Jobin, Matthew. The Skeleth.
May 10th 2016 by Philomel Books
Copy provided by the publisher
Having concluded their epic battle with The Nethergrim, Edmund, Katherine and Tom are separated and trying to get on with their old lives. Katherine is told that since her father was the trainer of warhorses but is now gone that she can't stay in that position. Lady Isabeau decides that Katherine will have to work as a skivvy in the palace, which doesn't utilize her skills at all. Edmund's parents are still running their inn and are more supportive of his experiments with magic, which is especially important as he works to conquer the Nethergrim and the new threat-- the Skeleth, which turn ordinary mortals into possessed fighting machines. Tom is trying to rescue Tristan and make his way back to Lord Elfric, but with the Skeleth, as well as the evil Lord Wolland, this is not easy. It doesn't help that the Nethergrim sneaks into Edmund's thoughts and tries to control him, or that Elli, a girl who is also interested in wizardry, is distracting him from both the threat of the Nethergrim and from his affection for Katherine. While the crew, aided by the return of John Marshal, wards off the latest threat, there is still plenty of tension in the kingdom to warrant a third book.
Strengths: There will always be students who thirst for medieval fantasy/adventure books. Maybe not every school year; after a good ten years of light interest, I have a lot of students wanting Tolkien read-alikes. This has all of the basic elements they crave-- fighting, intrigue with kings and lords, horses, and magical evil threatening to destroy the world. The good thing about these fantasy books is that they are a good investment-- T.A. Barron's twenty year old copies of The Lost Years of Merlin and a 33 year old copy (as well as a 20th anniversary edition which is now 13 years old!) of Diane Duane's So You Want to Be a Wizard are still getting good use. Oh, and a 43 year old copy of Beckman's Crusade in Jeans. I make sure we use the taxpayer's money well!
Weaknesses: Nothing terribly fresh, and the use of somewhat stilted, medieval language wore on me. My students will probably like that. (E.G. "What folk had sought to build upon the ruins of the Nethergrim's domain washed away like sand at a riverbend." page 214, ARC.)
What I really think: The ARC that was sent to me has been passed from student to student, and the readers are loving it.
Flanagan, John. The Ghostfaces (Brotherband #6)
14 June 2016 by Philomel Books
Copy provided by Edelweiss Above the Treeline
The crew of the Heron are beset by a horrible storm that lasts weeks and wears on the ship and the crew. When they finally find land, hours away from running out of water, they are grateful to be able to dry out and get their bearings. They set up shelter, Lydia goes hunting and is able to bring back food, and Thorn, Hal and Edvin plot their return to Hallasholm. After the Herons kill a bear and rescue to native children, they are introduced to the children's tribe. Mohegas, or the Mawagansett tribe, knows the Common Tongue because a man named Orvik, who is also from the Herons' country, washed ashore years long ago and settled in with the tribe, teaching his language to them. This makes it easy for Wulf and Ulf to have a flirtation with twin maidens, and for Stig to fall in love with a native woman, Tecumsa. The two groups get along well, especially since the Mawagansetts are threatened by a violent tribe who paint their faces white, with black around their eyes like skulls. While they haven't attacked in a number of years, they are in the area attacking other tribes, and when they finally come to the Mawagansetts, the Herons help defeat them. However, the losses are heavy, and the Brotherband sets sail for home with heavy hearts.
Strengths: Flanagan is a facile writer, and he creates characters that are easy to love. What's the biggest hardship in the New World? NO COFFEE! It's the force of these characters and their appealing world that make me want to curl up with a cup of tea and immerse myself in the stories, and why my students read and reread these regularly.
Weaknesses: I have to deal with a lot of boys who have very bad Book Hangovers and refuse to move on to other books. Also, ever since Charlotte's Library mentioned the preponderance of food in the books, it's bothered me a tiny bit, even though I still enjoy reading about their repasts.
What I really think: There would be a huge protest in my library if I didn't buy this one! I have FOUR copies of the first several Ranger's Apprentice books, and they regularly fall to little pieces. Hugely, hugely popular series, and something that even I look forward to!