Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Smugglers

The Smugglers is by Iain Lawrence. The second book in the High Seas Trilogy. John Spencer and his merchant father buy a ship called The Dragon. It was once used to smuggle goods between England and France. They want to use the boat for honest trade, but as soon as they purchase The Dragon, they seem to be touched by its curse: someone murders the captain they've hired; his replacement, Captain Crowe, turns out to be a scoundrel who hires a crew of criminals. During the first leg of the voyage, John receives a cryptic warning to "beware the one who seems least likely" to harm him. But which man could it be? A great follow-up tale.

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out of 10.

The Wreckers

The Wreckers is by Iain Lawrence. The first book in the High Seas Trilogy. In 1799, 14-year-old John Spencer of London falls in love with life at sea on his first voyage as a passenger on his father's merchant sailing ship. Then a storm claims the vessel and its crew. Washed onto a Cornish beach, John feels lucky, but soon finds himself in great danger. The nearby village of Pendennis supports itself communally through the practice of "wrecking": tricking vessels onto the lethal coastal rocks, then looting the remains. However, the goods cannot be claimed if there are any survivors. As John uses his wits to plan an escape, he learns that his father may also be alive. He must overcome ever more perilous challenges if he is to save the man from a dreadful captivity. Boys will love this tale.

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out of 10.


Flyte is by Angie Sage. This is the second book in the Septimus Heap saga. Septimus is now the apprentice to the Extraordinary Wizard. But Marcia doesn't believe him when he tells her Princess Jenna has been kidnapped by his missing brother Simon. Simon has turned to darke magyk and is working with the bones of the evil Dom Daniel to do away with Marcia and take over as the new Extraordinary Wizard. Can Jenna and Septimus save Marcia and the Dragon Boat from Dom Daniel's evil? Who is the mysterious dark man that seems to be tracking Jenna? A stunning sequel to the first tale. Can't wait for the next one.

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10.

The Black Arrow

The Black Arrow is by Robert Louis Stevenson. This story is set during the British War of the Roses. Young Richard Shelton has been Sir Daniel's ward since the death of his father. When Dick meets a young boy named Jack in the woods and attempts to get himself and Jack safely back to Sir Daniel he discovers several things. One: Dick comes to suspect that Sir Daniel had something to do with his father's death and two: Jack is not a boy! Another novel of English derring-do from Stevenson. The language can be difficult for modern readers, but the story is a timeless tale of honor, bravery, and love.

Ratings: 8th grade - 9 out of 10.

The Valley of Secrets

The Valley of Secrets is by Charmian Hussey. Stephen Lansbury never knew his parents. So he is surprised when he receives a letter saying he has inherited a large estate from his great-uncle Theodore. Upon arriving at Lansbury Hall, two things immediately strike Stephen: the exotic plant life that seems to bloom everywhere, and the meticulous upkeep of the old manor. When Stephen finds the water-stained journals of his uncle’s youthful travels up the Amazon River, the unusual greenery suddenly makes sense. But who (or what!) is maintaining the tidy kitchen garden and replenishing his woodbox? As Stephen pours over his uncle’s journals, his curiosity and apprehension grow. Are plants the only thing Uncle Theodore brought back from the rain forest all those years ago?

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out of 10.


Scorpia is by Anthony Horowitz. This is the fifth book in the Alex Rider series. Alex has traveled to Venice to find Scorpia and learn the truth about his father. He is told his father was an assassin and Scorpia wants to recruit him to carry on his father's legacy. But does Alex have what it takes to be a killer? Is everything Scorpia has told him true? Alex risks his life to find the truth about his father and himself. Another great action packed installment.

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10.

The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts

The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts is by Richard Peck. This story is set in rural Indiana in 1904. 15-year-old Russell's summer ends on an uplifting note, his teacher has died. As the author notes, "If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it...". He and his brother are certain the school board will tear down the one room school house and they'll be free. But to their utmost horror the school board hires their bossy older sister Tansy as the new teacher. Peck evokes not only the feeling of the times, but humor as Tansy lives her dream of being a teacher against all the obstacles young boys can throw in her path. A great story for teachers as well as students. A real joy to read.

Ratings: 6th grade - 10 out of 10.

The Stone Bull

The Stone Bull is by Phyllis A. Whitney. Jenny has long lived in the shadow of her sister Ariel, a beautiful dancer. Now Ariel is gone and Jenny is determined to start her own life apart from Ariel. She comes to live with her new husband on Laurel Mountain, only to find that even in this remote resort she isn't free from Ariel's influence. Now she has to face the truth about her husband, her sister, and herself. Another Whitney gem full of wonderfully dysfunctional homicidal lunatics - a counselor's dream come true.

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

Jade Green: A Ghost Story

Jade Green: A Ghost Story is by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Judith has come to live with her uncle, the only relative she has left. He has requested that she bring nothing green with her into the house. Only later does she learn the story of Jade Green, who died in the house. Has she awakened Jade's ghost by bringing in a green picture frame that was a gift from her mother? Jade's ghost begins to manifest itself as a ghastly severed hand. What can Judith do to to satisfy Jade and make things right?

Ratings: 7th grade - 8 out of 10.

Ptolemy's Gate

Ptolemy's Gate is by Jonathan Stroud. The final book in the Bartimaeus trilogy is stunning and surprising. Three years have passed since the golem incident. The war in America is going poorly, more commoners are resistant to magyk, and rebellion is fermenting among the wizards as well. Kitty has been completing her research to try and end the cycle of conflict between humans and djinn. Nathaniel's career is increasingly imperiled and he treats Bartimaeus worse than ever. Their destinies combine once again to save London and perhaps each other. A great ending to a fascinating story arch.

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out of 10.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Lilith is by George MacDonald. A brilliant Victorian fantasy. Mr. Vane lives in an old house that has been in his family for generations. One day he notices an odd creature making its way through the library; this turns out to be the birdlike Mr. Raven, who introduces him to a mysterious world beyond a magic mirror stored in the garret of the house. Vane's presence in this other world causes difficulties. The work is a slow read, with its antiquated language, but it is rich with Christian symbolism and well worth the effort.

Ratings: 8th grade - 9 out of 10.

Amethyst Dreams

Amethyst Dreams is by Phyllis A. Whitney. Hallie Knight responds to a summons from the grandfather of her college roommate. Knowing that Susan has disappeared without a trace piques her curiosity, but she's also glad of the opportunity to escape the pain caused by her husband's infidelity. She never expects to become the catalyst for unraveling the strange fate of her friend or find the courage to reexamine her own life.

Ratings: 7th grade - 8 out of 10 - AC (mature thematic content).

Star Flight

Star Flight is by Phyllis A. Whitney. I am probably the biggest Whitney fan ever, but this is not my favorite of her works. It is still a nice read for the wonderful attention to scenery and detail that are Whitney's trademarks. Lauren Castle is called to Lake Lure, North Carolina, to investigate the untimely death of her husband, Jim. Jim was producing a documentary about a 1930s film star. Did he uncover secrets that cost him his life?

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

Steal Away Home

Steal Away Home is by Lois Ruby. When Lois discovers a diary and a human skeleton in a hidden room, she learns that her house was a station on the Underground Railroad. The story alternates between the present and 1856. A wonderful tale of mystery, suffering, and tolerance. A great introduction to historical fiction.

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out of 10.

Amy and Her Brothers

Amy and Her Brothers is by an unknown author. The heartache and innocent faith of an orphan child paints a real-life picture of the hidden suffering all around us, challenging us to be more attentive to the hurts of those nearby. The heart of the story, however, lies in the incredible relationship between a younger brother and sister, and the love and forgiveness shown toward their selfish and greedy older brother. This is a story of redemption that brings tears of joy. A Christian oriented tale. Another great title restored by Lamplighter Publishing.

Ratings: 6th grade - 10 out of 10.

The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds is by H.G. Wells. Famous for the mistaken panic that ensued from Orson Welles’s 1938 radio dramatization, The War of the Worlds is one of the best known works of science fiction ever. A shooting star is seen then a cylinder is discovered in London. Locals approach and are killed then strange creatures emerge. Will the human race survive the Martian attack? The book is far better than the movie - as is usually the case.

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out of 10.


Magyk: Spetimus Heap Book One is by Angie Sage. At birth, Septimus Heap is carried away for dead, and his father, Silas Heap, is entrusted with a baby girl. The now 10-year-old Jenna, who, it turns out, is the daughter of the murdered queen, flees along with family members, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, and "Boy 412." The Necromancer DomDaniel, aided by magical beings, pursues and the chase is on. A fine start to a fun series.

Ratings: 6th grade - 9 out of 10.


Poinciana is by Phyllis A. Whitney. The Palm Beach home of Ross Logan contains his celebrated collection of oriental art, and a prized new possession -- his young bride. Inside Poinciana a tidal wave of intrigue swells and not one of the Logans is safe. Especially not Sharon, who is hated by Gretchen, Ross's daughter from a previous marriage, by her ne'er-do-well husband, Vasily, and by Ross's strange mother, Allegra. Sharon uncovers a devastating secret about her own relationship with her husband -- a secret that, in the end, will test the limits of her courage as well as her ability to love. Another Whitney gem.

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

Ruthless: A Wicked History: Genghis Khan 13th Century Mongolian Tyrant

Ruthless: A Wicked History: Genghis Khan 13th Century Mongolian Tyrant is by Enid Goldberg. A nonfiction book that is fun to read. Younger readers will enjoy the language as well as the numerous pictures and graphics contained in this short, but entertaining book.

Ratings: 6th grade - 9 out of 10.

Samir and Yonatan

Samir and Yonatan is by Daniella Carmi. A Palestinian boy comes to terms with his brother's death in this slow-paced but moving novel. In homage to the bravery of his brother Fadi, who was killed by an Israeli soldier, Samir shatters his knee in a bicycle accident. He must have an operation at the "Jews' hospital." Samir's fever plus the sealing off of territories keeps the boy hospitalized for several weeks in a ward with four Israeli children, including Yonatan. The boys' friendship grows throughout the book. The ending is problematic, but the story of hope is sound.

Ratings: 5th grade - 8 out of 10.

Time Cat

Time Cat is by Lloyd Alexander. Jason always thought his cat Gareth could talk, so when Gareth speaks to him he is not surprised. Gareth does not have nine lives but has the ability to visit nine different times and places and take Jason with him. They visit Ancient Egypt, Roman Britain, pre-Christian Ireland, Imperial Japan, Renaissance Italy, 16th century Peru, late 16th century Isle of Man, 17th century Germany, and America at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. In each place they help someone, and meet historical figures. A very cute book.

Ratings: 5th grade - 6 out of 10.

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm is by Nancy Farmer. This story is set in Zimbabwe in 2194. When General Matsika's three children are kidnapped they discover they know little about their own country. The rich are protected by automatic dobermans and robots while the poor scrounge for plastic in a toxic waste dump. Three detectives, called the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, try to rescue the children. From a traditional Shona village to high tech hotels the children flee from one problem to another trying to get home. There is action, adventure, and even tender moments in this intriguing, but strange tale of courage and love.

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out of 10.

Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery

Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery is by John Feinstein. A fantastic book for boys who are reluctant readers. I personally like Feinstein's style more than Mike Lupica's. Steve and Susan Carol win a contest for 8th graders to cover the Final Four in New Orleans. While there they overhear a conversation with a star player and another man. The player is being blackmailed into throwing the championship game. Steve and Susan decide to help the player, but with millions involved the stakes may well be their lives. A great story! It has enough basketball and sports trivia to satisfy even the most rabid fan.

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10.

The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil's Arithmetic is by Jane Yolen. Hannah can't understand why her family keeps talking about the Holocaust. After all it was a long time ago and can't have any meaning for today can it? Then, during a Passover Seder, Hannah is transported to 1940s Poland. Everyone thinks that she is a girl named Chaya. She is captured by the Nazis and taken to a death camp, where she meets Rivka. As the door to the gas chamber closes behind her, she returns to the present with a new understanding of her family and the importance of remembering.

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10.

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia is by C. S. Lewis. This timeless allegory is Lewis's masterpiece and a lasting treasure. It is written for children, but is even more moving for adults. This work should be read at least twice: as a child and then again as an adult when all of Lewis's allegorical subtleties can be more fully appreciated. The story revolves around children being transported to the magical land of Narnia where they become more than they ever thought possible with the help of the lion Aslan. The set consists of (in correct reading order): The Magician's Nephew, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and the Last Battle.

Ratings: 6th grade - 10 out of 10.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation is by Lynne Truss. Although Truss is British and British punctuation isn't exactly the same as American punctuation, this book is a gem. It is loaded with examples of poor punctuation and the misunderstandings it can cause. The book also gives the history of punctuation and lists the rules for using it. An engaging read - and you thought grammar was boring!?!

Ratings: 7th grade - 7 out of 10.


Silversword is by Phyllis A. Whitney. A gem of romantic fiction from the master. Caroline Kirby was raised by her grandmother in San Francisco, after her divorce she returns to Hawaii to learn the truth about her father's death. She discovers her mother is alive but suffering from amnesia, unable to cope with the events surrounding her husband's death. Caroline is convinced she can help her mother, but someone doesn't want Noelle to remember? Caroline seeks to help her mother, discover the truth about her past, and come to terms with her own future.

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

Surviving Sharks and Other Dangerous Creatures

Surviving Sharks and Other Dangerous Creatures is by Allan Zullo. This is a short collection of true stories about people who have survived attacks by dangerous animals. A great way to introduce reluctant readers to nonfiction. The tales are not graphic, but they are entertaining.

Ratings: 6th grade - 8 out of 10.

The Mirror Crack'd

The Mirror Crack'd is by Agatha Christie. Miss Marple is annoyed with the live-in helper her nephew has provided for her. She doesn't want to be treated like a child, even if she is getting old. Then Marina Gregg, the movie star, moves in nearby, a local woman is poisoned and Miss Marple suspects the poison was really meant for Marina Gregg. But who is trying to kill the film star? Could it be her husband, her secretary, the strange photographer, or someone else? Just when you think you've got the answer someone else dies. Can Miss Marple save the day? Another gem by the Master of Mystery herself.

Ratings: 8th grade - 10 out of 10 - AC (some mild mature thematic content).

Vampirates: Tide of Terror

Vampirates: Tide of Terror is by Justin Somper. The second book in the Vampirates series continues the saga of the Tempest twins reunited at last on The Diablo. Connor is settling down happily to the life of a pirate, while Grace worries about his safety. When one of Connor's friends dies in a fight Grace and Cheng Li convince Connor to attend the Pirate Academy; but is everything there as it seems? Grace continues trying to return to Lorcan and the Vampirates. Will either of the twins survive against their growing list of enemies?

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10.

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean is by Justin Somper. The first in a unique series of books about a ship full of pirates who also happen to be vampires. Connor and Grace Tempest are 14-year-old twins. They have grown up in a lighthouse, where their father is the keeper, hearing the old sea shanty of the terrible Vampirates. After their father's death leaves them broke and orphaned they sail away together and are separated when their ship sinks during a storm. Connor finds himself on a pirate ship captained by Molucco Wrathe; while Grace is rescued by the dreaded Vampirates. Both children become involved in the internal politics of their respective ships and long to be reunited with each other. A fascinating tale that keeps readers turning the pages. Certainly not your average pirate or vampire fare.

Ratings: 7th grade - 8 out of 10.

Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile is by Agatha Christie. This is one of my favorite novels by the "Queen of Crime". Linnet Doyle has everything: beauty, youth, money, and she has married the man her best friend loves. Linnet and Simon honeymoon in Egypt and meet the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot on a cruise down the Nile. It should be a happy and peaceful trip, but from the beginning things begin to go wrong. Poirot suspects all is not well and then...the murders begin. A classic Christie mystery.

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

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Burning Bridge

The Burning Bridge is by John Flanagan. The second book in the Ranger's Apprentice series is much more exciting than the first. Will and Horace go with Gilan to Celtica to enlist their help in the upcoming war with Morgarath. However things are not well in Celtica and they discover a servant girl who escaped a Wargal attack; but is she what she seems? Gilan leaves them to get a message to King Duncan about events in Celtica. Will and his companions discover a trick of Morgarath's to come at the king's army from the rear. Can they save the kingdom and defeat Morgarath once and for all?

Ratings: 7th grade - 10 out of 10.

Dead Beat

Dead Beat is by Jim Butcher. The seventh book in The Dresden Files. Karrin has left for a vacation in Hawaii with Kincaid. While Harry deals with his jealousy, Mavra appears and threatens to ruin Murphy's career unless Harry finds the Word of Kemmler for her. Harry must race against time to find out what the heck the Word of Kemmler is, where it is, and get it before evil necromancers and their army of zombies take over Chicago. Harry must make a choice about taking the assistance of Lasciel that could change him forever. Oh, and did I mention the Wardens are trying to recruit him!?!

Ratings: 10th grade - 10 out of 10 - P (profanity) - AC (mature thematic content) - V (violence) - S (Non-graphic sexual references).

Drowned Wednesday

Drowned Wednesday is by Garth Nix. The third in The Keys to the Kingdom series. Arthur is back in the House, but this time he has brought someone with him. His friend Leaf has been sucked into the House with him by accident. Drowned Wednesday is a giant whale and Arthur has to find the third piece of the will and save the world from an evil pirate sorcerer. Will he succeed?

Ratings: 7th grade - 8 out of 10.


Fablehaven is by Brandon Mull. The first book in a new series by the author. Kendra & Seth are going to spend two weeks with their grandparents on their farm. What they don't know is that the farm is a hidden sanctuary for magical creatures. Kendra tries hard to follow her grandfather's rules, but Seth is a little too curious and reckless. Once the forces of evil are released will the kids be able to save their family? Will Fablehaven be destroyed?

Ratings: 7th grade - 9 out of 10.