The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia

Discovering November
This month's titles all have an element of discovery. The characters are finding new places, lost items, recovering memories, learning who you really are inside, and the road traveled to get there. Some are sad, some are action-packed, some are wacky...but all of us makes discoveries every day.

In the style of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, this book holds a secret. Things seem to be lacking color in Galina's life. She is stagnating at her job, but she has one. She lives with her sister, who is pregnant. Some part of her resents her sister for choosing a normal life, and a family. Until the day when her sister becomes a bird before her eyes. Can this be happening? Galina knows what she saw, but she also knows that no one will believe her...until she meets Yakov.

Yakov is a police officer in Moscow, he's been dealing with more and more missing persons cases lately. At first, he thought it was the gangs. Then he sees someone turn into a bird. Sound familiar? With each other to prove their sanity, the two begin to look for what could be causing people to transform. They meet Fyodor, a common street bum, and together they find their way into the Underground. It seems that things that disappear, or fall out of favor, or were thought to only exist in myth actually DO exist in the Underground. Yakov's grandfather, Peter, believed to be dead is the proprietor of a pub. Several Russian deities, names of legend, even a soldier from the time of Ghengis Khan all live peacefully, for the most part, in the Underground. The other strange part? Everyone lives forever, exactly in the state they arrived. Yakov's grandfather is around his age.

When news of the disappearing people reaches the Underground, the word gets out to Zemun, creator of the Milky Way (who, it turns out, is a cow). Along with several other creatures of myth and history, they form a party to figure out who or what may be responsible. Soon, practically everyone is involved. A group is sent back to the surface when they realize that someone from the Underground must be collaborating with someone from the real world. The climax moves quickly, and the characters are well-written.

The colorful cast of characters from Russian folklore bring an element of interest, although without a background knowledge of them myself, I fear I missed out on some of the references. This would be a great text to use in tandem with exploring Russian history and myths. As it is technically an adult book, and not written exclusively for a teen audience, it may be a little dense at times. I recommend it for an older teen, or an experienced reader.
"He was still wide awake when the morning came - the light changed imperceptibly underground, with the glowtrees flaring up brightly, and the shimmer of golden dust that remained suspended in the musty air, as if millions of butterflies had shed the scales of their wings in midair." (Sedia, 2007).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Sedia, Ekaterina. (2007). The Secret History of Moscow. Prime: Rockville, MD.

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg

Amadeo Kaplan moves from New York City, the land of skyscrapers and public transportation, to St. Malo, Florida, the land of sweltering, lazy days. There is very little that the two places have in common. At first Amadeo is convinced that he will hate it, then he meets Mrs. Zender, his next door neighbor. She is an aging socialite, a former opera singer, and a mysterious woman with a fantastic sound system. Unfortunately, almost as soon as he meets her, he learns that Mrs. Zender will be moving to a retirement community. In fact, his classmate William Wilcox and his mother have been hired to help her get her estate in order. Luckily for Amadeo, they enlist his help as well.

Soon, he and William, along with Mrs. Wilcox, are digging through Mrs. Zender's past. She is happy to provide context and commentary. It is very clear that Mrs. Zender is unhappy about moving. One day, she takes Amadeo along to purchase phones for her new townhome. It is there that he sees her spoiled nature, her need to create drama, and finally understands what she means when she says, "the world as it ought to be has come to an end," (Konisgburg pg. 46, 2007). She is from an age where other people took care of the rich.

Amadeo's godfather, Peter Vanderwaal, is an art director for the Sheboygan Art Center. His new exhibit is focused on pieces outlawed by the Nazi Regime, called "Degenerate Art". Shortly before his exhibit is scheduled to open, his father passes away. His mother gives him a box with some of his father's writings for safe keeping. He begins to read his father's memoirs, and a story about a boy during World War II.

Meanwhile, as the cataloguing of Mrs. Zender's house continues, they uncover a drawing signed by Modigliani. It seems this piece of art is something special, with deeper history and meaning than they realize. Soon the two stories are intertwined, and Amadeo has made the discovery that he always wanted.
"You could say that it wasn't lost because no one was looking for it, but you could also say that all those drawings were lost from sight...Those
kids discovered something. Something special, and they knew it,"
(Konigsburg pg. 49, 2007).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Konigsburg, E.L. (2007). The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World. Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon and Schuster): New York, NY.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

In the second Percy Jackson book, the whole gang is back. Annabeth and Percy are reunited as she rescues him from a gang of monsters at his new school. She was on her way to let him know that Camp Half-Blood is in need of their help. Someone has poisoned the magical borders that keep the campers safe, and if they can't find a cure, it may be the end of the safe haven for half-bloods. Not to mention that Chiron has been exiled from camp, and replaced with a sadistic grouch who delights in Percy's misfortune, Kronos is still up to his old tricks, and Clarisse still has it in for him.

They bring along Tyson, a friend from Percy's latest school. It seems that he is more than he appears. Annabeth immediately notices that he is a cyclops. To add more complications, at night, Percy is having dreams of Grover. He seems to be trapped, and wearing a wedding dress.

Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson somehow end up on a quest to search for the one thing that might restore order to Camp Half-Blood, and save Grover. They will have to discover something that was lost for a reason. The Sea of Monsters, the legendary journey taken by Odysseus, holds the Sirens, Scylla's cliffs, C.C.'s Resort and Spa, and the sheep of doom.

Riordan does a masterful job of blending modern action-fantasy with ancient Greek mythology into a seamless story I can't wait to continue reading. Percy is learning valuable life lessons all over the place, and he starts to realize how complicated life can be.
"When you think 'monster island,' you think craggy rocks and bones scattered on the beach like the island of the Sirens. The Cyclops's island was nothing like that. I mean, okay, it had a rope bridge across a chasm, which was not a good sign. You might as well put up a billboard that said, SOMETHING EVIL LIVES HERE," (Riordan pg. 202, 2006).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson, Book 3)
Magyk by Angie Sage (Septimus Heap, Book 1)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter, Book 3)

Riordan, Rick. (2006). the Sea of Monsters. Miramax Books-Hyperion Books for Children: New York, NY.

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale

Montmorency, named for the brand of clothes he was wearing when they found him, is also known as prisoner 491. He was a common thief who had a spot of very bad luck when he fell through a skylight trying to elude capture by the police. Dr. Farcett, a doctor who decided to stake his career on saving his life, spent many long hours performing dangerous surgery to save his life. Little did he know that his efforts at saving Montmorency, and his trips to the National Scientific Society, would give rise to a new criminal instinct in Montmorency. Upon his release, he has a plan: he will use the newly installed sewer system as his escape route after his upscale burglaries. His thievery will fund his new life as a gentleman.

He creates an alter ego to do his dirty work, and calls him Scarper. It is Scarper who will traverse the sewers, and carry out the burglaries. He begins his crime spree, to the dismay of the London police force, who cannot figure out who or how these crimes are being committed. After he has amassed a great enough fortune, he draws on his study with Dr. Farcett to create Montmorency, the gentleman. He even goes so far as to steal the Doctor's clothing, down to his cufflinks and top hat. He needs everyone else to think that he truly IS a gentleman, especially the staff at the Marimion Hotel. The one last thing he steals from Dr. Farcett is stationary, so he can write himself a letter of recommendation to the manager.

It is only when his exploits as Scarper are pinned on one of his former prison roommates that he decides to take a break from his life of crime. He begins to explore the opportunities afforded only to the rich--fashion, opera, and fancy food. But he must always be on his guard, and has a moment at the hatter's which leaves him apprehensive. The hatter identifies the hat he stole from Dr. Farcett, and offers to return it to him. At a loss, Montmorency tells the hatter that he will return it himself, claiming that they must have been switched at some point.

Updale weaves a delightful tale of a double life, keeping the reader on their toes, and interjecting unforgettable characters along the way. Cissie Longman, the Marimion Hotel manager's daughter, is one particular favorite. As the first in a series, Montmorency promises action, intrigue, and suspense, and even a little bit of morality along the way.

"The more Montmorency mixed with Doctor Farcett and observed the members of the Scientific Society, the more convinced he was that he would never return to his old place at the bottom end of London's lowlife. He knew what he was aiming at and was conviced that with the sewer plan he had found the ideal method for making his fortune..." (Updale pg. 30, 2003).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer? by Eleanor Updale
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Updale, Eleanor. (2003). Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? Orchard Books (Scholastic): New York, NY.