Sunday, April 6, 2014

Book 22: Gregor the Overlander

Gregor the Overlander by Collins is a delightful and imaginative children's tale. Eleven-year-old Gregor thinks that he is going to spend the summer stuck in New York City watching his two-year-old sister Boots while all the other neighborhood kids set off for camp. Then an ordinary trip to the laundry room changes everything as Boots falls into an air shaft with Gregor plunging after her. After a long fall, the two miraculous land safely in the Underworld where Boots is thrilled to meet a group of giant cockroaches. The crawlers take the two to an arena filled with the people and large bats of the Underworld who quickly escort them to the city of Regalia. Gregor's first attempt to return home comes to an abrupt end as he finds himself face to face with two very large rats, but his new friends quickly rescue him and return him and his sister safely to their city. The murder of the two rats is just the excuse that the rat king needs to declare war on the humans of the underworld. The only hope is found in a prophecy declaring that an overland warrior will lead an expedition whose outcome will determine the survival or extinction of the Underworld population. Whether he feels like a warrior or not, Gregor has no choice but to try and perhaps in the process even find and save his missing father.

After a string of books with some very dark villains, I was looking for something light and fun and picked Gregor the Overlander up to preread for my 9yo son. The tale is delightfully told with a mixture of action to move the tale along interspersed with humor (arising chiefly from the words and actions of the 2yo). I thoroughly enjoyed it and quickly assigned it to my son to read for literature in hopes of getting him hooked so that he'll want to read the remainder of the series himself. I would recommend this for ages 7 and up and am looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series in the upcoming weeks.

Book 21: The Prince of Mist

The Prince of Mist by Zafon is a supernatural tale written for young adults. The Carver family decides to move away from the current war to a village on the coast. The home that their father had purchased once belonged to a doctor whose son Jacob had drowned. What should have been a summer of exploration with their new friend Roland quickly takes a much darker turn. While their younger sister is in the hospital after a mysterious accident, Max, Alicia, and Roland slowly begin to uncover the secret of a magician known as the prince of the mist. Can they uncover the truth that the old lighthouse keeper is so desperately trying to hide? Is it even possible to stop the evil pact made by the doctor and save themselves?

An excellent read for those looking for a quick supernatural thriller. I would recommend it for ages 14 and up.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Book 20: St. Peter's Fair

St. Peter's Fair by Peters is the fourth mystery in the Brother Cadfael series. Under the leadership of a new abbot, Shrewsbury prepares to host their annual St. Peter's Fair, which bring in merchants from all over. Friction begins even before the start of the fair as the townspeople request that the abbey give 10% of their fees toward repairing the town, but their petition is refused. Some of the young men decide to take their plea directly to the merchants, who also refuse their petition. A fight breaks out, and the sheriff sends Hugh Beringar to restore order. That night, the daughter of one of the merchants comes to the abbey to report him missing. Beringar and Cadfael search unsuccessfully for the body, and Hugh takes Emma under his protection and leaves her in the capable hands of his lovely wife. The abbot not wishing any bad reflection on the abbey instructs Cadfael to keep an eye on Emma and the investigation to inform him of the developments. Then one of Emma's men is found bound in the booth, and the barge is searched. The chief suspect is cleared when another merchant is found murdered after his capture. Clearly, whoever is behind this is searching for something, but the lovely Emma continues to claim no knowledge of what could link all these events together. Can Beringar and Cadfael protect Emma when the murderer sets his sights on her?

St. Peter's Fair set in the unsettled time when both King Stephen and Empress Maud are claiming the throne of England is a tale of both murder and intrigue. An excellent follow up to the previous books in the series which I continue thoroughly enjoy and to recommend for ages 14 and up.

Book 19: Monk's Hood

Monk's Hood by Peters is the third mystery in the Brother Cadfael series. While Abbott Heribert travels to London to found out if he will continue as the abbot of Shrewsbury, the Bonels moved into one of the cottages of the abbey. Gervase Bonel is suddenly taken ill one night; and Cadfael arrives with another brother, recognizes that Bonel has been poisoned, and attempts to save his life. Unfortunately, the poison (monk's-hood) has been in his system too long, and the attempts to save his life are in vain. As he dies Cadfael recognizes that the source of the poison is of his own making for a topical treatment and reports this to the sheriff's sergeant. The suspicious immediately falls on Bonel's stepson; and while the sergeant goes to hunt for his suspect, Bonel's widow, who he recognizes as the woman he loved before setting off on the Crusades, pleads with him to help her son. For her sake and because the means of murder came from his own supplies, Cadfael investigates working around the obstacles placed before him by the imperious Prior Robert.

As with her other mysteries in the series, Monk's Hood is full of descriptive language, multiple plot twists, and the type of satisfactory ending that only Cadfael can achieve. I would heartily recommend this for ages 14 and up.

Book 18: Map of Bones

Map of Bones by Rollins is the second novel in his Sigma Force series. In a horrific heist, a group of men march into a cathedral in Cologne, Germany, kill the church members by some mysterious means seemingly contained in the communion bread, and gun down the remaining children and non-Catholics in cold blood leaving with only the bones of the Magi. The Vatican is in an uproar after the brutal attack and dispatches Vigor Verona as a representative with his niece Rachel, a lieutenant in Rome's carabinieri, to meet with a trio of Sigma Force agents led by Grayson Pierce. No sooner does the group begin its investigation at the cathedral than they are ambushed by members of the Dragon Court, who are responsible for the original massacre. The two sides race to uncover an ancient secret power to either save the world or enslave it.

Map of Bones is another action packed adventure from start to finish. The Dragon Court itself and the character of Raoul in particular are more evil and insidious than the Guild of book 1, so I won't be passing this series onto my teenagers. I would consider it appropriate for ages 18 and up.

Book 17: W.A.R.P.: The Reluctant Assassin

W.A.R.P. Book 1: The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer begins in London in 1898 where young Riley, an orphan, is apprenticed to a former magician turned assassin named Garrick. This is to be Riley's first job, and he has no doubts that refusing to obey Garrick and kill the target will mean his own death. As he approaches the old man's bed, Riley cannot kill him, and the man wakes. Garrick forces the knife in Riley's hand into the target and watches in amazement as both Riley and the man disappear into a cloud of orange sparks. The two reappear in modern London where scientist's son and 16yo FBI agent Chevron Savano are waiting. Riley is arrested on suspicion of murder, and Chevron is left in charge while the son and an elite FBI team return to 1898 to wipe down the scene. Riley warns Chevron that Garrick will come after him, but it turns out to be even worse than he expected. Garrick arrives with the memories of the scientist's brilliant son who died on the return trip. In an effort to escape Garrick, the two use a second pod to return to Riley's time; but Garrick manages to follow them. Now the two of them must work together to stop the murderer and save themselves.

W.A.R.P. Book 1: The Reluctant Assassin is an engrossing young adult science fiction tale with plenty of action, a hideously evil villain, and of course two quirky young protagonists with the unenviable job of trying to stop a man capable of taking down a team of specially trained FBI agents. I was looking for another author that my Riordan fans might enjoy, and I have found a possibility. I enjoyed the book enough that I'm going to try his earlier Artemis Fowl series later this month. This new series I would recommend for ages 14 and up.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book 16: Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by Allen is a reread from last year. In my previous review I discussed his 5 step system to getting a handle on all the open loops floating around in the mind. This time around I wanted to review his system to see what I had missed (I need to be more consistent with the review step) and to spend more time on his information regarding projects and longer term goals. For projects he recommends brainstorming all the outstanding projects and sorting them into a current project list and a someday/maybe list. Simple projects with only a few steps would then only require determining what the next action is and then placing that action on the appropriate calender space or action list. For larger projects he recommends visualizing what the desired outcome is and then brainstorming what steps are needed to get to that point in a mind mapping type of format. The mind map can then be used to determine what steps can be taken at the current time to move the project forward. Longer term goals can be handled in a similar manner.

I would recommend Getting Things Done for anyone looking for an intuitive system for staying on top of things either at work or at home. I'm still refining the process and putting parts in practice, but the parts that I do have in place are working very well.