Northrop, Michael. The Final Kingdom (Tombquest #5)
March 29th 2016 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Alex wakes up in a jail, being watched over by the evil minions of the Order. Since he has just found his mother, he wants to make sure she's okay. Luckily, Ren is nearby and manages to break out of her cell. The two also find Luke and decide he is now trustworthy, so let him out. Once they have Dr. Todtman and Dr. Bauer, they have to find a way out of their prison tomb, especially when they come across Alex's father, who is now a Death Walker and who plans to use his army of the undead to attack New York. Clearly, the kids need to get the book of Lost Spells back from the Order, but that won't be easy, especially since armies of mummies keep popping up at the most inconvenient moments. Using their power as amulet keepers, Alex and Ren manage to get the book, but they still have to travel to the Metropolitan Museum in order to finally put the Order to rest... and not everyone in their group will survive.
Strengths: Egyptian mythology, running around Cairo, lots of action, fun characters, tweens saving the world-- this has everything a perfect middle grade fantasy book needs. It even has great sound effects during the many fights: "Fuhhh-SHOOOOP!" is one of my favorites, and there was an especially brilliant one for the sound of glass breaking that I forgot to bookmark. Northrop does an excellent job on whatever he writes, so while I enjoyed this series, I'm excited to see what he comes up with next!
Twenty years ago, this would have been published as an 800 page young adult book, and only the most dedicated readers would have picked it up. Part of me would prefer that, but the packaging is rather brilliant. Middle grade stories under 200 pages do best, and these are available in inexpensive paper-over-board bindings that beg to be picked up at the grocery store or at a book fair for a gift for Groundhog's Day for an avid tween reader. The publishing schedule is also brilliant, with all of the books coming out within a year.
Weaknesses: Paper over boards. My biggest pet peeve. I tried taping some, but the tape peels at the edges and gets weird. There's just no way to keep these in good shape, which irritates me. If it's Wimpy Kid, it doesn't bother me, but when it's a series I would like to see have some longevity, I'm irked.
What I really think: Buying and keeping until the series is a pile of dust on the shelves.
Book of the Dead
Valley of the Kings
Schroeder, Lisa. The Girl in the Tower
March 29th 2016 by Henry Holt
E ARC from Netgalley.com
I am REALLY conflicted about this book. I adore Schroeder's work, both her MG and YA stuff, but I was seriously creeped out by this. It seems like a book aimed at the 3-6 grade princess book readers, but I'm not sure what the message is supposed to be. Definitely take a look at this-- it's intriguing-- before purchasing.
Violet and her mother have been separated from Violet's minstrel father by the evil queen Bogdana. Bogdana just wants to be beautiful, and to fulfill a prophecy, she is keeping Violet until she is old enough to contribute a hair to a spell to make Bogdana beautiful. Violet's mother tries to make her time in captivity as amusing as possible, and is helped by the servants, Maggie and George, who make a special garden for Violet to spend time in so she gets fresh air and sunshine. Eventually, Bogdana finds out all of their secrets and makes her move-- she gives Violet a choice: leave her mother and be adopted as princess, and her mother will go free, or the two will spend their days in the dungeon. Violet makes the difficult decision, trying her best to get messages to her mother. In the end, things end happily for everyone but Bogdana, who turns out to have cast a large variety of evil spells in order to get her way. Luckily, she doesn't.
On the bright side, this ends happily, and Violet is surrounded by a community of people who care about her. All of Schroeder's books are well written, and this has a very classic, fairy tale like feel to it. There was just something about it that made me uncomfortable. As I said, take a look at this one and decide for yourself!