Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

book-scavenger“Twelve-year-old Emily is on the move again. Her family is relocating to San Francisco, home of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger, a game where books are hidden all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles. But Emily soon learns that Griswold has been attacked and is in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold and leads to a valuable prize. But there are others on the hunt for this book, and Emily and James must race to solve the puzzles Griswold left behind before Griswold’s attackers make them their next target.”

While I don’t normally read middle grade fiction (not for any particular reason, I just don’t pick them up very often), I’m glad I grabbed this one.  It had a lot going for it from the get-go: it’s set in San Francisco, which is near where I live and moderately familiar to me; it involves a love of books and literature, as well as an online community of book lovers; and the main characters are intelligent puzzle aficionados.

Happily, the plot is just as smart and engrossing as these elements promised it would be.  The author doesn’t dumb down the clues and ciphers that he has his characters solving, and he touches on a huge variety of codes and secret writing.  There’s Ogham, which is an ancient form of writing involving hash marks; there’s the Pigpen cipher, which uses shapes and dots to represent letters; and there’s even the scytale–a strip of paper wound around a dowel that looks like an unconnected string of letters when unwound.  As someone who was into codes and ciphers as a kid–and still am, to be honest–this was a delightful romp through cryptology.

There’s also plenty of literary shout-outs.  Edgar Allen Poe gets the lion’s share, for some very good reasons, but many other characters and authors make an appearance as well.  You’ll find mentions of The Maltese Falcon, Agatha Christie’s novels, and several middle grade classics.  One can’t help but get excited at the prospect of young people being so attached to the reading and sharing of good stories of all kinds.

I’m looking forward to the next novel in this series, which, sadly, doesn’t come out until next year.  I foresee re-reading this one in the time between now and then, however.  It’s too charming and full of fun not to re-visit.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Witches With the Enemy by Barb Hendee

witches-with-the-enemy“When seers Céline and Amelie Fawe fled Shetâna under threat of death, they vowed never to return. Yet, less than a year later, they are summoned back—to aid the man who once tried to kill them.…

The cruel prince Damek is on the verge of closing marriage negotiations with the powerful family of a young noblewoman when his intended’s sister is murdered. To keep the engagement from falling through, Damek must expose the killer quickly—and he needs the seers’ powers to do so. Though the Fawes’ patron, Prince Anton, fears that bringing Céline and Amelie to Shetâna places them in grave danger, he is honor-bound to help his brother Damek.

Only none of them is prepared for the peril that awaits them at Castle Kimovesk—for someone in the court is determined to prevent the marriage from happening, no matter how deadly the cost…”

I have to admit, I really enjoy this series.  It’s a combination of fantasy and mystery that I find works very well together.  This newest book keeps the main storyline confined to one small area, Castle Kimovesk, and it also keeps the cast of characters to a manageable level, and this all heightens the tension throughout the novel.

I wish that Amelie had gotten more of an opportunity to display her toughness.  She spends much of this book in dresses and hanging out on the sidelines when I’m used to seeing her in trousers and crossing swords with bad guys.  It’s an interesting change of pace for her, but I missed the character I had grown to like.  Celine is much the same as always, with her calm demeanor and sweet temper, but there are hints of the feelings between her and Anton starting to come to the fore, which I did like seeing.

In fact, I think my main draw to this book was the characters.  Celine and Amelie I’ve already mentioned, but this time out we get Anton’s brother Damek up close and personal.  He has some truly creepy moments, and Hendee paints him as a man who might explode into violence at any moment.  We also get to see their father for the first time and get a greater understanding of the realm’s politics through his interactions with his sons.  It’s something I hope Hendee explores more in future books.

I’m not sure if the mystery worked as well as it had in previous novels, because I figured out the identity of the murderer long before the climactic reveal.  It didn’t reduce my enjoyment of it, because there were many twists and turns in the tale before reaching that point.  I’m just not convinced that the author was as stealthy as she could have been.

Overall, the book satisfied me.  A medieval castle, a few murders, a bit of magic, and some intriguing characters make for a good novel as far as I’m concerned.  If you’re looking for something entertaining, this is a good series to read, and Witches With the Enemy is a spot-on addition to the Mist-Torn Witches books.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)