Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Game of Stars

Dasgupta, Sayantani. Game of Stars (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #2)
February 26th 2019 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Young Adult Books Central
Kiran has survived her ordeals in The Serpent's Secret, and is back in Parsippany, New Jersey. and is trying to settle back into school. However, Neel's mother, the burping, rhyming demon queen, finds her at school and says that Neel is being held captive by Kiran's serpent birth father, and only she can rescue him. With the help of a portal that appears on the school soccer field, she travels to the underground hotel/prison, but is unable to rescue her friend. Not only that, but Neel does not want her to try. It's too late, and Kiran and Naya must travel to the Kingdom Beyond, where Kiran applies to be on the reality television show, Who Wants to be a Demon Slayer. The people in that Kingdom have heard of her exploits, and her image is splashed everywhere. Kiran finds out that she must not only free Neel, but must find two stones that are critical to keeping the balance in the kingdom. It's not easy to get anything done, and even meeting up with Neel's brothers (in the forms of an owl and monkey god) and the Pink-Sari skateboarders causes more problems than it solves. Kiran even needs to trick her father into providing a fang to break Neel out of his prison, but the final battle has a few surprises, and the story is not yet over.
Strengths: I enjoyed how Dasgupta took traditional Indian tales and adapted them for middle grades. Her notes at the back about girl power groups in Indian, and the influence of things like game shows and off beat products (I sort of want to be Princess Pretty Pants for Halloween) on modern Indian culture are interesting. Kiran is a great character, and her friendship/possible romance with Neel is engaging.
Weaknesses: This often slips into elementary levels of goofiness. My fantasy readers tend to be my most serious students, and they take their fantasy books very seriously! The rhymes got a bit wearing, and some of the dialogue was a bit much.
What I really think: Will definitely purchase, but I would like this better without the goofiness.

Lerangis, Peter. Enter the Core (Max Tilt #3)
February 19th 2019 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Max and his cousin Alex are still enjoying the benefits of the serum that has cured Max's mom and his friend Evelyn, and are also glad that they have unlimited funds, but there is a problem. Bitsy (whose last name is really Niemand) has stolen the vials from them, hoping to win her evil father's favor. Since Max doesn't know if his mother or Evelyn might need more of the serum, he and Alex take off after Bitsy, with the help of Brandon the Pilot. They head off to Iceland in search of the Niemand's, and have quite the adventure. They crash land in the water because of volcanic ash in the air, and are saved Kristin, who works at the Icelandic Museum of Unusual Phenomenon. Following clues left by Verne, the group takes off into the wilderness and ends up in caverns. Brandon is badly injured, but salvation comes from a very unlikely source, which also sheds light on the properties of the serum they are seeking. Max's long search is over, and he is able to return home to his normal life.

Max is on the Autism Spectrum and also experiences synesthesia. He smells odors depending on the emotions he is feeling, which is explained frequently, and there are also descriptions of his aversion to being touched. This is not done with a heavy hand, and Max manages to deal with his challenges well.

There is some light romance between Alex and Brandon, and it looks for a while like Brandon has truly perished, but the sensitive reader can be assured that he is saved.

There are lots of puzzles, codes, riddles, and runes for readers who enjoy working on these, and the idea that Jules Verne planned these all a very long time ago (in French!) is a fun premise. There is one scene that reminded my of National Treasure-- there are some structures in the cave that have been waiting for them for well over 100 years!

Hand this to readers who enjoy adventure tales with a bit of the supernatural to them, like Park's Forest of Wonders, Korman's Masterminds, Stokes 'Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas, Gonzalez's Moving Target and  Gemeinhart's Scar Island.

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