Monday, June 30, 2008

The Lords of Avalon Series

The Lords of Avalon Series is by Kinley Macgregor. Kinley Macgregor also writes under the name of Sherrilyn Kenyon (as in Dark Hunter Series). In this new series of paranormal romances she takes us to post-Arthurian Camelot. The Lords of Avalon battle against the evil Morgen who wants to find the thirteen sacred objects given to Arthur and dispersed upon his death to prevent them from falling into the hands of evil; with these objects she plans to raise Mordred from the dead and set up her own version of Camelot. Loaded with romance and Macgregor's/Kenyon's special blend of sarcastic humor mixed with a new twist on the Arthurian Legends these books are a gem. As with the Dark Hunter series there is profanity and some graphic sexual content, so these are not acceptable books for younger readers. They are nonetheless as exciting and mesmerizing as the Dark Hunter Series.

Ratings: Adult - 10 out of 10 - P (profanity) - AC (mature thematic content) - GS (graphic sexuality).

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read this trilogy the first time when I was 12 and have loved it ever since. It is on my "only ten books allowed on the desert island" list. Frodo and his friends discover they have a magic ring, the magic ring. To save the world they must take the ring into the enemy's territory and destroy it in the fires in which it was made. A magical story of elves, wizards, ents, hobbits and men facing evil creatures of all sorts. The ultimate story of good vs evil, self-sacrifice, and heroism in the face of certain death. The books are 100 times better than the movies.

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10.

The Island

The Island is by Gordon Korman. The Island is actually a series of three books: Shipwreck, Survival, and Escape. Six teenagers are sent away to "Charting a New Course", a program for troubled teens where they spend a month learning to sail off the coast of Guam. They are supposed to learn teamwork and straighten their lives out. They end up shipwrecked on a "deserted" island and have to learn to survive. These are very good books. It's interesting to watch each of the kids grow up and step up to help the group. Really hard to put down once you start.

Ratings: 6th grade - 9 out of 10.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Queen of Attolia

The Queen of Attolia is by Megan Whalen Turner. The second book in the saga of Eugenides the thief. As the story opens Gen is in prison again. This time he has been caught in Attolia. To keep him from ever stealing from her again the queen cuts off his right hand and sends him home. Gen struggles with his new existence and Attolia struggles with her regret. Better than the first book. The ending is sad, sweet, and poetic; it makes you long for the third book. A great read! The chopping off of his hand may be a tad gruesome for some, but is not detailed and gory.

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out of 10 - V (mild violence).

The Thief

The Thief is by Megan Whalen Turner. The Thief is the first book in a trilogy by Turner, in order The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia. The Thief introduces us to Gen, short for Eugenides. He is a thief, a good one, though the story begins with him in prison. He is released by the Magus who needs a good thief to steal something for him; but Gen is more than he appears. A good book that reminds you of Greek myths crossed with Medieval England. A very good fantasy read.

Ratings: 7th grade - 8 out of 10 - MP (very mild profanity).

Heroes & Monsters of Greek Mythology

Heroes and Monsters of Greek Mythology is by Bernard Evslin, Dorothy Evslin, and Ned Hoopes. This is a nice introduction to the heroes and monsters of Greek myth. It includes the story of Perseus, Theseus and the Minotaur, Atalanta, King Midas, and several others. It is a quick and easy read and a nice primer before picking up the "real" thing like Hamilton or Bullfinch.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10.

Friday, June 27, 2008

One for the Money

One for the Money is by Janet Evanovich. This is the first of the Stephanie Plum novels. Stephanie Plum is a typical "Jersey Girl". She has been laid off from her job as a lingerie (read underwear) buyer at a department store; she has sold most of her furniture and small appliances; her phone has been disconnected; her car repossessed; and the cupboard is bare (she's eating her hamster's food). What's a girl to do? She goes to her cousin Vinnie who owns a bail bonding service and gets a job as a bounty hunter. Her first case: find Joe Morelli, a cop on the run for murder (and Stephanie's first fling from high school - oopsie). Her plan: steal his new red Jeep Cherokee and wait for him to try to steal it back! This is one of the most original mystery stories I've read in a long time. Evanovich is wickedly funny and Stephanie's antics will have you howling with laughter, her Grandmother is an absolute hoot. There is also enough violence, murder, and car bombing to keep you turning pages as fast as you can. While the violence and sex are not graphic they are present and the language is as rough as the neighborhood. This is a great book, but for older readers.

Ratings: 11th grade - 10 out of 10 - V (violence) - P (profanity) - AC (mature thematic content) - SC (non-graphic sexual content).

Arthur and the Forbidden City

Arthur and the Forbidden City is by Luc Besson. This is the second book in the Arthur series. It wraps up the story begun in the first book. Arthur, Princess Selenia, and Beta make it to the Forbidden City, defeat the evil M., find his grandfather and the treasure, and save the farm. This is such a cute story and a fun fantasy read.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Clique

The Clique is by Lisi Harrison. This is the first in a long series of books for teen girls. Four spoiled mean rich girls try to keep the "unworthy" out of their Clique. If you like chic lit about mean, vicious, spoiled brats whose universes revolve around designer clothes, with parents more interested in being friends than parents, and can cope with their self-absorbed vanity and nastiness to others you'll be fine with this series. Hopefully you will grow up and get to some real literature fairly soon, the similarity of the plots get boring rather quickly. These little snobs need nothing more than a good spanking.

Ratings: 6th grade - 4 out of 10.

The Boxes

The Boxes is by William Sleator. This is a fun story about Annie whose strange Uncle Marco gives her two boxes and tells her not to open them whatever she does. Like Pandora, she is overwhelmed with curiosity and opens the boxes. She finds a strange clock and even stranger little creatures. Enter some evil property developers and a budding friendship with her neighbor Henry and the story is off and running. This book begs for a sequel.

Ratings: 6th grade - 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Amandine

Amandine is by Adele Griffin. This is a creepy book and the ending doesn't really satisfy, but then in real life not all the loose ends get tied up conveniently. One of the things I liked about this story is the fact that it was real, it didn't have a happily-ever-after ending. It leaves you with more questions than answers. Delia meets Amandine after she moves to a new town. It's obvious that Amandine is mentally unstable and why Delia allows herself to get sucked into the relationship is the most engaging part of this sad tale. Delia's loneliness, lack of self-confidence, lack of family grounding, and inability to really see her own motivations may make this tale all too familiar to some teens. Once Delia sees Amandine as she is she tries to end the relationship; Amandine's revenge is as shocking as it is cruel. This is a powerful story of the importance of choosing friends and the power of "one little" lie.

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out ot 10.

The Maze

The Maze is by Will Hobbs. If you like Gary Paulsen, you will love Will Hobbs. Really good stories even girls would like, but his books especially appeal to boys. 14-year-old Rick is all alone and on the run. Hiding in the back of a pickup he suddenly finds himself in the middle of The Maze. Alone in the wilderness with a semi-friendly stranger, two meanies with a nasty pit bull, and six fledgling condors. A really good story although the ending is a little pat.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Skellig

Skellig is by David Almond. Michael has a brand new baby sister that is very ill. His parents have moved to a real fixer-upper of a house and inside the dilapidated garage he finds a strange winged man. He meets Mina, the feisty home schooler next door and together they set out to help Skellig. This a wonderful story of love and concern, with a touch of magical realism. A very good story with a touching ending.

Ratings: 6th grade, 8 out of 10.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion is by Nancy Farmer. Wow! This book is a fantastic read. It is set in the near future and is the story of Matt who one day discovers he is a clone - and not just any clone, but the clone of El Patron a 140-year-old drug lord who survives by harvesting organs from his clones. Matt gradually figures out his fate and escapes. He struggles with his own identity and wonders if he must grow up to be just like El Patron, or if he can ever be his own person. Given the state of cloning in our society this is a timely and thought provoking story. It is beautifully written and sure to capture a reader's interest.

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10 - AC (mature thematic content).

The Greek Gods

The Greek Gods is by Bernard Evslin, Dorothy Evslin, and Ned Hoopes. This is a great introduction to Greek mythology. Not in the same class as Bullfinch or Hamilton, but well written and much easier for younger readers.

Ratings: 7th grade - 6 out of 10.

Don't Look Behind You

Don't Look Behind You is by Lois Duncan. A suspenseful tale of a teen who discovers her father has been working with the FBI and is now to testify against a major drug kingpin. The family goes into the Witness Protection Program and is relocated. April doesn't want to give up her old life and her attempt to contact her boyfriend gets her involved in a cross country chase with her grandmother to escape a hit man who has now found them. She has put herself and her family in danger; now what does she do? A good story and a fun read.

Ratings: 7th grade - 7 out of 10.

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo is by Alexandre Dumas. A must read for those who would be well read. On my "if I were on a desert island and could only have ten books" list. This is a wonderful tale of betrayal and revenge. It is the story of Edmund Dantes who is betrayed on the day of his wedding and sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit. In prison he is taught a variety of subjects by a fellow prisoner and after his harrowing escape begins to exact his revenge. A fantastic story.

Ratings: 9th grade - 10 out of 10.

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is by Charles Dickens. Miss D's favorite author! This is the classic tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge, the man who hates Christmas. Scrooge is visited by his dead partner, Jacob Marley, and three ghosts - the ever famous Christmas' Past, Present, & Future. One of the most quoted books ever written, this character has been played by everyone from Alastair Sim to George C. Scott to Michael Caine and the Muppets to Donald Duck. One of the most famous tales ever written and one of the most popular Christmas stories. A story of self-realization, repentance, and change. A must read!

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10.

The Edge on the Sword

The Edge on the Sword is by Rebecca Tingle. Great Old English historical fiction. Flaed is the daughter of King Alfred the Great and has just been betrothed to his good friend Ethelred, a man her father's age that she has never met. Their alliance will cement the friendship between their kingdoms and they live in dangerous times. As she sets out to her marriage with her bodyguard, Red, and a small group of guards she is attacked by her father's enemies who want to stop her marriage. Based on a true historical figure, this is a great story of growing up, bravery, love, and duty.

Ratings: 7th grade - 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

That Summer

That Summer is by Sarah Dessen. Haven is fifteen, she's in the middle of a growth spurt that has left her nearing the six-foot mark, her parents are divorced, her older sister is getting married and having a severe case of pre-marital PMS that is making everyone crazy - OK mom may have been a little whacked before this - and to top things off her dad is about to marry a local TV babe. ARRGH, teen angst at its best. Girls will love this book, guys will hate it. There is a lot of mature content and some pretty severe profanity; but there is also a great deal of humor. A fun read for those who like chic lit, and maybe those who don't.

Ratings: 9th grade - 8 out of 10 - P (profanity) - AC (mature thematic content).

Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe is by Daniel Defoe. This is the classic tale of survival on a desert island. MacGyver's favorite book! Crusoe is an ordinary British sailor shipwrecked on a deserted island. He struggles to survive and make his life comfortable and bearable. He also wrestles with fate, the nature of God, and the prejudice of his era. A true classic, another must read for those who would consider themselves well-read.

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out of 10.

Wolf Moon

Wolf Moon is by Charles de Lint. An unusual book in which the werewolf is the good guy. de Lint is a master of the science fiction/fantasy genre and this book is no exception. Fleeing those who hunt him Kern, the werewolf, finds peace, shelter, and perhaps love with the simple folk in a wayside inn - then the evil Harper appears hunting him. Will Kern find peace and love or will the Harper win? An excellent and enjoyable read. There is some sexual content, but it is not explicit - still this book is recommended for more mature readers.

Ratings: 9th grade - 10 out of 10 - MS (mild non-graphic sexuality).

Dream of Orchids

Dream of Orchids is by Phyllis A. Whitney. No one does wackjob's like Whitney! When her characters are insane they are down right creepy. The loony in this story is no exception. Laurel York heads for the Florida Keys after the death of her mother to meet the father who abandoned them when she was a child. She meets her father and her two stepsisters shortly after the strange death of their mother Poppy. There is a secret surrounding Poppy's death and only her prize orchids in the greenhouse know the true story. Can Laurel figure out the truth before the family is destroyed? Guys, modern day piracy and sunken treasure also figure in this one. Another Whitney gem - if you haven't guessed by now she is one of my favorite authors. Mature content includes murder and insanity.

Ratings: 9th grade - 9 out of 10 - AC (mature thematic content).

The Door in the Wall

The Door in the Wall is by Marguerite de Angeli. This is a work of historical fiction set in the Middle Ages. The story is about a boy who finds there is more than one way to serve his king when he finds his own strength and saves the castle. Brother Luke, the friar in the book, is charming. This book is an excellent way to explore the primacy of the church in all aspects of life in this time period. It is not a religious book, but it treats Christianity respectfully - a novelty these days. There is some difficult vocabulary and an understanding of the time period involved will make this a much more rewarding read. It is short and touching and well worth the time to read.

Ratings: 7th grade - 7 out of 10.

Lion Boy

Lion Boy is by Zizou Corder. The first in a series of books about Charlie Ashanti's search for his missing parents. Charlie is different from other children; he speaks cat. He manages to join a floating circus and stay one step ahead of the evil villains pursuing him - but one step behind his parents. This is a well written thrilling fantasy adventure. It will leave you eagerly anticipating the next book in the trilogy. An excellent entertaining fantasy.

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10.

Enter Three Witches

Enter Three Witches is by Caroline B. Cooney. This book is a novelized version of Shakespeare's Macbeth told from the point of view of Lady Mary, Duncan's daughter and a ward of Lord and Lady Macbeth. This is a great introduction to the story and will definitely intrigue students to read the original. The chapters are introduced with lines from the play and the text uses some of the original dialogue as well. I highly recommend this book before embarking on the original play. The story is well told and will make it easier to understand the Bard's work. The content is a little mature, but so is the thematic content of the play.

Ratings: 8th grade - 10 out of 10 - MC (mature thematic content).

My Brother Sam is Dead

My Brother Sam is Dead is by James Lincoln Collier. This book is a piece of historical fiction set during the American Revolution. Tim's brother Sam goes off to fight for America. Tim misses his brother and is angered that their father does not support separation from Britain. Tim must now choose between loyalty to his brother or his father. A very good book, with one very bad bit of profanity. Nevertheless a very good book.

Ratings: 7th grade - 7 out of 10 - P (profanity).

Arthur and the Minimoys

Arthur and the Minimoys is by Luc Besson. If this name sounds familiar it may be because Besson is more famous for his movies which include The Fifth Element and La Femme Nikita. This is Besson's first novel for young people and the first in a series of books on Arthur's adventures. Arthur is a ten-year-old boy living with his grandmother. His grandfather disappeared four years earlier and now a greedy developer is trying to take the family farm. Arthur heads out to find his grandfather and save the family farm. A cute story, fantasy lovers of all ages will find it enjoyable.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10.

The Adventures of Ulysses

The Adventures of Ulysses is by Bernard Evslin. An edited retelling of Homer's Odyssey in modern English. Most of the adventures are covered and this is a wonderful introduction to the "real thing" since having some background will enhance the understanding of Homer's original work. Better than Cliff Notes! Of course, nothing beats Homer's original.

Ratings: 7th grade - 8 out of 10.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Jane-Emily

Jane-Emily is by Patricia Clapp. I am so glad to see this book back in print after thirty years. I read this book when I was in 7th grade, more than thirty years ago. It is a classic ghost story. Fun and really creepy. Emily is a spoiled wicked little girl who died on her thirteenth birthday. Jane is a nine-year-old orphan who comes with her young Aunt Louisa to live with her grandmother (Emily's mother). Louisa begins to realize that Emily never left, and she wants Jane. A must read if you like ghost stories. A really good and satisying ending. I loved this book and still do. As a matter of fact, I still own my copy that I bought all those years ago. This book is a keeper.

Ratings: 6th grade - 10 out of 10.

The Death Collector

The Death Collector is by Justin Richards. Think Frankenstein meets Jurrasic Park in Victorian London. This was a very enjoyable story. It was a little slow in parts, but the suspense kept building and kept you reading. A clock maker, a minister's daughter, a pickpocket, and a strange Professor team up to stop an evil industrialist/scientist who wants to "rule the world" - hear evil insane laugh here. A fun way to spend an afternoon.

Ratings: 7th grade - 8 out of 10.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts is by Gennifer Choldenko. The story is set in 1935, 12-year-old Moose and his family move to Alcatraz Island where his father has a job as a prison guard. His older sister, Natalie, is severely autistic and his mother is obsessed with seeing her cured. They came to California to try to get Natalie into a special school which they see as their last hope for her. Moose is saddled with almost total responsibility for Natalie as he struggles with a new home and a new school. The ending is as surprising as it is tender. The story details what it was like for children growing up on "The Rock". A great story!

Ratings: 6th grade - 10 out of 10.

The Summer of the Swans

The Summer of the Swans is by Betsy Byars. This is the story of a teen girl and her handicapped brother. Sarah takes her brother to the lake to see the swans. He looks out his window that night, sees something white, and attempts to find the swans on his own and gets lost. Sarah discovers her love for her brother, as well as some important things about herself and the importance of family. A fun and compelling read.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10.

Columbella

Columbella is by Phyllis A. Whitney. Probably my favorite of all Whitney's massive volume of work, this is the story of Jessica Abbott, a former school teacher, who is talked into supervising a troubled teen by the family matriarch. The story is set on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is a wonderful example of the romantic mystery novel of which Phyllis Whitney is the undisputed master. Some adult concepts: murder and adultery, but nothing graphic.

Ratings: 9th grade - 10 out of 10 - AC (adult themed content).

The Pilgrim's Progress

The Pilgrim's Progress is by John Bunyan. The all-time classic Christian allegory is still a wonderful read even hundreds of years after it was first published. It is the story of Pilgrim and his journey towards the Celestial City. He must overcome many obstacles on his way. An amazing tale of man's search for salvation. A must read for all who wish to consider themselves well-read in the classics. The 17th century language can be a challenge, but there are more modern versions out there that should make this wonderful book more accessible to readers.

Ratings: 9th grade - 10 out of 10.

The Problem Child

The Problem Child is by Michael Buckley. The third book in the Sisters Grimm series. This book is considerably darker than the first two. The girls are still on the trail of the Scarlet Hand who kidnapped their parents. Prince Charming appears as a sleazy politician and Puck disappears too quickly from the story. There is still a lot of action and the ending leaves plenty of unresolved threads for the next book. A little dark, but still enjoyable.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10.

The Unusual Suspects

The Unusual Suspects is by Michael Buckley. This is the second installment in the Sisters Grimm series. Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are still looking for their missing parents. One of the teachers at the local elementary school is found dead. While investigating the murder the girls uncover a sinister plot and a clue to their parents whereabouts. Imagine having Snow White for a teacher! A satisfying sequel in this fun series. The ending only whets your appetite for the third book.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10.

The Fairy Tale Detectives

The Fairy Tale Detectives is by Michael Buckley. The first book in the Sisters Grimm series, Buckley creates a world where fairy tale characters live side by side with humans. Sabrina and Daphne Grimm (yes, the fairy tale author Grimm) are brought to live with their grandmother after the disappearance of their parents. They are quickly caught up in a mystery involving fairy tale characters who are nothing like their fairy tale selves. This is a fast paced humorous read, filled with fantastic, yet recognizable characters. Join the Sisters Grimm as they search for their parents. A delightful read!

Ratings: 6th grade - 10 out of 10.

The Book Without Words

The Book Without Words is by Avi. This is the story of an alchemist who wants to make gold and a potion to make him live forever. The secrets to do this reside in a book that can only be read by people with green eyes. Set against Master Thorston is Brother Wilfrid who wants to keep the book secret; caught in the middle are Sybil (Thorston's green eyed servant girl) and Odo a talking raven. A fun tale of good vs. evil. An enjoyable read.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10.

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? is by Eleanor Updale. The first in a series of books about this character, this is a grand tale. Montmorency is a thief, he is captured by the police and sent to prison. During his capture he is severely wounded and saved by a brilliant young doctor who takes him to meetings of various scientific societies to show off his brilliant surgical handiwork. During one of these meetings Montmorency discovers a way to rebuild his life. Upon his release he sets about using his new found knowledge to remake himself. You can't help routing for him to succeed. The ending sets up the next novel nicely, while tying up the loose ends of the first tale most satisfactorily. A truly fun read. I hope the remainder of the series is as good.

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10 - MP (very mild profanity).

The Watson's Go To Birmingham - 1963

The Watson's Go To Birmingham - 1963 is by Christopher Paul Curtis. The Watson family heads from Michigan to Alabama to drop off their problem teen Byron. By is going to spend the summer of 1963 in Alabama with his grandmother. The family has no idea they are walking into one of the darkest moments in American history. This story is funny and touching. It shows the love and strength that is to be found in one's family. A great read and a classic story.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10 - MP (mild profanity).

Search for the Shadowman

Search for the Shadowman is by Joan Lowery Nixon. Andy is researching his family tree for a history assignment. He discovers a family "black sheep" that no one wants him to ask about. Intrigued he continues his search; what he finds may ruin his best friend's family. Does he tell what he has learned? A great mystery and a fun read. A good lesson in choices and consequences. Do we always have to tell everything we know regardless of who it hurts?

Ratings: 6th grade -8 out of 10.

Walk Two Moons

Walk Two Moons is by Sharon Creech. Thirteen-year-old Salamanca's mother has disappeared; although her mother sent her postcards she never returned. Now Salamanca and her grandparents take a car trip from Ohio to Idaho to find her mother and bring her home. This story is touching and the ending is sweet and sad at the same time as Salamanca finally faces the truth about her mother. A very worthwhile read.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sharp North

Sharp North is written by Patrick Cave. The book presents a menacing Britain in the future. An elite society rules over every aspect of the country controlling its politics, the media as well as population control. These families have been secretly cloning themselves and creating ‘spares’. Global warming has changed the landscape, turning England into a flooded wasteland. Teenage Mira and her family struggle to survive in the still frozen northern Scottish territory, oblivious to the malevolent forces shaping their world. This dark thriller opens with Mira witnessing the murder of a stranger, who looks strikingly familiar and carries with her a secret that Mira must discover. We are drawn in as Mira searches for the truth. It is a frightening story, but also one of strength, love, and most importantly, hope. It is a little slow at the start but gets really good.

Ratings: 7th-8th grade - 9 out of 10 - MP (mild profanity).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Emerald

Emerald is by Phyllis A. Whitney. Another Whitney masterpiece, Carol Hamilton is running from her rich, but abusive husband. He will stop at nothing to recover their young son, who he has already beaten. Carol has no one to turn to but her great-aunt, a famous classic movie star, who lives in a secluded mansion in Palm Springs. A journalist by profession before her marriage, Carol decides to write a book about the famous Monica Arlen only to discover there are some secrets best left buried in the past. As with all Whitney books, the setting is beautifully described and the ending is not at all what you expect. Another gem!

Ratings: 8th grade - 9 out of 10 - AC (mature content, child/spouse abuse).

Titanic Crossing

Titanic Crossing is by Barbara Williams. Albert Trask, his widowed mother, his younger sister, and his uncle are returning home to Virginia after the death of his father. They happen to book passage on the Titanic - oopsie. The book is a rather slow read and Williams devotes very little time to the actual sinking. The ending is very touching as young Albert must come to terms with his losses and grow up. All in all a pleasant, if slow read.

Ratings: 6th grade - 5 out of 10.

The Dark Pond

The Dark Pond is by Joseph Bruchac. Armie is a half Shawnee, half Armenian teen sent to a boarding school in upstate New York, while his parents are away doing humanitarian work. Armie is drawn to a mysterious pool in the woods; he senses something evil its dark waters. Together with a Native American zoology student, Armie discovers the secret of The Dark Pond. Armie must find his place and come to terms with his mixed heritage. Bruchac's tale is a quick suspensful read and will appeal to anyone who likes mystery tales.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10.

The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon is by Marion Zimmer Bradley. This book is a retelling of the Arthurian legends from the point of view of the women involved. There is some brief non-graphic sexual content and the book has some mature thematic content. Written in a time period where pagan beliefs are being challenged by Christianity, the theme of God vs the goddess is prevalent. It is a powerful tale and will hold readers. The book is long, some versions almost 800 pages, but the story is so captivating and the description so vivid, it seems to end all too quickly. Bradley's take on the politics of running Camelot, alone are worth the reading investment.

Ratings: 11th grade - 9 out of 10 - SC (sexual content) - AC (mature thematic content).

A Gathering of Days

A Gathering of Days is by Joan W. Blos. It is written in journal style and is the story of a 14-year-old girl's life from 1830-1832. It describes well the family structure, mannerisms, and religious ideas of the time. Catherine must contend with the hard work of running a farm, taking care of her younger sister, her father's remarriage, a new stepbrother, and the death of a close friend. Contains rich detail of life in this time period. The language used is typical of the time period and so may require some adjustment, but this story is well worth the effort.

Ratings: 6th grade - 7 out of 10.

Ecstasia

Ecstasia is by Francesca Lia Block. This fantasy tale is poetic, but hard to follow at times. Meant for older teens it contains non-graphic references to sex, homosexuality, and recreational drug use. Calliope and her brother Rafe live in a city where youth is celebrated. Once you begin to age you are banished to the dreaded underworld of sewers and tunnels. Their band Ecstasia is all the rage, but Calliope will begin to age soon, and her brother's girlfriend is taking a drug that makes her age even more quickly than normal. It is a story of love in a very youth oriented and materialistic culture. It provides great food for thought and discussion, but Block is definately an acquired taste.

Ratings: 10th grade - SC (non-graphic sexual content) - AC (more adult theme of recreational drug use).

The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn is by Peter S. Beagle. This classic story is a joy to read for all ages. It is the story of the last unicorn and her adventures to free the other unicorns from the clutches of King Haggard and his evil Red Bull. Along the way she is captured by Mommy Fortuna, rescued by Schmendrick the Magician, befriended by Molly Grue, turned into a human woman, loved by Prince Lear, and chased by the Red Bull. Beagle's prose is poetic and descriptive. Truly a classic tale!

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is by Avi. It's 1832 and 13-year-old Charlotte Doyle is returning home to America from England. When her chaperones don't show she boards the ship anyway, despite warnings from the crew. The only female on the ship she, at first, sides with the seemingly decent Captain; only to find he's not so decent. She then becomes a member of the crew, is accused of murder, and sentenced to be hanged before reaching home. The ending is a bit far fetched given the time period, but it works well. This is a very pleasant read.

Ratings: 7th grade - 7 out of 10.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Flaming Tree

Flaming Tree is by Phyllis A. Whitney. Second only to Columbella (to be reviewed later), this is my favorite Whitney novel. The ending is a complete shocker! You end up going back through the story looking for clues you missed when you discover the secret at the end. Jody Hammond and his mother Ruth suffer a terrible fall off the cliffs in Carmel, California. Ruth is crippled and Jody is severely brain damaged. Tyler, Jody's father wants him sent away, Kelsey Stewart (who specializes in working with brain damaged children) thinks there is hope. Once Jody's story begins to unravel the drama begins. Again, the ending is a total shocker. A wonderful example of Whitney's work. Adult themes.

Ratings: 9th grade - 10 out of 10 - AC (adult themed content).

Cryptid Hunters

Cryptid Hunters is by Roland Smith. Cryptids are creatures that supposedly don't exist. When their parents disappear, Marty and Grace (13 year-old twins) are taken in by their Uncle Travis, a cryptozoologist. The set up is a little slow, but once the kids land in the jungle the story takes off. They discover a real live dinosaur and that's not the only surprise in this engaging story. Boys and girls alike will enjoy this one.

Ratings: 7th grade - 8 out of 10.

What My Mother Doesn't Know

What My Mother Doesn't Know is by Sonya Sones. Typical Sones fare. It is written in verse form which makes it easy to read. It is the story of Sophie and her bouts with typical teenage angst topics: her looks, her friends, her boyfriend, her soap opera-addicted mom, and her crush on geeky Murphy. This one has a little more coarse language than some of Sones' other books so beware. Still a cute quick read, if you like chic lit.

Ratings: 8th grade - 8 out of 10 - P (profanity), MS (mild sexuality).

The Amulet of Samarkand

The Amulet of Samarkand is by Jonathan Stroud. It is the first novel in the Bartimaeus Trilogy. Nathaniel is a magician-in-training and is apprenticed to a stodgy old magician who doesn't appreciate his talents. Nathaniel decides to summon a demon to get revenge on the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace. The demon he summons is Bartimaeus, who is quite full of himself. The story switches between Nathaniel's and Bartimaeus' point of view. It is a thrilling read and will be fun for fantasy lovers of all ages.

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out of 10.

The Singing Stones

The Singing Stones is by Phyllis A. Whitney. Another hit by the acknowledged master of romantic suspense. I have loved Whitney for over 30 years and would highly recommend everything she has ever written. This book is no exception. Lynn McLeod is a child psychologist who has been asked to treat the daughter of her ex-husband. Jilly was traumatized after witnessing a murder and fall that crippled her father. As usual the killer is never who you think and Whitney's loonies are truly loony. Score another one for Whitney lovers everywhere. Adult themes: murder and insanity.

Ratings: 9th grade - 8 out of 10 - AC (some adult themed content).

The Gadget

The Gadget is by Paul Zindel. The story is set in 1945, 13-year-old Stephen has been sent to stay with his father on a secret military base in New Mexico. His dad is a physicist working on a top secret project - bet you can guess which one. Stephen decides to discover what the "gadget" really is. What he learns could endanger not only his life and his father's, but the lives of all Americans. A really fast paced and gripping story. Boys will especially like it.

Ratings: 7th grade - 8 out of 10 - MP (mild profanity).

Nothing But the Truth

Nothing But the Truth is by Avi. This novel is written in a documentary style, which makes it a very easy read. It is the story of Philip Malloy, a freshman who wants to run track and precious little else. In homeroom he causes a disturbance humming "The Star Spangled Banner". When he gets in trouble he blames Miss Narwin, who is also his English teacher - a subject he happens to be failing. He repeats an expanded version of the story to a neighbor who is running for the school board and the snowball rolls downhill from there. Philip is portrayed as a hero and Miss Narwin is in danger of losing her job. This story shows how easily the truth becomes distorted and the consequences of less that complete honesty. A very good book.

Ratings: 7th grade - 7 out of 10 - MP (mild profanity).

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is by Jane Austen. The classic love story revolving around two of literary history's greatest lovers: Miss Elizabeth and Mister Darcy. Set in 18th century England where manners is all, these two search for true love. The odds are against them: Darcy's station in life, his family's expectations, Elizabeth's goofy relations, and the inevitable "pride and prejudice". If I was stranded on a desert island and could only have ten books, this is definately one of the ten I would choose. I've read it at least 20 times over the years and never tire of it, the mark of a true classic.

Ratings: 9th grade - 10 out of 10.

Dead Perfect

Dead Perfect is by Amanda Ashley. Paranormal romance at its best. Shannah is dying of a rare blood disease. She decides if she becomes a vampire she won't die. But finding one - there's the rub - she begins watching Ronan, who she believes is a vampire, and as luck (or paranormal romance) would have it, she's right. Ronan is a vampire who writes, get this, romance novels. He needs a woman to impersonate him during the day for book signings. As he trains Shannah for the job he falls in love with her, even as her body weakens. Shannah has rethought the whole being a vampire thing, but Ronan loves her. Does he turn her against her will or lose her forever? Deep sigh! This book is typical of the genre; it is different in that the sex is considerably less graphic.

Ratings: 12th grade - 7 out of 10 - MR (mild romance), MP (mild profanity).

The Game of Sunken Places

The Game of Sunken Places is by M.T. Anderson. Greg is going to visit his strange Uncle Max. He doesn't want to go alone and takes his friend Brian along. The adventure begins when they find a board game called "The Game of Sunken Places"; if you are thinking Jumangi - don't. This story gets strange very fast and stays that way. The ending sums everything up, but leaves you with questions. This is not a bad book, it's just strange. It's worth reading, but it is strange. Everyone getting the "strange" part here?!? :)

Ratings: 7th grade - 6 out of 10.

City of the Beasts

City of the Beasts is by Isabel Allende. This is Allende's first novel for young adults, and first in a series involving Alexander Cold - the main character. Alex's mother is being treated for breast cancer and Alex is sent to stay with his grandmother, Kate. Kate takes Alex on an assignment to South America to search for the legendary nine-foot-tall "Beast". Alex and Nadia, another teen friend, are kidnapped by the "People of the Mist" and discover the truth about the "Beast." There is something in this story for everyone: adventure, mystery, the supernatural. It is a great read. I highly recommend it.

Ratings: 8th grade - 9 out of 10 - MP (mild profanity).

Red Kayak

Red Kayak is by Priscilla Cummings. Brady's neighbor has a wife and toddler. The two go out in a kayak and it sinks, killing the toddler. In his effort to deal with this terrible "accident" Brady discovers evidence that will prove the sinking of the kayak was deliberate and his two best friends might be involved. Brady must then decide whether to turn in his friends or keep their terrible secret. A fantastic story about honesty, courage, and unintended consequences.

Ratings: 6th grade - 10 out of 10 - MP (very mild profanity).

Monster

Monster is by Walter Dean Myers. Steve is 16 and he has been arrested and placed in prison. He is accused of participating in a fatal shooting at a convenience store. Is he guilty? Steve deals with the trial and the trauma of being in prison by writing his own story in movie script format. He is an aspiring filmaker and decides the best way to tell his experience is as a movie. This is a great story! There is some language and allusion to rough prison behavior - but it is part of the story and not gratuitous or graphic.

Ratings: 8th grade - 10 out of 10 - MP (mild profanity).

Monday, June 9, 2008

Just Ella

Just Ella is by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Cinderella and the Prince lived happily ever after - not! What happens when Cinderella discovers Prince Charming isn't all that charming? Haddix reworks the famous fairy tale in a much more realistic, if brutal, fashion. There is still a happy ending, of sorts. A fun read. Very mild profanity.

Ratings: 7th grade - 8 out of 10 - MP (mild profanity).

Saturday, June 7, 2008

One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies

One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies is by Sonya Sones. Typical Sones fare, it is written in easy to read verse. It is the story of Ruby, who's mother has just died. She is now leaving the only family she's ever known, not to mention her best friend and boyfriend, to go live in Hollyweird with the father she's never met; who just happens to be a famous actor. Her attempts to deal with her grief, loss, and her anger with her father are by turns touching and amusing.

Ratings: 8th grade - 9 out of 10 - MP (mild profanity) - brief mention of homosexuality.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Jacob Have I Loved

Jacob Have I Loved is by Katherine Paterson. It is a story of twin sisters, one who seems perfect and the other. Sara Louise is jealous of her sister Caroline and it colors every aspect of her life. This story set during the lean WWII years is an excellent story about jealousy, patience, and self discovery. Sara's mother's patience with her increasingly senile mother-in-law is a study in selflessness and true character. While some may find the pacing slow, this book is well worth reading.

Ratings: 8th grade - 8 out of 10.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tears of a Tiger

Tears of a Tiger is by Sharon M. Draper. Four high school basketball players get drunk after a game and are involved in a car crash that kills one of them. This is the story of the survivors and how they deal with the death of a friend and the guilt that goes along with it. This book touches on teenage drinking and suicide. It's a dark, but true-to-life, story and worth the read.

Ratings: 8th grade - 9 out of 10 - MC (mature content - teen drinking/suicide) - YA (young adult).