Review 5 star
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Esme’s Gift is the second book in the Esme Trilogy by Elizabeth Foster. 15-year-old Esme now knows her mother, Ariane, is alive, locked in a sleep in the magical, water-imbued land of Aeolia. When her father refuses to believe anything she says, Esme plunges back into Aeolia to help her mother on her own. Ariane’s deep sleep is getting worse because her powers were tampered with by the sinister Nathan Mare. Esme’s special Gift lets her use water to see the past and there’s a lost recipe from a previous Keeper, Thomas Agapios, that could save her mother’s life. Along with loyal friends Daniel and Lillian, she goes on a quest to find ingredients for the missing medicine. But who is this new boy to whom she has an unexplainable aversion? And could an ill-natured old professor’s essay assignment put her on the trail of a forgotten evil enchanter?
Esme’s Gift explores a grittier, darker, and at times more beautiful Aeolia. Elizabeth Foster’s strong world-building cultivates a story that’s even more mysterious and layered than Esme’s first swim into Aeolia. While a thriller element is woven into the fantasy plot in a way that kept me on the edge of my seat at times, where the book really stands out is in the characters. Upping the action a bit from the first book, Esme, Daniel, and Lillian take on a lot of personal growth tasks suitable to their ages, from majestic dragons to terrifying oracles, medical secrets, Aeolia’s violent history—and the ghosts who tell it--and the sometimes accident-prone development of their own special Gifts. Esme’s Gift captures the angst, growing pains, and courage of adolescents, while threading in some gentle moments of true friendship and affection. It’s a YA fantasy story about crossing into another world and visualizes that world vividly.
Review 4 star
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Re: Camelot is an exciting story by E. C. Fisher. It sets the adventures of King Arthur around a teenage orphan named Arthur Godwin-Dragos. He is summoned to Planet Avalon by a beautiful woman named Merlin, who is the most powerful mage in Avalon City, a place that blends technology with fantasy magic. After Arthur pulls enchanted Excalibur from its stone on the Forgotten Isle, he heads off with a band of companions to find eleven sacred weapons that once belonged to knights of Camelot. The knights started their own countries, several of which are now at war. And when it turns out the growing darkness that caused Merlin to send Arthur on this quest comes from an ancient enchantress with the power of a dark dragon inside her—and a plan more devious than they imagined—Arthur and his friends have their work cut out for them.
I thought Re: Camelot was quite creative. The way technology was blended into the story while retaining the medieval feeling of an Arthur story always felt believable and E. C. Fisher’s many plot twists and turns kept the narrative fresh. The Knights of the Round Table were turned into countries (Gawain; Bedivere; Lancelot, and the rest) and their descendants, a well-coordinated cast of diverse, mostly young people took on the adventures of teamwork and courage against enchantment and darkness that makes any fantasy saga, including the legends of King Arthur, so enjoyable. The specific traits given each country not only created challenges to help the team grow as leaders and warriors, but also built great visual images for a complex world. The concept of Merlin being an official title granted to any great mage, in this case a woman, expanded this character into one of my favorites in the book, a perfect mentor and contrast to the developing talents of young Arthur and his band of friends.
Review 5 star
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The Castle by J.B. Michaels is the third book in the Bud Hutchins Supernatural Thriller series. After Bud gets the attention of the government, they want access to his brilliant technology. But Bud has other things to do. Along with his friend Maeve, he’s part of the hidden Order of St. Michael, monks who fight the paranormal. Bud is reluctant to train, but when their friend Ivy is kidnapped by a sinister vampire disguised as a famous singer, bent on taking out the Order, Bud and Maeve head to a remote castle in Scotland. In fact, it’s just possible this creepy castle might hold clues to something of deepest importance to Bud—the whereabouts of his missing grandfather.
The Castle is a solid installment in the Bud Hutchins series. Readers already hooked on the first two books won’t be disappointed. J.B. Michaels delivers a lot of adventure and whacko mayhem to keep the plot rolling as Maeve and Bud go on a whirlwind trip to Europe. There’s a bit of a darker tone and the action and evil are jacked up a notch to bring out some mature qualities underlying the characters and Bud’s development was excellent. He grew before my eyes as a lot of his insecurities and struggles with being underappreciated took the forefront and focused this thrill ride story in the right place—on real people learning to face what’s important to them. Bud and Maeve’s friendship was a perfect partnership of banter, snarkiness, and sincere care for each other beneath bluff exteriors, and Ivy’s subplot dealing with an undead New Age musician rounded things out nicely.
This is the companion for Sarah Scheele's newsletter blog. In it I share reviews for books I'd recommend/are similar to my own.