by R.L. LaFevers, ill. Kelly Murphy
When Nathaniel Fludd is told that his parents are lost at sea, he is thrown into an uncertain world. Miss Lumpton, his caretaker, obviously doesn’t care for him and is all too happy to take the Tidy Sum the Fludds left for her and leave Nathaniel behind. Nathaniel now has to take his suitcase and go live with a distant relative, named Phil. Upon arriving at Phil’s house, Nathaniel discovers that Phil is a lady and that she is, like his parents were, a beastologist. Beastologists study and care for beasts that are either unknown to exist or that are thought to be extinct. It’s a dangerous trade, and one the timid and inexperienced Nathaniel is not sure he is suited for. Despite his doubts, he joins Aunt Phil on a beastologist errand. When Aunt Phil is detained, Nathaniel must learn to do an important beastologist task on his own. The book is illustrated with maps and drawings, as well as Nathaniel’s own sketches of the different beasts he comes across.
A promising enough orphan fantasy premise, but a pretty boring read despite its many plot developments. The writing style just gives this book such a slow pace. Parts of Nate’s adventures that seem like they should be thrilling have zero tension. I wanted to like it because it seems like a promising series and the covers look really nice. The amount of information held back–what happened to Nate’s parents, why didn’t he receive their letters, what was Miss Lumpton’s role in everything, who is working against Aunt Phil–makes the series somewhat compelling, but I can’t be bothered to continue.
The illustrations throughout make this book an approachable read for younger elementary kids, but I wouldn’t recommend it for kids looking for an action-packed adventure or those who are easily distracted from reading. More patient readers or kids who like their adventures gentle will enjoy this book, especially as a bedtime story.
by Seán Cullen
Brendan is your typical awkward teen. He gets pimples and has to wear braces… and he hears animals speaking to each other. That last detail is the newest one to cloud his life, and he believes it is a sign that he is going crazy. Until he learns that he is of course a faerie prince with immense power. The spell that has been protecting him all his life is starting to fade, and some evil faeries are trying to hunt him down so that they can recruit him to the dark side.
The book flows well enough and is a pretty good supernatural adventure. Some funny stuff about faeries vs fairies, plus a lot of Toronto-ness (if you’re into that sort of thing). I read it because the cover is cool, and I won’t be reading the second one because the cover isn’t cool and the story isn’t as addictive as other supernatural orphan stories.
Despite my faint praise, this book would still be a really good read for those who liked Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. It’s missing something I can’t put my finger on, but it’s still a good adventure fantasy. The Canadian setting might make it more interesting for Canadian kids as well.
by Robert Muchamore
James Choke is an ordinary 11-year-old with a few problems. His mum is an obese swindler who sells stolen electronics to the local soccer moms, and the other kids won’t stop hassling James about how fat his mum is. When James violently snaps at one of his schoolmates, causing her to get stitches, he lands himself in court. But his court visit isn’t until after he comes home one day and finds his mum dead in her favourite chair.
James gets put into a children’s home, and his sister Lauren has to live with her no-good dad. He falls into a rough crowd, and ends up attempting a liquor store robbery hours after his court visit. Shortly thereafter, he is recruited by CHERUB, an organization of child spies that finds crafty orphans like James and offers them an alternative to a life of crime. The training is hard, but James knows that if he quits, his life will continue to spiral out of control until he lands himself in jail.
This series is so much better than Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series. James is a more realistic character than Alex, and the other characters and all the plot twists are a little more grounded in reality. I’ve read nearly all the books in the series, and it seems to be far less problematic than other spy books I’ve tried. Where Alex Rider books come across as xenophobic and at times outright racist (Horowitz uses the term “Chinaman” in Snakehead), the CHERUB series actually includes gay people, women, and people of colour who contribute to the plot and are on the good guys’ side. I like that James isn’t perfect, and he isn’t just born with secret spy skills like Alex Rider is. I think the teens in this series are more realistic, and while the series includes progressive values the teens do not necessarily reflect them like characters in an after school special would. James gets pretty sleazy with the ladies and exhibits problematic behavior, but as in real life there are consequences. The worst cliché I see in CHERUB is the “environmental terrorists” trope that crops up a lot, but at least the main characters are sympathetic to environmental concerns, with one character even making a commitment to vegetarianism after a run-in with a PETA-like terrorist group.
These books are action-packed, gritty, and easy to read. Even though the main character is 11 when it starts, it is definitely more of a teen read because of the subject matter. They are perfect for older readers who just want something fast and fun and not too challenging, but at a teen level of maturity. Girls read these too and I don’t like gender stereotyping, but this is the ideal series for teen boys who aren’t usually into reading.
Rossamund is a boy with a girl’s name, who must travel from his orphanage to his post as a lamplighter. He encounters pirates, a magically-enhanced lady, and a bunch of monster creatures. That’s about it.
With a series name like Monster Blood Tattoo, I had high expectations for an action-packed adventure, but this book was so boring I could hardly get through it. The author spent years and years inventing the monsters in the book and creating a seamless magical world. It has been praised for standing out as an original fantasy series. The monsters are interesting, but Rossamund, the main character, is not. His journey from the orphanage to his work post is fraught with adventure, but none of it comes across as exciting. There are just too many things to describe, and the old fashioned England-ish setting doesn’t help hasten the pace. The book is a description of everything Rossamund encounters, but by the end of this sizeable tome I felt like nothing had been discovered. Also, there are over 100 pages of reference materials in the back. Yawn.
Probably a hit with Tolkien fans or anyone with a pre-80s attention span.
by John Flanagan
A good first book for a great, long series. Will, an orphan, must undergo a selection process in order to become an apprentice of some trade or other in his fiefdom. He desperately wants to be a soldier, but he is overlooked and Horace, the boy who bullies Will constantly, is chosen instead. Will has been chosen to be the apprentice of the mysterious Halt, the fiefdom’s ranger. Rangers are trained to be stealth protectors of the kingdom, and Will undergoes intense training to hone his skills in undetected movement, archery, and hand-to-hand combat. When an old enemy from Halt’s past re-surfaces, Will’s training is finally put to the test. Meanwhile, Horace has become the victim of bullies at Battleschool, and must learn how to thwart his foes without showing any weakness that might cause him trouble as a knight’s apprentice.
Honestly, the events of the first book seem boring to describe, as it involves a lot of realistic hard work and character development. Will shows a lot of promise, but he only becomes good at what he does by lots of practice. I thought it was a nice change from a lot of other books where the protagonist is “special” and comes equipped with more power than he knew he had. The mentor-mentee relationship between Halt and Will progresses as the series goes on and is really strong but not overly mushy. The books are dependably righteous adventure novels. Will never really fails or has too many moral quandaries, although he does later have to dig himself out of an accidental drug addiction.
Even though Will is 15 in the first book, a lot of younger kids will find him accessible as a character since he is pretty naive and immature. The way I sell these books to kids is by telling them that it’s set in the times of kings and castles, and a boy has to train as a king’s ranger, which is basically like a medieval ninja.