Tag Archives: adventure

The Looking Glass Wars (#1)

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So. I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks because I was up north at my cottage, and the wifi was down. Talk about a champagne problem. I had to spend my time watching the kids swim while sitting on the dock, drinking wine and reading. It was tough. But it did give me some time to start working through my TBR pile!

Another retelling, this one of Alice in Wonderland. Full disclosure. I have never been the biggest fan of Lewis Carroll’s novel. It just never really grabbed my attention when I was younger, and I haven’t really felt the urge to revisit it now. So I am looking at Beddor’s story through new eyes. And I think it is the right way to read this novel, the first in a series of three.

7-year-old Alyss Heart, the heir to the throne of Wonderland, has just celebrated her birthday and is learning to control her powerful imagination. Full of mischief and fun, she uses her powers for amusement, dreading the day she will become Queen, and have to do all the boring stuff that goes with the wearing the Crown. But her peaceful life is disrupted violently when her estranged Aunt Redd and her Cat assassin attacks the Crystal Palace and destroys her future. Hatter Madigan, trusted Royal guardian and advisor, escapes through the Pool of Tears with Alyss to save her, but loses her in the time stream. After emerging through street puddle into Victorian London, Alyss fears she will never find her way back.

Purists will probably hate this book, but I didn’t. Beddor definitely takes liberties with the original (he starts by stating the Carroll got it all wrong) and adds a fantastical sci-fi element that held my attention.

The characters were good, if a bit underdeveloped. Although as this is the first book in the series, there is always room for that to change as the story progresses. The exception is Alyss. The story begins with her at age 7, but she seems to be written older, which was confusing at first. That problem is ironed out, and her true age matches up much more smoothly with her actions. The story takes place over more than a dozen years, with Alyss going through many changes beyond her control. Beddor handles the different transitions well, and Alyss’ final identity is strong and the natural conclusion to her difficult growth.

Hatter, the Cat, Dodge Anders, Bibwit Harte, are all recognizable characters, even as they take on fantastical new roles. I think Beddor assumed a bit too much for their background because they all appear fully formed, but they seamlessly fit into the story.

The political struggle and resulting war in Wonderland are just dressing for the main storyline. They are well done. But the main plot line, that of Alyss searching for herself and validation of her life will resonate with most readers. She fights a constant battle to remember who she is in the face of others denying her story, and she struggles to hold on to her history. Her loss of self hinders her ability to help her people win the war; the rebuilding of her identity is the lynchpin to the entire story.

What I think is absolutely outstanding is Beddor’s world-building. Our world is somewhat behind Wonderland in technology and unknowingly relies on the fantasy world for our innovation and progress. Driven by the power of imagination, Wonderlanders imagine everything from gas lamps and hot air balloons to internal combustion engines that are then transferred to our world through a series of crystals, where someone here “invents” them. Incredible!

This is a successful retelling of Alice in Wonderland. Again, not for the purists, but if you are looking for an action-packed, often gory look at the adventures, this is a good book for you. I am hoping the that few issues I found with the first book are ironed out with the next two.

The Looking Glass Wars was published September 26th, 2006 by Dial Books.

Nimona

 

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Dragons, magic, shapeshifting, feminism, diverse characters.  Author Noelle Stevenson has turned her brilliant webcomic into a full-length graphic novel, and if you haven’t read either yet, what the heck are you waiting for? 

Nimona and Lord Ballister Blackheart have teamed up as sidekick and supervillain.  “Teamed up” is a term used loosely here; did Blackheart even have a choice? Nimona, a kick-ass young shapeshifter, bulldozed her way in and forced him to take her on. Her impressive powers of shape-shifting, with the ability to turn into any living thing, left him little choice. Seriously, what would you do if you were suddenly faced with a talking shark? With breasts, no less? (No kidding, just one of the brilliant images in the book. It makes me giggle just thinking about it.)

Ballister is out to expose Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics for their villainous activities; Nimona wants to help him succeed.

But Blackheart has a secret and a problem. His heart is not actually black, it was just  trampled on, many years ago. And once upon a time, Blackheart would have been a hero. But mistakes and jealousy and misunderstanding took their toll, and he felt forced into the role of villain. Always with an empty space in his heart for the man he thought turned his back on him.

And the corresponding problem is Nimona’s mysterious past and a yen for villainy and danger. She wants to help Blackheart be unbeatable, and she’ll use any means at her disposal. It is a combustible combination.

This is a poignant, gleeful, violent, humorous, subversive, heroic, irreverent, action-packed graphic novel about friendship and love and redemption.

Nimona is a wonderful erratically unpredictable character with a backstory that is revealed piece by piece, with each new tidbit letting the reader in on more of her secrets and motivations. Her loyalty and devotion to Blackheart are heartbreakingly lovely, even though she sometimes expresses herself in ways most would find socially unacceptable.

The dynamic between Blackheart and Nimona is endearing and absolutely hysterical. His deadpan humour and her overeager belief in total annihilation work perfectly to create a relationship that leaves readers in stitches one page, and on the edge of their seats the next, with tears always a possibility.

That relationship between Blackheart and Goldenloin is wonderful. The story of two people who had jealousy and uncertainty break them apart (well, and an arm severing, with no subsequent apology or acknowledgement of guilt, which can put pressure on a relationship), but truth and goodness and acceptance and respect bring them back together.

The violence is quite graphic (no pun intended), but the novel also has great themes of acceptance and friendship and morality and good and evil, while remaining fun to read. This is a fabulous story that follows through to a great ending, with nothing Hollywood about it.  After you read it, you’ll want to rush over to Stevenson’s site and read more of her work.

Nimona was published May 12th, 2015 by Harper Collins.

The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica (series)

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The gorgeous covers of these books are reason enough to read the series. But thankfully, the story inside more than lives up to them. The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica is a complex and gripping seven book series that will immerse you in worlds you only dreamt of until now. Oh, and dragons. LOTS of dragons.

On a rainy night in London in 1917,  John, Jack, and Charles are brought together by the death of Professor Sigurdsson. He was the Caretaker of the Imaginarium Geographica, the atlas of every mythological and legendary land known. A strange little man named Bert, a traveler, tells the three that the Professor’s work is now passed onto them. He tells them of the mythical lands that exist in the Archipelago of Dreams that can only be reached by the Caretakers, aboard a Dragonship.

But now that they have accepted the role of Caretakers, John, Jack, and Charles learn that the Archipelago is in danger, and they must defeat the forces that threaten their worlds, both real and imaginary. And there will be a price.

The characters in this series are incredible. For a reason. Many of them are based in reality, and to come across Houdini and Twain and Poe and Conan Doyle alongside Mordred and Calypso and a talking badger will spin your brain. Pleasantly.

The mythology is layered and woven in such a way that the legends and stories that are so familiar become new and rich and surprising. There are nods to Greek and Celtic lore alongside references to American and British classics. Author James Owens borrows from these stories and creates a new saga wherein it makes perfect sense for King Arthur to meet Captain Nemo, and Circe to advise Tolkein.  Everything connects; the original texts are treated respectfully while adding new layers to allow the characters to fulfill their roles. Just as I think I can predict where the story will take me, Owens throws in a new twist and I am transported somewhere unexpected.

With Oxford Univeristy as the touchpoint, the Caretakers travel through time and space, and worlds overlap and change and move around, through mists and oceans and eons and dreams.

Instead of a map, The Chronicles is filled with illustrations scattered throughout the seven books that are detailed to the point of each being worth well more than a thousand words.

The Chronicles are truly pure fantasy, with adventure and dragons and magic and elves and trolls and knights and kings and goddesses and good and evil and wonderful imagination. And the plot is exceptional. Even though the places and images and storylines are familiar, there are unexpected adventures and connections that keep the reader off balance. The ending to the first book alone serves to emphasize the brilliance of the series.

This stunning series is an homage to the remarkable fantasy writers of our time, and those that came before. Filled with complex images and language, it can be read by any age. It may be intimidating for the younger reader, but as a read-along with mom or dad, they will be exposed to a wonderful world of dragons and magic and literature. I do think it isn’t the type of series you will want to binge-read, you need breaks in between books to really absorb the stories.

Here, There be DragonsThe Search for the Red DragonThe Indigo KingThe Shadow Dragons, The Dragon’s ApprenticeThe Dragons of Winter, and The First Dragon are all published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Unhooked

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Let’s get this straight right off the bat: Everything you have ever heard about Neverland is a lie. Peter Pan is not the good guy, fairies can be a b*tch, Captain Hook is hot, Neverland is a place to be avoided at all costs, and the Lost Boys kill for fun. As far as retellings go, Unhooked has a lot to offer.

Gwendolyn Allister has spent her life moving from one place to another.  Not just for the commissions her artist mother receives, but also because the unstable woman believes that monsters are hunting them. The past couple of years have been stable in Connecticut, with Gwen finally believing she would stay in one place for awhile, and her last year of school would be with her best friend Olivia.  And then her mom moves them to London.

Drizzly grey London is nothing like the city Gwen left behind, the dingy flat is nothing like the warm cottage back home, but she won’t be there long. Dark shadows kidnap the girls from their restless sleep that first night, and they are flown far from the city and into another world.

The good:

The characters. I like Gwen, even though, through no real fault of her own, she makes one disastrous decision after another throughout the novel. She has spent her life with her mother in ignorance, and it continues in the new world, with no one ever giving her enough data to make informed choices. But she seems to have a strong character and doesn’t take kindly to captivity or being kept in the dark. She is determined to save herself and her friend. There are times when she is a bit passive, out of character, but, for the most part, is strong.

Olivia, the Captain, Pan, Fiona, the Queen, and the boys are even better. Each individual has two sides. Good and evil sometimes change faces, and one cannot always be sure which is which.

The world building, the plot, both get an A++.  From London to Neverland, author Lisa Maxwell brings the scenery to life. London is grey and morose, Neverland is ever-changing and terrifying. You can hear the creak of the ship on the black water, feel the shaking of cannon fire, sense the grey mist enveloping you as you wander lost on the island.

The idea that the Captain and Pan are pawns caught on opposite sides of a more powerful and complicated war is fantastic. Gwen holds a power that can change their world, and the Dark Ones will stop at nothing to control her.

I love the story within the story at the beginning of each chapter. It isn’t obvious where it is going until the very end, but it never detracts from the central narrative.

The conclusion was a surprise and overall, well done, although it felt a bit rushed after all the suspense. And the epilogue wraps it up nicely.

The not-so-good:

Love triangles are not my favourite, but when well written can add to a story. I don’t even mind the occasional love-at-first-sight moment, it can be fun.  But please, for the love of all that is holy, who writes a scene where a girl is mysteriously kidnapped by flying monsters she had no idea even existed and one of the first things she does after almost dying and being held captive against her will by a one-armed pirate is to notice how hot her captor is and how he makes her feel all warm inside? SERIOUSLY? At least find out what side he’s on. Or, you know, his name. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome, without the extended period of confinement. Sheesh. I was so frustrated I put the book down for three days.

I also did not like the direction that Gwen and Olivia’s relationship took; what started out as such a strong friendship crumbled over a boy. Yes, there is dark magic involved, but it seemed too easy.

Overall, though, this is a wonderful retelling with a lot of new ideas and directions in it.  The good definitely outweighs the bad, in my opinion. It is interesting how good and evil are never quite what they appear to be at first glance. Anyone can read it, and there is enough action and adventure to counteract the initial off-putting (to me) romance.

Unhooked was published February 2nd, 2016 by Simon Pulse.

Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den (Simon Thorn #1)

 

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Doctor Dolittle was my hero as a child; I wanted to meet the pushmi-pullyu, the giant snail that took him across the ocean, Polly, Jip, Gub-Gub, and all the other animals that filled Hugh Lofting’s pages. And although my dog is very chatty, I have never figured out how to talk to animals. But Simon Thorn knows.

12 year old Simon lives in a small Manhattan apartment with his Uncle Darryl, who cares for him while his mother is away. She travels for her work as a zoologist, and Simon stays behind to go to school and have friends and a normal life. Except that he has only one friend (a mouse named Felix), is bullied constantly, and oh yeah, he talks to animals. And they answer him.

After getting in a fight on the first day of middle school, Simon returns home to find his mom has dropped by for one of her rare visits. Which is weird enough. But then she is kidnapped by rats, and Simon discovers that he is not alone after all – he is an Animalgam, someone who can not only talk to animals, but can also shape-shift into one at will. He is descended from the bird line of the five kingdoms that make up this secret world.

Ok, FUN. This is a wonderful story.

Simon is a genuinely likeable boy who finds a circle of friends in his new life who all strike the right chords. Jam, the friendly, nerdy, dolphin shape-shifter, Ariana, the kick-ass punk black widow spider, and Winter, his first ally in the bird kingdom. Although they are not all outcasts, they are different and individual enough to stand out from the rest of the pre-teen shape-shifters.

Like any 12 year old, Simon makes questionable decisions, constantly. His life turns upside down in the space of a day, and he doesn’t know who to trust. He tries to go on instinct, but that doesn’t always work out for him. (Although his solution to dealing with the bully that torments him daily is one that I think a LOT of people would hope to pull off.)

I like that the adults, so often one dimensional in middle-grade books, play a front and centre role but do not take away from the kids’ presence.  Uncle Darryl, Malcolm, the Alpha, and Orion are all very strong characters in the story, and are integral to the plot.

Which is, unfortunately, a bit flat, as the conflicts between the kingdoms and origin of the Predator are not really explained clearly. But given that this is the first of a series, there is plenty of time for development. And that criticism aside, there are plenty of moments that will have you on the edge of your seat, then falling off it with laughter.

Author Aimee Carter has done a great job with the world-building. Perfect. Beneath the towers of Manhattan and expanse of Central Park lies a whole other world for the Animalgams to be themselves, even as they can move amongst the people in the city up above. The different sections for the five kingdoms are vividly described, and I am still feeling a bit creeped out about the insect habitat. Thanks for that.

The cliff-hanger at the end is a great set-up for book two, and will have the reader yelling “I KNEW IT!” (Yes, me. I did that.)  There is definitely room for the story and the characters to grow and develop, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den was published February 2nd 2016 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens.

Kane Chronicles (series)

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This series is really good. But it is the only series by Rick Riordan that I can’t fall over myself gushing about. The problem? It is good, and with Riordan, I expect GREAT.  After writing the Percy Jackson series, everything else is held to that standard.

Brother and sister Carter and Sadie Kane are strangers to each other.  After their mother’s death, Carter travelled the world and studied with their Egyptologist father Julius Kane, while Sadie lived with her grandparents in England. On a visit to that country, Dr Kane treats the teens to night research visit to the British Museum, to see the Rosetta Stone. Except he accidentally releases the Egyptian god Set, who in turn banishes him to oblivion, and forces the children to flee for their lives. 

Just to add insult to injury, the gods of Egypt are ALL waking and Set has decided that Kanes have to be destroyed. As the siblings embark on a quest to save themselves and their family, they discover their association to a secret ancient order reaching back to the time of the pharaohs.

The good:  Riordan has a fabulous talent for resurrecting the myths and gods of ancient lands, while sneakily educating the reader. While he does, on occasion, take liberties with the actual myths, these books should be required reading in the school system. They are a great introduction to the different mythologies, and encourage the reader to learn more.

Riordan’s mix of mythology and reality makes the magic believable. He is a rare storyteller.

His trademark humour is evident throughout the novels, with hilarious chapter titles, witty sarcasm and spot-on observations. “I mean, when someone says I forbid it, that’s a good sign it’s worth doing.”  What teen doesn’t know that?! His sly references to the Percy Jackson universe are hilarious, with crossover characters popping up at the most unlikely times.

The not-as-good:  the second and third books, The Throne of Fire and The Serpent’s Shadow, were not as solid as the first book of the series, The Red Pyramid. By far the strongest of the three, it carried the day with a gripping set up, detailed character description, action, and fascinating mythology. After that, however, the story slowed, and it seemed that the author was careless with it in places.

I didn’t find that the character development advanced as it usually does with Riordan’s other books, maybe due to the fact the story takes place over a much shorter period of time. Mind you, Riordan’s portrayals of the gods are hilarious. And I do think Sadie carries the story much more than Carter; she has the best lines and the more interesting story arc, and the more intriguing love interest. Carter is a bit of a snooze.

While I didn’t fall in love with this series as I did with Percy Jackson, it is still Riordan. Which means good storytelling, very enjoyable, and can be read by any age. If nothing else, you and your children will have an adventure, maybe spark an interest in Egyptian mythology, and have a good time doing so. And if you haven’t yet read any Riordan, start with this series, then move on to the Greeks.

The Kane Chronicles series is published by Disney Hyperion.

Seven Realms (series)

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I don’t think this high fantasy series gets enough love. It has everything an adventure craving reader can ask for – magic, action, battles, underdogs, evil wizards, princesses, queens and chivalry. To name just a few.

Han Alister is a reformed street lord, now living in the mountains of the Fells. It is hard living, but he does what he can to support his family. Times are tough. The only thing of value he owns are the thick silver cuffs he’s worn since birth. The trouble is, he can’t sell them, as they are impossible to remove. Magic is at play.

After confronting three young wizards causing mischief in the mountains, Han’s life, and that of his best friend Dancer, changes. One of the wizards is the son of the High Wizard, and Han relieves him of a powerful amulet during their confrontation. Wizards use their amulets to store power, but this is no ordinary one. It once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world millennia ago.

Raisa ana‘Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has just returned to court after three years of life in the mountains, living with her father’s people and learning the ways of the Clans. As heir to the Gray Wolf line, Raisa wants to unite her people and have a peaceful reign, like the legendary warrior queen Hanalea. Her distant ancestor saved the world and eradicated evil. But evil has returned, and Raisa’s mother, Queen Marianna, sees a different path ahead.

This is a powerful and complicated series.

LOVE Han Alister. The former thug can handle himself, but has a heart of gold for his gang and his friends and family.  He has magic and he has ambition, and he must learn to channel them both. Princess Raisa is a kick-ass heroine, with good intentions and a good vision for her people. But she, in turn, is governed by tradition and restrictions, and has to learn to work within a system that has grown ever more corrupt.

All the secondary characters; Dancer, Averill, Bird, Queen Marianna, the High Wizard, Micah, Cat and all the street thugs, Amon, Raisa’s best friend and bodyguard, and so many, many, more, are so well thought out and distinct throughout the story.

The world building is spot on for a fantasy novel. The wilds of the Fells, the dark streets of the city, the schools for wizards and warriors, and the politics within and out of the castle are all equally fascinating and received equal attention from the author. There are no weak spots that I could find!

The plot is fantastic, but the first book takes time to really get started. Don’t give up. You will find yourself totally immersed in the world Chima has created. The clash between the different forms of magic – the green of the Clans and the high magic of the Wizards – has to take a back seat to the threats from outside forces. Raisa’s biggest challenge is to unite her people, and the twists and turns she must navigate to do so are impeccably written .

And, because you know I am a sucker for a good cover, LOOK AT THESE. They are STUNNING.

The romance between Raisa and Han is definitely a big part of the story, but the series is so much more than that. Anyone can read these books, and they will appeal to boys and girls alike. There is enough kick-ass mystery and intrigue and sword fights and magical battles to grab everyones’ attention.

The four books of the Seven Realms series (The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne and The Crimson Crown) are published by Hyperion Books.

Madly

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The first book in the Potions Trilogy is told from the dual point of views of Samantha, apprentice alchemist of the famous Kemi family, and Princess Evelyn, heiress to the crown of Nova. Also mistaken drinker of her own illicit love potion. You know that can’t be good.

And it isn’t. She falls in love with someone eminently unsuitable, and is distraught when the feelings are not returned. Not to mention the fact that love potions were banned for a reason; they are dangerous. She is in danger of losing her life, and control of her magic.

The King summons alchemists nationwide to develop a cure, offering a prize of magic and riches and fame for saving the princess. Teams of competitors, including the king’s evil and banished sister, travel the world in their search for the unknown ingredients in a no-holds-barred dangerous hunt. And, no pressure, the quest is world news, all over social media.

Sam enters the competition, knowing that she has what it takes to save the princess, and win the hunt.  In the process, she will show the world that the old ways of alchemy, that natural ingredients and pure instinct and training, are superior to the synths of Big Pharma.

Sam makes a GREAT protagonist. She is a teen struggling to find herself, and her place, in the changing world. Driven, smart, sweet, she is close to her whacky family and friends, and loves her heritage and history.

Princess Evelyn is an 18 year old in the throes of unrequited love, and acts just as rationally as you would predict. So not.

The rest of the cast of characters are just as alive and distinct as Sam and the Princess. I, apparently, have a thing for crusty, stubborn granddads. (See The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Fourteenth Goldfish). If you’d ever met mine, you would totally understand. He was awesome. And so is Ostanes. Former alchemist to the royal family, Sam’s granddad refuses to accept the new ways, and trains Sam in the old. And he is, of course, right.

The world building is fabulous. It is, essentially, the modern world, with everyday technology like phones and tv and social media, with magic overlaid. Everything is believable, from the ferocious but lonely abominable snowman, to the magical and pure unicorn. Magical mermaids and ivy that tries to devour bemused passers-by. Travel through mirrors. And cell phones that don’t work in the mountains. I love the little details.

The fast-moving plot was a great mix of adventure and magic and just plain fun.

If I have an issue with the novel, it is the romance. I thought it unneeded. Although I can understand why author Amy Alward went with it, it seemed a bit forced, that she had to make it happen in order to steer her story. I think she could have found another way, or just developed it differently. It wasn’t organic. I LOVED the princess’s romance, however! Loved it.

As well, I do think the story ended a bit quickly and neatly, but given that it is the first in a trilogy, and Alward didn’t stick me with a cliffhanger, I am ok with it.

Madly is a fun, fast-paced fantasy novel that’s purpose is to entertain, and that is precisely what it accomplishes. Any age can read it, and should, for the escapism and giggles it will give you.

Madly is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Armada

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Nerd alert, people. You are about to be clubbed over the head with ’80s pop-culture references.

Zackary has lived his life with no father. Xavier Lightman died, age 19, in a sewage plant explosion when the boy was just a baby. At age 17, Zack is obsessed with gaming, and his father’s short life, and is not really interested in his own future.  His mom wants him to figure out college; he wants a life full-time at Starbase Ace, the local gaming hangout.

He spends his nights climbing the world rankings in his favourite game, Armada, shooting down alien invaders and kicking extraterrestrial ass, and thinking of nothing more than adding to his kill total. Until the day he thinks he sees an alien scout craft out his high school window.  Until the day he finds out that his game is actually reality, and he has been training his whole life to defend Earth from a malevelant non-humanoid species. Until the day he goes into battle.

OK. Ender’s Game came first, and therein lies the conundrum. It was better. Not to say that Armada was bad, I liked it. But it was just not as well done.

The good.  The tech idea was cool.  Reverse engineering alien technology? Now we know where the iphone came from. Busted, Apple.

I liked Zack. He seems like a typical teen, obsessed with gaming, ready and willing to put off writing an essay or cleaning his room so he can squeeze in another battle.  He watches his ranking rise, and takes pride in his Top 10 score.  He is self-admittedly obsessed with his long-dead father, and watches his old VCR tapes of such movie classics as 2001, E.T., Star Wars and Trek, Top Gun and Iron Eagle, quoting dialogue and comparing storylines.

I didn’t really warm to the other characters too much.  They didn’t seem overly authentic; his mom is still in love with a man she met as a teen, and was married to for maybe a year, she is also a gamer and lets him play as much as he wants, his friends don’t seem to have any depth, his classmates don’t have a lot of context, and his late dad harboured anti-government conspiracy theories involving alien invasions.

The pacing was also off. Timing didn’t seem to add up – the whole second half of the book takes place in less than a day, but too much happened, too slowly, for it to work for me.

All in all, the story felt forced.  Cline wanted to have a deep moral lesson, while getting in as many gaming and movie references as possible, which slowed the action and detracted from the actual plot.

I really really wanted to love this book, but couldn’t get there. It was good, not great, and it could have been great. There is potential. The first half built up to something the second didn’t deliver on.

Totally appropriate for all teens, but you may have to be a geek of a certain age to fully appreciate all the pop-culture references.

Armada is published by Crown Publishing.

Young Bond (series)

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Have you ever wondered how James Bond became 007?  How the man became that intense, unknowable, international man of mystery?  (And yes, I am currently picturing Daniel Craig in Skyfall, after he jumps into the moving train car and adjusts his shirt cuffs….  sigh…) Where was I?  Oh. Right.

Charlie Higson has taken on the monumental task of telling us how a boy became the legend.  And he does a GREAT job of it in the Young Bond series. Titles like Silverfin, Blood Fever and By Royal Command, to name just a few, evoke the mystery and intrigue of a classic Bond thriller.

Set pre-WWII, the novels set up a strong back story for the Fleming novels, far exceeding my expectations.  I find that prequels can sometimes seem forced, but that doesn’t happen here. The series takes place over James’ years at Eton, beginning at age 13, right up until he is recruited by Her Majesty’s Secret Service in his late teens.  There is the conflict with fellow students and authority, along with excellence in sport, all of which gives us a glimpse of the strength of his future personality.

Everything we already know about Bond is nicely set up: his likes and dislikes, love of family and loyalty to friends, his penchant for fast cars and beautiful women, and the experiences and details which  forever shaped him into Fleming’s top spy.

Also included are the details that make a Bond story a Bond story: mad villians with their henchmen and their fiendish plans, (all with awesomely evil names like Count Ugo Carnifex and El Huracin and Graf von Schlick), crazy car chases, international subterfuge, and even the precursors to the “Bond girls”, independent and beautiful teenage girls, suitably named Wilder, Vendetta and Precious. (Unlike his future interactions with women in the movies and Fleming novels, all action is PG-13.)

The series was sanctioned by the Ian Fleming estate, so you know from page one that you are getting unadulterated Bond. The pacing is everything you expect from a Bond mystery, the action is detailed, and the character development perfect.

These are a must read for every Bond fan, as well as any teen, boy or girl, who dreams of international intrigue, and doesn’t mind a bit of death and gore.  Well, more than a bit.  But done with the elegance you expect from 007.

The Young Bond series is published by Puffin Books.