directly from Keefe about what has happened to him, his fears, concerns and his decisions for the future. That is all I am going to reveal about the novella, as there are many who are reading their holiday copies of the book. I will add that the novella will make global readers eager for Book 9. You know Shannon couldn’t end the novella without one huge cliffhanger! And she did so with a big smiley face!

So while we read, Shannon is masterfully writing and plotting the finale. Unlocked has been an ambitious and important undertaking. But It sure is a handy guide for what is to come!

Resources: Visit Simon and Schuster for a free downloadable curriculum guide.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she learned — among other things — that she liked watching movies much better than making them. She studied art, screenwriting, and film production, but she realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning middle grade series Keeper of the Lost Cities, as well as the Sky Fall series for young adults. Her books have been featured on multiple state reading lists, published in numerous countries, and translated into many different languages. She lives in Southern California with an embarrassing number of cats. Visit Shannon at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Twist by Sarah Cannon

Twist

Sarah Cannon, Author

Feiwel and Friends, Feb. 11, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Monsters, Fantasy world, Magical creatures, Creativity, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Eli has a dream. He’s going to be the next Stephen King, and he’s just created his best monster yet!

Neha has a secret. Her notebook is filled with drawings of a fantasy world called Forest Creeks, and it’s become inhabited by wonderful imaginary creatures. But her new friends are in danger . . .

Court has a gift, both for finding trouble and for stopping it. And when she accidentally ends up with one of Neha’s drawings, she quickly realizes that the monsters raiding magical Forest Creeks are coming from Eli’s stories.

When these three creative kids come together, they accidentally create a doorway from Neha’s sketch book of Forest Creeks into the real world. Now every monster that Eli ever imagined has been unleashed upon their town!  Only Eli really knows what his monsters are capable of doing. The kids must band together to save their town and a fantasy world from horror-story monsters that come to life.

Why I like this book:

Sarah Cannon’s novel, Twist, is an imaginative, scary and offbeat adventure story. Readers who love dark humor and wacky storytelling are in for a treat! There are quirky main characters they’ll root for and monsters lurking on every page. The story is fast-paced and combines a spirited narrative with clever wordplay. Fans of Cannon’s first novel, Oddity, will cheer for Twist.

I marvel at Cannon’s ability to build fantasy worlds with a strong realistic “twist.” The standout characters, Eli, Neha and Court are kids with real problems. They are a diverse  group of students who deal with their own inner monsters: bullies, social anxiety and regular middle grade angst. But they are also very creative artists and writers, who realize that they have to work together to stop the mayhem they’ve released on their vulnerable town and Neha’s fantasy world, without the help of adults. Court is the problem-solver. There are other memorable characters — both human and magical — who contribute to the story.

The plot is dangerous and the tension palpable. Eli’s writer brain knows his monsters,  especially Howler, who is murderous and has an evil glint in his eye. And there is Lichenthrope, who is designed to lie flat and undetectable in the forest until someone walks over top of him. Eli also knows exactly when the monsters will attack, so he has to act fast. But Neha’s adorable and mischievous Creeps are invading the town and must be located and protected from the monsters. The friends divvy up groups of Creeps and sneak them into their homes for protection. More mayhem! Time’s running out on their mission is to restore order.

Cannon’s story ending allows readers to imagine what happens next.  OR, it may leave the door open for a sequel. I’ll let readers make their own conclusions.

Sarah Cannon, author of Oddity and Twist, has lived all over the US, but right now she calls Indiana home. She has a husband, three kids, and a misquided dog. Sarah hold a BS in education. She’s a nerdy knitting gardener who drinks a lot of coffee and eats a lot of raspberries. She is probably human. Visit Cannon at her website. There is a study guide for the classroom.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Legacy by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Legacy, Volume 8

Shannon Messenger, Author

Aladdin, Fiction/Fantasy, Nov. 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Fantasy, Magic, Abilities, Magical Creatures, Evil, Relationships, Friendships

Synopsis:

Sophie Foster wants answers. But after a liftime of lies, sometimes the truth is the most dangerous discovery. Even the smallest secret comes with terrifying new responsibilities.

And Sophie’s not the only one with blank spots in her past or mysteries surrounding her family. She and her friends are part of something much bigger than they imagined — and their roles have already been schosen for them.

Every clue drags them deeper into the conspiracy. Every memory forces them to question everything — epecially one another. And the harder they fight, the more the lines blur between friend and enemy.

Illusions shatter — and Sophie and her friends face impossible choices — in this astonishing eighth book in the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

Why I like this book:

Shannon Messenger is a superb storyteller. Her writing is powerful and richly textured.  Her settings and magical world building in Legacy continue to be vividly creative and seductive. Her plots are thrilling and DANGEROUS.  Once you begin Legacy, you will be drawn into her magic until you have read the nearly 800 pages. And when you reach the last 100 pages, you’ll want to slow down because you don’t want the story to end.  Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, as does the book’s ending. And yes, adults enjoy her books too.

Like other reviewers, I don’t want to give away any spoilers for those who haven’t read their Christmas copy or are just beginning the series — like my great granddaughter who’s on Volume 6. So my review will focus on my observations.  I will say that the verdict is still out on Sophie’s relationship with Keefe and Fitz. And both relationships are very important and different, providing a certain amount of support and stability for Sophie.  However there is a lot of drama and adventure in Legacy, and more reveals to come in Unlocked, Volume 9, that may leave us all speechless.

Even though the books are known for their magic, there really is a lot of realism in Legacy and the series. I don’t know why it took me a while to realize it, but Legacy brought the realism more into focus. Yes Sophie is the Moonlark, who’s DNA is genetically engineered to give her certain powers. But she is also human and makes big mistakes. She has flaws, stumbles, misjudges, and disappoints, but she always picks herself up and doesn’t give up.

Sophie realizes some flaws in her abilities and she asks Mr. Forkle and the Black Swan team to reset her abilities, a huge risk to her life. The adjustments enhance her abilities. Another major character undergoes a resetting, but I won’t give that away.

We see Sophie and her friends, Bianca, Fitz, Keefe, and Dex, Tam and Lihn maturing and trusting in each other’s abilities — even though one member is forced to join the Neverseen enemy.  I was delighted to see characters we haven’t seen or heard a lot about in earlier books, take more prominent roles — like Stina and Maruca, who were once at odds with Sophie. Their confidence is growing and it has opened the door for strong teamwork to form. We also see the parents, the Black Swan, and the Councilors taking a huge step back and trusting Sophie and her friends. This may be a build-up for the finalé next year.

And, yes there is one HUGE reveal in Legacy that jolts Sophie and we won’t know how that works out until Unlocked is published November 17.  But there also is some happy news with a  birth.  So in Volume 8, we are beginning to learn some secrets that will have to find resolution at the end. Legacy did advance the story for me.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she learned — among other things — that she liked watching movies much better than make them. She studied art, screenwriting, and film production, but she realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning middle grade series Keeper of the Lost Cities, as well as the Sky Fall series for young adults. Her books have been featured on multiple state reading lists, published in numerous countries, and translated into many different languages. She lives in Southern California with an embarrassing number of cats. Visit Shannon at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.