Fantasy & Science Fiction Books

100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson.
Random House: NY, 2007.

Staying in his aunt and uncle's attic for the summer, Henry discovers 99 cupboards under the plaster in the wall. Two of the doors open on their own, beckoning. One cupboard has a light on in the middle of the night and mail. His grandfather's bedroom door has been sealed shut for two years, since his death, but a grandfatherly man roams the floor late at night. He'd like to talk to his uncle about these strange happenings; he's a good listener. But he decides to wait.

One of his cousins, Henrietta, snoops and pushes Henry to explore the cupboards despite his misgivings. Some lead to interesting places, others to dangerous situations. All can be accessed both directions unless the locking mechanism is utilized.

From the first moment, I wanted to explore the cabinets. The book is a little slow in getting to the subject, but not at all disappointing in the discoveries. Knowing now that this is the beginning of a series, I can see it was necessary to set up the characters and town well, before centering on what we all wanted to know about. Uncle Frank and Henry's new friend Zeke are likely to be important in the series. There are also family tidbits through the book that may or may not be setting up sequels.

The book is an easy and exciting read. It's a fairly low level book, but doesn't lose any appeal in that. A great adventure for 4th to 6th graders, especially boys. Reluctant readers as old as 8th. I'm happy to share this book, because it is hard to find books for 4th graders that are this compelling.

related-doors, magic, space and time, cousins, family life, Kansas, other worlds, portals, boys, mystery, adventure

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson.
Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2008.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is likely the best science fiction book I've read. It employs biological advances that are not too distant and sets them in almost today's world.

Jenna Fox has woken from a year long coma after a car crash which should have killed her. It did kill her best friends. She has no personal memories. She watches videos of her childhood and doesn't feel like the same person. Her devoted grandmother acts as if she is not Jenna, which starts Jenna's mind questioning. Her parents are unwilling to answer her questions, so she must search behind their backs. As she starts to know herself, she has trouble differentiating between what are true memories and what she has been told.

A neighbor and friends at her satellite school help her to learn who she is. Regarding her accident and ordinary coming of age identity and soul searching.

At the center of the book is a controversy about the use of biomedical advances. Jenna's friend Allys has lost body parts to illnesses that could no longer be prevented or alleviated by antibiotics due to over usage. Jenna's father has been at the forefront of technological breakthroughs which are not yet legal. These breakthroughs raise ethical questions. Questions about identity. Many books of this sort have a strong right or wrong tone to them. This one is more about the possibilities and the mix of questions. I would really love to say more here, but can't, because it might spoil the story. The author has done such an excellent job of building suspense-adding on bit by bit to the story.

This is a great sci fi book for those who don't think they are sci fi fans. Contemporary, realistic environment just touching on sci fi.

related-medical ethics, bioethics, biotechnology, memory, self-perception, identity, coming of age, tragic loss, familial love, cell cloning, body regeneration

Airman by Eoin Colfer.
Hyperion Books for Children/Disney Book Group: NY, 2008.

Conor Broekhart, born to fly, born flying in a hot air balloon exhibited at the 1878 World's Fair in Paris, is given an exceptional education and training due to his parents' status in the Kingdom of the Saltee Islands (off the Irish coast) and his own daring exploits. Proclaimed a hero at age 9, he is trained by the King's friend and aeronaut enthusiast, Victor Vigny. A few years later he is caught in the crossfire of the Marshall Bonvilain's political manipulation and sent to rot or die on the prison island of Little Saltee. To survive he becomes a new person and collaborates with criminals. To escape will require using all of his knowledge and skills-including building and flying an untested device. He thinks he has turned his back on his prior familial existence, but to save his parents and queen from Bonvilain's ambitions, he will need to become a revolutionary aeronaut and risk life and limb without the usual safety precautions.

To the inhabitants of the Saltee Islands and Irish coast, Conor Broekhart A.K.A. Conor Finn must have been a wonder, almost a superhero, or to some a demon. With his ability to fly, so far not a regularly known possibility, and his near maniacal fighting skills, honed through his tutor's training and his need to survive prison. The ending in which Conor achieves his ultimate test and rescue attempt is masterful.

The story is darker and also has more depth than Artemis Fowl, another riveting creation of Colfer's. One of the things I like about Colfer is that each of his works is so different-from both what he has already done and anything else.

related-early flight, adventure, survival, political intrigue, diamond mining, 1890s, 19th century, spies, science fiction

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2007.

Alcatraz Smedry, raised in foster family after foster family, has a surprise visit by a man claiming to be his grandfather. He says that the country Alcatraz lives in is ruled by Librarians that control information and how the world is perceived, primarily meaning no magic and lesser technology than the area where Grandpa Smedry lives. Since an unusual gift of his (a bag of sand) has been stolen, Alcatraz leaves with Grandpa to try to recover it and finds he has cousins also, who like them have bizarre powers. For ex., Alcatraz has the ability to make things break. They have a young knight with them on their mission as well.

This young fantasy novel is written in a similar style as Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Maybe not quite as dark seeming, but very sarcastic and opposite meaning. It is funny and flows well. I would highly recommend it for young readers, especially boys.

related-humorous stories, librarians and libraries, grandfathers, high interest

Alchemy by Margaret Mahy.
Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2003.

This book falls into the category of unique, like my Knock Your Socks Off Books. It is half social issues and half fantasy/alchemy. There is a little discussion of the science and philosophy behind the alchemy, rapt up in the mystery of Jess's situation.

Roland, a prefect and popular student, is manipulated by his Literature teacher into befriending Jess, who is the ultimate loner, because she is having personal problems. As he interacts with Jess, he is drawn into her life because of the mystery and similarities to his own life. Knowing her is a way to learn more about his own predicament. However, focusing on her means estrangement from his girlfriend and risking disfavor with his mom and friends.

The story has depth for one so short and some interesting concepts. It possibly could have been developed a little more. One of the concepts is the use of spoonerisms, which is unusual itself. Jess rearranges words in her dialogue for a twist of meaning that also fits the situation. I also think the book should be shelved as YA (though the cover says 12 & up), because the protagonist is an older teen with definite teen issues.
related-alchemy, magic, magicians, dating, spatial matter, telepathy, spirit walking
RL=YA The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott.
Delacorte Press/Random House: NY, 2007.

I've been waiting to read this book since hearing about it. It didn't quite live up to my expectations, but it has a sequel, so I'm hoping the story will improve now that much of the backstory is out of the way. Maybe there was too much anticipation, since I already knew a little about the elusive Flamel and his wife. After reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, my son searched for information about the real Flamel. His story is begging to be told, but no one really knows it.

Nicholas Flamel and his sorceress wife reappear after centuries of inconspicuous living. They have been flushed out of hiding by another alchemyst, John Dee, adviser to Queen Elizabeth I (another historical character of mystique). Flamel is the keeper of the Book of Abraham the Mage which holds secrets of alchemy and sorcery as well as prophecies of the ultimate battles for world dominance. Dee is determined to appropriate the book for the benefit of those he serves. If the alchemy is not enough to grab you, Scott also incorporates an Elder Race, consisting of gods and goddesses from ancient times, and mixes in historic information twisted to match his world view. Possibly the biggest surprise is the inexperienced twins Nicholas is bound to protect and teach due to the prophecies regarding them.

There is information at the end regarding the Flamels and John Dee and the author's inspiration. My interest has been piqued enough that I will also be looking for other works by Michael Scott.

related-Nicholas Flamel, John Dee, alchemists, supernatural, twins, brothers and sisters, mythology and legend

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett.
HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2001.

Pratchett tells a twisted version of the Pied Piper. Maurice the talking cat and his talking rat friends and piper boy are pulling their last piper scam, except the current town already has a scam going on. The rat catchers of the town are stealing and selling food to the river trade and blaming it on the rats. Rats are hated, poison and traps everywhere, though there are no rats to be found.

The mayor's daughter, always in search of an adventurous tale, befriends the newcomers and joins with them to expose the scam and reorganize human-rat relations.

The story takes place in Discworld, with only a few references-place names, magic, mention of wizards, werewolves, vampires, etc. It has the bizarre wit expected of the series.

I enjoyed the philosophical conversations, mostly with the rats, and the second look at human interaction with animals. There are a few hilarious moments, as is typical of Pratchett. It is amazing what he can do with a few lines. One of the funniest is a reference to Discworld which is less meaningful if you haven't read more of the series (the coach robbery).

I found the book in the YA section of the library. I do not know if it was written for YA or if it was catalogued as such because of the 2 young characters.

related-rats, cats, musicians, swindlers, human-animal relationships, humorous stories, Discworld

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2001.
Originally William Morrow: NY, 2001.

There is a battle brewing between the forgotten gods from other countries and cultures and the new American gods of technology and money. The forgotten gods feed on some form of sacrifice (given freely or not) to stay alive. Shadow, formerly in prison, has been contracted by one of the gods (apparently the ringleader) to play an important role in the confrontation. It isn't clear until the end what his purpose is; he is just following orders. Because he has been set up, his wife comes back from the dead to protect him. His innate goodness also affords him protection.

A host of gods and cultural figures are trotted out in this literary tale-mostly the forgotten ones. They lead colorful, and mostly pathetic, lives. I would have been interested to see more of the new gods.

Perhaps I read through it too quickly. I sense there is more under the surface than I recognized. It is definitely a symbolic work. In this copy of the story, there are an interview and review questions, which I read halfway through, to help mull it over.

I read the book after reading a teacher's discussion of using the book in her high school class. There are a couple spots in the book that might not be considered appropriate for that level. They are small parts that can be glossed over. I think the story is excellent and certainly understandable to teenagers. However, being a sheltered female, I would not have been prepared as a teen for the graphicness of a scene in the first chapter. I might have skipped over it and been relieved the rest wasn't that way. Or I might have stopped reading the book. As an adult, I don't feel the scene is necessary. To me, sex is a personal and private thing, and I don't like to see it cheapened or used to sell. Otherwise, it is a deep and riveting story-an exceptional story with reason and a perfect balance between description and visual fluidity.

related-America, faith, sacrifice, purpose of gods, deception, mystery
RL=adult, YA depending on maturity level

The Ancient One by T. A. Barron.
Philomel Books/The Putnam & Grosset Group: NY, 1992.

Having lost her grandfather, Kate goes for a visit with his sister in Oregon where she is soon drawn into another astounding adventure. Part conservationist, Aunt Melanie involves Kate in her attempt to save the redwoods in a secluded volcanic crater from loggers. Kate takes shelter in the hollow of the oldest tree and is transported back to when the area was an ancient tribal camp (5oo years). At that point, instead of being a historical tale, it goes a more fantastical direction. In order to travel back to her time, she is sent on a quest to retrieve powerful magical artifacts from the evil Gashra (the ruler of the volcano) and his minion Sanbu. She has three sidekicks plus a dog and owl to help her achieve her goal. Again this story is more fantasy than I usually choose to read. For me, the historical and social subjects within it balance it enough to keep the interest level up. The fantasy parts are also so separate that they seem like a dream-even to Kate.
related-time travel, conservation of natural resources, friendship, transformation, tree of life, connection of all living things, past and present, magic, ancient tribes, volcanoes-fiction

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.
Talk Miramax Books/Hyperion Books for Children: NY.

Magic and fairy tales (literally) go hi-tech in this most original, humorous, and elaborate series. All of the books are absorbing with many memorable moments. Artemis is a mastermind at planning and technology. Despite his intelligence, he is certainly not the ideal in character. However, exposure to the fairy world teaches him valuable lessons in friendship, loyalty, and selflessness.

Artemis Fowl ©2001: Through research and scheming Artemis finds a way to capture a fairy in order to increase his family fortune. Because of his knowledge he is sure of success, but there are still things about the fairy world that he has not learned.

Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident ©2002: Artemis's father is being held in Russia for ransom. The B'Wa Kell goblins are rebelling with the help of an insider at LEPrecon headquarters. Human artifacts are surfacing underground, so Holly Short, Root and Foaly believe Artemis must be trading with the goblins. Artemis and Butler are interrogated to learn the truth, and the 5 join forces to retrieve Artemis Fowl, Sr. and end the goblin uprising.

Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code ©2003: Possibly the best of the series, this book has many surprises. Artemis builds the ultimate computer-with fairy equipment confiscated in earlier situations. The C Cube will make all other communications technology obsolete. It is verbally controlled, wireless, and can be used as a TV, phone, video and audio player, and computer. It can hack any computer and scan any contents-electronic or organic. It can also piggyback on any satellite given the source code.

Artemis tries to make a business deal regarding the C Cube, and it ends up in the hands of a ruthless criminal industrialist. Holly and Foaly are drawn into Artemis's deals again because the Cube has scanned their information systems. Because the Cube is verbally controlled, Spiro (the thief) will require Artemis's services.

Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception ©2005: Opal Koboi has made an ingenious escape and has set out to destroy all those responsible for her incarceration. Artemis walks directly into her trap. Thanks to Butler's unique abilities they elude death. Holly has lost connection with Foaly and is on the run as a suspect for the murder of Commander Root. So, Artemis is the only one capable of stopping Opal, but he has to recover his memories of the fairy people first.

Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony ©2006: Not reviewed yet. RL=5th-YABehemoth by Scott Westerfeld. il Keith Thompson.
Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2010.

Behemoth carries on where Leviathan left off, with the airship en route to Istanbul (Constantinople). An unfortunate occurrence sours the relations between the British officers and Austrian visitors, and Prince Alek is forced to escape with his men. After a failed diplomatic attempt in Istanbul, Deryn (Dylan) is given a secret mission of sabotage. Both of them end up stranded in Istanbul, joining forces with local revolutionaries, with a common goal of limiting Germany's power.

The story focuses on a part of WWI that is less often told. The Ottoman Empire has been weakened, and locals are trying to replace the sultan with a democratic government. German and British diplomats have both attempted to gain the backing of the Ottoman Empire in the European war. In the end, the Germans are more successful. Also at this time, Austria joins Germany in their war against Britain. Prince Alek, holding a letter from the Pope confirming him as heir to the Austrian throne, is weighed down by the knowledge that perhaps his existence could end the war. Of course, that is why he is being pursued by the Germans, and in this book his identity will be revealed. Deryn's secret identity is also being threatened. Both are bribed for different purposes.

This 2nd book is much more exciting than the 1st. It is adventurous, fast paced, more historical, and more complex. Both the Clankers and the Darwinists have new technology up their sleeves. If it was not clear during the 1st book that there is spying involved, it definitely is now. Despite knowing how WWI plays out, the story (as an alternate history novel) holds out the hope that Alek, Deryn, and Dr. Barlow (on a diplomatic/military intelligence mission) can shift the direction of the impending war. Dr. Barlow is still a mysterious character. Her purpose is not fully revealed, though it seems that she has great influence in the British hierarchy.

No disappointment this time. Behemoth is excellent. Unusually creative, and anticipation is flowing. Looking forward to the next, which it appears will have a Japanese setting.

related-science fiction, imaginary creatures, genetic engineering, World War I, princes
RL=6th and up

The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century ed by Harry Turtledove with Martin H. Greenberg.
Ballantine Publishing Company/Random House: NY, 2001.

I so far haven't branched too far into reading adult alternate history. Since this is titled "Best of," I thought I'd give it a try. Many of the adult alternate history books are heavily sci fi (space oriented), which I'm not really interested in. I prefer the history based stories. This book has some of both. Overall I am excited about the book. There was only 1 story I wasn't interested in reading, and a few make the book definitely worth reading.

The book starts with a reworking of the dropping of the atomic bomb which I love, The Lucky Strike by Kim Stanley Robinson. If you are going to die for principles, then the protagonist has got it right. Next, The Winterberry by Nicholas A. DiChario envisions John F. Kennedy's life if he had survived the assassination attempt. A little depressing, but a good case of extrapolation. In Islands in the Sea by Harry Turtledove, emissaries (one Christian and one Muslim) curry the favor of a Bulgarian khan and debate religion for him. Then, they await the decision he makes for his people. The fate of the world hinges on his choice. Susan Shwartz's Suppose They Gave a Peace describes a family that traditionally watches election results together, this time during the Vietnam War. A father mulls the folly of his daughter's behavior, but then changes his mind after hearing of his son's military death and marriage. Gene Trimble in Larry Niven's All the Myriad Ways contemplates the rash of recent suicides and wonders if time travel trade is responsible. If endless results are caused by endless branching universes, then the consequences are less dramatic. Does this matter, or not? Through Road No Whither by Greg Bear portrays a modern German war in which two couriers are lost as they try to deliver orders. They come upon an old woman in a hut that refuses to guide them due to their motives. After a century of no war, humans wage war against rogue mechs that used to serve them in Manassas, Again by Gregory Benford. In Dance Band on the Titanic by Jack L. Chalker, a ferry's route corresponds to several routes on other timelines resulting in countless changes in destinations and passengers. After seeing repetitions, a new employee interferes, with the hope of saving a life. Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore takes place in a United States defeated by the Confederate States. Hodgins learns through self-study at his benefactor's book store. When he is ready to move on, he joins a community dedicated to scholarship and discovery. His forte is historical research, and he assists a colleague with her time travel experimentation. Iason is a time traveler, in Eutopia by Paul Anderson, researching alternate histories, their cultures and governments. His briefing pre-travel is faulty, and he unknowingly commits a faux pas and must be extricated from the current project. The Undiscovered by William Sanders may be my favorite story in the book. An Eastern American tribe captures a scrawny white man who has unexpected depths. The tribe has an expert in languages who is given a chance to communicate with the man. He is embraced by the tribe after fiercely defending their camp and showing himself to be an exceptional entertainer. Mozart in Mirroshades by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner is a little strange. Increased trade is enabled by time travel, with a consequence of future knowledge and technology being transferred to the past. In some cases, the travelers use their future knowledge for their own motives, including fraternizing with historical personalities. And those people use the knowledge to escape their destinies. Some even manipulate their way onto flights to the future. The Death of Captain Future by Allen Steele is my least favorite. A grunt worker accepts a job on a shuttle to migrate cross space. He thinks the captain is nuts. The ship goes to the aid of a freighter, with even worse conditions. Last, but not least, is Moon of Ice by Brad Linaweaver, in which the Nazis have won, and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels reminisces about Hitler, ideology, and the relaxing of restrictions after the war. Goebbels has two politically active children. One in the new SS controlled country of Burgundy, and one fighting for the German Freedom League against the agenda of her father.

RL=YA-adult, adult book

The Broken Lands by Kate Milford.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2012.

It took a bit of time for me to get into this book. It was rambling, but also teasing, so I kept reading, wanting to know if those intriguing bits would develop. Once interest sparked, there was a fantastic display.

There is a fun cast of characters. Sam (a young gambler), looking for a momentous opportunity, meets Jin (a Chinese creator of fireworks) and immediately pursues a friendship with her. Supporting characters include roamers with secretive pasts (2 musicians and another gambler), pillars of New York society (a saloon owner and a mob personality and a black servant woman), and the writer Ambrose Bierce. Jin has an "uncle" who trains her, and two people-like monsters come to New York to claim the city for someone the devil rejected, rumor has it. The pillars (protectors of the city) are destroyed or coerced, all but one. She, Susannah, must come up with new pillars in a pinch.

It seems that fate is an issue, things falling into place perfectly. A number of the characters prove to be more than they seem. There are some strange and awesome elements. The fireworks, of course, are front and center. Fireworks, alchemy, and talismans combined. Jin uses an ancient, traditional book with coded language for her concoctions. For those who can read it at all, the meaning changes according to the reader. The author says she feels this way about her own book. A fabulous concept that I am glad she encourages. Sam's game playing and the new-to-town gambler, who challenges him and then gives him pointers, are a nice show. Sam plays an incredible match of a fascinating game to block and stall the villians. Santine is something like Magic the Gathering with the addition of powerful saints. A game in which new rules can be created by the daring. The stakes are a little like playing the devil, but also reminiscent of Ron Weasley's game of Wizard's Chess from Harry Potter. In setting the stage, Civil War soldiers are hanging about. It has been 10 years since the war ended, with no healing of the country. Ambrose is representative of this, as well as a black wandering soldier/musician and others that recognize him. I kept waiting to see if more would develop with the musicians, but not really. The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is also part of the setting. There are snatches of history, but I somehow wanted more to do with it. I would have liked more participation by the adults as well.

Sam's gentleness and compassion with Jin are striking. She, too, has a past that is gradually coaxed from her. Her past may be a key to why she is the most important in stopping the villains.

related-supernatural, good vs evil, demons, orphans, Coney Island, New York history, 19th century, Brooklyn Bridge
RL=6th and up

Castaways of the Flying Dutchman by Brian Jacques.
Philomel Books/Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers: NY, 2001.
author of acclaimed Redwall series

The angel who doomed the Flying Dutchman to sail the seas for all eternity spared a boy and his dog from that fate. Because of their innocence and good-heartedness, they were instead given the opportunity to live through the centuries helping people in ditsress. This first book introduces the Flying Dutchman legend and then focuses mainly on a village that is soon to be destroyed by industrial development and the coming together of townfolk to save it with the guidance of the boy and dog.

My sons are big Redwall fans, but personally, I enjoyed The Castaways of the Flying Dutchman and its sequels The Angel's Command (2003) and Voyage of Slaves (2006) more. There is an exciting treasure hunt and references to the founding of the village. The boy tries to get as many townspeople involved as possible so that they come together as a community instead of depending on a hero. The community working together is a recurring theme in most of Brian Jacques's books. As usual the characters and attention to detail contribute to another success for Jacques.
related-heroes, angels, dogs

Chalice by Robin McKinley.
Putnam Juvenile: NY, 2008.

The Master of Willowlands has died after seven years of misuse of the land, a few of his reigning Circle along with him, including his Chalice whose task it is to bind all agreements and bind the people and land together. His younger brother comes home from the priesthood of Fire to take his place, though no third level priest has ever been allowed to rejoin the human world. Both the people and land are in upheaval, not knowing if the new Master and Chalice can heal the damage done and be accepted.

Some of the Circle want a different choice for Master. They push for the naming of an outblood Heir, and they scheme to replace the Master who is not quite human, using his burning touch as an excuse. Some hope for the Chalice's support in deposing the Master; others expect she will do everything in her power to compensate for the risk of destruction attached to a change in bloodlines.

The new, untrained Chalice, Mirasol, gains her power through her beekeeping and the healing power of honey. Honey is the fluid that Chalice uses in all of her rituals. The bees protect her from harm, and likely, they are the source of her communication with the land. The Master uses the Fire within him in a similar manner, despite the need to become more human again. The use of these two components is the essence of the story. They are what makes it unique and compelling.

related-bees, healing, change of leadership

Charlie Bone Series by Jenny Nimmo
Orchard Books: NY

Midnight for Charlie Bone 2003
Charlie Bone And The Time Twister 2003
Charlie Bone And The Invisible Boy 2004
Charlie Bone And The Castle Of Mirrors 2005
Charlie Bone And The Hidden King 2006
Charlie Bone And The Beast 2007

Children with personal magical talents are taught at a school for the descendants of one family. It isn't a school of magic; it's just a way of keeping track of them. It is another story of good vs. evil. I haven't read the latest book, but each story has a unique and exciting storyline building up to a climax still in the future.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright. il by Barry Moser.
Peachtree Publishers: Atlanta, 2011.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a London inn popular among writers, including Mr. Charles Dickens. While hanging about the inn, stumped by his current writing of A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens invites the alley cat Skilley into the place, and Skilley becomes the resident mouser. The innkeeper's daughter Nell, away on holiday, has saved and ministered to animals, including the mouse Pip and the raven Maldwyn. Pip and Skilley become friends, since Skilley's favorite food is cheese. Maldwyn is hidden as he is still healing.

Also residing at the inn is the maid Adele who hates the mice that have taken to harassing her. She brings in another cat to speed the decrease of mice. This cat, Pinch, is a bully and Skilley's nemesis.

Meanwhile, one of the ravens from the Tower of London is missing. Guess who? The animals scheme to return him to his home. Plus, cheese is disappearing at a rapid rate.

This is the secret to how Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has managed to survive through the centuries when other inns have not. Somewhat ordinary events are portrayed in a fantastic account. Mr. Dickens, and even Queen Victoria, play a part.

It's been a while since I have read a book for young readers I so thoroughly enjoyed. The decriptions of animal behavior are great. The story is complex for that level, and the flow keeps any level interested. And of course, there are references to Dickens's writings.
related-animals, cats and mice, Cheshire cheese, taverns, inns, Great Britain, Queen Victoria, light fantasy
RL=4th and up

The Great Tree of Avalon by T. A. Barron.
Philomel Books/Penguin Young Readers Group: NY, 2004.

The concept of a tree so huge that it contains seven realms-and that's just the roots of the tree-is a promising start for the series. Add to this the fact that Merlin was instrumental in the growth of it, and his mother and sister governed and nurtured the realms in his absence. Then, a time comes when Avalon's whole future is at stake, and Merlin's heir (whoever he is) is the one person who can restore harmony.

The story starts powerfully with the prophecy. Merlin gives the care of young Tamwyn to an eaglewoman with a son the same age. He gives his staff to the son (Scree) to protect until it is needed in the future by Merlin's "true heir." Years later the mother dies and the boys are wrenched apart-one to wander in search of his foster brother and the other to go back to their origins and await the arrival of his brother.

The strength of the story is the characters (and the initial setup). I would like to have seen more of Scree, but maybe that will happen in other books. The focus is more on Tamwyn and Elli, a young priestess who also plays an important role and will likely be involved in succeeding books. I am also looking forward to more exploration of the Tree of Avalon itself in later books. I feel certain Barron will reveal more of the connection between Earth and the Otherworld.
RL=7th and up

The Chrestomanci Books by Diana Wynne Jones.
Greenwillow Books: NY.

Charmed Life 1977
The Magicians of Caprona 1980 - No Review Yet
The Lives of Christopher Chant 1988
Mixed Magics: Four Tales of Chrestomanci 2001 - No Review Yet
Witch Week 2001 - No Review Yet
Conrad's Fate 2005
The Pinhoe Egg 2006

In a world full of magic it is the Chrestomanci's job to control the magical community, keep the magical from trampling the nonmagical, and limit travel between their world and others. Because of the risks involved, the Chrestomanci is always a powerful enchanter with nine lives-so he can afford to lose a few. He also must have the ability to learn what everyone is up to and travel easily himself to the other worlds. In the series, there is also a Chrestomanci-in-training for each book.

Charmed Life Originally published in Great Britain by Macmillan London Ltd: Gwendolen and Cat are picked to live and study in Chrestomanci Castle-they believe because of Gwendolen's abilities. However, she and the Chrestomanci clash immediately, and she proceeds to show everyone the extent of her powers. Cat, meanwhile, is cowed by her and trying to fit in without incurring his sister's wrath. When Gwendolen escapes into another world, she leaves a Replacement further complicating matters for Cat.

Charmed Life is the start of an ingenious series. I like it best of the series with The Lives of Christopher Chant a close 2nd. Cat and Chrestomanci are wonderful characters, and there are several entertaining tidbits and plenty of twists with foreshadowing details.
related-magic, multiple lives, law enforcement, family, travel between worlds, doubles in other worlds, high interest

The Lives of Christopher Chant: This chronicles the boyhood of the Chrestomanci in Charmed Life. When Christopher's uncle learns of his exploring 10 other worlds in his dreams, he recruits him for "experiments" which turn out to be far more sinister. As he loses lives during these dangerous escapades, Christopher's father realizes he has nine lives and takes him to Chrestomanci Castle to be trained as the next Chrestomanci (chief of magical law enforcement). His future and past collide making him the ideal enchanter to save the present Chrestomanci (Gabriel), foil the plans of enemy #1, and meanwhile save a goddess from her sacrificial fate.

Many little pieces of the story are quite entertaining. Some of them turn out to have more relevance than you'd guess. The character interaction between Christopher and Tacroy/Mordecai and Christopher and the living goddess/Millie is especially noteworthy. It is interesting to see the boyhoods of Christopher and Gabriel, and the cricket moments and Throgmorten ( a devilish cat) are most enjoyable.
related-magic, multiple lives, law enforcement, family, travel between worlds, high interest, smugglers, black market

Conrad's Fate: Conrad goes to work in Stallery Mansion (in an alternate world of the Chrestomanci universe) as a servant. The property is in a spot where details of the world shift at times. Someone in the mansion has learned how to control the shiftings and increase their number.

Christopher Chant follows Millie to this same world since she ran away from her boarding school. While searching for her, he and Conrad are caught in the shifting as is Millie.

There are several ideas going on in the book that are interesting-the shifting of the worlds (alternate mansions), Christopher as a servant incognito, other characters with assumed identities, magical spells, as usual the appearance of the Chrestomanci to set matters right, and a reality shift at the end when all characters are identified. The servant/household structure is reminiscent of Victorian novels-which is also interesting, but overdone. There are some amusing episodes involving servants-in-training, but I would have preferred less details of decor for a smoother flow in the story. All in all a good story, but the 1st and 2nd are still my favorites.

The Pinhoe Egg has some good characters, interesting concepts, and hilarious details. I don't think it is up to the standard of the other books in the series, though. To be fair my kids enjoyed it more than I did. I think it is long for the level it is, and through much of the book the events seem haphazard and unconnected to the plot. They come together at the end, but it is far into the book before there is any connection. It is whimsical in tone, except the 2 clans having a huge brawl. I did enjoy the 2 main characters (one is Cat Chant), and there are some hints of other stories in the making.

Marianne's family is a secret clan of witches. The leader of the clan, her grandmother, has been out of line for quite a while, but recently is incoherent and silently feuding with a neighboring clan.

Marianne finds a unique and precious egg in her grandmother's abandoned attic and gives it to her new friend, Cat Chant. Cat hatches the egg and starts a flood of trouble. Marianne tries to warn her family of her grandmother's behavior and is hushed up. Cat, meanwhile, is noticing oddities in the surrounding area (redirection spells, a strange barrier in the woods, and a feeling of emptiness in the forest). Cat and Marianne join together to bring it all out in the open for the Chrestomanci, Cat's cousin and teacher, to see and resolve.
related-magic, griffin, identity, family, feud, power struggle, invention, mythical or magical creatures, magic in crafts

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by 14 authors.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2011.
The whole of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg is included in the book.

Short stories by 14 award winning authors (including Chris Van Allsburg himself) and an introduction by Lemony Snicket. All of Chris Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is used as a foundation for the stories. Each tale has the corresponding picture, title and caption before it. The Van Allsburg introduction is at the end of the book.

This is a fantastic collection. I have loved Chris Van Allsburg's illustrations for years. They beg to have stories written about them. When my kids were younger, I had two of them write a short story based on one picture of their choice from the book. So, I was excited to see this collaboration.

There is an incredible range of concepts and styles in this book. All of the stories portray a magical experience. All of the stories are wonderful additions to the collection. I cannot believe how creative and original each story is.

Lemony Snicket's intro is like no other. Tabitha King starts the tales with two spirits overseeing a Boy Wonder as he sleeps, or so they think. They speculate about him, and he knows perfectly well why he has the nickname. Jon Scieszka writes about advice a grandmother gives, with the focus being on not sweeping a problem under the rug. Sherman Alexie describes precocious twins (inventive and cruel) who pretend to be triplets. Gregory Maguire writes of a young orphan being controlled for his inheritance. Loose in Venice, he meets a gingerbread lady/sailor, who helps him to settle his future. She is quite a character. Cory Doctorow imagines a tale of time travel and infinite possibilities. Jules Feiffer depicts an author of children's books whose creatures are living in his house. Linda Sue Park tells of two situations in which the young people are in need of a lesson, two bickering sisters and an angry boy feeling abandoned and removed from his home. A wizardly old man provides the lesson. Walter Dean Myers shares a private library with a special, addictive book. Lois Lowry gives an account of levitating chairs, a natural ability of young females, with a rare occurrence of developing the talent. Kate DiCamillo produces letters of a sick orphan girl to her brother, who has been drafted during WWII. M. T. Anderson creates one of the most bizarre and astounding of all. A boy is regularly warned not to leave the neighborhood. Not to keep him from getting lost, but because all is not as it seems. There is a secret that his parents are in on. Louis Sachar reveals a haunting, with the ghost's routine changing through time. Chris Van Allsburg narrates a family's obsession with a physics theory and the search for the proof of the concept. A breakthrough comes where least expected. Lastly, Stephen King shares his story, The House on Maple Street, in which kids attempt to relieve themselves of an abusive stepfather. This story is a reprinting, so I don't know if it was originally inspired by Harris Burdick or not. Is it possible that it spurred the idea of the collection?

RL=5th and up; I think this collection would appeal to many ages - far beyond 5th grade.

The Circle of Magic Series by Tamora Pierce.
Scholastic Press: NY.

Sandry's Book 1997
Tris's Book 1998
Daja's Book 1998
Briar's Book 1999

The Circle Opens
Magic Steps 2000
Street Magic 2001
Cold Fire 2002
Shatterglass 2003

The Will of the Empress 2005
   BookAdvice Book of the Month Nov 2006

The Circle of Magic Series explores the concept of trade magic. The books are fascinating and well-planned. RL=5th-8th

Sandry's Book is primarily an introduction to the series. The mage Niklaren Goldeye gathers 4 young people (Sandry, Daja, Tris, and Briar) with unusual qualities to teach them to understand and use their abilities.The magic of natural things is explored-textiles, weather, metalsmithing and plants.

In Tris's Book, Winding Circle Temple is at risk by a pirate attack. The four young mages assist in defending the city. They have found they can communicate telepathically with each other, and they explore their own abilities as well as combine their magic for a stronger effect.

In Daja's Book, the apprentices' abilities are being transferred to each other uncontrollably. They are challenged to discover more about how they are connected and learn to manage their skills better instead of going wherever the magic leads.

in Briar's Book, an epidemic is attacking the city. One of Briar's street friends asks for his help. He soon learns that the disease is beyond Rosethorn's healing abilities. Each member of Winding Circle is enlisted in the fight against the disease according to their abilities. Briar will prove his worth in the process and move finally beyond the status of street urchin and thief.

The Circle Opens books are for more advanced readers. They are more complex than the earlier Circle of Magic books, and they have more violence than the earlier books. The books are captivating and explore the mages' abilities in detail. The nuances are intriguing, and the there is mystery, adventure, and drama in all of them. However, I would not recommend for young readers. RL=7th-YA

In Magic Steps, Sandrilene has found a young mage with a more unusual ability than hers-dancing. As their is no one available with the training to teach him, the responsibility falls on her as the discoverer of his powers. First she must convince him and his family of the necessity of training him.

There are invisible killers loose in Emelan taking vengeance on one particular family. As their vengeance continues, Sandry and her student are drawn into the mystery. Their particular talents may be the key to stopping the killers.

Street Magic takes place in the city of Chammur. Briar spies a street urchin polishing rocks in the marketplace. The seller knows the rocks she touches sell better, but all she knows is that certain rocks call to her. When he approaches her, she runs, and Briar plays a cat and mouse game trying to convince her she needs a teacher. They both run afoul of the street gangs in the city-especially one controlled by a wealthy widow. When the gang learns of Evvy's ability, they try to lure and then capture her to work for them-not knowing the devastating consequences of crossing a mage as powerful as Briar (and even Evvy) even though he is only 14. The story is less about magic than it is about gangs and street life plus the intrigue of the wealthy widow.

In Cold Fire, Daja and Frostpine are staying in Namorn with old friends of Frostpine. Daja finds that the twin daughters of the family have ambient magic (as she does). She recruits a teacher for each according to her ability, but she has to train them in meditation-each in a different way to suit her personality. Their training interrupts her own projects. There has been a rash of fires set in the island region. She is drawn into helping to control them and tracking the arsonist. She is also attempting to design clothing for the leader of the fire brigades since he is personally involved in every firefight.

There are clues from the beginning about who sets the fires, but there is still suspense about why and how he will be caught. The story is a little dark and sad. But it is captivating, and the concepts are thought-provoking.
related-fire prevention and protection against fire, cooking, woodworking, arson, abuse, hospital, ice skating, metalworking, twins, forms of meditation

In Shatterglass, Niko and Tris have travelled to Tharios for a huge conference for mages. As Tris explores the glass shops, she meets Keth who has blown a living dragon of glass. He tries to demolish the dragon as it was an accident, and she saves it from him. She learns that he is a lightening mage with no knowledge of his power, and so he becomes her responsibility.

In exploring the city, she also learns of the class system in which prathmuni are untouchables because the handle all wastes of the city (including the dead) and of the deaths of the yaskesdasi that no one cares about because they are only poor, wanton street performers. That is, they don't care until they are left by the murderer in public places to defile the cleanliness of the city. Naturally, Tris and Keth become involved in the case.

In The Will of the Empress, Daja, Briar, and Tris come home to Emelan from their travels. They each return with dark secrets wondering if they will still be accepted and unwilling to open up their mental connection to each other. Though bickering as a result of their disconnection, Duke Vedris asks the 3 to accompany Sandry to her family's home in Namorn as Sandry's cousin, the Empress of Namorn, is demanding her presence. They know right away the Empress wants to keep Sandry there (by force if necessary), but they soon learn that she wants all of them to stay. Their connection is evetually reforged and strengthened by the conflicts with the Namornese which they face.

For me, there was a little too much court nonsense in the story, and the middle dragged as a result (maybe because Pierce's dealing with 4 people's reactions to court life). The excitement level does, however, pick up in the second half of the book. With the Namornese kidnapping law, it resembles a Victorian novel at times with the damsel in distress situation. It is handled fairly well, and there is a point to it. As usual the mages' abilities lend complexity to the story. Those enjoying the story will be thrilled.
related-courts and courtiers, rulers, friendship

City of Fire by Laurence Yep.
Tom Dougherty Associates/Tor: NY, 2009.

I was happy to see Laurence Yep's new book, since I haven't seen anything of his in a while. I read most of his books in the years before writing reviews, so I need to work on reviews for his books. I have always liked his style, ranging from his highly historical Newbery honor books Dragonwings and Dragon's Gate to his young readers Later, Gator and Skunk Scout and his powerful Hiroshima.

City of Fire is different from anything else I've read by Yep. An alternate history/fantasy story that gives the impression that it could have existed within a subset of the San Francisco community of 1941. The use of local history and myth (for San Francisco and Hawaii) adds realism and encourages readers to explore further the events and culture. In fact, there are research activities and study questions supplied, such as comparisons of what is history or created by the author.

City of Fire is the first of a trilogy, so much of it is setting up the series. A group of unlikely characters join together to try to stop a murderous thief. Young Scirye, a descendant of the ancient Kushan Empire avenging her sisters death. Kles, her lap griffin and trusted companion. Leech, an orphan boy with undiscovered powers. His friend Koko, protective of Leech, since he is more adept at life on the streets. Bayang, a dragon in disguise, sent to assassinate one foe but finding another more appropriate. Their common enemy is Mr. Roland whose goal to obtain the Five Lost Treasures of Emperor Yi would give him control of the universe. There is as much conflict among their gang as with the culprits. Their pursuit takes them to a magically created Hawaiian island, where they join forces with Pele, the volcano goddess.

Questions of honor and identity make the story more than just another fantasy quest. For ex., Bayang's change of course as she becomes involved with her prey, and Leech's self-analysis after learning who he is (or was). I enjoyed the blurring of fantasy and history. The use of a historical man-made island to compare with the one magically created. The flying carpet may be an old idea, but it was used to advantage. Bayang and Pele both are great characters, showing a different face to humanity. Both choose a weak facade (with plenty of spirit) as disguise. Scirye shows promise as well. I'll definitely be watching for the next installment, City of Ice.

related-magic, dragons, Hawaii, Pele, mythology, high interest
RL=6th and up
Reading level is low, but a little violent and longer than Yep's books for younger readers.

Clariel by Garth Nix.
HarperCollins Publishers: NT, 2014.
The Abhorsen or Old Kingdom series

I waited many years for this to come out, only to miss it when it did. I am not disappointed, but it went a different direction than I expected. It didn't satisfy my curiosity about Clariel. She has much more story to tell, and the same is true of her cousin Bel. Most of the story is buildup, and the readers are definitely left hanging.

Clariel and her mother are in the family line for rule of the kingdom and the Abhorsen responsibility. None of the grownups in either family seem to be interested in their position or responsibility. The King is in seclusion and wishing for his heir to arrive and take over. The Abhorsen is more interested in game hunting. Clariel's mom is a goldsmith focused only on her artistry. Bel is the driving force behind any concern and is frantically learning Abhorsen duties. Clariel has been taught nothing and is happy to stay in her forest out of the way of it all. But it is not to be. Clearly, she will not get what she wants. The governor of Belisaere sees a chance to take the whole kingdom. Clariel is inevitably drawn into the events.

The book is a departure in a couple ways. With it being a prequel, well in advance of Sabriel, it feels like a different place and background. 600 years difference can change a place. Also, the other books were about Abhorsens and the walking dead. Clariel is not the Abhorsen, though there is a sense that she could be. She is instead pitted against free magic. It felt to me like the story is a story telling why her story isn't going to be told. In this process, I was waiting to see more of Bel then, and that really didn't happen either. It felt like the book wasn't finished. I'm okay with that for now. We'll see where Nix intends to go next. Still enjoy the series and waiting to read more.

related-free magic, fantasy, politics, lineage, personal independence, choice vs destiny
RL=7th and up

Click by 10 authors: Linda Sue Park, David Almond, Eoin Colfer, Deborah Ellis, Nick Hornby, Roddy Doyle, Tim Wynne-Jones, Ruth Ozeki, Margo Lanagan, Gregory Maguire.
Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Inc: NY, 2007.

Ten exceptional authors each insert their own perspective and style to create this novel with one surprise after another. Linda Sue Park introduces the focal point-a recently deceased photojournalist who has traveled the world, exhibited powerful work, and touched many lives. He has left two grandchildren mementos which are meant to direct their paths in a way that they will use their hearts and minds to interact with the world as he has done.

The story does not progress in the standard timeline format, but each chapter has a special point-of-view that connects to the legacy of George Keane, the photographer. The chapters seem like separate short stories, but each chapter has a power of its own and builds one upon the other, as if each were a snapshot, to form an amazing portfolio. I particularly like the symbolism of each chapter being a different snapshot, a different view of the world.

It would be interesting to hear how the authors proceeded with their combined effort. The story is so cohesive and flowing despite shifts in thought and storyline. I think each author must have waited his/her turn as preceding chapters were written-similar to role-playing games. Since it is dedicated to Amnesty International, was there a plan all along to focus on multiculturalism, understanding of humanity, and openheartedness, or were some of the connections happy coincidences as the story unfolded? Was there an intention of challenging the readers to add on their own chapters as well, or was that solely Gregory Maguire's doing?

related-photojournalism, photography, legacies, adventures, world travel, death, adoption, war, imprisonment, molestation, sea creatures, families, boxing, nuclear devastation, friendship, kindness, understanding, atomic radiation, clones, memories, generations

A Coalition of Lions by Elizabeth E. Wein.
Viking/Penguin Group: NY, 2003.

A Coalition of Lions is the 2nd book of the series, touching on King Arthur lore. It takes place after Arthur's death. Britain is in chaos; Arthur's heir killed also; Medraut (Mordred's equivalent) is missing, presumed dead; and Arthur's daughter Goewin escapes Morgause's scheming, fleeing to Aksum (now Ethiopia). Aksum is also in transition. Goewin arrives to find the British ambassador has become the viceroy, mentoring the young Aksum heir. The Aksum ambassador accompanying Goewin is immediately placed under house arrest, on suspicion of possible treason, due to his ranking high up on the inheritance list. The whole book deals with straightening out matters in Aksum. The viceroy is the next heir for Britain's kingdom, on approval of Goewin, who is disinclined to agree based on his behavior. It's a stalemate, with casualties, until Goewin looks beyond Aksum for a higher authority. She finds the authority, but is given different advice than expected.

The blending of Arthurian legend and African history is intriguing. Political tug of war is the bulk of the story, centering around the relationships of Goewin, Priamos (Aksum ambassador), and Constantine (British ambassador and heir/Aksum viceroy). There is a touch of romance, mostly providing conflict. Ethiopian details (lions, coffee, historical conflicts) add much to the story. The last Arthurian battle is handled somewhat differently than legend, which works for the story. All in all, a compelling read.

The first book of the series is The Winter Prince.

related-King Arthur, 6th century, Mordred, Aksum, Africa, princesses
RL=7th and up

The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
Roaring Brook Press: Brookfield, CT, 2003.

This story feels to me like an Indian version of The Lord of the Rings for young children. 12 year old Anand is asked by a master healer/wise man to assist him in returning a powerful artifact to a distant Himalayan valley, after Anand proves himself worthy. It was stolen by an adept of the valley, and this man, as powerful as Anand's companion, will do anything to get it back. A homeless girl, Nisha, invites herself along, and both are tested along their journey.

Magic and creatures share the journey, but one way this is different from the average fantasy quest is that the tests undergone are allegorical, the lessons have spiritual meanings. There are echoes of the Eastern religions, though it may be just lessons towards striving to be a better person. In order for the three to reach their destination, Anand at least has to continue to prove his worthiness. The initial test is reminiscent of Jesus to me as well. Anand cares for an old man he believes to be helpless, who turns out to be a miracle worker.

I enjoyed the characters and writing style of the book. The adventure moves right along. I could have wished for more moments with Abadhyatta, but that's the way of fantasy quests. The mentor disappears in order to not take over the whole story. Nisha is a good counterpoint to Anand's constant goodness.

related-healers, shells, magic, journeys and travels, India, adventures

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins: NY, 2008.

Frank Cottrell Boyce has launched another crazy story idea. The creator of a Chinese theme park offers four children the opportunity to be the first kids in space, though the mission is secret.

A fifth kid manages to hitch a ride, masquerading as a dad of another child. Liam Digby is a 12 year old who looks like an adult, tall and slightly bearded. That is how he pulls off the dadliness, but he also has to set up a plausible scenario to convince his parents and his friend's that they will be at a camp for weeks. He also has some learning to do in order to continue pulling off the dad facade. As a gifted and talented student, he is quite good at hands-on learning.

The original intention is to shoot the kids into space alone. Liam convinces them to send a dad as a chaperon. He wants to go, but a contest will determine the adult to be sent. The mission is supposed to be a piece of cake, just some buttons to push when told. The students and dads do go through some training first, but as you can imagine all does not go according to plan. Liam really needs to be an adult, keeping the team focused, to overcome the problems that arise.

Like the eccentric Framed, it is a comical, quirky story with inspirational moments. Liam bumbles through school a bit, but is an accomplished leader type on his own time. It gets him into difficult situations. He's used to his dad following him in his taxi and bailing him out of trouble. He's gone too far this time.

related-rockets, space travel, astronauts, father/child relationships, moonwalk, Waterloo, light sci fi, humorous
RL=6th and up

The Dark Is Rising Series by Susan Cooper.
Over Sea, Under Stone. Harcourt, Inc: NY, 1965.
The Dark Is Rising. Atheneum: NY, 1973. Newbery Honor 1974
Greenwitch. Atheneum: NY, 1974.
The Grey King. Atheneum: NY, 1975. Newbery Award 1976
Silver on the Tree. Athenuem: NY, 1977.

RL=5th-adult       *Some of the books may be challenging for grade levels under 7th.

I finished my second reading of The Dark Is Rising series. The first was 4 to 5 years ago, and I remember being excited and enthralled by it. This time, looking at it more objectively, I noticed that there is an excitement building within the books similar to an orchestra rising to a crescendo. This is an impressive achievement for the author. The series is a masterful work of storytelling. It has the complexity of Tolkien without the heaviness. The language is filled with the High Magic making the reading an awesome poetical experience.

The story just touches on Arthurian legend, and yet it still has a strong Arthurian feel. The books are heavily laced with a mystical and magical sense of purpose and of destiny, though a wrong turning at one point or another could change the whole outcome.

In Over Sea, Under Stone, Simon, Jane, and Barney find a crumbling manuscript with a map in the attic of an old house in Cornwall. They rejoice at the opportunity for a treasure hunt, and they become drawn into a much more important quest. It is a race between the forces of good and evil. As the story unfolds, there are references to the days of King Arthur and a hint of adventures to come in the rest of the series.
related-Cornwall, good vs evil, quest, King Arthur

In The Dark Is Rising, Will Stanton discovers that he is, like Merriman Lyon, one of the Old Ones-the immortals who strive unceasingly to curtail the domination of the Dark. His first task as a newly awakened Old One, is to gather the six Signs that are needed to overcome the Dark in the final battle, and in so doing, learn what it means to be an Old One and what is expected of him. During the twelve days of Christmas, the power of the Dark increases. Will is confronted by Dark forces throughout his quest as they try to stop the fulfillment of his destiny.

This complex fantasy is loaded with symbolism and allusions to ancient Celtic and English traditions and legends. Will has been drawn into a whole new world as he continues in his own family and village as well. The blending of his worlds is fantastical and spectacular. The book is a departure from the first. It can stand alone as a splendid story as well as being connected through the character of Merriman Lyon and the continuing contest of wills between the Light and Dark forces.
related-Buckinghamshire, good vs evil, quest, Christmas, village life, traditions and legends-Celtic and English

In Greenwitch, the grail has been stolen from its museum. Simon, Jane, and Barney return with Great-Uncle Merry to help restore it to the Light. They also wish to retrieve the scroll which is the key to the markings on the grail. Will Stanton joins them in their endeavors.

The creation of the Greenwitch is the centerpoint of the story. The local women construct the Greenwitch annually, and she is thrown into the sea as a sacrifice. Jane watches the ceremony in fear and sympathy. While humans made it and the Light and Dark can call it forth, controlling it is another matter since the Light and Dark have no authority over the Wild Magic. In the end, Jane's bond with the Greenwitch is an important factor in the resolution of their crisis.
related-good vs evil, Wild Magic, Cornwall

Like the 2nd book, The Grey King is laced heavily with symbolism and myth and legend. Will Stanton recuperates in Wales with relatives after a terrible illness and must fulfill his first quest without help from other Old Ones as he faces the strongest of the Dark forces yet. A local boy named Bran is introduced and will play a major part in the last book. This particular book also focuses more on human character-feelings, motivations, obsessions, and free will.
related-Wales, good vs evil, Pendragon

In Silver on the Tree, the Dark is rising for the last time. Bran and Will go in search of the crystal sword made for the Light but kept by the maker. The Drew children play a part in protecting Bran as he fulfills his destiny. As the Dark is challenging them, they are drawn through time to face fear, nightmares, and even death.

Silver on the Tree is totally wrapped in mystical symbolism. It is very much the Arthurian quest (a continuation of the quest in The Grey King). So heavily mythological, and yet, it works. There is again the blending of times through the use of the land (done to a greater extent in The Dark Is Rising).
related-Wales, good vs evil, Pendragon, Lost Land, dreams, nightmares

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling.
Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, Inc: NY, 2007.

A spectacular ending for Rowling's phenomenal series! I expected that the ending would not be about who was best at spells in a duel, since Harry could not hope to win. I could not fathom how JKR would solve the conflict, though. In the end, Voldemort defeats himself. Harry knows and uses the knowledge to his advantage.

It is gratifying to know finally that I was right about some essential points and excited to learn there were surprises that could not have been predicted. Rowling has given the feeling of loss that you would expect from a war without a total bloodbath. It is a bit of a roller coaster ride-with changing loyalties and unexpected adventures.

As always there are the entertaining details for which Rowling is loved-although less humor as is fitting. A couple particularly nice touches are the way everyone uses their strengths to do their part (expelliarmus as Harry's choice for the final duel, Prof. Sprout and Neville bringing plants into the fray, the use of the Room of Requirement, Hermione and Ron's help with the horcruxes) and the evidence in the epilogue of Harry's forgiveness and true understanding (as well as Ron's lack of change).The Diary of Pelly D by L. J. Adlington.
Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2005.
Originally by Hodder Children's Books: Great Britain, 2005.

Toni V, a teenager working on a demolition crew that cleans up after the War, finds Pelly D's diary buried in the Plaza. He smuggles it into his sleeping quarters and reads it in his spare time. Pelly D is a beautiful, rich girl who is used to getting whatever she wants. Political changes disrupt her world. Toni V becomes enchanted by her writings.

The novel is written in a distinctly modern to futuristic style, but there are subtle references to the Holocaust of World War II. There are also references to the go with the flow, don't make waves, do what you're told attitude of present times. The book explores how a democracy or republic can change into a more totalitarian, tyrannical society.
related-diary, domination, persecution, Holocaust, electronic surveillance

Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones.
Greenwillow Books: NY, 1988.
Originally published in Great Britain, 1975.

The star Sirius is convicted of murder of another star by a panel of celestial judges. He is sentenced to life on Earth as a dog and compelled to find the missing Zoi (meteorite with powers) used to kill the luminary. If he can locate it, his sentence will be terminated and his position reinstated.

Born into a litter of pups that is thrown into a river, Sirius struggles free of the bag and is brought home by Kathleen, an Irish girl living with her uncle's family in Britain. She saves him, and he in return is her companion in an uncomfortable household. Learning to manage in the family and town, Sirius searches for the Zoi and learns the real culprit is trying to kill him. Through his searching he meets townspeople and the rest of the litter of pups.

Three things struck me about this book. All of the celestial bodies are personalities (Sirius, Polaris, Earth, Moon, Sol, etc). Sol and Earth are the two having the most contact with Sirius in the story, and therefore stronger descriptions. I liked this aspect of the book. It is mostly a starting point, but because it is so different it makes a big impression. Next, Sirius's life as a dog - having to adjust to the new form and feelings. Much of the story is about the challenges of adapting, reminding me of Eva, though Dogsbody was published first. He's a dog with uncommon intelligence. He cannot speak to Kathleen, but he learns language well enough to understand speech. Lastly, is the relationships. There is maybe a little too much of the clich´e; mistreatment of dog and Irish girl, but the interaction between the dog and girl, dog and cats, and dog and townspeople fills in the gaps between action moments. The story has a slower pace than what is usual nowadays, but it thoroughly portrays the dog life, which I found to be more interesting than the adventure aspect, although I was interested in knowing what would happen when the Zoi was found.

Of note is that the book was published in 1975 and does not feel aged. I completely enjoyed Sirius's character and thoughts, his warring of dog and luminary natures, his conflicts of interest (ex. comforting Kathleen vs searching for the Zoi).

related-stars, science fiction/fantasy, mystery, dogs, relationships between animals and humans, pets
RL=5th and up

The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey.
(mostly) Ballantine Books/Random House:NY.

Dragonquest ©1971
The White Dragon © 1978

These first three have also been published as a 3 story set and are closely related.

Dragonsong © 1976 Simon & Schuster Childrens Publications: NY
Dragonsinger © 1977 Atheneum/Macmillan Publishing Company: NY
Dragondrums © 1979 Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster
The Masterharper of Pern © 1998 Ballantine Publishing/Random House

These four books are the harper series and are parallel to the first three. They have some of the same characters with a focus on different subject matter. They have a more historical and artistic feel to them as opposed to fantasy/science fiction. They are the books that first drew my attention and captured it.

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern ©1983
Nerilka's Story ©1986
Dragonsdawn ©1988
The Renegades of Pern ©1989
The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall ©1993
All the Weyrs of Pern ©1991
Dragonseye ©1997

Dragon's Kin (with son Todd McCaffrey) ©2003 Del Rey/Ballantine Books
Dragonsblood (Todd McCaffrey) ©2005 Del Rey/Ballantine Books

Anne McCaffrey has created a whole new world for readers. The people have come from a highly technological society and travelled to a solar system far from Earth in an attempt to leave behind the constant and seriously destructive warfare. The colonization was an attempt to start again with a far less technological and more cooperative culture. Each book delves deeper into the culture, and the detail with which the series is described is impressive and exciting.

**The author suggests that books in the series be read in the order of publication.

Dragonflight: This story explains the threat of thread and the necessity of the dragons and dragon partners. Not everyone believes it is a real threat. F'lar becomes the one of the leaders of the society(weyrleader) as he prepares for and convinces people of the necessity of preparedness. His weyrwoman finds a way to save the people since they are not ready for the peril.

Dragonquest: The oldtimers who have been fighting thread the longest are causing problems. They live by a different set of rules, the landowners (holders) are becoming angry and uncooperative as a result. F'lar tries to find a better solution for thread and friction caused by the oldtimers.

The White Dragon: Jaxom is to inherit Ruatha Hold, but a trustee is managing it until he is of age. Meanwhile, he attends a dragon hatching and unintentionally bonds with a dragon(which means he has to raise it). This is unheard of for a Lord Holder, but Ruth is no ordinary dragon. Jaxom is allowed to keep Ruth as a "pet," but soon he is training him also in secret.

Dragonsong: Music is more important than anything to Menolly. Between her father forbidding her to continue with her music and a serious injury to her hand, she decides she will leave home(even though she could die without shelter from thread). While hiding from thread, she discovers fire lizards hatching. She feeds them, and they attach themselves to her. She gets caught out in the open one day with a thread storm coming and is found by a dragonrider on duty.

Dragonsinger: This is a continuation of Menolly's story. It is also an explanation of the importance and work of the harper network and the importance of Menolly within that network. It is a complex and heartwarming story. The harpers are my favorite part of the series.
Dragondrums: When Piemur's voice changes, he becomes the masterharper's personal assistant and is sent to do political work in the field.

The Masterharper of Pern: Robinton, son of the composer Petiron and the singer Merelan, is exceptionally gifted from the start. His talents develop quickly with special opportunities and attention. This is the account of how he becomes The Masterharper.

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern: A mysterious illness spreads across Pern (possibly started by a runnerbeast) killing holders, craftsmen, and dragonriders.

Nerilka's Story: Embarassed by her family's unwillingness to help during a deadly plague, packs medicines and supplies and leaves home. In her quest to help, she arrives at Ruatha Hold and finds a new life for herself.

Dragonsdawn: The early settlers have their first confrontation with thread and start to genetically engineer and use dragons.

The Renegades of Pern: This is the story of the outsiders on Pern-the travelling traders, the people who lost holds, those exiled for wrongdoing, and those choosing to live as outlaws. Lady Thella is the worst of the thieves, and there is a whole group trying to stop her evil plans.

The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall: These are short stories of Pern. Some of them are extensions of the other books, and some are completely new ideas.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Excavation of some of the Southern continent's buildings uncovers some of the lost technology. A new plan is formed which will hopefully end the cycles of thread.

Dragonseye: Their training teaches them that thread is shortly going to fall for the second time since inhabiting the planet. It has been two centuries, and some of the Lord Holders doubt the teachings. This is the first time chronologically that weyr and hold preparedness is in question.

Dragon's Kin: Kindan's father is experimenting with watch-whers(relatives of dragons) in the mines. When his father is killed in a mining accident, Kindan is asked to raise a young watch-wher to carry on this important work.

Dragonsblood: The dragons contract a deadly disease. It is spreading quickly, and the weyrs race against time to find a way to save the dragons before they lose so many that thread is impossible to stop.

The books were written for adults but appeal to younger readers as well-starting with maybe 5th to 6th level.

Dragons & Dreams ed. by Jane Yolen, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh.
Harper & Row Junior Books: NY, 1986.

Ten tales of fantasy and wonder are collected here-including a mysterious box that cannot be opened, an enchanting glass ball with something living inside of it, a girl who controls her dreams, and a subway that travels through time and to alternate universes. If you are looking for more variety and shorter length of stories, this is a good place to start.

Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2005.

This one took a bit of acclimation. The book starts with one of the dreamhunters, Tziga Hame, broadcasting dreams to an audience. This part of the world is very different from ours. Part of the world of the Hames and the Tiebolds is the Place. Only a few can go there, and even less can catch dreams to share with others. The origin of the dreams is unknown, as is the reason for the existence of the Place, but the dreams have been used for decades to affect people, mostly pleasantly.

Cousins, Laura Hame and Rose Tiebold, are daughters of famous dreamhunters; they are coming up on their chance to Try to enter the Place. If successful, it will change their lives forever. Laura's father, Tziga, has been hiding a secret from the family regarding the Place, one that's tearing him apart. He disappears due to political intrigue, but he has left clues to the secret in the Place.

Tziga's disappearance is devastating for Laura. She's determined to find the clues her father left and frustrated that her aunt and uncle are standing in the way. She finds that she has inherited an unsuspected family power and what her father asks of her may be too much to ask.

The story is a dark fantasy with tantalizing aspects. The dreamhunting is an odd concept to build an industry around, yet Hollywood has some similarities. Some history of the Place has been revealed in the book to explain Tziga and his behavior. I'm wondering if some cataclysmic event happened to initiate the Place and some explanation will be in the sequel, as the story is definitely left hanging and there appear to be links to the Hame ancestors. Laura and her father's exceptional power is a cool idea, though it has some dark implications. The characters are great with tender and passionate moments. The story is full of mystery and anticipation. The cliffhanger makes me want to start the next book Dreamquake now, and I can since it's available already.

related-dreams, family life, political intrigue, exploitation

Eager by Helen Fox.
Wendy Lamb Books/Random House: NY, 2004.

At the end of the 21st century, the Technocrats rule. Everyone else gets leftovers. The servant class is robots, with the newest and best going to the Technocrats. There is a new model on the market. The BDC4s are made by LifeCorp, the company that controls all technology.

There is also blackmarket technology. Gangs steal the newer technology to study and make their own. As a result, students are protected by robots and the Technocrat community is gated and policed.

The bell family is in need of a new robot. They are not Technocrats, but Mr. Bell knows a scientist, Professor Ogden, that left LifeCorp to pursue his own research. He has made a new robot, a prototype, that he wants the Bells to use as a test. So, EGR3 (or just Eager) lives with the family and learns from them and their old robot. Eager has been made to be like humans. Thinking for himself and starting fresh, as a baby would. Of course, he learns much more quickly than a baby.

The BDC4s have similar qualities, but they have had memories transferred to them from a human instead. So, they have emotions (including desires) implanted in them, based on the human memories, without going through the process of building a moral background. Odd behavior on the part of the BDC4s is being noticed.

I enjoyed Eager and his interactions with the family members. The story is similar to the movie Bicentennial Man regarding the education of Eager and the philosophical conversations that occur. It is also like I, Robot in that the BDC4s go rogue and that Asimov's principles are discussed. A nice, creative addition is the holographic Greek philosopher used for lessons and conversing. related-robots, free will, philosophy, the meaning of alive, science fiction, dystopia
RL=5th and up

The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.
A Richard Jackson Book/Orchard Books: NY, 1994.
Newbery Honor 1995

Zimbabwe 2194: General Matsika's children (Tendia, Rita and Kuda) live and learn in an environment isolated from almost all people. Tendai has wished for adventure, and he and Rita plan to travel across the city-taking Kuda along-to earn scout merit badges. A simple bus ride turns into a life-changing event when they are kidnapped during a snack from a vendor. The mutant detectives (Ear, Eye, and Arm) are one step behind the children as they are kept by and escape different groups with different intents.

Privileged and forsaken people, modern and ancient traditions are blended in this extraordinary story. With an odd mix of characters and events, Farmer tells a story like no one else. She gives a comparison of old and new worlds with pros and cons in both, and heroes emerge in unexpected circumstances.

related-science fiction, fantasy, Zimbabwe, Shona mythology, detective stories, kidnapping, coming of age, storytelling

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson.
Tom Doherty Associates/TOR: NY, 2005.

Elantris, the city of legendary power and magnificence, full of god-like beings, captured me from the beginning, though the city is already abandoned and in decay. I wanted to see more of it and learn how it's destroyed. The city of Kae is nextdoor and has wrested control of the Arelon region. A merchant king commands the people, and as a result, life is in disarray. A mysterious affliction (hair falling out and skin blotches) marks the fallen citizens of Elantris and dooms them to a living death. As residents of Kae fall victim to the disease, they are banished to Elantris, with Kae assuming they are dead, not knowing or caring about their existence.

Raoden, the prince of Arelon, is afflicted. A burial ensues, and the calamity is hushed up. He loses the governing of one city to organize another in more need. His arranged marriage is disrupted by his death. His princess comes to live in Kae anyway and is embroiled in its politics.

Meanwhile, two religions (offshoots of the same one) are warring over the region. The gentle Shu-Korath which Princess Sarene tries to preserve and militaristic Shu-Dereth which seeks to take over the world. A high priest of Shu-Dereth appears in Kae, vying for the king's compliance and favor of the populace.

As Raoden works to make Elantris livable, the cataclysm precipitating the decline of the city is revealed, as well as the basis for the city's past power.

To me the story echoes events of this past decade. It is a study of what governing leaders ought to be and what they often are instead. The religious struggles also are reminiscent of reality. I enjoy the use of fantasy, in this case magical power controlled by Aons (somewhat like runes), to discuss psychology, philosophy and politics in the world. It never ceases to amaze me how real fantasy is.

Elantris is Brandon Sanderson's first published book. It was written as a stand alone book, though plenty of room has been left for future expansion. Sanderson is now considering a sequel due to readers' requests.

related-blessing and cursing, city and town life, princesses, princes, religious followers

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2005.

Fifteen-year-old Liza Hall dies when she is hit by a car and finds there is life after death in a place called Elsewhere. Once she accepts her situation she has a life much like on Earth. Many things that people speculate about are tied into the story. It is creative and well-developed. It builds on the ideas of life being a circle and people living many lives instead of one. The book may offend some people because there is no mention of God or heaven, but I found it to be a fresh and insightful story regarding life.
related-death, future life, reincarnation, relationships, contact with Earth, life after death for pets

Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card.
Tom Doherty Associates: NY, 1999.

The leaders of Earth expect to be annihilated by an insect-like alien race. Their one hope is the Battle School that is training special children to confront the eventual threat. Ender Wiggin is the boy that they believe is most likely to succeed in defending Earth.

Ender's Shadow is a parallel book to Ender's Game which is the first of the series. Bean is the second choice for commander of the forces. He is trained alongside Ender and becomes his strategist and friend. Ender's Shadow is totally from Bean's point-of-view, and the interweaving of their stories makes for an incredible book.

I am not all that interested in war stories and tend to avoid them. However, these two Ender books are more about human development and interaction (or noninteraction) with others and strategy and attention to detail than they are about battles.

*For the full impact, Ender's Game should be read first.

Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton.
Delacorte Press/Random House, Inc: NY, 2006.

An ancient book of magical power (the ultimate book) is sought after (in 1453 and the present) by learned bibliophiles. In 1453 it falls into the hands of Gutenberg's young apprentice who brings it to Oxford as he flees. Bibliophiles through history seek its power until it chooses 12-year-old Blake Winters to heal the damage done to it and stop the Person of Shadow from attaining it.

Excellent first book by Skelton. A mix of fantasy, historical fiction and mystery, it takes place mostly in present time Oxford, England with flashbacks and connections to the past. The story is suspenseful through the whole, incorporating some elements from Faust and history and a social conflict to root it in the present.
related-books, Faust, wellspring of knowledge, good vs evil, family separation

Matt's Review at Ex Libris

Eva by Peter Dickinson.
Delacorte Press/Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group: NY, 1988.
Oiginally publ by Victor Gollancz Ltd: Great Britain, 1988.

Eva's body died in an accident. Her neuron memories have been transferred to a chimpanzee's body (from the research Pool of chimps with which her father works). Eva is primarily about how she adapts in the chimp's body. Because most people would have difficulty seeing her as a human, she gradually becomes more chimpanzee than human.

The story takes place at an unnamed time in the future when the human population has destroyed almost all natural habitat. The chimpanzees are one of the few animals left in the world and only that because they are useful for research. Living among the chimps, Eva begins to understand their point of view regarding research and captivity, and uses her celebrity status, as the only human/chimp, to find a natural habitat where she and a select few of the Reserve chimps can live.

Eva was written before YA literature became popular. It was written for that age level, is easy to read, but has more depth than the average YA book. Many themes are packed into this short story, such as what it is to be human, animal rights vs ownership, corporate exploitation, overzealous media, and survival and evolution of a species. The issues arise naturally with the progress Eva makes in adapting to her new life.

I've only read a few of Dickinson's many books. In looking for more, I had read that Eva is one of the most acclaimed. I knew nothing about the book, but now I'd have to say I like it the best so far of what I've read. It has a depressing background mood: the overpopulation, media and corporate behavior, and her parents are not stellar characters. Her mother has difficulty accepting her daughter as a chimp, and her father sees her more of an experiment than a daughter. But Eva's character is great. Her decisions make sense, and I had no trouble empathizing with her plight. While it may not have been the best idea to do the neuron transfer to begin with, Eva makes the best of the situation.

This book touches on similar issues as Crichton's Next and Mary E. Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox, but Eva was written well before either of them. All three are fantastic books and explore their issues well.

related-chimpanzees, animals, treatment and rights, transplants of organs and tissue, medical research, corporate ethics, identity and ownership

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
Simon & Schuster: NY, 2003.
*Original publication. Wikipedia says Ballantine Books in 1953. The copy I read says copyright 1951. This refers to the novella The Firemen published in 1951 by Galaxy Science Fiction magazine of which this is an extension.

This is a case where I saw the movie before reading the book. I think I was in middle school, and it seemed strange but also interesting. I'm sure I didn't understand it fully. I'm just now getting around to reading it, though I've checked it out from the library before and thought off and on about reading it.

It is a dystopian novel that was most certainly politically induced. I was struck by the number of issues still a concern today, or again. Censorship, in this case book burning, seems to be an ever-present issue. However, I was surprised by the firemen captain's explanation for the burnings. First, just propaganda, that people naturally stopped reading after the dumbing down of books (which we are seeing again in publishing) and censoring to protect minorities, and that the burnings had been so since the beginning of the country. He explains later that books that force you to think cause the majority to feel inferior and unhappy, so the burnings are to protect people from thinking, and therefore, being unhappy. Burnings are not normally the standard mode of censorship for societies, but the book was written not long after WWII and Nazi burnings, and McCarthyism was already happening. Less known is that the U.S. has a long history of censorship, it just doesn't normally follow such an extreme course.

Another idea in the book is the use of television as a drug, which has become the greater part of some of the characters' lives, also a criticism today. In the book, the interactive television is the walls of a room. This would have been sci fi at the time, but exists today, and television has become as inane as the story suggests, though, as in the book, it has the potential for more quality. Faber, an old professor, explains to Montag, a fireman awakening from his empty life to knowledge, that it isn't the books themselves that have value but the quality of what is in some of them that should be saved.

The story also includes the subjects of suicide, peer pressure, exposing of neighbors for investigation and a lack of trial to go along with that, and a robotic dog used to sniff out the pursued. Another surprise, one I don't remember from the movie, is the comparison of the phoenix to atomic bombings, though there is no discussion of radiation. 1950 was near the end of the U.S. occupation of Japan. There must have been rebuilding of the cities to some degree previously. Obviously, the phoenix would be a much more hopeful representation than the after effects of an atomic bombing. And to say that the U.S. helped rebuild would be an oversimplification of facts.

I enjoy Bradbury's style of writing. He has easy, flowing language, though filled with metaphorical description. This book has a quick pace; I had to slow down and reread metaphors to fully appreciate the book. It is also quite short, making it simple enough for young adults to read for pleasure or assignment.

For me, books are a favorite motif in stories, adding to my enjoyment of the novel. I didn't expect the historical connections either. Though they are not specified in the story, they are historical occurrences that I knew enough about to make a connection and investigate to make sure I was correct in my thinking. This copy of the book has 3 introductions by Ray Bradbury, in which he also discusses his association with libraries and books and the inspiration for some themes. Interestingly, Wikipedia says Bradbury stated the book is not about censorship but the social effects of television.

I'm looking forward to watching the 1966 movie again, and there is a remake scheduled for release in 2012.

related-book burning, censorship, totalitarianism, state-sponsored terrorism, atomic warfare, television
RL=YA-adult, adult book

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett.
HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2000.

  • A replica of the Scone of Stone is stolen.

  • Commander Sam Vimes is called upon to do his ducal duty at the coronation of the Low King of Uberwald.

  • Vimes leaves Captain Carrot in charge of the City Watch, who then leaves Sergeant Colon in charge (Big mistake!), and enlists a scruffy dog to sniff out Sergeant Angua, who is heading to Uberwald on family business (sort of).

  • Sergeant Colon, now Captain Colon, goes on a power trip with a severe case of sugar cube paranoia.

  • Despite Vimes's best behavior, he meets confrontation at every turn.

  • Gaspode, the scruffy dog, ponders the complications of humans.

  • There are too many Igors to distinguish between them.

  • Corporal Nobbs forms a labor union and pickets, and the Watch is reduced to one holed up in the station.

  • Who's behind the uncalled for incarceration?

  • Duke Vimes enjoys a cigar in a hot spring before running pell-mell through the snowy forest.

  • Another visit from Death.

  • An attempted arrest ends in one dead, two operated on by Igor, and two missing.

  • An Igor's funeral - pieces to go.

  • Vimes and Lady Sybil take the scenic route home.

  • related-DiscWorld, Uberwald, dwarfs, werewolves, Commander Sam Vimes and Lady Sybil, Carrot and Angua, Colon and Nobbs, the Low King of Uberwald, diplomacy and power struggle, satire, humorous, social issues

    Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta.
    Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2010.
    Originally bp Viking/Penguin Books: Australia, 2008.
    Michael Printz Award author

    The kingdom of Lumatere was taken over 10 years ago by a pretender to the throne and propped up by neighboring kingdoms after the King and Queen and their children were slaughtered. Many of the citizens are in exile after fleeing the ensuing carnage. The borders have been magically sealed by a curse through those years and will be until the rightful heir returns. Finnikin of the Rock is the story of the heir coming home to the kingdom. A scrap of an orphan girl draws Finnikin, the son of the King's Guard, to her to set in motion the events needed to return: gathering the King's Guard and soldiers, the First Man (the King's adviser), the heir, the spiritual leader, and as many exiles as are willing to return.

    From the beginning, it is obvious that Evanjalin is a character of great heart and power. She is a dreamwalker/seer, and it is her unswerving conviction and path that everyone follows, even when it appears that she has not told the truth. Through the journey, Finnikin fights her control of the group, but also comes to see a great depth of soul in her. She is guided by memories and feelings more intense than others could guess. A relationship develops between them until the truth is revealed, leaving Finnikin with heartache and uncertainty.

    Much has been made about this book being a departure for the author, in that it is fantasy. I have found in my reading that fantasy books have some of the deepest realism of all (at least the best fantasy does). I haven't read her other books, but am more inclined to do so now. Finnikin of the Rock is realism, no matter the backdrop. As with other fantasy, I like the undercurrent of issues related to events of our times. The exiles feel very much like what is going on in the United States; I don't know about other places. Marchetta writes about a lack of faith and displaced people without a community waiting desperately for someone to lead them back to a more positive life. She also puts in a word about wars. The coming home is a whole process. It takes a while and successive events for people to believe that it is even possible. Then certain criteria must be met to fulfill the prophecy. The faith in Evanjalin and the idea of regaining the kingdom builds as the journey progresses. There is a point when the whole plan could fall apart, even after how far they've come. It is such a huge thing that human frailty can be the undoing. Yes, this feels much like what is happening politically today. Sadness and frustration with what we have lost. Knowing the possibilities are still there, but who is worthy to lead? Do we have the strength as a people anymore to rebuild? The author is Australian not American, but it would not surprise me if many places are having similar struggles. Economic trends span the world, and the crux is an economic power struggle.

    related-royalty, saving the kingdom, revolution, return to normalcy, heirs, romance

    Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson.
    G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Group: NY, 2009.

    Fire is the second of this elemental series; the first was Water. McKinley and Dickinson are a husband and wife team, both having received awards on their own, both excellent storytellers. McKinley's forte is in the retelling of folk tales (such as Beauty, The Outlaws of Sherwood, and Spindle's End, though she also received a Newbery for The Hero and the Crown and a Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword. Dickinson writes fantasy with a strong sense of the historical, tending towards ancient history. The Ropemaker and A Bone from a Dry Sea are books I've read of his (He has written close to fifty. As he is British, his books are harder to come by here.).

    Spirits closely related to fire would be the phoenix, hellhounds, and dragons. It's no surprise the first story incorporates the phoenix. The connection of the phoenix and the lifespan of individuals is the crux, with a forest caretaker keeping the phoenix as a companion (it cannot be called a pet with its nobility). I love their relationship, the details of the phoenix's routines, and the old retainer's life. In the second story, a hellhound is adopted as a pet, but uniquely it is fighting evil in the area. The setting is a horse stable with a young girl responsible for caring for horses and giving riding classes. I enjoyed her character and that of the hellhound the most. The third story was not as appealing to me. It seemed to me to be how a tribal community might have reacted to dragons attracted to their fires. What I like about the story is that the main character wasn't so sure it was necessary or good to destroy the nest of dragons. That was different. What I didn't like was that he went ahead and played a major part in destroying them anyway. The Salamander Man has creatures less traditionally linked to fire. But the man himself becomes full of fire when the salamanders combine their power. This is an interesting story, with wizards mostly as the bad guys. Too much power for anyone to hold, so the salamanders need to go back to their origination. The last is a dragon and dragonrider story with a young fellow training unofficially to be a healing wizard. Wizards are the 3rd rung on the ladder of respect. Though the boy has great potential, he hides because of the lack of respect. The dragonrider academy provides an opportunity for him to attract attention and gain respect for the healing profession. This is the longest and best of the stories. I would like to see it expanded into a novel. It felt like the story could have been extended so much farther.

    related-mythical animals, short stories, phoenix, hellhounds, dragons, dragonriders, horses

    Firebirds ed by Sharyn November.
    Firebird/Penguin Group: NY, 2003.

    Sixteen original stories by award-winning fantasy and science fiction authors. Firebird, an imprint of Penguin Group, celebrates these fine writers and is dedicated to this growing genre for young adult readers.

    There is an exciting mix of styles, and I enjoy sampling works like this that lead me to new favorites. The stories I found the most memorable are The Baby in the Night Deposit Box by Megan Whalen Turner (a child raised in a bank), Beauty by Sherwood Smith (the odd princess in the family is kidnapped to help an escaping prisoner, and he stays with her longer than necessary for her company), Byndley by Patricia A. McKillip (a wizard must return something he stole long ago from the faerie world), Hope Chest by Garth Nix (a strange western tale that my son says reminds him of the TV series Smallville), Chasing the Wind by Elizabeth E. Wein (the journey of a teenage girl to a plantation in Kenya), Little Dot by Diana Wynne Jones (from the perspective of a cat), and Flotsam by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (a girl cares for a homeless boy who turns out to be from the land of faeries.

    authors-Delia Sherman, Megan Whalen Turner, Sherwood Smith, Nancy Springer, Lloyd Alexander, Meredith Ann Pierce, Michael Cadnum, Emma Bull, Charles Vess (il for graphic story), Patricia A. McKillip, Kara Dalkey, Garth Nix, Elizabeth E. Wein, Diana Wynne Jones, Nancy Farmer, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Laurel Winter

    Firebirds Rising ed by Sharyn November.
    Firebird/Penguin Group: NY, 2006.

    This is an awesome collection of stories. Each fantasy story has a social issue at its core. All with teen protagonists. Some with specifically teen concerns. Despite the obvious social issues, none of the stories seem to be only written for the issue. Most of the stories are also realistic. (Kara Dalkey's Hives is too realistic; I can see it happening too near in the future). Short stories always leave me wanting to know more. This one even more so-I want to find more of the authors' works.

    To me Hives is one of the highlights. I'll Give You My Word by Diana Wynne Jones (a child fighting evil with words) and In the House of Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages (librarians continuing an old abandoned library and raising a child there) also struck a chord. Wintermoon Wish by Sharon Shinn has perhaps a historical feel. The House on the Planet by Tanith Lee has a few themes since it is about a community changing through time. All in all an excellent book! It's now one of my favorite short story collections-although I haven't read Firebird (its predecessor) yet.

    My one concern is that Tamora Pierce's Huntress starts the book. It does grab the reader's attention, but it is also shocking and violent. Despite being the first story, it does not set the tone for the book, and I believe it should have been further into the book. I'm not against the story (I have in fact written in defense of Tamora Pierce's use of violence.), just concerned it will put people off and keep them from reading an excellent collection.

    authors-Francesca Lia Block, Emma Bull, Kara Dalkey, Pamela Dean, Charles de Lint, Carol Emshwiller, Alan Dean Foster, Alison Goodman, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Tanith Lee, Kelly Link, Patricia A. McKillip, Sharon Shinn

    related-teen groups, hiding identity, alien/native companions and laborers, courting, bonding, little people, the power of words, progress, new technology, poverty, raising the next generation, folklore, local legend, fanciful creatures, teen suicide and alienation/isolation, racism, slavery, pioneers, settlement of another planet, land regeneration, belief systems, forms of communicating, mining, self-sacrifice

    Firebirds Soaring ed by Sharyn November.
    Firebird/Penguin Group: NY, 2009.

    Firebirds Soaring is the third collection in a series of what is some of the best short stories I have read. They are fantasy or science fiction stories (mostly fantasy) for Young Adults. Highly imaginative, widely ranging in content, with no bad writing in the bunch. I can tell by the caliber of writing that everyone involved is having a ball with the anthologies, and I have thoroughly enjoyed each one. Two things I love about these collections are that I learn about awesome authors I didn't already know and the short story format gives the authors a chance to write something totally different from their novels, since it's less of a commitment.

    In the Kingmaker by Nancy Springer, Wren has the power to perceive truth or lies, which comes in handy for dispensing justice. Her power could enable her to become the first High Queen of her homeland. In A Ticket to Ride by Nancy Farmer, Jason saves a homeless man and takes his place in reliving the man's life. Christopher Barzak spins a tale in which Midori (a misfit in her town) feels a strong connection to the foxes to which she is always compared - A Thousand Tails. She feels sure she truly is a fox, which would explain why she doesn't fit in. All Under Heaven by Chris Roberson has a historical feel, with its dying fishing trade, though it is futuristic. Ellen Klages's Singing On a Star is quite creepy. I loved it, but I can understand the young girl not wanting to go back to the world in the closet. Egg Magic by Louise Marley is another with a girl that knows she doesn't belong. She's obsessed with her mother she never knew and her father refuses to talk about. She wants out until the day she realizes she could lose her stepmother. In the sci fi Flatland by Kara Dalkey, Appie has the prime job for an 18 year old. She and her colleagues live and work in a cubio, where their schedules (lives) are arranged for them and all life is work related. She's a trendsetter, molding companies for the future. The story deals with opposing lifestyles, workaholics vs opting out or surrendering to The Void. Just experiencing The Void (while completely satisfying) can make it impossible to work. Candas Jane Dorsey's Dolly the Dog-Soldier is interesting but confusing to me. Partly because it isn't in sequence order, partly because I couldn't tell if Dolly is a dog or human. Ferryman by Margo Lanagan is an interesting version of the gatekeeper to the Underworld. You don't think of him having a family that he goes home to at night, yet here he does. In The Ghosts of Strangers by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, local dragons are fed ghosts of animals and people that become a part of their consciousness, as a way of gaining the wisdom of the world. This one is longer and complex, as the dragons are only part of the story. Jo Walton's Three Twilight Tales reminds me of Paul Fleischman's Graven Images, since it has three delightful tales with different protagonists all related to a small town and event. Carol Emshwiller's The Dignity He's Due was a surprise. A migratory family claims a connection to the French royalty. Camping out in towns along the Appalachian Trail, their are different opinions of what exactly is due the maybe-heir to the French throne. One wonders how many other claimants are wandering around in the world, and is it for real or is the mom crazy? Power and Magic by Marly Youmans is part romance, part social commentary. A teenage boy with great potential trying to court a girl who's afraid her potential will be squashed before she can work towards a better life herself. In Court Ship by Sherwood Smith, a Prince travels to meet a dispossessed Princess. He takes passage on a trade ship and may have fallen in love with its Captain. Turns out their grandparents shared a similar excursion. Little Red by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple is the hardest story to deal with of the bunch, although I liked the Little Red Riding Hood connection that I missed until near the end. I'm not sure what to make of The Myth of the Fenix by Laurel Winter. It's a short and graphic dream sequence. Fear and Loathing in LaLanna by Nick O'Donohoe stages a gala event/massacre setting to prepare for war. Two unlikely heroes are sent to the event and get by mostly through self-medicating. They learn of a betrayal plot and join the diverting of the massacre. Clare Bell writes of a tribe of cats in Bonechewer's Legacy that is looking to unite tribes through helping others in need. The question is brought up whether such altruism is a weakness that can undermine the tribe's strengths. Elizabeth Wein's Something Worth Doing is a great finish for the book. A young woman impersonates her brother in joining the English fliers of WWII. She manages to be sent into the thick of the battle in an attempt to win honor for her deceased brother.


    The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan
    5th of The Wheel of Time series

    A review will be forthcoming. I am still in the middle of this book, but wanted to add it to my Favorites 2008 list since I love the series. The last 2 books, The Dragon Reborn (3rd) and The Shadow Rising (4th) are excellent. All of the books are seriously long and increasingly more complex. Many of the characters have their own importance, and new world concepts are being added a glimpse at a time. Truly thought-provoking books. This is a series I would encourage both adults and young adults to read. Be warned that the books are addictive and require a fair amount of time to finish.

    First Light by Rebecca Stead.
    Wendy Lamb Books/Random House: NY, 2007.

    First Light is a very interesting tale. Unusual in every sense. It is part utopian science fiction, with a twist of the historical, a smudge of global warming, and a mystery at the heart of it all.

    Thea lives in a community under Greenland's ice cap. They went underground more than a century ago when they were driven close to extinction by their neighbors. Thea's mother (dead since she was a toddler) had the dream of resurfacing to expand the community. Thea is now continuing her mother's vision.

    Peter's father has a grant to study global warming in Greenland, and he finally gets to go with his parents and watch his father in action, or so he thinks. The camp is a bit of a letdown, but he is allowed to explore a little on his own. He starts to see strange images in his wanderings.

    Thea and Peter meet when Thea and her cousin are tempted by the finding of a passage to the surface. Her cousin is stuck in the ice, requiring aid, and Peter's sled dog is called there by Thea's dog.

    The story sounds simple enough then, except that there is unrest regarding Thea's behavior and a power struggle rooted in the history of Thea's mother, and even before her. Also, Peter's parents are acting strange. He hears snips of conversation and does not know what to think.

    This is certainly a Knock Your Socks Off kind of book. As in When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead likes the plot twists. I wasn't expecting any underlying mystery, only waiting for the inevitable meeting.

    The under-ice community is a charming world. One I think I'd like to visit. It was interesting to think how it could work, and I was disappointed by the leaving of it.

    related-secrets, Greenland, adventure and adventurers, high interest
    RL=5th and up

    Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2005.
    Originally by Macmillan Publishers Limited: United Kingdom, 2005.

    A twisting, adventure-packed mystery portrays an England-like setting with a mixture of historical and social satire. The description is full of imagery (lots of metaphors), wordplay, and humor (such as the alphabetical chapter titles). The wordplay is amusing, but the number of details, unique episodes, and ever-changing loyalties make the book a success.

    After burning her uncle's mill, Mosca takes up with a lying, cheating ballad writer, and they travel to the city of Mandelion accompanied by an attack-goose. Mandelion is a city of political intrigue with a few factions battling for dominance. Mosca and Mr. Clent become embroiled in the spying and scheming with much confusion and many surprises before the resolution.

    Chewing on an old pipe helps Mosca to think and stay ahead of the deadly plotting. It's not so easy for the reader.
    related-politics, smugglers, censorship, sedition, plots, royalty vs. parliament, beliefs, loyalty, spies, redemption, printing press, guilds
    RL=7th-adult     Reading level itself is low, but content is YA and the interest level high.

    For the Win by Cory Doctorow.
    Tom Doherty Associates, LLC: NY, 2010.

    This is an exciting book! I have not read Little Brother or its new sequel, but my son has been bugging me to read this one since it was published. He was sure I'd like it, though he says there are things about Doctorow's writing he doesn't like. It is reactionary and activistic, so yes, I like it. Thinking about political and social workings is a good thing, because public involvement matters.

    I didn't get into the story immediately. The setting is gaming and gamers, which isn't that interesting to me. I stuck with it, because it was highly recommended. It doesn't take too long to move into the major story, though, which is exploitation of workers and organizing and communicating for a fair deal. Doctorow is good at finding the crux of a matter. He has hit on a way forward for unions and workers, if they have the presence of mind to grab it and run with it. I would like to know what spurs him to write his stories, as Pirate Cinema was also out on the edge of consciousness, in the same manner. I liked that one, too, though I think this is a smoother writing. The other has some preachiness; this one maintains the story better.

    There are two things fresh and different about this book. The violent reactions to workers' strikes and demands happen in the game as well as in reality. The workers are prepared and communicate well in order to avoid some of the violence. The juxtaposition of in world and out can be jarring, which is likely intentional. The other aspect is the extended use of communication with people in various parts of the world which makes the strikes more potent, makes for unheard of partnerships, and broadens the minds of all involved. They are not unstoppable, but the demands become so widespread they can no longer be ignored.

    related-gamers, virtual gaming, internet, global communication and activism, unions, solidarity, exploitation of workers, violence toward protests

    The Gates by John Connolly.
    ATRIA Books/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2009.

    The Gates is a light sci fi/fantasy tale presenting the underworld as a parallel universe. CERN's Hadron Collider briefly opens a wormhole, though the scientists are clueless how this could happen. Simultaneously, a group of friends hold a ceremony to call forth a demon. To their immense surprise, it works. This demon forces the wormhole to stay cracked and invites others through. A unique boy, Samuel Johnson, celebrates Halloween 3 days ahead of time and sees the possession of his neighbors. He and his friends, with the help of a banished demon, work to keep the devil from passing through the Gates and work to seal them shut.

    The story was obviously written for children. Besides a low reading level and shortness and quickness, the hero is a child, though smarter than average, aided by two other children. It is simplistic and humorous, with many odd asides, reminding me of Douglas Adams's works. I understand it is being classed as adult in libraries. The intro and subject may be a little controversial, but it is a light, humorous story. There is nothing really that need be considered offensive. It is not meant to be serious. I strongly doubt children would have a problem with it. The scientific connection is interesting. What I like best, though, are Samuel's character and his interaction with other characters, including his dog.

    related-boys, good and evil, physics
    RL=6th and up

    The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.
    TOR Fantasy/Tom Doherty Associates: NY, 2009.
    12th book of The Wheel of Time

    The Gathering Storm carries on from the point Jordan left off. Sanderson's first book in the series is a success. There are some differences in style, but I like them both. Jordan's is heavier; you feel the sense of a story needing to be told. He is the bard. Sanderson's is much lighter, more of a popular read (which is okay, since it is a long book; it moves faster). He still tells a good tale, but not with the same eloquence. The only complaint I have about the book is it seems that with every scene change there are comments about the weather. We get the point after a few; don't need a reference each time.

    • Semirhage in captivity.

    • Farmers and town people alike see The Battle is approaching. The turning of plows into weapons and mass migration.

    • Faile takes care of the Prophet.

    • Rand argues with Lews Therin. He needs to know the knowledge that Lews holds. All of it.

    • Egwene comes near to convincing the Tar Valon Aes Sedai, until the chaos starts.

    • Peace must be made with the Seanchan. To that end, Rand sends the troops of Arad Doman to the Borderlands.

    • Egwene speaks with the Sitters who are rooting out Black Ajah and learns of their oath of obedience.

    • Gawyn leaves his post, in an attempt to save Egwene.

    • Egwene is forced to confront Elaida and is jailed for her efforts. The Sitters must now decide what to do about Elaida.

    • Plans are made to attack Tar Valon, 2 plans.

    • The Great Lord's emissary frees Semirhage, and she uses an a'dam on him.

    • Rand bans Cadsuane.

    • Mat writes a script and directs his players.

    • Verin is drawn to Mat's side.

    • The Dragon Reborn meets the Daughter of the Nine Moons.

    • Tuon rejects an alliance and announces herself Empress.

    • Rand balefires Graendal's estate.

    • Cadsuane says someone with Perrin Aybara can sway Rand.

    • Verin meets with Egwene, spilling the beans and ending her life.

    • A rebel contingent brings Egwene back to their camp after Egwene's valiant stand. Further proof of her Amyrlin-ship.

    • Elaida out of the picture.

    • Rallying troops for Shayol Ghul. Rand also confronts the marching Borderlanders.

    • Black Ajah are revealed and executed.

    • A new Amyrlin must be chosen within Tar Valon.

    • Rand finds his reason for continuing.

    The Ghost Sonata by Jennifer Allison.
    Gilda Joyce psychic detective series
    Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Group: NY, 2007.

    Gilda Joyce, a self-proclaimed, psychic investigator, travels with her best friend Wendy Choy to Oxford, England for Wendy's international piano competition. What better place for a young, would-be novelist and paranormal detective to visit! As Gilda gets sidetracked by her own exciting experiences, Wendy is the one confronted by the ghostly events. So much that she cannot concentrate on her music for the competition. Both are baffled by the sinister warnings that appear to be related to Wendy's ghost, and as more clues appear, the contest becomes a focal point of the whole mystery.

    Gilda is a wacky character, totally carried away by her adventures. Wendy, normally level-headed, has lost control of herself and cannot focus. The two friends go opposite directions, and Wendy ends up just as involved in the case as Gilda.

    It took a while for me to get into the story, but it ended up being a captivating mystery. Different is the word for it. Characters, setting and plot are fresh and light-hearted.

    related-ghosts, mystery, detective stories, piano competitions and concerts, Oxford, England, investigation of paranormal

    The Gideon Trilogy by Linda Buckley-Archer.
    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Great Britain.
    Series also known as The Enlightenment of Peter Schock.

    Gideon the Cutpurse: 2006
    Published in the U.S. as The Time Travelers

    The Tar Man: 2007
    Published in the U.S. as The Time Thief

    Gideon the Cutpurse: This is a contemporary time travel book in which two children are transported back to 18th century England accidentally by a Van de Graff generator in a physics laboratory. Some of their time is spent trying to fit in and telling of the future, but mostly the book has a historical fiction feel. The children's travel device is stolen. They meet an ex-thief who watches out for them and tries to help them recover the device from the thieves, who happen to be part of his ex-organization. Much of the story deals with Gideon's (ex-thief) struggle against his old friends. There are also flashes of the 21st century investigation into the disappearance of the two children.

    The story was a little slow getting started for me, but once hooked it was quite good. There is a Dickensian feel to it, though broken up by the updates of the contemporary search. The strong characters are mostly the thieves. I particularly like Gideon. I also enjoyed the effect the generator has on the kids and the stir it causes. The focus of the story is on the setting (handled well), mystery, and adventure. The ending is slightly predictable but with a promise of more adventure to come.
    related-time travel, robbers and outlaws, history of Great Britain, George III, fathers and sons, London

    The Time Thief: The book starts with description of the ending event from the first book. There is a brief explanation of the first book, so it is possible to read this book only, though the reader may miss some things. The book takes off in a totally different direction than the first (not a bad thing). This second book explores more of the time travel issues than the first did-both what can be done and how it might affect people and the universe. Not very scientific, but highly entertaining. There were a couple twists I didn't expect, including the ending.

    There is a historical fiction segment in the book as well; this time it deals with the French Revolution. At the end of the first book, Peter gets stuck in 1763. While the grownups discuss whether it is safe to travel in time again, Kate conspires with Peter's father to go back and rescue him. Due to interference with the travel device, they are transported to 1792 instead, so Peter has been living in the past for twenty-nine years. They meet his older self, and he pretends to be someone else to encourage them to go back to 1763 for the twelve year old.

    There is also another criminal section since the Tar Man has been transported to the 21st century. He finds his niche quickly and also has contact with Lord Luxom in 1763. He has unfinished business with Lord Luxom which is important for book three and will draw Gideon into the story once again.

    The book is long, but I hope that won't deter readers, as I believe it is better than the first-with more complexity and stronger characters. It may even be one to reread while waiting for the third to be published.

    *Note carefully the titles, since the change of titles has caused some confusion.

    related-time travel, robbers and outlaws, fathers and sons, French Revolution, Great Britain, London

    The Giver by Lois Lowry.
    Houghton Mifflin: NY, 1993.

    Newbery Award Winner 1994

    This is an intense story about a society that designates one person to be the keeper of all feelings-so that everyone else can live pain-free.

    The giver(the man who holds the feelings for the community) is getting too old to continue. He has been trying for years to train a new giver, but it requires a rare person to live the life of a giver.

    Of all the children's literature that I have read, The Giver is still one of my favorites.
    related-utopia, pain, feelings

    Going Postal by Terry Pratchett.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2004.

    The story covers the probationary career of Moist van Lipwig who, as Alfred Spangler, was partially hanged for embezzlement and fraud and allowed to live provided he bring back the City of Ankh-Morpork's long-inactive postal service.

    Pulling the strings behind the scenes is the supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork, Lord Vetinari. Moist wonders at one point why Mr. Vetinari (known as a beneficent tyrant) is content to only control the city as he certainly could rule the world if he chose. In his bold move of assigning Moist to revive the mail delivery, was this his sole intention or did he expect to curtail Reacher Gilt and the corruption of the Grand Trunk Company (the semaphore/telegraph facilities that have been monopolizing the message deliveries since the demise of the postal service)? Did he know that Moist would be able to be beat Gilt at his own game-with a whole new style?

    A book that defies categorization, it's part fantasy, political satire, social commentary, mystery and intrigue, and adventure. It is part of the huge and popular Discworld series, and Terry Pratchett's humorous anecdotes are as outrageous as ever.
    related-Discworld, postal service, civil service, crime, golems, stamps

    Goliath by Scott Westerfeld. il by Keith Thompson
    Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2011.

    The Leviathan is en route to Japan when they pick up a passenger in Siberia. Prince Alek is excited to learn that it is Nikola Tesla, the renowned inventor. He is working on a weapon, the Goliath, which he intends will end the war. He claims that he can pinpoint and devastate large cities from across the seas, and the threat will be enough to cease the fighting. He says that the location in Siberia is a test run that he was investigating. Tesla and Alek share a common interest in avoiding war, and their association will bring Tesla more publicity and possibly connections with either Austria or Germany.

    In this book, Alek learns Deryn's (young friend and ally) identity and that she has a crush on him. He is drawn to her as well, but as the heir to the Austrian throne, he believes his destiny lies elsewhere. He is torn by the prospect of losing his best friend, though. Unfortunately, Alek is not the only one who learns the truth.

    Within the whole trilogy, the Leviathan travels almost all the way around the world. It launched from England initially, and in this third book, flies from Siberia to California to Mexico and up to New York City where Tesla is determined to demonstrate his weapon.

    I enjoyed this book as much as the rest of the series. The characters are engaging. The references to the Victorian era keep the story humming along. All the alternate details of the Clankers and Darwinists are fascinating. There is some intrigue aboard, though only some innuendo. I wasn't ready for the series to end, and I wish that some of the scenarios were expanded more. Both Dr. Barlow (scientist/diplomat) and Count Volger (Prince Alek's mentor and protector) could have played larger parts. But Alek and Deryn worked well together and there was plenty of story between the two.

    There was one thing that bothered me about the story. Tesla was portrayed as a nut. Westerfeld definitely took artistic license with him. Considering how little people are taught about him and how little they learn on their own, I found this irritating. He was a brilliant man who was capable of things others did not understand. Certainly, he did encourage a mystical reputation and was flamboyant. He lost his popularity and was working on things others didn't understand, but that does not make him a nut. It is quite common for inventors to lack money. Likely, he was driven by his feelings regarding the current war, but so were Einstein and Oppenheimer. I hope that the story leads to biographical exploration. A book my son recommends is AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War by Tom McNichol.

    related-imaginary creatures, war, mechanical creations, genetic engineering, WWI, Nikola Tesla, William Randolph Hearst, Pancho Villa
    RL=6th and up

    The Goodness Gene by Sonia Levitin.
    Dutton Books/Penguin Group: NY, 2005.

    I found the beginning of this utopian sci fi novel to be a little slow, but once Will starts to visit an outpost which is different from how he was raised, the story becomes very interesting. At the same time evidence of how and why he is created is forced on him. Will has to come to terms with his father's plans for him and what he has learned about his world. This is a fresh approach to an old theme. It took me in a direction I really did not expect.

    The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2008.
    Newbery Award 2009

    To start with I was not excited about reading this book. The related short story from M is for Magic was not one of my favorites from the book. But I read the flap description recently and thought I'd give it a try. After about 100 pages, I still was not sure I wanted to continue. Then, everything changed.

    You wouldn't believe the stuff that happens in the graveyard. Bod (short for Nobody) gets into a heap of trouble, pushing his limits, as any child would, as he grows to adulthood. I want to know more about Bod's mysterious governess Miss Lupescu, and Silas is the ultimate of guardians, despite the barest glimpses into his background.

    I was not expecting the story to be a mystery, but it turns into one and completely captivates. The setting is contemporary but feels like historical fiction due to Bod's isolated, graveyard existence. The ghosts are 18th century or earlier. The Dance Macabre with the death personification is medieval; I so enjoyed this scene.

    Bod learns from many of the graveyard's inhabitants, but as he ages he realizes that the graveyard is limited and he is missing out on the world. He begs to attend a real school, for the living. The description of his school expereince reminds me of Susan Sto Helit from Terry Pratchett's Soul Music of Discworld fame. He is at school to learn but really not part of the school. It is during this period when Bod is half grown that I wondered if he might grow to be like Silas, not alive and not dead. It is also when the book becomes more complex, with Bod visiting the town, drawing attention to himself, meeting a friend from childhood, plus the Dance imagery.

    Neil Gaiman is an excellent wordsmith. His writing has an elegance even when the reading level is not particularly high. His stories are quirky, and he blends unusual thoughts and images effortlessly.

    related-dead, supernatural, cemeteries, mysteries, high interest, orphans
    RL=6th and up

    The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman.
    G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Group: NY, 2010.

    The Grimm Collection is a group of magical artifacts factually related to the Grimm fairy tales. They are held in locked storage at the New York Circulating Material Repository and lent out to trusted patrons.

    Elizabeth takes a new job at the Repository looking to get out of the house ruled by her stepmother, meet friends with common interests, as well as earn some money. The interview and testing procedure are peculiar and the place even stranger, but Elizabeth adapts quickly and is soon enjoying the magical environment.

    Artifacts are disappearing from the Grimm Collection, and everyone is suspect, including the pages retrieving items and the librarians who supervise operations. Afraid they will be blamed for the thefts, Elizabeth and her new friends investigate on their own.

    I enjoy the idea of the artifacts with their story specific powers, reminiscent of the newish TV show Warehouse 13 on SyFy. There are many references to Grimm stories, which is fun, as well as historical figures such as Marie Antoinette's wig. The mystery itself was a little odd to me, though. There is some romance tied up with the ordinary vs beautiful scenario and adventure with the teens needing to overcome magic related obstacles. Overall, the artifacts were the best part, though I liked the mysteriousness of a couple of the adults as well.

    related-magic, folklore, fairy tales, historical objects, libraries, adventures, mysteries
    RL=7th and up

    Grimpow: The Invisible Road by Rafael Ábalos.
    trans by Noël Baca Castex.
    Delacorte Press/Random House: NY, 2007.
    Originally published as Grimpow: El Camino Invisible by Montena: Spain, 2005.

    To leave the oppressive atmosphere of his uncle's home in medieval France, Grimpow takes up with a petty thief and wanderer. Grimpow finds a dead traveler in the mountains, clutching a stone. The stranger also carries jeweled daggers, silver coins and a coded letter with a golden seal. He and his friend take their find to the nearby abbey for counsel. This opens a new world to Grimpow, of education and adventure. He becomes caught up in a quest for knowledge vs censorship. He joins a tradition of protecting the philosopher's stone and its secrets from the King of France and the current Pope. He must unravel the mystery in order to preserve the tradition, as the knowledge is in danger of disappearing with the last of the secret keepers.

    The story has fantasy elements, but reads like a historical novel, incorporating the Crusades, the Knights Templar, alchemists, some old churches and scholars. Grimpow's traveling companions include a knight and a daughter of an artisan. It turns out they both are related to the secret society of alchemists, along with others they encounter. The mystery of the stone and an unknown treasure are the basis for much of the story.

    The book is a delightful read. I enjoyed the clues and knowledgeable tidbits. It was nice to read something with a historical feel. It would appeal to the imaginative and adventurous.

    related-philospher's stone, knowledge, quest, puzzles and codes
    RL=6th and up

    Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
    Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Press: NY.

    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 1997
    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 1999
    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 1999
    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 2000
    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 2000
    Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince 2005
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2007

    For many people Harry Potter needs no introduction or review. Those who have not read the books may be getting tired of hearing about it. Fans can't get enough and want it to never end. If you have seen the movies and not read the books, I strongly recommend that you read the books. The books are much better because things have been cut for the movies.

    Although they were not written as children's books, the first two books are written at a level that 3rd to 5th graders can easily read. At that point the books are amusing because of the humor in the dialogue and the interesting things that can be done with magic. Starting with the 3rd book, the series becomes more complex-dealing with social issues and psychological aspects of life. They are still packed with humor and creative details. However, the characters are more developed and interesting, and we start to see that there is a master plan for the series that is slowly being revealed. Loose ends are being tied to the story that before didn't seem significant.

    I know that some people are put off by the magic and hype surrounding Harry Potter. The allure of the magic in the series is similar to the fascination with superheroes or awe of computerized graphics. It creates possibilities that we know are not really possible. To me, the magic is just the backdrop-however amusing. It is just another medium used to display the story which is the struggle of good against evil-including different shades and variations of each. The story also incorporates the social and psychological struggle that life can be. As for the hype, that comes naturally because it is one of the best series available-for both juvenile and adult literature. It appeals to both, and so it has become a masterpiece that we all can share.

    starting with 3rd book RL=7th-adult

    Quidditch Through the Ages
    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

    My sons loved these books of background information, and they still refer to them for fun and speculation about the Harry Potter series.

    For people who want to dig deeper into the stories (or for classes), there are some good sources available. Wizarding World Press supplies critical analysis of the books. Their information is insightful and entertaining. They inspired my family to think more analytically and investigatively of the books.

    Ultimate Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter
    The Plot Thickens...Harry Potter Investigated by Fans for Fans
    New Clues to Harry Potter: Book 5

    by Galadriel Waters
    *There are newer books also that we have not read.

    The website links listed below provide news, editorials, speculation, discussion, spin-offs, etc.

    Leaky Cauldron-JKR's favorite fan site
    Pottercast-Leaky's podcast
    Site of Requirement
    HP Lexicon
    COS Forums

    Heartlight by T. A. Barron.
    Philomel Books/The Putnam & Grosset Book Group: NY, 1990.

    This is a more fantastical book than I usually am interested in reading. For me, fantasy books are better when they have realistic aspects to ground them. However, there are fascinating concepts in this book that kept me reading-travel faster than the speed of light, a connection between light and the human soul, the possibility of our sun's destruction if an emerging pattern is not reversed. Besides these factors, the story is also about an inseparable bond between a girl and her grandfather. A bond which has the strength to save the Earth's solar system. The ultimate pattern of life and death and rebirth is also an important part of the story.

    related-fantasy and science fiction, grandfathers, death, adventure, astrophysics, solar system, black holes, life of a star

    Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde.
    Harcourt, Inc.: Orlando, FL, 2002.

    Quite a novel idea for a book! To be stuck in a virtual reality game and forced to replay the scenes over and over until managing to win the game--except the brain has a limit to how long it can continue playing. There are many ways to win and seemingly unending mistakes to make as well. Medieval role playing is the context of the game.

    His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.
    Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY.
    Originally published by Scholastic Children's Books: Great Britain.

    The Golden Compass: 1996 (Britain 1995)
    The Subtle Knife: 1997
    The Amber Spyglass: 2000

    The Golden Compass: Raised by the scholars and servants at one of the Oxford universities, running wild with the children of the town and universities, Lyra longs to go North in search of her "uncle" and adventure. Her best friend disappears from Oxford, thought to be kidnapped along with other children by the Gobblers for some sort of sacrifice. She sets out with great determination to rescue him, finding allies along the way where she can.

    Mostly a book of epic adventure and intrigue, it also touches on the psyche or soul with the dæmons-individual creatures who are bound to their respective humans. Those of children can change aspects, but in adolescence they "settle" into one form. There is also a connecting point with other worlds (universes) through the Northern Lights. In this series, Lyra's world is the alternate universe, and it is her destiny to travel to ours. She has no difficulty finding protectors but makes her own decisions and follows her own path.

    The excitement builds throughout the book with its twists and turns and a knowledge that there are momentous events to come. Not quite on the level with Harry Potter by Rowling and The Dark Is Rising by Cooper, but the story and details are truly exciting. The language and planning are not as complex.
    related-missing person, experiment, arctic region, alter ego

    The Subtle Knife: Lyra joins Will who has an overwhelming quest of his own. From different worlds, they meet in another world altogether. A world in which the Specters feed on the souls of adults leaving a chaotic world of children. Within this world there was an organization of philosophers who crafted a knife that could cut through anything. Little did they know that the power of the knife was much greater and diverse and would become the ultimate weapon in the war to come.

    Will's quest is to find his explorer father who has been missing for years. In his attempts he is drawn into the epic adventure in which Lyra is fated.

    While there are parts of the book that are fascinating, it is more disjointed than The Golden Compass and has some slow spots. The book is obviously important in the buildup to the conclusion. My favorite parts are regarding the connecting of worlds, the further understanding of Dust and dæmons, and the story of Will's father.

    The Amber Spyglass: The third book is the epic struggle between the religious Authority and Lord Asriel and his rebels who wish to end the Authority's inquisitorial rule. Lyra is known to play a pivotal role in the confrontation, and so she is being hunted. Dr. Malone is also a target and has fled into another world. Her task is to live and study with the beings of that world to form a better understanding of the Dust particles and their importance in the life cycle. Will accompanies Lyra into the afterlife to set Roger free and, in doing this, they change the pattern of life and the Dust. Their relationship and sacrifices also are significant in the reformation of the ruling structures in the worlds.

    The dæmon, or soul, is still a primary focus of the story. The ultimate conflict is resolved simply through Lyra and Will's relationship, growth, and thought instead of the usual colossal battle.
    related-coming of age, innocence, consciousness, other conscious beings, evolution, adaptation

    More reviews of His Dark Materials
    The Golden Compass
    The Subtle Knife
    The Amber Spyglass

    Hogfather by Terry Pratchett.
    HarperTorch/HarperCollins: NY, 2003.
    Originally publ by Victor Gollancz: Great Britain, 1996.


    • Hogfather grants children's wishes on Hogswatchnight, December 32.

    • Susan Sto Helit playing Mary Poppins.
    • The poker, every governess should have one.

    • Death goes out of character (seems to do that often), leaving his granddaughter Susan with the Job. This sabbatical entails covering for the Hogfather. A job Death can enjoy, though it might disrupt the universe.

    • The world is full of small round things that aren't eyeballs!

    • Mr. Teatime, an Assassin that even the Assassins think goes too far.

    • Hex, Unseen University's magical data analyzing machine.

    • Bloody Stupid Johnson's special bathroom design.

    • There's only one way to eliminate the immortals, such as the Tooth Fairy, the Hogfather, and even Death.

    • Nobby Nobbs sits on the Hogfather's knee.

    • Have you ever wondered what the Tooth Fairy does with all those teeth? Powerful things, teeth.

    • The scales tilt. A change in belief leaves room for other beliefs.

    • The Tooth Fairy's surprising history.

    related-children's stories, power of beliefs, Discworld's version of Christmas
    RL=YA-adultThe Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade.
    Wendy Lamb Books/Random House: NY, 2009.

    Modo was rescued by Mr. Socrates, a wealthy English gentleman, from a traveling freak show and raised in seclusion by Mrs. Finchley, an actress-housekeeper-governess Mr. Socrates hired for the task. He was trained in self-defense and stealth by Tharpa, Mr. Socrates's assistant-bodyguard from India, also saved by Mr. Socrates. He is being trained for a special career.

    Not far into the book, Mr. Socrates drops Modo off in the heart of London telling him he must now fend for himself. As difficult as this turn of fortune is for him, Modo not only is trained in survival, but he can also change his appearance, an amazing quality which drove Mr. Socrates to search him out to begin with. He struggles for an undetermined amount of time until he can accrue enough money to set himself up in a hotel apartment. He starts to secretly solve cases as a private detective. Meanwhile, Mr. Socrates has been watching his progress, and when a case goes badly, Tharpa pulls him out of the fire, literally.

    Modo is then recruited into the secret Permanent Association of which Mr. Socrates is a board member, with the professed purpose of securing English society. He learns that a new acquaintance, Octavia (another orphan), is also an operative of the group, and the two are employed together to work on recent mysterious disappearances in the news.

    This novel is the first of a steampunk spy mystery series. It takes place in Victorian England. The arch enemy of Mr. Socrates's secret society is the Clockwork Guild. The leader of the group is Hakkandottir, a woman with an artificial arm. A woman with whom Mr. Socrates has a personal grudge match. She employs a strongman with other artificial body parts and an engineer expert in automata who was rejected by London's Society of Science due to what they considered disturbing exploration. Indeed, Dr. Hyde is assembling a giant monstrosity powered by the life force of people, in this case children, to be used as the ultimate weapon in the destruction of England.

    The Hunchback Assignments starts an exciting new series. This book is really just an intro to the cast and two rival societies. Modo the hunchback keeps his identity a secret even from Octavia, thanks to his morphing. The story is his growth and rise to super-spy status. Octavia has her own story to tell. Both are great characters, neither particularly happy with the world. I think that each will play a part in shaping the other's character. Modo is extremely sweet and idealistic. Octavia trusts nothing but herself. They will make a good team in the books to come. Then, Tharpa seems to be always in the background, ready to help in times of crisis.>/p>

    Can't wait to start the next book.

    related-disfigured persons, spies, supernatural, London, Victorian England, 19th century British history, detective stories, mysteries, automatons, orphans, science fiction
    RL=7th and up

    The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
    Scholastic Press: NY, 2008.

    I have been meaning to read this for a couple years. I thought again to read it after it was described by an enthusiastic librarian. It isn't quite what I expected, but interesting anyway. The title seems like a misnomer, but it is what the games are called in the story. To the officials the Hunger Games are a showy event and a declaration that the people must comply with the Capitol, the ruling city. To the contestants they are all too real, a fight to the death. The contestants have no say in the matter. So, the story is dark with a few hopeful moments, but always a reminder that it is a very dark situation. The juxtaposition of a survivalist contest (in the most literal sense) and the constant awareness of the audience watching and sponsors' expectation is surreal and creepy. The admiration of the viewers can apparently affect the results as well, as there are twists, new challenges and help from outside given to those deemed worthy.

    From the beginning of the Games, I had the feeling that Katniss might play a part in changing the outcome of the Games. It is too soon to know if that is true. She forced a difference, but risking her life to do so. The cliffhanger ending stops before resolving much. The Games are over, but there is no clue to the future.

    Katniss has been responsible for providing for her family in a destitute district for years. She is a huntress who barters her catches at the town market. It isn't legal, but condoned since she provides food where there is a scarcity. Because of this, she is prepared for the Games, prepared to be hunted by others who trained their whole lives to participate. Her only chance is to remain aware of her surroundings and outwit the strong. Alliances might help, but how can the others be trusted?

    Despite the craziness, Katniss makes friends. She has to stay focused on being the lone survivor, but prompted by another's comment, she wishes to be guided by her own principles. Nearing the end of the event, she recognizes that the victor does not truly win. The winner is stuck with the memories.

    Collins has done an excellent job of setting the stage. After only two short chapters, Katniss is already leaving home, a home you don't want her to leave, because there is such a strong bond to the people there. There are flashbacks which strengthen her obvious need to live and return. In the Games themselves, she makes strong enough connections that it doesn't seem possible that these people must die. Yet, how can it be otherwise? Circumstances are horrible. The pace moves things right along, as to not dwell too much on it. One challenge after another is met, though it almost seems there might be no survivors. The ending was a bit of a letdown, though there is obviously a next book.

    related-survival, television programs, contests, interpersonal relations, science fiction
    RL=YA, Squarely YA, due to violence, though I expect middle schoolers will read it, too.

    I Am Mordred by Nancy Springer.
    Philomel Books/Putnam & Grosset Group: NY, 1998.

    This is an excellent tale of the developmental years of Mordred, King Arthur's son who is fated to kill him. Imagine being raised with the prophecy that you would kill your father hanging over your head. How do you think such a prophecy would affect your behavior? Mordred desperately wants his father's love-the one thing he is not offered. He struggles against his fate throughout the story. It is refreshing to see Mordred depicted as a real person instead of the standard evil caricature.
    related-King Arthur, Camelot, fathers and sons, knighthood

    Imagine a Night by Sarah L. Thomson. paintings by Rob Gonsalves.
    Atheneum Books for Young Readers: NY, 2003.

    The paintings are the attraction of this collection of Rob Gonsalves's paintings. There is no story. Instead, Thomson invites viewers to share the awe and wonder of imagining through Gonsalves's highly creative work. Each of his Escher inspired creations has its own story to explore-the farmer lulling his sunflowers to sleep with music, the cityscape cut from a curtain, a planetarium created through curtain cuttings, the ladies of the lake appearing as a reflection, the monks of the magical mixture of clouds, moonlight and windows, and more.

    related-M. C. Escher, fine art in children's books, artists, patterns and images created by nature, tessellations, point of view, imagination
    RL=all ages, read aloud to PreK-K

    Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. trans by Anthea Bell.
    The Chicken House/Scholastic, Inc: NY, 2003.
    Originally publ as Tintenherz by Cecilie Dressler Verlag: Hamburg, Germany, 2003.

    The concept of the book-characters coming to life with expert reading aloud-is fantastic. Certain parts of the story are as exciting as the concept. The introduction is plenty mysterious with Meggie's father's secretive behavior. Elinor's houseful of books is just what I would want. Meggie's traveling box of books is a beautiful addition. The entrapment of Meggie's mother within the troublesome book causes most of their predicament. The involvement of the author helps to bring the story to a conclusion.

    I'm not sure how I feel about the story overall. It's long and seemed to drag for a while in the middle. Some of the hoodlum behavior is necessary to the story, but in parts it seems a little too Series of Unfortunate Events (everything going wrong, little cause for hope).

    I haven't read The Thief Lord yet, so I can't really make an assessment of the author. I do wonder if the story lost some of its attraction in the translation.
    related-magic of words and books, theatrical reading, family separation

    I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett.
    Tiffany Aching, Discworld series
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2010.

    • Tiffany's back on the Chalk, being the Witch for a community that's done without for ages.

    • A cheese with a mind of its own.

    • The rough music has started, to be satisfied only by a mob attack or the disappearance of the culprit.

    • Someone has set in motion the fearing and hating of the witches. Ye olde Witchfinder is searching for a way to burn Tiffany.

    • The Nac Mac Feegles have orders to watch over and protect Tiffany, since their kelda has Seen her stalker.

    • The Baron, on his death bed, asks Tiffany to aid his son.

    • Roland, the new Baron, is far too influenced by his mother-in-law to be.

    • The complexities of jailing a witch.

    • There is a witch incognito in the castle.

    • A short trip to the source of the problem.

    • The elder witches gather. In support of Tiffany or defense of the people?

    • Flapping kilts to the rescue!

    • Time travel, of all things.


    Jack: Secret Histories by F. Paul Wilson.
    TOR/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC: NY, 2008

    Weezy, Jack, and Eddie find an artifact in an undiscovered, undisturbed mound in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, the swampy woods bordering their small town. Jack's the only one of them that can open the black box, even once they've seen how it is done. Analysis shows that the structure is high tech, but tests date it as a pre-Columbian object. Weezy is caught up in the thought of a secret history of the world and conspiracies. Jack is more concerned with the secrets of citizens of the town: his dad's unwillingness to talk about his past, his friend Steve's new problem with alcohol, the members of the local Lodge dating back at least to the beginning of the country, and sudden deaths of townspeople.

    The book is an exciting and unique mystery. I like that the mystery is as much about the artifact, the Lodge, and the Barrens as it is about the murders. It has a hint of fantasy to be explained elsewhere. Jack and Weezy are both interesting characters. Considering the titles of Wilson's other books, neither character is fully explained yet. I was fascinated to learn that the book is linked to a full adult series that I am now anticipating.

    related-mystery and detective stories, coming of age, interpersonal relations, Pine Barrens, New Jersey, supernatural, friendship, spying

    Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan.
    Book 11 of The Wheel of Time
    TOR Fantasy/Tom Doherty Associates: NY, 2005.

    • Dead people walking in many locations.

    • Parts of buildings or towns are changing or disappearing suddenly.

    • Rand has determined that he needs a truce with the Seanchan before he can confront the Dark One.

    • Moridin instructs the Foresaken to kill Perrin and Mat.

    • Perrin makes a deal with the Seanchan himself to save Faile and the rest who were kidnapped by the Shaido Aiel. Aes Sedai and Wise Ones are not pleased with the deal.

    • Mat and his entourage continue to travel away from Ebou Dar, though looking for a way to send Tuon back safely. The Seanchan army is hunting her, instead of trying to save her, since the death of the Empress.

    • Mat woos Tuon, whom he has claimed will be his bride. She still treats him as Toy but tolerates his companionship. She keeps her intentions hidden through most of the book, though there are flashes of possibility, especially as she learns more about who Mat is. It is too soon to know whether Mat could have any influence on her future decisions.

    • Egwene is caught by the White Tower, and there is an attempt to break her and use her by making her a novice again. They don't know what they are up against. She continues to command the rebels, while she undermines Elaida from within the Tower.

    • Elayne fights to gain the throne in Caemlyn as Arymilla leads her supporters in an attack on the city walls. Ellorien leads other Houses against Elayne, hoping that Dyelin will make a claim, though she says she's not interested and supports Elayne.

    • Elayne is abducted by Black Ajah sisters.

    • Thom reveals the contents of Morraine's letter at Mat's request.

    • Banner-Generals Tylee Khirgan and Furyk Karede have gained respect for Perrin and Mat respectively and should be key factors in settling matters with the Seanchan eventually.

    • Red sisters ask Taim if he will allow them to bond his Asha' man as warders. More foreshadowing, but still not clear if he is just a Darkfriend or more.
    One of the best books in the series, if only because so much is happening. Still a period of build up to the end. Many loose ends to tie together. The next book was intended to be the last, though now lengthened to three. Incredible. Has got to be my favorite series. The very best of fantasy. Am considering buying the books now, so that I can go back and read leisurely. The library doesn't give enough time for 800 page books!The Legend of Thunderfoot by Bill Wallace.
    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2006.

    On the day of his naming ceremony, a young roadrunner is bit by a rattlesnake. The bite leaves him with huge, clumsy feet-so he gets stuck with the embarrassing name Thunderfoot. Through his attempts to overcome his impediment, he not only survives in the harsh environment but his achievements become legend.

    What a great book for young readers (2nd-4th grades)! Especially animal-lovers. Only a few of the transitional books for young readers that I have read are exceptional. As important as this stage is in reading, you?d think there would be more. Bill Wallace has written many books for young readers; this is the first I?ve read. It has more meaning than the average book for young readers plus adventure and details of nature. It is a work of storytelling rather than a reading primer.

    related-animals, desert habitat, handicap, boys, names, identity

    Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. il Keith Thompson.
    Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2009.

    Leviathan is an alternate history novel, first of a trilogy, set in the midst of WWI (England, Austria and Switzerland). There is an heir to Franz Ferdinand (whose murder started the war) being chased by the Austrian and German militaries. The Austrians and Germans have mechanical might, but different and larger than what they actually had. England (not in the war yet) uses ecosystems instead of machines, made by Darwin with DNA threads. So far, I think that idea is the best part of the story. Westerfeld plays with the idea quite a bit, and it is fascinating. Leviathan itself is a whale airship with many creatures coexisting. The main British character is a young girl, disguised as a boy to be in the British Air Service. Austrians and Brits meet when Leviathan is on a secret diplomatic mission to the Ottoman Empire.

    My initial reaction when reading was disappointment that it is written at a 6th grade level. Being about WWI, I expected it to be YA level. While it would still be interesting to YA readers, I think the reading level should have been YA, partly because WWI is a YA subject. My disappointment also comes from the fact that Westerfeld can write at a higher level, and I don't want to see all of the YA books dumbed down, which will push all of the better readers into adult books out of aggravation.

    Not long into the book I did get over my irritation. Westerfeld is an excellent author, and the story is sufficiently unusual to capture anyone's attention. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire may motivate readers to learn more about world history, a subject certainly lacking in my American upbringing as well as others'. I'm looking forward already to the sequel which will take place in the Ottoman Empire.

    I mentioned before that the cover art is magnificent. There are also highly detailed illustrations throughout the book. The artwork is lovely, though a voice in my head tells me that illustrations are for young children. Though I don't want to see pictures in all novels, exceptions can be made for good artwork when appropriate.

    YouTube has a cool trailer for the book, and has an interview with Scott Westerfeld you might not want to miss.

    related-World War I, imaginary creatures, genetic engineering, princes, gender roles, science fiction, high interest
    RL=6th and up

    Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.
    Harcourt, Inc: Orlando, 2006.

    The impact of a meteor collision with the moon causes worldwide geographical disasters. Miranda chronicles her family's life during most of a year as everyone struggles to live without basic necessities, not to mention conveniences.

    The story is based on a premise that I think is unlikely. I don't believe the moon would shift positions as a result of the impact. The rest of the story is believable. I can see us struggling to survive in a similar manner if we have another Great Depression which has become too much of a possibility, because of the "idiot" to which Pfeffer alludes in the book. I can also imagine that New Orleans has been experiencing some of these situations since Hurricane Katrina, except they have had some aid from others.

    There are only a couple other details that detract from Pfeffer's reality: the family's well still works after losing electricity and there was no explanation of the source of food and gas at the end. The pump for my family's well requires electricity. Are there some in use in the U.S. that do not? There was a detail about rigging the furnace with a battery. Could this be done for the pump, too? I don't know if this was artistic license or the detail was missed. The food at the end could have been collected from houses of the dead, but the gas must have come from somewhere else. I feel certain that would have been used up quickly after the first catastrophes. To get gas from elsewhere would have required some plowing. A short explanation might have been nice. These are small things, though, compared to the reality of the book.

    I'd like to know what prompted Pfeffer to write the story. It's a bit depressing, though it could have been much more so. I do recognize that teenagers don't necessarily mind depressing. They can handle dwelling on it better than most age groups. For myself, I continued reading because I do believe it could happen to us. I'm not sure my family could survive, and I wanted to see what solutions might help if my fears become reality.

    The story was a surprise to me during a time when so many people seemed to be in a state of denial about how bad our economic outlook has become. For years I have been trying to talk to people about the idea that we are heading towards another Great Depression. People have looked at me like I'm nuts or a total wet blanket. (They are finally seeing the possibility, though officials and the media are still trying to downplay the seriousness of our situation). My husband has been angry with me for being so negative. Actually, I wanted people to see what I saw, so we could work towards preventing an economic collapse. If we can't avoid it, then I want to be prepared at least. I don't know if that is really possible, especially after reading this book.

    related-natural disasters, catastrophic events, family life, diaries, science fiction, lack of necessities, deprivation

    The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.
    Hyperion Books for Children/Miramax Books: NY, 2005.

    In the first book of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, Riordan tells a tale of Greek mythological characters roaming the modern U.S.-starting in New York City and traveling to Los Angeles. Imagine your ADHD being the result of your demigod status, unbeknownst to you! One crazy event after another happens as Percy meets more characters-especially once he learns who he is and accepts his quest. The characters and other mythological connections are well done and my favorite part of the story. The confrontations occur a little too often, but there are plenty of creative tidbits to keep readers hooked.

    Percy's quest arises due to the fact that someone has stolen Zeus's master lightning bolt. He accuses Poseidon and gives him until the summer solstice to return it or prepare for World War III. Percy (short for Perseus) is appointed the task of reclaiming it. His advisers believe Hades is the culprit, so he must travel to the Underworld. Unfortunately, Zeus is not the only god missing an object of power, and matters become complicated.

    Interestingly, the book reminds me of another story related to mythical stolen property, Thor's Wedding by Bruce Coville. Coville's story closely follows a Norse poem, Thrymskvitha. Riordan's does not.

    All three of my sons (ages 9-16) read the book and immediately read the second book. They loved them.
    related-Greek gods & mythology, monsters, family relationships
    RL=4th & up

    London Calling by Edward Bloor.
    Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, Inc: NY, 2006.

    The major themes in London Calling are time travel, spiritual visitation, and redemption. Martin is contacted by an English boy from World War II through his dreams. Upon waking, he learns gradually that the facts and people of which he dreamed are real. He follows the boy through his dreams in war-torn London to learn how he can possibly help him, and he studies Britain in WWII during waking hours, so he will be ready to help when the time comes. He is partly drawn into the situation because his revered grandfather is one of the characters he observes in his dreams.

    The book has piqued my interest about historical things I have not heard before. It is a truly original work as well-not the standard time travel book.
    related-time travel, London 1940-1941, bombardment, schools, Great Britain-World War II, afterlife, redemption, alcoholism, Catholics, futility of war

    The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.
    Dial Books/Penguin Group: NY.

    The Looking Glass Wars 2006: I checked the book out from the library, because it sounded intriguing. It's much more captivating than I expected. I don't know how it was received by Lewis Carroll fans, but I found it to be one of the more engaging young adult books. The reading level is a little low (possibly 7th grade), and there are some parts that could have been developed more.

    The concept of the book is what first attracted me. Alyss Heart (heir to the futuristic Wonderland Queendom) is transported to nineteenth century England through the Pool of Tears/random puddle when her Aunt Redd murders her mother (the Queen) and grabs control. Alyss falls in with some homeless children (like Oliver Twist), gets caught stealing, and is taken to an orphanage where she is adopted by the Liddells (Mr. Liddell being a dean in Oxford). For years she tries to keep the memory of her past alive and is scorned for her efforts. The publishing of her story (twisted by the author) motivates her to reject her memories and learn to blend in with society. Alyss is propelled back into Wonderland when Hatter Madigan announces her survival and Redd sends the Cat after her. She needs a crash course in imagination, since the battle for the Queendom is one of imagination.

    There is a timeline of parallels at the back of the book, but the political and social references are minimal in the story. There are many special effects with a futuristic atmosphere: transportation using looking glass mirrors and a puddle system, talking billboards animated by the Queen's imagination, all sorts of flying weaponry and illusions. Hatter Madigan and Bibwit Harte are great characters and may yet inspire me to read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

    This is one of the many fantasy stories in movie production. Though I don't want all of the great books to be made into movies, I believe this book could make a great movie if done properly.

    Seeing Redd 2007: Through an imagination twist, Redd and the Cat find their way to France via an artist's palette. Redd seeks out the darker elements of Earth to gather generals for her next attempt at wresting Wonderland from Alyss. Hatter Madigan leaves to mourn his beloved, learns of a daughter he didn't know he had, and walks into the clutches of the King of Borderland.

    Overall, I liked the first book better. Maybe because it was fresh and original. Maybe because so much of this second book is war, and the first book was violent enough already (doubtless boys will love it). Maybe I was just forced to read the book too quickly, since I had three others I was reading and a son dying to get his hands on it. There are some bits I think are excellent: the means of Redd's return, the tool used to defeat Redd again, parts of Madigan and Molly's story, brief allusions to Earthly politics (alas, no timeline for this book).

    related-kings, queens, rulers, monarchs, war, characters in literature, Alice in Wonderland, imagination, light vs dark, good vs evil

    Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan.
    Book 6 of The Wheel of Time
    Tor Fantasy: NY, 1994.

    • The crux of the story is intrigue (multiple characters on all sides hiding their own secrets and agendas) and lack of communication. Traveling and Dreamwalking helps. Each too focused on their own concerns.

    • Asmodean and Lanfear are back, but what about Morraine and Lan?

    • Mat has a cool shield from the Power, but Aes Sedai testing reveals an exception.

    • Nynaeve and Elayne make great discoveries through experimentation - and necessity.

    • I can't believe Alanna Sedai had the gaul to do that! But then, they are all quite arrogant. Even Egwene.

    • Rand has set up schools - for invention and for training followers.

    • The rebels choose an Amyrlin.

    • An army too horrible to unleash.

    • A contest of who will control The Dragon Reborn.

    • Rand needs a new Aes Sedai counselor, if for no other reason than to communicate his motives. Possibly Verin? Or a Wise Woman with cooperation from Aes Sedai?

    • Perrin to the rescue.

    • The first Aes Sedai kneel to the Dragon.

    • Let the Lord of Chaos rule.
    RL=YA-adult, adult book, challenging Maddigan's Fantasia by Margaret Mahy.
    Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2007.

    Maddigan's Fantasia is a long, rambling science fiction/fantasy novel. The time travel in the story barely exists; it's a reason for the future dwellers (Timon, Eden and Jewel: runaway orphans, plus the culprits: Ozul, Maska and the Nennog) to be in the story. There are also a number of technical gadgets: for communication, transportation and power generation. The fantasy consists of several elements: a changing map and diary, a very slowly aging woman, a water monster, an apparition, the Nennog and his possession of beings.

    Timon, Eden and their baby sister escape into Garland Maddigan's time period and join the travelers, a time when the world is trying to recover from major catastrophes. Lord Nennog sends Ozul and Maska after them to steal the talisman that they carry. There are only a few cities surviving. Maddigan's Fantasia, traveling entertainers, roam between the cities and towns as the places change. They have been charged with the task of buying a generator from one far city to save their home city, Solis. Each group of people they encounter in their quest has a different way of dealing with the formative times. One has child slavery; one captures guests and drugs them; one has children rebelling against parents; one is tribal; one is in complete ruin except the library with a sole caretaker.

    I enjoyed many of the parts of the story. Garland and the circus bits were entertaining, as were the motorized wings and Eden's magic. But I felt like the book was made up of bits and pieces meshed together, not really cohesive. Each part made me wish for more focus on it. Maybe the book is more suited to a leisurely read. Maybe it's because it is a low reading level. Anyway, I would guess the book would be loved mostly by those reveling in fantasy moments or enjoying reading snatches of story.

    related-time travel, magic, solar energy, circus, entertainers, immortality, friendship, communities

    Men At Arms by Terry Pratchett.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2008.
    Originally published by Victor Gollancz Ltd: Great Britain, 1993.

    • One of the Assassins decides Ankh-Morpork would be better off with its rightful King.

    • Detritus the troll, Cuddy the dwarf, and Angua the werewolf are new recruits with the Night Watch.

    • Sergeant Colon is in charge, since Captain Vimes is leaving the Watch after his marriage to the richest lady in Ankh-Morpork.

    • A new and dangerous weapon, too awful to be allowed to exist (but too fascinating to destroy), is leaving a wake of corpses - a clown, a mechanically inclined dwarf, the assistant to the Queen of Beggars. More targets were sighted, but attempts foiled.

    • Captain Vimes and the Night Watch have been ordered off the case. It is the Assassins Guild's jurisdiction.

    • Everyone knows and likes Corporal Carrot.

    • Freezing Detritus makes him smarter.

    • Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler expands his menu, for the ethnic crowd.

    • Leonard of Quirm, genius inventor (not to be confused with Bloody Stupid Johnson), has disappeared.

    • Detritus on a recruiting spree.

    RL=YA-adult, adult bookThe Merlin Effect by T. A. Barron.
    Philomel Books/Putnam & Grosset Group: NY, 1994.

    Kate's historian father is searching for The Horn of Merlin as the ultimate proof of Merlin's existence. Part of an old folktale, the horn may be onboard a Spanish galleon that may have sunk off the coast of Baja, California in 1547. Add to the excitement a dangerous whirlpool just off the coast, non-migrating grey whales, an ageless fish and youthful fishing village, and a twisted Nimue.

    While the Horn does not ensure immortality, it does have a power of agelessness. However, it is harmful to drink from it without proper understanding. Kate's fate is to find the lost treasure, keep it safe from Nimue, and leave it in a place that King Arthur can find upon his return.

    As with Barron's other books, philosophical questions arise-agelessness, creation and the continuaion of it, rejuvenation, elemental spirits, faith, and free will. I find Barron's mix of genres and topics exciting-mystery, adventure, history, myth, and science. I particularly like the appearance of Merlin, though the story is otherwise unrelated to the King Arthur stories.

    Midnighters by Scott Westerfeld.
    EOS/HarperCollins Publishers: NY.

    The Secret Hour 2004: There are ancient creatures running loose in Bixby, OK. But only in one hour a day-an hour hidden from everyone except those born at midnight. Since Jessica Day moved to town, the creatures have become more predatory. They seem to be after her specifically. In order to survive she must band together with the other midnighters to find what talent she may have which would enable her to protect herself.

    The story is mysterious and exciting. Westerfeld is highly imaginative. None of his books so far have been disappointing. The language is not as rich in this book as in others (ex.So Yesterday), but the story is captivating.

    Touching Darkness 2004: Jessica and the other midnighters discover a disturbing connection between the midnight hour and daylighters. As they search to find out more, they learn of Bixby, OKlahoma's shadowy past-a time when the midnighters seemed to have disappeared. Changes are happening withi n their group, and a horrifying conspiracy is revealed. Dess is drawn to an old woman who may be the only one who can keep them from disappearing as their predecessors had.

    Even more exciting than the first book, it is full of tension and surprises. It is the kind of book you don't want to put down, but you don't want it to end either.

    Blue Moon 2005: The Midnighters learn that there is a rip in the wall that separates the blue time-threatening to increase the time and space for the darklings to hunt. Rex has a major identity struggle since his thoughts merged with the darklings in the last book. Part of him now sees humans as prey and reacts in other ways as a darkling. The midnighters also learn more about the history of Bixby, OK, and the past realizations will have a great impact on their future.

    An exciting conclusion for the midnighters. Fans of the seer will love it. There is less focus on abilities and more on what's ahead and who they want to be as people.
    related-identity, mystery, the hunt, beasts, Sam Hain

    M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2007.

    A collection of fantasy short stories by bestselling author of YA and adult books, Neil Gaiman. Most of the stories have only a touch of fantasy: boys attending a party of otherworldly travelers, the selling of a famous bridge made of jewels, a group of unusual characters sitting around telling stories, a Sam Spade/noir style detective story with Mother Goose characters, a stray black cat guarding a family's home, an eccentric club searching for the next fantastic meal, and a return of Galahad searching for the Holy Grail in an unlikely place.

    Gaiman is an excellent storyteller. The stories are unique, varied, well written, with some entertaining concepts. Most of the book is light fantasy. More for laughs than deep thinking.

    The book seems to be one of the few short story collections accessible to middle graders, excluding folklore books. Even so, some of the stories are more for young adults. Despite the low reading level, it remains one of my favorite of my list of short story collections.

    My favorites of the book are The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds (detective story), Chivalry (Galahad), The Price (guard cat), and Sunbird (the Epicurean Club). One chapter of The Graveyard Book also appears in M is for Magic.

    related-magic, short stories, King Arthur, aliens, mythical creatures, seasons, detective stories, mysteries, Mother Goose
    RL=YA-adult, some stories 7th & up

    Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson


    The Monster's Ring by Bruce Coville.
    Harcourt, Inc: NY, 1982.

    Other Magic Shop Books:
    Jennifer Murdley's Toad
    Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher
    Juliet Dove, Queen of Love
    Skull of Truth

    Russell is bullied relentlessly at school. He imagines himself becoming a monster to get revenge. He stumbles upon The Magic Shop as he flees from the bully. He receives a ring from the proprietor that transforms him-body and character.

    The story is strange and fantastic and yet somehow very real. Russell is transformed in ways we may wish we could be sometimes-as long as we could change back when convenient.
    related-monsters, bullies, Halloween, schools, magic

    Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett.
    HarperCollins: NY, 2003
    Harper paperback 2008.

    • Hair cut and strategically placed socks is all that's needed.

    • Girls, a vampire, an Igor, a troll, and a fanatic

    • "You'll walk with Death every day, but I've seen 'im and he's been known to wink."

    • "It's like the whole world spins around your socks."

    • "A woman always has half an onion left over, no matter what the size of the onion, the dish, or the woman."

    • Commander Vimes relies on buzzard messages.

    • De Worde and Otto his photographer capture a pivotal truth.

    • Someone absconded with the coffee that keeps Maladict from wanting blood.

    • Undisguised girls, plus a thespian officer, disguised as washerwomen to retake the Keep

    • Commander Vimes and the buzzard manipulate events.

    • "You needed a lack of graphic imagination to talk about personal issues with an Igor."

    • The girls free the soldiers, who in turn imprison them.

    • The dead Duchess speaks through Wazzer.

    • Girls/women in the Borogravian military more common than expected

    • Sergeant Jackrum's long military service and surprising influence

    • One concept inflated to ridiculous heights. Of course, this describes many Pratchettisms.
    Mort by Terry Pratchett.
    Harper Collins Publishers: NY, 2008.
    Originally publ by Victor Gollancz Ltd with Colin Smythe Ltd: Great Britain, 1987.

    Ultra-Condensed Mort

    • The sands of time pouring away

    • "Magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten."

    • Death takes Mort on as an apprentice . . . and companion for his daughter.

    • People don't see what their minds tell them isn't there.

    • It's harder to save a life than you'd think.

    • Magical writing trying not to be read by a non-wizard.

    • Self-writing biographies. One for everyone. Including the ageless wizard.

    • History rights itself. Even if it must kill to do it.

    • New royal post - official Recognizer

    • Everyone expecting a coronation, but for who?

    • "There was going to be folk dancing, at sword point if necessary."

    • The VOICE and temporary rearranging of matter come with the job.

    • Death finds a new profession.

    • Death answers to no one and makes his own rules.
    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien. il. Zena Bernstein.
    Atheneum: NY, 1971.

    Newbery Award Winner 1972

    This is one of the first books that my oldest son was excited about reading. He had been unwilling to move beyond Goosebumps and Animorphs. He had read an excerpt from a textbook and decided to give it a try. His motivation for reading it was the technology involved in the story.

    Scientists at NIMH try to teach lab rats to read. They underestimate the rats' abilities, and the rats decide to gain their own freedom and create their own community.

    The two sequels (Racso and the Rats of NIMH: 1986 and RT, Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH: 1990-both by Jane Leslie Conly, his daughter) are as good as the first book. They are worth reading again and again.

    The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. il Carson Ellis.
    Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 2007.

    Four children are recruited to a secret society through a sequence of tests designed to pinpoint certain abilities. Each child has one particular aptitude: problem solving, retention of facts, bravery, and independence. The four combined make up the perfect team to foil the plans of Mr. Curtain, the head of the Learning Institute for the Very Gifted. They become students to gather information about the hidden agenda of the school and ultimately stop Mr. Curtain.

    The testing period is lengthy and interesting. It is surprising how many kids are weeded out, but the tests are trickier than they seem, with things that don't seem like tests thrown in. The results are different for each child and show their different characteristics and personalities.

    The plot is somewhat predictable, though the details of the story are unique and engaging. The book is a little long and probably could have used more editing. What I liked about the book is the characters and the unique behavior of each one. Sticky's fear balances out his know-it-all-ness. Reynie comes up with most of the suggestions or plans, but uses the others as sounding boards. Kate and her wonderful bucket full of fun kit, which allows her to do anything. Constance's vocal stubbornness gets them in plenty trouble, but in the end is essential.

    This is a book that received a lot of buzz around the internet when it came out. The title is great to start. It is also a rare science fiction book for middle readers, plus a fairly good mystery. As I said, the characters are great. The level is not difficult, but the length could scare some away. It has interesting chapter heads, for those enjoying breaks between chapters.

    related-adventure and adventurers, schools, brainwashing and mindwiping, world domination, mysteries, science fiction, spying

    Never Trust a Dead Man by Vivian Vande Velde.
    Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1999.

    Selwyn has been accused of murdering Farold, another young man in their small town. The townspeople rush to judgment and the ringleader proclaims he should be buried alive in the burial cave with the body of the dead man. A witch comes to his aide (for a price) and brings the dead man's spirit back to life. Unfortunately, Farold does not know who the murderer is, since he was sleeping and stabbed in the back.

    The two young men go disguised into the town to investigate. What they learn is that there are too many people who had cause to want Farold dead. Apparently no one wanted to look into the murder, because they were afraid suspicion would be cast on them. By the end, there are about nine suspects.

    The book is mostly a murder mystery but part comedy as well, slightly farcial. Farold's spirit ends up in a bat's body by mistake, and his personality is as unpleasant in death as in life. The witch is comical with her whacking Selwyn for stupid questions and comments and her outrageous price. The daunting task of finding the murderer is also amusing, plus Selwyn's second disguise. The story lightly explores some social issues, though it is largely a comedy. A good, fun story.

    I love the title, though it is only loosely connected to the story. It isn't as important as it sounds.

    This is a high interest, low level book. Sixth graders could easily read it, but because of the social issues and age of protagonist it is considered YA.

    related-murder mysteries, detective stories, motives, small towns, magic, dating


    The New Policeman by Kate Thompson.
    Green Willow Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2007.
    Originally published by The Bodley Head: Great Britain, 2005.

    This story is a suspenseful and fanciful explanation of why people in modern times seem to not have time for all of the things people used to do - reading, learning music, hanging out with friends, etc. Time is leaking from the world into the realm of Eternal Youth, otherwise known as the world of the faeries.

    The story starts with a modern-day, Irish, farming family that welcomes visitors regularly to their home to play music together and share their music with the community. This tradition dates back to a time when the Catholic Church was trying to stamp out community dances. J.J. Liddy learns form his best friend that the Liddy family has a dark secret, connected to their music playing. Related but not apparent at first, there is a new policeman in town with a bad memory who can be led astray by an invitation to play his fiddle.

    All of these things do not immediately seem connected. It isn't until J.J. is led into the realm of Eternal Youth by a concerned neighbor and distracted long enough to understand the problem that the reader can see the connections.

    Possibly because it comes to us from Britain, this is a very different book. It is a blend of the Irish traditions of music making and weaving fanciful tales. It has a bare minimum of folklore, and so, seems more modern. It is fairly believable despite the trip to the faerie world. It was nothing like I expected.

    I especially enjoyed the musical heritage in the story. Adding to my pleasure is that we had just finished a weekend of musical merriment at the American Folk Festival in Bangor, Maine. Bangor was fortunate in hosting the National Folk Festival for three years, and then the city , with the help of the National organizers, started their own annual event. Musicians from all over the states, plus Canada and other countries, come to perform. Because of the the 400th anniversary of French settlement in Canada, the main focus this year was on French Canadian (also have strong Irish & Scottish influence) groups learning their music through house parties. We heard so much fiddling - including a Norwegian fiddler playing an instrument deemed the devil's instrument, as in the book.

    The story is high interest with a low reading level. It also looks longer than it is due to the design of the book. Each chapter is headed by a traditional song, which is a nice touch but takes up space.

    related-time and space, fairies, music, Ireland, fiddling and fiddlers, family secrets
    RL=7th and up

    New Spring by Robert Jordan.
    A prequel to The Wheel of Time series.
    TOR/Tom Doherty Associates: NY, 2004.


    • Lan Mandragoran called to fight the Blight and accruing followers

    • Moiraine Damodred and Siuan Sanche as Accepted

    • Death by Foretelling

    • An Aes Sedai hunt for the Dragon Reborn is on, and Moiraine and Siuan intend to be the ones to find him.

    • Elaida already the enemy

    • Moiraine's connection to the Sun Throne and Aes Sedai plotting

    • Copying lists, a perfect way to narrow the search

    • A closer look at the Ajahs

    • Moiraine and Siuan become Aes Sedai.

    • Siuan is recruited to spy network, and Moiraine sneaks out of Tar Valon.

    • Indications of the Black Ajah

    • Moiraine and Cadsuane both notice the shrinking of the Aes Sedai.

    • The meeting of Moiraine and Lan

    • Warder's pledge

    Next by Michael Crichton.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2006.

    Next deals with concepts of trans-species genetic engineering. The feeling is that we are on the edge of huge breakthroughs in this area. Breakthroughs that would enable us to modify behavior in various ways, supply as much transplant material as is needed for the growing demand, and take marketing in a direction never dreamed of. The possibilities are so exciting researchers are ignoring the regulations and working in secret. Consequences are showing up all over the globe. Things that make such bizarre headlines they cannot be true.

    There are several characters to follow here, all related to one genetic engineering company. A company that is struggling to survive, a company that owns a person's cells and pursues them physically, a company caught in the act of banned modification, a company in the midst of a hostile takeover.

    This excerpt taken from the book's cover sums it up:

    Next challenges our sense of REALITY and notions of MORALITY. Balancing the COMIC and the BIZARRE with the genuinely FRIGHTENING and DISTURBING, Next shatters our assumptions and reveals SHOCKING new choices where we least expect.

    There is one shocking occurrence after another in the story. Many of them set off by crazy headlines and articles. Some of the politics is different than what we expect in our society. However, maybe it isn't too farfetched given the huge moneymaking prospects in this field. We do have the same sense of secrecy in our society surrounding genetic engineering. By the time the public knows what is happening it may very well be too late.

    This is a provocative book, playing on people's fears, certainly, but also possibly opening eyes. The fact is genetic engineering can take us in directions we could never expect, directions we don't want to go in. What we don't know can hurt us. Where is the regulation? Are we depending on researchers' sense of morality to limit what they try? A dangerous presumption. We have seen with corporations that if there is no explicit regulation against it, they believe it is legal (ex. the selling of people's retirements as assets in mergers in the 1990s). Do you believe our government officials are knowledgeable enough to regulate this field? Crichton uses known possibilities and extends the ideas just a little farther than where we are for a riveting, adventure-full story.

    related-genetic engineering and research, politics, trans-species animals, organ transplants, tissue storage and ownership, hostile takeover of a corporation, behavior modification
    RL=YA-adult, adult book

    Night Watch by Terry Pratchett.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2002.

    Samuel Vimes, Commander of the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork, falls through the University's rooftop and into the past. The murderer he is chasing is also transported. Trying to avoid too much change in history, Mr. Vimes must capture the madman before he can be transferred back to his wife, on the day of his child's birth. It is also the anniversary of his colleagues' deaths, the date to which he is transported in time-roughly. As a commander missing the old days, he gets his wish, so to speak, when he is sent to relive them. His mentor is killed in the transversal, and so he must take his mentor's place in training the young Vimes. Vetinari also makes an appearance pre-tyrant status.

    Night Watch is one of the later books in the series. It is similar in style to Making Money, The Truth, and Going Postal. The setting up of Vetinari's rise to power is an interesting development. The time travel is always an enticing subject. There is a mix of parallel worlds and changing of history in linear time, the domino effect. Pratchett throws in some silliness with the guardians of time who help him travel home and political commentary in explaining an event that has shaped Vimes' character.

    Night Watch is one of my favorites in the series so far. I've mostly read the later books. Because this one is excellent, I will continue to slowly read the ones I've missed. I want to savor them. They are not particularly hard to read, but it's easy for the reader to miss tangential bits if not paying attention. That little bit can be a reference to a major part of something else or just Pratchett's penchant for wisecracking.

    If you are just now hearing of Pratchett's Discworld, you might want to know that it is a series one can jump into without worrying about a certain order. Find an aspect that intrigues you. The more you read of it, the more the whole will make sense.

    related-time travel, Discworld, Samuel Vimes, police, revolution, keeping the peace

    Odder Than Ever by Bruce Coville.
    Harcourt, Brace & Company: Orlando, 1999.

    Nine short stories with twists or different points-of-view than the norm. Entertaining stories that make one think. Especially good for nonsqueamish readers.

    The Old Kingdom Books by Garth Nix.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY.

    Sabriel 1995
    Lirael 2001
    Abhorsen 2003
    Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen prequel expected 2010
    sequel to Abhorsen expected 2011

    Sabriel: For 2 hundred years the Old Kingdom has been overrun by the Dead who are controlled by practitioners of Free Magic. Most of her life Sabriel has been safe in a boarding house in Ancelstierre, across the Wall from the Old Kingdom. Barely of age, Sabriel learns her father, the Abhorsen (the Charter member with enough power to control the Dead), has been trapped in the realm of the Dead by the Greater Dead. His loss of power coincides with the further deterioration of control of the Dead allowing the possibility of demolishing the Wall between the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre. Sabriel's mission is to save her father if it's not too late and restore order if at all possible.

    The book is well written, but a little too violent and creepy for my taste. My teenaged sons loved it. It is a necessary introduction to the series, but possibly too dark for the first book. Sabriel is a strong character, and I enjoyed the parts that were about her life before she was fighting the Dead. I was disappointed to hear the next 2 books are about someone else-until I read them. I enjoyed some of the aspects of the magic-the paperwing (an airplane), bells for controlling the dead, technology not working in the presence of Free Magic, necromancers' bodies freezing as they go into the Land of the Dead-but the premise is creepy. Some will love the books; others may avoid the topic.
    related-magic, necromancy, Land of the Dead, kingdom in decay, adventure, horror, restoration of Kingdom

    Lirael: The 2nd book takes place about 20 years after Sabriel. Sabriel and Touchstone are needed in Ancelstierre on a mission of diplomacy. They leave the Kingdom in their children's hands. Ellimere, the heir to the throne, and Sameth, the Abhorsen-in-training. Meanwhile, Lirael has grown up as a daughter of the Clayr, but separate from them because she hasn't gained the Sight. She is an orphan. Her mother died when she was young, and her father is unknown. She is given a choice of jobs, and she chooses the library since she can avoid people that way. The Clayr's library is full of relics and ancient rooms and passageways as well as books. Early on she acquires a companion, the Disreputable Dog, who watches over her while she is pushing her to learn and explore dangerous situations. As Lirael comes of age (and the King and Abhorsen are out of the country), a critical situation is growing in the Old Kingdom. The Clayr See her as a part of the solution and send her to her destiny.

    I think this book is so much better than Sabriel. Partly because the gruesome events don't happen until the next book. Most of this one is the growth of Lirael and Sameth as characters and the setting up of the catastrophe that is looming. Lirael's character is every bit as strong as Sabriel's, moving from an orphan to an independent young woman of knowledge and competence to the one who can rescue both the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre. Sameth struggles with the role expected of him by his parents and sister until he learns that maybe that isn't his destiny.

    Abhorsen: This is a continuation of the story in Lirael. A continuation of the catastrophe that is looming. A coming together of the plan of the Destroyer and of the people involved in the foiling of his plans. The book is largely the quest to reach the site of confrontation. And then the ending which was partly expected and partly unanticipated but perfect. The Disreputable Dog and Mogget (cat from Sabriel) are also part of the mission to stop the Destroyer. One Final Firecracker by Gregory Maguire.
    Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2005.

    It's a time for celebration - the students' graduation from grammar school, their beloved teacher's wedding, a traveling circus, and the Fourth of July. Odd creatures from the previous Hamlet Chronicles books make an appearance, set on becoming a part of the festivities.

    This is the last book of a series set in a small Vermont town, focusing mainly on a class of students and their families and teacher. Wacky and humorous, a different set of creatures stars in each story, with them all coming together in One Final Firecracker. It reminds me of The Pure Dead series by Deb Gliori, though more heart-warming and toned down.

    This is an excellent series for young readers, those who have recently started reading chapter books. I think, one of the best, because it is less formulaic than that reading level tends to be. The characters and story are enjoyable to follow. The language is rich, slowing down the flow, while the anticipation builds. A totally crazy scenario makes the town much more interesting than it would otherwise be - including to reporters snooping around.

    I read this book before I knew it was a series. I have since read the first book and liked it as well. I still need to read the others to see what I missed. Just from reading the two, I can tell there is character development going on through the series, since the students and teacher are together through the whole series.

    Also note, the students lead active lives, roaming all over town, much as I remember doing as a child. Unlike the average child nowadays, focused on electronics.

    Seven Spiders Spinning is the first book in the series. I recommend that readers start with the first book.

    related-schools, teachers, Fourth of July, Vermont, humorous stories

    On Etruscan Time by Tracy Barrett.
    Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2005.

    When Hector's mom is asked to help at an archaeological site in Italy, he is dragged along. To pass the time, he helps with the digging and is transported back through time to the Etruscan village it used to be. An artifact with protective qualities is the transportation device. Hector believes he is dreaming at first, but the Etruscan boy's plea for help becomes all too real. Underlying the story is Hector's need to find a way to be heard-in his life and the dream episodes.

    The book is short, but unusual with a high interest level. The use of the device for time travel is creative. There are conflicts in the present and past to be sorted out, and I liked also that Hector holds the key to both. In the past he is invisible to all but the one boy and thinks of the boy's solution. In the present, he becomes part of the dig and finds an important artifact.

    related-dreams, Etruscans, Italy, archaeology, time travel, sacrifice, mothers and sons

    Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2004.
    First edition 1992.

    I would guess this has to be one of the first stories to have the character living a computer game. Johnny, when playing the game Only You Can Save Mankind, is contacted by the leader of the aliens/enemy. Their leader surrenders and requests safe passage to their home. While it is a game to Johnny and his friends, the aliens are dying for real. The dilemma results in many sleepless nights for Johnny, odd conversations with his friends, wrestling with his conscience, and new friends.

    The book was written during the Gulf War, a time when there was daily TV coverage of bombings for the first time. No carnage was shown; it looked like a video game. This story is a reminder that the killing is real, that it isn't a weakness to want to avoid bloodshed, whether it is of foreigners or aliens. Pratchett twists a serious subject into a quirky and compelling plot. It is a good story, with important commentary, but without beating the reader over the head with the message.

    related-computer games, war, conduct of life, sci fi
    RL=4th & up, publisher says ages 8 and up

    On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells.
    Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2010.

    The bank takes Oscar and his father's home, including their wondrous train set-up, when the stock market crashes. His father travels to California in search of work, and he is left with his austere aunt. During his few private moments home alone, Oscar befriends a homeless man left jobless by the Depression, who in turn tutors him (especially in Mathematics). The ex-teacher gets a job at the bank which has his train set displayed for Christmas. An attempted bank robbery propels Oscar into the future via the train where he meets a soon-to-be Hollywood star and young runaway girl from New York City.

    I enjoyed the boy and teacher relationship, since he needed his father so badly, and Oscar gave Mr. Applegate help in the same way that his father needed help from those in California. He teaches Oscar how to memorize speeches and poetry (a quality his aunt values) and discusses with him principles of time travel. Of course, all of this takes place while his aunt is working away from the house, as she would never have approved befriending a stranger.

    Oscar's wormhole train ride surprised me. Here I was enjoying the Depression setting, when BAM! he's on a train bound for California where he arrives as a teenager. He does get to see his dad, but he must go back to set their lives straight, though that chain of events is strange as well. Besides Mr. Applegate, the star helps Oscar along the way, as does the runaway girl whose father has important friends.

    Rosemary Wells tells a good tale. Odd, but creative and poignant.

    related-space and time, railroad trains, single parent families, Depression, 20th century, adventure, California, Illinois, boys

    The Other Teddy Roosevelts by Mike Resnick.
    Subterranean Press: Burton, MI, 2008.

    Found on an alternate history website (, the title and brief description intrigued me. I did not realize it was sci fi short stories or that they were all by the same author, published over several years.

    Not all of the stories are sci fi, and even those have a strongly historical feel. Out of his respect for Teddy Roosevelt and his exploits, the author has created stories that expand the legend of Roosevelt. In so doing, he has altered the path of Roosevelt's life and extrapolated. Before each story and in a separate section there is historical information explaining Teddy Roosevelt's character and actions which were used as a springboard for the alternate stories.

    Stories include Roosevelt's solving of the Jack the Ripper case, a vampire cooperating with him as the police commissioner of New York City, active duty during WWI, an attempt to forge a democracy in the Congo, support of women's suffrage, a reaction to H. G. Wells' Martian invaders, and what may have been different if his wife Alice had lived.

    All of the stories are based on Roosevelt's life and character. Certain points are touched on again and again. The stories are highly entertaining and at times enlightening. I don't agree with all of Resnick's conclusions, but I enjoyed the stories, and I agree that Roosevelt commands respect. I'm not a fan of hunting and war, but even those stories showed insight into Roosevelt's actions.
    RL=YA-adult (adult book)

    Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card.
    Simon & Schuster: NY, 2010.

    The book has two storylines: a sci fi colonization, in which most of the story takes place on a spaceship en route to the new planet, and a medieval-like political fantasy, in which a royal heir has been hidden until he is well trained and travels to the capital. The second thread takes place after the first, after the colony has developed for 11,000 years.

    When Rigg's father is dying, he tells Rigg to search for a sister he doesn't know exists. He learns through his travels that he is the Queen's (in name only) son. He is held in house arrest with his family. He has accumulated two faithful friends, Umbo from where he was raised and Loaf from a tavern on his journey. Rigg ingratiates himself with the servants in his new home, and he has a handy gift which enables him to keep track of people intending him harm. For instance, he can see that there are secret passages in the house used by spies, though the entrances are hidden. Because of his father's teachings, he is allowed to study at the Great Library as a scholar. His birth father was also a scholar, so Rigg determines to imitate his studies, leading towards revolutionary discoveries regarding the colonization. Things that had been hinted at in his previous education. During this period, he also gets to know his sister Param, who remains in hiding most of the time. Meanwhile, Umbo and Loaf are working on a way to help Rigg escape.

    There is a brief focus on biology in the story. Machines called Expendables are in charge of populating the planet of Garden with species from Earth, including humans. It is an experiment to determine whether Garden can be inhabited by humans. Native versus Earth species provide the key for Rigg's understanding and realization of a method of escape.

    Three characters have abilities that allow them to manipulate time and space fields. Umbo can move back in time. Rigg can see the paths that people and animals have taken throughout history. Together they can effectively change history. Param jumps forward in time. She moves so quickly that she seems invisible, though Rigg can see her paths. Orson Scott Card's playing with these concepts is what makes the story interesting.

    Though the story is long, it is light fantasy/sci fi and moves quickly. It is a variety of genres, so would be a good selection for those newer to fantasy/sci fi. A sequel is out also - Ruins.

    related-identity, psychic ability, time travel, interplanetary voyages, space colonies

    The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan.
    TOR Fantasy/Tom Doherty Associates: NY, 1998.


    • Concerned over the number of kingdoms that have "fallen" to the Dragon Reborn, Tenobia of Saldaea and others of the borderlands band together to confront Rand's forces.

    • With the help of Windfinders (Atha'an Miere), the Bowl of the Winds is used, starting a chain of weather shiftings.

    • Elayne, Nynaeve, Aviendha, Birgitte, and Lan start on their way to Caemlyn along with the Kin of the Knitting Circle, Aes Sedai, and Windfinders.

    • Elayne unweaves the threads of a gateway to stop Seanchan from following their path.

    • The Asha'man turn back the encroachment of the Seanchan which undermines their faith in the sul'dam and damane.

    • Perrin and his army are heading for a confrontation with the Prophet.

    • Egwene rests control from the Hall of the Tower when she negotiates a compromise between Murandian and Caemlyn aristocracy and declares war against Elaida..

    • A traitor among the ranks of the Asha'man.

    • The Lord Dragon wields Callandor.

    • Alviarin the Keeper blackmailing Elaida the Amyrlin.

    • An attempt to ferret out the Black Ajah or Darkfriends in the White Tower leads to the unveiling of rebel spies.

    • Outlandish rumors spread across the land. Some true, others not.

    RL=YA-adultPegasus by Robin McKinley.
    G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Group: NY, 2010.

    McKinley's Pegasus is a contemplative study of what an alliance might look like between humans and Pegasi. It is one of the slowest YA books I've read, but it is interesting.

    The two main characters (Sylvi, a human, and Ebon, a pegasus) have a powerful connection, before they even undergo the bonding that all royal members experience when they come of age. They flout the rules of behavior (no flying together), because it seems natural and beautiful to do so. They also communicate telepathically, which others don't seem capable of. There are magicians who interpret for them, and those bonded are trained by the magicians to communicate to an extent through language and gestures. Their parents eventually arrange for Sylvi to visit the Pegasi homeland, which no humans have visited since the original alliance between species. It follows, then, that the two should become ambassadors for the two groups. Except that Sylvi learns than Ebon is not the only pegasus with which she can communicate and there is a politically powerful magician who is working to undermine their influence and even their friendship.

    Through her experiences with the pegasi, Sylvi is beginning to see that something has gone wrong with the alliance. The pegasi suspect that their communications have been purposefully misinterpreted. Sylvi wonders if things the humans have been taught since youth might not be true. But with the magician's scheme to gain more power, she doesn't know how much of what she has learned and done is safe to discuss, even with her father, the King.

    It must be that there will be a sequel to this book. The end was cut off in the middle of political upheaval, with Sylvi and Ebon separated. I want to see where the story will go from here. Whether or not Sylvi will gain enough confidence to speak for the pegasi.

    related-pegasus, Greek mythology, magic, human-animal communication, princesses, friendship

    Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan.
    Hyperion Books for Children/Miramax Books: NY.
    The Lightning Thief 2005
    The Sea of Monsters 2006
    The Titan's Curse 2007
    The Battle of the Labyrinth 2008 - no review yet

    The Lightning Thief: In the first book of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, Riordan tells a tale of Greek mythological characters roaming the modern U.S.-starting in New York City and traveling to Los Angeles. Imagine your ADHD being the result of your demigod status, unbeknownst to you! One crazy event after another happens as Percy meets more characters-especially once he learns who he is and accepts his quest. The characters and other mythological connections are well done and my favorite part of the story. The confrontations occur a little too often, but there are plenty of creative tidbits to keep readers hooked.

    Percy's quest arises due to the fact that someone has stolen Zeus's master lightning bolt. He accuses Poseidon and gives him until the summer solstice to return it or prepare for World War III. Percy (short for Perseus) is appointed the task of reclaiming it. His advisers believe Hades is the culprit, so he must travel to the Underworld. Unfortunately, Zeus is not the only god missing an object of power, and matters become complicated.

    Interestingly, the book reminds me of another story related to Zeus's stolen property, Thor's Wedding by Bruce Coville. Coville's story closely follows a Norse poem, Thrymskvitha. Riordan's does not.

    All three of my sons (ages 9-16) read the book and immediately read the second book. They loved them.
    related-Greek gods & mythology, monsters, family relationships, high interest/low reading level
    RL=4th & up

    The Sea of Monsters: Thalia, the tree that guards the border of Camp Half-blood, is stabbed with poison by a half-blood traitor. The barriers protecting the camp have broken down, and the camp will be overrun by monsters. It's decided the Golden Fleece is the only thing that can restore the camp, and Clarisse, daughter of Ares, is sent on the quest to steal it from the cyclops, Polyphemus. Percy has a new friend, Tyson, whom everyone else is treating as if he were a monster.

    There is more discussion of the prophecy no one wants to reveal to Percy, and the overall plot unfolds a little more. The book is as quickly paced as the first. It may not make as much of an impression as the first, perhaps because the concept was new with the first. There is an intriguing, surprise ending and some funny references to historical figures.
    related-Greek mythology, gods, monsters, cyclopses, Golden Fleece, family relationships, relatives, high interest
    RL=4th & up

    The Titan's Curse: In this 3rd book, Annabeth is kidnapped and the goddess Artemis hunts a monster and becomes trapped. Percy and the others are seeing premonitions in their dreams. Percy and friends save two new half-bloods, but one of the kids immediately becomes involved in the newest quest. There are odd things going on with the new kids. The quest is made up of errors by the participants, but there are some twists that help them to prevail.

    This is possibly the most complex of the series so far with many twists in the plot-including an ending I did not guess. The mythological references come fast and furious. The gods play a bigger role in the quest itself since the consequences are increasing. I still may have liked the first book best overall; I think because it was a fresh idea. There are some memorable moments in this one, and it may be more developed psychologically. It is a great series for the age range it is written. Enjoyable for older kids also, but advanced readers may not be interested.
    related-Greek mythology, monsters, gods & goddesses, manticore, friendship, family relationships, prophecy, high interest
    RL=4th & up

    Poppy by Avi. il Brian Floca.
    Orchard Books: NY, 1995.

    Poppy's boyfriend is eaten by the owl who says he is the protector/ruler of the forest. She is forced to confront him with her father to get permission to move the family due to lack of food. It is the scariest thing she has ever done. Scarier still is her confrontation with the frightful porcupine who turns out to be her true protection.

    Poppy is courageous and smart enough to solve her seemingly insurmountable problems. There is much adventure, suspense, and comic relief in this short novel which is one of the best for this reading level. The sequels are equally as good.

    Poppy and Rye 1998
    Ragweed 1999
    Ereth's Birthday 2000

    Pure Dead Series by Debi Gliori.
    Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY.

    Pure Dead Magic © 2001
    Pure Dead Wicked © 2002
    Pue Dead Brilliant © 2003
    Pure Dead Trouble © 2004
    Pure Dead Batty © 2005
    Originally published as Deep Water by Transworld Publishers Ltd: Great Britain, 2005.

    The Pure Dead series is wacky and fun. It's an easy to read series made interesting by odd pets, peculiar happenings, plot twists, and Scottish slang.
    related-magic, criminals, brothers and sisters, Scotland, humorous stories

    Pure Dead Magic is an introduction to the family, pets, nanny, and butler. The setting is a Scottish castle. The oddness of the family and pets combine with magic and the internet for a truly unusual, zany adventure when their father is kidnapped.

    In Pure Dead Wicked, major repairs to their castle force the family to live at an inn for weeks (the only one that will allow their beasts). Included in the book are a real estate development scam and a cloning project through the internet. It is another wacky adventure for all concerned with a unique and funny solution.

    Pure Dead Brilliant: As Titus is about to inherit his grandfather's money, he and Pandora see a horrible forecast of their future. Also their home has been overrun by their mother's classmates creating more hilarious upheaval at the Strega-Borgia home. A demon appears who intends to steal an old stone that has been in the family's keeping for centuries.

    In Pure Dead Trouble, the Strega-Borgias arrive home from vacation to find their butler comatose on the doorstep. Titus becomes obsessed with exposing a shady corporation that has moved into the area. Pandora shadows the handsome replacement butler. Nanny McLachlan realizes that whatever attacked the butler will be back, and it is up to her to protect the children. The story is as twisted as ever and pulls you right along with it.

    Pure Dead Batty: The Borgias' nanny, Mrs. McLachlan, disappeared in the last book. Their terrible cook accuses Luciano (the father) of murdering her, and he is taken to prison. In the resulting chaos, Damp (the youngest) disappears also. As with the other books, it is a totally wacky experience.

    Putnam & Pennyroyal by Patrick Jennings. il Jon J. Muth.
    Scholastic Press: NY, 1999.

    If you are looking for science connections in literature, this is a good choice. Much of the story is about two grebes who have blundered into an underwater cave area. There are many grebes there; none apparently know how to get back out, but they have made the best of it. Pennyroyal, a different sort of grebe, isn't content to stay. She doesn't like the food, she's adventurous, and she likes to communicate, while the rest keep to themselves.

    The tale of Putnam & Pennyroyal is told by Cora Lee's Uncle Frank while she visits him during the summer. It is one of the most realistic animal stories I've read. The personalities of the grebes may move beyond realism, but they seem to fit the nature of the grebes. It also becomes apparent as the story is told that Pennyroyal is a bit like Cora Lee and Putnam is like Uncle Frank. In a vague way, acceptance of differences is discussed, too.

    I must have picked up the book, because I was searching for books illustrated by Jon Muth. The pictures are small sketches. A few good ones, but mostly unimportant. The story is different, with much anticipation. A good selection for younger readers, especially if the reader is an animal lover.

    related-grebes, birds, storytelling, uncles, family, acceptance, identity, animals

    Qwerty Stevens, Stuck in Time with Benjamin Franklin by Dan Gutman.
    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2002.

    While preparing a history report about the American Revolution, Qwerty accidentally transfers Benjamin Franklin from Philadelphia 1776 to his home in the present. He decides to bring Franklin to school as a visual aid for his report. Afterwards, he and his friend Joey can't resist going back with him to see the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

    Even better than Gutman's Qwerty Stevens, Back in Time (about Edison and the making of a time machine). The story is comical when Franklin visits school and adventurous as the boys assist Franklin in stopping a plot to change history.

    related-time travel, Philadelphia-PA, history of the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence, schools, Benjamin Franklin, inventions and inventors, July 4th

    Qwerty Stevens Back in Time: The Edison Mystery by Dan Gutman.
    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2001.

    Thomas Edison wrote about wanting to create a machine that would enable communication with the dead. In this story, Qwerty Stevens digs up a machine invented by Edison. He hooks it up to his computer and is transported to Spain accidentally. Later, he sends himself to Edison's laboratory at Edison's request. It is a fun and interesting adventure with consequences, as you would expect.

    The author has made an effort to be realistic including actual events, dialogue, and facts from Edison's life. The only thing that bothered me was the persistence of the idea that Edison invented everything for which he held a patent. Edison was a very successful businessman. He was known for buying inventions from others and producing them himself. He also had a huge laboratory with many workers who most likely invented things for which he held patents. As with the lightbulb, inventions were and are collaborative. To say we wouldn't have electricity without Edison is not true. The electrical system which we use was developed by Tesla who lived and created during the same time period. Edison may have been the first to patent a successful filament, but he wasn't the only one working on the idea. Students would be better served discussing how an idea has developed instead of saying it originates from one person. That is rarely the case. Besides it being untrue, the idea of inventions solely coming from one person also inhibits experimentation and creativity, because then young people believe it is beyond their abilities.

    related-time travel, transportational device, transportation, inventors, incandescent light

    Rampant by Diana Peterfreund.
    HarperCollins Publisher: NY, 2009.

    Astrid and her cousin are descendents of warrior, unicorn huntresses. Descended from Alexander the Great, no less. The unicorns were thought to be driven to extinction, until recently when Astrid and others experience unicorn attacks. They are not the cuddly creatures from myth, but violent meat-eaters that can only be controlled by the huntresses which also draw the creatures to them. Astrid's mother has been training her in the lore since early childhood, hoping for a chance to promote her daughter as the premier huntress. Now is her chance, and she ships her daughter off to a training camp in Rome. A camp consisting of another girl like Astrid and her older brother, desperately looking to revive the huntress culture and kill off the unicorns. That whole scenario doesn't fit so well in the 21st century, though, and the arrival of cousin Philippa stirs the situation even more.

    The two girls sneak out of the camp's fortress and juggle dating with training. Unfortunately, each trip out of the facility draws unicorns to them, with the possibility of another attack. To make matters worse, things are not as they seem. There is a spy mixed in and ulterior motives, and other girls have their own stories to complicate matters.

    The story is not so much my cup of tea, but I found it interesting nonetheless. It is very much a YA book. Marketed strictly for teens with some sexual content and dating focus. It is also a bit violent. The unicorn lore is interesting, and I still would like to know where the author is going from here with the story, as there is a sequel. The unicorns are not all the same, nor are the warriors. We'll see if more complexity will be involved in the next.

    related-unicorns, hunting, supernatural, dating, Rome, human-animal communication and relationships

    Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2008.
    1st published by Victor Gollancz Ltd: Great Britain, 1991.

    • Death is terminated by the instigation of the Auditors, for developing a personality.

    • As Death goes to work on a farm, spirits are left unattended.

    • Lives pile up. The excess life energy is channeled into new growth, such as a shopping mall?

    • Mrs. Cake and her premonitory speech

    • Wizard Windle Poons, newly dead poltergeist, unexpected hero

    • Interesting new verbal spell and stress reliever - Yo!

    • How fast can you scythe grass, one blade at a time?

    • You make a deal with Death, you better follow through.

    • Beginning of the Death of Rats

    • Counting Pines felled by ornamental house number plate industry

    • related-Discworld, wizards, Death, life after death, life energy

      This book seemed slower to me than the average Pratchett. Maybe because I had too many interruptions. The Death scenes are great, and Windle Poons was interesting as a poltergeist (decidedly unwizardly), but the back and forth between those and the shopping carts bothered me. It didn't make sense to me until the end. Redwall by Brian Jacques
      Philomel Books. Originally by Hutchinson Ltd: Great Britain.

      Redwall 1986
      Mossflower 1988
      Mattimeo 1989
      Mariel of Redwall 1991
      Salamandastron 1992
      Martin the Warrior 1993
      The Bellmaker 1994
      Outcast of Redwall 1995
      Pearls of Lutra 1996
      The Long Patrol 1997
      Marlfox 1998
      The legend of Luke 1999
      Lord Brocktree 2000
      Taggerung 2001
      Triss 2002
      Loamhedge 2003
      Rakkety Tam 2004
      High Rhulain 2005
      Eulalia 2007

      In all of the Redwall books, peace-loving animals join together for a bit of adventure in defending their homes or their friends against evil, roving bandits and tyrants. Jacques applies a medieval format to the lives of woodland creatures. Each type of animal has familiar, humorous traits. The villains are wonderful in their nastinesss.

      The strength is in the lively characters, outrageous dialogue, and masterful use of language. For younger readers it is a positive thing that the books mostly follow the same basic storyline with similar characters but with some twists and variations. As individual books they are quite enjoyable. In fact, the first six are excellent. I would, however, recommend not reading one right after another, since there is a battle in every book (I am sure that would not hinder most boys). There are some good elements in the stories for girls, too, such as the riddles, feasts, and good fellowship. This is an excellent series to start reading aloud, since Brian Jacques developed Redwall through storytelling before he became a writer. Most children will want to continue on their own.

      The Robot King by Brian Selznick.
      HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 1995.

      Lucy builds a robot out of found and collected objects in the attic she and her brother play in. It comes to life with the addition of personal items of their deceased mother.

      The fanciful illustrations are remarkable. The story is intriguing, and oddly it is the 3rd story I read recently using similar ideas: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Clockwork by Philip Pullman, and this. The illustrations of the Robot King are similar to the automaton in The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The automaton comes to life through mechanics instead of magic, although there is a magical quality about it. In Clockwork, a person is kept alive with a mechanical object. This story was written before the other two.

      I do not know how wide the appeal of the story would be. It is greatly fanciful and may be difficult for the targeted age range to follow. It is my least favorite of the books in my study of Selznick. I liked some of the concepts, but I usually prefer more realistic fantasy. It may be fine for people who are more into fairy tale, and they may not need to understand all of it to enjoy it.

      related-robots, building with odds and ends, death or loss of a parent, grieving process, magical world, play, remembrance

      Rules of the Universe by Austin W. Hale by Robin Vaupel.
      Holiday House: NY, 2007.

      Austin's grandfather has come to stay for the summer. Austin expects a summer full of scientific exploration, as usual, but his grandfather is struggling with cancer and has little energy for anything. He fully intends Austin to explore on his own and keep notes to share. His grandfather brought a gift, which Austin discovers, when he sees a light glowing from a suitcase. The gift has properties of a star. The star's energy changes living organisms. Austin observes it and tries to use its poweres with unintended consequences.

      Austin has difficulty reporting his observations, because they are unbelievable and his intentions are troubling. However, most of the chapter segments conclude with a rule of the universe, a more general observation about life, instead of scientific details. The story takes place half in Austin's home and half at science camp, which his parents won't let him skip despite his dire circumstances.

      Pets and people change in this lighthearted examination of life, aging and death. Austin views prior ages of three people close to him (and his dog) as the star works its magic.

      The story is creative and original. The star pushes the anticipation level. I like that, while addressing the grandfather's dying, the story moves in a different, out-of-control direction as Austin experiments to find a way to save his grandfather. In the process, he learns much about others' growth in life, as well as having a firsthand view of evolution. Fun stuff!

      related-science fiction, sci fi, time travel, evolution, maturing and development, scientific exploration and investigation, experimentation, microscopes
      RL=4th and up

      Runemarks by Joanne Harris.
      Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2008.

      Maddy is the misfit in her family and town. She has a "ruinmark" which immediately causes suspicion and has some abilities she keeps secret due to puritanical views in her world. The ruinmarks are a sign of relationship to the Norse gods which were rooted out by the Order after the battle for control (Ragnorak). Maddy was befriended many years ago by an old, one-eyed traveler (her only friend). One-eye has helped her prepare for upcoming events. He is searching for an item (oracle) which he believes is buried in a local hill. He enlists Maddy's aid in retrieving it, because he knows Loki (his brother and enemy) is guarding it and wouldn't expect a young girl. The subsequent events lead to a new battle between the old gods and the Order.

      I have been eyeing the book for a while. I love the title. My oldest son highly recommended it. He especially enjoyed the Norse connections and rune castings. Norse mythology is a fairly new subject for American literature. Some other related books are American Gods by Neil Gaiman (adult), Thor's Wedding (3rd-5th) by Bruce Coville, and The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer.

      It took half the book for me to be hooked, but the second half is very good. Maddy's character is strong and interesting, and Loki and One-eye also add interest. The workings of the Order resemble medieval Christianity which is a part of what got me hooked. Plus, there is a twist in the planning behind the forthcoming battle and struggle for ultimate control.
      related-Norse mythology, Norse gods, medieval world, magic, runes, Loki, Odin
      RL=6th & up

      The Safe-Keeper's Secret by Sharon Shinn.
      Viking/Penguin Group: 2004.

      Damiana is a safe-keeper. Villagers of Tambleham and outsiders come to her to share the burden of their secrets knowing she is bound to keep the secrets safe. While she is giving birth to her own child, the King's Safe-Keeper delivers a secret to her doorstep- a child. The two children are raised as if they were twins, loved equally by Damiana, her sister, and her circle of friends which includes a Truth-Teller (bound to tell the truth), an herbalist, and a Dream-Maker (who has a power within her that changes wishes to reality). There comes a time when the fathers of both children are important, as is the children's relationship.

      Though the idea of a noble being raised by a villager has been done over and over, Shinn's unfolding world is interesting. I enjoyed the friendship that binds Damiana's circle. I also think Fiona (her daughter) is a strong character, and I am looking forward to reading more of the series.

      I was drawn to the series and author by a short story I read of Shinn's in Firebirds Rising. The story is called Wintermoon Wish.

      related-secrets, villages, friendship, strong female characters

      Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague.
      HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2014.

      Possibly another time traveling Newbery in the works! The O'Malley family has a trait that allows them to travel, but they are sworn to not use it because of the havoc it can create. Four O'Malley generations figure in the present and history of a mining town plagued with accidents and tyranny. The current murder trial of a geologist working for the mining company dredges up memories of another murder trial of a union worker and leader. In both cases, the trial was overseen by employees of the company, Victory Fuels.

      Fairly quickly, facts are divulged about the connections of the two incidents. The judge of the current case is the son of the accused from the earlier case. As a boy, he was taken in by the owner of the mines and raised as a successor. Rehashing the past might make a difference to the man currently accused, an O'Malley. From the beginning, we watch both stories unfold. O'Malley's daughter is convinced by an old friend that the past holds the answers. She attempts to travel alone and meets an old O'Malley relative in the process, another traveler.

      The stories intertwine increasingly as time proceeds. One visit isn't enough, and try as she might, Margaret's efforts don't seem to accomplish anything, accept the knowledge that she gains through the experience. Enough knowledge that her present actions, and her friend Charlie's, may be the saving acts. Social issues play a big part in establishing place and circumstances, maybe too much for some people to enjoy it as much as I did. The characters are a part of the appeal to me. Particularly Grandpa Joshua (also a boy in previous time period), Aunt Bridey (O'Malley), and Aristotle (the union leader). There are also some ties and unique details that add flair to the experience. The intertwining elevates it as well, mixing the current murder mystery with the historical social setting, but twisting it at the same time. The traveling doesn't change enough happenings that it would be considered silly. More a vehicle for seeing into the past and making it more real.

      related-mystery and detective stories, time travel, mining towns, labor unions, control of small towns

      Judgement Day: The Science of Discworld IV by Terry Pratchett with Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen.
      Ebury Press: 2013.
      Discworld series

      This is a fusion of fiction and nonfiction, alternating Pratchett's short story chapters with science and history discourses on wide-ranging subjects, and comparing Discworld with Roundworld (Earth). I have never read anything quite like it. Not what I expected at all. Fascinating! I'm amazed at how much was packed into the book and how interesting it was to read it. Expect to take some time reading it. The science is slower going than the story.


      • Funding of Big Science, such as Manhattan Project, NASA, Large Hadron Collider

      • History of studying particles

      • Human-centered vs universe-centered

      • Life and consciousness, animate vs inanimate

      • "As we came to understand our world more deeply, and asked new questions, comfortable answers in terms that we could intuitively understand began to make less and less sense."

      • Majorie Daws arrives in Discworld, a wizardly experiment gone wrong.

      • Discworld universe, swimming turtle with disc and references on Earth

      • "One of the big puzzles about causality is that once you start to trace the causes of even the simplest features of the world, you find an ever-branching backward tree, with many unlikely things coming together at just the right instant to make something else happen. We rest on an infinite pile of coincidences, and the pile gets wider the further back we go. The probability of anything specific happening seems to be zero."

      • Genetic combinations and recombinations, exponential possibility and variation

      • Evolving of nature and technology

      • "Well, here in Unseen University we take the view that sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. However, as I understand it, you seldom need to say a mantra to get some engine to work...though I rather suspect that some people do." Ridcully

      • Shape of Earth, history of determining it

      • Ownership of Roundworld in question, claimed by Omnians

      • RNA, ribosomes, emerging life on Earth

      • New data muddling the waters, transcending theory and laws

      • Arrangement of the parts makes the difference

      • "Life has lifted itself out of the simple laws of nature, where it started, and is now a whole complex world, at least as different from that origin as a modern aeroplane is from a flint axe. The scene at the beginning of the film 2001, where the ape throws up a thighbone and it morphs into a space station, is a lovely illustration of just that kind of evolution. And that transformation is minor, compared to how life has transcended its origins."

      • "Within that world [complexity of biological evolution], one of its beasts has acquired language, imagination, and a penchant for stories: a special, wholly new thing in the cosmos. Narrativium has escaped from Discworld into Roundworld; now some things do happen because there is a creature that wants them to."

      • The Dean and Rincewind, exploratory visits to Roundworld

      • Again, causality - change creating other changes in the surrounding world

      • "Each new capability causes a particular technological path to branch, leading to new roads. Stuart Kauffman, one of the founders of complexity science, introduced the term 'the adjacent possible' to mean the possible behaviours of a complex system that are just a short step away from wherever it currently is. The adjacent possible is a list of what potentially might develop. In a sense, it is the system's potential."

      • Adaptations and exaptations

      • "[Besides imagining other possibilities] The other trick that minds can do to improve technology is to copy: to take a technical trick used in one invention and to spread its use to others."

      • Trajectory of development and niche-driven communities and cultures

      • Irrelevance and extinction

      • Spheres abound

      • The flat torus and hyperspheres and Escherverse

      • Vast and expanding universe

      • Much discussion of origin, shape and movement of the universe. Recent new data adds more questions and discussion, not answers.

      • "Most sane, rational human beings learn quite early on that you feel just as certain even when you're wrong; the strength of your belief is not a valid measure of its relation to reality. If you have scientific training, you may even learn the value of doubt. You can certainly have religious beliefs and still be a good scientist; you can also be a good person and understand that people who disagree with your beliefs need not necessarily be evil, or even misguided. After all, most of the world's people - even the religious ones - probably think your beliefs are nonsense. They have a different set of beliefs, which you think are nonsense."

      • Beliefs are formed through interaction of the brain with the person's surroundings, comparing new data with what is already known or believed. Complicity is the the chain of reactions that form that interaction, creating a unique experience between the two (or more).

      • Variety of belief systems

      • Intuition vs logical analysis

      • "Our senses are imprecise, and their inputs to the brain are subject to 'noise' - random mistakes. The workings of the brain, being evolved wetware (the organic material of the nervous system) rather than carefully engineered hardware or software, are also subject to errors. The signals that the brain sends to the body suffer from unavoidable variability."

      • Bayesian inference for probability, degree of confidence, prior belief influences perception of new data and vice versa

      • Om called as a witness regarding the ownership of Roundworld

      • L-space links libraries across all space and time. The concept of a flat world leaked into roundworld, and that of a round world leaked the other way into Discworld.

      • Omnian assassins foiled

      • Inadvisably Applied Magic group

      • "What proportion of people do we need to be rational, to keep civilisation running? More to the point, these days: how many people does it take -gangsters or terrorists, bigots or zealots - to break down the workings of a civilised society?"

      • "People live their lives, and are acquainted with all kinds of events, but for most people it's a small world. In an African tribe, there may be fasts and festivals, intimate relationships with about twenty people, mostly relatives, and a nodding acquaintance with about another hundred; just like Orthodox Jews in Golders Green, or Muslims in Bradford. Workmates, hobbyists, football supporters, pub acquaintances and friends can bring the total up to about 150. Humans seem to be able to remember about 200 faces, at most."

      • "Since the beginning of recorded history, which is defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6000 years ago, historians have catalogued over 3,700 supernatural beings, of which 2,870 can be considered deities. So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I'll say 'Oh, which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra...?' If they say 'Just God. I only believe in the one God,' I'll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don't believe in 2,870 gods, and they don't believe in 2,869."

      • "The default is to disbelieve. An atheist is not someone who believes that God doesn't exist. It is someone who doesn't believe that God does exist. If you think those are the same, ponder this statement by the comedian Penn Jillette: 'Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.'"

      • "In both [embryological and cultural development], evolutionary changes occur through complicity between several programmes, each of which affects the future of the others. As time passes, each programme not only affects its own future by its own internal dynamics: it also changes its future by the changes it causes in the other programmes."

      • "It [Science] replaces blind faith by carefully targeted doubt. It has existed in its current form for no more than a few centuries, although precursors go back a few thousand years. There is a sense in which "know" is too strong a word, for scientists consider all knowledge provisional. But what we 'know' through science rests on much more secure foundations than anything else that we claim to know, because those foundations have survived being tested to destruction."

      • RL=adult, accessible to YA

        Seven Spiders Spinning by Gregory Maguire.
        Hamlet Chronicles
        Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin: NY, 1994.

        Seven Siberian snow spiders, frozen in the last Ice Age, have been found and then lost. Their transport vehicle overturned in the tiny town of Hamlet, Vermont. The baby spiders oversee a meeting of the Tattletales, the girls in Miss Earth's class, and each imprints on a girl. One spider is collected by the only non-Tattletale girl of the class (Pearl), and each in turn treks from the wreck site in search of their respective girls, creating several spider incidents at the school.

        The Tattletales have a grudge match against the Copycats (the boys in the class) related to the annual Halloween Pageant of Horrors in which each grade participates. Each club is determined to beat the other, planning their shows before school even begins.

        In finding the girls, the eventual goal of the spiders is to give them a love bite which would poison them. The suspense continues through the book with each failed spider mission. The story rises to a fever pitch when their beloved teacher is bit. A famous reporter, two hospital nurses, the truck driver, and a Smithsonian professor, besides the children, are called upon to save Miss Earth. The cure is fitting for such an outrageous book.

        Complete silliness is the standard for this lively, hilarious book. It is as suspenseful and engaging as a young reader can be. One of the best I have read for this reading level. There is no pause in the action; it is one crazy anecdote after another.

        Seven Spiders Spinning kicks off a series of slightly fantasy books of Miss Earth's class, ending in an awesome conclusion that ties all of the books together. I happened to read the last book first, not knowing it was a series, and was so taken with Maguire's tale that I had to read the rest. This first book is excellent, too, and I'm enthusiastic about reading more.

        related-spiders, schools, humorous stories, boys vs girls, Halloween, small towns, high interest

        Shadow Puppets by Orson Scott Card.
        TOR Books/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC: NY, 2002.

        Shadow Puppets is the 7th book of the Ender series. It extends the story of Peter Wiggin and Bean's cooperation in stopping the use of Ender's soldiers for empire building and in working towards world peace. In the previous book, Shadow of the Hegemon the child soldiers return to their respective homelands, they are contracted by their countries, and a battle for world domination ensues. A major player in the wars is a childhood acquaintance of Bean's (and psychotic killer), Achilles. In Shadow Puppets, Peter (Ender's brother and the Hegemon) and Bean along with several other characters have no choice but to stop Achilles. It is a matter of kill or be killed.

        I think Bean is the strongest character in the series, maybe because his are the latest books and more developed as a result. I have liked all of the books from his point-of-view. This one is no exception, though he shares the spotlight. I was expecting to not like the Hegemon books, but was surprised by the evolution of Peter's character. The centerpiece of this book is the fleshing out of many of the minor characters that remained in the background of the other stories. In telling more of their stories, the reader is given a picture of how the global warring factions fit together and the Hegemon's attempts to control or balance the world affairs. I also did see comparisons of our times, which makes it more interesting.

        Sherwood ed. by Jane Yolen.
        Philomel Books/Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers: NY, 2000.

        Join Robinhood and the outlaws of Sherwood Forest in these eight original tales-including two different stories of Maid Marion, one narrative by Friar Tuck, an attempt to capture Robinhood by a young boy, and an account of an internet Robinhood versus a modern Sheriff of Nottingham.

        As always Yolen's collection brings the legendary characters to life and adds new significance when viewed from fresh angles.
        *Look for Camelot also-Jane Yolen's collection of King Arthur stories.

        Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.
        Scholastic Press: NY, 2009.

        A high school boy is missing, dragged off by the wolf community in the area. There are varying views as to what should be done about the wolves. Some want to relocate them; some want to eliminate them. Grace wants to know what the boy did to cause the attack. He is known for his obnoxious behavior.

        Grace knows that they can be a danger, but she alone has firsthand knowledge of the wolves. After all, she was dragged off herself by the wolves as a child. One wolf kept the others from savaging her. That wolf has watched her all through her growing years, as she has watched him on the edge of her backyard. What she doesn't know at first is that he is also known as Sam part of the year. The wolves are actually werewolves. Temperature is the deciding factor for their form. Cold forces them to change to wolf.

        Grace finally meets Sam this year. It's his last chance to be close to her; he thinks he's about to change for keeps. It is also most important that he protect her from another of the wolves.

        The story is primarily a love story; half of the story is their relationship. There is, however, a bunch of back-story regarding Sam's predicament and that of his fellow wolves. Sam stands out from the pack, because he is educated. He has studied literature and philosophy on his own. He is chosen by the adults as a leader, because he has learned to take care of the rest of the group. The adults have created a home for each to use as they spend their summers in the human world. Someone must be there to continue this. Sam is desperately trying to remain human, partly for Grace's sake and partly to manage the human needs of his group.

        The ending seems like a beginning. There are at this time 3 in the series.

        I do not normally choose love stories to read. This one sounded intriguing. It does have enough other story to keep my attention. Someone mentioned that it sounded like Twilight. I picked it, because it reminded me instead of the 80s TV show Beauty and the Beast, which was done well when fantasy mostly wasn't. It still does remind me of the show, with Sam's attention to organizing the wolves.

        related-wolves, werewolves, human-animal relationships, metamorphosis, supernatural

        Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel.
        Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 1997.

        The Silverwing bats are preparing to migrate to their winter home in Hibernaculum from their summer nursery, a hollowed out, petrified tree. The owls are spoiling for war with the bats. A small infraction sparks a violent response by the owls, which precipitates the bat migration.

        The runt of the newborn Silverwings, Shade, is separated from the colony during a storm and left for dead. Smart, curious, questioning, Shade continues the journey with the help of the Brightwing bat Marina, who was chased away from her own colony due to contact with humans. Prior to separation, Shade's mother had sung him a map of the directions to Hibernaculum, and so they follow. Each landmark is a new experience and must be seen to understand, especially the last. They face obstacles along the way, including rats and larger bats, but also an unexpected friend.

        Shade is a great character. His curiosity is the cause of the initial owl invasion, but he soon learns that there have been other attacks, which may be the reason for his father's disappearance. Shade's curiosity about everything is the essence of the story. The journey is fully described. There is a wealth of experience. Shade grows from the runt to one capable and worthy through the course of events.

        Oppel says in an end note that he liked the challenge of taking animals considered ugly or scary and making them appealing. He certainly succeeded in doing so here.

        The book is full of adventure, including intellectual observation. It is fast paced and highly captivating. It is an excellent selection for young readers' first novels. There are 2 more in the series, plus the 1st of a related series, Darkwing.

        related-bats, migration, growth

        Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel.
        Eos/Harper Collins Publishers: NY, 2006.

        In this fantastic sequel to Airborn, Matt Cruse identifies the Hyperion-the airship of a wealthy inventor that was lost forty years before. He is the only one with coordinates, so he is prodded into going on a treasure hunt to retrieve it or its treasures. Dangerously high altitudes and unusual life forms become serious obstacles. Pursued by others wanting the Hyperion, he and his companions end up fighting for their lives as well as the loot from the airship.

        My sons and I were excited to see this sequel. We all three loved it-even more than Airborn.

        Note: Although it is a fantasy/sci fi book, it has the feel of a historical novel. In some ways it is like an alternate history book. Both books are based on the use of airships instead of airplanes and describe interesting creatures that live in the sky but are rarely seen.

        related-airships, salvage, pirates, inventions, imaginary creatures

        Snuff by Terry Pratchett.
        HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2011.
        A Discworld novel

        • "Two weeks holiday with every meal overseen by his wife."

        • "Indeed, if a poor man will spend a year in prison for stealing out of hunger, how high would the gallows need to be to hang the rich man who breaks the law out of greed." Vetinari

        • Young Sam's natural philosophy studies

        • Goblins sold into slavery

        • Miss Beedle gives language lessons.

        • Tears of the Mushroom and the Poo Lady change societal thinking. Unbeknownst to them. They just needed the right instrument, i.e. the Vimes duo.

        • Bacon sandwich without avec

        • Unggue - the religious collection of bodily secretions

        • "He [Vimes] didn't wait for an answer but hurried off down the lane, clambered over a gate, caused a flock of sheep to explode in all directions, swore at a kissing gate, jumped over the ha-ha, completely ignored the he-he and totally avoided the ho-hum. He hurtled down the drive, scampered up the steps and, providentially, went through the front door at exactly the same time as a footman swung it open."

        • An attempt to arrest Commander Vimes

        • Shiny pottery in the goblin cave and tear wrenching harp music

        • Fred Colon possessed by a crying pot in a cigar

        • Wee Mad Arthur's intercontinental flight - craw step

        • The Summoning Dark as a guide and witness

        • "the jurisdiction of a good man extends to the end of the world." Sybil Vimes

        • Leaping from barge to barge as they buck and jack-knife

        • The oxboat pilot's family held hostage by crossbow

        • Commander Vimes surfs the damn slam of the river Old Treachery via the Wonderful Fanny.

        • Elephants on the beach

        • Stinky, the first goblin watchman and clacksman

        • The Vimes personal clacks machine

        • A night at the opera

        • A short but important visit by William de Worde

        • "He [Vimes] had to get back into the swing again, although, to tell the truth, it was a case of getting out of one swing and into another one, while they were both swinging."

        • Vetinari thwarted by the crossword lady

        • Willikins - butler, protector of the Vimes family, and upholder of justice in his own way

        Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.
        Avon Books: NY, 1999.
        Originally by Simon & Schuster, 1962.

        A creepy carnival that can transcend time is the theme of this Ray Bradbury classic. All three protagonists (friends Jim Nightshade, Will Halloway, and Will's father) sense the coming and arrival of this carnival that tempts people to fulfill their dreams regarding age. The young wish to be older, the aging want to lose years - not knowing that it is only the body that changes, leaving each person to leave behind loved ones. The transformation also comes with a price. Each must work for the carnival in some mutated form to pay for the service rendered. The manager of the carnival (Mr. Dark) keeps tabs of all the people with tattoos he draws on himself. The carnival is timeless, having traveled through centuries.

        Will's father harbors a desire to capture his youth, but fights the temptation to save his son who may become trapped in the process of keeping Jim from the temptation. Will's father researches at the library to find a method of defeating the carnival. In the process, Will and his father have their first adult conversation. Will starts to see his father as a person instead of an infallible parent.

        On a side note, the library in the story was patterned after the Carnegie library in Waukegan, Illinois in which Bradbury spent much of his youth. The story itself was inspired by a memory of a magician who exhorted him to "Live forever!" as a child. The book of short stories, Dandelion Wine, is related.

        Bradbury is a master storyteller. Though the tale gets to be almost too creepy for me, it is spellbinding. It is a good place to start for someone wanting to try out classic fantasy/horror. The language is dripping with style and metaphor. This is only the third Bradbury book I've read. Others are The Illustrated Man, a short story collection (which I read and enjoyed a couple years ago) and The Martian Chronicles (which I wasn't thrilled about in high school). I can't wait to read more. I have checked out 2 others from the library before without reading them.
        related-age and growth, temptation, good vs evil, carnivals, classic literature, fears, power of the mind, wishes
        RL=YA-adult, adult book

        Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
        Sequel to Airborn and Skybreaker.
        Eos/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2009.

        The race is on to outer space, and Matt Cruse wants to be a part of it. The story starts with the building of the Celestial Tower in Paris, a huge platform for docking aircrafts, rising ambitiously into the sky. Matt ends a plot of Babelites to destroy the tower and earns a chance to train for an astralnaut position on the Starclimber, a space elevator. The trainees undergo testing and training much like astronauts.

        Meanwhile, Matt and Kate are dating, secretly because if word reaches Kate's parents that would be the end of her freedom and studies. While Matt trains for his astralnaut experience, Kate is appointed a spot on the ship as an expert in aerial zoology, that is, if she doesn't blow it with foolhardy activism. She trades a promise of marriage for her parents' permission to travel to outer space. Sparks fly between Matt and Kate, since the engagement is not with him.

        Kate's professionalism is tested as she must find a way to deal with the other expert zoologist onboard - an overbearing, narrow-minded, entrenched expert. Sir Hugh is certain there will be no lifeforms to investigate. Unfortunately for them all, Kate is proven right. Two complications cause their mission to be abruptly and dangerously terminated.

        Evelyn Karr, a bored and edgy photographer is aboard to record the first foray into outer space. She's more interested in the conflicts with Kate at the center, but may prove useful before their flight is over. Evelyn continues the theme of the feminists of the time period, but also looking back from a position of experience and even some regret.

        Each book in the series has been different. Starclimber is more mature, with the dating, engagement, etc. It also focuses on an aspect which leans more towards the future. The description of the astralnaut training is close to what I have learned of astronauts - mostly through movies such as The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, but also from James Michener's novel Space. The space elevator concept I learned about through an Isaac Asimov short story, and in recent years there has been a push to make the construction possible through nanotechnology (for ex. the Elevator: 2010 Space Elevator games). It's exciting to see a more futuristic concept viewed through characters from a historical setting. A setting not strictly bound by history nor by today's ideas.

        I may like this book the best of the series. It's been a while since I read the others, but I think this one is more complex. Especially the characters.

        related-space race, space elevator, aerospace training, life in space, feminism, alternate history

        Stardust by Neil Gaiman.
        Originally published in comic form by DC Comics in 1997. Copy I read was published without Charles Vess's illustrations in 2001.
        Thorndike Press: Thorndike, Me by arrangement with Avon Books/HarperCollins.

        In Stardust Tristran Thorn, half faerie and raised by father and stepmother, foolishly vows to retrieve a fallen star for love. He travels the lands of the faerie on his quest for the star. Events are complicated by the sons of Stormhold's competition to gain something from the star in order to receive rule of their kingdom and a witch's desire to own the star's heart. Tristran's purpose is to prove himself worthy of the most beautiful girl of Wall (his town). He does so on his quest, but also learns more about love and life on his journeys.

        The story is a rather different faerie tale. Though I'm not partial to faerie tales, I did like some aspects of the story. Yvaine, the fallen star's character, and her persistence in sabotaging Tristran's quest. The Lilim, 3 witch women with great power. The eldest transforms herself and sets off to claim Yvaine's heart. Lady Ulna, the long missing daughter of the king of Stormhold, who is held as a slave to Madame Semele, a less powerful witch. Lady Ulna is kept as a multi-colored bird when her services are not needed. The interactions between the characters with their separate goals, unknown to each other.

        The writing style of this book is different from Neil Gaiman's other books. Having read American Gods, I was less impressed. The writing is not as elegant. But it is enjoyable in its own way.

        related-exploration of love, freedom, faerie stories

        The Starry Rift ed by Jonathan Strahan.
        Viking/Penguin Group: NY, 2008.

        The Starry Rift has 16 futuristic short stories by acclaimed authors. It's marketed to young adults, but could easily have been for adults as well. The protagonists are almost all teens. The worlds and situations fit adult experiences also. The writing is excellent and compelling. Though I like some better than others, all of the stories are good and varied. Note: I had to change my Favorites of 2008 to include it at the last minute, because I just finished it, and it is great. With the wide ranging themes, it would be impossible to go into much detail, so here is a blurb for each.

        Ass-Hat Magic Spider is about traveling through space to a colony. What of your life would you be willing to leave behind to meet weight requirements?

        Cheats is set at a resort centered around virtual outdoor activities and the possibility of "cheating" the map to move through space and time.

        Orange is a story told through Q & A with only the answers being recorded. The subject is an inquiry into an encounter with aliens.

        The Surfer has more than one theme. The surfer had been abducted by aliens and started a cult in Costa Rica after returning to Earth. Supposedly the aliens are coming back. Dorn's father kidnaps him to go to this community, and there are complications due to rampant global viruses

        Repair Kit is a space travel story with a time twist. The crew of the Flying Pig are forced to take off on schedule despite not having backup for a crucial part of the craft. The vehicle has a Department of Last Resort for times when the Engineering Department can't solve the problem. The unthinkable happens, and the unbelievable saves the craft and crew.

        The Dismantled Invention of Fate is one of the more complicated stories. An ancient astronaut, traveling to all possible places, lives for a time with a peace-loving community, becomes restive and brings his wife away with him only to have her die. What is striking about it is that in his wandering the astronaut meets others who are connected with his fate.

        In Anda's Game girls get caught up in computer gaming. They are paid to accomplish violent missions. Turns out they are terminating other children, working in factory-like conditions, who lose their pay when they are killed in the game. A side theme is the diabetes the protagonist is developing from lack of exercise.

        Eelie in Sundiver Day wants to clone her brother who died during military service. She has the knowledge and ability, but can she be convinced it isn't a good idea? Mostly the story deals with Eelie's grappling with the loss.

        In The Dust Assassin two warring families in India fight for economic control of the region. A coop kills off both families, except a daughter of one and a son of the other. The girl's caretakers help to arrange a marriage between them to unite the families and end the violence. Told from youngest childhood that she is a weapon, she trains to be one. Once convinced the battling is over, she discovers the meaning of her father's words.

        The Star Surgeon's Apprentice features a boy who signs on a space craft to avoid capture and punishment at home. He is assigned to the ship's cyborg surgeon. All of the crew are cyborgs, and pirate battles are a common occurrence for them.

        An Honest Day's Work describes an industry similar to whaling, but with a sci fi creature. It deals with the community surrounding the industry and the life of the workers.

        In Lost Continent, Ali's brother has been taken as a slave to fight in the region's current war. His father tries to negotiate a release and is killed. Ali's uncle sells him to a time traveler to send him to a safer place. They travel forward in time to a place where guards are trying to stem the flow of time travelers.

        In Incomers, three teenage boys looking for excitement are convinced a man is a spy and propose to prove it. It takes place on a colonized moon of Saturn. The boys are from Earth. Their parents are part of the colonization, and reactions to life in the colony are explored.

        Post-Ironic Stress Syndrome portrays a different idea of warfare. Two opponents virtually battle, and they represent opposing forces which sustain defeats parallel to their blows.

        Infestation reminds me of the popular show Smallville. Hunters are called in to deal with the infestation. Vampires are the hunted and are explained as aliens. Volunteers of varying levels come for the hunt. One is known for his expertise and has odd characteristics.

        Pinocchio deals with child celebrity status, the allure of the fans, and the lightning speed changes of the computerized critiquing communities. The protagonist is a trendsetter. He has ups and downs with his personna changes. He can stay on top with the right marketing. But is it more important to retain popularity or actually live a life?

        related-science fiction, short stories, future, Scott Westerfeld, Ann Halam, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, Stephen Baxter, Jeffrey Ford, Cory Doctorow, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Ian McDonald, Alastair Reynolds, Margo Lanagan, Greg Egan, Paul McAuley, Tricia Sullivan, Garth Nix, Walter Jon Williams

        Steampunk Prime ed by Mike Ashley.
        Nonstop Press: NY, 2010.

        The current steampunk craze is a part of the alternate history genre. Stories take place in the Victorian era with vehicles and equipment which would have been futuristic then but were never created. A direction in technology that could have been but was not taken.

        Steampunk Prime is a collection of stories written in the Victorian period with futuristic settings, though mostly not far in the future. The idea was to extrapolate from emerging technology. Some were written with an excitement for what was to come; others show concern for what technology was causing or might cause. These writers were involved in the beginnings of science fiction, though given the time period, the stories were also somewhat romanticized resulting in a light sci fi mood. There is commentary before each story. Ashley at times refers to well known stories, such as Around the World in Eighty Days and other Jules Verne stories, but includes here the less known.

        As with many collections, I like some of the stories better than others. I'm not thrilled about the interplanetary travel, and many of the stories have tragic endings. But there are also some interesting ideas here. Things I have not seen elsewhere. I enjoyed the one that is similar to Sherlock Holmes, written by an author who filled the gap when Arthur Conan Doyle ended his series. There are an attempt to travel through the Earth's core, from pole to pole, and a tunnel project linking Europe and Africa. For the end of the world scenarios, there are a cooling sun and an overuse of electricity ending in conflagration. A chess playing automaton threatens the career of a champ, and an automaton with a personality escapes from its maker.

        related-steampunk, alternate history, interplanetary travel and relations, technology - breakthroughs and consequences, end of the world

        The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer.
        Hyperion: NY, 2004.

        Cosmo Hill realizes his time is running out at the Clarissa Frayne orphanage since most orphans are used up at a young age. He takes the first opportunity to escape and becomes involved with a group that hunts supernatural Parasites feeding off the life-force of humans.

        Strange and captivating, the story becomes more complicated as it proceeds.
        related-Sci Fi, orphans, supernatural, vigilante
        note: author of the acclaimed Artemis Fowl series

        Switching Well by Peni R. Griffin.
        Margaret K. McElderry Books/Macmillan Publishing Company: NY, 1993.

        Ada, in 1891, and Amber, in 1991, wish at the well to be in opposite times. Ada wants more freedom-especially from her younger brother and sister. Amber is upset about her parents' separation and wishes her mother didn't work at a shelter for children. When the girls switch times, they both must deal with unexpected problems, and they both look for a way to get back to their families. The girls' stories are creatively interrelated, and social factors in both time periods are incorporated in the book.
        related-time travel, late 1800s, orphanage, home for runaways, gender roles, women's rights

        Sylvie and the Songman by Tim Binding. il Angela Barrett.
        David Fickling Books/Random House: Oxford and NY, 2008.

        The Songman is stealing voices, of the animals in the surrounding area. Sylvie's dad is missing, believed to be kidnapped, on the day after an astounding chord has been struck by his self-made, natural-based instruments. Sylvie, her devoted dog, and her kite-making friend George follow the animals, including a fox with which Sylvie forms an interconnection, to find Sylvie's father and the source of the animals' silence. The Songman, knowing Sylvie has information he needs, sends the Woodpecker Man after them in his swan-powered hot air balloon.

        This light fantasy novel was a delightful surprise. It had an interesting description, but you never know whether a story will touch you or not. It sounded too whimsical for me, but I enjoyed the nature instruments, Sylvie's connection with the animals (inherited from her mother), Sylvie and George's passions - kites and tree-climbing, the Allamanda road - a road all animals travel, and the unique usage of sound. Sound is the center of the whole story - voices, music, the strength of vibrations. The Songman uses it a few ways as a negative force.

        The artwork is worth mention. The cover art and pencil drawings throughout the book are outstanding. They add to the story, not just take up space.

        Certainly, a unique story and very light reading.

        related-relationship of animals and humans, musicians and instruments, the music of voice and nature, sound as a weapon, high interest
        RL=5th and up

        Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan.
        Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2008.
        2009 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults

        After her traumatic experiences with her father and local boys, Liga magically creates another world (a safe haven), through her desperate need, for her and her daughters to live. Muddy Annie perforates this world for her best friend's need, making it possible for the bear mascots from the local festival to transport briefly to Annie's dreamworld. These incursions lead Urdda, the younger daughter, to search for the real world and to live there. Missing her mother and sister Branza, she employs the help of Miss Dance, a more experienced magical practitioner, to end Liga's world and bring them back to reality.

        The story has a historical village backdrop, though not any specific time period. I'm not normally a fan of dialectic dialogue, but Lanagan's approach is different. A hundred years ago and more people talked how they wanted with little regard to standards. There is this feel, and it is done primarily through wordplay, a reforming of words and phrases that makes sense, causing the reader to slow down but also think more about the content. As a result, there is poetry in the writing.

        The story and message are heartbreaking, though the fantasy softens the blow. Not just the predominant topic, sexual abuse, but the ending of Liga's protective world, her lost years, loss of loved ones, the rehashing of her experiences, and her later dreams burst. The overall message is the need to live in the real world, accept it, and appreciate the good things that can be found. Undisputeably, Liga needed a safe haven and time to heal, but her dreamworld possibly wasn't the best atmosphere for her girls. Then again, it provided a safe place for the growing girls, when otherwise they may have been harassed by locals.

        related-small town life, alternate world, surviving and healing from sexual abuse, brutality, social restrictions for females, magic

        Terrier by Tamora Pierce.
        Beka Cooper Series
        Random House: NY, 2006.

        Beka Cooper is the heroine of an exciting new series. She is an ancestor of George Cooper, the Rogue from the Alanna series. In this first book, she is training to be a Provost Guard, the law enforcement officers of Tortall. Because of her potential, she is given the best Guard partners as trainers. She uses her magical abilities, fresh perspective, and desire for justice to catch 2 mass murderers, convincing her partners, assorted friends, and inhabitants of the Lower City to help in the search.

        At the heart of the book is a power struggle within the criminal network of the city, and just maybe Beka and her friends can change the dynamic of that structure.

        Considering the topic, there is less violence than what you would expect. There is less magic than the usual Tamora Pierce book, but it is a strong, interwoven story with much suspense, interesting character interaction and plenty of loose ends leading to the books to come. It's one of the best of Tamora Pierce's books with perhaps only the Protector of the Small series being as strong.

        I hope people won't be put off by the thickness. Keep in mind it is short with wide spacing, so less words than it looks like, and it is fast-paced. Can't wait to see more of the Cooper family history!

        related-police, fantasy, magic, Tortall, Beka Cooper, law enforcement, criminals, murder mystery, social issues

        Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers.
        Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: NY, 2010

        Through exposure to her parents' Egyptian museum and archaeological digs, Theodosia has become an expert in Egyptian artifacts. Her specialty is detecting curses placed on the objects. Her self-appointed job is removing the curses. Her talents expose her to mysterious adventures. She casually works for a secret organization (the Chosen Keepers) concerned with controlling articles of power to keep them from the agents of Chaos, a group intent on destruction of societies. The Arcane Order of the Black Sun (an occult club of Egyptian enthusiasts) is familiar with Theodosia's abilities and wishes to use her knowledge for their own gain.

        This book is the 3rd of a series, the first being Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. The series is a blend of mystery, historical fiction, and mythical fantasy. This particular story deals with a tablet that doesn't fit the standard Egyptian artifact, but is sought after nonetheless by the Black Sun and Chaos members. Another character is also interested, a magician, Awi Bubu, exiled from his Egyptian homeland and knowledgeable of antiquities. During Theodosia's research and protection of the tablet, she must look after her brother, home from boarding school, who has no idea of the dangers lurking.

        Kidnapping, obsession, haunting, unofficial burial ceremony - there is plenty going on in the story to captivate. The blend of genres makes for an unusual mystery adventure. Theo is a strong female character, spunky and intelligent. The story lacks a little in character development, probably due to the low reading level, but I hope that the series as a whole will flesh it out a bit.

        related-curses, artifacts and antiquities, museums, history and archaeology, mystery, Egyptian mythology, high interest
        RL=4th and up

        The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner.
        Greenwillow Books/ William Morrow & Company: NY, 1996.
        Newbery Honor 1997

        Gen, rotting in the Sounis prison for stealing the King's seal, is released by request of the King's Magus. The Magus intends to locate and steal a stone which confers on the bearer the right to rule Eddis (a neutral country between the warring Sounis and Attolia). Gen's thieving abilities are necessary to break into an ancient temple, which the Magus knows is likely to be a lethal attempt. The theft is the least of their problems, though it is certainly trial enough for Gen.

        On the journey, much is revealed of the characters in the undertaking. Gen is more educated than one would expect and has more honor. The Magus is pretty much what he seems, though he does not disclose all of his knowledge or suspicions. The magus has two apprentices in the group. Gen learns that Sophos (the younger and kinder) is the heir of Sounis. His uncle decided he needed to be toughened, resulting in his inclusion. Gen believes the surliness of Ambiades is due to his lower rank in terms of lineage and wealth, though he is higher than the lowly thief. Or so he believes. The soldier Pol is there for protection of the group, though personally he only cares for the well-being of Sophos, as an old family retainer.

        As the trip progresses, the Magus tells stories of the old gods and temples in preparation for their challenge. He asks Gen to disclose his knowledge of Eddisian legends also, when he learns they differ.

        From the first, it is apparent that it is wrong to judge Gen as a thief. He is obviously more than a common thief. He is named after the god of thievery Eugenides. We soon learn that he is favored and aided by gods, though it isn't revealed until the twisted ending why he is deserving and not an arrogant fool.

        The Thief joins my ever-growing list of treasured Newbery Honor books. For some reason, I tend to like them better than the Medal winners. The book has a lovely old feel, with the flair of a master storyteller. Mostly historical fiction in tone, though no historical facts, and with only a touch of the fantastic. There are stories within stories and details that you couldn't have known were important. It's a page turner, truly enchanting. By the ending, I can tell there is more excitement to come in the series. And I'll want to be reading Turner's first book, Instead of Three Wishes - short stories. My first encounter with her work was in Firebirds.

        related-robbers and outlaws, adventures, similar to ancient Greece and Byzantium, politics, kingdoms, treasure hunt

        Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett.
        HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2008.
        Originally published by Doubleday 2001.


        • There is no time but the present.

        • There was a hammering on Mrs. Ogg's door - three times through the years. The best midwife was needed.

        • Jeremy Clockson lives and breathes for the accuracy of his clocks. He and Igor have a perfect working relationship.

        • The Glass Clock of Bad Schüschein, the legendary accurate clock is commissioned, and time is ticking to a stopping place.

        • Death persuades his granddaughter Susan to meddle on his behalf.

        • A travelling classroom - through time and space.

        • Monks of the Order of Wen manipulate the flow of time, while not practicing okidoki, shiitake, upsidazi, no-kando, sna-fu, and deja-fu.

        • Apprenticeship to the Sweeper - punishment or honor?

        • Mr. Soak the Dairyman, because everyone wants the freshest milk and yogurt possible.

        • We R Igors: A Spare Hand When Needed

        • Lu-Tze's Garden of Five Surprises

        • Bonzai mountains for those with extra time on their hands.

        • Wisdom comes from the Way of Mrs. Marietta Cosmopilite.

        • And don't forget Rule One.

        • The Auditors take shape but can be stopped by chocolate and conundrums.

        • Slicing time - travelling and patching.

        • The Five Horsemen personified.
        Thud! by Terry Pratchett.
        HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2005.
        part of Discworld series

        Ultra-condensed Thud!
        • War between the dwarfs and trolls - almost.
        • Thud! goes a troll's club on Hamcrusher's head (a deep-down mystical leader of the dwarfs) down in the dwarfs' mine.
        • The dwarfs aren't too keen on having a murder investigation.
        • Vetinari sends an investigator to report on the workings of the Ankh-Morpork Watch (police force).
        • Two women, a werewolf and a vampire (natural enemies), are forced to explore the confines of the mine together.
        • A miraculous end to the dwarf-troll skirmish (thanks to scheming by Vimes).
        • A talking cube is the treasure to be found.
        • Thou shalt not erase words!
        • Mr. Shine, urban legend or the true troll king, pays the Watch a visit.
        • Thud! is a game dwarfs and trolls play to understand each other.
        • The Summoning Dark (an eye with a tail) is coming for the guilty.
        • Death has a near-Vimes experience.
        • The Guarding Dark watches the Watchman.
        • Commander Vimes: saved by the book, Where's My Cow?
        The Time Hackers by Gary Paulsen.
        Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, Inc: NY, 2005.

        Welcome to a time when everyone can call up a hologram from any time and any place using a laptop. This creates a perfect chance for someone to play sick jokes on Dorso-and Frank since they are usually together. The jokes start as holograms but soon lead to horrifying adventures in time travel.

        The novel is very short but fast-paced, inventive and suspenseful.

        The Tortall Books by Tamora Pierce

        These books are three series in one.

        The Song of the Lioness series. Atheneum Books/Macmillan Publishing Company: NY.
        Alanna: The First Adventure 1983
        In the Hand of the Goddess 1984
        The Woman Who Rides Like a Man 1986
        Lioness Rampant 1988

        The Immortals series. Atheneum Books/Simon & Schuster: NY.
        Wild Magic 1992
        Wolf-Speaker 1994
        Emperor Mage 1995
        In the Realm of the Gods 1996

        The Protector of the Small. Random House, Inc: NY.
        First Test 1999
        Page 2000
        Squire 2001
        Lady Knight 2002

        Alanna: The First Adventure: Alanna switches places with her twin brother in order to train to be a knight. Her brother wishes to train to be a wizard. Disguised, she is put through many tests and gradually proves herself capable. Her relationships are as important as the hard lessons she learns.
        In the Hand of the Goddess: Alanna becomes Prince Jonathan's squire. She tells him she is a girl, but no one else until the end of the book. She also deals with her suspicions of Duke Roger (Jon's cousin) and eventually confrontation with him. This book and the rest of the series are rated YA because of relationships. The relationships are not detailed, but they are a big part of this first series.
        The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: Alanna becomes part of the Bazhir (a group that joins as one telepathically) and learns to accept and manage her Gift of magic.
        Lioness Rampant: Alanna meets Princess Thayet while on a quest. She also meets and learns from the Shang Dragon. They travel and adventure together. She eventually has to confront Duke Roger again-for the last time.

        The ability to communicate with animals is thoroughly explored in the Immortals series-with some unique and interesting ideas. The supernatural theme continues as do the good vs evil and saving the realm.The writing flows much better in this 2nd series, and the focus of relationships is centered more on companionship. Boys may enjoy this series more than the first even though the focus is still on a female.

        Wild Magic: The first book is an introduction of Daine-her background, how she meets Numair who becomes her mentor, and her distrust of others.
        Wolf-Speaker: Daine now has more confidence and more trust in Numair and her animal guide (the beaver). She starts to explore beyond her obvious abilities and test her limits.
        Emperor Mage: Daine and Numair travel to Carthak as a diplomatic visit. It is revealed that the Emperor of Carthak is an old classmate of Numair from the University. The Emperor is jealous and competitive, and Daine becomes a key factor in the conflict between Tortall and the Emperor.
        In the Realm of the Gods: Daine and Numair are transported to the Realm of the Gods when Daine is in trouble. This book mostly deals with their travels within the immortals' world and the rules within it.

        In the Protector of the Small series, Keladry is the first girl accepted into Tortall's knight training program-after the Lioness has proven girls can become knights. The decision is controversial, so she is accepted with a probationary condition.

        This is the best quadrilogy of the Tortall series. It has the strongest characters and storyline, and the reader has more empathy for Keladry because it is easy to imagine being in her situation.

        First Test: Kel is proving that she is worthy of being a trainee. She must physically excel and simultaneously show superior mental judgment and strive to secure friendships and supporters. In some ways, Alanna's storylines are similar, but there are also many contrasts. Alanna was protected by her friendship with the prince. Kel has to face her enemies early and often. At first, she does it alone. Alanna was accepted by her peers before everyone knew she was a girl. Their powers also are different. Kel's is communication with animals like Daine, but Daine can transform unlike Kel.
        Page: The second book follows Kel through three years training as a page. She is still facing bullying enemies, but she now has support from staunch friends. She finds herself in a situation in which she must take control from the designated leader and ultimately save others' lives. On the day of her final test as page, she is forced to make an excruciating decision and face her worst fear. This challenge will have a far-reaching impact on the school.
        Squire: The next step in training is to serve and learn from an experienced knight. At the end of that time, there is a final test. The squire is left alone in the Chamber to confront whatever is most difficult for him/her-fears, failings, or unrepented deeds. Some squires have lost their minds or lives facing the Ordeal. This year more squires than ever fail this test. Kel goes last, and the Chamber has something extra in store for her.
        Lady Knight: Now that Kel is a knight, life is not what she expected. Tortall is under attack by Scanrans, and instead of fighting the enemy, she has been put in charge of a refugee camp. She is perfect for the job because she is the only one who truly see the refugees as people with abilities. Besides managing the camp, she also trains them in defense. She is, however, torn the whole time between fulfilling her duty and joining the troops. After the camp is attacked, she believes she must pursue the people who are creating the monsters that are attacking Tortall. She risks her career and her life to do so.
        RL=YAThe Touch by F. Paul Wilson.
        G. P. Putnam's Sons: NY, 1986.

        The healing Touch is transferred from one person to another. Like a parasite, its power is fed by the brain of its host. As the host deteriorates, the Touch transfers itself to a new body, always in search of those needing healing.

        In this story, the host is Alan Bulmer, a general practice physician in New York. A dwindling breed, Alan believes in hands-on treatment of patients. During a treatment, he feels a transferal of energy, and for the first time sees spontaneous healing. As it continues, he notices a pattern of when it comes and goes but cannot retain enough of his memory to figure out what exactly is going on. Naturally, he is surrounded by people needing miraculous cures, both in his practice and in his personal life. Each healing takes its toll, and the inevitable uproar regarding this new ability destroys his practice and marriage. He develops a few strong bonds with others, based in part on the awe he inspires as a doctor and healer.

        There is no Repairman Jack in this book, but the Touch is one of the more appealing concepts in Wilson's interconnected books. Wilson explores the idea of the healer and how the gift works, what it would do to a physician who dared to practice it, and how people respond in different ways to the idea. It is an engaging story with more excitement and twists than expected, and I'm looking forward to seeing how else the Touch is used in Wilson's books.

        related-healing touch and healers, doctors, incurable illnesses, politics
        RL=YA-adult, adult book

        The Truth by Terry Pratchett.
        HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2000.

        In this tale of Ankh-Morpork, William de Worde, estranged and independent son of Lord de Worde, stumbles upon dwarves with a printing press and transforms his petty newsletter into the first major newspaper for the largest city in Discworld. In the midst of an investigation of the alleged attempt of murder by Lord Vetinari of his clerk, The Ankh-Morpork Times in its newest stages is carving a niche for itself, setting precedents for a free press, and learning to balance the ideas of justice and openness with the realities of what people are actually willing to read and the danger of stepping on the wrong people's toes.

        The story is full of quirky characters and Pratchett's satirical asides. In fact, the beginning was so full of tangential commentary that I had difficulty getting into the story. It disrupted the flow at the beginning, although enjoyable in itself. For the satire alone, Pratchett is worth a read. After getting used to some of the odd characters (like his vampire photographer with a terrible reaction to flashes and the criminal with -ing liberally spicing his dialogue), the story picked up. The plot itself is one of the better ones in the series.

        His co-worker Sacharissa Cripslock also appears in later books, Going Postal and Making Money. These two books are similar to The Truth in their introduction of new technology and production for the city.

        related-newspapers, news vs entertaining stories, free press, detective stories, equal opportunity, politics

        Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett.
        HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2009.

        • Oh, the Megapode!

        • The Emperor - the candle that never goes out

        • Archchancellory rivalry

        • Romeo and Juliet of football fans, plus Cinderella, with a tad of Cyrano

        • Boundary lines made by crowd pushing and shoving, and the goals are movable by fans.

        • The watcher who scores and breaks the goal post

        • Inspiration for painting Beauty Arising from the Pease Pudding Cart Attended by Cherubs Carrying Hot Dogs and Pies

        • The Librarian takes an interest in Nutt.

        • Another near Death experience

        • "It was hard to argue with a man who insisted that he was not dead."

        • Nutt performs self-hypnosis.

        • "I do have some heads on ice if anyone wants to experiment."

        • Ponder Stibbons - more than 50% of the University Council

        • The game of foot-the-ball comes out of the streets to be revamped by the authorities, Lord Vetinari and the wizards of UU. It now has rules instead of being a big shove match.

        • Rule 202 - replacement of the ball
        Unwind by Neal Shusterman.
        Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2007.

        The crux of the matter is a ceasefire agreement between pro-life and pro-choice forces in the The Heartland War. Unwinding is the compromise. Abortions are no longer legal, but unwanted children can be disposed of in two ways. As babies, they can be left on doorsteps, and the finder is required to raise the baby, though complications have been known to occur. The next choice comes when the children turn thirteen. Parents or guardians can choose to have the child unwound, surgically divided with parts sold as transplants. Parts are in demand, so once a choice is made it cannot be unmade. Oddly, unwinding is not considered death, and there is some evidence to support the theory.

        Three children are separately being transported to the harvest facility. One's attempt to escape touches on the other two's situations. Connor runs from his parents' home before the guards arrive. He kidnaps Lev, who chooses the unwinding for religious reasons. The kidnapping causes traffic problems, and Risa's bus crashes in the process, leaving her free to run. If they can survive until eighteen, then their unwinding status will end. They runaway together, and eventually become part of a program for saving unwinds.

        There are several aspects of the story. The issues - unwanted children, donors and transplants, remnants of essence of the person captured by the body parts, and runaways. Mystery - a secret community developed for saving the runaways, the murder of five organizers. Civil disobedience - hiding fugitives, power struggle.

        Shusterman confronts adult issues in an intriguing way. The ideas are shocking at first but put the arguments into perspective. The story is captivating and intense, the characters' paths separate but connected through and through.

        related-fugitives from justice, survival, revolutionaries, mysteries

        The Veil by Christopher Golden.
        Bantam Dell/Random House: NY.
        The Myth Hunters 2006
        The Borderkind 2007
        The Lost Ones 2008

        The Myth Hunters: On the eve of his wedding, Oliver Bascombe is having second thoughts, when his privacy is intruded upon by the iceman Frost. Frost asks for Oliver's help, as he is being hunted. In assisting Frost back to the border of his world, Oliver is propelled into that realm to be hunted along with Frost. It is a world in which myths are real, driven there by the disbelief of ours. A parallel world to ours, separated by the Veil.

        So far the emphasis in the series is on fantasy instead of horror. There is horror, but it is understated; maybe just waiting to spring on us in later books. Like Stephen King, Golden's style is more sophisticated than the average pop horror. The Myth Hunters, though, is more calm, focusing on the fantasy world instead of the horror in ours.

        As in most fantasy, there is good vs evil and a quest with much traveling and confrontational episodes. The concept of The Myth Hunters is intriguing as are the characters. The one thing that bothers me is that it seems that not much is accomplished in this first book. 350 pages and I feel like the story is just starting. The first book ends when Oliver's fiance and the detective assigned to the murder of Oliver's father and disappearance of him and his sister learn of the supernatural aspect of Oliver's disappearance.

        What I like the most about the book is the jaunts into our world and the perspectives of the detective, fiance, and sister who have no idea what is going on. The juxtaposition of fantasy and reality is interesting and helps to create a more complex story. In some ways it emphasizes the horror, in others it feels like it lessens it; like the reader is awakening from the fantasy.

        related-myths, legends, murder, mystery

        Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin
        2nd book of the Annals of the Western Shore
        Harcourt, Inc: NY, 2006.

        Voices is a blend of historical fiction and fantasy. The peace-loving trades people of Ansul have been subjugated by the empirical warriors of Ansudar (similar to ancient empires). The House of Galvamand protects a secret library from the soldiers and priests controlling the city. A generation after the conquest took place Memer is learning of the esteem in which the old library was held and of an oracle that exists within the household. By a chance meeting with the master of the household she begins to pursue her education. Visitors who have come to entertain the Gand (local ruler), and secretly find the library, trigger a chain of events that may allow them their independence again.

        I found this to be a powerful book. My teenaged son didn't care for it, possibly because the pace was slower than what he tends to read, possibly he just didn't like the subject matter. He thought the writing juvenile. It didn't seem so to me, just lagging in some parts.

        related-empire, war, oppression, freedom, libraries, reading, knowledge, ignorance, slavery, prophecy RL=YA

        The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.
        TOR Books/Tom Doherty Associates: NY, 2010.

        Still in the process of finishing Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, Sanderson has started his own freakishly long and complex series. There are to be ten books in the series, and this first one is a 1000-page introduction to The Stormlight Archive. Though a challenge to read, it is an awesome introduction. There aren't any dragging spots, much is packed into this behemoth of a book, and I did not want it to end. Unfortunately, it ended with a major cliffhanger. Sanderson has proven himself up to the task of carrying on in Jordan's footsteps.

        The world of Roshar is shaped by monstrous storms that suddenly sweep through the regions. Plants grow in crevices and curl up to await the next lull. Animals evolved to have rocky shields over their bodies, and apparently so did some of the humans. Rocks are a currency and a power source, as they are charged by the storms and are valued for the energy they store. It is a world shaped by war as well. With the ending of the service of the Knights Radiant, wars between city states and foreigners have been the norm for centuries. Knowledge of the times and the Radiants has been lost. The magic of those times is gone as well, with only some hints remaining, like the Shardplates and Shardblades passed down through the nobility. Spirits called spren seem to emanate from all aspects of life.

        The Way of Kings follows three major characters, interacting with some others who are also important. In between sections, there are also some minor characters with major impact and filling out more of the world. Dalinar Kholin is the uncle of the young King Elhokar of Kholin; he is brother to the former King, who was assassinated 6 years before, prompting a war with a group claiming the deed, the Parshendi. Dalinar's brother begged that he unify their people, and Dalinar is studying the philosophy his brother had espoused in his last years. The teachings are counter to how things have been run. The current King is obliviously playing at kingship, while Dalinar and his family have militarily propped him up. Still at war after 6 years, the King is also concerned that someone may assassinate him.

        Kaladin is a soldier, raised to be a physician by his father. He was forced into the army, not treated fairly by his superiors, ended up as a slave, and sent into battle again as a slave with no rights or protections. He serves under a competing Brightlord (lord with light eyes) to Dalinar, but will eventually end up in Dalinar's sphere. Kaladin has the choice of waiting to die or trying to improve his chances to live, as well as his crew's. He makes it his task to save as many as he can, interfering with the army's policy of using his crew as a targret to draw fire away from the soldiers. Kaladin's efforts, while commendable, disrupt and draw attention.

        Shallan adventures far beyond her sheltered home in search of Jasnah Kholin, the sister of the King of Kholin and Dalinar's beloved niece. Jasnah is a famed scholar and heretic. Shallan wishes to achieve an apprenticeship to Jasnah, both for the benefit of education and the opportunity to research and to fulfill a promise to her family which could save them from bankruptcy. Jasnah researches events and motives related to her father's assassination and legends and myths all but forgotten to see what truths might be behind the myths. All is not revealed, but she was a scribe for her father before his death.

        One of the lesser characters followed is the man who killed King Gavilar of Kholin. A man of the Shinovar society, in which farmers and artisans are lauded and assassins are traded and treated as slaves. He has no choice but to obey his current master. He hides his abilities for fear his master will exploit them to the fullest.

        Necessarily, much of the book is about building the world, but it is also about the stirring of trouble within the world. Things are working up to a turning point. A few are gaining an awareness of a need to prepare, but they have no idea chaos is on the doorstep.

        related-high fantasy, worldbuilding, magic, technological artisanry, prophecy, war
        RL=YA-adult, adult novel, mature YA

        The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson.
        2nd book of the Mistborn series.
        Tor Fantasy/Tom Dougherty Associates: NY, 2007.
        The book starts a year after the revolution in Mistborn: The Final Empire. Elend Venture, the mistborn Vin's sweetheart, rules as king due to his initiative in setting up the new government, but Elend has written into the law an option for a parliament to vote out the king. With two armies squatting outside the city and another on the way, that looks like an inevitability. Kelsier's crew is still in tact, trying to find a way out of the situation. One of the spies, a shapeshifter, is now Vin's sidekick. Elend is being trained in kingship by a Terris Keeper. The Terriswoman and Sazed research peculiarities together. Vin is doing her own research, into metal usage and the mists. In the background through the whole story is the awareness that there is a traitor involed in their planning.

        In Mistborn, it is revealed that the Lord Ruler took a mysterious power, found at the Well of Ascension, to arrange the world for his own rule. Vin and Sazed research this power source separately - partly as an extension of the research done before, partly because they are concerned about anomalies.

        There is also another mistborn on the scene. He is the primary weapon of one of the other armies, as Vin is Luthdel's. He may also be the only other person that understands Vin now that Kelsier is gone.

        This second book in the series is larger in scope than the first. Many twists, turns, innuendos. This, perhaps, is Sanderson's most developed political novel. We have a nobleman, Elend, who has studied politics, the law and the economy. He genuinely wants to uplift the skaa (peasants/slaves), give them a life of opportunities, choices, and hope. However, in the chaos after the revolution, the other noblemen and merchants are looking for ways to grab the power for themselves and revert back to former ways.

        related-magical forces, metalurgy, politics, government, freedom, fantasy

        What Came From the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt.
        Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2012.

        The story alternates between two worlds. In a far away universe, there is a coup. The last of the conquered must protect an artifact of power crafted with the beauty from which they derived their rule. It is sent out of the universe to keep it out of the hands of the conquerors. The item lands in Plymouth, MA, at a beachhouse home. A home struggling with the loss of a beloved mom and wife. A town on the verge of making a modern decision that could forever change its New England style. The conquering Lord Mondus sends minions to detect and retrieve the object. Tommy wears the found necklace and gains knowledge and understanding, strength and power, and increased artistic ability. He will need all of his talents to stand against the power of Lord Mondus, and more.

        The two tellings are interesting on their own. Going back and forth between them was more difficult to keep focus, since the tales are so different in makeup. Fantasy can be challenging anyway for readers, because the world is foreign and names are uncomfortable in sound and rhythm. I remember as a young reader that even foreign country names made reading harder, as I had trouble reading names I couldn't pronounce. One thing good about the format is that alternating gives a less practiced reader a break from the unusual world.

        The parts within New England make a very strong story. I love Tommy's family, and enjoyed his school days. His struggles are not so unusual for everyday life, except that the confrontation with the other world characters adds a twist and children do not usually handle any major problems in our society.

        Again, Gary Schmidt has created an awesome story. I have found each of his works to be fascinating and quite different from anything else, including his own works. Quite satisfying.

        related-fantasy, other worlds, Plymouth, MA, New England, beach life
        RL=4th or 5th and up

        The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan.
        Tom Doherty Associates/Tor Fantasy: NY.

        The Eye of the World (1990) is the first book of Jordan's twelve book epic series. (A 13th book, which he didn't finish himself before his death, is scheduled for fall 2009.) It is a fantasy with a historical setting. The young people of Emond's Field run from the attack of the Trollocs (beasts bidden by the Dark One) on their town and to their destiny with the help of Moiraine Sedai, magic wielder and healer, and Lan, her sworn protector. The Dark One threatens to stamp out the Light. One of the young people is the key to whether this can be done or not. They all journey to the place of confrontation, and the chase is on.

        By the end of the book, more questions arise than are answered. We are given glimpses into the characters-enough to want much more of each. I think the strengths are the characters and the reworking of history through the ages. There are references to historical social issues, such as the Children of the Light, a militant religious group which persecutes those they find using any type of magic. Though the book was rather long, I am looking forward to reading more. In my experience, in depth worlds such as this tend to improve as the series go along. The details become more intertwined. I believe it will be a series to savor, not rush through.

        In The Great Hunt (1990) there is more emphasis on events being replayed through time. There are even a couple spots that indicate many possible scenarios-in fact, time has already replayed the conflict between the Dragon Reborn and the Dark One thousands of times with different outcomes. The Dark One says this time will be the last, but does he say that every time, trying to intimidate the Dragon?

        In this book Rand, Perrin, and Mat go with soldiers from Fal Dara (a borderland fortress) to recover the Horn of Valere which must be used by the Dragon Reborn to awaken the dead heroes to fight the last battle against the Shadow. A darkfriend has stolen the Horn to lure Rand to the area of confrontation. In The Eye of the World, Rand learns that he is the Dragon Reborn, but adamantly rejects the idea through most of The Great Hunt, until he can no longer deny it at the end. He wants nothing to do with it, because the Dragon is reputed to go mad and destroy those he loves. But he learns by the end of the book that his friends are woven into the story that will play out even if he tries to run away. He will then just not be there to fight to defend the people against the Shadow.

        Egwene and Nynaeve travel to the White Tower to learn the ways of the Aes Sedai and meet Elayne, the princess of Andor, and Min, the seer who has become entwined in their lives. It is apparently not their destiny to stay secluded in the Tower, and they are soon caught up in unfolding events as well. At this time it is also revealed that these young women will play a part in the direction the current time turns.

        Moiraine Sedai releases Rand from watchfulness as he goes on the quest of the Great Hunt (He can hardly believe it.), but a reclusive and scholarly Sedai, Verin, learns of his importance in the Wheel of Time and takes it upon herself to aid him in his traveling.

        As is the first book, this one is long and drawn out, but again it feels like a detailed exploration of a new and exciting world. The reader wants to know every possible detail. Events are slowly unfolding, and it is important to watch every clue regarding characters, the world, and what happens next. As expected, things are already becoming more complicated. Can't wait to see what happens next!

        Prequel: New Spring 2004 Ultra-Condensed
        Book 1: The Eye of the World 1990
        Book 2: The Great Hunt 1990
        Book 3: The Dragon Reborn 1991 review at Fantasy Folder
        Book 4: The Shadow Rising 1992 review at Fantasy Folder
        Book 5: The Fires of Heaven 1993 review at Fantasy Folder
        Book 6: Lord of Chaos 1994 Ultra-Condensed
        Book 7: A Crown of Swords 1996
        Book 8: The Path of Daggers 1998 Ultra-Condensed
        Book 9: Winter's Heart 2000 Ultra-Condensed
        Book 10: Crossroads of Twilight 2003
        Book 11: Knife of Dreams 2005 Ultra-Condensed
        Book 12: The Gathering Storm 2009 Ultra-Condensed
        Book 13: Towers of Midnight
        Book 14: A Memory of Light
        RL=YA-adult, written for adult

        *For an in depth review of the series.

        Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan.
        Book 9 of The Wheel of Time
        Tor Fantasy: NY, 2000.

        • A member of the Black Ajah found in the White Tower, with Oaths forcibly removed and readministered. A claim that Elaida is Black Ajah. Galina also - and denial.

        • Elayne and Aviendha become first-sisters through a ceremonial rebirthing.

        • Wonders happening at Rand's Academy of Cairhien. Logain leading his own community of Asha'man with 51 captured Aes Sedai, 2 of them bonded to him.

        • Faile, Maighdin (Queen Morgase), Queen Alliandre, Lacile, Bain and Chiad taken gai'shain by the Shaido Aiel. An offer they can't refuse.

        • The bonding of Rand

        • Mat meets the Daughter of the Nine Moons.

        • Sul'dam with a change of heart? In cahoots with Aes Sedai?

        • An attempt on the Daughter-Heir of Andor's life, prompting the start of an all-women guard led by Birgitte and a supposed savior.

        • Rand asks for the guidance of Cadsuane Sedai.

        • The cleansing of saidin brings 6 of the Forsaken, separately, and a battle between them and Rand's protectors ensues.

        • A Darkfriend among the protectors revealed, possibly Black Ajah.

        • The start of true Asha'man loyalty to Rand?

        RL=YA-adult, adult bookA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.
        Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 1962.
        Newbery Medal 1963

        Meg and Charles Wallace Murry and a new friend Calvin travel through time and space by means of tesseracts, guided by Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. The Murrys' father is a scientist who disappeared while exploring the concept of tessering. The Mrs. W's inform the children that he needs their help, and they travel to release him from his imprisonment.

        Despite the sci fi/fantasy baseline, the book is mostly psychological. It is a good vs. evil adventure story, using love and freedom of thought to combat the shadow that would control the characters' minds. The characters are presented as misfits, and the story shows their differences as being their strengths, what saves them.

        This is a book that I loved in 6th grade, though I didn't fully understand the tesseracts. Looking back I don't think it has much depth. It was written and remains for young children. It is groundbreaking for its use of scientific concepts in children's literature. It still is one of the few that attempts to deal with complicated scientific theories. Though there is starting to be sci fi literature for young adults, there is still little for younger kids. It still is a good book for introducing fiction to young readers.

        related-tesseracts and tessering, hypnosis, equal vs. sameness, identity, nonconformity, familial love, missing parent, fitting in, sacrifice

        DE JP KO FR IT PT ES
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