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Fault in Our Stars

This young adult novel is a must read for mature readers.The Fault in Our Stars is the story of Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters, two Indianapolis teenagers who meet at a Cancer Kid Support Group. Although this love story is melancholy and the ending inevitable, it is the intelligence, humor, and spirit of the characters that makes this book most memorable. Both Augustus and Hazel are the instruments of paradox: they are too smart and to deceive themselves about their deaths. Their probing minds don't deal sentimentally with the emotions and actions that most people who have terminal illnesses deal with. Thus, the title from Shakepeare's play, Julius Caesar. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / but in ourselves . . . These two main characters know that our life's worth is determined by us and not by some outside force--in both its quality and length. There are some tough parts--because you are totally drawn in and care for all these characters.  But I found myself laughing a lot.  The wit of a Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac is beyond compare.  This is book that I think will become a classic.



Tracks by Louise Edrich is a story about the disintegration of a Native American Community, specifically in North Dakota, in a twelve year span of the early 20th century. The narrative is told in alternating chapters by two distinct and different voices—Nanapush, an old and wise man of the tribe, trying to live as much by the old ways as he can—and by Pauline, a mix -breed orphan, who evolves from garnering reader sympathy—to a conniving, self-serving, religious fanatic lunatic by the story’s end.  The main character, Fleur, is the embodiment of the struggle of the Indians to maintain their culture and way of life in the face of unstoppable encroachment by the white man. Besides the facts of the situations, the characters and events are intertwined and made more complicated by gossip, superstition, and out-right lies.   Fleur is the only one of her family to survive when an epidemic hits the reservation. She is rescued by Nanapush who has lost his own family, and so considers Fleur a daughter. She is considered bad luck by reservation residents when after two close drownings the men who had helped her--die. She goes to live in her family's cabin on Mitchimanitou Lake. The people believe she keeps a sea monster in the lake under control. She visits the butcher shop in town, and joins the men there in playing cards. The men become very angry when Fleur plays so well she takes all their winnings. A tornado strikes shortly after this. The men are found mysteriously locked into a meat locker from the outside. Only one survives, and he is crippled. This contributes to even more fear of Fleur among the reservation residents.
Eli Kapshaw falls in love with her, and will not be dissuaded by the suspicions and stories. He enlists Nanapush's help in winning her heart. He moves into her cabin, and they have a baby, Lulu, to whom this story is told. Pauline, who Fleur has helped as a child, turns on Fleur when she becomes jealous of her.  She sets a trap so that Eli will break his marriage vows with an innocent teenager, and purposefully tells Fleur what she witnessed.  The jealousy stems from Eli having rejected Pauline. She is out to hurt everyone from her own insecurities.Fleur, her family, and community struggle through the epidemics that sweep the tribe, starvation from inadequate government provisions, and the loss of their land due to their inability to pay government taxes. Fleur is betrayed by her in-laws when they take the money that was supposed to pay for her land as well as theirs, and use it entirely on their own debt. Fleur loses her confidence, and sends her daughter Lulu away to a government school. She waits until the last trees are crashing down around her house before she takes off from the reservation. Nanapush is successful in getting Lulu out of the government school. He tells her her mother's story so that she can understand her past, and hopefully not get into a bad marriage.


Morag Gunn is a middle-aged writer who lives on a farm in northern Ontario. One day, she finds some pictures from her childhood, and this sets off some memories that become the material and impetus for the telling of her life story, The Diviners. The word, diviners, has many definitions. One of Morag’s neighbors, Royland, is a diviner of water—finding wells. Many of the characters, including Morag assume the definitions of diviners that include inspiration, intuition, and reflection.

 Morag’s parents died when she was a little girl. They died of infantile paralysis (polio). This was one of the saddest and loneliest of the memories. Morag was brought up by Christie Logan, the despised town scavenger, and his increasingly obese and inactive wife, Prin. Although they do not have much to give, Prin is kind and Christie gives Morag a rich store of tales of a (probably imaginary) Scottish hero, Piper Gunn. In fact, Christie is one of my favorite characters in the novel. Uneducated and raw, he is still keenly bright and observant—and some of his language and quips set the reader laughing. Like many of us when we are young, Morag does not appreciate Christie until she is long gone and it is too late. Determined to leave, Morag goes to college, where she falls in love with, and marries, Brooke Skelton, a handsome professor fifteen years her senior; he takes her to Toronto, where he has a new position and where she sinks unwillingly into the life of a professor’s wife. Brooke does not want children, and he patronizes her attempts to write. After much struggle, Morag completes and publishes a novel.

Morag accidentally encounters Jules Tonnerre, a half-breed (Metis) who was her first high school boyfriend. When Brooke reacts jealously to her friend, Morag moves in with Jules,which brings her marriage to an end. This results in pregnancy. Although she cares about Jules, she knows he is not a husband and wife kind of guy, so she moves to Vancouver, where she bears her daughter, Pique, and continues trying to advance her writing career. Her support comes from women: an old college friend, the friend’s mother, a landlady who is an exotic dancer. Eventually, Morag goes to England, where she writes, works in a bookstore, and has a frustrating relationship with a painter. Throughout the story, Morag comes to realize how her roots are heavily entwined in how she comes to view the world.

 Jules, with whom Morag has lived for brief periods but who has never settled down, is worn out by his life as a country music singer and dies of throat cancer. Pique, now aged eighteen, has seen her father only rarely but feels bound to him as a singer and as a Metis. She begins to take an interest in her dad’s family—and unlike her mother—much earlier. Morag, who has been setting down all these events on paper, realizes that this is the novel she has been trying to write.


A Fine Balance

This book is a page-turner for mature readers, only. It is fast-paced, full of violence and much sadness. Yet, is also has immense beauty and hope for the human spirit.   The setting of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is India in 1975-76. This incredible novel reminded me, first, how our memories are often contaminated with feelings and sensations more than with facts. I remember hearing about Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in a positive light--as a breath of fresh air--a woman in charge of a large poverty-stricken country--one who would bring hope and positive change.  In reality,  Prime Minister Indira Gandhi defied a court order calling for her resignation, declared a state of emergency and imprisoned the parliamentary opposition as well as thousands of students, teachers, trade unionists and journalists. These events, along with the government's forced sterilization campaign, served as backdrop for an intricate tale of four ordinary people the reader will come to know and love. The story starts out with the sort of protagonist I love, a strong and independent female.  Dina loves her pediatrician father who makes little money because he services the poor. She, too, unlike other girls in India, wants to become a doctor. Unfortunately, her father dies of a snakebite in an outlying province of the lower caste. Nusswan, her brother takes over as head of the family. Unlike his father, Nusswan is small-minded and traditional. When he picks a husband for her, Dina surprises him with a husband of her own. It is this brief marriage that provides Dina with happiness. Her husband is killed in a bicycle accident and she refuses to return to live with her brother and his family. So she starts a seamstress business to support herself. When her eyes go bad, she hires a couple of tailors to help her.  Ishvar and his nephew Omprakash, whose father, a village untouchable, was murdered as punishment for crossing caste boundaries, have come to the city to escape their hardship. Along with them, Dina rents a room in her house to a naive college student, Maneck, whose parents' general store is failing. This, too, is a sad sub-plot that goes along with struggle for survival that all of the characters face. With great empathy and humor, the author describes the heroism of India's working poor, who deal with corruption, social injustice and stupid policies. He describes the effects of poverty, caste, superstition, corruption and bigotry. The reader comes to love, laugh, and suffer with the four main characters who struggle to survive. In the end, even though they all come from different classes and circumstances, different religions and means, they come to understand that the only thing that matters is being human--and this is the connection that matters.


Duddy Kravitz

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler takes place in the 1950's in Montreal, Canada. Duddy is a character that you will both love and hate. Born into a laboring class Jewish family, Duddy sets out to get rich and buy land.  Strongly influenced by his grandfather, the zeyda, Duddy takes to heart the phrase, if you don't own land, you ain't nuttin'. So Duddy gets into a strange, and hilarious, film-making business. His pushy and obnoxious behaviour both appalls and endears everyone he meets. Richler writes a satire about Duddy's lust for money, power, and land, but the satire also applies to society, in general.  Duddy's dad, Max, spends much of his life admiring Jerry Dingleman, the Boy Wonder, a local guy who, on the outside, appeared to have risen out of poverty and become a wealthy tycoon from his ingenuity and hard work.  We find out through Duddy that the real Boy Wonder isn't so great as the imaginary one Max and his friends have conjured up.  The same is true for many other "rich" folks that Duddy meets along the way. The only loyal and intensely good friends Duddy has--Yvette and Virgie--are the very ones he treats the worst. The stories, characters, and predicaments are often touching and often very funny. Duddy moves in and out of these people's lives, motivated by one thing--getting ahead.  Duddy's Uncle Benjy is the one person who seems to have Duddy figured out.  When he dies, he leaves him his house--but no money.  He also leaves him a letter that sums up this larger than life person, Duddy Kravitz: There's more to you than mere money-lust, Duddy, bu I'm afraid for you. The scheming little bastard I saw so easily and the fine, intelligent boy your grandfather saw. But you're coming of age soon and you'll have to choose. There's a brute inside you, Duddel--a regular behemoth--and this being such a hard world it would be the easiest thing for you to let it overpower you. Don't, Duddel. Be a gentleman. A mensh.



Oh my, I loved this book so much.  Life of Pi by Yann Martel has everything: great story-telling, great writing, great humor, great philosophy, great religion,  great compassion, great sorrow, great adventure, great nature, great imagination, great love. The main character Pi Patel grows up in Pondicherry, India--the son of a zoo-keeper and an intellectual mother. Pi is an extraordinary and precocious child who pays attention and asks questions about life's meaning. His atheist parents are mystified when they are confronted by the Catholic priest, the  Imam, and the Hindu pandit. It seems that Pi has joined all these religions. His sarcastic brother teases him about joining four more so that he can be on holiday everyday of his life. The irony of his simple answer to these adults about which religion he will choose could be the theme to the book: I just want to love God. Due to political uprising, his father sells off a majority of the zoo animals to various zoos in America. The animals are loaded onto the same boat that the family will take to reach Winnipeg, Canada. On the journey to North America, the boat sinks. Pi is the only human survivor to make it aboard a life boat--accompanied by a few animals, including a 400 pound tiger named Richard Parker.  The tiger's name is the humorous result of mix-up in the bureaucratic government paperwork that accompanies business transactions in any despotic state. It is this journey in a lifeboat with a tiger aboard that provides the adventure . Pi's earlier training with animals in the zoo and his quick mind make an improbable fantasy believable and thrilling. But it is Pi's soul and heart that make the reader cry and laugh and love--and, as the the narrator relates in the beginning--make you believe in God.



This book is not for the weak-hearted.  The first in an epic series, A Game of Thrones by George Martin is full of violence, death, and destruction.  It is also, however, full of honor, hope, and loyalty. Although the genre is fantasy, the narrative intertwines historical fiction, chivalry, mystery, adventure, and spiritual overtones. Each chapter is from the point of view of one of the eight main characters--each of them related to the action and plot in some fashion. Each of these main characters is surrounded by many more characters who the reader also comes to know--and love or hate. Some of these characters act heroically, exhibiting compassion, self-sacrifice or service. Some are craven, inexperienced, selfish, and unwise. Some are witty and funny. But in the end, they are mostly human--like all of us--wanting not to be alone--knowing that as humans--the life we know does come to an end.  I recommend this for MATURE readers, only. 



Ray is from a Polish neighborhood where the white guys in his high school go out for wrestling and the black guys play basketball. Ray does not fit the stereotype.  He loves basketball and that is what he wants to do.  For three years in a row, he tries out for the team, but the coach has something against him, and try as he might, he never gets picked. Ray doesn't give up, and finally, in his senior year and with a new coach, he makes the team.  His troubles are just starting, however. His white friends don't think he belongs in basketball, and his new black teammates don't want him on the team, either.  Ray struggles to understand prejudice and learns a great deal about himself in the process.  This book gives a teenager a lot of fuel for conversation.  Ray dates a beautiful cheerleader and finds out that her beauty is only skin deep.  His best friend, Walter, has been totally shaped by his own bigoted father, and he is blatantly prejudiced as a result. In fact, he gets Ray into a violent confrontation between the two groups. The coach, who appears impassive on the surface, works to get his team to be the best basketball players they can be.  The players don't understand, however, that the coach is also working to get them to be decent human beings.  Ray and his counterpart, Robert, are always at odds, so when the coach makes them work out together everyday--alone--they have to adjust.  This has a surprising consequence.  One of my favorite parts has to do with the relationship between Ray and another--non-cheerleader-type girl named Sarah. She is bright and thoughtful, and when he begins to pay attention, Ray notices she is beautiful--the kind that is inside, as well as outside.



If you are looking for spy fiction, then John le Carre is the author you want to read.  He is the espionage writer's writer.  Perry and Gail, a bright and beautiful young couple from England, go to Antigua to make some life-decisions about their careers and possible marriage.  They get caught up with a Russian gangster who wants to defect to England. Of course, the plot becomes intricate as the two--Gail and Perry--become entangled with the British Secret Service and the family of the Russian defector, Dima. One of the best things about Le Carre's writing is that the reader cannot ever pinpoint the "bad guys."  Those who work in espionage have a wavering moral compass that can make them decent sometimes--and at other times--anything but decent. Even as as a reader, you start to get paranoid and are not sure you can trust anyone. However, the story is a page-turner. Perhaps it is because John le Carre was, himself, a member of the British spy angency, M16, that he is just so good at this. 



The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and The History of the World from The Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean is a non-fiction book for science and history lovers--especially those who have an interest in the periodic table. Here is a quote from the author: 

We eat and breathe the periodic table; people bet and lose huge sums on it; philosophers use it to probe the meaning of science; it poisons people; it spawns wars. Between hydrogen at the top left and the man-made impossibilities lurking along the bottom, you can find bubles, bombs, money, alchemy, petty politics, history, poison, crime, love, even some science.

With a sense of humor, biting satire, and great knowledge of chemistry, Mr. Kean takes each element and tells a story of its history and discovery. He mixes the science and history with the reality of politics, economics, and man's ability to do great good and/or great harm to humanity. For example, when he gets to the elements tantalum and niobium, heat-resistant and non-corrosive metals that make them vital for cell-phones, Kean lays out the exploitation of the  Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire)--what people will do to their environment and their fellow man to make money. I recommend this to good readers who love chemistry.




Mark Mathabane's Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa was published first in 1986.  It is the revelation of the horror and inhumanity that occurred in South Africa from 1948 until 1994 under a system of government called Apartheid.  Through this young man's story and voice we see the squalor, the hunger, the suffering, the torture, the unspeakable degradation that the white government forced on the black townships, notably Alexandra--the ghetto where the narrator lived.  Kaffir is a derogatory name whites use for blacks in South Africa. "The word Kaffir is of Arabic origin. It means 'infidel.' In South Africa it is used disparagingly by most whites to refer to blacks. It is the equivalent of the term nigger. This young man's only ticket out of this life is "education."  It is difficult to read this book.  Often, the reader, along with the narrator, experiences so much sadness, that all hope seems lost.  Then, out of nowhere--perhaps the smile of one of his little sisters as they play with rocks--hope arises and lets us see a hint of beauty--of possibility--of escape.  Readers need to be mature and aware that many of the atrocities of this story are brutal. Until I read this book, Apartheid had only been a word I had studied in a world history class.  Reading this man's memoir gave me a vivid picture of a time and system that makes me sad--but also a picture of the few brave and wise and good people who fight against such treachery.



Antonio Márez is only seven years old, and he is wise beyond his years. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya is told through his young and innocent viewpoint.  His father is a former vaquero who has wandered the great prairies of New Mexico and Mexico, the llano. His mother is from a family of farmers who stay put and plant crops.  There is much conflict, both spoken and unspoken, in the family about which is the better life.  The Marez family takes Ultima in to stay with them in their small house on the edge of the IIana in Guadalupe, NM. She is a healer and has done much to help their family in times past, and now she is an old woman and is in need of a home.  Many of the villagers are skeptical of her because of her powers, and many call her a witch. Antonio spends a happy time with Ultima, learning about plants and herbs that promote healing.  But one tragedy after another begins to fall the community and Tony's family. Each of these tragedies is experienced by Antonio and represent the loss of his innocence. First there is crazy Lupito, shot to death by a mob for the revenge of his murder of the sheriff.  Tony follows his dad to the bridge and witnesses the whole calamity.  Along side all of these disasters, Antonio is learning about the Church--his mother is ultra religious, and she has great aspirations for her son to become a priest.  Tony's friend Florence does not believe in the teachings of the Church and even Tony's dad seems to worship the earth more than he abides by religious teachings.  All of these inner struggles are mitigated by Ultima, who tells him all the time that it is "being a good person" that is what matters.  Meantime, the most horrible villain is a man named Tenorio.  He is determined to kill Ultima because he thinks her magic is responsible for the death of his daughters.  He is frightening in every way, and I found myself full of fear whenever he appeared on the pages.  This is a great story, although somewhat complex. It would be helpful to be familiar with Catholic terminology, but most good readers would do alright, even without that familiarity. 



This is a great read, at times--frightning, exciting, funny, touching.  It is a wonderful historical novel. The Help by Kathryn Stockett takes place in the segregated South in 1962. Although this is nearly one hundred years after the Civil War, the culture of the time still has African Americans living as second class citizens.  Almost all middle class white families employ black domestics, underpay them, give them tremendous responsibility, including raising their children.  Skeeter, one of the story's main characters, is a young white woman who has just graduated from Ole Miss.  Much to her mother's chagrin, she is still not married and is ruining her chances because of her independent nature. Skeeter wants to be a writer. She gets a job at the local newspaper as a columnist--giving housekeeping advice.  She enlists the help of her high school friend's  maid, Aibileen.  However, when she begins the interviews at Aibileen's house, the interviews quickly turn to a subject much more important than housekeeping--instead, to the discrimination, abuse, and hatefulness that the Negro community must endure.  These evening conversations grow into a community of people, including Aibileen's best friend, Minnie.  This is dangerous business for all of them, as it occurs at the height of the rise of Klu Klux Klan and takes place at the very time and place where Edgar Medgars is murdered. Amidst the intricate stories is a plot that builds with excitement--and also adds humor to very serious times and circumstances.



To be honest, I bought The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong at a local bookstore last week while I was wandering around the young adult literature section looking for books that boys would like to read. I just finished reading this book and I am literally out of breath. What a story--for boys, girls, men, women, anyone. If it's exciting action you seek, how about this: a father, grieving over the death of his wife, sells his house, buys a sailboat, and takes his three sons ages 15, 11, and 4 on a year long trip to sail around the Bahamas to rid himself of the pain. The father disappears off the ship one night, the boys are left to navigate on their own through a violent storm that crashes their boat and leaves them deserted on an island. Their struggle for survival puts this into the category of survival literature--but the book is much more.  It is the story of family relationships--the worst and best part of these relationships--of decision making--of harshness and tenderness--of hope and despair. It is a sea story--and the reader learns much about sail boats, gear, navigation--even about the Bahamas.  But maybe the best part is how each character changes--what the events do to make them such different human beings than those characters who appeared on the first page. Yet there is something more powerful than each of them that holds them and this book all together.



The Sherlock Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle is the most famous detective of all literature. As a contemporary takeoff of Sherlock Holmes, this is the first in a series of the Baker Street Irregulars--The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas. Here is a gang of orphaned boys who live in London during the Victorian Age--the 1800s.  This was a time of much poverty in the city--much crime and corruption.  Children were forced to work in factories and coal mines--to do hard labor.  This particular group of kids evades the authorities and lives on their own--not far from the home of the famous Sherlock Holmes. From time to time, he gives these boys work. The plot is exciting. The famous Zalindas of the circus have fallen from the high wire and plunged to their deaths. Suspicion of foul play is aroused, and Sherlock Holmes is called in. Since the Baker Street Irregulars are children of the streets, they are very good at spying and acquiring information, so Mr. Holmes hires them to hang out at the circus and pick up any evidence or information they can. There is threat and danger at every turn of the page--and these boys have learned a great deal from Sherlock Holmes about crime scenes and criminal minds.  Ozzie, one of the newer members of the gang, is especially bright and is a budding Sherlock, himself.  I thought this book had an element of fright that would entice most any one who likes to be a bit afraid when he reads.



What a fantastic read--Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. The narrator of the story, and on whom all the action centers, is a loveable, sympathetic, hard-working, anxiety-ridden, athletic, and very funny teenage girl named D.J. As a reader, you are drawn into the story with D.J's first person narration. You are scared with her, confused with her, lonely with her, mad with her, joyous with her, and laughing with her. The setting is a dairy farm, where D.J.'s father has been hurt in a machinery accident.  She is the only child left to do most of the work--the milking, and all the other countless back-breaking chores of farming. She lives in a family of football players, including two brothers who are off playing Division I and professional sports.  However, the whole family is dysfunctional when it comes to talking.  They keep everything inside--until it explodes. At the start of summer, D.J. gets an unexpected helper. An old friend of the family, who also happens to coach the neighboring town's football team, sends over Brian Nelson, his team's quarterback, to assist the Schwenks. This relationship starts with great disdain – neither of them wants to be with the other one.  It is this relationship that changes both of them and is the basis for most of the drama, including D.J. deciding to play football in the fall on her own high school boys’ team.This is a book about growing up, about small town living, about sports and sports rivalry. But mostly it is just great fun to read. This book is for MATURE readers only, due to some strong language and serious themes.



Samantha Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy by Van Draanen  was a blast to read.  Lots of students check this series out, but this is the first time I have picked one up, and now I see why they are so popular.  Sammy is somewhat of a renegade for her 13 years.  This story starts with her serving community service instead of detention for misuse of the Public Address system at school.  She is sent to the catholic church and to Father Mayhew at St. Mary's to do her penance.  When his precious wooden cross turns up missing, he blames her.  Sammy sets out to prove she is not the thief--and what a ride she takes us on. We are introduced to some outlandish characters including a troupe of dancing nuns, a crotchety old nun named Josephine, a homeless girl who lives in a refrigerator box, and a host of other colorful odd ducks. On the home front, Sammy's life is not exactly ordinary, either.  Left by her mother to live with her Gram, this is the only mother she has really ever known.  And since Gram lives in a high rise for Seniors where children are not allowed, Sammy must sneak in and out of the apartment by way of the fire-escape.  Sammy has a passion for softball, along with a couple of her schoolmates, Dot and Marissa. Sammy's catcher's mitt is the only piece of her father that she owns.  When a jealous member of the opposing team steals her glove, it is everything she can do to concentrate on catching the ball.  If you like mystery, exciting sports-play by play--and stories about even-handed justice, this book is for you.



This is a short and rousing story about a young girl named Lidie who loves to ride horses. It starts out with Lidie leaving her home in Brazil to join her father and brother in America.  They have not been together since Lidie was little and since her mother died.  She speaks Portuguese and only a little English. In Brazil, she has been living with her aunt and uncle and has had a lot of freedom to become an expert horsewoman. Her father and brother have both been working as horse trainers in New York, and so she is excited to show them what she has learned since they last saw her.  Unfortunately, when she arrives in her new home, she has a lot of "unpleasant" surprises. First off, her dad and brother seem to think that she is still five years old--and they have decorated her room in pink frills. She is sent to a school where her insufficient English skills result in a very embarrassing episode, and she is given a horse to learn to ride--a gentle, old horse that would be used to teach even the most novice of horse riders. Even though both her dad and brother can speak Portuguese, Lidie, her dad, and her brother have emotional hang-ups that keep them from being honest with each other.  This is an exciting, easy read for all our students at South.



The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer is for better readers.  Enola Holmes (Her name spelled backwards is "Alone") is the sister of Sherlock Holmes.  This is Victorian England and girls are expected to act like ladies, go to finishing school, get married, and become domesticated.  Enola, like her mother, is not interested in this life path.  Much to the dismay of her brother, the famous Sherlock Holmes, she has run away and is living her own little secret detective life in different parts of London.  She sets up an office of a fictitious Dr. Rogostin and acts as his secretary, disguising her own detective work. In this story, she not only is forced to change identities to hide from her brother who is looking for her, but she is also pursuing a dangerous case of a missing young aristocrat. Lady Cecily has disappeared from her parents' mansion, and Enola is determined to find out what happened to her.  Like her brother Sherlock, Enola is smart, creative, brave, methodical, industrious, and kind-hearted.  She outsmarts her brother several times.  It is not necessary to have read the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries to get a flavor of the style and time period, but it is helpful.  If you love mysteries and are an above average reader, you will enjoy this book very much.



Ben Mikaelsen's Tree Girl is a chilling account of the Mayan genocide that took place in Guatemala in the early 1980's.The violence in this book is vivid and heartbreaking, and I only recommend this book for mature readers. You will need tissue--for the crying you will do. The main character, Gabriella, lives with her family in a small village where everyone is a family and love abounds. Gabriella loves to climb trees; she loves to go to school, and she loves her freedom. There have been rumors of government and guerilla warfare, but until the day her brother is taken away by the military, her family has managed to avoid the horror. Shortly after that, her little school is discovered and soldiers beat and brutally murder her teacher.  When she is away from the village one day,  nearly all her family and village inhabitants are murdered.  She and her sister set off to flee for Mexico, and while she sneaks into a town to get food and water, she is forced to climb a tree to find safety from an unspeakable massacre. When she finally exits the tree, her sister is gone and she joins others as they make their way to the refugee camps in Mexico.  Based on a true story, this compelling historical fiction will give readers an inside look of what it feels like to be a refugee, to be homeless, and to be without hope.



Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn is a spooky and tragic tale that gives the reader a feeling of uneasiness. One day Ali finds a picture of her mother and her Aunt Dulcie when they were young.  It looked like there was another girl in the picture--but she had been torn off--leaving only the letter "T" as a clue to that girl's name.  Ali's mother, Claire, swears she has no idea who the other person is--and she will not talk about it.  Shortly thereafter, Aunt Dulcie comes to visit. She is there to ask Ali to come with her and her daughter, Emma, to the cabin by the lake in Maine, where she and Claire spent their own summers when they were children. She wants Ali who is 12 to babysit for 4 year old Emma, while she works on her painting and art work.  The minute Ali's mother hears about the cabin, she becomes distraught and says, No--that place is deep and dark and dangerous. In the beginning, Ali and her father think Ali's mother is over-reacting, and that it will be a perfectly safe place for Ali to go. However, once there, Ali and Emma discover the deep, dark secrets of their mothers' past. 



Dragon Road by Laurence Yep is the latest in the series of Golden Mountain Chronicles--all stories about Chinese Americans and their immigration to America, San Francisco, in particular.  This story takes place in 1939 at the height of the Great American Depression.  It would be helpful to understand this time period before reading the book, but not necessary, as you will find out a great deal about how hard it was to live and make a living for anyone during those years.  The main characters, Cal and Barney, live in poverty in Chinatown.  Their only escape from the drudgery of their lives is to play basketball.  They pick up games wherever and whenever they can--and they bet money on the outcome, making a little precious cash to help them survive. One day, they are observed by a couple of professional con-men, who talk them into joining their travel team.  This team journeys all over America, picking up games, sometimes with other professional teams, and sometimes with locals who love to play basketball.  Poor as people are, they will often pay their last nickel for entertainment in a local gym.  It is during this travel that Cal and Barney learn about the prejudice that exists throughout the land--prejudice for anyone who is not considered "American"  or "white" enough.  Their team (the Dragons) becomes quite famous--and even meets up with and plays against the Harlem Globetrotters at one point. The team members are characters who have their own stories--and part of this novel relates to their interaction with Cal and Barney.  Having been eager to escape Chinatown and get to where the "grass is greener," these two boys find out that things at home are not any worse than they are in other places.  In some ways, the people and friends in Chinatown are better than what either of them imagined before they joined the Dragons. If you like basketball and history, you will like this book.



If you like exciting, harrowing, scary, dangerous, and smart, you will love this book. Thirteen year old Ingrid is a detective.  When her grandfather is accused of murder and put in jail, Ingrid sets out to prove his innocence.  Proving his innocence is tough--he is not exactly the cooperating type. Plus, even her dad (his son) thinks Ingrid's grandpa should accept a plea bargain from the shoddy lawyer. A fan of Sherlock Holmes, Ingrid is always quoting Holmes:  Data, Watson, data!  I can't make bricks without clay! The more snooping she does, the more deep dark secrets she finds.  Grandpa is one of five World War II veterans who have stories to tell about their heroic exploits. No one has ever interviewed them in detail until now--and their connection is part of the dark secret that is connected ultimately to the murder, itself.  As the story advances, someone is watching Ingrid as she gets a little too close to the truth.  When Nigel, her dog, is stolen, she goes after him.  The climactic action builds as she comes face to face with the villain/s.  At the same time as this whodunit is occurring, Ingrid is in the local production of Hansel and Gretel. It is no accident that the title of the book mirrors the journey of the fairy tale classic as well as the course Ingrid takes in her real life.



Camel Rider by Prue Mason is an exciting story about two young boys whose accidental meeting changes both of their lives.  Adam lives in a gated community in the United Arab Emirates.  Although the city's name is fictitious, it is much like Dubai, very rich and near the coast. Adam and his family are originally from Australia. Everyone who lives inside the gated community is a foreign national.  Adam's mother does not want him to go to high school here, and so when the story opens, he and his mother are supposed to be leaving for Australia--back to his homeland--for him to start school.  But Adam loves it here.  He has a lot of friends. This place is close to the sea, and he and his friends have become great surfers.  So he hides his passport in his dad's suitcase (his dad is a commercial pilot), and his mother is forced to leave him home alone while she goes back to Australia. Now he has a few more days of freedom before his dad gets home with his passport--and before he takes the consequences for his behavior. He is just getting dressed when he hears military planes attacking the city.  Everyone in the neighborhood packs up in an attempt to get out of the country as quickly as possible.  The English neighbors tell Adam that he must come with them--but they have no room for his beloved dog, Tara. They make it over the border and are stopping for gas and a bathroom break, when Adam steals away and sets off on foot to go back for his dog.  It is in this barren wasteland of heat, treacherous terrain, and unrelenting desert sun, that he meets up with "Walid," an Arabic boy who has run away from his slave-owners.  He has an amazing story of his own. Walid only speaks Arabic, and Adam only speaks English.  It is the great need and danger they are both in that puts them on a quest for survival. In addition to an exciting plot, the story issues a wonderful theme.  If young boys who do not communicate in the same language--and who have very different cultures--can get along, then why can't grownups with the same differences get along.



The setting of Beverley Naidoo's Burn My Heart is in Kenya in 1950.  Times are dangerous, due to an uprising of native Kikuyu (the Mau Mau Rebellion) against the colonization of  Kenya by the British (called Wazungu). The story starts with Mathew and Mugo as best friends, even though Mathew is white and the landowner's son, and Mugo is black and the stableman's son. Like many boys their age, they like to explore and have fun. Mugo has taught Mathew how to make a slingshot, a ball from banana leaves, and has also taught him much about the animals and predators. Until now, Mathew and his family and Mugo and his family have been loyal and trusting with each other.  One night, when Mugo goes outside his hut, a band of black revolutionaries arrives and forces his parents, as well as all the laboring class in the village into a barn.  There they make them swear to be loyal to the uprising, to cease their loyalty to the landowners. Mathew, in the meantime, has become friends with a white boy named Lance whose father is in the military police.  Lance has no time for the black natives, and he taunts Mathew for his kindness to Mugo and his family.   Meanwhile, the white people in power are strengthening their domination and trusting none of the Kikuyu people.  Matthew's dad resists at first.  So does Mugo's dad.  They are decent men caught up in something way beyond their control.  One weekend, when Lance spends the night at Mathew's, Lance shoots a bird that Mugo calls a "go-away bird."  These sorts of birds fly away when there is a predator and thus warn people of danger.  Mugo considers shooting this bird bad luck and says so.  Lance hears him and degrades him and Mathew for ever listening to this black kid. He  pressures Mathew into starting a fire in the shed next to the cornfield where they will cook and eat the bird.  Mathew knows this is wrong. During the night, everyone wakes up to the cornfield on fire. In the greatest betrayal of all, Mathew blames the fire on Mugo. Now both of their hearts are broken.  This war (and all wars) burns everyone's heart. 



Felix loves baseball, and it's no wonder. His father had been one of Cuba's best national players.  But Felix doesn't know his dad. And his mother avoids the subject.  Now living in Florida with his mother, Felix is determined to find out more about his dad.  When a team with a few Cuban players comes to town, Felix sneaks into their locker room.  They mistake him for their new batboy--and there the adventure starts. He runs away with this team (by way of hiding in the luggage compartment of the bus) in hopes of staying only a few days to find out more information about his dad. It is in this new setting that he learns bits and pieces about what became of his dad.  And it is in this new setting that he meets some wonderful characters--guys who love baseball just like he does--and a dog named Homer.  Homer is the mascot for the team and runs the bases whenever one of the home team's players gets a homerun. When his mother finally tracks Felix down, she tells him the truth about his dad.  His father helped his mother and Felix escape from Cuba when Felix was just a baby.  He sacrificed his own career to give the two people he loved a chance at a better life. This story gives the reader a peak at what it feels like to be an immigrant. This is a story of the American Dream.



My, oh my!  This book award finalist and Newbery Award Honor book is simply an amazing work. The Underneath by Kathi Appelt should be read by everyone, not just kids.  First off, the story (stories) are exciting page-turners.  The story of Ranger, Puck, and Sabine is not unlike the "Lassie Come Home" episodes I used to watch on television as a child. Gar Face is the villain extraordinaire. The story of Night Song, Hawk Man, Grandmother snake, and Alligator King is native American myth at its best.  But the best part is how these creatures, as well as the trees and all parts of nature are part of a larger and more divine design of love and survival, of time and space, of grief and joy, of anger and peace, of broken-ness and healing, of being or not-being.  All of these stories show us how desire can work for and against us.  This is a book that will surely become a classic. I am envious of this author's writing ability and look forward to more of her stories.



This historical novel about the beginning of the Civil Rights movement reminds me of how  tragedy and great suffering must often occur in order to invoke social justice.  Hiram returns to Greenwood, Mississippi to visit his grandfather who he lived with when he was a little boy.  His memory of his childhood in this peaceful little town is very different from the reality he finds when he returns as an older boy. Hiram meets Emmett Till, who is a 14 year old Negro boy, visiting his own family in Greenwood at the same time. Hiram also gets reacquainted with one of his childhood friends, R.C., who has grown into a bully. One day when they are out fishing, Hiram witnesses R.C. abuse and threaten Emmett. Through the town gossip, Hiram hears that Emmett has been accused of whistling at a white woman, a total taboo in that time of segregation and racism.  A few days later, Emmett's mutilated body is found and two white men are accused of his kidnapping and murder.  There was an unidentified third person involved, and Hiram is sure this must be R.C. Based on these actual events:  the lynching of Emmett Till, the trial and acquittal of the white men, the all white male jury, the prejudiced cross- examination of the black witnesses, and the eventual picture of Emmett Till's mutilated body in a Chicago newspaper, this story is told through the eyes of Hiram. He sees now why his own dad wanted to get away from Greenwood and live in a different part of the country.  He sees the discrimination and racism in his own grandfather and many of the people in Greenwood.  However, he also notices that even the prejudice people, like his grandfather, have some redeeming qualities.  This exciting novel by Chris Crowe reminds readers that we do not often notice our own prejudices--that it is easier to spot other people's faults than it is to spot our own. 



Inkheart by Cornelia Funke is fantasy, but I forgot. From the first page, I was so drawn in by the mystery and the language that I believed it all. Meggie's father, Mo, can read characters out of books.  When Meggie was only three he read from the story Inkheart, and not only did he bring the evil Capricorn to live in this world, he also inadvertently sent Meg's mother into the book. Capricorn and his henchmen get great pleasure out of murdering people.  The story opens when Meg is 12 and Capricorn sends Dustfinger to find Mo and bring him to Capricorn to read another evil character out of the book.  Thus begins the chase and capture, hiding and scheming, escaping and planning.  Many side-stories are woven into the main thread of the story, as well as some wonderful and unforgettable characters, such as Aunt Elinor and Fenoglio.  This book is seriously scary, and I think that is why kids love it so much.



The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart is not for the weak-hearted.  Reynie, Kate, Constance, and Sticky are the four main characters.  These orphans respond to an add that is looking for "gifted children for special opportunities."  They are put through a series of very difficult tests and beat out several other students.  Each test takes them to a new level of mystery until they finally pass the scrutiny and end up with Mr. Benedict who trains them to be spies.  They are sent to a school/orphanage on a deserted island to find out the evil secrets of Mr. Curtain, who plans to take over the world.  Not only does Mr. Curtain plan to take over the world, but in the process, he is using technology that will brain wash everyone and make people lose memories of all that is important to them. These four characters are gifted in different ways, and the secret to their success comes in the way they work together to solve their complicated predicaments.  The story is exciting, scary, adventurous, and fun.



I am deeply embarrassed by any time in our nation's history when the majority of people (white Americans) have reacted to another race with fear, hate, prejudice, and superiority. In this genuine portrait of what it was like to be a Japanese American in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed, the reader gets a first-hand description of what happens to Sumiko and her family as they are separated, jailed, put in relocation centers, taken away from their livelihoods, and generally humiliated.  This story begins with Sumiko receiving an invitation to a classmate's birthday party.  She is thrilled and daydreams about the fun she will have.  When she arrives at the (white) girl's house for the party, she is met by the maid and the mother who turn her away.  Apparently the invitation had been to everyone in the class, but the mother had not known that there was a Japanese girl in the class. Shortly thereafter, Pearl Harbor was bombed and over 120,000 Japanese Americans, most of them all along the west coast, were sent to internment centers across the country. I learned so much from reading this book, Weedflower,  by Cynthia Kadohata.  Did you know that the Quakers were the only religious group in America to publicly denounce the detention of Japanese Americans?   Sumiko's family ends up in Poston, Arizona on an Indian reservation--where we are introduced to more mistreatment of mankind by the ruling class. Of course, as terrible as human beings can be to each other, they can also be full of kindness and decency.  It is in this place on the desert that flowers and people bloom.



This is another one of those BRING A BOX OF KLEENEX books. Evyn and her brother Mackey have been raised by their hippie father, Birdie.  Their mother died when Evyn was only one. She loves her life in Maine with her best friend Jules and her dog, Clam.  When her dad drops the bomb that he will be marrying a college professor named Eleni, a divorced woman with six children, and they will be moving to Boston, Evyn comes unglued. Evyn's imaginary conversations with her deceased mother usually help to settle her down--her mother is always telling her to let anything that hurts her "bounce" off her. But this situation is so oppressive, nothing seems to help.  Seen from Evyn's point of view, the new family is a nut-case, the step-mother is totally unsuitable for her father, the new school she must attend is full of snobs, the father she has always loved so much is a changed man--and one she can no longer confide in. Full of pathos, humor, excitement,  and a very realistic look at blended families, the author has created a story that will  keep you turning pages and, at times, crying your eyes out. 



Will Hobbs is one of my favorite authors of adolescent literature. Imagine my surprise when I opened this book and found that it is set in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  In fact, the place names--Spring Creek, Mickelson Trail, Hill City, Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore--all a few miles away from my home as the crow flies. Brady Steele decides to sit on the garage roof one night and watch the predicted meteorite shower. Spectacular as it is, he grows chilly and is about to crawl back through his window and go to bed.  Suddenly, there is an explosion and a blinding light comes sailing toward his house.  A meteorite has crashed through his roof and made a hole in his bed the size of a softball. The title, Go Big Or Go Home, comes from extreme sports.  Brady and his cousin Quinn are thrill-seekers.  With a touch of science fiction, realistic fiction, and lots of thrills, Go Home Or Go Big will awaken the courage in all of its readers. This website is an interview with Will Hobbs on the book and the Black Hills: 





Thirteen year old Rachel Sheridan has been raised by her English missionary parents in East Africa (Kenya) where her dad is a doctor who runs a village hospital and takes care of the natives.  Rachel has never been to England and is truly a child of the African soil.  When the flu epidemic of 1919 strikes their village, Rachel's parents make a valiant effort to save the sick, but end up dying, themselves.  Left an orphan, Rachel is faced with a terrible dilemma.  Her conniving English neighbors--the Pritchards-- have lost a daughter to the flu.  Because their daughter looked a great deal like Rachel, they put forward a plan that would keep Rachel out of the orphanage--but would require her to pretend she is Valerie Pritchard, their deceased daughter.  She will have to travel to England and visit Valerie's grandfather and keep up the deceit--coaxing him to leave his estate to Valerie's parents.  The grandfather has cut ties with his greedy son for many years, but he feels a connection to his only grandchild.  When Rachel arrives at Grandfather's estate, she tries to keep up the hoax.  Grandfather Pritchard and Rachel (Valerie) form a fast friendship, and they are both too smart and decent to fool each other for long.  Anyone who likes stories about orphans and bright girls will enjoy reading this exciting, lovely story.



An historical novel, Celeste's Harlem Renaissance by Eleanor Tate takes place in 1921.  Celeste is a 12 year old "colored" in racially divided Raleigh, North Carolina. Her mother has died, her father has tuberculosis, and her Aunt Society (whose name fits her) is her surrogate live-in mother.  Her Aunt Valentina lives in NYC and visits Raleigh now and then to brandish her lifestyle--full of theater, famous people, and beautiful clothes.  When Cece's father must be sent away to a sanitarium for his health, Cece is sent to live with her Aunt Val in New York.  The reader peers into a time period--not that long ago--that is unbelievably prejudiced and seemingly hopeless.  But Celeste has spirit and spunk--and she keeps on hoping and dreaming.  She loves the excitement and glamour of Harlem in the 1920's, but she also learns that the city is not all roses.  When she comes back to North Carolina to take care of her sick Aunt Society, she discovers some difficult truths.  Writing this review one week after an historical election, one can understand why the election of a black president is monumental for our nation and history.



The Poison Apples by Lily Archer is clever, funny, and tender.  Told from the points of view of the three main characters, Molly, Alice, and Reena, the reader meets their families.  Each one is a tale of idyllic childhood disrupted and broken by the break up of parents and the ensuing marriage of their fathers to women who are nothing like their mothers.  These new "mothers" are, indeed, the equivalent of evil stepmothers.  When the girls meet at a New England boarding school, they form a poison apple club to seek revenge on their step mothers.  Molly is from a small Massachusetts town, Alice is from Manhattan, and Reena is from Los Angeles.  Although their geographies and cultures seem to separate them from each other in the beginning, their decidedly cruel fates bring them together in humor and adventure.



Here is another book I picked up because of the cover; it's irresistible.  The Cottonmouth Club by Lance Markam starts at the beginning of summer vacation.   Mitch Valentine and his best friend, Tick, have made a list of all the adventures they are going to experience.  The reader feels the thrill of the end of school and the idea of the summer laid out before him--and a quote right in the beginning of the story amplifies that feeling: My dad's oldest brother once told me that the thing he missed most about being a kid was summer vacation. 'Oh sure,' he'd said in his slow West Virginia twang, 'we grownups git a vacation ev'ry year, but it ain't the same. A body needs the whole summer, not jus' a few measly weeks.' He'd gotten kind of a faraway look in his eyes and squeezed my shoulder hard. 'You enjoy ev'ry durn minute of it, you hear?'  What a surprise for Mitch when his parents haul him off on a summer-long trip to visit his "hick" relatives in Pitkin, Louisiana.  However, adventures can take place in more places than his California home.  Mitch, his brother, and his cousins are in for the thrills of a lifetime--replete with snakes, middle of the night water tower climbs, general mayhem, poor decisions, and oodles of fun.  His cousins don't seem so "hick" when the summer is over.



I picked this book up because of the title.  I knew it had to do with sheep-herding because of the title/phrase, That'll Do, Moss. Dog lovers will enjoy this book.  Moss used to be a sheep dog, but much happened to change him, not the least of which was being attacked by coyotes and having his master move thousands of miles away.   Diane works for the busy Prager family who run a nursery business.  Besides babysitting their two younger sons, she oversees the grounds and attends to the animals, including the dog, Moss. Diane thinks if she can talk the Pragers into letting her prepare Moss for the sheep trials, she may be able to help him overcome his depression.  He needs to go back to work.  However, a rabid skunk, a rabies threat, and the resulting hysteria of a few adults make her quest to help Moss almost impossible.



I loved this book and found myself thinking about it day and night.  Every time I had to stop reading to work or eat supper or do household chores, I eagerly waited for next few minutes I could get back to its pages. The story opens with Nick Freestone, a thirteen-year old boy living in London during World War II and the blitz on London.  Because the bombs are dropping close to his neighborhood, his mother sends him to Burma to live with his father who owns a teak plantation.  The plot in a nutshell is that even Burma (Myanmar) is not safe from World War II.  Japan invades the country, Nick's father is taken prisoner, Nick is forced to stay on his own plantation as a slave.  He and his new friend, Mya, attempt to escape cross country on the back of an elephant to rescue Nick's dad and Mya's brother. It is the culture of Burma, the skill of mahouts (those who work with elephants), the extraordinary faith and hard work of elephants,  the Buddhist monks--one in particular--and the courage of so many good people that make this one of the best books in young adult literature.



Dandi Daley Mackall is the author of Larger-Than Life-Lara.  The narrator of the story is a girl named Laney. It is from her point of view that all of the action happens.  Until the story begins, Laney has always been the kid in the classroom that the others made fun of.  However, when Lara arrives, the ridicule switches in Lara's direction. Lara weighs over 300 pounds and has to have a special desk made to accommodate her large body.  Laney tells the story as though she were writing a novel, making each chapter a sort of writing convention or component, such as Rising Action.  Lara would seem a wonderful character to any reader, but seen through the eyes of Laney, she rises to the level of sainthood.  No matter how mean the children are to her, no matter what they say or do, she holds no grudge, she shows no revenge, she never rats on them.  In fact, she often responds to the abuse with poetry. When Joey Gilbert writes her a note that calls her a pig and says she should try out for the part of the pig in the school play, she stands up and says:  Hey, Joey Gilbert, thanks for the note. / In a class-clown election, you'd get my vote. / I watched you pitch, and I think you're great. / But you'll get more power if your arm is straight." It is Lara's indomitable spirit and Laney's struggle with what it means to be a decent human being that make this little book outstanding. 



As the title (Football Genius) suggests, this book is for anyone who loves football and all the intricacies of football strategy.  Troy is a thirteen year old football genius--he can see plays coming and knows instinctively what needs to be done defensively to prevent their success. Unfortunately, his coach treats him poorly, never gives him a chance to play, and usually lets his own son, who is an inferior player, play instead. When his mother gets a job with the Atlanta Falcons, his favorite team, Troy gets a pass to watch the game from the sidelines.  Because he can sense the plays that are coming, he gets frustrated with the defensive coach and tries to tell the players what to do.  He is taken away by security guards.  After several incidents of deception, Troy gets the star player for the Atlanta Falcons, Seth Halloway, to listen to him. Together, they watch a televised football game and Troy predicts the plays and what should be executed. There is much excitement as Seth tries to convince the Atlanta Falcons coach and owner to give Troy a chance to show his stuff.  There is also a blossoming romance between Seth Halloway and Troy's mom and between Troy and Tate.  Most interesting about this book is the author, himself.  Tim Green is a former player for the NFL, a valedictorian from Syracuse University, and a law graduate.  He does sports commentary on television and radio.  He is a superb role model for sports-minded youth.



Okay, this is the sort of book you hate to have end.  Under the Mermaid Angel by Martha Moore is about Jesse, a thirteen-year old eighth grader, who lives in Ida, Texas.  Jesse is smart, practical, and funny. She expects little from her small town--with its laundromat, cafe, handful of churches, ordinary school, drugstore that doubles as a bus stop, and plastics factory where most of the townspeople work.  When thirty-year old Roxanne moves in to the trailer next door, Jesse's life changes.  Roxanne has a tattoo on her chest, long flaming red hair, and is a divorcee.  Many of the women in town, including Jesse's mother, think she has few morals.  However, when Jesse and the others get to know her, they find out she is a wonderful person, full of imagination, grit, and love. Jesse has never forgiven herself for the death of her little brother, William III.  Roxanne also has some deep and hurtful secrets.  These two form a bond that transforms each of them.  Besides this beautiful story, several sub-stories are woven into the plot, including a new girl in school, Debbie, whose face has been maimed in an accident, the local doctor's son whose bad behavior "issues" are tied intricately to the main characters, and the escalating Alzheimer's of Mr. Arthur, the museum curator.



Anthony Horowitz knows how to write thrillers for adolescents.  Evil Star is the second book in the Gatekeeper Series. One of five humans chosen to save the world,  Matt is sought by a powerful organization -- the Nexus -- to travel to South America and prevent the next world disaster.  A combination of espionage, mystery, horror, fantasy, and science fiction create the breath-taking action that many of the young men in our school prize.  This series is a popular checkout. The story starts in England with Matt in a private school.  He is tormented by a bully--and ends up using his supernatural power for retribution (to get even). Matt and his guardian Richard become separated when they arrive in Peru, Matt is beaten by the police and escapes only with the help of Pedro, a street urchin.  Together, they set off around the deserts and mountains of Peru, fighting against evil and seeking and receiving  help from virtuous people.



This is a popular checkout in our library, so I decided to find out why.  Greg Heffley is in middle school and keeps a journal of his experience in seventh grade.  He is a hoot!  First off, he tells us right away that he told his mother to buy him a journal and not a diary.  He responds to his mother's purchase of a diary by saying:  Great. All I need is for some jerk to catch me carrying this book around and get the wrong idea.   I found myself laughing out loud throughout the journal entries. Greg reminds adults of how we appear to them--and also makes us remember what it was like to be in middle school, ourselves.  Much of the humor is found in the cartoon illustrations which also add variety to the text and narration.



In usual Willo Davis Roberts style, this is a page-turner.  Kaci loves to read mysteries and has a vivid imagination.  She often wonders what it would be like to have an adventure of her own.  Her Grandmother's saying is Be careful what you wish for. Kaci's brother Jeff is house-sitting the neighbor's house when it is robbed in the middle of the night.  Kaci happens to look out the window and see the flashlight shining through the neighbor's livingroom.  When he goes to investigate, Jeff is hit over the head by the robbers, and the dogs are drugged.  Thus begins the mystery of robberies around town.  When Kaci and her family move to their new house in an upscale neighborhood, they hope to escape the crime that has been escalating in their old neighborhood.  Unfortunately, this doesn't happen.  Stay tuned as Kaci gets involved in the adventure of her life--it's downright terrifying.



There are eight books in this Adventures of the Northwoods historical fiction series by Lois Walfrid Johnson.  They are all set in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and will appeal to students who are looking for books with a Christian mindset. In this story, book 3--The Creeping Shadows,  Katie O'Connell, the main character, lives with her mother and two step brothers while her step father is away working in a lumber camp.  The year is 1906, it is the dead of winter, there are wolves, thieves, and even a bit of romance.  Katie's heart goes out to the immigrant farm family who may lose their land and house to a loan shark because they are unable to make the payments.  Even with all the poverty and hardships, the characters in this book are people from a time and place who always find a way to give to those less fortunate. The first five books are as follows:

Book #1 The Disappearing Stranger
Book #2 The Hidden Message
Book #3 The Creeping Shadows
Book #4 The Creeping Shadow
Book #5 Trouble at Wild River



Stranger at the Window by Vivien Alcock starts as many of her stories do--giving the reader a feeling of uneasiness or eeriness.  Eleven year old Lesley goes to London to stay with her maiden Aunt while her mother goes on an extended trip.  From the first night, Lesley notices a mysterious figure in the attic window of the house next door. That house belongs to the Harwoods, the mother whose soul purpose in life seems to be charity work.  She drags her three children, Victoria, Robert, and Christopher around the city--donating and doing good works.  She is so busy doing charity work that she often overlooks her own children's nurturing.  When the three Harwood children are introduced to Lesley, they are not impressed with each other: You should have seen Victoria's face:  she looked as disgusted as a cannibal being offered cauliflower with cheese. The mysterious face turns out to be a young boy, an illegal immigrant, who the Harwood children have been keeping and hiding from their mother.  When Lesley confronts the Harwood children about what she sees, she is taken into the action and begins to help in the deceit. If you enjoy setting your nerves on edge, you will like this story a lot.



Layne's father was killed while bull riding, so his mother isn't about to let him follow the same path.  For Layne, the passion is so strong that he disobeys his mother and begins practicing on the neighbor's ranch. Chase Kincaid, a former champion bull-rider decides to help him. Chase might be in his seventies, but he still knows a great deal about the sport and he understands Layne's desire.  There is a lot to interest a middle school reader in this 92 page story--rodeos, Brahma bulls, a good-looking neighbor girl, and a little sister who can drive her brother crazy.



Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles sounds strikingly familiar.  Those words are in the hymn, All Things Bright and Beautiful. This hymn is often sung in the Snowberger Funeral Home, the setting of this delightful story.  Comfort Snowberger is the narrator and main character. The children's names are Comfort, Tidings, Merry, and the dog's name is Dismay.  Here is a family that loves life and is aware of how precious life is--probably because they live and work around death.  The best way to describe this story is to quote the beginning:  I come from a family with a lot of dead people.  Great-uncle Edisto keeled over with a stroke on Saturday morning after breakfast last March.  Six months later, Great-great-aunt Florentine died--just like that--in the vegetable garden.  And, of course, there are all the dead people who rest temporarily downstairs, until they go off to the Snapfinger Cemetery.  I'm related to them, too.  Uncle Edisto always told me, "Everybody's kin, Comfort." Readers will laugh and cry with Comfort--and with her dog, Dismay.



I have to admit that I have not been a Harry Potter fan. This is partly because fantasy is not my favorite genre.  However, I have read three of this series.  I read the first, the third, and now the last.  I thought Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was spectacular. Sitting in my over-stuffed easy chair at home this summer, I consumed the book, jumping to the front of the chair when there was excitement.  Just as I thought the pace was slowing and I could lean back and relax, another stint of action would develop and I would jump to the front of the chair.  I physically hurt my back from rocking back and forth to the action. Harry is a good wizard, and along with his community of friends, he faces some very tough situations. I will not give away the ending, but I will say that my very favorite part occurred when Mrs. Weasley stood up to Bellatrix.  I screamed with delight.  Like ordinary people and muggles, we all face tough situations.  This book shows that it is how we handle these situations that determines our character. 



Moving away from home is never easy.  For Seema, the obstacles are over-whelming.  She moves with her mother and father and little sister from India to Iowa City, Iowa, where her father has been hired to work at the university.    She leaves behind her cousin and best friend, Raju, her grandparents and her other extended family that she has lived with since birth. With limited English skills, Seema attends school in Iowa City and must learn the customs and ways of a culture far different from her Indian home. The food is different, the weather is different, the clothes are different, the plants are different. When one of the girls in her 6th grade class begins to tease and taunt her, Seema begins to understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of such behavior.  She begins to feel bad about how she treated one of her Indian school mates, Mukta. This transforms Seema.  She becomes more compassionate.  Blue Jasmine by Kashmira Sheth is a story about growing up.



The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty Birney is a book about miracles.  Set in a small Missouri town in the 1920's, the main character,  eleven year old Eben McAllister, is dissatisfied with his surroundings.  He longs to leave Sassafras Springs and see the seven wonders of the world.  His geography book shows the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Statue of Zeus, the giant Lighthouse at Alexandria, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.  When Eben's father asks him what a wonder really is, Eben reads the definition:  a marvel; that which arouses awe, astonishment, surprise, or admiration.  Thus begins the wager.  Eben's father says that if Eben can find seven wonders in Sassafras Springs in seven days, he will buy Eben a train ticket to visit his cousins in Colorado. Even though he thinks it will be impossible to find one thing interesting in his community,  Eben takes the wager because he wants to get out of town. His investigations lead to some great stories--stories that the people in Sassafras Springs have woven into their memories.  There is a singing saw, a ghost table, truth-telling loom, and some unforgettable characters who have made their mark on this small community.  This is the ultimate chapter book--each chapter a discovery--a miracle of life. The biggest miracle of all, however, is how Eben learns that what he thought of as ordinary is so extremely extraordinary.  Sometimes, we have to open our eyes and our hearts to see the wonders all around us.




There is a familiar ring in The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke.  For anyone who has ever read Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, the homeless children living together in an abandoned theater, and Scipio--the Thief Lord--are reminiscent of Fagin and his gang of pickpockets.  Prosper and Bo, brothers, have run away from Germany.  Escaping their cruel aunt who only wants to adopt Bo, the youngest, both brothers go to Venice. This is a place their mother had told them lovingly about before her death.  They hook up with a homeless group of children: Hornet (the only girl), Mosca, and Riccio.  Their leader, Scipio, acts as a sort of Robin Hood, robbing the rich and giving the goods to the children to pawn in antique shops.  He also provides them with a place to stay--an abandoned theater.  Meanwhile, the plot gets very complex.  The aunt hires a detective to find the boys, the children figure out that Scipio is actually from a wealthy family,  a person from the aristocracy offers them a bundle of money to steal a wooden wing, and the antique store keeper they deal with is involved in the evil twists.   It is these last two actions that propel the story into a partial fantasy -- both terrifying and exciting. The story of the children's family of homeless and destitute friends is a satisfying look at how a sense of community is necessary for all human beings. 



I really liked this book--The Young Landlords--by Walter Dean Myers.  The plot goes like this:  A group of young teenagers in Harlem decides to so something productive for the summer.  They form an action committee and make a list of possibilities.  After they eliminate world peace from their list, they settle on doing something about a building in their neighborhood that is in disrepair and is an eyesore.  They seek out the current landlord, and before they know it, they have purchased the building for one dollar.  Now they are the landlords of a tenement that has renters who do not pay their rent--and many of whom are on the plus side of crazy.  There are many little stories within this framework that keep the reader engaged in what will happen.  However, it is the humor of the narrator, Paul, and his friends--and the way they see their situations that is my favorite aspect of the story.  I often laughed out loud at the language and predicaments.  There are some touching moments in the story, too.  As the narrator and his friends acquire more experience, they begin to grow up.  Their view of the world and of many of the people they know begins to take on a kind of complexity that they never before noticed.



This latest book of Cushman's is set in the early 1950's.  Students who build their background knowledge about this time period will like the book much more than those who are not familiar with the time period.  Shortly after World War II, many citizens in our country began to be suspicious of other citizens who were different.  By different, I mean people who might be of Russian heritage, might think differently about politics or business, or might question the government.  In fact, there was one Senator in our country--Joseph McCarthy--who became well known for calling people Communists and for organizing a kind of witch hunt to prosecute Americans who dared to ask questions.  In this story, Francine goes to a Catholic school.  She has learned to go with the flow, to never question anyone about beliefs or social injustice.  Then, Sophie Bowman comes to town.  Sophie is not afraid to question authority, and she often asks the nuns provocative questions. After she begins to hang out at the Bowman's and Mr. Bowman says she has unplumbed depths,  Francine begins to break out of her shell and think about social justice and world problems: the atom bomb, bomb shelters, free speech, Communism, and those who are put on the blacklist.  The story is often funny and heartbreaking at the same time.



Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw lives with her great grandma and little brother in Baby Beluga--a recreational vehicle in a trailer park in southern California. Naomi is a quiet girl who likes to carve soap statues, make lists, and worry.  Naomi and her brother were abandoned by their mother when they were small and Gram is the only parent they have really known.  Naomi has vague memories of her father and mother, but none of the details have been filled in until her mother shows up one day and says she wants to get reacquainted with her children. Naomi's mother has addictions and is not fit to be the children's mother.  The real reason she has shown up is because she wants to take Naomi to live with her and her boyfriend and to be a live-in babysitter for her boyfriend's daughter.  Furthermore, she is not interested in Owen because as she says, This kid's a blem. (comparing him to blemished shoes at the local department store annual sale)  Although Own has had several surgeries for physical deformities, he is sharp as a tack.  Naomi, even in her childhood, can see right through her mother's scheming ways. When it looks as though Naomi's mother has a legal right to custody, Naomi, Owen, Gram, and their Hispanic neighbors, pick up their trailer and head for Mexico to look for the children's natural father. The search for her father in the Mexican state of Oaxaca is rather like looking for a needle in a haystack.  However, the annual radish carving contest held at Christmastime brings the best artists from all over the country.  And, like Naomi, Naomi's father is a fine artist. This is a wonderful story of extended family and neighbors who care enough about each other to go to the ends of the earth.



This book by Joan Bauer has all the ingredients of a fantastic story: a 10 year old boy with determination, two great friends,  a bully, and a loving family.  Mickey Vernon has been playing pool since he was a little boy.  His own father had been a professional world champion before he died.  Now Mickey wants to win the Nine-Ball championship.  Mickey's best friend, Arlen, a mathematical genius shows him how playing pool is pure math, with geometry and physics. Although this helps him with his game, he is still lacking confidence. Joseph Alvarez, his dad's former best friend, comes to town and offers to teach Mickey, but Mickey's mother has something against Mr. Alvarez.  In addition to the mystery and excitement,  a pet pig named Mangler and a girl named Francine add much humor.  The pool tournament is narrated so that you will be sitting on the edge of your seat.  I jumped right out of the chair when the cue stick hit the last ball.



Rash takes place a hundred years from now in a society that has become ultra conservative. Bo, the protagonist, lives with his mother and grandfather.  His grandfather is always telling him about how things used to be--including how it was to play football, which is now illegal. Bo's only friend is his AI (standing for artificial intelligence) computer named Bork. Bo's father and brother are in prison; in fact, most of the population is in prison. Everyone who is not in prison  is required to take safety precautions that include helmets, masks, protective covering.  When Bo commits his third infraction (infractions such as not taking his medicine or calling a fellow classmate a name), he is sent to prison in a frozen wasteland. In prison, he overcomes the brutality and becomes part of a gang who plays football.  Bo's computer plays a big part in his unusual release from prison. There is humor in this story, especially some of the dialogue between Bo and Bork.  There is also a larger theme about a society that has taken away individuals' freedoms.  The book is for mature audiences, as the grandfather's language is occasionally harsh.



This book is uproariously funny.  It starts off with a tornado that rips up the graveyard and brings some caskets to the surface.  It does not disturb the librarian's grave, however. Her epitaph reads:  Electra Dietz--1851-1912--Shh--HERE LIES THE LIBRARIAN--After Years of Service, Tried and True, Heaven Stamped her--OVERDUE.  Since her death, the town fathers have been too cheap to hire another librarian--until the neighboring community's newspaper has an editorial which shames the library board.  The main character, Eleanor McGrath (nicknamed PeeWee), is transformed by the new library science students who come from Indianapolis to apply for the job.  This story has all the characters found in small towns, replete with hicks, villains, and those who would enlighten them.



Vive La Paris is Esme Codell's companion novel to Sahara Special.  This woman knows how to write stories for and from the heart.  Paris, an eleven year old, lives with her four brothers and parents in a small apartment in Chicago.  Her sensitive brother, Michael, is bullied by a girl in Paris' class.  This makes Paris fighting mad--and it takes her aged, Jewish piano teacher, Mrs. Rosen, to teach her that the only way to change bullies is to get to know them first. Paris is hilarious.  Some of the humor stems from her use of language--she is very smart for her age, but the narrator sprinkles humor in all the right places and the book will have you laughing out loud.  It will also make you cry and pound your fists in frustration--as the characters, and humans, in general, sometimes treat each other in terrible ways.



Escaping the Giant Wave is another Peg Kehert thriller. Kyle and his family are supposed to have the perfect summer vacation on the beautiful Oregon coast.  His hopes for getting away from Daren Hazelton, the school bully, are dashed when Daren's family ends up going on the same vacation since their mothers work in the same real estate company that is sponsoring the resort conference.  When the family arrives at the "resort," it is nothing like the pictures.  First of all, the hotel is under construction, and instead of spending their week on the beach, the family is put up in a run-down motel across the highway and away from the ocean.  Kyle's parents designate him babysitter for his smart little sister, Dee Dee, and they leave to go on a work-related ocean cruise.  That is when the terror begins.  An earthquake shakes the coast. The motel falls apart and starts on fire.  Everything is pitch black, and Kyle and his sister have to get out of the wreckage.  Kyle has studied tsunamis in school and knows that earthquakes on the west coast can mean giant waves will be headed toward shore. The drama is not resolved until the very last page.



Where the Great Hawk Flies by Liza Ketchum is an historical novel from the American Revolution era.  Daniel, 13, has a Pequot mother and an English father.  The story starts on Daniel's birthday, when a great hawk is circling their Vermont homestead, signaling to his Indian mother an impending message.  At the same time, a new family has moved into a run-down cabin next door.  This family, the Coombs,  has bad feelings about Indians because they had been victims in a raid by Canadian Indians who sided with the British. Several of their family and friends had been killed and hurt.  Now they view all Indians the same way.  This ignorance  makes up the conflict in the story as the son in each family, Hiram Coombs and Daniel Tucker, tells the story from his point of view. Mrs. Tucker is well-known in the community as an Indian doctor and healer, but it takes near tragedy for the Coombs to accept her. Besides this major conflict, there are other struggles, one of which is how Daniel questions his mixed blood and the the acceptance of his mother's and grandfather's Pequot traditions.



Another historical novel, Hitch takes place during the Great Depression.  During the 1930's people all over the world suffered from lack of money and work--brought about by overwhelming economic problems, a horrendous drought, and an inability to make a living off the land. Franklin D. Roosevelt took over the presidency in 1932.  He proposed a program called the Civilian Conservation Corps--known as the CCC.  This government program employed two million young men around the U.S.  and became known as Roosevelt's Tree Program. Some of the jobs included protecting natural habitats of wildlife, building dams, and planting thousands of trees to help soil erosion.  In Jeaneatte Ingold's novel, the main character, Moss  tells his story of CCC life.  If you like stories about the old days, this is a good one.  Moss talks about the hard life and the hard work, yet he captures the spirit of friendship and loyalty.  The title refers to the way people traveled then--they hitched rides on railroad cars because they did not have the money to buy tickets.



Paul Fisher is one of the most extraordinary characters you will ever have the pleasure of meeting in a work of fiction.  Legally blind, Paul is a middle school soccer player who moves with his parents and older brother from Texas to Florida.  His father is bent on having his oldest son, Eric, become a top-notch football player--and thinks Florida is the place to get the recognition.  From the beginning of the book, Paul's journal entries cast a kind of foreboding feeling about the move and the family, especially the brother, Eric.  Eric may be a star football player, but he has not a shred of decency in him.  Weaved into this main story are many sub-stories that include a picture of greedy developers who have destroyed natural habitat to make money, an inner-city middle school of lower income students--who as it turns out--have more integrity and loyalty than anyone in the suburbs around them.  This book is for mature readers.  Although Paul is a shining light, the tactics and actions of his brother Eric are frightening and disturbing.



On the surface, this is a fairy tale--the story of a porcelain rabbit--replete with high adventure, narrow escapes, and passionate characters.  However, Kate DiCamillo has written a story that is not just for children.  Every adult should be required to read this wonderful account of life.  Edward's circumstances place him with a young girl named Abilene, an old couple, a hobo, a sick child, and many of these people grow roots in his heart. The rabbit's adventures are an allegory for all our lives; each chapter could be a Sunday sermon that reminds us to open our hearts to love.  This is the only cure for the heartache that results from loss and sorrow.   Edward is our teacher.



Anthony Horowitz, the author of the Alex Ryder adventures, writes another set called the Diamond Brothers Mysteries.  This particular story, South by Southeast is the fourth one in the series.  Two brothers, Tim and Nick Diamond run a detective agency.  Tim is a loveable, but bungling investigator, while Nick has the brains.  The story reads so much like an old fashioned radio mystery that the reader can almost hear the conventional mystery music.  Take a listen: MYSTERY MUSIC

This particular case takes them to Amsterdam, as well as all over London and parts of England as they try to keep an assassin from killing a Russian diplomat.   Horowitz is the master of pun.



In Peg Kehret's  Abduction, Matt, a six-year-old, is abducted by his biological father from his kindergarten class.  Never having seen his real father before this, Matt is tricked into the car because the man has also stopped by the house and stolen the family dog.  He tells Matt that "Pookie" is hurt and needs to go to the vet.  The rest of the story is the frantic search by Matt's mother and his half-sister, Bonnie, to find Matt.  The story often shifts point of view as Matt is taken from place to place by his psycho father.  Eventually, Bonnie is caught up in the dangerous chase and the two children must use all their wits and courage to escape and survive.



In the first of Mark Williams' series Danger Boy : Ancient Fire, Eli Sands experiences life through time travel.  "Thanks to my dad's experiments, and Mr. Howe's WOMPERS, I wasn't going to move straight through from the beginning of my life to the end of it, like everybody else.  I was going to be twirled around in time and history, like a smoothie in a great big cosmic blender."  His mother, already lost to a different time and space through the experimental lab, is out there somewhere.  Along with his new cosmic friends, a dinosaur and a girl scientist from ancient Greece, Eli searches for his mother, investigates a potential deadly disease, and tries to stay alive. The point of view often switches to the dinosaur-like creature who is much more advanced than humans are.  He is writing a report for a school project and when he describes human beings, he makes us seem kind of silly and petty.



Carl Deuker writes a thriller in this book: Runner. Chance lives with his alcoholic father on a small, run-down sailboat in a marina in Seattle.  He loves his father, but the roles of father-son have been reversed.  He takes care of his father, goes to school, and holds down a part-time job to help pay the bills.  The only enjoyment he has is his pastime--running. When his father loses yet another job and they are going to be evicted from the marina, Chance becomes desperate.  A man at the marina who has been watching Chance offers him a job--$250.00 a week to pick up any packages he might find at a designated spot along the path of Chance's daily run.  He takes the job knowing he is involved in illegal activity.  It goes from bad to worse when the packages begin to contain more than marijuana.  Chance's predicament spirals downward as the goons begin to watch him, his girlfriend and father get suspicious, the fat man who hired him gets murdered, and terrorists get involved.  If you like to read books that will keep you up all night, this one is for you. 



The Newberry Winner for 2006, this book reads like a journal of youth. Lynne Perkins writes about teenagers on the brink of discovery--finding meaning and friendship and love.  They are growing to adulthood.  There are many poignant descriptions, some sad--some funny.  Although the story is very different, I got the same feelings from reading this book that I got from reading The Human Comedy by William Saroyan. There is a story about learning to drive a straight stick that is weaved into the lives of a couple of the characters.  Many students could relate to this experience. 


Based on the Columbine shootings in Colorado a few years ago, Myers' writes a gripping account of interviews, reports and diaries of three fictional characters involved in a school shooting.  This book is for mature readers only and should be read in its entirety to comprehend the theme--violence is never the right course of action. Part of what makes this book compelling is how the interviewers, themselves, spin the story--with their questions, attitudes, patience--or lack of patience.  Getting at the truth takes smart questions and time.  One thing you learn is that there are no simple answers.  Trying to understand how we think is hard -- even for us -- let alone for others.



Time Windows by Kathryn Reiss is ghost story.  Miranda moves with her parents from NYC to a small town in Massachusetts.  Her mother, an obstetrician, and her father, a college professor,  want to get out of the rat race.  They buy an old house on the edge of town-- a house with lots of rooms and an attic.  In the attic is a doll house that is an exact replica of the house they have just moved into.  Miranda immediately discovers that she can see  and hear the families who have lived in the house before.  The families have dark secrets and these dark secrets seem to have a ghostly and ghastly effect on the present family.  Miranda and her new found friend and neighbor, Dan, must dispel the ghosts.



Geraldine McCaughrean writes this historical fiction with such humor, authentic vernacular, and real character that it makes the reader plunge into another time with ease.  I could not stop laughing, and I could not stop reading this book until I had finished.  The story takes place in 1893 in northwest Oklahoma territory.  The settlers are offered money by the railroad company to sell their claims--but they refuse.  In turn, the railroad company says it will not stop in their town of Florence, and so the the plot is built around the residents thinking up ways to get the train to stop.  Most readers will fall in love with the town characters and will not want the story to end.



If you like funny and you like love stories, this is the book for you.  Gary Soto's Accidental Love is a perfect title for a relationship that begins with mixed up cell phones.  The main character, Marissa, is a ninth grader in a tough city high school.  It starts out when she skips school to visit her best friend who is hospitalized due to an car accident.  Alicia has a broken leg, but worse than that, she has a broken heart.  When her boyfriend Roberto crashed into the tree, the glove box came open--and out fell a picture of him with another girl.  Marissa is fighting mad at Roberto for what he has done to her friend--so much so that she pummels him when the elevator in the hospital opens and she sees him. The person she doesn't see, however, is Rene, a rather small, brainy-looking nerd.  It is his cell phone she mistakes for her own during the melee.  Their meeting to exchange cell phones begins the transformation for both of them--what a great story.



Just the cover of this book makes you want to stay up nights reading. It takes place in two time periods. Joshua inherits all these papers and pictures and diaries.  It is his reconstruction of the stuff that tells the story.  Doug and Becca live in the 1920s.  Somehow, they have been separated from their parents and are now sent to have as their guardian--their uncle--a ship captain.  They become entangled in a mystery that is both frightening and exciting.  It will take a determined reader to stick with them.  The book is put together with maps and pull-outs--and you sort of help solve the mystery as you read.  The author is Joshua Mowll.



Cynthia Kadohata writes a story about a family of Japanese ethnicity  living first in Iowa, then Georgia. The story takes place during  the 1950's and is told by Katie, the younger sister.  There is sadness and prejudice in this book as you listen to the story of Katie's family trying to make a living and trying to deal with prejudice.  Katie is just one of those characters who will steal your heart.  She has some of the same emotions other people have when they love their family.  When you are finished with this book, you will probably want to keep a journal of your own life and turn it into a book someday. Kira, Kira won the Newbery Award for 2005.



This is a breath-holder story.  When Skiff's mother died, his father started drinking beer from morning to night.  Skiff's father used to be one of the town's best deep-sea fishermen.  Now, all he does is drink.  The boat and the equipment are falling apart.  Skiff does what he can to save the boat and try to make a living in this fishing village.  As if it is not enough that he checks 200 lobster traps everyday in his small skiff, the town bully sabotages his work.  When Skiff decides to try and harpoon a giant tuna--well--just plan on not putting the book down--because you won't be able to.



Sahara Special is a story about a girl who is labeled Sahara Special by her classmates because she has been part of a learning-disabled classroom.  Things change when,  in the start of the year, the class gets a new teacher, Miss Pointier.  Miss Pointy, as the kids call her, is wacky, wild, and wonderful.  She is one of those people who find the gifts in all of us, even when we don't think we have any gifts.  This is honestly one of the best books I have read.  (Ms. O'Keefe)



Danny is a terrific basketball player; he's fast, smart, and dedicated.  However, he's short.  When he fails to make the 7th grade travel team, he's devastated.  His own father was on the college team that won the national college tournament.  So, his father, who is divorced from his mother, comes back to town and starts a travel team for the boys who were rejected from the other team.  This is one of those great sports stories with all the drama.  Besides the basketball story and its excitement, there is plenty of story associated with the family break up and reunion.



This is a short read.  Owen is fourteen.  One summer after the annual vacation in the East Coast island cabin, Owen hides in the sand dunes and refuses to return home with his parents.  The cabin is going to be razed and replaced by a palatial hotel and resort.  Owen does not want this to happen, and he decides to stay and do what he can to prevent it.  This cabin has been the only place that is home for Owen, as his family has moved from city to city all through his childhood.  Going against his parents and encountering resistance from the locals, Owen sets out to do what he believes is right in his heart.



Will Hobbs knows how to write adventure stories, maybe better than anyone.  Robbie was born in and lives in a boat in the Southeast Alaskan islands.  One summer he leaves his family's boat to find work aboard a sea-going troller. It's his goal to salmon fish long enough to make some cash to help pay for college. Times are tough for fisherman who fish for salmon.  The salmon farming conglomerates have taken over the industry and have caused the price to plummet. Robbie finds a man named Tor Torsen who agrees to take him aboard for the short salmon fishing season.  What follows is one scare after another. Tor isn't just a master sailor and fisherman, he is also  psychotic. He has in his possession three-hundred year old plaques that were planted by a Russian explorer, claiming Alaska as Russian territory.  His quest is to find them all--and he needs Robbie to help him.  There is a savage storm in the Gulf of Alaska that will keep readers hanging on to their chairs as they turn the pages.



Al Capone Does My Shirts is simply superb.  The setting is 1935 Alcatraz Island.  Moose's dad takes a job as electrician and guard at the prison so that Moose's sister, Natalie, will be able to attend a special school in San Francisco.  Although no one knew what autism was then, Natalie's symptoms resemble the disorder. Moose struggles to live the life of a normal 12 year-old boy, but it's not easy.  The family lives in the workers' quarters of the prison. He is often left to care for his sister, whose sudden outbursts and withdrawals are difficult for anyone.  He is befriended by the trouble-making daughter of the warden -- and her schemes often get him in big trouble.  Many famous criminals are housed in this prison, and the kids on the island do a lot of name-dropping in their San Francisco school.  This story has a wonderful mix of truth and fiction--to make it one of the best historical novels available for kids of all ages.



Ida B. Applewood may be only ten years old, but she is wise way beyond her years.  Home-schooled by her parents on an acreage of trees, Ida is a child of nature.  She has none of the self-consciousness and inhibitions often exhibited in other children.  In a way, she is the child in all of us, the child we wanted to be.  She says what is in her heart and her heart is good.  When her mother gets breast cancer, Ida B must go to school in town and her father has to sell off some of the land for developing. She decides to harden her heart.  If you liked Because of Winn-Dixie, you will like this story.



Esperanza Rising is the story of a young girl who lives the life of a rich only child in a beautiful region of central Mexico. Her father is killed by bandits and Esperanza's mother must either marry her evil brother-in-law or lose the property. Instead, the two sneak away in the night with their servants and travel to California to become farm laborers.  This riches to rags reversal occurs during the height of the great Depression.  Esperanza's rising is based on survival and friendships and compassion.



Jasper is the perfect student.  However, when he is  seated between Butch and Spike Couture for the year, his life changes.  Butch and Spike are a bad teacher's nightmare.  Mrs. McNulty is one of those teachers who does not deal well with surprises or flexibility.  Butch and Spike are funny and smart and they are a perfect contrast to Jasper, who is used to doing everything by the book. A  transformation of all three boys comes from the mix--and is not what the teacher had in mind.  If you like stories with nasty teachers, naughty boys, and large doses of humor, this is your book.



An average student when it comes to grades, Therese is extraordinary when it comes to wit and storytelling.  She is assigned to do the coveted Ethan Allen report, but since she doesn't like "research," she spends little time looking for accurate information.  Therese is from a family of French farmers whose ancestors settled in this area of northern Vermont.  The story brings together the clash of educated versus uneducated people and city-folk versus country-folk.  The main character, Therese, is an example of an adolescent who has this conflict in her own character.  She is embarrassed by her family at the same time she is proud of them.  She is aware that learning is important, but she is not sure why.  All of these conflicts are sure to be familiar to most teenagers.  The book is also a gut-wrenchingly humorous.



When three foster children become a problem for Father Matt's wife, they are sent with his disabled sister and his uncaring housekeeper to a summer cabin.  The housekeeper absconds with all the money, and the children and the sister must figure out a way to survive.  If they admit to Father Matt that they are in trouble, the children will be separated, and Mrs. Bradshaw, the sister, will not be allowed the freedom she needs to rehabilitate.  Together, with resourcefulness and courage, the four characters, who have been neglected and mistreated form a bond to create their own family.



For the reader who likes adventure, this is the book.  The ingredients include: a group of boys, summertime, a rookie Willie Mays baseball card, an abandoned mine, a plan to determine who gets the baseball card, and all the foils that go into any plot worth its salt.  The main character of Patneaude's story, The Last Man's Reward, must overcome a number of obstacles, some of them dangerous.



Weirdo's War by Michael Coleman is a page-turning survival story. The main character, Daniel, is a mathematical genius.  He is also a loner.  When his father forces him to go on a wilderness school trip with his bully P.E. teacher, he doesn't expect to have fun.  However, the experience is worse than he could ever have imagined.  He is teamed up with other bullies who do their best to humiliate him anyway they can.  This is a story that pits brains against brawn.  The twists and turns leading to its conclusion are frightening and surprising.



The Broccoli Tapes by Jan Slepian takes place during a spring semester in Hawaii.  Sara and her family move to the largest island from Boston, while their professor father is taking a sabbatical.  Living on a finger shaped peninsula formed from volcanic ash, Sara and her brother find the move a difficult adjustment.  While exploring the lava rock formations, they rescue a wild cat and begin to feed it.  Meanwhile, Sara is recording a living history project for her class back in Massachusetts.  Since her father is allergic to cats, they must keep this a secret--and thus begins their adventure.  Their dying Grandmother and their new friend, Eddie Nutt, add conflict, confusion, and depth to their lives.



This is a feel good book.  Granny comes over to her granddaughter's house every Saturday to cook with her.  These Saturday cooking sessions become the format for storytelling and counseling.  Rosie, who is very much like her grandma in temperament, can be read by her grandma like a book.  Rosie is going through all the normal growing up things--best friends, jealousy, confusion, extreme highs and lows in her feelings.  Grandma recognizes these looks and words and begins to tell Rosie stories about her own childhood and about her own growing up.   Bailey, who is Rosie's best friend--and a boy--is involved in much of the cooking and counseling.  Grandma's stories are poignant and often funny, too.  Slowly, Rosie begins to see the connection.  The reader feels the power of families and their stories.



Another exciting deep-sea fishing story, the main character, Robbie, learns from his step-father.  He not only learns how to be a superior first-mate, but he also learns how life and problems are not simply black and white.  Running a charter deep-sea fishing business sounds like fun, but Robbie and his step-dad have to contend with customers who aren't always the best of people.  The catching of marlin and dolphin are some of the most exciting parts of the book.  Did you know that once a beautiful fish is taken -- that its brilliant colors begin to fade as the life goes out of it?



This story is a page-turner.  Bobby Marks is fifteen and weighs over200 pounds.  He spends summers at the lake with his family, and he is too embarrassed to be seen in a swimming suit. He has been made fun of for most of his life.  In this coming of age novel that takes place in the 1950's, Bobby deals with dangerous bullies and  prejudice. With dogged determination and a sense of humor, Bobby Marks learns to stand up for himself and find self-esteem.  



The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer takes place in the future, probably about 200 years out.  The main character is Matt, a clone.  The book could be read by a competent 5th grader, but it could also be enjoyed by a 99 year old.  Although the story is full of complexities, the plot and action could satisfy the most reluctant readers. The author raises many ethical, spiritual, and philosophical questions about cloning.  For example: Who are the parents? Do clones have souls? How should clones be treated?



Sparrow Hawk Red by Ben Mikaelsen is a riveting adventure/mystery.  It takes place in southern Arizona.  The main character, Ricky Diaz, is the only child of his pilot father.  His mother has been killed in a car accident--or so he thinks.  One day he hears the real story--and he is determined to "fix" things.  He sneaks into Mexico to avenge his mother's murder.  Not only does he learn about the dangers of spying on drug dealers, but he also learns about the injustices inflicted on the homeless and needy.



This 2003 Newbery Award Winner, Crispin, is set in medieval England in the 14th century. Accused of a crime he didn't commit, the thirteen year old orphan is forced to flee his village.  Staying alive during this ordeal is an arduous task, but recognizing truth and happiness in the process involves the miraculous.



If you liked the movie Back to the Future, then this book is for you. To prevent his mother's death, Jack travels back in time to the 1940s, only to find a love that can never be. This story is an intricate weaving of the past and present.  One of the most interesting themes has to do with fate:  Are human beings predestined to live and die according to a set plan, or do we have some control over the direction our lives take? Is there any such thing as fate?



In the middle of the 1800's, the potato blight in Ireland caused many to emigrate to America.  One night, Nory is awakened by an awful smell that comes wafting in through the open doors and windows. Her grandfather instantly recognizes the smell of rot from the potato fields --- the potatoes are rotting while still in the ground. Even Nory knows what that means: They may actually starve to death. So begins Nory's struggle to stay alive.



Elliott's  story is woven together with vivid historical details from World War II, appropriate for adolescents who seek suspense-filled adventures. Henry's B-24 is shot down over Nazi Germany in 1944.  His escape is one narrow one after another, as he is helped by the French Underground to find safety.  The courage of the French Underground and the good they did during WWII are a main part of this book's revelation.



A Girl Named Disaster is a wonderful story that takes place in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Nhamo, the protagonist, is a young girl who is being forced to marry an older man who already has three wives.  With her wise grandmother's help, she escapes the village and goes in search of her biological father. This is a challenging read for a student who is looking for excitement and adventure. 



When LaMarr's mother flies off with her boyfriend pilot and doesn't return, LaMarr is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in the deep South.  Her immense loss and loneliness force her to put the pieces of her life together and to look at people differently.  Anyone who has ever suffered loss and change would find this book highly appealing.



Although Patrick Henry was a famous statesman and contributed much to our country's founding, his home life was very sad.  His wife, Sarah, became mentally ill after the birth of her youngest son, Edward.  Rather than commit her to an asylum where the conditions were deplorable, the family kept her locked up at home.  This story is told from the point of view of the two oldest daughters and is compelling in every way.



Winner of the Coretta Scott King award for tolerance building, this is a marvelous set of portraits about kids in the inner city.  Not only do we get to know about them and their lives, they get to know more about each other.  A creative English teacher assigns poetry writing to be read on Fridays during open mike poetry jams.  It is hard to believe this is fiction--the author, Nikki Grimes, makes the characters believable and worthy.



Ben has a summer job on Martha's Vineyard as a first mate on a charter boat.  On the first day of work, he spies a brand new Porsche under water near the dock.  The car belongs to a wealthy tourist who is missing, and the police suspect drugs are involved in his disappearance.  The plot thickens as Ben gets involved with a local juvenile and finds himself in the middle of a dangerous situation. 



Alex Ryder is the teenage James Bond of fiction.  This is the third book in the series, and each one and each chapter is full of riveting exploits and narrow escapes.  This one includes illegal nuclear weapons, Chinese gangs, and the Wimbledon Tennis tournament.  Most creative are the gadgets that Alex has at his disposal to help him escape or gather evidence.



Here is a short read, written all in poetry.  The narrator, Jack, is a young boy who is grieving over his dog's death.  Sharon Creech masterfully weaves the  poetry of some well-known poets into the fabric and ideas of this very touching story.



Will Hobbs is once again a champion of the environment.  This story is set in modern day Seattle.  Cody and Shannon have come to stay with their uncle who works for a wild life rescue operation. One time, they must get a trapped coyote out of an elevator in the middle of the city.  This and many of the rescues raises all sorts of ethical and philosophical questions about why so many animals are out of their habitat. Rapid City kids can relate--we just had a moose wander into our city limits this fall.  The pain, suffering, and eventual recovery of the animals parallels that of some of the characters, too.  This is a marvelous story.



Howard travels with his father in 1916 back to his father's boyhood home in southwestern Illinois. The main story, however, comes in the form of a flashback, starting in chapter two.  The boy's grandmother reveals the family's history. Tilly Pruitt lived in the small Mississippi River town of Grand Tower along with her brother Noah, her frail little sister Cass, and their mother. One day, their town is turned on end when two mysterious young ladies step off the riverboat. Tilly's mom, in need of money,  invites them to stay at their home.  The mystery surrounding these girls, the mean-spirited townspeople, the ensuing horrors of the Civil War--all this and more make The River Between Us another Peck spectacular.



This book is hilarious.  Jake Semple exemplifies the middle school kid who rebels against authority and seeks attention by spiking his hair, piercing every part of his body, and getting kicked out of every school he goes to.  However, he meets his match in attention-getting when he is sent to stay with the Applewhites.  Here is a family of such creative genius and talent that they basically lack common sense.  Only E.D., the middle child, is blessed with organizational skills, and Jake is assigned to home school right along with her.  Life is always at full throttle in this family of writers, artists, dancers, directors. For laughs and great story-telling, Surviving the Applewhites is the book. 



Jake is left with his dad's dog after his dad's funeral.  However, Jake doesn't like this wolf hound as much as his father had.  Instead of calling him Jim Amigo, Jake calls the dog Jim Ugly.  Known for its tracking ability, the dog keeps looking for his master and takes off.  For a variety of reasons, Jake doesn't believe his dad was in that casket and he takes off to follow the dog.  This is a western. It is replete with bounty hunters, guns, saloons, and the wild west. It is also a story for dog lovers. Tune in to see how the trust builds between Jake and his dog.



Qwerty Stevens forgets to write a history report due in one hour. By using his Anytime Anywhere time travel machine, 13-year-old Qwerty goes back in time, meets Benjamin Franklin, and finds out about the American Revolution. However, even in such fantasy, complications arise -- a curious teacher, a crazy man who wants to steal the time travel machine, and Ben Franklin sitting on Qwerty's bed -- are just a few of the problems.  This is humorous, as well as an interesting way of learning a great deal about revolutionary America.



Ella Enchanted is a wonderful fantasy about a girl, Ella, who has been cursed since birth.  She must obey every command given to her.  Ella's mother tells Ella that she must tell no one about the curse because it will be used against her.  In Cinderella fashion, Ella's mother dies and her father marries a wicked woman with wicked daughters.  They figure out that Ella can be commanded, and her life becomes miserable.  Amidst love for the prince and dangers everywhere, Ella sets out to find the fairy who cursed her and have her undo the fate.  This story has a fascinating and exciting plot, but even better, the theme of how we affect our own decisions and fate gives the story depth and merit.



Eleven year old Alma lives in an Hispanic neighborhood in the Southwest.  With a mother working two jobs, a teenage sister with a baby, and a brother who is in a gang, Alma has to search hard to find happiness.  She loves music and spends her time listening to the radio and is crushed when the rock star she idolizes, Jovita, is killed in a drive-by shooting.  To escape the harsh reality of her household, she begins to sneak into the neighbor lady's house.  Mrs. B is a music teacher and has many C.D.s and musical instruments.  When her brother and his gang follow her into the house and burglarize the place, Alma calls the police. This is a book of breathless events.  Readers are easily absorbed in the story and want for Alma to succeed.



The 2004 Newbery Award winner, The Tale of Despereaux is the epitome of fairy tales, complete with hero, villain, princess, love and forgiveness.  One of the book's attributes is the narrator, who frequently talks directly to the reader and inserts her humor, as well as her two cents worth. This is an easy read for children, but is also chock full of symbol and allegory for the reader who needs more complexity.  Recommended for children from six to ninety-six.



This book is delightful.  It has all of the attributes of the kind of books we look for: humor, pathos, friendliness, nostalgia, love, conflict, excitement, hope, heartbreak, and experience we can all relate to.  It is easy to read, yet rich in thought.  Most everyone who reads this little book gives it top rating.  The narrator, India Opal Buloni, goes to the Winn-Dixie grocery store and brings home a stray dog.  She names him after the store, and Winn-Dixie affects everyone he meets in this summer of fun.



If you like Harry Potter books, then most likely this book will suit you. The author deftly mixes fantasy with reality so that the reader is drawn easily into the suspense.  Anand, a 12-year old,  lives with his mother and disabled sister in one of the poorest sections of Calcutta.  His father has abandoned the family, and they have gone from a well-off life style to one that has them scraping for sustenance.  One day, Anand is kind to a beggar.  The man (a seer) follows him home.  Because he is compassionate, Anand has been chosen by a brotherhood in the Himalayas to return the spiritual /mystical conch.  Together, Anand and the seer begin their journey.  The journey is one quest after another--full of peril and joy.



 In Rebel we meet a young girl who has been marching to a different drummer since the day she was born. Almost six feet tall at the age of fourteen, Amanda, named Rebel by her family, does not fit the mold her parents would like her to.  Instead of going to Europe with her family, Rebel stays home to help her grandma fix up a rooming house near the University of Washington.  Her grandmother's friend's grandson also helps.  Moses is also cut from a different cloth, and he does not want  to be a lawyer like his parents want.  Instead, he is interested in filmography.  He carries his video camera everywhere.  One day, when the two are out for a walk, they film a hold-up at a convenience store.  When the thief drops his billfold, they pick it up.  It has no identification, but the twenty dollar bill inside turns out to be counterfeit.  The two of them set out to solve the crime and end up in a precarious situation when the criminals begin breaking into the boarding house to retrieve the evidence.



Minuk is one of the series:  Girls of Many Lands.  Published by American Girl, these are historical fiction written in a kind of documentary style.  Minuk and her sister are fascinated by the new white missionaries who have come to their village in Alaska.  They possess modern conveniences--like wood stoves.  Minuk is a quick learner and soon picks up English.  Although the missionaries are modern and seem to want to help the natives learn about medicine and health, they are not very tolerant of the Yup'ik beliefs.



Hattie, 12 years old, doesn't know she has an uncle.  One day her parents and grandparents sit her down and tell her that her uncle Adam is coming home. Returning from a  school that's just closed and whose existence is kept quiet by adult family members, Adam is a 21-year-old man with a child's mind and a passion for I Love Lucy. He can repeat every episode word for word.  Hattie is upset with her parents and grandparents for not telling her about Adam.   She turns out to be very good with him, and she ignores the taunts of her schoolmates as she takes Adam around town during the summer break.  Anyone who has ever lived with and helped care for a special needs person will love this book--full of heartbreak and promise. 




Ten year-old Willow Jones and her little brother are left by their drug-addicted mother for the weekend.  She doesn't return, and the old woman they are staying with dies.  Willow's brother, Twig, was born a crack baby, and Willow is the only one who takes care of him.  In desperation, she reads through some old papers and finds her grandmother's name. With determination not to be separated from her brother by social services--and her encouraging inner voice, a character named Red Mouse, Willow gets in touch with her grandmother and the two children fly from Vancouver to Ontario to meet relatives that they do not know. This is a very engaging story about a courageous young girl and her disabled little brother.




Gossip and slander are familiar occurrences to almost everyone, even to gossipers and slanderers.  The protagonist of this story, Bird (Burdette) is a wide-eyed optimist, as well as a disliked 7th grader.  When another misfit moves to town, Bird attempts to befriend him.  Harlem is shunned by his classmates because they think he is dumb.  Bird has to overcome some of her own prejudices to find out what Harlem is really like. Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia is a fast and delightful read.



Everything that Richard Peck writes turns to gold.  Fair Weather is a delightful story set in Illinois in 1893, the year of the Chicago World's Fair.  The narrator, 13 year old Rosie, and her family live on a farm in Christian County, Illinois.  Anyone who has ever lived or worked on a farm will appreciate the authenticity. They receive an invite from their estranged aunt from Chicago, inviting them to come to the world's fair.  Grandpa, a rascal of a character,  goes along with the grandchildren  as a chaperone.  This contrast of poor, honest, bumbling country folk with the glitzy, putting-on-airs city folk makes for much hilarity.



A Long Way From Chicago is about two kids from Chicago, Joey and Mary Alice, who visit their grandmother every August--in her small country town.  She is the epitome of the eccentric relative, the one who can embarrass you to death but can redeem herself in a minute with her heart of gold. The novel is set up so that each chapter is its own short story. In the very first chapter, Grandma gives a comeuppance to a nosy reporter and a gossipy local woman. Every chapter is fun and funny.



Winner of the 2001 Newbery Award, A Year Down Yonder is a sequel to A Long Way From Chicago.  Mary Alice is now a teenager.  Because of the depression and hard times, her parents send her to Grandma's to live and go to school.  Hard times in small towns show up faster than they do in cities. Yet, the survival skills of the residents surpass those of their city counterparts in many ways.  Grandma is still eccentric, full of energy, embarrassing, and hilarious. Those eccentricities bother Mary Alice at first, but she eventually sees  through these quirks and oddities--and comes to love her grandma.



This 2000 Newbery Winner by Christopher Paul Curtis is perfect for reluctant readers of any age.  The story takes place during the depression of the 1930's.  Bud lives in an orphanage, where boys are often farmed out to foster families.  His last experience with a mean foster family who lock him in a cold and dark shed to sleep is the last straw.  He decides to run away and find his father.  The only possessions he has are posters of a jazz band that he has been carrying around since his mother's death.  He believes the band leader is his dad. His journey to find his father leads him across Michigan in dangerous times.  This is a sensitive and compelling page-turner.



The Watsons Go to Birmingham is an absolute treasure of a story. The year is 1963 and the Watsons, an African American family, live in Flint Michigan. Narrated by the 10 year old son, Keith,  the descriptions of the 13 year old son, Byron, and the little sister, Joetta, are hilarious.  Byron's attitude and behavior will make anyone who knows a typical 13 year old laugh and cry.  The parents are funny, too, and like parents of many teenagers--worried about Byron's direction.  To teach him that his life is not as bad as he thinks it is here in Michigan, the Watsons decide to drive him down to Birmingham, Alabama to spend the summer with his grandma.  At the height of the civil rights movement, Alabama is a frightening place.  This is a book that never gets tiring and can be read over and over.



Searching for David's Heart requires the reader to bring a box of tissue.  This is a gripping story about a girl whose brother is run over by a car.  Darcy blames herself for her brother's accident. When her parents agree to give his organs for transplant, Darcy and her best friend, Sam, set out to find the person who received his heart. Although that describes the plot line, there is much more to the book that engages readers:  friendship, parenting, death and dying, homelessness, social justice.



This 1973 Newbery winner is still a favorite for most any teenager.  Julie, or Miyax--her Eskimo name, is strongly influenced by her father's traditional ways.  She is taken away from him and sent to live with her aunt. She is betrothed at the age of 13  and runs away, trying to get to San Francisco, home of her pen pal.  However, she gets lost on the frozen  tundra of the Arctic. Because of her early training in all aspects of dealing with nature, Miyax encounters a pack of wolves and learns how to communicate with them.  She becomes a member of their family, and because of this, they help her survive.  It is the surprising climax of this story that makes it memorable.



Abbie stands behind the tree and watches as her dad leaves his girlfriend's apartment.  Angered by her father's abandonment of the family, she throws rocks and breaks the windows.  Of course she is caught and sentenced to community service in lieu of a record or reform school.  Her assignment is to be the companion of an elderly woman, helping the lady in any way she needs help. Mrs. Merkel, however, is not your average elderly lady.  Cantankerous is the best of her descriptions.  She likes to solve crimes, and she is more than a busy-body.  She actually makes Abbie drive her around to spy on people.  This exciting book turns into a page-turning mystery thriller, complete with murder, attempted murder, and robbery.



Mary Downing Hahn's historical fiction Promises to the Dead takes place during the beginning of the Civil War in Maryland.  Because it is a border state, the impact of this war seems even worse than in states whose sympathies lie with one side or the other.  Jesse, a white boy,  finds Lydia, a slave, giving birth in the woods.  Lydia dies in childbirth, her baby dies, and she makes Jesse promise to take her seven year old son, Perry,  to his aunt in Baltimore.  Perry has been fathered by Lydia's white owner. This sets off a chain of frightening events and escapes.  Jesse, only twelve himself, must deal with danger and conflicting feelings about white people and their view of slavery.



Hazel is the daughter of a physicist who is called to Los Alamos in 1943 to work on the development of the atomic bomb.  The entire community on the Hill, as it is called, is composed of scientists, their families, and others commissioned to do this secret work. No one in the community is allowed to talk about the work, and only the men who work in the tech area really know what is going on.  Hazel is smart, however, and very curious.  She is always asking questions.  Her mother, too, is not only aware of what is going on, but she is also what we would refer to now days as a conscientious objector.  She falls into a deep depression because she knows that the work will result in a deadly bomb that will kill innocent human beings.  During her stay there, Hazel meets and makes friends with memorable characters.  Her life and the lives of all the people who lived there were forever changed by their experience.  Where the Ground Meets the Sky by Jacqueline Davies  is historical fiction at its best.



Wow!  This is one of those page-turning thrillers that mystery lovers are looking for.  I recommend this book for better than average readers because the number of characters, the dialect of 19th century England, and the intricate plot make for a challenging read.  However, if you are often bored by banal, predictable writing, try this.  Phillip Pullman begins his story just like this:  She was a person of sixteen or so--alone, and uncommonly pretty.  She was slender and pale, and dressed in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked back a straying twist of blond hair that the wind had teased loose.  She had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair.  Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.



On her twelfth birthday, Tulip changes her name to Hope.  Her mother left her with her Aunt Addie when she was a baby.  She and her aunt have lived in several states--her aunt working as a cook and Hope as a waitress.  Whenever they leave a place, Hope always writes Hope was Here. Hope longs to find her father and longs to stay in a place long enough to grow roots.  However, Hope and Aunt Addie must go where there is a job.  This latest move to Mulhoney, Wisconsin from Brooklyn is a tough one.  Hope must leave behind some good friends and the city for which she had grown quite fond.  However, this small Wisconsin town turns out to be the setting of quite a story. There is romance, mystery, heartache, love, friendship,  politics, and all the stuff that make life worth living. Joan Bauer is superb at metaphor and simile--making the art of waitressing and cooking parallel the hospitality of life.



Hayley Cox accompanies her brother's girlfriend, Annie, to Siberia to see where her brother, John Cox,  died.  However, Annie doesn't believe that John is dead.  Even though she is in a wheel chair and unable to walk, Annie is full of grit and determination to get to the bottom of the mystery.  They both end up in the midst of a mafia plot that puts them and everyone who helps them in the path of danger.  At the same time the girls are looking for John, he is struggling to find his own path to safety and freedom.  Although the story's plot is highly exciting, the sophisticated reader will find much more.  The sacrifice some people make to help others is phenomenal.



Mick Harte Was Here is an easy to read story that causes an equal amount of tears and laughter.  Told from the point of view of Mick's sister, Phoebe, the story journals her brother's death and the family's efforts to cope with their grief.   Phoebe says, ...it hit me that we were way in over our heads.  This was one of those tragedies that needed a family that knew what it was doing.  Like the Kennedys or the Queen of England and her whole bunch.  It's when Phoebe finally realizes that forgetting about her brother is not what she has to do.  Instead, what she and her family have to do is remember everything about him.  Her recollections of this amazing kid are wonderful. 



Gerald is left alone by his drug addict mother when he is only three years old.  He plays with a lighter, starts and fire and barely escapes death.  Gerald's aunt is given custody, and for the first time in his life, he finds love and security.  However, when he is nine, his aunt dies and Gerald is forced to go live with his mother, sister, and step-father.  Supposedly his mother has turned over a new leaf. However, she hasn't.   He loves his sister, and he tries to protect her from the abusive step-father.  His battles seem to never end, but Gerald is a remarkable kid, centered with what is right in life.  This book is a hard look at the realities of kids who suffer from abuse.  It gives phone numbers at the end for readers who might want help or more information about domestic abuse.



Matthew Morgan and his geologist father move to an Eskimo village in the Arctic Circle.  His father is bent on exploring and finding copper deposits in the frozen north--deposits that will make him a rich man.  When he sets off on an expedition and doesn't come back, Matt and his Eskimo friend, Kayak, take off on a snowmobile to find him.  The temperature is forty degrees below zero, the wind is vicious, and the terrain is frozen sea that juts up in dangerous ridges and wide cracks.  Their gas spills, they are forced to walk, they run into a polar bear, they have near death experiences throughout the adventure. Matthew has been educated in Arizona and at first thinks Kayak is ignorant.  However, it is Kayak's knowledge and understanding of Arctic nature that keeps them alive.  Matthew begins to see that there is more to life than making money.


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