Korman, Gordon. Criminal Destiny (Masterminds 2.0)
Expected publication: February 2nd 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central
Eli, Tori, Amber and Malik have managed to escape from their "perfect" town of Serenity after uncovering information about Project Osiris. They head for their friend Robbie's boarding school, where they regroup and learn a little about the outside world. They also find out that the security forces from Serenity, the Purples, are on their tails. Thinking they will be safer in a big city, they head to Denver, where Amber tries to go to the police. This just alerts the Purples, so the others must free her. After spending a night in the home of people away on vacation, the group heads to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to try to locate the woman behind the project, Tamara Dunleavy, who has become a well known philanthropist. When they finally locate her, however, she wants nothing to do with them, although she does leave her Bentley and some large wads of cash for them to use. Not knowing quite where to turn, the group returns to Serenity and find it deserted. They do some more research and decide that the best course of action is to locate one of the criminals from whom they are cloned and get help from him. A prison break ensues, and the group readies itself for book number three.
Like Kloepfer's Zombie Chasers or The 39 Clues Books, the big draw of this series is the travel and danger. There are lots of car chases, hotwiring, jumping from buildings into garbage, and a particularly harrowing incident involving a wood chipper. The fact that the group is being chased allows them the freedom to drive vehicles, eat junk food, and generally be free of adult intervention as long as they can elude it. Middle grade fantasy at its finest!
The characters all develop a bit more now that they are free of the constraits of their programmed culture. Malik seems to embrace his criminal destiny a little more than the others, and Amber and Tori seem determined to fight against it. All four miss the people they thought of as their parents, but also feel that Project Osiris was essentially wrong, and that their parents should pay for their involvement in it.
Korman, as always, writes a funny, engaging tale of tween empowerment that is sure to be a winner for just about anyone who likes a good cross country frolic presented with a large does of humor.
The adult in me wanted more of a plan-- the traveling about seemed a bit random and unfocused, and the decision to consult one of the criminal "parents" unwise, but this will not bother the target demographic!
Nielsen, Jennifer A. Rise of the Wolf (Mark of the Thief #2)
January 26th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
This sequel to Mark of the Thief finds Nic involved in chariot racing as a way to escape the demands of the Praetors, but when they demand the key to the Malice so that he can create a Jupiter Stone for them and allow them to fight against the gods, Nic knows that he has to work with Crispus, his sister Livia, and the love of his life Aurelia to keep Rome safe. Given the lack of books set in ancient Rome, and the interest that middle grade readers have in it, this is a good addition to any middle school library.
Okay, admittedly, I had a bad case of fantasy amnesia with this one. I read it, I really did, but there was a lot of overwrought back-and-forth that went something like this:
"Give us the key to the Malice, Nic!"
"But I don't know where it is, you mean Praetors!"
"Yes, you do! Give it to us!"
"No, I don't! And I don't know how the bulla works, either."
"Yes, you do!"
"No, I don't!"
(Nic, to himself)"I want to keep my mother, my sister, and Aurelia safe, so even though I don't have the key, I'd better find it. Oh, look! I have my very own unicorn! And I can do magic!"
As in Nielsen's previous books, Nic gets hurt a lot, doesn't know whom to trust, and isn't quite sure what he's doing. I lost track of why he was racing chariots, especially since I was pretty sure he was too young to do so. At 352 pages, this was on the long side, although it is certainly doable for students who like fantasy. It could have been shorter if Nic just sucked it up and didn't manage to get caught by the Praetors so many times. And I know he doesn't like Radulf, even though he's his grandfather, but tying yourself to the chariot is pretty stupid if your enemies are going to try to have you thrown out of the chariot.