School is out! It seems it lets out a lot earlier here in Fairbanks than in the rest of the world, but maybe that’s because spring is so short. I’ve compiled here some quick reviews of some great books for children and young adult summer reading lists.
The Traveling Restaurant by Barbara Else
Nothing goes right for Jasper Ludlow. After being separated from his family while fleeing their home for mysterious reasons that have to do with the Provisional Monarch Lady Gall, he finds his way aboard the Traveling Restaurant. Magic, even the mention of it, has been outlawed by Lady Gall, but Jasper senses that the boat is magic. A high-seas adventure to reunite him with his family ensues. Pirates, whirlpools, secret forest enclaves, and pies make for an exciting story, coupled with the low undercurrent of forbidden magic that slowly rises to the surface during Jasper’s adventures aboard the Traveling Restaurant. I loved it. From Jasper sneaking aboard Lady Gall’s boat to save the orphan child, to Polly teaching the pirates to cook for themselves, The Traveling Restaurant was both exciting and funny. This mid-grade reader is sure to be a favorite at any family’s read-aloud story time.
Scorpions of Zahir
Scorpions of Zahir by Christine Brodien-Jones
Zagora Pym desperately wants to be an explorer and she has her chance when her archaeologist father brings her and her brother along to Morocco in search for his long-lost partner. The exotic location, combined with magical mythology makes the story jump off the page. Zagora’s a spunky little girl and throws herself head-first into her adventure. She doesn’t always think before she acts. I felt her character was very believable, from her disappointment in her brother’s bookish ways, to her impulsive decisions. This adventure story has enough suspense to keep a young reader interested. There’s mystery and mythical magic, and some very creepy, very over-sized scorpions. The female protagonist will appeal more to girls than to boys, though I think both will enjoy the story.
Diary of a Parent Trainer
Diary of a Parent Trainer by Jennifer Smith
This British mid-grade reader is a delight. 13-year-old Katie Sutton is an expert in parental behavior and wants to share her knowledge on how to maintain your parent in its highest working capacity. This instructional guide details the different operating modes and what to do in case of Overheating. Happy mode is ideal, and Katie has operating her mother down to a science until Mom’s new boyfriend enters the picture. Katie is determined to resolve the situation and get him out of their lives for good. But despite her expertise, her plans go awry. Diary of a Parent Trainer had me laughing throughout. It also contains a nice little message about meddling in the affairs of others. This is a nice, quick read for a young girl. Just make sure Mom & Dad don’t get their hands on it or they could go into ‘grumpy mode!’
Castle of Shadows
Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner
Plucky Princess Charlie has led an independent life every since her mother, the Queen of Quale disappeared five years ago. Her father, the King, has sequestered himself in his rooms and spends his time building castles of cards. Charlie is left to her own devices and runs about the castle like a little ragamuffin. When she finds an unfinished letter penned by the Queen before her disappearance, Charlie begins a mission to find her mother. Charlie’s character is fresh and fun and very sympathetic. I wish the antagonists in the plot didn’t seem so flat and singularly sinister compared to Charlie, but I think children will overlook them and cheer harder for Charlie because of it. Again, a girl-centered story. Tobias, The gardener’s boy, and Charlie’s companion in her quest to find her mother, will appeal to boys. There’s a little bit of violence towards the end, but nothing gratuitous. I don’t want to put in a spoiler, but I was disappointed in the end. I wish the King survived, he was an eccentric character, and I would have liked to see the family reunited. However, this is another great story for summer night read-alouds.
The Peculiars by Maureen McQuerry
Afraid that she has goblin blood and searching for the father who left her and her mother years ago, Lena flees to Knob Knocker, the border town on the edge of Scree. Warned against traveling to Scree, the land of outlaws and Peculiars, Lena find employment helping in the library of an eccentric explorer and inventor. But, everything is not how it seems and she is quickly drawn into a lawman’s plot while trying to discover her father’s less than upholding past. The fast-paced plot kept me reading and I had a very hard time putting it down. Recommended for young adult readers who are looking for something strong in paranormal weirdness that is not bogged down by the withering romance so common in the genre. (I don’t mean to mislead you; there are two romantic interests in Lena’s life, however they are secondary to her search for her father and add to the depth of the characters.)
Sisters of Glass
Sisters of Glass by Stephanie Hemphill
Presented in a series of poems, Sisters of Glass is a beautifully sharp story of two sisters on the island of Murano. The narrator, Maria, wants nothing more than to carry on their deceased father’s business of creating beautiful glass. Instead, his will makes his wishes clear, that Maria wed a suitable senator, a fate more suited to her beautiful older sister Giovanna. Suitor after suitor rejects Maria, for she never paid attention to the feminine arts that were the realm of her sister. When the latest suitor Signore Bembo shows more interest in Giovanna than Maria, the two sisters concoct a plan that will mean happiness for them both. The poetry in Sisters of Glass flows seamlessly and I very quickly became lost in the story, forgetting that I was reading a series of short poems. This is a very fast read and can be devoured over the course of a few short hours. It is a lovely story, though it has a markedly female audience. Recommended for young adult readers who enjoy poetry, history, and art.
Erebos by Ursula Poznanski
An exciting addition to our young adult fiction section, Erebos features a male protagonist, which seem few and far between in the influx of trending young adult paranormal romance. I am excited to have a new book to recommend for boys, but I think that girls who enjoy science fiction adventures will also enjoy Erebos. An underground video game is sweeping Nick’s school, and one of the rules is that you cannot talk about it. The game’s instructions bleed over into the real world and soon become sinister. People get injured, others are threatened with death. Nick is determined to discover Erebos’s secret. This fast-paced book kept me reading late into the night to discover what would happen next. The main characters are well-developed and believable high school students, but some of the secondary characters read a little flat to me. However, it didn’t bother me too much and I was able to overlook it because of the continuous excitement and suspense of the plot. Highly recommended for teenage boys looking for a summer read, as well as any young adult who is looking for a story with substance.
Starters by Lissa Price
This high-concept YA science fiction novel will appeal to readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic stories. Biological spore warfare wiped out everyone between the ages of 20 and 60. Now, the wealthy elderly, known as Enders, can pay money to have their personalities inserted into young bodies. They’re out joyriding young bodies and Callie, an unclaimed minor, volunteers herself for the program so that she can provide for her sick little brother. Things go horribly wrong when Callie’s implant malfunctions and she wakes to find herself in her renter’s life, and deeply involved in a devious plot. Starters is hard to put down, and its strong female protagonist is easy to identify with. Recommended for older readers, as some material might be too complex for the younger crowd.