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
RL=4th-8th

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2009.

Amanda and Leo have shared their first 10 birthdays together. It's time for their 11th, but because of their year-long fight, they are celebrating separately for the first time. Amanda's having the worst day of her life. All she can think about is their rotten fight and how wrong it is that they haven't been friends. She's ready for the next day, so her worst birthday will be over. But the same tacky balloon startles her when she awakes. She thinks it's a bad joke, but no one else seems to be aware of the repeat. She relives the day trapped in the same horrible birthday only to do it all over again and again. As the days are relived, she starts to make changes in her day. Obviously, something needs to be fixed in order to move on. But what? There is so much to improve.

The chance to relive the day, though excruciating at first, gives Amanda time to see things that she hadn't noticed as she stewed the first time around. Little things that could be important to those around her. She finds she's not the only one stuck in the time warp. Leo is also, and they both are experimenting to find a solution.

This is a great book for middle graders. Funny in parts, thoughtful and touching in others. Quite an adventure. The kids seem older to me than 11-year-olds, but the story is enjoyable anyway.

related-birthdays, time, friendships, interpersonal relations
RL=5th-8th

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. il Ellen Forney.
Little, Brown and Company: NY, 2007.

Arnold/Junior, a stuttering brain-damaged (but smart) target of a teen pours out his life and soul in his writings and his cartoons. On the advice of a teacher, Junior transfers from his reservation's school to an all white high school in a nearby town. A bold and courageous move, but necessary for his future, considering the social devastation surrounding him. His best friend is furious, feeling abandoned. Risk taking is required to gain acceptance and friends in his new environment, while still residing on the reservation. His risks pay off, gain him respect and confidence, although personal losses make it difficult to continue.

The style is quirky and forthright. The beginning is odd but doesn't take long to hook the reader. Junior's descriptions of his life are painfully direct at times. His humor and cartoons lighten the sadness, though. It is refreshing that Junior is able to gain acceptance at his new school, though it isn't automatically given. He's surprised by the difference in rules for the separate communities, and he learns that his own openness and willingness to adjust to the new rules will win friends. Poverty, teen sensuality, and deaths of loved ones make it a book for mature teens. It is heavy in places, but has some realizations that give hope. Two in particular are the different tribes to which he belongs and the reference to his being a nomad in modern times.

I know that there has been lots of talk about and acclaim for this book, at least on the internet. I've been eyeing it at the library for a while. It is a quick and satisfying read. Good enough that I plan to read more of Alexie's works. It has a more hopeful perspective on poverty and prejudice than most. Hopeful in that circumstances can change.

The reading level and length should not be daunting for any teen.

related-poverty, prejudice, Native Americans, Indian reservations, alcoholism, social improvement through education, acceptance, coming of age, death of loved ones, basketball, cartoons, comics
RL=YA-adult

An Acquaintance with Darkness by Ann Rinaldi.
Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1997.

As her mother lays dying, Emily plans to move in with her best friend Annie Surratt. Her plans are ended by the assassination of President Lincoln and the suspicion of the Surratt family's guilt. Emily's Uncle Valentine (a local doctor and anatomy teacher) saves her from becoming entangled in the conspiracy, only to expose her to his own illegal activities.

Emily does not know how to help Annie with the horror of her mother's imprisonment and impending execution. She wants to stand by Annie despite her uncle's demand that she go nowhere near the Surratt boarding house. However, since moving in with her uncle, she is distracted by the unsavory graverobbing practices of her uncle and his associates. When a schoolmate forces her to admit the truth, she feels betrayed. She also is concerned that one of his patients is being held as a prisoner and tries to rectify the situation.

The Civil War and the Lincoln assassination magnified the physicians' awareness of the need to study anatomy. There were, however, few bodies to be had legally, so emerging medical schools took matters into their own hands. This theme shares an equal part of the story with the Surratts' relationship to John Wilkes Booth and their experiences as a result. The focus on the Surratts is of particular interest to me since it seems they were guilty mostly by association and sympathy (not enough to hang someone-although Johnny was certainly involved in Confederate plotting). Dishonesty, different points-of-view, and strength of character are more subtle factors in the book.

I found the book to be surprising and compelling. Rinaldi takes some tiny (yet sensational) themes and weaves them around a young adult's struggle with relationships and morality. She also inspires thought about the complications of living during the Civil War period without it controlling the whole story.
related-body snatching, physicians, Lincoln assassination conspiracy, Washington, D.C., Civil War, 1861-1865, the trial and hanging of Mary Surratt, secessionists
RL=YA

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt.
Follett Publishing Company: Chicago, 1964.
Newbery Honor 1965

A close knit Southern Illinois family with ties to the South are torn by the issues of the American Civil War. Jethro listens to their debates, but at ten years old he must stay and work the farm as the menfolk leave to fight in the war. He is faced with defending his family's honor in town due to one brother's rebel sympathies, and he continually sorts through the issues with those left near home and in his mind.

This is an incredibly moving story that comprehensively discusses the issues of the time. One of the books I recommend all students read for further understanding of the Civil War.
RL=6th-YA

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
RL=YA-adult

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), 1884.

I read this aloud with 2 of my sons recently. It has been required reading e: Tin some areas although I didn't read it as a child. I have heard that there is controversy regarding the book. Some people believe that it is proof that Twain was a racist. To be honest, I found it difficult to read aloud because of the racist language, and I can understand that black students would be offended by being forced to read it or hear it. The language seriously bothered me. However, I don't believe Twain was racist. He was an author who forced people to look at things they did not want to see. When Twain wrote this book, much of society wanted to forget slavery and ignore racial relationships. He stuck it in their faces and didn't let them look away.

As we read the book, my sons preferred that I read it. Though it was partly because I made them slow down and repeat parts not spoken clearly, it was also difficult for them to read the dialogue with regional accent. My kids enjoyed the book and the antics of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. We also used it as a starting point in discussing slavery and the treatment of other people.
related-orphans, slavery, Mississippi River region, adventure, humor
RL=7th-adult

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
RL=7th-YA

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko.
G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Young Readers Group: NY, 2004.
Newbery Honor 2005

Moose's family has tried everything his mother can imagine to help his sister Natalie be normal. The next idea is to send her to a special boarding school in San Francisco. Their family moves to Alcatraz, so his father can work to pay for the school. His mother starts teaching piano lessons in San Francisco. So, until Natalie gets into the school, Moose is babysitting Natalie every day. She follows him all over the island, and they surprisingly meet new friends-although he can never stop watching out for trouble. He longs to have a normal boyhood, but can't with Natalie along.

I suspect what most children enjoy about the book are the humor in Piper's (the warden's daughter) scams and the references to Al Capone and the other criminals. The best parts to me are the relationship he has with his sister and the family dynamic-the thoughts and feelings Moose has about caring for his sister, his parents' absense, and his need for his parents' trust and support. Many families struggle with Natalie's problem-now called autism. Most of us have seen glimpses of it. I like that Choldenko shows Natalie interacting with her brother and friends. She isn't a freak to everyone else as Moose is afraid she will be. He cares for her, but there is also concern about her safety and happiness and fear of how things will look outside of the family.

related-Alcatraz Island, California, U.S. history, autism, family problems, brothers and sisters, prison life, behavior, trust, support
RL=7th-YA

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
RL=3rd-YA

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 Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin: NY, 2010.

Elizabethan England. Meggy has been called to London by her father she has never seen. Her mother is all too ready to be rid of her. She feels that the only friend she has or could have is a goose. She's crabby from being crippled and harassed all her life about it.

On arrival, she meets her father's ex-apprentice as he is vacating the home. He seems determined to be a friend despite her cantankerousness. Her father, a dedicated alchemist, stays in his laboratorium most of the time. No attention to household necessities whatsoever. Survival is up to her alone. In seeing to her needs, and her fathers, Meggy mingles with neighbors, sharing experiences, making friends, and accomplishes more than she would have dreamed possible. She is a swan, changing from a lonely cripple to a stronger and valued part of a community.

Disturbed by her father's late night visitors, Meggy overhears a plot to kill a baron with poison. She struggles with her father's involvement and his callousness. Then, she tries to set things right.

I enjoyed the use of language in building the setting. There is a freedom of expression, personally smashing words together in a colorful, descriptive manner (as would have been common in the period). Cushman also uses others forms of expression, such as printed word and players and ballads.

Meggy is an appealing and whole/real person. She struggles through her daily life. She lets out her frustration, and she slowly comes to enjoy some of life and learns to play. There is a lot of life in such a short book. A good example of historical fiction.

related-disabilities, alchemy, poverty, London, England, 16th century, Great Britain, Elizabeth I, fathers and daughters
RL=6th and up

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
RL=YA

All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Rae Perkins.
Greenwillow Books/William Morrow and Company: NY, 1999.

Debbie and Maureen have always been best friends. They do everything together-until this summer. Glenna is now keeping Maureen too busy to visit with Debbie, and Maureen doesn't seem to miss her. The book deals with this heartrending problem in a sensitive manner and carries messages that young people need to hear when a close friendship ends.
related-best friends, friendship
RL=6th-YA

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. trans. by A. W. Wheen.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1929.
Originally Im Westen Nichts Neues
Ullstein A. G.: Germany, 1928.
This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.

This simple explanation serves as the introduction to the book. The book is a description of war and how it affects those involved. There are others like it (probably several for each major war), but All Quiet on the Western Front is honest and specific without being as abrasive as the others tend to be. It has truths in it that are often avoided in talk of war.

I have heard it said that it should be required reading; I am not sure how much it would matter. I agree with what the book has to say, and more people understanding what war does to people is a positive thing. But I noticed that it was written between WWI and WWII from a German viewpoint-and nothing seems to matter when a government wants to start a war. Not the people and land it will destroy and not the anger of the citizens paying for it. The ultimate factor is still that people in power are gaining from it-power, prestige, and money.
related-World War I, death, nature of war, effects on soldiers, realities of war, artillery fire, monotony, pointlessness, chance, classic literature, social issues
RL=YA-adult

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
RL=YA-adult

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

A Mystery for Thoreau by Kin Platt.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2008.

This is an odd, but interesting mystery. The tone is unusual because the story is set in 1846 and the language reflects the setting. The author started writing for the comic industry in the 1930s and books in the 1960s. Adding to the flavor is that the setting is in Concord, Ma with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott as characters. Thoreau even helps to solve the mystery.

Oliver, a young newspaper reporter, is given a prophecy of death by an old crazy woman. Thoreau is jailed for tax evasion. A young woman comes from Boston, advertising for a job and looking for a place to live. The old woman is killed. The young one has disappeared, with her parasol and hat found near the crime scene. The reporter gets the scoop on these incidents and becomes embroiled in the investigation.

Through the book, the reporter has interviews with a few people, including Thoreau. He renews his friendship with a childhood friend, an Algonquin Indian, who knows wood lore almost as well as Thoreau and finds the young woman by tracking her. Period issues are discussed - treatment of the Native Americans, the United States invasion of Mexico, and sentiments of the townspeople towards Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts.

related-journalists, murder, Henry David Thoreau, 19th century, Algonquin Indians, Indians of North America - Massachusetts, New England, Native Americans, history of Concord, MA, mysteries and detective stories
RL=YA-adult

Note: The book was published post humously.

Anahita's Woven Riddle by Megan Nuttall Sayres.
Amulet Books/Harry N. Abrams, Inc: NY, 2006.

Anahita is repelled by the marriage proposal of her tribe's kahn. She has plans for her life and isn't sure marriage fits at all. At the very least, she wants to choose her own husband. Her father is upset, knowing how greatly her refusal may impact the village and its seasonal migration.

Inspired by the riddles she shares with her father, Anahita requests permission to hold a contest to determine her betrothal. She wishes to weave a riddle into her wedding carpet to eliminate the possibility of marrying the Kahn. Anahita acts impulsively and does not think through the consequences of her behavior. Word of the challenge spreads farther than she desires. The idea of the competition causes upheaval in her village, and consequently, her family.

I especially like the characters and how they each relate to the contest, the turmoil caused by one girl's desire to choose her own path, the lessons she learns through the process, and the meaning of the weaving itself as Anahita works and plans and as each suitor tries to guess her thoughts.

related-Iran, Persia, nomads, handmade carpets, natural dyes, riddles, weaving, weavers, change, tradition, strong female protagonist/character
RL=YA

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
RL=6th-YA

Archer's Quest by Linda Sue Park.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2006.
author of A Single Shard and The Kite Fighters

Kevin is trying to do homework when an arrow comes at him. The intruder says he fell off a tiger when asked how he got there. Unbelievable! It turns out that the young man is an ancient Korean ruler, and to prevent drastic changes in history he must be sent back. How do you send someone back in time (and place) if you don't know how and why they arrived? That is the mystery, and Linda Sue Park has written a unique and entertaining solution.
related-Korean history, rulers, time travel, magic, Tongmyong Wang (King of Korea 58-19 B.C.), trust, honor, tigers
RL=4th-8th

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.
Originally published as Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-Vingts Jours.
Pierre-Jules Hetzel: France, 1873.
Edition read trans. by Robert and Jacqueline Baldrick.
E. P. Dutton & Co: NY, 1968.

In this fantastic global trip, Phileas Fogg and his manservant race around the world to win a bet. Detective Fix tries to trip them every step of the way because he believes Fogg committed a bank robbery the day of the bet.

Around the World in Eighty Days is probably the most believable of the Jules Verne stories. Fogg's setbacks and Fix's near misses add drama and comedy to the adventure. Even though we look back at it as a historical reading, it is one of the least outdated of the classics because it is still a great adventure. An adventure we could conceivably make ourselves. Parts of the trip would even still be considered adventurous.

related-travel, impossible feat, loyalty, resourcefulness, First Transcontinental Railroad of the U.S., linking of the Indian railways, Suez Canal, classic books
RL=7th-adult

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-YAThe Arthur Trilogy by Kevin Crossley-Holland.
Arthur A. Levine: NY.


The Seeing Stone: 2001.

This is the journal of a younger son (page) at the turn of the thirteenth century near the border of England and Wales. It is a cozy glimpse into life in a small medieval village. It is also an exciting parallel of the King Arthur stories. Scenes of King Arthur's life are played out before him in a seeing stone given to him by his friend and mentor, Merlin. There are many similarities between what he sees in the stone and what happens in his life. Some of the things are seen beforehand, and others he sees in the stone after experiencing a similar version. Either way, the thirteenth century Arthur has a thirst for knowledge and understanding and learns from both the seeing and experiencing.
related-King Arthur, thirteenth century, medieval village, England and Wales
RL=6th-YA


At the Crossing Places: 2002.

Arthur leaves Caldicot to train as a squire with Lord Stephen de Holt. He continues to view King Arthur's world through his seeing stone as he and Lord Stephen prepare for a Crusade. He examines things he is told or taught as he faces contrasting ideas in life, and everything is logged in his journal. As he prepares for knighthood, he is also preparing to manage his inheritance-Catmole. Or as he finally realizes, his Camelot.
related-King Arthur, Middle Ages, British history, identity, contradictions in life
RL=6th-YA


The King of the Middle March: 2004.

In the last book of the trilogy, Arhtur participates in the Fourth Crusade in Venice and Zara and witnesses the confusion and horrors of war. He also sees the downfall of King Arthur's court in his seeing stone. The third book also focuses on his courtship of Winnie and his worry that he will lose her. After the other 2 books, this one was disappointing to me. It is likely to appeal to less people, and I would not recommend for younger than YA, although the depiction of the Crusades is interesting as is the parallel between Arthur and Winnie/Arthur and Guinevere.
related-King Arthur,British history-Richard I, 1189-1199, King John, 1199-1216, Middle Ages, magic, identity
RL=YA

Beast by Donna Jo Napoli.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers: NY, 2000.

Beast is the part of Beauty and the Beast the reader never hears. The explanation of why Beast is no longer human. Napoli draws on Charles Lamb's 1811 description of the Beast as a Persian prince to tell the tale.

In the context of our times, it was difficult at first to read the story. The beginning atmosphere is strongly different in texture. Also, not knowing of Charles Lamb's version, my initial reaction was that it was a racial slur to say the Beast was Persian (Given the long history of animosity, it may have been in 1811 as well). However, as I read, it became apparent that Napoli was portraying the Prince as a spiritual and reasonable person. Perhaps Napoli's description of the Persian culture will open up some minds. It is also enlightening to see more personally the Beast's struggle between his human and animal instincts.

related-fairy tales, Iran, Beauty and the Beast
RL=YA   **Publisher says age 12 and up.

Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2004.

This book surprised me. In the beginning, Naomi describes her life with her Gram and younger brother Owen as simple and pleasant, though not without struggle. Owen has physical problems, and Naomi hasn't learned to speak up.

But then her mother plays a surprise visit after abandoning them nine years earlier. She announces her plan to take Naomi with her. When Naomi doesn't cooperate, her mother becomes ugly. Gram has a surprise install for us all. She's not about to give up without a fight, and her defense is astonishing and effective.

The events set in motion by Gram lead to an unexpected adventure. Besides being quite an experience, their travels bring them closer and give Naomi the strength she needs to tell the judge her view of the whole situation. It is her testimony that decides her future.

There are two aspects of this story that are often inserted with purpose but stick out: social injustice and ethnic culture. Ryan's story unfolds naturally, and these aspects are profound pieces of the whole. The radish festival is one of these delightful segments. The part the children's father plays gives the story much of its uniqueness. I also enjoyed Naomi's "splendid words" list and the continuing of it with Spanish words.

Naomi's character is quite strong, as is Gram's despite being brief. The family and friends surround Naomi in such a loving, supportive way; it is beautiful. After about a third of the way, I could not put the book down.

This is the third book I've read of Ryan's-all different levels. The intuition and clarity in her writing amazes me. She knows the characters so well and makes you feel that it could be you in the story.

related-great grandmothers, brothers and sisters, family problems, Mexican Americans, Mexico, Mexican culture, identity, custody battle
RL=6th & up

Befiddled by Pedro de Alcantara.
Delacorte Press/Random House, Inc: NY, 2005.

Becky works hard at playing the violin, but when she plays for her teacher, it is always miserable. The handyman for her apartment offers her pointers and life lessons in exchange for friendship and pride in her accomplishments. He teaches her to relax and play with her heart. He suggests entering a competition for the local school of music, and that becomes her one chance of continuing with the violin. Her irritated, overworked mother is ready to end her lessons and stop paying for violin rental. Her younger brother captures it all in his monthly newsletter.

Becky learns lessons which improve her depressing life. Confidence is what she lacks most. There are some inspirational moments with the handyman, and the newsletter in each chapter adds comic relief.

related-violin, music lessons, scholarship competition, friendship, schools
RL=4th-7th

Behemoth 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

Behind the Curtain: An Echo Falls Mystery by Peter Abrahams.
Laura Geringer Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2006.
sequel to Down the Rabbit Hole

Ingrid's father is suddenly paranoid he will lose his job. Does it have anything to do with the young woman recently hired as Vice President of Operations-and who is also the new assistant of Ingrid's soccer team? Ingrid's brother is moody and obsessed with weightlifting. She starts snooping around as she notices strange happenings. Before clues start to fall into place, she is kidnapped, locked in a car trunk, and then escapes. She has known the police chief for years, but can he continue to believe her with no evidence? Will anyone believe her? She keeps collecting data until she solves the case, but will it be to late to get help? And is it the same case? Or is she getting herself in more trouble?

I found the book a little slow to get into, but once things started coming together it was exciting. One thing happens after another, and there are some unique occurences.
related-mystery, Sherlock Holmes, kidnapping, detective stories
RL=7th-YA

Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin By His Good Mouse Amos. Discovered, edited & illustrated by Robert Lawson.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1939.
author of Rabbit Hill Newbery Award 1945 and The Great Wheel Newbery Honor 1958

Irritated by historical accounts of Franklin's life, Amos decides to set the record straight. He maintains that many of the ideas with which Ben was credited were actually his ideas. An imaginative and humorous tale with exceptionally artistic illustrations. This is an excellent book for reading aloud to 2nd-5th graders.
RL=3rd-5th and read aloud

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 Betrayal of Maggie Blair by Elizabeth Laird.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2011.

The Betrayal of Maggie Blair is part witch hunt, part religious and political freedom fighting, part survival in a difficult era. Maggie and her grandmother are sentenced as witches. The old lady is hung, but a friend steps in to help Maggie escape and flee to the mainland of Scotland and her father's brother. Uncle Blair is a Presbyterian Covenanter, which means he has pledged to keep his faith against the interferences of King Charles II of England, who has replaced the ministers in Scotland with his own men. His faith is strict and unyielding, but not as uncompromising as the penalties placed on the Covenanters - fines to beggar families and confiscate property and jail and execution for those unwilling to capitulate, which Blair will not do.

Maggie's life is fraught with uncertainty. A key factor is the jealous servant Annie, who lies to ensure charges against Maggie and Granny and who follows Maggie to her uncle's home and inserts herself into the household with her manipulative ways. She tells Maggie she wants what Maggie has, despite Maggie feeling she has little beyond her tenuous inclusion in her uncle's family.

The book is enjoyable and anticipatory. Secrets and hiding make up much of the story. Knowing little of this time and place, I found the historical setting interesting.

related-witchcraft, fugitives from justice, history of Scotland, 17th century, betrayal, family
RL=7th and up, YA

Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey.
Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1996.

Lord Artos (Arthur) has a strategy to defeat the Saxons who threaten to spread across the British land. He plans to build a cavalry to drive them back using Libyan horses. Because of his language skills, Galwyn is recruited to help in the purchase of the animals. Since he has worked with horses before, he also helps to transport them to the island and care for them as the horses are bred and trained for battle. Galwyn is taught that the most important thing is to protect the hooves of the horses, and so he becomes involved in the introduction of iron sandals (horseshoes).

This is a fascinating depiction of how Arthur could have become the leading general in his region. The transportation and breeding of the horses plus the use of the horseshoes would have been so phenomenal that folk hero status would be inevitable.

related-King Arthur, British history before 1066 AD, horses, horseshoes, cavalry
RL=5th-8th     maybe YA

Black Mirror by Nancy Werlin.
Dial Books/Penguin Putnam: NY, 2001.

The mystery begins less than a year after Frances' brother's funeral. Officially, it is a suicide. Frances finds that hard to believe. She accepts it up until the time that the charity organization he participated in, Unity Service (a multi-campus, private high school scholarship and food pantry) proposes a memorial scholarship using his name. Frances wants to be involved with the group for her brother's sake but is rejected by a lead organizer (her brother's girlfriend). However, the executive of the organization requests that she personally sign the fundraiser's invitation letter - something she is unwilling to do, because it defames her brother.

Frances has no friends, since she has spent all of her puberty hiding from people. As an artist, hiding is easy. Now, she desperately needs someone to talk to about her questions and concerns. Three people step into that void: her art teacher, the local student drug pusher, and the campus gardener who has slight mental disabilities. The gardener is a reliable friend and knows more than what he is given credit for. Frances believes she has a bond with the art teacher but is thrown when the teacher advises her to be the liaison for the charity. The drug pusher is a drug pusher, so how much can he be trusted?

I've been seeing this book at the library, and when it showed up on a mystery search list, I decided to read it. The first half of the book deals with Frances and her family, her inferiority complex, campus life, and her brother's death. Half of the book is gone before there is a glimpse of the mystery. I found the book provocative anyway, and then the mystery adds another level to it. I did guess one of the character twists but not the other two. So, the ending was a surprise. The storyline and setting (the charity) are different and bring a fresh twist to the mystery.

related-suicide or murder, mysteries and detective stories, boarding schools, charity organizations, identity, individuality, community, fitting in, art, separation
RL=YA-adult

A Bone From A Dry Sea by Peter Dickinson.
Delacorte Press/Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc: NY, 1992.

This book includes two stories. The first is that of a tribal community living both on land and in water. There is a girl who in the end becomes the leader of the tribe because of her ability to analyze and adapt. She saves her tribe from dying out through her reasoning (and some luck). The second story is that of an archaeological team that discovers the remains of the tribe's habitat. They only hold enough evidence to wonder about the community, not unravel the whole picture.

Dickinson has written many, many books. This is the best of the 3 I've read so far. Concise and fascinating with the possibilities it suggests and so different in topic. This exciting story is told by a storyteller with great command of the language.

related-prehistoric man, paleontology, fossils, archaeology, adaptation
RL=YA

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale.
Bloomsbury: NY, 2007.

Based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale "Maid Maleen," the story is transformed and reset in a world similar to medieval Mongolia. It is a realistic portrayal of Lady Saren's imprisonment (intended for 7 years) in an abandoned watch tower for disobedience to her father. Shut in with minimal necessities, her maid Dashti struggles to keep them both alive and sane. It is Dashti who communicates with visitors-one terrifying and one consoling. She is commanded to assume her mistress's identity. Though it is a hanging offense, she sees no other solution.

There are some cultural specifics that relate to Mongolia but not enough to historically place it. The harsh laws could have applied to any medieval area, since at the time women and daughters were considered property and were punished as their Lords chose. Communities were self-sufficient and lived by their own laws. Dashti's inner turmoil would, of course, not have been considered important, but it is stimulating to read and contemplate the intricacies of her situation.

Overwhelmingly the mood is of fear and sadness, and the young women survive mostly through Dashti's strengths. It is a roller coaster of emotion with some hope and anticipation thrown in. There is a certain amount of fairy tale to it, but overall it is realistic. Once into the story, I didn't want to put it down. I have heard Shannon Hale fans were disappointed by the book. As this is my first book of hers to read, I was impressed by her style and compelling story.

related-girls, loyalty, service, imprisonment, disguise, shape shifting, healing with touch, seeing and understanding, love, Asian steppes, strong female protagonist/character
RL=YA-adult

The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vande Velde.
Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2005.

This version of the King Arthur stories fills in some of the gaps regarding Mordred and also how the knights moved from brotherhood to friend against friend in the final confrontation. The focus is on Mordred as a knight of Arthur's Roundtable instead of the evil guy who attacks Arthur. For much of the book the evil guy is a wizard grabbing power because Merlin has disappeared. The battles between Mordred and Arthur are about different opinions and loyalties rather than Mordred trying to take over. The final battle is a result of a mistake than neither of them can stop. The story is more reallistic and less romantic than the average Arthur story. The violence is also more real, particularly as Lancelot and Guinevere escape from Camelot. A special touch that I truly enjoyed is Merlin's seeing well into the future.
related-King Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere, Merlin and Nimue, Alayna and Kiera, Mordred, knights, fall of Camelot, wizards, British history to 1066
RL=YA

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2006.
Originally published by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited: Australia, 2005.

The Book Thief is the story of a foster child living near Munich, Germany during WWII. In one of the poorest families, she grabs as many soul-nourishing moments as possible. Books become some of her most valued memories. Stealing the books becomes a habit as a couple are thrown into her path and one is given to her by the mayor's wife. She learns to read by pouring over these books, and she learns to comfort those in desperate need through reading. Liesel's life touches so many of the issues of the Holocaust-the strict political discipline of the Germans, the treatment of the Jews, the propaganda, the burning of books and attacking of detractors, the training of the youth, the hiding of Jews and other acts of kindness, the fear of those who disobey and those who comply, and the war itself.

Though the tone is dark, it is beautiful in moments. As with most books of this topic, it is a story begging to be told with its own nuances, its own angles. It is about the power of words: to teach, to comfort, to heal, to anger and destroy-and to release.

On a side note, I wonder if the reason there are so many books related to this subject is that we are all still struggling with the horror of the Holocaust of WWII. We want an explanation-whether we are Jewish or not-and there is no satisfactory answer. Maybe also because the hatred and killing that continue in the world, in order to gain an advantage, are a constant reminder.

related-History of Germany, 1930s, 1940s, books and reading, storytelling death, Jews, World War II, rescue, family, friendship, love
RL=7th-adult

The Boy of a Thousand Faces by Brian Selznick.
HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2000.

Having relatives in the earlier motion picture business (Lewis J. and sons, David O. and Myron Selznick) must have made quite an impression on Brian Selznick. His books are so focused on theatrical performance. The Boy of a Thousand Faces carries this fascination to the extreme with a boy entranced by early horror movies. He lives the stories through his imagination, and he creates his own beasts, keeping a photo album for posterity. His goal is to exhibit 1000 faces.

The boy has a neighbor who shares his passion for the old movies. He gives him monster stamps (displayed on the end pages of the book). He encourages him in his exploration, and he concocts a story that sparks the interest of others.

The beginning of the story is too funny. There are some fantastic pictures which are integrated with the story. I think many people-young boys especially-go through a period of utter fascination with creatures of horror or things defying explanation. The awe and suspense are a great part of what captures boys attention. At this level of reading the ability to capture their attention is crucial.

The vocabulary in this book may be more challenging than some short novels, but the text is very short and high interest.

related-horror films, monsters, Halloween, Lon Chaney, costume, makeup, living fantasy, imitation of stories, transitional books
RL=2nd-4th, younger for early readers

Bringing Ezra Back by Cynthia DeFelice.
Farrar Straus Giroux: NY, 2006.

This sequel is what prompted me to read Weasel. Ezra had gone to find his deceased wife's family; they had been a part of the Shawnee migration to the West (The Trail of Tears). That tale is not told in the story, but a visiting tinker shows Nathan and his family a flyer which appears to proclaim Ezra a wild "White Indian" with a travelling freak show. Astounded by this revelation, Nathan decides to travel with the Tinker to Pennsylvania in the hope of finding Ezra and bringing him back home. He doesn't like the Tinker, but it is the only way his pa will let him go after Ezra. Nathan is confronted with the problem of trusting through the whole trip. Who to trust, when to not trust. He learns that there are varying degrees of evil behavior and that people who are truly horrible can still not be as bad as Weasel was. Other people who are not so bad can still do some really bad things, and you can like them anyway.

It is sad to see Ezra in the shape he is in. He has to grieve over the situation with his wife's family before he even begins to respond to Nathan's attempts to reach him. Nathan on the other hand is fleshed out a bit more in the sequel. He grows much through his travels and predicaments. The characters in the travelling show add some spice to the story and some humor with their conspiring in Ezra's escape.

This story is a little longer than the previous, about the same in reading level and probably a little more adventurous and anticipatory.

related-travels, adventures, rescues, freak shows, frontier and pioneer life
RL=4th-8th

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

Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis.
Wendy Lamb Books/Random Books:NY, 2004.

Hardworking Luther helps his mother run her business network for just the promise of money for college and and the possibility of a future in her businesses to fall back on. He learns some important lessons along the way-including his need to stand up for himself and his beliefs. He is self-reliant and dependable but has a buddy who drags him into troublesome situations.

I like this author's style and humor. I have been waiting for him to come out with something new since reading Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963.
related-fraud, Black Americans, mothers, group home, business enterprises
RL=6th, content=7th

Butterfly Boy by Virginia Kroll. il Gerardo Suzán.
Boyds Mills Press: Honesdale, PA, 1997.

Emilio's grandfather can no longer speak, but receives pleasure from Emilio reading to him and watching the butterflies on a sunny day. Emilio can tell by the glimmer in his grandfather's eyes. The butterflies migrate and come again the next year. On the day of their arrival, Emilio greets the butterflies and then learns his father has painted their white garage blue. The white being the main attraction for the butterflies, Emilio begs his father to change it back. It takes a few moments for his father to understand the importance of his plea, but he leaves for white paint soon after.

This is a delightful story bringing together a grandson's love and caring of an elderly and incapacitated man and the habits of butterflies. Both are subtly shown, but all important in the story. It has great depth of feeling.

The illustrations are vibrant and alive, carrying the same depth of emotion and meaning. The artwork is Mexican in style, with fantasy and symbolism and even some foreshadowing. As much as I like the story itself, the paintings are what attracted me and keeps me coming back.

related-butterflies, debilitating illness, old age, Mexico-juvenile literature
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler and up

The Calder Game by Blue Balliett.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2008.

The Calder Game is the 3rd in a collection of art mysteries that employ math, logic, philosophy, history, and literature as well. Connections and interwoven clues are a huge part of the stories. They are unique stories that encourage looking at life, art, and the world in different ways. They also approach the whole subject of education in a different way. I found the 2 that I read so far to be intriguing and awesome in their vision and focus. I haven't been able to get my hands on the 2nd, The Wright 3, but loved the other 2.

The Calder Game centers around an art exhibit of Alexander Calder's sculpture at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Calder Pillay's class goes to the exhibit for a field trip, but their unfriendly teacher makes the experience a disaster. She doesn't allow the class to explore the hands-on room at the exhibit, though Calder sneaks in on his own. This portion challenges all participants (even globally) to create their own Calder sculpture-using any medium, including words on paper, mathematical concepts, literally anything.

Calder is scheduled to visit Oxford, England while his dad attends a gardening conference. It is too good of an opportunity to pass up. Calder will be able to visit a centuries old hedge maze. On arriving in the town of Woodstock where they will be staying, Calder and his dad find a Calder sculpture in the village square. It has been donated anonymously, and the villagers hate it, mostly. He sees a mysterious girl and meets another American interested in the Calder sculpture before both he and the sculpture disappear. Calder's friends Petra and Tommy, chaperoned by Mrs. Sharpe, are flown to Woodstock to help search for him. Like Calder, they each have their own specific talents and ways of solving puzzles. Through the process of solving the mystery, they each have a Calder epiphany.

related-mysteries, pentominoes, art, Alexander Calder sculpture, history, Oxford, England, Woodstock, England, Blenheim Palace, Oxford Botanic Garden, wishes
RL=5th-adult

See also Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

Calico Bush by Rachel Field.
The Macmillan Company: NY, 1931.
Newbery Honor 1932

This is an excellent example of pioneer life. Seventy-five years later it is still interesting and relevant.

Marguerite, a young French girl, is bound into service to a family moving from Massachusetts to coastal Maine. Mostly she is responsible for the care of the five young children, but the many emergencies that arise (and the nature if pioneer living) necessitate harder labor and strength and courage. Because of her French birth and ways there is also a conflict between her and the family as well as the few neighbors. One wise woman recognizes her worth and takes her under her wing.
related-pioneer life, 18th century, Indian raids (with connection to the French Canadians), bound servants, Maine history and geography, friendship, neighbors, herbal lore, textiles
RL=5th-8th

Camelot ed by Jane Yolen.
Philomel Books/Putnam & Grosset Group: NY, 1995.

Camelot is one of two excellent books that prompted me to explore the ever-expanding selection of King Arthur books. The other is Quest for a King by Catherine M. Andronik about the historic Arthur. Camelot remains one of my favorite of all the books.

Camelot is an exciting and varied collection of original short stories touching on King Arthur, Guinevere, and the Knights of the Round Table. They are not Arthur canon, but for me they are more alive, captivating, and inspiring than the more traditional writings (with the exception of Gerald Morris's series and Mary Stewart's Merlin series.

The stories range from Merlin shifting Arthur's soul into animals to the bringing of horses to England for the first time to a staged marvel gone horribly wrong to Mordred's struggle with his fate.

RL=6th-adult

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar.
Delacorte Press/Random House: NY, 2010.

Alton is spending his summer turning cards for his blind great-uncle, Lester Trapp, a regional legend among the Bridge playing community. Trapp believes Alton knows nothing of Bridge, but he has been paying attention and learning from Toni Castaneda - Trapp's usual cardturner, protegé, and granddaughter of his deceased, perfect partner. The Castaneda family has its own story within the story. Before this summer, Alton knows almost nothing of his uncle, accept that his mother has been trying for years to ingratiate their family with the uncle to be mentioned in his will, with no success. Alton seems to be stirring things up for Trapp this summer. He, Gloria (Trapp's partner), and Toni convince Trapp to participate in regional championships and consider nationals. This seems a great success, but also proves too much for Trapp. Oddly, the national event results in a chance for the reuniting of Trapp and his favorite partner, sort of.

How are we supposed to be partners? He can't see the cards and I don't know the rules! This quote is the start of an interesting situation. I don't want to give away the whole story, so I can't go into it more. There are a few stories meshed within the book. An unusual story to say the least. A delight if you enjoy card games. I've never played Bridge, but am familiar with some of the concepts through playing Hearts and Spades. There is enough explanation to not be lost during the competitions, and the relationships involved are as much the story as the cards are. Needless to say, Alton's summer is not wasted.

Note that the Bridge lessons are a little thick at times, but I actually enjoyed the peek at the logic of the game.

related-Bridge, card games, competition, strategy games, relationships
RL=YA-adult

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
RL=5th-8th

Catch A Tiger By The Toe by Ellen Levine.
Viking/Penguin Group: NY, 2005.

In the 1950's, Ellen has a big secret that must be kept-even from her best friend. As events move along the secret is bound to be exposed. Her family members belong to the Communist Party. To her this means they believe in equality and helping those who have been treated unfairly. To Senator McCarthy and many scared and angry people it means they are trying to overturn the government.

The book spotlights a time in U.S. history when anything people said or did could lead to being accused of Communism and anti-Americanism. It was a time of harassment and personal fear and devastation. Jamie Morse is confronted by these things at school and in her neighborhood by other students and adults. Ellen Levine has done an excellent job of handling a harsh and consequential reality in a way that affects and absorbs younger readers.
related-secrets, schools, family life-Bronx,NY, United States politics and history, McCarthyism, Communism
RL=5th-adult

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2008.

After the death of their sickly master, Isabel and her sister Ruth are sold to a couple residing in New York City, at the outset of the American Revolution. They are promised freedom upon her death, so Isabel cannot accept their status. More difficult tasks fall to her, such as hauling water from a town pump and running errands, enabling her to meet other slaves in the community. A friend, who early on helps her in her distress, works for Patriots and asks her to pass on information within her household. Her household is staunchly Loyalist.

The story portrays the strife between factions and the change in power within the area. There is exploration of ideas of slavery and freedom. For example, the British announced that slaves of Patriots would be set free, but those of Loyalists would not be. Some, who might have helped Isabel in her plight, withheld support, because of strict rules on the subject. Isabel bides her time to achieve freedom, but is unsure of the best approach.

Isabel is a stronger character than slaves tend to be in novels. She tolerates the intolerable in order to protect her sister, but she does not accept her circumstances. She is conflicted regarding freedom versus the reality she lives. She has moments of independence and rebellion, but suffers consequences for them.

Isabel's strength and thought, the spying on the British, the power shifts, and the devastating fire and circumstances are aspects which show a different handling of the theme. Despite the subject, it is a light and compelling read.

Compare with M. T. Anderson's equally compelling, though heavy and dark, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Years ago, before I started reviewing books, I read The Spy by James Fenimore Cooper. This would also be a challenging read, but it offers yet another take on the Revolutionary period. Like Chains, The Spy is set in New York, but a different area, not in the city. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is set in the Boston area.

Chains is the 1st of a trilogy called Seeds of America. I'm excited about reading the next book Forge, and the 3rd Ashes is expected in 2014.

related-freedom, slavery, American Revolution, 1776, New York history, spying, United States history, African Americans
RL=YA

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
RL=YA-adult

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.
RL=4th-6th

Charlie's Raven by Jean Craighead George.
Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Young Readers Group: NY, 2004.
author of Julie of the Wolves Newbery Award 1973
& My Side of the Mountain Newbery Honor 1960

Charlie's Raven has a few themes running through it. Charlie is told a legend of ravens curing the sick. He steals a baby raven from a nest, so then must raise the wild bird. His grandfather is a naturalist and guides him in studying the behavior of ravens. Grandpa reminds him of the importance of observing and collecting data and not judging before having all of the facts. They collect data to try to determine if ravens are good or bad and also to see how raising a raven might impact the human community. Lastly, the story deals with serious illness and the deaths of loved ones in a gentle way.

The raven lore and antics are enjoyable. The scientfic study is a fresh approach to portraying conflicts between nature and people, and it is fascinating to think how the ravens and humans (or other animals) can interact and change each other's behavior.
related-ravens, wild pets, observation of nature, serious illness, death of relative or friend, scientific experimentation
RL=5th-8th

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett. il by Brett Helquist.
Scholastic Inc: NY, 2004.

Exciting and original, Chasing Vermeer connects several seemingly unrelated puzzles. It starts with 3 letters from an art thief who wants to revise the art history record regarding Johannes Vermeer. It continues with a teacher who sets her class to work on the puzzle without them knowing it is a real problem. Two of her observant, quick-thinking students follow clues from the beginning as they were prompted by an old author, Charles Fort, to watch for and question connections between unexplainable events. One of the students uses pentominoes to direct his thoughts and communicate with a friend. His friend has moved to New York with his stepdad, and they have a missing boy in the neighborhood.

Balliett's first novel is stimulating and fun-not the ordinary novel. It encourages the reader to think and look into the ideas presented. A very intriguing mystery and story.

related-Johannes Vermeer, art theft, coincidences, connections, unexplainable events, pentominoes, exploration of the letter as a form of communication, art history, art critics, Hyde Park-Chicago, John Dewey-University School, student-directed learning, art comparison, geometry, puzzles, mystery, detective stories
RL=5th-8th

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
RL=5th-YA

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
RL=5th-YA

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.
RL=6th-8th

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
RL=5th-8th

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.

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.

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
RL=YA-adult

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 Color of Absence: 12 Stories About Loss and Hope ed by James Howe.
Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2003.

This is a very strong collection of short stories, with many award winning writers. Emersive is the word I would use for the stories, despite being so short. I don't know if it is due to the caliber of the writers or perhaps that loss has a tendency to grab at your heart. Each story has an aspect, all varying, which is a hook to draw in the reader. In The Tin Butterfly by Norma Fox Mazer, it is Mim's not belonging and finding her haven to grow. In The Fire Pond by Michael J. Rosen, it is the trout in the pond. Reading Red Seven by C. B. Christiansen, I wanted to know more about Grandma and what caused the depression of the mom. For The Rialto by Jacqueline Woodson and Chris Lynch, I very much wanted to know how the difficult relationship situation was going to turn out. Reading their bio afterward, I was also intrigued by their writing process.

There is only one of the twelve that didn't really touch me. That is excellent for short story collections! While there tends to be something for everyone, it is much harder to have all of the stories impress someone, because the writers have widely varying styles and tastes in content. I do sometimes wonder if others' favorites within the collection are totally opposite mine.

related-dealing with loss, living & growing afterward, grief and grieving, learning to celebrate memories
RL=7th-adult

Stories included:
Summer of Love by Annette Curtis Klause
What Are You Good At? by Roderick Townley
Atomic Blue Pieces by Angela Johnson
The Tin Butterfly by Norma Fox Mazer
The Fire Pond by Michael J. Rosen
Chair: A Story for Voices by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Red Seven by C. B. Christiansen
Shoofly Pie by Naomi Shihab Nye
You're Not a Winner Unless Your Picture's in the Paper by Avi
Season's End by Walter Dean Myers
The Rialto by Jacqueline Woodson and Chris Lynch
Enchanted Night by James Howe

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
RL=4th-8th

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

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins.
Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2005.

Newbery Award Winner 2006

Perkins follows some teenagers as they connect with each other and miss possible connections. The teens are mostly on the verge of dating but not quite there. It is a thought-provoking novel that explores reasons for the missed connections, differences in perception regarding those moments, and what it means (or doesn't mean) if you don't connect. It also focuses on the heightened awareness of teens. There are some profound moments in the story, and yet the whole is handled in a light and musing manner.
related-identity, teens, relationships, volunteering, guitar
RL=7th-YA

Crossing Stones by Helen Frost.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2009.
Printz Honor Author

Muriel is an outspoken young woman grappling with the difficulties of life in rural 1917. Up until then, she has had her siblings and two best friends (a neighboring pair of siblings) for emotional support. After graduating, her friend Frank goes to Europe to fight in WWI, and her younger brother is considering following. Muriel's family is split on how it views the war, though it does not drive them apart. Her aunt goes to Washington, D.C. to picket for the Vote for women, and the third big topic of the book is the influenza epidemic. More central, but also more often portrayed, is Muriel's transition to adult responsibility and how she handles it. The burden of the household chores is thrust upon her when her mother takes a job in town. It takes an unusual and necessary experience, one her mother does not want, to propel her out of that role.

The story is told in flowing verse, short journal-like entries from three perspectives: Muriel, her brother Ollie, and her friend Emma's. The atmosphere is tense and fraught with emotion from beginning to end. The handling of the topic is good. Not too preachy, just characters' feelings and thoughts on how they are dealing with the issues themselves. The characters are all presented as loving people trying to figure things out, doing what they think they need to do. There is quite a bit of history packed into this little book. This is one of the best war related novels I have read. Maybe because it is all reactions to the war. Maybe because it is not the standard dialogue. It is deeply private reactions. It doesn't hurt that I agree with the lead character's view, but it is also not one-sided.

Also, I must say that this is the first place I have read/heard that the spread of the influenza of 1917 was a result of the war, instead of a big scary disease that is bound to be an epidemic. Afterward, my husband said that the U.S. outbreak started in a military hospital. In other words, it was brought over from Europe by numerous soldiers weakened by war conditions. Our citizens had not had previous exposure and were also living with war restrictions, enabling it to spread and injure people more readily. Add to that the fact that sanitation had not reached the whole of our country yet. I really dislike the use of the 1917 epidemic in stirring up fear regarding the flu, and I appreciate that this author is not using it for that purpose.

related-novels in verse, World War I, 1917, soldiers, friendship, family life, women's rights and issues, 20th century history, Michigan, United States, suffragettes
RL=YA-adult

The Danger Box by Blue Balliett.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2010.

I snatched up this book immediately since I enjoyed Balliett's art mysteries so thoroughly. This is another mystery with educational connection. Odd at first, because there are three story lines from the beginning which have no apparent connection. All three eventually diverge, but not until about halfway through the book. One of the stories is very strange - clues to a mystery person that I thought initially was imaginary. Instead, it is a historical figure with a delightful connection to the protagonist. Personally, I cheated. I looked at the back for some clue about authenticity and found a whopper of a revelation. The meaning of the book grew in proportion as a result.

The all-encompassing story follows a young boy Zoomy, raised by grandparents in a small town, who is legally blind and sees and adjusts to life differently from others around him. He develops his first non-family friendship with a summer visitor he meets at the library. They share the joy of research through the computer. Zoomy gains possession of a notebook written by someone much like himself, and the two friends research topics noted in the journal.

The intro speaks of a valuable package being shipped in a peculiar fashion. When the recipient dies, the package doesn't quite make it to its destination. The last carrier is drawn to Zoomy's town and mayhem ensues.

Zoomy's character is one of the best things about the book. His sight is discussed as a positive aspect, forcing him to move slower and more carefully but also ensuring that he sees things others don't. It is his reason for studying nature and part of his connection to the mystery person. That mystery is also a favorite part of the book. Zoomy and Lorrol collaborate on a newsletter project, with the content being clues to the person's identity.

Balliet has a knack for building anticipation, with so much going on in her novels at once. I love the educational connections! She has some of the very best mysteries, smart and challenging, with great personality. This one is a more standard mystery than the art mysteries, but with her usual flare and mind-blowing revelations.

Sequence order is shifted within the book making it harder to decipher clues.

related-mystery, history, science, physical disabilities or challenges, living with grandparents, family reunion, small towns, family businesses, high interest
RL=5th-adult

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool by Odo Hirsch.
Kane Miller/EDC Publishing: Tulsa, OK, 2010.
Originally published by Allen & Unwin Pty: Sydney, Australia, 2009.

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool is an unusual and refreshing read. The Bell family lives an alternate lifestyle in an otherwise commercial, modern society. It can afford to do so, because their estate was bestowed upon their ancestors by a grateful ruling class. Due to some jealous people among that group, restrictions were placed upon the holdiing of the estate. A gift must be given every 25 years to the town, and none of the estate can be used or sold for monetary gain.

Since centuries have passed, the family is lacking money, and parts of the estate are in disrepair. The Bells get by through the use of a barter system. They have several retainers who live on the land and use some of their resources in exchange for providing services (the cook, the farmer, the maintenance guy, etc). They are all friends and have time to pursue careers separately. It is similar to the medieval landlord/peasant setup, except that the retainers receive all of the profit and only a little is expected of them. Also, they have more freedom to leave and more choice in their lives. It is like a small community within the town's community.

Much of the book is taken up with the matter of the Gift. The leader of the town is spreading rumors about how spectacular the Gift will be, knowing that the Bells have no money for anything flamboyant. Any old gift will do, but Darius's father is unwilling to give something that will not uphold the family name.

Darius has stumbled upon something that he thinks will help solve their dilemma. He goes to great lengths to develop the idea, all the while keeping it a secret, as much as he can. Coming up on the eleventh hour, he thinks he has failed. One of his friends demonstrates that it need not be monetary, and he includes more people in the secret in order to pull it off.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The problem solving aspect is inspirational. I like to see a bit of nature and science employed as well. It may seem a little simplistic, but that works fine for the reading level.

related-community, sharing, social ideas, working together, geological formations, minerals, education, science
RL=3rd & up

The Dark Deeps by Arthur Slade.
2nd book of The Hunchback Assignments
Wendy Lamb Books/Random House: NY, 2010.

In this sequel, Modo works with a different agent, an infamous French spy. Both have been sent to New York to discover a coded secret, as has an agent of the Clockwork Guild. The code is latitude and longitude coordinates for an area near Iceland. There is a community of disenfranchised citizens who have banded together to form their own self-sustaining country, relatively unaffected by others. A key factor for survival is a steampunk submarine, given that their homeland is under the ocean. All three agents are shipwrecked, not together. Colette is saved by the subterranean inhabitants. Modo forces the hatch open to sneak onto the submarine, and Griff sneaks on when Modo pries open the hatch. Their mission then is to find a way off the submarine and collect information until that becomes possible. The Icarians are hostile and wrecking ships that come within their territory, because they have new technology and are afraid the empirical countries will attack them.

In this book, Modo's abilities are primarily his shape-changing. The others are played down. He seems to be confused much of the time also, rather than using his sharp detective skills. Maybe to provide a contrast to Colette and allow Griff to have the upper hand for a while.

Besides the undersea community, submarine and early electrical usage, another steampunk theme is invisiblity. Griff has been rendered invisible through tonics administered to him for years as he grew up. He sees himself as invincible and has the manic behavior that often goes with that thinking.

Because the story concentrates specifically on Modo's shapeshifting, the concept is explored a bit. When he cannot stay shifted, through exhaustion or injury, he is emotionally conflicted as well. It looks like there may be evidence that his appearance will not be an obstacle in having closer relationships, but the situation is clouded. His innocence is another aspect explored in the story. Does his innocence contribute to the negative situation? Will it be used as an Achilles heel by the Clockwork Guild as they gather more information about him, as they now know about his shapeshifting?

The reading level is lower than it needs to be. While it gives access to kids who are not voracious readers, it also can negatively impact the opinion of loyal readers. This particular story is interesting enough that good readers will read it anyway, but I find it an annoying trend that books that sound like they should be YA are more and more written with a low reading level. My children are being forced to read adult books to find literature that is not too low. Dumbing down the books isn't doing anyone a favor, as it takes reading challenges to get to the point that the reader can understand college level textbooks.

related-steampunk, detective and spy stories, metamorphosis, invisibility, submarines, underwater world, sci fi
RL=4th and up, content is more like 7th 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

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
Doubleday/Random House: NY, 2003.

This book created a sensation when it was published, as did the movie based on the book. I saw the movie first and wanted to know more. The movie follows the book closely with some changes nearing the end. The book is more clear about some points, such as the mastermind's reason for killing the leaders of the Priory of Scion and the reason why the suspicion of the police shifts away from the main characters. In the book, Sophie is truly the granddaughter of the Grandmaster of the Priory, but not in the movie. These things make the resolution of the book more clear. The movie is more fast paced, resulting in the monk's story being more clear.

The topic is, of course, sensationalistic. The Holy Grail and Mary Magdalene's bloodline. I do not have enough knowledge on the subject to know how much of the evidence is real. However, the story has been researched well. Bits and pieces are things I have heard speculation about for years, such as the difference between how the Church depicts Mary Magdalene and historical evidence. Also, it is true that medieval artists used pagan symbolism in their masterpieces. The story has a true ring to it, and enough is true to make it fascinating. How many fiction stories can you say prompt you to learn more? This one does.

The story is a strong and smart mystery. The symbolism and codes keep you hanging to the very end. I wanted to have more of a conclusion for the Priory, but it is fitting that there isn't. At least, we were given a glimpse of the Grail.

For those who don't already know the subject, I don't want to say too much. However, I suspect that those who are set in their religious beliefs and do now want to hear any conflicting ideas would hate the story. There is truth in it that would likely just anger them.

related-religion, history, religious symbolism, codes and language, secrets, Mary Magdalene, Jesus, search for the Holy Grail, treasure hunt, murder mystery, Opus Dei, Priory of Scion, Knights Templar, Masons
RL=adult

The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson.
Clarion Books: NY, 2009.

This book has such a cool title, I had to pick it up. It certainly doesn't sound like it should be anywhere near as sad as the subject is.

I wish that this book (or another like it) had been written sooner. The reason is that I had so little awareness of the regional war of which it deals. In the 1990s, I heard the region name (Kosovo) and Milosevic (the Serbian leader) and that the Serbs were slaughtering the citizens of Albanian descent. I didn't know that the Albanians were Muslim and the Serbs Christian, just that they had ethnic differences. Would more awareness have made a difference in our people's behavior after 9-11? I have to think knowing that Christians have massacred people recently would have caused a little more restraint regarding Muslims.

The story follows a family from the beginning of the killings, through the loss of their property and beating of their son, their time in a camp of resisters, times of family clinging together, a refugee camp when the Albanians were being expelled from the country, their decision to move to America and leave extended family behind, the actual move to the United States with the help of sponsors, and their adjustment period in Vermont. Another important factor is that within about a year's time of fleeing from their besieged homeland, they come face to face with war in their new home. As Muslims and strangers, they are confronted as if they were the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center (or just like them). The children's instinct is to flee, but their father demands they face their attackers. Confrontation initiates a process of discussion and a chance to learn who the family really is.

I believe the strengths of the book are the daily description of the family experiences, a witness to the refugee experience, and the father's insistence that violence and revenge are not the answer. The eldest son recognizes that most people think differently than his father, and especially after he is beaten, he cannot agree with his father, though he obeys as is his duty. They butt heads through most of the book, but the father is determined to keep the family together and his son out of a soldiers' camp. The son does eventually start to see that hate and revenge do not make sense. They just breed more hate and often in misplaced ways. In seeing this, he can start to heal and communicate with others again.

related-refugees, refugee camps, international aid, Muslims, Albanians, war in Kosovo 1998-1999, 20th century history
RL=6th & up

The Dead Drop by Jennifer Allison.
Gilda Joyce psychic detective
Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Group: NY, 2009.

Psychic investigator Gilda Joyce travels to her dream job in Washington, D.C. for the summer. Any job at the International Spy Museum would be thrilling. Luckily, a counselor for Spy Camp quits, and Gilda's enthusiasm convinces her superiors to give her a chance. She's determined to finish camp with the best trained team, even though her young age means she gets the youngest campers.

Gilda's curious and suspecting nature embroils her in an investigation of international espionage. She accidentally uncovers a dead drop (spy swap spot) in a cemetery, and there is no end to the suspicious activity all around her - flashing lights across from her apartment and a scowling woman staring at her, a known ex-spy's paranoid behavior, dreams of a dead woman warning her, a subway stalker. Gilda tries to keep it all to herself, but breaks down and confides in those around her. The stress is too much to bear alone, but with just a little help she can solve the riddle of her dreams and put to rest another ghost.

Gilda Joyce is a great female character. She has style and gumption, a knack for being in the thick of things, an inquisitive mind, an abundance of confidence, and perseverance when it comes to solving a mystery. This time there are two ghosts (one warning and one pointing the way) and also straightforward psychic activity, with which her psyche becomes entwined.

This book is even more exciting than the other Gilda Joyce book I read, The Ghost Sonata. The pace and anticipation are optimal. There are four so far, and I look forward to reading more.

related-detective stories and mysteries, strong female characters, psychic ability, dreams, spies, CIA agents, museums, Washington, D.C.
RL=4th-8th

Dear Ellen Bee: A Civil War Scrapbook of Two Union Spies by Mary E. Lyons & Muriel M. Branch.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2000.

Written in diary/scrapbook format, this novel seeks to round out the story of Elizabeth Van Lew and her freed slave Liza, who worked as a team passing Confederate information to Union troops hoping to ensure a speedy end to the Civil War. It is a fascinating portrayal of 2 women who have been credited for the importance of their assistance.

The real Elizabeth Van Lew did keep a scrapbook and diary, but much of the diary has been lost. Mary Elizabeth Bower (Liza) also kept an album which referred to a man named Davis (Jefferson Davis, who she worked for incognito), but it is believed to have been thrown away accidentally.

related-Elizabeth Van Lew of Richmond, Virginia, Mary Elizabeth Bower, slavery, abolitionists, Quakers, American Civil War, United States history, scrapbooks, diaries and journals, freeing of slaves, spies, espionage, women during the Civil War, education during the Civil War, Northern schools, 1861-1865
RL=5th-8th

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
RL=YA

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

Down the Rabbit Hole: An Echo Falls Mystery by Peter Abrahams.
Laura Geringer Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2005.

Ingrid goes into a woman's home to call a taxi when she becomes lost. Later the woman is found dead. Ingrid is afraid she will be the prime suspect when she realizes she left her cleats. She tries to discover the truth about the murder when she learns that the victim performed with the Prescott Players as she is in the current production. She plays the lead in Alice in Wonderland and feels just as trapped in craziness as Alice. The police chief is concerned about her behavior and asks her disturbing questions. Her algebra teacher has decided she cheats since she finally had a good grade. She, herself, is behaving in all sorts of unusual ways. Solving the mystery will mean an end to the craziness.

Abrahams has created lots of action and suspense with Ingrid popping up all over town in her search for the truth. Having read the sequel first, I know that he has also included connections to the sequel-particularly to her family.
related-murder, mystery and detective stories, Sherlock Holmes
RL=7th-YA

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


Dragonflight
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.

RL=YA-adult
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.
RL=6th-8th

The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2010.

From early years on, Neftali is passionate about observing and understanding life around him. He collects oddities: an old boot, a pine cone from the rainforest, dead bugs, even words that he writes on scraps of paper. Teased mercilessly by neighborhood children and criticized by his father, he remains steadfastly true to himself. His stepmother and siblings do support his individuality, and he becomes more his own person as he ages and gains confidence.

This poetical novel is based on the life of Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda from Chile. It is a testament to a strong personality and imaginative and intellectual growth. Peter Sis's drawings emphasize and enhance the imagination incorporated in the story. Together, the language and images create a magical mood. Neftali's trips to the rainforest and ocean are especially moving, but small things equally absorb Neftali's attention.

Muñoz Ryan also touches on the activism in which the poet becomes embroiled as a young fledgling journalist. Neftali's writings are an early step in standing up to his father. It brings him appreciation from others and places him under the tutelage of a loving and proud uncle/father figure. Journalism also opens a new world for him; one he cannot wait to explore.

The presentation (word and type) is targeted for young readers, though I think the content is as much young adult and there is interest for a wide range of ages.

related-observation of the natural world, writers and poets, education, interest in learning, biographical novel
RL=4th and up

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
RL=YA-adult

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
RL=7th-YA

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
RL=YA-adult

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2007.

My opinion of Elijah of Buxton is mixed. There is a quality of Curtis's that I truly enjoy. His writing is always engaging with characters that you know fully. The theme is always a conflict in life that has affected our past and still affects our present. There is a great story within the book. It starts way too slow, though. A reviewer at CleanReads noted that it took 2/3 of the story to get to the plot. I agree that this is true. For me this is too long. I was close to not finishing the book despite some of the entertaining details and my liking of the author.

The ending is great! I love that it is based on true events as well. The narrative is entertaining and gives a deep knowledge of Elijah and the free black community which is a haven for fugitive slaves. My two problems with the book are the short length of the plot and the fact that I dislike reading dialect. Not only is Elijah of Buxton's dialogue riddled with it, but so is the narrative. Maybe other people see it as richness of character and adding to the setting. I see it as unnecessary, and it disrupts the flow of the writing. The story has some wonderful moments (for ex. the difference and division between the US and Canada-both physically and in thought, the heartrending decision to save a child when Elijah wanted to do so much more), but it's not one of my favorites, and I don't think it deserves a Newbery. The Watsons Go To Birmingham is still my favorite of Curtis's books.
related-freedom, slavery, fugitive slaves, blacks, Canada, Canadian and American history, North Buxton, identity, heroes
RL=5th and up

Eli the Good by Silas House.
Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2009.

I was surprised when I could not find this book on any of the American Library Association's lists. It seems to me to have Newbery written all over it, an ultra-serious book with the poignancy of childhood details during a troubled time period. It's not even on the list for best YA books. It's certainly a subject many teens want to understand better considering we are still embroiled in wars.

It's 1976, the summer of the bicentennial, and though the Vietnam War is over, Eli's family is not over it. His father is having nightmare flashbacks, causing violent behavior he cannot control. His aunt is in town, stirring up emotions with her opposing views. His mom is caught in between, trying to calm the whole situation, though maybe that's impossible with his older sister acting out. His best friend is eaten up with pain and worry at the separation of her parents. Eli is 10, too young to be thinking about all this stuff. But he spends the summer spying on conversations and digging for more knowledge, because he has to know what's going on. His dad's episodes are moving beyond dreams, and he thinks it's his fault. He did a crazy, spontaneous thing that jolted his dad right back to Vietnam. It's a summer that's a turning point in the relationships of everyone concerned, explosive and revealing, yet cathartic, a point from which to move forward.

Despite the deep emotional turmoil, the book is largely a chronicle of remembrances of special moments which add up to the lasting friendships of the personalities. It is also a period book with many 70s references. Written from Eli's point-of-view, there is a strong connection to the nature around him, particularly the trees. Four characters speak of the trees. Music is another strong motif (dancing and singing together as well as several song references, the freedom and joy involved in both the singing and dancing). 10 may be a little young for coming of age, but in a way we see that in Eli. With so much emotional upheaval, one can't help but learn a bit of what's required for coping with the hardness of reality. Most of all what I like about the book is that it is an honest accounting of the coping. It's not a book contrived to portray issues. It feels like family and friends dealing with life and each other.

I don't have any idea for what level the book was meant. The subject to me is definitely young adult. 6th graders might be able to read it, but I doubt many would choose it. Maybe some that are more affected by the wars would. Though the perspective is Eli's, it really is from an adult looking back to his 10th summer.

related-family problems, friendship, best friends, post-traumatic stress disorder, Vietnam War, American Revolution Bicentennial, 1976, aunts
RL=8th and up

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
RL=YA

Encounter at Easton by Avi (Wortis).
William Morrow and Company, Inc.: NY. Originally published by Pantheon Books/Random House: NY, 1980.

This sequel to Night Journeys is told as court testimony from 4 points-of-view. Robert Linnly, the fugitive boy, is the focus. The girl with whom he is escaping is desperately ill, so he must plan how to cross the Lehigh River, get help for her, and provide food for them. John Tolivar, the master of the runaways, describes his hiring of Nathaniel Hill to pursue the girl. Mr. Hill is acting as a bounty hunter and describes his pursuit of Elizabeth Mawes and his dealings with the other characters. George Clagget is the constable in Easton whom Mr. Hill employs to help in apprehending Elizabeth. All 3 men claim their innocence and lawfulness in the calamitous circumstances that unfold. The story is emotionally moving and significant in that it shows the parallels between indentured servitude and slavery.
related-fugitive laws, eighteenth century, Pennsylvania, indentured servants
RL=6th-YA

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.
RL=YA-adult

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
RL=YA-adult

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
RL=YA-adult

The Ever-After Bird by Ann Rinaldi.
Harcourt, Inc: NY, 2007.

When CeCe's father dies, she joins her uncle Alex's household, traveling to Georgia with him and his assistant in pursuit of the scarlet ibis. The three visit plantation after plantation in search of the bird, and each place shows a different aspect of slavery in the pre-Civil War South. Uncle Alex is a physician and famous ornithologist, but he is also secretly circulating among the slaves and giving them aid, money, and information for following the Underground Railroad. To maintain their ruse, the black assistant, Earline, must pretend she is their slave traveling as CeCe's maid, a role most difficult for her.

CeCe's character is, I think, the strongest part of the book. She goes from being angry about her father's abolitionist behavior and ignorant of what slavery entails to shocked by circumstances on the plantations and finding some meaning for her own life. From not caring about the fugitives to putting her own body in harm's way to save someone else.

Uncle Alex's character is based on a Canadian physician and ornithologist, Dr. Alexander Ross, who did travel to plantations and circulate information for the Underground Railroad as in the book. I like the way Rinaldi uses a historical character or piece of an event as a starting point, and then creates her own protagonist to build a story. She uses real events in many places, and she has done this with several books. She does an excellent job of bringing historical times to life.

related-scarlet ibis, birds, slavery, Underground Railroad, Georgia, uncles, family, plantations, child abuse
RL=YA-adult

Every Man for Himself: Ten Short Stories About Being a Guy ed by Nancy E. Mercado.
Dial Books: NY, 2005.

Ten male YA authors offer stories of guys with difficult, real decisions to make, confronted by life with no guide. Flying by the seat of your pants decisions in crucial situations. There is no space wasted in this book. The stories are real and thought-provoking, not the standard safe topics. The characters are alive and sweating.

Walter Dean Myers writes about a star athlete's prom date, with the usual worries plus a race angle included. A white girl wins a date with him, and everyone appears to be watching. René Saldaña, Jr. submits a story of extreme high school bullying with his character pushing back. Paul Acampora's story reveals a young man's choice between bullying his kid brother, like he has been, or sharing a part of himself and being an anchor. David Lubar describes a relationship in which a girl's intention is to shock her parents, not realizing her dad is a shocker himself. The boy she uses only has a shocking exterior. Edward Averett's story stars a boy who's been sent to live with his grandma in the country because of a family situation. Pigs and the girl next door lead him through his troubles. Craig Thompson's entry is a graphic history and growing process of punk rock nerds and gamers. Mo Willems writes about a school for superkids. Bill Blaze the Unbeatable's only limitation is that hurting others hurts him. With a name like Unbeatable, everyone is out to get him. It is a story of betrayal and using your strength wisely. David Levithan describes two brothers living in different worlds. The older, who is gay, tests his parents to see if they accept him as he is. The younger not only accepts him but stands up to include him in the family again. Terry Trueman's protagonist is home alone and confronted by robbers who know who he is. He can either give in to their demands, possibly risking his life, or find away to scare them into backing off. Ron Koertge tells about a boy whose best friend (female) helps him through difficult times. He'd like to be more than friends, but their friendship is too important. When he finds his friend slipping away from him, he wishes he'd done things differently.

After the stories, there is a question and answer section with the authors about becoming men. The authors obviously took the questions seriously and gave some good answers. Some are usual responses, others geeky, and others about as real as you can get.

related-teenage boys, teenagers, interpersonal relations, short stories, identity, coming of age, difficult choices
RL=YA-adult

shorts, best2009, yahorizons Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass.
Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers: NY, 2008.

The concept of the book is amazingly interesting: a family creates a campground, developing it for years, with the idea of sharing a total solar eclipse with enthusiasts. Their whole life revolves around the celebration of astronomical events. Both the experienced and newbies come for this awesome, rare happening.

The story is told by three characters: Ally, the oldest daughter of the campground owners who is an expert on the topic and whose shared anticipation increases others' interest; Bree, whose only interest is in becoming a supermodel and learns to her horror that her parents have made the ill-advised decision to start managing the campground after the eclipse; and Jack, a loner, failing his science class, whom his science teacher (a volunteer astronomer of some repute) asks to aid him with an experiment and management of the trip. The three make unlikely friendships and grow through the whole experience. They face situations they can't comprehend dealing with, and they support each other with the difficulties. They learn to see themselves in ways they hadn't considered before.

The story depicts astronomy in a way that is accessible and appealing. This fact in itself is unusual. How many books pique the reader's interest enough to learn more? - and still fewer related to science. There are a number of details related to the viewing of the planets, stars, moon, and total eclipses. The description of the total eclipse makes me want to know more and maybe see one. I had no idea it could be so interesting. It's amazing to think that people spend much of their lives (at least their vacations) traveling to the spots of perfect viewing. If nothing else, it makes me want to pull out a telescope or pair of binoculars.

So, Wendy Mass's book is successful in two endeavor's at least: igniting interest in astronomy and sharing a convincing glimpse of teenage personal growth. There are also some unique moments incorporated in the story. I especially enjoyed Jack's tale.

related-solar eclipses, friendships, coming of age
RL=7th-YA, also of interest to adults

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.
Farrar Straus Giroux:NY, 2001.

Newbery Honor Award 2002

Primrose's (11 yrs old) parents are lost at sea. Living in a small fishing village in British Columbia, she holds the belief that her parents will be back. She learns to deal with interpersonal relationships (especially with adults) as she waits. She also finds refuge in a restaurant with a unique style.
related-real estate development, foster care, unfailing belief in the unprovable
RL=5th-8th

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.
Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2009.
Newbery Honor 2010

Little does Callie know that 1899 is her last summer of freedom. Busy with their own affairs, the rest of the family doesn't pay much attention to her odd behavior, her comings and goings, granted that might be because she does a fair bit of sneaking around. Her observations of nature during her jaunts to the river to cool off are the start of a new relationship with her grandfather, a grandfather everyone avoids for his grouchiness and contrariness. She tries to view a controversial book at the library, the librarian harasses her about the immorality of the book, and then she learns her grandfather has a cherished copy under lock and key. This is the moment she is invited into his inner sanctum, and her interest spurs him to guide the broadening of her education in their small Texas town. The book is The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.

When she starts school again, Callie's friendship with her grandfather is well underway, but her mother and teacher conspire to force her education in the womanly arts - sewing, cooking, demeanor, etc. Given the time period, there is only so much the grandfather can do to balance this burden being heaped upon her. Her time is being consumed by things she abhors, things she can't do well and doesn't want to do well. It undermines her belief in her friendship with her grandfather, and she is afraid then that her dreams are beyond her reach as a female. She already knows that she doesn't fit in, but it was a special thing to have her grandfather's admiration and encouragement.

This is a wonderful detailed account of small town life on the verge of the twentieth century. Even more it is a day-to-day description of the girl's observations, natural and social, and progress regarding her scientific learning. Callie and her family's excitement to learn about inventions such as wind machines (fans), automobiles, and telephone operation, and Callie's reaction to molecules under a microscope are an enjoyable experience from the 21st century perspective.

I love the book! My reading experience was similar to when I read Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Coincidentally, The Origin of Species was a part of that book also, but my enjoyment had to do with the quality of the writing. The details are superb, as well as the enjoyment of everyday exploration. Darwin's book is not the central part of either book, but it does play a role in the education of the children, namely education through observation of life and thinking about those observations.

related-nature, grandfathers, family life, naturalists, Texas, 19th century, turn of the century, Darwin's influence, education
RL=6th and up

Face Relations ed by Marilyn Singer.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2004.

This book includes 11 short stories about seeing beyond color. There is a wide variety of prejudicial aspects, as well as a broad range of perspectives.

The coolest and one of the saddest is The Heartbeat of the Soul of the World by René Saldaña Jr., in which a student learns the transcendent spirit present in different styles of music from musicians of dissimilar backgrounds. The boy and his teacher become close friends. A rare, intuitive moment squashed by a random senseless act. Still, if one student can acknowledge the lesson, others will also.

In Hum by Naomi Shihab Nye, a blind man befriends a Palestinian living in West Texas when the boy feels ostracized after the events of 9-11. They discuss many issues, and the man even encourages Sami to start a dialogue group at school in which he can converse with other students looking for open communication.

Epiphany by Ellen Wittlinger deals with a problem that bothered me in my high school - students separated into ethnic groups in the cafeteria. A white girl is determined not to lose her best friend when they start middle school just because she is black. Her friend wants to be a part of the circle of black students, so DeMaris decides to insert herself at the lunch table to be with her friend, embarrassing Epiphany, and making waves with her open attitude.

In Mr. Ruben, Dee tries to set up a date between her friends Myra and Shaheed while Myra moons over their math teacher. Myra is obsessed with the possibility that Mr. Ruben might be partially black. Dee suggests a way for them to discover the truth.

Negress by Marilyn Singer is probably the most agitative of the stories. As senior students prepare their exit presentations, Vonny (black) chooses a racially confrontational reenactment and expects Beth (white) to do it with her. Beth has difficulty explaining why she is unwilling to do the project, but then relents after hearing other students laughing about their situation. But a change must be made before she will participate, and neither one predicts the emotions evoked.

These are the five that impressed me the most, but I'm sure that is partly because of my own experiences. Some of the stories I would have liked to see extended. Like usual, I want to read more of what these authors have written. Some I already have, like Joseph Bruchac. I love that there is a section at the end that discusses the authors, their works, and their included stories. And this is the book that prompted me to aggregate a list of short stories from several books that I think deserve more attention.

Also included in the book, Phat Acceptance by Jess Mowry deals with stereotypes of fat, black, and beach bums and how to navigate school while trying to be accepted by the crowd. Skins by Joseph Bruchac depicts a boy who wants to appear more Native American and another who looks the part and is ashamed of his pretense. Snow by Sherri Winston explores segregation and favoritism within a mostly black school, variations within the black community with black people treating foreign black people in the same prejudicial ways they have been treated. In the case of the principal, it is for political and ambitious reasons. Black and White by Kyoko Mori is about a Japanese girl who is pressed by her mother to be perfect for fear that the community might be blamed for local problems otherwise. At the same time, one of her friends is pushing her to comply with a delinquent act. M. E. Kerr describes two relationships (different age groups) between couples from different backgrounds in Hearing Flower. The bigger issue is the relationship of Mexican immigrants and the older residents in the area and what changes have been made in the community. Gold by Marina Budhos is about mixed relationships and mixed ancestry, in particular, a girl from Trinidad of black and Indian (from India) descent. Also involved is the level of respect within relationships.

RL=YA-adult

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

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson.
G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Group: NY, 2007.
Newbery Honor Award 2008

Frannie is contemplating a poem by Emily Dickinson when a new boy joins the class. The situation is disruptive in two ways - the new boy appears to be white (in an all black neighborhood and school) and he also looks and behaves a bit like Jesus. The classroom bully is affronted and confrontational from the first moment on. The new guy is christened Jesus Boy and makes waves wherever he goes. He does not back down and responds with sadness. Frannie's religious, best friend is sure he is Jesus. Because she wants him to be, it gives her hope in a neighborhood lacking hope.

Frannie makes a connection with the new boy through their common usage of sign language. Her older brother is deaf, so she grew up with the language. The Jesus Boy doesn't know how he knows it. He just does.

There is a bit of surface tension in the novel. Frannie is observing mostly, not willing to judge. The inevitable confrontation helps her to see things below the surface, allowing her to offer help when others wouldn't, spurring her to see life and people a little differently.

My first impression was of the shortness of the book. Then, it had a very different feel, so it took some acclimating. But I like the contemplation of the book. Granted, it would be more appealing to people wanting to think about life, the universe, spiritual growth, etc. I love that stuff and truly enjoy moments of discussion and revealing thought. It is a very short book. Possibly a good choice for book clubs. It has a very light treatment of religion.

The teacher assigns two writing exercises near the end. With a class reading, these could easily be lesson extensions. One would work for a social studies class as well.

related-race relations, African Americans, schools, deaf, religion, family life, hope, teaching tolerance, 1970s
RL=7th and up, others say younger, but it seems mature to me, maybe younger (4th even) for those forced to deal with prejudice at an early age

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


Ultra-condensed
  • 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
    RL=YA-adult

    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
    RL=YA-adult

    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
    RL=7th-adult

    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
    RL=YA

    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
    RL=YA-adult

    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.

    RL=YA

    The Fire-Eaters by David Almond.
    Delacorte Press/Random House Children's Books: NY, 2003.

    On the brink of war, Bobby Burns truly appreciates the wonders of his world. He hopes for miracles in a situation that seems hopeless. He must decide how far he is willing to go to right a wrong. What would we be willing to risk to stand against what we know to be wrong? Can a fight against what is wrong turn into something pointless or a wrong itself?
    related-Cuban Missile Crisis, World War II, school, labor, miracles
    RL=7th-YA

    Firehorse by Diane Lee Wilson.
    Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2006.

    The language mirrors the story with its galloping prose. It is fraught with metaphors of constraint-being forced into stillness. The choice of words for the descriptions are tangible and exciting with the story bursting forth-pulling forward just as the Governor's Girl (the firehorse) does.

    Forced to move to Boston and leave her horse behind, Rachel is consumed with depression. The need to protect another horse pulls her back into the life around her.

    This awesome story includes an account of the Great Boston Fire of 1872 based on newspaper articles and a girl's diary. It draws parallels between the firehorse and Rachel, who cares for her when she is terribly burned. Together they find redemption, but what spirit they must have to follow their callings in the 19th century!

    related-veterinary practice, gender roles, horses, arson, family life, Boston Massachusetts-history, historical fiction, women's rights and choices
    RL=7th-YA

    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 Boy by Gary Schmidt.
    Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2005.

    Cooper is raised by his grandparents on their dairy farm. After they die of natural causes strange things start happening. There are black sedans driving slowly around their tiny town, and that's just the beginning. His way of life is at risk.

    After reading Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, I immediately searched for other books by Gary Schmidt. I wasn't excited by the description of First Boy, but I was not disappointed by the book. Schmidt's descriptions of his characters-their feelings and their daily lives-are insightful. The book is as much about who Cooper is as it is about the storyline.
    RL=6th-adult

    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

    Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith.
    G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Group: NY, 2008.

    The story follows a young black woman through WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) training and assignments. Having learned to fly with her father on their farm, Ida Mae Jones must help the war effort (WWII) in the most meaningful way she can.

    Besides the in depth description of the women pilots' lives, Ida Mae's story depicts a young woman's struggle with passing as white. Her situation is illegal, not to mention a rejection of her family and lying to all her close friends. She feels like she is two different people. People whose paths cannot cross. Do her motives justify her actions? How can she continue, knowing that she cannot share her amazing accomplishments with people back home or her true identity with those around her?

    I loved this book and didn't want to put it down. Ida Mae Jones is fictional, but she is so real her story seems biographical. It wasn't until I read the author's note that I knew for sure she wasn't real. She is a great character - intelligent, independent, adventurous, empathetic, loyal, with quiet strength. If you're looking for strong female characters, she is one of the best. WWII is discussed with a different perspective than usual, and the treatment of both the women's and black issues is handled well.

    related-Women Airforce Service Pilots, U.S history, World War II, female pilots, African-Americans, identity, 1939-1945, dual life, strong female characters
    RL=YA-adult

    In the first part of a series of interviews on race issues for America.gov, Sherri L. Smith talks about the issue of passing, not just as white.

    Following Fake Man by Barbara Ware Holmes.
    Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2001.

    What an excellent book! I found it looking for mysteries. It is just what I wanted - not the standard mystery. It is layered with concepts. The first to be revealed is the family secret being hidden from Homer about the father he doesn't remember. Then, the mystery of Fake Man, disguised and sneaking around the tiny town of Herring Cove. Homer's life changing as a result of making a friend and pursuing both mysteries. Also, the idea of what it is to be an artist. All four of these themes are what make the book.

    Homer is a great character. One of the best things about the book is how convincing his thoughts and feelings are, and their depth. He undergoes a huge personal transformation, made possible by the excitement of a new place and the awareness that he can learn about his father without his mother, by asking townspeople who might have known him. Homer starts out as closed-up as his mother, but his friendship and what he learns pries his clamshell wide open. He also has some profound insights regarding his life and his drawing. I enjoyed Homer's pure enjoyment of exploring the town and his new friendship.

    The suspense of the mysteries is carried well throughout the book. Possibly due to there being more than one, and the linking of them builds excitement throughout the story.

    The format of the book is a little different. There are brief chapters that provide perspectives besides Homer's. This disrupts the flow but also adds to the story. I'm not crazy about the graphic ones, though, with the silly comments. I believe this was done to lighten a story which becomes a little heavy/depressing at the end. These inserts seemed goofy to me and interrupted an otherwise great story. It's possible it was done for a young audience. The story is accessible to 4th and 5th graders, but because of the major theme of Homer's father's death, I would say older is better.

    related-father, artists, mystery and detective stories, Maine, identity, friendships, spying, boys, adventure, high interest
    RL=7th and up

    Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2005.

    Dylan's family owns the gas station in a quiet Welsh town known for having the least crime. Their business is failing because the road leads to nowhere and there is no exit sign along the highway. The National Gallery of Art decides to store paintings in the local abandoned slate mine to protect them from flooding in London.

    This story is a quirky accounting of how the paintings transform the lives of all of the townfolk. The Gallery representative sees Dylan as a fellow art lover and lets him in on the secret not realizing it is too big of a secret to be kept. The official expects little appreciation from the less educated community, but the incredible art brings out the best in the people. Much of the story is comical with some great inspirational moments.
    related-auto maintenance and repair, art galleries, business enterprise, family life, separation, Wales, eccentrics

    RL=4th-YA

    Free?: Stories About Human Rights by different authors for Amnesty International.
    Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2010.
    First published by Amnesty International UK in 2009.

    In 1948, the United Nations agreed upon the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It states thirty basic human rights to which all individuals on Earth are entitled. Each story in the collection portrays one of them. These stories by acclaimed authors deal with issues such as peer coercion, slavery, equal rights, refugees, acquiring basic necessities, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, peace and order, among others.

    A couple are written in verse. One as an interview.

    Some are more serious or heavy than others. Some are even uplifting like the last one. Set in the grimness of the Gaza conflict, a boy sends kite peace offerings across the Wall to the Israeli children. More than a hundred of them, and the children finally respond to his messages. Michael Morpugo's No Trumpets Needed is beautiful, especially the description of the kites and children. I like the other stories, too. But this particular one has caught me.

    The stories are very short, but I would recommend it for anyone interested in social issues and anyone craving more short stories. It maybe could be used in middle or high school history classes as well as discussion or essay starters.

    related-human rights and privileges, freedom, United Nations, Amnesty International
    RL=8th and up

    Frindle by Andrew Clements.
    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 1996.

    This is a humorous example of the spread of words from creation to popularity. A language lesson that Nick finds boring inspires him to create a new word in order to challenge his teacher. He carries the joke too far (partly because of her response), and the situation goes beyond his control.
    related-words and language, schools, teacher/student relationships, creativity, thinking and learning
    RL=3rd-6th

    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.

    Ultra-Condensed
    • 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.
    RL=YA-adult

    Geektastic ed by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci.
    Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 2009.

    Herein resides short stories from a host of authors proudly proclaiming their geek status. Each story is set off by a comic of varying nerdy context.

    My overall impression of the stories is the overwhelming passion with which these stories have been written. They seem very real and personal to their authors. There are way too embarrassing moments, situations of excruciating personal growth, and even some geeky accomplishments to be proud of. My favorites feature a Cyrano character, a cheerleader fully trained in geekspeak, a role playing gamers meetup, a fan's surprise visit to an author, a blind date for a stepsister, a quiz bowl competition, a knight incognito, and a personal competition sans stargazer gathering.

    If you view yourself as a geek, you're likely to find a home within the pages. Certainly, if pop culture places you within that realm. The underlying threads are crosscultural, as the cheerleader will attest. If not, you may be curious to see what makes them tick. Their hearts are exposed here, as well as weaknesses they'd rather not claim. Peeking within the world where they feel safest, you'll likely never believe the robotic stereotype again. There is too much passion here for it to be true.

    related-Holly Black, Cecil Castellucci, Tracy Lynn, Scott Westerfeld, Cassandra Clare, M.T. Anderson, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, David Levithan, Garth Nix, Lisa Yee, Kelly Link, John Green, Barry Lyga, Sara Zarr, Wendy Mass, Libba Bray, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Hope Larson
    RL=YA-adult

    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
    RL=6th-9th

    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
    RL=6th-YA


    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
    RL=6th-YA

    Gilda Joyce Psychic Detective by Jennifer Allison.
    Dutton Children's Books/Penguib Group: NY, 2005.

    Introducing Gilda Joyce - an ambitious 8th grader, ready to start her career as a psychic detective and novelist. School's out for the summer. Her best friend Wendy is going to music camp, and Gilda's plans for the summer are foiled before they start. Angling for a spectacular summer adventure, Gilda invites herself to her uncle's (an uncle she hadn't known she had) Victorian home in San Francisco, complete with locked tower and hauntings.

    She has her work cut out for her: communicating with relatives not in the habit of fraternizing with anyone, extracting information regarding the mysterious events including the past death of her uncle's sister. Meanwhile, Gilda also uses this opportunity to try to contact her deceased father, reasoning that a haunted house is the perfect place to connect with spirits in the hope that one will be her father. It is her desire to reach her dad that drives her to study and practice psychic phenomenon.

    Her cousin Juliet is suffering from her own losses. When her aunt Melanie died, her father withdrew from her. Not only did she lose her beloved aunt, but her parents split up, and her father allows no discussion of her aunt. Gilda's influence may help to heal the rift between them. But there are many obstacles to their efforts to work together in solving the mystery of Melanie's ghostly visits. One factor is Juliet's rejection of friendship offered; another is Gilda's clueless pushiness.

    Gilda is an interesting character, and the story is a twist on the standard mystery. Like Nancy Drew, Gilda is the passionate, overeager detective, though less perfect and much wackier. She is smart, and even approaches psychic practices in a methodical manner. Her goal is to establish her career, and she very much wants to be taken seriously.

    I read the later books first. Gilda's character will be more developed and mature in the other books. All of the stories that I've read in the series are imaginative and entertaining, with The Dead Drop being my favorite so far.

    related-detective stories and mysteries, strong female characters, psychic ability, dreams, ghosts, cousins, suicide, fathers and daughters, family problems, San Francisco, CA, humorous stories
    RL=5th-8th

    Girls Against the Boys by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

    It's the four Hatford boys against the three Malloy girls. They exhibit great imagination in the pranks they play against each other. The feud starts when the Malloys temporarily move into the Hatfords' friends' house as Mr. Malloy substitutes as coach for the local university.


    The Boys Start the War
    The Girls get Even
    Boys Against Girls
    The Girls' Revenge
    A Traitor Among the Boys
    A Spy Among the Girls
    The Boys Return
    The Girls Take Over
    Boys in Control
    Girls Rule
    Boys Rock
    Who Won the War?

    RL=3rd-5th Give Me Liberty by L. M. Elliott.
    Katherine Tegan Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2006.

    Nathaniel Dunn is an indentured servant recently arrived in the American colonies from England who has been separated from his father and sold. He becomes apprenticed to a carriage maker who is trying to hold his business together in Virginia as the Revolution develops. His master is a tutor who cannot afford to keep a servant and who passionately believes in the heros of the times-Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Peyton Randolph, and others.

    I enjoyed the chance to read about the Virginian point-of-view for a change. I did not already know the facts involved in the story. There is also a comparison of slavery and indentured servants which is thought-provoking. I especially enjoyed the schoolmaster's character.

    related-American Revolution, Revolutionary heros, indentured servants, freedom, music, history of Virginia, 18th century, 1775, embargo, historical fiction
    RL=5th and up

    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
    RL=YA

    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
    RL=YA-adult

    The Goldsmith's Daughter by Tanya Landman.
    Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2008.

    Itacate's family is one of change in Tenochtitlán, ruling city of the Aztec Empire. At her and her twin's births, great change was foretold. For her brother Mitotiqui, victory; for Itacate, doom to their community. As she grew, she became determined to prove the priests and gods wrong. Her parents before her bucked the system. Her mother was raised by peasant farmers, her father by a privileged goldsmithing family. Her father was ostracized for marrying her mother but retained his trade. From that time on, he chose to live apart from other tradesmen, keeping to himself, even when his wife died in childbirth. The kids were raised largely by a faithful housekeeper.

    As the story begins, Itacate is of an age to be pressed into household chores. When given the task of baking, she molds the bread into figurines until it is barely fit for consumption. Her jealousy of her brother's goldsmithing apprenticeship really kicks in when she becomes trapped into weaving cloth, a tiring task that she abhors. When he shows her his first finished piece of jewelry, she tells him what's wrong with it. Her father overhears and is impressed by her knowledge, so he goes against custom and allows her to start her own apprenticeship. She has a natural talent that he lacks. Mitotiqui becomes jealous of the praise from their father, and in a fit, offers himself up for sacrifice to the gods in a year's time. He is removed from their household in preparation for the ceremony at the spring festival.

    While Itacate and her father are reeling from the impending sacrifice, unforeseen events start to occur. There are strangers in the land that make their way to the city of Tenochtitlán. The people first hear about it through rumors, disturbing rumors of conquered lands. When the strangers arrive (led by Cortés), Montezuma (the Aztec king) allows them into the palace unchallenged. Montezuma becomes the prisoner of the Spanish visitors. Itacate loses her heart to one of the Spaniards. The people of Tenochtitlán are so used to Montezuma's commands and pronouncements it takes them a while to respond to the takeover of their city.

    Because of the prophesy at her birth, Itacate wonders if the current events are a result of her disobedience of the gods. Besides her participation in a craft forbidden to women, she also rages against the gods for her brother's predicament. Then, she is embroiled in a huge deception regarding goldsmithing for Montezuma. No good can come of this behavior. In a culture that relies heavily on the idea of sacrifice to appease gods, is it any wonder she feels responsible for the catastrophic events? Her relationship with Francisco and the fact that the all-powerful Montezuma has been overcome help Itacate to reject that thinking.

    There are many parallels to Landman's I Am Apache. They have similar themes, though different times, places and cultures. Both have an independent female protagonist in a nontraditional role. Both have an unusual setting at a time of great transformation due to European conquerors.

    Landman has done an excellent job of recreating the Aztec's community. The story is soaked with the sacrificial burden. Oddly, Itacate questions a society that seems to leave little room for questioning and noncomformity. But it would be difficult to read of the culture without a character doing so. Landman depicts Montezuma as the ruling authority. Even the priests bow to him, as he commands the empire's soldiers. The empire spans a large enough area that the people are convinced by Montezuma that it encompasses the whole world. So it is all the more frightening to learn of conquerors, from they know not where. The imprisonment of Montezuma surely means they have lost the favor of their gods.

    The goldsmith's craft lends an air of magic and allows a gateway to the palace for Itacate. It is also the reason for the Spanish takeover and obsession.

    I like the ending, with Itacate and Francisco escaping to start new lives separate from the Aztecs and Spanish, as many would have done. I enjoyed reading about the Aztec culture, and I am glad there was no attempt to tie the story into the 2012 ending of the calendar. Instead, it focuses on the destruction of the city of Tenochtitlán on the verge of Spanish rule.

    related-Aztecs, 16th century Mexico, conquistadors, Aztec gold, goldsmiths, strong, independent female character, nontraditional gender role
    RL=YA-adult

    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

    Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz. il by Robert Byrd.
    Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2007.
    Newbery Medal 2008

    What a nice way of presenting details of Medieval history and daily life! When I first looked in the book, I noticed the poetry format and thought it was going to be harder to read, dragging, maybe not something kids would pick for themselves. Maybe they wouldn't. But the book is fresh and alive. The text is loosely poems, mostly sounding like speech. They are 19 monologues and 2 dialogues, meant to be performed. The 2 dialogues are blended, sounding similar to Paul Fleischman's Joyful Noise. It is as if the personalities stepped out of time to discuss their lives, their concerns.

    The characters are all young people, between 10 and 15 years old. They represent different aspects of the Medieval village and give a realistic image of the times. There are also a few excerpts further explaining some points and a lengthy bibliography for more reading or study.

    Schlitz is a librarian who wrote the pieces for a Medieval unit study at her local school. The students all wanted strong parts, so she complied.

    This would be a great choice for Readers Theater, too.

    The presentation of the book is reminiscent of illuminated books, with borders and small detailed pictures on all title pages and larger ones here and there.

    related-Middle Ages, monologues, plays, trades, society and social issues
    RL=4th-8th

    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.
    RL=7th-YA

    Goosed! by Bill Wallace. il by Jacqueline Rogers.
    Holiday House: NY, 2002.

    Goosed! is from the perspective of T.P., a dog very comfortable in his home with parents and his buddy Jeff. One summer day, Jeff is acting peculiar. He announces to his parents that a puppy will be staying with them. T.P. doesn't understand until a box is opened the next day and a wee yapping dog comes out with too much energy and questions. T.P. and the cat Cord are forced to adjust to the puppy through the following week.

    The dog's description of everything is interesting and would certainly be enticing to a young reader. There is regular action through the book, one thing after another happening. A good thing to keep easily distracted readers reading. The story is good. It has more besides just the description to keep it moving, and it does not feel forced. I like T.P.'s character. Would have liked more development of the cat.

    The chapters are short, so not much beyond beginning reader level.

    related-bird dogs, Labrador retrievers, pets, cats, animals, chapter books
    RL=1st-2nd

    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 Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages.
    Viking/Penguin Group: NY, 2006.

    Dewey Kerrigan and Suze Gordon are misfits on The Hill. Suze tries too hard to fit in, and Dewey goes her own way, mostly ignoring everyone else, as she creates her mechanical projects. When Dewey's dad is called to Washington, D.C., she moves in with Suze's family. After a few problems, they come to understand each other and even become friends.

    The setting is the Manhattan Project. The girls parents are working on the development of the atom bomb. Klages has done a very good job of placing the characters at Los Alamos during the 1940s. There is a feeling of the importance of the work, but the story barely touches on the horrors of the atom bomb and the moral questions related to it.

    The depth of feeling regarding the girls' characters is excellent. Dewey has major difficulties to face. Plus, she is an extraordinary girl at a time when girls were expected to do girlish things. There are also some enjoyable extras such as codes, comics, and Dewey's gadgets.

    related-World War II, Los Alamos, Manhattan Project, 1940s, loss of parents, friendship, girls, invention, atom bomb, nuclear weapons, fission, United States history, scientists, historical fiction
    RL=6th-YA

    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

    Guys Read: Funny Business ed. by Jon Scieszka.
    Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins: NY, 2010.

    This book is the first volume of short stories of the Guys Read Library. Each volume will focus on a particular genre. This one is humorous stories. Guys Read is a website started by Jon Scieszka to promote reading among young boys.

    As with all short story collections, I have a few favorites. The first is Artemis Begins by Eoin Colfer, a story about Colfer's brother, the inspiration for Artemis Fowl. Kid Appeal by David Lubar includes an attempt at the best school project. I love the project gone horribly wrong, but recorded for posterity. Kate DiCamillo and Jon Scieszka's entry, Your Question For Author Here, is one of the best. A boy writes to an author for a class project, even though he didn't read her books. He is candid, but she doesn't let him off easy, and a real conversation ensues. A Fistful of Feathers by David Yoo has an ironic twist. For all of the boys out there who don't want to do exactly what there dads like or fit the expected societal mold. Have to admit I was wondering about the turkey's thoughts myself (a little creepy).

    For those looking for grotesqueties, The Bloody Souvenir by Jack Gantos might be your thing. A boy seduced by danger and hiding it from his mother operates on himself with nasty consequences. My Parents Give My Bedroom To a Biker by Paul Feig is an odd tale. I like the beginning, but the explanation for the scenario is goofy to me. It may be just right for young boys, though. Christopher Paul Curtis's What? You Think You Got It Rough? is also not something I cared for, but I could see boys cringing and loving it. Unaccompanied Minors by Jeff Kinney is a prime example of sibling rivalry and harassment, lasting into adulthood. Will by Adam Rex features a school with superheroes-to-be, a perennial favorite. Best of Friends by Mac Barnett has two boys that are friends by default with one of them bailing in the end. It also includes one boy using a prize to solicit new friends.

    There are some creative and bizarre stories in this collection. Just a few laugh out loud moments, but you'll find yourself laughing, or at least smirking(snickering), at the strangest antics.

    related-humorous stories, short stories, comedy, boys, promotion of literacy, friends, families, school, trouble
    RL=3rd-7th

    Half a Pig by Allan Ahlberg. il. Jessica Ahlberg.
    Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2004.

    Here we have a case of a stolen pig and how the pignappers were caught. There is lots of adventure, directions, enjoyable words, and lovely pictures.
    RL=1st-2nd

    Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel.
    Scholastic Press: NY, 2010.

    Ben Tomlin's family moves from Toronto to Victoria, because they have one of the few universities that would welcome the experiment Ben's parents intend to pursue. On his 13th birthday, his mom brings home his new brother - Zan, a baby chimpanzee. The goal is to attempt to raise the chimpanzee as a human. His father's focus will be solely on human language and whether Zan will be able to use words in a cognitive and creative fashion. His mother plans to observe how closely a chimpanzee can learn and think as a human. Will the nurturing make all the difference, or will there still be a key part of Zan that will always be chimpanzee? The conflicting experiments are interesting in that they do interfere with each other. It turns out the nurturing is very important, and Ben's mother's experiment is highly disrupted by changes in that care. When push comes to shove, with a new grant needed and withheld, evidence is ignored, the project terminated, and Zan is treated unfairly.

    As you can imagine, Ben did not originally want a chimpanzee brother. But he does become part of the family. Not because of the household revolving around Zan, which it does, but because Zan interacts with him as a brother would. The language experiment works, and Ben is one of just a few people to fully watch it happen. In the process, he is a key part of his mother's research, which also is revealing of the nature vs nurture argument relating to human development.

    Ben's family dynamic is on display as much as Zan's growth. Zan's needs run counter to what Mr. Tomlin deems necessary for the experiment, which pits Ben against his father in trying to ensure what Zan needs. At the crux of the matter is the fact that the family situation is a lie. The father never sees the chimpanzee as a son, in fact is not even closely involved in Zan's world. Arbitrary judgements are made without regard to evidence to the contrary, and it is excruciating to watch while Zan's world falls apart. Ben and his mother are forced to observe helplessly.

    Two other books, though very different, to read and compare are NEXT by Michael Crichton and Eva by Peter Dickinson.

    related-language recognition and usage, language skills, experiments with animals, nature vs nurture, human and animal behavior and development, family dynamic, critical choices, anthropology
    RL=7th and up

    Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer.
    Miramax Books/Hyperion Books for Children: NY, 2006.

    Fletcher Moon, the youngest certified detective in the world, is on his first real case. When his investigations lead him towards the truth, he is framed along with a boy from THE crime family in town. They team up to solve the case with a little undercover work thrown in.

    This book is totally different from the other Colfer books giving it a new texture. It has imaginative twists and will keep you guessing until the end. Excellent mystery for beginners.
    note: author of acclaimed Artemis Fowl series
    RL=4th-8th

    Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley by Ann Rinaldi.
    Harcourt Brace & Company: Orlando, FL, 1996.

    Ann Rinaldi gets right to the heart of the matter in this story of the first black poetess. She is abducted in Senegal at age seven and sold in Boston to John Wheatley. Taken in, educated, and petted by the Wheatleys, she is still kept as property for many years-even after she proves her worth as a poet. The heir of the family, Nathaniel, teaches and befriends her, but also betrays her again and again with his controlling behavior.

    Phillis lived through the American Revolution. Her masters were merchants who stayed neutral as long as possible for business reasons. She traveled to England to have her work published and met Benjamin Franklin, who told her she could be free if she chose. She opted instead to return and care for her grievously ill mistress.

    Rinaldi's novel is a psychological study of the turmoil Phillis must have felt being raised as "a member of the family" with constant reminders that she was only a slave. Another element is introduced with the hero worship/infatuation the girl feels for the older and more knowledgeable Nathaniel who is toying with her. In the end her love and appreciation of the elder Wheatleys ties her to them when she could be free. Nathaniel's behavior more than anything forces her to realize her inability to live as she was raised. The story ends with her still young and hopeful, but it is still sad to think that even the more learned and forward thinkers of the time (Ben Franklin and George Washington among them) hung onto their slaves as property well beyond their believing that slavery was evil.

    Besides being a great read, I would also recommend it for social studies lists regarding the American Revolution, slavery, and black issues.

    The first Ann Rinaldi book I read (In My Father's House was largely a romance novel for teens but with some intriguing historical facts. Since then all of her books (An Acquaintance with Darkness, The Secret of Sarah Revere, and this one) have been riveting, with some romance, but much more-great historical background and psychological questions surrounding the conflicts. It's nice to know she has many more books to enjoy.

    related-American Revolution, capability of blacks/slaves, Phillis Wheatley, growth of the middle/trade class in America, education of slaves in the 18th century, social classes, complicated feelings/beliefs regarding slavery, freedom, racial issues
    RL=YA-adult

    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.

    RL=5th-adult
    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
    HPANA
    HP Lexicon
    Mugglenet
    COS Forums


    The Hatchet Series by Gary Paulsen.

    Hatchet. Bradbury Press/Macmillan, Inc: NY, 1987.
    Newbery Honor 1988
    The River. Delacorte Press: NY, 1991.
    Brian's Winter. Delacorte Press: NY, 1996.
    Brian's Return. Delacorte Press: NY, 1999.
    RL=5th-YA

    Paulsen has created a fascinating detailed, and realistic account. You can easily see yourself in Brian's place.


    Hatchet: Flying from New York state into Canada in a small plane, Brian's pilot has a massive heart attack, and the plane goes down. Brian is left stranded in the wilderness alone with only a hatchet to help him survive. During the 54 days he is alone, he learns through trial and error and hard labor. By the end of that time he becomes proficient at survival and he has undergone a powerful transformation.

    The River: The government wants to place Brian in the wilderness again so that they can study how to help people survive in the wilderness. This time a government psychologist goes with him. During a storm the psychologist becomes incapacitated, and Brian fears he will die without medical help. He decides to build a raft and transport Derek down the river for help.

    Brian's Winter: In the novel Hatchet, Brian is rescued after he manages to reach the radio from the plane. Brian's Winter is a different conclusion to Hatchet. If he hadn't been rescued, he would have had to somehow deal with winter.

    Brian's Return: Brian is having trouble adjusting to school and "normal" life. He tries to talk about his experience in the wilderness and sees that others aren't listening to him. He wants to go back to the woods. In Brian's Return, he learns he can go back on his own terms and continue to study the natural world as he did before only without being trapped.Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson.
    Delacorte Press/Random House: NY, 2006.
    Newbery Honor 2007

    Told partly through letters and Hattie's news articles, the story is powerful and thought-provoking. An orphan bounced from one relative to another, she is given a rare opportunity to strike out on her own by her deceased uncle. She spends a year trying to fulfill the terms of her uncle's homestead claim in Montana in 1918. She describes the hardships of the pioneers in letters to another uncle and her childhood friend who is a soldier in World War I. The book is about both the hopes and difficulties of the homesteaders and the reactions of American citizens regarding the war.

    The story is valuable in its historical depiction and also in its analysis of events since there are parallel issues currently.

    related-frontier and pioneer life, self-reliance, orphans, history of Montana, 20th century, WWI, United States history, letters, newspapers, prejudice, historical fiction
    RL=YA

    Haveli by Suzanne Fisher Staples.
    Borzoi Book/Alfred A. Knopf: NY, 1993.

    In this sequel to Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind, Shabanu is married and raising her young daughter, Mumtaz. As the youngest and most favored wife of an elderly clan leader in Pakistan, Shabanu fears for her daughter's future when her husband can no longer protect them from the jealousy of the other relatives.

    Zabo, a young woman of the clan, is being forced to wed Rahim's (Shabanu's husband) son. When Zabo balks at the idea, Shabanu conspires with Zabo to leave the clan and hide with her family in the Cholistan Desert. Not only is it the best chance for her daughter's safety, they will also be able to live a freer, happier life.

    The book is as good as Shabanu, which is a Newbery Honor book, maybe even more complex. Both deal with the theme of arranged, unwanted marriages. Shabanu is a strong character in both. Independent spirit that she is, she has found an acceptable way for herself, but plans for better for her daughter's sake. It is interesting that she has retained her strength despite the life forced on her, and even more, that she is helping Zabo to avoid a fate worse than hers.

    related-Pakistan, gender roles, arranged marriages, family feud, coming of age, independence
    RL=YA-adult

    *There is now a 3rd book also: The House of Djinn

    Healer by Peter Dickinson.
    Delacorte Press: NY.
    First published by Victor Gollancz: Great Britain, 1983.

    Young Barry is convinced that an old school friend, though much younger, is being held captive by her stepfather at the Foundation of Harmony. Pinkie seems to have a gift of healing, and while her talent is about all that matters to her, she is being exploited.

    Barry gains access to the Foundation through a request for the healing of his migraine headaches. He is given a job at the Foundation - maybe because of his character, maybe because of his friendship with Pinkie, maybe to convince him of the good of the Foundation.

    On a visit to Pinkie's rooms, it is confirmed in his mind that she is indeed imprisoned, and he vows to break her out, at least long enough to deliver her to her grandfather.

    The story is strange and mysterious, but highly captivating and convincing. Not only is Barry faced with the adventure of spying within the Foundation and freeing Pinkie, but he also has an alter personality he is trying to understand and control. Pinkie is also hard to fathom, unlike anyone else he has known, and most certainly capable of things beyond understanding.

    It may be a strange subject, but Dickinson is a master storyteller. One of his strengths is that his content is so far ranging. Not one of the stories that I've read of his has been like another. Nor like other authors. To top it off, much of his career was based on writing at an adult level (though shorter in length) for teens before YA literature became a norm. Targeted for teens without the dumbing down. That's what I want to see for YA books.

    related-healers, paranormal healing, healing the sick for profit, exploitation
    RL=YA-adult

    Healing Water by Joyce Moyer Hostetter.
    Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills Press: Honesdale, PA, 2008.

    Healing Water is a very sad but transformative story. It is an excellent story, though I expect it will be mostly read by adults. Because of the depressing subject, I do not know how many teens will pick it up. It may appeal to teens sensitive to others' feelings or teens who have known desperation of some sort themselves. I was such a teen, but this book is so heart-wrenching. That said, there is much we could learn from it. Maybe know already, but could use a reminder.

    The story starts with Pia, a young boy, being abandoned by his best friend/older brother/father figure, as he is expelled from his community in Hawaii when diagnosed with leprosy. After trying to survive on his own in the settlement on Moloka'i, Pia is sheltered by a thief, who expects Pia to be his slave. He struggles with his new life and desire to protect others' from his master. He finds new hope when Father Damien (a real person) comes to minister to the community. However, he is confronted by his past and must sort out his anger, when his friend Kamaka also voluntarily comes to live in the community with his wife.

    As you would expect, water is symbolic in a couple places in the story, besides the first church in the community being called the Church of the Healing Spring. There is the storm which is a turning point in Pia's struggle with his anger regarding abandonment, and Father Damien cleanses Pia's feet and with them his spirit. Forgiveness and service to others are important factors in the story. Letting go of anger which can destroy you, even if it is justified. Important, but certainly an inner battle.

    Hostetter has done a good job of creating the Hawaiian setting, through the use of language and other cultural references. I appreciate the use of historical figures and the recreating of the experience of a real community. The community comes to life, and the story seems real, not forced or fabricated. Pia seems real.

    related-leprosy, disfiguring disease, conduct of life, forgiveness, service to others, abandonment, survival, community and friendship, Molokai, Hawaii, 19th century
    RL=YA-adult

    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
    RL=5th-8th

    The Heart of a Chief by Joseph Bruchac.
    Thorndike Press: Waterville, Me, 2002.
    Originally Dial Books for Young Readers: NY, 1998.

    This story exemplifies several challenges that contemporary Native Americans face, using the voice of a strong, middle school Penacook boy on the verge of recognizing the leader he could be. It starts with Chris Nicola's first day at the public middle school, and he is expecting to be harassed by the nearby town's students. But his negative expectations don't materialize. He meets the school terror and doesn't provoke his ire. New friends are not immediately forthcoming, but as he begins to participate in classes, he gains attention and starts to get to know students from the town versus the reservation.

    Because his father is away, dealing with alcoholism related to his wife's death, Chris and his sister live with their grandfather (who is a former chief of the community) and his sister (Auntie Doda). They both serve as a grounding influence and teach Chris to follow old traditions. His grandfather has been entrusted with caring for an island of paradise on the reservation, a place of historical and spiritual importance to the community. When the new chief gives developers approval to construct a casino which would mar the island and land surrounding it, Chris rebels against the project, stirring up the community, and brainstorms to find a way to appease both sides of the issue. At the same time, Chris leads a group, for a school project, in proposing that the school district's mascot be changed from Chiefs. The group unanimously agrees on the subject, all participate in research and delivery, and their project garners community-wide attention.

    This is a powerful story by a great storyteller. I don't know what it is about Bruchac, but I feel the story. It's like there is a resonating undertone, as if it is being spoken aloud when it is not. There is a weightiness, though it is simple and accessible. Maybe it is because he wastes no words.

    Chris is a great character. He obviously has insecurities like most of us. But his worries are heavier burdens than most as well. To balance this he has the strength of previous generations of his family, plus the loving guidance of two wise beings. Even so, it is crucial for him that he is finally able to communicate with his father, though from a distance Chris wishes didn't exist. Just as important is Chris's ability to stay true to his teachings and to present his thoughts in a productive way. The story is an excellent example of reasoning, judgment, and conflict resolution in action.

    related-Indian reservations, Penacook Indians, Indians of North America, New Hampshire, alcoholism, development vs conservation
    RL=5th and up

    Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus.
    Amulet Books/ABRAMS: NY, 2010.
    Newbery Honor Book 2011

    This book went in a totally unexpected direction. That can be an awesome thing. In my mind, I was expecting training within Japan somehow to be a samurai. Instead, a historical whaling adventure enfolded. After being stranded on an outlying island, Manjiro and his fishing buddies are picked up by an American whaling ship. They travel for an extended time with the ship before making port in the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii). Because Manjiro has shown an interest in learning and assimilating, the captain offers him a chance to visit the United States and pursue an American education. After years of training, he decides on a future course - to return to Japan and find a way to act as an ambassador, urging his country to open its ports to visitors and teaching his countrymen about American ways and technology.

    As a story, it feels a little rambling and incredible. But the book is based on biographies of a real man's life and adventures. It sounds like it follows Manjiro's life fairly closely. Possibly the unbelievable feeling comes from the uncommon globe-traveling nature of the adventures and also that the 1840s are so different from our own time. Different enough to be incredible.

    The book almost reads as separate stories with Manjiro acclimating to various settings. All with the same curiosity and zest for life. It was exciting to read the whaling portion - not at all the usual topic. It reminded me of reading Moby Dick, one of the books I loved reading in college, though obviously less verbose.

    related-1840s New England, whaling, shipwreck, ships, Japanese and United States relations, California Gold Rush, Sandwich Islands, 19th century, Nakahama Manjiro, John Mung, biographical fiction
    RL=4th and up

    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.
    RL=5th-8th

    Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve.
    Scholastic Press: NY, 2007.

    This book is a different take on the King Arthur legend. Sort of an anti-Arthur tale. Arthur is the leader of a group of bandits carving out a new territory for themselves from those of others. He is still Uther's (also a leader of bandits) son, one of many. Myrddin (Merlin) sees Arthur as the greatest possibility for driving the Saxons out of the land and restoring a peaceful Britannia, as in the days of Roman rule. Myrddin hails from the eastern lands that the Saxons conquered. As a bard, he weaves and embellishes the legendary tales which give Arthur the opportunity to become a king in the minds of the people. He advises Arthur, uses tricks to secure a sense of wonder among followers and listeners, and also travels alone spreading the stories.

    Gwynna is a local servant girl enlisted in one of Myrddin's scams. She is transformed into a boy to hide the secret and becomes Myrddin's servant and pupil. Morphed back again when she is too old to hide her bodily changes. In any case, her close connection with Myrddin gives her the knowledge of Arthur and his community that others lack. As she grows, she observes and influences events according to her conscience.

    Gwenhwyfar, in this telling, is Arthur's wife of convenience. They have no real relationship. She is a descendant of the rulers of the area, lives separately for the most part, and is only called upon in hosting political guests. There is no Lancelot. Bedwyr (Sir Bedivere), who is Arthur's nephew, is the object of her love. Medrawt, Bedwyr's older brother, is nothing like Mordred, though he is the leader in the last battle against Arthur.

    Cei, Arthur's half-brother, is also caught up in the tragedy, through no fault of his own. He is in on Myrddin's trickery from the beginning, and he rules Arthur's town for him in his absence. Some say he's a better ruler than Arthur.

    There is also a rendition of the Holy Grail in the story, another trick, though not Myrddin's. Peredur (Perceval) is the one to use it, and he is one of three people transformed in the book.

    The story is an interesting read, more realistic than most Arthur stories. Though the telling is negative towards Arthur and Myrddin is not wizardly, Gwynna (the character revealing the tale) truly loves and admires Myrrdin. She feels betrayed by Myrrdin's scheming in the end. In response to her saying none of it mattered in the end, Myrrdin explains his motivation. She believes that no one will remember the legend after the man dies. Curiously, she does quite a bit of deceiving herself, despite her anger regarding the Arthur deceptions. Maybe because she believes her motives are more justified.

    I realized something as I read the story. It does seem strange that there is so much focus on this story in our culture. It isn't realistic, but the ideal brings us closer to what might be fair treatment of people. Goals such as equality, freedom, honesty, kindness, and fairness cannot be achieved 100% of the time, but striving towards them allows us to achieve a greater measure of them. A similar notion is involved in following figures such as Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, etc. They represent perfection, something we cannot attain. But honestly trying to should mean a better community for all. If we believe instead that life is just not fair, then there is a tendency to fall far short of fairness or any other virtue, because it gives us an excuse to do as we like instead. I believe that in every era there have been a few people who have pushed for higher ideals. Though we may cringe at some of the current behavior, the dreams of better treatment are alive. We may be sneered at for being elite, but the vision is still there. We will move that direction again one day.

    related-King Arthur, Merlin, bards, Great Britain, legends
    RL=YA-adult

    Hidden by Helen Frost.
    Farrar Straus Giroux: NY, 2011.

    This is the 2nd book by Helen Frost that I have read. The most striking aspect of both books is the intensity of the story. A close 2nd is the compactness of her work. Then, besides those strong points is the fact that she also plays with the language. She writes in verse, poetic prose. This particular book is arranged in a different way for each of two voices. One of them is physically arranged so that ending words create added commentary. To me, this means Frost is incredibly focused on her writing, and I need to go back and reread for the strength and texture of the language. Both books were read quickly. I did not want to put them down. These characteristics make for an impassioned, concise, gripping experience.

    The subject matter of this book is nothing like the other one. Crossing Stones is historical fiction, regarding WWI and women's suffrage. Hidden is the experience and memories of two girls. One was accidentally kidnapped as a young girl. The other is the daughter of the man involved. She is without a father, as he is in prison. Years after the incident, they meet at summer camp, forced to spend much time together, when both would like to forget it ever happened. Wren thinks she has put it all behind her, but memories are suddenly walloping her, beyond her control. Darra, the daughter of the felon, has been forced to live with it continuously through the years. She blames Wren for her father's absence. They both have a short and intense maturing process through the story. Another thing both stories have in common is the storytelling through varied voices. Varied, authentic, passionate voices.

    After having read these 2 books, I feel I need to search out and read all of her books. If they are all this focused on the pyschology of issues, and such varied topics, it would be an excellent journey. Thinking just now, I realized Frost reminds me of another author who portrays varied experiences with such poignancy, though not as concise, Paul Fleischman. Perhaps, because they are both poets.

    related-novels in verse, interpersonal relations, friendship, forgiveness, summer camps, memory, blame, Michigan
    RL=YA-adult

    Hiroshima by Laurence Yep.
    Scholastic Inc: NY, 1995.

    Hiroshima is a short and incredibly moving account of the dropping of one atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan and its effect on the city and the world. It is factual with a simplified telling to make it accessible to young readers. It's simplicity makes it much more powerful than any textbook.

    I don't know how old I was when I first had exposure to images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was 30 to 35 years after the bombings, and mostly what I saw was mushroom cloud images and the statistics of the dead and those injured by radiation. While the sheer numbers made an impression, it was brief and impersonal, and so I didn't continue to think about it for long. As simple as it is, this book makes a greater impression, because it provides an image of what it would have been like to be there.

    I do not know know what age is appropriate to start dealing with such horrible things. I have not wanted to expose my children to these and other horrific issues. At the same time, I do not want to wait until high school and bombard them with the horrors and realities of the world. I think it is a mistake to NOT teach history because we don't like what happened or the controversy. My generation was mostly not taught much of what happened in the 20th century because of controversy (disagreement about facts). As a result, we are already repeating past mistakes. Any concerned parent should find out what is available and read for themselves.

    For this particular book, I would recommend it for 7th grade through young adult. The story and language are simple enough for 5th grade, but the topic is young adult to adult. Maybe younger for children interested in serious subjects, but my problem with that is this subject requires discussion and looking further into the issue. Are they going to be able to deal with further study of this issue in 5th grade?
    related-nuclear weapons, World War II, history-U.S. and Japan, bombardment, 1945, atomic bomb, Hiroshima Maidens, radiation, social issues, realities of war, effects of war
    RL=7th-YA

    For those ready to handle this issue, I would also recommend
    Peace, A Dream Unfolding ed. by Penney Kome and Patrick Crean.
    Sierra Club: San Francisco, 1986.
    RL=YA-adult

    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
    RL=7th-adult

    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.
    RL=7th-adult

    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
    RL=7th-adult

    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.


    Ultra-Condensed

    • 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-adultHoot by Carl Hiaasen.
    Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2002.
    Newbery Honor 2003

    When Roy's family moves from Montana to Florida, Roy immediately becomes the target of the school bully. He notices a strange, running boy out the bus window and is drawn into a compelling mystery. After following the boy, he gains an unexpected ally because of his concern.

    There are burrowing owls in danger of being buried by a construction project. In the beginning, there is one person committed to saving the owls from their predicament. As the story progresses, others show their compassion for the owls and employ different methods in their desire to help. Though the story involves environmental protection, bullying, and a broken family, there are some imaginatively humorous situations, and it is absorbing and enjoyable.
    related-burrowing owls, environmental protection, community activism, bullies, new kid, friendship
    RL=4th-8th

    Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer.
    G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers: NY, 2000.

    Newbery Honor 2001

    Hope and her aunt are a team. Addie's exemplary cooking skills are needed at a diner in Wisconsin, and Hope has learned the serving tricks of the dining trade in their travels. Coming most recently from New York City, Hope does not expect to fit in, but there is plenty happening in the small town with her boss running for mayor despite his leukemia.

    Politics, corruption, honor, and trust are served here with plenty of humor and warmth.
    RL=5th-8th

    Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon. il Tony Ross.
    Sourcebooks Jabberwocky: Naperville, IL, 2009.
    Originally publ by Orion Children's Books: Great Britain, 1994.

    Yes, Henry has a reputation. So much so that his parents expect rotten behavior (and respond automatically), just as they expect his younger brother, Peter, to act perfectly. In the first story included in the book, Henry decides to be perfect, doing a good job of it, and takes his parents and Peter by surprise. In the second, Henry endures dance classes his parents force him to take. He ends up stealing the show in the class performance, but apparently his efforts aren't appreciated. The third story has Henry playing with a neighbor (can't really call her a friend), Moody Margaret, with the two trying to outdo each other. In the last, Henry's family goes on a horrid vacation. Henry thinks it will finally be an enjoyable one (no museums) until he realizes it's not what he expected.

    These are the best books for young readers I've read in quite a while. They have lots of funny segments. In one week, my ten-year-old read the first four books twice (despite Henry's being way under his reading level). My thirteen-year-old also read them all. So, they are books for all ages to enjoy.

    Between beginning readers and picture books and novels, there is a gap in literature that is difficult to bridge, causing frustration for children and concern by parents. The Horrid Henry books fall between the two categories, and hopefully their humor will help in this crucial step towards becoming a reader. The books are designed like beginner readers, but longer and more advanced. They are for those who have outgrown beginner readers but are not ready to read novels. Novels are so much longer than beginners that there really need to be more books at the Horrid Henry level. Good readers will make the huge leap to novels. Others might not. I have come across some other excellent transitional books but not enough to keep reluctant readers reading. I have posted before about the importance of this developmental stage and have a list of transitional books.

    related-transitional books, chapter books, behavior, problem solving, dance class, playing together, camping
    RL=1st-4th, enjoyable for all ages

    Horrid Henry and the Mega-Mean Time Machine by Francesca Simon. il Tony Ross.
    Sourcebooks Jabberwocky: Naperville, IL, 2009.
    Originally publ by Orion Children's Books: Great Britain, 2005.

    This is one you'll not want to miss. Who knew a story about taking a walk could be so funny? Henry reminds me so much of my own children when we have pleaded, coaxed, and badgered them into going on walks. Now I know exactly what was going through their heads. I have learned that if there is something more active involved, such as climbing or rock throwing, they are more enthusiastic.

    The title story with the time machine is most excellent. Quite creative and somehow believable that Henry could dupe Peter so badly. Certainly something all older brothers would try, and Horrid Henry is a master.

    Perfect Peter's Revenge is so perfect, until Henry, Margaret, and Susan learn the truth. It works beautifully for a while, but then Peter approaches Henry on the school playground at the most inopportune time, unknowingly pointing the finger at himself.

    The last story is one to which we can all relate, the dreaded restaurant situation, even if we avoid the fancy establishments. Different food, loud kids and everyone staring, open rebellion in public. You see, the kids have you in their power, because they know you will do almost anything to avoid a scene. The twist of Miss Battle-Axe being reprimanded by her mother is a hoot.

    Did teachers have mothers? Did teachers ever leave the school? Impossible.
    I only wish I had thought to pay my kids a dollar or two! We only had a few utterly embarrassing encounters, but we avoided the fancy places.

    related-transitional books, early chapter books, hiking, walks, time travel, playing with boxes, imagination, love letters, poems, fancy restaurants, trying new foods
    RL=1st-4th, enjoyable for all ages

    Horrid Henry's Stinkbomb by Francesca Simon. il Tony Ross.
    Sourcebooks Jabberwocky: Naperville, IL, 2009.
    Originally publ by Orion Children's Books: Great Britain, 2002.

    Another spectacular Horrid Henry book. Four great stories. I love the outrageousness of the regular life situations that become capers in Simon's hands. In most of them, I can totally empathize with Henry despite his unconventional behavior.

    The first story features a reading contest with the prize being family tickets to a theme park! Henry can't wait to get started - only he does. He's determined to win the contest anyway, but Miss Battle-Axe has a surprise.

    The stinkbomb story has the two clubs, Henry's and Margaret's, planning a trick each against the other at the very same time. The parallel schemes are narrated step by step, a nice variation in the stories.

    In the third story, the class is given the freedom and supplies to create a Parthenon, but can Henry cooperate with a group? Apparently not. The only solution is to separate Henry. Miss Battle-Axe didn't think to give him his own supplies, and then she kept him in at recess, compounding matters by leaving the room. Definitely not her best day.

    The last story has some of the best pictures: New Nick's operatic parents, Henry trying to hear the TV over the opera, Nick's dogs pouncing, a frazzled Henry calling home for assistance. The sacking of Troy from the school project is a great shot of Henry's imagination, too.

    In the last story, Henry receives an invitation for one of his favorite pastimes, a sleepover; something that is rare now since he only gets one invitation per household. Nick's family might be the exception, but it might also be the cure for any desire to sleepover.

    related-transitional books, early chapter books, reading contest, book reviews, pranks, private personal clubs, spies, arts and crafts, group projects, cooperation, sleepovers, new friends
    RL=1st-4th, enjoyable for all ages

    Horrid Henry Tricks the Tooth Fairy by Francesca Simon. Il Tony Ross.
    Sourcebooks Jabberwocky: Naperville, 2009.
    Originally publ by Orion Children's Books: Great Britain, 1997.

    I found this second book less funny than the original Horrid Henry, but utterly relatable. Henry certainly lives up to his reputation. Only Moody Margaret tops him. In this book, the illustrations are more imaginative: the fire-breathing dragon, the wedding pictures, Margaret drawing the uncrossable line, and Henry's fake window drop.

    The first chapter is the title story. Henry tries every which way to trick the Tooth Fairy, because even his younger brother has lost a tooth. Since it seems life isn't being fair to him, he starts scheming. The end of the story is the funniest to me.

    In the second chapter, Henry and Peter are ringbearers at a wedding. Can you believe anyone would request such a thing? So again Henry is stuck in a situation he cannot tolerate, and he takes his revenge - although he is mostly just being Horrid Henry, oblivious to everyone else.

    The third chapter finally shows Henry's parents appreciating Henry's Horridness. Moody Margaret comes to stay, and he can only take so much. It's either explode - or get rid of her. I have to say I think Henry's solution wasn't so terrible.

    It's the beginning of the school year in the last chapter. Henry is at his most Horrid in dealing with new teachers. He views it as a challenge. The stunt that breaks the teacher is unbelievably Horrid, yet admittedly creative. It's good to know it isn't real.

    related-transitional books, early chapter books, behavior, tooth fairy, kids at weddings, visitors staying overnight, first day of school
    RL=1st-4th, enjoyable for all ages

    The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick.
    Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 1991.

    Wow! An excellent book for young readers-especially boys. Undoubtedly, the pictures are an important part of the story-the realism, awe, and humor. Selznick totally captures the emotion and enthusiasm of a boy amazed by the Great Houdini and wanting to be just like him. The determination and humor of that boy trying to figure out the tricks himself. Plus, two of the pictures are LOL funny. Can you tell which ones I mean?

    I did not know until after reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret that Selznick had written other stories-only that he had illustrated. The Houdini Box was published well before I started looking for books for my first son. It is a great story. It ought to recommended more often for young readers since this is a particularly hard level to find exciting books.

    related-Harry Houdini, magicians, curiosity, high interest, experimentation, mentors, transitional books, short chapter books, historical books
    RL=2nd-4th, younger for early readers

    The House of Djinn by Suzanne Fisher Staples.
    Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2008.

    Shabanu's daughter, Mumtaz, is now of marriageable age. Shabanu is in hiding, presumed dead. Mumtaz has been raised by her father's family. Baba, her father's brother, is the patriarch (since Rahim's death) and one of Mumtaz's only friends within the family. The other is her cousin Jameel, her closest confidante, who has been raised mostly in California with only summer trips to Pakistan.

    Baba's health is failing, and Shabanu is preparing to contact her daughter with the intention of bringing her away, so they can both live in the desert with Shabanu's aunt. As in Haveli, Shabanu's primary purpose is to secure the safety and happiness of her daughter. She knows that Leyla, Mumtaz's older half sister, is nearly ready to arrange a marriage for Mumtaz, one she would most certainly not be happy about.

    When Baba dies suddenly, his wish is revealed that Jameel become the tribal leader and Jameel and Mumtaz marry. Both have been educated in a more modern environment, and the hope is that their values will strengthen the family. This comes as a total surprise to everyone. Jameel and Mumtaz are not prepared for the idea, and a greater question is whether Nazir, the brother who killed Rahim, will accept Baba's will or use the transition as an opportunity to wrest control for himself.

    All three books in the series deal with both the conflict between Islamic and tribal traditions and personal desires. A central theme is arranged and unwanted marriages. Each have strong female characters-Shabanu, Zabo, Selma, and Mumtaz. What is different about this book is that the reader knows it takes place in the present. The books span about a twenty year period, but the other two are so traditional that it is not easy to tell that they are contemporary. Also, Mumtaz's proposed wedding is not necessarily unwanted, she and Jameel just had other plans and were taken by surprise. Each book is unique and has its own appealing aspects, but they are also connected in some basic ways. I enjoyed each for itself. I still think Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind is the one I like best. Perhaps, because Shabanu is freer and hasn't become resigned to her life.

    related-Pakistan, family life, gender roles, traditions, freedom to choose, weddings, tribal leadership, spirits, strong female characters
    RL=YA-adult

    The 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 Apache by Tanya Landman.
    Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2008.

    Siki lives among the Southwestern Black Mountain Apache. She watches the slaying of her young brother by a Mexican; he was the last of her family, her mother dying soon after the disappearance of her father.

    Left to drift in the community and terrible at the skills of the women, Siki decides to become a female warrior. She quickly impresses the great warrior Golahka who is in charge of training. She also shows signs of having seer powers. Taunted by Keste, a warrior-in-training who is jealous of her status, she doubts her fathers honor and her place in the tribe, even as she accomplishes each task given and is honored herself.

    It is a coming of age story during a time of great upheaval. The Mexicans have long been the enemy to her people, and now the White Eyes are moving in and grasping the land from them. Siki senses that either an Apache or Mexican is helping the White Eyes in their conquest, someone who knows the Apache land as if raised on it. The question of future is most important. Siki sees herself as an Apache, though she has doubts about belonging, but when she sees her tribe cannot hope to survive, can she live another way? There are secrets buried in her past that could change everything. It comes down to What makes her who she is, and is that more important than survival?

    Siki is a strong female character - adept at warrior skills, independent enough to make her own choice and follow it, with skills crucial to the survival of her tribe, with understanding and compassion even related to an enemy.

    I enjoyed this fictional account. Landman has imagined an excellent tale of a young woman forced to choose between her life with the Apache or a future among the Europeans who are too numerous to stop, and it takes place in a different region than what is normally used, adding the part that Mexicans (Spanish descent) played.

    related-European/American conquest, captives, slavery, slaughter of the Apache tribes, identity, females in nontraditional roles, seers, captives included in the tribe
    RL=YA-adult

    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
    RL=6th-8th

    I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak.
    Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2005.
    Originally The Messenger pub by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited: Australia, 2002.

    Ed Kennedy stops a pathetic bank robbery attempt and starts a chain of events that disrupts his mediocre days. Playing cards (aces) are delivered to his door with people to help listed on them. The cards point out people in need of a message, and Ed must figure out the message and deliver it--all of which is normally beyond his limited existence. He does it, because he expects there will be an end to it after the aces are used up. The cards point him towards life, and he changes as he sees more of life through his ordeal.

    The question remains through the whole book . . . Who is sending the cards?

    It took me a few chapters to get into the book. The introduction of Ed and his friends wasn't attractive, but that relates to the point of the book. Once Ed starts receiving aces, the story picks up, and the reader is hooked. It is one of the better books I've read. Maybe would fit in a top 100 novels. I like that it directs readers to look at others' lives and think about reaching out with their own messages. It also gives a glimpse of how random acts of kindness can build a community. And it doesn't take a saint to fulfill one such act. I also like that Ed's life is enriched by the experience--even when he's getting beat up. It is also a book I stayed up too late to finish!

    related-heroes, taxicab drivers, self-esteem, help from strangers, guidance, observation, awareness, acts of kindness
    RL=YA-adult

    I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño.
    Farrar, Straus & Giroux: NY, 1965.
    Newbery Award for 1966

    Juan de Pareja was the half-black slave of the famous painter Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez. Slave, assistant, friend and student in secret. He also was the subject of one of Velásquez' paintings. Juan was inherited from Velásquez' aunt. The book follows his time before joining Velásquez, his years as a faithful helper and companion, and some of his life after Velásquez dies.

    Much of the story takes place at the court of King Phillip IV of Spain. The other main characters are the family of Velásquez and the king.

    Having some knowledge of Velásquez and art history, I enjoyed the description of the family and studio life and the King's interaction. The King sent Velásquez to Italy twice to paint and collect art, so there is some of the Italian art discussed as well.

    The story is very much a period piece, early seventeenth century, the Age of Enlightenment. The story even feels old, in a different style than nowadays. It is a first person account, though, so it still flows well.

    After the Renaissance, Velásquez was one of the first painters to insist on painting what was truly there instead of embellishing. Primarily a portraitist, he was able to paint what was within as well as the body. He was also known for the incredible texture that he practiced, which was a precursor to the Impressionists.

    One of the most interesting things about the book is when it was written. The story is Juan de Pareja's story, the slave, who learns to paint in secret through watching Velásquez with apprentices, because slaves are not allowed to create art. Years later when he reveals his secret, he is given his freedom and becomes a famous painter in his own right. We read of Velásquez only through the interaction with Pareja. So, the book was written in 1965 in the middle of violently contested civil rights. The subject being black freedom. Add to that the fact that Pareja was only half black, another issue that drove racism for decades or even centuries. The book must have been highly controversial when it was published. Many books have been similar in content and tone since. Though I have nothing to which I can compare from the 1960s or earlier, I would guess this book was a forerunner of this genre.

    The issue of slavery in the 17th century was not controversial at all. It had been the norm for centuries, though not necessarily referring to blacks. A difference being that slaves back then more readily were allowed to earn their freedom. They were thought of more as conquered peoples rather than inferior. In this case, Pareja was considered part of the family or at least a companion. It seems likely that if he had indicated his desire for freedom, he might have received it sooner. He did stay with Velásquez until his death, continuing to learn from him.

    related-black slavery, manumission, art and artists, art history, Spain and Italy in the 17th century, Spanish court under King Philip IV, Diego Velásquez
    RL=7th and up

    The Illuminator by Brenda Rickman Vantrease.
    St. Martin's Press: NY, 2005.

    Caught between the Church's tithes and the Court's taxes, Lady Kathryn of Blackingham struggles to maintain control of her family's lands in the late fourteenth century. She makes a deal with a nearby abbey to board an illuminator and his daughter in return for money and protection. They forge close ties despite the secrets the illuminator harbors. One being his copying of an English translation of the Bible for John Wycliffe.

    During this time period, both self-study of the Bible and religion and personal freedom for all were becoming political issues. Books were rare and costly because of the time and education required for hand copying. The masses could not read (or understand, in many cases) the Latin and Norman in which the books were published, so the introduction of English copies was an important advancement. However, making the Bible accessible to the masses did also have the effect of increasing rebellion.

    A complex story of love (different types) and betrayal which examines spiritual and economic oppression during a most turbulent and intriguing time. The book was published as adult fiction, but the description of relations is minimal. It is more philosophical than physical, and the historical content is both educational and fascinating.
    related-history of England, 14th century, Roman Catholic Church, John Wycliffe, Bishop Henry Despenser, John Ball, Julian of Norwich, peasants' revolt of 1381, philosophy leading towards the Reformation, Lollards, historical fiction
    RL=YA-adult

    Incident at Hawk's Hill by Allan W. Eckert.
    Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1971.
    Newbery Honor 1972

    Ben MacDonald is at home with the animals near his family's prairie farm in Manitoba, Canada. He observes and closely imitates their speech and behavior. Wild and even fierce animals accept his presence because they know he is not a threat.

    In June 1870, he wanders away from the homestead following and watching the wildlife. A storm starts, and he realizes he is lost and unprotected. Instinctively he crawls into a badger hole for some relief from the storm.

    His family and neighbors search for Ben for 2 days with no sign of him. Although his family never stops looking for him, Ben is missing for 2 months. When his brother finds him, he behaves as a wild animal would, and once convinced of his safety, he has an unbelievable story to tell.

    For some time now I have thought about reading this story and have been reluctant. I finally read it because a friend who is a public school teacher recommended it a few times. As I started to read it, the details of the animals behavior drew me into the story. It is beautifully written-descriptive, but flowing and full of action. Once the boy was lost on the prairie, I had to know how the situation would be resolved.

    related-nature, animals, survival, prairie life, badgers, communication, communicating with animals
    RL=5th-8th

    The Indigo Notebook by Laura Resau.
    Delacorte Press/Random House: NY, 2009.

    I picked this up for the global travel slant. Mostly it is discussion of travel and living in or visiting a country other than the US. For Zeeta, living in another culture is the norm. She hasn't lived in the US. She is fluent in Spanish and can speak the local language in Otavalo, so she translates for a tourist who is also in search of his birth parents. Zeeta's mother is the reason for her cultural life; her mother likes to become a part of the community, immerse herself in the local atmosphere, then after a year or so find a new spot in the world to experience. Otavalo is the new spot, and Wendell's search for relatives focuses Zeeta's thoughts and passion on something other than her frustration with being ripped away from the last community and dissatisfaction with this pattern of events.

    Zeeta has been asking Layla (her mom) to settle in one place (namely Maryland where her grandparents live). After a death-defying experience, Layla agrees it's time to settle. So while Zeeta is busy, Layla finds a stable guy and really settles. Needless to say it is not what Zeeta was hoping for. The guy's fine, but not a great experience for Layla. Zeeta wants her old mom back.

    The search for the birth parents leads to some bizarre happenings. Some of it is interesting and even kind of cool, but some of it is just weird.

    I like the book overall. The aspect I like the best is Zeeta's interaction with locals, both in the marketplace and the nearby town where their search leads them. She quickly develops friendships, and it seems real. Then, there are a number of details that hold my attention as well: Mamita Luz and Taita Silvio's care of their community, the bathing in the waters, the crystal cave, the wise woman of the marketplace. A large part of the story is recognition that what you wish for may not be what is best or what you really want. I like some philosophical moments in stories, so this is good, once Zeeta becomes less focused on whining. I also like her notebooks that she fills with answers to her blunt searching questions for everyone with whom she interacts.

    related-mothers and daughters, single parent families, fathers, Ecuador
    RL=YA-adult

    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
    RL=7th-YA

    Inside the Walls of Troy by Clemence McLaren.
    Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 1996.

    Inside the Walls of Troy follows two women (Helen of Sparta and Cassandra of Troy) leading up to and through the events of the Trojan War.

    Helen has suitors at the age of twelve, since her father is King of Sparta and she is known for her beauty. It is this beauty that prompts Theseus of Athens (warrior turned pirate) to kidnap her for ransom. With fashion tips and advice, he proceeds to transform her into a princess of unparalleled charm and beauty. She marries King Menelaus of Mycenae, brother of Agamemnon, high king over all of Greece. They live happily for years and have a daughter together, until Menelaus invites Paris (younger prince of Troy) for a diplomatic visit to dispel talk of an impending war between Greece and Troy. Paris and Helen fall in love, and Paris convinces Helen to run away with him.

    Cassandra, who is a dream-seer, knows that Helen is trouble as soon as she sees her. She will bring death and destruction to Troy. Cassandra demands she be sent away, but her people never listen to her words of doom, even knowing how many times she has been right. They just see her as weird. All except her twin brother Helenus (also a seer). Her father Priam, King of Troy, welcomes Helen and refuses to send her back to Menelaus, even if it means war. As Cassandra gets to know Helen, she also decides she should not be sacrificed.

    Helen and Cassandra have two things in common. Neither wishes to be a political trade in the marriage market, and they are both outsiders in Troy. Cassandra is because she would rather be involved in the governing of Troy than women's business. Helen because she is from Greece and they are anticipating war regarding her actions. As the war progresses, Helen is ostracized more and more, with some of the Trojan women wanting to throw her over the wall to the Greek warriors.

    McLaren explains that Cassandra and Helen are barely mentioned in ancient Greek texts such as Homer's The Iliad. She wanted a story that would give the female perspective. All the major male characters are here also, but McLaren's tale tells the stories of the women involved, perhaps adding some depth. I enjoyed the references to the traditional story as well as other Greek tales. It is good to see the males also with a life besides the warrior view. Events have so much more meaning when you take into account the emotional and social aspects. For this reason, I enjoy historical fiction, and even history more than when my reading was limited to textbooks.

    I particularly enjoyed Cassandra's perspective. She is in a position to view the circumstances from more than one side. She sees more than others, and decisions are not any easier. Mostly she just watches the whole thing play out, but in the end, it is her actions that matter to the survivors.

    I highly recommend the book, but those unfamiliar with the Trojan War should consider reading The Iliad first, or an overview such as Rosemary Sutcliff's Black Ships Before Troy.

    related-Helen of Troy, Greek mythology, Cassandra, legendary seer, Trojan War
    RL=YA-adult

    Into the Dark: An Echo Falls Mystery by Peter Abrahams.
    Laura Geringer Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2008.

    In this book, the Prescott Players are working on Hansel and Gretel, but the only connection to the storyline is Ingrid's feelings regarding being lost and/or chased in the woods. Her Grampy is in trouble in this episode. His heroism from WWII makes him a key suspect in a murder mystery. Plus, his surliness, motive, and the murder being located on his property. Ingrid seems to be the only one who believes he is innocent, and as in the other books, police chief Strade (her best friend's dad) is watching Ingrid as she investigates in order to prove Grampy's innocence despite his uncooperativeness.

    Ingrid's family is also in trouble. Her parents are acting strangely. When questioned her dad, like Grampy, doesn't give an alibi, and his secret is exposed through the solving of the crime.

    This is a suspenseful series. The characters are well developed and real, especially Ingrid. The mysteries have many details to consider, and the circumstances are imaginative. The connections between the plots and the play acting are a fresh way of portraying the stories.

    related-murder mystery, detective stories, grandfathers, family, divorce, investigations, Sherlock Holmes fan
    RL=6th & up

    The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.
    Scholastic Press: NY, 2007.
    Caldecott Medal 2008

    This book has created quite a stir in the last year. Many were sure it would win an award-just not sure which one. It's taken a while for me to get my hands on a copy. The coverart and the author's name were enough for me to be excited, because I loved his illustrations in The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins (Caldecott Honor of 2002).

    My first impression was shock at the length of the book and then amazement (flipping the pages) at the wondrous artwork and how long Selznick must have spent drawing. The story is a novel, though short in terms of text. The style is similar to Chris Van Allsburg's-striking, intense, and mysterious. The photographs added of actual events are also intriguing. The story itself is unusual (an understatement), suspenseful, captivating, and in the end awesome as the threads come together.

    It wasn't until the end that I realized the illustrations are a means of reflecting the motion picture industry which factors into the story. In the beginning, the story centers on Hugo's mechanical ability and his orphaned situation with the mystery of the broken automaton he tries to fix. When the maker of the automaton is revealed, the story turns towards a segment of the early history of motion picture.

    My oldest son praised the unusual concept. His comment reminded me how much I enjoy stories that are so different from anything else. With the amount of reading I do, I have seen many good books (and series) that follow the same format as others. It's a special treat to read a book that is totally its own.

    related-Georges Méliès, robots, clocks, orphans, railroad stations, history of Paris, France, mechanical toys, automatons
    RL=4th-8th, read aloud to k-3rd

    The Invisible Rules of the Zoë Lama by Tish Cohen.
    Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Group: NY, 2007.

    Zoë Costella, nicknamed the Zoë Lama for taking on the playground bully, has made a career for herself fixing other people's lives. She's a little controlling and judgmental, but kind-hearted in her efforts. This year she has taken on too much with the ever-present need to assist her single, working mom and grandma who is losing out to dementia. There is also a new girl whom Zoë believes needs major help and a school dance to manage. She's feeling desperate when her mom starts to talk nursing homes, since Grandma has been there forever to listen and share time with her. Noticing Grandma's peculiar behavior, she hides the situation from Mom and friends as long as possible. In the end, she starts to see that many of Grandma's colorful statements are plenty sane, but her drifting in and out of reality is causing dangerous and expensive problems.

    The book is a little chatty, but a quick, fun read. The first half is mostly humor. Then it gets into Zoë's lessons in acceptance. While she was working from a sincere desire to help, her Grandma helps her realize it's sometimes better to let friends be themselves.

    related-identity, acceptance, interpersonal relations, middle schools, grandmothers, family, Alzheimer's
    RL=6th & up

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


    Ultra-Condensed
    • 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.


    RL=7th-adult

    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
    RL=YA-adult

    Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass.
    Little, Brown and Company: NY, 2006.

    One month from his thirteenth birthday, Jeremy receives a wooden box from his long-dead father. An inscription on the box says it holds the meaning of life. Its four keys are missing, and as Jeremy and his best friend Lizzy soon learn, only the keys can open it without destroying the contents.

    Lizzy immediately has plans to find the keys, pulling Jeremy out of his neighborhood and comfort zone. One of the plans lands them in community service where Jeremy finds that he can learn about the meaning of life through discussion and observation. There are a few excellent ideas on the subject, including that it is different for each of us.

    This book has been on my Read List for a couple years. I've always liked the title. Every Soul a Star reminded me of it, and though the reading level and characters are slightly younger, it is every bit as good. Both are unique, Knock Your Socks Off kinds of books. Jeremy, Lizzy and Mr. Oswald are great characters, with some interesting extras thrown in. Their quest is different as are the smaller stories along the way. The ending was totally unexpected.

    related-conduct and purpose of life, coming of age, self-realization, fathers and sons, friendship, collections, hobbies
    RL=6th & up

    The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park.
    Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY 2000.

    Two Korean brothers combine their talents to challenge last year's champion of the New Year kite competition. The older is a master of kite-making. The younger expertly flies the kites. As the story progresses, the younger boy must learn to accept their father's favoritism towards the elder. His brother will inherit all privileges and responsibilities for the family, and it will be his duty to help his older brother. The boys must find a way to maintain their relationship while learning to deal with this tradition.
    related-kites, brothers, first sons, Korea, competition
    RL=5th-7th

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


    Ultra-Condensed
    • 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 Landry News by Andrew Clements.
    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 1999.

    The new student, Cara Landry, thinks Mr. Larson is the worst of teachers. She posts her editorial opinion on the bulletin board and prods Mr. Larson into challenging his students to write a real newspaper. The whole class gets involved and really learns as the principal uses the newspaper as an excuse to fire Mr. Larson.
    related-newspapers, teachers, schools, divorce, First Amendment
    RL=5th-8th

    The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements.
    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2004.

    Hart Evans shoots the chorus teacher, Mr. Meinert, in the neck with a rubberband, and the teacher goes ballistic. What Hart doesn't know is that Mr. Meinert is being fired due to lack of funds.

    The next day as the class prepares for the Holiday Concert, the teacher is set off again. This time he decides the students can come up with their own concert. One of the students decides they should vote to see who is in charge, and Hart is elected the director without asking for the responsibility. Mr. Meinert gloats, as he believes it is the perfect retribution. Neither foresee the events that will lead to the best concert ever.

    related-holiday concerts, schools, student-teacher relationships, music, leadership, cooperation, choir, peace, creativity, high interest
    RL=5th-8th

    Leepike Ridge by N. D. Wilson.
    Random House: NY, 2007.

    Disgruntled by his mom's consideration of a marriage proposal, Tom knocks foam packaging over the cliff by his house. His mom sends him down into the valley to retrieve it. After he rescues it from the trees along the river, he is inspired to try floating down the river. It works, and he is lulled to sleep, only to be awakened when he hits rapids. He's sucked under a rock and pulled along what turns out to be an underground river, which passes through caves within the mountain. On an island in one of the caves, Tom discovers a dead body from which he takes handy supplies. No food, though, so he is compelled to try his luck in the river again. He ends up in the net of someone else trapped in the caves, someone trapped for three years inside the mountain.

    Meanwhile, up on the ridge, Tom's mother is desperate for help finding Tom. She feels he is not dead and suspects he may be lost within the mountain. The worst possible people step forward to search, treasure hunters.

    Through Tom's experience, he learns why his dad disappeared three years ago. He's given a chance for closure, education, and a dose of growing up all at once.

    One of the themes in the book is related to the treasure hunting, but is also a different take on history in the Americas. I don't know how much proof is available yet, but it is a theory discussed more and more, one that makes sense and likely has some truth to it.

    Wilson's first novel is a great survivalist adventure mixed with history and mystery. I like the split story, above and below ground, but Tom's story is the best part. That, and the dog that links them both. It is a well balanced story - humorous, creative, with anticipation running high.

    related-missing persons, caves, adventures and adventurers, mothers and sons, buried treasure, archaeology, survival, explorers, exploration of and inhabitants of the Americas
    RL=4th-8th

    The Legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer. il. Glenn McCoy.
    Hyperion Books for Children: NY, 2004.

    In an attempt to control the behavior of Will and his brother, their parents are forcing them to spend summer days at the library. They expect to be bored to death under the watchful eye of mean Spud Murphy. She won't even let them step off the carpet in front of the children's books! This is too much of a challenge for Will, but what will be the consequence? Will she blast him with the potato gun the kids are sure she keeps behind the counter? Will she detect his movements? Will this undertaking lead him to a totally unexpected adventure?
    note: author of the acclaimed Artemis Fowl series
    related-librarians, libraries, reading
    RL=2nd-5th
    *This book is written for young readers, but it is funny enough that others will love it too.

    The Legend of the Wandering King by Laura Gallego Garcia. trans. by Dan Bellm.
    Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Press: NY, 2005.

    Prince Walid detains and eventually ruins the winner of the Kingdom's Greatest Poet out of jealousy. His actions destroy the kingdom, and he is catapulted into a lifechanging quest. The book explores the concept of fate and how much choices affect the future. I enjoyed both the fateful events and the growth of Walid as a person each step of the way.
    related-fate, choice, consequences, poetry, kings, Arabian Peninsula
    RL=6th-YA

    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
    RL=2nd-6th

    Leonardo's Shadow: My Astonishing Life as Leonardo da Vinci's Servant by Christopher Grey>
    Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2006.

    For 2 years Leonardo da Vinci has been living off credit. That's how long it's been since he contracted to paint The Last Supper, his greatest painting, on the wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie. There is barely anything on the wall. Why? Is he in a battle of wills with his patron, the Duke of Milan? Is something more important than painting on his mind? How long does he think he can continue without painting the wall? To be sure, their relationship is complex, but who does Leonardo think he is?

    Giacomo's (Leonardo's servant) life is a mystery. His memory was lost from a fever and desperate chase before Leonardo found him and took him in. He would do anything to help Leonardo succeed. His most passionate wish is to be trained by his master (to share his master's life), but Leonardo treats him as an errand boy and petty thief (except that he is educating him).

    Through necessity and frustration Giacomo plans a solution to Leonardo's debts and what he believes is delaying the painting. There are, of course, complications he could not have foreseen.

    This is a fantastic historical novel. We get a glimpse of Leonardo, the Renaissance man, and the dealings he would have had with others to maintain his life while he sought perfection and understanding of the surrounding world. Plus, there is the mystery of the boy's past. He has evidence of possibly important relations. He wants answers, and he believes Leonardo has them.

    related-Leonardo da Vinci, 15th century, Milan, Italy, servants, artists, painting, identity, alchemy, inventors, inventions
    RL=7th-adult
    *I think the title would have been better without the 2nd part. If the description hadn't been so good, I might not have read it. The book is much better than you might think from the title.

    The Letter Writer by Ann Rinaldi.
    Harcourt, Inc: NY, 2008.

    11-year-old Harriet lives on her step-brother's plantation. Treated little better than a servant, she finds some value for herself when Richard designates her as the letter writer for his mother. His mother writes all of the letters related to the plantation business, so Harriet is gaining more education in the process. At the same time, Richard charges her with writing to an uncle, as practice, and she pours out her thoughts and worries to this relation, telling the story in the process.

    Nat Turner comes to stay and work on the property. Harriet compares his gentle preaching to that of her strict step-brother's ministry, and finds Richard wanting. So when Nat Turner asks her for a map to the surrounding area, she complies, though she suspects it may not be wise. That map becomes a key part of the slave uprising that Nat Turner leads.

    Ann Rinaldi discusses the Nat Turner uprising and his character and the idea of the girl as a letter writer being the focus of the story. The act of letter writing being her salvation.

    The story was interesting in that, along with Harriet, the reader is totally taken in by Nat's behavior. You would not guess from his mild manner that he is soon to be a cold, maniacal killer. Except that someone else did most of the killing at his direction. Systematically killing at several plantations, and the story does not indicate reasons other than anti-slavery and the flirtations of one girl. Again, Rinaldi peaks my interest. Hearing of the Nat Turner uprising in school, I assumed it was about a slave's revenge. Never having looked farther into the matter, I had no idea that there are differences of opinion regarding his character and motives.

    related-Virginia history, Nat Turner revolt, Southampton Insurrection, 1831, slavery, Southern plantations, African Americans
    RL=YA-adult

    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 TOR.com 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

    Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.
    Wendy Lamb Books/Random House: NY, 2012.

    Rebecca Stead's 3rd children's novel. The most striking aspect is that she loves to twist the story. This one starts with Georges and his parents moving to a Brooklyn apartment building from their beloved home. Emphasis is on change of job status and his mother working as a nurse and not home to spend time with him. The story is largely his adjusting to the situation. He meets a sister and brother right off and becomes friends with them, odd though they seem. Their friendship is based on spying adventures. Safer and Candy are both homeschooled, so they are always around to hang out with. Georges also gains friends through school as the story goes on, though slowly at first, and it takes dealing with adversity to develop the friendships.

    This is a thoroughly enjoyable read. It is quirky, with several odd character details, and anticipatory, as you can never tell what's going to happen next. And the story progresses in a completely different direction. Both Georges and Safer end up with big secrets that I did not expect at all. Just like When You Reach Me, it makes you feel like you need to go back and read it through again, with your new knowledge, to find the clues that you know Stead left. Awesome.

    Rebecca Stead, like another favorite author - Wendy Mass, fills out her stories with philosophical bits. I highly recommend both of these authors.

    related-spies and intrigue, adventure, middle schools, apartment houses, family life, homeschool, bullying, dealing with fear
    RL=5th 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
    RL=YA-adult

    Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet.
    Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2011.

    Peet gives a sketch of four generations in Norfolk, England. Older history is focused on the women, up until Clem's parents, World War II and beyond. There is just a glimpse of the great-grandmother, and Clem's mother has always lived with his grandmother. His father, a mechanic in the war, must adapt his life to suit the grandmother, who stubbornly keeps to her own ideas.

    The story starts with an explosive act. A plane flown into their home at the end of the war precipitates the birth of Clem. There are two more explosions that wrench Clem's life. One devastates his teenage plans. The other may drag him back to Norfolk after he has escaped.

    The core of the story is Clem's coming of age and his relationship with a wealthy, local farmer's daughter (both families having connections through the generations). They sneak around, as their relationship would not be permitted. The developments occur simultaneously with the Cuban missile crisis, so you know something is imminent. It works well metaphorically as well.

    <

    The buildup for the setting is large in scope, history and peripheral characters, and part of what I like about the book. It is unusual to connect that many periods, but it works. The characters are what I enjoyed most. Unfortunately, the two I like best (Clem's dad and Clem's friend Goz) are bit parts. Social commentary is an aspect of the book. To read a second time focusing on that might be interesting. The Cuban part, though oddly stitched in, is an interesting example of the times and propels the story forward. It's a good read, but Tamar made more of an impression.

    related-family life, war, Norfolk, England, 20th century, Great Britain, social classes, coming of age, 1960s, Cuban missile crisis
    RL=mature YA-adult

    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
    Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1994.
    Originally published 1868 by same publisher.

    Little Women was a book that I loved as a girl. It was written at a time when most people led simpler lives. I was impressed by the simpleness of their lives and their desire to be cheerful and useful. Coming from a large family, I also lived with simplicity and was less impressed with monetary things than other girls I knew. I don't know if our society has changed too much for girls to appreciate this story, but I do believe we need reminders that money and objects are not the most important things. Honesty and caring for others are not valued enough anymore.

    Like most girls, I empathized greatly with Jo because I didn't feel "good" enough. But as the story progresses, Jo learns from her mother that goodness comes more easily as you grow. It takes practice and the responsibilities of adults before proper behavior becomes standard behavior for a person. Adults also rebel against things they believe to be unjust-but sometimes silently.
    related-family life, sisters, New England 1860s, coming of age
    RL=6th-YA

    May not be strictly considered historical fiction, but it is old enough now to have the feel of a historical book.

    Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt.
    Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2004.

    Newbery Honor Book 2005

    Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is beautifully written. Schmidt has interwoven metaphors that flow perfectly with the story and pinpoint images exactly for instant visual understanding. The words have color and texture and make you want to slow down and hold them and cherish them before moving on.

    There are so many thoughts and emotions and issues blended into this story. The historical theme is the decimation of a community of poor, powerless people for the purpose of building a tourist resort. The other major theme is a boy's struggle to find and stick to the right path when the majority (including his father, the minister) are pressuring him to do something else. It is unfortunate that he cannot discuss his thoughts and actions with his disapproving, unbending father (who is undergoing his own struggle).

    The story doesn't end how I want it to end because it is based on actual events that took place in the Phippsburg, Maine area in 1912. However, there is hope of positive changes to come in the town of Phippsburg.

    I highly recommend this book. It is a great one to share with others.
    related-race, clergy, Maine history, noncomformity
    RL=6th-adult

    It isn't difficult to read, but I suspect it would have more meaning for adults, older teens, and people who have had to suffer some form of isolation.

    For those interested, there is discussion on this book in the BookAdvice forums under historical fiction.

    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
    RL=6th-YA

    The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd.
    David Fickling Books/Random House: NY, 2007.
    Originally published in Oxford, England.

    Ted and Kat take their cousin to ride the London Eye (a giant bicycle/ferris wheel) when Salim comes to visit. Salim uses a ticket given by a stranger to go up alone instead of waiting in line. He goes up, but doesn't come down. How's that possible? Ted spends 3 days trying to figure it out. The police and press are called in to help with Salim's disappearance.

    As the youngest present, Ted is mostly ignored. His sister Kat, feeling responsible for the situation, enlists Ted, with his analytic brain, to help her find Salim. She tries to do the field work herself, but Ted follows. Ted figures there are 9 possibilities, Kat discusses the options and does some sleuthing. When they get into trouble for leaving the house, not even Kat will listen to Ted. He turns to the detective in charge, and the solution starts to be revealed.

    The book is written in an unusual style and takes some getting used to. It's told from the perspective of Ted who has a neurological "syndrome" which causes him to focus on things in a different way. One of the things he chooses to focus on is the weather-all aspects. This helps him to analyze problems. Meteorological information plays a part in his solving the case.

    The mystery itself is good. It's unusual and twists a bit. I didn't expect the solution, although I could see it once all the clues started to come together. I highly recommend the story for its uniqueness.

    related-mysteries, detective stories, Asperger's syndrome (highly functional), missing children, meteorology, brothers and sisters, cousins, relatives, London, England
    RL=6th-8th

    A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.
    Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2010.

    A Long Walk to Water is about one man's story, Salva Dut - organizer of Water for Sudan, a nonprofit organization. The tale is written from two perspectives. Each chapter starts with part of Nya's day, a girl in Sudan who spends most of her day collecting water for the family. The greater part of the chapter is the story of how and why Salva arrived at his present day work.

    Years ago, Salva's family also struggled with their water supply. His family (as well as Nya's) relocated for months of the year for access to water. During this relocation period, his tribe the Dinka often endured fighting with Nya's tribe the Nuer, over the territory. In the 1980s, a civil war erupted in Suda between the Northern Muslim leaders of the government and the Southern non-Muslim groups. Soldiers attack the village in which Salva goes to school, and he is forced to flee, hoping that he will meet family along the path the refugees trek. They first flee towards Ethiopia, then Kenya. After many years, Salva is chosen from a refugee camp to be a foster child in the United States. He works toward an education and goes back to Sudan to try to help his people.

    Nya and Salva both walk for survival. Nya's walking is a never-ending routine for a family necessity. She looks forward to the off months when they are camping by the lake, because it gives her a break from the walking. Salva's walking is out of a desperate attempt at freedom and security, an attempt which lasts years before he experiences any of that security. Both of the young people exhibit strength and perseverance as they strive for a future. The two stories come full circle and mesh in the end.

    The way that Salva chooses to help his people is an excellent enterprise. Considering that much of the fighting to which the tribes had been exposed was over rare sources of water, what better way to help than to decrease the rarity. It must have seemed like a miracle to the Sudanese people, and I like that he did not stop with just his village or area. I like that Salva's work is inspirational and mind-opening, and also that it is a true story.

    Linda Sue Park takes a difficult issue and weaves a story that is horrifically, inexorably true, but in a matter of fact way that doesn't lose sight of the hope for a better future. It shows some of the desperation without it being too much for the reader (especially young ones) to bear. It cuts to the core of reality without being so ugly you cannot look, and it spotlights an example of real change in a world low on hope.

    related-Salva Dut, Sudan, Africa, civil war, refugees, lack of water, blacks, peace offering
    RL=4th and up, some mature content - violence

    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
    RL=YA

    Loose Threads by Lorie Ann Grover.
    Margaret K. McElderry Books/ Simon & Schuster: NY, 2002.

    Kay lives with three older generations of female relatives: her mom, grandmother and great-grandmother. Her grandmother drops the bomb while watching a favorite show; she has a lump in her breast. The story is Kay's experiences and thoughts told through short bursts of verse. Middle school age, Kay is struggling through her life at school and reacting to life at home, as changes happen with her grandmother's health and needs.

    This is a passionate story, with step by step coping with illness, including some shock and denial. This perceptive account shines with the closeness and interaction of the four family members. Strong relationships hold them together and pull Kay through the trying experience.

    A quick read, because you don't want to put it down. related-relationships, family, mothers and daughters and granddaughters, fighting illness, breast cancer, story told through poetry
    RL=7th-adult

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


    Ultra-Condensed
    • 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 The Lost Years of Merlin Series by T.A. Barron.
    Philomel Books/Putnam & Grosset Group: NY.

    The Lost Years of Merlin 1996
    The Seven Songs of Merlin 1997
    The Fires of Merlin 1998
    The Mirror of Merlin 1999
    The Wings of Merlin 2000

    T.A. Barron always writes with a consciousness of nature and spirituality. His stories are passionate and alive. The pace is slower than what is currently popular because there is meaning in every part of the story. The language of The Lost Years of Merlin is not difficult or even challenging, but the description requires some lingering and rumination to appreciate the story.

    In this series, Merlin's childhood is only loosely linked to the Merlin that the world recognizes, but I can see glimpses of the Merlin that Emrys will become. My oldest was disappointed because the story didn't seem to be truly Merlin to him. Barron points out that there is no established canon for Merlin's childhood. Merlin is different in these stories. He is the young Merlin, before he has learned wisdom. He may have the soul of a wizard, but certainly also the arrogance of one, and not balanced or kept in check by the self-restraint and wisdom necessary to be a great wizard.
    related-wizards, magic, childhood and education of Merlin, identity, amnesia, second sight, friends, King Arthur, prophecy, human relationship to nature and animals
    RL=6th-YA


    The Lost Years of Merlin:
    With a sudden jolt, he realized that he could not remember anything. Where he had come from. His mother. His father. His name. His own name.

    Cast from the sea onto the rocks of Wales is a boy with no knowledge of who he is or from where he comes. He soon notices a woman who says she is his mother, and they settle in a nearby village, although never truly a part of it. After a few years a momentous and life-wrenching experience propels the boy to journey in search of his past and identity. The task he must undertake on the legendary Isle of Fincayra, the bridge between the Earth and the Otherworld, sets him on a path to become Merlin, the greatest of all wizards.


    The Seven Songs of Merlin: In his youthful ignorance and arrogance, Merlin makes many terrible, careless mistakes. He puts aside the task with which he is entrusted, healing the lands of Fincayra, to bring his mother back to the island. Because of this mistake, he grievously wounds his mother and must learn what it truly is to be a wizard to save her. Each of the Seven Songs holds an essential truth necessary to be powerful enough to withstand Rita Gawr and his servants. This particular tale also mirrors the Holy Grail quest in that young Merlin's task is to obtain the Elixir of Dagda in order to restore Elen to health.

    This is my favorite of the series so far. I've read all but the last book. There is wisdom in each of the seven tasks he must achieve. A large step forward in Merlin's maturing process.


    The Fires of Merlin: Urnalda the Queen of the Dwarves calls upon Merlin to pay a debt by defeating the dragon that has reawakened and is looking for revenge since someone has destroyed the remaining dragon eggs on the island.

    A group of characters combine through their separate actions to lessen Merlin's ability to defeat Valderag, the dragon. Because of an old prophecy about the confrontation, he spends most of the time looking for the Galator which he believes will give him the power he needs. The Galator has been stolen from Domnu (its last possessor), so he travels to a volcanic cave to visit a seer (not unlike Greek mythology) to find its location.

    Merlin meets 2 deer people-who change back and forth between deer and people. His relationship with this brother and sister extends the series' concept of interconnectedness and helps to prepare him for his confrontation with the dragon (and confrontations in later books)-as does his relationships with Cairpré and Rhia.

    The relationship with Hallia and Eremon (the deer people) and the conclusion are the strongest parts of the book. Barron does a good job of showing the reader (and Merlin) the viewpoint of the animals which impacts how he deals with other creatures in hostile situations.


    The Mirror of Merlin: The 4th book of the series is again a book of connections. The mists in different situations connecting worlds. The mirror connecting times through different pathways. The mists were present in previous books-this time with increased focus.

    The whole book seems to me to be leading up to Merlin meeting his older self (which is the best part of the book). Other than this there is less purpose to the story than the other books. Many of the happenings are accidental. There are some good moments besides, like Merlin freeing the marsh ghouls and their helping him in return (a connection to The Fires of Merlin).

    One thing interesting is that Nimue in Barron's series is totally hateful and power-hungry. Normally, I don't see Nimue in this way-although there are variations in her behavior from story to story.

    The setting for Merlin's older self doesn't quite fit canon either. Merlin was not imprisoned in the crystal cave as Arthur's tutor. However, it lends interesting details to Barron's story.

    I need to go back and check The Seven Songs of Merlin. After reading The Mirror of Merlin, I wonder if Nimue's behavior in the bakery was only about jealousy and lust for power, or is it possible she had some contact with her older self? Did she want the sword specifically or only objects of power? Was she trying to stop Merlin through taking away the younger Merlin's power as she tries to do in this book? My feeling is that Nimue had some knowledge in The Seven Songs of Merlin that Merlin didn't have.Perhaps knowledge of the future?


    The Wings of Merlin: Dagda tells Merlin in a vision that he must convince the peoples of Fincayra to unite (an impossible task) to repel an invasion by Rhita Gawr on the longest night. He has 2 weeks to protect the island against certain destruction with the help of a few people-his sister Rhia, Caipré the scholar, Shim the giant, Hallia the deerwoman, and his own shadow. As a distraction, Rhita Gawr sends one of Merlin's oldest enemies after him with complementary sword arms. In protecting the children of Fincayra from Sword Arms, Merlin succeeds in gaining access to the Forgotten Island and earns the chance to restore wings to humans and to choose his destiny.

    I enjoyed Rhia's attempts at flight-both the swinging through the trees and the Icarus/Dedalus imitation. Her character is full of surprises and, as said about Rhia and Merlin, "full of madness." I appreciate also that this leads up to the recovery of lost wings and the history of the Forgotten Island. Shim's part in the story (though small) also adds to it. I wasn't impressed by the winged-human idea, but the story of the Forgotten Island is fittiing, and the formation of Avalon lends credibility to Merlin's choice to confront his destiny instead of staying on Fincayra.

    The reintroduction of an old enemy and Merlin's sympathy and mercy are one more step towards his ultimate destiny. In the last 3 books, Merlin matures greatly and gains both wisdom and the respect of others. Though he hasn't recognized his own worth, others are starting to consider him a wizard and to see the possibility of his greatness in the future-including the immortal Dagda.
    related-Merlin, wizards, forgiveness, unity, community, destiny, Avalon

    Lunch Money by Andrew Clements.
    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2005.

    For both Lunch Money and The Last Holiday Concert I made the bad mistake of judging the book by its cover, so I did not read them until recently. They didn't seem like anything special to me; I should have known better. It is amazing to me that Clements can use so few and simple words to convey all that he does in his stories.

    In Lunch Money, a business-minded boy (Greg) implements his best project yet: mini-comics. His neighbor, classmate, and nemesis (Maura) appreciates his idea and makes her own books. They feud, are separated, and then become business partners. They share their creative endeavors, and they band together to save their business with the help of their math teacher.

    related-interpersonal relations, moneymaking projects, business, comics, authorship, schools, selling and marketing at schools, student/teacher relationships, high interest
    RL=4th-7th

    Madapple by Christina Meldrum.
    Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House: NY, 2008.

    Christina Meldrum's debut novel is an eye-opening, thought-provoking mystery. Going beyond the mystery, Meldrum delves into questions regarding faith, religion, science, and life. Madapple is outstanding in its depth and uniqueness. It has been published as a young adult book, but is definitely adult level as well.

    Unique is certainly the word for it considering the different plot and concepts and the masterful meshing of plant lore with the story. A certain amount of open-mindedness is recommended as a reader. For myself, my first question is: how much was based on actual study-both the biology and the religious theory? My interest is piqued, and I want to learn more.

    Madapple has layered and intertwining themes, both complex and unusual. The first is Aslaug's trials. The deaths of her mother, aunt, and cousin are mysteries that feed the suspense until the very end. This is the plot that holds the rest together.

    Within the trial situation the reader sees Aslaug's isolation. In the beginning of her life, it seems fairly natural, though different from the surrounding society, and Aslaug starts to become restless in her teens (also normal). After her mother's death the isolation is thrust upon her. Also within the trials, a lack of communication is apparent. Aslaug does not understand normal procedures regarding an accused suspect. It is assumed that she is crazy, and therefore, capable of murder. Even when the facts don't support this belief, little attempt is made to communicate with her to find the truth. I believe this is a reflection of how people respond to each other in daily life. People have limited viewpoints, and most don't look deeper to find a truer picture.

    The next theme is the mystery surrounding the births, Aslaug's and Sophia Phalia's. The circumstances of Aslaug's conception are not known. Her mother apparently believed it was a virgin birth (not out of ignorance). She studied ancient languages in order to read texts that would support this view. This theme is closely related to the next-that of religious belief. There are two parts to this: 1)historical religions and the basis of Christianity and 2)the depth of belief or how it is practiced. When Aslaug notices that she is pregnant, her cousin provides a historical perspective. This perspective leads to obsessive behavior by her cousin and aunt, although her aunt already lives this way and changes her focus.

    The last one is one the author herself speaks of-a "dichotomy between science and religion." Biology is a great part of Aslaug and her mother's (Maren's) way of life. They gather plants for food, healing, comfort, and spiritual protection. In earlier years, Maren studied religions, but now rejects those beliefs as irrational (as many scientists are encouraged to do). She teaches Aslaug about the natural world, but refers to supernatural elements with disdain. Biology is a science that has been interwoven with religion, including mythology, forever, because it has the most basic (yet miraculous), practical uses. It is more natural (and possibly more meaningful) to teach it with the lore of ages than through strictly scientific fact. During the trials, biology is viewed from a scientific basis. Because Aslaug has knowledge of certain plants, she is automatically suspect. Her explanations are rejected, since they don't fit with this strictly factual view. Aslaug goes to live with her aunt and cousins after her mother's death and is then immersed in a religious environment. Her aunt is a pastor, and her cousin enlists her help studying ancient texts. The story compares the two opposite ways of living and brings them together in Aslaug who is capable of absorbing both ways and also capable of filtering ideas to live a more balanced life.

    related-biology, practical uses of plants, religious beliefs and practice, history of Christianity, Christ and early Christians, ancestry, court proceedings, isolation, lack of communication, homeschool RL=YA-adult

    Blog Stop Book Tours has scheduled more reviews for Madapple:
    June 4 Sharp Words
    June 6 The Book Faery Reviews
    June 9 Mom Is Just A Nickname
    June 13 From the Cheap Seats
    June 16 Something She Wrote
    June 18 YA Bookmarks
    June 23 Maw Books
    June 27 Writing From Kiddom 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
    RL=5th-8th

    Make Me Over ed by Marilyn Singer.
    Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Group: NY, 2005.

    The 11 stories in this collection include pros and cons in transforming oneself. Too often makeovers refer to an arbitrary standard that has nothing to do with who a person is. This book addresses this and also the need to sometimes change oneself slightly to discover a personal style or belief. The title actually was a drawback to me, but I hoped that the stories would not be that shallow, and they are not.

    This is another collection in which the readers' own experiences would greatly determine which stories resonate the most. One of my favorites is Bedhead Red, Peekaboo Pink by Marilyn Singer in which a boy starts dating a blind girl because she can't see him. He genuinely enjoys her company but lies about his appearance. So when she wants to introduce him to others, he gets a makeover to continue the ruse. The Resurrection by Jess Mowry is more serious, with a homeless boy hanging with a friend for food and some time off the street. Despite his friend's effort, the boy becomes dangerously ill. The makeover refers to the funeral home next door. Frank, in Bazooka Joe and the Chaos Kid by Norma Howe, isn't looking for any transformation. He likes his life the way it is, junk and all, until he meets Jenna and invites her over to his house. Peni R. Griffin's character in Vision Quest has lost sight of who she is supposed to be. It seems that she is different people depending on who she interacts with. So she performs an urban vision quest to find herself and her spirit guide. These are the stories that impressed me the most in the book, but I feel sure that others' picks would be different. It's certainly an interesting book with wide ranging topics.

    In Some People Call Me Maurice, Michael and his friends pretend to be French in an effort to be cooler. In Not Much To It by René Saldaña, Jr., Becky runs into an acquaintance from high school looking for free makeovers. It isn't until later that she realizes she has grown since high school and doesn't need to be cast in the same role. I enjoyed Wabi's Ears by Joseph Bruchac. An owl turns human to court the daughter of a chief. She drives him away, though she is impressed. It is through music that he wins her heart. I also enjoyed Terry Trueman's Honestly, Truthfully. After noticing that nobody tells the truth, a boy decides he is only going to tell the truth. Not a bad sentiment, but he takes it too far, almost seeming to be obnoxious on purpose. In the end, he decides truthfulness is too dangerous. In Marina Budhos's The Plan a mother remakes herself (name, job, everything) every few years, dragging her son along with her. This time the job is acting, and she involves him, putting him in a position of more control of his own life. Lucky Six by Evelyn Coleman is about as serious as you can get. A young woman performs as an exotic dancer in order to support younger siblings and go to college. With a mother treading on her dreams, she decides it's time to move. Butterflies by Margaret Peterson Haddix is way different. An immigrant invites a young woman to come to the United States to be his bride, when he learns that she is the only one left from their old village. She's not sure what to expect on arrival and succumbs to the makeover attempts of a women's charity organization.
    related-coming of age, short stories, transformations, exploration, makeovers, remake
    RL=YA-adult

    The Man Who Wore All His Clothes by Allan Ahlberg. il Katharine McEwen.
    Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2001.

    Get ready for an action-packed adventure with the Gaskitt family. Why is Mr. Gaskitt wearing all of his clothes? Who will catch the robber? And why did he take the pizza?

    The Gaskitts are fabulous! There are so many fun things going on at once-and there is a mystery to solve besides.
    related-twins, pets, humorous stories, robbery, chase
    RL=1st-2nd

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


    Ultra-Condensed
    • 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.
    RL=6th-YA

    Midnighters by Scott Westerfeld.
    EOS/HarperCollins Publishers: NY.
    RL=YA

    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

    The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson.
    Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2009.

    Pearson writes about one crazy car trip with four students in pursuit of a fair day. Though the trip is not too long, Destiny travels a long distance to confront a past which has kept her in a pattern of aloneness and changing boarding schools since she was 7 years old.

    The day starts with the routine of the school which has helped Destiny to cope, her antipathy to October 19, and her determination to stay alone and hidden. An odd conversation with a stranger signals the possibility of this fair day, and she grabs it willfully, dragging along three others. Seth because he is in need of fairness, undeservedly given trash duty, and he can drive. Mira happens by and is the closest thing Destiny has to a friend at the school. Aidan appears and is her friend's friend.

    The day is rife with coincidences. Nothing else would have kept them so focused on their day. Four unlikely people thrown together for a day by fate. While they each get something out of it, clearly it is Destiny's day, and spontaneity and three new friends give her the courage to face an unrelenting reality, so that she can start to live and interact with the world.

    Pearson has become one of those authors of which each new book is a must read. She has something big to say in each. Even in The Scribbler of Dreams which is on the light side and a cliché subject. She has become quite good at building up anticipation and walloping the reader with twists. I thought I knew what was going on in The Miles Between, but I didn't have a clue. It turned out to be much bigger than what I was thinking. A little lighter reading than The Adoration of Jenna Fox, but I'd say as good of a book.

    Also by Mary E. Pearson, David vs. God and A Room on Lorelei Street.

    related-secrets, emotional problems, friendship, boarding schools, family, fate
    RL=YA-adult

    Mindblind by Jennifer Roy.
    Marshall Cavendish: Tarrytown, NY, 2010.

    Every now and then, a book comes along which leads me to an epiphany. Mindblind is such a book. The book itself is about a teenage boy (Nathaniel) who has Asperger's syndrome. He has all of the events in his life stored in files in his mind, like a computer. Often they open automatically, with no control, due to a key reminder. Sometimes he is so stuck in the memory that he appears to be in a trance. He is struggling to interact in a world that is foreign to him, beyond his understanding. Mostly, he can cope with this. Mostly, he interacts with people who know and accept and love him for the gifted person that he is. He is at genius level, though he insists he is not a genius due to his lack of an achievement that impacts society. So, through much of the story, he is on a quest to fulfill his genius potential. His breakthrough comes when he is at his very lowest point, withdrawn into his own world after an incident that he cannot face. Two breakthroughs actually: a mathematical proof (an epiphany) which earns him a grad school spot at MIT and song lyrics for his band as he pours out his math and science mantra in retreating from the world.

    Nathaniel mentions people who possibly had Asperger's and made an impact on society, such as Einstein. I was confused about this at first, since the people he named didn't seem to be unable to cope in society, though certainly they are atypical. In reading the book, I was struck by how many of Nathaniel's "problems" are things that I have difficulty with as well. Some of them my husband and one son also share: sensory overload, problems with texture (especially food), stress regarding interacting with others, not fitting in, directness that others do not understand, obsessing about little things. Nathaniel calls his traits atypical; I'm not sure that they are. They are just more pronounced in Asperger's people.

    One particular trait I have struggled with all of my life. I thought my inability to interact (I hate groups and can't start conversations.) was psychologically induced due to childhood environment. I also thought that it was a personal shortcoming that in 20+ years of adulthood I haven't managed to improve this skill much (with people I know and with whom I feel comfortable, somewhat improved). But my comfort level with most people is low and stress high, leaving me with a serious need to balance when I interact with hibernation periods.

    My epiphany? I think quite possibly this is a biologically/neurologically based attribute that is ingrained deeply within me, not psychological. It is something that has caused me great depression for more than half my life, since I desire to interact with people but almost never feel like I belong. Maybe if I can accept this about myself and allow myself to worry less about what others think, I can eliminate some of the depression. I know some will still be there, because our society is going in a direction I cannot deal with or accept. I have been emotionally withdrawing in the last few years because of this fact. Financially, I am being pushed to be more a part of our society, and I do not want to be. At least not until our people agree that workers deserve to share in the profits resulting from their labor. Seems simple to me. People are more important than money.

    Mindblind is a smart, complex peek into the mind of a younger teen who struggles to understand the world around him and runs, physically and figuratively, when it is too much emotionally. Not so different from most people. The difference comes through his inability to understand how others think, especially the culture that is so alien to him. Given his known tendencies, Nathaniel does a remarkable job of interacting. The complexity of the story is related to his processing of his experiences, old and new. Especially noteworthy is his relationship with his young half-brother who requires that Nathaniel treat him differently, just as he needs to be treated with understanding. From what I have personally seen of Asperger's and Autism, this would be an achievement to be proud of, making allowances for another's flaws. The story has some cool extras - the kids' garage band and Nathaniel's obsession with The Amazing Race (not a show I've watched, but I like what he does with it).

    related-Asperger's syndrome, genius, rock groups, interpersonal relations
    RL=6th and up

    A Mind With Wings: The Story of Henry David Thoreau by Gerald and Loretta Hausman.
    Trumpeter Books/Shambhala Publications, Inc: Boston, 2006.

    Henry Thoreau was a thinker first of all. He wanted to be a writer also as was his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. In order to transform himself into a writer, he moved to Walden Pond to live in the woods (for 2 years). There he studied his thoughts and the world around him while living simply and wrote Walden; or, Life in the Woods and A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers about his trip with his brother, John. His books did not sell well at the time because his thoughts were considered too inflamatory then. (The author points out that 50 years before Thoreau's time he would have been in the stocks for missing church on Sunday.) Now, however, his works are considered great American literature and his concepts are known to have impacted both how we see the environment and how we respond to our government. Thoreau also wrote an essay based on 2 lectures he gave regarding his arrest for refusing to pay a tax. That essay, Resistance to Civil Government, has played an important role in civil rights in our country and other parts of the world.

    The publisher regards this book as a fictional account. Judging by the authors' note I would say it is a very close depiction. The authors used words from Thoreau's writings to construct dialogue for the story. They also read several biographies to form an idea of his personality and behavior. The book is enjoyable and informative and has a bibliography for more in depth reading.
    related-naturalists, writers, Transcendentalism, slavery, civil disobedience
    RL=6th-8th

    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

    Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller by Sarah Miller.
    Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2007.

    I have anticipated reading this book since I learned of it. Maybe overly anticipated. One of the very first books I read as a child was a serial biography of Helen Keller. I loved the story and read it several times. I also have seen 2 versions of The Miracle Worker. The 1962 movie with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke and the 1979 TV movie with Patty Duke and Melissa Gilbert. I think, because the story itself was what so enthralled me, this book could replace the old serial book in the hearts of children. The old one has nice pictures and was meant for very young readers. This one has more depth and much better language and writing. The events are much the same, but Sarah Miller has made an effort to convey the thoughts of Anne Sullivan-including what she believed Helen was going through before understanding the concept of words and as her world opened up. The perspective is the main difference. The old book is from Helen's. This one is from Anne Sullivan's, and because Anne was nearly blind and trained at the Perkins Institution for the Blind where she knew someone like Helen, this book to a certain extent incorporates both perspectives.

    One of the things that amazes me about the lives of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan is the realization of how important words are. Their lives made me think at a very young age about this concept. Words-we take them for granted, but the normal way of thinking (not just communicating) is with words. Some people have more visual thinking than I do. Sometimes we think in sound or pure emotion, but all of us think with words. Can you imagine what it would be like to try to communicate without having learned words? Or to communicate with someone else who hasn't? That is what this whole story hinges on. Helen was just starting to learn a few words at six months when she became so ill that she lost her sight and hearing. By age 6 she so desperately wanted to communicate that she had created her own gestures for many things. She needed a teacher who could understand her struggles and help her to communicate or be trapped inside herself with only her family to understand her at all. Only one other person had learned what Helen needed to learn, fifty years earlier.

    related-Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller, blind, deaf, people with disabilities, teachers, Alabama history, self discipline, orphans, American sign language, literacy, understanding words, communication, fictionalized biography
    RL=5th & up

    Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

    RL=YA-adult

    Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.
    Originally published in 3 volumes by Richard Bentley: London, 1851.

    If it had not been required reading in college, I most likely would never have read this book. The professor talked much about the main plot in class which I might have totally overlooked if he hadn't discussed it. I have heard many people moan and groan about Moby-Dick. At times I thought maybe Melville needed a better editor to cut out some of the extras. But then I realized that what I loved about the book was the rambling tangents that are so much a part of the book. It's possible that I didn't catch the main theme of the story because I was so enthralled with the extra details. Herman Melville was a master of description. He took topics which normally would have bored me out of my mind and made them fascinating. I did not know until now that the book was published in three volumes. I did know, though, that publishing often worked that way at the time. Perhaps that contributed to the fragmented feel of the work.
    related-whaling, New England-history, quest, obsession
    RL=YA-adult

    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
    RL=3rd-4th

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


    Ultra-Condensed
    • 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.
    Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool.
    Delacorte Press/Random House: NY, 2010.
    Newbery Award 2011

    Moon Over Manifest brings together a few recurring themes for children's historical novels: orphans, immigrants, WWI, poverty, railroads and a small Western town. A young girl, Abilene, is sent to live in this town, as her father follows the railroad in search of work. She finds a cache of treasured items and letters and searches with her two new friends for clues to a mysterious person, maybe a spy. The girls do some spying of their own, spurred on by old newspaper articles and a local psychic's reminiscences.

    Perspective shifts between present (1936) and past (1918). Abilene is hoping to find a connection between her father and the past stories. Pieces are slowing being revealed of the 1918 happenings to match the stowed objects. Townspeople watch over Abilene just as they cared for her father before her.

    I really enjoyed the story. It does sound like a telling of a family or town's history. The historical elements of the story are included in a natural, cohesive manner. There are characters of interest, such as Shady the temporary minister/bartender and Miss Sadie the diviner. The back and forth between time periods works very well for this story.

    related-secrets, fathers, Depression 1929, Kansas, small Western town, orphans, immigrants, mining
    RL=5th and up

    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.
    The Mouse That Roared by Leonard Wibberley.
    Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1955.
    Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post 1954.

    The Mouse That Roared is a political satire regarding the arms race. A tiny country in Europe sues the United States because a U.S. wine company markets a product with a similar name as the one major export of Grand Fenwick. When U.S. officials ignore the complaint thinking it a joke, Grand Fenwick decides to attack the United States. Under strange and ridiculous circumstances, the Grand Fenwick forces take a bomb hostage. Grand Fenwick's simple solution to the arms race is interesting, and the details of the story are funny in their ridiculousness. There are sequels to the story that I have not read. However, my family has watched the movie The Mouse That Roared and its sequel The Mouse on the Moon (courtesy of Netflix). The Mouse on the Moon was particularly funny as a movie. The Mouse That Roared was better as a book.

    RL=YA-adult

    Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2008.
    First published by Victor Gollancz Ltd: Great Britain, 1990.


    Ultra-Condensed
    • The Last Keeper of the Door at Holy Wood dies.

    • Memories escape from their tomb and beckon to the people of Ankh-Morpork.

    • Silverfish the Alchemist moves to Holy Wood to continue experiments with octo-cellulose.

    • They come in droves to make the moving pictures, building a new temporary city.

    • Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler can always be found where there's a sale to be made.

    • Victor the almost passing wizard student leaves for Holy Wood. Ponder Stibbons passes, because he gets Victor's test.

    • Victor becomes the clicks' Cohen the Barbarian.

    • Not so subtle subliminal messages (advertisements).

    • "As Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler knew in his heart, wherever two or more are gathered together, someone will be trying to sell them a suspicious sausage in a bun."

    • "Funny. You could know someone for their whole life and not realize that the gods had put them in this world to move a thousand elephants around the place."

    • The Librarian edits a film . . . with his teeth.

    • Blown Away, the Ultimate Picture, burning city and all, bound to mesmerize.

    • A click theater entombed.

    • "When five hundred crude two-elephant bobsleighs crested the ridge ten feet away at sixty miles an hour, their strapped-on occupants trumpeting in panic, they never saw the yetis until they were right on top of them."

    • Senior wizards sneaking out of Unseen University pretending to have false beards, in the hope of retaining respect.
    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.
    RL=4th-6th

    Murder At Midnight by Avi.
    Scholastic Press: NY, 2009.

    This mystery is different in that it takes place in 1490 Italy. The concept of a printing press seems like magic to the small town of Pergamontio. Magic is illegal by order of King Claudius, so the appearance of multiple exact copies of a seditious paper prompts the jailing of the local magician, Mangus. Fabrizio, an unwanted servant boy of Mangus, filled with awe and faithfulness for Mangus, is caught in the thick of the intrigue when he tries to assist his master.

    Caught between the power play of the mysterious Count Scarazoni and Signor DeLaBina, the chief magistrate of Pergamontio, Fabrizio is enlisted in an exciting adventure, requiring all of his abilities and a bit of illusion to prove his master's innocence. Through his investigations, he meets the daughter and printer's devil of the traveling printers. Fabrizio befriends Maria and enlists her help in the adventure.

    The details regarding the medieval setting a large part of the charm. I also enjoyed the interaction between Fabrizio and Maria and the appearances of the Count.

    Murder At Midnight is a companion novel to Midnight Magic.

    related-magicians, orphans, Renaissance Italy, mysteries and detective stories, printing press
    RL=3rd-6th

    My Brother Abe by Harry Mazer.
    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2009.

    My Brother Abe gives voice to Abraham Lincoln's sister Sally who died in childbirth at age 21. The story deals with the Lincolns' move from Kentucky to Indiana when they are put off their land by wealthy investors. Included is their mother's death and Sally's running of their frontier home at age 11 until Mr. Lincoln brings home a new wife. A poignant period of adjustment follows with Sally unwilling to accept a stepmom.

    The historical references to Abraham Lincoln are just teasers, a setting perhaps. The title doesn't quite fit, since the story is Sally's not Abe's. Little is truly known of Sally, but Mazer's story is a glimpse into the difficult life on the frontier. Imagine being in charge of the house (meals, cleaning, food rationing) at age 11. Even being left to run things for weeks while a parent is absent. The best part to me is the emotional struggle Sally has with her father and the ordeal of becoming part of the family her father pieces together out of necessity. Her burden is lifted, but belonging is another matter. I imagine it isn't so different from families pieced together nowadays.

    related-Sarah Lincoln, 19th century, early 1800s, Abraham Lincoln, childhood and youth, frontier and pioneer life, Indiana history, homestead
    RL=4th-6th

    My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath.
    Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House: NY, 2008.

    It's a summer of adventure for 12 year old Jane and her family and friends. As if it's not enough of an adventure living on the beach in their small Massachusetts town, Jane experiences a lone hot air balloon ride in an attempt to save her soul, Sunday afternoons with her friend and preacher looking to optimize their spiritual energy, babysitting a hoard of Gourd children as penance, excursions and dinners getting to know her mother's ex-boyfriends who have appeared all at once this summer, saving her brothers from an ill-advised boating attempt, and a close call-of-a-kidnapping. In her spare moments, she finds some time to enjoy her surroundings, calming and replenishing herself. She may feel like she is blundering through the summer, but she does a lot of good without fully realizing it.

    As in Everything on a Waffle, there are some quirky interesting details, like Jane's mother (Felicity) being a Pulitzer prize winning poet, and startling clear-sighted moments, like there being millions of days within one day because everyone lives that day differently.

    Jane's family lives a different sort of life than most, owing to her mother's outlook on life. Felicity's is a simple life - living in an old cottage on the beach, gathering wild fruits, clams and wild grasses to supplement their meager fair, treating others with kindness and giving them the benefit of the doubt. This may be a part of why Jane tries so hard to be good.

    Jane's friend Ginny is a kindred spirit, though struggling through her own troubles this summer. She also finds a treasure in an old friend of her mom's, the grandfatherly Anton Fordyce. They share a much needed restful afternoon in the midst of Jane's chaotic summer. Another old friend is set to open up a whole new world of adventures.

    related-brothers and sisters, single parent families, summer, beaches, babysitters, interpersonal relations, friendship
    RL=5th and up

    My Side of the Mountain Trilogy by Jean Craighead George.
    E. P. Dutton: NY, 1959.
    Newbery Honor 1960

    Sam Gribley leaves his family's home to live off the land in the Catskill Mountains. He looks back at the summer and fall when he was faced with solving all the details that would make it possible to survive through the winter independently-with comfort.

    As with the other books I have read by Jean George, the strength is in the details of being a part of nature as well as the feelings and thoughts expressed in this solitary living. The story concept is a little strange to me-possibly since so much has changed in our society since the book was written. While I can understand a boy's desire to live freely in an undeveloped area, some of the events wouldn't fit well into modern life. Still I enjoyed the ingenuity of the boy, and the descriptions give the reader the feeling that it is still possible to live independently with only products of the land and one's own ability to think of solutions. As I was finishing I also thought that those enjoying George's books would also likely enjoy Thoreau and Walt Whitman when a little older.

    related-freedom and independence, survival, study and observation of nature, ingenuity, problem solving
    RL=4th-8th

    On the Far Side of the Mountain
    Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Books: NY, 1990.

    Frightful is taken away and Alice, Sam Gribley's sister, strikes out on her own. Sam and Bando track her across the mountain for an adventure and to make sure she is safe. She leads them on a merry chase. When they learn there are poachers nearby, they split up. Bando contacts the authorities, and Sam moves quickly to catch Alice.

    The story is full of natural observations, but it is quirky also because of Alice's personality.
    related-wilderness survival, brothers and sisters, falcons-fiction, friendship, ingenuity, falconers
    RL=4th-8th

    Frightful's Mountain
    Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers: NY, 1999.

    Told from many points-of-view, the story follows not just Frightful but other peregrine falcons as well. It is the story of Frightful's transfer from captivity to the wild. It discusses (in story format) the dangers affecting the falcons and other endangered birds. The birds and those caring for them face conflicts. Protections are described as well as failed attempts. Children and wildlife protection agencies become involved in preserving Frightful's babies. Full of details of Frightful's adaptation to the wild, it has a great balance between wild life observations and human interest. It is an exciting story-the best of the trilogy.
    related-peregrine falcon-fiction, falcons, wildlife conservation, New York state, falconers, return of birds of prey to the wild, endangered species, migration, civil activism, school children, mating, falcon chicks
    RL=5th-8th

    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
    RL=5th-8th

    Necessary Noise: stories about our families as they really are ed by Michael Cart.
    Joanna Cotler Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2003.

    Traditional, blended or fractured - all families have disruptive moments. Times when communication is imperative, even if it is translated through behavior. Obviously, better if it initiates conversation, but families are often not that direct in communicating. These ten short stories deal with problems bursting out in modern families and the handling of the explosive moments.

    It's hard to say I liked the book exactly, because most of the content is difficult, understandably. The stories are good for those who like to read of misery and be challenged by issues. I have 2 favorites - Hardware by Joan Bauer which describes a family being pushed out of business by a Super Store and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde by Sonya Sones for the format and language in which it is written. Sibling rivalry in the extreme in sparse but direct and personal verses.

    Two entries are biblical in content - modern day versions of the Lazarus story (sisters dealing with his possible death) and Hagar and Ishmael (a homeless single parent family). There are a variety of issues in the others - belief vs skepticism, a visit to death row and a son abandoned by his father, a mental illness addressed by medication, a boy living with his mom and her female partner and unwilling to accept the situation, the relationship of 2 male friends through their lives, and a boyfriend brought home from college.

    related-family, short stories, tear jerkers, authors - Joan Bauer, Norma Howe, Emma Donoghue, Nikki Grimes, Walter Dean Myers, Joyce Carol Thomas, Rita Williams-Garcia, Michael Cart, Sonya Sones, Lois Lowry
    RL=YA

    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

    RL=YA

    New Boy by Julian Houston.
    Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 2005.

    In the late 1950s, Virginian Rob Garret is the first boy of color to attend his Connecticut boarding school. He is glad to have a break from the segregation of his hometown, but he also witnesses the mistreatment, humiliation, and isolation of a friend by other students. He gets his first look at Harlem, views other types of prejudice, and considers the social changes that are in the making. He is torn between continuing in Connecticut and returning to Virginia to participate in the young people's movement to stop segregation.

    New Boy is an excellent book. Rob is a character with intelligent, insightful observations about what he sees and experiences. He encounters many new and varied events with a mixture of wonder, excitement, hope, frustration, and anger.
    related-boarding school, Harlem, 1950s, African Americans, Jews, sit-ins
    RL=YA

    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.


    Ultra-Condensed

    • 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 John by Gary Paulsen.
    Delacorte Press/Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc: NY, 1993.
    Sarny: A Life Remembered sequel 1997

    This book took me by surprise. It is so different from Paulsen's other books. It emphasizes the importance of reading in an incredibly real way. Reading represents life and freedom. For people who only have what they are allowed, freedom (even within the mind) is worth many risks.

    Both Night John and Sarny are strong characters, and I found it to be a powerful book regarding slavery, education, and opportunities. It affected me deeply because I am a teacher living in a country that now takes education for granted, and I believe there are people here who want to limit education and opportunities for the majority of our people.
    RL=YA

    Night Journeys by Avi (Wortis).
    Pantheon Books/Random House, Inc.: NY, 1979.

    Two young indentured servants have escaped from their master in New Jersey in the 1700s. They have been told they would be safe and be able to find work if they can reach Easton, PA. Peter York's foster father is the Justice of the Peace in a small township just over the Delaware River border, but he is also a Quaker. Thinking of the reward money, Peter offers to help search for the fugitives. What he doesn't know is that they are children. Both Peter and his foster father wrestle with their consciences over the events that arise.

    The first time I read this book I was overwhelmed. It has been a few years, so I wasn't sure if I would still be as moved. Again, I was amazed by the depth of emotion evoked by Peter York's struggles. There are about 10 to 12 of Avi's books that I think are great. This is near the very top.
    related-indentured servants, Society of Friends, eighteenth century, Pennsylvania
    RL=6th-YA

    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
    RL=YA-adult

    Night Wings by Joseph Bruchac.
    HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2009.

    There is a mythical winged being inhabiting the top of Mount Washington in the Presidential range of New Hampshire. It is said that Pmola protects an ancient treasure in the region. Treasure hunters force Paul and his grandfather to guide them to the treasure. The grandfather is the expert on Abenaki legend in the area, and his familial ancestors have kept the stories through time. Paul has been raised to use his senses for observation, to control emotions that cloud thinking, to communicate in many ways, and to use all of his resources in solving his problems. His family training should serve him well in his dealing with these heartless kidnappers.

    The story is in parts: the mystery of the legendary creature, the adventure of the kidnapping and treasure hunt, the aspects of Abenaki tradition and certain family abilities. The anticipation of the adventure is greater than I expected. The story starts with Paul being chased by the winged creature. Glimpses are seen throughout. Sightings too large to be a bird follow Paul at home and on the trails. We know it is only a matter of time. That is the biggest impression I had, the anticipation.

    I also enjoyed the pure reading experience. Joseph Bruchac is an experienced and lauded storyteller. Much of what he has written has been based on tales passed down. But he is a master at weaving the language. I always feel a sense of awesome history attached to his writing. I suppose because he draws so much from tradition.

    related-Abenaki Indians, Indians of North America, Northeastern states, New Hampshire, Mount Washington, monsters, mystery
    RL=5th & up

    Nothing But the Truth by Avi.
    Orchard Books: NY, 1991.
    Newbery Honor 1992

    Philip is sent to the vice-principal's office for behaving disrepectfully while the national anthem is played. The situation quickly spins out of control as students, teachers, parents, school officials and the media become involved in the matter.

    This is Avi at his best as he highlights an issue that does tend to get totally out of control. The facts tend to get lost in the fuss, and people's ability to reason is also lost as emotions become inflamed. Both sides become increasingly defensive, and the more attention is given, the more the story changes.
    RL=7th-YA

    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.
    RL=5th

    Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt.
    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2011.
    author of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and Wednesday Wars

    Doug Swieteck's family moves to Marysville (upstate NY) in the summer of 1968. Doug starts the story an unhappy and scared kid. He doesn't want to be like his bullying father and older brothers. There doesn't seem to be anything to do in Marysville. He waits on the library steps for it to open only to be told rudely that it is only open Saturdays. But he does receive an offer of a job delivering groceries for a small grocer, which is better than doing nothing.

    On his first visit to the Marysville Free Public Library, he goes upstairs to escape the disapproving librarian and discovers the library's treasure, a display case with John James Audubon's book Birds of America, one of the few remaining copies. He meets Mr. Powell, the page-turner for the book and a kindred spirit. Somehow Mr. Powell finds the time to give Doug art lessons on his Saturday visits. Along with the lessons, there is much discussion about the composition of the pictures and art techniques. Not too far along, Doug learns from Mr. Powell that the Town Council has been cutting pages from the book when the town is low on funds.

    School is another source of aggravation. Doug mocks the principal at orientation and talks back to the Phys Ed coach (a Vietnam vet and the last person you want to irritate), so he's on Coach Reed and Principal Peattie's hit lists from the beginning. It doesn't help that there is a robbery in town and locals blame Doug's brother. Lil, the grocer's daughter, speaks on Doug's behalf or he would have lost his job, too. It is mostly through school, though, that Doug develops a pattern of sticking up for himself, acting on his own thoughts. It has consequences, and he needs to learn when to hold his tongue, but overall gains him respect.

    It is his father's company picnic that is the turning point for Doug's problems. He unknowingly befriends the boss, Mr. Ballard, angering his father in the process. But it is the first unquestionable indication that his father is a big liar, and it is a friendship that continues through the story.

    Doug makes a few friends on his delivery route. The playwright's, Mrs. Windermere, home is where Doug sees the first pilfered picture hanging. The principal's office is next. Then, Mr. Ballard's office. Later, he is shown a fourth hanging at a friend's house, a friend who also believes it belongs in the book. Doug instigates the return of the pages to the book. The first one is returned through friendship after Doug makes an impassioned comment. The others Doug has to bargain for.

    Okay for Now is a coming of age story balanced with family and school troubles and artistic (drawing and plays) and community endeavors. Doug's new relationships and his achievements are the factors supporting his growth as an individual. Although, some of the friendships are shaky, with teachers and customers, a few are solid and unquestionably supportive (Lil, Mr. Ballard, Mr. Powell, and the science teacher Mr. Ferris). The others grow as the people get to know Doug better, even with more robberies happening and grim circumstances for the brother.

    Schmidt is excellent at describing everyday events in an enthralling manner. He also balances many issues well and uses unlikely or unusual happenings in a believable way for an interesting read. The style is not as elegant as his Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, but still nicely written and entertaining. It is more along the lines of Wednesday Wars, in which Doug Swieteck is a minor character. Another memoir of a middle school boy, although with greater problems than the other.

    related-John James Audubon, art and learning to draw, plays, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Vietnam War, theft, jobs for young people, moon walk, NY Yankees baseball and stats, community and family life, family problems, handicapped or disabled
    RL=7th-YA

    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
    RL=YA-adult

    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
    RL=4th-6th

    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
    RL=6th-YA

    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
    RL=4th-7th

    Orphan Train Children Series by Joan Lowery Nixon
    Books #1-4 Bantam Books. #5-8 Delacorte Press

    A family Apart 1987
    Caught in the Act 1988
    In the Face of Danger 1988
    A Place to Belong 1989
    A Dangerous Promise 1994
    Keeping Secrets 1995
    Circle of Love 1997
    Lucy's Wish 1998

    This is an incredibly moving series for such short books. A woman reads to her grandchildren from a diary kept by one of the orphan children. The writer was the eldest of a large Irish family whose father died in New York City and the mother could not support the children. The children's adoption is based on a foster program set up to give the children on the streets a better life. It took place in the 1800s, during the Civil War. Part of the idea was to supply western pioneering families with children. There are stories appealing to both girls and boys.
    RL=4th-8th


    A Family Apart: The first book of the series is told by Frances, the oldest girl. She explains why they are being sent west, describes the families who take them in, and her experiences with her new family.
    related-foster homes, brothers and sisters, underground railroad, orphan train

    Caught in the Act: Mike's new family has a strict father who mostly wants free labor and a son bent on getting rid of him. They are hiding a terrible secret. Mike believes his safety and that of his new friends lies in exposing the secret.
    related-foster homes, family secrets, troublemakers, friendship

    A Place to Belong: Danny and Peg go to live with a kind couple, but the wife is sick and weak. They both grow quickly to love her and must accept her passing. Danny concocts a brilliant plan to have his mother marry his new father. It's a great idea, but can life work out that smoothly?
    related-foster homes, slavery and abolitionists, kidnapping, remarriage, farm life, Missouri history

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

    Found on an alternate history website (uchronia.com), 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)

    Paintings From the Cave by Gary Paulsen.
    Wendy Lamb Books/Random House: NY, 2011.

    Paulsen is an amazing author. He takes short and simple stories and fills them with soul. This book is three intense novellas about kids growing up amidst abuse and neglect, forced to be the adults. The stories feel real and each circumstance is different and original. In two of the stories, an aptitude for art helps a child to transend the surroundings. Also in two of the stories, dogs are a key factor in healing the children, giving them friendship and a sense of joy. There are varying degrees of transformation. It is a book of reality, not a feel good book. The children have limited interaction with people of other lifestyles, and sometimes outside influences are not enough to pull a child out of a bad situation. The ending story is the most hopeful of the three, though the other two have glimmers. Very strong stories for being so short. The reader is immediately transported. I love the use of the art experiences and the dogs.

    YA because of violence, but reading level is middle grades.

    related-short stories, violence, homeless persons, experiencing art, communication with and understanding dogs, dealing with illness
    RL=YA-adult

    Paint the Wind by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
    Scholastic Press: NY, 2007.

    Paint the Wind may be Ryan's best work yet. She writes for picture book level up through 8th grade, but her stories are so inspiring that they are enjoyed by adults as well. This particular book has a complexity not often seen for younger ages. It is 2 stories in one-a girl living with her strict, overly protective paternal grandmother, needing desperately to have a connection with her dead mother, and a wild horse, the lead female of her band.

    Maya's grandmother dies, and she goes to live with her maternal grandfather and his siblings, with which she has been denied contact since her parents' death. Their family life revolves around horses-wild and domesticated. Under the observation of Maya's great-aunt, Artemisia has her own story to tell, in caring for her new foal and surviving the dangers of the wild. Artemisia is one of the things connecting Maya to her mother, and they also help each other through a critical moment in the story. There are comparisons of their characters to be made as well.

    Setting up the story is Maya's transition from one environment to another, with trust issues playing a great role-relating to all of her newfound family. In particular, she has competition from a cousin, who does not want her invading his vacation time.

    There is also the matter of finding her way in foreign circumstances, as Artemisia similarly must find her way. Maya and Artemisia are both faced with survival in an extreme situation. There is the possibilty that the connection they share with Maya's mother is a key to their survival. Freedom vs captivity is another shared aspect of their stories.

    related-ranch life, Wyoming, wild horses, family life, orphans, self-actualization, psychology, freedom, captivity, lying or lies, death of parent and guardian
    RL=5th & up

    Paper Towns by John Green.
    Dutton Books/Penguin Group: NY, 2008.

    Since Quentin and Margo were nine, Q has followed Margo's adventures from a distance. She leads the in-crowd; he hangs with band members. Until the night she recruits him to assist in her flamboyant revenge. It's not until the next day that he realizes it is also a goodbye.

    Margo disappears without a word to anyone. Certain comments during the night of revenge convince Q that she may have ended her life. He finds that she has left clues for him, and he pieces together all the widespread and random evidence in his quest to find her, dragging along his friends and one of Margo's. The clues are more than just about her whereabouts; they are regarding her as a person. Q spends the month before graduation reevaluating the Margo of whom he was enamored instead of enjoying and preparing for the end of high school.

    I read much praise of John Green and Paper Towns last year from the YA blogging community. This is the first John Green book I've read. Some of the descriptions I read discouraged me from reading them, despite the appealing titles.

    I wasn't much impressed with the beginning of this book. The nine-year-old part is fine, but the night of revenge is a bit juvenile, as are some of the behaviors of other students. Of course, that is one of the points in the book. During the quest to find Margo, literally and as a person, the story moves in other directions. The poetry and philosophical discussion was a surprise after the garbage of high school. Margo's clues involve her broad music collection and Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. Q spends time comparing his situation to Whitman's words and extrapolates to fit his experience. Following the clues, Q doesn't know, but he is fulfilling Margo's plan for him.

    Midway through the book I started to really enjoy the story. Quentin is a good character, and I particularly liked the way he made an impact on everyone else in the story without intending to do so (maybe not his friend Radar so much, who is enough of a person on his own). I'm also a sucker for philosophical conversation. It gets me every time, but this part of the book is excellent. Also, Margo's escape plan is more appealing than her revenge. She has through her life cultivated a facade that she thinks is more attractive than herself. In other words, she hasn't cultivated her true self, but makes a promising start in her escape.

    related-missing persons, coming of age, identity, mystery and detective stories, Florida, poetry, Walt Whitman, friendship
    RL=YA-adult

    The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck.
    Penguin Group: NY, 1995.
    Originally published in 1932 by Robert O. Ballou, New York.
    Nobel award author

    I read this book, because it was a major theme in my Book of the Month selection, Steinbeck's Ghost, which refers to both the characters and setting in The Pastures of Heaven. It is a short story cycle, meaning a collection of interrelated short stories. There are an introductory chapter and ending chapter. Then each of the other ten is about a different family living in a valley near Salinas, CA, called Las Pasturas del Cielo. The conclusions for each family take place within a two year span, so characters are involved in different stories.

    Each story describes a way in which at least one member of the family is living based on an illusion. Something happens in the story to shatter the delusion, forcing a confrontation with reality. The first family story deals with the Munroes. The Munroes have recently moved to the valley to escape a curse Bert feels follows him, only to reside in the very house believed to be cursed by the residents of the valley. The Munroes fix up the property, and the curse seems to be gone. However, each family is adversely affected in some way by the Munroes, though there is no intention by the Munroes to do harm.

    As short stories, I enjoy the book. The interconnected aspect makes it possible to get to know the characters better and adds mystery. The stories are strong for being so short. Steinbeck's language has a wonderful texture. Highly descriptive, but in a beautiful way. It isn't difficult to read in any way, but it has a languid or leisurely quality that contrasts writings of more recent authors. I remember liking The Grapes of Wrath in high school. I would guess because of the writing style and some of the social commentary. The Pastures of Heaven is much shorter. Still a little depressing, but nowhere near as heavy.

    related-California, farm life, families, small towns
    RL=8th and up, can be read earlier but has mature content

    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
    RL=YA-adult

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


    Ultra-Condensed

    • 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-adultPeeled by Joan Bauer.
    G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Young Readers Group: NY, 2008.

    This book was a surprise. The reading level is low, so I didn't expect the complexity. Bauer again gives us an entertaining mystery with social significance.

    The focus is journalism-the truth vs sensationalism-using a haunted house as a vehicle. Underlying the newspaper theme is the spreading of fear through the town purposefully. Both themes are relevant to current events in our country. Wrapped up in the mystery is a commercial development scheme as well.

    The star reporter is a strong female character. Hildy learns some hard lessons with her success, due to her tenacity and coaching from an experienced reporter. A new friend helps her to see the town has not totally embraced the sensationalism of their rival. They are waiting for the truth to be told-and make sense.

    An enjoyable read with heart and some lightly probing moments.
    related-reporters and reporting, journalism, farm life, apple farms, New York state, high schools, haunted houses, fearmongering, social issues, high interest, commercial development, perseverance, politics
    RL=7th-YA

    Pegasus 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
    RL=YA-adult

    The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall.
    Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2005.

    Three weeks at a cottage in the Berkshires for the Penderwick girls and their Hound and dad! The cottage is lovelier than they could imagine and on the grounds of a mansion - with a lonely boy. It's the best time Jeffrey has had - ever. His mother is not thrilled with the wildness of his new companions. The five children get into one scrape after another, and the girls' influence turns out to be better than Mrs. Tifton (Jeffrey's mother) will admit.

    This light-hearted summer romp was the recommendation of my 9 year old son. There's lots of fun with the Penderwicks' antics and a touching ending concerning Jeffrey's future.

    related-sisters, friends, single-parent families, summer vacations
    RL=5th-8th

    The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall.
    Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2008.

    The Penderwicks are back home after their summer adventure, and there's always adventure with four girls and a dog. Aunt Claire comes to visit and tells her brother, the girls' father, it's time for him to start dating. Rosalind is unwilling to accept the idea and initiates the Save-Daddy Plan. Rosalind's friend Tommy is jealous of Jeffrey, from summer vacation, and she seems to be losing his friendship. Skye and Jane are having trouble with school work. They decide to switch work to suit their interests better, with terrible results. Batty and Hound are spying on the new next-door neighbor, plus the mysterious Bug Man. All of the family befriends their new neighbors, Iantha, Ben and Asimov (the cat).

    Birdsall's 2nd Penderwick book is a heartwarming and emotional romp. The girls are smart, lively, and real. A force to be reckoned with, as Skye's rival at school and on the soccer field can attest.

    related-sisters, family life, single-parent families, dating, Massachusetts, writing and writers/authors, theatrical performances, transition to reading
    RL=5th & up

    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

    Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow.
    Tom Doherty Associates: NY, 2012.

    As I started to get into this book, I thought it might be a modern day Catcher in the Rye. At that point, Trent is trying to figure out how he is going to survive on the streets of London, after having left home. Going home is not an option. He meets Jem, who is an expert and waiting for someone else to train and share his ambitious idea of a squatters' home that can be improved and livable.

    Homelessness is one of several central issues. In a time when so many buildings are abandoned, it seems natural that they could be put to better use. Jem has contacts that can help with the livability issue. Resources are not a problem, because of the abundance thrown away.

    After their livelihood is no longer in question, Trent's mind turns to the reason he left home, his family's loss of internet due to his illegal usage. From there the story follows two more threads: piracy and the affects of new legislation. The question of piracy has to do with Trent's activity and that of his friends in London. The legislation which prompts Trent's leaving home is extreme to begin with. But as the law fails to control piracy, the production companies push for more injurious laws, with the possibility of hurting nearly everyone. At first, Trent just wants to continue the behavior that started his troubles. As his work becomes more artistic, he is compelled to share it and revel in others' pieces. Things become more serious as repercussions are felt.

    The story is set in the near future, but a future envisioned if a law such as SOPA, CISPA, or ACTA were to be passed. Some of the realities in the book already do exist. Doctorow has not extrapolated much. After having fought off SOPA, there is also the knowledge that politicians are biding their time before they push another law at the behest of the production companies. One of my Senators is very much in favor of these laws. She claims that regulating the internet is a national security issue. It is only the massive negative reaction of the public that ended SOPA.

    The story is brilliant and creative! I was impressed with the meshing of several social issues in a very real story. The young people are not just homeless victims, accepting whatever happens to them. Though there are glimpses of harsher reality, they use their minds and creativity to form a life for themselves. Risky and not something to be chosen by everyone, but still an enriching experience for those at the center of it. At least, as a temporary choice. I also like that it connects Trent and his friends with people that might be able to help them within the system: parents, activists, lawyers, and some political representatives.

    The story makes a fairly strong case (though mostly an emotional plea) for usage that at this time is in a grey area. It might be considered fair use, but copyright holders want it to be illegal. The law so far has concentrated on attacking people who make the downloading that Trent does possible. There is also a plea for citizens to become more vocal towards their representatives.

    Cory Doctorow provides Pirate Cinema free to download, besides book format. His activism within the internet realm is worth reading about.

    related-homelessness, manner of living, copyright issues, film production, technology, internet, piracy, representative government, workings of law and politics, art
    RL=YA-adult

    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
    RL=3rd-5th

    Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park.
    Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2005.

    Julia and Patrick have a project to do for a club which emphasizes raising animals, growing plants, and practicing crafts. They want the club to pick their project to enter the state fair. Living in an apartment limits the choices of animals they can raise, so Julia's mother suggests silkworms which she had helped raise as a girl in Korea. Patrick is enthusiastic about the idea because of its uniqueness and practical applications. Julia tries to sabotage the project idea, because she would rather do something traditionally American. For the sake of their friendship, Julia eventually accepts the silkworms as a project. It is an excellent project after all with the life cycle of the silkworms, video footage of each stage plus a scrapbook and a finished product (their own silk used in embroidery).

    Besides friendship and the life cycle, Linda Sue Park weaves in sustainable farming, racial prejudice, phobias, how to deal with the annoyance of a sibling, and the writing process itself.

    I always enjoy reading Linda Sue Park's books. Her subject matter is unique, contemplative, and a pleasure to read. In this book, she experiments with a new concept-adding conversation between the main character and herself after each chapter. Slightly odd, it is interesting and works well in the story.

    related-silkworms, Korean American, friendship, life cycle, sustainable agriculture, 4H clubs, family farm vs. commercial farm, racial prejudice, tolerance, patience, phobia, younger brother, writing process, authorship, mulberry tree, state quarters
    RL=4th-7th

    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
    RL=4th-8th

    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
    RL=4th-6th

    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
    RL=2nd-6th

    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
    RL=5th-8th

    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
    RL=YA

    The Ravenmaster's Secret: Escape From the Tower of London by Elvira Woodruff.
    Scholastic Press: NY, 2003.

    Forest Harper assists his father in tending the ravens and guarding prisoners at the Tower of London. He is excited about the capture of three Scottish rebels until he learns that the prisoner in their care is a young girl. The girl, Maddy, wins his friendship, and he is appalled to learn that she is to be beheaded. His choice is to either watch her be executed though he believes she is innocent or commit treason by helping her escape.

    Though the plot is somewhat predictable, the details of the story and characters are more complex and enjoyable. A rare historical adventure with courage, justice, and friendship at its core.

    related-Tower of London, British history, 18th century, Jacobites, ravens, prisoners, friends, Scotland, rebellion, resistance, escape
    RL=4th-7th

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


    Ultra-Condensed
    • 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
      RL=YA-adult

      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. Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells.
      Viking/Penguin Group: NY, 2007.

      Red Moon at Sharpsburg is mostly about the devastation that wars cause. It is a book of atmosphere: what happens to the families in the vicinty of battles with their men at the war fronts and social lives and issues during the American Civil War. Some of the events were based on real happenings. The gist of the story is India's tutoring by Emory Trimble, a young scientist she grew up near, after her school closes, and efforts to survive (and keep learning and keep her dreams alive) as the war moves near and through their town. It is a good book for understanding war better and a good selection for high school level study of the Civil War. The book was enjoyable, though perhaps not as memorable as others.

      related-Civil War, 1861-1865, education of females in the 19th century, study of sciences (biology and chemistry), medical treatment during the Civil War, Southern opinions during the Civil War, Shenandoah Valley, senseless devastation of war
      RL=YA

      The Red Pony by John Steinbeck.
      From The Short Novels of John Steinbeck
      Viking Press: NY, 1953, now a Penguin Classic.
      1st 2 chapters publ by The North American Review (Boston) in 1933.
      4th chapter publ by Argosy (London) in 1936.
      3rd chapter Publ by Harpers Magazine (NY) in 1937.
      Nobel award author

      The short novel The Red Pony is 4 stories related to a young boy on a ranch in California. In the first, Jody cares for and trains a pony that dies before he is allowed to ride it. The second is about Gitano, who was born on the land related to the ranch and has come back to his birthplace to finish his life. It is also about the mystique of the nearby mountains. In the third, Jody cares for a female horse preparing to foal. There is a problem with the birth. The mother is put down, and the colt is surgically removed. The fourth is about Jody's grandfather who comes for a visit. His grandfather has one major accomplishment, leading a wagon train, and the story is about his grandfather's tales and dejection from feeling his life is over.

      All of Steinbeck's stories are a bit tragic. They have a heavily descriptive, yet easy to read style. The Red Pony is one that middle graders are encouraged to read, and yet I think it works better for mature teens and adults, because the subject matter tends to be difficult for younger readers, too tragic. Part of the book was assigned to me in 7th grade. I remember shying away from it, thinking it was too descriptive and upsetting, and not much else. It is a good story. I don't tend to like too much description (ex. can't stand Dickens), but Steinbeck's style is different. He had a way with description that others couldn't seem to match. His works have depressing parts, but there is also a complexity that draws the reader away from dwelling on them. One thing to keep in mind is that Steinbeck wrote right in the middle of the Depression of the 1930s. I didn't really think about that before, though The Grapes of Wrath certainly takes place during that period. Steinbeck, probably more than any other author, represents that time period. And the time we live in has close parallels to that time.

      I read the book, because 2 characters from The Red Pony, the pony Gabilan and Gitano, show up in Steinbeck's Ghost by Lewis Buzbee. I was intrigued by the mystery set up in Buzbee's story and determined to read more of Steinbeck. After reading The Pastures of Heaven, where the mystery of Steinbeck's Ghost takes place, I wanted to read even more. I do plan to read still more, Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, and a reread of The Grapes of Wrath.

      related-boys and horses, ranch life, tragedy, the West, California, families
      RL=YA-adult

      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.
      RL=5th-8th

      The Report Card by Andrew Clements.
      Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2004.

      Nora learns at an exceptionally young age that she thinks differently. At the same time, she realizes she doesn't like the attention that is the result of her differences, so she spends her elementary school life making sure others don't see she has rare abilities. Until fifth grade when test grades are dividing students into smart and dumb categories. She brings home a poor report card on purpose. Her parents then want to know how this can happen without any warning from the teachers. Under pressure from her parents, the school administers an I.Q. test, and the problem snowballs. She pushes ahead with her plan to prove grades are not important with the help of her best friend and a librarian she trusts with her thoughts and feelings.

      There are a few funny moments, but mostly it is a serious story about a subject that affects many people-students, teachers, parents and administrators. Though it is easy enough for 4th to 5th graders to read, it is interesting enough for anyone above that reading level.

      related-grades, exams, achievement tests, schools, genius, friendship, I.Q., memorization vs. learning and interaction, high interest
      RL=4th and up

      Riding Freedom by Pam Muñoz Ryan. il Brian Selznick.
      Scholastic Press: NY, 1998.

      In Ryan's fictionalized account, a girl runs away from an orphanage/workhouse, dresses as a boy in order to work with the horses she loves, becomes one of the best stagecoach drivers, moves to California as a pioneer, and becomes possibly the first woman to vote in the United States (dressed as a man). The story is based on the life of Charley (Charlotte) Parkhurst who lived as a male most of her life. In the beginning, she was afraid of being sent back to the orphanage. Then, she knew she could lose the right to work at her chosen profession. So, few knew she was a female before she died.

      The story focuses on Charlotte's relationship with the horses, her desire to control her own life, her learning experiences as a stagecoach driver, and her joy in the work she was doing. Her story is an excellent example of independence and hard work. Ryan tells the story of this strong-willed woman in a real and heartwarming way.

      The illustrations in this book are nice, gentle, realistic and detailed, and have a historical feel. However, most of them are not as striking as in the other books Selznick illustrated. The pictures are less integrated, but there is less of a need for that since the story is well developed (keeping the interest of older children better).

      related-Charley Parkhurst, 1879, mistaken identity, history of California, tending and driving horses, women's rights, independence, freedom, friendship, transitional books, chapter books
      RL=3rd-5th

      Ringside 1925 by Jen Bryant.
      Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2008.

      Ringside 1925 is written in verse from nine different perspectives of the town of Dayton, TN, during the Scopes Trial in 1925. All but two of the speakers (a visiting minister and a reporter) are residents of the town. I particularly like the viewpoints of the three students from the high school. The two boys are best friends who have a difference of opinion regarding the case. Peter wants to study geology. Jimmy is influenced by his mother who is concerned about morality. All three students are working through the trial. The boys at a drug store and Marybeth at a boardinghouse. It's the first time she has been allowed to work. She's excited about the bustle of the customers, and she is hoping to find something for herself in life beyond their town. Her older cousin, who manages the boardinghouse, is encouraging her.

      Upon reading the novel, I wasn't totally clueless about the events, since I had already seen the Spencer Tracy movie Inherit the Wind. I was struck by how much the novel resembled the movie, and in fact, I believe both made an effort to be true to the facts of, not just the case, but also town happenings. One thing that stood out that I didn't notice in the movie (which at that point was totally centered on Darrow and Bryan) was that the jury was in the courtroom for very little of the trial. I would not have thought it would be legal to continue a trial without the jury in the room! Both the novel and the movie make it clear that the case was being tried with the intent of drawing people/customers to their less than prosperous town.

      The book is very short and fast paced. It isn't just flowing; it's hopping. I like the different viewpoints, many more than you usually see in a novel. I think Bryant has done an excellent job of providing a comprehensive depiction, and the story is as much about the times and small town life as it is about the specific place. I am impressed by the number of personal details Bryant included in the story.

      related-John T. Scopes trial, litigation, studying and teaching evolution, Charles Darwin, Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, law and legislation, Tennessee history, 20th century, community life, novels in verse
      RL=7th-adult

      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
      RL=3rd-5th

      Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.
      The Dial Press: NY, 1976.

      Newbery Award Winner 1977

      This story is overwhelmingly powerful. It is the story of a black family in Mississippi during the Great Depression struggling to survive-physically and spiritually. Through Cassie we learn of the importance of integrity, pride, and independence. We also see how difficult it is to maintain them when confronted by people who believe you should have no rights, no pride, and no independence.

      This novel was one of the books that helped me to more deeply understand the conditions that the black people (especially of the South, but not only the South) were forced to endure for 100 years after the Civil War. It is not a subject that was fully taught in my history classes growing up in Texas.

      *The sequels are also very powerful.
      related-Great Depression, Black History, Southern States-race, integrity, independence, labor history
      RL=6th-YA

      The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone.
      Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic: NY, 2011.

      The title hides a serious historical fiction, mystery. Felicity/Flissy, an English girl, is dropped off in Maine by her parents in 1941. It isn't safe for her to live in England with the war on. Her parents leave, and no one is giving her any information about them as the days drag on, especially not her goofy uncle Gideon. Gideon receives letters that she knows are from her dad, but he isn't sharing the information. She's got to find out what's in them, why they haven't contacted her.

      The move takes a bit of adjusting. The house is an old captain's home on a cliff, wind whipping around it in a spooky way. The Gram, Auntie Miami, and Gideon are quirky and secretive. One of the biggest secrets being the Captain Derek who doesn't come out of his room. Flissy writes a note of introduction and pushes it under the door. It is received, and the favor is returned. Before long, Flissy is allowed to meet Captain Derek, who is not what she expects at all. She enlists his help with getting the letters, which it turns out are in code, generating another string of questions.

      Flissy shakes up the household, and one by one she pushes the members to deal with the challenges they'd like to avoid. They in turn offer her a loving home with plenty to explore. There is a fair amount of sneaking around to uncover the secrets and a bit of boisterousness.

      The pace moves at a fast clip trying to keep up with Flissy's antics. There is intertwining of many secrets and twists making for a packed story. The Bathburn clan of Maine is a lively bunch. The relationships forming are delightful. Everything is not resolved at the end, but at least Flissy learns enough to belong.

      related-identity, World War I, 1940s, 20th century, United States history, Maine, families, ciphers, performing arts, theater, music
      RL=4th-7th

      Room One: A Mystery or Two by Andrew Clements.
      Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2006.

      Room One is one of the most serious of Clements's books. It is suspenseful with an unusual topic. The setting is a small Nebraska town with a one-room school in danger of being closed. Ted is a 6th grade boy who can't resist a mystery. After completing his paper-route before school, he thinks he sees a girl through the window of the abandoned Anderson farmhouse. He investigates the farm and starts to help the girl and her family. In his mind he solves the whole situation, with his teacher as an adviser, only to find that they have their own solution.

      related-school closings, multi-grade classroom, family farms, homeless, war casualty assistance
      RL=3rd-7th

      Rose By Any Other Name by Maureen McCarthy.
      Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrinck Publishing: NY, 2006.

      This book is on the edge of what I would normally read and maybe on the edge for what is appropriate for YA (depending on what you believe). The strength is that it attempts to lend some guidance and understanding in manipulative (possibly abusive) situations that are happening with teens. What bothers me is that it also may encourage sexual encounters to be handled lightly. I don't think that is positive, for teens especially, but also in general.

      The main character is going through a major family crisis, causing and paralleling her teenage angst. She is writing as an outlet, but mostly working through it alone, by choice. Prompted by her grandmother's fatal illness, Rose takes a road trip to see her grandmother and make peace with herself regarding her actions of the previous summer. Her mother catches a ride with her, giving her space, making a pain of herself, providing information that might have helped Rose if she had known sooner, and causing situations that promote Rose's change of perspective (though seriously annoying to deal with).

      The story is written well. Despite not wanting to read teen angst regularly (I don't need to be caught up in that pain), I was totally engaged and didn't want to put it down. I love Rose and her mother and the way they play off each other. Her sisters may be too much, and her father isn't very developed. The story is complex with several problems leading to Rose's melt down. She is jumping between the present and the events of the past year, not in chronological order at all. Her current thoughts take her back to whatever memory is relevant as she self-analyzes.

      Another factor that is interesting is that the book is written by an Australian and takes place in Australia. The place and culture are apparent through reading the story. Though I've read books by Australian authors, this is the first time I noticed while reading.

      related-family life, family problems, interpersonal relations, self-actualization, self-analysis, psychology, Australia, road trips, travel, surfing, best friends, illness
      RL=YA-adult, mature content

      The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman.
      Random House: NY, 1987.
      Originally published by Oxford University Press: Great Britain, 1985.

      The Ruby in the Smoke is a Victorian murder mystery with some historical bits thrown in. It's not as long or dramatic as His Dark Materials, but it is an interesting story with the mystery of the ruby besides Sally's father's murder.

      Co-owner of a shipping company, Sally's father travels to India to check on business, and his ship is sunk. She receives an anonymous warning note. When she visits the firms office, the man she speaks with inquiring about the phrase, the Seven Blessings, drops dead of fright. So, her investigation begins.

      related-murder mystery, Indian opium trade, stereoscopes, women in Victorian England
      RL=YA

      Rules by Cynthia Lord.
      Scholastic Press: NY, 2006.
      Newbery Honor 2007

      How do you have a normal life when your younger brother is autistic and family life revolves around him? Catherine specifically wants a chance to make friends without David's interference. She's taught him rules she thinks are important to minimize embarrassing moments, but he only seems to remember the rules afterwards.

      This summer Catherine hopes to have a new next-door-neighbor friend, but out in the world her embarrassment rules her behavior. She does become friends with another boy with special needs. She enjoys Jason's friendship so much that she recognizes the value of it. However, when there is a chance that the friends from other worlds might meet, she tries to keep both apart to avoid dealing with her fear of embarrassment.

      Cynthia Lord has done an excellent job of balancing life surrounding an autistic child. Behavior does cause problems for the rest of the family, and tempers can get short, but there is much more to the story. Despite the growing incidence of autism, most people see just blips of behavior in public. This is a book for understanding what the families are dealing with, but also that kids with special needs are in some ways very normal and have rich lives and relationships, too.

      There is a bit of humor and warmth in the story as well as tension. Most of the tension comes from Catherine-not David or Jason. I read the book mostly because my 9 year old son highly recommended it. It took some time to get into it, but by the end I wasn't ready for it to be over.

      related-autism, brothers and sisters, people with disabilities, paraplegics, friendship
      RL=4th-7th

      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
      RL=7th-YA

      The School Story by Andrew Clements.
      Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2001.

      Andrew Clements is one of the most exciting authors in this age range, and this is one of my favorites of his books. Passionate, realistic, and fun-the story touches on honesty, achievement, confidence, and loss.

      Like most of his books, it is school-related. This one is about a budding young author, Natalie, who ought to be published but does not expect to be. Her best friend is determined that the story will be published. Zoe sets herself up as her friend's agent-even renting office services-and contacts the publishing agency where Natalie's mother works. The manuscript is enough to convince their English teacher to advise them, and Zoe's father (a lawyer) gives advice on negotiations.
      related-authorship, publishing and publishers, friendship, loss of parent, honesty, achievement of dreams, student/teacher relationships
      RL=3rd-7th

      The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman.
      Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Young Reader Group: NY, 2004.

      Not quite science fiction, the story is offbeat and psychological. Antsy, Howe, Ira, and the Schwa himself investigate the Schwa Effect (his seeming invisibility). Four out of five people don't notice him standing right next to them. Not even when he stands in the bathroom with an orange sombrero and a cat costume and sings loudly. His dad can't tell when he's home, and he tends to slip people's minds even when they focus on him. Most people have moments of invisibility, but certainly not to this extent.

      Is it genetic? The Schwa's mother disappeared from a grocery store when he was five, leaving him with a gaping, traumatic moment. Her story is another thing to be investigated in the hopes that the Schwa Effect might be reversible.

      The boys penchant for exploration lands Antsy and the Schwa in trouble when they intrude upon Mr. Crawley's (a reclusive restaurant owner) domain. They are manipulated into community service to Mr. Crawley and befriend his granddaughter in the process.

      The Schwa Was Here deals well with social issues without hitting you over the head with them. It has some depth, and levity with the quirky anecdotes of the boys' behavior. It is a quick but not light-weight read.

      related-friendship, identity, self-perception, blind, helping others, befriending the antisocial, missing parent
      RL=YA-adult

      Scribbler of Dreams by Mary E. Pearson.
      Harcourt, Inc: NY, 2001.

      The Crutchfields versus the Malones. That's how it's been for generations. Now Kaitlin Malone's father is in jail for killing a Crutchfield, and the Malone farm is faltering. Kaitlin and her sister are forced to go to the high school where the Crutchfields rule. The only spot of sunshine in her day is her lunch period when she escapes to a secluded courtyard to write in her journal. She shares this getaway with a boy who sketches. Through snatches they get to know each other. Too late (after she has a crush) she learns that the boy is Bram Crutchfield, the son of the man her father is accused of murdering, the only witnesses being Crutchfields and their employees. She gives him a false name and embarks on a relationship based on lies. Inside the Crutchfield camp, she learns there are two sides to the feud and that the opposing characters are not so different from her family. Well, in fact they are family, distant cousins.

      The story is a not-so-new take on the old Hatfield and McCoy theme, but Pearson has written a touching story. As a diarist, Kaitlin is given ancestral Crutchfield journals that may have evidence that will help heal the rift between the two families. Except that there is a scheme under way. The future rests on the decisions of Bram, who is likely to carry on the Crutchfield destiny. Kaitlin's dilemma is wrenching. They both have made glaring mistakes, and all they have to pull them through is the bond they had before the whole thing blew up.

      related-vendetta, feuds, honesty, role of family in identity, love
      RL=YA-adult

      Search for the Shadowman by Joan Lowery Nixon.
      Delacorte Press/Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group: NY, 1996.

      Andy Thomas thinks the only way his genealogy project could be interesting is if one of his ancestors was an outlaw - until he discovers it's a possibility. He's given an old family bible with one of the children's names crossed out. When questioned, his great-aunt refuses to answer any questions about the matter. It is believed that Cole Joseph Bonner stole his family's fortune and took off for California. In finding a picture of the man, Andy determines Cole must be innocent and decides to prove it. He is thorough in his investigation, using sources such as family letters, a genealogical message board, direct emails, library books, his teacher's advice, a librarian's knowledge and expert research skills, and in the end, a family artifact to prove his case.

      Andy receives threats regarding his pursuing the mystery. Everyone seems to want him to drop his investigation. With each clue he becomes more determined, even visiting the cemetery for leads. His success in finding evidence is amazing, but the solution leaves him with a larger problem than when he started. He wanted justice so badly, but not so much once he learns the truth.

      I read this mystery about 8 years ago after enjoying Nixon's Orphan Train series. My oldest son was reading some of his first novels, and Nixon's books were a hit. I remember being excited by this story then, and it was just as good this time around. The combination of the genealogical research, the mystery to be solved, and the boy's desire to clear his relative's name is tremendous. Nixon is a master storyteller, leading us step by step with great anticipation. I love unusual books, and this one is quite unique. It has a great range for readers as well, accessible and engaging for 4th graders through adults.

      related-genealogy, research, family life, Texas history, mysteries and detective stories, friendship
      RL=4th and up

      Searching for David's Heart by Cherie Bennett.
      Scholastic, Inc.:NY, 1998.

      Darcy's homelife is uncomfortable except her relationship with her older brother, David. David dies in a shocking accident, and Darcy must deal with her grief and guilt. She enlists her best friend to join her in a quest to find the person who received her brother's heart as a transplant.

      Well written. Though deeply sad at times, there is much humor and some interesting events.
      related-transplants, loss of jobs, brother's girlfriends, Houdini, Black American
      RL=YA

      Second Sight by Gary Blackwood.
      Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Group: NY, 2005.

      The setting is Washington, D.C. during the Civil War. Joseph meets the conspirators of a plot against Abraham Lincoln while performing with his father as a mind reader at the theaters. There is an alternate (altered) ending to the historic story. Joseph's new friend, Cassandra, sees visions of the plot, and so the two join forces to figure out the plans and warn Lincoln.

      If you do not already know the details of Lincoln's assassination, I recommend that you read about it before reading this novel. The story will have more significance.
      RL=6th-YA

      Suggested Books:
      The Day Lincoln Was Shot by Jim Bishop. Harper Collins: 1955.
      This book was popular in years past, so many libraries would have it. It's easy to read and has many interesting facts. The Lincoln Murder Plot by Karen Zeinert. The Shoe String Press: North Haven, 1999.
      This book is short, and most of it deals with the trial of the conspirators. However, it has sufficient information to understand the plot.

      Suggested Websites:
      Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
      home.att.net/~rjnorton/Lincoln74.html

      Lincoln Assassination Trial
      members.aol.com/RVSNorton/Lincoln18.html

      Jack: Secret Circles by F. Paul Wilson.
      Tor/Tom Doherty Associates: NY, 2010.
      2nd book Young Repairman Jack series

      In this second book of the YA prequel to Repairman Jack, Weezy is obsessed with getting the pyramid artifact that she and Jack had discovered back from the Lodge, which was handed the object by the professor that was analyzing it. They find a large scale pyramid and circle structure in the Pines which they know is linked to their miniature. This lends credence to Weezy's Secret History of the World, or at least the region.

      Also, in the story the family of Jack's best friend (who had died previously) is in trouble. He accidentally learns that there is abuse going on and wants to right what is wrong. His experiences are honing his future skills, and he is already making choices that put him on the edge of society and trouble. Choices that will force him to live a life of secrets.

      The third major theme in the story is Jack's missing five year old neighbor, Cody. At the start, he has just learned to ride his bike without training wheels. Twice, Jack tells him to go back home, knowing Cody has strayed farther than his mother would want. Later, Jack feels responsible, because he did not take him back or tell Cody's parents. He only watched him head back. In the background, throughout the story is a large creature lurking in the shadows, in different places around town. One possibility for the disappearance is this creature. Another is the ever looming Pines. Still another makes no sense, that the Lodge is somehow involved. The conclusion is more bizarre than I could have expected and is still shrouded in mystery, as are many things in the Repairman Jack series.

      Underlying the rest is that Jack cares about his community, he is offended by criminal actions, and is starting to see that he can impact the negative happenings. He starts from a position of wanting to assist the authorities in achieving justice. When that doesn't work, he goes the vigilante route.

      F. Paul Wilson has taken quite a bit of critcism on his move to write for YA. His books are not the standard YA books. To me, that is a good thing. His books are on the dark side, but they are also realistic in approaching tough subjects that occur regularly, with a smidgen of supernatural thrown in to keep the anticipation level up. Clearly, most people could not get away with behaving as Jack does. I like to think of Jack (the adult Jack) as the wishful vigilante in all of us gone wild. Wilson's YA books are well-written, captivating, original and employ philosophy regarding the development of Jack's character. Other YA books are dark also, just in a different way, often in a much less mature or formulaic way. I don't feel Wilson has made a mistake with the YA Jack. What is wrong with having a mature character for a change? YA should be about nudging teens toward a more mature thinking, not wallowing in high school immaturity. Jack's judgement of behavior in the community is very much how an adolescent would respond. The fact that he acts upon it is different, but consistent with boys' behavior, if they were to act.

      The best parts of the over-arching Repairman Jack series are the vigilante character and his resourcefulness. He attacks a problem from many directions. I also enjoy the supernatural tidbits, though the detective/spy/vigilante scenario is most of the story. The worst part of the YA series is that it is attached to a much darker adult series. Jack's character is over the deepend at times. I have not read all of the books yet, because he does things that really are not nice. It doesn't matter that it is to people who might deserve it. Because of this aspect though, I would only recommend the series to mature YA. They will want to read the adult series afterwards.

      related-mystery and detective stories, supernatural, coming of age, spying, missing child, alcohol RL=YA-adult

      The Secret of Sarah Revere by Ann Rinaldi.
      Gulliver Books/Harcourt, Inc: NY, 1995.

      Paul Revere's daughter, Sarah, is on the verge of womanhood as her father is riding for the Sons of Liberty. It is rumored that Paul saw who fired the first shot at Lexington, but he refuses to say who it was. There are other secrets as well to which Sarah would like to know the answer during this explosive period. It is a tense and heartbreaking time for Sarah who so wants her family to recover from her mother's death.

      This is one of the best historical novels I've read in a while. The questions Sarah deals with easily make it a strong story for today. The factual connections do not detract from the story at all and even are intriguing enough to be the story without the psychological and relationship intricacies.
      related-Paul Revere: blacksmith and patriot and family, Dr. Joseph Warren, United States history, American Revolution, 18th century, Lexington and Concord, communication during Revolutionary War, coming of age
      RL=YA to adult

      The Secrets of Vesuvius by Caroline Lawrence.
      Roaring Brook Press/The Millbrook Press: Brookfield, CT, 2001.
      Originally by Orion Children's Books: London, 2001.
      2nd book of The Roman Mysteries

      The Secrets of Vesuvius is a short mystery with much depth. The mystery of the lost boy is unusual enough. There is a riddle that Pliny (a Roman poet and military general) entreats the children to solve - a riddle that will lead them to the solution of the missing boy. Add to that the underlying questions of when Vesuvius might erupt, how it will affect them all, and what their reactions will be.

      The references to daily life in Ancient Rome give the story flare. Once you adjust to the oddness of it, the Roman terms blend nicely, though it may require more adjusting if you know nothing of Ancient Rome. For more enjoyment you may first want to read something like the Eyewitness Ancient Rome, or maybe something else that focuses more on Pompeii and Herculaneum.

      I think the italicizing of Roman words detracts from the story. After all, the reader already knows what words are unfamiliar, and Latin words are different enough to recognize as such. Emphasizing them in the story disturbs the flow, especially at the beginning of the story. There is a glossary of those words. I recommend reading through them beforehand.

      The story is fast-paced, because it is a blend of not only mystery but also survival and history.

      related-adventure, riddles, lost children, eruption of Mount Vesuvius, volcanoes, Pliny the Elder, mysteries, Pompeii, Herculaneum, high interest
      RL=6th and upJack: Secret Vengeance by F. Paul Wilson.
      Tor/Tom Doherty Associates: NY, 2011.
      3rd book Young Repairman Jack series

      In this third book of the YA prequel to Repairman Jack, Carson Toliver, captain and quarterback of the varsity football team, asks Weezy out. She agrees to show him where she and Jack found the missing body (from Jack: Secret Histories) in the Pines. He attacks her and freaks out when she resists him. She hides in the Pines until he leaves. Carson spreads nasty rumors about Weezy at school. Since Weezy confides in Jack and she is so upset she won't go to school, Jack decides to get revenge for her. It has to be a secret, because he doesn't want everyone to know who did it or why. Carson is too popular, he doesn't want to draw attention to Weezy, and Carson's friends are bullies.

      The rumors start a downward spiral for Weezy psychologically. She's grounded and forced to see a psychiatrist, and this causes more hurt and depression.

      Jack picks a plan of revenge - locker sabotage. It works so well that he prolongs and escalates the action, with a crowd forming each day to watch the spectacle. Carson isn't bright enough to figure out how it's happening, and Jack pushes him enough psychologically to reveal more cracks in Carson's reputation.

      Walt, Old Man Foster, and Mrs. Clevenger appear in the book. Walt for another Healing. Foster and Clevenger confer about secret things and hint at a destiny for Jack. Jack also meets Abe for the first time, while he works in Abe's uncle's store, USED. Saree is another person Jack meets, a girl known as a seer in the Piney community.

      Weezy and Jack discover another strange place in the Pines. This one is a dead zone where a building used to exist, with nothing growing and animals avoiding the spot.

      Mr. Kressy, the civics teacher, starts the philosophical discussion about guiding principles. Jack's dad suggests the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all as a primary principle. Kressy continues the extended conversation with the idea of owning one's own life. Mr. Drexler from the Lodge asserts that most people have no control; they are just Moved by a few other more knowledgeable people. Only a few people can handle certain Truths, and the few are keepers of that knowledge. Jack's sister Kate says if people are either Movers or Moved, they should refuse to play. Make their own rules. I think this discussion that spans the book is one of the most important parts of the book. Jack is forming his philosophy of life and grappling with right and wrong. Included is his 2nd major act as a vigilante, though it isn't the way he sees himself yet. Both were in response to terrible circumstances that Jack could not stand doing nothing about.

      I think this is the strongest of the YA Jack books, though I enjoyed all three for different reasons. It is the last of them. However, Matt from Fantasy Folder posted on Twitter that F. Paul Wilson is planning a bridge series between the YA and adult Repairman Jack.

      related-mystery and detective stories, supernatural, coming of age, revenge, guiding principles for life, assault
      RL=YA-adult, only mature YA and up

      Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman.
      Joanna Cotler Books/Harper Collins Publishers: NY, 1997.

      A young girl plants seeds in an empty lot across from her city apartment to connect with a father she never knew. Slowly others in her community follow her example for their own reasons. Thirteen neighbors tell their own stories in this beautiful book. The gardening brings them together in a way nothing else would.

      The story is written as short stories, a different one for each chapter, each building onto the previous.

      related-gardens, city life, neighborhood, diversity, community
      RL=6th-8th         note: author of Joyful Noise 1989 Newbery Award

      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
      RL=3rd-6th

      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.
      RL=YA-adult

      Shadrach's Crossing by Avi Wortis.
      Pantheon Books/Random House, Inc: 1983.

      Smugglers take over Lucker's Island as the town is struggling through the Depression. At first the residents are glad for the money they bring, but as time goes by they are given less money, and their fear of the smugglers increases. Everyone is afraid to go against them-except Shadrach. Because of the humiliation and fear of his parents he decides to collect evidence for a man he believes is a government employee. He may have gone too far and endangered his family as well as himself. A captivating and thrilling adventure as Shad follows his convictions and stands up against the criminals who have taken over his home.
      related-smuggling, islands, Coast Guard, Great Depression 1930s, courage, spying
      RL=6th-8th

      Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach.
      Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2005.

      Coming home from the worst possible first day of school, Hero meets the woman next door and learns of the missing diamond that is believed to be hidden within Hero's family's new home. Even more astounding is the necklace to which it belongs and the heritage that is attached to it.

      A significant portion of the book is based on the theory that Edward de Vere (a ward of Queen Elizabeth I's court) is the real author of the Shakespearean plays. A convincing case is presented, and it is woven into the story in an intriguing way. A suspenseful, high interest story with fascinating historical tidbits.
      related-William Shakespeare, Edward de Vere, authorship, Great Britain-history, King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, neighbors, mystery and detective stories, reputation, friendship, family separation
      RL=5th-8th

      The Shakespeare Stealer Series by Gary Blackwood.
      Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Putnam Inc: NY.


      The Shakespeare Stealer ©1998: Widge as an orphan turned apprentice has learned the skill of writing a form of shorthand. He can write as fast as a person talks and translate it after. This would be an invaluable skill to someone who wants to steal Shakespeare's new play, Hamlet. That is what he has been ordered to do, and when he is caught he devises another plan to steal the play. This involves apprenticing to be a player, and in so doing, he finds the first place he has ever belonged.

      More secrets are exposed as the story unfolds. The story is full of colorful characters, drama and adventure-and a bit of masquerading as well. This trilogy is one of the best for this reading level (6th-8th).

      Shakespeare's Scribe ©2000: The Black Plague has come to London again. As a result Queen Elizabeth has banned all public gatherings in the city. The Lord Chamberlain's Men take to the road to perform in towns around the country. Many obstacles are presented in their travels as would be expected. A new boy is hired for female parts as Sander stays in London. Widge finds himself struggling to get along with Sal Pavy as he gradually loses parts to him. Even his new duties as Shakespeare's scribe cannot console him. In the region of Widge's birth, he meets a man who claims a link to his family and may also drive a wedge btween Widge and Shakespeare's troupe.

      Shakespeare's Spy ©2003: In this last book Widge becomes James. He falls in love for the first time only to have the girl go out of his life again. Evidence is found of a thief within their troupe, and to prove his innocence James becomes a spy in their rival's troupe. He also tries his hand at script-writing and agonizes over the result.

      A cunning woman (fortune teller) tells Widge, Sam, and Sal their fortunes. She says Sam will become a traitor. She at first sees nothing for Sal, but then she sees a rough hand gripping him and a knife at his throat. She predicts Widge will come into a fortune. Later she predicts he will cause someone to die and someone to come back to life. All of the predictions will come true-but not necessarily in expected ways.

      As with the other books, there is no shortage of action and plot twists.

      related-theater, Black Plague, William Shakespeare, Great Britain-history, orphans, actors
      RL=6th-YA

      Shattered: Stories of Children and War ed. by Jennifer Armstrong.
      Alfred A. Knopf: NY, 2002.

      The United Nations reports that armed conflicts kill and maim more children than soldiers. Besides this fact, I learned as a homeschool teacher that starvation, toxification of drinking water, sudden homelessness and random killing from bombs, shelling and strafing are universal happenings in wars. They are the norm and are even used strategically by ALL governments to conquer.

      "The juxtaposition of youth and war haunts me. They say war isn't an appropriate subject for young people, and you know what? I agree. But war doesn't care. That's why I decided to put this book together."
         Jennifer Armstrong

      I believe that our country (US) is involved so regularly in wars, because the bulk of our people can choose not to think about what war is, since they haven't been happening here. Many of our military personnel were able to fight in their wars from a distance as well (ex. bombings). However, children in areas where warring happens cannot escape it, and often cannot survive it. Young adults tend to think about the horror and morality of war during wartime even if far removed from the reality of it. But how can they come to any real decision if the reality of war is not a part of their analysis?

      These stories are a sampling of various wars and circumstances. There is the sense that they could be any war. Many issues are included, from refugees to children enlisting to war resistors to conscientious objectors to destruction of homes, and even two children's improved circumstances due to abandoned homes.

      related-Ibtisam Barakat, Marilyn Singer, Graham Salisbury, M. E. Kerr, Dian Curtis Regan, Lois Metzger, Lisa Rowe Fraustino, Suzanne Fisher Staples, Joseph Bruchac, Jennifer Armstrong, David Lubar, Gloria D. Miklowitz
      RL=YA-adult

      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.
      RL=4th-8th

      Shift by Jennifer Bradbury.
      Atheneum Books for Young Readers: NY, 2008.

      Bradbury's debut book is a whopper. It sucked me in from the very beginning and wouldn't let me go.

      Orientation week, freshman year of college. An FBI agent starts firing questions at Chris. He assumes Chris knows what he is talking about. If he hadn't spent a couple months avoiding a certain possibility, he might have.

      It all started with graduation. Biking in races for years, Chris and his best friend Winston consider the possibility of riding from West Virginia (home) to Seattle. When Chris's mom bugs him about getting a minimum wage job for the summer, the cross country trip becomes a reality, with Chris's father's blessing.

      Win is being his usual irresponsible self: not collecting supplies, allowing Chris to do most of the packing and planning, borrowing money from Chris when he has plenty in the bank. Along the way, Win gets them into trouble and odd situations with his lying and fly-by-the-pants behavior. If he took time to consider, Chris would realize that Win is responsible for some awesome moments with people along the way. But also much stress. To top it off, near the end of the journey Win takes off, leaving as he is changing a flat, guaranteeing that Chris cannot catch him. There were clues that Win was planning a disappearance, but Chris was ready for the whole thing to be over. He finished the trip, headed back home, and prepared for college. He didn't call Win's parents, assuming Win would have done so. Instead, Chris is the last person to have seen Win, and Win's parents blame him. Enough to sick the FBI on him.

      Bradbury's story is Chris's look back at the whole trying and empowering experience. Amid threats from Win's father, Chris sorts out the clues he ignored and attempts to find his friend. To save him, bring him back, or throttle him? Chris doesn't know.

      Bradbury draws on her own biking experience to write a gripping and tantalizing mystery filled with personal and heart-warming details. It's a nice change to have the mystery not be regarding a murder. It's as much about the journey as the disappearance. A leap of growth for both young men.

      related-bicycles and bicycling, travel, missing persons, best friends, friendship
      RL=YA-adult

      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
      RL=YA-adult

      The Shopkeeper by James D. Best.
      Wheatmark: Tucson, AZ, 2008.

      Westerns are not usually my thing, but I read this one because I liked Best's The Shut Mouth Society. The story is a detective story set in 1879 in Nevada, related to a small mining town and state politics. When the Cutler brothers throw their weight around town, NY visitor Steve Dancy wonders why his whist partners, the respectable men of town, fail to do anything about the murderous behavior. He learns the Cutlers are only two of many hired guns in the employ of Sean Washburn, owner of several mining concerns, investor, and extortionist. Anyone who gets in his way is killed. Steve Dancy rights an injustice and is added to the hit list. As a retired New York City gun shop owner, Dancy figures he can attack Washburn's business interests, taking away his power. Washburn is more formidable than expected, and it becomes a fight to the death, moving beyond the town's boundaries.

      I'm still not a huge western fan, but the story is engaging. I enjoy Best's style of writing, and it's a quick read.

      related-silver mining, bank loans and investment in the old west, gunmen, Nevada, small mining towns, adventure
      RL=YA-adult, adult book

      The Shut Mouth Society by James D. Best.
      Wheatmark: Tucson, AZ, 2008.

      I first picked out this book, because it has a cool title and Lincoln on the front cover. I expected it to be historical fiction and maybe a little dry. What it is, instead, is a thriller/detective story centered around preinaugural papers of President Abraham Lincoln. The author has done an excellent job of building the story. I wanted to know more about the secret societies (there is a second with an inconspicuous name), more about the Sherman family (is there some truth to the genealogy or totally fabricated), and more about the resolution. The ending is abrupt and, to me, not very satisfying. It is a good, quick read with some exciting historical teasers.

      Commander Greg Evarts of the Santa Barbara Police Department is drawn into a strange cat and mouse game by his friend and collector of Lincoln documents. Professor Patricia Balwdin, an expert on Lincoln documents, is similarly recruited. They have no idea why until after Evarts's friend, Abraham Douglass, is murdered. It appears that anyone with knowledge of certain papers is being bumped off. The unknown enemy has the power to frame Evarts and demolish his career. Evarts and Baldwin are on the run, trying to find out any information that can be used as leverage. Staying ahead of the enemy proves difficult, and once they discover the possible source of the attacks, they must either take an offensive tack or be chased indefinitely.

      Professor Baldwin knows more than she lets on and may not be trustworthy. Evarts has family connections of which he was unaware. The conspiracy is far reaching and more complex than just a coverup of the Lincoln documents. The document they were shown gives no indication of the conspiracy or why they are being hunted. They need to learn what the Shut Mouth Society protects before they can know whose side they are on.

      There is some discussion about Lincoln - his yokel facade and other aspects of his image, his intentions concerning the Civil War and slavery, and his mastery of communication and politics. It takes the form of a debate between Baldwin and Douglass, with Baldwin explaining their differences, since Douglass is dead by that point. There is also an illusion to plundering of the South after the war. The book suggests that some of that plundering may have been done by wealthy Southerners, to keep it out of the hands of Northerners, perhaps, or to retain their wealth and power. A Mexican connection is added. I haven't heard this take on the plundering or reinvestment before, but it makes sense.

      related-detective stories, mysteries, Abraham Lincoln, historical documents, conspiracy theories, American Civil War, Reconstruction, drug trade, politics and power
      RL=YA-adult, adult book

      Silent To The Bone by E. L. Konigsburg.
      Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, 2000.

      13 year old Branwell is speechless when his baby half-sister suffers a head injury and slips into a coma. He dials 911, but cannot speak, cannot explain what happened. He is sent to the Juvenile Behavioral Center, because the children's au pair blames him for the injury. Branwell's dad asks his old friend Connor to visit him. They had been friends since nursery school, until around the time the au pair came to stay with the family. Connor knows at once there is much to be explained and visits daily to try and help Branwell tell his story.

      The story is an unusual mystery, in that the events are nothing like they first appear. It takes Connor's persistence in communicating with Branwell to draw the truth out. Branwell remains silent until Connor knows the whole truth. In between visits, Connor investigates to find evidence supporting Branwell's side of the story. He starts to investigate, with the help of his much older half-sister, before Branwell reveals anything, because he does not believe he would purposefully hurt Nikki. He learns quickly that Branwell needs someone to speak for him, and investigate. There are two crucial witnesesses that have not offered their knowledge.

      Branwell's situation is difficult. Perhaps, he worries that he will not be believed if he speaks the truth. Perhaps, he is ashamed of a secret. And just maybe, he is feeling like he no longer belongs in his family, since his dad remarried and has a new baby. Branwell sends Connor to his sister Margaret, knowing that Margaret understands about stepmothers and the loss of a father's affection. This family relationship is intertwined with the mystery. It is an equally important theme.

      Au pairs were a popular idea in the 1990s. It was an opportunity for foreign travel for the au pairs and possibly cheaper and more focused, personal, responsible care for the children, like a governess. With most moms working, this was an important issue, and it seemed like a good solution. But, an injury to a child brought up the question of safety and trust.

      This is an excellent story. It is complex, with the different themes involved, and has a high level of anticipation. The characters are strong, varied, and feel like they are themselves. There isn't just one story here. It feels like life happening. I saw the book years ago and was interested, but not sure I wanted to read social issues at that time. While those issues are there, it is a telling of life, a story. It doesn't feel like a lesson, like many social issues books do.

      related-mute, emotional problems, remarriage, brothers and sisters, babysitters, friendship, communication, adolescence, shame
      RL=6th and up

      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
      RL=3rd-7th

      A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park.
      Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2001.

      Newbery Award Winner 2002

      The orphan Tree-ear is fascinated by the potter Min's work. He begins to do odd jobs for Min in exchange for food and being allowed to observe the potter's process. He hopes one day to be taught the trade. Many aspects of the job are lifechanging experiences for him and also the potter.
      related-pottery, Korea, coming of age, orphans
      RL=5th-8th

      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
      RL=5th-8th

      Small Steps by Louis Sachar.
      Delacorte Press/Random House: NY, 2006.
      Sequel to the Newbery Medal winner Holes

      Two friends (Armpit and X-Ray) released from the Camp Green Lake correctional facility are living in Austin, TX trying to improve their lives. Armpit has been told that concentrating on small steps towards the goal is more effective in attaining it. Finishing high school, working and saving money, and avoiding violence are his primary game plan. X-Ray's plan is to make money quickly at whatever scheme works. His new one threatens to ruin Armpit's new start but also gives him an awesome opportunity to meet a teen rock star-which could also land him back in jail.

      Armpit's life is certainly eventful as he tries to steer away from the pitfalls opening all around him. Witty, full of adventure, genuine, and reflective, it keeps you interested until the last moment. Note: Main character is different from the one in Holes.
      related-juvenile delinquents (rehabilitation), cerebral palsy, physical disabilities, relationships, African Americans, celebrity
      RL=YA

      The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli.
      Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Group: NY, 2008.

      Napoli packs this novel with historical details and speculation. The story is a fictional answer to the controversy surrounding the painting of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, a controversy spurred by the fact that Leonardo did not name the painting. The primary belief is that Napoli's character, Elisabetta di Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giacondo, is the subject of the painting (but certainly not the only belief). Historical references are not even clear which portrait is the Mona Lisa. Napoli's story takes place primarily before her marriage. It is an explanation for the worldly look on her face in the famous painting.

      The author combines the idea of Lisa Gherardini with the idea that the portrait was commissioned by Giuliano de' Medici instead of Francesco to create a relationship between Mona Lisa and Giuliano and describe the political climate of the time. Giuliano's brother Piero rules Florence through the family's banking influence. He is a wastrel and nearly destroys the family and country. The next oldest brother Giovanni is a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church (and future Pope Leo X) and tries to moderate Piero's behavior when Girolamo Savonarola, a fanatical Dominican priest, undermines the Medicis influence through preaching in the plazas (on the streets). Savonarola manages to force exile on Piero and Giovanni, and he gains despotic power of Florence for himself for a few years. Giuliano is young but considered to be good. He feels he must stand by his brothers and so chooses exile, too. Though in the time beyond the scope of the book, he returns and becomes the leader of Florence for a few years.

      Back to Elisabetta, she is becoming a woman, of marriageable age, but her life is disrupted by family problems and the political upheaval. She is of noble birth, though her family owns a silk and olive producing farm outside of Florence, and she assists with the running of the establishment. Through visits to the nobility in Florence, she befriends Giuliano and Leonardo. This story deals with her possible life and dreams and how she is affected by the times. Her ultimate decision to marry Francesco when her heart (at least in the story) is so totally tied to Giuliano.

      The basic story is strong. There is the sense that the characters could be any noblewomen and men of the Italian Renaissance. The historical tidbits add that much more spice. The issues are common through history. In fact, I was struck by how similar some of the concepts are today - lavish entertaining and waste while the average citizen struggles, a country near destruction due to the banks being controlled by a few arrogant people, a charlatan in religious clothing trumpeting decadence and destruction to the public in order to wrest control of the country for himself.

      related-Italian Renaissance, late 1400s to early 1500s, 16th century history, Mona Lisa, La Gioconda, Leonardo da Vinci, Medici family of Florence (Piero, Giovanni, Giuliano), coming of age, marriage, nobility, love and relationships, historical fiction
      RL=YA-adult

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


      Ultra-Condensed
      • "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 Rotten by Alan Gratz.
      Dial Books/Penguin Group: NY, 2007.

      There are 2 things rotten in Denmark, Tennessee. The air and water poisoning paper plant in town and the murder of Hamilton Prince's father, owner and executive of the plant. Or is it murder? Hamilton believes it is and invites his best friend, Horatio, to visit and observe the evidence and suspects.

      The details follow Hamlet closely through the first half of the story. Those that know and like the tragedy (like me) will likely be more interested, though I think the mystery is good anyway. There are more suspects than in the original. It touches on the same themes, but adds on the environmentalist angle as well. Thankfully, the ending is nothing like Hamlet. The characters don't all die. It's fun to see the references to the original, and there are enough differences for an engaging retelling.

      One of the differences that I liked is that the narration is from Horatio's viewpoint. Gratz has taken a tiny role in Shakespeare's play and given it life. This aspect reminds me of the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead which is also used in the story. Horatio has his own life, and it appears it carries over into other mysteries. For ex., Something Wicked was just released this October.

      related-family problems, murder, water pollution, mystery and detective stories, social issues, Hamlet, Shakespeare
      RL=YA-adult

      Something Wicked by Alan Gratz.
      A Horatio Wilkes Mystery.
      Dial Books/Penguin Group: NY, 2008.

      Horatio Wilkes goes along for the ride to the Scottish Highland games in Tennessee. His friend, Mac, is not behaving normally, spurred on by his girlfriend to prove himself a man. The games become ugly after a fortune teller proclaims Mac's destiny. Horatio finds Duncan MacRae, the founder of the fair, dead in his tent.

      Trouble follows Horatio around as he searches for the culprit. The evidence points to Duncan's son, but Mac and his girlfriend, Beth, are acting peculiar. A Scottish punk band is picking on Banks, Mac's cousin, as he prepares for the saxophone competition of his life. Mac and Beth's dads are arguing about business and also behaving suspiciously. A striking girl Horatio has his eye on is sneaking around and spying on Mac and Beth's dads.

      Plenty of suspicion to go around. Horatio digs in with his usual tenaciousness and sarcasm. He's unprepared for how nasty things might become, and he's blinded slightly by his relationships with people. Plus, he comes to the games as a bystander and ends proclaiming himself a Scot.

      I have enjoyed the Shakespeare references in this book and the previous, Something Rotten. They blend even better into this story. There are enough changes to the plot to keep the reader hanging and to make it Gratz's own story, but I love the connections. In Something Wicked, Gratz is also setting the stage for Horatio's next mystery. Looking forward to it. They have been smart and funny so far. And as a bonus, my kids are comparing Gratz to Shakespeare in their homeschooling, and even coming up with their own writing projects.

      related-murder, Highland games, Scottish Americans, Great Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge, TN, Macbeth, William Shakespeare, mysteries and detective stories, friendships

      RL=YA-adult

      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

      Soul Searching: Thirteen Stories About Faith and Belief ed by Lisa Rowe Fraustino.
      Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2002.

      The book was slightly different than expected. Many forms of religion are included, though not all of the stories are religion oriented. As with most short story collections, I enjoyed some of the stories more than others. I did find it illuminating and thought-provoking. Each of the adolescent protagonists had reason themselves to ponder their beliefs and others. The stories range from Amish shunning to the Islamic jihad to creative inspiration as a gift from God to visions in Native American rituals.

      The inspiration for the book is also worth noting. Lisa Rowe Fraustino's story is related to her father's heart transplant. Shortly after the surgery, she began planning her soul searching collection.

      related-Amish, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Linda Oatman High, William Sleator, Elsa Marston, Dianne Hess, David Lubar, Dian Curtis Regan, Minfong Ho, Uma Krishnaswami, Nancy Flynn, Jennifer Armstrong, Shonto Begay, John Slayton, Lisa Rowe Fraustino
      RL=YA-adult

      Sources of Light by Margaret McMullan.
      Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 2010.

      Sam and her mom come to Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 to be near her father's family. Her mom, a pants-wearing freak, teaches art history at the university, and with the encouragement of a colleague, starts to teach at the local colored school as well. The colleague, Perry, embroils them in other activism, such as lunch counter sit-ins and voter registration, which endangers their life and makes for lively family discussion.

      This may be a rehashed subject, but it is well done and my favorite part is the twist to the story. Sam is given a camera by Perry to record Jackson for a school project. Perry challenges her to really capture Jackson the way it is, not the picture postcard view which the teacher is expecting. Sam finds that the camera helps her drop her worries of not fitting in. She exhibits courage she didn't know she had in order to record scenes that no one else is likely to display. She also sees things in a way she never has before, more personally removed. Although she's independent enough to deal with not fitting in, even under pressure from family and neighbors, she learns that when it comes to their black maid, she cannot be Willa Mae's friend as usual in public. It is not safe or comfortable for Willa Mae.

      The characters and relationships are strengths of the story. There is a spectrum of viewpoints, and several of the characters are strong and real. Sam, her mother, Willa Mae, and especially Sam's grandmother, the matriarch of the family, who plays such a short part. I love the interaction.

      related-coming of age, race relations, photography, segregation, history of Mississippi, Vietnam War
      RL=YA-adult

      So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld.
      RAZORBILL/Penguin Group: NY, 2004.

      Reading the cover description, I expected the book to be about fashion and coolness and being edgy. The writing style alone would make an interesting read. But there is much more to the book. There is mystery and suspense when Hunter's business contact diappears leaving her cell phone behind. When Hunter and Jen investigate her disappearance, they are pulled into an unbelievable situation. There is surprising social depth for a novel based on fashion.
      RL=YA

      Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.
      Farrar Straus Giroux: NY, 1999.
      1999 National Book Award
      2000 Printz Honor Book

      Speak is an intense and real experience. Melinda's art class, allowing her a healing outlet of self-expression and personal growth, lends an artistic style to an otherwise direct and painful story.

      Much of Melinda's high school freshman year is spent grieving. She starts the year with a reputation. She won't be allowed in any social groups, because of her faux pas of calling the police at a summer party. Worse, her friends are splintered, and her best friend won't speak to her. She withdraws into herself, because she cannot speak about IT, the event, and she is terrified of IT, the boy who attacked her. Art class and her retreat, a forgotten janitor's closet, are her two saviors. Living inside of her head is making her crazy. She needs to learn to speak, to unburden herself, to enlighten friends and family, and to stand up for herself. After such trauma, time is necessary to heal, and Melinda is perceived as a freak and delinquent until she is ready to live her life again. The catalyst is knowing that her ex-friend may be in danger, and she cannot allow that to happen without speaking.

      There is much more to the story than the subject of rape. That story isn't told until the end. Leading up to it is Melinda's deeply emotional high school and family experience. You want to take her hand and lead her in reconciling her life. You want to nudge her parents and ex-friends into dragging the story out of this obviously suffering girl.

      I balled through much of the book. I have been a victim myself, so it is highly personal and brings back painful memories. It is a subject that needs to be read about and discussed. IT happens to far too many girls and young women, and I believe that the experience stays with the them for life. 20 years later, I still find books like this cathartic, though terribly emotional. And do boys read these books? I haven't a clue. If they did, maybe men and women would have more understanding between them. But it is difficult to broach the subject. Both parties probably want to run and hide.

      related-high school, emotional problems, rape, coping and healing from sexual abuse, identity and belonging, outcasts, self-expression through art, speaking out, personal growth
      RL=YA-adult

      The Squire's Tales by Gerald Morris.
      Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston.

      The Squire's Tale (1998)
      The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady (1999)
      The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf (2000)
      Parsifal's Page (2002)
      The Ballad of Sir Dinadan (2003)
      The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung Cart Knight (2004)
      The Lioness and Her Knight (2005)-No review yet
      Quest of the Fair Unknown (2006)-No review yet

      The Squire's Tale: The story is told from the perspective of Gawain's squire (Terence) who is related to the fairies and therefore has undiscovered abilities. Gawain is shown as more intelligent and thoughtful than the other knights. The fresh perspective of Terence is the distinguishing feature of this retelling of events.

      The book will be more enjoyable for elementary readers than most Arthur stories.
      related-Gawain, knights and knighthood, magic, England, chivalry, fairy and folk tales, King Arthur
      RL=4th-8th


      The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady: In this book, Squire Terence and Sir Gawain are called on a quest. Gawain has been challenged by the Green Knight to accept one blow for another. Gawain gives the first blow and must find the Green Chapel to accept his. They leave Camelot to accept the consequences knowing that Gawain will likely be killed. Bound by honor, he has no choice.

      Lancelot has newly come to Camelot and has stolen Guinevere's favor. In Gawain's absence, Lancelot has also replaced Gawain in the court's esteem as the greatest knight of the kingdom.

      Morris shows Gawain as the true heroic knight with some slight flaws. Lancelot may be a great sportsman, but he doesn't have the honor or wisdom of Gawain. Wisdom that Gawain has achieved through hard lessons.

      The challenge of the Green Knight is borrowed from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a 14th century poem which was influenced by even earlier tales. The tournament at the end is symbolic of Gawain's replacement by Lancelot in later tellings. Time passes, and the young generation has its new heroes. Also the new story replaces the old-although the old is not necessarily forgotten by all.
      related-Sir Gawain, knights and knighthood, England, magic, honor, love, loyalty
      RL=6th-YA


      The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf: This is a retelling of Beaumain's story-the kitchen hand who takes up the challenge of Lady Lynet to rid her and her sister's castle of the Red Knight who has besieged the castle. Beaumain is a skilled knight in disguise. An unusual dwarf (who knows Beaumain's identity) accompanies them on the quest. Morris's much expanded version answers questions left hanging in the original telling. Not only does Morris's version make more sense, but it is also more interesting and realistic.
      related-Gareth and Gaheris, knights and knighthood, King Arthur stories, Knights of the Round Table, chivalry, beauty, love, Medieval life
      RL=6th-YA

      Parsifal's Page: Raised on courtly stories by his lady-in-waiting mother, Piers wants to become a page, not learn his father's trade-blacksmithing. He jumps at his first chance to serve a knight. As Piers learns the knight is a recreant, Parsifal (a rustic wishing to become a knight) slays the knight and takes the armor. Piers becomes Parsifals's page and tries to teach him to be more knightly. They happen upon Jean le Forestier who trains Parsifal in weapon skills. In Parsifal's quest for good deeds to do, they come across the castle with the Holy Grail. They fail to ask about King Anfortas's perpetual injury, and in their failure the castle disappears. The quest to rediscover it is also a maturing process for both of them. Along the way they journey with Gawain and Terence and learn of important family connections.
      related-Perceval and the Holy Grail, King Arthur, Medieval pages, England in the Middle Ages
      RL=6th-YA



      The Ballad of Sir Dinadan: Morris uses a minor knight that appears in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur as a way of telling of the often told or referred to love triangle of Tristram (Tristan, the legendary knight) and Queen Iseult (also known as Isolde, Isoud, and Isolt) and King Mark. Morris uses Sir Dinadan as a contrast to show what knights ought to be like instead of the more praised Tristram, just as he contrasted Gawain and Gaheris with Lancelot in previous books.

      In the story, Dinadan's father knights him against his will. Dinadan travels to Camelot where he befriends knights of the Round Table. He goes questing with others, but his foremost desire is to write and perform ballads. He prefers not to fight (like Gaheris) knowing that he is no good at it.

      In his travels, Dinadan meets a Moorish knight, Palomides, who has come to England to learn what it is to be a great knight. After journeying together Palomides decides it isn't necessary to meet King Arthur and his knights. He has already met the closest to ideal that he can possibly find-Dinadan.
      related-Iseult, Isolde, Tristan, Tristram, knights and knighthood, minstrels, troubadours
      RL=6th-YA


      The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung Cart Knight: Morris retells a lesser known tale, at least in our time, by one of the early writers of the Knights of the Round Table, French poet Chrétien de Troyes. He adjusts parts of the story that don't work well and adds more of his own characters while keeping to the basic storyline.

      In the basic story, Kai and Guinevere are abducted as the catalyst of a revolt against King Arthur instigated by Morgause. The intention is to accuse Kai and Guinevere of disloyalty, like Lancelot and Guinevere, kill them both, and weaken Arthur's rule over all of England. Lancelot and Gawain go to the rescue separately, and there is a trial by combat with Sir Meliagant, who imprisoned Kai and Guinevere, to resolve the situation. In Morris's tale there is a witness to the kidnapping (Sarah) who alerts King Arthur, which starts the rescue. As the kidnapping knight is also responsible for her mother and foster father's death, it becomes Sarah's quest as well.

      The story shows Lancelot as a worthy knight again despite his past errors. One odd thing is that Morgan le Fay is shown contradictory to how others have depicted her. She and Morgause remain mysteries to me. Perhaps, that is how it should be.
      related-King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, knights and knighthood, treatment of Jews, Lancelot, England, magic, fairies, Chrétien de Troyes's Le Chevalier de la Charette (The Knight of the Cart)
      RL=6th-YA

      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
      RL=YA-adult

      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
      RL=YA-adult

      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
      RL=YA-adult

      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
      RL=YA-adult

      Steinbeck's Ghost by Lewis Buzbee.
      Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan: NY, 2008.

      The first part of the story deals largely with a major change in lifestyle, a move to a different neighborhood and school, plus different jobs for Travis's parents, meaning they are never home. Travis decides he lives in Camazotz of A Wrinkle in Time fame, a perfect house in a perfect city (only it's sterile and boring and his parents are AWOL). One day he can't stand the inactivity, so he goes to an old hang out, the John Steinbeck Library (Salinas, CA) where he learns the city is planning to close the library due to lack of funds. His favorite librarian, Miss Babb, asks for his help in saving the library. She also recommends a book touching on John Steinbeck's works by a little known, local author. Travis becomes totally involved in the Save Our Library campaign, including getting this author, Ernest Oster of Corral de Tierra, involved. Travis regains an interest in Steinbeck's books, which leads him to see Steinbeck's ghost and some of his characters coming to life. He knows he's not crazy, since he shares the experiences, first with Oster, then with his friend Hil, Miss Babb, and his family.

      The mystery of Steinbeck, his characters, plus his setting from The Pastures of Heaven (the subject of Oster's book) remain elusive until the end. The whole experience - meeting with Oster, reading the books, watching the behavior of the ghost and characters - leads Travis and Oster to explore the region, looking for a solution to the mystery. Something is obviously being hidden and trying to come to light.

      The Save Our Library campaign represents the major theme of volunteering and activism. Saving the world. Through most of the book Travis actively participates in saving the library. At the end (one of the times more people are participating) his dad's band holds a benefit gig. They raise "A whopping $212.79." Travis replies:
      "That's not what matters. It's not this one thing that's gonna save the world. It's this one small thing and that one small thing, and all the others. This small thing here, it's part of something much bigger."
      Americans used to know that many people contributing their own talents can add up to saving the world. One of the huge things I think is wrong with our country is that too many people seem to think someone needs to be profiting off each little thing. We have lost the sense of giving, especially our time, creatively working towards a common goal without remuneration. It is refreshing to see such a strong example depicted as a cool thing to do.

      The exploration and Camazotz/Bella Linda Terrace (Travis's neighborhood) brings up the subject of reality. Living life as opposed to putting it on display or fencing and owning it. The idea of reading opening up horizons, teaching people how to live.

      Something discussed regarding Steinbeck is that life mysteries don't have solutions. So Lewis purposefully constructs a story that retains some of the mystery. I realized while reading this book that all stories (maybe even some nonfiction) are mysteries. Some are for solving, others for contemplating or appreciating.

      Steinbeck's Ghost reminds me of another mystery, Chasing Vermeer, because there are so many ideas woven into the story. They also both have creative spirit. Here is my favorite passage from the book:

      It's about silence. Steinbeck was silent about the real story he knew, and it haunted him. And there was this silence in Bella Linda Terrace that almost killed me, until I remembered the word Camazotz. And Oster, Oster let himself be quiet because someone else told him to be. And Hil and I were almost not-friends because I couldn't talk to him. My parents, too, they let the silence of their jobs shut up their real selves. And if the library closes, then all those books and all those words, they'll be silent forever. You can't let that kind of silence into the world. Make a noise.

      Chasing Ray has a great interview with Lewis Buzbee, in which my question of whether Ernest Oster is real or not is answered. The description of Oster's book and anecdotes about Steinbeck and Bradbury seem so real, I had to search to find out. Adding to the mystery of the book.

      Characters from The Red Pony are also related to the story.

      related-books and reading, characters in literature, libraries, political activists, family life, Salinas, California, moving household, John Steinbeck, mysteries, conduct of life, balancing life, careers, authors, writers, social issues, high interest
      RL=6th-adult

      Story Time by Edward Bloor.
      Harcourt, Inc: NY, 2004.

      I see Story Time as a satire of the Leave No Child Behind Act-the foundation being mandatory testing. In this story, the Whittaker Magnet School proudly proclaims its high testing status. The head of the school, Dr. Austin, is wrangling for a national committee position based on the scores. Two factors lead to these scores. 1)With the help of the King's County Commission, the school's district encompasses whatever houses (or students) the head of the school wishes, picking the better students in the county. 2)The students' classes consist of standardized tests in each class, every day. They do a test, and then discuss the answers.

      With the First Lady of the U.S. coming for a visit, chaos erupts as an increased number of incidences occurs due to ghosts within the old Whittaker Library Building-the location of the school. Not only does this make the administers look like fools, but it also makes it impossible to continue hiding the weird deaths that have been happening.

      I enjoyed the concept of the story based around the school. Also, the two main characters, Kate and George, are strong, with George benefiting from the school and Kate looking for a reason to transfer back to her old school. They both are at the center of the events and are instrumental in solving the mysteries surrounding the school. I'm not sure how I feel about the ghost/demon part of the story. It's odd, but somehow works in the end.

      related-schools, standardized tests, education, ghosts, murder mystery
      RL=YA

      A Study in Sherlock ed by Laurie R. King and Leslie Klinger.
      Poisoned Pen Press: Scottsdale, AZ, 2011.

      Here we have 16 new short stories inspired by the Sherlock Holmes canon. Holmes does not appear in all of the stories, and the stories are quite different than anything I might have expected. The auhors are not all writers of detective works usually, nor do all of the stories take place in Victorian England. Hence, the wide variation.

      This is an excellent collection, but perhaps, one to read leisurely. I find that short stories are often more enjoyable when you have time to take some breaks between stories. Think about them a little before moving on to the next.

      My favorites of the collection are The Startling Events in the Electrified City by Tom Perry, in which Holmes acts as a security consultant for President McKinley during Buffalo, NY's Pan-American Exposition and The Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman, in which Holmes travels to a remote Asian village to study (for years) a certain type of bee. Both of them have some wonderful Holmesian moments, while being way different from the canon or anything else.

      For children and young adults, the author most known is Neil Gaiman. Laurie King is a writer of detective novels. Leslie Klinger has edited an annotated collection of the entire Holmes canon.

      related-Sherlock Holmes, detective stories, crime, Alan Bradley, Tony Broadbent, S. J. Rozan, Phillip and Jerry Margolin, Lee Child, Tom Perry, Colin Cotterill, Neil Gaiman, Gayle Lynds and John Sheldon, Laura Lippman, Margaret Maron, Lionel Chetwynd, Dana Stabenow, Charles Todd, Jan Burke, Jacqueline Winspear
      RL=7th-adult, adult book

      The Sundown Rule by Wendy Townsend.
      Namelos: South Hampton, NH, 2010.

      Louise is a naturalist and wildlife caretaker in the making. She lives in the woods of Michigan with her dad, a writer of nature articles. She leaves the neighboring crows tidbits and observes from a distance as they feast. She's been known to care for injured animals, including operating on a heron which had its leg caught by a snapping turtle.

      Her father has an opportunity for a blockbuster article, joining the crew on a rainforest expedition in Brazil. Unfortunately, it means leaving Louise behind. She goes to stay with her aunt and uncle in a suburban environment for the summer and even has to leave her cat behind. Louise finds a special, untouched spot just outside of the subdivision, and she makes a friend quickly enough, but certain events challenge her capacity for acceptance.

      Townsend's love of nature shows through her descriptions of Louise's interaction and observance of nature. The story is complex and passionate for one so short, with several heartbreaks for Louise to bear. Townsend has characters learning from each other about different views of nature. But the very best parts are Louise's moments in nature. It is her habitat, and the author's detailing of it is natural and beautiful.

      related-human/animal relationships, love of animals and nature, visiting extended family, observing wildlife, natural habitats
      RL=4th-8th

      The Sun, the Rain, and the Apple Seed: A Novel of Johnny Appleseed's Life by Lynda Durrant.
      Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2003.

      This is a fascinating depiction of an American hero who planted apple seeds in the wilderness so that those coming after would have food to sustain them in the winter. He risked illness and death from the cold winters so that others might have food. All he asked in return was friendship, a little hospitality, and help gathering seeds to take back into the wilderness. His message was clear. If they would only plant the seeds from the apples harvested, they could help more neighbors to have plenty.

      I am sure many people at the time thought he was a bit crazy, and many would now as well. But possibly he was thinking more clearly than those judging him. He was driven by his mission and lived in a way I would not wish to live personally. But he managed too carry on, and there is no doubt he helped many. It is too bad there are not more people like him.

      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
      RL=5th-YA

      A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd.
      Random House: NY, 2007.
      Originally David Fickling Books: Oxford, England, 2006.

      Siobhan Dowd's first novel is a cry-your-eyes-out story. It is riveting and stirring. I cried half the way through it and wanted to shake the citizens of the town for ignoring Shell's problems-things the whole town was aware of.

      Shell's mother died more than a year ago. Her father's inability to cope leaves her to raise her two younger siblings. Dealing with her own grief and teen concerns, she needs guidance which she doesn't receive, until the unthinkable happens, landing her in the middle of what the local authorities consider a murder case. Gossip and her father's guilty conscience compound the suspicion surrounding her.

      There is so much going on in this story. It totally took me by surprise. It also brought up so many feelings from my adolescent years. It deals with a village that is secretive and gossipy, saying they look out for their own, and not doing so. It deals with teen pregnancy-the desperation of keeping it a secret (although that's not really possible), the heavy burden of guilt which keeps them from asking for the help they need, and the isolation that the situation propels the teens into. It compares a young caring priest who personally wants to help the needy with the more experienced, politically-minded pastor who cautions him about getting involved. Most surprising is the case of the dead babies with the detective's determination to pin them on Shell even when the facts are not adding up.

      Looking at the plot of the book, it might seem like it's such a lot of trouble and just thoroughly depressing. There is a strength in Shell, though, that makes you believe somehow it will be okay. There is also beauty in the writing of the story and Shell's character. A wonderful surprise also was Father Rose, of which I believe there are too few in the world. He reached out to Shell when no one else did.

      When I finished the book, I did some searching to find more about the author. I was sad to see that she died in 2007.

      related-teen pregnancy, alcoholism, death of a parent, dating, family problems, Ireland, Catholic priests, spirituality, life in small towns, birth, care of children
      RL=YA-adult, mature content

      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
      RL=7th-YA

      The Sword and the Circle by Rosemary Sutcliff.
      E.P. Dutton: NY, 1981.

      This is a faithful, traditional retelling of the King Arthur stories. The main difference between this and the older standards is that the language is more modern. It compares well with Howard Pyle, just a different style.
      Sequels are:
      The Light Beyond the Forest (1979)
      and The Road to Camlann (1981)

      related-King Arthur, Queen Guenever, Sir Lancelot, knights and knighthood, Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Tristan & Iseult, Merlin
      RL=YA-adult

      Sword of the Rightful King by Jane Yolen.
      Harcourt, Inc: Orlando, 2003.

      In this retelling of The Sword in the Stone, Jane Yolen brings the old characters to life and makes them real. She adds new twists to the story with her usual flair. Her version focuses mainly on the weak position that Arthur is in as High King of a country normally split into factions fighting against each other. It is a good story for someone who has not already been enchanted by the Arthur stories, and those who already love the stories will enjoy Yolen's additions.
      related-King Arthur, knighthood, trickery, magic
      RL=5th-8th

      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

      Taken by Edward Bloor.
      Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2007.

      In 2035, the gap between economic classes has grown (more than it has in recent decades). The children/teenagers of the wealthy have become a commodity, kidnapping a regular industry. Charity Meyers wakes in a guarded ambulance. She tries to remember events leading to her predicament, and tries to forget, because it is the best way to survive the ordeal. She concentrates mostly on past events in order to retain her sanity. When jarred into the present, she wonders if she should go along with the kidnappers' wishes or if she should be looking for an opportunity for escape.

      During some moments, she realizes her life has significant drawbacks. Befriending one of the kidnappers gives them both a deeper understanding of life and the situation. When faced with the deviations from the plan, Charity is forced to decide what she wants in her life.

      The kidnapping part of the story is interesting, as well as some of the memories and interaction with the youngest kidnapper. The motivation behind the kidnapping is a huge twist, with an intriguing ending. Charity's previous life is annoying, but I guess it is meant to be. I did see some parallel's to current events, though they are exaggerated in the story. Overall, a depressing story, but absorbing.
      related-kidnapping, social classes, gated communities, dystopia, life choices
      RL=YA

      The Talking Earth by Jean Craighead George.
      Harper & Row, Publishers: NY, 1983.
      author of Julie of the Wolves Newbery Award 1973

      Billie Wind is asked to choose her punishment for scoffing at the tribe's legends. She chooses something she thinks is ridiculous believing that it will not be carried out. The council agrees to the punishment-24 hours alone in the swamp to listen to the animals talk. Circumstances spin out of her control, and that time lengthens to 12 weeks. In that time she learns to survive by listening to what the animals tell her. She also acknowledges that the earth must be protected because the animals know more about the earth and survival than humans. While humans could conceivably move to another planet, the animals would be left behind to die.

      The story focuses on living with animals, communicating with them, and learning from them. Billie Wind shows concern about the destruction of the environment throughout the story. By the end she has gained a greater understanding of her people's legends.
      related-Seminoles, Native Americans, Everglades, ecology, animal, survival
      RL=6th-8th

      Tamar by Mal Peet.
      Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2007.
      Carnegie Medal Winner

      Okay, this was more complex and darker than expected. It had a twist I was not expecting. It is not confirmed until the end, but leaves you hanging with anticipation, wondering about the conclusion.

      Two stories are told - one in present England, the other in 1944 Holland. After a young girl's grandfather dies, she receives a box with clues to the past. Her father had disappeared years ago after following clues also. From the 1944 perspective, we know that her grandparents lived in Holland during the Resistance against German control. Tamar is a Dutch-born English spy, continuing an affair with the woman who owns his safe house. The story from the past is thoroughly told, except the very ending. The present story is the girl's relationship with the grandfather and her journey to discover his past through his clues, an attempt to patch up things he regrets.

      I love the complexity of the story, the texture of the telling. Excellent work for the author's first novel! Tamar is inspired by true events. Events and atmosphere during the Resistance were a springboard for the rest. I hope to read more from Mal Peet.

      related-World War II, spies, past life, relationships, Resistance to German invasion and occupation
      RL=YA-adult, mature content

      The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts by Richard Peck.
      Dial Books/Penguin Group (USA) Inc: NY, 2004.

      author of A Long Way from Chicago-Newbery Honor 1999 and A Year Down Yonder-Newbery Award 2001

      Russell thinks Hominy Ridge School is sure to close when the town's teacher dies right before the starting date. He believes this will leave him free to pursue his own plans to join a harvesting team in the Dakotas with his best friend. Unforeseen circumstances save the school, and the new teacher instills new life in the lessons and leads the children in an unexpected and promising direction.

      It has the same quirky humor as A Long Way from Chicago andA Year Down Yonder. It's set in a small Indiana town in 1904-near the turn of a century and at a time when drastic changes were heading their way. Peck's vivid depiction of peculiar events happening to ordinary people make his books outstandingly funny. You never know what will happen next.
      RL=6th-YA

      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
      RL=YA-adult

      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
      RL=7th-adult

      Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.
      Negro Universities Press: NY, 1969.
      Originally published by J. B. Lippincott Company: Philadelphia, 1937.

      Their Eyes Were Watching God is a novel about choices in life. It is a love story with the message that you should live life the way you need to live to be happy. For some people that would be safe, expected decisions. For others that means grasping opportunities in their paths despite the rules their neighbors follow. It sometimes involves exploring the unknown. If you've followed your heart, in the end you know you made the right choice even though times or situations may have been difficult.

      This is a story by a respected black author written for a black audience. It has more dialect in the dialogue than any book I've read. I'm not a fan of dialect because it slows the reading too much and requires adjustment, but the dialect would have been more familiar to her audience and less of a problem. I did enjoy the story anyway, and there are some nice metaphorical moments.

      related-Black history, African American author, the Great Depression of the 1930s, migratory labor, life choices, Jim Crow laws, love relationships, classic
      RL=YA-adult   *Would not have been considered historical fiction when written.

      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

      Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers.
      Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 2007.

      This is the first of the Egyptian Theodosia mysteries. Theo is testing a statue of Bastet for curses when her cat Isis is possessed by whatever spell is on the statue. The girl is expecting her mother to return soon from a major archaeological dig with treasures in tow. Meanwhile, Theo is hiding from one of the assistant curators of the museum her parents manage, who she believes is a suspicious character. She also befriends a local pickpocket who she expects will come in handy as a co-conspirator.

      Her mother returns, bringing with her the Heart of Egypt, an artifact which is said can bring down the whole country of the person who steals it from its resting place. The item is stolen from the museum, and Theo determines to get it back. In her quest, she learns of two groups in search of magical artifacts. The Serpents of Chaos wish to use their powers to dominate the world; the Chosen Keepers aim at countering their nefarious purposes.

      The story is set in 1906. London is changing from the old horse and carriage world to one bustling with motorcars and omnibuses. Theo is still young enough that her family is only half-heartedly trying to turn her into a lady. Luckily, her parents have important work to distract them, so she is allowed freedom of the museum, and it is barely noticed when she makes her disappearances into London. A little more noticed when she becomes a stowaway to follow her parents to Egypt and takes off with a guide to her mother's dig site. The importance of the time period is that it is still a period that is focused on studying antiquities, the changing times are exciting and females demand more freedom and intellectual pursuits, but also it fits quite nicely with the goals of Chaos who reveal to Theo that their purpose is to start a World War.

      This is the 2nd book of the series I've read. I find them to be exciting and more complex than this level of reading tends to be. Intriguing characters, twists and turns, and a feisty, knowledgeable heroine. The female protagonist will not detract from a boy's pleasure in reading, since Theo is quite the tomboy and persues adventures boys would love to have as well.

      related-related-curses, artifacts and antiquities, museums, history and archaeology, mystery, Egyptian mythology, travel, high interest RL=4th and upThere's an Owl in the Shower by Jean Craighead George.
      HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 1995.

      Borden's father was put out of work to protect the spotted owls in the old-growth forest near their California home. Borden goes to the forest to kill the owls, so his father can cut logs again. He finds a baby blown out of its nest and takes it home to nurture it, not knowing that it is the hated spotted owl. His dad takes over the mothering since Borden has school and a part-time job.

      George has given a strong accounting of both sides of the conservation issue. There are real reasons for conflict, and she does not minimize them. She explains why conservationists are not the enemy the workers think they are. The story is appealing to young readers-especially those that love animals and nature but also for those who don't think they do. George's style takes some getting used to. It seems distant at times because it is based on observations, but the story is endearing and does not lack action.

      related-spotted owls, logging, endangered species, parent and child, ecology, conflict resolution
      RL=3rd-5th

      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
      RL=YA-adult

      A Thief in the House of Memory by Tim Wynne-Jones.
      Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2004.

      A thief is found dead in Dec's unlived-in ancestral home and has stirred up baffling questions. His family moved from the house sometime after his mother left them. His father maintains the house, and he and his sister visit-playing and remembering. As memories come back to him in pieces, he finds that there are questions that only his father can answer. The answers don't seem to fit, so is his father telling him the truth? His father's reluctant attitude also disturbs him and causes him to wonder what other secrets are being hidden from him.

      The name itself is intriguing. The book was nothing like I expected, but intriguing is an excellent word for it. The dreams and memories seem so real that the book almost leans towards fantasy. New information about the deceased and unanswered questions about the disappearance of Dec's mother create a mystery, and then there is the sorting out of details and feelings about his mother for social content. There is a great deal of suspense since the reader doesn't really know until the end what the conclusion will be.

      related-memory, mothers, family separation, investigation of death, abandonment, trust friendship, father/son relationship
      RL=6th-YA

      Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett.
      HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2008.
      Originally published by Doubleday 2001.


      Ultra-Condensed

      • 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.
      The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence.
      Roaring Brook Press: Brookfield, CT, 2001.
      First published by Orion Children's Books: London, 2001.

      The Thieves of Ostia is Caroline Lawrence's first book, the first book of her Roman Mysteries.

      In the Roman port city of Ostia in 79 AD, a girl, Flavia, meets 3 other children and plans with them to solve the mystery of beheaded dogs on their street. Jonathan is her new next-door neighbor, the son of a Jewish doctor. She buys Nubia, a terrified young slave girl, from the market, and befriends her. The children save a mute homeless boy, Lupus, being chased by wild dogs, and Jonathan's family takes him in. The children become close friends through their adventures together, solve the mystery, and trap the one responsible.

      The story is an unusual mystery. The Roman and ancient background is noticeable, but the mystery and children's friendship remain the focus. Also highlighted is the differences between the lives of all four characters.

      related-dogs, stealing, theft, Ancient Rome, history, empire, mysteries and detective stories, friendship
      RL=4th-8th

      This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel.
      Book One of The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein
      Simon & Schuster: NY, 2011.

      Kenneth Oppel is one of my favorite YA authors. So, I picked up this new novel when I saw it and noted that is about the formative years of Dr. Frankenstein. I can hardly wait for the next book.

      In the 18th century, Victor is schooled by his father, a magistrate of the republic of Geneva, along with his older twin brother, distant female cousin, and a local merchant's son. Victor leads a fairly innocent, though passionate and adventurous, life. The three cousins stumble upon a forbidden library in the depths of their fortress home. Their ancestral founder of the home was an alchemist, and when alchemy was banned, the library became the family secret.

      Victor's brother becomes seriously ill. Doctors are sent for, but Konrad remains weak. A recipe for the Elixir of Life is found among the hidden books. Victor, Elizabeth and Henry go behind the father's back to enlist the help of an infamous alchemist in translating and producing the substance. The three must collect the obscure ingredients, and each is a risk to them. The adventures are extreme and keep the readers spellbound throughout. The beginning and ending of the story are sufficiently creepy, foreshadowing the direction Victor will take later.

      I have not taken the time to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but this story is strong enough that I am likely to try it. Possibly through Project Gutenberg. I want to see if there was family background info that Oppel incorporated, or how much he embellished. I do like the alchemy references and the conflict between alchemy and the emerging modern medicine/biological studies. Victor also struggles with himself regarding his attraction towards Elizabeth, who is Konrad's sweetheart.

      Note: There are apparently 2 covers for this book. This is the one on the copy I read. Also, the 2nd book of the series is out, Such Wicked Intent.

      related-twins, brothers, alchemy, history, Geneva, 18th century, Dr. Frankenstein, yahorizons
      RL=YA

      Thor's Wedding Day by Bruce Coville.
      Harcourt, Brace & Company: Orlando, 2005.

      Quirky retelling of a norse myth. Interesting & humorous!

      A giant manages to steal Thor's hammer. The story revolves around the lengths Thor(and his goat boy) must go to retrieve it. The story was taken from an ancient Norse poem called the Thrymskvitha.
      RL=3rd-5th

      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?
      Time Capsule ed. by Donald R. Gallo.
      Delacorte Press/Random House: NY, 1999.

      I love the concept for these short stories. Each story deals with a different decade of the 20th century. All of the stories are good.

      The Electric Summer by Richard Peck is about a girl's trip to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. A girl whose family is normally too busy working their farm to do anything so extravagant. Richard Peck is a master at depicting the life of poor farmers from this period, like in his novel A Long Way From Chicago. He tends to play towards their strengths - for ex. their ingenuity and flexibility.

      Bootleg Summer by Will Weaver is about a teen's summer working for a gangster near the Canadian border. Interestingly, he sees himself as the bad guy in the end, not the gangster.

      Moving On by Jeanette Ingold explores the relationship between a white girl and her family's black servant of about the same age. The girls grew up together, and the servant is moving on looking for a better chance at life. It also describes a cousin who is a modern girl and treats the servant poorly and unthinkingly.

      Brother, Can You Spare a Dream? by Jackie French Koller is an interview for a high school project of an 80 year old man recalling the poverty of the Depression and the flooding of the Swift River Valley to create a reservoir for Boston and how it impacted the townspeople in the area. I liked the idea of the interview, and the discussion of the man's boarding one of the construction workers was particularly effective.

      Waiting for the War by Graham Salisbury deals with three themes: the reactions of native Hawaiians to the mainlanders overrunning their lands, the training or breaking of a horse and trust between the horse and rider, and the waiting of the soldiers to be sent into WWII. The soldiers' condition was a perspective I'd never seen addressed. It made me think and bears some resemblance to current events

      We Loved Lucy by Trudy Krisher depicts two drastically different perspectives on life during the fifties: the perfect nuclear family with their nationalistic patriotism and fear of communism and a family with a much freer attitude, enjoying life and not taking it too seriously. The contrast is between the Shellburnes with their building of a fallout shelter and attendance at the weekly civil defense meetings and the Whompers who enjoy Monday nights together watching I Love Lucy and are less concerned about appearances or communists

      Fourth and Too Long by Chris Crutcher is another story focused on appearances. A high school football star who decides longer hair enhances his looks is standing up for his right to keep his hair. The battle of wills could cost him a scholarship and his team the championship, but the point is deeper than hair. It isn't the first time the coach has asked sacrifices of Benny for the team without considering his situation. The story also touches on the Vietnam War and Native Americans.

      Do You Know Where Your Parents Are? by Bruce Brooks is a bit quirky. A boy lies to his hippie parents about his activities, so he can play football for his school. It turns out they have been putting on a show for him all year as well, because they are embarrassed about their own competitive behavior.

      Rust Never Sleeps by Chris Lynch relates the story of a teen who flies solo from Germany to Russia as a political statement and becomes a celebrity overnight. Years later, an American girl is excited that his brother is coming to live with her family as an exchange student. Her brother holds a different attitude, and it turns out that the reality can be different from the appearance.

      In Y2K. CHATRM43 by Alden R. Carter, Joel moderates a chat room with the intention of internationally discussing important issues. His local friend gives him a hard time about the hours he spends on the internet, but he feels he is truly connecting with people and encouraging discussion and open-mindedness, which is the world's only chance for peace and even survival. His friend participates and decides maybe he is right.

      The only thing I think could be different about the collection is that it might have been better as a set of books, one for each decade. One story cannot represent a whole decade well. The earlier decades might have been harder to create stories. Certainly they would have had a more historical feel.

      related-short stories, United States history, 20th century
      RL=7th-adult

      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.
      RL=4th-8th

      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

      Traces: Framed! by Malcolm Rose.
      Kingfisher/Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 2005.

      Luke is the youngest person to qualify for forensic investigation at the age of 16. The same day he passes his exam, he is assigned his first case-on campus. As he gathers evidence, two more people are murdered, and his first priority is to prove to his robotic assistant that he is not the guilty party. The time the Authorities have allotted him to solve the murders is running low, and he still has 4 strong suspects.

      The book carries the mystery and excitement of forensic investigation without the gore and horror. It is absorbing until the end with evidence pointing to several people but not all overlapping. Luke investigating himself as the prime suspect adds a nice twist.
      related-mystery, murder, forensic investigation, school
      RL=7th-YA

      The Traitor's Gate by Avi.
      A Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum Books for Young Readers: NY, 2007.

      John Huffam's father swears he doesn't owe any one person the amount of money for which he is sent to debtor's prison in 1849 London. While trying to solve the problem of getting his father released, John learns that just about everyone he encounters is lying-his father, the family's housemaid, the bailiff, his ex-school teacher, his sister's suitor, the inspector treating his father as a traitor, the inspector who isn't that confronts him with a warning, even Sary, his new friend, who is helping him make sense of the confusing mystery. All he knows for sure is that there is a spy after a secret that his father holds, and he is determined to discover who it is.

      Very much in the style of Dickens, the story has many elements that Dickens used-scenes of poverty, sneaks from the lower class, wrongful accusation, trial of the innocent, many and varied colorful characters, wealthy benefactor, and emphasis on detail and description. Because of the detail and twisting of the plot, it takes some time to become involved in the story. Once sufficiently into the story, the mystery is captivating. It isn't my favorite Avi book, but I would recommend it for both historical and mystery.

      related-19th century England, imprisonment for debts, spies, Scotland Yard, intrigue, poverty (1800s), mystery and detective stories
      RL=6th-YA

      Trapped by Roderic Jeffries.
      Harper & Row, Publishers: NY, 1972.

      Gerry Stevens listens to the weather report at lunch and leaves to visit his grandparents. Bert Holdman just bought a used gun and heads to the river for duck hunting. The two boys meet in town, and Bert challenges Gerry to join him.

      The crew of police launch Delta Delta One Four expect the patrol on the river to be hazardous when they hear the forecast of strong winds, heavy snow and unusually high tides. When they receive the call about a missing boy, they assume he is with friends instead of doing what was expected of him. Not until 5 hours after Gerry and Bert leave their homes do the police start to get evidence that the boys may be in trouble and begin the search on the river. The mudflats range too far up and down the river to find the boys without more information. Luckily, they do receive more clues, but can they be found before the tide covers the mudflats?

      The story equally covers the survival of the boys on the mudflats and the search and rescue attempts on their behalf. There are extraneous circumstances to muddle the search as well. The story is unusual and suspenseful. It's quite an interesting read for middle grade readers.
      related-high interest, adventure, survival, search and rescue, estuary, river life, character
      RL=5th-8th

      Traveling On into the Light by Martha Brooks.
      Orchard Books: NY, 1994.

      This a collection of 11 short stories, all regarding personal losses. In facing the grief, all rely on the support of friends, family and lovers as a safe harbor and to begin the healing process.

      The last 3 stories are connected, the same family in each. The first of those is from the viewpoint of the male in a teen relationship. Both of the characters have lost a parent. They struggle together against the grief. The girl's loss was less recent, however, and the boy, after a couple years, is still trying to cope. In the second, he breaks their relationship, so as to not injure her. This is in turn a loss she must bear. The third story happens the day of her older sister's wedding. The family is reminded of the loss of her mother as the sister prepares for her new life. These 3 are 3 of the best in the collection. Deeply moving, original material, with pain mixed with the family's love and progress towards healing, knowing the pain isn't going to go away.

      Other stories deal with the loss of a best buddy to another crowd, a divorced parent who moves away from his beloved daughter (from the daughter's perspective), a boy trying to resolve his emotions and obsession regarding his father's long-ago-suicide, a boy rejected by his mother in favor of her partner, and a young woman who feels like she has lost herself through responsibility and commitment.

      The stories here are very sad. For those interested in sob stories, they have much to offer, perhaps a different way of thinking.

      related-loss, friendship, supportive behavior, times of crisis, short stories, Canadian authors
      RL=YA-adult

      Tree Castle Island by Jean Craighead George.
      HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2002.

      When Jack's Uncle Hamp is called away for a couple weeks, Jack sets out to explore the Okefenokee Swamp in a canoe he built himself. As he explores, he finds evidence in this wilderness of another human inhabitant-a raft, a basket, and a plate. He meets a dog who answers to the same name as his dog (Dizzy), and he keeps hearing an eerie, echoing call. He doesn't know if it's an animal, a ghost, or what. He gets off-track in the swamp and finds a dead bear just as he really needs food. He creates a camp for himself on an island where he can repair the damage to his canoe caused by an irritated mama alligator. He's in for a great surprise with visitors to his island home, one of which causes him to question his past and change his future. This meeting changes the whole dynamic of the story which started out with an exploration of nature, thoughts about life expectations, and his sense of achievement and wanting confirmation of that achievement.

      I love Jean George's description of nature and the contemplative thoughts as Jack paddles through the swamp. The dominant theme of the book was a complete surprise-as much to me as it was to Jack. From that point on, I was totally hooked.

      related-Okefenokee Swamp/Georgia, survival, camping, foraging, exploration, adventure, twins, brothers, adoption, achievement, boat craft, construction with native materials, wilderness, self-discovery, social issues
      RL=4th-7th

      A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.
      HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 1947.
      Originally by Harper & Brothers: NY, 1943.

      In extremely detailed diary form, Smith describes the life and growth of a girl and her family struggling to get by in pre-World War I Brooklyn, NY. Drawing from her own childhood experiences, Smith creates a strikingly realistic and universal picture of those in poverty, not just this immigrant neighborhood, although there are obviously some historic and geographic specifics. Sixty-plus years later it still rings true.

      I personally identify with Francie more than I care to be reminded. With twelve children and an absent father, my family struggled-although we never called ourselves poor, and we lived in a middle class suburb. As with Francie, we learned valuable lessons that others of our generation(s) have not. Our society is too caught up with material things. We learned to distinguish between necessities and extras and to be amazed, joyful, awestruck by simple things now commonplace. There is a strong sense of Francie's picking out the important moments and realizations and holding them close to sustain herself. Maybe this is what life truly should be about for all of us.

      For a while now I have been trying to find classics to recommend. This is my first time reading A Tree in Brooklyn, and I found it to be one of the best classics I've read. There is a good balance between intellect and readability. The detail takes some getting used to, but it's worth sticking with it until you're hooked.

      related-Brooklyn, New York, early 1900s, 20th century, immigrants, rise from poverty, coming of age, relationships, education, determination, writers, authors, occupations, jobs, girls, alcoholism
      RL=YA-adult

      Troy by Adele Geras.
      Harcourt, Inc: NY, 2001.
      First published by Scholastic, Ltd: UK, 2000.

      The Trojan war has been going on for years, and everyone is ready for it to be over. The story follows Homer's The Iliad fairly closely, with some fleshing out. The story is from a few perspectives, but mostly women and mostly that of two young sisters. Xanthe cares for Andromache and Hector's son and assists in the blood room, where casualties are taken for treatment. Marpessa is a handmaiden of Helen. Both girls were orphaned and raised under Andromache's care.

      Like Inside the Walls of Troy by Clemence McLaren, the story is largely from the female perspective, but Troy has kept more of the masculine feel of the war. It feels more realistic. More of the war is shown, and the glimpses of the blood room make it hard to forget. In Inside the Walls of Troy, Cassandra the seer has a major voice. In Troy, her prophecies are mentioned, but she is on the fringe and ignored. Instead, there is Marpessa, who has always seen and heard the gods and goddesses, but keeps it to herself. Partly, she does not want to be ostracized as Cassandra has been, and partly, the city is in chaos. She has not even remained in contact with her sister, her usual confidante. Another interesting difference is that the gods and goddesses appear to many people in this story and give specific prophecies, but all of the people forget immediately, except Marpessa and Cassandra. There is the sense that the gods and goddesses are playing games, with the humans as the pieces.

      I enjoyed both of the books. In some ways, they seem much alike. In others, not. Andromache is more developed as a person in this telling. In the other, it felt like the characters were more in control of their lives. There is more of a sense of fate in this tale. Nobody has an overall view of a prophecy. It is chaos, with characters responding only to immediate events. I remember that relationships play a part of Inside the Walls of Troy. The relationships in Troy, however, seem to be a bigger part of the story.

      I did not expect to see another account of the Trojan War. I may need to look into the subject to see if a list can be compiled. Again, if you are unfamiliar with the canon, a reading of The Iliad(adult) or Rosemary Sutcliff's Black Ships Before Troy(children's) is recommended.

      related-Trojan War, Greek mythology, gods and goddesses, Helen of Troy and Paris, Hector, Achilles
      RL=YA

      The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi.
      Orchard Books/Franklin Watts, Inc: NY, 1990.
      Newbery Honor 1991

      Upon learning which ship Charlotte Doyle is sailing on to America, the porter refuses to deliver her trunk to the ship. Another laborer is quickly hired to deliver the trunk, but he also runs away when told which ship. Despite this obvious warning, the man entrusted by her father to see her safely onto the ship demands that she sail on it. Her father has left no alternate plan or funds. They also find that the 2 families with whom she planned to travel will not be sailing with her. This leaves Charlotte the sole passenger aboard the ship. Not long after departure she is given a dagger by the cook to protect herself. The voyage becomes an ordeal that changes her perceptions drastically. The fantastic events seem extraordinarily real in this captivating novel.
      RL=5th-8th

      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
      RL=YA-adult

      Tulku by Peter Dickinson.
      E. P. Dutton: New York, 1979.

      Dickinson is not an easy author. All of his books seem to be different from each other, and his content tends to push readers to think differently than they usually do.

      Tulku takes place in China and Tibet around the time of the Boxer Rebellion in which Christian missionaries were killed within China. The story starts at a mission in China which is destroyed. The leader's son, Theo, is smuggled out of the community and told to flee to another mission. He sees the devastation and meets Mrs. Jones, a British botanist, and her Chinese retinue, part of which are local bandits. In fleeing from these bandits, Theo, Mrs. Jones and Lung head through the mountains towards the Tibetan border. They are met by a monk, the Lama Amchi, who chases the bandits away and leads them to his monastery in Tibet.

      The monastery is awaiting the arrival (through reincarnation) of their Tulku, spiritual leader. The Lama Amchi tells them he has seen signs that he will be among their traveling party. Will it be Theo, Lung, or the baby that Mrs. Jones is carrying?

      The story is slow moving; I lost my focus several times. However, it is an interesting topic. It may seem strange to those who have had no exposure to Buddhism, but it does explore the religion and culture somewhat. Because I have some understanding of it, I wanted to read more. I particularly like the part where Theo is examining his beliefs and reactions to the life at the monastery. Certainly, the possibility of a British/Chinese Tulku is an odd twist. I also enjoyed the description of the trek and mountain existence.

      Tulku is one of the most acclaimed of Dickinson's books. I can't say it's my favorite, but I did enjoy the reading of it anyway. I do think Dickinson is a master storyteller, and if you want different, you'll definitely get that from his books.

      related-Tibet, Buddhism, botany
      RL=YA-adult

      Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm.
      Random House: NY, 2010.
      Newbery Honor Book 2011

      Turtle is shipped from New Jersey to Key West, Florida to live with her aunt and cousins when her mother takes a housekeeping job with a woman who doesn't like kids. Her mother is hoping for a Hollywood ending, with a new home to share with her new boyfriend. Though her mother's relationships never work out, Turtle thinks this time it might be different - except she's being shipped away. This may seem harsh today, but in the 1930s Depression Era when this takes place it was quite common.

      Arriving in the neighborhood, she learns that most everyone on the island is a relative. Her aunt is not expecting her, and there are a horde of boy cousins who are unwelcoming. Turtle is shunted off to the group of cousins, because Aunt Minnie is overworked and needs time to process an uninvited addition to her work.

      Turtle spends her days following the boys' Diaper Gang, a club formed for babysitting crabby babies in exchange for candy. The boys ride the babies around in their wagon for a few hours and introduce Turtle to the island inhabitants along the way. When she first arrives, she is clean and has shoes. As she starts to fit in, she loses the shoes and is less particular about her appearance.

      One of Minnie's chores is making lunch for Miss Philomena (Nana Philly to the relatives) to give her caregiver a break. An emergency occurs, and Turtle offers to take Aunt Minnie's place. Turtle learns that Nana Philly is just one of the secrets her mother is keeping from her about her childhood. She soon sees why. But she is a determined girl, and she can hold out as long as Nana Philly. Slow Poke is another secret. She comes to appreciate his gentleness, and he is one of the friends she does not want to leave when her mother decides it's time.

      The story takes place before Key West is a tourist attraction. It has been hit hard by the Depression. Their own imagination is about all they have for amusement. That and conch fishing, treasure hunting, radio shows, and the occasional movie at the theater. There is a specific treasure that the locals are after, belonging to the pirate Black Caesar. Two other historic tidbits are the big hurricane the kids are caught in while treasure hunting and the highway construction in the Upper Keys which employs Uncle Vernon through the story. Many men did leave their families in search of work during this time.

      Historical fiction fans will love the book. Holm conveys the historical feel of the community well and throws in a few characters for interest. Everyone has a wacky nickname, and reading about the Depression always feels like being transported to a distant time. For those not used to historical fiction, it may take longer to be drawn into the story. I like that the community is different geographically; it was interesting to see Florida specific details.

      Turtle is a bit blunt in demeanor, but considering she's just been dumped by her mother, she has every reason to be. She does seem to be smart and willing to cooperate or fit in. She's making the best of her life. Other characters maybe could have been developed more, but I totally felt a connection with Turtle. In fact, the only complaint I have is that the story is short. The pace is fine; it needs to move quickly for young readers; but I wanted it to be longer.

      Note that the story is based on the author's family history. She has two other Newbery Honor Books that were also based on her family, Our Only May Amelia (2000) and Penny from Heaven (2007). She has a new one out, The Trouble with May Amelia.

      related-1930s, Depression, cousins, family life, Key West, Florida, 20th century history, adventure, treasure, hurricanes
      RL=4th and up; publisher says 3rd, but the content is serious, so maybe 5th or 6th

      Twice Told: Original Stories Inspired By Original Art il Scott Hunt.
      Dutton Books/Penguin Group: NY, 2006.

      Eighteen distinguished authors contributed stories based on 9 drawings by Hunt. Each author was given 1 drawing, so there are 2 stories about each picture. The plan was to show readers that each picture can have innumerable stories.The collection was an excellent idea. The stories are well-written and different from the norm-although that is one reason I enjoy short stories. They tend to be unusual.
      RL=YA

      Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
      Originally published by National Era, a Free Soil periodical, 1852.

      Because the book was written with the purpose of inflaming the public regarding slavery, I expected the book to be overly dramatic and poorly written. The literary critics of the time did not praise the author. I also expected the book to be overly descriptive as much of the writing is from that period and to have dialogue that modern readers find difficult to get past. I was delighted to find that the book flows smoothly and is realistic. It is also more powerful than I would have imagined it to be. Some of my enjoyment comes from having read a biography of the author first, Jean Fritz's Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Beecher Preachers. So, I knew beforehand that Stowe had seen firsthand experiences in her book. The book did also serve its purpose. It inflamed both the North and the South and guaranteed further discussion all over. Lincoln called it "the book that made this great war!"(Civil War).

      Growing up in the South but being from a Northern family, the Civil War and black civil rights were things that I wanted to learn about and understand. I only had one teacher that recommended the book-my junior English teacher in high school who I suspect was from New England. I would bet there are still people in the South that get angry about Uncle Tom's Cabin. When I was in high school (1980s), there were definitely those still angry about the Civil War. I finally read the book because I was preparing to guide my son through Maine Studies, and Harriet Beecher Stowe is a Maine author.

      I found the book interesting to read because of its influence in politics, but also I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
      RL=YA-adult

      Note: This book would not have been called a historical novel when it was published. I have classed it has historical fiction now because it is a novel and discusses a period of our history.

      Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett.
      HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2009.


      Ultra-Condensed
      • 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
      RL=YA-adult

      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
      RL=YA-adult

      Victory by Susan Cooper.
      Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2006.
      BookAdvice Book of the Month Dec 2006

      Molly, a British girl recently transplanted to Connecticut, gains possession of a rare artifact which transforms her life. Through her dreams she becomes haunted by Sam, a British boy impressed into service aboard the HMS Victory under Vice-Admiral Nelson's command. She is enthralled with Sam's life because she desperately wants to have a connection again with her British home. With time and experience Sam is promoted to powder monkey-carrying ammunition to the cannoneers. Through him, we and Molly see what life would have been like for boys in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. Molly and the readers are shifted between her life and the past with the artifact and dreams being the mode of transportation.

      Besides life on board the HMS Victory, the story also centers around Molly's struggle to accept her new home and altered life.

      The book (a blend of historical and current times) is nothing like Susan Cooper's other stories. The historical portion is quite intense and keeps you wondering what the connection is between Molly and Sam with an unexpected answer to that question.
      related-British history, naval history (19th century), HMS Victory, naval stories, stepfather and stepbrother, transatlantic move, culture shock
      RL=4th-8th

      Visions ed by Donald R. Gallo.
      Delacorte Press/Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group: NY, 1987.

      One of the things interesting about the book is that it includes some of the earliest YA writers. There was a prior book, Sixteen, also short stories specifically for teens, a new concept at the time. Like the previous book, this collection portrays a variety of topics and concerns. There are nineteen stories, and I couldn't help noticing they are all considerably shorter than stories tend to be these days.

      I did not like all of the stories in this collection, but many are quite good. I thoroughly enjoyed Lensey Namioka's The All-American Slurp in which a Chinese family is trying hard to fit into American customs, with the dinner party being the ultimate test. In Jason Kovak, the Quick and the Brave by Jean Davies Okimoto, Jason is kicking himself for being a wimp, covering for a coworker at Wendy's. An armed robbery occurs, and he must find the courage to identify the culprit. Norma Fox Mazer's What Happened in the Cemetary deals with sexual discussion and experimentation (or not) and a dad recuperating from heart failure. Amanda and the Wounded Birds by Colby Rodowsky portrays a single mother who councils her radio audience but is finding little time to talk to her own daughter. Playing God by Ouida Sebestyen describes a boy who is contemplating running away. He's ready to leave town when he finds a box of puppies by the river waiting for a savior. In the process of finding them homes, an unexpected remembrance catches him. In The Good Girls by Fran Arrick, Mary Louise saves a young dance student from an abusive fate similar to her own situation. In On the Bridge by Todd Strasser, Seth basks in Adam's shadow, whom Seth thinks is a cool, tough guy. When Adam's disdainful attitude provokes a battle scene, he lets Seth be pulverized for his actions. One of my favorites of the collection is A Hundred Bucks of Happy by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I don't know why exactly. I just like the way she writes. Her protagonist finds a hundred dollar bill, and the story is a lesson on the value of money as she decides how to spend the money. Cousin Alice by Joan Aiken is an odd selection about a family feud. Fern lives with her aunt during the feud and is a factor in the settling. Walter Dean Myer's Jeremiah's Song is about the passing of an old man with stories to leave to the next generation. Cousin Ellie tries to stop the stories until Grandpa explains their significance. The Boy With Yellow Eyes by Gloria Gonzalez is another I really liked. Two opposite boys stop a spy. Willie, playing baseball by himself, comes across Norman, reading in an abandoned railroad car. Norman introduces Willie to the joy of reading (Dracula), and they are interrupted by the spy. In The Beginning of Something Roseanne's family comes to comfort Cousin Melissa and her father when Melissa's mother dies. Roseanne shadows Melissa in case she's needed and ends up on a double date, her first date.

      related-teens, teenagers, short stories
      RL=YA-adult

      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 Wager by Donna Jo Napoli.
      Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2010.

      Don Giovanni is the wealthiest host in 1169 Messina, Sicily. A tidal wave resulting from a Mount Etna eruption wipes out much of Messina, including Don Giovanni's property. Not used to fending for himself, he first tries to help others. Everyone else seems to know before he does of his destitution. Homeless and hungry, he decides to head to another region and a new life.

      The devil appears to him in the form of a gentleman, offering to provide unlimited wealth in exchange for his pride in his appearance. The deal is that he cannot bathe or change clothes for three years. If he breaks the agreement, the devil will own his soul. Out of desperation, Don Giovanni accepts the terms. With a regular source of money, he should be able to last 3 years, shouldn't he? Unfortunately, there are many consequences of uncleanliness that Don Giovanni did not expect. He thought that he could just be a hermit in a hotel for 3 years, but before long he is asked to leave, at more than one hotel. He becomes a content migrant worker for a time, but the season change ends this existence. After many lessons in homelessness and ostracism, Giovanni finds a man who will sell him his villa, for an outrageous sum (What providence!). With the knowledge he has gained through his troubles, Giovanni uses his home and wealth to improve others' lives. He gives money for civic projects as well. His generosity gains the attention of the royal family in Sicily.

      Not to be outwitted, the devil makes a few attempts to dissuade Giovanni from the bargain. Giovanni battles shame, illness, and pain as the devil pushes him to his limit. Thankfully, by this time Giovanni has a handful of loyal friends. Two in particular (plus his stray dog) see past his appearance and help him through his trials.

      The most amazing thing about this story is the thorough examination of what it means to be homeless. Even after Giovanni has a home, he lives similar to the homeless, because the uncleanliness is such a factor in his life. It totally changes who he is, for the better.

      The historic portion of the tale centers around the volcanic eruption, earthquake, and tidal wave. Napoli also notes that the time period saw a transition in politics and culture from the nobility on down. Later reforms trace their roots to this time. She based the story on a Sicilian fairytale. Her use of historic detail enriches her writing; this is why her books are so often must-read selections.

      related-conduct of life, wagers, aristocracy, social class, pride and vanity, devil, Don Juan, Sicily, Italy, 12th century, volcanic eruptions
      RL=YA-adult

      www.surlalunefairytales.com/bearskin/stories/dongiovanni.html
      www.pitt.edu/∼dash/type0361.html#sicily

      The Wanderer by Sharon Creech.
      HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2000.
      Newbery Honor 2001

      This is an outstanding story of a family's (3 uncles and 3 cousins) courageous and tumultuous journey across the Atlantic Ocean in their own boat. It is told through the journals of 2 of the cousins-one of them the only female on the trip. The girl, Sophie, tells the stories of their grandfather, mixing her feelings with his words, in an attempt to belong in this family and on this journey. On this journey the only threads holding them together are their positions in the family and their struggle to survive-until they come to personal realizations through their crises.

      related-sailboats, sailing, ocean voyage, sea stories, family, adoption, adopted children, survival, adventure, diaries, storytelling
      RL=5th and up

      The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt.
      Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2010.

      The Water Seeker chronicles the life of Amos through the 19th century pioneering West. His dad, Jake, is a dowser and mountain trapper, leaving first his wife, then his son, to trap beaver. When his mom dies giving birth to him, Amos is left with his aunt and uncle, then with neighbors when his aunt dies. Jake visits each year and finally brings him a Shoshone stepmother. When Amos turns 15, Jake accepts a job scouting for an Oregon trail guide. He, Amos, Blue Owl, and another aunt and uncle join the wagon train.

      The story is a strong depiction of much of what is known about the Oregon Trail expeditions (and pioneer life), from excess baggage being dumped along the way to sudden mortal illnesses to the desperation brought on by adversity to disagreements about how to proceed. The cast of characters, especially Amos, are confronted by hardship after hardship, as Amos grows up. At the heart of the book is the basic goodness of people, most of them. Amos in particular is developing a good, strong character, despite mistakes, errors of judgment, and hurtful feelings through the years.

      Through much of the story, Delilah's (his mother) spirit watches over his life, appearing to the females who care for him, until he is grown and has found his true love. Each female treats him in a different manner.

      About 2/3 of the story is related to the Oregon Trail. The rest is Amos's young years and their settling in Oregon. All of it deals with Amos's growth as a person. He must accept severe losses of people he loves, a lack of stability in his life, and little attachment to others. On the trail, he learns to be close to people and accept them for who they are. He must make a risky decision for his family's benefit and stand up for his decision when others question it. He undergoes a change in how he sees a person a few times as well.

      There are small touches like Delilah's spirit, Jake's strength of character, Aunt Daisy's joyfulness, and Aunt Rebecca's kindness that make this an enjoyable read. Like many historical novels, it is more of a leisurely experience. The whole thing is believable - characters and happenings. It feels like a real journal. My favorite parts are the numerous anecdotes themselves and the emotion conveyed in so much of the writing.

      related-coming of age, fathers and sons, dowsing, overland journeys to the Pacific, frontier and pioneer life, Western United States, 19th century, Oregon Trail, wagon trains, personal loss and growth, adventure
      RL=7th-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

      Weasel by Cynthia DeFelice.
      MacMillan Publishing: NY, 1990.

      Weasel paints a stark picture of Ohio frontier life in 1839. Eleven year old Nathan and his younger sister Molly have been waiting 6 days for their father to come back from hunting. They know something is wrong, but have no idea what to do about it. Then a man who can't talk shows up at their door, gesturing for them to follow. He has their father's locket, so they determine following will be the only way to find out about their pa. The man leads them to his wigwam, where their father is laying ill from a wound. They help to tend him, and he slowly recovers. In the process, they become friends of the man, Ezra, who has withdrawn from society, due to his experience with the Shawnee and the government policy at the time. Nathan goes back to the cabin to feed animals and is confronted by an infamous character who has been raiding settlers for years. Nathan escapes, but the event shapes his mental well being for sometime to come. Both his father and Ezra share ugly experiences with this person called Weasel. Their reactions are somewhat different than his, and the book is largely about Nathan's dealing with his experience.

      The story is a strong depiction of a time all but forgotten. Ezra's character is a scintillating morsel. His tongue was long ago cut out by a scoundrel, and yet his personality shines with his mannerisms. The children quickly become attached to this quiet soul.

      The feel of the book is so old and obsolete, but it is adventurous and philosophical to an extent rarely seen in young literature.

      The story is very short; the words a low level. The topic is mature, but could work as a history tie in.

      related-frontier and pioneer life, revenge, family and friendship, history of Ohio and United States
      RL=4th-8th

      Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.
      Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2007.
      Newbery Honor 2008

      The story grabs the reader from the first page and doesn't let go. Schmidt again (as in Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy) packs so much of life into his book. The book spotlights a difficult year in our history and exhibits how understanding Shakespeare (and other literature) can help one understand life.

      Trapped in a one-on-one class with Mrs. Baker on Wednesday afternoons (all the other students are excused for religious classes), Holling feels like it's target practice and he's the target. There's no help from his parents. He's expected to deal with whatever Mrs. Baker throws his way while not disgracing the family lest it reflect badly on the family business.

      The book reads like memoirs-of a seventh grader from Long Island, New York during the trying school year of 1967-1968. The country (his older sister and adults at school) is focused on the Vietnam War while continuing with the flow of ordinary life. Holling's days alone with his teacher at first consist of any chores she can find for him. As the chores wind down, she sets him to reading Shakespeare-a task which leads to much excitement in his life. Some of which he would rather have done without. Shakespeare is just one of the many challenges to arise as a result of the Wednesday class. As he handles one situation after another, he gains Mrs. Baker's affection, friendship, and help through his continuing "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

      related-coming of age, William Shakespeare, plays, junior high schools, family life, Long Island, NY, U.S. history, 20th century, track-cross country, rats, Vietnam War, U.S. politics and politicians
      RL=YA

      A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements.
      Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2002.
      BookAdvice Book of the Month Oct 2006

      Mark has just moved to rural New Hampshire from New York. He has half a year at the public school, and then he will be shipped off to a boarding school the next school year. He is angry about moving and about the business interests that keep his parents travelling instead of home with him. He is also terribly bored at school and doesn't see any point in participating.

      After a couple of weeks he decides to try to fit in better. He makes progress with the other students, but the teachers are irritated with him and are not so willing to forgive.

      The whole sixth grade is preparing for the traditional camping trip, and Mark is excited because he has been exploring on his own and wants to learn more. He wants to prove himself to his science teacher who is the director of the camping trip and resident expert. An unfortunate incident will make that impossible. Or will it? The event changes the whole atmosphere from a school conflict to survival and eventually cooperation.

      This is one of my favorite Andrew Clements books because it has so much packed into it. One of the things I like about Clements's books is that they show teachers as people with their own problems. There is usually a gap in communication, misunderstandings, and a process working towards cooperation from which we can all learn.
      related-schools, teacher-student relationships, survival, camping, adventure, exploring, communication, cooperation, high interest
      RL=5th-8th

      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
      RL=YA-adult

      The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.
      E. P. Dutton/NAL Penguin Inc: NY, 1978.
      Newbery Medal 1979

      The Westing Game is an old style whodunit mystery. It was published during a time when Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot movies were popular and has much the same format. There is a slow feeding of seemingly random clues throughout the book, and then, BAM BAM BAM, the whole solution is told by a person (or persons) in rapid fire with many twists. I'm not personally very good at guessing all of the who did what, but I enjoy observing how the whole thing plays out, seeing the connections, looking back at the clues.

      In the story, six invitation letters are delivered to entice certain people to reside in the grand new apartment house, Sunset Towers, on the shore of Lake Michigan. Once the apartments are full of the right people, most of the residents, plus 2 workers, are invited to the reading of the will of the wealthy Sam Westing. They are chosen to be heirs due to some connection with the deceased (not necessarily blood related), but the ultimate heir must solve the mystery of Westing's death. They are paired up and given random word clues, though most of the real clues come from observing or investigating each other.

      Because the Newbery books at my local library are separate, I have often seen and wondered about the title. I may even have checked out the book and didn't have time to read it. I finally read it, because it was recommended in relation to Blue Balliett's books. This is one of the better Newbery books I've read. Also, one of the best mysteries, though I have not concentrated on that genre in the past.

      related-murder mystery, whodunit, word games and solving puzzles, working together, friendship, inheritance, heirs to a fortune
      RL=7th-adult

      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.

      When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.
      Wendy Lamb Books/Random House: NY, 2009.
      Newbery Award for 2010

      Miranda is receiving anonymous notes about things that only someone close to her should know, and also things that haven't happened yet. Her best friend withdraws after being punched by an older boy. An extra apartment key is stolen. An old homeless guy hangs out on her street.

      Her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time is some comfort to her in her distress. She knows passages by heart but still carries the book everywhere. It's a key to new friendships, opens up real possibilities.

      There's a puzzle to be solved, one Miranda keeps to herself, while she goes about her daily life. A life filled, by the way, with some wonderful moments.

      Miranda's mother is preparing to be on a TV game show. To answer questions she says she lifts a veil to see connections more clearly. Miranda speculates about this veil. With the introduction of this idea, I became distracted by similar ideas. I have thought for a while that people have shields they use to keep LIFE at a distance. To most people it is an unconscious thing; mine was erected consciously, because I believe I might have been born without one. Oddly, later on the page Miranda discusses this same idea. Lifting her veil, helps Miranda to solve the puzzle and do what she needs to do for everything to work out.

      I like the story's link to time travel. It is a subject that fascinates me. Many stories are too obvious in their use of time travel. I knew there must be one, but the story pulls away from the idea throughout the book. It isn't until the end that the connection is revealed. A seemingly small part that means everything. The revelation lifts the veil for the reader, and a new level of story is revealed.

      related-space and time, New York, single parent family, family life, mother and daughter, friendship, step relations, mystery, sci fi
      RL=6th and up

      Where the Great Hawk Flies by Liza Ketchum
      Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2005.

      A red-tailed hawk watches two families flee from the same Indian raid in Vermont in 1782. Hiram Coombs has an uncle who was caught and then imprisoned by the British in Canada. Daniel Tucker and his sister and mother are part Pequot Indian. They are accepted by the community because of her healing abilities. When the Coombs family moves in next to the Tuckers, the boys meet and antagonize each other until Daniel's grandfather (a Pequot medicine man) comes to visit. He helps the boys to sort out their differences.

      The story is gripping and powerfully written as one conflict after another must be resolved. It is a good one to use in a history lesson regarding colonists vs. Native Americans or a lesson related to conflict resolution.
      related-identity, conflict resolution, prejudice, healing, 18th century, Pequot Indians, Indians of North America (Connecticut), Vermont history
      RL=5th-8th

      White Time by Margo Lanagan.
      Eos/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2006.

      White Time is an exploration of different worlds. The short stories and Big Rage are related to time travel. In , workers deal with beings transported to their time. In Big Rage, a knight (and others) appears in a modern environment. Midsummer Mission alludes to A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Queen's Notice is centered around an ant-like government. The Boy Who Didn't Yearn explores a different way of seeing or handling emotional hangups. In Welcome Blue, a town awaits a phenomenal visitor with differing reactions. Tell and Kiss magnifies the connection of worries and weight gain with communication being the cure. Dedication prepares for the funeral of a princess. The Night Lily deals primarily with personal loss and survival village/town members through a bombing experience. In Wealth, society values a different commodity but is not all that different in other ways.

      All of the stories portray a different mind set and manner of living. Most of them bare a close relationship to what we view as society. The stories are unusual and thought provoking. I liked some better than others, but there is a good variety of subjects and styles.

      related-interpersonal relations, conduct of life, short stories
      RL=YA-adult

      Wild Things by Clay Carmichael.
      Front Street/Boyds Mills Press: Honesdale, PA, 2009.

      The title refers to four wild things: 1) Zöe, an eleven-year-old orphan, independent and forced to rely on herself from a young age (now living with her previously unknown doctor/sculptor uncle), 2) a feral black and white cat who sometimes favors residents with his trust and whose viewpoint is regularly expressed in the book, 3) a young white deer whose presence brings out the best and worst in people, and 4) an unknown teenage boy fending for himself in the local wilderness.

      Much of the book has to do with Zöe and Uncle Henry's relationship, Zöe's past and concern that Henry will abandon her, physically or emotionally. Is Henry neglecting her, taking care of his own business, or giving her space to heal emotionally and grow? Or a mix of all three?

      Zöe has an unusual maturity. She writes her own memoirs, heartily adopts Henry's friends as her own, opens her heart to strays, discovers and tends a secret hideaway (as a possible escape route), and risks everything when the need arises. She even has the sense to step back and analyze her situation when her uncle disagrees with her. She still does what she wants, but at least she understands his position.

      Their circle of friends (Zöe, Henry, Fred, Bessie, and the Padre) all have spirit and their moments of headstrong rebellion. Usually in defense of others.

      One of the best parts of the story is the cat's perspective before each chapter. The cat tells much of the backstory, including that of the wild boy, and it thinks philosophical thoughts about humans that otherwise wouldn't fit well in the story. Both narratives - the cat's and girl's are nicely written. The flow and anticipation level are perfect. I need to look for more of Carmichael's books. It was such a pleasure to read.

      related-family life, trust, orphans, self-reliance, uncles, sculptors, cats, human-animal relationships
      RL=6th-adult, content a little higher, 7th or 8th

      Windcatcher by Avi.
      Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 1991.

      Tony is learning to sail as he stays with his grandmother on the Connecticut coast. He hears rumors of sunken treasure nearby and watches and follows a couple who appear to be searching for it. He and his grandmother do some sleuthing, and Tony is convinced the treasure is real. As Tony ventures out of safe waters, it quickly becomes clear he is beyond his level of safety.

      This is a riveting story for young readers with the mystery of the treasure and of the town's founder, and also, the adventure of sailing and survival. It is also exciting because it demonstrates the possibility of achieving something of the adult world; for children that is momentous.
      RL=3rd-6th

      Wind Rider by Susan Williams.
      HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2006.

      Fern is on the verge of womanhood and is pressed by the women of her family to learn womanly duties while her twin brother seems to mostly play since his life on the plains is expected to be freer than hers. Her mother wishes to suppress Fern's gift of communication with animals as she and others see it as unnatural. One day, avoiding her chores, she helps a young horse stuck in the bog. She keeps the horse in a secret place, shares a friendship with it, and learns to ride. In a society whose only use for horses is food, Fern develops new uses through her bond with her horse Thunder. Because of their fear, much more must happen before the tribe will accept the changes Fern shows them.

      This is an excellent story in which Fern is transformed from an unaccepted girl not wishing to become a woman to a loving and respected woman who has given much to her community and has become a legend. Beautifully written, it will appeal to a wide range of ages.

      related-prehistoric explanation of the development of domesticated horses, girls-duties, feelings, and transition to womanhood, coming of age, human/animal communication, gender roles, prehistoric peoples, historical fiction
      RL=5th-adult

      Wingwalker by Rosemary Wells. il Brian Selznick.
      Hyperion Books for Children: NY, 2002.

      The dust storms come to Ambler, Oklahoma, and the town shrivels and closes down as farmers lose their crops and leave. Reuben's father answers a want ad for a carnival wingwalker position. After some argument from his mom, the family joins the carnival workers. His father lives the dream of a lifetime, and he and his mom stay busy to keep from worrying.

      Colorful atmosphere and characters are displayed in this interesting Depression story of a family's summer jaunt with the circuit of county fairs of the Midwest. The story just touches on the seriousness of the setting.

      This is a lovely, young chapter book with high interest subject matter. The characters are ordinary people working oddly interesting jobs. There is something for Reuben to learn from all of the characters, and he even has a chance to confront a fear that plagues him.

      The pictures are more realistic in keeping with the serious themes. There are some wonderful details for those looking closely, and the cover art is gorgeous.

      related-fairs, stunt flying, fear, Depression, 1929, fathers and sons, Minnesota, transitional book
      RL=3rd-5th

      Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan.
      Book 9 of The Wheel of Time
      Tor Fantasy: NY, 2000.


      Ultra-Condensed
      • 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 bookWolf by the Ears by Ann Rinaldi.
      Scholastic Inc: NY, 1991.

      Wolf by the Ears is an emotional depiction of Harriet's (Sally Hemings' daughter) preparation to leave forever the home she loves at age 21, a home where she was pampered,loved and educated, though still Thomas Jefferson's slave. The book is a fictional journal of what might have been her thoughts. Not intending to leave, she is confronted by certain realities - that living at Monticello she would be a slave and not protected after Jefferson's death, that there is no guarantee of physical protection 24 hours a day for a "black" girl of marriageable years. Ultimately she decides she must leave and struggles with her decision and whether or not she is Jefferson's daughter, as he ignored the rumors, never confirming or denying them.

      Because Harriet is only 1/8 black, she prepares to pass as white when she leaves Monticello, meaning she has to leave behind everything she has known. Thomas Jefferson's son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, and Governor of Virginia convinces her to leave, devises a plan for her transformation, sets up the finishing of her education, and finds a safe place for her to live and start her life. Her mother, in truth, has been preparing for her departure since before she was born.

      I remember in the 1990s hearing in the news about Sally Hemings and her family. Their was controversy about whether it was true or not, and there was a reunion of the Hemings family with the Jeffersons. I never looked into the historical issue, so I don't know how closely Rinaldi stuck to what is known or believed to be true. I don't know if there was a journal by Harriet or anyone else of that time period, or if the information was passed on as stories within the Hemings family. I do know that the idea has caused much speculation about Jefferson's intent regarding slavery. Those who didn't think of him as a great man to begin with wished to use it as proof. Those who revered Jefferson wanted to pretend it didn't happen or make excuses. From such a distance in time, I don't know that he needed the excuses. He had indicated himself that he felt owners were as much bound as the slaves. He knew men who had tried to make things right for their mixed children only to have them crushed by others in the world. It also does not change the fact that he tried to end slavery through legislation. I don't understand why Sally Hemings was kept as a slave, but we can't really know the situation. Maybe knowing the situation in the surrounding world he believed he was doing the best he could for them. Maybe he separated his personal life from his wishes for the country. He was apparently living in a dreamworld, but those pushing towards great change must start from a dream.

      The story is captivating and thoroughly explores the situation of Harriet's being Jefferson's daughter and not knowing for sure. The author delved into things I never would have considered. There is no explanation of historical facts, but the reader is clearly meant to read further. How could you not want to know more?

      related-slavery, African Americans, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, United States history-early 19th century, passing as white
      RL=YA-adult

      A 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
      RL=5th-7th

      The Year of the Hangman by Gary Blackwood.
      Dutton's Children's Books/Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers: NY, 2002.

      After starting to live the life of a gaming wastrel, Creighton is abducted and shipped to America. The book is based on the premise that General George Washington was captured by the British. This event ends the war with the colonists-or so the British think. Creighton finds himself in the middle of the resistance to British rule of the colonies. He is expected to spy for the British, but he is no longer so sure of where his loyalties lie.

      This is an exciting alternate history book. There is plenty of action and surprise and also thought-provoking details. Much of the book focuses on Benjamin Franklin (his character, experimentation, and printing business) who is perhaps the most fascinating of all the American patriots. Blackwood has done an excellent job of blending his story with historical figures.

      I also highly recommend Second Sight and The Shakespeare Stealer series.
      related-American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin, Benedict Arnold, duels, printing business, codes, codes, New Orleans
      RL=5th-YA

      The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice.
      The Bowen Press/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2009.

      Eleanor Robinson aka Groovy is a cook at eleven years old. Her fondest wish is to train at a culinary school. Knowing how costly it would be, she fears it won't be possible, and family problems are so overwhelming she's not sure she wants to continue cooking, even though customers at a friend's shop are clamoring for her specialty.

      Alongside her problems and her best friend's (Frankie), the town is preparing for the annual swallow migration. The swallows travel from Argentina to San Juan Capistrano, in Southern California, to nest. The swallows' return coincides with the resolution of the children's problems, both learning to forgive a grievous injury and both sharing the return of a parent.

      I thoroughly enjoyed Fitzmaurice's first novel. It is complex and emotional but also uplifting and hopeful. Two of the children in the story have career plans and are working towards their dreams (Eleanor and her cooking, Marisol and her drawings). There is community spirit - the children helping each other, Eleanor working in Luis's (Frankie's stepbrother) shop, Luis and Eleanor's father helping a resident homeless man. Eleanor and Frankie both struggle with hurt feelings and confusion about parental relationships. Both must on their own come to terms with the faults of a parent, but they support each other through the process.

      The children seem older than 11 years. The book is recommended for 3rd to 5th graders by the publisher. Because of the emotional content, it seems more like 5th to 8th to me.

      related-fathers and daughters, absent parent, forgiveness, conduct of life, creativity, cooking, drawing, migration of birds
      RL=5th and up

      Young Repairman Jack by F. Paul Wilson

      DE JP KO FR IT PT ES
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