More Than This by Patrick Ness

Death is the end. That's what Seth thought when he drown himself. Waking up in this new place that isn't really new is therefore more than a little disorienting. Why is he back in England, in his boyhood home? Why is he seemingly the only human around? All the questions he asks himself seem to come back to: why?

Dust covers everything, and he is covered in tape...but not in the places that he wants to be covered. His first conclusion is that he can only be in hell. Where else could he be? He starts to wander around this wasteland looking for supplies, as regardless of the futility of it, he is hungry and thirsty. The nearby grocery store has more than he needs as far as canned goods go, and the sporting goods place fulfills his need for clothing. Returning to his home, he sees footprints. He can only determine they are his, even if he can't remember his descent down the stairs. Gathering his courage, he ascends and finds what seems to be a coffin.

Eventually, he is joined by two other kids. One is a young French boy, Tomasz. The other is a girl his age, Regine. They rescue him from "the Driver." There is no longer solitude in this place, and his relief is overwhelming. The doubt that tugs at the back of his mind saying, How did they find you at the exact right time? won't quite go away, but this is hell right?

Regine and Tommy aren't of the same opinion, and they don't really like his attitude, but they are so excited to see someone else, they are letting it slide. The most important thing is staying away from the Driver. They know what happens if you don't: he'll kill you. Did I mention all three died before they woke up here? No one fancies dying twice.

Can these three unlikely allies get to the root of this strange new world? Will they discover what the mystery surrounding them truly is? Will Seth come to grips with what led him here in the first place? With this thought-provoking, and suspenseful mystery, Ness just keeps getting better. Existentialism never looked so much like home before. This was short-listed for the Printz award this year, and (even though it didn't win) I think it was well deserved.
"But it didn't make him free.
      He woke up here.
      Here where there is nothing.
      Nothing but a loneliness more awful than what he'd left.
      One that is no longer bearable -- 
He is nearly there. One last turn. One more long street, and he'll reach the base of the hill.
      He turns a corner-- 
And in the distance, far down the road in front of him, he sees a black van.
      And it's moving," (Ness pg. 162, 2013). 
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking, Book 1)
Genesis by Bernard Beckett
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedwick

Ness, Patrick. (2013). More than this. Somerville, Mass: Candlewick Press.

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

When a series of unfortunate events related to the Cold War force Janie and her family to move to London, the last thing she expects to find is adventure at the pharmacy. Of course, it's London, so they call it the apothecary shop. (One must admit, that does sound a little better.) Her first day of school does not go well, until of course, it does. She meets Benjamin who dreams of being a spy, and he turns out to be the son of the apothecary.

They make plans to spend the day together, and what she assumes will be a date quickly turns into a stake out. There's something fishy going on in the park with the Russian who passes messages out by the chess tables. Benjamin is determined to put a stop to his plan.

Things get dangerous quickly as the two are thrown into a plot much more dangerous than they could have imagined. Soon Benjamin's father has disappeared, they are being threatened, and mysterious people are telling them that Benjamin's father - known as the Apothecary - is actually a powerful alchemist using secrets passed down in an ancient book known as the Pharmacopoeia! Could this really be true?

A group of alchemists have been working to oppose the nuclear threat, but going public with their plan would only put them at greater risk. They had all planned to meet at a test site to see if their preparations could be used to stop such an attack, but with key members of the group missing, the plan may be ruined!

Can Benjamin and Janie manage to bring together the scattered group before it's too late? Do the alchemists have what it takes to prevent nuclear war? Does the Pharmacopoeia really hold such amazing secrets?

Whimsical and flawlessly written, I couldn't put it down. Very inventive and fun to read middle grade fiction. Recommended for 4-6th grade readers. This could fall into several categories: historical fantasy, alternative history, magical realism. I love a good story that captures me and makes me forget the outside world, and this did exactly that. I read it in one sitting, and am looking forward to reading the sequel! The pictures, too, are delightful.
"'Why does my father have a book of phony magic spells?' Benjamin asked.
'They aren't spells,' the gardner said. 'It's the Pharmacopoeia, a book of medicines, or it was originally. Many of the processes in the book began as methods of healing, many generations ago: How to close a wound? How to combat sickness in the human body? Those were the original questions, but in certain minds they took unexpected directions, having to do with the fundamentals of matter. Just as cave drawings led to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, early medicine led to the Pharmacopoeia. The world is made up of atoms, which can be influenced and masked and even rearranged, by someone with the necessary skills,'" (Meloy pg. 72, 2011). 
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

The Apprentices by Maile Meloy (Apothecary, Book 2)
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Meloy, Maile. (2011). The Apothecary. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.