The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

My birthday is in April, and I decided to focus on several of my recent favorite titles in honor of being one year older. I am a huge fan of good writing, but no book is worth reading without a good plot! Check out these selections for something a little outside the norm, but definetely worth a look. Something for mystery lovers, music lovers, and all those awkward in the ways of love :)

Times are hard, and Nathaniel's parents decide to give him up for adoption to the magician's adoption service, in return for a reward. Nathaniel is a clever boy, and he has great plans of ambition and magical prowess. Sadly, he is doomed to be apprenticed under Mr. Underwood. His master is a lowly governmental employee working for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Nathaniel is Mr. Underwood's first apprentice, and their ideas of what young magicians should do differs dramatically. Mr. Underwood forbids Nathaniel from learning any advanced magic, reading any advanced texts, learning anything outside what he deems "safe" or "age-appropriate". Nathaniel would rather excel at his own pace, and sets on a course to prove his worth.

One fateful day, he meets Simon Lovelace, a high ranking magician who scorns him, embarrasses him, and subsequently uses magic against him maliciously. Nathaniel loses his temper, and attempts to strike back. He is put in his place, and his favorite tutor is dismissed as punishment. That day, Nathaniel vows revenge...

To put his plan in motion, Nathaniel must summon a djinni - something very few magicians (especially of his age) are capable of doing. He summons Bartimaeus to be his slave, and to steal a valuable object from Simon Lovelace. Little does he know what he is involving himself in. Soon, he and Bartimaeus are on an adventure that neither expected. Bartimaeus is captured, and is in serious danger of revealing his master and his task. Will he escape from his captors?

Meanwhile, Lovelace comes to seek his stolen item, which turns out to be a valuable government artifact that protects the wearer from magic. The Amulet of Samarkand came to Lovelace after it was stolen by one of his accomplices. Nathaniel must defend himself against Lovelace's attacks, and somehow discover and stop his plan. Bartimaeus is an unwilling, but very capable sidekick. The djinni provides humor, and delves into old rivalries himself along the way.

Very enjoyable text for any fantasy lover, or adventure lover. I recommend the audio book, read by Simon Jones (who also reads the other two books in the series).

That did it. I'd gone through a lot in the past few days. Everyone I met seemed to want a piece of me: djinn, magicians, made no difference. I'd been summoned, manhandled, shot at, captured, constricted, bossed about and generally taken for granted. And now, to cap it all, this bloke is joining in too, when all I'd been doing was quietly trying to kill him. (Stroud, 2002).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud (Book 2 in the Bartimaeus Trilogy)
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Mister Monday by Garth Nix (Keys to the Kingdom series)

Stroud, Jonathan. (2002). The Amulet of Samarkand. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Stroud, Jonathan and Jones, Simon. (2004). The Amulet of Samarkand. New York: Random House/Listening Library.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Miranda is a latch key kid, meaning she has a key to let her into the house after school. All her life she's been best friends with the boy upstairs, Sal. Something happens that changes everything, and starts her on a mysterious journey to "save a friend's life."

It all started the day Sal got punched. One day as they walked home from school, this random kid walked up to Sal and punched him, for no reason! Next thing Miranda knows, Sal doesn't want to be friends anymore. As luck would have it, one of the girls in her class suddenly needs someone to sit next to at lunch, and they strike up a friendship. Annemarie is someone she can depend on to be there, and the two of them serve as a source of strength for each other.

Miranda comes home one day to find the door to the apartment unlocked. Nothing seems to have been taken, and it seems maybe they forgot to lock it before they left, until Miranda finds the first note in a library book. It says (among other things), "I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own," (Stead pg. 60, 2009). She finds the second note a few days later, asking her to tell a story and to keep these notes to herself. Is someone watching her? What is going on?

It turns out the boy who punched Sal goes to her school! She runs into him while running errands for the school dentist. His name is Marcus, and he seems like a pretty weird (if really smart) kid. They talk about A Wrinkle in Time, her all-time favorite book, and time travel, but she still doesn't understand what his connection to Sal is...or why he punched him.

The third note offers proof that the note writer can predict the future. Is that even possible? Miranda starts to get really confused, but she can't deny the validity of the note's claims. Everything happens just as predicted. She isn't sure what is going on. Her mom is chosen to participate on The $20,000 Pyramid, and Miranda is preoccupied with helping her prepare. She doesn't know what will happen, or why, but as events start to unfold, the ending is unexpected and truly fitting.

Beautifully written, this title received the Newberry Medal for 2010. Great for mystery lovers, reluctant readers, and fans of time travel.
This is hard. Harder than I expected, even with your help. But I have been practicing, and my preparations go well. I am coming to save your friend's life,
and my own.
I ask two favors.
First, you must write me a letter.
Second, please remember to mention the location of your house key.
The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you," (Stead pg. 60, 2009).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone

Stead, Rebecca. (2009). When You Reach Me. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House).

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Beatrice has lived all over the country. She and her mother follow her father as he strives for academic excellence as a university professor. She has learned not to get too attached to the kids at each school. That only makes it harder to leave, so she tells herself not to care. One year and she's off to college anyway. Until she meets Jonah. Everyone else may call him Ghost Boy, but her own mother calls her a robot. How bad can he be?
He turns her on to a local radio show, the Night Light Show with Herb Horvath. How did he know she fell asleep to a radio show every night in her last town? They slowly begin to build a friendship that crosses traditional boundaries. They search for Jonah's twin brother who he discovers didn't die all those years ago. They discuss how weird Bea's mom is getting. They work on the yearbook together, and they listen to the radio every night.

When things start to fall apart with Jonah's brother, and Bea's parents, will they find a way to save each other? Sometimes you have to let the ones you love go. A touching story about two awkward teens who find a common ground. They learn how to love, how to let someone else in, how to grow in the face of tragedy, and they do it with a sincerity that sometimes breaks your heart.

"Is there or isn't there what? How do you define a boyfriend? If a boyfriend is the first person you think about when you wake up in the morning and the last face you see before you fall asleep, then I was in love with Jonah. But if a boyfriend had to involve physical chemistry and kissing and sex and stuff, then, no he wasn't that.

'It's too complicated for yes or no,' I said," (Standiford pg. 103, 2009).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Lost It by Kristen Tracy
Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

Standiford, Natalie. (2009). How to Say Goodbye in Robot. Scholastic Press: New York, NY.

The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

Allie is a music snob, unabashedly and unforgivingly. In fact, she is a princess of vinyl. She works at Bob & Bob Records, and writes her own music blog as the "Vinyl Princess". Her best friend works down the street, and Allie is set for a laid back summer. She starts crushing on a mystery guy who comes into the store.

It's a typical summer for Allie, with her mom starting to date again (shudder), her best friend dragging her along to spy on her boyfriend, and a string of unsolved robberies on the street she works. AND her dad just told her he's having a baby with his new wife! Or wait...maybe that isn't so typical.

M, ("mystery guy") she learns, is actually named Joel. He even asks her out for coffee after coming in to buy cds one day. Maybe things are starting to look up for Allie after all? She's still in high school, is it too much to ask for romance to find her? Some dorky kid Zach starts coming into the store, and even complimenting her Vinyl Princess zine she's been printing and bringing to work.

One night, after Allie is closing without Bob, they get held up. Thank goodness, no one is hurt. They just turn over the money, and call the police. But Allie thinks she knows who one of them might be...should she tell the police? What should she do? She finally gets home...and finds another disaster, courtesy of her best friend. After such a long week, who can blame her for forgetting to listen to the mix that Zach made her? I mean, really?

Will the Vinyl Princess achieve success in life, love, AND in cyberspace?This is an honest, quick read, with well developed characters, and of course, kick ass music references. Highly recommended for any music lover.

"...I'm what people in the record store business refer to as a 'throwback,' an 'audiophile,' a 'record geek.' Secretly, though, I'm the Vinyl Princess. My knowledge of music is encyclopedic. Before I got this job, I spent more time in this store than Bob's employees. I owned a decent turntable by the time I was seven and by the time I was twelve my vinyl collection had swelled to nine hundred albums," (Prinz pg. 9, 2010).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Double Dare Clare by Yvonne Prinz
King Dork by Frank Portman
Debbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan Brothers

Prinz, Yvonne. (2010). The Vinyl Princess. New York: HarperTeen (HarperCollins).