Review: The Stowaway by R.A. Salvatore & Geno Salvatore

Title: Stone of Tymora Volume 1: The Stowaway

Author: R.A & Geno Salvatore

Publisher:  Mirrorstone

ISBN: 978-0786952571

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

From the author of more than a dozen New York Times best sellers and his son, comes the first installment of a brand-new fantasy trilogy written just for young readers…
Barely a teen and already guarding a secret that could jeopardize his young life, Maimun is marked for death. With the help of a mysterious stranger, the boy escapes his village and flees out to sea, stowing away on the pirate hunting ship, Sea Sprite, where he comes across a most unlikely ally: the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden. With a half-demon determined to destroy him, and a crew of sailors resentful of the trouble he’s caused, Maimun must find the courage to prove his worth, both to his friends and to himself.
Nearly two decades ago, R.A. Salvatore introduced the world to Drizzt D’Urden in a series that has since become a fantasy classic and a consistent presence on best seller lists. Now, for the first time, Salvatore partners with his son Geno to craft a brand-new story just for young readers, featuring a cameo of the most beloved fantasy character of all time.
For young readers seeking the next great fantasy saga or for long-time fans who can’t miss any installment in the Drizzt saga, this book delivers all the action, intrigue, and magic you’ve come to expect from the Salvatore name.

Review:

I have to admit that when I first saw this book, I wasn’t so enthused about diving right into it.  I have read books by R. A. Salvatore, and they haven’t been favorites of mine.  I finally picked up The Stowaway, the first book in the Stone of Tymora series, and I was pleasantly surprised.  This MG read is fast paced, exciting, and fun.  Now I am eager to read more in the series!

Maimun has had a troubled young life.  Orphaned as an infant, he finds himself on the run after the death of his guardian, desperately fleeing from a demon who is determined to catch him.  He must trust his life with a stranger, a stern man who expects him to always strive to do his best.  Much of the book is spent on the high seas, so in addition to Maimun running away from the demon, he is also trying to dodge pirates and a very unpleasant troll.  The tension is kept high through the entire book, as the twelve-year-old struggles to stay alive.  Most of his difficulties are caused by the mysterious jewel he was given by his guardian – it seems like everyone wants to get their hands on it, especially the demon!

Maimun is very resourceful, and extremely lucky as well.  He has faced more life or death situations than most adults ever will, and he’s managed to survive each time his life was threatened.  There are some very scary creatures out to get him, and though he is terrified of them, he finds the courage to stand up and face his would-be assailants.  As he moves from one death defying experience after another, he becomes more and more determined to learn who he is, who his parents were, and why Asbeel is so intent on capturing him and his black jewel.

This book will appeal to MG boys with its rapid pacing and nonstop excitement.  I am looking forward to reading the next volume, and learning more about Maimun’s mysterious past.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Aliens and Vampires, Oh, My! A Peek Inside A Practical Guide to Vampires and A Field Guide to Aliens

 

Title: A Practical Guide to Vampires

Author:  Lisa Trutkoff Trumbauer

Publisher: Mirrorstone

ISBN:  9780786952434

Title:  A Field Guide to Aliens: Intergalactic Worrywarts, Bubblonauts, Sliver-Slurpers, and Other Extraterrestrials

Author:  Johan Olander (Author, Illustrator)

Publisher:  Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books

ISBN: 9780761455943

I love these guide books, and derive enjoyment just flipping aimlessly through the pages.  I keep them on the coffee table, so that when I’m cooking dinner or waiting for something, I can just sit down for a few minutes and read a section or two while I wait.  What I find amusing is that Dean has found himself glancing through them, too, and he will even point out some interesting vampire or alien factoids.  Usually with a laugh, but I find it interesting that he will take the time to leaf through the books at all!

Both A Practical Guide to Vampires and A Field Guide to Aliens are attractive hard covers, with a wealth of information about their respective subjects. Though both are slender volumes, they cover the topics at hand with a surprising amount of depth.  Want to know where a vampire lives, how it travels, or how it fights? Look no further.  A Practical Guide to Vampires is full of vampire insight, with the material presented in an engaging manner that will compel readers keep turning the lavishly illustrated pages.  These Mirrorstone guides are packaged so attractively that it is hard to resist them.

A Field Guide to Aliens drills down and presents its subject just as thoroughly.  The material is presented more whimsically, with language and illustrations to match. Full of warnings and tips just in case you happen to have a run in with an alien, this is another entertaining and visually appealing introduction to the mysterious beings lurking among us.  I enjoyed the textures of the book, too; the author has combed the world for first hand accounts and sketches from eye-witnesses, and it gives the reading experience an added dimension.

With their popular subject matter and brightly illustrated pages, both of these books provide a fun outlet for a little downtime.

Review copies provided by publishers

Monster Slayers by Lukas Ritter MG Novel Review

 

Title: Monster Slayers

Author: Lukas Ritter

Publisher: Mirrorstone

ISBN: 9780786954841

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When vicious, dog-headed gnolls kidnap everyone living in the small village of Hesiod, only Evin and his fighter friend Jorick manage to escape. With help from an ancient guidebook of magical beasts called A Practical Guide to Monsters, the two boys and a new friend–elf wizard Betilivatis–must trek through ancient ruins and face one menacing monster after another in order save their families.

But Evin soon realizes that not everything is as it seems. Someone–or something–has taken leadership of the gnolls and has dangerous plans for the kidnapped villagers. Betilivatis often disappears mysteriously and has strange conversations with someone only she can see. And Evin is having unusual dreams of a place he’s never been, a place that feels more and more real with each passing day.

The pace never falters in this page-turning adventure, as Evin, Jorick, and Betilivatis bravely battle gnolls, a chimera, an ormyrr, and a lich, and it ends with a shocking twist that will make readers want to start the story all over again.

I was pleasantly surprised with Monster Slayers.  This is the first book in a new series based on A Practical Guide to Monsters, and it was a fun, fast-paced read.  Perfect for the start of the summer reading season. 

Evin longs for adventure, but after a band of gnolls attacks and destroys his village, he starts wishing things weren’t quite so exciting.  Everyone in the village except Evin and his best friend Jorick have been abducted, and now the two boys must quickly rescue their friends and family.  Before the gnolls eat them all!  Talk about scary! 

Along the journey, Evin and Jorick meet up with a plucky elven wizard, Bet, who decides to accompany them and help them in their quest to save their families.  As they move from one dangerous encounter to the next, Evin begins to grow suspicious of Bet; who is she, really, and why does she want to help them?  What he uncovers is a plot that could destroy the lands he thinks he’s defending, and leave him a blood sacrifice for an evil, power mad wizard!

Though at times the plot devices were a little too convenient, the blistering pacing doesn’t allow much time to question them. Evin and Jorick are quickly initiated into the terrors of being warriors, where death or dismemberment are only an instant away.  They must also shoulder the burden of saving their families, after they turned tail and ran away during the gnoll attack.  With Bet to there to back them up with her magical powers, the three form a tough team, and they are ready to tackle all adversaries to save their friends and family.

I didn’t see the twist at the end, which left the door open for another journey with Evin and his friends.  During the course of their adventure, the three developed a friendship that seemed natural, despite their differences.  When they discover that they have been pawns from the beginning in a very dangerous game to change the structure of the world as they know it, they quickly set aside their squabbles so they can make things right again.   They inadvertently unleash some very, very nasty monsters that quickly take advantage of their mistake to prey upon helpless humans.  It is only right that the three shoulder this burden, too.  Instead of running away from the consequences of their actions, they own up to them, and agree to make them right. 

Monster Slayers sets a blistering pace from the first page, and never slows down.  Not without its flaws, this is still a great summer read.  Action!  Adventure!  Monsters!  The book has it all, in spades!

There is a role-playing game based on the book, Monster Slayers: The Heroes of Hesiod, and you can learn about it here.  Everything needed to play the game is available for download, except for a pencil and dice.  Oh, and a couple friends to go exploring with.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Still Sucks To Be Me by Kimberly Pauley YA Novel Review

 

Title:  Still Sucks To Be Me: More All True Confessions of Mina Hamilton Smith, Teen Vampire

Author: Kimberly Pauley

Publisher: Mirrorstone

ISBN: 9780786955039

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

With vampire boyfriend George and best friend Serena by her side, Mina thought she had her whole life—or rather afterlife—ahead of her. But then Mina’s parents drop a bomb. They’re moving. To Louisiana. And not somewhere cool like New Orleans, but some teeny, tiny town where cheerleaders and jocks rule the school. Mina has to fake her death, change her name, and leave everything behind, including George and Serena. Not even the Vampire Council’s shape-shifting classes can cheer her up. Then Serena shows up on Mina’s doorstep with some news that sends Mina reeling. Mina may look a lot better with fangs, but her afterlife isn’t any less complicated!

In this eagerly awaited sequel to the popular Sucks to Be Me, Kimberly Pauley addresses many of her fans’ most pressing questions (Will Serena become a vampire? What happened to Raven? What’s next for Mina and George?) with signature humor and breezy bloodsucking style.

This sequel to Sucks To Be Me weighs in every bit as good as the introductory novel.  At the end of the last book, Mina and her boyfriend, George, had both turned and become members of the vampire society.  This installment picks up pretty much where the previous one ended, with Mina still trying to get a handle on being a vampire.  There are a surprising amount of rules to obey, and the Vampire Council calls all of the shots.  Mina’s family is treading on thin ice because her parents kept Mina’s existence a secret,  and now the Council is in a tizzy because Mina turned without the proper paperwork being filed before hand.  Ugh, there’s even red tape when you are undead!

Mina’s life gets turned upside down again because the Vampire Relocation Agency decides that her family has outstayed its welcome in their current town, and abruptly moves them.  This involves faking their deaths and giving them shiny new identities.  Mina is not so thrilled to be yanked away from every thing and every one she loves, and when she learns that LA doesn’t stand for Los Angeles – it stands for the Louisiana – she is even less happy.  Her family is going to be resettled in a tiny Podunk town with plenty of cow pastures and corn fields, and not much else.  Talk about a teen’s worst nightmare!  The nearest mall is even a long, long drive away!

Kimberly Pauley infuses into the sequel the same light tone and sense of humor that made the first book so enjoyable.  Mina’s inquiring mind keeps getting her into hot water, and with George AWOL, she’s less than enthusiastic about the family’s new digs.  She misses her old home, she misses George, and most of all, she misses her best friend, Serena.  Being the new girl in a tiny little high school isn’t much fun, either, because everyone scrutinizes everything she does.

Still Sucks To Be Me wraps up some of the lingering story lines from the first book, and the ending was much more satisfying.  There’s lot of action and danger, and even a hot new guy to drool over.  Though I was left content at the conclusion, I would be more than happy to spend more time with Mina again in the future.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

A Quick Look at A Practical Guide to Monsters by Nina Hess Book Review

 

Title: A Practical Guide to Monsters

Author: Nina Hess

Publisher:  Mirrorstone

ISBN: 9780786948093

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

How do you trick a troll? Do vampires sleep? Why worry about yuan-ti? Just in time for Halloween, this lavishly illustrated guide showcases the spooky, unexpected, and always fascinating world of monsters!

I checked this out of the library because I received a review copy of Monster Slayers by Lukas Ritter, a companion novel to this book.  In the novel, the hero relies on A Practical Guide to Monsters to help him save his family after they are kidnapped by evil monsters.  I wanted to take a look at the monster guide before I read the novel.

This monster compendium is packed with colorful illustrations of monsters, grouped together roughly by type.  With such chapter headings are Viperous Villains,  Mammoth Monsters, and Creepy Crawlers, the manual offers up factoids about a bevy of fearsome creatures.  Each monster is accompanied by an at-a-glance box highlighting height, weight, diet, and habitat, along with helpful information and advice should you happen upon one of the beasts.  The guide book was compiled by Zendric, a High Wizard, and left for his students to study when he is suddenly called away on urgent business. 

Reading through the book brought back happy memories of paging through the D&D Monster Manual when I was younger.  A Practical Guide to Monsters doesn’t share the wealth of beasties, but I have to admit that it does one-up the Monster Manual because it contains all of those gorgeous, full-color illustrations.  There are drawings of monsters, their lairs, weapons, and even monster-fighting armor.  This is a very attractive book that will appeal to kids of all ages who want to increase their knowledge of fantasy creatures.

Grade: B+

This book was rented from my local library.  Support your library!

Gold Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham Novel Review

Title: Gold Dragon Codex

Author: R.D. Henham

Publisher:  Mirrorstone

ISBN: 9780786953486

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Unlock the secret of the gold dragon…

When the blue dragon Lazuli threatens to destroy Sandon’s village of Hartfall, Sandon vows to locate the legendary gold dragon, once Hartfall’s sworn protector, and convince it to return. Sandon finds the gold dragon’s lair–only to stumble on a secret that throws everything he thought he knew about his home and his family into question. Filled with everything readers love about dragons–power, action, and intrigue–this tale shows what one boy can accomplish when he finds the strength of a dragon lies within himself.

This next installment of the series inspired by The New York Times best-seller A Practical Guide to Dragons shows just how much a young boy can do when he realizes that the strength of a gold dragon may lie inside himself.

I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this book.  I was expecting a fantasy setting teaming with action, adventure, and dragons.  While not exactly swarming with the mighty winged beasts, Gold Dragon Codex does offer up a fast-paced tale of boy’s determination to save his home from an evil dragon.  When you are only fourteen, that is a lot harder than it sounds, but once Sandon has made up his mind to act instead of sitting idly by while his subjects are terrorized by a blue dragon, he never backs down.  It is Sandon’s stubborn refusal to give up, even in the face of such overwhelming odds, that made me keep turning the pages.  I could not wait to discover if he would be able to keep pushing against all of the closed doors that he encountered, to finally achieve his goals.

Sandon’s father is the Baron of Hartfall, but his holdings have fallen on hard times.  There is a dragon demanding a monthly tribute that has all but bankrupted the kingdom, and the people are on the verge of starvation.  If they don’t hand over the tribute, the dragon will have the few fertile fields left scorched and ruined.  Bandits are preying upon the populace, and things are tough for everyone.  When a scruffy soldier is mistaken for a bandit, Sandon has his father grant him succor.  It is Kine’s arrival that finally pushes Sandon into action.  He believes the man is a knight, and that together they can rouse the slumbering gold dragon who has protected the barony for generations.

The story took off for me after Sandon and Kine try to awaken the dragon.  There’s a huge uptick in the action, and the stakes become very, very high as Sandon tries to protect his people and also tries to puzzle out the mystery behind his mother’s death.  Lives hang in the balance, and through it all, Sandon finds the courage and the resourcefulness to remain true to his goals.  He remains steadfast, even as he watches his world crumble around him.  It is his bravery, amid the ever increasing chaos, that will stay with me long after finishing this book.

While I wasn’t terribly disoriented by picking up the series near the end, there were times when I was a little confused about the framework the story is built around.  Some of the background details about the dragons and the world they live in weren’t totally clear to me.  It looks like the other books in the Codex series are stand alone adventures, so I wonder if the world building and background details are contained in A Practical Guide to Dragons?

For a quick read full of mystery and suspense, Gold Dragon Codex offers up action, danger, and a very likable protagonist.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by publisher