Reckless by Cornelia Funke

December is Best of...
So I was going to do some of the best books of 2010, but I fell in love with Summerland (and was shocked I had never read it before), and felt the need to include it. The rest are new titles from 2010, including a new author. There are adventures, action, romance, magic, and grief...a little bit like my 2010. What were some of your favorites from this year?

Jacob Reckless is lost after his father disappears. He doesn't understand why his father would leave, and frequently visits his study, full of his father's things. One night, he is drawn to a mirror that hangs there, with an inscription that reads “the mirror will open only for he who cannot see himself.” He discovers the mirror's secret, and enters the Mirrorworld.

It's a magical land, filled with fairy tales come to life, witches, dwarfs, goblins. Jacob is enchanted with the world, and spends more and more time there. He leaves behind his mother, and his brother Will, whose devotion to his brother is unflagging. Over the years, Jacob spends less and less time in our world, choosing instead to live his life inside the mirror. He befriends a shapeshifting girl-fox, whose enchanted dress allows her to shift between human and fox. He works for an abusive treasure hunter, and gains favor with the Empress. He watches as the humans begin to lose the war to the Goyl, the warriors made of stone, after a spell from the Black Fairy begins to turn human soldiers into Goyl.

It is this last development which causes him the most pain. One day, shortly after his mother's death, Jacob brings Will into the Mirrorworld...and Will falls victim to the Goyl curse. Will's girlfriend follow him into the mirror as well, and soon the four of them - Jacob, Fox, Will, and Clara - are off searching for a cure to save Will, whose skin is slowly, unmistakably becoming jade.

Jacob knows there is no known cure for the Goyl curse, but he is determined to make up for his mistake in allowing Will to enter the mirror. They brave the Gingerbread House, and the Tailor, the Enchanted Forest, and Sleeping Beauty's Castle. They enter the realm of the fairies, and the Goyl fortress, they sneak into the Empress's castle...all looking for a cure.

Meanwhile, the king of the Goyl Kami'en searches for the jade Goyl...the legend says that he who possesses the jade Goyl will be invincible. Can Jacob find a cure before the Goyl find Will? Is there even a cure possible?

This is a masterful blend of fairy tales and modern fantasy, with Funke's traditionally enchanting writing. Each chapter opens with a illustration, and each character draws you in. Highly recommended for middle school through high school.
"Clara's scent was the same one Fox smelled on herself whenever she lost her fur. Girl. Woman. So much more vulnerable. Strong and yet weak. A heart that knew no armor. The scent told Fox all about the things she feared and from which the fur proteced her. Clara's hasty steps wrote them onto the dark soil, and Fox didn't need her nose to know why Clara was running. She herself had tried to run from pain before," (Funke pg. 136, 2010).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

Funke, Cornelia. (2010). Reckless. New York, NY: Little, Brown.

Summerland by Michael Chabon

Ethan Feld hates baseball. He isn't any good, and he wants to quit. He tries to explain to his father...but his dad and his best friend, Jennifer T., both say he can't quit right before a game. So he goes, and Ruth's Fluff and Fold's Roosters lose another one...

On the way to the game, he could have sworn he saw a bush baby. Of course, the chances of a bush baby being in Clam Island, Washington are nearly impossible. It turns out, what he saw was a werefox named Cutbelly. Ethan has been recruited by Chiron "Ringfinger" Brown to be a hero. He learns that there are, in fact, four worlds. Our world (the Middling), the Summerlands, the Winterlands, and the Gleaming...which is lost. Cutbelly takes him to the Summerlands (well, the other Summerlands) to meet the ferishers of the Boar Tooth Mob (they don't like to be called fairies) because Coyote has decided to bring about the end of the world, or Ragged Rock (aka Ragnarok), and they need Ethan's help.

Ethan's just a kid, what can he do? He isn't even good at baseball! "Ringfinger" suggests he give up the outfield, and try catching...and suggests that Jennifer T. try pitching. Somewhat overwhelmed by this new revelation, the two kids decide to give it a try, with surprising success. While they prepare to enter the Summerlands, and take on Coyote, tragedy strikes. The Boar Tooth Mob are attacked by Coyote, leaving only their leader Cinquefoil behind, and Cutbelly and Ethan's dad are kidnapped. Not knowing what else to do, Ethan and Jennifer T. decide to bring their friend Thor along, to act as a Shadowtail that can help them cross between worlds. Using Cinquefoil's 'grammar' (ferisher for magic), they fix up Mr. Feld's old stationwagon and the balloon from his Zeppelina (his prototype for "the affordable family airship") into a flying contraption to take them on their long journey.

They embark, picking up friends and having adventures along the way. After a few stops, it becomes apparent that they will have to play baseball to get to the Winterlands to stop Coyote. Their team is a bit ragtag, including Ethan, Jennifer T., Thor, Cinquefoil, Taffy (a sasquatch), Grimalkin John (a minature giant), Pettipaw (a wererat), and Spider Rose (a ferisher from the Dandelion Hill Mob). They even recruit a real MLB player, Rodrigo Buendia, to be their ninth man.

Meanwhile, in the Winterlands, Coyote has tricked Mr. Feld into adapting his Zeppelina design to use as a way to poison the Lodgepole, the Great Tree of the Worlds. Mr. Feld saves Cutbelly from certain death, but starts to lose himself as he works to help Coyote. Can Ethan find him in time, and stop Coyote from destroying the worlds?

This story, written by Pulizer-prize winning author Michael Chabon, weaves together multiple mythologies and creates a world akin to Harry Potter's by building something new from old stories. The book is a daunting 500 pages, but I rarely got bored, and I don't even like baseball. Highly recommended for baseball/fantasy fans of all ages. I also recommend the audio version, read by the author.

"Some things that are invisible and untouchable can nevertheless be seen and felt." (Chabon, 2002).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (YA/Adult crossover)
Nation by Terry Prachett
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Chabon, Michael. (2002). Summerland. New York, NY: Hyperion Books.
Chabon, Michael. (2002). Summerland [audiobook]. Minneapolis, MN: HighBridge Co.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

What is life without Bailey? That's the question that Lennie keeps asking herself. Now that her sister is dead, how can life keep going?

A freak heart problem caused her sister to drop dead at 18, leaving Lennie, Gram, and Big (Lennie's uncle) all alone. Also in the "left behind" category is Toby, Bailey's boyfriend. He spends a good amount of time over at the house, and it seems like he's the only one that understands what Lennie is going through. Her best friend Sarah doesn't get it, none of the kids as school know what to say, and she doesn't want to talk about it anyway.

One of the ways she deals with it, is by writing poems to Bailey on any scrap she can find: used coffee cups, backs of receipts, the bottom of her shoe, branches of trees...peppered throughout the text are excerpts of her poetry; remembered conversations with her sister, observations on her thoughts, or questions she'll never get to ask again.

Lennie refuses to pack up any of Bailey's things. As they shared a bedroom, she likes being surrounded by the feel of her sister, the smell of her clothes, her perfume, her clutter...she even refuses to do the laundry. In an attempt to bring her out of her shell, Gram invites Toby over. The two of them collide in their grief...their proximity enough to resurrect Bailey for a few minutes, and at the time it feels so right...but afterwards, she can't believe her own actions.

Finally back at school, all the buzz is about the new boy, Joe Fontaine - hottie horn player, and general musical genius - definitely swoon worthy. Sarah is all over Lennie to hang out, to talk, to gush about boys, and Lennie just can't handle it. She starts eating lunch in a tree outside the school, only to be found by none other than Mr. Fontaine himself, who asks her to play a duet! Lennie turns him down, retreats to The Sanctum (her room), and tries to find Bailey in the emptiness.

Her grief is overwhelming, and it seems she may never find a way out. When school lets out for the summer, she begins her routine of jobs, but continues to hide out at home. Every morning, Joe comes by and joins Gram, Big, and Lennie for breakfast...something that wins over them all, and even entices her to play with him: he on guitar, she on clarinet. A budding romance is definitely blossoming...but is she allowed to be be happy in a world without Bailey? And can she stop herself from self-destructing?

So powerful and touching, with elements of whimsy and heart-wrenching truth that anyone who has dealt with loss will understand. Who knew there were love stories that even overcome heart-break?
"When I'm with him,
there is someone with me
in my house of grief,
someone who knows
its architecture as I do,
who can walk with me,
from room to sorrowful room,
making the whole rambling structure
of wind and emptiness
not quite as scary, as lonely
as it was before," (Nelson pg. 80, 2010).
*Library Link*
If you liked this, check out:
If I Stay by Gayle Foreman
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han

Nelson, Jandy. (2010). The Sky is Everywhere. New York, NY: Dial Books.

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1)

Carter and his little sister Sadie have spent most of their life apart. After their mom died, Sadie went to live with her grandparents, and Carter stayed with their dad. Dr. Julius Kane is a famous Egyptologist, and Carter travels extensively with him, never staying in one spot too long.

One day a year, on Christmas, the three reunite. Dr. Kane and Carter meet Sadie at their grandparents house, and head to the British Museum...Sadie can't believe that her dad is wasting their one day together on another museum... Neither Sadie OR Carter can believe what they see when they follow their dad into the Egypt exhibit.

He seems to be chanting, and the Rosetta Stone is glowing blue! Then some ghost or demon or something rises up and locks their dad in a coffin! Then these other two people show up, and the creepy guy disappears...but Sadie and Carter have no idea what is going on! Their uncle Amos comes to pick them up, and he has a few more answers. It turns out their families are descended from the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt...and that magic really exists...and Egyptian gods are real, and their dad just woke several up and set them free. Oops? Suddenly, Sadie and Carter are expected to go to the House of Life, and learn magic, so they can save their father (who is locked in a coffin, remember)...and defeat the evil god Set, who wants to destroy the world. Also, they only have 5 days.

Luckily, they have some helpful (if somewhat unconventional) allies. Sadie's loyal cat is actually the goddess Bast, and they bring along Uncle Amos's pet baboon Khufu. They also recruit the help of Thoth, the god of knowledge, to learn how to defeat Set. They even visit the land of the Dead, and Anubis (who Sadie thinks is really hot) on their quest.

This action packed adventure has a perfect blend of mythology and modern, along with a good dose of humor, and a touch of romance. This is another gem by Riordan, and highly recommended for fans of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.
"'Carter,' Amos said, 'the Egyptians would not have been stupid enough to believe in imaginary gods. The beings they described in their myths are very, very real. In the old days, the priests of Egypt would call upon these gods to channel their power and perform great feats. That is the origin of what we now call magic. Like many things, magic was first invented by the Egyptians. Each temple had a branch of magicians called the House of Life. Their magicians were famed throughout the ancient world,'"(Riordan pg 72, 2010).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (The Heroes of Olympus, Book 1)
The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski (The Kronos Chronicles, Book 1)

Riordan, Rick. (2010). The Red Pyramid. New York, NY: Disney/Hyperion Books.

Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Caster Chronicles #2)

November is Not Alone
Strangely, all of the books I chose for this month included a character that was orphaned, partially orphaned, or adopted. While this factors strongly into some of their personalities, all of them have amazing powers of determination and a desire to overcome the obstacles in front of them...and of course, none of these kids are alone. They all have strong allies helping them on their paths. Remember that sometimes, it's how you deal with what you are given that helps decide who you are.

Ethan and Lena survived the Sixteenth Moon...but at what cost? Lena's Uncle Mason is dead, and Lena blames herself. She is pulling farther and farther away from Ethan, and he doesn't know how to help her. To make matters worse, there's a new song on his iPod: Seventeenth Moon. Apparently, the Caster world isn't satisfied with Lena's choice of both light and dark...and she'll have to claim herself once again.

Ethan is having a hard enough time with his own problems. His dad is coming back from the mental hospital, and Amma seems to be on edge after Macon's death. Nothing he does seems to help, and everytime he touches Lena, there's physical pain. If they aren't careful, pretty soon a fire Lena going dark?

The more Lena wants to be left alone, the more Ethan despairs at being able to help her. It isn't until cousin Ridley, the Siren, shows up that he really starts to get angry. He knows something is going on, and who's that guy Lena's with? Who is John Breed....and what is he doing with Ethan's girlfriend?

Oh yeah, Ethan's having visions again. But this time, Lena isn't sharing them. These visions are of Abraham, Macon's grandfather, or Macon himself...but something is different. People are recognizing him in his visions, Abraham calls out his name. Without Lena for support, and not knowing where to turn, he asks Marian the town librarian (quit with the jokes) and Keeper for the Lunae Libri for help. Marian thinks Ethan might be a Wayward, a mortal who is destined to show a lost Caster the way. Could it be possible?

He's working at the library for the summer, and befriends Marian's summer intern. Liv is British, and brilliant. She has a penchant for astrology, and wants Ethan to show her around town. At the State Fair, things come to a head. Lena, Ridley, and John show up and cause all kinds of trouble...and Lena gets the wrong idea about Liv. Pretty soon, things are catching on fire, and the three Casters have disappeared. Ethan doesn't know what to do. He's losing Lena.

Determined to do whatever he can for the girl he loves, he, Link, and Liv follow them into the Caster tunnels...armed with a gift from Ethan's mother Lila: a Arclight. The only thing capable of capturing an Incubus, and possibly their only weapon against the dark forces that are working against Lena. To their surprise, Ridley joins them...she knows about Lena's mother Sarafine's plan. Let's just say the news isn't good. The four of them, armed with help from some unlikely sources, set off to find Lena and John. Will they make it in time? And in one piece?
"I was still thinking about Lena, despite the deafening roar in my ears, until Link's voice was drowned out altogether, and I heard Seventeen Moons. Only now the words had changed.
Seventeen moons, seventeen turns,
Eyes so dark and bright it burns,
Time is high but one is higher,
Draws the moon into the fire...
Time is high? What did that even mean? It wasn't going to be Lena's Seventeenth Moon for eight more months. Why was time high now? And who was the one, and what was the fire?" (Garcia and Stohl pg. 76, 2010).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Caster Chronicles #1)
Fallen by Lauren Kate
The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Garcia, Kami and Stohl, Margaret. (2010). Beautiful Darkness. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Linger by Maggie Steivfater (Wolves of Mercy Falls, Book 2)

Sam can hardly believe it, he almost doesn't trust his cure. He keeps expecting to turn, and have to leave Grace behind...but no amount of cold can bring back the wolf anymore. They have survived the winter, and it seems that there is a chance for normalcy.

Now Sam's attention turns to the new wolves...what was Beck thinking? Who could possibly have chosen this half-life? He is concerned about these new recruits. Isabel is the first to notice wolf activity. She still grieves for her brother, and blames herself...but an unlikely friendship has grown between Isabel, Sam, and Grace, born of common loss and hardship.

The new wolf is Cole. Cole loves being a wolf. Being a wolf is simply staying alive, nothing more complicated than that. No screaming fans, no overbearing fathers, no string of meaningless girls or increasingly more dangerous ways to turn off his brain. Just being. So why is he human again? More importantly, how does he turn back?

Isabel is the first person to see Cole change, or rather, encounter him changed...since he walked right into her house, stark naked. She gives him some of Jack's old clothes, and something to eat. Sam is convinced that his early change is due to his new wolf status, and brings him back to Beck's to learn the ropes. They don't exactly hit it off. Cole's irresponsible behavior and general lack of concern for losing himself to 'the wolf' are not exactly endearing to Sam...who has fought so hard, for so long to be human. Not to mention, Cole isn't exactly honest. The scariest thing is that Cole doesn't seem to be able to stay wolf, even in the cold...

Something is going on with Grace. At first it seems harmless, just headaches and fevers...but it's getting worse, and she's having crazy dreams. One night, Sam wakes up and Grace's fever is off the charts, and she's screaming in pain. Several trips to the hospital come up empty, but it seems clear what is really going on...even if no one wants to talk about it.

Will they find a way to save Grace, and coexist with Cole? This is the second book in the series...not as good as the first one, but I'm interested in what will happen in book three. My advice to Steifvater? Less romance, more other stuff...but I'm pretty biased.
"I had begun to think that I wasn't going to change back into a wolf. But this miserable in-between - I got up, went to the back door again, stood in the frigid wind. I gave up after about ten minutes and retreated back to the couch, curling around the turmoil of my stomach. My mind darted throught the gray halls, though my body stayed still. In my head, I walked down the hall, through unfamiliar rooms in shades of black and white. I felt Isabel's collarbone under my hand, saw my skin losings its color at I became a wolf, felt the microphone in my fist, heard my father's voice, saw him facing me across the dining room table," (Steifvater pg. 157, 2010).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater (April 2011)
Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick
Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

Stiefvater, Maggie. (2010). Linger. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

The Wanderer by Sharon Creech

Sophie can't wait to get started on the journey. She is sailing all the way to England with her cousins Cody and Brian, and her uncles Dock, Mo, and Stew; sailing to see her Grandpa Bompie. It's a new adventure for her, as she's never met these cousins and uncles before. We learn that Sophie was recently adopted...and that creates some friction during the journey.

As the only girl aboard the boat, she struggles to prove that she's worthy of more than just cooking and cleaning. As they get to know each other, it becomes more apparent that Sophie knows her way around a boat better than some of the adults even! Every day she writes in her journal about what has been happening.

The boat they are sailing is Uncle Dock's baby, the Wanderer, a 45-ft. sailboat that has seen better days. But they band together to whip it into shape, and while it may not be the most beautiful vessel, it is certainly sea worthy. To pass the time, they all decide to teach something they know. Many choose to teach something that will help them on the boat, but Cody decides to teach everyone how to juggle.

Cody tells his side of the story in his "Dog Log". He tells about the dynamics of everyone on the boat, and about Sophie's contribution: telling Bompie's stories. Their cousin Brian is baffled by this, and everyone is a little uneasy, as Sophie has never met how does she know his stories? But Sophie insists that Bompie told them to her, and sidesteps any mention of her being an orphan.

As they start their serious leg of the journey all the way across the ocean, tensions begin to run higher. Being all cramped together, never getting completely dry, having to hold onto their plates while they puts everyone on edge. Cody and his father Mo fight, Mo and Stew fight, Dock pines away for his lost love Rosalie, and then there is the storm. Will they make it to Bompie? Can they survive one more night together? Is Sophie a liar and a fake?

Creech weaves a powerful tale about family, and being yourself in this Newberry Honor book. I can't begin to touch on all the nuances and special moments, but this a powerful coming of age book. I must admit it said some things I needed to hear at age 29, so I recommend it for children, teens, AND adults.

"The sea, the sea, the sea. It rolled and rolled and called to me. Come in, it said, come in. And in I went, floating, rolling, splashing, swimming, and the sea called, Come out, come out, and further I went but always it swept me back to shore," (Creech pg. 1, 2000).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Creech, Sharon. (2001). The Wanderer. New York: Macmillan Children's Books.

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Lucy has her life lined up. She's getting good grades, has plans for college, runs Cross-Country, has a loyal best friend, and a family that loves her...well, an adopted family. Last but not least, she has a date to the prom: cute, shy Gray Spencer...who may be more than just a prom date. So what's that black cloud hanging over her head about?

It's her mom, well, her biological mom. Miranda is a local crazy, and recently she has started showing up at Lucy's school. She's always singing that song, "Are you going to Scarborough Fair?" It's not quite like the famous one, by Simon and Garfunkel...and it's haunting, sometimes torture for Lucy.

She decides to put it out of her mind as much as she can. Especially since Zach will be coming home soon. Zach has been her neighbor, and one of her best friends, since they were very little. He's away at college, but has decided to come back home for the summer. He lived with Lucy's family, Soledad and Leo, for his last year of high school after Zach's parents moved to Arizona. It's been decided that he will stay with them again, and Lucy is looking forward to having him around. She knows that he will listen to her doubts and fears about Miranda without freaking out.

Things seem to be going well, she picks out a prom dress, and the big night arrives. One of her mom's new employees, Padraig Seely, joins them for dinner...which seems odd, but his presence seems strangely fitting once he has arrived. When Gray pulls up to pick her up in a new Mini Cooper, the night seems destined for perfection...until Miranda shows up.

She starts yelling and throwing glass bottles from her cart at them. Miranda elbows Soledad in the face, and keeps at it...the next thing Lucy knows, Gray is in his car driving away, Leo has wrested the shopping cart full of ammo away from Miranda, and the police have been called. How could she do this? How could Miranda ruin everything like this?

We're going to skip ahead a little, so as not to ruin anything...but suffice to say, Lucy is pregnant. Just like her mother Miranda, Lucy is a pregnant teen. Her perfect future seems completely out of her reach, and she's not sure what to do. On top of everything else, Zach has found Miranda's diary from before Lucy was born. There are crazy ideas in it, and Lucy wonders if these are just early signs of Miranda's later madness...but maybe there is some truth. Is it possible that she's a victim of the Scarborough curse?

Suddenly the song has so much more meaning...the three impossible tasks: make a magical shirt without seam or needlework, find an acre of land between the salt water and the sea strand, sow it all over with one grain of corn. Can she possibly find a way to complete the tasks in the few weeks left before the baby is born?

Werlin does a masterful job of weaving fantasy into a realistic setting, and connecting them with folklore and familial ties. This provides an interesting take on the "teen pregnancy" genre, and a really heartwarming tale of how banding together with your family and friends can get you through even the toughest of times.

"'What are you going to say, then?'
'That you're having trouble being the one who takes, instead of the one who gives,' Lucy could feel the shock on her own face. She saw Sarah smile before she went on. 'I understand that. But, Lucy, you have to learn to accept. And you have to learn to accept with - well, with grace, just the same way that you give. You've given plenty to me, in the past, whenever I needed you...So now, you get to receive. From everybody in your life. It's all right. It's more than all right,'" (Werlin pg. 258, 2008).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

Extraodinary by Nancy Werlin
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Werlin, Nancy. (2008). Impossible. New York, NY: Dial Books.

The Hollow People: The Promises of Dr. Sigmundus by Brian Keaney

Dante is a ward of the asylum, which basically means he does whatever he is told. He cleans up the messes no one else wants to clean, he washes dishes, mops floors, brings prisoners their food...all because he had the misfortune of being born to an inmate who ended up taking her own life. He has been cursed to an existence of servitude and being grateful for the mistreatment he receives, for who else would take care of him?

Bea was born to privilege. Her father is a scientist on the island, and she is approaching her coming-of-age ceremony, where she will recite the Promises of Dr. Sigmundus. She, unlike the rest of her classmates, is not looking forward to receiving Ichor. She knows that once she does, all her originality will be gone. She will no longer care about being different, or feel anxious. Everyone tells her that after the ceremony, everything will be fine...but that isn't how she feels.

A chance meeting between these two gives them both new perspective. It seems that Dante is immune to Ichor. He understands her hesitation, and uncertainty. She shows him the picture of the place she sees in her dreams, and it's almost as if Dante has seen this place before. He doesn't scold her for having dreams like everyone else. Bea knows that she shouldn't talk to someone below her station, but finally, here is someone who understands. They decide to meet again.

A dangerous prisoner has been brought to Tamagar, the island dedicated to housing criminally insane patients like Dante's mother. Ezekiel Semiramis, however, doesn't seem to live up to all the rumors surrounding him. Dante is ordered to bring him his meal, and is shocked to hear that Ezekiel knew his mother...he even alleges that Dante's mother didn't commit suicide, but was murdered! But can he trust the words of a killer?

Events transpire that ends in Dante and Bea both being ostracized, and them having to trust Ezekiel. He has the power to stop time, it seems, and organizes their escape. As they make their way out of Tamagar, and leave their old lives behind them, what does their future hold?

The group travels to the ruined city, and learns that much of what was taught as truth is more like propaganda. Ichor was developed to diminish resistance, and only this small band of citizens, known as the Puca, is fighting to regain independence from Dr. Sigmundus.

This futuristic dystopia takes place in an alternate reality. Great for sci-fi/fantasy lovers, but may be more difficult for those who enjoy more realistic settings.
"In the distance, a stone tower loomed out of the mist like an enourmous finger pointing towards the sky. All around her, the once-magnificent architecture of the city was beginning to take shape, and Bea turned around slowly in a full circle to take it in. 'All this is mine,' she said out loud. Then she corrected herself. 'All this is ours.' But even as she spoke, she was aware that something was starting to go wrong. The silence of the ruined streets was suddenly shattered by a harsh, unidentifiable noise. She covered her ears with her hands, but it made no difference....Then, with a sudden, fierce jolt, she woke," (Keaney pg. 25-26, 2006).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

The Cracked Mirror: The Promises of Dr. Sigmundus (book 2) by Brian Keaney
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness

Keaney, Brian. (2006). The Hollow People: The Promises of Dr. Sigmundus. New York, NY: Knopf.

The Black Book of Buried Secrets by Mallory Kass

October is Puzzling
One of my favorite genres of middle school fiction are the puzzle books. You know, the ones you get to decifer secret clues or codes along with the characters? If you love mysteries or a good guessing game, these are for you!

This a bonus book to the 39 Clues series, focusing on each branch of the Cahill family: the Lucians, the Tomas, the Ekaterinas, the Janus, and the elusive Madrigals. Each branch of the family is known for their particular skill set.

The Lucians are decendants of Luke Cahill, the oldest child of Olivia and Gideon...and rumored to have caused the explosion that killed his father. Innocent of their accusations, he vowed revenge and to collect all the clues for himself. He became King Henry VIII's right hand man, and Lucians have held powerful positions in government ever since then. The Kabras, Ian and Natalie, are in line to succeed their leadership of the Lucians from their parents. Some of the most famous Lucians have included Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, and Anastasia Romanov.

The Tomas branch is decended from Thomas Cahill, 2nd son of Gideon and Olivia, who fled with his sister Katherine after the death of their father. Later, the siblings parted after Katherine stole one of Thomas's clues. Their branch is known for their physical prowess and legendary warrior status. Some of the youngest Tomas' agents are the Holt kids: Hamilton, Regan, and Madison. Among their famous members are Annie Oakley, Shaka Zulu, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and the team of Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea.

The Ekaterina branch is decended from Katherine Cahill, the 3rd child of Gideon and Olivia. She escaped with her brother Thomas after her brother Luke allegedly killed her father. She grew impatient after Thomas postponed their search for clues after falling in love, and resolved to continue the search without him...after she stole one of his clues. The leadership of the Ekat branch has passed to Alistair Oh after the incarceration of his uncle Bae. The Ekats are known for their intelligence, creativity, and ingenuity. Some of their most note-worthy members have included Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, Abraham Lincoln, and Marie Curie.

The Janus branch is descended from Jane Cahill, the 4th child of Gideon and Olivia. She was only 10 years old when her father was killed, and was devastated at the departure of her brother Luke. She struck out on her own, but found it difficult to make it as an artist AND a she improvised. The Janus branch is made up of artists, actors, singers, and other creative types. Jonah Wizard, world-famous rapper, and secret Shakespeare lover is one of the up and coming younger members of the Janus crew. Well known Janus members include Thomas Jefferson, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and Mozart.

The Madrigals are decended from Madeline Cahill, the 5th and youngest child of Gideon and Olivia. This is the only branch of the family which requires you to pass a test to gain membership. The newest members, of course, are Amy and Dan Cahill, along with their au pair, Nellie Gomez. Some of the most famous Madrigals included William Shakespeare, Amelia Earhart, and Florence Nightingale.

This branch of the family is dedicated to keeping the balance of power, and uses their influence to keep any one branch from gaining too many clues. This has often required agents to work undercover, or pose as a threat. Additionally, Amy and Dan have been given the task of attempting to unite the branches of the family. Can it be done? It sure seems impossible, given their several hundred years of fighting...

Throughout the book are codes you must decipher to learn what the next series featuring the Cahill family will involve. And yes, all you 39 Clues fiends, they are planning more books! This is a great series for reluctant readers, and includes an online game component for those who can't get enough Cahill action. Watch out, the Vespers are coming...

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Vespers Rising by Rick Riordan, Peter Lerangis, Gordon Korman, Jude Watson (April 2011)
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
The Alchemyst: the Immortal Secrets of Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott

The Genius Wars by Catherine Jinks

Cadel is back for book 3 of this series. (Book 2 Spoiler Alert!!!) After the Genius Squad is exposed as a front for Prosper English, formerly thought to be Cadel's biological father, goes into hiding once again. Saul and Fiona decide to officially adopt Cadel. In exchange, Cadel stays out of trouble, puts anything related to his old life of crime behind him, and tries to be a normal kid.

Cadel finally has a real home, with real parents and friends. He even goes to a real school, that doesn't teach anything crazy, like how to poison someone. They've worked out a deal so he can attend the University of South Wales, and avoid criminal charges. In fact, several of the old Genius Squad members are doing the same: Sonja and Hamish. Judith has taken in Sonja, and even hooked her up with a really high tech wheelchair. The chair interprets brain waves, and translates them into simulated speech, as well as direct her chair to move where she wants.

Cadel wants to make life for Sonja as easy as possible, so he comes up with the idea to use the wheelchair tech to control other things, like elevator buttons or crosswalks. So...maybe this isn't entirely 100% legal, but he decides that the breakthrough will be beneficial - not just for Sonja, but for other handicapped people. Maybe his ideas can be implemented into technological shortcuts for others? This is not like what he did with Prosper, or Genius Squad, this is for helping people, right?

Just when he thought Prosper was out of his life, Saul calls him. Apparently Prosper has been caught on CCTV (closed circuit television, used for police surveillance). All Cadel can think is "Why?" What possible motive could Prosper have for coming back to Sydney? Prosper only stands to be imprisoned if he's caught. Why take the risk? Cadel is shipped off to a safehouse "for his own safety," and it's just like all the other times: Prosper is ruining his life.

Everything is going smoothly, until the time comes to try out his idea on the school elevators. Suddenly, Sonja's wheelchair is out of control, barrelling straight for him. He jumps out of the way, only to watch in horror as Sonja and her chair careen down the stairs.

This can't be happening. Could it have been his fault? Was it a glitch in the system he created that caused her wheelchair to malfunction? It seems that Sonja will be okay, but her fancy chair is toast. Cadel decides the best defense is a good offense, and convinces Saul to let him be on the team looking for Prosper. He recruits his new computer professor and some of his best students to start trying to find Prosper's hideout, but things get a little out of control. Some unlikely cast members reappear to help him out.

Will Cadel be able to outwit Prosper, and live a normal life? Or is "normal" just not in Cadel's vocabulary? Great final chapter to this series. While there are no in-book puzzles, the level of deduction and twists and turns will keep any puzzle loving reader entertained.

" 'No. You don't understand,' the agent snapped. 'You are in deep shit, kiddo. Not only with your poor old dad, but with the Department of Homeland Security, and with the Federal Buereau of Investigation, and with the entire Australian police force -'
'I had to do this!' Cadel cried, flushing. 'Prosper English is trying to kill me! I have to track him down!'
'You have to track him down? ... Because no one else can? ... You might want to listen to yourself,' he rapped out. 'You might want to consider what you sound like when you say something like that,' " (Jinks pg. 289, 2009).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks
I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb

Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception (book 4) by Eoin Colfer

Jinks, Catherine. (2009). The Genius Wars. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone

October is Puzzling 
One of my favorite genres of middle school fiction are the puzzle books. You know, the ones you get to decipher secret clues or codes along with the characters? If you love mysteries or a good guessing game, these are for you!

Ruthie makes an amazing discovery while on a class field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago: the Thorne Minature Gallery. Ruthie can't believe all the intricate details of each room, and is amazed that each room was created to be a historical replica of an actual time and place. Mrs. Narcissa Thorne spent years collecting or commissioning tiny dollhouse sized pieces to fill her rooms. The rooms represent part of Europe back in the time of knights, all the way up to early America.

Jack, who's mother is an artist, has seen the rooms before, but understands Ruthie's fascination with them. The scale is 1 foot to 1 inch, and the tiny clothes, the chairs, the carved baseboards and elaborate miniature art pieces are truly a sight to behold. (Can you tell I've actually been to see them?)

One of the guards notices their interest, and lets Jack and Ruthie take a peek behind the scenes. In the corridor behind the exhibit, Jack finds a beautiful gold key. He decides to follow the "finders keepers" rule, and takes it home. It isn't until later when he shows it to Ruthie that they realize the key is no ordinary key. As soon as Ruthie touches it, she starts to shrink! They experiment with it, and find that only Ruthie shrinks.

They quickly hatch a scheme to use the key to get back into the Thorne Rooms, and explore the rooms. Ruthie can't wait to explore the elaborate settings for herself. Her only reservation is that Jack can't come with her. They hatch a plan to sneak in and stay overnight, only to find that there may be more magic than they first realized!

Another great "I don't know that I'm learning" book, highly recommended.
Instead of a quote, go check out the Thorne Rooms here.
"She stopped and looked at Jack, who gazed back at her as if to say, You need my help for this! He gingerly picked her up between his thumb and first finger and set her down again," (Malone pg. 42, 2010).

If you liked this, check out:

Malone, Marianne. (2010). The Sixty-Eight Rooms. New York, NY: Random House.

The Name of This Book is Secret! by Pseudonymous Bosch

You know you've stumbled on a good read when the first thing the author tells you is to put the book down. There's just something about doing something against the rules that I like, especially when it isn't too bad ... like reading a book.

Cass is a survivalist, well ... as much of a survivalist you can be at age 11. She is on constant watch for possible disasters, like the risk that her school was built on a toxic waste dumping ground, and they could all be poisoned at any second! Ok, when she noticed the dying grass, and the dead rats, she may have jumped to conclusions ... a little.

Max-Ernest has an as yet undefined condition characterized by excessive talking and question asking. For instance, he asks everyone in his entire class the same riddle separately, hoping to make someone laugh (he is an aspiring comedian) ... but sadly, no one does laugh. Although, Cass is the first one to point out that his riddle isn't really a joke. Maybe that's what brought them together. They both needed a friend.

The second thing that brought them together? The Symphony of Smells, a cool box of vials with different liquids of various scents, each labeled with a corresponding word. While neither of them is quite sure what the purpose of this is, they are convinced that it has something to do with magic. They got the box from a magician's house, after all! They decide to investigate further, and come across his (very tricky) notebook.

It tells the tale of Pietro and Luciano, twin brothers who experience synethesia (which is tricky to describe, but mostly means they can hear colors, smell words, their senses are all mixed up!). They join the circus together at a young age, and use their talents to wow the audience. One day, however, the evil blonde lady comes and steals Luciano away! Pietro searches, but never sees him again.

Cass and Max-Ernest can hardly believe it! Such a story! Most of all, they want to help Pietro...but they aren't sure how to go about it. That is until Cass comes up with a crazy plan...which I can't tell you about. Why? Because it's SECRET!

Great puzzle elements embedded within, along with fun facts that enable learning. I played along and figured out (almost) every code. The last one is trickier. I can't wait to read the sequel!
"Generally speaking, books don't cause much harm. Except when you read them, that is. Then they cause all kinds of problems," (Bosch, 2007).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
If You're Reading This, It's Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch
NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue and Defense Society by Michael Buckley
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Bosch, Pseudonymous. (2007). The Name of This Book is Secret. New York, NY: Little, Brown.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

September is Steampunk
Steampunk is what would happen if we mixed Victorian fashion with lots of gadgets, and added some adventures. Not all of these take place in Victorian times, but they all have elements of steampunk. It's a favorite genre of mine, and I hope you enjoy.

Tessa can't wait to see her brother Nate again. After a long trip from America, she's finally arrived in London. Expecting to see Nate on the train platform, she is surprise to be greeted by a strange man, who takes her to meet two stranger women. The "Dark Sisters," Mrs. Dark and Mrs. Black, have a letter of introduction from her brother. They invite her into their home, but for more nefarious purposes than she could have imagined.

It seems Nate has been kidnapped by these women, who threaten her with hurting him, always demanding she "Change," beating her when she fails. What is this Change they speak of? Soon, after much torture and coaching, she learns she can transform into someone else, simply by touching an object that was once one of their possessions. On more than one ghastly occasion, they force her to turn into someone who has been murdered. She can hear their thoughts, recognize people they knew in their life, she truly becomes the person in a sense. This power unnerves her, and she longs to escape.

When she hears the Sisters plotting to marry her to "The Magister," Tessa gets desperate. She can't marry a stranger! Especially one who is in league with the Dark Sisters! Her attempts to escape seem futile until she ends up knocking her would-be rescuer in the head with a jug. Luckily, Will's rather resilient.

Will is a Shadowhunter and member of the Nephilim. After killing one Dark Sister, and rescuing Tessa, he and the other Shadowhunters bring her back to their headquarters, the Institute. Their leader is a short but powerful woman named Charlotte. The Shadowhunters' goal is to uncover the plot behind Tessa's kidnapping...but Tessa just wants to find her brother. She agrees to help them, if they will help her find Nate. In a scheme designed to trick the ringleader, she agrees to use her ability to Change. However, it may be that the Shadowhunters are in for a surprise, after all.

This delightful cast of characters will keep you interested, as well as the possible tension between Tessa, Will, and Jem. No one can resist a smoldering bad boy, or his faithful, kindhearted friend, right? Well-written, and fast paced, great for fans of supernatural adventures.
"It had been a day of firsts. The first time she had used her power at her own wish and discretion, and had felt good about it. The first time she had fired a pistol. And - the only first she had ever dreamed of, for years - her first kiss. Tessa rolled over, burying her face in the pillow. For so many years she had wondered what her first kiss would be like - if he would be handsome, if he would love her, if he would be kind. She had never imagined that the kiss would be so brief and desperate and wild. Or that it would taste of holy water. Holy water and blood," (Clare pg. 293, 2010).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

Clare, Cassandra. (2010). Clockwork Angel. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

Modo owes everything to Mr. Socrates. He was the one who rescued him from the freak show as a small child, taught him what he was capable of, taught him how to defend himself, and think for himself. Mr. Socrates educated him, trained him...and then, left him, on the streets of London to fend for himself? His final test, it seems, is to survive on his own. Mr. Socrates promises to find him when the time is right...

Modo's most distinguishing features are his hideously distorted face and hunchback. Not exactly the kind of thing you expect people to see beyond, unless you also have Modo's unique ability: to morph into whatever or whomever he desires. His disability need not prevent him from being a member of society, except that the shape-shifting has a limited window of time in which to work.

After he is dumped in London, he establishes himself in a small apartment and does odd detective work for a fee. No one sees his face during their interactions, and he primarily travels by rooftop. What better way to explore London without unnecessary distractions or traffic? One day, a beautiful woman (by the sound of it) inquires about some changes that have come over her brother since joining a scientific society.

Modo makes a visit to this society to inquire about the nature of its membership, and is greeted with less than friendly results. In fact, he gets beaten up by a man with what seems to be a metal arm! After imprisoning him, and setting the building alight, Modo manages to escape and track down this "sister."

Tavia may not be anyone's sister, but she does happen to also be working for Mr. Socrates. After being reunited, Modo is informed of the treacherous nature of the society they are going up against. The Clockwork Guild, as they are known, are working with a Dr. Hyde who is known for his experiments with animal hybridism. The exact nature of their scheme is still unclear, however there are several incidents which lead to the conclusion that they are "up to no good."

Very well written, it's just enough Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde meets The Hunchback of Notre Dame for audiences to feel familiar with the characters, but enough of a departure to be fresh.
"Steam geysered out the seams of the giant's clothing. He swung his massive arm again and Modo caught hold of it. Fuhr slammed him up against the wall. Modo wrenched himself away, ripping the sleeve from Fuhr's jacket. Modo's jaw dropped. The arm was made of metal! Pistons pushed back and forth between steel bones, the steam pumping out of holes in narrow iron plates. Fuhr swung yet again, Modo ducked and the man's fist pounded a hole in the wall. Modo shuddered: What such a blow would do to his skull!" (Slade pg. 75, 2009).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Dark Deeps: Hunchback Assignments #2 by Arthur Slade
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
Soulless by Gail Carriger

Slade, Arthur. (2009). The Hunchback Assignments. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Alek, better known as the son of the Archduke of Austria, next in line for the throne, has had better days. He's woken up in the middle of the night, rushed around by his fencing instructor, piled into a walking machine, and made to march across the country for weeks. Why? Only because the Germans assassinated his parents to instigate World War I, of course! Like I said, he's having a rough time. In addition to this, he has to get out of Austria before someone kills him. Turns out his uncle, the Emperor of Austria, denies that Alek has any claim to the throne...because Alek's mom wasn't of royal birth. So pretty much his whole life, he's been made to feel like a fake prince. Losing both his parents at once, and running for his life is not exactly helping things.

Deryn wants so badly to be a member of the British Air Service. Her Da used to pilot a hot air balloon, and she loved it. After her Da passed away, it's the only thing she can think of that will give her another chance to fly. The obvious problem? It's 1914, and she's a girl. Using some serious tomboy skills, some advice from her brother, and the fact that she doesn't look a lot like a girl to her advantage, she signs up as Dylan Sharp. Turns out she is a serious airship(wo)man , and lucks out getting assigned to the Leviathan.

This story takes place in an altered history, which uses similar historical events (like World War I) but changes things to bring about a different future. One of the major element changes in this 1914: mechanical walking machines and bio-engineered animals. Starting to see some steampunk elements? The Germans (Clankers) are really into mechanical tech, while the British (Darwinists) prefer armored, engineered animals. It's a fascinating concept to think what might have happened if Darwin had engineered new species.

So, back to our protagonists. Dylan's ship, the Leviathan, is a huge collection of different animals which acts like a hydrogen airship. (S)he shows enough skill and daring to stay on board as they take on some interesting passengers and cargo. En route to deliver said cargo, the ship encounters enemy fire. They land on a glacier (not an ice berg) near where Alek and his "family" are camped. Alek first meets Dylan when he cuts her loose, and (s)he promptly proceeds to turn him into the higher ups. Without giving too much away, there is some great action, really cool drawings by Keith Thompson, fantastic slang ("Barking spiders!"), and the promise of more to come.

If you like steampunk, this is a must read. I was a little disappointed at how Westerfeld kept jumping back and forth between characters, and the storyline seemed disjointed. When the storylines joined, it was a much more enjoyable read.
"Maybe this was how you stayed sane in wartime: a handful of noble deeds amid the chaos," (Westerfeld, 2009).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Westerfeld, Scott. (2009). Leviathan. New York, NY: Simon Pulse.

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

The narrator begins by telling us to put down this book. "Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. Needless to say, I doubt you'll believe a word of it." Strange how when someone tells you not to do something, you want to do it even more. Of course, I kept reading.

Edward Moon is a singularly arresting character, a formerly affluent member of Victorian English society, and an intriguing master of illusion and mind reading. His partner on the stage is known simply as The Somnambulist. The Somnambulist never speaks, and communicates only through hand-written messages on a slate he carries with him. Perhaps the singular most spectacular feat the two exhibit involves the Somnambulist being pierced with several long swords, every night, but exhibiting no wounds or signs of distress.

Another of Moon's endeavors is like that of Sherlock Holmes, a bit of an amateur detective consulted by Scotland Yard for especially baffling cases. The latest bit of bother involves a mysterious murder. At first glance, it seems ordinary...and then, another murder followed by the disappearance of both murdered men's mothers?

The Directorate, an underground government organization dedicated to preventing threats to Queen and country, may not always use scrupulous means to get what they want. They blackmail Moon into service, and take him to see a psychic...who may actually not be a total fake. The scariest part? She's predicting the end of the 10 days.

As Moon and the Somnambulist begin to uncover more and more of this deep plot, more colorful characters are introduced, including Barrabas. Barrabas, also known as The Fiend, is a gluttonous prisoner, obsessed with beautiful trinkets. His previous association with Moon is hinted at, and it's believed that Barrabas may know more than he lets on.

As the foretold day approaches, events start to spin out of control. Will they be able to uncover who's behind it all, and stop them before they bring down the entire city? A fantastic steampunk Victorian murder mystery that crosses over for teens rather nicely. There is quite a bit of grisly subject matter, so recommended for older teens.
"Moon allowed himself a private, faintly malicious smile at their departure before flinging wide his arms. 'Applause,' he cried, 'for the city's most remarkable man! Asleep! Awake! The celebrated sleepwalker of Albion Square! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...the Somnambulist!'" (Barnes pg. 23, 2007).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

Barnes, Jonathan. (2007). The Somnambulist. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Mister Monday by Garth Nix (Keys to the Kingdom Series)

Arthur is kind of a weenie. His asthma prevents him from most strenuous activity, and his family moves a good deal, so it's hard for him to make friends. In fact, he's what you might call "ordinary." So much so, that when Mr. Monday and Skeezer show up during his gym class, he really has no idea what's going on. How could he? Even if he IS the rightful heir to the Will of the Architect, creator of all things, including the House and the Secondary Realms....wait, what?

It turns out that the Architect was the one who created everything out of Nothing (not nothing mind you, Nothing). She created the House, and the denizens of the House, who endeavor to watch and catalog the goings on of the Secondary Realms (which is pretty much anywhere outside of the House, and includes Earth), but not to interfere. So when the Architect died, she left a Will and Trustees (who are conveniently named after the days of the week) to watch over the House until a suitable Heir can be found. Of course, no one likes to give up their the Trustees hide the Will away, after breaking it into seven pieces, and increasingly start to interfere with the Secondary Realms. PHEW! Are you confused yet? Arthur sure is, especially when his friends start succumbing to the "Sleepy Plague" as they are calling it, which seems to be caused by contamination from the House.

It turns out, Part 1 of the Will has found a way to get to Arthur. Armed with the Key, and the Compleat Atlas of the House (a very useful book), he must find a way to fight Mr. Monday for control of the Lower House. Lucky for him, he meets Suzy Turquoise Blue, one of the Piper's Children brought from Earth long ago, along with all the Rats. She, it seems, is the carrier of the Will...albeit in the guise of a frog! The three plot Mister Monday's downfall, but will they ever make it past all his guards, traps, prisons, and more?

Excellent juvenile fantasy, and recommended for lovers of Harry Potter.
"Don't look, part of his mind said. If you don't see trouble, it doesn't exist. But it does, thought Arthur, fighting down the fear. Keep breathing slowly. You have to confront your fears. Deal with them," (Nix, 2003).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo

Nix, Garth. (2003). Mister Monday. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Shiver by Maggie Steifvater

August is Once Upon a Time...
August is all about fairy tales retold. Ancient stories that have been brought up to date in modern times. These are a great way to get lost in a romance, an adventure, breaking the spell, or finding your true home. Back-to-school doesn't have to mean back-to-boring.

One of Grace's first memories is of the wolves. They attacked her, but all she remembers is the piercing yellow eyes of her wolf. Despite their rough treatment, she survives, and continues to be enraptured by the wolves, especially her wolf.

Years later, when a student at her high school is attacked and killed, Grace sticks up for the wolves. It's their nature, and knowing Jack Culpeper, he provoked them. Feeling desperate when she learns a hunting party has been sent out to kill them, she rushes into the woods, unsure of what she hopes to do. Witnessing one wolf get shot, her wolf, she is amazed to watch him transform into a teenage this really happening? He begs her not to let him change back, he is Sam.

Without much more thought, she rushes him to the hospital. Finally alone after his wound is stitched up, he begins to explain. His werewolf blood accelarates his healing process, so they have to get out of the hospital before someone figures it out. The "change" between human and wolf is facilitated by temperature, the colder it is, the more likely he is to change. Grace takes him back to her house, not knowing what else to do, and not willing to let him out of her sight. The wolf, her wolf, is Sam...this desire she has always held is real. He is real.

The biggest question is when - when will he change again? The tenuous nature of his existence does nothing to alleviate the very real feelings they have for each other. It's as if a dream has come true for both of them. He has always watched her, just as she has watched him. Their devotion develops in a way that seems meant to be. His respect for her is admirable and refreshing, without being too chaste.

Jack, it turns out, is not dead. He has changed, just as those before him. As a new wolf, he is unstable. He is showing up at the school, at home, threatening to expose their secret. Sam confronts him, only to learn that Jack is convinced that Grace knows the cure. She is the only one who was bitten, but didn't change. As the winter grows ever closer, the inevitable change in Sam becomes a tangible obstacle. Will Jack's insistence that Grace knows the answer turn into violence? Will Jack's sister Isabel expose their secret? Are Grace and Sam doomed to know love, only to lose it?

This book is what Twilight should have been, in my humble opinion. Highly recommended, which means a lot coming from a person who generally dislikes romance.

"Dull orange-brown leaves, dry and dead, clung to the branches and fluttered in the wind, waiting for the gust of wind that would knock them to the ground. That was what Sam was: transient. A summer leaf clinging to a frozen branch for as long as possible. 'You're beautiful and sad," I said finally, not looking at him when I did. 'Just like your eyes. You're like a song that I heard when I was a little kid but forgot I knew until I heard it again,'" (Steifvater pg. 208, 2009).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

Linger by Maggie Steifvater
New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Steifvater, Maggie. (2009). Shiver. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Adrian is a beast. He used to be rich, handsome, popular Kyle...but not anymore. Now he's alone. Even his father wants nothing to do with him. Who would? He's a Beast, remember?

The witch who put him under the spell tells him the spell can only be broken by true love's kiss. But where is he going to find someone who can stand to be around him, let alone kiss him?! One night, someone breaks into his house. The man looks like a bum, a junkie, trying to score some cash. Adrian strikes a deal with him, he can leave on one condition. He must send his daughter to take his place.

Adrian has been watching her, the daughter of the horrible man, but she is far from horrible. She is lovely! He has hope for the first time in years. Perhaps she will appreciate him for who he is, instead of his appearance. He readies her room, buys her new clothes, cuts flowers from his beloved greenhouse...all for her. Will she ever accept him?

This retelling of Beauty and the Beast is a fun, modern take on a classic. It's even been adapted into a movie, which is scheduled to be released in March, 2011. Recommended for lovers of fairy tales and romance.

"...I picked her up to carry her to her room. She woke halfway up the dark staircase. 'What the...?' 'You fell asleep. I was carrying you to your room. Don't worry. I won't hurt you. I promise. You can trust me. And I won't drop you.' Her weight was barely anything in my arms. The beast was strong too," (Flinn pg. 205, 2007).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block

Flinn, Alex. (2007). Beastly. New York, NY: HarperTeen.

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Scarlet and Rosie are not your typical teenagers. They couldn't be, after what they experienced. Scarlet lost her eye to the wolf, the Fenris, who killed their grandmother. Now they are hunters, because they know the truth. They must protect all the others who live in blissful ignorance. They are two halves of the same heart, beating as one, hunting and surviving...but is it enough?

Silas is back from California. Silas, Scarlet's partner in the hunt, something like a brother, has returned. Scarlet feared he would stay there, but once he's back, everything is forgiven. Rosie can't help but notice how handsome he looks, how her heart beats faster when he's around, how she wants to inch closer to him on the couch. But she's a hunter, and hunters don't fall in love.

The wolves are on the lookout for "The Potential", the man who can be turned into a wolf. Scarlet, Rosie, and Silas are unclear on why or how someone is chosen, but they decide to move to the city to fight the packs while they are in force. After a few disappointing attempts, Scarlet decides that they need to look for "The Potential" to use as bait.

Meanwhile, Rosie starts to give in to her feelings for Silas. Is this a mutual attraction? How will Scarlet feel about it? She feels as if she is betraying the other half of her heart. Can she be a hunter, AND something else? So many questions surround them. Without "The Potential" they have few options left to lure the wolves, and they are running out of time to find him before the Fenris do. Could it be the answer was in front of them all the time?

This modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood brings the story well into the present. Told from the viewpoints of each sister, this explores themes of love and loss, and acceptance.

"Scarlett took a step forward, then another, until she was so close to the monster that the rotting stench emanating from his throat choked her. The wolf opened his wide, long jaws, rows of teeth and bloodstained tongue stretching for her. A thought locked itself in Scarlett’s mind, and she repeated it over and over until it became a chant, a prayer: I am the only one left to fight, so now I must kill you,"(Pearce pg. 8, 2010).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
As You Wish by Jackson Pearce
Linger by Maggie Steifvater
Ash by Malinda Lo

Pearce, Jackson. (2010). Sisters Red. New York, NY: Little, Brown.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemna by Trenton Lee Stewart

July is On the Job
All the stories for July involve kids solving mysteries, figuring out clues, and in general being pretty amazing. From beating grown ups to the next clue, to catching the bad guys in the act, to blowing away the competition with a little magic, these kids are On the Job, making sure the good guys win.
The gang is all back, and still hot on the trail of Mr. Benedict's evil twin brother, Mr. Curtain. As if it wasn't bad enough to have to worry about the 10 Men, and all of Mr. Curtain's plots, the government plans to take away the Whisperer from Mr. Benedict's careful watch!

The children know that Ledroptha is going to try something, and they have to do something to stop him. Without really knowing what to do, they are at the mercy of the adults--which we all know is no fun. The biggest problem arises when one of Mr. Curtain's associates comes to adopt Constance with some phoney documents. Will they really let him take Constance away? It's up to her to try and remember her past, from before she made her way to Mr. Benedict's tests, and try to figure out her true origins.

Everything turns to chaos when the entire city suffers a blackout! The children know this is the best chance for Mr. Curtain to steal the Whisperer, and blame it on Mr. Benedict ... but what can they do? With everyone running around, trying to fix the blackout, the children decide to take matters into their own hands. It won't be easy, but with the four of them - Stinky, Reynie, Kate, and Constance - they've got the know-how to outwit Mr. Curtain, and his group of evildoers.

The in-book puzzles are always fun to solve along with the characters, and this is a great series for kids who enjoy being involved in the story.
"'After I woke up and composed myself, however, I realized the flowers must certainly be yours, Constance, to do with as you please. At any rate - " Mr.Benedict broke off, for just then Constance jumped to her feet, snatched the bouquet from his desk, and hurled it into the wastebasket with all the force she could muster - so hard that flower petals flew up out of the wastebasket like tiny pink butterflies. Then placing her hands against the wall to steady herself, she stomped one foot repeatedly into the wastebasket as if trying to put out a fire. 'I see we are of the same opinion,' said Mr. Benedict as Constance returned to her seat, and the others congratulated her on her judgment." (Trenton, 2009).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart (Book 2)
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
If You're Reading This, It's Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch

Stewart, Trenton Lee. (2009). The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

Sophie and Josh are twins, they work across the street from each other, and their part time jobs are dedicated to saving up money to buy a car. Their parents are archaeologists, so they are gone on digs a lot, and the twins have had to learn to watch out for themselves. When Sophie sees a mysterious man in black walk into the bookstore where Josh works, she's worried. When she sees that the men with him have no faces...she's terrified!

It turns out the owners of the bookstore, the Flemings, are really Nicholas and Perenel Flamel, immortal humans in possesion of a powerful book of alchemy and magic: the Codex. Abraham the Mage wrote down his life work centuries ago, and the Flamels are the newest guardians of the tome. The book is coveted by the Dark Elders, who want to use it to return to Earth. Their human servant, John Dee, has been chasing the Flamels across the world for centuries trying to get his hands on the book. Taking them by surprise in the shop, Dee gets all but the last 2 pages of the Codex...the pages needed to summon the Elders back to our world.

Suddenly, Sophie and Josh are plunged into a story that seems more fantasy than reality, as they are whisked away to the Shadowrealms to escape Dee. Perenel is captured, and Flamel flees with the children, afraid he cannot defeat Dee. He enlists the help of Scathach, the Shadow, a famous Next-Generation Elder who created martial arts. Together, they go to Bastet to awaken Sophie's powers.

Flamel is convinced that the twins are the Twins of Legend who will save mankind. But Dee finds them, is always on their tail, and tells Josh that Flamel may not be all that he seems. Are Sophie and Josh really who Flamel thinks they are? Is Dee the bad guy, or just misunderstood? Can they be awakened and learn the elemental magics to save the world?

Love, love, LOVE this series. I enjoy the allusions to famous characters sprinkled throughout, and the storytelling. Truly a great read, can't wait for the next book!

"Sophie was about to turn away, when the grey man suddenly spun around and seemed to stare directly at her. Standing under the awning, his face was in shadow, and yet for just the briefest instant, his eyes looked as if they were glowing. Sophie knew—just knew—that there was no possible way for the small grey man to see her: she was standing on the opposite side of the street behind a pane of glass that was bright with reflected early afternoon sunlight. She would be invisible in the gloom behind the glass.
And yet . . ." (Scott, 2007).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Magician by Michael Scott (Book 2)
The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley-Archer
The Hound of Rowan by Henry Neff

Scott, Michael. (2007). The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. New York, NY: Delacourt Press.

The 39 Clues: Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

Amy and Dan Cahill are grieving over the loss of their beloved grandmother. After her funeral, there is the reading of the will. It comes as a real surprise to them when they are asked to give up their inheritance for a clue...what is all of this about? There are several other members of the family present who seem to know what's going on, and that is even More confusing! What are these 39 clues that everyone keeps whispering about?

After accepting the challenge, Amy and Dan start off on a international search with their babysitter Nellie. At every turn they are followed (or chased!) by the other teams competing. So much for family togetherness! Even Uncle Alistair, who seems to be on their side, takes off whenever it's convenient. It seems they can only trust each other.

The more they learn about the illustrious Cahill family, the more they start to doubt their grandmother. Why did Grace never tell them that they were decended from some of the most famous people in history: Marie Curie, Benjamin Franklin, Mozart...the list goes on. The four branches: Lucian, Tomas, Ekaterina, and Janus must compete for the 39 clues, and the winner will be one of the most powerful people in the world! But they continue the search, because what do they have to return to...their parents passed away when they were young, and their grandmother is dead now.

Can Amy and Dan solve the puzzle and reach the first clue before the others? A fantastic series, recommended for 3rd grade and up. Good for fans of the Magic Tree House series, as well as any mystery lovers. The series is written by various authors which lends a feeling of excitement to each installment. The online component allows you to follow along, and help solve clues as well. Great for reluctant readers!

"You have been chosen as the most likely to succeed in the greatest, most perilous, undertaking of all time - a quest of vital important to the Cahill family and the world at large..." (Riordan pg. 16, 2008).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
One False Note by Gordon Korman (Book 2, 39 Clues)
Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

Riordan, Rick. (2008). Maze of Bones. New York, NY: Scholastic.

The Calder Game by Blue Balliett

Calder can't wait to go on the trip with his dad. He and his friends, Petra and Tommy, are having a rough year with their teacher. She almost managed to ruin a trip to the museum to see an exhibit on his namesake, Alexander Calder, the famous mobile maker! Calder's more than ready for some freedom to learn what he wants to learn.

On their trip to the museum to see the Calder exhibit, they learn about the Calder Game. The point is to make your own mobile, using whatever you would like. The only restriction is that each mobile must contain at least 3 components. As the kids ponder this, Calder leaves for a trip to Europe with his dad.

One of the first things they notice about Woodstock, England is the Calder statue in the middle of town, the Minotaur. Not everyone in town is as excited about it as Calder and his father; in fact, many seem to be very vehemently against it! There are some suspicious characters around town, and a famous Bleinheim Park maze that fascinates him. While Calder's dad attends the landscaping conference, Calder wanders around town. The night after he visits the maze, however, he disappears ... along with the statue of the Minotaur!

Upon hearing of his disappearance, Petra and Tommy fly to England to help look for him. The mystery of the missing Calder (times 2) has the kids stumped for a while, until they get some help from an unlikely source. Can the kids find Calder before it's too late?

Another great book by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist, and full of great mysteries for readers to solve along the way. A real gem for reluctant readers, art lovers, and mystery solvers.
"'Don't forget: You are never finished looking at a Calder mobile. Everything you see is shifting, in process - a sight that shouts, HERE! NOW! and reminds you that each second of your life holds its own world of experience." Ms. Hussey paused for breath, and the three grinned. 'So there!' She nodded, hands on hips," (Balliett pg. 46, 2008).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

Balliett, Blue. Helmquist, Brett, Ill. (2008). The Calder Game. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

Tales of the MADMAN Underground by John Barnes

June is Jaded 
Teenagers are typically pegged as feeling left out, and marginalized. Most of these books follow a similar theme, but then again...most of the people in these books actually have a reason to feel that way! From bullies to special powers, these kids have some serious problems. Hopefully you will find something interesting, or something relatable, that catches your eye.

Karl has a plan, he's doing anything he needs to get out of Lightsburg, OH. If that means working five jobs while finishing high school, then I guess that's what he's going to do! His other plan has to do with the Madmen. He's decided to take a break from them this year, and just be "Normal." He isn't entirely sure how to do that, but he thinks it starts with avoiding his therapy group, not getting sent to therapy, and in general thinking normal thoughts, wearing normal clothes, hanging with normal people...phew, it's pretty exhausting!

Things are not off to the best start: it's the first day of senior year and his "Low-Stress Teacher Number One" is replaced with Coach Gratz for English, his best friend Paul is strangely avoiding him (when Karl is supposed to be avoiding him!), and the new girl Marti (a new Madmen recruit) asks him to the Back to School dance...

Karl has been taking care of his alcoholic mother since his dad passed away, most of the other Madmen are in a similar care-taking situation, or they have to avoid them for other horrible reasons. After a particularly rough morning in Gratz's class, all the Madmen, one by one, walk out...except him. Gratz has offered him a free pass to get out of therapy, it's his one chance at normalcy! He can't just give up on his plan.

As school gets underway, it begins to be clear that Karl is the go-to guy for taking care of his friends when they're in trouble. He can't turn his back on them, even if it puts his own plans on hold. With his mom getting involved with a new guy, he thinks that maybe things could be better for a while. He starts hanging out with the Madmen even in public, and the new girl turns out to be a pretty good friend. Things are hardly normal, but hey, how can you give up good friends for normal?
"Besides saving Paul from ass-thrashings, us Madmen, singly and in combination, also saved Paul from running away, and suicide attempts, and getting into serious drugs. He took a lot of saving, and it wasn't all because his dad would slap him around and call him a homo. Hell, Kimmie wasn't half that much a mess for being beat up and called a whore. She was tough and mean and looking for the right guy to run away with and marry, and that's what she'd do as soon as a guy that wasn't a loser hood was interested in her. The thing was, Paul's reaction to all that shit at home was always fucking grand opera, with all the Madman Underground as supporting players," (Barnes pg. 321, 2009).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Punkzilla by Adam Rapp
The Orange Houses by Paul Griffin
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork

Barnes, John. Tales of the MADMAN Underground. New York: Viking, 2009.