Saturday, December 17, 2011


By Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Steampunk/science fiction/adventure
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

We finish the Leviathan trilogy in this book, so everything has to come out.  Alek and Deryn are back aboard the Leviathan after their successful aid in the revolution in the Ottoman Empire.  Now, flying over Russia, the Leviathan rescues the one and only Nikola Tesla and his crew.  Tesla claims to created a weapon called Goliath that is so powerful, it will be able to end the entire war.  Alek can't help but be drawn in by this idea--if Tesla truly has a weapon with such power and if Alek helps him, then perhaps he really CAN end this horrible world war.  Deryn has her doubts, but even worse, she is finally pushed into a corner when Alek figures out that his best friend is not only a girl, but a girl with feelings for him.  But how can a peasant hope to love a crown prince?  While Deryn hides her secret for as long as she can from the rest of the world, the Leviathan travels across the world to the United States and to Tesla's great weapon.  But can there possibly be a happy ending with so much at stake?  Readers will be eager to see how the story turns out and no one will be disappointed.  A fabulous trilogy.

The Scorpio Races

By Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Fantasy (sort of--very realistic)
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

We begin on the island of Thisby which is unique in that it has the capall uisce--a predatory horse that can live on both land and in the ocean.  These horses are captured each year from the sea to compete in the Scorpio Races down the beach, where the call of the ocean and the wild nature of the horses causes both horses and men to regularly die.  Sean Kendrick's own father died in the races, but no one loves the capall uisce as much as he or has won as many races, especially when he rides the red stallion, Corr.  Sean keeps to himself, yearning only to earn enough money to own Corr outright from his employer, Benjamin Malvern.  But Sean's solitude is broken by Puck, the first girl who tries to ride in the races on her own mare, Dove.  Puck is driven to try and win the race to save the family house and farm, as it is left in danger since her parents were killed in a boating accident.  When Puck and Sean meet, both are attracted to one another.  But both of them also need to win the race if they are to get what they need.   There can be only one winner in the most dangerous horse race...who will survive?  Well-written, the story is told in alternating turns by both Puck and Sean, and you can almost feel the gritty sand, can feel the power and danger of the horses, and can visualize the island folk.  A little bit scary, a little bit intense, but all wonderful, wonderful.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


By Veronica Roth
Genre: Science fiction (Dystopia)
Rating: 4 stars

In a future ruined world of Chicago, people have separated into 5 factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (always tell the truth), Amity (tolerant), Erudite (the smart ones), and Dauntless (the brave, army-like ones).  At the age of 16, you are tested and then allowed to choose your faction.  Although most get results for their own faction, Beatrice's results are inconclusive, meaning she is "divergent."  Her tester is alarmed and promises to cover up the results, although she doesn't explain why being divergent is bad.  To everyone's surprise, Beatrice (now Tris) chooses Dauntless as her new faction, and is soon thrown into harsh physical training as an initiate.  But then her mother visits and warns her about being divergent.  And Tris also overhears some other disturbing talk of divergents. What is so wrong with being one?  And why can no one ever find out?  As Tris struggles through training, she also makes friends for the first time and puts her toe into the waters of romance.  But the rumors around divergents don't go away--will Tris survive training to become a true Dauntless?  This is a very compelling story that will draw fans of books like The Hunger Games in.  It moves a bit more slowly than that, but readers will stick with it until the end to find out what happens. 

Monday, September 26, 2011


By Gary D. Schmidt
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Henry Smith lives in an old house on the North Shore of Massachusetts in a small town.  His family has been there for generations, and his brother Franklin and sister Louisa attend the prep school in town and do all the proper things a Smith should do.  Then one night, the unthinkable happens--Franklin, the one with a future so bright, is hit by a pick up truck driven by Chay Chuoan, a Cambodian immigrant student who fell asleep at the wheel.  Franklin's accident reverbrates throughout the small community, fanning fires of hatred and resentment towards the nearby Cambodian immigrants.  Henry's family, meanwhile, falls apart--his parents and sister are barely able to function, and Henry is only able to survive when he rescues a starving black dog from the ocean and takes her in.  The family is even more at a loss when Chay gets a very light sentence.  One more thing keeps Henry going--he and Franklin had been planning to climb Maine's Mount Katahdin and Henry latches onto the idea of hiking it on his own for the sake of his brother.  So it is that Henry, his best friend Sanborn and Black Dog all sneak out one night to get to the mountain to climb it...but they find help in an unlikely source.  And the help they find makes Henry see everything differently because there is never just one side to any story.  A fabulous tale of breaking apart and coming back together and seeing the world as a whole, both good and bad.  Wonderful. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


by Jack Ferraiolo
Genre: Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 stars

Do you like action?  Superheroes?  Humor?  A bit of romance?  Then you are in for a treat.  Meet Bright Boy (AKA Scott Hutchinson), the sidekick for Phantom Justice.  There are plenty of superheroes, both good and bad, in the world--they can either have super strength, super speed, or super intelligence.  On rare occasions, some have two attributes, and are called plus/plusses.  Both Phantom Justice (AKA Trent) and Bright Boy have super strength and speed.  Scott has been raised by Trent since he was found in an orphanage at the age of 6.  But now that he is a young teen, Scott is a bit embarrassed by his colorful clinging tights.  Then, Scott accidentally finds out the secret identity of Monkeywrench, the sidekick of arch nemesis Dr. Chaotic, and Monkeywrench finds out his identity, too.  Shockingly, they go to school together.  Now everything changes as Scott is forced to look at being a superhero completely differently.  Even more disturbing, Trent seems to be growing more rigid and angry, especially as Scott begins to break out of his nerdy shell.  And there are evil plans afoot!  Where will our sidekick end up?  The plot is fast-paced and there is even room for a jump in and enjoy!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Relic Master: The Dark City

By Catherine Fisher
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

In this interesting beginning to the Relic Master series, 16 year old Raffi is an apprentice to Galen of the old Order--a group with some mystical powers who are able to manipulate certain old relics from times past.  The Order is now hunted mercilessly down by the Watch, a brutal army-like organization, although most villagers still support the Order in secret.  Carys is one of the Watch, acting as a spy, trying to bring in Galen dead or alive.  But when she finally makes contact, she is surprised to find that the "tricks" the Watch told her about have roots in truth.  And as Galen and Raffi work their way towards the ruined city of Tasceron to try and find salvation for Galen's lost powers, Carys joins their quest.  Can the unlikely trio find what they are looking for?  A great, fascinating beginning to the series.  Readers will want to move onto book 2, The Lost Heiress.  You may also want to check out Catherine Fisher's other excellent series, including Snow-Walker, Incarceron and the Oracle Prophecies.


By Donna Jo Napoli
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fairy tale retelling
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Xing Xing's father is dead, and Xing Xing is now basically a servant in her own Chinese cave home to her stepmother and stepsister Wei Ping.  The whole goal of her stepmother is marry off her daughter well so that the rest of them will be taken care of and to that end, Wei Ping's feet have been bound in the traditional way to help make her walk in that desirable way.  As Wei Ping suffers the pain of bound feet, Xing Xing's only joy is the beautiful fish that lives in the nearby spring that comes to her when she calls.  Xing Xing believes it is her mother's spirit, helping her.  When Stepmother sends Xing Xing off on a journey to sell nuts to a doctor, for the first time she begins to find a little independence and self-reliance.  And slowly, Xing Xing realizes she may be worth more than the nothing she was always taught she was.  A Cinderella tale set in China during the Ming dynasty which will hold readers with its very different setting.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Okay for Now

By Gary D. Schmidt
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 stars

If you haven't read The Wednesday Wars by this author, that's okay, you don't need to for this book to make sense, but I recommend it highly.  In this story, Doug Swieteck is forced to move with his family up to nowheresville Maryville, New York in the summer of 1968 to a house Doug quickly names "The Dump."  Both his father and older brother are abusive, and Doug feels like the whole town is going to label him a stupid thug, too.  Then he wanders into the local library and sees a painting that changes his life.  It is of an Arctic Tern and it is an original plate by the famous Audubon.  Doug is fascinated, and although drawing is stupid, he can't resist when Mr. Powell the librarian begins to teach him how to draw.  And although every time it seems like something is looking up for Doug, something bad happens, still, life begins to balance out a bit more.  Then his older brother Lucas comes back from Vietnam, missing his legs.  And everything goes bad one more time.  But if there is one thing Doug begins to learn, it is if you don't want to be a chump, you have to be the one who makes the effort to change how people see you.  This is a fantastic story and readers will be hard put to not fall hard for the wonderful character of Doug and all he goes through to come out the other side.  Wonderful, through and through.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Running Dream

By Wendelin Van Draanen
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Sixteen year old Jessica is a star runner on the track team.  Then the unthinkable happens--an accident with their bus on the way home from a meet causes the death of one teammate and Jessica loses a leg.  When running is the core of who you are, how do you even think about going on?  But go on, she must.  Jessica works her way through the many stages of recovery, and very very slowly, as she finally gets a prosthetic leg, starts to feel a tad bit better about herself.  Then her coach shows her a video of people actually competing with special prosthetic legs.  Jessica is excited until she realizes the price tag of such a leg is $20,000.  How can she focus on that when her own family is struggling to pay the medical bills?  But each time Jessica wants to despair, she finds another reason to hope, especially when a new friend in the form of Rosa, a girl with cerebral palsy enters the scene.  Readers will be moved by Jessica's struggles and may even shed a tear or two at the end of the book.  Fans may want to read a similar comeback story in Izzy Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voigt.  Good stuff, striking all the right notes.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Daughter of Xanadu

By Dori Jones Yang
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Emmajin is a Mongol princess, the granddaughter of the great Khan who has helped to take over much of the known world, including nearly all of China.  While many Mongol women are now used to the easy life of court, Emmajin would rather become a soldier like her cousin Suren.  She can shoot arrows from horseback better than almost anyone, man or woman, and wishes she could join the army and help expand their glorious empire.  But the odds of the Khan allowing a woman in the army is remote.  Instead, Emmajin continues to sabotage any attempts by her family to marry her off, much to her younger sister’s dismay.  There are many foreigners at court, and the Khan decides to have his grandchildren befriend them to try and gather intelligence about their countries and see which would be the most likely for the Mongol Empire to conquer next.  Emmajin is assigned to the famous Marco Polo and his uncle and father.  At first Emmajin is standoffish and severe, but Marco’s easy manners begin to charm her and her thoughts about the rightness of the Mongols takeover of the world wavers the longer she spends in his company.  When Marco unwittingly trusts her with some vital information that could influence an attack on Christendom, does Emmajin remain loyal to the Khan and get the place in the army as she has always desired?  Or does she follow her heart which bends more and more towards Marco?  This well-written story is all the more interesting for being told from the first person view of the Mongols.  While a few of the twists and turns may be guessed at by a savvy reader, most of us will just follow along, fascinated by details in the story and by Emmajin’s conflicted emotions.  A thoroughly enjoyable tale with a historical note in the forward as well as a helpful map to help us sort fact from fiction.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Alice in Charge

By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Rating: 4 stars

Alice is back in her 25th book and she's finally a senior!  As she takes on her last year in high school, she is feeling overwhelmed.  Not only is she Features editor of the school paper, The Edge, but she is also tapped to be part of the new Student Jury to pass judgement on crimes by students.  Add to that the pressure of visiting and applying to colleges, missing her boyfriend Patrick away at college in Chicago and doing her normal schoolwork, and Alice is a blur of busy-ness.  Then things become even more complicated when the new student from Sudan, Daniel, gets a Nazi hate symbol placed in his locker.  Some other signs of a supremist group pop up as well--who are these kids?  And when Alice gets a piece of hate herself for going to the dance with Daniel, she knows they need to do SOMEthing at the school to get a dialogue going.  She finds herself worried about other issues as her school year moves along, like whether or not she should go to college close or somewhere far away, and whether or not the substitute teacher Mr. Granger is being inappropriate with students.  As always, there is plenty of laughter mixed in with Alice's family and friends, and readers will enjoy the funny parts right along with the more serious moments.  Another solid installment in the series, and fans will look forward to the next book about the second half of her senior year.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Cardturner

By Louis Sachar
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Alton's rich Uncle Lester is a bit of recluse.  The last time Alton actually saw him, he was only 6 years old.  His parents call him every week, hoping to stay on his good side so that when he dies, he'll leave them some of his millions.  Then Alton gets a summer job--turning cards for his uncle when he plays bridge at his club.  Part of the illness his uncle suffers from has left him blind and he needs someone to tell him what cards are in his hand and to turn them for him as directed.  Alton has no choice but to take the job from Trapp (what everyone else calls his uncle).  At first, Alton has no clue how to play bridge and suffers the rudeness of his uncle's comments, but he becomes more and more drawn into it, especially when pretty Toni gets involved, too.  But Alton has to contend with his friend Cliff's attentions to Toni as well.  Trapp has decided to make one more try at the National Tournament but then something unexpected happens.  Can Alton take up from where Trapp has left off?  This is a great story, filled with lots of information about bridge but more about love, life and what happiness means along with just a little bit of magic.  Wonderful!


By Catherine Fisher
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

In this sequel to the fascinating Incarceron, we take up where we left off.  Finn has managed to escape the prison and is acknowledged as the long lost prince of the Realm.  However, dealing with Protocol and all the princely duties annoy and bore him.  Besides that, the Queen and others are still plotting against him, and without the help of Jared and Claudia, he would long be lost.  They search feverishly for a way to fix the Portal and reopen a way back to the prison.  Meanwhile, back in Incarceron, Keiro and Attia are still trying to find a way out of the prison and to Finn.  They make reluctant partners as they search for an artifact known as Sapphique's Glove, which is known to have magical properties and is in the possession of a showman by the name of Rix.  But the Warden, now in Incarceron himself, is in league with the prison, helping it with its dream to create its own body and escape to the Outside, and it needs the Glove.  Is there a way everyone can have a happy ending?  This book is just as fascinating as the first one, and fans will be drawn right back into this unhappy world where nothing is what it seems.  A great two book punch.