Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Bloom (The Overthrow #1) and Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes

Oppel, Kenneth. Bloom (The Overthrow #1)
February 11th 2020 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by the publisher

Anaya has horrible allergies to everything; plants, food, animals. They also cause her to have terrible acne, and she is just weary of going to school when she is feeling bad. Petra, who used to be her friend, is allergic to water. It's a far more debilitating allergy, but it doesn't make her look as bad as Anaya's allergies do. Seth doesn't have allergies, but he has struggled in foster care, finally ending up with the Antos family on their farm in Canada. When black, spiky, stubborn plants start taking over the island where the three live, they all notice odd things about the plants. Anaya's father works for the government dealing with plants, and notices how they are growing even where other things aren't. Petra gets caught out in the rain right before the plants start growing, and notices that the water does not make her skin react. She saves the water, and in a day or two, there are small plants growing in that water. Seth and Mr. Antos try to burn out the plants on the farm, only to realize that the resulting smoke is toxic. Not only that, but there is a field near school where the plants don't grow... but that turns out to be because the plants are growing underground and sneak up on animals and humans to drag them under to eat them! Everyone is in a panic, scientists are trying to find out where these plants have come from, and Anaya, Seth and Petra realize that they are all bound by an awful secret from their pasts. Will the world survive?
Strengths: My students LOVE dystopian thrillers, and since The Hunger Games came out in 2008 (around the time many of them were born!), a lot of my dystopian books are in bad repair. I've looked for new titles, and this is the best I have seen so far. Tautly creepy, with dastardly plants that are completely unforgiving, awesome scenes of destruction, and a really cool twist about our three protagonists... wow. Hatch is set to come out in fall of 2020, and Thrive in summer of 2021, and I will be ordering all of the books.
Weaknesses: I figured out really early on the big twist about the three main characters, but I doubt my students will.
What I really think: I loved the science, the evil plants, and the nonstop action! This reminded me a tiny bit of both Patterson's Maximum Ride and Faulkner's The Assault. These will fly off the shelves!

Chokshi, Roshani. Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes
April 7th 2020 by Rick Riordan Presents
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Aru is back with her group that includes Aiden, Brynne, Mini , and they dive right into a mission to find a seer who is on a ferris wheel in Atlanta. They find two; young Sheela and Nikita, but need to rescue them from rakshasas, especially since any prophecy they deliver can't be heard by the demons. After a harrowing skirmish, the Pandavas manage to extricate the seers, but the demons hear the prophecy right before they are sent to be taken care of. Aru tries to interpret the prophecy, and decides that their mission is to retrieve the Tree of Wishes, or Kalpavriksha. Her mother is not happy, since it was on a similar mission that her father started to turn into the evil Sleeper. Aru still feels it is important, and Rudy joins the group to help. To start, they need to get a key from Vishwakarma, and they embark on a series of quests leading up to finding the tree. They have just until Holi before they need to be back and Amaravari, or they will fail. After an arduous journey (that includes an important stop at a Home Depot), Aru manages to fulfill the quest, but it isn't enough to permanently deal with her father and the powers of evil that he wields. There is at least one more book in the offing, and I suspect maybe two.
Strengths: I consider a 400 page fantasy book a success if I can make it to the end and remember, without too many notes, what happened. This did a good job. There were a manageable number of characters, the encroaching evil remained steady, and the quests made sense. Aru is a fun character, and the humorous approach to her plight is always appreciated. Chokshi's writing is easy to read, and I need to look into some of her other titles.
Weaknesses: Just from a budgeting and shelf space perspective, I wish that all fantasy series were only three books long. My students disagree and will be completely on board with four or five. (And then someone loses book three ten years from now when the series is out of print.)
What I really think: This is a brilliantly paced, funny quest adventure that incorporates a wide variety of Hindu culture. It's an essential series for fans of Riordan's The Lightning Thief and subsequent mythological adventures. It just wasn't what I felt like reading three weeks into the pandemic, for some reason. Definitely purchasing.

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