Mull, Brandon. Dragonwatch: A Fablehaven Adventure
March 14th 2017 by Shadow Mountain
ARC from Publisher; also available on Edelweiss
After saving the world in the Fablehaven series (has it really been seven years since the last one came out?), Kendra and Seth are back. This time, they find out that unless they are able to take over control of Wyrmroost, the dragons will escape and take over the world, since Celebrant, the dragon who is a caretaker, wants more freedom for both himself and his charges. With the forces of Fablehaven behind them, Kendra and Seth are able to impress Celebrant enough that they are made keepers. The road isn't smooth-- they have to find a scepter that goes along with the caretaker's medallion. It's a good way to get to know the various inhabitants of their new kingdom, but time is running out. Celebrant is bound and determined to get rid of them, and only Seth's inspired last ditch attempt keeps everyone alive to continue to work on the emerging dragon problem.
Strengths: Mull writes great fantasy books that are complicated enough for kids who adore fantasy but logical enough that I can generally remember the plots. His books are filled with amusing characters, but it never feels like there are too many of them, or that they are all the same. I adore Kendra while disliking Seth and worrying that he will ruin everything-- I wonder if boy readers are annoyed with Kendra and applaud Seth's habit of ignoring rules to good results! Even though fantasy is not my thing, I can definitely appreciate the craft that is evident in Mull's work.
Weaknesses: It's been 11 years since the first book came out. We really, really need a reissued hard cover set to replace the worn out volumes. Great series, but with this new book, demand will be high for the first series, and I'm circulating little piles of tape, glue and paper at this point!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Mull is the modern day equivalent of Susan Cooper or Anne McCaffrey. Classic stuff the readers are very passionate about.
Emerson, Kevin. Last Day on Mars (Chronicle of the Dark Star #1)
February 14th 2017 by HarperCollins/Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Liam and Phoebe's families live on Mars because problems with the sun made Earth uninhabitable. Now, further problems are causing everyone to evacuate Mars and move to yet another planet. Liam has never really understood his parents' longing for Earth, but as he and his friends are spending their last days on Mars, he starts to get it. His parents are working at figuring out the final kinks in crucial terraforming plans, so he and Phoebe are waiting to get on the starliner. Of course, they think it a good idea to go out in a solar storm, and see a strange observatory-like building on a hill. They've never seen this before, and their parents don't know anything about it. When Phoebe's parents want her to travel into the tunnels and open a valve, Liam goes with her. Like good space kids, they wear their space suits and take along provisions, which is a good thing when they are caught in a quake. They barely survive, and Phoebe is injured. Luckily, they have enough communication left that Liam's robot, JEFF, manages to send out a skimmer to them. They are saved from falling off a cliff, but instead of going right back to base, they investigate the observatory and find a dead alien with a wrist device. When they do get back, things are very fraught, and it's unlikely that they will make the starliner. Liam's mother gives him an important data key, but he and Phoebe end up trying to catch the starliner with JEFF's help. Evil is afoot, however, and mysterious forces are working against Liam and Phoebe's attempt to catch up with the rest of the Martians.
Strengths: This was a nice mix of Dystopian elements and space adventure. The explanation for why the group had to be on Mars, and why they had to leave, was well done and not belabored. The projects that the parents were working on sounded interesting; like with MINRS, I sort of wanted to know more about the community BEFORE everything started to go south. The frisson of romance with Liam and Phoebe was nice. This is clearly the start of a series.
Weaknesses: Wasn't quite understanding the evil aliens and their plans. There were brief chapters devoted to explaining some of what they were up to, but I would almost rather have had that discussed briefly as they ran into the aliens.
What I really think: Good space adventure. While this is not a hugely popular genre, there are always die hard fans, so I like to add good titles to the collection.
McMann, Lisa. Dragon Captives (The Unwanteds Quests)
February 7th 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
This book is set ten years after the final battle that has left Alex's hand damaged, and his ability to do magic compromised. Aaron is married and has a young child. Thisbe and Fifer are really wanting to do magic, but Alex is worried about them, not even letting them enroll in magic school with their friend Seth. When a dragon, Hux, shows up, Alex finds out that the dragons are outgrowing their wings, but are also enslaved by the Revinir, evil ruler of the former dragon land. The children decide they can prove their worth by going with Hux and making the wings for the dragons, but run into problems. They meet a slave named Dev who helps them, but also lets them know horrible things that are going on in the land to which they have traveled. Can they help the dragons and manage to get back home to Artime?
Strengths: My students adore these. They are very long but fairly easy fantasy stories that seem to appeal to strong elementary readers. The print is large, the plots are easy to follow, and even though the original series is seven books long, readers actually seem to read ALL of the books. I'm sure they will be glad to have a second series with new characters.
Weaknesses: This is fairly standard medeival-ish dragon fantasy. Nothing really fresh, but since no one reads McCaffrey anymore, I guess we could use some new dragon fantasy books.
What I really think: Not my cup of tea, but definitely a serviceable, popular series. Foughts almost broke out over who would get my ARC first.