The “Shelfari” picture link in the left column of this blog shows covers of books I’ve recently read.
If it matters to you, the books below are listed so that the most recently read book is at the bottom of each section.
Middle school-type books (though adults might enjoy them, too!)
THE 39 CLUES BOOKS (1-4, waiting for 5). various authors. Mystery adventure. Grandma Grace Cahill passed away and left a mysterious will that challenges several chosen relatives to take up a competition among themselves to find clues around the world which will ultimately lead to a … treasure? … or what? Amy and Dan are young teens who convince their au pair Nellie to come with them and help them on their search. Each book (so far) focuses on a clue in a particular country and featuring a particular historical figure who is also a member of the Cahill clan. Some of the relatives are not-so-nice, some are out to trick Amy & Dan, so the reader is always guessing who to trust, right along with Amy and Dan.
THE SEEMS: The Glitch in Sleep by John Hulme and Michael Wexler. Fantasy adventure. This is an excellent story that reminds me of The Lightning Thief, Pendragon, and even a bit of City of Ember with its 14-year-old hero in a fantasy world with new inventions (There’s a toolbook guide in an appendix) and societies not unlike our own world. Becker discovers The Seems, a world that protects and keeps OUR world in order. Workers in the Seems oversee sleep or lack of it (very important in this book), nature (sunsets are painted first, then sent on to us), weather, etc. Very clever use of sayings we humans use such as “Here, There, and Everywhere” – really neighborhoods in the Seems; L.U.C.K. – little unplanned changes in kismet; the Beaten Track – a hiking trail. In this story, Becker is faced with finding a Glitch, a tiny creature that is causing a lack of sleep in the human world. To do his job, he teams up with his Briefer, Simly, who is like a gadget man and assistant. Becker does have a family and friends back in The World, however, which does present a bit of a problem at times. But everything turns out well and it’s a lot of fun, especially the footnotes explaining some of the odder inventions or supposed historical dates. I definitely hope to have time to read others in this relatively new series.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID by Jeff Kinney. Realistic Fiction, humorous. A funny “diary” of middle schooler Greg Hefley, accompanied by simple cartoons of Greg, his brother Rowley, friends and classmates, who all resemble each other except for a few features here and there. Greg relates what it’s like in his middle school, at his house, with his buddies (of which there aren’t many) – basically, what the life of a small, not-very-strong middle school boy is like. Guaranteed laughs!
SWINDLE by Gordon Korman. Realistic Fiction, humorous. Griffin and Ben are best buddies, and they share adventures and plans to steal (“No, just ‘recover’ it!”) a valuable baseball card from the mean man who swindled them out of it. Enlisting the help of other school friends with specific talents, and even one non-friend who turns out to be invaluable, they act, climb, and try to avoid vicious dogs and burglar alarms. The story moves quickly and it’s hard to put down once the heist gets underway!
THE SECOND MRS. GIOCONDA by E.L. Konigsberg. Historical Fiction. Recommended by a student who loves historical fiction, this book was one I anxiously kept reading, hoping to learn about Davinci (I did somewhat, and I liked that) and the mysterious lady who was the ‘real’ Mona Lisa. (That part never seemed to happen). The last few lines of the book hinted at it, but then…. the book ended. Salai, the main character, was interesting, funny, and given a lot of good lines and activities, but there was not enough link to Davinci for what I hoped was an historical fiction book focusing on his famous painting.
SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT by Derek Landy . Fantasy. Skulduggery is a skeleton with a dry sense of humor and some handy magical skills. He is also a detective who has enlisted the help of a human girl to help him solve the mystery of the murder of the girl’s uncle. There’s a really bad guy, Serpine, out there who is after the Book of Names. You’ll have to read to find out why, and what the uncle had found out about it all. Did he die, or was he murdered? Excellent!! Here’s a link to a bit more info.
ALL OF THE ABOVE by Shelley Pearsall. Realistic. A white math teacher in an inner-city middle school in Cleveland starts an after school math group to try to build the world’s largest tetrahedron out of colored paper (take a look). The book goes quickly but the plot is thin and the characters are stereotyped: the kid whose brother hangs out with gang members; the smart girl whose mother can’t afford college; an unwanted foster girl, etc. The kids do work together, and the story is told in chapters “by” each of them. I think there are better books out there about persevering, trying to reach your goal, and other ‘character building’ experiences.
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman. Fantasy/ghost. This year’s Newbery winner, plus Neil Gaiman writes some weird adult fantasy stuff, so I needed to read this. The first chapter grabs you, with a man (named Jack) in a house where he has murdered a family except for the toddler who he can’t find. The little boy gets some other-worldly help and winds up being raised by ghosts in the local graveyard. The book has lots of characters you’ll find interesting, some magic (which the boy, Bod, eventually learns to do). Some of the chapters could be short stories in themselves, which I liked. The biggest problem for me is why Jack (and a society of “Jacks”) wanted to kill that family in the first place – it’s not explained. I found the book really hard to put down, though. The writing is excellent and the residents of the graveyard can be humorous, touching, and… well… some of the creatures aren’t all nice!
THIRTEEN LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES by Maureen Johnson. Realistic, “girl” fiction. Ginny’s freedom-loving aunt passed away and left her the means and instructions to travel to Europe. Her aunt wanted Ginny to become more independent, but many times Ginny is unsure of what to do or takes some chances she never would have done at home with her parents. But she meets families and friends, one particular boy, a special friend of her aunt’s who comes to her rescue more than once, and she discovers some important things about life. Most girls will like this book, but the plot is not very complicated and many events seem to go too quickly and fit together a little too conveniently.
THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stuart. Fantasy, but realistic in many ways. A small group of children are recruited (tho they don’t know it at the time) by Mr. Benedict for a mysterious task – hence the title. The book, in my opinion, took too long to explain just what this task is, and then confused me with a kind of “evil twin” kind of situation. I liked the kids’ characters, and the book has humor as well as mystery. But I just… had to push myself through the first half. After that I was too curious to give it up.
THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON by Caroline Cooney. Realistic mystery. I finally read this after all the years of recommending it to students! Very good story about a girl who, indeed, sees her face on a milk carton that proclaims she was kidnapped as a toddler. Turns out her “parents” have a different story, and Janie loves them dearly (almost as much as Reeve, the boy next door who is helping her solve this mystery). But how did she really wind up on their doorstep?
GENTLE ANNIE by Mary Francis Shura. Historical Fiction. Based on the life of a young woman who enlisted in the US Army during the Civil War, this book is full of adventure and details about several battles and the soldiers in them. Though the book has “gentle” in the title, don’t let that keep you from reading what you might think is a ‘girlie’ book – it has plenty of action while at the same time shows the reader some behind the scenes information.
THE WILD CHILDREN by Felice Holman. Historical fiction. I liked this because it is not about a U.S. war; this takes place in Russia during a revolutionary period when the government took people they didn’t like from their homes, often leaving behind children to live on the streets. Hence, the “wild children” have to fend for themselves, set rules to help each other, and in Alex’s case, find a way out. Many of the children did not, and wound up dying of hunger and sickness.
THE WRECKERS by Iain Lawrence. Realistic (adventure) fiction. I read this a couple of years ago but it is worthy of another mention. “Wreckers” is a term describing people who live on a coast of Cornwall (part of Britain) who look for ships nearing their coast so they can lure them onto the rocks, wrecking their ships, drowning the survivors (or worse!), and stealing what was on board. Young John narrowly escapes, and he discovers that his father was taken prisoner by a wicked man named Stumps (he has no legs). John is befriended by a village girl and her father, but soon John doesn’t know who to trust and turn to in order to save his father. Really good!
SOLDIER X by Don Wulffson. Historical Fiction. Erik Brandt is a German soldier in Europe in WWII. He experiences the horrors of war and is forced to survive by assuming the uniform and identity of a Russian (his enemy) soldier. The story tells what he does, how he uses his knowledge of the Russian language to pretend he has amnesia, all the while plotting his escape. But how? He’s dressed as the enemy if he encounters German soldiers — and one day a nurse discovers his secret. Can he trust her? Lots of action and an excellent war story!
BEYOND THE DEEPWOODS (Book One of The Edge Chronicles). Fantasy. If there were no Harry Potter, this series would be a best seller by now. TERRIFIC! Lots of new creatures abound in a place called “The Edge” (imagine that the world really is flat, at least part of it). Young boy Twig has to leave his home and travel to a relative on the other side of the Deepwoods. Of course, Twig is too curious and leaves the forest path, setting him off on a series of encounters with flesh-eating trees, woodtrolls, goblins (the flat-headed kind!)… too much to mention. But what Twig really wants to be is a pilot of an airship that sail the skies (they use special floating rocks to stay airborn). Numerous illustrations that look like wood engravings put some interesting pictures in the readers’ minds (would YOU know what a trog is supposed to look like??).
THE OUTCASTS OF 17 SCHUYLER PLACE by E. L. Konigsburg. Realistic fiction. Eventually, the plot gets to the point: a girl tries to organize a standoff between the homeowners association and her uncles. The two men have built three artistic towers in their backyard, and neighbors who wish to ‘tidy up’ the area get the city to bring in the bulldozers. But Margaret Rose gets help from some unexpected places, including the mean girls with whom she attended summer camp. At the end, the author seemed to throw in some unneeded information which distracted from the story, I thought. But overall, once the tower thing got going, I enjoyed it.
TRAITOR by Andy McNab and Robert Rigby. Realistic suspense. Danny, a 17-year-old who wants to join the Army, finds that a grandfather’s traitorous acts with a Colombian drug cartel prevents his admission to the military. Danny immediately sets to work, with the help of a computer-talented friend, to find his grandfather and turn him in. The find-grandfather plot is a bit convenient (he finds Fergus awfully quickly and close by). There is a subplot linking Fergus’s treason to a corrupt commander, which means Fergus and Danny are in danger, too. If you want to read lots of spy-type stuff and phrases like ‘going foxtrot’ – there’s even a glossary of military terms – the author definitely gives you the feeling that he himself has done this kind of thing before. Very realistic
More for adults:
THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zuzak. Hist. Fiction. Although you’ll find this at Borders and B&N under Young Adult Fiction or Independent Readers, in my opinion middle schoolers would not enjoy this book. It is intense, very serious, lots of “talk” and thinking. The narrator is Death (yes, the grim reaper guy) who tells the reader about a girl and her family as they cope with Hitler’s coming takeover of their country (Germany), made more difficult by their sympathy for their Jewish neighbors.
THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls. Memoir (true biography). This won awards and was a NY best seller, but I didn’t think it was worth all the hype. Well written from the viewpoint of Jeannette from the time she was about 7. Her father is an alcoholic who can be abusive but also loves his daughter (and her 3 siblings); her mother is a free spirit, an artist who accepts no responsibilty for caring for her children, so the kids fend for themselves very often for food, taking care of themselves, etc. Whenever Dad can hang onto a job, he and Mom spend their money on alcohol (him), painting supplies (her), and maybe a few bags of food that never lasts more than a few days. By the end, the kids finally are old enough to leave school and move away from their parents who love them but don’t know how to be parents.
BENEATH A MARBLE SKY by John Shors. A beautifully written novel incorporating some Indian history, a love story, and the building of the Taj Mahal. Emperor Shah Jahan commissions a young architect to build a grand mausoleum to enshrine his beloved wife’s body. Their daughter, outspoken and wise for her years (as was her mother) becomes an assistant to that young man, Isa, to escape a horrid arranged marriage, and therein lies the love story. Meanwhile, the emperor must plan which of his sons will inherit his title; one is a violent military leader while the other seeks peace between Hindu and Muslim. His indecision costs many lives, and those characters will make you want to read on – and yes, it does have a happy ending.
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer. Fiction with an historical twist. This is my favorite book of the summer. The narrator is an English writer looking for a new book topic. She is introduced to one person, and then befriends many, who belong to the above-titled group on the island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. She learns of their experiences, feelings, and families’ endurance of the German occupation during WWII. The book is written as communication via letters (for the most part) between this woman and various Guernsey-ites. Delightful, with an equally delightful ending!
FINGER LICKIN’ FIFTEEN by Janet Evanovich. Quite a contrast to the previous book, but I love Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books. Stephanie is a young ‘bounty hunter’ who has hilariously strange friends, coworkers, and family members – you’ll love Grandma (she wants a gun, regularly goes to viewings at the funeral home, and routinely embarrasses the family).In this book, Lula (another character not to be missed) witnesses a ghastly murder and so is stalked by the killers who don’t want any witnesses. But they aren’t the most talented, and Lula is ticked at having to wear a flak jacket that clashes with her wardrobe!