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KaliO's Book Lists
Katniss' Allies (8 titles)
Of course you’ve seen the The Hunger Games movie. The Hunger Games is your favorite book; you’ve read it a dozen times. You’ve read Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Hell, you’ve read The Hunger Games Companion, The Girl Who Was On Fire: Your Favorite Authors On Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy, and even The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook. But it’s not enough! What will you do without gritty, futuristic worlds stricken by environmental disasters and world wars? What will you without a revolution to bring down a sly Big Brother-like government? What will you do without a stubborn, sarcastic, tough-as-nails but secretly tenderhearted heroine to root for? Don’t worry! You’re in luck! There’s a whole new generation of rebel girls (and a few rebel boys) on the bookshelves, and they’re not going down without a fight.
The New Zombies (7 titles)
For the last few years, it’s been sparkly, sullen vampires who’ve ruled page and screen. But slowly, steadily creeping up on the bloodsuckers, is a new version of an old favorite: the zombie. Films like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, plus Max Brooks’ and Seth Graham-Smith’s tongue-in-cheek books The Zombie Survival Guide and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, lead the charge with a sarcastic, wholly unique 21st century brand of humor. Other novelists have contributed a new intensity and complexity that comment on modern society and politics—or make some very intriguing changes to the traditional zombie genre. Zombie books are hitting the bestseller lists hard, and readers cannot wait to devour them.
100th Anniversary of the Voyage of the Titanic (8 titles)
In the late hours of April 14th, 1912, the steamship RMS Titanic hit an iceberg. At 2:20am on the morning of the 15th, the ship sank into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. It was the ship’s first and final voyage. Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world. Some of the wealthiest and most famous people of the day were passengers. The ship was said to be “unsinkable;” over 1,500 souls went down with her that night. The disaster made headlines all around the world. One hundred years later, we’re still talking about it.
Video Game Books (7 titles)
Video games: They began as dinky pixelated images where the goal was to eat fruit and run from ghosts (poor old Pac Man). Now they’re complex, visually stunning stories in which you can fight wars, search for treasure, and build cities. Books that incorporate this changing, challenging technology toy with reality, critique modern society—and afford readers a chance to really, truly, geek-out like crazy.
Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Grows Up (6 titles)
Remember reading those old Choose Your Own Adventure stories when you were a kid? With opening sentences like “You are a deep sea explorer searching for the famed lost city of Atlantis” or “You stand on the deck of the RMS Titanic, the brand new White Star ocean liner,” you knew immediately that there was adventure in store. And then there’s the added thrill of getting to decide what happens next: “If you choose to return to the island, go to page 12. If you decide to follow Jenny into the abyss, go to page 38.” The adventures were straightforward, the choices were good or bad—ah, how simple life was. But now that you’re an adult, choosing your own storybook adventure is more complex, sassier, sexier, gorier, and helluva lot more interesting.
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Cover ArtUglies : Shay's story
by Westerfeld, Scott.
The first book of the Uglies series was published in 2005, three years before The Hunger Games. But a graphic novel version has been released, and the new story packs just as much punch. In the original Uglies, Tally eagerly waits her sixteenth birthday, when, through the miracle of her society’s high-tech plastic surgery, she will become beautiful. As a Pretty, her only goal in life will be the pursuit of a good time. But then Tally’s best friend Shay unexpectedly refuses her makeover, running off instead to the Smoke, an outside colony of Uglies. If Tally doesn’t spy on the Smoke, she won’t be allowed to become Pretty. The graphic novel version tells Shay’s side of the story—her attraction to the prankish Uglies gang calling itself “The Crims,” her growing dissatisfaction with the status quo, her friends’ desertion to Pretty Town, and her persuasive (except to Tally) arguments against becoming Pretty. Shay is a born rebel—much like a certain tribute from District 12—and the story from her point of view becomes something darker, more active, with the consequences of the characters’ actions even more significant. The manga-like artwork provides a light touch to a story that becomes more engrossing with each new image.   posted Jun 6, 2012 at 9:33PM

Cover ArtDivergent
by Roth, Veronica
Beatrice Prior has lived her whole life in Abnegation, where you always put the needs of others before your own. But when Beatrice turns sixteen, she will be tested and have the option to join one of the other factions that her city is divided into—Amity (peace), Erudite (intelligence), Candor (truth), or Dauntless (bravery). The motto of this brave new world is “faction before blood,” and individuals are expected to dedicate their lives to the virtue their faction promotes. So Beatrice is shocked when her scores show that she could belong to more than one faction. She is labeled Divergent, and like Katniss in The Hunger Games, Beatrice must play a dangerous game with the authorities to minimize the danger she’s in. Dauntless seems the best place for Beatrice—now calling herself as Tris to match the punk stylings of her new faction—to find answers. As she and the other Dauntless initiates undergo a series of trials to prove their worth, Tris finds it impossible to forget her life in Abnegation, especially since many Dauntless want to trade courage for cruelty. Throw in a romance with a handsome instructor and growing rivalries between factions, and Divergent becomes the first of a hard-hitting, unpredictable new dystopian trilogy.   posted Jun 6, 2012 at 9:33PM

Cover ArtLegend
by Lu, Marie, 1984-
June Iparis is the opposite of Katniss Everdeen—while Katniss is a lowly citizen of Panem’s poverty-stricken District Twelve, June is the genius daughter of the Republic, a highly-trained soldier who is dedicated to the cause of putting down the rebellion. It’s the boy Day who most resembles Katniss. He’s the Republic’s most-wanted criminal, a street-wise justice fighter, a thorn in the side of the elite military officials. But when Day is accused of killing June’s brother, she vows revenge. And when the two finally meet, sparks fly—and supposedly known truths begin to crumble. Like Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games, June and Day form an unexpected alliance that begins to uncover secrets about the series of plagues that annually infest the poorest neighborhoods, the Trials that all ten-year-old citizens are required to take, and the ongoing war between the Republic and the outlying Colonies. June and Day tell their stories in distinct voices through alternating chapters, and there’s plenty of action, wit, mystery, and intriguing world-building. Star-crossed lovers who take on a totalitarian government? Hunger Games fans are practically guaranteed to be lining up for Legend and its upcoming sequels.   posted Jun 6, 2012 at 9:33PM

Cover ArtEnclave
by Aguirre, Ann
When the world ended, the people left behind moved underground. Now they survive in barricaded enclaves below the streets, focused on three simple things: breeding, building, and hunting. When they turn sixteen, kids cease to be nameless brats and become working members of this desperate society. Deuce becomes a Huntress, specially trained to find food outside the enclave—and to fight the human-like, flesh-eating Freaks who roam the abandoned tunnels and sewers. Partnered with the enigmatic Fade, who came to the enclave as a young boy having survived on his own, Deuce begins to suspect that the Freaks are no longer the mindless monsters they used to be—they’re getting smarter. But the enclave elders dismiss Deuce’s reports, and Deuce is banished to keep her rumors from spreading. Unexpectedly, Fade agrees to go with Deuce. He claims he once lived Topside, and that the world above is not the blighted ruin the elders say it is. So Deuce leaves the only world she’s ever known for a whole new set of dangers in a world where nothing is as it seems. Enclave is the first of a planned trilogy and like The Hunger Games, it’s a page-turner with the first gritty volume hinting at more chaos to come.   posted Jun 6, 2012 at 9:31PM

Cover ArtThe watch that ends the night : voices from the Titanic
by Wolf, Allan.
Everyone knows how the story ends—with a lost ship and a few boatloads of survivors in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean. But the stories of the people on the Titanic continue to fascinate and resonate. Author Allen Wolf tells two dozen of those stories in The Watch That Ends the Night, a novel-in-verse featuring the voices of millionaire John Jacob Astor, wireless operator Harold Bride, immigrant Olaus Abelseth, third-class refugee Jamila, the woman who became known as “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” the ship’s baker, the violinist, an onboard rat, and many others—including the iceberg itself. Wolf mixes fact and fiction for a work that is epic in scope, from the musings of doomed Captain Smith to the babblings of near-infant Lolo Navratil. Cementing the story is the occasional report from undertaker John Snow, who helps to harvest the bodies from the sea days after the disaster. Though mournful at times, The Watch That Ends the Night has its fair share of brave deeds and meaningful connections. With over thirty pages of biographies and resources, this is an impressive work that adds a crucial human touch to the facts and statistics that make up the Titanic’s remarkable history.   posted Dec 23, 2011 at 11:42AM

Cover ArtPassage
by Willis, Connie.
Connie Willis is an acclaimed science fiction writer who happens to love history. Her Hugo- and Nebula-winning novel Doomsday Book sends a graduate student back in time to the Dark Ages; her comic gem To Say Nothing of the Dog mixes the Victorian Era with World War II. In Passage, Dr. Joanna Lander is a psychologist researching near-death experiences (or NDEs). She’s developed a drug that can stimulate the experience and is working with neurologist Richard Wright on a theory that NDEs are actually a survival mechanism. But when Joanna goes under herself in a stimulated NDE, what she finds is completely unexpected—it’s the Titanic, and neither Joanna nor Richard have any idea what it means. But Willis drops plenty of hints, all the while distracting her protagonists with chance meetings, half-forgotten conversations, and characters as varied as a smart little girl with a severe heart condition to a fellow doctor who wants to use their research to promote his own career. As Joanna explores her strange experience farther and farther, the tension and the mystery build to a fever pitch—and then there’s an intense plot twist just before the ending. Suspenseful and powerful, reading Passage is an unforgettable experience.   posted Dec 23, 2011 at 11:41AM

Cover ArtThe night lives on
by Lord, Walter, 1917-2002.
Walter Lord remained devoted to the story of the Titanic after writing his groundbreaking account of the disaster A Night to Remember in 1955. When the wreckage was discovered in 1985, Lord couldn’t resist another rumination on the great ship’s lasting legacy. In The Night Lives On, Lord delves deeper into mysteries and myths that have accumulated over the decades. He sheds light on the rumor that a crewman shot into a crowd of passengers swarming around the last of the lifeboats. He ponders the pride and arrogance of the Edwardian age that is so frustrating to modern minds in the light of all the “what ifs” that could have changed the course of Titanic’s history. He pours over the records for eyewitness accounts of the ship splitting in two and the band playing ‘til the end. He contrasts the reactions of the ships Carpathia and Californian—the former rushed to Titanic’s aid but was over fifty miles away; the later passively puzzled over strange lights and rockets in the night from a distance of just fifteen miles or so. As it asks new questions, rights wrongs, and sets the record straight, The Night Lives On is another detailed, engrossing account of all things Titanic.   posted Dec 23, 2011 at 11:41AM

Cover ArtA night to remember
by Lord, Walter, 1917-2002.
The strict divisions between first class and third, the record-breaking size of the ocean liner, the old-fashioned heroism of “women and children first,” the ease by which the entire disaster could have been avoided, the captain going down with the ship and the band playing ‘til the very end—these details have made the sinking of the Titanic an event that is impossible to forget. In 1955, Walter Lord published the first fully researched account of the events of that fateful night. Lord supplies a wealth of information about the crew, the passengers, the construction of the ship, and all its distinct luxuries. He carefully traces the timeline that ends in tragedy. He focuses on the rigid class system that kept the steerage passengers locked below decks when the ship struck the iceberg, and on the outdated emergency standards that kept the number of lifeboats to a minimum and resulted in the deaths of more than half the people on board. Lord’s attention to detail is extraordinary—no passenger’s experience is too small to explore and record and shed light on the disaster. Nearly sixty years after its original publication, A Night to Remember is still the definitive account of the Titanic.   posted Dec 23, 2011 at 11:41AM

Cover ArtBuilding the Titanic : an epic tale of the creation of history's most famous oce
by Green, Rod.
882 feet long, 175 feet high, weighing 46,428 tons—Titanic was the largest moving man-made object of the day. Staterooms with private promenades, squash courts, a Turkish bath, a Parisian café—Titanic was the most luxurious ship ever built. In that respect, the White Star Line accomplished its goal of building the largest and most impressive sea-going vessel to date. Of course, the ship sinking on its maiden voyage with a loss of 1,500 people was not part of the plan. Building the Titanic is the story of the creation of the great ship. Author Rod Green explores the motives of the ship’s owners (profits and status), the lives of the men who worked in the shipyards (there were 254 recorded accidents during the building of the Titanic; eight men died), and every detail of its construction from the delivery of 45,000 table napkins to the production of a new massive dry dock to hold the ship while it was being built. Rare photographs taken by passengers during the ill-fated voyage and detailed construction plans complete this portrait of Titanic and prove that the ship was mightily impressive indeed, and well deserving of the attention she received even from her very beginning.   posted Dec 23, 2011 at 11:40AM

Cover ArtFateful
by Gray, Claudia.
Fateful is a romance about werewolves on the Titanic. That’s right: werewolves on the Titanic. Preposterous? Of course. Fun? Absolutely. Tess Davies is a maid for the snobbish Lisle family, and she’s finally had enough. She’s taking this opportunity to break free: when Titanic reaches New York, Tess will strike out on her own. But a seemingly chance encounter with two men—one sinister, one handsome—has Tess looking over her shoulder as she boards the mighty ship. Sure enough, the two strangers are on board and on the prowl. Mikhail is a dangerous werewolf representing the Brotherhood, a powerful paranormal faction. Alec is also a (very wealthy and attractive first class) werewolf, but he’s clinging to his sense of humanity and desperate to do no harm. Mikhail is after Alec’s fortune but there’s something else on Titanic—something that belongs to the Lisle family—and Mikhail’s not going to let some gutsy little maidservant stand in his way. As Tess is drawn deeper in the werewolves’ affairs, the ship has its own fateful encounter with an iceberg that will foil the best-laid plans of wolf and maid. Melodramatic, with a steamy romance and plenty of action, Fateful is an entirely worthwhile guilty pleasure.   posted Dec 23, 2011 at 11:39AM

Cover ArtDown with the old canoe : a cultural history of the Titanic disaster
by Biel, Steven, 1960-
Why are we so fascinated by the Titanic? Is it the hubris of its era, the excessive luxury coupled with the sub-par safety measures? Is it all the “what ifs” that could have prevented the disaster, from the ignored ice warnings to the nearby ship that could have saved every soul on board had it ventured to find out what was going on? Is it the striking class differences that meant Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon set sail in a lifeboat built for forty with only three other passengers and seven crewmen to row them, while hundreds of third class passengers were kept below decks until the last minute? Author Stephen Biel explores the cultural history of the Titanic, from its effect on the suffrage movement (the old standby of “women and children first” meant that men were made into easy heroes who stood for strength and power while the women survivors were weaklings who needed protection) to the commercialization of the disaster in the form of books (including his own), movies, and exhibitions. He touches on all of Titanic’s roles throughout history: news sensation, metaphor, commodity, and entertainment. Regardless of how much time goes by, Titanic will always give us something to talk about.   posted Dec 23, 2011 at 11:39AM

Cover ArtThe discovery of the Titanic
by Ballard, Robert D.
Public fascination with Titanic reached a new peak in 1985, when Dr. Robert Ballard and his American-French expedition finally found the wreck 13,000 feet below the surface of the North Atlantic. The ship lies in two pieces, bow and stern, with a scattered debris field that contains haunting signs of life and death—cups, combs, mirrors, boots—all carefully documented by Ballard’s underwater submersibles. By juxtaposing images of Titanic in all her glory with images from Titanic’s watery grave, Ballard shows how vulnerable the ship really was—and still is. In 2004 Ballard visited the wreckage again and published Return to the Titanic with all-new high-quality images and an impassioned plea for preservation of the site. A final book, 2008’s Titanic: The Last Great Images, is an attempt to document the wreck before it is gone forever, picked away by the ravages of time and even more so by scavengers who seek to get rich from Titanic’s ruin and aren’t so bothered if their submersible scrapes a railing or removes an artifact. Ballard’s case for conservation is a strong one; the long search for Titanic’s resting place is a riveting tale of perseverance and scientific ingenuity; the ghostly images of the sunken ship are mesmerizing.   posted Dec 23, 2011 at 11:39AM

Cover ArtThe Chronicles of Harris Burdick : Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales With
by Van Allsburg, Chris.
Since it was first published in 1984, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg has been inspiring people to write stories. The original introduction tells of Harris Burdick, a man who left his artwork with a publisher and walked out the door—never to return again. The fourteen fascinating illustrations and their even-more fascinating captions remain to motivate writers all around the world. Now, twenty-seven years later, the best and brightest of children’s and young adult literature contribute their stories to the Harris Burdick oeuvre. On October 25th, readers young and old can read Lois Lowry’s story about the nun flying through the cathedral whilst seated primly in a wooden chair, Stephen King’s tale about the blast-off house, and Chris Van Allsburg’s own version of the girl and her caterpillars. By turns creepy, cute, and comical, this new batch of stories will inspire Harris Burdick fans all over again.   posted Dec 13, 2011 at 2:57PM

Cover ArtWonderstruck
by Selznick, Brian.
Brian Selznick’s debut novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, won the Caldecott Medal. Selznick’s second book, Wonderstruck, continues to push the boundaries of the illustrated novel format. Just as Hugo Cabret told a good portion of its story through full-page black-and-white drawings, Wonderstruck is also full of Selznick’s trademark illustrations. But this time, half the novel is told through pictures alone—the story of Rose, a girl in the 1920s who becomes enchanted with a beautiful actress. Ben’s story, set in 1977 as he runs away from home, is told in words. Combined, the stories of Rose and Ben offer tales of mystery and intrigue that wind and weld through a union of art and prose. Selznick has become an expert at mixing elements of the novel, graphic novel, picture book, and film, and Wonderstruck continues to cement his reputation as a visionary in his field.   posted Dec 13, 2011 at 2:57PM

Cover ArtAround the World /
by Phelan, Matt.
Picture book illustrator Matt Phelan won critical acclaim for his 2009 historical graphic novel The Storm in the Barn, a Depression-era story tinged with fantasy. His new book, Around the World, is no less enchanting for being based on fact. In 1873, Jules Verne published Around the World in Eighty Days, his famous adventure story about a high-stakes race around the world. The novel captured the public imagination, and a few intrepid real-life adventures determined to embark on their own worldwide round-trips. Phelan’s beautifully illustrated book follows ex-miner Thomas Stevens on his bicycle (the old-fashioned kind with the giant front wheel), sea captain Joshua Slocum all alone on his thirty-six-foot ship, and sassy reporter Nellie Bly as she charges around the globe to beat Jules Verne’s fictional eighty-day challenge. The adventures are thrilling enough in the ARC’s black and white; the final book is published in glorious full color.   posted Dec 13, 2011 at 2:56PM

Cover ArtMoby-Dick in pictures : one drawing for every page /
by Kish, Matt, 1969-
One day in 2009, Matt Kish, a librarian and artist in Ohio, was inspired by his undying love for a big book about a man and a whale. Kish decided to draw an illustration for every page of the Signet Classics edition of—you guessed it—Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Two years and 552 pages later, Kish’s project is complete. Using common materials and found pages, Kish deliberately employed a low-tech style in response to the increasing amount of digitally produced book art. A quote from each page of Moby-Dick is Kish’s inspiration, and the result—seen in a few promotional postcards and a simple BLAD (Book Layout and Design, a sort of six-to-twelve-page mini-ARC) before I finally got my hands on the gorgeous final product—is beautiful, fun, and inspiring. Kish began his Moby-Dick drawings as an art project for his modest blog; now his artistic interpretation of Melville’s masterpiece is available to one and all.   posted Dec 13, 2011 at 2:55PM

Cover ArtThe Wikkeling
by Arntson, Steven, 1973-
Henrietta’s life is controlled by rigid rules that “protect” her from deadly things like house cats (dangerous wild animals) and old books (which can make you sick). But one night Henrietta finds an injured cat in a secret attic. From the tip-top windows, she can see her neighborhood the way it used to look in the idyllic way-back-when days. Good things rarely last, however, and soon a mysterious, long-fingered yellow creature called the Wikkeling is haunting Henrietta. Its mere touch can give you a headache, and it wants to know where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. As Henrietta investigats this menacing apparition and the world she lives in, readers are delightfully creeped out by illustrator Daniela Jaglenka Terrazinni’s stark and wild drawings. The dystopian world of The Wikkeling is eerily similar to our own, and that is of course where its real appeal lies.   posted Dec 13, 2011 at 2:47PM

Cover ArtTrickster : Native American tales : a graphic collection
Native American stories are often overlooked in literature; even more so in the graphic novel boom that has swept book publishing the last few years. But Trickster: Native American Tales remedies all that—and does so in an intelligent, artistic, and truly delightful way. Collecting various interpretations of the Trickster character and myth just as it collects different artists and authors to tell the tales, Trickster is a unique and authentic anthology. The artwork ranges in style from bubbly cartoon rabbits to realistic raccoons to black-and-white inked coyotes and ravens; the tales are drawn from many cultures to emphasis the distinct differences between North America’s tribal groups. But it’s not only educational information about a too-often-ignored history; Trickster is as genuinely funny as it is thought-provoking. Whether he’s a coyote creating stars in the sky or a rabbit out-witting bison, there’s something for everyone in the tales of the Trickster.   posted Dec 13, 2011 at 2:47PM

Cover ArtLevel up /
by Yang, Gene Luen.
It was a Pac-Man arcade game in a Chinese restaurant and for six-year-old Dennis Ouyang, it was love at first sight. But Dennis’ parents have different ideas: good grades, college, med school. So young Dennis never plays a video game until he’s in college. Then—the day after his father dies of liver cancer—Dennis finally gets his hands on a video game system. He’s a natural, and gaming becomes his life even when he flunks out of school. But when Dennis is visited by a quartet of quirky cartoon angels straight off the front of a greeting card, he’s quickly back on track, video game-free and on his way toward the future his father always envisioned for him: a successful career as a gastroenterologist. As Dennis tries to ignore the visions of pixelated video game characters that dance in his head, artist Thien Pham pens cartoon panels in subtle shades filled with energetic characters and the wry humor of author Gene Luen Yang. Level Up is a smart, savvy meditation on what can happen when you try to juggle what you want and what’s expected of you with the twists and turns that life can take all on its own.   posted Dec 13, 2011 at 2:44PM

Cover ArtThe Unidentified /
by Mariz, Rae
In the not-too-distant future, education has been taken over by corporations. Malls are converted to Game Centers, and students learn by—you guessed it—shopping. Connected to each other by high-tech digital devices, playing complex video games in a simulated consumer environment, the most popular kids earn the highest Game scores. Katey “Kid” Dade is decidedly not popular; she just wants to make music with her friends and get along with her mother at home. But then Kid’s curiosity is roused when a group calling itself the Unidentified pulls a daring anti-corporate prank. Ironically, Kid’s investigation into this act of rebellion makes her more appealing to the corporations, and soon Kid’s been “branded”—contracted by sponsors as a “trendspotter” who acts as a spokesperson. As Kid longs for her previous anonymity and digs deep into the Unidentified’s secrets, she begins to question the society she belongs to. And as any reader of dystopian fiction knows, shaking up the status quo leads to all kinds of trouble. Compulsively readable and pitch-perfect when it comes to depicting the life of the average high schooler, The Unidentified is a compelling glimpse into a future that’s not so very different from our own technology-dependent lives.   posted Dec 13, 2011 at 2:44PM

Cover ArtFor the win /
by Doctorow, Cory
The future’s not all fun and games—not for everyone. Sure, people around the world are engrossed in complex, online video games, but the system has been corrupted. Kids work as slave labor for big bosses, farming virtual gold and prizes from the games that are then sold—for a big profit—to rich gamers who can afford to cut corners. Matthew Fong works his virtual magic in poor conditions for small wages so Boss Wing can reap the rewards. Leonard, aka Wei-Dong, stays up all night in L.A. so he can work online with a ragtag team out of China. Mala, known as General Robotwallah, leads an “army” of kids in India through the games under the watchful eyes of Mr. Banerjee. But when any of these skilled young gamers try to strike out for themselves under their own terms, they’re met with threats and violence. Enter Big Sister Nor, a factory-worker-turned-gamer who’s out to lead a worldwide rebellion—online and off—against the bosses and owners. With an international cast of characters whose stories sweep across the globe, For the Win is authentic and exciting. There’s plenty of social commentary here, but this is one thrilling call to action.   posted Dec 13, 2011 at 2:43PM

Cover ArtReady player one : a novel /
by Cline, Ernest
In the year 2044, the environment and the economy have gone to hell. People are poor, sick, and miserable—except when they’re in the OASIS, a completely immersive online video game where they can be fabulous beauty queens or dragon-slaying wizards. The OASIS provides education, jobs, and alternate lives that are ten times more fulfilling than anything the beat-up, worn-down real world can offer. For teenager Wade Watts, the OASIS is his life and his obsession—because it’s creator, eccentric techno-genius James Halliday, left a treasure hunt embedded in the game that leads to a billion dollar real-world fortune and complete control over the OASIS. Halliday was obsessed with the 1980s, the decade of his youth, and Wade (and the rest of the world) have followed in his footsteps, studying John Hughes movies and Atari video games for clues to Halliday’s “Easter egg.” And when Wade gets to the first clue before anyone else—even the soulless minions from the evil IOI corporation—the world (online and offline) will never be the same. Sweet, funny, clever, and quirky, with a cast of badass (ok, geeky) gamers, ‘80s trivia galore, and a Hollywood movie adaptation already in the works, Ready Player One is, quite simply, a winner.   posted Dec 13, 2011 at 2:43PM

Cover ArtEnder's game /
by Card, Orson Scott.
Years ago, an alien race invaded earth—twice. By sheer chance, a single commander of the International Fleet managed to defeat the “buggers.” But humans live in fear that they will attack again, and the International Fleet has spent years developing an intense program to train the next generation of all-star commanders. The students at Battle School are children, little boys and girls who nevertheless possess razor-sharp intellect and an instinct for strategy. The top student is Ender Wiggin, just six years old when he leaves his family. Ender is different, and special. Video games, battle simulations, and a fantasy game with a twisted psychological component—plus isolation, bullying, the knowledge that his failure means the end of life of earth, and an uncanny ability to survive and thrive—turn Ender into the ultimate fighting machine. And though Ender may be the earth’s last and best hope, he’s never been predictable—and the buggers are still out there. Despite Ender’s fierce determination, he’s a sympathetic character who’s never allowed to make any plans for his future or stray from the destiny he’s been chosen for. Smart, suspenseful, and thoughtful, Ender’s Game has become a classic of the science fiction genre.   posted Dec 13, 2011 at 2:42PM

Cover ArtMeanwhile /
by Shiga, Jason
On the first page of this intricate, creative comic book, you’re a little cartoon boy in an ice cream shop deciding between chocolate and vanilla. If you choose chocolate, you follow a brown tube-like line that leads up and around to a tab on a different page. The vanilla line leads you straight off one page and onto another. You continue to follow these lines up, down, right, left, backwards, and forwards as you jump from page to page and wind your way through panels that feature a mad scientist, parallel universes, quantum mechanics, and a giant squid. Sometimes, you save the world. Sometimes, you destroy all life on the planet. Either way, you learn about math and science and—believe it or not—have a whale of a time doing it. Ostensibly for children, Meanwhile will captivate readers of every age with its mind-bending tricks, wily ways, and unexpected endings.   posted Oct 20, 2011 at 10:46AM

Cover ArtYou are a miserable excuse for a hero! /
by Powers, Bob, 1973-
You’re a loser. You’re a thirtysomething wannabe actor, working as waiter, and the girl you went out with last night has been kidnapped. Her kidnappers call you in the morning, waking you up and demanding fifty thousand dollars for her safe return. You don’t have fifty thousand dollars. You don’t even know if you like this girl all that much. But you could be a hero…or you could get drunk and go back to sleep. There are happy endings here, where you got to grad school and raise a family and make a life for yourself surrounded by loved ones. There are also really sucky endings, with torture and murder and unwanted pregnancy. But most of all, there’s plenty of sarcasm, dark humor, and utter nonsense. It’s everything your average childhood “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” story is not, and that’s what makes You Are a Miserable Excuse for a Hero! so addictive and entertaining.   posted Oct 20, 2011 at 10:45AM

Cover ArtThe raging tide, or, The black doll's imbroglio /
by Gorey, Edward, 1925-2000.
Edward Gorey is well-known for his grown-up picture books and his macabre sense of humor. In The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an entire alphabet of small children meets their makers in all manner of devilishly entertaining ways. In The Doubtful Guest, an surprise visitor makes himself quite content in the midst of a household that’s too polite to tell him to go away. And in The Raging Tide, Skrump, Naeelah, Figbash, and Hooglyboo engage in nonsense, guided by your very own expertise. If you think it is clever when Hooglyboo crams Figbash into a vase, turn to page 11. If all this seems “too terrible to contemplate,” turn to page 29. You may also, on another page, choose to visit the Dogear Wryde Topiary Gardens (page 26) or tour the Villa Amnesia (page 23). Nonsense indeed, but in the grand tradition of Edward Gorey, it’s nonsense that you can’t get enough of.   posted Oct 20, 2011 at 10:44AM

Cover ArtBecoming Jane Austen : a life
by Spence, Jon.
The only other writing Jane left behind (besides her novels, a few half-finished works-in-progress, and a handful of childhood scribblings) is her letters. Jane’s elegant literary style is not on show in these missives; these are everyday thoughts put down on the spur of the moment, gossip, news, and family jokes. But there is one tantalizing incident—a flirtation with one “Tom Lefroy.” Tom and Jane met, danced, chatted, and parted forever. Schoolgirl crush or doomed love affair? We’ll never know, but that doesn’t stop biographer Jon Spence from speculating that this relationship was a turning point in Jane’s life that directly inspired the love stories she later wrote. Spence also highlights the possible influence of Jane’s fashionable, glamorous cousin Eliza de Feuillide, whose first husband was guillotined during the French Revolution. By making connections between historical fact and literary fiction, Spence infuses Jane’s life with the romance and drama that Austen fans long to know she experienced. Becoming Jane Austen was the inspiration for the 2007 Hollywood movie Becoming Jane, which firmly casts Jane Austen as the heroine in her very own romantic comedy.   posted Mar 29, 2011 at 8:09AM

Cover ArtVirginia Woolf's nose : essays on biography
by Lee, Hermione.
How does a biographer handle the ambiguities, contradictions, missing years, mythmaking, facts, and fictions? When British writer Hermione Lee gets to the case of Jane Austen in her essay "Jane Austen Faints,", she has plenty to talk about. Given the piddling amount of factual information that exists from Jane’s forty-two years on earth, Austen is a notoriously tough subject. Any incident that is known—no matter how trivial—is ripe for debate. Once, according to family legend, Jane Austen fainted. The cause was the unexpected news that Mr. Austen had decided to move the family to Bath; the result has been intense biographical speculation. This is Jane exhibiting extreme emotion; it must be important. Lee examines various Austen bios see what different writers have made of the incident. Is Jane shocked by how sudden the news is? Terrified of city life, away from the familiar green countryside? Afraid a secret love affair has been uncovered and she is being forcibly separated from her suitor? The real cause is unknown, and so every biographer’s point of view colors our vision of Austen—and forces us to question whether we can ever really know Jane as well as we think we do.   posted Mar 29, 2011 at 8:09AM

Cover ArtGrayson
by Cox, Lynne, 1957-
When Lynne Cox was seventeen years old and finishing her morning swim off the California coast, she suddenly found herself surrounded by a swirling school of anchovies, grunion, and tuna. But Lynne could sense another, larger presence in the water with her. After another mile or so, Lynne got her answer—an eighteen-foot-long baby gray whale was following her. Lynne knew that this “little” whale was migrating with its mother to the Bering Strait. But there was no mother whale—and at forty feet in length, Lynne would know if she were nearby. Soon a network of fishermen and lifeguards were on the lookout while the youngster—dubbed Grayson—swam with Lynne. And Lynne had to stay in the water, because if Grayson tried to follow her to shore, he’d die. This true adventure is fraught with danger, emotion, suspense, and an overwhelming sense of awe at the beauties of the ocean and its creatures.   posted Mar 1, 2011 at 10:25PM

Cover ArtThe secret life of lobsters : how fishermen and scientists are unraveling the my
by Corson, Trevor.
Ah, the lobster—big, red, juicy, delicious. Of course, a lobster’s goal is not to end up on your dinner plate, but to eat and mate and thrive in the deep blue sea. The fishermen who harvest this tasty seafood would agree, believe it or not, since their livelihood depends on there being enough lobster to meet demand. Journalist Trevor Corson traces the circle of life that is Maine’s lobster fishing industry. Now, lobsters are not cute. But what they lack in the grace of a leaping dolphin or the majesty of a diving whale, lobsters make up for in sheer tenacity. Having survived overfishing, artificial insemination at the hands of scientists, and ferocious claw-to-claw battles, lobsters are thriving. With a cast of dashing fishermen, witty marine biologists, and the bold brash crustacean itself, there’s a lot to be said for The Secret Life of Lobsters indeed.   posted Mar 1, 2011 at 10:24PM

Cover ArtCrocodile on the sandbank
by Peters, Elizabeth, 1927-
The first thing Amelia Peabody does when she gets her independence after the death of her father is run off to Egypt. Not your typical Victorian spinster, Amelia is destined for adventure. So when she collects an elegant damsel in distress, the handsome archeologist Emerson brothers, and a walking, talking (well, moaning) two-thousand-year-old mummy along the way, it should come as no surprise that the iron-willed, umbrella-wielding Englishwoman knows how to deal with supposed curses and fainting ladies. But in the hot-tempered personality of dashing Radcliffe Emerson, Amelia appears to have met her match. It is hardly spoiling the story to reveal that the comically tempestuous relationship between Amelia and Emerson is the force that drives not just Crocodile on the Sandbank, but the other eighteen books in the series. The real appeal lies not so much in the mysteries (though crime does indeed abound among the ruins of the ancient pharaohs) but in author Elizabeth Peters’ dynamic cast of characters and impeccable re-creation of the sights and sounds of Victorian-era Egypt—not to mention the myriad ways in which Amelia and Emerson outdo, outwit, and rescue each other again and again.   posted Feb 15, 2011 at 7:43AM

Cover ArtThe beekeeper's apprentice : or, on the segregation of the queen
by King, Laurie R.
Sherlock Holmes is the original, ultimate bachelor-detective, complete with the genuine Dr. Watson to fawn over his masterly leaps of insight. But author Laurie R. King re-imagines Holmes in his later years as a beekeeper in the English countryside—until one day he trips over a gangly young girl with her nose in a book. The girl is orphan Mary Russell, and Sherlock has just met his match in wit and intelligence. First master and apprentice in the art of detection, then equal partners in investigation, Holmes and Russell’s relationship slowly grows into something more important and much more intimate. Their first real challenge comes during Russell’s college years at Oxford after World War I. A master criminal, as devious as the infamous Moriarty, is playing a deadly game with the pair’s very lives. This is all accompanied by King’s fine literary style, with Russell as an intimately honest narrator revealing a detailed sense of historical time and place. The other books in the series continue to develop both the Holmes mythology and the Mary Russell casebook with insightful adventures that draw on literature and history—and just a bit of romance.   posted Feb 15, 2011 at 7:42AM

Cover ArtBlankets : an illustrated novel
by Thompson, Craig, 1975-
Craig’s parents are conservative Christians who believe that their son’s penchant for art will lead them down the road to hell. Brought up to fear God and to feel guilt over the smallest and most common of boyish sins, Craig is the designated high school outcast. Lucky fellow, he gets to maintain that role at church camp too. But then he meets Raina, beautiful, spiritual, kind, and complicated. The two strike up a relationship, a romance for the ages that has clearly haunted the artist Craig Thompson well into his adult life. Thompson relives his first love in poignant and painful detail accompanied by crisp, clear black-and-white drawings that are wonderfully expressive and dramatic, but never overly sentimental. The clash between what you’re brought up to believe and what you come to believe on your own through your own experiences, is dealt with sensitively, realistically, and with the kind of emotion that every reader can relate to.   posted Feb 1, 2011 at 5:18PM

Cover ArtThe professor's daughter
by Sfar, Joann.
Lillian (pert and pretty) and Imhotep (dashing and dapper) are in love, and the duo makes quite a splash as they gad about Victorian-era London. Of course, many obstacles stand in their way—Lillian is the daughter of an eminent archeology professor, and Imhotep is a bandage-wrapped mummy from Ancient Egypt. Lillian’s father is unlikely to approve the match (“You are the property of the British Museum. You are dead. Stay out of this!” the Professor cries when he discovers his daughter in Imhotep’s arms). More mummified parental figures, the British police force, and Queen Victoria herself get tangled up in this whimsical comedy. As the sprightly forms of Lillian and Imhotep dart across the pages, readers become enchanted by the pair’s hijinks and adventures. Author and artist Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert are in fine form here—cheeky humor and expressive illustrations combine for a delightfully romantic romp.   posted Feb 1, 2011 at 5:18PM

Cover ArtScott Pilgrim. Vol. 1, Scott Pilgrim's precious little life
by O'Malley, Bryan Lee.
Scott Pilgrim: Twenty-three years old. Canadian. Drummer in a sucky band. Dating a high school girl (but they don’t even hold hands). Status: Awesome. Scott Pilgrim’s life is pretty damn great—not an expectation in sight. But then a beautiful Amazon.com delivery girl starts rollerblading through Scott’s dreams, and he’s head-over-heels in sweet, awkward, slacker love—especially when the dream girl turns out to be a real girl, Ramona Flowers, who kind of likes Scott too. The catch? Okay, Scott has to break up with the high school girl. And the band finally has a gig. But more important are Ramona’s seven evil ex-boyfriends, whom Scott must fight—and defeat—if he wants to date Ramona. First up is Matthew Patel, attacking at the club where Scott’s band is playing, and it’s a kung-fu showdown of epic proportions. With lots of action, sarcastic hipster humor, and a manga-influenced comic style, the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels are witty, charming, and unabashedly silly.   posted Feb 1, 2011 at 5:18PM

Cover ArtPride and prejudice and zombies : the graphic novel
by Lee, Tony, 1970-
The illustrations were the one of the key features of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 smash-hit mash-up combining Jane Austen’s masterpiece Pride and Prejudice with his own scenes of “ultraviolent zombie mayhem.” Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a remarkably clever and downright funny little book; the next step on the road to success, obviously, is a graphic novel adaptation. In elegant black-and-white drawings, Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters attend country dances, decapitate the undead, flirt with distinguished gentleman, and master both the deadly and the feminine arts. Elizabeth spars with Mr. Darcy; Mr. Darcy spars with zombies; the reader is rewarded with lots of guts and gore. And those guts and gore are illustrated in as much loving detail as the 18th century-period frocks and top hats. Elizabeth is clever and lovely, Mr. Darcy is dark and dashing, and the zombies are practically eating their way through panels and pages. All in all, the graphic Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is every bit as much fun as its premise would lead you to believe.   posted Feb 1, 2011 at 5:17PM

Cover ArtTwilight, the graphic novel. Volume 1
by Kim, Young
Bella Swan moves to gloomy Forks, Washington. At school she meets the mysterious, alluring, irresistible Edward Cullen—and of course he has a deep, dark secret (he’s a moody, dreamy, blood-thirsty vampire). Covering roughly the first half of author Stephenie Meyer’s hit teen novel Twilight, this graphic novel adaptation ups the ante on the glamour, the drama, the suspense, and the interspecies paranormal romance. Artist Young Kim’s illustrations are sleek, strong black-and-white drawings with glimmers of red and brown when the blood flows or the fangs bite. Bella and Edward are depicted in anime-style beauty, all big eyes and pouty lips—ideal for gazing across the page at each other, sighing with longing as they yearn to be together. Whether you’re Team Edward or Team Jacob, whether you read the book ten times or saw the movie twenty times, the graphic novel still holds twists and surprises to delight and thrill. Ah, there’s nothing like a good vampire romance.   posted Feb 1, 2011 at 5:17PM

Cover ArtThe science of Sherlock Holmes : from Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, th
by Wagner, E. J.
How accurate were Sherlock Holmes’ methods, really? He’s a fictional character, after all, working in the dark ages of the Victorian era before the invention of electricity, antibiotics, or automobiles. But by solving cases on the basis of tire marks, tobacco ash, and—yes—thumbprints and bullet trajectories, Holmes proves himself an important forerunner in the ever-important field of forensic science. Author, crime historian, and Holmes fanatic E.J. Wagner makes a magical match when she uses the works of Arthur Conan Doyle to explore early crime scene investigation methods. From the “real” hound of the Baskervilles to Holmes’ use of fingerprinting to Conan Doyle’s real-life contemporaries like detective Henry Goddard of the Bow Street Runners and brilliant-but-bigheaded pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, The Science of Sherlock Holmes guides us through the science’s early experiments and into the accepted practices. There are also old-fashioned legends and bizarre myths, vampires, Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, and lots of blood and guts. By combining the popularity of two forever-trendy subjects—Sherlock Holmes and forensic science—Wagner succeeds in shedding light on both, pleasing fans of both, and educating and entertaining absolutely everyone.   posted Jan 18, 2011 at 8:45AM

Cover ArtMistress of the art of death
by Franklin, Ariana.
Dr. Adelia Aguilar is an oddity. She’s an independent woman, a highly-educated doctor, and the primary specialist in her field of study. Today, Adelia would simply be a coroner, examining bodies for evidence of how they met their end. But in her day and age—the year 1171, in Medieval Europe—Adelia is a “mistress of the art of death,” and most of her contemporaries would not hesitate to label her a witch and burn her at the stake. But Adelia is on a mission. Sent from Salerno, Italy, where women are allowed to study and practice medicine, to Cambridge, England, where women are expected to stay firmly in the home, Adelia and a few intelligent, enlightened companions are charged with solving the grisly murders of four children. Adelia’s examination of the bodies hints that the culprit may be among the pilgrims recently arrived at Cambridge. As Adelia narrows down the list of suspects, author Ariana Franklin introduces the readers to life in the Middle Ages—dirty, grim, ugly, but also populated by men and women not so different from you and me. Mistress of the Art of Death is a sophisticated historical mystery.   posted Jan 18, 2011 at 8:40AM

Cover ArtThe big policeman : the rise and fall of America's first, most ruthless, and gre
by Conway, J. North
New York City has always been a tough town. But when you’re an Irish immigrant who escaped the notorious Five Points neighborhood to fight in the Civil War, join the city’s burgeoning police force, and rise to power through a combination of ruthless cunning and innovative detective work, things are tougher and more complicated than you could ever imagine. Such is the life story of Thomas Byrne (1842-1910), New York City’s premiere police chief during the 19th century. This biography by historical writer J. North Conway traces the career of the man who implemented now-standard crime-fighting techniques like mug shots and police line-ups and who got his best results when he “gave ’em the third degree,” a phrase he coined and which meant beating confessions out of suspects. Byrne solved the major crimes of his day—the case of “America’s Jack the Ripper,” the ballsy robbery of the impenetrable Manhattan Savings Bank, the theft and ransom of a millionaire’s dead body—but got caught up in the corrupt Tammany Hall-dominated politics of the day. Byrne was a complicated man with his own set of morals, and the story of his rise and inevitable fall is sensational, compelling history.   posted Jan 18, 2011 at 8:40AM

Cover ArtAn expert in murder : a new mystery featuring Josephine Tey
by Upson, Nicola.
Josephine Tey, acclaimed mystery writer on par with the likes of Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, is on her way to London to celebrate the triumphant run of her play, Richard of Bordeaux. On the train she meets an avid fan, a young haberdasher named Elspeth whose enthusiasm and optimism make an impression on Josephine despite their brief acquaintance. So when Josephine learns that Elspeth was murdered shortly after they parted company, the shock hits hard. Detective Inspector Archie Penrose is a friend of Josephine’s, and the author of fictional mysteries is swiftly drawn deep into the dangers of a true crime that strikes far too close to home. Author Nicola Upson conveys the atmosphere of 1930s England to a tee. The mystery, too, is smart and genuine—Upson even went so far as to interview Richard of Bordeaux’s real-life players, though their names have been changed for the book. The real Josephine Tey (1896-1952) was one of the Queens of Crime back in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, and mystery lovers unfamiliar with her novels will be flocking to the shelves for the likes of The Man in the Queue (1929) and The Daughter of Time (1951).   posted Dec 7, 2010 at 12:52PM

Cover ArtWicked Will
by MacDonald, Bailey
Thomas Pryne is a young actor traveling in a players’ troupe through jolly old 16th century England. Except that Tom is not what he appears—he is actually Viola, a girl in disguise under the protection of her actor-uncle. When they arrive in the little village of Stratford, Viola’s secret is threatened by an all-too-observant, overly-inquisitive, and rather annoying boy—who just happens to be named Will Shakespeare. Will is quick to drag Viola into his schemes and adventures, but when the town curmudgeon is found murdered, Will quickly turns from mischief-making to investigating. Viola, though skeptical of Will’s skill, is more than willing to play along—because her dear uncle is accused of the crime, and the brash young playwright-to-be just might be their best chance at uncovering the truth. Author Bailey MacDonald sprinkles her clever mystery with snippets from familiar plays and stays true to the lively spirit of the real William Shakespeare (1564-1616). As irresistible as the boy Shakespeare super-sleuth is, MacDonald has no current plans for a sequel. She does, however, have plans for a young Benjamin Franklin, who stars in his own rousing mystery debut, The Secret of the Sealed Room.   posted Dec 7, 2010 at 12:48PM

Cover ArtThe poyson garden : an Elizabethan mystery
by Harper, Karen
Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of “off-with-their-heads” King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (later beheaded), was pretty much guaranteed to have an interesting life. So when author Karen Harper imagines the young Elizabeth (1533-1603) in the days leading up to her reign, when her half-sister Mary was still on England’s throne, readers know there’s drama a-comin.’ Elizabeth is supposed to be under house arrest in the country, far away from court where her claims to rule cannot be heard. But Elizabeth—just twenty-five years old, ambitious, and intelligent—is not one to play by the rules. When a perplexing note summons her to the bedside of a relative she thought was already long dead, the young royal is quickly plunged into all manner of intrigues and deceptions. There’s a murderer afoot, armed with a deadly arsenal of poisons and targeting anyone and everyone connected to the Boleyn family. But Elizabeth is a curious, spirited young queen-to-be with loyal servants, stoic relations, a look-alike herbalist, and a band of plucky actors on her side—unless, of course, one of them is the killer. Don’t expect historical accuracy from this series, but do be prepared for lively, atmospheric mysteries featuring a likable and rousing heroine.   posted Dec 7, 2010 at 12:46PM

Cover ArtOscar Wilde and a death of no importance
by Brandreth, Gyles Daubeney, 1948-
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was an author, poet, playwright, and due to his flamboyant style, a major celebrity of his time. The scandal that brought about his downfall—his affair with an aristocratic young gentleman was publicly exposed—made him an even hotter item of gossip. But between his fame and his decline, Oscar Wilde (at least according to the mystery series penned by Gyles Brandreth) was one of the most intuitive detectives solving crime on the mean streets of Victorian London. For his first case, Oscar investigates the death of sixteen-year-old model Billy Wood. Oscar walks in moments after the murder, but when he brings friends Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) and Robert Sherard (poet and eventual Wilde biographer) back to the scene of the crime, the room has been wiped clean of all evidence—including Billy’s body. Oscar, with his contrary nature that has him waxing poetic one moment and making Sherlockian deductions the next, follows clues and culprits while his pals and the police try to convince him that nothing can possibly be done. Of course Oscar prevails, and the result is a stylish, authentic, and highly entertaining mystery.   posted Dec 7, 2010 at 12:45PM

Cover ArtJane and the unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor : being the first Jane Austen mys
by Barron, Stephanie.
Author Stephanie Barron sets her fictionalized Jane Austen in the seemingly mild-mannered world of 18th century polite society, with manor houses, horse-drawn carriages, and formal visits galore—and then gives her heroine lots of adventures and mysteries to solve. In the series opener, Jane has just caused a scandal by accepting a marriage proposal only to change her mind the next morning. Seeking refuge from wagging tongues, Jane goes to visit an old friend, Isobel Payne, who has just married the wealthy—and much older—Earl of Scargrave. When the Earl suddenly dies and anonymous notes accuse his young bride of murder, Jane determines to stay on and help her dear friend through this dark hour. There’s a tangle of suspects and motives to unravel—greedy nephews, airhead aunts, scoundrels, and ne’er-do-wells—not to mention a dashing Lord with a decided interest in Jane the detective. Janeites will recognize names and characters from the author’s life and novels and will surely get a kick out of seeing the prim-and-proper Miss Austen (1775-1817) turn snoop. It will come as no surprise that with her reputed wit and critical eye, Jane makes a formidable detective indeed.   posted Dec 7, 2010 at 12:45PM

Cover ArtThe tale of Hill Top Farm
by Albert, Susan Wittig.
The village of Near Sawrey is like many English villages—seemingly sleepy, but ready to jump to life at the slightest hint of scandal. When a resident dies unexpectedly, the rumor mill kicks into high gear. Into this frenzy of speculation comes Miss Beatrix Potter. It’s 1905, and the author is beginning to make a name for herself with her tales of Peter Rabbit and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. But she’s chafing under the protection of her snobbish parents and mourning the death of her fiancé. Seeking solace, Beatrix arrives in Near Sawrey (pet rabbits in tow) as the new owner of Hill Top Farm. Locals add her to their mix of gossip but Beatrix fits in quickly, especially when her quick eye and growing self confidence land her smack in the middle of a puzzle involving a trio of important missing items. It’s a cozy little mystery made even sweeter by the addition of village animals, who have as much to say as their human counterparts do. Author Susan Wittig Albert includes a biography that is sure to make readers as keen to explore the real life of Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) as they will be to solve mysteries with her.   posted Dec 7, 2010 at 12:44PM

Cover ArtPitch black : don't be skerd
by Youme.
Pitch Black is a graphic novel collaboration between artist Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton, a homeless young man living in the subway tunnels of New York City. The two struck up a conversation one day while Landowne was waiting for a train, and after an exchange of art and stories, the unlikely duo decided to document Horton’s unique biography. Given up for adoption as a baby and then passed from foster home to foster home, Horton’s childhood was grim and violent. A harsh life on the city streets followed, every day a battle for survival. Then one day Horton flees from pursuing cops into a subway tunnel. Underground, Horton finally finds a place of refuge. Though a life in the dark and damp, surrounded by rats and garbage, may not sound ideal, Horton finally has the mentors and friends that he lacked growing up. He shares his story with Landowne—and with the reader—with an unflinching eye. The stark, black-and-white artwork by both Landowne and Horton shows life on the streets in all its gritty reality. But despite it all, readers will come away with a sense of hope and inspiration and a new respect for those who—whether by choice or by necessity—live their lives differently.   posted Nov 23, 2010 at 7:51PM

Cover ArtThe seventh sinner.
by Peters, Elizabeth, 1927-
Pretty young Jean Suttman is thrilled to death to be studying archeology in Rome. It’s a city seeped in ancient history and artifacts. She’s found a group of friends who are fellow scholars and artists. And she’s just met visiting librarian Jacqueline Kirby, who, despite her middle-aged no-nonsense appearance, is an unconquerable spitfire with powers of observation that are only matched by her sharp tongue. So when Jean stumbles across the dead body of a universally disliked fellow scholar during a tour of the ancient underground Temple of Mithra, no one is better equipped to solve the mystery than Jacqueline Kirby. There are, however, plenty of suspects—because Jean keeps meeting with unfortunate accidents, and only her seven dearest friends had the means and opportunity to cause so much trouble. Besides creating a nifty little mystery, author Elizabeth Peters crafts a delightful cast of sinister, sweet, and highly suspicious characters. But it is Jacqueline Kirby, librarian extraordinaire, who takes the cake—and this is merely her first appearance in a very delightful series of mysteries.   posted Nov 23, 2010 at 7:51PM

Cover ArtTunnels
by Gordon, Roderick.
Londoner Will Burrows has always been a loner. His pale skin and white hair make him an outcast at school. His family life is complicated by a television-obsessed mother and a kid sister who’s taken over the management of the household. Will does have a connection with his dad—a shared love for archeological excavation. Still, father and son keep secrets from each other. When, at separate dig sites, they each uncover impressive underground structures that don’t show up on any of London’s schematics, Will and his dad know they’re onto something big. But then Mr. Burrows disappears. Will enlists the help of his only friend, Chester, and keeps digging. What the boys finally find is astonishing—an immense Victorian-style city carved into the living rock. This is “the Colony,” a secret civilization hidden beneath the earth. Will seems to have an odd connection with this subterranean society, and while Chester is locked in jail, Will is taken in by a Colonist family. He is fascinated by the cavernous Colony and its citizens, but Will never forgets Chester—or his missing father. Tunnels only sets up the adventure; final gripping chapters and a cliff-hanger ending ensure that more danger, excitement, and mystery wait in the even-deeper reaches of this extraordinary fantasy world.   posted Nov 23, 2010 at 7:51PM

Cover ArtNeverwhere
by Gaiman, Neil
Richard Mayhew lives in London. He has a job, an apartment, and a fiancé. He has a regular everyday sort of life. All that is about to change. Late to dinner, Richard stops to help a dirty young woman bleeding on the sidewalk. The waiflike girl is named Door and there’s something very odd about her, but Richard brings her home and cleans her up. When Door leaves, it seems the adventure is over. But then Richard begins to change. His friends don’t recognize him, his fiancé barely notices him, and strangers can’t even see he’s there. Knowing Door has the answers, Richard plunges into London Below, a weird and wild world inhabited by those who “fell between the cracks”—people who live in the sewers and subway tunnels, people who talk to rats, people who are magic. Soon Richard is one of Door’s companions on a dangerous quest through this strange land. If Richard wants to get back to his blissfully humdrum life, he’s got to prove his worth against all manner of assassins, monsters, and mayhem. Author Neil Gaiman is at his best here as he skillfully weaves myths and legends together with the familiar to create a magical world that is entirely new. Witty and wickedly inventive, Neverwhere is fantasy at its finest.   posted Nov 23, 2010 at 7:50PM

Cover ArtThe water room
by Fowler, Christopher.
The Peculiar Crimes Unit is a controversial branch of the London Police Department that takes on cases that are just a bit too “off” for the regular police to cope with. Arthur Bryant and John May, the grumpy old men of criminal investigation, have been with the PCU since its inception. May is down-to-earth; Bryant is a cantankerous loner whose acquaintances tend to be mystics, psychics, and Wiccans. Still, they get things done. But with budgets stretched thin, the PCU is looking like less of a necessity. And Bryant and May aren’t helping matters by investigating cases brought to them by friends—May pokes around in the affairs of a disgraced academic and Bryant looks into the death of a little old lady. But the old lady was found drowned in her bone-dry basement. And May’s down-on-his-luck scholar is being paid big money to explore London’s ancient underground river system. With dogged determination, curmudgeonly charm, and good old-fashioned detecting, the duo finds a compelling mystery with a solution that lies deep underground. The Water Room is author Christopher Fowler’s second PCU novel and he is in fine form. There’s plenty of mystery, intrigue, and dark humor, but the real heart of the story is the spirited relationship between the indomitable Bryant and May.   posted Nov 23, 2010 at 7:50PM

Cover ArtThe city of Ember
by DuPrau, Jeanne.
The city of Ember is the only light in a world of darkness. But now, more than two-hundred years after apocalyptic events destroyed the rest of the world, Ember is beginning to fail. Supplies are running low and power outages that plaque the city are becoming more frequent. Still, life goes on. On Assignment Day, the city’s twelve-year-olds leave school and accept their lifelong work assignments. For curious-as-a-cat Lina Mayfleet, this means becoming a Messenger, delivering notes and gaining access to every area of Ember. For stoic handyman Doon Harrow, this means keeping the centuries-old generator patched together in the Pipeworks far below the city. But Lina and Doon soon stumble across long-buried secrets. The city’s founding fathers never meant for their people to dwell in darkness forever. The instructions for escape have been lost by corrupt city officials, and now, with resources fading fast and the citizens’ anxiety rising high, it’s up to Lina and Doon to find the pieces of the puzzle and save their city—even if it means venturing into the pitch-dark void that stretches beyond the dimming streetlights. Author Jeanne DuPrau invents mechanics, politics, and mysteries for the city of Ember and readers will breathlessly go along for the ride as Lina and Doon bring surprising new truths to light.   posted Nov 23, 2010 at 7:50PM

Cover ArtGregor the Overlander
by Collins, Suzanne
Gregor’s mother works hard to make ends meet. His father vanished three years ago, and Gregor is responsible for babysitting his little sister. It’s a pretty dreary life for an eleven-year-old kid. But then baby sister Boots disappears down a vent in the laundry room one afternoon and Gregor dives in after her. They fall into the Underland, a fantastic world deep underground that’s populated by pale-skinned humans and giant talking animals. The subterranean dwellers suspect that Gregor is the subject of a prophecy that promises an “Overlander” warrior will lead them to victory against an army of rat invaders. Gregor has no desire to embrace his destiny—until he learns about another Overlander held captive by the rats. Gregor thinks of his father and accepts the adventure that lies ahead. He’s accompanied by quite the motley crew—Underland royalty, flying bats, a creepy rat, a big old spider, and a couple of giant cockroaches who take quite a fancy to precocious little Boots. Gregor’s reluctance to stay in the Underland does not extend to readers, who will be thrilled with the amount of detail that author Suzanne Collins lavishes on the world she imagines below ours—a wealth of magical creatures living a mythology of their own in a fantastic series of adventures.   posted Nov 23, 2010 at 7:49PM

Cover ArtThe great stink
by Clark, Clare.
William May is a veteran of the terrors of the Crimean War. The year is 1855, modern readers will have no difficulty recognizing the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder—poor William is fragile, damaged, and unable to relate to his former life. He finds some measure of solace underground as a surveyor for a massive engineering project to revamp London’s outdated, unstable, and very stinky sewer system. Also patrolling the sewers is Long Arm Tom, a “tosher” who searches for valuables and catches rats for dogfight bait. Then William witnesses a brutal murder in the tunnels and, due to his slipping hold on reality, is fingered as the culprit and locked away. While William languishes in prison, it’s up to Long Arm Tom to prowl the dark underground in search of the truth. Though the ending may come a trifle too neatly for some readers, most will be swept away by author Clare Clark’s attention to historical detail. Victorian London is richly evoked in all its triumphs and tragedies, from the engineering feats that created London’s sewers to the horrors of the Crimean War to the harsh differences between the lives of the city’s social classes. The Great Stink is a fine mystery and an even finer portrait of a unique historical time and place.   posted Nov 23, 2010 at 7:49PM

Cover ArtLulu and the brontosaurus
by Viorst, Judith.
Little Lulu always gets her way. If her parents dare to say “No,” Lulu simply changes their minds by employing her trademark ear-shattering shriek. For her birthday this year, Lulu demands a pet brontosaurus. Her parents refuse, Lulu screeches until light bulbs shatter, and then the precocious tot heads into the forest—suitcase containing pickle sandwiches in hand—to find a dinosaur all by herself. After lions, tigers, and bears (oh my), the brontosaurus of Lulu’s dreams rears his giant head. But there’s a problem—the dinosaur thinks that Lulu is going to become his pet. As Lulu and the brontosaurus meet their match in each other, the reader will find more than enough charm in author Judith Viorst’s tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale. Artist Lane Smith lends a hand with adorably droll illustrations, and the result is a lively, lovely tale for children of all ages.   posted Nov 9, 2010 at 9:40AM

Cover ArtTyrannosaur Canyon
by Preston, Douglas J.
Mild-mannered do-gooder Tom Broadbent is riding his horse home across the New Mexican desert when he stumbles upon a man dying from gunshot wounds. The man thrusts a tattered notebook into Tom’s hands and, with his final breath, begs Tom to “bring this to my daughter.” Of course, it’s not just any old everyday notebook. It contains a coded map leading to an unprecedented scientific discovery: The perfectly preserved remains of a tyrannosaurus rex. This is a secret worth killing for, and soon Tom and his pretty wife Sally are in danger from a jailbird assassin, a ruthless British paleontologist, and a deadly squad of undercover army operatives. This colorful cast of characters also includes an ex-CIA agent turned monk-in-training and a talented lab assistant languishing in the forgotten depths of the American Museum of Natural History. Over-the-top? You bet, and it’s a ton of fun. Author Douglas Preston has a fine grip on what makes a good thriller—good guys, bad guys, cliffhanger chapter endings, a pinch of astounding scientific theory, and intrigue and suspense up the wazoo.   posted Nov 9, 2010 at 9:39AM

Cover ArtBone sharps, cowboys, and thunder lizards : a tale of Edwin Drinker Cope, Othnie
by Ottaviani, Jim.
Once upon a time in the late 1800s, there were two fossil hunters named Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh. Cope and Marsh are the granddaddies of modern paleontology. They were scholars and scientists at the top of their field. They discovered the creatures we know today as stegosaurus, allosaurus, diplocodus, triceratops, and brontosaurus. Cope and Marsh also absolutely, completely, and bitterly hated each other. In the late 19th century, dino discoveries were making headlines and capturing the public’s imagination, but even the entire American West was not big enough to contain the egos and ambitions of these two men. Cope and March stole from each other’s dig sites and mocked each other’s research. Their public squabbles grew so intense that the period of their study is now simply called “the Bone Wars.” And in Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards, graphic novelist Jim Ottaviani and the artists of the Big Time Attic collective gleefully bring Cope and Marsh’s feud to vivid life. Famous characters like P.T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill, and artist Charles R. Knight pepper the narrative, but Cope and Marsh’s story steals the show and makes for a fast, funny, and truly delightful read.   posted Nov 9, 2010 at 9:39AM

Cover ArtDinotopia : a land apart from time
by Gurney, James, 1958-
In 1862, Professor Arthur Denison and his son Will are shipwrecked on a tropical island. Almost immediately, they encounter strange signs of life—enormous footprints, mysterious noises, and bizarre animals. To Denison and Will’s immense surprise, the inhabitants of this island are dinosaurs who live in unity and harmony with humans. Dinotopia—the name is the island—is a peaceful, innovative, cooperative society. Denison and Will are expected to contribute their skills as well and journey across the island to register at Waterfall City. Along the way, they befriend Dinotopia’s human and dinosaur citizens and observe first-hand the extraordinary workings of this unique—but still mysterious and even dangerous—world. Author James Gurney presents this sophisticated picture book as Arthur Denison’s journal. As such, it is filled with scientific observations and beautiful, realistic portraits of the people, creatures, and places of Dinotopia—including the dinosaurs, who are portrayed in all their glory as they work, play, and learn side-by-side with humans. Dinotopia is whimsical, fantastic, and worthy of being read again and again by dinosaur enthusiasts of all ages.   posted Nov 9, 2010 at 9:39AM

Cover ArtAnonymous Rex
by Garcia, Eric.
Dinosaurs are not extinct. Really, they’re not. They’ve simply learned to evolve and coexist. They live among us in secret, wearing latex human disguises, carefully governed by watchful Councils, and recognizing each other by their distinct dino-scents. The hero of Anonymous Rex is Vincent Rubio, a Los Angeles private detective and a velociraptor. Rubio is a dino in disgrace. He disobeyed the Council’s strict rules while investigating the suspicious death of his partner. He’s broke, addicted to basil, and has a single chance at redemption when he is assigned a case of arson at a dinosaur-owned nightclub. Rubio’s sleuthing uncovers police evidence gathered by a brontosaur sergeant, plots hatched by scheming dinosaur widows and mistresses, and a triceratops geneticist’s evil plot. Author Eric Garcia gleefully works his premise, spilling the dirt on the dinosaurs’ secrets to survival and blowing the cover on many supposedly-human luminaries. Complete with interspecies fighting, lying, spying, and loving, Anonymous Rex is a riotous, ridiculous romp.   posted Nov 9, 2010 at 9:39AM

Cover ArtThe lost world
by Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir, 1859-1930.
Daily Gazette reporter Ed Malone likes a girl. But the girl isn’t very keen on lowly newsboys; she wants the romance and heart-pounding bravery of an adventurous explorer like Richard Francis Burton or Henry Morton Stanley. Lucky for Malone, there’s an explorer right in town—although cantankerous Professor Challenger’s reputation has taken a hefty blow due to his claims of prehistoric creatures alive and well in the Amazonian basin. But even a discredited adventurer is good enough for Malone and before he knows it, he’s on his way back to South America with Challenger, skeptical scientist Professor Summerlee, and experienced explorer Lord John Roxton. The motley crew is instantly plunged into a whole mess of action and excitement—meeting with secretive Amazonian tribesmen, fighting with primitive ape-people, and (of course!) fleeing from roaring dinosaurs. It’s true that there’s more than a touch of early 19th century racism and classism, but if you can grit your teeth and bear it through the political incorrect bits, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic, witty, true-blue tale of derring-do.   posted Nov 9, 2010 at 9:38AM

Cover ArtJurassic Park : a novel
by Crichton, Michael, 1942-2008.
You know and love the 1993 Steven Spielberg blockbuster movie Jurassic Park, but that thrill-ride is based first and foremost on author Michael Crichton’s bestselling book of the same name. After decades of research, genetic engineering firm InGen, headed by dapper little old gentleman John Hammond, has successfully cloned the ancient DNA of fifteen species of dinosaur. To show off this astounding breakthrough, Hammond creates Jurassic Park, a dinosaur-themed amusement park and nature conserve on a remote island off the coast of Costa Rica. He invites some very exclusive guests to give the park their stamp of approval before the grand opening—awestruck paleontologists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, sarcastic chaos theorist Ian Malcolm, and his own precocious grandchildren Tim and Lex. It comes as no surprise that all the high-tech science and high-end security cannot stop nature from taking its course, and soon the guests are running for their lives from escaped tyrannosauruses and hungry velociraptors. This sounds a lot like the movie, but the expertly-crafted novel is perfectly paced with fresh plot twists, complex character relationships, fascinating scientific theory, and even more action-packed scenes of nail-biting suspense and heart-pounding adventure.   posted Nov 9, 2010 at 9:38AM

Cover ArtThe fairy-tale detectives
by Buckley, Michael.
Eleven-year-old Sabrina Grimm and her kid sister Daphne have been on their own ever since their parents disappeared a year ago. Hoisted from one foster home to another, the girls—especially Sabrina—are tough, quick, and independent. When a woman claiming to be their Grandmother Grimm takes them into her home, Sabrina is suspicious. Their parents told them their grandparents were dead, and no twinkly-eyed lady is going to win her over that easily. Daphne, on the other hand, is enthralled with Granny Relda—because this strange woman also claims that the Grimms are descended from none other than the fairy tale-writing brothers Grimm, and that the family’s long-time duty has been to solve crimes committed by and against the unusual inhabitants of the town of Ferryport Landing. By unusual Granny really means magical, because the townsfolk are straight out of every fairy tale and childhood classic you’ve ever read, from Prince Charming to Puck to the Three Pigs. And these “Everafters” can cause a lot of trouble—which becomes all too clear when Granny Relda goes missing. Now, like Harry Potter going from Muggle to magician, it is up to Sabrina and Daphne to embrace their untapped magical sides, save that little old lady, and keep their family—such as it is—together. Author Michael Buckley is very clever in his use of fairy tales personalities, but even if your knowledge of storybook folk is a little rusty, there’s still plenty of madcap adventure and tongue-in-cheek wit to go around.   posted Oct 28, 2010 at 5:45PM

Cover ArtLincoln's dreams
by Willis, Connie.
Jeff is a researcher for a Civil War-era historical fiction writer. This means he spends his days looking up the history of generals’ horses or finding exactly where President Lincoln’s sons are buried. When Jeff meets Annie, the patient of an old friend who works at a sleep institute, everything he knows about history is turned on its head. Annie is having nightmares, terrible dreams about the Civil War. Her doctor thinks they’re a symptom of a psychiatric problem, but Jeff is not convinced: there are details in Annie’s dreams that she couldn’t possibly know. As Jeff and Annie explore Annie’s dreams, they come to believe that they aren’t hers at all—they are the dreams of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Whisking Annie out of the reaches of both the doctor and the history writer, Jeff and fragile, stubborn Annie drive up and down the east coast, alternately visiting and escaping the Civil War sites, and try to find a way to bring both Annie and Lee some measure of peace at last. Along the way, the couple tries to distract themselves with Jeff’s employer’s new book—a historical novel about a simple southern man who finds himself drowning in the horrors of the Civil War. Lincoln’s Dreams is, like all author Connie Willis’ books, chock-full of historical details and overflowing with absorbing suspense.   posted Oct 28, 2010 at 5:37PM

Cover ArtThe art of detection
by King, Laurie R.
Inspector Kate Martinelli has seen a lot of strange things in her years as a San Francisco detective, but the murder of Philip Gilbert might just take the cake. Mr. Gilbert’s body was found in an old gun emplacement in the Marin Headlands of the Golden Gate Park. Since Gilbert made his living as a Sherlock Holmes connoisseur (even his home is decked out as a replica of Holmes’ Victorian study at 221B Baker Street), it’s a pretty odd place to get killed. The link becomes clear, however, when a manuscript that may be an unpublished Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle comes to light. Gilbert bought the document for a scant $30; it may be worth millions and that may be motive for murder. Kate reads the story for clues: In Prohibition-era San Francisco, “Mr. Sigurson” (one of the aliases Conan Doyle used for Holmes) investigates the murder of a transvestite’s military lover. As the connections between the murders (one in the fictional past of the short story, and one in Kate’s all-too-real present) add up, the no-nonsense inspector follows leads and interviews suspects. She also banters with her gruff police partner Al Hawkin, shares quiet moments with her life partner Leonora, and parents their precocious three-year-old daughter. Author Laurie R. King infuses both stories with her trademark precision and atmosphere—Holmes frequents the gritty dives of 1920s San Francisco while Kate investigates her modern city’s diverse inhabitants. Both mysteries are compelling, and the way they ultimately weave together is storytelling at its finest.   posted Oct 28, 2010 at 5:36PM

Cover ArtWhen you reach me
by Stead, Rebecca.
In 1978 New York City, twelve-year-old Miranda’s favorite book is the science fiction class A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. L’Engle’s book has similarities with Miranda’s life that make the story meaningful to this latch-key kid in the big city. Like its heroine, Miranda is a bookish student who seems to be on the outs with everyone else. Her best friend, neighbor boy Sal, won’t walk home with her anymore. Her upbeat but always-at-work mother is preoccupied with becoming a contestant on the TV game show The $20,000 Pyramid. The harmless homeless man, who frequently sleeps with his head under the mailbox, is making Miranda more and more uneasy. The new constant in Miranda’s life is arguing about the elements of time travel that occur in A Wrinkle in Time with nerdy-cool classmate Marcus—a boy who once inexplicably punched Sal in the gut. And then there’s the strange notes that appear asking for Miranda’s help, beginning with one that reads “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” The lives of Miranda’s friends, family, classmates, and neighbors may seem tangled into one of the knots that Miranda so likes to tie, but as our heroine picks up a clue here and relates a seemingly simple scene there, the threads of the story weave together into a flawless little mystery that packs a big wow of an ending. A quietly impressive story that lingers long after its last page has been turned, When You Reach Me won the prestigious 2010 Newbery Award for best children’s book.   posted Oct 28, 2010 at 5:28PM

Cover ArtRebecca
by Du Maurier, Daphne, 1907-1989.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” This simple declaration begins the unforgettable tale of a young bride, her darling husband, his charming home, and his impressive, vivacious, gorgeous—and deceased—first wife. Our nameless narrator is an almost impossibly naïve girl barely out of school, but that’s charm enough to captivate aristocratic Maxim de Winter, and the young lady is over the moon that a man so rich and distinguished should take any notice of her. Soon the newlyweds are installed in the ancestral de Winter manor, where the new Mrs. de Winter is expected to run the household with smooth competence. And though the timid young lass does her utmost best, she can’t help but feel overwhelmed by her husband’s busy and important schedule, the wealth and status of her new position, the sly manipulations of the sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, and above all, the long dark shadow cast by the first mistress of Manderley, the impeccable Rebecca de Winter. If our in-over-her-head heroine stands half a chance of making her marriage work—or of simply staking out her own place in the world—she’s got to understand the mysterious circumstances surrounding Rebecca’s death, plunge the depths of Mrs. Danvers’ unnatural devotion to the dead woman, and even explore her secretive husband’s own motives. But Rebecca’s very presence haunts every aspect of the new bride’s life, pushing her (and the reader, who’s in serious suspense by this time) closer and closer to the brink of despair. A stirring Gothic romance, Rebecca is author Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece. It’s also a superb, understated tale that has withstood the test of time to remain an atmospheric, ghostly little haunt of a thriller.   posted Oct 28, 2010 at 5:22PM

Cover ArtLincoln's dreams
by Willis, Connie.
Jeff is a researcher for a Civil War-era historical fiction writer. This means he spends his days looking up the history of generals’ horses or finding exactly where President Lincoln’s sons are buried. When Jeff meets Annie, the patient of an old friend who works at a sleep institute, everything he knows about history is turned on its head. Annie is having nightmares, terrible dreams about the Civil War. Her doctor thinks they’re a symptom of a psychiatric problem, but Jeff is not convinced: there are details in Annie’s dreams that she couldn’t possibly know. As Jeff and Annie explore Annie’s dreams, they come to believe that they aren’t hers at all—they are the dreams of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Whisking Annie out of the reaches of both the doctor and the history writer, Jeff and fragile, stubborn Annie drive up and down the east coast, alternately visiting and escaping the Civil War sites, and try to find a way to bring both Annie and Lee some measure of peace at last. Along the way, the couple tries to distract themselves with Jeff’s employer’s new book—a historical novel about a simple southern man who finds himself drowning in the horrors of the Civil War. Lincoln’s Dreams is, like all author Connie Willis’ books, chock-full of historical details and overflowing with absorbing suspense.   posted Oct 28, 2010 at 4:41PM

Cover ArtThe art of detection
by King, Laurie R.
Inspector Kate Martinelli has seen a lot of strange things in her years as a San Francisco detective, but the murder of Philip Gilbert might just take the cake. Mr. Gilbert’s body was found in an old gun emplacement in the Marin Headlands of the Golden Gate Park. Since Gilbert made his living as a Sherlock Holmes connoisseur (even his home is decked out as a replica of Holmes’ Victorian study at 221B Baker Street), it’s a pretty odd place to get killed. The link becomes clear, however, when a manuscript that may be an unpublished Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle comes to light. Gilbert bought the document for a scant $30; it may be worth millions and that may be motive for murder. Kate reads the story for clues: In Prohibition-era San Francisco, “Mr. Sigurson” (one of the aliases Conan Doyle used for Holmes) investigates the murder of a transvestite’s military lover. As the connections between the murders (one in the fictional past of the short story, and one in Kate’s all-too-real present) add up, the no-nonsense inspector follows leads and interviews suspects. She also banters with her gruff police partner Al Hawkin, shares quiet moments with her life partner Leonora, and parents their precocious three-year-old daughter. Author Laurie R. King infuses both stories with her trademark precision and atmosphere—Holmes frequents the gritty dives of 1920s San Francisco while Kate investigates her modern city’s diverse inhabitants. Both mysteries are compelling, and the way they ultimately weave together is storytelling at its finest.   posted Oct 28, 2010 at 4:40PM

Cover ArtLarklight, or, The revenge of the white spiders!, or, To Saturn's rings and back
by Reeve, Philip.
The year is 1851. Victoria is queen; Prince Albert is her husband. Plucky Art Mumby and his fussy big sister Myrtle are loyal subjects of the Crown. But they don’t live in England. They don’t live in Canada or Australia or India or anywhere else in the British Empire—the British Empire on Earth, that is. In this Victorian England, Britain’s colonies extend into the far reaches of space (thanks to Sir Isaac Newton, whose discoveries in the 1700s made the “Conquest of Space” possible). So Art and Myrtle live with their absent-minded father at Larklight, a ramshackle old mansion that orbits somewhere beyond the moon. It’s a bit dull out in outer space, but when a pack of giant white spiders invade early one morning and capture their father, things perk up considerably. Rescued by teenage space-pirate Jack Havock and his motley crew of alien misfits, Art and Myrtle embark on a voyage across the galaxy to solve the mystery of the very large spiders. Along the way they encounter moon moths, a mad scientist, and plenty of other space monsters. Art narrates for the most part, with Myrtle’s prim and proper (and very funny) diary entries filling in a few holes. The tone throughout is breezy and whimsical and very merry indeed. Author Philip Reeve delivers a whole lot of futuristic space technology that is firmly rooted in a comical Victorian sensibility, and the whole is a riotous steampunk romp that transcends age and makes for rip-roaring adventure.   posted Oct 28, 2010 at 4:32PM

Cover ArtSorcery and Cecelia, or, The enchanted chocolate pot : being the correspondence
by Wrede, Patricia C., 1953-
England, 1817. Cecelia is at home in the countryside while Cousin Kate is off to the big city for her first London season. The girls write to each other, and the book could be a comedy of manners based on the likes of Jane Austen—except that this is an England where magic is real. So when Kate blunders into a secret garden during a ceremony at the Royal College of Wizards and is nearly poisoned by a witch, and when Cecy spots a strange young man spying on her and finds a charm-bag under her brother’s bed, it’s precisely the sort of mystery that the clever cousins relish. And when the conundrum in London and the confusion in the country turn out to be related through a tangled web of magic spells, corrupt sorcerers, enchanted objects, and infuriating (but handsome) young men, Kate and Cecy must listen harder, creep quieter, and write more letters to uncover the clues and save the day. Sorcery and Cecelia is a collaborative novel written by two authors. Patricia C. Wrede wrote as Cecelia and Caroline Stevermer wrote as Kate, and the story grew out of the chapters they mailed back and forth to each other. The result is a charming and witty tale of wizards, chocolate pots, and Proper Etiquette in Polite Society. The (mis)adventures continue in two sequels to date.   posted Oct 12, 2010 at 11:51AM

Cover ArtThe case of the missing marquess : an Enola Holmes mystery
by Springer, Nancy.
When fourteen-year-old Enola Holmes discovers that her free-spirited mother has disappeared, she enlists the help of her much-older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft. To Enola’s dismay, the gentlemen theorize that their mother has run off with the family money. The brothers have a low opinion of women; Enola (whom they haven’t seen since in years) is little more than a pest. Enola’s concern for her mother changes to envy and she determines to find her wayward parent and join her. Making an escape is easy—Enola is a Holmes after all, with all the powers of observation that the family name implies—but the little sister is as attracted to crime as the older brothers. Soon Enola is involved in the case of a missing young nobleman and her desire to solve the mystery makes it that much harder to evade her tenacious big brother Sherlock. The reader immediately takes Enola’s side in the family feud—she’s an engaging, winsome narrator who steady gains in confidence and charm. Enola shows her pluck as she follows the clues her mother left, runs away in disguise, and makes her own way in the big bad city of London. With Enola Holmes, author Nancy Springer has created a gutsy girl sleuth who is more than capable of outwitting and outsmarting her infamous brothers and equally able to rally readers to her cause.   posted Oct 12, 2010 at 11:50AM

Cover ArtThe ruby in the smoke
by Pullman, Philip, 1946-
On a cold afternoon in 1872, sixteen-year-old Sally Lockhart walks into her deceased father’s London office. By the time she walks out again, Sally is deep in a compelling mystery fraught with murder, betrayal, deception, cursed jewels, secrets from the distant past, and a whole crew of Victorian scalawags and villains. There’s more to her father’s death than meets the eye. A horrifyingly creepy old woman is out for Sally’s blood. A mysterious message warns Sally of something called the Seven Blessings. Danger lurks around every corner and Sally herself is the key to unlocking all the intertwining mysteries that threaten her very life. But Sally is nothing if not resourceful, and with a few understanding friends of her own (including Frederick Garland, a charming young photographer), our intrepid heroine sets out to right wrongs and uncover truths. The reader, needless to say, becomes Sally’s ally right away. Author Philip Pullman, best known for the intricate fantasy worlds of His Dark Materials trilogy, knows full well how to create a heroine who his readers will follow through thick and thin; he also knows the subtle and masterful art of spinning a good old-fashioned rip-roaring adventure story. As the series continues, Sally continues to build a new life for herself—and solves a whole mess of thrilling, chilling, bump-in-the-night mysteries while she’s at it.   posted Oct 12, 2010 at 11:50AM

Cover ArtThe entomological tales of Augustus T. Percival : Petronella saves nearly everyo
by Low, Dene
Lords, ladies, foreign dignitaries, and the cream of Victorian society have turned out to celebrate Petronella Eunice Arbuthnot’s sixteenth birthday. But Petronella herself has bigger fish to fry. Her beloved guardian, the honorable Augustus T. Percival, has met with an unfortunate accident that has unexpected side effects—he has inadvertently swallowed a beetle and now has an insatiable appetite for insects. Such an impulse poses many opportunities for social embarrassment, particularly at an event as important as a young lady’s coming-out party. But things go even more awry when two particularly esteemed guests are kidnapped right from under Petronella’s elegant nose. Aided by her guardian (who keeps plucking moths from the air and popping them into his mouth), her best friend Jane (another pretty young thing with the heart of a prankster), and Jane’s well-connected big brother James (whose virile charms make her stomach do flips), Petronella plunges into a political mystery laden with ransom notes, midnight meetings, and hordes of oppressive Victorians determined to keep an upper-crust young lady from having the adventure of a lifetime. Petronella, needless to say, outwits them at every turn. Author Dene Low invests her debut novel with sly humor, charming period slang, and deliciously absurd details. Readers will be pleased as punch to learn that more adventures starring intrepid Petronella and her bug-hungry guardian are on their way.   posted Oct 12, 2010 at 11:49AM

Cover ArtA spy in the house
by Lee, Ying S.
In 1853 London, twelve-year-old orphan Mary Quinn, arrested for stealing, is about to be hung from the gallows. She’s resigned to her fate; her short life has been miserable and cruel. But then, at the last minute, Mary is rescued from certain death and installed at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. For the next five years, Mary is brought up to be an intelligent, resourceful, independent woman—a real rarity in her day and age. At seventeen, Mary is presented with another surprise: The Academy is really the Agency, a secret detective firm comprised entirely of female investigators. Mary rises to this new challenge and is soon on her first mission. Posing as a prim and proper companion to a spoiled society belle, Mary’s goal is to uncover a possible smuggling ring run by the master of the house, shipping merchant Mr. Thorold. But things quickly get out of hand. Everyone connected to the Thorold establishment has an agenda, even petulant Miss Angelica and especially enigmatic James Easton. Separating the good guys from the bad guys—while juggling Victorian England’s strict gender roles, racial discrimination, and social class consciousness—is no easy task. Lucky for the reader, it makes for a great adventure. Penned by author Y.S. Lee, an honest-to-goodness Victorian scholar, A Spy in the House is a richly detailed and entirely compelling historical mystery.   posted Oct 12, 2010 at 11:49AM

Cover ArtTheodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
by La Fevers, R. L.
In 1906, eleven-year-old Theodosia Throckmorton roams the halls of London’s Museum of Legends and Antiquities. Her mother is an archeologist who sends precious artifacts to Theo’s father, the museum’s head curator. It’s something of a lonely life for a girl whose parents are so busy and important, but Theo is never bored—because the museum’s Egyptian wing is teaming with ancient objects of dark magic, and Theo is the only one who can sense the evil forces at work. With her trusty carpet bag of curse-breaking ingredients (it is surprising how effective wax, thread, and linen can be when the right words are chanted over them), Theo’s self-appointed mission is to de-curse the museum one artifact at a time. This task is severely complicated when her mother returns home with a new shipment of ancient Egyptian relics, one of which—the Heart of Egypt amulet—is pulsing with more dark magic than Theo has ever encountered before. Theo’s efforts to rid the museum of this object’s power lead her through a maze of dangerous secrets, German operatives, secret Brotherhoods, and international intrigue. Author R.L. LaFevers has combined history (including hints of the impending Great War), archeology, and Egyptian mythology to create a series about a plucky new heroine who is equal parts Nancy Drew and Indiana Jones and is sure to thrill readers of all ages.   posted Oct 12, 2010 at 11:48AM

Cover ArtThe sweetness at the bottom of the pie
by Bradley, C. Alan, 1938-
Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce is a sly, secretive child. Her favorite hobby is concocting poisons in the upstairs laboratory of her old manor home. She has an extensive vocabulary, a knack for picking locks, and an unflappable sense of determination. So when a dead bird with a postage stamp stuck through its beak is found on the doorstep and a murdered man is found in the cucumber patch, Flavia rises to the occasion like no other detective, young or old, we’ve ever met before. Set in a small English village in the 1950s, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is chock-full of traditional mystery characters—the gossipy cook, the gardener with a mysterious past, the stoic police inspector. Then there’s Flavia’s family—a deceased mother whose presence still lingers, a passive father who is devoted to his stamp collection, and a pair of older sisters who cling to their own interests as obsessively as Flavia clings to her chemistry flasks and beakers. Of course out of all these finely-drawn characters, it is Flavia who takes the cake, saves the day, and wins the hearts of readers. This is author Alan Bradley’s first book, and besides winning the prestigious Canadian Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award, it is only the first of a series that stars this highly original girl sleuth.   posted Oct 12, 2010 at 11:47AM

Cover ArtThe Illyrian adventure
by Alexander, Lloyd.
When Professor Brinton Garrett arrives in Philadelphia with his wife in 1872 to take care of their new ward, the orphaned daughter of a fellow scholar, he expects to find a polite, somber, modest young lady. What he gets is sixteen-year-old Vesper Holly, a feisty, precocious wild-child who wins him over instantly, nicknames him “Brinnie,” and whisks him away on an adventure half-way across the world. Vesper longs to investigate first-hand her deceased father’s theories about the national and cultural legends of Illyria, a tiny country on the Adriatic Sea, and she won’t take “No” for an answer. When Vesper and Brinnie arrive in the itsy-bitsy ancient kingdom, they are immediately plunged into a centuries-old civil conflict between Illyria’s two proud ethnic groups. One adventure follows fast on the heels of another—Vesper and Binnie uncover a conspiracy against King Osman, have an exciting encounter with rebel leader Vartan, and search for long-lost national treasure. Along the way, Brinnie (narrating this first of five globe-trotting adventures by author Lloyd Alexander) learns to expect the unexpected from his new charge. Vesper is anything but the placid girl of the Victorian era. She’s brilliant, fearless, honest, and good-humored; she wears billowing trousers, is familiar with five languages, and can cuss in all of them. Smart, lively, and action-packed, The Illyrian Adventure and its fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants heroine are nearly impossible to resist.   posted Oct 12, 2010 at 11:35AM

Cover ArtMalice
by Wooding, Chris, 1977-
Everyone knows about the underground comic book Malice. Supposedly it doesn’t even exist, but if you get your hands on a copy, mix a few ingredients, and chant “Tall Jake, take me away,” you’ll find yourself yanked into the pages of the comic’s sinister world. Of course, that’s just an urban legend. It’s a coincidence that the kids in the comic look like missing children. Those kids must be runaways, and the artist just uses their photos for inspiration…right? Wrong, and teenagers Seth and Kady are about to find out the hard way. When their friend Luke disappears, danger-loving Seth and curious Kady are immediately suspicious. When they find a blank comic book emblazoned with a big red M in Luke’s room, they begin to suspect that there’s more to Malice than mere rumor. Seth, bored of everyday hum-drum living, is eager to call Tall Jake and jump into the comic. But when the chant works, Seth is overwhelmed by a menacing world filled with clockwork monsters and mechanical mayhem. Not one to take any sort of adventure lying down, Seth joins forces with a rag-tag group of teens who have managed to defy Tall Jake and survive. Back in the real world, Kady is hot on the trail of Malice’s unknown creators—who turn out to be every bit as dangerous as the chaotic alternate world they’ve created. Toying with the conventions of horror movies, urban legends, and comic books, author Chris Wooding has crafted a heart-pounding, nail-biting tale of suspense. The packaging is part of the fun of Malice, with its three-dimension cover and interspersed sections of eye-catching comic book artwork. The cliffhanger ending will leave you holding your breath for the sequel, Havoc, due in October 2010.   posted Sep 27, 2010 at 8:08PM

Cover ArtGreywalker
by Richardson, Kat.
Greyalker begins with Seattle-based private detective Harper Blaine getting the beating of a lifetime when a routine investigation leads to an unexpectedly bad end. Then, she dies—for two minutes. Resuscitated and recovering in the hospital, Harper is eager to put this incident behind her and get back to work. That, of course, is easier said than done. Because Harper begins experiencing strange phenomena—a foggy grey mist on the edges of her vision, ghostly shapes moving around her, snarling shadows that dodge and lunge. When she meets a married couple who have experience investigating the paranormal, Harper finally gets some answers. Her temporary death and her return to life have made her a Greywalker—someone able to move between the everyday world and the Grey, a shadowy realm halfway between life and death inhabited by ghosts, vampires, necromancers, and monsters. Harper is anything but thrilled by this startling revelation, but the Grey isn’t going away and soon her normal cases—finding a missing college student, tracking down a family heirloom—begin to show disturbing and dangerous signs of the paranormal. Harper is going to have to push her natural skepticism aside and accept her new abilities if she wants to solve her cases—and stay alive. Populated by intriguing characters both human and supernatural and led by a gutsy, sarcastic, wholly likeable heroine, Greywalker is a fantasy on par with Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries starring Sookie Stackhouse and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files featuring wizard-detective Harry Dresden. With Greywalker, author Kat Richardson pulls all the stops and pens a fast-paced, monster-packed novel (the first in a series) that is an exciting blend of hard-boiled detective mystery and gritty urban fantasy.   posted Sep 27, 2010 at 8:08PM

Cover ArtThe magicians : a novel
by Grossman, Lev.
Nerdy high school genius Quentin Coldwater spends most of his time wishing he were in Fillory, the fictional magic land featured in the children’s books that Quentin never outgrew. The Fillory series guarantees adventure and enchantment when the real world fails to live up to expectation—which, for Quentin, it frequently does. He’s too smart to be interested in school, he’s in unrequited love with his best friend’s girl, and happiness seems perpetually just out of reach. Even when Quentin discovers that magic is real, it’s a bit of a letdown. Admitted to an exclusive college of sorcery, Quentin is thrilled to finally belong—and then exhausted when the study of magic turns out to be just as grueling as the study of anything else. Quentin becomes a skilled magician with a close and catty group of friends, but the sense of completion that he expected magic to fulfill is still painfully absent. It’ll take something major to halt Quentin’s downward spiral into disillusionment—something like the revelation that Fillory is real and reachable. Fillory is a real place, but it’s not all happy adventures and talking bunny rabbits. It’s a dangerous place teeming with its own histories, politics, and enemies, and Quentin will have to face all his demons in order to survive. The Magicians is, at first glance, like a grown-up Harry Potter venturing into The Chronicles of Narnia, complete with the sex, drugs, and alcohol-fueled lifestyle of the modern party-school undergrad. But there’s a great deal of mystery, intrigue, and complexity behind the scenes as author Lev Grossman balances the power of fantasy with the harshness of reality. Every bit as satisfying as the fantasies of our youth, The Magicians is not to be missed—nor is the sequel, The Magician King, due out in 2011.   posted Sep 27, 2010 at 8:07PM

Cover ArtNeverwhere
by Gaiman, Neil.
Richard Mayhew lives in London. He has a job. He has an apartment. He has a fiancé. He has a regular everyday sort of life. All that is about to change. Richard, bumbling and late to dinner, stops to help a dirty, bleeding young woman lying on the sidewalk. Much to fiancé’s chagrin, Richard scoops her up and takes her home to recuperate. The waiflike girl is named Door and there’s something very odd about her. Sure, she refuses to go to the hospital or call the police, and yes, she heals rather quickly and hides rather too well when a pair of ominous men in black come looking for her, but it’s more than that. When Door thanks Richard and leaves again, it seems the brief adventure is over. But then Richard begins to change. His friends don’t recognize him, his fiancé barely notices him, and strangers can’t even see he’s there. Knowing Door can answer his questions, Richard picks up on the few hints she dropped and plunges into London Below, a weird and wild world than exists under the sidewalks and subway tunnels of London proper and is inhabited by those who “fell between the cracks”—people who live in the sewers, people who talk to rats, people who can do magic. Soon Richard is one of Door’s companions on a dangerous quest through this bizarre subterranean land. If Richard wants to get back to his blissfully humdrum life, he’s got to prove his worth against all manner of assassins, monsters, and mayhem. Always inventive author Neil Gaiman is at his best here as he skillfully weaves myths and legends together with bits and pieces of the familiar to create a magical world that is entirely original. Witty and wickedly inventive, Neverwhere is fantasy at its finest.   posted Sep 27, 2010 at 8:07PM

Cover ArtInterworld
by Gaiman, Neil.
Fifteen-year-old Joey Harker has a gift for getting lost. So lost, in fact, that one day he wanders right out of our world and smack into another. This is Joey’s real gift—he’s a Walker, able to move effortlessly between countless parallel worlds. Joey’s new ability is also a dangerous one. Almost before he can blink, he’s being hunted by not one but two evil forces who seek to harness his world-walking power—the Binary, fierce members of a scientific world from one end of the spectrum, and the HEX, cruel citizens of a magical land from the other extreme. Joey’s only refuge is the InterWorld, an in-between place of balance populated by lots of other Joey Harkers from lots of other alternate Earths. These Joeys are anything but identical. There’s werewolf-ish Jakon Haarkanen from an Earth where evolution took a twist and humans descended from wolves, and J/O HrKr, part boy, part computer, from a scientifically advanced futuristic world, to name just a few. Joey must prove himself to these alternate selves as they all learn to wield their power to Walk—because Joey is about to cause several worlds’ worth of trouble. Fast-paced and action-packed, InterWorld is an adventure story that expects its readers to be familiar with science fiction standards like parallel universes and alternate timelines, and then expects readers to put everything they know on hold and just go along for the wild ride. Fantasy favorite Neil Gaiman is (no surprise) one of the inventive minds behind InterWorld. The other collaborator is Michael Reaves, television writer for such sci-fi gems as The Twilight Zone and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Together, Gaiman’s and Reaves’ genius for inventing new worlds rises to new heights of creativity and daring. Let’s hope there’s more where that came from.   posted Sep 27, 2010 at 8:06PM

Cover ArtCoraline
by Gaiman, Neil.
For a “lost-in-a-magical-realm” story, author Neil Gaiman is, hands down, the go-to guy. The more he writes, the more fantastic his fantasy worlds get. In Coraline, for example, a bored little girl wiles away the rainy day exploring the rambling house she’s just moved into with her preoccupied parents. One intriguing door opens onto a brick wall—a division built when the big house was converted into units. But one night, in true Chronicles of Narnia fashion, Coraline turns the knob and walks into a parallel world where everything in her dull life is mirrored with fantastic effect. The toys are better, the scrawny black cat that hangs around outside can talk, and Coraline’s “other” parents are kind and attentive and loving—even if their sewn-on black button eyes are decidedly creepy. Coraline chooses to go back to her own world, but in doing so she sets off a chain of events with dangerous consequences. Coraline’s real parents have disappeared, and only another venture into the not-quite-right realm of the “other mother” can bring them back. A distinct air of menace pervades this suspenseful children’s story, harking back to ghost stories and grim fairy tales of yore. Tapping into age-old fears and complimented by the dark, scratchy illustrations of David McKean, Coraline’s chills have thrilled readers of all ages. Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker Awards, the book has also been adapted into a sophisticated graphic novel (illustrated by P. Craig Russell) and a whimsical animated movie.   posted Sep 27, 2010 at 8:06PM

Cover ArtThe stolen child : a novel
by Donohue, Keith.
In the woods behind seven-year-old Henry Day’s house, there is another world. Hobgoblins, or changelings, inhabit the country wilderness; they are fairy-like sprites that kidnap children and leave one of their own behind. This is destined to be Henry’s fate. Nabbed from his hiding spot in the forest one day, the boy Henry is transformed into a fairy and renamed Aniday. Forever trapped in a child’s body, Aniday learns the woodsy brand of stealthy magic that ensures the survival of the wild little band. The changeling who takes his place becomes human and lives out his life as Henry Day, identical in every way to the original boy save for a new prodigious talent at the piano. As the now-human Henry and the new hobgoblin Aniday mature, they are both haunted by the past. Bookish Aniday, using stolen scraps of paper and found pencil stubs, keeps track of his new life amongst the changelings and clings to fading memories of his first family. Henry settles into the grooves of modern American life in the 1960s, but he is plagued by recollections even more distant—his own original human life, from way back before his wild fairy days, back when he was a human boy who was replaced by a changeling and became one himself in turn. As the lives of Henry Day and Aniday separate and twist and turn to collide once more, author Keith Donohue relates the cycle of human to changeling and back again with an eerie precision that is anchored in everyday details. Haunting and strange, The Stolen Child will make readers firmly believe in the ageless children of the woods—and maybe even question their own true identities and histories.   posted Sep 27, 2010 at 8:05PM

Cover ArtLittle, big
by Crowley, John, 1942-
When anonymous Midwestern city boy Smoky Barnable locks eyes with long tall Daily Alice Drinkwater, it is love at first sight. Following a strange but quaint set of instructions (eat food that is made not bought; pack a suit that is old not new), Smoky walks to Edgewood—not found on any map—to marry Alice, live in the rambling Drinkwater house that is built in every style, and become part of this singular family’s history. The house was designed by great-grandfather John Drinkwater, an eccentric architect and author with a theory about concentric worlds within worlds. Daily Alice and her sister Sophie spent their childhood frolicking with Uncle Auberon, a man who devoted his life to capturing photographic evidence of the elusive “they” who dwell in the wilderness that surrounds the family home. Two of the Drinkwater children, Alice’s son and Sophie’s daughter, leave the ancestral home to embark on big, strange, wondrous adventures in the big city and in the wild wild wood. And enigmatic Aunt Cloud endlessly consults her much-sought-after deck of cards and traces the Drinkwaters’ progress through the unending story of life. The Drinkwaters are without doubt a magical family, and Little, Big is without doubt a fantasy novel of unparalleled beauty and style. Author John Crowley writes a lyrical prose as he tells the fanciful, whimsical saga of this almost mythical family and the various magical boundaries, fairy realms, and other-worlds that its members encounter and inhabit. Full of moments of wonder, clarity, and mystery, Little, Big is a fine, graceful, wandering fantasy story that you’ll want to read again and again and linger over and make last as long as you possibly can.   posted Sep 27, 2010 at 8:05PM

Cover ArtWar for the Oaks
by Bull, Emma, 1954-
Eddi McCandry is having a bad night. She broke up with her boyfriend, quit her band, and is being chased through downtown Minneapolis by a man in black and a very big dog. Cornered at last, Eddi is stunned to discover that the man and the dog are one and the same. The fellow is a phouka, a shape-shifting magical being, and he has just drafted Eddi into an age-old war between two dueling branches of faerie folk. The Seelie Court needs Eddi, a mortal, to bring balance to their battle with the dark Unseelie Court. Feisty and fiercely independent, Eddi has zero interest in being some pixie’s pawn, but she doesn’t have a choice—now that she’s been singled out by one faerie court, the sinister fey of the other will be after her in full force. The phouka—an infuriating, dashing trickster—is appointed Eddi’s guardian and guide through the magical realm now open to her. Overwhelmed, Eddi grounds herself in her passion for music. She starts another band and to her surprise, her recently acquired affinity for magic produces the best sound she’s ever played—with a bit of help from her new bandmates. The fey have been infiltrating the human world for ages, and boy, can they play some mean rock and roll. The band (with the grinning phouka as roadie) begins to garner some serious hype, but there’s still a battle between the forces of good and evil to win, and Eddi is about to become the center of some very dangerous attention. Grounded in the neighborhoods of the Twin Cities and brimming with as much rock and roll as magic, War for the Oaks is an urban fantasy cult classic that still packs a punch more than twenty years after its original publication.   posted Sep 27, 2010 at 8:05PM

Cover ArtMaisie Dobbs : a novel
by Winspear, Jacqueline, 1955-
Written years after Cordelia Gray hit the P.I. scene but set decades earlier, Maisie Dobbs is another young woman with a keen eye who defies stereotype and hangs her shingle as a private detective. The year is 1929 and England is still recovering from the devastating effects of World War I. But Maisie Dobbs, ex-maidservant, student of master-detective Maurice Blanche, former front-line nurse, is turning a new page and opening her own private investigations agency in London. Her allies include her previous employer Lady Rowan (who discovered her maid reading philosophy in the library one night, correctly gauged this unusual servant’s intellect, and sent her straight off to University) and neighborhood handy-man Billy Beale (sharp, street-wise, an investigative-assistant in the making). Maisie herself is an acute observer of human nature, intuitive and sensitive and able to relate to people of all classes and backgrounds, but she’s also nursing her own war wounds. Still, she’s ready to put all that behind her when her first case comes along. It begins as a tedious investigation into the whereabouts of a seemingly unfaithful wife, but before long the trail leads to a secluded convalescent home for soldiers damaged in mind and body—from which very few men ever emerge alive. Now Maisie is face to face with the tragedies of the Great War that she’s tried so hard to forget, and with a complex mystery on her hands to boot. Author Jacqueline Winspear’s portrait of post-World War I England is pitch-perfect and her heroine is remarkably strong and well-drawn. Maisie Dobbs is a fine example of romance, mystery, and historical fiction all rolled into a suspenseful, moving story.   posted Sep 14, 2010 at 9:19AM

Cover ArtThe unknown
by Waid, Mark, 1962-
Catherine Allingham is the smartest person in the world and the world’s most famous private investigator. She’s used her superb intellect to solve infamous crimes like the Black Dahlia murder and the code of the Zodiac Killer. When the police request her help, it’s a mere minute’s work to puzzle out the crime scene and present the solution to the head-scratching cops. But now, diagnosed with a terminal illness and given just six months to live, Cat is about to tackle the greatest unsolved mystery of all: death. After hiring on a whim an unusually observant ex-bouncer named James Doyle to serve as a bodyguard and an extra pair of eyes, Cat sets out to solve an X-Files-esque burglary from a high-tech science laboratory in Europe. The object stolen might very well hold the key to the secrets of the afterlife—secrets Cat needs very much to learn, since she’s begun to hallucinate a chalky-faced specter who dogs her every step. James, open-minded and good-natured, quickly becomes more than a sidekick to impulsive Cat and the two are well on their way to a true partnership by the time the action-packed plot kicks into high gear. Author Mark Waid has Cat and James argue metaphysics in between brawls with bad guys and artist Minck Oosterveer’s darkly elegant comic panels lend an air of moody suspense to the story. Some timeless conventions of the comic book genre are honored (Cat is busty; James is brawny; the villain is a towering, glowering, hulk with minions at his beck and call), but The Unknown is first and foremost an intelligent and sophisticated piece of art. A sequel, The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh, is scheduled for publication in April 2011.   posted Sep 14, 2010 at 9:19AM

Cover ArtThe No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
by McCall Smith, Alexander, 1948-
There are not many detective agencies in Botswana. There are even fewer ladies’ detective agencies in Botswana. In fact, there are none—until now. Using the funds from the sale of her beloved father’s cattle, middle-aged Mma Precious Ramotswe sets up the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in her small hometown of Gaborone. As the country’s only female private investigator, Mma Ramotswe is not entirely certain that her gamble will pay off. But sure enough, the clients come. Women want to know where their cheating husbands have strayed. Fathers want to know which boys their young daughters are dating. And there are more sinister crimes afoot too, as in the case of a missing little boy. But Mma Ramotswe handles them all in her own fashion. Armed with only a detecting manual, the example of mystery writer Agatha Christie, and her own more-than-competent intuition and understanding of her fellows, Mma Ramostwe tackles every case with humor and wisdom. Told in a series of vignettes that trace Mma Ramotswe’s history as well as her present casework, author Alexander McCall Smith paints a vivid portrait of Africa and the people who love to call it home. Cozy, gentle, and brimming over with true glimpses into the myriad workings of human nature, Mma Ramotswe and her little detective agency are a welcome addition to the otherwise hard-edged world of private eye fiction—and so popular that HBO has developed a No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency television show.   posted Sep 14, 2010 at 9:18AM

Cover ArtThe Spellman files
by Lutz, Lisa.
It’s hard growing up with a pair of private investigators for parents, a mom and pop who wield a hard line of questioning whenever anyone steps out of line—which for Izzy, middle child in the overly-inquisitive Spellman clan, is pretty often Izzy was the family rebel, with years of teenage hjinks and all-night parties under her belt. But now, at age twenty-eight, Izzy is grounded by the nuts-and-bolts of detective work as a P.I. for Spellman Investigations, which operates out of the family home in San Francisco. Her youthful misadventures make her ideally suited to telling lies, keeping secrets, and spying. True, her parents are not above tailing her on dates, but Izzy is making it work—until she meets Daniel Castillo, dentist, ordinary guy, and love of her life. Trying to keep her familial obligations and her romantic life separate is next to impossible, so Izzy quits the family business. Of course, she can’t get away that easily. The Spellmans are not accustomed to keeping out of each other’s affairs. Her parents bargain for one last case (one old, cold, missing-persons case), but things get infinitely more complicated when her fourteen-year-old kid sister Rae goes missing too, forcing the Spellmans to work together if they want to keep their family intact. Narrated in a conversational tone by wry-humored Izzy (equal parts Dirty Harry, Bridget Jones, and Nancy Drew) and sprinkled throughout with her numerous lists of misdeeds, The Spellman Files is a laugh-out-loud lesson in suspense, mystery, romance, and quirky family dysfunction.   posted Sep 14, 2010 at 9:18AM

Cover ArtAn unsuitable job for a woman
by James, P. D.
It took awhile for women to enter the private eye profession without serving as secretaries or seductresses. When they did, the ladies proved to be every bit as tough, efficient, and intuitive as their male predecessors. In 1972, author P.D. James introduced Cordelia Gray, a young woman who inherits a London detective agency. Of course, it’s an awfully run-down detective agency, and Cordelia only gets it when her she finds her mentor Bernie Pryde, a cancer-ridden ex-cop, dead in the office. Bernie committed suicide but left his beloved P.I. firm in the capable hands of his youthful assistant. Cordelia bites the bullet, defies convention, and makes the business her own. Luck is on her side when her first case is a high profile investigation into the supposed suicide of a prominent scientist’s son. The son is Mark Callender, an intelligent Cambridge student who suddenly left school, became a gardener for a wealthy family, lived in a cozy little cottage, and then hung himself. To Cordelia, questioning Mark’s uncooperative friends and investigating the puzzling crime scene, the pieces don’t fit. Digging deep into Callender family secrets, Cordelia uncovers a web of mysterious circumstances that someone doesn’t want brought to light. Now Cordelia herself is a target, but no good private investigator lets something as trivial as danger stand in the way. Cordelia, despite her youth and inexperience, is determined to be a damn good P.I. Author P.D. James (born in 1920 and publishing since 1962) is as experienced a mystery writer as they come. Tight plotting, attention to detail, and compelling characters mean that Cordelia Gray is a detective to be reckoned with—and she appears in one more mystery, 1983’s The Skull Beneath the Skin.   posted Sep 14, 2010 at 9:17AM

Cover ArtThe Maltese falcon
by Hammett, Dashiell, 1894-1961.
Sam Spade is a sardonic, detached, keen-eyed private detective with his own unwavering code of honor. So when his partner Miles Archer is killed while tailing a man suspected of running off with a new client’s sister, Spade is immediately on the case—even though he’s been making time with Archer’s wife. But that was just a passing fancy. The new client, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, is the real deal: bright, beautiful, and a complete liar. She doesn’t even have a sister. What Brigid does have is an intriguing story about a valuable falcon statue and lots of low-down dirty gangsters hot on its trail. Embroiled in this plot, Spade keeps his wits and stays one step ahead of the bad guys—even though with all the crossing and double-crossing going on, he doesn’t always know who the bad guys are. Author Dashiell Hammett’s pulp fiction potboiler, with its sparse prose and compelling characters, has become a classic. Influencing even fellow mystery author Raymond Chandler (creator of the second best-known hardboiled detective Philip Marlowe), Sam Spade is the granddaddy of every hard-assed, wise-cracking, no-nonsense private eye on the street. Humphrey Bogart’s top-notch performance as Sam Spade in the 1941 film adaptation, a classic in its own right, has guaranteed that a certain black bird will be causing trouble for decades to come.   posted Sep 14, 2010 at 9:17AM

Cover ArtThe case of the missing servant : from the files of Vish Puri, India's
by Hall, Tarquin
Vish Puri is India’s “Most Private” private investigator. With a team of delightfully nicknamed employees (the driver goes by “Handbrake;” the firm’s female agent is known as “Facecream”), a network of contacts in high (and low) places, and even a few sleek new modern technologies, the plump, middle-aged gentleman is Delhi’s master of respectability, confidentiality, and discretion. But despite being the proud recipient of the Super Sleuth Award from the World Federation of Detectives for solving the Case of the Missing Polo Elephant in 1999, most of Vish Puri’s clients are mamas and papas wanting their prospective sons-and-daughters-in-law investigated. So when a lawyer comes to Puri with a tale of a missing housemaid, false accusations, and bureaucratic corruption, the dapper detective jumps at the chance to get back to some real sleuthing. But Puri faces several complications, including a baffling request from a famous war hero, a doctor’s orders to diet (and a wife eager to comply), and an overly-inquisitive mother (“Mummy-ji”) who refuses to accept that elderly ladies are simply not cut out to be detectives. Despite the challenges, it will never be said that Vish Puri, Indian’s acclaimed “Most Private Investigator,” failed to solve the case. British author Tarquin Hall has made Delhi his second home, and he does credit to modern India’s fabulously chaotic atmosphere. Lively, clever, and with a charming cast of unforgettable characters, The Case of the Missing Servant (and its 2010 sequel, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing) is a new mystery series well worth keeping an eye on.   posted Sep 14, 2010 at 9:17AM

Cover ArtThe big sleep
by Chandler, Raymond, 1888-1959.
When private investigator Philip Marlowe is called to the massive mansion of paraplegic millionaire General Sternwood, he doesn’t expect to be plunged into a mess of blackmailers, gangsters, and drug dealers. But he takes it all in stride, because Marlowe is as hard-nosed (not to mention hard-drinking and chain-smoking) as they come. Sternwood’s wild-child daughter Carmen is a vivacious tease of a girl, and she’s being blackmailed. Marlowe is charged with putting a stop to the extortion and getting Carmen out of trouble, but the girl—and her drop-dead-gorgeous, tough-as-nails big sister Vivian—proves to be more than a handful. The sisters have agendas of their own and both know some shady characters. No one is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In fact, most of what comes out of their lips is about as far from the truth as you can get. Pornographers, gamblers, and murders all become part of the Byzantine plot as Marlowe scowls his way across the dark underbelly of 1940s Los Angeles. He may be surrounded by double-crossing bad guys and taunting femme fatales, but Marlowe is never outwitted, outpaced, or outmatched. Cynical and world-weary, Marlowe is an all-American anti-hero and the star of several of author Raymond Chandler’s trademark hardboiled noir thrillers. Lauren Bacall played Vivian to Humphrey Bogart’s Marlowe in the 1946 film adaptation, cementing The Big Sleep’s place in the detective lit canon.   posted Sep 14, 2010 at 9:16AM

Cover ArtStorm front
by Butcher, Jim, 1971-
Harry Dresden’s detective agency is not your average P.I. firm, and Harry is not your average P.I. Harry Dresden is a wizard. He’s even in the phone book, but there’s not a helluva lot of money in this line of work—his basement apartment’s best asset is its dank sub-basement—so Harry consultants on some of the stranger cases that fall into the lap of the Chicago P.D. When the police request his presence at the scene of a double homicide, Harry jumps at the opportunity to get ahead on next month’s rent. But the murders are bizarre, grisly, and unquestionably the result of dark art. Investigating this crime means danger of more than just the usual seedy-city-underbelly type. Harry will need to dodge sultry vampires, ticked-off faeries, and the quick-to-judge (and even quicker to punish) White Council. To make matters worse, suspicion soon falls on Harry himself—he does, after all, know magic. And nothing makes it harder to clear you name than the actual villain—a mysterious, powerful practitioner of the blackest of black magic—hot on your heels. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, but it’ll take more than that to knock Harry Dresden off a case. Supported by Harry’s detailed back story and evolving relationships with characters human and inhuman alike, author Jim Butcher creates a gritty fantasy world that is firmly rooted in the real locations and history of the city of Chicago. Led by the likes of this wise-cracking, dry-humored, heroic young wizard-detective, Storm Front is irresistible.   posted Sep 14, 2010 at 9:16AM

Cover ArtThe professor's daughter
by Sfar, Joann.
It’s a romance for the ages, told in that most colorful of narrative forms: the graphic novel. Lillian (pert and pretty) and Imhotep (dashing and dapper) are in love, and the duo makes quite a splash as they gad about Victorian-era London. Of course, many obstacles stand in their way—Lillian is the daughter of an eminent archeology professor, and Imhotep is a bandage-wrapped mummified Prince of Ancient Egypt. Imhotep is three-thousand years old and somewhat out of touch with modern life (a single cuppa turns him into a drunken mess, insulting gentlemen and wrecking tea rooms), and Lillian’s father is unlikely to approve the match (“You are the property of the British Museum. You are dead. Stay out of this!” the Professor cries when he discovers the mummy and his daughter in each other’s arms). Imhotep’s own mummified dad, the British police force, and Queen Victoria herself get tangled up in this whimsical romantic omedy. As the sprightly forms of Lillian and Imhotep dart across the pages, readers become enchanted by the pair’s hijinks and adventures. Originally published in France in 1997, The Professor’s Daughter was translated by noted graphic novel press First Second Books in 2007. Author and artist collaborators Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert are in fine form here—cheeky humor and expressive illustrations combine for a truly delightful romp.   posted Aug 31, 2010 at 12:45PM

Cover ArtDreamers of the day : a novel
by Russell, Mary Doria, 1950-
Miss Agnes Shanklin is a spinster schoolteacher in rural Ohio, the plain Jane in her family who is loved but overlooked nonetheless. She’s spent her life quietly obeying her hard-working mother and living vicariously through her sister. But when the Great War and the Great Influenza take her family away from her, Agnes is forced into the spotlight. Leaving her grief behind, Agnes takes her modest inheritance and her cheery little dachshund, Rosie, to Egypt. It’s 1921 and the world is still recovering from all those years of trench warfare, but in Cairo a peace conference is underway. Luminaries like Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell, and “Lawrence of Arabia” are meeting to determine the fate of the Middle East. When Agnes wanders into their midst, her mild manner gives way to a sharp mind that serves as an ideal sounding board for their plans and ideas. Her attention is also drawn to Karl Weilbacher, an affable gentleman who showers Agnes with more kindness than she’s experienced in an entire lifetime. Karl is excessively interested in everything Agnes has to say—particularly when it relates to Churchill, Bell, Lawrence, and the plans of the European diplomats. Author Mary Doria Russell vividly portrays the real personalities who created the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, but it is Agnes, the fictional character who narrates this history, who readers will relate too. Inexperienced but by no means uninformed, Agnes navigates the waters of Egypt’s shifting political intrigues with a sense of wonder and wry intellect that is appealing and intimate.   posted Aug 31, 2010 at 12:45PM

Cover ArtThe red pyramid
by Riordan, Rick.
Author Rick Riordan is best known for his Percy Jackson and the Olympians books that combine the pantheon of Greek gods with a rag-tag bunch of modern kids on a heroic quest to save the world. In his new series, The Kane Chronicles, Riordan mines the equally rich Egyptian mythos for a similar but no less exciting adventure. Book one, The Red Pyramid, introduces Carter Kane (age 14) and Sadie Kane (age 12). Since the death of their mother six years ago, these siblings have lived separate lives. Carter roams the globe with his Egyptologist father, Julius, while Sadie lives in England with grandparents. The scattered family is reunited one Christmas Eve when Julius Kane brings his children to the British Museum. What happens there results in the destruction of the Rosetta Stone, the disappearance of Carter and Sadie’s dad, and the unleashed power of the ancient Egyptian god of chaos. This god, Set, is of course out to destroy the world and Carter and Sadie—who begin to display some unique powers of their own—are the only ones who can stop him. They are aided (and educated in Egyptian lore) by a colorful cast of magicians, gods, goddesses, and monsters. Sadie is cheeky and tenaciously curious; Carter is cautious but steadfast. The siblings’ banter (the tale is presented as a transcript of an audio recording) is as much fun as the action-packed chapters, and it’s a refreshing to have a female hero join a genre that finally features main characters with a biracial heritage (the Kane kids have a black father and a white mother). Riordan brings ancient Egypt to life and sends it crashing into the modern world. The result is non-stop, dynamic, rip-roaring adventure.   posted Aug 31, 2010 at 12:44PM

Cover ArtThe Egyptologist : a novel
by Phillips, Arthur, 1969-
In the 1920s, Egyptologist Ralph M. Trilipush (secretive, arrogant, and paranoid) has pinned all his hopes on Atum-hadu. Trilipush translated and published the ancient Egyptian king’s erotic verses, but his fame in the field rests on finding the pharaoh’s tomb and accompanying riches. Trilipush is not especially well respected by his fellow scholars and he’s maddeningly jealous of Howard Carter’s recent discovery of the tomb of King Tut. But now he’s got the funding (from his opium-addicted fiancé’s wealthy father) for his own dig, and he knows that Atum-hadu is out there, under the Egyptian sun, waiting to be uncovered. If things don’t go according to plan—and with an Australian detective on his tail, investigating the disappearance of an explorer who had connections to our arrogant Egyptologist, plans might very well go awry—Ralph M. Trilipush is equipped with exactly the kind of raving megalomania to cope with the situation. Author Arthur Phillips’ tale of deceit, self-deceit, and exposure unfolds through a series of letters to and from Trilipush. With a streak of macabre humor peeking out amongst the drama and a mean twist of an ending, The Egyptologist is a strange, darkly comic creation that is sure to shock and surprise.   posted Aug 31, 2010 at 12:44PM

Cover ArtCrocodile on the sandbank
by Peters, Elizabeth, 1927-
The first thing Amelia Peabody does when she gets her independence after the death of her father is to head out and explore the wonders of Egypt. Not your typical Victorian spinster, Amelia is destined for adventure. So when she collects an elegant damsel in distress, the handsome archeologist Emerson brothers, and a walking, talking (well, moaning), two-thousand-year-old mummy along the way, it should come as no surprise that the iron-willed, umbrella-wielding Englishwoman knows how to deal with supposed curses and fainting ladies. But in the hot-tempered personality of dashing Radcliffe Emerson, Amelia appears to have met her match. It is hardly spoiling the story to reveal that the comically tempestuous relationship that develops between Amelia and Emerson is the force that drives not just Crocodile on the Sandbank, but the other eighteen books in the series. The real appeal lies not so much in the mysteries (though crime does indeed abound among the ruins of the ancient pharaohs) but in author Elizabeth Peters’ dynamic cast of characters and impeccable re-creation of the sights and sounds of Victorian-era Egypt. Peters has been writing about Amelia and her unconventional family, quirky friends, and deliciously wicked enemies for nigh on thirty years. The books take place in the years 1884 to 1922 (Amelia ages gracefully but never grows an ounce less resolute) and each explores another facet in the relationships of the Peabody-Emerson clan, another archeological site in Egypt, and another chapter in the ever-evolving history of that ancient nation. Fans can also check out Amelia Peabody’s Egypt: A Compendium, a lovely big book overflowing with details about Amelia and her brood, how they thought, what they did, and what they saw in glorious Egypt.   posted Aug 31, 2010 at 12:43PM

Cover ArtTutankhamen : the life and death of the boy-king
by El Mahdy, Christine.
Name an Egyptian pharaoh. Ten to one, the words “King Tut” came rolling out of your mouth almost automatically. When Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s untouched tomb was discovered in 1922 filled to the brim with gold and precious stones, it caused a worldwide sensation. And when several of the people involved in the excavation died of “mysterious causes” attributed to an ancient curse, Tut’s popularity went through the roof. But really, we know very little about the actual life and death of this immensely famous ancient ruler. With Tutankhamen: The Life and Death of the Boy-King, British Egyptologist Christine El Mahdy investigates the mystery that lies behind the legend. El Mahdy has devoted most of her life and career to the study of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, which ruled the country more than 3,500 years ago. She outlines the ancient geography, culture, religion, politics, and society. She relates Tutankhamen’s family tree and describes the unique period into which he was born—the pharaoh before Tut was Ahkenaten, the heretic king who turned his back on Egypt’s traditional array of gods and built a brand new city in sole honor of the sun god. She describes the riveting account of the discovery of Tut’s tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter. And she constructs a new biography of Tutankhamen, this young man who was crowned king at the age of seven, died in his tender teenage years, and was entombed with almost unimaginable wealth. Tutankhamen is accessible, intriguing, intellectual, and brimming over with the author’s unmistakable enthusiasm for her subject.   posted Aug 31, 2010 at 12:43PM

Cover ArtThe mysterious Benedict Society
by Stewart, Trenton Lee.
“Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?” This unusual newspaper ad catches the eye of an especially observant and inventive orphan named Reynie Muldoon. It also catches the eyes of ready-for-adventure Kate Wetherall, brainy and sensitive George “Sticky” Washington, and very contrary little Constance Contraire. The children pass a series of tests for the mind and spirit and are recruited by the philanthropic Mr. Benedict. Their mission: Infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, a school run by the brilliant but dastardly Ledroptha Curtain. Mysterious messages are issuing forth from the school to brainwash the unsuspecting population, and Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance must combine their unique talents and skills to save the day. The reader follows clues and solves puzzles right along with the kids for a clever and interactive literary adventure. Like all worthy and wise orphans, Reynie and company pull together to outwit the villains and save the day. And like most orphans, their troubles are far from over—their unique capabilities are required in The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma. And thank goodness for that, because few things are more fun than saving the day with the Mysterious Benedict Society.   posted Aug 17, 2010 at 11:39AM

Cover ArtThe bad beginning
by Snicket, Lemony.
Oh, despair for the poor little Baudelaire children! Inventive Violent (age 14), bookworm Klaus (age 12), and baby Sunny, who likes to bite, have absolutely no happiness in store for them—and we are assured of that fact from the beginning by a wry narrator who cautions that “If you like stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” Orphaned when their beloved parents and home are consumed by a fire, the trio of Baudelaire siblings are installed in the gloomy home of distant relative Count Olaf. Count Olaf, of course, is a wicked villain with dastardly designs on the hefty Baudelaire fortune. Since every other adult in the book is completely clueless, Violent, Klaus, and Sunny must rely on their own pluck and resolve to get out of this sticky situation. But remember that the title of this series is, after all, A Series of Unfortunate Events. The adults get no wiser, the children no luckier, and at the end of The Bad Beginning the Baudelaires are no better off than they were before. The reader, however, has been in a fit of giggles since page one. Author Lemony Snicket tells his tale of woe in a gleefully tongue-in-cheek fashion. Satirizing the literary conventions of many an old-fashioned classic, Snicket takes the orphan story to wonderfully absurd new heights. His flair for the comically melodramatic continues in The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, and ten other cunning titles.   posted Aug 17, 2010 at 11:38AM

Cover ArtRare beasts
by Ogden, Charles.
Orphans turn downright nasty in Rare Beasts, a slim volume overflowing with the devious deeds of twelve-year-old twins Edgar and Ellen. Their parents are off on a lengthy (it’s been years) round-the-world vacation—and no wonder, because Edgar and Ellen are the terror of the town of Nod’s Limbs. The deceitful duo runs amuck in a tall, narrow old house. They have a gloomy groundskeeper called Heimertz and a pet, named Pet, who they occasionally torment. In fact, it’s the presence of Pet that gives the siblings the idea for their latest evil plan—steal the town’s beloved pets, deck them out in paint and glitter, and sell them for a fortune as rare and exotic beasts. With money in their grubby little pockets, the twins will be able to fund all manner of underhanded schemes. It’s a master plan and Edgar and Ellen are determined to carry it out to perfection—if their own in-fighting and constant bickering (not to mention a very big pet snake) doesn’t get in the way. Rare Beasts is the first offering a series by author Charles Ogden, and he holds nothing back in making his hero and heroine as gleefully diabolical as possible. Edgar and Ellen are so outlandishly over-the-top awful that he gets away with it and the result is a deliciously naughty little book. Whether the sneaky siblings develop any morals—and we rather hope they don’t—remains to be seen in book two (Tourist Trap) and its many prank-filled sequels.   posted Aug 17, 2010 at 11:38AM

Cover ArtThe Willoughbys
by Lowry, Lois.
The Willoughbys are a pleasant, old-fashioned sort of family—except that Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby tend to forget that they have children, and get rather tetchy when reminded of the fact. So the Willoughby children—bossy Tim, sweet Jane, and twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B—decide that they really would be better off as orphans. That way, they would at least be assured an adventure or two. A baby left on the doorstep (and re-delivered to a neighboring doorstep) is the catalyst for a series of astounding coincidences, devious plans, and literary conventions turned upside down that make up author Lois Lowry’s sprightly tale. Other characters include a down-in-the-dumps candy bar tycoon (inventor of the delicious Lickety-Split), a no-nonsense nanny who scorns other no-nonsense nannies (like that “fly-by-night” Mary Poppins), and a lederhosen-clad lad who speaks very poor German (he just adds extra syllables “with a vaguely Germanic sound” to English words). The sly, winking tone that Lowry adopts on page one carries through to the utter end, meaning even her glossary of vocabulary words and bibliography of orphan literature are a rare and playful treat to read. Absurd humor with more than a dash of sparkling satire, The Willoughbys contains some of the most impish orphans out there.   posted Aug 17, 2010 at 11:38AM

Cover ArtSpring-Heeled Jack
by Pullman, Philip, 1946-
When Rose, Lily, and Ned Summers escape from the Alderman Cawn-Plaster Memorial Orphanage one dark Victorian night, their goal is a ship bound for America so they can start a new life. But the pretty locket around Rose’s neck—containing photos of the orphans’ dear departed parents—attracts the unsavory attention of London cutthroat Mack the Knife. The children are saved by Spring-Heeled Jack, a legendary superhero-esque rogue who roams the city on bouncy shoes (he can leap over buildings in a single bound). But there’s still trouble—Mack manages to nab Ned and hold him hostage, and hot on Rose and Lily’s heels are Mr. Killjoy and Miss Gasket, the greedy caretakers from the orphanage. Rose and Lily and Ned have plenty of guts and gumption, and with Spring-Heeled Jack, a yappy dog named Spangle, a kindhearted sailor and his barmaid girlfriend on their side, there’s little doubt the Summers siblings will reunite and save the day. The real appeal of this thrilling tale of derring-do lies in its unique format. Author Philip Pullman’s action-packed text gives way every now and then to comics-style panels (by illustrator David Mostyn) that continue the plot, complete with witty asides and clever commentary by a crew of cartoon animals who keep pace with the story. There’s enough silliness in this send-up to entertain any adventure-lover.   posted Aug 17, 2010 at 11:37AM

Cover ArtDying to meet you
by Klise, Kate.
Ignatius B. Grumply is a children’s book author with a severe (twenty years long!) case of writer’s block. Desperate to finally put pen to paper, Mr. Grumply takes up residence in a ramshackle Victorian mansion in the gossipy little town of Ghastly, Illinois. Mr. Grumply does not expect the house to be quite as rickety as it is. He does not expect the house to already be inhabited. He does not expect that inhabitant to be an eleven-year-old boy. And Mr. Grumbly certainly doesn’t expect the boy to announce that he lives there all alone with his cat—and a ghost! But that is indeed Seymour Hope’s story, and he’s sticking to it. His parents (paranormal investigators who have concluded that ghosts do NOT exist) are on tour in Europe; they’ve left their unwanted son behind in the care of whoever happens to rent or buy their equally unwanted home. The house was originally built by Miss Olive C. Spence, an old-fashioned writer-turned-poltergeist who has sworn to haunt her home for all eternity—or at least until one of her books gets published. Olive and Seymour (and the cat) get along swimmingly until old Grumply arrives with his bad moods and house rules. But savvy Olive and confident Seymour are as stubborn as old Mr. Grumply, and now a comical battle of wills rages between man, boy, and ghost. Told through letters that the characters write and receive and scattered throughout with Ghastly Times newspaper clippings and quaint line drawings by the author’s sister, Dying to Meet You is a fresh and funny first entry in a series that promises loads of charm.   posted Aug 17, 2010 at 11:37AM

Cover ArtDial-a-ghost
by Ibbotson, Eva.
The Wilkinsons are a very pleasant family. There’s mother and father and grandma, and brother Eric and adopted sister Adopta. They are just the nicest family you could ever imagine. They are also ghosts, and they need a new house to haunt. Luckily, the Dial-A-Ghost agency specializes in finding homes for lost souls. The Wilkinsons are matched with a friendly group of nuns while other ghosts like the Shriekers—a mad child-hating husband and wife duo—are ideally suited for clients like Fulton and Frieda Snodde-Brittle, who have requested the nastiest ghosts possible to haunt their family home at Helton Hall. But a clerical error at the agency sends the Shriekers to the nuns and the Wilkinsons to Helton Hall. The Shriekers are vastly disappointed when there are no children to terrify, but the Wilkinsons are thrilled to find a little boy all alone. This is Oliver, the new heir to Helton Hall. Little orphan Oliver has been whisked away from his comfortable orphanage and installed in the ancestral home for the sole purpose of being scared to death so cousins Fulton and Frieda can have the family fortune all to themselves. Of course the Wilkinsons have no intention of harming a single hair on Oliver’s head. Rather, the ghostly family and the young lad become fast friends get along swimmingly. But the Snodde-Brittles and the Shriekers won’t give up that easily, and the shared happiness that Oliver and the Wilkinsons have finally found is imminently threatened. Author Eva Ibbotson paints a colorful cast of characters, some made of flesh and bone and some made of ectoplasm. There’s a healthy sense of humor, plenty of the macabre (the Shriekers are especially grotesque), and eerie little illustrations by Kevin Hawkes. Part comedy of errors, part ghastly ghost story, and with plenty of throwbacks to that old orphan literature of yore, Dial-A-Ghost is a creepy, crawly, comical adventure story.   posted Aug 17, 2010 at 11:36AM

Cover ArtJames and the giant peach
by Dahl, Roald
James Henry Trotter is an very unfortunate orphan. When his parents are gobbled up by an escaped rhinoceros, James is sent to live with (and slave for) Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge. He chops wood and serves tea to his hideous aunts until he’s seven years old; then, à la Jack and the Bean Stalk, a mysterious old man gives the boy a bag of tiny green-glowing crystals and promises that if James mixes them up and drinks them down, he will be rewarded with magic and adventures galore. But poor James has no luck—in his excitement he trips and spills his magic crystals under the old peach tree in the yard. The result is an amazing large peach that grows overnight. The Aunts make a bundle showing off their giant peach (and making James clean up after the crowds who pay to see it). One night James, miserable as ever, finds a strange tunnel dug into the peach. In he crawls to meet a crew of magically enormous insects—grinning Centipede, dapper Grasshopper, motherly Ladybug, and all the rest. They welcome the boy with open arms, snip the stem of the peach, and James finally gets the fantastic adventure he was promised. Author Roald Dahl’s trademark sense of humor is in finest form in James and the Giant Peach—sometimes dark, sometimes whimsical, and always fabulously fun. The illustrations are part of the story’s charm; the first edition in 1961 featured elegant pen-and-ink drawings by Nancy Burkert. Quentin Blake’s energetic style is practically synonymous with the works of Roald Dahl and artist Lane Smith re-illustrated the book in a freshly quirky style for the 1996 release of an animated film version.   posted Aug 17, 2010 at 11:36AM

Cover ArtThe wolves of Willoughby Chase.
by Aiken, Joan, 1924-2004.
Willoughby Chase may be an imposing mansion situated on a bleak moor that is teaming with hungry wolves, but indoors everything is cheery. Little Bonnie runs harum-scarum through her big house, beloved of dashing Papa, elegant but sickly Mama, and Pattern the devoted maid. Papa and Mama are embarking on a cruise, but little cousin Sylvia is coming to stay and keep Bonnie company. The two cousins hit it off right away but their new governess, Miss Slighcarp, wastes no time before showing her true colors—cunning, wicked, and cruel. Almost before they can blink, the toys are packed away, the ponies are sold, the helpful servants are dismissed, and Bonnie and Sylvia are declared orphans. Miss Slighcarp sends the girls off to slave away at a horrible school for orphaned girls where they are mistreated, abused, starved, and scolded. But in typical orphan fashion and with the help of a few well-placed allies, Bonnie and Sylvia rally to the challenge. Less snarky in tone and wit than the other books on this list, author Joan Aiken nevertheless delights in heaping burden after burden upon the slender shoulders of her heroines as they face wolves, lawyers, burnt porridge, and more. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is the first in a series of plucky-waif-makes-good stories by Aiken (followed by Black Hearts in Battersea, Nightbirds on Nantucket, and others), and all serve as prime examples of the classic orphan tale of woe and redemption.   posted Aug 17, 2010 at 11:36AM

Cover ArtThe hapless child.
Every tragic plot device that is supposed to befall an old-fashioned orphan happens to little Charlotte Sophia, the wide-eyed innocent of Edward Gorey’s The Hapless Child. One at a time, her loving parents fail her. Sent to a harsh boarding school, the other students mock her. Cast into the wide cruel world, Charlotte Sophia clings to life by a thread. And all the while, a miraculous happy ending is just around the corner. If you expect that happy ending to actually cross paths with Charlotte Sophia, however, then you don’t know Edward Gorey. Macabre master of the creepy-cute, Gorey (1925-2000) is notorious for his playfully ghoulish sense of humor. His quaint, crafty prose (Charlotte Sophia’s “only other relative, an uncle, was brained by a piece of masonry”) and his elegant, spidery pen-and-ink drawings combine to create whimsical little slices of slyly amusing melodrama. The Hapless Child, featuring a sad, sad orphan who you’ll snicker at with glee, is one of Gorey’s best.   posted Aug 17, 2010 at 11:35AM

Cover ArtBlackout
by Willis, Connie.
In 2060, at Oxford University, history students know that the best way to study the past is to be there. And thanks to the invention of time travel (via “the net”), getting that first-hand experience has never been easier. Polly, Merope, and Mike are three young historians with an interest in World War II. Mike is observing random acts of heroism during the rescue of British troops at Dunkirk. Merope is a maidservant at a big manor house in the country, caring for children evacuated from London to escape the bombings. And Polly is studying the Blitz, working as a London shop girl during the day and taking cover from bombs in cellars and tube stations at night. But soon our three intrepid historians discover a very big problem—their rendezvous points back to 2060 won’t open. Their only hope is to find each other in London, but nothing is as simple as it’s meant to be—including making sure that what happens is what’s supposed to happen. Author Connie Willis has toyed with time travel before in her gripping, award-winning Doomsday Book and her delightfully comic To Say Nothing of the Dog. Like those books, Blackout hooks the reader from the first page. Willis’ depictions of life during World War I—particularly Polly’s constant near-hits and misses during the Blitz—are pitch perfect. The nail-biting suspense will inspire near-frantic page turning. Blackout’s highly-anticipated sequel, All Clear, is due in October 2010.   posted Aug 3, 2010 at 3:39PM

Cover ArtA presumption of death
by Paton Walsh, Jill, 1937-
Author Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) was one of the Queens of Crime during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction in the 1930s and 40s. Her detective of choice was dapper aristocrat Lord Peter Wimsey. The last Wimsey story was published in 1942, but Sayers left a few other tantalizing bits and pieces behind. One of these, “The Wimsey Papers,” is a series of fictional letters to and from members of the Wimsey family that Sayers penned in 1940. In 2003, mystery writer Jill Paton Walsh filled out the details and wrote A Presumption of Death. Lord Peter is offstage most of the novel on a hush-hush government mission, but he is never out of his brainy wife Harriet’s thoughts. And Harriet has a lot on her mind during this winter of 1939—an estate to manage, children to raise, and a war to get ready for. Even more worrisome, a young woman is found murdered in the street during an air raid drill. Since the local police are already overwhelmed by war-time preparations, Harriet is asked to fill in and solve the crime. But everyone knows that the usual rules no longer apply when bombs may soon be falling in their own backyards. Walsh writes with a mastery that equally conveys a compelling murder mystery, the gossipy life of a small village town, and the harsh realities that everyday people faced while the Blitz was hot on their heels. Though they are well worth reading, there’s no need to be familiar with Sayers’ previous novels to enjoy this mysterious, historical slice of British life.   posted Aug 3, 2010 at 3:38PM

Cover ArtBlitz : the story of December 29, 1940
by Gaskin, Margaret.
The night of Sunday, December 29, 1940 was one of the worst nights of the Blitz. The relentless German air force dropped three-hundred tons of bombs on London. Over 15,000 fires sprang up and nearly 3,600 civilians were killed. The historical heart of London was the target, and the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral was very nearly lost to fire—had it not been for the dedicated team of firemen who fought the blaze throughout the night. Ambulance drivers, rescue workers, fighter pilots, and anti-aircraft crews all did their part to save the city, and it’s their story that takes center stage in author and historian Margaret Gaskin’s account of December 29. She employs photographs, first-hand accounts, and news reports to reconstruct the events of that fateful night with special attention to the regular folk who stood fast through the destruction and then emerged from their shelters to help their fellows and put their city back together. Blitz: The Story of December 29, 1940 ties all these historical details together to present a historical account that is truly a story told by those who lived it.   posted Aug 3, 2010 at 3:38PM

Cover ArtLondon calling
by Bloor, Edward, 1950-
Angsty seventh-grader Martin Conway’s family is complicated. His father is an alcoholic, but his grandfather Martin Meehan was an embassy secretary who hobnobbed with the Kennedys in 1940 London. All Souls Prep School, where Martin’s mother works so her son can attend tuition-free, was founded by even more prominent World War II hero General Henry M. “Hollerin’ Hank” Lowery. Stuck in the long shadows cast by the men in his life, Martin broods in his basement bedroom. But he is yanked out of his miserable existence when his grandmother dies and leaves him an antique radio. Martin intends to use it as a night light, but when he plugs it in something very strange happens. While he sleeps Martin is transported to London in 1940, smack dab in the middle of the Blitz, where a scrappy little kid named Jimmy pleads with him to “do his bit.” This is no dream. When Martin wakes up and does a bit of modern research, he discovers that Jimmy and the other Londoners he’s seen and heard are real, documented people. He also uncovers some unexpected truths about the very men he’s been brought up to revere and admire. This is a novel overflowing with the tension of things left unsaid and secrets kept too long. Martin’s fears and insecurities are laid bare by his intimate narrative voice and author Edward Bloor’s evocation of Blitz-ravaged London is hard-hitting. A bit heavy-handed at times when dealing with the ethics of religion, politics, and history, London Calling is nevertheless a poignant coming-of-age story.   posted Aug 3, 2010 at 3:37PM

Cover ArtWhen everybody wore a hat
by Steig, William, 1907-2003.
William’s Steig’s autobiography is a story for children. But anyone who knows William Steig—author of the original ugly-loving Shrek!; creator of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, in which the main character spends most of the book as a rock—will understand that anything by this author will feature his trademark matter-of-fact tone and understated charm. When Everyone Wore a Hat is about William Steig’s childhood in the Bronx, way back when you could see a movie for a nickel and a hat was as essential as shoes and a shirt. Through bright, childishly expressive illustrations, Steig (1907-2003) shows us life through his own eight-year-old eyes: an outing on the river with Mama and Papa decked out in stripes and polka-dots; neighborhood characters like elegant Mrs. Kingman who was “looked on by the women in admiration;” Steig’s first haircut at Ditchick’s Barbershop. There’s a healthy dose of realism as well, conveyed with a child’s simple directness: Papa yelling at the radiator when there isn’t enough heat, Mama’s tears when she receives sad news from the Old Country, and the bombs and blood of World War I. Deceptively simple but instantly engrossing, this slim little autobiography offers a slice of old-fashioned life and a look at the formative years of an inventive and irreverent author.   posted Jul 20, 2010 at 11:40AM

Cover ArtBill Peet : an autobiography
by Peet, Bill.
In 1937, a young storyboard artist at Disney Studios got sick and tired of drawing Donald Duck over and over and stormed out, hollering “NO MORE DUCKS! NO MORE LOUSY DUCKS!” That artist was Bill Peet (1915-2002), beloved children’s author of The Gnats of Knotty Pine, Chester the Worldly Pig, and Buford the Little Bighorn, and that anecdote is one of many that he relates in his self-titled autobiography. Peet got his start at Disney, becoming a lead story man for classic films like Dumbo, Cinderella, The Sword in the Stone, and 101 Dalmatians before his own career as a children’s book author finally brought him, fame, fortune, and artistic freedom. Peet tells his life story in pictures and words—his artistic creations dance across every page as he chronicles his childhood during the Great Depression, his storyboard presentations for the great Walt Disney, and his own studio where he wrote and illustrated his books. The insight into the workings of Disney productions is revealing and entertaining and Peet always has a sense of humor about whatever life throws his way. As engaging as one of the author’s own storybooks, Bill Peet: An Autobiography is a delightful portrait of an artist at work   posted Jul 20, 2010 at 11:40AM

Cover ArtEzra Jack Keats : a biography with illustrations
by Engel, Dean, 1943-
He was born Jack Ezra Katz, but you know and love him as Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983), author of The Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie, Goggles!, and many others. From his penny-pinching childhood in the Great Depression to his years inking comics for Five-Star Comics (creators of Captain Marvel) to his experiments with fabric and collage, art was a crucial comfort for Keats. In this biography, the events of Keats’ life are illustrated by his own artwork. When little boy Ezra gets picked on by bullies in his Brooklyn neighborhood, we see an illustration of a similar scene from Goggles!. When Ezra explores the city of Paris as a struggling young artist, we see a self-portrait on a colorful Parisian street. And when Ezra realizes that there are very few black children in picture books and creates his hero Peter, we see that iconic image from The Snowy Day of little Peter in his red hood and his footprints in the snow. Ezra’s life is reconstructed in a simple, straightforward narrative that rolls along like a storybook. It’s a heartfelt, poignant tribute to an award-winning artist, written by people who knew (Florence B. Freedman was his high school teacher!) and loved him.   posted Jul 20, 2010 at 11:39AM

Cover ArtVirginia Lee Burton : a life in art
by Elleman, Barbara.
If you have a lasting fascination with steam shovels, snow plows, and construction sites, you probably know Virginia Lee Burton—or at least her storybook creations Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Little House, and Katy and the Big Snow. There’s also Burton herself, and she takes center stage in this elegant biography. From her student years in the early 1920s studying dance and design to the deliberate research methods she incorporated to write and illustrate her books, Burton (1909-1968) was a woman ahead of her time. She had an active career in an era when most women were housewives. She was an environmentalist before the term existed, a nature-lover who relished country living. She was an innovator in book design (remember how Katy plows right through the text on the page in Katy and the Big Snow?) She was an artist of many mediums—there’s an entire chapter dedicated to the folksy textiles created by her Folly Cove Designers. Author Barbara Elleman fills the pages of her biography with photographs, sketches, and images from the children’s books that made Virginia Lee Burton famous. The tone is highly celebratory (any trials and tribulations are very much glossed over) but the final product is a loving tribute to a talented and cherished storyteller.   posted Jul 20, 2010 at 11:39AM

Cover ArtBoy : tales of childhood
by Dahl, Roald
Roald Dahl (1916-1990) is the quintessential children’s author. From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The BFG to James and the Giant Peach (not to mention Dirty Beasts, The Twits, and Esio Trot), this perpetually popular author has the unique ability to tell a fantastic story. The man clearly had a wildly creative imagination, but he also lived a wildly creative life. He relates that life in two volumes: Boy and Going Solo. Boy is chock-full of antics and escapades from Dahl’s childhood—his vacations in Norway, his schoolboy pranks (including “The Great and Daring Mouse Plot”), and his eccentric family members. Savvy readers will spot not a few larks that clearly inspire his later fiction. Going Solo chronicles Dahl’s adult life, specifically his adventures in Africa working for the Shell Oil Company and his acts of derring-do as a RAF pilot during World War II. The real joy of his memoirs comes from Dahl’s distinct narrative voice—wry and tongue-in-cheek, full of dark humor and gleeful irony. Family photographs and documents dot the pages of both volumes. The most recent edition collects the two memoirs into one volume and feature lively cover art by Quentin Blake, whose illustrative style is practically synonymous with Roald Dahl’s most beloved books.   posted Jul 20, 2010 at 11:39AM

Cover ArtThe Seuss, the whole Seuss, and nothing but the Seuss : a visual biography of Th
by Cohen, Charles D.
Dr. Seuss is a household name. We all know that Horton heard a Who and that the Grinch stole Christmas. But did we know that Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991) first penned cartoons for Dartmouth College’s literary magazines in the early 1920s? Are we familiar with Geisel’s advertisements for Flit bug spray? Thanks to Charles D. Cohen’s extensive biography, we are now. The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss offers a retrospective of Geisel’s life and art with a particular emphasis on his pre-children’s book days. Here we meet Geisel way back when he was a boy in rural Massachusetts, back when he was an ad man for Standard Oil and General Electric, back when he was a political cartoonist during World War II, back before he was Dr. Seuss. The whimsical animal-esque characters are present from day one, even if they are occasionally tempered by the commercial nature of his early work. And when the limits are lifted, watch out—richly reproduced examples of Geisel’s art cover the pages of this “visual biography.” Cohen lets Geisel speak for himself as much as possible and excerpts from letters, interviews, and articles tell much of the artist’s story. What ultimately comes across, in all its absurd Seusssian glory, is the very real sense of a man whose creativity knew no bounds.   posted Jul 20, 2010 at 11:38AM

Cover ArtThe journey that saved Curious George : the true wartime escape of Margret and H
by Borden, Louise.
Curious George and his friend the Man with the Yellow Hat currently reside in picture books, television sets, and movie screens. But they got their start in a humble flat in Paris, where their creators H.A. (Hans Alberto; 1898-1977) and Margret (1906-1996) Rey came to honeymoon and stayed to live and work. Both Hans and Margret were Jews born in Hamburg, Germany; when Hitler’s forces invaded France in 1940, the couple knew it was time to leave. Joining millions of people who fled the city and crowded the trains, the Reys made their escape on a pair of rickety bicycles—with the manuscript that would become Curious George (his original name was Fifi) strapped to Hans’ back. The book that tells of this amazing journey through France, across the Atlantic, and to New York City is a lovely work of art all by itself. Author Louise Borden conveys the Reys’ story in poetic style. Allan Drummond’s illustrations are elegant and energetic, whether they show the romance of the Reys’ pre-war years or the more desperate rush to stay one step ahead of the Nazis. Photographs, letters, passport stamps, and intimate details lend authenticity to this story that has become a real legend in the history of children’s literature.   posted Jul 20, 2010 at 11:38AM

Cover ArtThe mysterious howling
by Wood, Maryrose.
Miss Penelope Lumley, smart, sensitive, resourceful, recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Ladies and just fifteen-years-old, is hired on the spot to serve as governess at luxurious Ashton Place. Only then is she allowed to meet her charges—three children who, due to their tendency to gnaw, nip, and growl, appear to have been raised by wolves. Lord Fredrick caught them on his estate when he was out hunting and as he says, “Finders keepers.” Penelope is not daunted by her task. She gets on swimmingly with Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia Incorrigible, as Lord Fredrick names them (or Alawooooo, Beowooooo, and Cassawoof, as they call themselves). The children respond to poetry and games of fetch, and Penelope feels sure that French, Latin, and literature cannot be far behind. But then Lady Constance drops a bombshell. The children are expected to appear at the mansion’s elegant Christmas ball. This means table manners, fancy dress, and the ability to stand still when a squirrel is spotted. As Penelope and the kiddies rise to the challenge, they begin to discover that there are many dangerous secrets at Ashton Place. There are also many nods and winks to the reader, including Lemony Snicket-esque asides from the witty narrator. But author Maryrose Wood makes her tale all her own with plenty of amusing details—her heroine’s overactive imagination, the children’s endearing mischief-making, and a tone that is droll and cheeky and thoroughly giggle-inducing. By the time the last page is turned, readers will be howling for a sequel.   posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:06AM

Cover ArtMiss Pettigrew lives for a day
by Watson, Winifred, 1906-2002.
Miss Pettigrew is not a very good governess. Frequently fired or quitting in a huff, her agency has given the middle-aged, out-of-touch spinster one last chance. So when Miss Pettigrew stumbles into the stylish flat of the even more stylish Delysia La Fosse, she’s determined not to blow it—even when it becomes painfully clear that the “boy” in the bedroom is no child, but instead a fully-grown fling of Delysia’s who needs to be rushed out the door before her more permanent lover gets home. Dismayed by the loss of a much-needed job, slightly scandalized, but still game, Miss Pettigrew lends a hand—she does, after all, know how to get a late sleeper out of bed, even if she’s more used to dealing with schoolboys than playboys. Delighted by the governess’ success, fetching but flighty Delysia decides that she simply cannot live without Miss Pettigrew by her side. It’s the eve of World War II and Delysia, a nightclub singer with a string of too many fellows at her beck and call, really knows how to live it up. As Miss Pettigrew encounters the glamorous speakeasys and deliciously wicked inhabitants of Delysia’s world, she finds herself in the midst of the most exhilarating day of her life—and dreading the prospect of returning to her own hum-drum existence. Back in print after a film version was released in 2008, author Winifred Watson’s 1938 novel is a joy to read. Fresh, funny, and flirty, this single day in the life of Miss Pettigrew has captivated generations of readers.   posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:05AM

Cover ArtNine coaches waiting
by Stewart, Mary, 1916-
The de Valmys want an English governess. Lovely but alone-in-the-world Linda Martin is indeed English—but she’s also half-French. Still, she needs a job, and what harm can it do to pretend ignorance when the French language is spoken? Plenty. Linda’s new charge is Philippe de Valmy—Comte (or Count) Philippe de Valmy, inheritor of a grand title, manor, and fortune at the tender age of nine years old. He lives at the magnificent Chateau de Valmy with his stylish and chic Uncle Leon and Aunt Heloise, who are overseeing the extensive estate until Philippe comes up of age. Philippe is a charming boy, and if the de Valmys are a bit standoffish, the beauty of Linda’s new home more than compensates—especially when Raoul, Philippe’s devastatingly handsome older cousin, takes a decided interest in the pretty new governess. But when one too many “accident” threatens Philippe’s safety, Linda doesn’t know who to trust—and it’ll take more than faking not knowing French to secure her young charge’s life. Author Mary Stewart wrote Nine Coaches Waiting in 1958, but she draws from the literary tradition of the gothic romance and the story is still fraught with suspense. The gorgeous French landscape is evoked in all its beauty and the sense of secrets lurking just below the surface is detectable from the first page. Resist the charm of this romantic little thriller if you can.   posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:04AM

Cover ArtSet in stone
by Newbery, Linda.
When art tutor Samuel Godwin takes up his new position at Fourwinds Manor in 1898, he finds three mysteries in the form of three attractive young women: governess Charlotte Agnew and the young ladies of the house, Juliana and Marianne. Charlotte is completely immersed in her role as genteel companion and governess and refuses to speak about her past. Juliana, fragile and pretty, seems permanently downhearted. And Marianne, with her wild beauty and high spirits, is occasionally found wandering the grounds in a strange, dream-like state of near-hysteria. The three women are captivating and charming personalities, and Samuel is irresistibly drawn to them. Charlotte is wary of the new tutor but welcomes the chance to interact with someone who, like herself, occupies a tenuous place in the household between family member and servant. As they take turns narrating alternate chapters in author Linda Newbery’s tribute to the gothic novel of the Victorian era, Samuel and Charlotte begin to uncover the web of lies, deceit, and scandal that plagues Fourwinds and its inhabitants. The first few pages alone contains enough sensational elements for an entire book, much less a single chapter: a long walk in the moonlight, mysterious rustlings in the forest, a scream in the night, and a damsel in distress who throws herself at the hero. Readers will find themselves in a frenzy of page-turning as governess and tutor slowly unveil secret after fascinating secret.   posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:04AM

Cover ArtThe turn of the screw : and other stories
by James, Henry, 1843-1916.
A young gentlewoman begins her career as a governess when a handsome bachelor hires her to care for his little niece and nephew. She is sent to Bly, the country manor where the children are tucked away n the care of a motherly housekeeper. Little Flora and her brother Miles are so adorable and angelic as to be called exquisite; the governess is instantly enamored of their childish charms. But before she can become a slave to their every delightful little whim, the governess sees—something. A pale face pressed against the window and a dark figure on the other side of the lake, staring with devious intent at little Flora and Miles. When she describes these mysterious watchers to the housekeeper, they are identified as Peter Quint and Miss Jessel—and the horror immediately grows, because not only are Quint and Miss Jessel bad, immoral people, but they are dead. Convinced that the children’s young souls have been corrupted, our nerve-wracked governess fights to save some remnant of goodness in the preternaturally perfect little darlings—even while the ghostly fiends strive to possess them. Author Henry James weaves a masterful web of intense suspense that still penetrates more than a hundred years later. A uniquely layered structure (an unnamed narrator is listening to a manuscript read by a fellow houseguest; the manuscript is told in first-person by the hapless governess) completes the casting of the spell; a reader can never be sure what (if anything) is real and what (if anything) is imagined. One thing is certain: The Turn of the Screw will keep you biting your nails, jumping at every noise, and absolutely glued to the page.   posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:03AM

Cover ArtThe nonesuch
by Heyer, Georgette, 1902-1974.
Sir Waldo “the Nonesuch” Hawkridge is a rich, handsome, athletic figure of a man. He got his nickname because it is generally agreed that there is no such other man as he. You’d think a fellow with a reputation like that would be conceited to the gills, but Sir Waldo is a gentleman in manner as well as name: He spends his money building orphanages to shelter and educate London’s street boys. When Sir Waldo inherits Broom Hall and comes to Yorkshire to examine his new acquisition, it is entirely too much to expect the ladies of the neighborhood to ignore this paradigm of manhood. Miss Ancilla Trent is one of those ladies, but as the twenty-eight-year-old governess and chaperone to the beautiful and tempestuous Tiffany Wield, Ancilla considers herself “on the shelf” and is able to meet Sir Waldo with a measure of composure and intelligence that impresses that gentleman very favorably. Not so Miss Tiffany. She has her eyes on both Sir Waldo and the handsome cousin who accompanies him. When her wiles inexplicably fail to attract either man, Tiffany does more than put on a pout—she hightails it out of Yorkshire and makes for the big city of London. Desperate to find her wayward charge and avoid scandal, Ancilla is hot on Tiffany’s tail—and who should come to the governess’ assistance but the Nonesuch himself? Bursting with Regency flavor in the grand tradition of Jane Austen, The Nonesuch displays all of author Georgette Heyer’s considerable charms. Witty banter, impeccable historical detail, a colorful supporting cast, and a slow-burning romance make for a delightful package that will bring smiles to the lips of any reader.   posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:03AM

Cover ArtJane Eyre
by Bronte, Charlotte, 1816-1855.
Orphaned, unloved, poor as a church mouse, plain of face but with an indomitable spirit, Jane Eyre and the novel that bears her name has stood the test of time and become one of the great titles of Western literature. For all that, it’s still a rousing, dramatic soap opera of a story. Jane narrators in her own unmistakable and unforgettable intimate voice; she tells the reader about her neglected childhood, painful boarding school years, and finally, about accepting a governess position at magnificently gloomy Thornfield Hall. Her new charge is a sprightly little French ward; her new master is the enigmatic and charismatic Mr. Rochester. To everyone around them, Jane and Rochester are an unlikely—if not impossible—match. But the master of the house and demure plain Jane are kindred spirits with keen intellects and complex desires. Of course there is an obstacle greater than discrepancies in social standing, age, experience, and wealth standing in the way of Jane’s happiness—a terrible secret haunts Mr. Rochester’s past and may very well have infiltrated the halls of Thornfield. Author Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece is an atmospheric Gothic romance that was considered far too passionate and scandalous when it was first published in 1847. That emotion still comes roaring across the page today—especially Jane’s determined longing for a free and equal life, something so regularly denied to a woman like herself in her day. A love story for the ages, Jane Eyre is the governess by which all other governesses are judged.   posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:03AM

Cover ArtAgnes Grey
by Bronte, Anne, 1820-1849.
Her sister’s novel about the life of a governess hit bookshelves only a few months before her own, but Anne Brontë put pen to paper on Agnes Grey long before Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre. Timing and the whims of the critics dictated that Jane was better remembered than Agnes and Charlotte better remembered than Anne (though it didn’t help that Anne died at the tender age of twenty-nine). But Agnes Grey has never been allowed to fade completely into the background. The heroine is a sheltered young woman in the bosom of a poor but loving family. To help with the finances and assert her own independence, she becomes governess for the Bloomfields. Agnes has hopes of a kind, motherly mistress and sweet, obedient charges. What she gets is the precise opposite—and she is completely unprepared for the unruly, obstinate, and even violent behavior of the children. Fed up, Agnes moves on to the upper-class Murray family. The children are older and better behaved, but their governess is more a thing than a person to them, and sixteen-year-old Miss Murray’s coquettish flirting with any and every man in sight is especially distressing. Anyone who has ever had the care of children (even well-behaved children) will instantly sympathize with Miss Grey, become completely invested in Agnes’ struggles, and hope desperately for her rescue. Anne Brontë’s aim in writing Agnes Grey was to expose the plight of the governess of her day. It was a goal she accomplished with depth and purpose and the novel still serves as an important portrait of its times—not to mention a fine and elegant story.   posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:01AM

Cover ArtGoverness : the lives and times of the real Jane Eyres
by Brandon, Ruth.
In the 18th and19th centuries, a woman was a spinster if she wasn’t married by her mid-twenties. If she lacked funds of her own as well as a husband, almost her only recourse to support herself—particularly if she was a gentlewoman of the upper classes—was to become a governess. As a governess, a woman lived in someone else’s home. She was responsible for the education of the family’s daughters and young sons. Neither family nor servant, she occupied an uneasy middle ground. In author Ruth Brandon’s study of the institution of the governess during the Victorian age, the lives of some of the more famous governesses are investigated. The Brontë sisters drew on their experiences for their vivid depictions of the profession in Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey. Anna Leonowens’ memoirs were the inspiration for The King and I. Mary Wollstonecraft so despised her time as a governess (even though she had to quite good in comparison to many) that she later became a journalist and promoted the then-radical idea of education and equality for women. The lives that Brandon examines did not all face the neglect and mistreatment that many fictional governesses have to deal with, nor did most of them fall in love with their masters, run mad, or face compelling mysteries and secrets. But no one, it seems, ever loved being a governess. Readers will come away educated, entertained, and thanking their lucky stars that the profession is a thing of the past—but very grateful that fictional governesses abound to teach us all a thing or two.   posted Jul 6, 2010 at 10:01AM

Cover ArtThe invention of Hugo Cabret : a novel in words and pictures
by Selznick, Brian.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a 544-page picture book, and it is a fantastic, magical adventure. In 1930s Paris, twelve-year-old orphan Hugo Cabret lives a secret life behind the walls of the city’s train station. His job is to maintain the station’s many clocks, but his passion is repairing a small mechanical man that his deceased father found in a museum attic. If it ever works, the automaton’s gears will turn and it will write a message; in his grief and loneliness, Hugo believes this will somehow be a message from his father. When he is caught stealing wind-up toys for mechanical parts from the station’s toy booth, Hugo’s life changes forever. Put to work by the crotchety old toymaker and befriended by the toymaker’s inquisitive goddaughter, sensitive Hugo begins to emerge from his shell and make some intriguing connections between the toymaker’s true identity, his father’s history, and his own future. Along the way, author Brian Selznick pushes the boundaries of what the picture book can do. Subtitled A Novel in Pictures and Words, sections of the story are conveyed through silvery charcoal illustrations that zoom in and out as your turn the pages like a film on a screen. Cinema is a theme of the story, and movie stills—especially those from early French filmmaker Georges Méliès’ whimsical A Trip to the Moon—are interspersed throughout the book, as are archival photographs of the Paris of the day. More than an illustrated or graphic novel, the combination of written word and visual image is wholly unique to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and it’s a combination that won the book the 2008 Caldecott Medal for best illustrated children’s break. Elegant, sophisticated, and charming from cover to cover, this genre-busting book is breaking new ground.   posted Jun 22, 2010 at 1:33PM

Cover ArtThe arrival
by Tan, Shaun.
The Arrival is an elegant and haunting work of art that hovers somewhere between graphic novel, comic strip, and picture book—or maybe encompasses them all. Wordless, told entirely through sepia-toned drawings that cover the pages in comics-style panels or full-page spreads, the story of The Arrival is nonetheless clear and true and stirring. A lone immigrant leaves his homeland to embark on an unknown journey and a quest for a better life. Along the way he is confronted by the strange, the wondrous, and the terrible, because there is a healthy dose of the fantastic in this picturesque storybook. Giant dragons' tails overshadow villages, ornate cities rise from bizarre landscapes, and quirky little critters accompany the residents of the foreign country where the man finally makes a new life. At first he’s put off by the creature that adopts him—a creepy-cute round little fellow with a wide smiling mouth and a long wagging tail. But the comfort of a constant companion eventually becomes a boon, as do the histories of the friendly strangers he meets. Turn-of-the-century dress and architecture meld flawlessly with elements of science fiction that abound in The Arrival—not just the captivating little beasties, but strange methods of travel, spiraling towers, and an invented alphabet by Australian author Shaun Tan that conveys more than anything else the bewildering confusion that surrounds a refugee in a strange new land. Brimming over with visual metaphors that add layers of beauty and complexity, The Arrival is a magical tribute to the unflagging immigrant spirit.   posted Jun 22, 2010 at 1:32PM

Cover ArtThe mysteries of Harris Burdick
by Van Allsburg, Chris.
This classic opens with a mysterious note from beloved children’s book author Chris Van Allsburg: The illustrations on the following pages were left at a publishing house by one Harris Burdick. Burdick delivered his portfolio for consideration, left, and was never heard of again. All that remains are fourteen illustrations for fourteen unknown stories. Each picture is accompanied by a title and a caption. In The Seven Chairs, for example, a dainty nun flies through ornate halls on a straight-backed chair while a pair of men in long robes gaze up her sedately. The caption reads, “The fifth one ended up in France.” There’s a blank spot on the dove-covered wallpaper of The Third Floor Bedroom, accompanied by the line, “It all began when someone left the window open.” Look closer, and you'll spot another dove, paper-wing lifted, about to take flight. All this mystery and fantasy is conveyed through Van Allsburg’s trademark style that can convey realism and whimsy in a single stroke. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick has been firing the imaginations of readers since its publication in 1984. A portfolio edition is now available with a new author’s introduction and one more “discovered” drawing. The interactivity of the book continues at The Mysteries of Harris Burdick website where Van Allsburg posts stories sent to him by his legions of fans, who include Stephen King (writing a solution to The House on Maple Street, where a neatly-gabled neighborhood home blasts into the sky on rocket boosters with the caption “It was a perfect lift-off”) as well as school children, amateur writers, and non-writers who couldn’t resist the lure of a good mystery. We dare you NOT to be inspired.   posted Jun 22, 2010 at 1:32PM

Cover ArtThe latke who couldn't stop screaming : a Christmas story
by Snicket, Lemony.
What’s a latke to do when Christmas lights, candy canes, and trees just don’t get it? Scream, of course, at the top of its potato pancake lungs until it gets the point across. Born of potato flakes and oil, the star of The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming leaps from his frying pan and runs shouting through the night. Confronted by ignorant, self-obsessed Christmas paraphernalia, the latke attempts to explain the meaning of Hanukkah, from the miraculous oil-burning lamp to the eight nights of gift-giving. Since this is a story by cheeky children’s author Lemony Snicket (best known for his gleefully gruesome Series of Unfortunate Events), any implied message about the holiday spirit or the meaning of the season gets turned topsy-turvy in an impish little tale that delights in the absurd and the unexpected. Artist Lisa Brown’s bright retro illustrations lend sass and spunk to Snicket’s irreverent “Christmas Story,” which is sure to tickle the funny bones of all ages and faiths, regardless of the season. Who knew latkes could be so delightfully amusing?   posted Jun 22, 2010 at 1:31PM

Cover ArtThe miraculous journey of Edward Tulane
by DiCamillo, Kate.
Edward Tulane is a beautiful, hand-crafted, china toy rabbit, a doll who is adored and cared for by a little girl named Abilene. Abilene loves Edward almost as much as Edward loves himself; he is, after all, a truly wonderful specimen, and as such he can’t be bothered with any emotion more serious than concern for his extensive wardrobe. But when this very vain bunny takes a tumble over the side of an ocean liner while the family is on a voyage, he embarks on a world of adventure. From the bottom of the ocean, to the net of a humble fisherman, to the backpack of a cheery hobo, to the arms of an ill little girl, Edward Tulane, rabbit extraordinaire, slowly but surely learns to love. But the lesson is painful—everyone Edward loves is eventually lost to him. As his heart (and the reader’s) breaks again and again, Edward is once again in danger of becoming a cold, distant rabbit. This elegant little fairy tale, with its shades of The Velveteen Rabbit, is an achingly beautiful story of loss and love told by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo and illustrated in sepia tones and muted color plates by Bagram Ibatoulline. Their collaboration truly brings The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to life.   posted Jun 22, 2010 at 1:31PM

Cover ArtWoolvs in the sitee
by Wild, Margaret, 1948-
Dystopias come in all forms, even picture books. But Woolvs in the Sitee is not for little children. Told by a lonely, scared boy, this dark story features text scrawled in graffiti-like writing across the page, with words misspelled and misshapen to heighten the sense of atmospheric ruin conveyed by the bleakly elegant illustrations. Ben, a young boy who has lost his family and spends his days hiding in a dank basement, tells readers that there are “woolvs in the sitee,” but these are not forest animals, oh no, these are “shadows prowling,” hateful and dangerous beings who “will kum for me and for yoo.” Ben’s only ally is his upstairs neighbor Mrs. Radinski, who offers food and water and comfort. One night, Ben is lured outdoors by a clean blue sky (the seasons are otherwise “topsee turvee,” hinting at some devastating apocalyptic disaster). The blue sky turns out to be merely a painted wall, but Mrs. Radinski braves the dangers of the street to bring Ben home to safety. And when Mrs. Radinski disappears, Ben must decide whether or not to risk all his fears and the horrors of the city to return the favor. Australian author and illustrator team Margaret Wild and Ann Spudvilas collaborate on a gripping book with mature themes, despite its slim size. The edgy text merges with images of rusty oranges streetlights, buildings that drip with streaks of black and gray, and scratchy charcoal figures in deep shadows. A deeply evocative dystopian vision, Woolvs in the Sitee should not be overlooked.   posted Jun 22, 2010 at 1:30PM

Cover ArtThe rabbits
by Marsden, John, 1950-
The Rabbits is a picture book, but it is a beautiful and sophisticated picture book, the kind that can be read and reread from age eight to eighty. The story begins when a ship full of white rabbits arrives on a faraway shore, armed with black muskets and other strange technologies. The rabbits come to take rather than give, and to the marsupial-like inhabitants who have lived for generations in harmony with nature, the rabbits are terrifying indeed as they chop down trees, construct factories, and alter the land to suit their own purposes. Out of fear and anger, especially after their children are taken, the marsupials rise in rebellion against the rabbits, but by then it is too late—the rabbits are too many, the marsupials are too few, and the damage is done. Author John Marsden and illustrator Shaun Tan are from the land Down Under, and their story is an allegory for the settlement of Australia and the destruction of the aboriginal people at the hands of the self-righteous European settlers in the 19th century. It’s a mature theme indeed, highlighted by Tan’s gorgeous, highly-stylized, intricate paintings of canon-wielding rabbits marching to overcome the sand-colored marsupials armed only with their spears and their sense of right. This story book is no fairy tale, and that means its powerful message hits home with eloquence and compassion.   posted Jun 22, 2010 at 1:30PM

Cover ArtThe enemy : a book about peace
by Cali, Davide.
Two opposing soldiers in foxholes contemplate each other and the nature of war in this deceptively simple children’s book. At first, the soldiers think of each other only as The Enemy, a nameless, faceless, dangerous other. When it rains, the soldiers only consider their own discomfort—the thought that the enemy might be just as wet and gloomy never crosses their minds. Both soldiers consult manuals that assure them the enemy is little more than “a wild beast” whose only goal is to hurt and harm. But when the soldiers tire of their tedious duties, they end up sneaking past the other in the night and into each other’s foxholes, where they are confronted with evidence of the supposed enemy’s humanity. The choice to continue or end the war, then, becomes a great deal more complex. The two soldiers are little cartoon men existing on an otherwise blank white page; their foxholes are collaged bits of torn paper; the covers of their manuals are bright spots of red. This subtle simplicity is the work of artist Serge Bloch; the plaintive testimonies of the soldiers are penned by author Davide Cali. The result is a lesson in war and peace that we are never too old to learn.   posted Jun 22, 2010 at 1:29PM

Cover ArtSteampunk
For an in-depth exploration of the steampunk genre, look no further than Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s collected anthology, titled simply Steampunk. First, an excerpt from steampunk granddaddy Michael Moorcock’s 1971 novel The Warlord of the Air. Then comes a selection of short stories that revel in mad scientists, Martian mutinies, royal imposters, magic, monsters, and weird technologies while still providing humor, horror, mystery, adventure, finely-crafted characters, inventive settings, and thought-provoking plots. Don’t miss Ted Chiang’s “Seventy-Two Letters” or Michael Chabon’s “The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance.” The VanderMeers are long-time steampunk writers themselves (check out editions of their magazine The New Weird), which makes them ideally suited to comment, critique, and celebrate this unique avenue of science fiction and fantasy. Steampunk provides a comprehensive history of the genre’s evolution and the finest tales its writers have to offer. For both the newly initiated steampunker and the long-time fan, there’s something fresh and fantastic to be found in Steampunk. And if you need more steam-powered adventure, Steampunk II: Reloaded is ready and waiting.   posted Jun 8, 2010 at 11:43AM

Cover ArtLeviathan
by Westerfeld, Scott.
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated, setting in motion a chain of alliances that sparks an international war. World War I, right? Well, kind of. The alliances of Leviathan’s alter-Europe are divided into the Germanic “Clankers” who build wonderfully complex and sophisticated machines, and the British “Darwinists” who genetically engineer astonishing animal crossbreeds. Prince Aleksander is a proud Austrian, but when his country turns against him after the murder of his parents, Alek is forced into exile with a small crew of loyalists and a steam-powered Stormwalker. Half a continent away, Deryn Sharp is an intelligent and skilled girl determined to make her way—disguised as a boy—asa British Air Service midshipman on board the living airship Leviathan, a massive hydrogen-breathing beastie. The fates of Clanker-born Alek and firm Darwinist Deryn seem unlikely to combine, but that’s exactly what happens when the Leviathan crashes near Alek’s Swiss mountain hideout. The only way for Alek (under the guise of a commoner) and Deryn (still dressed as a boy) to escape the approaching German army is to work together—even if that means overcoming a lifetime of suspicion about the other’s way of life and revealing their own true identities. Author Scott Westerfeld stays true to the shifting alliances that caused the Great War while inventing not one, but two, advanced new technologies. His description of the Clanker’s mechanical prowess is matched only by the complex symbiotic animal relationships that keep the Leviathan airborne. Westerfeld’s creations are visualized by illustrator Keith Thompson in inked drawings that breathe even more life into the fabulous construct that is Leviathan. The adventure continues in the upcoming sequel, Behemoth, due in October 2010.   posted Jun 8, 2010 at 11:41AM

Cover ArtAndroid Karenina
by Tolstoy, Leo, graf, 1828-1910.
The quirky Quirk Books ushered in a new era of literary mash-ups with the runaway success of last year’s delightful Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which in turn spawned Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. A slight shift from Regency romance to Russian classics and from monsters to robots gives us Android Karenina, a steampunked version of Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 masterpiece about love and despair set against the chilly winter backdrop of aristocratic life in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The twist comes with the titular androids. Everyone who’s anyone has one, a custom-made robot that offers comfort, support, and service with a cute nickname (the Russians love their nicknames) to boot. Cyborgs are the hot new technology trend of the moment and inter-planetary travel is a distinct possibility. The steampunk setting grows richer with anti-gravity skating rinks and dance floors, but life is not all romance, glamour, and three-dimensional waltzes. Trouble is afoot, and much of that mischief stems from the androids and the technology they wield. Against this tumult, desperate housewife Anna Karenina carries out a passionately doomed love affair with dashing Count Vronksy, and moody country boy Levin pines after pretty but pouty Kitty. In both romances the opinions and actions of the androids (Anna’s Android Karenina, Vronksy’s mechanical wolf, Levin’s hulking Socrates, and Kitty’s newly-appointed Tatiana) have as much impact as anything the human lovers do or say. How illicit love affairs and political turmoil merge is all part of the drama—and in the case of this mash-up, all part of the fun. To toy with a literary classic as heavy as Anna Karenina is a bit of a risk, but author Ben H. Winters handles his task with verve, wit, and even respect. Tolstoy’s complex portrait of 19th century life is complete and little of the story’s bulk has been trimmed (Android Karenina weighs in at 538 pages, though there are several wickedly comical illustrations). But as any fan of steampunk lit can attest to, even the classics are improved by a little extra robot mayhem.   posted Jun 8, 2010 at 11:41AM

Cover ArtBoneshaker
by Priest, Cherie.
It’s 1863. The Gold Rush is in full swing, but Russia wants to make sure all that Klondike gold is really hard to get to before selling Alaska to the United States. Inventor Leviticus Blue is commissioned to build an immense steam-powered ice-drilling machine. But one day Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine comes bursting out of his Seattle basement and wreaks havoc on the city. Worse, the machine opens a vein of toxic subterranean gas (dubbed “the Blight”) that kills everyone who comes into contact with it—and then turns them into moaning members of the walking dead. Sixteen years later, with the Civil War still raging in the east, Seattle is an abandoned wreck surrounded by a two-hundred-foot high wall that keeps the Blight and its rotting victims contained. Outside the wall Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes, lives a hard and lonely life with her son Zeke. Briar is resigned to her status as social outcast, but Zeke wants to know the truth about the disaster that his father caused. So he sneaks over the wall into the city that was once booming Seattle. Briar, desperate for his safety, goes after him, and as Zeke searches for answers and Briar searches for her son, they meet a rag-tag crew of survivors who have eked out a life for themselves amidst the Blight-infested ruins. Some of these people help (Lucy the barkeep and her mechanical arm; Jeremiah Swakhammer and his zombie stun-gun) and some hinder (mad scientist Dr. Minnericht, who bears an eerie resemblance to the infamous Levi Blue), but all of them add to the action-packed adventure of Boneshaker. Author Cherie Priest paints a vivid portrait of a Seattle that is both based in history and wholly its own fantastic world, gives readers a delightful pair of heroes with wiseass Zeke and his tough-as-nails mother Briar, and throws in lots of good and gory zombie action on top of a whole mess of inventive steampunk technology.   posted Jun 8, 2010 at 11:40AM

Cover ArtAirborn
by Oppel, Kenneth, 1967-
Matt Cruse was born in the air. He was born aboard a flying airship and now, fourteen years later, Matt’s a cabin boy on the luxurious passenger ship Aurora. He lives to fly; he’s devoted to his ship and is eager to pilot the Aurora himself someday. But first, Matt’s in for a very big adventure. One night while he’s on watch in the crow’s nest, Matt spots a hot air balloonist in trouble over the Pacificus Ocean. The Aurora takes the injured man on board where he dies, but not before Matt hears him whispering about mysterious winged creatures of the air. A year later the balloonist’s granddaughter, a high-spirited girl named Kate de Vries, is flying on Matt’s ship, following the trail of her grandfather’s research. Matt and Kate become friends, but before they can do more than theorize about what Kate’s grandfather saw, the ship is set upon by pirates, pushed off course into a storm, and wrecked on a tropical isle. Matt’s worried sick about the ship, but Kate brings him an interesting distraction: This is the same island where her grandfather spotted his strange bird-like animals, and Kate is confident she can find them too. But the pirates are still hot on the Aurora’s trail, ready to put the lives of passengers, crew, and winged beasts in danger. Author Kenneth Oppel reinvents the past here, setting his story in an alternate-1920s era where airships ruled the skies. Oppel draws on the stories of the Titanic and the Hindenberg and on classic adventure stories, but he’s created a unique world that’s brimming with original details and told in prose that’s precise and clear and packed with swashbuckling action. Two sequels (Skybreaker and Starclimber) push the boundaries of exploration higher and higher, with fantastic new technologies and thrilling adventures.   posted Jun 8, 2010 at 11:40AM

Cover ArtThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Vol. 1
by Moore, Alan, 1953-
The Victorian Age saw the creation of some of the most famous characters in Western literature: Captain Nemo, usually found in his mythical ship 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Allan Quartermain, the adventurer who discovered King Solomon’s Mines; Mina Murray, the heroine who barely escaped from Dracula; Hawley Griffin, the original Invisible Man himself; Henry Jekyll and his alter ego, better known as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Comics genius Alan Moore collects them all here and turns them into team of superheroes who use their unique capabilities, powers, and experiences (not to mention Captain Nemo’s technologically-pimped out submarine) to save England from the clutches of a mysterious madman. The year is 1898, and the heroes have been gathered together in London from all corners of the globe by the head of the Secret Service. They’re a rough-and-tumble bunch, flawed and washed-up, but when a criminal mastermind with a dangerously high-tech taste in weaponry threatens to firebomb London’s East End and bring down the British Empire, these 19th century characters come to life and rally to the rescue. The illustrations are as bright and action-packed as anything out of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or Moore’s own comic masterpiece The Watchmen. Originally published as individual comic book issues and then collected into two volumes, Moore and his team of artists at DC Comics created two additional adventures, The Black Dossier and Century 1910. Together, the series is as chock-full of superhero-style action, futuristic weaponry, and derring-do as it is of historical detail, literary references, and Victorian flair. A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is another genre-buster that proves just how much mystery and adventure can be packed into one fantastic era.   posted Jun 8, 2010 at 11:39AM

Cover ArtSoulless
by Carriger, Gail
Almost everything about Alexia Tarabotti goes against the grain of Victorian society. Her deceased father was Italian (inferior foreigner). Her looks are swarthy, full figured, and big nosed (not a delicate English rose). Unattached at age twenty-six, she’s considered unmarriageable (spinster). Plus, she’s soulless. She still has a personality and feelings and all that, she’s just lacking a soul. This is very rare condition in Alexia’s day and age, even though in this alternate history, Victorian England has fully accepted the society of vampires and werewolves. Members of both supernatural groups hold high positions in the government and in the aristocracy. So when Alexia comes across a vampire at a ball, she’s not at all surprised. She is quite taken aback, however, when the vampire launches himself at her, fangs drawn, without so much as a formal introduction. Alexia defends herself with her handy parasol and ends up an accidental murderess. When Bureau of Unnatural Registry official/ Alpha werewolf Lord Conall Maccon shows up to investigate, Alexia is tossed into a chaotic mystery complete with newly-made vampires, vanishing werewolves, mad scientists wielding devious new technologies, creepy robot men, and a relationship with Lord Maccon that blossoms—when the two aren’t bickering. Alexia is a delightfully fresh and funny character, wielding her parasol, sleuthing in a not-so-subtle manner, and ready to defy convention at every turn—especially if convention gets in the way of a platter of treacle tarts. Author Gail Carriger has a fine sense of humor and creates a witty parody that takes the genres of fantasy, mystery, romance, historical fiction, screwball comedy, and steampunk and stands them on their head in an entirely original fashion. Alexia is set to star in a whole series of mysteries called The Parasol Protectorate; the second book is Changeless and book three, Blameless, is due September 2010.   posted Jun 8, 2010 at 11:39AM

Cover ArtDrood : a novel
by Simmons, Dan.
Charles Dickens may be a classic writer of fine literature today, but way back when, he was a major celebrity. Readers waited on edge for the newest installments of his novels to come out in weekly newspapers and magazines; his book readings were carefully crafted performances and boy, were they packed. And according to author Dan Simmons, Dickens was a strange and secretive man. In Drood, Dickens is the main character, though his real-life friend (“frenemy” is perhaps more accurate) Wilkie Collins narrates the story. The starting point is a horrifying and near-fatal train derailing in 1865 that Dickens survived but never entirely recovered from. Simmons uses this factual event to introduce a mysterious character who Dickens encounters amid the gore and wreckage of the train—a gaunt specter, calling himself Drood, who emits a decidedly creepy aura and has a sinister agenda of his own. Dickens becomes obsessed with tracking Drood and enlists Collins to assist him in nighttime voyages though London’s grotesque underground caverns and crypts. Collins, as portrayed in Drood, is bitterly jealous and opium-addicted; Dickens is an egomaniac of the highest order who’s keeping heavy secrets from friends and family, including the motive behind what will be his final, uncompleted book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Things get weirder, spookier, and more bizarre as the final years of Dickens’ life draw to a close for a wholly atmospheric blend of history, historical fiction, and supernatural horror that’s as dramatic (and melodramatic) as the novels by Dickens and Collins that inspired it. Be sure to check out Dickens’ novels (especially The Mystery of Edwin Drood), and don’t let Wilkie Collins, who remains largely in the shadow of his better-known contemporary, be forgotten again—his novels The Moonstone and The Woman in White are masterpieces in their own right.   posted Apr 3, 2010 at 12:00PM

Cover ArtQueen Victoria : demon hunter
by Moorat, A. E.
Ah, Queen Victoria, the stiff-upper-lipped little woman whose long rule oversaw the British Empire’s growing power in all things industrial, political, military, cultural, and scientific. She was a controversial monarch whose assassination was attempted some dozen times in her life. The first attempt, though few know it today, came on the eve of her ascension to the throne when a foul demon (yes, demon) infiltrated her bedroom and attempted to slice her into little pieces. Young Victoria, as told in author A.E. Moorat’s new biography Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter, is not too surprised that there are demons—she has received an excellent education, after all—but it does come as something of a shock that she, as queen, is to be the lead demon hunter of the land. Still, Victoria is determined to be a successful ruler in all areas, and willingly begins training under the Protektorate, a motley crew of warriors in possession of all manner of demon-slaying skills—and in Victorian England, demons come in all sizes and shapes. As Victoria learns the proper way to behead a zombie, defeat a werewolf, and tackle other evil spirits, her mind occasionally wanders to daydreams of handsome Prince Albert. Trying to balance the desires of the heart with the demands of a demon-ravaged kingdom is certainly a trial, but no one is better suited to meet the challenge than the new Queen Victoria. There’s enough gore here to thrill raving horror fans, enough historical detail to satisfy devoted Anglophiles, and plenty of dashes of humor, romance, and satire to tie it all together in a neat little bow—and then, of course, good old Vicky will come along and lop its head off.   posted Apr 3, 2010 at 12:00PM

Cover ArtAbraham Lincoln : vampire hunter
by Grahame-Smith, Seth.
Best known for living in a log cabin as a boy and ending slavery as our illustrious sixteenth president, a diary by the man himself (fortuitously discovered by Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) reveals that Honest Abe was also a skilled slayer of vampires. Following his mother’s death at the hand (or bite) of a blood-sucking creature of the undead, young Abraham vows to spend the rest of his life ridding this great nation of the foul demon presence. And since slavery is a projection of the vampires’ natural desire for control over their victims, Abe vows to defeat that vile institution as well. His legendary strength and height are a definite advantage; his practiced skill with his sharp ax serves him well as he fights to crush the vampires’ political power—and just plain chop their heads off. The road to victory (and the White House) is not easy, and Abraham faces an uphill battle fraught with failed love affairs, sickly sons, dying soldiers, disguised vampires, and bloody fangs. Complete with documentary photographs, diary entries, quotes from letters, and explanatory footnotes, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter has the look and feel of a grand historical biography—but with tongue firmly in cheek. Continuing his tradition of adding scenes of gory mayhem to solid classics, Grahame-Smith might cause history buffs to grumble, but horror and humor fans will be tickled pink by the image of Honest Abe swinging his trusty ax at hoards of blood-thirsty sharp-toothed fangs.   posted Apr 3, 2010 at 11:59AM

Cover ArtJane bites back : a novel
by Ford, Michael Thomas.
We love Jane Austen. We love her so much, in fact, that even though she only wrote six books, there are dozens upon dozens of sequels, prequels, knockoffs, spin-offs, and mash-ups to be found on bookshelves everywhere. And here’s another one: Jane Bites Back. Jane Austen is still alive and well. How? She’s a vampire, of course. She’s also a bookstore owner and an aspiring author. Her last book, completed just before her transformation to blood-sucking member of the undead, has been rejected by publishers for nigh on two hundred years. But now she’s finally found a publisher—and a handsome one at that. She's beginning to feel truly comfortable with her daffy assistant (who reminds her of sister Cassandra) and her admiring neighbor Walter (who is not at all a Mr. Darcy, even though he’s very sweet and caring). And her books are selling better than ever (even if they have to compete with knockoffs like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). But when Jane’s renewed fame as author “Elizabeth Jane Fairfax” of the new bestselling Constance shoves her into the spotlight, our heroine finds herself involved in a couple familiar entanglements: one a wicked battle-of-the-sexes with ex-boyfriend and fellow vampire Lord Byron, and the other a fierce catfight with Charlotte Brönte-fanatic Violet Grey. Now Jane's treasured privacy as a human and her dark vampire secret are threatened--and just when things finally seemed to be going her way. Author Michael Thomas Ford joyously plays with popular culture's current mania for all things Austen and still gifts readers with a realistically warm, witty, and sometimes sarcastic Jane who fans will recognize and relate to. The first of a planned trilogy, readers can rest assured that Jane will be back to bite again and again.   posted Apr 3, 2010 at 11:59AM

Cover ArtThe pirates! : in an adventure with scientists
by Defoe, Gideon.
Charles Darwin changed the world with his theory of evolution. But first, he frolicked with pirates. When the very silly Pirate Captain and his crew of jolly buccaneers mistake Darwin’s ship The Beagle for a treasure ship from the Bank of England, Darwin charms the pirates with his fancy trained chimp, Mr. Bobo, who is a perfect little English gentleman and destined to be a start of the British stage. Chumming it up, Darwin and his new BFF the Pirate Captain head back to England to save the day. Darwin's brother, Erasmus, has been kidnapped by the vile Bishop of Oxford, who has invested heavily in P.T. Barnum’s traveling freak show and doesn't want any competition standing in his way—especially not from the likes of Charles Darwin and his upstart monkey. But with the pirates on the case, Darwin is certain to come out on top--if he can only convince the unruly crew to pose as scientists, dress in drag, and stop obsessing with ham. Author Gideon Defoe spins a yarn that is deliriously goofy (the 19th century characters indulge in such modern anachronisms as dental floss and post-it notes) but always endearing and charming. The Pirate Captain and his merry crew have several more adventure with noted celebrities of the age, including Karl Marx (The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists) and Napoleon (The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon), and even a run-in with the fictional Captain Ahab (The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab). But with Charles Darwin the Pirate Captain strikes up a true friendship (if only because Darwin has no comparable sword, beard, or ship to envy) and their adventure together is a droll, nonsensical romp with a light-hearted flair for the enjoyably ridiculous.   posted Apr 3, 2010 at 11:58AM

Cover ArtWoolvs in the sitee
by Wild, Margaret, 1948-
Dystopias come in all forms, even picture books. But Woolvs in the Sitee is not for little children. Told by a lonely, scared boy, this dark story features text scrawled in graffiti-like writing across the page, with words misspelled and misshapen to heighten the sense of atmospheric ruin conveyed by the bleakly elegant illustrations. Ben, a young boy who has lost his family and spends his days hiding in a dank basement, tells readers that there are “woolvs in the sitee,” but these are not forest animals, oh no, these are “shadows prowling,” hateful and dangerous beings who “will kum for me and for yoo.” Ben’s only ally is his upstairs neighbor Mrs. Radinski, who offers food and water and comfort. One night, Ben is lured outdoors by a clean blue sky (the seasons are otherwise “topsee turvee,” hinting at some devastating apocalyptic disaster). The blue sky turns out to be merely a painted wall, but Mrs. Radinski braves the dangers of the street to bring Ben home to safety. And when Mrs. Radinski disappears, Ben must decide whether or not to risk all his fears and the horrors of the city to return the favor. Australian author and illustrator team Margaret Wild and Ann Spudvilas collaborated on a gripping book with haunting, mature themes, despite its slim size. The straight-forward, disturbing lines build on the images of rusty oranges streetlights, buildings that drip with streaks of black and gray, and scratchy charcoal figures in deep shadows. A simple but deeply evocative dystopian vision, Woolvs in the Sitee should not be overlooked.   posted Mar 28, 2010 at 2:25PM

Cover ArtShades of grey : the road to High Saffron
by Fforde, Jasper.
Every since the mysterious Something That Happened long ago, the world has been drained of color. At least, that’s the way the people left behind see it now. Only one color of the spectrum is visible to individuals, and society has been organized in a strict system of social class based on the color that people can perceive—those who can see purple or green are higher up than those who can see red; the working class is made up of those who can only see in shades of grey. Our hero, Eddie Russet, is a Red, but he’s pissed off the rule-obsessed Colorocracy by challenging the efficiency of queuing, and has been sent to the Outer Fringes with his father. Eddie has a bright future, if he can earn back enough merits. He’s tentatively engaged to a high-ranking wealthy Red, and, even though he hasn’t had his formal color test yet (which all citizens take at the age of twenty), he believes he’s highly perceptive and can see practically the full gamut of red shades. But then Eddie catches sight of Jane G-23, an adorable but surly Grey who is suspiciously willing to rebel against the many, many standards and mores that keep everyone under control. Soon Eddie is involved in all manner of mysteries—he talks to an Apocryphal man (a person who doesn’t fit into the prescribed system and is therefore deemed invisible), helps his father prevent the spread of the deadly Mildew disease, gets entangled in a search of the abandoned town of High Saffron r, and finds spoons (the rules forbid spoons; no one really knows why but, boy, are they valuable). It takes a couple chapters to really get the hang of this colorless future, but Shades of Grey is a complex, sophisticated dystopia with a healthy dose of much-welcome wit and charm. The sense of humor and satire is a breath of fresh air, and that’s author Jasper Fforde’s hallmark (he’s also the author of the genre-bending Thursday Next Series). For a lighter dystopia that’s still highly sophisticated, look no further than Shades of Grey—and look forward to the two books in-progress that will make this into a deliciously colorful trilogy.   posted Mar 28, 2010 at 2:00PM

Cover ArtPredator's gold : a novel
by Reeve, Philip.
The Hungry City Chronicles is a dystopian series for young adults—a popular trend these days, and as author Philip Reeve so aptly demonstrates, it’s for good reason. Book one, Mortal Engines, introduces an earth devastated by untold climate and political disasters that set the world’s cities in motion—literally. Traction-cities on wheels now roam the globe, pursuing smaller towns to devour and use for resources. Tom Natsworthy is an apprentice historian London and Hester Shaw is the brutally scarred rogue assassin who sneaks onto London to kill Tom’s idol, the adventurer Valentine. But Tom stops Hester, and both are flung out of London and forced to survive in the bleak hunting grounds of Europe. Still, the unlikely duo forges a deep connection, especially when an ancient weapon is unearthed and put to use by London’s corrupt officials. In Predator’s Gold, Tom and Hester have stopped London in its tracks and set out on a romantic life together in an airship, far away from the hungry cities far below. But an idyllic existence is not meant to be—the Green Storm, a fanatic branch of the Anti-Tractionist League that has sworn to rid the world of its hungry cities, believes Hester and Tom had something to do with the death of their beloved leader. The couple seeks refuge on the city of Anchorage, a lovely but stricken city that has lost most of residents to a strange plague and is making a desperate bid for a fresh start on the “Dead Continent” of America. When Anchorage’s young and lovely leader takes a fancy to Tom and Hester’s jealousy gets the better of her, a devastating chain of events is set off involving all manner of betrayals, thievery, torture, daring rescues, and desperate hopes. With a grand scope, fresh plot twists, and suspense galore, the second volume in author Philip Reeve’s futuristic series packs an action-packed punch that will leave readers hungry for more—like books three and four, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain.   posted Mar 26, 2010 at 10:29PM

Cover ArtThe curse of the pharaohs
by Peters, Elizabeth, 1927-
Amelia Peabody is not your conventional prim and proper Victorian lady. She’s a gentlewoman, yes, and she’s quite well-mannered, but she’s also opinionated, indomitable, and when she wants something, damn near unstoppable. In her first adventure, Crocodile on the Sandbank, Amelia comes into an inheritance, travels to exotic Egypt, saves a damsel in distress, tackles a seemingly reanimated mummy, and meets her match in an irascible archeologist named Radcliffe Emerson. In Curse of the Pharaohs, which takes place a few years later, our heroine has gone from prickly spinster to devoted wife of dashing Emerson and mother of precocious son Ramses. But Amelia has lost none of her spirited independence; when life in dear old England begins to grow dull, she jumps at the chance to go back to her beloved Egypt—even if it is at the behest of stuffy Lady Baskerville. Sir Baskerville has met a mysterious death at his archeological site and his assistant has disappeared. While Emerson indulges in his passion for digging up ancient tombs, Amelia plunges into the murder investigation. It’s no easy task, given then number of suspects (who include an America millionaire, a German hieroglyphics expert, and a British photographer), but no one is up to the challenge like the unflappable Amelia Peabody Emerson. Author Elizabeth Peters’ mystery is clever and the historical details add spice, but the real charm is fabulously feisty Amelia, who will swoop off the page with her trusty umbrella and march straight into the hearts of her readers.   posted Mar 26, 2010 at 10:28PM

Cover ArtThe Ask and the Answer
by Ness, Patrick, 1971-
Book one of the author Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking Trilogy is called The Knife of Never Letting Go, and it’s a hard-hitting, gripping, whopper of a dystopian tale. Thirteen-year-old Todd Hewitt has grown up on “new earth,” in a colony that fled the turmoil of our planet for a back-to-basics, simple way of life. But life on this new planet has a strange side effect: men can hear each other’s thoughts, and the result is world of terrifying chaos and pandemonium. In Prentisstown, Todd was taught that this strange phenomenon was a virus that killed the womenfolk. But when Todd stumbles across the last thing he ever expected—a girl who can’t hear what he thinks—everything he knows is about to change. In book one, Todd and the girl, Viola, flee to a city that they believe is a safe haven. But by the time they arrive, their supposed refuge has already been taken over by the vile, sadistic mayor of Todd’s hometown. After this cliffhanger ending, things go from bad to worse in book two, The Ask and the Answer. Todd and Viola, fearing all the while for each other’s lives, are separated. Todd is forced into the “Ask,” Mayor Prentiss’ oppressive regime, and Viola winds up in the care of the “Answer,” a rebel group hell-bent on stopping Prentiss. Both sides are determined to use whatever means necessary, and the result is always violent. There are no easy answers for Todd and Viola, who grow more desperate and disillusioned with the turn of each page. Still, these are two of the most determined kids in recent science fiction literature, and the reader is just as unlikely to give up hope as Todd as Viola. Provocative and un-put-down-able, readers will want the third volume (Monsters of Men, due spring 2010) close at hand.   posted Mar 26, 2010 at 10:28PM

Cover ArtA monstrous regiment of women
by King, Laurie R.
Author Laurie R. King’s richly detailed, character-driven, literary mysteries are based on another classic series: the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. In the first novel, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, King focuses on a new protagonist, a gawky fifteen-year-old orphan girl who literally trips over the legendary detective one day in 1915 while he’s studying bees and her nose is buried in a book. The unlikely duo forges an unbreakable bond; the bookish girl, Mary Russell, proves the ideal intellectual match for the supposedly retired Holmes and eventually becomes his partner in detection and deduction. The second book in the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, features an all-grown-up Russell forging an identity of her own as a theology scholar at Oxford in 1921. Russell meets a charismatic religious mystic named Margery Childe and is both attracted to Margery’s distinct brand of feminism and skeptical of her church’s true purpose—especially when the deaths of several wealthy young women are linked to Margery’s “New Temple of God.” It is Russell’s wit and intelligence that drives the story, though Holmes’ strong presence is always in the background. And the only thing more intriguing than the mystery’s solution is the evolving relationship between the great detective and his former apprentice—not to mention the vim and vigor of King’s writing. And there’s more where that came from. Holmes and Russell solve eight more mysteries together, with a new book due in April 2010.   posted Mar 26, 2010 at 10:27PM

Cover ArtLost in a good book : a novel
by Fforde, Jasper.
In author Jasper Fforde’s first installation in his best-selling Thursday Next series, The Eyre Affair, no-nonsense Thursday Next lives in an alternate England where cloned dodo birds are the pet of choice, time traveler is common (though no one knows exactly how it works), and people and characters can move in and out of books. After saving Jane Eyre from a mastermind criminal in book one, Thursday—whose new husband, Landen, has been unfortunately eradicated from time by mega-conglomerate Goliath Inc.—is ready to get back to work. Leaving her position as a literary detective for Special-Ops, Thursday jumps into the world of books and joins Jurisfiction, the department that polices the fictional world. Thursday is paired with Miss Havisham (yep, that Miss Havisham, from Charles’ Dickens’ Great Expectations) and set on the case of the Goliath Corporation, who won’t restore Landen until Thursday returns company partner Jack Schitt, presently imprisoned in an Edgar Allan Poe poem (and Poe is very dangerous fictional territory). Assisted by her real-world partner Bowden Cable, her time-traveling father, her meddling mother, and the Cheshire Cat, Thursday also has to authenticate a new Shakespeare play, master the art of traveling through fiction, and save the world from a mysterious oozing pink sludge that threatens to engulf the entire planet. Literary allusions, puns, wordplay, and sheer fun abound in this bookish adventure that is also comedy, science fiction, alternative history, and hardboiled mystery. Few writers are as efficient in the art of genre-blending as Jasper Fforde, and few series are as witty, wild, or wickedly clever.   posted Mar 26, 2010 at 10:27PM

Cover ArtDarcy & Elizabeth : nights and days at Pemberley
by Berdoll, Linda.
For Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, it’s a classic love story: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes... well, that’s where Jane Austen leaves off in her beloved masterpiece Pride and Prejudice. But many Austen fans are not willing to let it end there, not by far. Many writers have resurrected the escapes of the Bennet sisters, but few have dared to write a 400-plus page action-packed continuation complete with steamy sex scenes—and then do it all over again. In Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, Austen’s hero and heroine embark on their greatest adventure: marriage. In the sequel, Darcy & Elizabeth, the title couple is basking in the delight of newborn twins. Then Lady Catherine de Bourgh and wicked Wickham rear their interfering heads, the romantic trials and tribulations of sisters and sisters-in-law Lydia, Jane, and Georgiana take on new urgencies, and marital bliss is temporarily disrupted—though there’s still plenty of time for the occasion bedroom romp. Author Linda Berdoll good-naturedly infuses her Elizabeth and Darcy with so much personality that the novels stand on their own and are as enjoyable for romance and historical fiction fans as they are for Austen buffs. Bawdy, witty, epic in scope and tongue-in-cheek in tone, Berdoll’s Austen knock-offs are all in good fun.   posted Mar 26, 2010 at 10:27PM

Cover ArtThe kingdom on the waves
by Anderson, M. T.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is a novel in two volumes that explores the American Revolution from a new point-of-view: that of an African American boy. When the founding fathers declared independence from British rule, they did so in the name of freedom from oppression. This is certainly something of a hypocrisy when you consider that the grand notion of freedom did not extend to the large population of African slaves who also called America their home. Octavian is a young boy living in Boston on the eve of the revolution. Raised in near-isolation by a strange group of philosophers and scientists, Octavian receives a classical education of the finest order—and then uncovers a devastating truth. In Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves, Octavian, his fancy schooling exposed as a cruel charade, is desperately searching for a real independence. He casts his lot with the British army, whose promise of emancipation has a vague ring of truth to it, and joins the rag-tag members of the Royal Ethiopian Regiment. There’s still an ocean of misguided loyalties, betrayals, abuse, and violence standing between Octavian and the freedom he longs for, but author M.T. Anderson presents us with a young hero whose pride and determination result in an elegantly philosophical version of a history we all think we know.   posted Mar 26, 2010 at 10:26PM

Cover ArtPortrait in sepia : a novel
by Allende, Isabel.
Set in nineteenth century Chile and San Francisco, Portrait in Sepia introduces Aurora del Valle, granddaughter of Eliza Sommers, who, in author Isabel Allende’s previous novel Daughter of Fortune, ran away from her adopted family in Chile to follow her handsome young lover to the Californian Gold Rush. Eliza found happiness and independence instead with Chinese healer Tao Chi’en; now her granddaughter is looking for some of the same. Aurora unfolds the story of her life, from her birth when her beautiful mother Lynn died, to her adoption by her redoubtable paternal grandmother Paulina, to her hastily-arranged marriage to the black sheep of a wealthy South American family. There’s also the love triangle between Aurora’s mother, her opium-addict father Matias del Valle, and Matias’ passionately devoted cousin Severo. In fact, the del Valle family is filled with eccentric and charismatic members, and they all play a part in Aurora’s life. Spanning nearly fifty years of American and Chilean history between 1862 and 1910, this is epic, historical storytelling at its finest. The fact that Portrait in Sepia has deep ties to Allende’s other stories makes the novel’s intricate layers all the more compelling.   posted Mar 26, 2010 at 10:26PM

Cover ArtNew found land : Lewis and Clark's voyage of discovery : a novel
by Wolf, Allan.
Poetry, especially in its novel-in-verse form, is surprisingly well-suited to historical fiction. Poetry has a distinctive voice, and history is best told from the points of view of many. In New Found Land: Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery, fourteen characters tell the tale of the cross-country journey undertaken by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1804. The goal was to follow the rivers from the east to west, to find the legendary Northwest Passage that would lead from coast to coast, and to map the lands in between. The fourteen unique voices in New Found Land include the members of the Corps of Discovery—the poetic name given to the expedition team—and other historical figures: Sacajawea, the Native American guide; President Thomas Jefferson; Clark’s slave, York; sundry adventurers, alcoholics, hunters, guides, and gentlemen; and even a Newfoundland dog owned by Captain Lewis who is named Seaman but calls himself Oolum. Diverse personalities, motives, notions of freedom, goals, triumphs, and tragedies merge seamlessly with historical fact as each character narrates an episode, experience, or thought in insightful free verse entries. Chatty teenager George Shannon adds humor on one page, Sacajawea’s longing comes pouring across the next, and through it all author Allan Wolf conveys the immense scope of this mammoth undertaking and how it changed the lives of all involved. It will come close to doing the same for its readers, who are destined to be swept away by the drama, history, and yes, the poetry, of New Found Land.   posted Mar 20, 2010 at 3:53PM

Cover ArtCasey at the bat
by Thayer, Ernest Lawrence, 1863-1940.
The Visions in Poetry series is, quite simply, delightful. With seven trim little books, the team at KCP Press has created one of the loveliest collections of poetry that you’re likely to find on bookshelves anywhere. Each volume is a single poem, a famous, beloved, classic poem illustrated by a noted artist in a fresh, original style. The Highwayman, a romantic early 20th-century poem about a dashing robber and the landlord’s “black-eyed daughter,” is re-imagined as a stylized motorcycle adventure through the charcoal-black streets of New York City. The charmingly nonsensical tale about the union of The Owl and the Pussycat is given a surreal, dreamy quality by pages of delicately inked pencil and watercolor illustrations; artist Stèphane Jorisch ups the ante on the irresistibly weird “borogroves” and “mome raths” of the Jabberwocky as well. Mighty Casey is every inch the tragic hero when he takes up that baseball bat in the dusky sandlot of Ernest L. Thayer’s ode to baseball bravery Casey at the Bat. And when the likes of Emily Dickinson, Geneviève Côté, Edgar Allan Poe, and other friends join the club, it becomes almost impossible to imagine simply reading these poems as black words on a white page ever again. The matching of artist to poet is spot-on and the result is a stunning little collection of the prettiest poetry you’ve ever read.   posted Mar 20, 2010 at 3:53PM

Cover ArtThe raven
by Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809-1849.
The Visions in Poetry series is, quite simply, delightful. With seven trim little books, the team at KCP Press has created one of the loveliest collections of poetry that you’re likely to find on bookshelves anywhere. Each volume is a single poem, a famous, beloved, classic poem illustrated by a noted artist in a fresh, original style. The Highwayman, a romantic early 20th-century poem about a dashing robber and the landlord’s “black-eyed daughter,” is re-imagined as a stylized motorcycle adventure through the charcoal-black streets of New York City. The charmingly nonsensical tale about the union of The Owl and the Pussycat is given a surreal, dreamy quality by pages of delicately inked pencil and watercolor illustrations; artist Stèphane Jorisch ups the ante on the irresistibly weird “borogroves” and “mome raths” of the Jabberwocky as well. Mighty Casey is every inch the tragic hero when he takes up that baseball bat in the dusky sandlot of Ernest L. Thayer’s ode to baseball bravery Casey at the Bat. And when the likes of Emily Dickinson, Geneviève Côté, Edgar Allan Poe, and other friends join the club, it becomes almost impossible to imagine simply reading these poems as black words on a white page ever again. The matching of artist to poet is spot-on and the result is a stunning little collection of the prettiest poetry you’ve ever read.   posted Mar 20, 2010 at 3:52PM

Cover ArtThe highwayman
by Noyes, Alfred, 1880-1958.
The Visions in Poetry series is, quite simply, delightful. With seven trim little books, the team at KCP Press has created one of the loveliest collections of poetry that you’re likely to find on bookshelves anywhere. Each volume is a single poem, a famous, beloved, classic poem illustrated by a noted artist in a fresh, original style. The Highwayman, a romantic early 20th-century poem about a dashing robber and the landlord’s “black-eyed daughter,” is re-imagined as a stylized motorcycle adventure through the charcoal-black streets of New York City. The charmingly nonsensical tale about the union of The Owl and the Pussycat is given a surreal, dreamy quality by pages of delicately inked pencil and watercolor illustrations; artist Stèphane Jorisch ups the ante on the irresistibly weird “borogroves” and “mome raths” of the Jabberwocky as well. Mighty Casey is every inch the tragic hero when he takes up that baseball bat in the dusky sandlot of Ernest L. Thayer’s ode to baseball bravery Casey at the Bat. And when the likes of Emily Dickinson, Geneviève Côté, Edgar Allan Poe, and other friends join the club, it becomes almost impossible to imagine simply reading these poems as black words on a white page ever again. The matching of artist to poet is spot-on and the result is a stunning little collection of the prettiest poetry you’ve ever read.   posted Mar 20, 2010 at 3:52PM

Cover ArtMy letter to the world : and other poems
by Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886.
The Visions in Poetry series is, quite simply, delightful. With seven trim little books, the team at KCP Press has created one of the loveliest collections of poetry that you’re likely to find on bookshelves anywhere. Each volume is a single poem, a famous, beloved, classic poem illustrated by a noted artist in a fresh, original style. The Highwayman, a romantic early 20th-century poem about a dashing robber and the landlord’s “black-eyed daughter,” is re-imagined as a stylized motorcycle adventure through the charcoal-black streets of New York City. The charmingly nonsensical tale about the union of The Owl and the Pussycat is given a surreal, dreamy quality by pages of delicately inked pencil and watercolor illustrations; artist Stèphane Jorisch ups the ante on the irresistibly weird “borogroves” and “mome raths” of the Jabberwocky as well. Mighty Casey is every inch the tragic hero when he takes up that baseball bat in the dusky sandlot of Ernest L. Thayer’s ode to baseball bravery Casey at the Bat. And when the likes of Emily Dickinson, Geneviève Côté, Edgar Allan Poe, and other friends join the club, it becomes almost impossible to imagine simply reading these poems as black words on a white page ever again. The matching of artist to poet is spot-on and the result is a stunning little collection of the prettiest poetry you’ve ever read.   posted Mar 20, 2010 at 3:52PM

Cover ArtLove that dog
by Creech, Sharon.
Love That Dog is a poetry book about a boy who doesn’t like poetry. But his grade school class is doing a poetry unit, so the boy—young Jack—has to play along. He’s charmingly stubborn; if he has to write poems, he’s going to write poems about not liking poetry: “September 13/ I don’t want to/ because boys/ don’t write poetry./ Girls do.” Still, Jack has a knack for this, and soon he’s filling his notebook—which doubles as our slim novel—with intimate little verses about the whys and wherefores of poetry, and, eventually, his own versions of poems by famous writers (William Carlos Williams and Walter Dean Myers especially) that his gently persuasive teacher reads to the class. As the months of the school year go by, Jack’s poems get brighter and better. Soon, Jack’s own story begins to emerge from between the lines, the story of Jack and his beloved old dog, a dog named Sky with “his tongue all limp/ and his chin/ between/ his paws.” The story of a boy and his dog is hard to resist, but it’s thanks to author Sharon Creech’s wonderfully genuine voice that it’s the poetry that makes her story truly timeless.   posted Mar 20, 2010 at 3:52PM

Cover ArtSharp teeth
by Barlow, Toby.
Novels in verse: A reader gets all the drama, suspense, mystery and humor of a prose book, but it’s told in free verse poetry. Free verse is a poetic style that avoids any strict repeating rhymes or patterns and concentrates instead on a natural rhythm. It’s still poetry—pay attention to the line breaks and flow of the words—but its fluid structure makes it ideal for telling a longer narrative story. And, in the case of Sharp Teeth, what a story it is. Anthony Silvo is a lonely, luckless dogcatcher in Los Angeles. The packs of dogs that roam the streets are actually rival gangs of werewolves. Lark, a shark-like lawyer when in human form, is a pack leader with a revenge plan against a traitor to the pack. A strange small man with a very large partner is involved in the drug trade and bridge tournaments. Detective Peabody is on the trail of a series of lycanthrope-related murders. And a beautiful, mysterious, nameless werewolf-woman is sweeping hapless Anthony the dogcatcher deeper into the whole mess. The lives of these men, women, and beasts are filled with violence, abuse, and betrayal. That means that rare moments of truth, trust, and romance are all the more heartbreaking—but make no mistake, they still have a wicked bite to them. Told in an epic poetic voice that is bloody and beautiful, author Toby Barlow’s debut novel is an intricate, intriguing look at the supernaturally seedy side of city life.   posted Mar 20, 2010 at 3:51PM

Cover ArtThe stuffed owl : an anthology of bad verse
It’s a comfort to know that even the best poets can sometimes go terribly, horribly, hilariously wrong. And that’s a thought that has been comforting readers for seventy years, ever since two gentlemen named D.B Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee collected a bunch of poems they deemed bad in an anthology bearing the name The Stuffed Owl. An attempt to write a poem, it seems, becomes the great equalizer. When Lord Byron mucks his way through an overly sentimental poem about the shedding of tears on graves, or when William Wordsworth tries to get away with a rhyme like “That is a work of waste and ruin:/ Consider, Charles, what you are doing,” we simply cannot help shaking our heads in disbelief, rolling our eyes in mock despair, and turning the page for more. The Stuffed Owl’s subject index another is a magnificent work of folly: The reader, merely by consulting the index and flipping back through the pages, may be exposed to topics as varied as “Bagpipes, their silence regretted” (page 5), “Hats, unfashionable in heaven” (page 216), and “Oysters, reason why they cannot be crossed in love” (page 108). The tongue-in-cheek tone, the mischievous delight in the missteps of others, and the playful spirit in which these poems are presented does indeed prove that as moving as it is when verse goes right, there is much amusement to be gained when poetry goes gleefully wrong.   posted Mar 20, 2010 at 3:51PM

Cover ArtGood poems
Garrison Keillor, nationally loved writer, has charmed millions of listeners with his daily poetry readings on public radio’s A Writer’s Almanac. Keillor’s criterion for a good poem is deliciously simple, especially for those of us who don’t really like poetry—or who don’t think we do. A good poem, says Keillor, is one that demonstrates “stickiness, memorability… You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan.” He likes poems that tell a story or paint a vivid picture, something simple and subtle but effective nevertheless, and he has collected those poems here in a collection titled simply Good Poems. There are poems that ode to aspects of the everyday like rock and roll (in “Ooly Pop a Cow” by David Huddle), food (in “Song to Onions’ by Roy Blount, Jr. and “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos William), even poo (in “The Excrement Poem” by Maxine Kumin. There are poems that offer insight into relationships between lovers (in “Venetian Air” by Thomas Moore), families (in “I Stop Writing the Poem” by Tess Gallagher), and animals (in “Walking the Dog” by Howard Nemerov). There are poems about snow (“Lester Tells of Wanda and the Big Snow” by Paul Zimmer), poems about the color yellow (“The Yellow Slicker” by Stuart Dischell), and poems about language (“The Possessive Case” by Lisel Mueller). And through it all, through all three hundred and fifty poems, there is the good-humored spirit of bringing the poems that people can appreciate to the people who will appreciate them. Thank you, Garrison Keillor.   posted Mar 20, 2010 at 3:50PM

Cover Art20,000 leagues under the sea
by Verne, Jules, 1828-1905.
In 1866, ships crossing the oceans began to experience strange phenomena—an enormous “thing” spraying water into the air; collisions with a fast-moving underwater object. Sailors dub it “the monster,” but no one really knows what it is. Popular opinion is that some creature from the depths has decided to break the surface on a whim, and that this monster must be destroyed to protect the world’s shipping lanes. When our narrator, professor and scientist Pierre Aronnax, is invited aboard the ship that intends to pursue the strange colossal thing, the reader is plunged into an adventure the likes of which few have experienced before. The “monster” does not take kindly to being hunted, and after an encounter with it on the high seas, Aronnax, his servant Conseil, and fellow sailor Ned Land find themselves not in the belly of a giant whale, but inside a vast high-tech submarine called the Nautilus. Its captain is Nemo, a powerful, brilliant, obsessive, and very possibly mad gentleman who has abandoned the world of men for the marvels of the sea. Now that Aronnax and company have discovered the Nautilus, they’re told by that they must remain onboard as permanent guests and journey the seas with the crew and its avenging captain. Their voyage, from an exploration of the underwater city of Atlantis to an epic battle with a ferocious monster squid, is crafted with all the wondrous technologies and fantasies that author Jules Verne can imagine—and make no mistake, he could imagine quite a lot. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a tall tale of the finest order, an original science fiction fantasy that combines high adventure and plunges the depths of both the sea and of the human heart. Many editions of this classic abound; of particular interest is the 2000 HarperCollins edition illustrated by Caldecott medal winning artists Leo and Diane Dillon, who convey the power of sea, squid, and submarine in all their glory and wonder.   posted Mar 11, 2010 at 10:58PM

Cover ArtThe 13 clocks
by Thurber, James, 1894-1961.
A clever, wicked duke lives a life so cold that the thirteen clocks in his castle are frozen permanently at ten minutes to five o’clock. He’s so mean and cold that he’s been known to feed people to his geese just for calling his gloves “mittens,” or for having names that begin with X. The only warmth in practically the whole kingdom radiates from the duke’s beautiful niece, the ever-so-sweet Princess Saralinda. Suitors have been coming for ages to bid for the Princess’s hand, but none can ever defeat the tasks the duke sets for them because—and this is why the duke is so wicked and clever—the tasks are impossible. You can’t slay the thorny Boar of Borythorn if there is no thorny Boar of Borythorn, after all. When a prince-in-disguise arrives in town, no one is willing to bet on his chances against the duke’s craftiness. But the prince has a surprising ally—a funny little fellow who calls himself the Golux, talks in riddles, and is never quite sure if the plans he’s made are based on are facts or on something he’s just made up himself. Still, the Golux claims he’s on the side of good, so the prince embarks on madcap adventure filled with old women who cry jewels, spies with names like Hark and Listen, and a miserable monster whose duty it is to snuff out evildoers who have done less evil than they should. It’s the stuff that all good fairy tales and fables are made up, but there’s something quite distinct about The 13 Clocks, and that’s its author, James Thurber (1894-1961), a noted humorist who had a wonderful way with words. Thurber’s witty story reels from poetry to prose and back again, with an occasional stop at joyous nonsense along the way. It’s a truly delightful romp through the wonders of the English language and the good old tradition of happily ever after.   posted Mar 11, 2010 at 10:57PM

Cover ArtThe maze of bones
by Riordan, Rick.
The Cahills are an ancient, powerful family with branches that extend to all corners of the world and contain some—make that all—of history’s finest explorers, inventors, artists, and intellectuals. But for now, the two most important members of the Cahill family are fourteen-year-old Amy and her eleven-year-old brother Dan. They are the grandchildren of family matriarch Grace Cahill, who sets an astounding adventure in motion when, in her will, she challenges her family to follow a set of puzzling clues that lead to a powerful and influential prize. Amy and Dan, orphans with no one else to rely on, seem like the least likely relations to embark on a mysterious scavenger hunt, but they loved their grandmother and are determined to do her proud. The first clue leads the siblings on a whirlwind chase from Boston to Paris, but other Cahills are hard on their heels—ruthless brother and sister team Ian and Natalie, poisonous ex-spy Irina Spasky, sneaky alliance-making Alistair Oh, and fame-hungry Jonah Wizard. Amy and Dan have their own strengths, and they’ll more than need them as they (and the reader) decipher codes between dodging assassins and explosions—and all this in book one! The 39 Clues is a new kind of series. Readers not only read the books, they collect character cards, play at being a treasure-seeking Cahill online at www.the39clues.com, and even win prizes. Author Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson and the Olympians fame penned the first title and created the arc for the series, but a different author writes each book to keep things exciting and new. The clues continue in One False Note, The Sword Thief, Beyond the Grave, The Black Circle, In Too Deep, The Viper’s Nest, and The Emperor’s Code; two more titles are planned for a total of ten rousing, rollicking, interactive adventures.   posted Mar 11, 2010 at 10:57PM

Cover ArtThe eight : a novel
by Neville, Katherine, 1945-
In 1790 in the secluded Algerian abbey of Montglane, two lively young girls, cousins Valentine and Mireille, are novices training to be nuns. But the country is in rebellion; the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror are in full swing, and the wide world is pressing in on the quiet abbey in the mountains. When their abbess reveals a dark secret connected with their order, the adventurous cousins do their part to help hide the nuns’ mystery from the prying hands of dangerous enemies. Nearly two hundred years later in 1973, computer whiz Catherine “Cat” Velis is traveling to Algiers on an assignment when she falls in with a quest to retrieve that same ages-old secret that Valentine and Mireille hid so long ago. What is this much sought after, highly treasured object that strangers are willing to kill for? It’s a chess set, an oversized, ornate, gold and silver, bejeweled set of kings and queens and knights and pawns, crafted by Moors, owned by Charlemagne, and possessed of a mystic force that few understand but that all recognize the power of. It’s known as the Montglane Service and everyone, from Russian chess grandmasters to secret society Freemasons to agents and assassins from the world’s most powerful nations, wants it. What part our heroines Valentine, Mireille, and Cat, whom we hear from in intertwining chapters that speak back and forth from across the ages, play in the Montglane Service’s influential and fascinating history is all part of the fun, mystery, and adventure. Chock-full of historical figures from the past (including Napoleon, Robespierre, and Catherine the Great) and filled with puzzles, codes, and clues à la The Da Vinci Code for characters and readers alike, The Eight is a fast-paced, globe-trotting, historical thriller.   posted Mar 11, 2010 at 10:56PM

Cover ArtOne hundred years of solitude.
by Garcia Marquez, Gabriel, 1928-
Remember the name José Arcadio Buendía. It won’t be easy to forget, because Buendía founded the town of Macando and we’re about to spend one hundred glorious years following its history—and that of Buendía’s descendants, who bear portions of his name for generations and inherit in varying quantities his often-contrary personality traits of pensiveness, curiosity, impulsiveness, and rationality. There are his sons, José Arcadio and Aureliano, a playboy and a war-time general. His daughters Amaranta (biological) and Rebeca (adopted) are devoted companions until a man comes between them. There are his grandsons Arcadio, Aureliano José, and the seventeen sons (by seventeen women) of General Aureliano who are all shot between the eyes by government assassins. Great-granddaughter Remedios the Beauty is the most beautiful woman Macando has ever seen, and as such causes the deaths of several townsmen. There are members of the fourth, fifth, and even sixth generations with strange and wondrous stories of their own, but mere descriptions of the characters are not enough to convey the allure of One Hundred Years of Solitude and the spell it weaves as it explores the myriad sorrows, joys, rises, and falls of the unconquerable Buendía dynasty. Author Gabriel García Márquez won the Nobel Prize for this masterpiece and introduced the world to his brand of magical realism. He tosses tantalizing bits of fantasy and magic into his story to create a lyrical novel that has everything: tragedy, comedy, romance, war, death, and above all, the vibrancy of life.   posted Mar 11, 2010 at 10:56PM

Cover ArtAnd then there were none
by Christie, Agatha, 1890-1976.
Ten strangers—a rich playboy, a careless doctor, an army general, an ex-police inspector, a rigidly religious old woman, a husband-and-wife servant couple, a young schoolmarm, a court judge, and a con man—are invited to an island vacation by Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen. But once they arrive on the island and the boat to the mainland departs, they find an empty house—no hosts to greet them and only each other (and they’re all strangers) for company. But there is an explanation waiting. A gramophone recording announces that the ten of them have been gathered together because each committed a crime and got away with it. Each guest is responsible for the death of someone else, and for whatever reason, their crimes could not be proved. Well, justice is about to be served. One by one, the guests start dying—poisoned, shot, bashed in the head, pushed off a cliff. Someone is on the island, picking off guests one by one, and all the ten guests have to guide them is a nursery rhyme hanging on the wall and ten little statues that disappear one by one as each guest is polished off. And Then There None, also published as Ten Little Indians, is renowned mystery author Agatha Christie’s best known, best loved, and most successfully plotted whodunit. Readers have been trying to puzzle this one out, and being knocked head-over-heels by the twist ending, for decades. Irresistibly baffling, this is one of the best countdowns in literary history. Christie (1890-1976), who wrote over sixty novels and over one-hundred short stories, had a thing for numbers in her titles. In addition to And Then There Were None/ Ten Little Indians, readers can count on more mystery in Towards Zero, One Two Buckle My Shoe, Murder in Three Acts, Third Girl, The Big Four, Five Little Pigs, The Seven Dials Mystery, and Thirteen Problems.   posted Mar 11, 2010 at 10:55PM

Cover ArtThe thirty-nine steps
by Buchan, John, 1875-1940.
Richard Hannay is bored. He’s spent most of his life on the go in exotic South Africa, and dreary old London is damp and dull in comparison. But the world is on the brink of war—the year is 1914—and Hannay knows there’s adventure out there somewhere. He decides to give London one more day to deliver some excitement, and to his surprise, the good city lives up to its end of the bargain. Hannay comes home to find his upstairs neighbor, Franklin P. Scudder, in quite a pickle. Scudder is in possession of important information, state secrets about anarchists and assassins and political plots that hold the lives of thousands of people at risk. Hannay agrees to hide Scudder, who has faked his death to throw off his enemies, but a few days later a dangerous spy tracks Scudder down and murders him in Hannay’s apartment. Now Hannay is on the run with what he knows of the plot, hiding from both the political bullies who got Scudder and the police who want him for Scudder’s murder. There are codes to decipher, disguises to don, villains in aeroplanes to outmaneuver, aristocratic politicians to convince, and an important mystery hidden in the words “the thirty-nine steps.” Action-packed with thrills galore, spy fiction got off to a rousing start with The Thirty-Nine Steps. Lone men in possession of valuable information have been on the run ever since, from James Bond to Jason Bourne—and is it a coincidence that these infamous spies bear the same initials as The Thirty-Nine Steps author John Buchan? The thriller genre owes quite a debt to John Buchan and his cocky, crafty hero Richard Hannay, and this original escapade is a true-blue blueprint for espionage adventure.   posted Mar 11, 2010 at 10:55PM

Cover ArtThirteen Reasons Why
by Asher, Jay.
When Clay Jenson finds a package on his doorstep, he’s excited. When he opens it to find a bunch of cassette tapes, he’s curious. When he listens to them, he’s amazed and horrified—because the voice on the tapes belongs to Clay’s high school classmate Hannah Baker, and Hannah killed herself two weeks ago. As Clay listens to Hannah tell her story, he learns that he is one of thirteen people to receive the tapes, one of thirteen people who played a part in Hannah’s decision to end her life. Clay is horrified that he is on Hannah’s list; he didn’t know her well, but he had a crush on her from afar, and he certainly never intended to do anything that might hurt her. Hannah, speaking from the grave, is alternately defensive, sarcastic, desperate, and soulful as she talks about her classmates—who spread rumors about her, who believed the rumors, who acted on them, and who chose to remain silent despite the destructive chain of events that unfolds. Clay is alternately shocked, surprised, pained, and completely overwhelmed by Hannah’s haunting tale of lies and betrayals. Most of the book—author Jay Asher’s debut novel—takes places in Clay’s head as he listens to Hannah (her voice appears in italics on the page) and thinks about what she says; despite this structure, the pace is still quick and suspense-driven as Clay anxiously waits for his name to appear in Hannah’s story. Theirs is an unusual dialogue, but one that’s highly effective and gut-wrenchingly emotional. The audiobook, with its dual male and female narrators, is an especially effective way to experience Thirteen Reasons Why, since the reader is now listening to CDs much the same way the Clay listens to Hannah’s tapes.   posted Mar 11, 2010 at 10:54PM

Cover ArtThe ghost stories of Edith Wharton
by Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937.
Edith Wharton (1862-1937) is the author of The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth, and other great classics of Western literature. Edith Wharton wrote novels that are renowned for their insight into the innermost secrets of the stiff-upper-lip upper classes; her acute observations and critiques of the social classes still get her talked about in high school English classes. Edith Wharton was also scared of ghosts. She admits that “till I was twenty-seven or -eight, I could not sleep in the room with a book containing a ghost story.” What better way to get to over your fear of the unknown than by creating your very own collection of scary stories? The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton contains some of the author’s most elegant and insightful tales. “Pomegranate Seed,” for example, tells the story of Charlotte Ashby, a newlywed whose blissful marriage is disturbed by mysterious letters that arrive for her husband, Kenneth. In “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell,” a young servant is both drawn to her polite young mistress and spooked by the lady’s gloomy house, foul husband, and rumors of the lady’s previous—and now deceased—maid. “Kerfol” is the name of an ancient property that, when our intrepid narrator goes to visit, is haunted by silent ghostly dogs that belonged to the estate’s first mistress, a woman who was accused of her abusive husband’s murder years and years ago. These stories, and the others in the collection, feature crisp writing and plenty of suspense; they are, to put it simply, the sort of delightfully spooky tales that make chills run up and down your spine. To paraphrase Edith Wharton (who was paraphrasing someone else)—we may not believe in ghosts, but we’re definitely afraid of them.   posted Mar 5, 2010 at 12:18PM

Cover ArtThe fall of the house of Usher.
by Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809-1849.
Roderick Usher is ill. He’s restless, uneasy, hyper-sensitive to light, sound, smells, and taste. Our unnamed narrator journeys to the House of Usher to cheer his friend Roderick, but neither narrator nor reader will find much comfort there. The manor house is bleak and gloomy beyond compare and its residents—Roderick and his twin sister Madeline—seem perpetually bathed in sorrow and despair. Roderick, in fact, believes the house, with its ancient stonework and strangely-arranged gardens, to be a sentient force unto itself. And when Madeline dies and Roderick insists on interring her body in the house’s vault before her burial, and an odd anxiety comes over Roderick and his guest in the days that follow, and Roderick’s paintings and books appear to come to life, it seems the House of Usher may indeed have something final to say before its doomed fall. Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) is one of literature’s greatest and spookiest storytellers—the enduring popularity of his narrative poem “The Raven” and his short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” certainly prove that. “The Fall of the House of Usher” is his other big hit, a classic little tale of a classic haunted house that, in Poe’s hands, becomes something much more—something innately unsettling and irresistible all at once. In fact, reading all three of Poe’s bests in row, from the mocking raven’s call to the mysterious thump-thump under the floorboards to the eerie House of Usher, is undoubtedly the best way to work yourself into a truly glorious literary scare.   posted Mar 5, 2010 at 12:17PM

Cover ArtThe best of H.P. Lovecraft : bloodcurdling tales of horror and the macabre
by Lovecraft, H. P. 1890-1937.
H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was a decidedly weird individual. Sickly, anxious, bookish, descended from an American founding family, Lovecraft was a mid-20th century gentleman with a really twisted imagination. And boy oh boy, do readers love him today. The sixteen tales collected here include Lovecraft’s finest: “The Call of the Cthulu,” which introduced legions of devoted fans to a giant pulpy sea monster with tentacles and scales and wings that dozes in the depths until it emerges in an apocalyptic age of horror and panic; “The Dunwhich Horror,” otherwise known as Wilbur Whately, who begins life on strange terms and ends it by horrifying, terrifying, and just plain scaring the socks off the neighboring townsfolk; “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” where dwells a sinister tribe of hybrid human-monsters who worship the demons of the deep; and “The Colour Out of Space,” which tells of a meteoric entity that brings insanity—and worse—to the residents of a small farm. Throughout his stories, Lovecraft creates a mythology all his own— the monsters Cthulu and Yog-Sothoth, the eerie towns of Arkham and Innsmouth, and demonic horrors galore that creep out of earth, space, and the very soul. Lovecraft wrote so convincingly of his fictional Necronomican, an ancient book of the occult, that publishers have printed versions of it to satisfy the reading public’s insatiable curiosity and insistence that it must be real. Modern-day fan-fiction is immensely popular (there’s even a Lovecraftian parody for children called Where the Deep Ones Are), which only proves how ahead of his time shy, nervous Lovecraft was. Almost seventy-five years after his death and almost one-hundred years since he first published, Lovecraft’s Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre are alive, well, and creeping out readers near and far.   posted Mar 5, 2010 at 12:17PM

Cover ArtCarmilla
by Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan, 1814-1873.
Forget about Bill Compton, Edward Cullen, the vampire LeStat, or Count Dracula—you haven’t really met a vampire until you’ve met Carmilla. Twenty-five years before Bram Stoker sat down and penned his tale of horror in Transylvania, fellow Irish ghost story lover Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) crafted the tale of innocent young Laura and her strange, beautiful, deadly visitor. Pretty Laura lives in an old castle with her kind father and a couple of agreeable governesses; it’s a pleasant but sheltered existence. Laura had one terrifying incident in her infancy, when she dreamed a beautiful woman appeared in her room and laid down beside her—but then little Laura felt a sharp prick at her neck, and woke up screaming. But the years have passed and Laura is now a lovely young woman. When a dramatic carriage accident hurls an injured young lady practically onto the doorstep, Laura and her father are only too glad to extend their hospitality. Their guest is Carmilla, a sweet young thing whose face is exactly that of the woman who appeared in Laura’s dream so long ago. Carmilla sleeps late, eats little, reveals nothing of her past life, and lounges around in a most beautiful attitude. But Carmilla also adores Laura—adores her, in fact, well past the point of obsession. Laura is not very wise in the ways of the world so it takes her much longer to catch on than it does for the savvy reader, who is nonetheless quickly caught up in Le Fanu’s dreamy little tale of passion and terror combined. Carmilla was a direct influence on Dracula and on vampire mythology in general—we would have no sensual, seductive, alluring vamps if we had not had Carmilla first. That fact alone makes it an interesting read for any fan of horror or vampire fiction, but Carmilla is also a haunting ghost story that more than stands on its two feet—or fangs, for that matter. Take a bite; you won’t soon regret or forget Carmilla.   posted Mar 5, 2010 at 12:16PM

Cover ArtThe turn of the screw ; &, In the cage
by James, Henry, 1843-1916.
A young gentlewoman begins her career as a governess when a singularly dashing bachelor hires her to care for his little niece and nephew. All trust and responsibility is given over to the governess and she heads off to Bly, the country manor where the children are tucked away under the protection of the housekeeper Mrs. Grose. Little Flora and her brother Miles are so adorable and angelic as to be called exquisite; the governess is instantly enamored of their childish charms. But before she can become a slave to their every delightful little whim, the governess sees—something. A pale face pressed against the window, a dark figure on the other side of the lake. When, frightened and disturbed, she describes these mysterious watchers to Mrs. Grose, they are identified as Peter Quint and Miss Jessel—and the horror immediately grows, because not only are Quint and Miss Jessel bad, immoral people, but they are dead. Convinced that the children’s young souls have been corrupted by the evil influence of the obsessive spirits, our nerve-wracked governess must fight to save some remnant of goodness in the preternaturally perfect little darlings—even while the ghostly fiends strive to posses them. Published in 1898, The Turn of the Screw practically marked the invention of the psychological thriller. Author Henry James (1843-1916) weaves a masterful web of intense and atmospheric suspense and offers no convenient solutions to the mystery at Bly. A unique structure—an unnamed narrator is listening to a manuscript read by a fellow houseguest; the manuscript is told in first-person by the hapless governess—completes the casting of the spell; wrapped in these layers of storytelling, a reader can never be sure what—if anything—is real and what—if anything—is imagined. One thing is certain, however: The Turn of the Screw will keep you biting your nails, jumping at every noise, and absolutely glued to the page.   posted Mar 5, 2010 at 12:16PM

Cover ArtThe haunting of Hill House
by Jackson, Shirley, 1916-1965.
Dr. Montague has been searching for a haunted house his entire life. At Hill House, in a small New England town, he finds one. Eager to explore the scientific possibilities of cohabitation with phantasmagoria, the good doctor invites three guests to share the place. Luke Sanderson is the black sheep of the family that owns Hill House. Theodora is a carefree, optimistic bright young thing. Eleanor Vance has spent her entire life caring for her ill, unhappy mother or under the thumb of her controlling sister. Accepting Dr. Montague’s invitation is Eleanor’s first act of freedom—and it might very well be her last. Because there’s no doubt that there’s something very wrong with Hill House. To call the place gloomy is a severe understatement; a history of tragedy and god-knows-what-else has made the house unlivable for years. But the new houseguests put on a brave face; they are witty and clever; they amuse each other and play nice. And still—doors refuse to stay open, chilling drafts sweep across the halls, things go bump in the night. Eleanor, always a shy loner, becomes more and more of an outsider even in the midst of the cozy little group. All too soon, it becomes almost impossible to tell where the emotional torment of poor Eleanor ends and the vengeful spirit of Hill House itself begins. But Eleanor is fragile, and Hill House has all manner of horrors at its beck and call. How—and if—the foursome will emerge from this all-too-genuine haunted house remains to be seen. In the vein of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, The Haunting of Hill House is a top-notch example of the psychological, supernatural thriller. Author Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) was a remarkably intelligent writer who knew exactly how to build layers of suspense that would captivate her readers. Working with so much more than just the bare bones of characters and plot, Jackson infuses her ghost story with a sense of foreboding that is too tempting to resist. For a true-blue ghost story, all you have to do is get good and lost in the very strange, very scary, very haunted Hill House.   posted Mar 5, 2010 at 12:15PM

Cover ArtThe legend of Sleepy Hollow and other stories ; or, The sketchbook of Geoffrey C
by Irving, Washington, 1783-1859.
When smarmy schoolteacher Ichabod Crane comes to town, he immediately smirks and smiles his way into all the society that the little glen of Sleepy Hollow has to offer. Ichabod, gangly and gawky, is smitten with Katrina, the lovely only daughter of wealthy Mr. Baltus Van Tassel. His competition for the hand of the fair young lady is the hunky town jock “Brom Bones” Van Brunt. Ichabod, or so he thinks, has nothing to fear—his book smarts are more than a match for Brom’s rowdy looks. But for all his supposed confidence, Ichabod is exceptionally open to suggestion, and at a fancy party at the Van Tassel’s stately home, he hears the story of the Headless Headman. A hapless victim of “some nameless battle” of the American Revolution who got his head lobbed off by a cannonball, the Horseman spends the nights pounding up and down the roads in search of his long-lost cranium. When Ichabod leaves the party, he’s suddenly met by a ferocious fear—in the form of the good old Headless Horseman, who pursues poor Ichabod in what has become one of the most famous chase scenes in American literary history. Originally published in 1820 as part of author Washington Irving’s (1783-1859) collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and its fellow tales marked the birth of the short story as a genre in the Unites States. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was, and still is, the heart of the collection. And since the tale is delightfully funny and wickedly spooky, Ichabod and his headless friend have become the stuff of American legend as well.   posted Mar 5, 2010 at 12:15PM

Cover ArtTreasure Island
by Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850-1894.
Robert Louis Stevenson had a way with names—Jim Hawkins, Squire Trelawney, Ben Gunn, Israel Hands, and best of all, Captain Long John Silver. Throw in the good ship Hispaniola, the seaside Admiral Benbow Inn, and of course, the good old Treasure Island, and you’ve got the top pirate tale of all time. Stevenson capitalized on all the pirate legends—peg legs, the jolly roger, the parrot squawking “Pieces of eight!”—to create the story of adventurous young Jim Hawkins, a clever, kind, courageous young lad who finds a treasure map in a dead man’s sea chest at his mother’s inn. But standing in the way of Jim and his buried treasure is the deceptively charming Long John Silver, a pirate captain disguised as the ship’s merry cook. And more than treasure and treachery await the crew of the Hispaniola on the mysterious island—there’s action, adventure, twists, and turns that still delight readers over one hundred years later. Not only is Treasure Island the go-to, end-all source for all things pirate, it’s also one of the most readable classics of the Victorian age and an old-fashioned ripping good yarn.   posted Feb 26, 2010 at 3:00PM

Cover ArtDemons of the ocean
by Somper, Justin.
What’s meaner than a pirate? A vampirate, of course. Set in the twenty-sixth century off the coast of Australia’s Crescent Moon Bay, this is the story of fourteen-year-old twins Connor and Grace Tempest. When their lighthouse keeper father dies, leaving them penniless and alone, the twins take to sea. But before they can begin a new life, a ferocious storm sinks their boat and separates them—perhaps forever. Connor is plucked from the sea by a pirate ship and the athletic youngster makes fast friends with the welcoming crew, taking to the pirate life like a natural. But Grace wakes up on a very different rescue ship. Her savior, handsome Lorcan Furey, keeps her locked in a luxurious cabin. The meals are unbelievably delicious—and sleep-inducing. And the captain is the biggest puzzle of all, with his disembodied whisper and masked face. Readers won’t be surprised to learn that Grace has been taken on board the ship of the Vampirates, a spooky group of vampires-turned-pirates that the twins’ father used to sing a lullaby-style sea shanty about. The narrative alternates between Connor and Grace, giving readers a vivid description of life on a pirate ship while building up the mystery of the Vampirates. The union of vampire and pirate is a clever one, and Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean is a fast, breezy, fun read, complete with a cliff-hanger ending that paves the way for a new thrilling series of Vampirate books.   posted Feb 26, 2010 at 3:00PM

Cover ArtBooty : girl pirates on the high seas
by Lorimer, Sara
Pirates, we all know, are loud, dirty, bare-chested men armed to the teeth with cutlasses and knives. Not so, says history. There are many examples of women who took to the life of piracy like ducks take to water. These ladies had to keep their shirts on, but otherwise the aforementioned description more than holds up. Booty, with its tongue-in-cheek tone and its charming illustrations, is a unique look at these unusual pirates. How did Mary Read and Anne Bonny stay disguised as pirate men for so long? How did beautiful Cheng I Sao manage to keep an entire fleet of two thousand ships and eighty thousand pirates under her thumb? Did Sadie the Goat really get in a brawl with a barkeep who kept the severed ears of her victims in a pickle jar? Booty proves that the challenges of a life of crime at sea were fraught with a whole new set of dangers if you would otherwise be wearing a petticoat and bonnet. The lively, colorful images and vivid descriptions spruce up the tales of pillage, plunder, and derring-do to make this mini-history as delightful as its subjects are despicable.   posted Feb 26, 2010 at 2:59PM

Cover ArtThe pirates! : in an adventure with scientists
by Defoe, Gideon.
Ah, pirate comedy. In Gideon Defoe’s novel, his pirate crew debates the best part of pirating (grog or cutlasses), delights in anachronisms like Post-It notes and dental floss, and accidentally attacks Charles Darwin’s ship, the Beagle. The Pirate Captain (yes, that’s his name) decides to spare Darwin’s life in exchange for a boat ride back to London. Darwin put the pirates up at the swank Royal Society and passes them off as scientists. Soon the pirates are the toast of the town and are up to their eye patches in schemes and plots involving the big mean Bishop of Oxford, Drawin’s kidnapped brother Erasmus, and a trained chimp named Bobo who is best known for acting the part of the perfect British gentleman. Silly, droll, Monty Python-esque, delightfully absurd and unabashedly juvenile, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists is the most fun you’ll ever have with a pirate crew. Until, that is, you read The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab (2005), The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists (2006), and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon (2009).   posted Feb 26, 2010 at 2:58PM

Cover ArtA general history of the robberies and murders of the most notorious pirates
by Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.
This is the original history about pirates, written during the “Golden Age of Pyracy” when pirates were still alive and well and very much a real threat. No one really knows who Captain Charles Johnson was (Daniel DeFoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, was once considered a likely suspect), but whoever he was, he sure knew his stuff. Taking most of his information from newspaper accounts and from pirate trial transcripts, Johnson also interviewed seamen and sailors for vivid, true-to-life descriptions. Johnson’s accounts of the lives of men like Blackbeard and Captain Kidd gave them almost mythical status and they soon became the most legendary of pirates, inspiring almost everything we know and love best about the traditional, classic pirate. From peg legs to parrots on the shoulder to black eye patches, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates had it first.   posted Feb 26, 2010 at 2:58PM

Cover ArtUnder the black flag : the romance and the reality of life among the pirates
by Cordingly, David.
Popular films like The Pirates of the Caribbean make pirates look like a loveable, jolly old bunch. But Under the Black Flag is a modern history that delves deeper into pirate lore, investigating many of the myths and legends that were first set forth in Captain Charles Johnson’s classic history. From the fictional pirates of Peter Pan and Treasure Island to real-life accounts of notorious pirates Sir Henry Morgan and Captain Kidd, this book answers every question you ever had about piracy on the high seas. David Cordingly is one of the world’s foremost experts on pirates, so when he describes the cutthroat violence of a real pirate battle, explains exactly why so few pirates enjoyed long lives of luxury, or defines the differences between a corsair and a buccaneer, you can rest assured he knows exactly what he’s talking about. For the real truth about pirates, look no further than Under the Black Flag.   posted Feb 26, 2010 at 2:58PM

Cover ArtSilver : my own tale as written by me with a goodly amount of murder
by Chupack, Edward.
Treasure Island has proved so enduring that there is an entire sub-genre of sequels and spin-offs. Silver: My Own Tale as Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder is the jolly good story of Captain Long John Silver, that roughish devil who comes this close to getting his hands on buried treasure only to be thwarted by a clever kid. Imprisoned on his own ship as it sails back to England, Silver pens his own version of events in a rollicking slangy voice that is entirely his own. He recounts his childhood as a street urchin, his “education” under the tutelage of the homeless blind man who takes him under his wing, and his boyhood meeting with pirate Black John who introduces young John to the joys and savages of pirate life. And then he plunges dagger and hilt into his story among the ruthless buccaneers, complete with bloody murders, treasure galore, peg-legs, and parrots--and a lively, noisy, unapologetic rabble of a story it is too. Fans of the original will relish this villainous point of view from author (and attorney-at-law, of all things!) Edward Chupack. Readers and writers simply cannot get enough of Treasure Island, but Silver comes as close as any to satisfying that pirate lust.   posted Feb 26, 2010 at 2:57PM

Cover ArtPeter Pan
by Barrie, J. M. 1860-1937.
You know the story—the children in the nursery, Wendy, Michael, and John; the bell-voiced fairy Tinkerbell, complete with magical fairy dust; Peter himself, the boy who wouldn’t grow up but who flew away to Neverland instead; and of course the nastiest, naughtiest pirate whose hand was ever eaten by a crocodile, the delightfully vile Captain Hook. The story has many a quirky charm that you, in the busy business of your grown-up life, may have forgotten: Nana, the all-knowing doggy-nurse; the way Mrs. Darling tidies up her children’s minds, which is of course the “nightly custom of every good mother”; and author J.M. Barrie’s sweetly skewed world in which fantasy and reality have never met more lovingly—even when Captain Hook is stealing kiddies from their beds or turning tail and fleeing from the big bad crocodile. There are dozens of editions of Peter Pan, which was originally a play in 1903. The one-hundredth anniversary edition illustrated by Michael Hague is a special treat, with lush full-page paintings and a truly inspiring rendition of crooky old Captain Hook.   posted Feb 26, 2010 at 2:57PM

Cover ArtFrenchman's creek
Daphne Du Maurier, best known for the suspenseful romance classic Rebecca, also had a thing for pirates. This historical romance matches a lovely genteel lady from the fashionable world with a dashing pirate who terrorizes the Cornish coat. Lady Dona St. Columb is bored and jaded by the numbingly polite society of Restoration London. She flees her life of luxury and ease and rides to her husband’s remote Cornish estate, where a chance encounter with the pirate Jean-Benoit Aubéry changes her life. Aubéry may be a pirate, but he’s also an educated, cultured, thoughtful man of action. The mix of philosopher and pirate is too much for Dona to resist; she falls head over heels in love with Aubéry and runs away with him. Dona may be done with high society, but high society won’t let her go that easily. Pursued by her husband and other “gentlemen,” Dona and Aubéry have to face some intense obstacles that stand in the way of their romantic, adventurous life together. This may seem like a swashbuckling bodice-ripper, and it’s certainly an ancestor of those types of romances, but there’s more to Frenchman’s Creek than just love and adventure. The writing style is literary even when the characters are romanticized, and the real journey here is Dona’s path to self-discovery. Still, dating a pirate is the ultimate way to rebel, and Frenchman’s Creek will satisfy readers who love the romantic appeal of pirate life best.   posted Feb 26, 2010 at 2:56PM

Cover ArtThornyhold
by Stewart, Mary, 1916-
When Gilly Ramsey was a lonesome little girl, her one true friend was her mother’s eccentric and enchanting cousin Geilles. Geilles had a near-magical way of teaching little Gilly about flowers and animals and then—poof—she’d disappear on one of her world travels, leaving Gilly alone again but a little less lonely. When Gilly grows into a resourceful, modest, lovely young woman in the late 1940s, cousin Geilles wills her a charming old cottage in the countryside. As Gilly makes her new house into a home and gets to know the neighbors, she discovers that Geilles had something of a reputation as a “white witch” with the ability to cure minor aches of the mind, body, and spirit. And, to Gilly’s surprise, the locals expect more of the same from her; to her even greater surprise, the know-how to do so comes very easily. But there’s a mystery here as well. One neighbor, cheery Agnes Trapp, is a bit too friendly, and a bit too eager to get her hands on something hidden inside Geilles’ house. Another neighbor is a strikingly handsome writer, with a precocious animal-loving son who offers the true olive branch of friendship. A few animals play a significant role—carrier pigeons, a black cat, a wounded dog. And Geilles’ cottage has a few surprises as well, including a room full of herbs and a missing recipe book. There’s even the occasional flash of “Sight” that gives Gilly and extra, special power. Author Mary Stewart is best known for her gothic romances and her trilogy about the Arthurian legend; Thornyhold is gentle little gem that’s filled to the brim with an old-fashioned, cozy charm.   posted Feb 19, 2010 at 6:58PM

Cover ArtIn the devil's snare : the Salem witchcraft crisis of 1692
by Norton, Mary Beth.
In a tiny town in Massachusetts, in the middle of the winter of 1691, two young girls began to suffer from strange fits. Their elders diagnosed the cause as witchcraft, and soon accusations of devil-worship were flying from neighbor to neighbor. All in all, 144 men and women were jailed. Of the fifty-four who confessed to practicing witchcraft, fourteen women and six men were put to death. Modern interpretations of the events include angst-y teenagers who got carried away, the accidental ingestion of hallucinogenic fungus in rye bread, and the actual practice of witchcraft. Noted historian Mary Beth Norton (whose 1997 book Founding Mothers and Fathers was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize) examines the events at Salem from the perspective of the people who were there at the time, without the benefit of modern hindsight. In the Devil’s Snare reveals new, relevant pieces of information. The residents of Essex County, Massachusetts, were engaged in a war that effected their actions every day. They called it the Second Indian War; today we call it (when we remember it) King William’s War. Either way, it engaged colonial settlers in a constant battle with the French, and with the Native Americans the French had recruited, for control of the frontier. Norton bases the hysteria of the witchcraft accusations firmly in the continuous stresses and losses caused by this war in the settlers’ backyards. She also notes that the Salem witch trials marked one of the very few and far between occasions where women were taken seriously. Seventeenth century women did not have the same rights that men had; women were the property of their fathers or husbands and were believed to be weaker, less intelligent, and more unstable than men. The trail judges (all men), then, had specific motives of their own for going against tradition and taking these feminine claims to heart. Norton’s exploration of these previously less-studied aspects sheds new light on the causes and outcomes of the Salem witch hunts. The result is a finely written, extensively researched, fresh, new version of this infamous chapter in American history.   posted Feb 19, 2010 at 6:58PM

Cover ArtThe true story of Hansel and Gretel
by Murphy, Louise, 1943-
The tale of two little children, lost in the woods, who stumble on a candy-coated cottage that actually houses a hungry, wicked witch is familiar to all of us—but boy, is it ever a dark, creepy story when you really think about it. Author Louise Murphy takes it one step further with her True Story of Hansel and Gretel by setting the story during the last months of World War II in Nazi-occupied Poland. “Hansel” is a seven-year-old boy and “Gretel” is his eleven-year-old sister; their father and stepmother were forced to abandon them in the Polish forests but begged them never to repeat their Jewish names. Adopting the monikers from the famous fairy tale, the children do indeed find a “witch” in the form of Magda, a village woman with a reputation. Instead of being devoured, the children are taken in and hidden—as harrowing situation as being locked in a cage by a cackling storybook witch would have been. In crisp prose and cut-to-the-quick dialogue, Murphy weaves a life in hiding with all the hunger, desperation, frustration and fear that entails. Other villagers enter the story, as do the distant journeys of the children’s father and stepmother. Whether or not the separated family and their saviors escape from real wicked witch—a cruel Nazi officer—is something a reader of a Holocaust novel can never be too sure off. Lyrical, haunting, and liberally sprinkled with superstition, folklore, and shades from the dark side of fairy tales, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel is one that won’t easily be forgotten.   posted Feb 19, 2010 at 6:57PM

Cover ArtWicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West : a novel
by Maguire, Gregory.
The Wizard of Oz is a modern fairy tale. Young Dorothy (and her little dog too) run away from home, get caught in a tornado, and are blown far away to a magical land of walking scarecrows, talking lions, wizards, witches, yellow brick roads, and emerald cities. Most readers will know the 1939 Hollywood musical movie starring Judy Garland best, but L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its thirteen sequels way back when in the early 1900s. But it is author Gregory Maguire’s Wicked that really blows the lid off this classic. He focuses on the future Wicked Witch of the West, who begins life as a small green girl named Elphaba. Elphie’s Munchkinlander parents are less than thrilled with this strange offspring, and more so when another daughter (normal-colored but armless) is born a couple years later. Still, the sisters survive their difficult childhood and attend university, where Elphie’s roommate is ditzy Glinda (better known as the Good Witch of the North). Elphaba is never wicked or evil; in fact she campaigns against the politically corrupt Wizard of Oz and fights for economic re-growth instead. Elphaba is ultimately an intelligent and out-spoken young woman, but fate and luck are just not on her side. Readers will sympathize with this other side of the Wicked Witch of the West and relish the clever social satire and biting cynicism inherent in this alternate vision of fanciful Oz. Just as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz swept off the page and became the beloved Hollywood movie, Wicked has transcended its original format to become a popular Broadway musical. Maguire has proved something of a visionary with his reimaging of fairy tales and classics—he has most definitely cornered the market with other inventive perspectives like Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Mirror Mirror, and two other entries in his Wicked Years series about the land of Oz, Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men. From the fairy godmother in Cinderella to the evil witch-queen in Snow White to the further adventures of Elphaba, Maguire’s blesses his fairy tale witches with a unique complexity that history has not previously afforded them.   posted Feb 19, 2010 at 6:57PM

Cover ArtThe physick book of Deliverance Dane : a novel
by Howe, Katherine
The Salem witch trials hold great appeal for fiction writers. Author Katherine Howe is a historian whose family has direct ties to Salem in 1692, and Howe uses that real history to cement her story in fascinating fact. But she begins in 1991 with Connie Godwin, a young historian working on her doctorate at Harvard. Connie is remarkably bright and determined to be a success in her chosen field—but first she has to fulfill certain family obligations, like getting her grandmother’s messy house ready for sale. Sifting through the rubble of a well-lived life in the attic, Connie finds a key and a scrap of paper with the words “Deliverance Dane” written on it. Connie doesn’t know what this means—yet—but the reader does, because Connie’s story has been alternating with chapters set in Salem, Massachusetts, during the notorious witchcraft trials. Deliverance Dane is one of the townswomen accused of witchcraft as well as the author of a “physick book” that contains both home remedies and magic spells. Ever the good historian, Connie senses an ancient mystery and becomes an academic detective, though her research is both helped and hindered by her New Age-y mother, handsome new boyfriend with a romantic job (he builds church steeples), and a professor who piles on the pressure and may or may not have some sinister motives for doing so. Meanwhile, back in 1692, Deliverance Dane is getting an all-too-intimate view of the witch hunt hysteria. A breezy page turner packed with the author’s historical know-how, a suspenseful literary mystery, and a richly detailed historical portrait all rolled into one, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane has a sense of history, mystery, and humor that readers will find hard to resist.   posted Feb 19, 2010 at 6:56PM

Cover ArtStardust
by Gaiman, Neil.
The town of Wall is named for just that, a rock wall that separates its homes and buildings from a wide field that is forbidden to the townspeople—except for one night every nine years, when a fair is hosted by the residents of Faerie—fairies, witches, wizards, practitioners of magic of all kinds. Young Tristran Thorn (the son of a union between mortal and magic, though he doesn’t know it) is drawn across that wall one night—not a fair night—when his beloved sees a falling star land on the other side and demands that he fetch it to prove his love. Tristran sneaks across the wall into Faerie and sets out on a series of adventures, aided by a mysterious and instinctive understanding of magic. The fallen star is easy to find, but difficult to hold on to. For starters, the star is actually a living, breathing young woman named Yvaine. Then Tristran has to get back to Wall with Yvaine, a task made all the more difficult by the others who pursue the star for their own means. These are the sons of Lord Stormhold, who seek the star to claim the throne, and three sister-witches, who need the heart of a star to restore their lustrous youth and beauty. The witches are wicked (and bicker nonstop about whose turn it is to fetch what foul ingredient for the potions), the lords are cruel (and accompanied by the ghosts of their dead brothers), the hero is brave (and has no idea what he really wants), the lady is beautiful (and stubborn as a mule). In short, author Neil Gaiman has (once again) spun a quirky, creative, colorful fairy tale that’s warm and witty and full of life.   posted Feb 19, 2010 at 6:56PM

Cover ArtThe witches
by Dahl, Roald.
Beloved author Roald Dahl possessed the delightful ability to write children’s books that his readers never outgrow. Maybe it’s because of his dark, quirky comic timing. Maybe it’s because he treats his readers with respect, intelligence, and good humor. Maybe it’s simply because he’s a storyteller of the highest order who infuses his books with whimsical charm, irresistible heroes and villains, and loads of magic and wonder. Plus, Roald Dahl has an extraordinary imagination. The Witches is one of his best. A boy and his impressive Norwegian grandmother are vacationing at a glamorous hotel. The boy leads a wondrous life—thanks to grandma’s unconventional theories of childrearing, he can explore all he wants, rarely has to bathe, and knows everything there is to know about witches. The cigar-smoking, wise-as-an-owl grandmother is an expert on witches. She knows they find children by smell (hence the benefits of remaining unwashed). She knows they’re bald and wear itchy wigs. She knows they disguise their curvy claws and square feet in long gloves and pointy shoes. She knows they’re foul, wicked creatures whose goal is to rid the world of little children. But all this knowledge does little good when the Grand High Witch of the World and her coven take a vacation at the very same hotel. Our intrepid little boy hero overhears the witches’ diabolical plan, but he is caught, teased, tormented, and finally turned into a mouse before he has even a chance to think about doing anything to stop them. Now, how can a tiny little mouse and an ancient grandmother stop the world’s most powerful witches? The evil-in-our-midst plot makes The Witches scary, the intimate and direct voice of the little critter narrator makes it charming, and the twists and turns with witchy mythology make it fun fun fun. You simply cannot read The Witches too many times.   posted Feb 19, 2010 at 6:55PM

Cover ArtA great and terrible beauty
by Bray, Libba.
When A Great and Terrible Beauty opens in Victorian-era India, Gemma Doyle is an unruly, bratty teenager throwing a bit of a tantrum—not quite the proper young lady we’d expect. Gemma has grown up in India and even though the country is firmly under the Empire’s thumb, she longs to experience England. Her mother forbids this, but Gemma is about to get her wish. Walking in the marketplace, Gemma is overcome by a vision that foretells her mother’s death—a vision that comes suddenly and violently true. Guilt-ridden and bereft, Gemma is sent to Spence Academy, a boarding school in fashionable London. And not only is she snubbed by the beautiful, popular girls and her dumpy roommate alike, but mystery has followed her as well. An unknown young man from India spies on her and even more bewildering, the visions haven’t stopped. Despite her grief, Gemma is not one to shirk adventure. She knows she’s on the verge of a great discovery, especially after she finds an old diary that hints at a mystical occult-like society called The Order. Gemma makes an uneasy alliance with the most influential Spence girls and together these young ladies begin to explore the sort of power and mystery that is normally forbidden to the standard meek Victorian woman, a something that is more akin to the magic of witchcraft than to anything else. And once Gemma and her fellows have tasted that power, they’re determined never to go back to the life of mild gentility they’ve being trained to accept. Fans of supernatural romance like the ever-popular Twilight Saga will be drawn to Gemma and to the otherworldy flavor of her adventure. Equal parts mystery, horror, fantasy, and historical fiction, with a dash of forbidden romance thrown in, this trilogy from author Libba Bray is a decidedly original take on the old fashioned notions of witchcraft, mystery, and the proper Victorian era.   posted Feb 19, 2010 at 6:55PM

Cover ArtThe Dark Horse book of witchcraft : eight weird mysteries of powerful women and
From Frank Miller’s Sin City to graphic adaptations of Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Aliens, and Predator, Dark Horse Comics has made a name for itself creating some of the most popular, innovative, and creative publishing houses working today. Noted artists Mike Mignola, Gary Gianni, Tony Millionaire, and Jill Thompson and more have contributed short stories, comics, fables, and interviews to this anthology of wicked, wonderful witchcraft. The witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth make a cartoonish appearance; underground superhero Hellboy has his own adventure with witches. There’s an animal fable/ morality tale, and, of course, the Salem witch trials make an appearance. Each episode is ingeniously illustrated in a different style by a different artist who collaborates with a different writer. To provide a real-life point of view, there’s even an interview with a practicing Wiccan priestess. The result is not a random hodge-podge, but a clever, atmospheric blending of genres, styles, and stories that present almost every conceivable perspective on our cultural understanding of witches, Wicca, and witchcraft. Ranging from smart and clever to disturbing and creepy, The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft offers a truly remarkable portrait of all things witchy. For more spooky, artistic fun, there’s also The Dark Horse Book of Haunting and The Dark Horse Book of Monsters.   posted Feb 19, 2010 at 6:54PM

Cover ArtVanity fair
by Thackeray, William Makepeace, 1811-1863.
There are plenty of less-than-ideal women in Jane Austen’s novels. Lucy Steele is a pert, pretty kiss-up in Sense and Sensibility. Innocent Catherine Moreland is completely taken in by the flirty, wily, money-hungry Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey. The noisy/ nosy Musgrove sisters can’t keep their hands off Persuasion’s dashing Captain Wentworth. Sister Lydia runs off with the wicked Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and cousin Maria is ruined by that charming cad Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park. Not a one of them can hold a candle to Becky Sharp, our delightfully devious anti-heroine of the classic Vanity Fair. Becky, daughter of a starving artist with the barest pretensions to gentility, is a cunning young woman who is determined not to let something as trivial as social status stand in the way of greatness. Becky is the opposite of her fellow classmate Amelia Sedley, a wealthy girl who’s everything a lady should be—delicate, kind, simpering, and simple. Becky, like any good heroine, seeks the security of a good match, but she’s much keener on money and rank than love and companionship. Becky hitches her wagon to the Crawley family, who employs her as a governess and is a perfect target for her sugary charms and seductions. The Crawleys have a handsome son, and Becky can play the sweet young thing to a tee. Becky and Amelia meet again as wives of fellow soldiers and as their fates unfold against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, author William Makepeace Thackeray playfully satirizes both the upper-class society of his day and the novel-of-manners style of literature with this “novel without a hero.” The unscrupulous Miss Sharp has remained a perennial favorite of classic literature due entirely to her wit, charm, considerable sex appeal, and dead refusal to play by the very strict rules of her era. For readers who wish Jane Austen had occasionally pushed the envelope just a bit more, the exploits of Becky Sharp are ideal indeed.   posted Feb 12, 2010 at 1:27AM

Cover ArtAn American plague : the true and terrifying story of the yellow fever epidemic
by Murphy, Jim, 1947-
This Newbery Honor book, Robert F. Sibert Medal recipient, and National Book Award winner claims young readers are its audience, but it recounts a chapter in American history that should be ignored by no one. During the sweltering summer months of 1793, the city of Philadelphia was fraught with controversy. President George Washington was refusing to assist the French in their new war with Britain, and the freshly minted American citizens were angry. The French had helped them with their revolution, after all, and many believed the favor should be returned. So the increasing number of dead animals, insect swarms, and festering smells went unnoticed, even while church bells rang daily to announce more and more deaths. Eventually, one brave physician dared to put a name to the disease that was sweeping through the city: yellow fever. To 18th century ears, this was a death sentence. Yellow fever spread fast and had no cure. While some citizens fled as fast as they could, other remained to sooth the fevered brows of their friends and neighbors. Heroes emerged during the crisis—from famous countrymen like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who tried to keep the new government stable during this early emergency; to eminent physicians like Dr. Benjamin Rush, who possessed the energy to confront the disease; to the under-appreciated men and women of the Free African Society, whose members voluntarily stayed and became nurses and comforters of the ill. Journal entries, newspaper articles, and photographs fill out the story and provide those all-important first-hand details and points of view. By the time the temperatures cool and health is restored, you’ll be very glad you live in the 21st century, and deeply inspired by the men and women who fought the fever so long ago.   posted Feb 12, 2010 at 1:26AM

Cover ArtBe more chill
by Vizzini, Ned, 1981-
Jeremy Heere is a dork. No car, no girlfriend, no high school status. An endless existence as a nerd who keeps track of his daily humiliations and consoles himself with Internet porn seems to stretch out in front of Jeremy—until someone tells him to take a squip. A squip is a supercomputer in pill form, a bit of nanotechnology that lodges in Jeremy’s brain (after he buys it illegally from the back of a Payless shoe store and washes it down with a Mountain Dew) and tells him what to wear, say and do to be Cool. Before you can say “take a chill pill,” Jeremy is leading a squip-enhanced life that has him partying with the guys who used to torment him, hooking up with the school’s hottest girls, and maybe even impressing his beautiful, untouchable crush Christine. But life with a piece of experimental talking technology in your head isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Jeremy struggles to find a balance between the sex-and-drug-fueled exploits his new popularity demands of him and getting the girl to really care about him. Author Ned Vizzini invents a clever could-be world that confronts the challenges of teen life with a biting sense of humor and a working knowledge of what that life is really like (Vizzini, twenty-three years old when Be More Chill was published, began writing about his experiences at New York City’s Stuyvesant High School when he was just fifteen). Jeremy’s squip may have some unconventional ideas, but Jeremy himself—a typical, smart-ass, desperate teenager—is the sort of dorky boy the world (alternate reality or not) needs more of.   posted Feb 12, 2010 at 1:25AM

Cover ArtShiver
by Stiefvater, Maggie, 1981-
Shiver is a werewolf’s hungry reply to the best-selling, blockbusting, fan-favorite Twilight Saga, and Shiver’s young lovers Grace and Sam are more than a match for the moody intensity of Bella and Edward’s love affair. Grace is a solitary, intelligent girl who relishes the wild tranquility of the woods behind her house. The wolves that dwell there are especially fascinating, and one wolf in particular—a yellow-eyed handsome creature who once saved her from the rest of his pack—holds a unique attraction for her. That wolf is Sam, a werewolf who was bitten as a boy and who is just as smitten with Grace as she is with him. For years Grace and Sam keep their distance despite their curiosity, but during Grace’s seventeenth year they are thrown suddenly and violently together when wolves kill a boy and human hunters retaliate. Now, Grace finds herself nursing a wounded yellow-eyed boy who must be her beloved wolf, and the star-crossed lovers finally get to know each other. Sam and Grace’s romance is tender and true but fraught with danger. Author Maggie Stiefvater creates a werewolf mythology that keeps the creatures in wolf-form during the frigid winter months and allows the warm weather to transform them into humans for the few brief summer months. Sam’s injury makes him revert to teenage boy form, but the wolves, the humans, and the winter cold are swiftly approaching and threaten to destroy this new relationship and Sam and Grace’s very lives. Shiver is told from Sam and Grace’s alternating points of view, making this Romeo and Juliet plot (with a sequel, Linger, due in July 2010) all the more suspenseful, passionate, thrilling, and chilling.   posted Feb 12, 2010 at 1:24AM

Cover ArtLet me in
by Ajvide Lindqvist, John, 1968-
Republished as Let the Right One in after an internationally successful movie adaptation of the same name, the originally titled Let Me In is Scandinavia’s contribution to the vampire fad that is sweeping the globe—and for good reason. Vampires are creepy and fantastic, and when the setting is a lonesome snow-covered suburb in Sweden, the moody intensity just grows and grows. Oskar is a twelve-year-old boy who is constantly bullied and beaten at school. With no friends to turn to, Oskar’s outlets are daydreaming, shoplifting, and keeping a scrapbook of gruesome crimes clipped from the newspapers. Then he meets Eli, a girl about his age who moves into the apartment next door. Eli only comes out at night and smells a bit funny, but Oskar is desperate for companionship and Eli’s quirks suit his own oddness. Meanwhile, a series of brutal deaths begin to plague the area—bodies are drained of blood. It doesn’t take long to discover that Eli is a vampire stuck in a permanent childhood, a deadly little creature who is both desperate to survive and genuinely fond of Oskar. Their sweet, awkward relationship is a splendidly creepy contrast to the blood and gore of the murders. Author John Ajvide Lindqvist adds some original twists to an occasionally predictable story that is part crime novel, part horror story, part paranormal crush. The dark, atmospheric quiet of the film is an excellent companion to the novel and will allow you to be delightfully creeped out on both page and screen.   posted Feb 12, 2010 at 1:23AM

Cover ArtMortal engines : a novel
by Reeve, Philip.
Tom Natsworthy is a lowly apprentice in the Guild of Historians. Kate Valentine is the beautiful daughter of Head Historian Thaddeus Valentine. Hester Shaw is a young woman with a hideously scarred face, a would-be assassin whose attack on Thaddeus Valentine is thwarted by young Tom. And the city of London, where this event takes place, is a Traction City: a towering mobile metropolis with metal jaws that rolls across Europe in pursuit of smaller towns to capture and use as resources, food, and fuel. The world’s cities took to the road hundreds of years ago to escape the constant wars and natural disasters that ravaged the planet, and that’s the future that Tom, Kate, and Hester have grown up in. The Hunting Grounds of Europe used to be flourishing, but things have taken a turn for the worst and it’s become a city-eat-city world. When Tom saves Valentine from Hester’s attack, he expects to be a hero—but instead he’s thrown out of London after Hester and stranded in the wide, open, dangerous Out Country, at the mercy of every roving town, pirate, airship, or Stalker robot that might pass by. Tom’s confusion is matched only by Hester’s desire for revenge and, back in London, by Kate’s overwhelming curiosity about the girl who wants to kill her father. As Tom and Hester try to get back to London and as Kate explores the hidden depths of her city, a secret plot with an ancient but deadly weapon is revealed, and Kate’s father, London’s dastardly Lord Mayor, and a league of cities that have chosen to dwell on the bare earth, are all implicated. Author Philip Reeve seamlessly combines social commentary with action-packed adventure and a richly detailed future world. The first of a series (as so many dystopian sagas are), Mortal Engines is followed by Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices, and A Darkling Plain.   posted Feb 12, 2010 at 1:22AM

Cover ArtThe maze runner
by Dashner, James, 1972-
Thomas wakes up in the Glade. He has no idea how he got there; he has no concrete memories of his life before this. The Glade is a small safe haven in the middle of an enormous labyrinth, and Thomas is in the company of sixty other memory-less boys who have been delivered up to the same fate—solve the Maze before nightfall, or else. If they don’t make it out, the half-machine, half-animal, all-monstrous Grievers will attack and destroy. The Glade is the only refuge from the hazards of the Maze, but even though the boys have managed to organize, grow food, and make a life for themselves, and the desire to get out is overwhelming. Supplies are conveyed by the mysterious “Creators” via the same freight elevator that delivers a new boy every thirty days, but two years have gone by since the first batch of fellows arrived, and no one has solved the Maze yet. Thomas spends only one day struggling with the rules of his new life—he feels an overwhelming desire to be one of the runners who desperately try to solve the Maze every day, and makes tentative bonds with friendly Chuck, demanding Algie, and intelligent Newt. The very next day, the elevator arrives again and a new kid is flung into their midst. But this time it’s a girl, and she comes with a terrifying message: There will be no more deliveries of supplies, no more amnesiac kids. There will be no help, no rescue. The Maze needs to be solved—now or never. An action-packed story hints at a dangerous, devastated world outside the Maze, and as soon as one question is answered a new problem emerges to demand a life-or-death solution. Thomas is an intelligent protagonist, curious and determined to unlock both the puzzle of the Maze and the secrets in his head, but it’s the anticipation of what comes next that will keep the pages turning. The first book of a planned trilogy, The Maze Runner reveals a mysterious dystopia where survival, rebellion, and adventure reign supreme.   posted Feb 12, 2010 at 1:22AM

Cover ArtWatership Down
by Adams, Richard, 1920-
Did you forget about this classic of animal-authored literature? Me too. Yet Watership Down is without a doubt one of those few and far between books that are well worth reading years after they’ve been assigned in high school. That’s because the story of talking bunnies works on so many levels and contains touches of everything from mythology and legend to modern history and politics. Fiver is a prophetic rabbit who, one day, senses the swift and unstoppable upcoming destruction of his warren’s home. Sure enough, the field is bulldozed and led by Hazel, a few lucky bunnies set out to found a new promised land in a far-away haven known as Watership Down. Many dangers lurk along the way—the hardships of the homeless, the trials of travelers, a stay along the way in seemingly-idyllic warren that quickly turns nasty, and the ruthless demands of a dictator-like rabbit named General Woundwart. Brother bunnies Fiver and Hazel prove their worth on this Odyssey-like journey, and author Richard Adams blesses his critters with a richly detailed culture that includes social castes, language, poetry, and religion. The long-lasting appeal of Watership Down likes in its superbly-crafted mini-civilization, its powerful insight on human behavior as seen from the animal’s point of view, its epic nature, and its ability to be read as everything from adventure to allegory. If you haven’t ventured out of the den with Hazel, Fiver and company since middle school, it’s time to pick up the book and join the quest again.   posted Feb 12, 2010 at 1:20AM

Cover ArtThe science of Sherlock Holmes : from Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, th
by Wagner, E. J.
How accurate were Sherlock Holmes’ methods, really? He’s a fictional character, after all, working in the dark ages of the Victorian era before the invention of electricity, antibiotics, or automobiles. But by solving cases on the basis of tire marks, tobacco ash, and—yes—thumbprints and bullet trajectories, Holmes proves himself an important forerunner in the ever-important field of forensic science. Author, crime historian, and Holmes fanatic E.J. Wagner makes a magical match when she uses the works of Arthur Conan Doyle to explore early crime scene investigation methods. From the “real” hound of the Baskervilles to Holmes’ use of fingerprinting to Conan Doyle’s real-life contemporaries like detective Henry Goddard of the Bow Street Runners and brilliant-but-bigheaded pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, The Science of Sherlock Holmes guides us through the science’s early experiments and into the accepted practices. There’s also old-fashioned legends and bizarre myths, vampires, Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, and lots of blood and guts. By combining the popularity of two forever-trendy subjects—Sherlock Holmes and forensic science—Wagner succeeds in shedding light on both, pleasing fans of both, and educating and entertaining absolutely everyone.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:24AM

Cover ArtThe case of the missing marquess : an Enola Holmes mystery
by Springer, Nancy.
When fourteen-year-old Enola Holmes discovers that her free-spirited mother has disappeared, she enlists the help of her much-older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft. To Enola’s dismay, the gentlemen theorize that their mother has run off with the family money. The brothers have a low opinion of women; Enola (they haven’t seen her since she was four) is little more than a pest whom they dismiss as unimportant. Enola’s concern for her mother changes to envy and she determines to hunt her mother down and join her. Making an escape is easy—Enola is a Holmes after all, with all the powers of observation, deduction, and disguise that the family name implies—but the little sister is as attracted to crime as the older brothers. Before she knows it, Enola becomes involved in the case of a missing young nobleman, and her desire to solve the mystery makes it that much harder to evade her tenacious big brother Sherlock. The reader immediately takes Enola’s side in the family feud—she’s an engaging, winsome narrator who steady gains in confidence and charm. It’s also enjoyable to see the Holmes brothers, usually so wise and correct, reduced to oppressive villains—which is exactly how Enola, a perfectly rational and more than capable young woman, sees them when they sweep in and impose all the strict Victorian modes of conduct and propriety on her up-till-now independent way of life. Enola shows her pluck as she follows the clues her mother left, runs away in disguise, and makes her own way in the big bad city of London. With Enola Holmes, author Nancy Springer has created a gutsy girl sleuth who is more than capable of outwitting and outsmarting her infamous brothers and equally able to rally readers to her cause. There are four other Enola Holmes puzzles to solve: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan, and The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:24AM

Cover ArtThe Sherlock Holmes handbook ; the methods and mysteries of the world's greatest
by Riggs, Ransom
You can even practice the art of deduction yourself with Random Riggs’ Sherlock Holmes Handbook: The Methods and Mysteries of the World’s Greatest Detectives.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:23AM

Cover ArtSherlock Holmes : the unauthorized biography
by Rennison, Nick, 1955-
Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes so successfully that thousands of people have written to the offices at 221B Baker Street, asking for help from what they thought was a real, live consulting detective. When Conan Doyle was serving in World War I, he was astonished when a high-ranking officer asked him in what regiment Holmes was serving. Bewildered, Conan Doyle replied that Holmes was too old for active duty, an answer which fortunately satisfied without being an outright lie. Sherlock Holmes is very real to millions of readers, thousands who belong to societies and clubs devoted to the detective, and so in his Unauthorized Biography, author Nick Rennison gives us what we want and pretends a life history of the infamous Holmes, using the canon of original stories and novels and historical events from the times to make it all the more realistic and engaging. Using Conan Doyle’s stories as a guide, Rennison picks out the names, places, and events that Watson drops and lays them side by side with real historical names, places, events to create a timeline for the great detective, complete with a lonely childhood, his much-debated “missing years” in Tibet and Persia, and friendships with Sigmund Freud, Oscar Wilde, and, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle. We see Sherlock Holmes as a bit player on the London stage. We are with Sherlock when he first meets Watson and when he first tastes cocaine. We see deeper into his relationships with brother Mycroft and rival Moriarty. Firmly based in historical research yet with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek tone, Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography is the rousing history of the greatest detective who never lived.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:22AM

Cover ArtThe dark water : the strange beginnings of Sherlock Holmes
by Pirie, David, 1946-
Author David Pirie imagines Sherlock Holmes’ origins with his eerie novel The Dark Water: The Strange Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes about Arthur Conan Doyle and the real man who inspired the character of Holmes, Dr. Joseph Bell, a pioneer of criminal investigation.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:22AM

Cover ArtEye of the crow
by Peacock, Shane.
Eye of the Crow: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His 1st Case, is the first in an award-winning series by author Shane Peacock; in it, thirteen-year-old Sherlock is both investigator and suspect in his first murder case.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:21AM

Cover ArtThe beekeeper's apprentice : or, on the segregation of the queen
by King, Laurie R.
Sherlock Holmes--wickedly intelligent, almost supernaturally observant, full of contempt for anyone else’s thought processes, a cocaine addict, and a beekeeper to boot-- is drama enough without adding a gawky fifteen-year-old orphan girl who’s every bit as sharp as the great detective himself. But that’s out heroine, Mary Russell, who runs full tilt into Holmes one sunny day in 1915 as she strolls through the fields with her nose in a book. They take an immediate liking to each other, finding in the other a kindred spirit with whom to match wits and intelligence. Russell becomes Holmes’ apprentice in the art of sleuthing and is a superb student; as the years pass and they solve minor crimes together, a deep friendship and close understanding grows between them. Their unique partnership is threatened, however, by a strange case during Russell’s college years at Oxford after World War I. A master criminal, as devious as the infamous Professor Moriarty, is playing a deadly game with Holmes and Russell’s very lives. How the unlikely duo crack the case is only slightly less intriguing than the evolving relationship between the master and his young partner. This is all accompanied by author Laurie R. King’s fine literary style, with Mary Russell as an intimately honest narrator, and a detailed sense of historical time and place. The other eight books in this series continue to develop both the Holmes mythology and the Mary Russell casebook with insightful adventures that draw on literature and history. The after-effects of World War I are investigated in the next two books, A Monstrous Regiment of Woman and A Letter of Mary, and in book six, Justice Hall. The scene of Holmes’ most famous case, The Hound of the Baskervilles, is revisited in The Moor (book three). Real-life crime writer Dashiel Hammet (best known for The Maltese Falcon) is a character in book eight, Locked Rooms, which is set in Prohibition-era San Francisco. Political intrigue and British espionage in the Middle East and India are explored in O Jerusalem and The Game (books five and seven), which also reference the “lost years” from the original Sherlock Holmes canon. And the most recent entry in the series, 2009’s The Language of Bees, resurrects the ghost of Holmes’ original brainy love interest, Irene Adler, to artfully combine past stories with the lively new life that Holmes and Russell lead in King’s intelligent, literary, and masterful mysteries. Novels of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes by Laurie R. King: 1. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice 2. A Monstrous Regiment of Women 3. A Letter of Mary 4. The Moor 5. O Jerusalem 6. Justice Hall 7. The Game 8. Locked Rooms 9. The Language of Bees 10. The God of the Hive (due 2010)   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:21AM

Cover ArtSherlock Holmes--the missing years : the adventures of the great detective in In
by Jamyang Norbu.
Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: The Adventures of the Great Detective in India and Tibet by Tibetan author Jamyang Norbu is one of the best renderings of what happened to Sherlock after he fell off the cliffs at Reichenbach and supposedly “died.”   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:20AM

Cover ArtHolmes on the range
by Hockensmith, Steve.
Forget “The game’s afoot.” This time, it’s “Hee-haw, get along little doggies.” Gustav “Old Red” Amlingmeyer is an American cowboy in 1893. Herding cattle is his job, but solving crime, using the deductive methods of his idol Sherlock Holmes, is his true calling. His brother Otto, aka “Big Red,” narrates with earthy aplomb and is willing to play Watson to his big brother’s Sherlock (it’s his fault Old Red’s so obsessed, after all, since it was Big Red who read Conan Doyle’s stories around the campfire). But there’s not a lot of need for “deducifyin’ ” amongst the cattle herds—until, that is, the brothers are hired on at the Bar VR ranch alongside a quirky collection of cowboys with nicknames like Swivel-Eye and Anytime. The Bar VR is run by an unsavory group of ready-to-rumble fellers and Old Red immediately senses a mystery afoot. Then an outlaw escapes from jail and a crotchety ranch hand disappears; only Old Red suspects that the culprit is not the outlaw, and only little brother Big stands by him. A few murders later, and the cowpokes are nervous, the villains are desperate, and the buzzards are circling. Action-packed scenes of stampedes and six-gun shootouts are mixed with charming humor, rousing suspense, and plenty of Sherlockian flashes of insight on the part of Old Red, who really is as quick as they come and a true practitioner at the art of deduction. The transfer of Sherlock Holmes’ tactics, mornally applied in the stately drawing rooms of Victorian England, to the big sky country of the American Wild West, plus the natty charm of our ornery cowpokes, makes Holmes on the Range a mystery-western that is utterly irresistible. The winning twist on the Holmes canon continues in three more trail-side cases, On the Wrong Track, The Black Dove, and The Crack in the Lens.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:20AM

Cover ArtDust and shadow : an account of the Ripper killings by Dr. John H. Watson
by Faye, Lyndsay
Sherlock Holmes is the Victorian era’s most famous detective; author Lyndsey Faye could not resist pairing him with the era’s most famous criminal, Jack the Ripper, in her novel Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:19AM

Cover ArtThe hound of the Baskervilles : a Sherlock Holmes graphic novel
by Edginton, Ian.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the best known Sherlock Holmes case. The novel marked Holmes’ return after Conan Doyle sent him over the cliffs at Reichenbach Falls in “The Final Problem.” When Holmes returned in 1901, fans were more than thrilled and Conan Doyle was convinced that the mysteries had to keep coming. The simple reason is that The Hound of Baskervilles has everything that makes a thriller great—a gloomy setting, a gothic tone, a spectral hound that prowls the dark moor, the patriarchal head of an ancient family literally frightened to death, his young brash heir haunted by an eons-old family curse, an escaped lunatic, and a missing boot. Dr. Watson performs his duties as sidekick and narrator to a tee, and Holmes displays some of his very best flashes of deductive brilliance. This graphic novel version presents the mystery is an exciting new light. The creative team of Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard has a history of making over the classics; their colorful reworking of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray was a rousing success that sent the duo back to the drawing board with Sherlock Holmes on board this time. The Hound of the Baskervilles: The Graphic Novel is told in the words of Conan Doyle, lovingly tweaked by Edginton to pick the pace up and get the action going. Illustrator Culbard inks a comic-style story that is as atmospheric as the moors where it takes place. The layouts are energetic, the colors dramatic, and you can see the ideas flicking across Holmes’ wily features. Creative and true, The Hound of the Baskervilles; The Graphic Novel is both an original way to re-read a beloved classic and an innovative introduction to the masterful world of Sherlock Holmes.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:19AM

Cover ArtThe new annotated Sherlock Holmes
by Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir, 1859-1930.
This three-volume set is everything a life-long dedicated fan of Sherlock Holmes could ever want, and the perfect introduction for a Baker Street newbie. Here are two volumes of all fifty-six short stories here in the order of their publication and a third volume containing the four novels. Here also is a Sherlock Holmes treasure chest that is chock-full of bonuses and extras: Illuminating bits and pieces from Conan Doyle’s early drafts; essays about all manner of subjects mentioned in the Holmes’ stories, from details about the Victorian age to the rules of the obscure form of Japanese martial arts that Holmes practiced to the origins of rugby. There are over eight hundred illustrations, many by Sidney Paget who created the image of Holmes with deerstalker hat, smoking pipe, and magnifying glass that have become his trademarks today. The stories are annotated with detailed and interesting notes about things that, while common enough in the late 19th century, are quite foreign to us today, things like “spirit cases” (small tables that keeps decanters for drinks locked into place) and “consumption” (the old-fashioned named for any debilitating, wasting disease. Editor and Sherlockian extraordinaire Leslie S. King also expounds on little mysteries within the stories (like how Sherlock could possibly know which way a bicycle was traveling based on its tracks) and speculates on many of the big mysteries from the canon (like exactly what brother Mycroft’s position is within the British government). Some of these notes relate to issues that Holmesian scholars have been debating for decades; some are simple fun facts. The illustrations are lovely and the book design is superb, making this collection of stories is practically a work of art unto itself. There are dozens of editions and collections of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but for sheer wealth of information, education, and entertainment, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes beats them all.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:18AM

Cover ArtThe final solution : a story of detection
by Chabon, Michael.
What do an eighty-nine-year-old detective-turned-beekeeper and a nine-year old Jewish boy from Nazi Germany have in common? A mystery, of course. The boy is young Linus Steinman, a refugee whose sole beloved possession is a gray African parrot named Bruno who speaks, sings, and quotes strings of numbers—all in German. When Bruno is stolen and a man is murdered, the beekeeping old man is moved to assist the local constabulary—but only because he wants to restore the bird to the boy. If he happens to solve the murder along the way, so be it. A cast of quirky characters and suspects dot the English countryside, and author Michael Chabon—Pulitzer Prize winner for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay—is spot-on in terms of style and tone in this slim but smart volume that pays homage to the literary tradition of detection that began so long ago with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. The legendary investigator is never mentioned, but the hints that surround the long-legged, gaunt-faced “old man” range from tweed to pipes to magnifying glasses. There’s little doubt that this is no less than the great and dignified Holmes—worn and stretched by the years but no less sharp—who’s on the case. The murder becomes a matter of national security, with spies and secret codes abounding in the wake of World War II. Sophisticated and fun, The Final Solution is genuine Holmes.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:18AM

Cover ArtShadows over Baker Street
“ ‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’ ” “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulu waits dreaming.” A collection of short stories written by some of the top names in speculative fiction, Shadows Over Baker Street takes the intractable Sherlock Holmes and gives him the macabre world of equally unconquerable writer H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft is an early twentieth century author whose stories about the Cthulu mythos (a human-destroying monster from the deep) and the Necronomicon (an ancient book of forbidden rites and spells) seem expressly written to combine the words weird and horror. Lovecraft’s mythos have been firmly believed in, written about, and expanded upon as often and as devotedly as any of the Sherlock Holmes reinventions. Given Arthur Conan Doyle’s own preoccupations with the supernatural, these giants of literature meet and meld perfectly. Who better than Sherlock, tenacious and unwavering, to solve the mysteries of Lovecraft’s small-town mutants, ancient aliens, and dream monsters? The writers of this new batch of short stories--who include Poppy Z. Brite and Neil Gaiman---are clearly having an absolute ball bringing these two mythologies together. One mystical story features Sherlock’s female rival, tenacious Irene Adler, as an African hunter who confronts a horrifying something in the jungle. Another allows Holmes to match wits with an almost equal intellect when he encounters extraterrestrial life. Several writers make use of Lovecraft’s tribe of freakishly aquatic villagers in the haunted town of Innsmouth; another has Holmes stumble across a rare copy of the Necronomicon in an Afghanistan cave. This clever blending of classics, spooky and hilarious, makes for a unique read that will thrill both horror and mystery fans alike, and will really give die-hard Sherlockians some new and unusual crimes to take a bite out of.   posted Feb 5, 2010 at 12:17AM

Cover ArtBrokeback Mountain : story to screenplay
by Proulx, Annie.
• “Brokeback Mountain” in Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx, 2000, Scribner (Literary Fiction/ Historical Fiction/ Romance/ Short Stories) Before “Brokeback Mountain” was a critically acclaimed and controversial film from director Ang Lee, it was a small love story tucked in the pages of author Annie Proulx’s collection, Close Range: Wyoming Stories. The stories share a common setting—the big sky open country of Wyoming—and have common themes of love, family, and emotional survival as well. But “Brokeback Mountain” is certainly one of the more memorable tales. Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar are roughnecks, country boys brought up through hard work to expect a life of more of the same. When they meet on a job one summer in 1963, herding sheep up and down Brokeback Mountain, they don’t expect to fall in love—and certainly not with each other. But when a sudden, almost wordless passion overwhelms them, Jack and Ennis welcome a chance at real human connection. After their summer fling, the cowboys return to their separate lives and as the years pass, those lives include steady jobs, wives, and children. These scenes of traditional domesticity are forever disturbed when Jack and Ennis reunite and rekindle what becomes a twenty-year love affair. These twenty years, despite the closeness Jack and Ennis share, are not easy—for the couple, for their families, or for the reader. Proulx’s terse, straight-forward prose is ideally suited to conveying the pent-up pains and passions of these unbreakable men who know how they feel but haven’t the words, means, or opportunities to declare it. The Close Range collection was named one of Library Journal’s Best Books of the year and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (which Proulx won in 1993 for her novel The Shipping News); “Brokeback Mountain” was singled out for an O. Henry Award and The New Yorker won a National Magazine Award for Fiction when it published the story first in 1998. The gender and orientation of the lovers in “Brokeback Mountain” may be other than ordinary, but few can deny the heart-wrenching power of this simple country story.   posted Jan 29, 2010 at 12:12AM

Cover ArtAtonement : a novel
by McEwan, Ian.
It is 1935, the eve of World War II, and strange things are happening at the elegant Tallis family estate in the rich English countryside. The parents are away, and the children will play. The youngest is thirteen-year-old Briony, an odd, observant girl with grand plans for her newest literary masterpiece, a play that she wants her visiting cousins to put on for her much-admired big brother Leon. Gorgeous sister Cecilia is the object of desire for the housemaid’s smart and handsome son Robbie. When Briony intercepts some correspondence and misreads some signals between Robbie and Cecilia, her overactive imagination puts a sinister twist on words and actions. And when the evening ends with a violent assault on cousin Lola, it is Briony’s testimony alone that incriminates Robbie. Robbie is arrested and sent to prison and, through an early release, to war. Cecilia, furious and scornful of her little sister’s accusation, sweeps out of the family home and begins a career nursing wounded soldiers in London. Five years pass, and Briony, now an eighteen-year-old nursing student, is laboring under the impression that she may have been very, very wrong. As Briony attempts to bridge the gap between what she saw and what happened, author Ian McEwan unfolds a plot of what-ifs and might-have-beens. Robbie struggles to survive the horrors of war, Cecilia clings to a few precious memories, and Briony woefully strives to make amends. There are surprises and twists, life-altering tragedies and small glimmers of hope, and an ending that brings the interweaving stories together into a heart-wrenching finale that won’t easily be forgotten. A Booker Prize finalist and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, Atonement is a haunting tale of love, memory, doubt, and truth.   posted Jan 29, 2010 at 12:11AM

Cover ArtThe history of love
by Krauss, Nicole.
Leo Gursky is an old man, pining away for his long lost love and waiting for the last big event of his life: his death. He’s so alone in the world that he goes out and makes a minor spectacle of himself—dropping his change, spilling his popcorn—just to make sure someone has noticed him. Once a promising writer, Leo traded his pen for a career as a locksmith after he escaped the Nazis during World War II. Alma Singer is a fourteen-year-old girl trying to find a cure for the permanent sadness her mother’s been wrapped in ever since the death of her father seven years ago. Alma thinks the answer might lie in the book her mother is translating, an obscure story called The History of Love. The narration alternates between Leo and Alma and the reader also gets glimpses of the moving, elegantly written History of Love and its mysterious author. As the threads of the storylines weave together to reveal the secrets of Leo’s love affair (including the attempts of a fellow writer to woe Leo’s true love) and the eccentricities of Alma’s family (like her little brother’s Messiah complex), the novel becomes unputdownable. Old Leo and little Alma are an unlikely pair, but they are both survivors of great personal loss. Despite this, neither character is ever depressing—instead they’re winsome and witty, Alma with her love of survival guides and Leo with his old-man charm. Author Nicole Krauss (who won the William Saroyan International Prize for her efforts) writes her characters with tenderness and real feeling, and it doesn’t take long before we’re deeply invested in their lives and loves. So invested, in fact, that we’ll be thinking about The History of Love’s beautiful interlocking friendships and romances long after we’ve turned the last page.   posted Jan 29, 2010 at 12:10AM

Cover ArtThe remains of the day
by Ishiguro, Kazuo, 1954-
In the age of gentility that reigned in England’s upper classes, even into the 20th century, it was servants who made the great estates of the great men run like clockwork. Stevens, a dignified gentleman’s gentleman, has served thirty-five years in the service of Lord Darlington and has reached the pinnacle of his profession as head butler. Reserved, proper, and polite, Stevens has dedicated his life to the stiff upper lip. His behavior was correct and impassive when his father lay dying upstairs while Lord Darlington entertained politicians and dignitaries in the pre-World War II days; he was aloof with the beguiling and spirited housekeeper Miss Kenton. But as Stevens ages in the face of approaching changes in the 1950s and 60s, his mask of severity begins to slip and his controlled demeanor begins to crumble under the realization that he has been wallowing in self-deception for most of his life. Lord Darlington is not a “great man,” Miss Kenton became Mrs. Benn long ago, and Stevens is left without ever have experienced any of the simple joys of daily life—including that all-powerful life-altering emotion, love. A final meeting between Stevens and the former (now divorced) housekeeper, which the novel builds to with suspense and style, decides our stoic butler’s fate. Author Kazuo Ishiguro is an Englishman of Japanese descent; when The Remains of the Day was published in England in 1989 it struck deep chords with its native readers. Even for American readers, who lack a history of rigid class structure that’s quite as long, the plight of Stevens is moving and poignant, especially when told in the elegant and precise prose of Ishiguro. A tale of opportunities lost and found, The Remains of the Day is an insightful and illuminating read.   posted Jan 29, 2010 at 12:10AM

Cover ArtLove in the time of cholera
by Garcia Marquez, Gabriel, 1928-
Author Gabriel García Márquez won the Nobel Prize for his striking novel One Hundred Years of Solitude; his next book, Love in the Time of Cholera, was just as critically acclaimed and beloved by readers. When the distinguished Dr. Juvenal Urbino passes away at an advanced age after a long life, his wife, seventy-year-old Fermina Daza, is none too shocked by the reappearance of her long-lost lover Florentino Ariza, who has been carrying a torch for over fifty years. As Florentino re-declares his love, the reader is plunged back in time to the original affirmation and to all the sweet romance of Florentino and Fermina’s youthful courtship. But Fermina rejects Florentino as a symptom of puppy love and enters into a marriage of more means and security than passion. Florentino holds no grudge, and though he takes many a lover over the years, he never loses sight of his first--and only--real object of desire. Meanwhile, somewhat to everyone’s surprise, Fermina’s marriage to Juvenal Urbino is successful one, with companionship, children, and even genuine affection. But when young love in the form of an eighty-plus-year-old Florentino rears its head once again, all bets are off. García Márquez’s characters are comic and tragic—Florentino, for example, writes love poems, on demand, for other romantics—and loveable and a bit mystical, as is his rendering of the lush beauties of Central America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Vivid and intense, Love in the Time of Cholera is timeless love story and an intricately layered study of love in all its forms.   posted Jan 29, 2010 at 12:09AM

Cover ArtThe amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay : a novel
by Chabon, Michael.
1939, Brooklyn, New York: Sammy Klayman is a short-legged bull of a boy with grandiose dreams of making it big in the burgeoning field of comic books. 1939, Prague, Czechoslovakia: Sammy’s teenage cousin Josef Kavalier is a talented artist and a student of Harry Houdini-style illusion and escape. When the Nazis rear their ugly heads, Jewish Josef makes a daring and miraculous escape to take refuge with his American relations. Sammy immediately recognizes his cousin’s talent and, by combining his knack for storytelling with Josef’s unmatched illustrative style, the duo reinvents themselves as Sam Clay and Joe Kavalier and sets out to take the comics world by storm. Their offering is Tom Mayflower, “The Escapist,” a masked hero with powers of illusion and a blossoming mythology to match that of Superman’s. The young men revel in their success and Joe has big plans to save money and rescue the rest of his family, particularly his young brother Tommy, but lovely, talented, modern Rosa Saks provides a tempting and lasting distraction. When the war begins to encroach on the romance and adventure of their lives in New York, Joe abandons his cousin and girlfriend for a stint fighting Nazis—only to find himself stationed at the top of the world in not-so-green Greenland. Sam, desperately needing a fresh start as his small comic empire crumbles beneath him, is left to be the shoulder Rosa cries on, and when the trio reunites in 1953, their lives have been irreparably altered. The reader is completely riveted through all this by the sole power of Sam and Joe and Rosa’s characters—few literary characters are more real and true than these. With Kavalier and Clay, author Michael Chabon has created a mid-century New York that is classic and perfect, complete with an entertaining history of early comic book art, a nuanced portrait of the European immigrant experience, and an exploration of the stifling gender and sexual roles of the 1940s and 50s, all wrapped up in high adventure, true love, and virtuoso storytelling. The novel is a Pulitzer Prize winner; it’s near perfect and not to be forgotten.   posted Jan 29, 2010 at 12:08AM

Cover ArtPossession : a romance
by Byatt, A. S. 1936-
When two modern academics, Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey, uncover the secret love affair between two Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, the stage is set for the unfolding of two remarkable love stories. Even as they bicker over the ownership of newly found love letters, journals, and poems of the eminent Victorians, Roland and Maud fall so deeply into the mysteries of the past that they too begin a romance together. And since author A.S. Byatt skillfully recreates the long lost love letters, journals, and poems of the 19th century lovers, the reader is able to witness the passionately doomed--because both are married to other people--relationship between Randolph and Christabel that made waves so long ago. Roland and Maud’s investigation could really shake up the literary world and could supply them both with enough literary power to reshape the scholarship on both renowned poets. But as the past yields its secrets, Roland and Maud are loathe to betray the confidences they’re discovered, even though the parties involved have been dead and gone for decades. Still, the power of Randolph and Christabel’s passion lingers on their 19th century pages (and on Byatt’s modern ones) and past and present begin to coexist in the most exceptional ways. The dual love stories are companionably accompanied by commentary on scholarship, feminism, social class, and the rigors of academic detective work. And since it is the rich details of the loves, passions and sacrifices, both past and present, of these four distinct people that drive the story, Possession is both smartly literary and highly readable. That unique blend won its author the most prestigious literature awards in England (the Man Booker Prize) and Ireland (the Irish Times-Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize). Possession has been hailed as an international best seller, a modern classic, and a love story for the ages.   posted Jan 29, 2010 at 12:08AM

Cover ArtThe blind assassin
by Atwood, Margaret, 1939-
Winner of the prestigious Booker Prize, The Blind Assassin is one of recent literature’s most successful variations on the novel within the novel. It’s the story of two privileged sisters who share a secluded, uneven upbringing in the years between World War I and World War II. Laura, the younger sister, dies when her car goes off a bridge. Iris, the elder, is the survivor—of Laura, of her parents, of her husband, and of her history, which she narrates to us in all its failed glory. Iris is an old woman when she looks back on her life; she’s writing her memoirs to record the truths of her life. One of those truths is her sister’s book, published posthumously and titled The Blind Assassin. We get Laura’s novel in small doses scattered among Iris’s memories. It’s the story of a young socialite and her passionate affair with a blue-collar man—and there’s a bonus story-within-a-story here too, as the nameless man spins a science-fiction tale of violence and passion for his equally nameless lover. As the stories unfold, we become convinced we know the identities of the lovers in Laura’s books--and then, as the lines between history, longing, fact, and fiction blur and blend, we second-guess ourselves and the enigma of these sisters’ lives and loves becomes deeper and stranger and that much more compelling. The moody touches of mystery are complimented by newspaper articles that document events in Iris and Laura’s lives—Communist scares, political interests, war news, high-society teas and cotillions, balls and dinners, marriages and alliances. Every storyline within author Margaret Atwood’s pages is gripping, but it is Iris--long-since disillusioned by the cruel and subtle realities of life--who really has our attention. Atwood writes Iris with a sharp intelligence and a sympathetic eye, and Iris in turn addresses the reader with a dry wit as she reveals the missteps of her life. The Blind Assassin is a book that cannot be easily categorized—its part fictionalized memoir, historical fiction, science fiction, romance, and Greek tragedy. It is instead a book that should be read and lingered over, absorbed and nurtured for all the subtle surprises it holds.   posted Jan 29, 2010 at 12:07AM

Cover ArtDaughter of fortune : a novel
by Allende, Isabel.
One day in 1833, in the British colony of Valparaiso, Chile, a baby girl is left on a doorstep. The doorstep belongs to a Jeremy Sommers and his sister Rose, aristocratic Brits with a successful import-export business; very soon the baby belongs to them too. Their new adopted daughter, Eliza, is raised prim and proper with all the privileges of her station. Rose and Jeremy hope for an advantageous marriage and a life of ease, but Eliza, now a spirited sixteen-year-old, has her own plans. Madly in love with a lowly clerk, Eliza is determined to follow when he takes off for the California Gold Rush of 1849. But Eliza is pregnant, and life as a stowaway in the bowls of a ship doesn’t agree with her. Luckily the shipboard cook, Tao Chi’en, is a kind and generous man who takes Eliza under his wing and nurses her through her miscarriage. Tao has his own difficult life story—poverty, hard labor, a brief glimmer of hope when he’s trained as an acupuncturist, and then disaster again when he’s shanghaied out of Hong Kong and forced to work onboard. But Eliza proves to be as great a boon to Tao as he is to her, and the unlikely pair disembarks together in bustling San Francisco. Tao becomes a master healer in Chinatown and Eliza assists him (always with an eye out for her long lost love). But the Sommers back in Chile have won’t give up hope of finding her again, and meanwhile Eliza grows more attached to Tao and the unique freedom of their life together. A resident of both Chile and California, author Isabel Allende knows her history and lovingly packs her story full of romance, adventure, rich historical detail, and complex human dramas. Daughter of Fortune is a Booklist Editor’s Choice, an Oprah’s Book Club pick, prequel to another the equally excellent Portrait in Sepia, and a sheer delight to read.   posted Jan 29, 2010 at 12:07AM

Cover ArtThe wonderful O
by Thurber, James, 1894-1961.
When a wacky pirate named Black and his fellow buccaneer Littlejack land on an island that doesn’t yield up treasure as quickly as the scurvy knaves would like, Black takes out his anger by stripping the land of the letter O, which he’s hated every since his mother got stuck in a porthole and had to be pushed out instead of pulled in. Lacking this valuable vowel means big changes for the island of Ooroo—which is now known as just “r.” Geese have to stay together—if one wanders off, it risks becoming a forbidden goose. Owls can’t hoot—they can’t even be owls. Cats can’t meow, dogs are verboten. The islanders can’t read books, or cook food, or even live in houses. Instead, they have to read magazines, eat snacks, and live in shacks. Shoe becomes she and woe becomes we; life gets very confusing indeed. But these folk are not about to give up without a fight. They keep their poodle dogs—they just speak French and proclaim their canines to be chiens caniche. They meet secretly in the forest where they utter the prohibited letter in hushed but defiant whispers. And, led by clever Andreus and the even wiser Andrea, they refuse to give up on hope, love, valor, and freedom. This children’s classic, first published in 1957, has been rediscovered the republished as part of the New York Review Children’s Collection. Author James Thurber’s wordplay is remarkable—the rhythm of the narrative dips and dives and sings and rhymes, and the jaunty illustrations by Marc Simont add vigor and zest to a sprightly little fable that is already instructive, creative, worldly, and wise.   posted Jan 21, 2010 at 10:57PM

Cover ArtA is for alibi [sound recording]
by Grafton, Sue.
Today, author Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books are guaranteed best-sellers. But back in 1982, Kinsey was just starting out. Eight years before the novel begins, divorce lawyer Laurence Fife is murdered and his attractive young second wife, Nikki, is convicted and sent to prison. When Nikki gets out on parole, she claims innocence and hires Kinsey, an ex-cop and private investigator, to find the real killer. Fife was a womanizer, a lousy husband who was having multiple affairs. He was killed in a rather unusual way—the allergy pills he took were actually poisoned oleander capsules. When Kinsey uncovers another death—also eight years old, also with oleander disguised as harmless medicine—she begins to suspect that this more than just a case of a philandering husband. Kinsey tracks down Fife’s business partners, his secretary, his grown children, his former mistresses and their friends, family, and lovers. The clues lead from Kinsey’s little corner office in Santa Teresa, California to the bright lights of Los Vegas, and readers peer over Kinsey’s shoulder every step of the way. Kinsey is a detective of the old-fashioned, hard-boiled school—a tough, twice-divorced loner who’s fully prepared to do things her way, especially when her way is the hard way. Taking risks is all part of the fun for Kinsey, and this case might just have enough menace and murder to satisfy. Grafton has a fine eye for people and places and uses it to create an intriguing set of suspects, but it’s the introduction of Kinsey as a fresh new face in the mystery genre that makes A is for Alibi memorable. Kinsey Millhone is, for all her hard-headed gruffness, a truly likeable heroine—smart and wry and an entirely engaging narrator. Grafton has a specific timeline set for Kinsey’s adventures; A is for Alibi is set in 1982 and the final mystery, already titled Z is for Zero, will coincide with Kinsey’s fortieth birthday in 1990, meaning the entire series takes place over eight years. With twenty-six books total (U is for Undertow is the most recent, published in 2009), the reader is guaranteed to know and love Kinsey, from A to Z, with all her quirks, foibles, and tough-exterior charm.   posted Jan 21, 2010 at 10:56PM

Cover ArtThe Gashlycrumb tinies, or, After the outing
by Gorey, Edward, 1925-2000.
A is for apple and B is for bear? Not quite. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil assaulted by bears.” Children don’t learn their ABCs in this abecedarian; instead they’re killed off in twenty-six delightfully wicked ways, ending with “Y is for Yorrick whose head was knocked in” and “Z is for Zillah who drank too much gin.” Author and illustrator Edward Gorey (1925-2000) combined a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, a fanciful style of crosshatched pen-and-ink drawings, and a ghoulish charm to create picture books for adults. The Gashlycrumb Tinies is one of his most famous (or infamous) works. His tiny Edwardian-era children with their proper English names (like Desmond, Neville, and Maud) dwell in stately sitting rooms, smother under rugs, and are mortally damaged by axes, awls, and tacks. In any other author’s hands, the destruction of an alphabet’s-worth of kiddies would be either tactless or downright silly. But Gorey’s slim volume of sweetly rhyming couplets and comically macabre drawings is nothing short of subtle, clever, fine, and funny.   posted Jan 21, 2010 at 10:56PM

Cover ArtThe dangerous alphabet
by Gaiman, Neil.
A boy, a girl, and a pet gazelle sneak away from dear old dad and fall into a dark, dank, ABC-filled underground to search for treasure in this ghastly-good picture book that’s more for adults than it is for children. After all, the author of this alphabet is Neil Gaiman, whose other critically-acclaimed children’s books feature beasts out for blood (Wolves in the Walls), obsessively possessive mothers (Coraline), and serial killers (The Graveyard Book; a Newbery winner no less). And when the girl is kidnapped by a decidedly icky ogre and the boy and the gazelle must fight through a nightmarish labyrinth to free her, Gaiman’s colorful partner-in-crime, Gris Grimly, picks up the pace with his spine-tingling illustrations that mix shades of beige and black with splashes of faded reds and pinks. Then, this creepy-crawly alphabet slithers and slinks, and occasionally calls for help as monsters, madmen, fiends, and freaks crowd the pages and threaten readers with this “unreliable” and mysterious alphabet. Rhyming couplets run through the familiar “A is for…” formula and request the watchful eye of the reader to help save the kids and spot the mysteries on the page. The Dangerous Alphabet may be a bit too chilling for children, but its otherworldly tone is sophisticated fantasy in pictorial, alphabetical form.   posted Jan 21, 2010 at 10:56PM

Cover ArtElla Minnow Pea : a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable
by Dunn, Mark, 1956-
“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” The island nation of Nollop is founded in honor of Nevin Nollop, the man who created this popular pangram (a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet). The residents live in peace—until letters start falling from the inscription of the pangram on Nollop’s memorial statue. The all-powerful government Council rules that these letters can no longer be spoken or written and as they disappear from the statue, they also disappear from the novel. Teenage Ella Minnow Pea is a reader of literature, a writer of letters, and like most of the people on Nollop, has a real way with words. Ella and her cousin Tassie write to each other (the novel is an epistolary one) and form an underground movement to resist the Council’s decision and the fierce consequences that occur when you forget to spell every word out in your mind before you speak it. But standing firm and thinking fast only get the islanders so far—it’s hard to tell anyone what you’ve done when you’ve lost E and D (no –ed past tense endings), and word substitution can only get you so far (“sun” becomes “yellow sphere” when U tumbles to the ground). Soon only Ella and the reader are left to scramble for a solution that will save the island nation from madness and silence. Clever and entertaining, Ella Minnow Pea is a race against time before all the letters fall and language is lost forever. With a healthy dose of fantasy and creativity, author Mark Dunn uses the absurd to get serious about government power and freedom of speech. The English language is stretched to its limits and before you know it, Ella Minnow Pea will have you fighting for the rights of ABC, XYZ, and everything in between.   posted Jan 21, 2010 at 10:55PM

Cover ArtThe ABC murders
by Christie, Agatha, 1890-1976.
Alice Ascher of Andover is murdered. Betty Barnard of Bexhill-on-Sea is killed. Then Sir Carmichael Clarke of Churston is found dead. Does anyone detect a pattern here? Dapper detective Hercule Poirot certainly does. In fact, prior to each of these alphabetical murders, Poirot receives a taunting note from the killer, giving the time and place of the murder—but Poirot and the police only find dead bodies. And next to the bodies is an ABC Railway Guide. It all seems to be the work of a homicidal maniac, a serial killer who dispatches death in alphabetical order. But then the fourth murder—D in Doncaster—goes awry, and every other chapter or so the standard third-person narrative switches to the point-of-view of a vague, confused fellow who just happens to be named Alexander Bonaparte Cust. This is one of author Agatha Christie’s best mysteries, and Christie (1890-1976) is known as the Queen of Crime. Hercule Poirot is her most famous detective. The neat, eccentric Belgian sleuth with egg-shaped head and sleek mustachios uses his “little grey cells” to observe, reflect, and come up with a flawless solution to every aspect of a seemingly impossible to solve crime. Poirot very nearly meets his match in The ABC Murders, which, even after nearly seventy-five years, remains one of the most ingenious little whodunits out there.   posted Jan 21, 2010 at 10:55PM

Cover ArtAlphabet juice : the energies, gists, and spirits of letters, words, and combina
by Blount, Roy.
Author Roy Blount loves letters. He loves words. He loves their sounds, their combinations, their meaning, their roots and parts and histories and foreign companions. And as a contributing editor to Atlantic Monthly, a regular panelist on the NPR quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” and a usage consultant for the American Heritage Dictionary, Blount has been lucky enough to make a living with his love of language in all its written and spoken forms. Alphabet Juice is a dictionary, of sorts, or an encyclopedia; at least its entries are arranged in a standard A to Z format. But the stupendous subtitle of should supply enough of a hint that this book is interested in sheer fun as much as it is in fact, in the secret origins of the word “stock,” in the joy inherent in the phrase “speckled pup,” in explaining what a “spoonerism” is—and that’s just a few entries from the S section. There are also entries on “tallywacker,” “hmmmm,” “cowlick,” “King Taufa’ahau,” and the controversial “ain’t.” Blount waxes poetic about each letter (such as his detailed discussion of Homer Simpson’s infamous utterance “D’oh!” in D’s entry), makes lists of the best one- and two- and three-word sentences (Touché. Jesus wept. The game’s afoot.), and drops names, literary allusions, and pop culture references a plenty. Blount himself acts as a keen and chatty guide through his engaging lexicon; it’s the kind of friendly book that you pick up, put down, flip through, pass around, and come back to over and over again. The passion in Alphabet Juice knows no bounds, and the reader will be utterly swept away by the glorious surprises of the good old ABCs.   posted Jan 21, 2010 at 10:54PM

Cover ArtThree bags full : a sheep detective story
by Swann, Leonie, 1975-
When George the shepherd is murdered, his sheep are understandably upset. George may not have been the best shepherd (he did stuff calcium tablets down their throats every now and then, after all, and put a fence around his tomatoes) but he was their shepherd. He gave them hay and a place to graze; he talked to them and even read books out loud. But now George is dead in the grass, stabbed through with a spade, and his flock wants justice. George’s sheep may be better at grazing, but led by inquisitive Miss Maple; Othello, the black sheep of the bunch; Melmoth, who disappeared long ago; and Mopple the Whale, who’s always hungry but can remember anything, this herd has a mystery to solve. And what with flock mentality getting in the way of sleuthing and the common problem of human-sheep misunderstandings and miscommunications, it is a wooly problem indeed. First-time German author Leonie Swann writes with a straight-faced focus that graces these unlikely detectives with personality, charm, and even the occasional existential dilemma. Human characters, like the terrifying butcher Ham and the charismatic new shepherd Gabriel, take on new dimensions when seen through the eyes of the suspicious sheep, and it is those sheep the reader will be rooting for. Three Bags Full is darkly humorous and joyfully ingenious all at the same time, making it a fresh and funny entry in the mystery genre. Don’t count on this flock of fellows obediently jumping fences to put you to sleep; these baa-baa black sheep will keep readers up all night turning the pages instead.   posted Jan 15, 2010 at 1:53PM

Cover ArtCaesar : the life story of a panda leopard
by O'Brian, Patrick, 1914-2000.
Author Patrick O’Brian (1914-2000) is best known for his best-selling and well-loved Aubrey and Maturin books, a series of historical fiction novels about Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin and their adventures on the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. But long before O’Brian began richly describing the lives of Aubrey and Maturin, he was just a sickly kid passing the time with pen, paper, and imagination. Caesar: The Life Story of a Panda-Leopard, is his first published novel, written when he was just twelve years old and published at the tender age of fifteen. It’s a slim little book, but it already demonstrates the O’Brian uncanny ability to transform stiff facts into detailed storytelling. Caesar is a panda-leopard, the son of the union between a male panda bear and a female snow leopard. Caesar himself has more of the leopard in him, since he begins stalking, hunting, and killing almost as soon as he can toddle out of his cave after his mother. Caesar’s adventures include forest fires, battles with wild boars and wolves, the hunting of humans, capture by humans, a stint in a cage followed by a trusting relationship with a man, and his eventual return to the wild. Nature is indeed “red of tooth and claw;” young O’Brian was clearly in favor of an unsentimental narrative style. The writing is matter-of-fact, without any contemplation or reflection, though there is plenty of dry wit and—it is clearly the work of an adolescent, but the attention to detail and the fascination with the natural world still make for a compelling read, particularly for O’Brian’s many die-hard fans.   posted Jan 15, 2010 at 1:53PM

Cover ArtThe call of the wild ; White fang ; & To build a fire
by London, Jack, 1876-1916.
Call of the Wild and White Fang, both by author Jack London, are two of the best known and best loved books ever narrated by a couple of canines. In Call of the Wild, a pampered pup named Buck is dog-napped and transported to Yukon wilderness, where he makes an ideal sled dog for a number of alternately cruel and kind human masters before heeding to his natural instincts. White Fang is the antithesis of Call of the Wild and its companion novel, the story of a wild half-wolf who, slowly but surely, finds comfort and joy in human companionship. Both Buck and White Fang are tough, hard-working dogs with mad survival skills, and they’re going to need every ounce of their strength, common sense, and instinct to survive the threatening mix of nature and man that they each face. The setting of both novels is the stark, cold wilderness of Alaska in the early 1900s, and that atmospheric, barren land is as much a character as any of the desperate men, women, or dogs who inhabit it. Call of the Wild and White Fang are classics; there are dozens of editions available to readers, including graphic novel adaptations. The 2002 Modern Library edition presents both novels in one volume, along with another bleak but gripping Jack London short story, To Build a Fire.   posted Jan 15, 2010 at 1:52PM

Cover ArtThe bear went over the mountain
by Kotzwinkle, William.
Eccentric university professor Arthur Bramhall hides his new book manuscript under a tree in the Maine woods for safe-keeping. Much to his chagrin, it doesn’t work. His briefcase is found by a foraging bear who, while not the sharpest tool in the shed, knows that he’s got a hit on his hands—er, paws. Renaming himself Hal Jam, the bear sets off to New York City to take the literary world by storm. The book, Destiny and Desire, has lots of sex and fishing and becomes an instant bestseller. Hal Jam is suddenly a much sought after celebrity, pursued by the literary press, Hollywood agents, and pretty girls. Hal Jam, big, clumsy, often bewildered by his new human identity and confounded by the things people say and do, somehow manages to get along swimmingly—because even though he’s still very much a bear, the people around him see and hear only what they want to see and hear. Meanwhile, old Arthur Bramhall, completely distraught over the loss of his book, has taken refuge in the woods and has begun to exhibit distinctly ursine characteristics. The many outrageous situations that arise from these cases of switched mistaken identity are clever and funny and original. The publishing business is satirized with zest and good humor, as are academics, publicists, agents, and politicians. Author William Kotzwinkle’s varied career includes the E.T.: The Extraterrestrial and his children’s book series about Walter the Farting Dog, making him something of an expert in quirky unconventionality. It’s all in good fun, and The Bear Went Over the Mountain a great deal of fun for the reader.   posted Jan 15, 2010 at 1:52PM

Cover ArtBunnicula : a rabbit-tale of mystery
by Howe, Deborah.
Harold is a dog who takes his work very seriously. He knows how to sit and speak. He knows which member of his family (little brother Toby) is most likely to feed him cupcakes under the table. And, teamed with Chester the cat, Harold knows a bit about detective work. Chester, a bookworm of a feline, is the mastermind crime-solver, but he appears to have met his match one dark and stormy night when the family brings home—a tiny baby rabbit. The little fellow was found in a movie theater during a showing of Dracula (Toby nearly sat on him) and he’s quickly welcomed as a new pet. But soon some suspicious goings-on--Bunnicula sneaking out of his cage, vegetables drained white--lead Chester to suspect that Bunnicula is a vampire in rabbit form. Chester’s attempts to warn the family are hilariously misunderstood, leaving faithful Harold to worry about cat and rabbit alike. Few people have as much personality as the animals in Bunnicula, and husband and wife authors Deborah and James Howe write Harold with good old boy charm and Chester with an irresistible manic energy. Bunnicula proves that dogs, cats, and bunny rabbits knew the popularity and power of vampires long before Twilight and True Blood made blood-suckers trendy. An imaginative spoof on literary legend, Bunnicula is a “rabbit-tale of mystery” that’s been delighting readers of all ages for thirty years.   posted Jan 15, 2010 at 1:51PM

Cover ArtThe white bone : a novel
by Gowdy, Barbara.
In The White Bone, a herd of African elephants face challenges so immense as to dwarf even their hefty bulk. Drought has ravaged the once-rich grasslands and humans hunt them for their ivory tusks with brutal regularity. Young Mud is a female elephant adopted by one herd after her own was wiped out by hunters. Mud has a kind adoptive mother in She-Scares, a best friend in fellow youngster Date Bed, and even something of a love interest in a young bull named Tall Time. In fact, Mud is expecting her first calf. But this potentially joyous occasion is significantly marred when her family is slaughtered by poachers. Mud survives and sets out to find the mythical White Bone, a legendary artifact that will lead the finder to the Safe Place. Her quest is not an easy one for elephant or reader; author Barbara Gowdy doesn’t hold back when describing the violence, tragedy, and despair that accompanies the near-extinction of an entire species. The White Bone is a difficult read in other ways as well; the kinship and names of the members of various herds get complicated at times. Each female of the herd is named She-something, the “something” beginning with the same letter as the matriarch elephant’s name (She-Swaggers, She-Demands); the cow elephants get these names when they reach maturity and before that are known by other names; male bull elephants keep their childhood names; and it takes awhile before the reader is fully immersed in the elephants’ vocabulary (a “big fly” is an ostrich, “hindleggers” are humans) and sense of place in the sub-Sahara deserts. Gowdy’s intention with her detailed family trees and glossaries is to instill her animals with the same intricate histories, families, and memories that people are both blessed and cursed with. Elephants never forget, and Gowdy has gifted her cast of gray-eared giants with so much empathy and emotion that her human readers surely won’t forget, either.   posted Jan 15, 2010 at 1:51PM

Cover ArtThe bears' famous invasion of Sicily
by Buzzati, Dino, 1906-1972.
First published in 1947, author Dino Buzzati’s sprightly fable chronicles a period of forgotten history in Sicily’s ancient and noble past. During an especially frigid winter, starving bears leave their mountain home and come down to the valley, where humans dwell, in search of food and warmth. Led by valiant King Leander (who is also searching for his long-lost bear cub son Tony), handsome Saltpetre, Marzipan the inventor, and sharp-eyed Dandelion, the bears tackle an army of wild boars, ghosts, a sea serpent, the ruthless Grand Duke, and maybe-good maybe-bad Professor Ambrose. This colorful story is further brightened by a wryly intimate and teasing tone, stylish illustrations, a smattering of sweetly rhyming poems, and smartly drawn characters both animal and human. The New York Review Children’s Collection is a series of previously out-of-print children’s books republished and repackaged in attractive editions for new generations to enjoy. The editors picked a real gem with The Bear’s Famous Invasion of Sicily and its remarkable ability to convey adult themes to young readers with subtlety and understanding. Talking animals may be a hallmark of children’s literature, but The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily is a sophisticated, elegant little tale about war, corruption, courage, and humility that is as much intelligent allegory as it is whimsical fairy tale.   posted Jan 15, 2010 at 1:51PM

Cover ArtSlaughterhouse-five : or, The children's crusade : a duty-dance with death
by Vonnegut, Kurt.
Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time. In World War II, Billy was captured by the Germans and sent to the prisoner of war camp in Dresden, Germany. In 1945, Dresden was firebombed by the Allies, killing over one hundred thousand civilians. Billy survives the frantic madness of the P.O.W camp and the panic of the bombing to return to the States and become an optometrist. But the events of the war have knocked something askew in Billy, and for the rest of his life he occasionally pops off to travel through time and space, from the mundane details of family life to his time in a zoo on the planet Tralfamador. The events of Billy’s unorthodox life are not nearly as neat and orderly as this summary of those events; the rapid-fire transfer of Billy from future to past to present would be disorienting for a reader in any the hands of any other author than the indomitable Kurt Vonnegut. But the disjointed vignettes and fragments of Billy’s memories mimic the way the human mind actually works. We can switch from daydream to memory to real life and back again; sometimes the transition is seamless and sometimes we’re jolted out of our thoughts rudely or with force. Based in part of Vonnegut’s own World War II experiences as a prisoner-of-war during the bombing of Dresden, Slaughterhouse-Five has become a classic of war literature as well as a staple of Vonnegut’s oeuvre. With its characteristic and flawless union of satire, humor, and science fiction, Slaughterhouse-Five presents a vivid portrait of this crazy world and the mixed-up life that goes with it.   posted Dec 30, 2009 at 4:02PM

Cover ArtA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court
by Twain, Mark, 1835-1910.
Sometimes all it takes to travel through time is a good old-fashioned bump on the head. Industrial Revolution-era factory worker Hank Morgan is knocked unconscious and wakes up in the year 528. He is less than impressed. Even though he’s surrounded by the stuff of legends—literally, because he’s landed smack dab in the middle of Camelot, complete with King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, Queen Guinevere, and Merlin the Wizard—Morgan sets out to reform the Age of Chivalry. As a time-traveler from a more advanced era, Morgan feels an obligation to bring technology and industry to these backward nobodies. He takes advantage of an upcoming historical eclipse and is soon the leading power at court. Styling himself as “The Boss” and mocking everyone who doesn’t agree with him, Hank Morgan belittles everything about the feudal system, the nobility, and the rules of court. Author Mark Twain uses Morgan’s overbearing, heavy-handed, small-minded approach to “progress” to criticize progress itself—business, religion, technology, industry, and war. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is not just a simple adventure story. It’s Mark Twain at his most cynical, satirical, witty, and wise.   posted Dec 30, 2009 at 4:01PM

Cover ArtThe time traveler's wife : a novel
by Niffenegger, Audrey.
Claire Abshire is passionately in love with Henry De Tamble. She’s known him since she was a girl. When she meets him again as a young woman in Chicago, Claire is ready to begin the romance of her life. But there’s a catch. Henry has a rare genetic condition that causes him to become displaced in time at moments of stress. He suddenly finds himself decades in the past or future, naked and alone, with only the younger or older version of himself in on the secret. The Henry who Claire meets in Chicago hasn’t traveled back to her childhood yet. So he’s confused when beautiful, intelligent Claire approaches him, but certainly intrigued and definitely attracted. The romance of their lives does indeed begin—it just takes a few more years for Henry to catch up to their first meeting. The nuances of Henry’s time traveling are intricate, but richly and delicately narrated in turns by Henry and Claire as they pursue their relationship in the past, present, and future. And despite the complexities of that relationship, the story is always told with heartfelt sincerity and emotion, not to mention a cast of finely-drawn characters and a few surprising twists and turns. The book is a best-seller and a film adaptation is a major motion picture; ultimately, The Time Traveler’s Wife is a classic love story.   posted Dec 30, 2009 at 4:01PM

Cover ArtEinstein's dreams
by Lightman, Alan P., 1948-
Author Alan Lightman is a physics professor at MIT, but you’d think he was a poet from reading the delightfully fable-like Einstein’s Dreams. Albert Einstein has dozed off at his desk in Berne, Switzerland, where he works as patent clerk in 1905. While he sleeps, the future greatest scientist of our time dreams about time. Time has been on his mind a lot lately, because in 1905 Einstein was putting the finishing touches on his theory of relativity, that whole E = MC2 thing. But in his daydreams, the nature of time is lyrical and magical as well as scientific. Each chapter in this little book presents one of Einstein’s visions of time. In one dreamy vignette, time is cyclical, forcing people to constantly relive all the tragic, triumphant, comic, and foolish moments of their lives. In another, time runs backwards; in others, time stands still, or is a sense, or a dimension, or people know the future, or they can stop time and stay in their favorite moments forever. Sometimes Einstein wakes up and goes home and eats dinner, but the young genius (and the reader) always returns to his desk to sit and doze and dream. Thought-provoking and pleasingly unusual, this elegant little tome is a captivating contemplation on the nature of science, fantasy, dreams, and time.   posted Dec 30, 2009 at 4:00PM

Cover ArtTime and again
by Finney, Jack.
What if time travel is all in our heads? In the 1970s, artist Simon Morley has the opportunity to put just such a theory to the test when he is recruited by a top-secret government agency to experiment with time travel. Si is trained to ignore the modern world and to focus exclusively on a specific time and place in the past. When he is fully schooled in the culture of the late Victorian era, Si is installed in one of New York City’s historic architectural landmarks, the Dakota. By immersing himself in the environment, clothing, food, reading material, and lifestyle of a different era, and with the right hypnotic influence at the right moment, Si is expected to be able to walk outside and find himself in Central Park circa 1880. Si is astonished and thrilled when the experiment works. But when his journeys to the past are complicated by romance and a reluctance to cooperate with the agency in charge, his success is severely questioned and everything Si believes in is challenged. This is a finely-wrought story, rich in atmosphere and intimate detail, so the reader is every bit as involved in the experiments and experiences as Si. Time and Again is an early example of an illustrated novel as well; there are pages of photographs of late nineteenth century New York so the reader can actually see what Si sees. Time and Again is as graceful and thoughtful a version of time travel as you will ever have the pleasure to read.   posted Dec 30, 2009 at 4:00PM

Cover ArtThe Eyre affair : a novel
by Fforde, Jasper.
Thursday Next is a hard-headed, soft-hearted woman living in Swindon in an alternate England circa the 1980s. She is a veteran of the hundred-year Crimean War. Her pet, Pickwick, is an early model clone of a dodo bird. Her job involves hunting down criminals who, in this literature-obsessed version of England where citizens take their reading very seriously, can go to jail for forging Shakespearean verse. For a bit of extra cash, Thursday helps destroy the occasional vampire or ghoul. Then, just as Thursday has finally decided to win back her long-lost love Landon Park-Lane, things begin to get interesting. Her uncle Mycroft’s new invention, a Prose Portal that can transport readers into the books they’re reading, is stolen by a criminal mastermind. Soon, one of Thursday’s favorite characters of all time and a beloved heroine of Western literature has gone missing, kidnapped out of her book—Jane Eyre herself is in mortal danger, and only Thursday can save the day. And that’s just the first book. Throughout the rest of her wildly inventive genre-bending books, Thursday maneuvers between the world of fiction and the real world on a series of adventures involving literary characters like Hamlet and the Cheshire Cat, wooly mammoths, mind-controlling villains, Neanderthals, evil corporations bent on global control, and—lest you thought we forgot—time travel. Thursday’s father is an ex-member of an elite team of government agents who specialize in time travel; years ago, he disagreed with his superiors and took refuge in constant time travel. Supposedly eradicated, completely erased from existence, Thursday’s dad still manages to pop up to give her advice, warn her about events to come, or just have a cuppa tea. Zany, wickedly funny, and satirical, The Thursday Next novels are a highly amusing jumble of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery and without a doubt one of the more delightful ways to solve a crime, travel through time, or simple get lost in a good book. Thursday Next Novels by Jasper Fforde 1.The Eyre Affair 2.Lost in a Good Book 3.The Well of Lost Plots 4.Something Rotten 5.First Among Sequels 6.One of Our Thursdays is Missing (due 2010)   posted Dec 30, 2009 at 3:59PM

Cover ArtKindred
by Butler, Octavia E.
In 1976, Dana and her husband Kevin are moving into their new home. Dana is unpacking boxes; then she’s overcome by dizziness and nausea and finds herself watching a little boy drown in a river. Dana acts on instinct and saves the boy. His parents seem angry rather than thankful and slowly but surely Dana realizes that she’s been thrust back in time to the antebellum South of 1816. The boy she’s just saved is her ancestor, Rufus Weylin, and this is perhaps this biggest shock to Dana—because Rufus is the white son of a white slave owner, and Dana is a black woman raised in the future of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power. When Dana returns to 1976 only to be yanked back to the past again a few days later, she realizes she’s being called to, in a way, by Rufus whenever his life is in danger. Dana can’t control how long she stays in the past; only fear of her own life can send her back. At first, it’s easy to be afraid of life as a slave—violence is an appallingly consistent part of life on the Weylin plantation. Dana knows she has to keep Rufus alive until he can father the next generation of their family in order to ensure her own birth in the future. But Rufus seems likely to inherit all the brutal racism and cruelty inherent in his day, and Dana faces some intensely difficult choices. Only an author as purposeful as Octavia E. Butler could so elegantly ask her readers to “See how easily slaves are made?” but that is precisely what Kindred challenges. Kindred features Butler’s customary and realistic treatment of the complicated and complex nuances of race and gender. It presents a strong and forceful female character dealing with impossible circumstances. It asks difficult questions and shows painful truths. None of these things are easy to do, but Kindred is an blend of historical fiction, science fiction, and social commentary that is a force to be reckoned with.   posted Dec 30, 2009 at 3:58PM

Cover ArtA people's history of the United States : 1492-present
by Zinn, Howard, 1922-
If history is written by the winner, then A People’s History of the United States tells the loser’s story. Author Howard Zinn doesn’t tell the usual histories of presidents, war generals, and government institutions. He tells the unknown histories of minorities, women, laborers, and immigrants. It’s the same history, really, just a different—a very different—point of view. Readers realize the arrival of Christopher Columbus from the Native Americans’ perspective; instead of “the Golden Age of Discovery,” the experience is one of betrayal and bloodshed. Readers understand the complexity of the issue of slavery during the Civil War; politics and control being the ultimate goal, not the freedom of thousands of men, women, and children. The real motives behind the Vietnam War are fully discussed instead of being dismissed and passed over in a paragraph or two. This is a history of oppression, persecution, and control, and it is decidedly not the history with the patriotic spirit that we are taught in high school. It is fascinating, complex, provoking, and persuasive. Zinn fully acknowledges that his history is biased, but he points out that the history we are taught is biased, as is all history, since it is written after the fact and generally with a specific motive or agenda in mind. Knowing that bias is there only makes the reading of history more accurate, interesting and realistic, and presenting a bias and a point of view that we rarely do see is very valuable indeed.   posted Dec 24, 2009 at 1:50PM

Cover ArtMy name is Seepeetza
by Sterling, Shirley.
It’s no secret that the United States has a troubled history with its native populations. American Indians/ Native Americans were prejudiced against, warred with, rounded up, stripped of their cultural heritage, and generally given a very raw deal. Sadly, this is not a history specific to this country. A similar story unfolded in Canada at the same time, and My Name is Seepeetza is a tale about the results of that history. Beginning in the 1940s, the Canadian government forced its native people to send their children to residential boarding schools. The goal was to teach these children how to become “civilized” members of “white society.” They were forbidden to practice their cultural traditions, speak in their native languages, or use their own names. The means to enforce this “civilization” were not gentle. Seepeetza, our young narrator, is renamed Martha at her school in British Columbia in the 1950s. Beaten if she speaks “Indian,” absued and looked down upon by her teachers, picked on by older students, and only allowed to return home for a few months in the summer, Seepeetza’s childhood is a decidedly difficult one. Her story is highly autobiographical; author Shirley Sterling is a member of the Nlakapamux First Nation of the Interior Salish tribal group in British Columbia and spent her own formative years at a residential school. The Canadian government closer the last of these schools in the 1990s and has since made reconciliation efforts with the country’s Native American population, but it’s a chapter in history that any country would be loathe to dwell on (the United States used similar schools to “reform” Native Americans). The strength of My Name is Seepeetza lies in its childish voice. Seepeetza is bewildered and afraid; she longs for home but also has a desire to please her superiors at the school. It’s a difficult conflict with no easy solution, and that makes it a history well worth learning.   posted Dec 24, 2009 at 1:32PM

Cover ArtDear Miss Breed : true stories of the Japanese American incarceration during Wor
by Oppenheim, Joanne.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese in 1941, attitudes towards Japanese Americans turned very ugly indeed. In 1942, the U.S. government made the decision to round up all people of Japanese origin and descent on the west coast and place them in “relocation camps” for the duration of World War II. For three years thousands of people, many of them American citizens, were crowded together because of their race, even forced to cram their family members and all their possessions into horse stalls at converted racetracks. For all that, not a single Japanese American was ever found to be involved in any anti-American war effort. In San Diego, a public librarian named Clara Breed was devoted to her young patrons. When the orders came for Japanese American families to pack up and leave their homes, Miss Breed responded with characteristic generosity and support. Exchanging letters with “her children,” Miss Breed sent supplies, treats, and above all, books to the internment camps to keep up the spirits of the young people whose lives were indefinitely on hold. Author Joanne Oppenheim presents a book chock-full of research supported by the real letters and lives of Miss Breed and the youngsters who wrote to her. The life of forced deprivation and humiliation in the camps is highlighted, but it is the determined attempts of Miss Breed’s teenage friends to make the best of any situation that stands out as exemplary. The optimism of these young people contrasts dramatically with the shameful treatment they received, driving home the message that racism is never acceptable and giving voices back to victims. Dear Miss Breed is not only a unique resource about this period in American history, but it is an excellent read as well.   posted Dec 24, 2009 at 1:31PM

Cover ArtBarefoot Gen. [Volume one], A cartoon story of Hiroshima
by Nakazawa, Keiji.
The United States is the only country to have used nuclear weapons. Knowing what we know today about the effects of nuclear warfare, it’s not something to be proud of, and the world’s nations have been very careful not to let it happen again. Author Keiji Nakazawa is a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb and Barefoot Gen is his fictionalized autobiography of that survival. Gen is a young boy living in Hiroshima, Japan with his family during the final days of World War II. The war effort has taken its toll on the Japanese economy and Gen’s family is poor. Gen and his little brother pretend to be orphaned beggars to keep their pregnant mother from becoming malnourished. Gen’s father has opposed the war which makes the family unpopular with their neighbors and with local government and law enforcement. When the children get excited over a few meager scraps of food, their parents are filled with guilt and shame which they, Gen’s father especially, tend to take out on the kids. It’s not an ideal family situation for sure, but readers won’t be able to resist precocious Gen as he runs amuck through the streets of the city while his little brother tags along. This, of course, makes it all the more difficult to accept what is coming: a new form of violent warfare that the world has never seen the likes of before, the near-total destruction of a thriving city, and the deaths of thousands of men, women, and children. Barefoot Gen is a multi-volume graphic novel series and an early example of Japanese manga; the following books continue Gen’s story after the bombing as he struggles to get by in a world that is forever and horribly changed. The comic-strip format is highly effective here, and not just for the shock value of showing terrifying events that words cannot describe. Nakazawa’s drawings show a time and a place that the Western world is not familiar with. The contrast between the everyday struggles of a simple family and the horrors they are about to undergo is a compelling lesson in compassion and humanity.   posted Dec 24, 2009 at 1:30PM

Cover ArtThe rabbits
by Marsden, John, 1950-
The Rabbits is a picture book, but it is a beautiful and sophisticated picture book, the kind that can be read and reread from age eight to eighty. The story begins when a ship full of white rabbits arrives on a faraway shore with black muskets and other strange, wondrous technologies. The rabbits come to take rather than give, and to the marsupial-like inhabitants who have lived for generations in harmony with nature, the rabbits are terrifying indeed as they chop down trees, construct factories, and alter the land to suit their own purposes. Out of fear and anger, especially after their children are taken, the marsupials rise in rebellion against the rabbits, but by then it is too late—the rabbits are too many, the marsupials are too few, and the damage is done. Author John Marsden and illustrator Shaun Tan are from the land Down Under, and their story is an allegory for the settlement of Australia and the destruction of the aboriginal people at the hands of the self-righteous European settlers in the 19th century. The story of colonization in the supposed name of progress and civilization is a common one that can apply to the histories of many nations, but the “stolen children” relates the tale of The Rabbits directly to Australia’s past, when aboriginal children (known as the “Stolen Generation”) were taken and given to white families to be raised. It’s a mature theme indeed, highlighted by Tan’s gorgeous, highly-stylized, intricate paintings of canon-wielding rabbits in high-colored imperialist garb marching to overcome the sand-colored marsupials armed only with their spears and their sense of right. The Rabbits is a complex history presented in a way that is child-like in its telling and elegant in its presentation. This story book is no fairy tale, and that means its powerful message hits home with eloquence and compassion.   posted Dec 24, 2009 at 1:29PM

Cover ArtLies my teacher told me : everything your American history textbook got wrong
by Loewen, James W.
Author James W. Loewen, a sociology professor at the University of Vermont, has dedicated much of his career to exposing the inaccuracies of history textbooks used in schools across the country. In Lies My Teacher Told Me, written in 1994 and updated in 2007, Loewen exposes those inadequacies for the world to see. The bottom line is that students are not being told or taught the truth. History is taught as mythology. The point of view is almost entirely Eurocentric. Primary sources are rarely consulted by the authors of history textbooks. There are more specific faults as well: More time in classrooms is devoted to the War of 1812 than to America’s longest war, Vietnam. Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of America included the extermination of the Arawak culture. History teachers rarely manage to teach any event after 1970. With titles like Land of Promise, The American Way, and The American Adventure, these texts imply that the history of the United States is one where America is right all the time and can solve all its problems. History texts don’t teach about indigenous peoples’ struggles against their colonizing powers. The alternative points of view of America’s enemies or victims are rarely heard. And yet, as the other books on this booklist prove, these voices should be heard. America is not a perfect nation; knowing that won’t keep students from loving their country. In fact, understanding how America has learned from the mistakes of the past can only inspire its citizens to keep trying to improve for the future. Lies My Teacher Told Me is the ideal read for anyone who ever fell asleep in history class and for every discerning, critical reader who knows there’s more to the story than meets the eye.   posted Dec 24, 2009 at 1:28PM

Cover ArtThe surrender tree : poems of Cuba's struggle for freedom
by Engle, Margarita.
For many of us in the United States, Cuban history begins and ends in the late 20th century with the Cuban Missile Crisis and Fidel Castro. But the real revolution took place when Cuba fought for freedom from the colonizing power of Spain. In 1868, a few Cuban plantation owners freed their slaves and declared independence. For the next three decades, the island was wracked by near-constant warfare. From the turmoil emerges Rosa, a slave-turned-healer who spends the tumultuous years of the war hiding in the jungle and healing anyone and everyone—runway slaves, Cuban rebels, Spanish soldiers (many who change sides after Rosa helps them) and even the legendary Lieutenant Death, the son of a slave hunter and Rosa’s most feared foe. Rosa and her husband José camp out in make-shift hospitals in huts and caves, constantly on the move but always connected to the land by the plants, flowers, and herbs that Rosa uses as medicine. Rosa, José, Lieutenant Death, and others like Spain’s General Weyler, who in 1896 called for all Cuban peasants to be herded into “reconcentration camps,” and Silvia, a young girl who escapes from one of Weyler’s death camps, take turns telling the story from their own point of view. The subtitle of this book is Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, but don’t let that fool you if you’re not a poetry reader. Told in free verse (a style that doesn’t rhyme and focuses instead on a realistic rhythm), every poem is a glimmer of light into this little-known struggle for freedom. The novel becomes an interwoven, haunting tale of brutal tragedy, quiet triumph, and above all, the story of Cuba. Author Margarita Engle writes about real historical figures, though she takes a few liberties to weave a more completely unified story. In the end, she tells a powerful story in an elegant style to create a work that won her a Newbery Honor (the first Latino author to do so), a Pura Belpré Award (for Latino authors and illustrators), and a Jane Addams Award (for children’s books that promote peace, equality, and social justice). The Surrender Tree is a book that should be ignored by no audience.   posted Dec 24, 2009 at 1:26PM

Cover ArtHitler Youth : growing up in Hitler's shadow
by Bartoletti, Susan Campbell.
Holocaust literature is over-flowing with poignant stories of survival from Jewish survivors and non-Jews who resisted the German war machine. The Nazi point of view is less represented, and to no surprise—Hitler’s crimes rank among the worst committed against humanity and his beliefs are difficult, to say the least, to discuss in depth. But author Susan Campbell Bartoletti accomplishes just that by focusing her Newbery Award-winning nonfiction book on the Hitler Youth. Hitler depended greatly on the German youth, whom he seduced into his service with camping trips and nature hikes before inundating them with Nazi propaganda. The Hitler Youth appeared to offer the chance for youngsters to rebel against authority and strike out on their own, but Hitler intended to mold his Aryan youth into zealots wildly devoted to his cause, and he was successful. At its peak seven million boys and girls belonged and former Hitler Youth members served in Hitler’s highest military and advisory ranks. Soon the tenants of Nazism were part of the curriculum in Germany’s schools and participation in the Hitler Youth was required by Nazi law. Bartoletti presents this forced “education” as nothing short of brainwashing. It’s not an excuse for the Nazis’ crimes, but it is a lens through which to understand the German children who grew up under Hitler’s influence. The book centers around the lives of real kids involved in the Hitler Youth, from those fanatically devoted to Hitler’s cause to those who resisted and rebelled (particularly compelling is the story of young members of the White Rose, who were executed for their crimes against the Führer). This is nonfiction writing at its best—crisp prose, real testimonies, original documents, archival photographs, and varying points of view used in harmony to shed light on difficult truths.   posted Dec 24, 2009 at 1:26PM

Cover ArtThe Pox party
by Anderson, M. T.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is a novel in two volumes that explores the American Revolution from a new point-of-view: that of an African American boy. When the founding fathers declared independence from British rule, they did so in the name of freedom from oppression. This is certainly something of a hypocrisy when you consider that the grand notion of freedom did not extend to the large population of African slaves who also called America their home. Octavian is a young boy living in Boston on the eve of the revolution. Raised in near-isolation by a strange group of philosophers and scientists, Octavian receives a classical education of the finest order. Despite his privileged childhood, there’s a carefully guarded secret regarding this boy and when that secret is one day revealed, Octavian is horrified. He rebels against the men who have cared for him, only to find that his unusual upbringing has left him woefully unprepared to meet the prejudices of the real world. Octavian finds himself in the unique position of being forced to face a frightening future even while grappling with the terrors of his past—and with no time to linger in the present. There is a war on, after all, and Octavian must choose the lesser of two evils—the ruling British or the rebelling Americans, both of whom are making promises that all parties know can’t be kept. Author M.T. Anderson presents a way of life and a set of characters that don’t know the outcome of the Colonies’ war with England, and that have some very difficult choices to make. Anderson tells Octavian’s history in a forthright, intimate voice with no frills attached, and it is a story that the reader will feel utterly compelled to explore. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation asks a new set of questions about the history we thought we knew, questions that are worth asking whether we took American History last year or last decade.   posted Dec 24, 2009 at 1:25PM

Cover ArtLost in Austen : create your own Jane Austen adventure
by Campbell Webster, Emma.
Your name: Elizabeth Bennett. Your mission: Marry for love and money. Your means: Nothing more than your wit and charm, of course, and a handy book called Lost in Austen. In the grand tradition of both Jane Austen and those old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books from your youth, author Emma Campbell Webster brings us a romantic adventure that combines the two. You begin firmly rooted in Pride and Prejudice; a few twists and turns can land you in the city of Bath à la Persuasion, win you a stay in the mansions of Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park, and bring you into contact with rogues like Sense and Sensibility’s Mr. Willoughby or dreamboats like Emma’s Mr. Knightley. Mr. Darcy is the ultimate catch, of course, and the goal is harder than you think—you win and lose points based on your decisions that add or subtract to your various charms and therefore your eligibility as a suitable match. Whether you end up happily ever after with Captain Wentworth or get sent north in disgrace with Mr. Wickham, Lost in Austen is fantastic fun, and certainly one of the most creative ways to channel the magnificent Jane Austen, who is surely spinning in her grave at the inventiveness of this latest reincarnation of her ever-popular work.   posted Dec 18, 2009 at 2:37PM

Cover ArtMarch : a novel
by Brooks, Geraldine.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is an episodic, allegorical novel about the life lessons learned by a quartet of sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March—living in New England in the mid-1800s. Their father is away fighting in the Civil War; the girls draw strength from their mother, Marmee. Little Women is pleasant and wholesome, domestic and sweet. March--which author Geraldine Brooks images from father March’s point of view--is not. Mr. March is idealistic man whose naïve trust in the goodness of his fellow men has left him and his family broke. When he joins the Union Army as a chaplain, he’s an ineffectual leader. A seeming indiscretion with a nurse lands him at a plantation managing newly freed slaves. Mr. March’s letters home are cheerful, but to us readers he shows the brutality of war, the cruelty of racism, and the weakness of men. He reveals his past history, including his friendships with scholars like Emerson and Thoreau and his courtship with Marmee, but when he falls ill the narrations switches and readers get Mrs. March’s varying side of the story. Brooks based the character of Mr. March on that of Louisa May Alcott’s own father; the research into the lives and times of the characters rings clear. Brooks paints a portrait of competing loyalties between husband and wife, duty and desire, right and wrong, North and South that is both poignant and true. March turns the light-hearted charm of Little Women on its head and delivers an introspective work that can stand solidly on its own.   posted Dec 18, 2009 at 2:36PM

Cover ArtMaster and commander
by O'Brian, Patrick, 1914-2000.
Patrick O’Brian’s Captain Jack Aubrey is the direct descendent of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower. Aubrey is another British naval officer during the Napoleonic era with a multi-book series, but O’Brian is writing seven decades later and focusing as much on the development of the friendship between Captain Aubrey and Dr. Steven Maturin as he does on sea-faring adventure and historical detail. Readers love Aubrey and Maturin and their series has been compared in terms of depth and complexity to the works of Jane Austen and Tolstoy. Aubrey and Maturin feature in almost twenty books, beginning with Master and Commander, and each book is another adventure in their lives and the lives of their ship and crew. In this first novel, Aubrey has just received his first command onboard the man-of-war Sophie. Along with ship’s physician Maturin, Aubrey sets sail to accompany a convoy of merchant vessels and then to patrol independently for enemy ships from Spain and France. The Sophie is a bit out-of-date, but Aubrey is eager to improve his ship and his crew is determined to prove their mettle. Maturin has never sailed before; author Patrick O’Brian uses his inexperience to fill in the gaps about life on board a warship in the 18th century for the reader as well. The result is a series of novels in which historical fast is seamlessly intertwined with superior plotting and subtle character development. Rich with details about the characters, their way of life at sea in wartime, and the times they live in, O’Brian’s nautical novels are deeply satisfying reads on land or at sea.   posted Dec 14, 2009 at 2:40PM

Cover ArtLife of Pi : a novel
by Martel, Yann.
It’s one thing to be shipwrecked and cast out to see in a small lifeboat. It’s another thing entirely if your only surviving shipmate is a 450-pound tiger named Richard Parker who takes up most of the lifeboat. Yet this is exactly the situation a young boy named Pi Patel faces when his ship, carrying his emigrating zookeeper family and a few select members of their menagerie from India to Canada, burns and sinks. For the rest of the book, we’re left with four characters—young Pi, who has to keep the tiger happy to keep himself alive; the tiger, completely at a loss when it comes to life at sea but still ferociously hungry; the twenty-two-foot boat they live on; and the relentless open sea. Pi is a curious, clever boy who has adopted several of the world’s major religions—Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism—as his own. Pi will need all his wits, knowledge, and faith to stay alive as his boat drifts across the sea, but his ordeal and his bright, sharp observations make the outlandish story real and memorable. Blurring the line between stark reality and wishful thinking, Life of Pi is a modern fable and a storytelling marvel.   posted Dec 14, 2009 at 2:40PM

Cover ArtThe African Queen
by Forester, C. S. 1899-1966.
You might know The African Queen as an excellent old movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. This is the book that film is based on, and it’s every bit as good even without Bogie and Kate. They play Charlie Allnutt and Rose Sayer, a burned-out trader with a beat-up old steamboat and a stern, no-nonsense missionary’s sister. Rose is indignant with anger at the World War I German threat to the British way of life (even in the heart of the African jungle), and Mr. Allnutt is the unlucky fellow who gets roped into her outrageous plan. But first, they have to get their boat, the African Queen, down the river past rapids, waterfalls, malaria-ridden swamps, and German outposts. They also have to get to know each other—alone, in the jungle, on a rickety old boat. C.S. Forester knows boats and adventure, and what’s more, he knows character, dialogue, and human nature. The film’s pairing of Bogart of Hepburn is excellent and the novel has hidden depths that Hollywood left out; together, the book and film are excellent companions. Try them both.   posted Dec 14, 2009 at 2:22PM

Cover ArtA history of the world in 10 1/2 chapters
by Barnes, Julian.
It’s amazing how many histories of the world can be conveyed through trips and journeys, but that’s precisely what author Julian Barnes does here in A History of the World in 10½ Chapters. Not every chapter is about a nautical voyage, but some of the most compelling include a stowaway’s point-of-view on Noah’s Ark, the hijacking of a tourist yacht by pirate-like terrorists, a desperate woman’s attempt to escape on a raft from a world of radioactive fallout, a meditation on the historical events and painted depiction of the wreck of an 18th century ship called the Medusa, and an American astronaut’s search for Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat. The stories are often only connected by apparent chance; the so-called patterns of history are little more than coincidental connections and random links. But the voices from these chapters echo loud and strong, providing a thought-provoking, unconventional, and utterly original set of stories.   posted Dec 14, 2009 at 2:22PM

Cover ArtThe Endurance : Shackleton's legendary Antarctic expedition
by Alexander, Caroline, 1956-
In 1914, Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition left port for the South Pole. Led by renowned polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, this crew of twenty-seven men lived aboard the Endurance, a fine ship specially made to withstand the heavy iceberg-filled seas of the southern hemisphere. Their goal was to be the first men to cross Antarctica on foot, a final accomplishment to cement Britain’s reputation and to boost moral when World War I was fast approaching. They didn’t make it. The ice-cold seas of the south closed in and froze solid around the Endurance, eventually crushing the ship to splinters and leaving the crew adrift on the ice floes—until the weather got warmer, and the ice started to melt. Even if the crew reached land, they were still thousands of miles from even the most remote outpost of civilization—with only a couple of barely sea-worthy life boats to their names. Author Caroline Alexander brilliantly re-creates Shackleton’s journey through historical accounts, first-hand accounts from journals and expedition records, and lots and lots of striking photographs (previously unpublished) taken by ship’s photographer Frank Hurley. All the crew members emerge fully-fledged, with personalities, strengths, and weaknesses that make them entirely real characters with whom readers will feel a true camaraderie and sense of adventure.   posted Dec 14, 2009 at 2:22PM

Cover ArtInkheart
by Funke, Cornelia Caroline.
Twelve-year-old Meggie lives a near-perfect life with her bookbinder father, Mo. Meggie’s mother disappeared years ago, but Meggie and Mo have coped by indulging in a mutual love of books. This calm and comfortable lifestyle is suddenly threatened one dark and stormy night. A stranger, calling himself Dustfinger, shows up to consult with Mo and, to put it frankly, scares the beejeezus out of Meggie. There’s more disturbing news when she realizes her father has been keeping a pretty big secret: Mo has the power to read books to life. When Meggie’s mild-mannered father reads out loud, the characters come leaping off the pages and into real life. An ill-fated reading nine years ago from a book called Inkheart created a villain named Capricorn, who wants his copy back from Mo and will stop at nothing to keep from being read back into fiction. It’s an imaginative, complex blend of fantasy that’s worthy of the dramatic clash between Muggles and magic in Harry Potter, especially with multilayered characters like tragic Dustfinger, creepy-cruel Capricorn, and intrepid Meggie, our young heroine who has a few tricks of her own tricks up her sleeves. This is a book about books in the best sense, with a mysteriously cozy atmosphere, lots of literary references, and fantasy galore. Getting lost (literally!) in a book has never been so magical.   posted Dec 4, 2009 at 2:07PM

Cover ArtThe knife of never letting go
by Ness, Patrick, 1971-
When things got real bad, a few pioneers left the messy Old World (Earth) and resettled on New World. They were in search of a fresh start, a simpler way of life, but they were in for one hell of a shock--an alien race already in residence. The human settlers were able to win the war for their new home pretty easily, but not before the aliens released a virus that made the men able to hear each other's thoughts and killed the women. All this is ancient history to young Todd, who was born on New World and has only ever known a life among the leftover men of Prentisstown and the unending, chaotic Noise of thought that accompanies them. But just as Todd is on the cusp of the birthday that will make him officially a man, he uncovers a secret so shocking that everything he knows to be true is called into question. Now Todd, his faithful dog Manchee, and a surprise visitor are running for their lives from the men of Prentisstown. And don't forget: Todd's enemies can hear every thought in his head--and those of his little dog, too. This is one of the most gut-wrenching, brutal dystopias out there. Author Patrick Ness writes an action-packed punch of a novel that just about breaks your heart--but he always keeps just a tantalizing glimmer of hope dangling to keep you reading, and the drama is well worth it. The cliff hanger at the end of the book is so gripping that you're not going to want to spare even one second--make sure you have book two (The Ask and the Answer) close at hand.   posted Dec 3, 2009 at 5:45PM

Cover ArtThe ruby in the smoke
by Pullman, Philip, 1946-
On a cold afternoon in 1872, sixteen-year-old Sally Lockhart walks into her deceased father’s London office. By the time she walks out again, young Sally is deep in a compelling mystery fraught with murder, betrayal, deception, cursed jewels, secrets from the distant past, and a whole crew of Victorian scalawags and villains. There’s more to her father’s death than meets the eye. A horrifyingly creepy old woman is out for Sally’s blood. A mysterious message warns Sally of something called the Seven Blessings. Danger lurks around every corner and Sally herself is the key to unlocking all the intertwining mysteries that threaten her very life. But Sally is nothing if not resourceful, and with a few colorful friends of her own (including Frederick Garland, a charming young photographer), our intrepid heroine sets out to right wrongs and uncover truths. Like many Victorian creations of modern authors, Sally is a very determined young woman with no intention of bowing to the conventions of her day. But Sally is also very much alone in the world, and what she really needs is a few kindred spirits who understand and appreciate her unique qualities. The reader, needless to say, becomes Sally’s ally right away. Author Philip Pullman, best known for the intricate fantasy worlds of His Dark Materials trilogy, knows full well how to create a hero who his readers will follow through thick and thin; he also knows the subtle and masterful art of spinning a good old-fashioned rip-roaring adventure story. As the series continues, Sally continues to build a new life for herself—and solves a whole mess of thrilling, chilling, bump-in-the-night mysteries while she’s at it.   posted Nov 27, 2009 at 7:05PM

Cover ArtThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
by Moore, Alan, 1953-
The Victorian Age saw the creation of some of the most famous characters in Western literature: Captain Nemo, usually found in his mythical ship 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Allan Quartermain, the adventurer who discovered King Solomon’s Mines; Mina Murray, the heroine who barely escaped from Dracula; Hawley Griffin, the original Invisible Man himself; Henry Jekyll and his alter ego, better known as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Comics genius Alan Moore collects them all here and turns them into team of superheroes who use their unique capabilities, powers, and experiences to save England from the clutches of a mysterious madman. The year is 1898, and the heroes have been gathered together in London from all corners of the globe by the head of the Secret Service. They’re a rough-and-tumble bunch, flawed and washed-up, but when a criminal mastermind threatens to firebomb London’s East End and bring down the British Empire, these 19th century characters come to life and rally to the rescue. The illustrations are as bright and action-packed as anything out of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or Moore’s own comic masterpiece The Watchmen. Originally published as individual comic book issues and then collected into two volumes, Moore and his team of artists at DC Comics created two additional adventures, The Black Dossier and Century 1910. Together, the series is as chock-full of superhero-style action, danger, gore, and derring-do as it is of historical detail, literary references, and Victorian flair. A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is another genre-buster that proves just how much mystery and adventure can be packed into one fantastic era.   posted Nov 27, 2009 at 7:04PM

Cover ArtSoulless
by Carriger, Gail
Almost everything about Alexia Tarabotti goes against the grain of Victorian society. Her deceased father was Italian (dreaded foreigner). Her looks are swarthy, full figured, and big nosed (not a delicate English rose). Unattached at age twenty-six, she’s considered unmarriageable (spinster). Plus, she’s soulless. She still has a personality and feelings and all that, she’s just lacking a soul. This is very rare and a carefully kept secret in Alexia’s day and age, even though in this alternate history Victorian England has fully accepted the society of vampires and werewolves. Vampires live in hives and werewolves live in packs; members of both supernatural groups hold high positions in the government and in the aristocracy. So when Alexia comes across a vampire at a ball one evening, she’s not at all surprised. She is quite taken aback, however, when the vampire launches himself at her, fangs drawn, without so much as a formal introduction. Alexia defends herself with her handy parasol and ends up an accidental murderess. When Bureau of Unnatural Registry official/ Alpha werewolf Lord Conall Maccon shows up to investigate, Alexia is launched into a world of mystery and intrigue that involves newly made vampires, vanishing werewolves, preternatural powers caused by her own soulless state, and a relationship with Lord Maccon that blossoms—when the two aren’t bickering. Alexia is a delightfully fresh and funny character, wielding her parasol, sleuthing in a not-so-subtle manner, and ready to defy convention at every turn--especially if convention gets in the way of a platter of treacle tarts. Author Gail Carriger has a fine sense of humor and creates a witty parody that takes the genres of fantasy, mystery, romance, historical fiction, screwball comedy, and steampunk and stands them on their head in an entirely original fashion.   posted Nov 27, 2009 at 7:03PM

Cover ArtA great and terrible beauty
by Bray, Libba.
When A Great and Terrible Beauty opens, Gemma Doyle is an unruly, bratty teenager throwing a bit of a tantrum—not quite the proper Victorian lady we’d expect. Gemma has grown up in India and even though the country is firmly under the Empire’s thumb, she longs to experience England. Her mother forbids this, but Gemma is about to get her wish. Walking in the marketplace, Gemma is overcome by a vision that foretells her mother’s death—a vision that comes suddenly and violently true. Guilt-ridden and bereft, Gemma is sent to Spence Academy, a boarding school in fashionable London. And not only is she snubbed by the beautiful, popular girls and her dumpy roommate alike, but mystery has followed her as well. An unknown young man from India spies on her and even more bewildering, the visions haven’t stopped. Despite her grief, Gemma is not one to shirk adventure. She knows she’s on the verge of a great discovery, especially after she finds an old diary that hints at a mystical society called The Order. Gemma makes an uneasy alliance with the most influential Spence girls and together these young ladies begin to explore the sort of power and mystery that is normally forbidden to the standard meek Victorian woman. And once Gemma and her fellows have tasted that power, they’re determined never to go back to the life of mild gentility they’ve being trained to accept. Fans of supernatural romance like the ever-popular Twilight Saga will be drawn to Gemma and to the otherworldy flavor of her adventure. Equal parts mystery, horror, fantasy, and historical fiction, with a dash of forbidden romance thrown in, this trilogy from author Libba Bray is a decidedly original take on the Victorian Age.   posted Nov 27, 2009 at 7:03PM

Cover ArtThe curious incident of the dog in the night-time
by Haddon, Mark.
At fifteen years old, narrator Christopher Boone may be pushing the boundaries of childhood. But Christopher is also autistic, which means he’s even more socially awkward and emotionally distant than the average kid on the verge of adolescence. Christopher screams when he’s touched, refuses to eat brown or yellow foods, and takes everything at its face value. But he also copes extremely well (usually by doing math problems to relax) and when he is falsely accused of murdering his neighbor’s dog, Christopher’s supposed disability proves to be the best deductive tool of all. Armed with his innate (and at times obsessive) sense of logic, Christopher writes a book in order to solve the case. The result is a sparkling clear account of Christopher’s life, from his parents’ failed marriage to his own compulsions to the mysteries of his neighborhood to real insights into this boy’s unusual and unique view of the world. Christopher may not be able to understand anyone else’s emotions, but readers will feel very strongly about this truly authentic, even ground-breaking child narrator and his story.   posted Nov 20, 2009 at 5:27PM

Cover ArtExtremely loud & incredibly close
by Foer, Jonathan Safran, 1977-
In his bestselling debut novel Everything is Illuminated, author Jonathon Safran Foer told a tragic-comic tale about a dark period—World War II and the Holocaust. In his follow-up bestseller Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Foer does the same with a tragedy from the more recent past. His new hero, Oskar Schell, is the nine-year-old son of a man who died in the September 11th attacks at the World Trade Center. Struggling with his loss, Oskar maintains an offbeat sense of humor and an insatiable curiosity. When he finds a mysterious key in an envelope labeled “Black” in his father’s closet, Oskar sets out on a journey through New York City to interview every person with that last name—all 262 of them. As Oskar meets quirky character after quirky character, his story merges with those of his grandparents—his clinging, hoping grandmother who lives across the street and his long-absent, mute grandfather who survived a tragic event of his own. Oskar is aided on his journey by his many hobbies, including inventing, starring in Shakespearean plays, and letter-writing. He’s a brainy, daydreaming, worrywart whose story is scattered with black and white photographs, slangy kid-speak, and inventive uses of text like a two-page apology typed in numerical code. Jonathon Safran Foer is an extremely inventive and incredibly original writer, and sad though his story is at times (and there’s beauty there too), young Oskar is an irresistible narrator.   posted Nov 20, 2009 at 5:27PM

Cover ArtBlankets : an illustrated novel
by Thompson, Craig, 1975-
Young Craig and his kid brother share a bed in their attic bedroom. Sometimes their battle over who gets the biggest share of bed and blankets brings the wrath of their strict father down upon them. Fear of punishment is usually enough to end the sibling rivalry (though it’s always ignited again later; boys being boys and brothers being brothers), and the siblings are often united by their mutual love of drawing and the attacks by bullies that plague them both at school. Still, this is no charmed family portrait. Craig’s parents are conservative Christians who believe that their son’s penchant for art will lead him down the road to hell. The boys are brought up to fear God and to feel guilt over even the smallest and most common of boyish sins. Craig is the designated high school outcast and (lucky boy) he gets to maintain that role at summer church camp too—until he meets Raina, beautiful, spiritual, kind, and complicated. The two strike up a relationship, a romance for the ages that has clearly haunted the artist Craig Thompson well into his adult life. Thompson relives his first love in poignant and painful detail accompanied by crisp, clear black-and-white drawings that are wonderfully expressive and dramatic, but never overly sentimental. The clash between what you’re brought up to believe and what you come to believe on your own, through your own experiences, is dealt with sensitively, realistically, and with the kind of emotion that every reader can relate to.   posted Nov 13, 2009 at 2:32PM

Cover ArtEpileptic
by B., David, 1959-
David B. was born Pierre-François. He grew up in France in the 1960s and 70s with his mother, father, older brother Jean-Cristophe and little sister Florence. The siblings played in the alleys and streets with the neighborhood kids; life was normal. Then, one day when Pierre-François is nine years old, eleven-year-old Jean-Cristophe suffers a grand mal epileptic seizure in the street. The family is changed forever, and together they set out on an endless search for something—anything—that will cure Jean-Cristophe. The journey is not pretty. Not only are Jean-Cristophe’s seizures debilitating and awful to behold, but the possibilities of a genuine cure are slim. A horrific surgery is rejected for a stint with an extreme macrobiotic cult; spiritualists consult with the dead, who are supposed to deliver a miracle cure; doctors, philosophers, psychiatrists, intellectuals, and religious leaders are consulted as a last resort that can never really be the final attempt. The family is often treated with cruelty; time and time again they are filled with false hopes by quacks and charlatans who take advantage of their desperation. Ultimately nothing works, but the years of hoping and trying take their toll. Young Pierre-François protects himself from the chaos of his brother’s condition with homemade suits of armor, books about long-ago heroes of war, imaginary friends and ghosts, and epic drawings that depict scenes of ferocious and violent battles. Pierre-François’ artistic outlet becomes David B.’s masterpiece. The book is brilliantly drawn in heavy blacks and whites that go beyond mere representation to show thoughts, dreams, even metaphors. The characters are fully-fleshed out and true (subplots involve both sets of grandparents and their involvements in both World Wars) and the story is sophisticated and intense, making Epileptic a real work of art.   posted Nov 13, 2009 at 2:30PM

Cover ArtThe alchemyst
by Scott, Michael, 1959-
In Harry Potter’s world, fifteen-year-old twins Josh and Sophie Newman would be regular Muggles, just a couple of normal kids spending the summer with their aunt in San Francisco and working odd jobs to save money for a car of their own, completely oblivious to any magical occurrences. Until, that is, a creepy little man leading an army of tough guys made out of mud bursts into the bookstore where Josh works, kidnaps the bookstore owner’s wife, and makes off with one very particular book. Then Josh and Sophie are swept into a world of magic and legend because, to their surprise and awe, the bookstore owner is none other than Nicholas Flamel, amateur magician, expert alchemyst (meaning he can turns coal into silver, metal into gold, and brew a potion that results in eternal youth), and six-hundred-plus-years-old. The creepy little guy is evil Dr. John Dee and the wife is the good and lovely Perenelle Flamel, both just as long-lived and uniquely skilled as Nick Flamel. The stolen book, however, is more powerful than the three of them combined. It’s the ancient Codex, containing all the magical and scientific secrets of the ages, and in the wrong hands (like those of Dr. Dee) it’s a dangerous tool in the extreme. Josh and Sophie are more than mere witnesses to this sudden magical display in the middle of the city; the twins just might be the key to a legend that predicts the outcome of a coming battle between eons-old forces of good and evil. Time is running out and Sophie and Josh need some magical training ASAP. If more immortal potion isn’t brewed soon, Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel will die and the good guys will lose a couple of very valuable allies. Throwing everyday kids into magical happenings is a common plot device by now, but by bringing old legends to life (including many much older than the fact-based fourteenth century story of Nicholas Flamel) and letting the reader view them through the eyes of a couple of kids who are very attached to their cell phones, ipods, and Internet access, author Michael Scott succeeds in breathing new life into a familiar tale. The pace is fast, the story is action-packed, the fantasy is inventive, and it all ends on a cliffhanger. This is a series that’s still very much in the works; the third book was just released this year and the fourth installment is due in May of 2010.   posted Oct 31, 2009 at 5:47PM

Cover ArtCatching fire
by Collins, Suzanne.
Against all odds, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen won the Hunger Games, the forced battle-to-the-death between twenty-four children from the twelve districts of Panem (the nation formerly known as the United States of America). The Capital holds the Hunger Games every year to remind its citizens of a long-ago failed rebellion, and to make sure the people know exactly who is in charge of not only their lives, but their children's lives as well. Katniss wants nothing more than to get back to ordinary life, living with her mother and sister and hunting with her stoic friend Gale, but Katniss' win was too unconventional to go unnoticed. To save herself and Peeta, the boy from her district who was also chosen to compete, Katniss pretended to fall in love with Peeta, and that lie broke all the rules. Now Katniss has the attention of the Capital officials and the long-suffering people, and both sides are waiting to see what Katniss will do next. Will she toe the Capital line to ensure the safety of her friends and family, or will she use her rebellion in the Games to spark something bigger? Katniss herself has no idea, but a heart-wrenching tour of the outlying districts and a horrific surprise from the Capital will make up her mind if nothing else does. Katniss will have to decide what the consequences of her win will be, and whether or not those consequences can change things for the better or the worse. Catching Fire is the second book in author Suzanne Collin's new trilogy. The first book, 2008's The Hunger Games, focused on Katniss' desperate and action-packed fight for survival. Catching Fire picks up where The Hunger Games left off and opens the story up from the stadium of the Games to the ins and outs of the world outside, with a detailed and suspense-filled focus on the politics of this under-the-thumb dystopian world, and with tougher choices for our intrepid young heroine. Catching Fire is just as thrilling and gripping as the Hunger Games and with even more to think about, and we can only wait with breaths held for the third book to find out how Katniss' superbly told fight turns out this time.   posted Oct 8, 2009 at 3:47PM

Cover ArtThe house of the scorpion
by Farmer, Nancy, 1941-
The House of the Scorpion is a hard world of drug lords, lost boys, computer implants, and clones. Between the U.S. and the nation formerly known as Mexico lies Opium, a country covered in poppy fields and ruled by the ruthless drug lord Matteo Alacrán, better known, because of his great age and power, as El Patrón. El Patrón keeps his country, his “eejits” (servants who have microchips in their brains to keep them slaving away without question), and his extensive family well under his thumb. El Patrón also has clones. Most clones get the numbing-and-dumbing brain chip, but not El Patrón’s. The newest Matteo Alacrán—young Matt—gets to grow up with a normal intelligence, though not, he soon learns, with a normal anything else. Clones are unnatural, lower than animals, inhuman monsters. But there are people who love Matt—Celia, the maid who raises him; Tam Lin, the bodyguard appointed by El Patrón; and María, a little girl who’s too young, innocent, and stubborn to let the usual prejudices guide her. Matt is occasionally called to the side of El Patrón and showered with gifts from the old man, but he’s mostly left to face the cruelty of the Alacrán family. Even when Matt discovers the truth about the real reason for his existence, escape is no guarantee of freedom. There are more trials to face, prejudices to overcome, a past to atone for, and a future that is uncertain to say the least. A Newbery Honor book, a National Book Award winner, and a recipient of the Printz Award for Young Adult Literature, this is work of fiction that borders uneasily on fact. There’s no guarantee that author Nancy Farmer has imagined a future that couldn’t really happen, which makes The House of the Scorpion a disturbingly addictive read.   posted Oct 8, 2009 at 3:21PM

Cover ArtThe history of love
by Krauss, Nicole.
Leo Gursky is an old man waiting for the last big event of his life: his death. He’s so alone in the world that he goes out and makes a minor spectacle of himself—dropping his change, spilling his popcorn—just to make sure someone has noticed him. Alma Singer is a fourteen-year-old girl trying to find a cure for the permanent sadness her mother’s been wrapped in ever since the death of her father seven years ago. Alma thinks the answer might lie in the book her mother is translating, an obscure story called The History of Love. The narration alternates between Leo and Alma and the reader also gets glimpses of the moving, elegantly written History of Love and its mysterious author. As the threads of the storyline weave together in the most intimate ways, the novel becomes unputdownable. Leo and Alma are an unlikely pair—Leo pines for his long-lost love; Alma’s little brother thinks he’s the Messiah; Leo escaped to America from Nazi-occupied Poland; Alma’s hobby is identifying edible wild plants—but they are both survivors of great personal loss. Author Nicole Krauss writes about her characters with tenderness and real feeling, and it doesn’t take long before we’re deeply invested in their lives. So invested, in fact, that we’ll be thinking about the beautiful interlocking stories of The History of Love long after we’ve turned the last page.   posted Sep 9, 2009 at 3:25PM

Cover ArtIf on a winter's night a traveler
by Calvino, Italo.
This book opens by telling both you and the character of The Reader what the experience of reading If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino is like. After a few pages, however, The Reader realizes that his copy of this book has a printer’s error. He goes back to the bookstore to get a new copy, meets Another Reader who has the same problem and flirts with her, and is told that all the Calvino books are hopeless misprinted and what he’s been reading is actually a book by Polish writer. The Reader goes home with what he hopes is finally the right volume, reads for a few pages, and then discovers that no, this book is the wrong book too. Back to the bookstore, back to another tantalizing interaction with Another Reader, and back home again with a new book that’s supposed to be the book he’s been trying to read all along—but isn’t. This happens ten times (talk about novels within novels!) and we, the readers (not The Readers), are very content to go along for the ride. It may sound confusing, but the real author Italo Calvino (who died in 1985) has long been known as a master of avant-garde and experimental fiction. It’s not every writer who can begin ten separate novels that differ in tone and style and genre and still make them entertaining; it’s not every writer who can marry the solitary (and at times frustrating) act of reading with a story about a blooming romance that’s sparked by that very same solitary (and at times frustrating) act of reading. But Calvino does it—with wit, with charm, and with superior skill.   posted Sep 9, 2009 at 3:24PM

Cover ArtI am the messenger
by Zusak, Markus.
Ed Kennedy has been a loser all his life. Born on the wrong side of the tracks, an underachiever in school, in unrequited love with his best friend Audrey, Ed's only cheerleader is his ancient, stinky dog. At the tender age of nineteen, he's an underage cabdriver facing a long life of mundane routine.... until he spontaneously commits an act of bravery during a bank robbery. Then Ed begins receiving playing cards in the mail, aces with cryptic notes that direct him to certain people and places. By following these clues, Ed finds himself in a position to help--stopping crimes, uniting people, playing the hero (even if he sometimes has to play the bad guy first). And every time he chooses to care, Ed is challenged and changed. Whether those changes are for the better or for the worst is tied up in the mystery of who sends the aces, and why, and it's a mystery that's as important to the reader as it is to Ed. Author Markus Zusak invents some unique characters to wander in and out of Ed's adventures, and makes Ed himself a lovable loser, a thoughtful, honest kid with a supporting cast of smart-ass friends and an original narrative voice. First published in Australia in 2002 as The Messenger, this redemption tale won the Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year Award.   posted Sep 1, 2009 at 10:37AM

Cover ArtEvelina : or, The history of a young lady's entrance into the world
Evelina is beautiful, charming, and has a mysterious, romantic past. She’s exactly the kind of heroine that Catherine Moreland of Northanger Abbey is not. But just like Catherine, Evelina is an inexperienced girl who has to navigate the treacherous waters of Polite Society—including undesirable suitors, boorish relations, and misunderstandings galore—before she can achieve love and marriage. Northanger Abbey is as much a satire of this kind domestic tale as it is of the Gothic style, and Fanny Burney (1752-1840) has as much fun satirizing the society of her day as Austen does twenty-some years later.   posted Aug 28, 2009 at 10:37AM

Cover ArtJenna Starborn
by Shinn, Sharon.
This is the story of Jane Eyre--but set in a futuristic intergallactic space age. Award-winning author Sharon Shinn transforms Charlotte Bronte's Victorian classic of a lonely governess falling in love a with a gruff and mysterious gentleman at a secluded English manor into the story of a lonely force-field engineer falling in love with a gruff and mysterious gentleman at a secluded mining manor on a planet far far away. And all the charm, suspense, drama, and gothic gloom of the original Jane Eyre story still ring true. Jane Eyre in space--you can't go wrong.   posted Aug 25, 2009 at 9:51AM

Cover ArtDracula
by Stoker, Bram, 1847-1912.
There are two basic kinds of vampire books—those where we fall in love with the vampire and those where we hunt the vampire. Dracula, believe it or not, is both, as well as being the first major vampire novel. On one hand, it’s the story of the hunt for the evil Count Dracula, the original undead monster who sucks the blood of his victims so he can live forever. On the other hand, it’s the story of two beautiful young women and the men who love them. Sweet, lovely Lucy receives three marriage proposals in one day—and then finds herself in the cold embrace of Count Dracula. Her suitors, led by Professor Van Helsing and accompanied by intelligent, vibrant Mina and her boy-toy Jonathon Harker, set out to avenge Lucy. But Mina soon encounters Dracula and forges a deep connection with him, and keeping her safe becomes a daunting task for the vampire hunters. Dracula is the source of almost everything we know and love about vampire mythology, from sleeping in coffins to turning into bats to how to make a new vampire. Even though Count Dracula is a grade-A creep and not a hunky vamp to fall over head heels in love with, there’s still dark romance and intrigue aplenty. And if you’re going to call yourself a fan of vampire fiction, you really have to know your Dracula.   posted Aug 23, 2009 at 9:15PM

Cover ArtInterview with the vampire
by Rice, Anne, 1941-
Vampire romance would not get far without Anne Rice’s vampire series, which begins here with the vampires Lestat and Louis. Amongst the vine-covered steamy streets of New Orleans in 1791, lonely lovesick Louis agrees to let the overwhelmingly persuasive vampire Lestat turn him into a fellow bloodsucker. For the next two hundred years, Louis and Lestat wander the earth, prey on humans, and seek out others of their kind—most notably the esteemed Parisian vampire Armand and Claudia, a doomed little girl whom Louis can’t bear to kill or to have as a fellow killer. The interview of the title takes place between Louis and a skeptical human reporter; the narrative is framed as Louis shares his tale in intimate, luxurious, atmospheric detail. There are many relationships in Interview with the Vampire—Louis and Lestat, Louis and Claudia, human and vampire—some based on love and some on hate, and most with an intriguing and complex blend of both. Anne Rice single-handedly transformed the vampire genre with this book. Because of Louis and company and their all-too-human desires, we stopped hunting vampires and let them seduce us, even though we know how deathly dangerous they are. Of course, the risk has been worth it—vampire romance is a flourishing genre of its own now and Anne Rice herself has contributed over half a dozen related titles. Interview with the Vampire, however, remains her masterpiece.   posted Aug 23, 2009 at 9:14PM

Cover ArtBloodsucking fiends : a love story
by Moore, Christopher, 1957-
When Jody is attacked and turned into a vampire on her way home from work, she doesn’t panic. Instead she gets help, someone to do all the things she can’t do during the sunny daylight hours. Aspiring writer Tommy is destined to be Jody’s boy-toy, and he doesn’t mind at all. Jody’s sexy and mysterious, and what better to inspire art than with a hot-and-heavy love affair? But everyday life soon gets in the way of romance—the fledgling couple can’t spend enough time together with Tommy working the late shift, their wildly different dining habits are interfering with date nights, the vampire who created Jody is framing her for murder, and the cops are mighty suspicious. The narrative of Bloodsucking Fiends is a tad uneven at times, but author Christopher Moore is juggling a lot of inventive genres—mystery, comedy, satire, and fantasy among them. And the story has its moments, among them Tommy and Jody’s gleeful experiments to find out which vampire myths are fact and which are fiction. Bloodsucking Fiends is a breath of fresh air in the moody, intense atmosphere of vampire-human romances. Even die-hard vamp-fans will appreciate the well-intentioned elbow in the ribs. Finally, someone acknowledges the weird, awkward, funny side of paranormal romance, and with a 2008 sequel titled You Suck, Moore doesn’t show any intention of letting up.   posted Aug 23, 2009 at 9:14PM

Cover ArtLonely werewolf girl
by Millar, Martin.
Kalix is a lonely werewolf girl. She’s seventeen and angst-filled, not to mention drug-addicted, antisocial, and lovesick. She’s attacked her father, the Thane of the powerful MacRinnalch werewolf clan, and is on the lam in London. And no one is going to leave her alone. Her brothers Sarapen and Markus both want Kalix dead and are fighting each other for the throne, her sister Thrix is too busy designing a fashion wardrobe for the Fire Queen Malveria to be bothered with her little sister’s problems, her ex-lover Gawain has been banished, and a guild of professional werewolf hunters is hot on her trail. But when two human students, Daniel and Moonglow, take a kindly interest in Kalix, the lonely werewolf’s luck might just be about to change—even as civil war is about to erupt in the Scottish Highlands where her werewolf family dwells. And these werewolves are violent, passionate, impatient, and beautiful—which makes for a playful, witty, wicked page-turner of a story. The many love affairs, love triangles, and lovers’ quarrels play a big part of the action. Werewolves are, after all, a lusty bunch who really know how to hold a grudge. With a cast of characters ranging from a punkish Fire Elemental to twin werewolf rock star wannabes to childish, moody, endearing Kalix herself, Lonely Werewolf Girl is one helluva gritty, grungy urban fantasy.   posted Aug 23, 2009 at 9:13PM

Cover ArtTwilight
by Meyer, Stephenie, 1973-
Few vampires have proved as irresistible as the hero of the Twilight series: smoldering, brooding, intensely hunky Edward Cullen. Twilight is the first book in a quartet that chronicles the challenges high school loner Bella Swan faces when she falls fangs-over-heels for Edward, a mysterious classmate who is also an immortal vampire. Even though theirs is a very dangerous attraction (Edward’s non-human-killing vampire family guards their secret carefully, and Bella is so appealing to Edward that he’s in constant danger of losing control and eating her), it’s Love At First Sight. Their love is continually tested by well-intentioned humans, desperate vampires, and a love-triangle threat in the shape of young Jacob. Jacob’s personality seems as sunny as Edward’s is moody—but he’s got a dark shape-shifting secret of his own and an increasingly important role to play in Bella’s life. Ultimately, despite the vampires and otherworldly creatures that haunt the Twilight saga, the series is Classic Romance all the way: two young lovers must fight against all odds to stay together. It’s a dark, twisted, intense courtship but still, fans of paranormal relationships have sunk their teeth into Twilight and its fellow books with an obsession that transcends mere trendiness. To readers who dearly love a good interspecies romance, Edward and Bella’s is one for the ages.   posted Aug 23, 2009 at 9:13PM

Cover ArtSunshine
by McKinley, Robin.
In the world of Sunshine, vampires are a constant presence. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone, that’s the general rule. Anyway, Rae “Sunshine” Seddon doesn’t have time to worry about vampires. She’s too busy baking cinnamon rolls for her loyal customers at the bakery, getting into tiffs with her well-intentioned mother, and trying to decide how serious to get with her on-again-off-again biker boyfriend. Until one night Sunshine gets a little fed up with the regular characters in her life and wanders off for some peace and quiet—only to end up surrounded by characters of the undead, blood-sucking kind. Sunshine is chained to a desperately thirsty (but still good-looking) vampire named Constantine who—surprisingly and mysteriously—refuses to kill her. In a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque sort of way, Sunshine finds herself drawing on untapped magical powers instilled in her by a sorceress grandmother and is soon caught between the desires of the human and vampire populations. Nevertheless, she’s determined to protect Constantine, for whom (like Buffy for Angel) Sunshine has developed something of a soft spot. Author Robin McKinley is best known for her modern retellings of fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast. Here, McKinley puts an urban spin on vampire lore. A thoroughly modern girl falls in with an old-fashioned forever-young vampire. Monsters are just as likely to lurk outside city bakeries as they are outside abandoned lakeside cabins. And savvy readers are sure to be alternately spooked and charmed by Sunshine.   posted Aug 23, 2009 at 9:12PM

Cover ArtBlood and chocolate
by Klause, Annette Curtis.
In Blood and Chocolate, the worthy werewolf finally gets a chance at love. Vivian is sweet sixteen, strong and beautiful, with all the boys on her tail—literally, because Vivian is a werewolf. But life is not as sweet as chocolate. Her close-knit werewolf pack has moved to a new home, needs a new leader, and definitely does not approve of Vivian’s new human boyfriend. But Aiden is sensitive and kind, and Vivian is sure that he will understand her other, wilder self. Her divided loyalties are put to the test when a contender for new pack leader takes an intimate interest in her, and life becomes even more complicated when a human is murdered and a werewolf is the culprit. Vivian’s attempt to lead a double life is endangering both the humans and the werewolves she cares about. Who is Vivian supposed to protect? Who is she supposed to be? The werewolves of Blood and Chocolate are sassy and stubborn, and they don’t make Vivian’s choices easy—but they certainly do make things interesting. Even with a pack of wild animals roaming through the pages, Blood and Chocolate remains a fierce, sexy, gripping coming-of-age story about love, betrayal, trust, and acceptance. And fans of author Annette Curtis Klause’s werewolf love will be pleased to know that she played matchmaker with our favorite monster, the vampire, in her first book The Silver Kiss.   posted Aug 23, 2009 at 9:12PM

Cover ArtDead until dark
by Harris, Charlaine.
Sookie Stackhouse is a small-town waitress on a seemingly permanent streak of bad luck. She can read minds (which is annoying), one of her coworkers has been murdered (which is unpleasant), and her new love interest is a vampire (which means he might kill her). Life in rural Louisiana has just gotten very complicated. Still, Bill is a hunk and dating a vampire does have its benefits—Sookie can’t hear the thoughts in his head, for one thing, which is a refreshing change—but it’s not all fun in the dark. Bill has some decidedly unsavory friends, and there is that pesky murder—and that’s just the first book! But Sookie’s no damsel in distress. She’s a smart, thoughtful, generous young woman who readers care about, even as author Charlaine Harris causes thrills and chills with a quirky array of supporting characters and suspenseful mystery plots. Plus there are vampires, and let’s face it, we all love a mystery with a blood-sucking undead creature of the night. Sookie’s relationships with various mythical creatures continue in eight other books. Each one is as colorful and atmospheric as Dead Until Dark, which serves as the introduction to Sookie and her distinctly unusual lifestyle (and is the inspiration for the hit TV-show True Blood). Cleverly blending romance, action, and the paranormal, Sookie Stackhouse is the go-to girl for some seriously spooky sleuthing.   posted Aug 23, 2009 at 9:11PM

Cover ArtMr. Darcy, Vampyre
by Grange, Amanda
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has spawned a whole slew of Jane Austen-monster hybrids. Not only is Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters lurking on bookshelves nearby (due Sep. 15, 2009), but Mr. Darcy, Vampyre waits in the shadows and Jane herself is a vampire out for revenge in Jane Bites Back (due Dec. 2009, along with Vampire Darcy's Desire). When vampires, werewolves (maybe Werewolves at Mansfield Park?), and zombies starts breeding with the great classics of literature, well, that’s some wild monster love.   posted Aug 23, 2009 at 9:11PM

Cover ArtPride and prejudice and zombies : the classic Regency romance-- now with ultravi
by Grahame-Smith, Seth.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is one of the most beloved love stories of classic literature. Author Seth Grahame-Smith decided that the only thing that could improve the story was, naturally, zombies. And even die-hard fans of Jane Austen will be hard pressed to disagree. As our story begins, a mysterious plague is bringing the deceased back to life to roam the English countryside in search of fresh human brains. Miss Elizabeth Bennett, well-versed in both the feminine and the deadly arts, is content to defend her family against the zombie threat—until she meets the dashing, arrogant, equally-skilled Mr. Darcy. Scenes from the original Pride and Prejudice are intermingled with zombie mayhem. Darcy admires Elizabeth’s fine eyes at the Meryton ball; zombies attack. Elizabeth promenades at Pemberley; zombies attack. Elizabeth and Darcy are recast as scornful acquaintances occasionally united in battle against the moaning, groaning walking dead. And still, the classic romance unfolds exactly the way it’s supposed to. After all, nothing brings a couple together like fighting off zombie hoards.   posted Aug 23, 2009 at 9:10PM

Cover ArtBreathers : a zombie's lament
by Browne, S. G.
Andy Warner died in a car crash. After his preserving treatment at the funeral home but before his funeral, Andy woke up as a zombie. This is not incredibly unusual; it just happens sometimes. But zombies are not exactly welcomed back into their everyday lives as examples of a miraculous escape from death. Instead they’re barely tolerated, looked down upon as less-than-human and policed by Animal Control. Andy’s too dazed to mind at first—he can’t even talk because his lips are stitched together—but he finds time to emerge from his parents’ basement and attend Undead Anonymous meetings. There he meets a sexy suicide named Rita and Jerry, a banged-up walking-dead stoner. The trio is introduced to fellow zombie Ray, and Ray introduces them to the joys of the afterlife. Soon Andy is refusing to sit in the back of the bus and picketing for the return of zombie civil rights. With pretty Rita at his side, Andy just might get used to the zombie life—unless the human “breathers” have anything to say about it. Feeling sympathy for a flesh-hungry zombie is a new emotion for most readers, but we want Andy to have it all. We also don’t want to get eaten, and that’s what makes Breathers such a unique and unusual read—it’s gruesome, endearing, tragic, and darkly comic all at the same time. Author S.G. Browne describes his debut novel as a zom-rom-com—a zombie romantic comedy. With a genre-bending label like that, what more can you ask for?   posted Aug 23, 2009 at 9:10PM

Cover ArtThe neverending story
by Ende, Michael.
Bastian, Atreyu, the Childlike Empress—if you’re a child of the 80’s, these names instantly mean one thing: The Neverending Story. This was a huge hit movie in 1984, and if you’re feeling nostalgic, you’re in luck. Because once upon a time in Germany, The Neverending Story was a book. And with the re-issue edition of 1997, oh what a pretty book it is. Red ink for Bastian, scolded and bullied, who hides in the attic at school with a stolen book that quickly becomes the most important thing he’s ever done in his short lonely life. Green ink for Fantastica, the magical world that Bastian is reading about, where the Childlike Empress’s mysterious illness is causing a terrifying Nothingness to sweep across the land, and where all hope rests on the slim shoulders of the brave boy Atreyu. It’s rare to read such a colorful book (literally colorful with those different inks, and with fairy tale-style illustrations as well) and it’s rare to indulge so fully in the act of reading. We read not only about Bastian but about what Bastian is reading, a delightful circle that compliments the Neverending title. Saving a fantastic mythical world has never been such an interactive, collaborative experience. And if that doesn’t get you reading, just think back to the movie and remember how much you loved that big pink luckdragon.   posted Aug 21, 2009 at 4:10PM

Cover ArtPeeps : a candy-coated tale
by Masyga, Mark.
Peeps are those sugar-coated marshmallow candies shaped like chickens and bunnies that we find in our Easter baskets. Peeps are America’s number one selling non-chocolate candy. Peeps even have a book of their own, and Peeps are the perfect way to spend a first pocketful of spare change. Peeps: A Candy-Coated Tale is a light, sugary, silly read full of jokey photos of the Peeps candy characters, who in this case are a prominent Peepsville family-gone-missing. Follow clues and meet other Peepsville characters as you read through the pages of Peepsville newspapers, yearbooks, and magazines. Where are the Peeps? Can they be rescued before their expiration date? More important, do Peeps even have an expiration date? If you’ve never eaten a Peep candy before, you’ll definitely want to bite the squishy little head off one after this book. Eat-while-you-read: Peeps, of course, though the choice of chicks or bunnies is up to you.   posted Aug 20, 2009 at 2:45PM

Cover ArtBlood and chocolate
by Klause, Annette Curtis.
Vivian is sweet sixteen, strong and beautiful, with all the boys on her tail—literally, because Vivian is a werewolf. But life is not as sweet as chocolate. Her close-knit werewolf pack has moved to a new home, needs a new leader, and definitely does not approve of Vivian’s new human boyfriend. But Aiden is sensitive and kind, and Vivian is sure that he will understand her other self. Her divided loyalties are put to the test when a contender for new pack leader takes a decided interest in her, and her life becomes really complicated when a human is murdered and a werewolf seems to be the culprit. Her attempt to lead a double life is endangering both the humans and the werewolves she cares about. Who is Vivian supposed to protect? Who is she supposed to be? Blood and Chocolate is a fierce, sexy, gripping coming-of-age story about love, trust, and betrayal. Eat-while-you-read: Hershey’s Hugs, because the white and dark chocolate represents the dual sides of Vivian’s nature!   posted Aug 20, 2009 at 2:41PM

Cover ArtFruit : a novel
by Francis, Brian, 1971-
Being thirteen-years-old is no easy task for any average angst-y adolescent, but thirteen is even harder when you’re dorky, overweight Peter Paddington. Peter’s parents want him to be “normal.” He’s supposed to be an athlete, and take shop class, and make friends with other boys his age. But Peter would rather take home-ec—it’s a class where you cook and eat food, after all. Then something very strange happens. Peter’s nipples begin to talk to him. Worse, they threaten to reveal his innermost thoughts and secrets. As he desperately tries to figure out why a part of his own body would turn against him in such a cruel and unusual way, and as he works out the elaborate means he has to go to keep those damn nipples quiet, Peter is forced to confront his convoluted relationships with his family, friends, enemies—and himself. Fruit is a charmingly odd, quirky little coming-of-age tale. It’s the story of a boy and his talking nipples—what more do you need to know? Eat-while-you-read: Starburst, Skittles, or Juicy Fruit gum. Or you could unplug the vending machine and eat an apple.   posted Aug 20, 2009 at 2:41PM

Cover ArtTwinkie, deconstructed : my journey to discover how the ingredients found in pro
by Ettlinger, Steve.
Twinkie, Deconstructed is the story of author Steve Ettlinger’s “journey to discover how the ingredients found in processed foods are grown, mined (yes, mined), and manipulated into what America eats.” Yummy. Most Americans eat processed foods every day, and sure those foods are delicious (Cheetos, anyone?) but have you ever taken a moment to consider what exactly makes that delightful day-glo orange Cheeto color? More to the point, what is Polysorbate 60? Why is bleach listed as an ingredient in Twinkies? In Twinkie, Deconstructed Ettlinger investigates the origins and uses of every ingredient listed on a Twinkie wrapper. You’ll be shocked, bewildered, and yes, grossed out, and you’ll definitely think twice the next time you walk past that vending machine in the break room, but you’ll also be the best-educated junk food junkie in town. Or you’ll just start living off broccoli. Eat-while-you-read: Twinkies—the homemade organic version (the recipe is included in the book).   posted Aug 20, 2009 at 2:41PM

Cover ArtThe Hunger Games
by Collins, Suzanne.
In the not-so-distant future, the nation of Panem has risen from the ruins of North America. To keep its citizens in line, the Capital forces one boy and one girl from each of its twelve distracts to act as “tributes” in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death televised live to the people at home. Katniss Everdeen is this year’s tribute. There’s a chance Katniss may be able to rely on Peta, the baker’s son from her own district who was also chosen for the Games—but on the other hand there can only be one winner, which means making friends is a huge risk that could quite literally end in betrayal and death. She’s a fighter, but her determination to win is complicated by shifting loyalties, the pressure to perform for those in control, a desire to rebel, and the pressure to win at any cost. The story is more than an adventure of survival; it’s a commentary on government power and the entertainment value of reality TV. It’s also a dystopian moral tale in the grand tradition of The Giver, Brave New World, and 1984. More to the point, The Hunger Games (the first book in a planned trilogy, Catching Fire is due fall of 2009) is an absorbing and thrilling page-turner. Eat-while-you-read: Beef jerky, preferably if you’ve hunted, butchered, smoked, and dried it yourself. Have a side dish of trail mix.   posted Aug 20, 2009 at 2:40PM

Cover ArtIntoxicated : a novel of money, madness, and the invention of the world's favori
by Barlow, John, 1967-
England, 1869. Rodrigo Vermilion is a hunchbacked little person, scorned by society because of his differences and seemingly destined to be down on his luck. But then he meets wealthy businessman Isaac Brookes and his sons—ne’er-do-well Tom and socially awkward George—and prosperity beckons. With Vermilion’s Big Idea, the Brookes’ family fortune, and a secret ingredient (think the “coca” in Coca-Cola), Rhubarilla is born—a rhubarb-flavored fizzy soda pop that is fated to sweep the nation. But success is short-lived. Isaac’s wife Sarah dies of a long illness, and Tom takes advantage of his father’s grief to humiliate Vermilion. Can hapless George rise to the challenge take responsibility of the soft drink business, and put the pieces of his family back together? A detailed, violent, and loving account of persistence, forgiveness, and consumer demand, Intoxicated is as much a tale of one family’s tragedies and triumphs as it a story of invention and creation. Drink-while-you-read: A good old-fashioned glass bottle of classic Coca-Cola.   posted Aug 20, 2009 at 2:40PM

Cover ArtBurger Wuss
by Anderson, M. T.
When Anthony finds his girlfriend in the arms of some dumb jock at a party, he doesn’t want to go back to being the high school loser he’s always been—he wants Revenge. His master plan means working at O’Dermott’s, a McDonald’s-like fast food “restaurant” where Turner, the dumb jock, is a star employee. Despite constant humiliation at Turner’s hands, Anthony manages to hobble together his plan and sets Turner up to take the fall and bring down the O’Dermott’s franchise all in one fell swoop. But planning revenge is all-consuming and sooner or later, something’s gotta give. Soon Anthony’s not sure he can stick with greasy food, ugly uniforms, and low respect of a fast food job. Can Anthony get over his girlfriend and make the dumb jock cry? Is revenge worth it? Is revenge really what Anthony wants? Burger Wuss, with its teen angst and caustic stereotypes, is a darkly comic satire (McSatire) that examines the delicious highs and embarrassing lows of our everyday obsessions. Eat-while-you-read: A Happy Meal, while wearing a paper Burger King crown.   posted Aug 20, 2009 at 2:39PM

Cover ArtCandyfreak : a journey through the chocolate underbelly of America
by Almond, Steve.
If you like candy, or maybe love candy, then take a bite, lick, or whiff of Candyfreak. It is the story of one confectionary-obsessed individual (the author Steve Almond, with his ideal candy-ready last name) and his journey to discover what happened to the candies that made his childhood so sweet--the Choco-Lite, the Caravelle Bar, Hersey’s Cookies n’ Mint, the Valomilk, and the Kit Kat Dark. To discover the fates of these and other forgotten goodies, Almond investigates and tours confection companies. Almond is a self-described candy freak and his book is a rousing declaration of his obsessive sweet tooth, a richly detailed history of the candy bars and other sweets in the United States, and an exploration of the rarely-seen world of candy manufacturing. Almond meets candy makers, experiences their sweet products, and provides the reader with his honest opinion. The descriptions of the candies are so rich that you may very well do more than just taste the goodness—you might just literally devour this book. Eat-while-you-read: Valomilk Bars, the messiest candy ever invented.   posted Aug 20, 2009 at 2:39PM

Cover ArtChildhood's end
by Clarke, Arthur C. 1917-2008.
When a massively superior alien race arrives on Earth, things go much smoother than you would think. Because the Overlords aren’t here to conquer. Their one demand is world peace, and under their guidance (mysterious though it is), mankind is only too happy to oblige. But eventually the lack of any need to better the world starts to take its toll. There’s no creativity, no problem-solving—and the Overlords still won’t explain why they’re really here. Humanity is approaching a fork in the way, and no one knows what lies at the end of the roads, much less which path to take. Childhood’s End gives us the ultimate goal of peace on earth and dares to tell us that it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Childhood’s End also pushes the boundaries of our expectations about ourselves, makes us think about what humans might really be capable of, and suggests that what we want might not be what the universe wants. It’s a risky premise, but the result is one of science fiction literature’s masterpieces.   posted Aug 20, 2009 at 1:49PM

Cover ArtDoomsday book
by Willis, Connie.
Kivrin is a student of history and time travel at Oxford in 2048. With the help of her doubting professor, she is about to go back in time to the Middle Ages of the fourteenth century for the ultimate historical research. Kivrin has been prepped in every aspect of time travel—but nothing can prepare her for a virus that hits home in the twenty-first century, trapping her in the past and causing an error in where--and when--she ends up. She finds herself smack-dab in the middle of a Black Plague outbreak, and with everyone at home too sick to find her, Kivrin can’t help but become deeply involved in the lives of the people in this small disease-ridden village. The Doomsday Book alters between two storylines, one in the past and one in the future, both taken equally unaware—despite the supposed advancement of the future—by this new and deadly threat. And both communities respond with suspicion and fear, then ultimately with compassion as neighbor cares for neighbor regardless of the century of their birth. Award-winning author Connie Willis writes strong characters, her vision of the future is detailed and realistic, and her historical research is impeccable. The tension between the past and future is palpable, the story is harrowing and fraught with suspense, and the reader will be irresistibly drawn into this remarkable tale than spans the centuries.   posted Jul 26, 2009 at 7:29PM

Cover ArtThe illustrious dead : the terrifying story of how typhus killed Napoleon's grea
by Talty, Stephan.
In 1811, Napoleon Bonaparte was the undisputed emperor of forty-five million people. His French Empire spread from the Atlantic Ocean to the Russian borders, from northern Germany to southern Spain. He was a master of the art of conquest. True, Spanish rebels fought against his rule and Great Britain was still free, but Napoleon was still the most powerful leader of the day. Until, that is, he decided to send his enormous, state-of-the-art army into Russia. Utter and total defeat was in the cards for Napoleon for the first time, but not from the Russian army. No, Napoleon’s soldiers carried their deaths with them from the start—in a tiny microbe clinging to their gear called typhus. In The Illustrious Dead author Stephen Talty traces the fall of one of the greatest armies the world has ever and shows how one little pathogen altered the course of history. From the tsar’s palace in Moscow to the bedsides of stricken soldiers, and with the giant personality of Napoleon Bonaparte hanging over it all, this is a fascinating book rich in historical and scientific detail.   posted Jul 26, 2009 at 7:29PM

Cover ArtThe ghost map : the story of London's most terrifying epidemic--and how it chang
by Johnson, Steven, 1968-
When cholera struck a London neighborhood in1854, it became the deadliest epidemic the city had ever seen. Victorian London has a reputation even today as an era of progress and wealth, and it was indeed a city on the verge of immense cultural and industrial growth. But science and medicine still had a long way to go—no one knew about germs or how contagions were spread or how to effectively treat many of the diseases that killed people every day. And the study of cholera was especially bogged down by old-fashioned beliefs. Doctors of the day were convinced that the disease was spread by foul odors in the air. London was indeed a stinky city, but the notion was way off base. When a single physician, Dr. John Snow, presented the theory that cholera was in fact spread by contaminated water, he was dismissed by the bureaucracy that was supposedly responsible for public health. But he was right, and The Ghost Map is the story of how he proved it and paved the way for much of the understanding about the spread of diseases that we take for granted today. Author Steven Johnson uses Snow’s experiences to shed light on the evolution of civilizations and the organization of cities, but his story is firmly centered on the real people who lived and died in the epidemic, including devoted minister Henry Whitehead who walked the streets of his Soho neighborhood to keep track of who, when, and where the disease struck. Cholera is a small threat these days, but The Ghost Map reminds us that the foundations of our sleek modern cities were laid down hundreds of years ago, and that the threats of the past are never too far from the present. An engrossing and lively book, The Ghost Map is certain to entertain—and educate.   posted Jul 26, 2009 at 7:28PM

Cover ArtYear of wonders : a novel of the plague
by Brooks, Geraldine.
In 1665, Anna Frith is an eighteen-year-old mother and widow in the rural English village of Eyam. Anna is befriended by the vicar and his wife, who teaches her how to read. The vicar convinces Anna to take in lodgers, but when a tailor from London boards at Anna’s house, he brings with him more than rent money. Hidden in one of his bundles of fabric is an infected flea. The flea bites a rat, the rat makes contact with a villager, and the Black Plague is suddenly sweeping through the remote town. The village voluntarily shuts itself off from the rest of the world to contain the horrible disease (a fact based on the true-life story of the real village of Eyam). For the rest of the year, we live with young Anna as she experiences first-hand the devastating effects of disease, death, and despair. Year of Wonders is an elegant tale for all its heartbreak and Anna’s story is a triumph over human tragedy in all its forms. Author Geraldine Brooks’ prose is lyrical even while she describes the worst that the plague brings out in people; her treatment of Anna’s intelligence and grace results in a compelling portrait. It’s not always an easy book to read, but it is a fine example of historical fiction and the lessons learned from the past.   posted Jul 26, 2009 at 7:27PM

Cover ArtEnder's game
by Card, Orson Scott.
On the Earth of Ender’s Game, aliens have already made contact. They’ve already attacked, in fact, and nearly won not once, but twice. The government is determined that the third battle will finish the alien threat once and for all, and to that end the military has been training children in the desperate hopes of finding the one who will lead the armies of Earth to the ultimate victory. The highest contender for this position is Ender Wiggin, genius among geniuses at the tender age of six. Leaving behind his cruel brother Peter and his loving sister Valentine, Ender enters Battle School. Ender is, without any doubt, an extraordinary child. He’s clever, able to outwit and outsmart his fellow child-soldiers. He’s quick to learn, so quick that he catches on to every “game” his adult supervisors throw at him as they train him in the space-age battle techniques that he masters faster than anyone else. He’s conflicted about the role he’s expected to play and very aware that his training is responsible for the fierce man-like boy that he’s becoming. And overshadowing everything Ender discovers is the looming threat of battle, invasion, and war. It’s an engrossing story about what war does to children and what fear does to men. Ender’s struggle to make his own choices in an environment that has already pre-determined his existence will resonate with readers of every age. Ender’s Game won the two highest awards given to science fiction books, the Hugo and the Nebula Awards, and for very good reason. Orson Scott Card followed up this feat with his sequel, Speaker for the Dead, which goes deeper into the story of the alien race that so threatens Ender’s world.   posted Jul 26, 2009 at 6:08PM

Cover ArtThe war of the worlds
by Wells, H. G. 1866-1946.
Way back in the nineteenth century there was an author—H.G. Wells—who was way ahead of his time. He envisioned time travel (The Time Machine), outrageous scientific advances (The Invisible Man), and of course, alien invasions. The War of the Worlds begins when a large, strange silver capsule lands in a field. Atmospheric disturbances are observed; a lot of weird noises are heard from inside the spaceship; curious crowds gather and wait. And when the capsule hisses open and alien arms bearing deathly heat-rays emerge, there’s no doubt that the war is on. Narrated in by an everyman with acute observation and astonishment, the story of how the nineteenth-century humans fair against an advanced enemy they never even knew existed is as riveting now as it was in 1898—or in 1938, when Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of his own adaptation convinced a few unsuspecting listeners that it was all too real. The War of the Worlds is the grandfather of alien stories, and as a certain Tom Cruise/ Steven Spielberg/ special effects-laden blockbuster recently proved, it’s not the kind of story that we outgrow and forget about. Despite the old-fashioned setting, The War of the Worlds is about something we understand all too well today: the fear that maybe we’re not really as strong and powerful as we think we are… It’s a lot of food for thought (especially when you find out what the Martians feed on) and it’s a lot of fun as well. The War of the Worlds is one of those great and rare discoveries—a stodgy old classic that turns out to be anything but.   posted Jul 26, 2009 at 5:38PM

Cover ArtDeception point
by Brown, Dan, 1964-
NASA, after several embarrassing incidents that have done absolutely nothing to advance the exploration of space, has finally struck it big. Deep in the arctic ice, scientists have found a meteor that contains fossils. And a big rock from outer space with fossils can mean only one thing: proof of ancient extraterrestrial life. Intelligence agent Rachel Sexton and oceanographer Michael Tolland are thrilled and eager members of the team sent by the President to validate the alien discovery. They’re taken on a whirlwind tour of the ice-cold site and presented with proof after proof by the equally excited NASA science team. And then, even as the President prepares to announce the news to a breathlessly-waiting public, doubts begin to set in. Soon Rachel and Tolland are running for their lives across the arctic landscape, desperate to separate fact from fiction. And the reverberations will shake the walls of NASA, the White House, and the top-secret National Reconnaissance Office. Talk about alien conspiracies! High tech thrills, military secrets, and cunning politics are just a few of the ingredients in this thriller from the author of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.   posted Jul 26, 2009 at 5:36PM

Cover ArtThe hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy
by Adams, Douglas, 1952-2001.
“DON’T PANIC.” It is advice that villagers from The War of the Worlds might have disregarded as they ran from the attacking Martians, but it’s a reassuring message to readers of a very friendly, very helpful little book called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This strange book is Arthur Dent’s only guide to the life he now finds himself leading. He woke up one morning, you see, to find his house being demolished by a local construction crew, his planet being demolished by a galactic construction crew, and his best friend Ford Prefect ready to yank him out of the way of both. Now Arthur is part of a space-traveling gang made up of Ford, who’s really an alien disguised as an out-of-work actor; Zaphod Beeblebrox, the dazed and confused two-headed President of the Galaxy; Veet Voojagig, an alien grad student obsessed with all the pens he’s lost; pretty Trillian, who was whisked away from Earth’s destruction by her boyfriend Zaphod just as Arthur was whisked away by Ford; and Marvin, a chronically-depressed robot. And what this motley crew seeks is no less than the answer to the ultimate question: What is the meaning of life? And where did all of Veet’s pens disappear to? Readers will be laugh along with Arthur as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy introduces him to creatures like the all-translating babelfish and the horrid poetry writing Vogons. Satirical, nonsensical, original and inventive, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of the most delightful fusions of science fiction and humor to be read on any planet in the galaxy.   posted Jul 26, 2009 at 5:36PM

Cover ArtThe sparrow
When radio telescopes on Earth first pick up the strange and beautiful alien singing, it is the Society of Jesus that puts together a mission to the extraterrestrial world. That’s right—Jesuits in space. It’s a startling notion, one that certainly captures a reader’s attention. But really, who better? Author Mary Doria Russell shows us that the Jesuits are a scholarly bunch, prepared to suffer greatly for what they believe is right and with a long history of making first contact with new cultures. And the group that Russell creates in The Sparrow is much more than a bunch of Bible-toting missionaries. Her story centers on Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest and a highly skilled linguist, who collects a charismatic group of friends (believers and non-believers) to accompany him on an interstellar mission that results in earth-shattering revelations. The twists of fate, triumphs, and tragedies of this group are revealed slowly and with great suspense as the story alternates between the year 2019 when the alien songs are detected and the mission is planned, and the year 2059 when Emilio Sandoz returns from the faraway planet to be questioned by his Jesuit superiors. The stories merge gracefully, and even as readers finally learn what happened to the humans and aliens on the planet of Rakhat, new questions of faith, science, fate, coincidence, family, and humanity are proposed. More literary fiction than science fiction, The Sparrow is intense, unsettling, gripping, and new. And it has a few more qualities that are sure to appeal to anyone who has ever searched the skies above—as strange as it is, The Sparrow is hard to resist and impossible to forget. Russell wrote a sequel in 1999, Children of God, which reunites Emilio Sandoz and the planet of Rakhat. (by Mary Doria Russell)   posted Jul 26, 2009 at 5:36PM

Cover ArtThe ruby in the smoke
by Pullman, Philip, 1946-
On a cold afternoon in 1872, sixteen-year-old Sally Lockhart walks into her deceased father’s London office. By the time she walks out again, young Sally is deep in a compelling mystery fraught with murder, betrayal, deception, cursed jewels, secrets from the distant past, and a whole crew of Victorian scalawags and villains. There’s more to her father’s death than meets the eye. A horrifyingly creepy old woman is out for Sally’s blood. Danger lurks around every corner and Sally herself is the key to unlocking all the intertwined mysteries that threaten her very life. But Sally is nothing if not resourceful, and with a few colorful friends of her own, our intrepid heroine sets out to right wrongs and uncover truths. Sally is an independent young woman, a modern creature in an era that wants to rigidly control the independence of women. But Sally is also very much alone in the world now that her father has died, and what her independent spirit really needs is a few fellow souls who understand and appreciate her unique qualities. The reader, needless to say, becomes one of Sally’s allies right away. Author Philip Pullman, best known for the intricate fantasy worlds of His Dark Materials trilogy, knows full well how to create a hero who his readers will follow through thick and thin; he also knows the subtle and masterful art of spinning a good old story. As the Sally Lockhart Mystery series continues, Sally builds a life for herself—and solves a whole mess of thrilling, chilling, bump-in-the-night mysteries while she’s at it. Book 2: The Shadow in the North.   posted Jul 23, 2009 at 4:26PM

Cover ArtThe angel's game
by Ruiz Zafon, Carlos, 1964-
It seems that author Carlos Ruiz Zafón can't get enough of ghost stories about books. His newest novel, The Angel's Game, has the same Gothic touches of myth and mystery that his previous bestseller, The Shadow of the Wind, made so intriguing and irresistible. The Angel's Game is about a desperate young writer named David Martín. David writes a series of trashy thrillers that please the public but not his own artistic soul. He has a very few friends—a fatherly bookseller who offers encouragement and support, a wealthy writer whose pity is preferable to his charity—but David spends most of his time alone with his typewriter. Now, having survived a tragic childhood and spent most of his young adulthood lovesick for a beautiful woman he can never have, David finds himself caught in a strange bargain to write a book for an even stranger publisher. This mystery only lead to more clues that have something sinister in common with the very same gloomy mansion that David lives and writes in. The Angel’s Game seems designed to immerse us in the both the character’s and the author’s twisted methods of storytelling; savvy readers will spot characters and places that flow from Zafón’s earlier book The Shadow of the Wind into this book, thought it is not a sequel or a prequel. Atmospheric and beautifully chilling, The Angel's Game will keep you locked in its spooky clutches until the very last page.   posted Jul 13, 2009 at 11:28AM

Cover ArtHousekeeping vs. the dirt
by Hornby, Nick
This second collection of Nick Hornby's essays from Britain's Believer magazine begin with an impassioned plea: If you don't like what you're reading, put it down! It's excellent advice, but you won't be tempted to apply it to Hornby's book. Hornby goes on to chronicle the books he buys and the books he reads, and is his usual witty and wise self along the way. There's one more collection of Hornby's Believer columns, 2009's Shakespeare Wrote for Money.   posted Jul 13, 2009 at 11:11AM

Cover ArtParnassus on wheels;
Roger Mifflin is a travelling book salesman who, while small and a bit funny-looking, is confident that “When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue, you sell him a whole new life.” This is news to spinster Helen McGill, who has little to do with books on her brother’s farm. But cooking and cleaning for her brother is distinctly lacking in delights, and on a whim that surprises herself most of all, Helen jumps onboard Mifflin’s traveling wagon full of books and finds herself smitten with the man’s philosophy of bookselling as a duty and an art—and just maybe smitten with the man as well. Mifflin uses his characters to expound his own theories about the tremendous joys of book reading, and as readers, we’re simply delighted to let him do so. There’s a sequel, The Haunted Bookshop, that not only furthers the lives of the Roger Mifflin and Helen McGill, but also offer more opportunities to demonstrate how influential and powerful books can be. Parnassus on Wheels was written nearly one hundred years ago and the sweet little tale of book love has well withstood the test of time. It is, after all, a romance between people as well as a romance between people and books.   posted Jul 13, 2009 at 11:08AM

Cover ArtA history of reading
by Manguel, Alberto
Noted Argentine writer Alberto Manguel takes us on a journey through time and geography to explore a single topic: reading. From drawn symbols on ancient clay tablets in the Middle East to the typed words in the books on your nightstand, the ability to read is something that every culture has in common. Whether ancient tribesmen are reading the pictures they’ve drawn on cave walls or you are reading this paragraph, reading—which Manguel defines as interpreting the meaning of signs or symbols—is something every human can do. And the history of reading is fascinating. Manguel does not tell this history from start to end; he jumps around in time and leaps across continents, telling an anecdote here or a explaining a myth there. From Princess Enheduanna, one of the very few women to read in 2300 B.C. Mesopotamia, to acclaimed author Jorge Luis Borges, who Manguel himself read to when the writer went blind, Manguel shares the lives of the world’s readers. He explores the role of libraries throughout the ages. He profiles great authors and writers. Most of all, Manguel celebrates how every individual reader recreates the written word with his or her own unique experiences and imagination. Filled with photographs and illustrations that highlight ancient and modern readers alike, A History of Reading is an illuminating look at the deceptively simple act of reading.   posted Jul 13, 2009 at 11:08AM

Cover ArtEx libris : confessions of a common reader
by Fadiman, Anne, 1953-
Anne Fadiman is a column writer, a journal editor, and an award-winning author. She’s also a life-long reader, and that means more than all her other scholarly accomplishments in this collection of her eighteen essays that pay tribute to the love of books and reading. Fadiman writes about how you’re not really married to someone until you combine book collections. She muses on how reading the same book at different points in your life can change what the book means to you. She goes into raptures over secondhand bookstores and lovingly critiques the best (and worst) inscriptions people write when they’re giving books to others. She chronicles the difficulties of being both a lover of sesquipedalians (long words) and an obsessive-compulsive proofreader. Fadiman is intelligent and passionate about books and her essays are written with a graceful elegance of style that will charm every kind of reader under the sun. In Fadiman’s hands, reading becomes an art that is to be honed and nurtured over a lifetime. Fadiman’s life is healthier, richer, funnier, and more rewarding because of her love of books, and that about sums it up for all us bookworms out there.   posted Jul 13, 2009 at 10:47AM

Cover ArtThe uncommon reader
by Bennett, Alan, 1934-
One day at Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II finds her runaway doggies gathered around a bookmobile that has come to deliver books to the kitchen staff. The Queen reads, of course, but not actively or with any real sense of purpose—she does, after all, have Other Things To Do. But she feels obliged to make a selection from the bookmobile, and then she’s quite surprised to find that reading is enjoyable. The Queen finds herself interested, roused, even impassioned. This is a woman who does nothing by halves; with the assistance of her kitchen-boy-turned-page Norman, the Queen becomes an avid devotee of literature. And the English people find themselves with a royal bookworm on their hands. The consequences are intriguing, to say the least. Author Alan Bennett is a gifted comic writer who pokes gentle fun at the rigidly ruled world of the British monarchy and all its antiquated mannerisms. But he writes Queen Elizabeth as a compelling character—an aging woman of great social and political power who still possesses the surprising to change and the desire to improve. For all the fun The Uncommon Reader has with its royal premise, the story is less about the power of the throne than it is about the power of the written word. This is a sly little what-if tale, a fairy tale about a real person that all book lovers--royal or commoner--will relish.   posted Jul 13, 2009 at 10:47AM

Cover ArtTess of the d'Urbervilles [DVD]
(From the 2008 Masterpiece Theatre season.) When plain, poor John Durbeyfield discovers that he’s descended from the great aristocratic family of the D’Urbervilles, he gets some pretty heavy delusions of grandeur. His lovely daughter Tess is made to suffer for them when she is sent to claim kinship with the great family. Tess is innocent and overwhelmed; she is easy prey for the manipulative and possessive D’Urberville son Alec. But Tess is also proud and determined not to let one event overshadow her life’s happiness. She meets a gentleman named Angel Clare, a kindred spirit who idolizes Tess--but will he still adore her if she reveals her past? The double-standard that women were held to in the nineteenth century still resonates, and Tess’ story of love and betrayal is timeless. The love triangle is made up of a striking trio of actors—Hans Matheson from television’s The Tudors as Alec D’Urberville, Eddie Redmayne from The Other Boleyn Girl as Angel Clare, and Gemma Arterton as Tess, previously a Bond girl in Quantam of Solace. All are dramatic, passionate, and compelling, Tess most of all. Elegantly filmed, intense and romantic, Tess of the D’Urbervilles is from the most recent season of Masterpiece Theatre classics. The novel is well worth reading; Thomas Hardy’s prose is poetic and his depiction of Tess’ character is more finely wrought than any film could depict. Originally published in 1891, both Penguin Classics and Vintage Classics have printed recent editions.   posted Jul 6, 2009 at 11:48AM

Cover ArtWives and daughters [DVD]
(From the 1999 Masterpiece Theatre season.) Wives and Daughters is Elizabeth Gaskell’s final, and perhaps her finest, novel. Our heroine is young Molly Gibson, and the story revolves around her point of view. Molly’s contented life with her widowed doctor father gets more interesting when Molly meets the Hamleys, a proud, upper-class family that has fallen on hard times. Then Molly’s father suddenly remarries, turning her world on end. Molly’s life soon becomes intertwined with that of her flighty stepsister Cynthia, and with the two equally charming Hamley sons Osborne and Roger. Osborne Hamley is played by Tom Hollander, whose talents Hollywood has tapped into for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and for the newest Pride and Prejudice adaptation. Michael Gambon as hot-tempered but soft-hearted Squire Hamley will be recognized by many viewers; he’s also in Masterpiece Theatre’s Cranford. But Justine Waddell as Molly is the one to watch; pretty but intelligent, modest but direct, keeper of many secrets, Molly is a heroine whose happy ending we are committed to watching. When Elizabeth Gaskell died in 1866 Wives and Daughters was incomplete, though the stage was set and the loose ends were ready to be tied. Screenwriter Andrew Davies writes a charming (if slightly modern) ending to Molly’s story that satisfies completely. For Wives and Daughters in print, try the Penguin Classics edition published in 2003.   posted Jul 6, 2009 at 11:47AM

Cover ArtBleak house [DVD
(From the 2005 Masterpiece Theatre season.) Once upon a time, a man named John Jarndyce made a will. Actually, he made a few wills, and the case deciding which will gives what amount of money to which heir is still in court. Against the background of this seemingly unending courtroom drama, the lives of those at the heart of the case play out. The current John Jarndyce (descendant of the original) takes the case’s young wards, Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, into his almost-too-kind-to-be-true kind care. Compassionate young Esther Summerson longs to know her true identity. And beautiful, mysterious Lady Dedlock guards her deep, dark secret. Gillian Anderson, best known for her role as skeptical Scully on The X-Files, does a remarkable dramatic turn keeping her emotions in check as Lady Dedlock, with Charles Dance playing her--and everyone else’s--coldhearted nemesis Mr. Tulkinghorn. But the real star of the film is Anna Maxwell Martin, who plays Esther with a charm and intelligence that makes her the true heroine of the story. If you feel inspired to open up the book after (or instead of) watching the mysterious, suspenseful, absorbing film adaptation, Penguin Classics published a movie tie-in edition of Bleak House (which Dickens’ wrote in 1853), complete with a cover image of elegant Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock.   posted Jul 6, 2009 at 11:45AM

Cover ArtWives and daughters
by Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn, 1810-1865
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, 2009, Oxford World Classics (originally published 1866) Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) was a Victorian writer with an agenda of social criticism. She was very aware of the Victorian “Age of Progress” and was especially interested in the declining power of the aristocracy, the rise of the middle class, and how the two social groups were forced to interact. In Wives and Daughters, our heroine is young Molly Gibson. Molly’s contented life with her widowed doctor father suddenly gets more interesting when Molly meets the Hamleys, a proud, upper-class family that has fallen on hard times. Then Molly’s father suddenly remarries, turning her world on end. Molly’s life soon becomes intertwined with that of her flighty stepsister Cynthia, and with the two equally charming Hamley sons Osborne and Roger. Jane Austen fans will see shades of the Fanny-Edmund relationship in Mansfield Park and the Elinor-Marianne relationship in Sense and Sensibility. But Gaskell’s novel takes a much wider scope than any of Austen’s, involving characters of all classes and more politics than Austen. Still, the charm of Wives and Daughters comes almost entirely from the central character of Molly, who is modest and direct, pretty and intelligent, lovable and a heroine worth rooting for.   posted Jun 28, 2009 at 2:27PM

Cover ArtCranford
by Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn, 1810-1865
Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) was a Victorian writer with an agenda of social criticism. Her Cranford novels (Cranford, Mr. Harrison’s Confessions, and My Lady Ludlow are combined in the Vintage Classics edition, if you can find it) chronicle the lives of the women--spinster sisters Matty and Deborah, their kind-hearted and observant friend Mary Smith, and their many gossiping neighbors--in the market town of Cranford, a town facing social and economical changes as the Victorian age of progress pushes closes and closer. Gossip rules the lives of these women, whether it be talk of the railroad or the new bachelor doctor’s love interests. The stories are episodic and comic, the characters are realistic and loveable, and the narration is witty and intimate. Like Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell focuses on women and the events that are important to them: love and marriage of course, but also loss, death, and consequences that result from paths not taken. For readers who enjoy the gentle social criticism of Jane Austen’s books, Cranford is another portrait of the way of life of a time and place that has passed us by.   posted Jun 26, 2009 at 4:24PM

Cover ArtAmerican born Chinese
by Yang, Gene Luen
American Born Chinese is a graphic novel. This format tells its story through comic book-like panels of images and dialogue. It’s a perfect style for a coming-of-age story about a Chinese American boy dealing with the casual racism of high school life; a mythical character from Chinese folklore who thinks the gods don’t respect him because he’s a monkey; and a European American boy suffering the embarrassment of a visit from his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee. These three stories intertwine and merge beautifully through Yang’s lively illustrations and challenging stereotypes. The three characters face obvious problems but they are realistically flawed and their stories are told with originality and spirit—and some surprising plot twists and turns. The tale of Jin, the Monkey King, and Danny is a story for every dorky boy who wishes he was someone else—and let’s face it, we’ve all been there. American Born Chinese is truly American tale for the American dork in all its forms.   posted Jun 26, 2009 at 3:51PM

Cover ArtThe catcher in the rye
by Salinger, J. D. 1919-
Holden Caulfield has become the adolescent voice of every generation since The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951. He is an angst-filled teenager who has just been kicked out of yet another prep school. To vent his confusion and disillusionment, he runs off for a wild weekend in New York City. Holden desperately wants to be a grown-up—he checks into a hotel room, gets a drink at a club, goes on a date with a girl—but he’s only sixteen years old, and he can’t resist sneaking home to visit his kid sister. Holden is cynical, wishy-washy, lonesome, and angry—in other words, he’s having the emotional adolescence that we all can remember and relate with. The Catcher in the Rye is also a portrait of upper-class New York society in the 1950s, but Holden’s slangy narrative voice and his wryly acute observations ring true even in the twenty-first century.   posted Jun 26, 2009 at 3:51PM

Cover ArtHoles
by Sachar, Louis, 1954-
Stanley Yelnats has inherited his curse of bad luck from generations of Yelnats who came before him. A perpetually down-on-his-luck kid even on a good day, Stanley is really in for it now. Wrongfully convicted of stealing a baseball star’s sneakers, Stanley is sentenced to a six-month stint at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp for wayward boys. But there is no lake at Camp Green Lake. Instead there’s the Warden, a fearsome female who forces the boys to dig holes, five feet wide and five feet deep, in the ground where the lake used to be. When one of the other inmates, a boy named Zero, finally decides he’s had enough and runs off into the Texas desert, Stanley rises to the occasion for the first time in his life and set off to help. Along the way, the boys uncover the mysteries of Camp Green Lake—mysteries that include old-time Western bandits, Stanley’s pig-stealing great-great-grandfather, and buried treasure. Using cleverly-timed flashbacks and a wide array of quirky characters, author Louis Sachar unfolds this delightful tall tale that celebrates the plight of the underdog. With good guys and villains galore and a dorky boy to cheer for, Holes is a good old-fashioned adventure story.   posted Jun 26, 2009 at 3:50PM

Cover ArtKing Dork
by Portman, Frank
Tom Henderson has read The Catcher in the Rye for practically every English class of his high school career. When the classic is assigned again, Tom digs out his deceased father’s old copy and makes an interesting discovery: what seems to be a secret code is scribbled in the margins. Suddenly a commonplace book might just be able to end the cycle of humiliation and suffering that is Tom’s life as the king dork of Hillmont High. As intriguing as the mystery of the beat-up copy of Catcher in the Rye is, it is Tom’s unique character that makes King Dork stand out. From his hilarious hobby of making up band names and album titles (even though he doesn’t play an instrument) to his self-deprecating wit, Tom is a remarkably engaging and likeable teen voice. With Tom leading the way through a story that’s chock full of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, King Dork will appeal to the wannabe teenager rebel in all of us.   posted Jun 26, 2009 at 3:50PM

Cover ArtThe outsiders
by Hinton, S. E.
The Outsiders is a story of social divides in the classic vein of Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. Fourteen-year-old Ponyboy Curtis and his brothers Darry and Sodapop are “Greasers” living on the wrong side of the tracks in their small class-conscious town. They are the perpetual enemies of the rich kids, the socials or “Socs,” who live to rumble with the Greasers. Ponyboy is proud to be a Greaser. He knows that his brothers and their friends may not be perfect, but they will always have his back. But Ponyboy is also curious about the Socs, who, he suspects, might not be all bad. Then fellow Greaser Johnny gets into too much trouble with the Socs, and everything Ponyboy knows is about to change. Ponyboy narrates his tale with honesty and acute observation; his story inspires instant sympathy with the rough but loveable greasers. Every teen who’s been a member of a high school clique--or an outcast--will identify with Ponyboy’s story. The Outsiders was also made into a movie in the 1980s that starred members of the Hollywood brat pack—Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise—and the book and movie make ideal companions. S.E. Hinton wrote the book when she was only sixteen years old and The Outsiders speaks with a genuine teen voice. This classic of teen literature is not to be missed--even if (or maybe especially) you're not a teen anymore.   posted Jun 26, 2009 at 3:49PM

Cover ArtThe absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian
by Alexie, Sherman, 1966-
It’s tough being a handicapped bookworm who gets beat up at school every day and goes home to a poverty-stricken family on the Spokane Indian Reservation. But fourteen-year-old Junior makes it work with a sarcastic sense of humor and a penchant for drawing some very witty cartoons. Having a bear of a best friend like Rowdy who’s willing to come to your defense doesn’t hurt, either. But Junior is smart, talented, and he wants more. So he enrolls at the town school twenty miles away, where the only other Indian is the team mascot. Dodging and defying stereotypes at every turn, Junior finds himself with friends and enemies on both sides of the reservation border. Author Sherman Alexie—who, like his dorky hero, is a Spokane Indian born and raised on a reservation—pulls no punches when confronting issues of race and class. But Junior is a wishful, hopeful kid determined to find and hold his place in as many tribes and communities as it takes. Junior’s cartoons add visual flair and dark humor to a coming-of-age story that is certain to provoke thought and laughter in equal measure.   posted Jun 26, 2009 at 3:49PM

Cover ArtThe tale of Despereaux : being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and
by DiCamillo, Kate
The Tale of Despereaux is an adventure story for children, a mini-swashbuckler if you will. In fact, the moral of the story is that you can accomplish anything, even if you are very small. In a fairy-tale kingdom far away, a mouse named Despereaux Tilling is born. Despereaux is not like the other mice—he is very tiny, and very brave, and very much in love with the human Princess Pea. Despereuax knows that a true knight must go on a quest to win the love of a fair lady. Armed with a needle for a sword and his own romantic yearnings, Despereaux sets out on an adventure that will come to include the stories of lonely Princess Pea and her family; a dim-witted but wishful girl named Miggery Sow; and Chiaroscuro, a rat who loves the light. Author Kate DiCamillo is a skilled and subtle writer, seamlessly weaving compelling storylines with important messages for her readers, regardless of what age they are. The illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering are elegant and atmospheric. Even though it is a children’s book, this is not a kind, gentle adventure story. There is real danger and tragedy in The Tale of Despereaux. It may be a swashbuckler of junior status, but it still has enough action, romance, and heart to satisfy any hero with a sword and a sense of honor.   posted Jun 25, 2009 at 3:17PM

Cover ArtThe secret history of the Pink Carnation
by Willig, Lauren
This is an updated swashbuckler, a story that combines the modern world with history—and throws in a bit of chick lit romance for good measure. Harvard graduate Eloise Kelly is completing her dissertation about English spies (like the aforementioned Scarlet Pimpernel) when she comes across a trunk of letters and documents about a previously unknown historical spy. Soon Eloise and the reader are plunged into a novel-within-the-novel, the story of Amy Balcourt in the year 1803. Amy and her brother Edouard set off to Paris to join the league of another dashing spy, the Purple Gentian. But Eloise in the twenty-first century and Amy in the nineteenth century are both obsessed with the story of the very mysterious Pink Carnation, even as romance appears in both the present and the past in the form of a pair of dashing gentlemen with secrets of their own. Part literary detective story, part historical thriller, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation updates the classic swashbuckler while remaining true to its spirit. For more of the Pink Carnation’s history, read the rest of the books in Willig’s Pink Carnation series: The Masque of the Black Tulip, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, and The Temptation of the Night Jasmine.   posted Jun 23, 2009 at 2:24PM

Cover ArtCaptain Alatriste
by Perez-Reverte, Arturo
Captain Alatriste is a soldier for a country that’s down on its luck. Spain’s unbeatable Armada has been beaten, and the Spanish Inquisition is under way. So Alatriste makes his living hiring out his hand and his sword. One such employment—coming just when it’s needed most, as Alatriste has just gotten out of debtor’s prison—has Alatriste and a fellow assassin quietly snuffing out the lives of two English travelers late one night. But something about the Englishmen, something noble and worthy, stays Alatriste’s hand. His sense of honor now re-awoken, Alatriste finds himself smack in the middle of a political intrigue involving the most powerful political forces in seventeenth century Spain and England. Narrated with acute observation by Alatriste’s young squire Iñigo and chock-full of rich historical detail, Captain Alatriste is an ideal swashbuckler. This is cloak-and-dagger action that highlights a thoughtful, elegant plot with a dashing hero who is worth following into any adventure. Captain Alatriste is the introductory title in a series about the heroic swordsman; every title has been a bestseller in author Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s Spanish homeland. Elegant new translations ensure that Alatriste will win hearts on this side of the ocean just as easily. The sequels, in order, are Purity of Blood, The Sun Over Breda, and The King’s Gold. Pérez-Reverte is a master of these literary historical thrillers; for more of his swashbuckling style, try The Fencing Master as well.   posted Jun 23, 2009 at 2:24PM

Cover ArtThe scarlet Pimpernel
by Orczy, Emmuska Orczy, Baroness, 1865-1947
The Scarlet Pimpernel is, like the Three Musketeers and Zorro, a defender of truth and justice during a time of oppression—he’s just not quite as well known. But his story was a best-seller in its day and still makes for a swashbuckling good read. It is 1792, the beginning of the French Revolution and the reign of the bloody Guillotine. A secret society of Englishman has formed to save their French counterparts from the blade; their leader is a dashing masquerader known only as the Scarlet Pimpernel from the small red flower he leaves as his calling-card. But the Scarlet Pimpernel is in danger of betrayal from a beautiful woman. Marguerite St. Just is the wife of idiotic Englishman Percy Blakeney, and her heart has been captured by the daring exploits of the Pimpernel. Marguerite has also unintentionally sent one of her countryman to his death on the guillotine, and her brother is known to be in league with the Pimpernel. When the dastardly Citizen Chauvelin offers Marguerite her brother’s life in exchange for information about the secret society, the Scarlet Pimpernel will need all his wily ways to escape the evil clutches of the French and still save the day. Readers of this stirring tale will not be surprised to learn that the Scarlet Pimpernel, with his secret identity and daring deeds, was the blueprint for every masked avenger who came racing to the rescue later.   posted Jun 23, 2009 at 2:22PM

Cover ArtThe princess bride : S. Morgenstern's classic tale of true love and high adventu
by Goldman, William, 1931-
Most of us know The Princess Bride best from the charming 1987 film version, but it was a book first, and an equally delightful one at that (due in part, no doubt, to author of book and screenplay being one and the same in William Goldman). The Princess Bride takes all the glory, revenge, and romance from classic swashbuckling adventure stories (like The Three Musketeers, Zorro, and The Scarlet Pimpernel) and turns the whole mess on its ear. There’s still adventure galore, but Goldman frames his book as an old classic that needs all the boring historical parts edited out in order to get readers to the good action bits. It’s a hilarious premise, since Goldman’s descriptions of what’s been cut (and why he’s decided to make those cuts) are as clever as the rest of the adventure, which pits the beautiful Princess Buttercup and her true love Westley against an evil genius, a six-fingered man, and a power-hungry future king (not to mention a giant, a pirate, and a down-on-his luck swordsman). Filled with comic duels of the mind and the heart, The Princess Bride is a charming story that both critiques and celebrates the classic swashbuckler.   posted Jun 23, 2009 at 2:00PM

Cover ArtThe reavers
by Fraser, George MacDonald, 1925-2008
…And then the swashbuckler descended into chaos. This is a rousing, rambling, rowdy tale of spies, highwaymen, and luscious ladies. On the border of Scotland and England, a plot led by the mysterious mastermind La Infamosa is underway to kidnap King James and replace him with a Scottish imposter. But there are some forces of, um, good who stand in the way--Archie Noble, whose rugged good looks make him the perfect Elizabethan-era James Bond; Lady Godiva Dacre, who is nothing short of a knockout; her plump, dimwitted maid-in-waiting Kylie; and Gilderoy, the sex appeal-oozing thief/secret agent. There’s the fast-paced swordplay of a classic swashbuckler; there’s also good old-fashioned fistfights. We’ve got witty puns told in Scottish accents and villains twirling their mustachios at veiled ladies. For cloak-and-dagger intrigue and whole lot of inspired silliness, look no further than The Reavers. George MacDonald Fraser is best known for his series about Sir Harry Flashman, a Victorian-era cad who goes out of his way to avoid ever swashing any buckle of any kind. Fraser died early in 2008, so fans of Flashman’s adventures are certain to get a kick out of this delightfully nonsensical swan song.   posted Jun 23, 2009 at 2:00PM

Cover ArtThe three musketeers
by Dumas, Alexandre, 1802-1870
If you think The Three Musketeers is a stodgy old classic, think again. It is the original swashbuckler and an adventure story that has stood the test of time through hundreds of editions and translations, spin-offs, and movies. Hell, it’s even got a candy bar named after it. The Musketeers are the private bodyguards of King Louis XIII of France in 1624, and the three signaled out by the title are long-standing members of this guard: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. But the real hero of the story is reckless young d’Artagnan, a wannabe Musketeer who must prove his mettle and his devotion to the cause as the trio fight to defend king, queen, and honor against a devious Cardinal and mysterious spy known only as “Milady.” Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan set the mold (and maybe break it too) for the dashing, daring, laughing-in-the-face-of-danger gentleman type that we associate with a swashbuckler. The story was first written over one hundred and sixty years ago, but it’s the sort of legendary stuff that the world will never be too old for. The Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, if you can get your hands on it, is a real treat to read, complete as it is with a very readable and rousing new translation and a gleefully comic illustrated cover.   posted Jun 23, 2009 at 1:59PM

Cover ArtThe pirates! in an adventure with Napoleon
by Defoe, Gideon
This is the fourth in the madcap Pirates! series by Gideon Defoe, whose swashbuckling pirates have previously run amok with Charles Darwin, Captain Ahab, and communists. This time around, the dashing Pirate Captain is nursing a wounded ego (he’s lost the Pirate of the Year Awards) on the tropical island of St. Helena. Unfortunately, there’s already another big ego with a sword on the island—the freshly exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. Rivalry ensues. Defoe delights in anachronisms and making fun of sea adventure stereotypes (witness the Pirate Captain’s attempts to win over the residents of St. Helena with a hand-crafted statue of the Queen made from potato chips). Unabashedly juvenile, farcical, nonsensical, even ridiculous, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon wants nothing more than to make you throw aside your sword with hysterical laughter—but watch out for where it lands since, as the Pirate Captain would be sure to say, the sharp end of a sword can be rather pointy.   posted Jun 23, 2009 at 1:59PM

Cover ArtGentlemen of the road
by Chabon, Michael
Zelikman is a scarecrow thin, rapier-wielding doctor from the Frankish countries. Amram is a giant African ex-soldier with a very large battle ax. Together they are gentlemen of the road—swords-for-hire making their way through the Caucasus Mountains in the year 950 A.D. Their code of honor, such as it is, extends only to each other and their loyal steeds. But when they end up burdened with Prince Filaq of the Khazar Empire, they also find themselves unaccountably moved to help the young royal avenge himself upon his usurping uncle and reclaim his rightful throne. It won’t be an easy journey—Zelikman is moody, Amram is sarcastic, and privileged Filaq is just plain bad-tempered—but it will be a swashbuckling adventure filled with sword fights, surprising secrets, and even herds of exotic elephants. Michael Chabon is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has delved into every genre from mystery to fantasy. When he tries his hand at high adventure here with Gentlemen of the Road, he is certain to be a rousing success. The action, which takes place over one thousand years ago, is deftly and richly described. The characters are real and funny, and the adventure always rings true. Illustrations by Gary Gianni heighten the action and give a real feel that the reader is holding what is sure to be a terrifically fun story.   posted Jun 23, 2009 at 1:58PM

Cover ArtZorro : a novel
by Allende, Isabel
Zorro is every bit as legendary as the Three Musketeers. This crafty eighteenth-century revolutionary is more than a swashbuckler; he’s also an early type of the mask-and-cape superhero with a secret identity (Zorro, in fact, was first invented as a new caped crusader for a 1919 pulp magazine). In this retelling, we get the origin story of colonial California’s very own Robin Hood. Diego de la Vega is the son of a wealthy Spanish officer and a beautiful Native American woman. Always conscious of his mixed heritage, young Diego witnesses first-hand the shameful inequalities native Californians (including his good friend Bernardo) suffer at the hands of the ruling Europeans. Diego is sent to Spain to complete his education and recruited to La Justica, a secret society dedicated to fighting the powers of oppression and injustice. When Diego returns to California to fight for the rights of the land and the people he loves, the legend of the masked avenger Zorro is born. Author Isabel Allende believes that the glory of this swashbuckler lies in the history behind the hero, everything from childhood dreams to duels with his fencing master to a desperate love affair. There are modern touches as well to endear us modern readers to the old-fashioned tale—social reform, class differences, and a richly detailed historical context that make us love this rapier-wielding, Z-slashing mystery man even more. Allende is a highly accomplished, award-winning, critically-acclaimed novelist, and with Zorro she’s all that and a rousing adventure story.   posted Jun 23, 2009 at 1:58PM

Cover ArtMr. Darcy takes a wife : Pride and prejudice continues
by Berdoll, Linda
If you just can’t help wondering about the dozens of Jane Austen sequels (and let’s face it, we are curious), this author has a sense of humor about taking on one of the masterpieces of English literature. This is really the ultimate romance novel. Elizabeth is feisty, Mr. Darcy is dashing, and the book has a sense of humor about Austen’s language and writing style--and about sex scenes between two of the most beloved romantic leads in literature. Furthermore, Berdoll creates detailed characterizations of the new Mr. and Mrs. Darcy and adds new characters and plots to a new historical context. All this means that the book can really stand on its own, as its own story, even though it is a sequel to the events described in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy are embarking on their greatest adventure--marriage. Elizabeth is balancing her independent spirit with her duties as mistress of Pemberley, Darcy gets involved with the war on France, and they just can’t keep their hands off each other. The story goes far beyond the original, making it a rollicking, hilarious, sexy romp through Jane Austen’s wild side. There’s an equally fun sequel to the sequel, Darcy and Elizabeth: Days and Nights at Pemberley (2006).   posted Jun 16, 2009 at 11:32AM

Cover ArtExcellent women
by Pym, Barbara
In 1974, the Times Literary Supplement asked well-known authors to list “the most underrated novelist of the century.” Barbara Pym (1913-1980) was the only author named twice. Pym’s career was reborn and she was acknowledged as a major writer. Excellent Women is one of her best-known works and has an opening line comparable to that of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (to whom Pym is often compared): “ ‘Ah, you ladies! Always on the spot when there’s something happening!’ ” Mildred Lathbury is a witty, self-deprecating single woman inching past her prime in an unfashionable London neighborhood. Her quiet life of afternoon teas with the vicar and jumble sales at the church gets considerably more interesting with the arrival of some exotic new neighbors. Pym’s comparison to Jane Austen comes from her quirky characters and stylish storytelling.   posted Jun 16, 2009 at 11:30AM

Cover ArtFrederica
by Heyer, Georgette, 1902-1974
Georgette Heyer was surely the ultimate Jane Austen fan. By the time of her death in 1974 she had written over fifty books, most set in Regency England and featuring smart, genteel young women falling in love. Heyer was less interested in social commentary than Austen, but she sure loved the society. Her historical detail is impeccable, but if what you love most about Jane Austen is the delightful characters and sparkling romance, then Heyer is the author for you. Frederica is a good introduction to her work. The title character is a capable young woman who—at the age of 24—is too busy running her household of precocious younger siblings to be concerned with her own romantic fate. That just might change when Frederica entrusts her charming family to the care of the snobbish Lord Alverstroke.   posted Jun 16, 2009 at 11:30AM

Cover ArtPride and prejudice and zombies : the classic Regency romance -- now with ultrav
by Grahame-Smith, Seth
As our story opens, a mysterious plague is causing England’s dead to rise from the grave and hunt the flesh of the living. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, well-versed in both the feminine and the deadly arts, is content to slay legions of the undead and defend her family—until she meets the equally skilled but oh-so-arrogant Mr. Darcy. The classic text of Pride and Prejudice is intermingled with episodes of zombie mayhem. Mr. Darcy admires Elizabeth’s fine eyes at the Meryton Ball; zombies attack. Elizabeth tours the grounds at Pemberley; zombies attack. The more familiar you are with Pride and Prejudice, the bigger the kick (or chop, or bite, or beheading) you’ll get from this from this hilarious and ridiculous brawl, but the premise is outrageous enough to peak the curiosity of even the staunchest Austen purist.   posted Jun 16, 2009 at 11:29AM

Cover ArtThe woman in white
by Collins, Wilkie, 1824-1889
Jane Austen’s novels only gained in popularity after her death, but the next biggest literary craze was the Sensation novel of the Victorian era. Sensation novels are domestic tales of romance, like Jane Austen’s books, but they revel in the scandals that Austen was only able to hint at—madness, intrigue, coincidence, mistaken identity, even murder. The Woman in White is the tale of a poor drawing-master who meets a strange woman, clad in white, on the moonlit streets outside of London. He is soon plunged into the mystery surrounding this woman, especially when that same mystery touches the family of the woman he loves. Jane Austen would surely have been a strong defender and an avid fan of the sensational Sensation novel, which has much in common with the Gothic novels that she loved and read in her day. Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Ellen Wood make up the triumvirate of the best Victorian Sensation authors.   posted Jun 16, 2009 at 11:23AM

Cover ArtLady susan; the watsons; sanditon [electronic resource]
The three minor works collected here are the closest we’ll ever get to another complete novel by Jane Austen. Lady Susan is a novella composed in the early 1790s at the same time as early versions of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. It’s a sassy little tale about Lady Susan, a dazzling young widow who wants her daughter to marry well and herself to marry even better. Her schemes and seductions unfold through letters that the characters write to each other. The Watsons is an unfinished fragment about Emma Watson, daughter of a poor curate who’s farther down on the social ladder than any other Austen heroine—maybe so far down that Austen couldn’t see a realistic way to raise her up, and possibly why the story was abandoned in 1804. Still, The Watsons showcases Austen’s optimism and originality. Austen was writing Sanditon at the time of her death in 1817, and from the eleven chapters she wrote, it’s clear this story would have been on par with the other novels. It begins with an overturned carriage, follows with several cheerful gossipy chapters about the histories of the characters, and ends just when the heroine finds herself involved in a romantic mystery. Several authors (Joan Aiken, Juliette Shapiro, Julia Barrett, and an anonymous “Other Lady”) have tried completing The Watsons or Sanditon, but not one lives up to the promise contained in these small but tantalizing hints that Austen left behind.   posted Jun 16, 2009 at 11:22AM

Cover ArtThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Shaffer, Mary Ann
It is January, 1946. Juliet is enjoying her new-found success as a writer and the return of England's freedoms now that World War II is over. Then Juliet gets a letter from a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. Intrigued by this strange-sounding book club (who wouldn't be?) Juliet begins corresponding with its members, who founded their club during the German occupation of Guernsey Island. Guernsey's residents share their tragic and comic stories with Juliet through letters, and a witty, quirky cast of characters quickly takes over the book. Juliet becomes so involved in the lives of the Guernsey islanders that she journeys there, sharing events on the island through letters to her editor and her best friend. The book is based on years of research into the Guernsey occupation by author Mary Ann Shaffer and her devotion to this cause and her admiration for what Guernsey suffered is vividly apparent. Despite touching on many of the horrors of war, the story is ultimately light, charming, and sugary sweet. It is an uplifting and heartwarming read that shows how books bring people together.   posted Jun 16, 2009 at 11:07AM

Cover ArtCrocodile on the sandbank
by Peters, Elizabeth, 1927-
If you think the Victorian era was a prim and proper one when delicate ladies stayed quietly at home, you’ve never met the irrepressible, indomitable Amelia Peabody. When near-spinster Amelia (she’s thirty-two) comes into a rather large inheritance, she flings off the mantle of home and hearth and sets out for faraway Egypt. Along the way she meets lovely Evelyn, abandoned by her lover with no means of support. With her typical disregard for convention, Amelia takes Evelyn under her wing and whisks her away up the Nile. Amelia indulges her passion for Egyptology at an archeological site run by the Emerson brothers. Amiable young Walter Emerson is smitten by Evelyn, but hot-tempered Radcliffe is soon butting heads with Amelia at every turn. And soon there’s a kidnapping attempt on Evelyn, a few too-coincidental accidents, and a walking, talking (well, moaning) mummy haunting the dig site. How Amelia solves these many mysteries is only half the fun. The historical details and the exotic setting add their charms, but Amelia herself is the biggest draw to this mystery series. Armed with her unflappable self-confidence, her dry wit, and her trusty umbrella, Amelia is a delightfully loveable Wonder Woman of the Victorian age. Amelia’s circle of family and friends grows over the years and there are always mysteries and murders to solve, but Amelia’s wit remains sharp, her passions always run strong, and her sense of determination never, ever flags. Book 2: Curse of the Pharaohs   posted Jun 12, 2009 at 11:21AM

Cover ArtDead until dark
by Harris, Charlaine
Sookie Stackhouse is a small-town waitress on a seemingly permanent streak of bad luck. She can read minds, one of her coworkers has been murdered, and her new love interest is a vampire. Life in rural Louisiana has just gotten very complicated. Still, Bill is a hunk and dating a vampire has its benefits—Sookie can’t hear the thoughts in his head, for one thing, which is a refreshing change—but it’s not all fun in the dark. Bill has some decidedly unsavory friends, and there is that pesky murder… Sookie’s no damsel in distress—she’s a smart, thoughtful, generous young woman who readers care about, even as author Charlaine Harris causes thrills and chills with a quirky array of supporting characters and a suspenseful mystery plot. Plus there are vampires, and let’s face it, we all love a mystery with a blood-sucking undead creature of the night. Sookie’s romance with Bill the vampire and her relationships with other mythical creatures continue in eight other books. Each one is as colorful and atmospheric as Dead Until Dark, which serves as the introduction to Sookie and her distinctly unusual lifestyle. Cleverly blending romance, action, and the paranormal, Sookie Stackhouse is the go-to girl for some seriously spooky sleuthing. Book 2: Living Dead in Dallas   posted Jun 12, 2009 at 11:21AM

Cover ArtFlashman : from the Flashman papers 1839-1842
by Fraser, George MacDonald, 1925-2008
Rogue, rake, cad, cur, blackguard, brute—you know all those great old-fashioned words for a jerk that nobody uses anymore? Well, bring them all back for Sir Harry Paget Flashman, the Victorian era’s most loveable scoundrel. A bawdy, jolly tale that is also a great historical fiction, Flashman is a rousing, rollicking introduction to Harry Flashman’s “memoirs” and readers won’t fail to be charmed by Flashman’s candor as he gleefully sets the record straight and confesses all his past indiscretions, fabrications, and outright lies. In his first adventure, Flashman is out for little more than free drinks and fast women. A seduction-gone-wrong saddles him with a one-way ticket to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. Now all Flashy just wants to save his ass, but he keeps getting flung right into the middle of every major historical event of the time, culminating in the military’s 1841 defeat during Britain’s Afghanistan campaign. But Flashman is always an opportunist, making time to hone his skills as a lover, fighter, imposter, and coward. The character of Flashman is first heard of in a real Victorian novel—he’s a minor character, a schoolboy bully, in Thomas Hughes’ 1857 novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Over a hundred years later, George MacDonald Fraser resurrected Flashman for a twelve-book series that celebrates the escapades of this dastardly clever antihero in all his glory. Book 2: Royal Flash   posted Jun 12, 2009 at 11:20AM

Cover ArtThe Eyre affair : a novel
by Fforde, Jasper
Great Britain, 1985. The Crimean War has dragged on for 130 years. England is practically a police state. Cloned dodo birds are the pet of choice. Even time travel is routine. For plucky literary detective Thursday Next, this is all in a day’s work. Thursday’s got other things on her mind. She’s got a dysfunctional family—her mother is distinctly wacky, her father is a rogue time-traveler, her absent-minded uncle keeps forgetting what his inventions do, and she’s still got to win back her long-lost love. Thursday’s also got a challenging career. Literature is taken very seriously in this surreal version of England and Thursday’s job is to track down Shakespeare forgeries and the like, with some occasional freelance work on the vampire and werewolf hunting squad. But when a criminal mastermind figures out how to go inside the world of fiction and starts kidnapping characters from their books, Thursday takes a stand. What good would the world be, after all, without Jane Eyre? Allusions to the great works of literature abound and readers will have a ball spotting them. Science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, and—above all—humor all play a role in this madcap adventure. But it’s the character of Thursday that really makes The Eyre Affair and its sequels the quirky, madcap reads that they are. Thursday Next is a no-nonsense, hardboiled detective, but she’s also a plucky, witty, winsome heroine just trying to keep her life from spinning out of control. Jasper Fforde begs, borrows, and steals from the classical works of literature and almost every literary genre to create a delightfully comic and satirical world that gets more and more inventive with every turn of the page. Book 2: Lost in a Good Book   posted Jun 12, 2009 at 11:19AM

Cover ArtStorm front
by Butcher, Jim, 1971-
There’s more than one wizard named Harry. This Harry is no mere boy living in fantasyland; this Harry is a hardboiled detective working the mean streets of Chicago. When the police department has a case that runs to the supernatural they turn to Harry Dresden, because he’s good at what he does—well, okay, he’s the only one who does what he does. But he needs rent money, so someone starts using black magic to murder his victims, Harry takes the case. But this is not an easy case to crack. The White Council of Wizards pegs Harry as the killer. The cops are suspicious. A mob boss wants Harry out. And then there’s Bianca, the sexy vampire, and British Bob, the ancient talking skull. Author Jim Butcher juggles all the weird and wacky with aplomb, throwing in a pinch of fantasy here and a dash of horror there to make this classic loner-detective a little more than interesting. Harry is a sympathetic, likeable guy for all his grumbling, and readers who like their magic with a healthy dose of sarcasm, irony, and humor will find themselves rooting for Harry Dresden as he sweeps the streets of Chicago clear of all its paranormal and supernatural dangers. Book 2: Fool Moon   posted Jun 12, 2009 at 11:18AM

Cover ArtThe mysterious Benedict Society
by Stewart, Trenton Lee
“Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?” This unusual newspaper ad catches the eye of an especially observant and inventive orphan named Reynie Muldoon. It also catches the eyes of ready-for-adventure Kate Wetherall, brainy and sensitive George “Sticky” Washington, and very contrary little Constance Contraire. The children pass a series of tests for the mind and spirit and are recruited by the philanthropic Mr. Benedict. Their mission: infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, a school run by the brilliant but dastardly Ledroptha Curtain. Mysterious messages are issuing forth from the school to brainwash the unsuspecting population, and Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance need to combine their unique talents and skills to save the day. The reader gets to follow clues and solve puzzles right along with the kids for a reading experience that is interactive, exciting, and thoughtful. Reminiscent of Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket’s stories of clever orphans, The Mysterious Benedict Society is as rich in real-life issues as it is in character detail, suspense, and surprises. The crew reunites in to sequels, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (2008) and They Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma (2009). The adventures and personalities of the kids are so delightful that we can only hope the Mysterious Benedict Society will meet again and again.   posted Jun 9, 2009 at 9:48AM

Cover ArtHarry Potter and the sorcerer's stone
by Rowling, J. K.
As if any list of child-heroes could be complete without Harry Potter! Young Harry is, without a doubt, the most popular kid to ever stumble into a fantasy world. J.K. Rowling’s first in the Harry Potter series is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, an adventure for the reader as much as for Harry. Harry is an orphan living with his heartless aunt and uncle. But Harry’s mundane existence is about to change completely. As his eleventh birthday approaches, Harry’s home is inundated with mysterious letters written in emerald ink and delivered by swooping owls. These are invitations for Harry to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. That’s right, Harry is a wizard-in-training, the son of very talented magical parents who were killed by the very bad Lord Voldemort when Harry was just a baby. Harry miraculously survived the attack, and Voldemort hasn’t been heard of since. But now as Harry is immersed in the thrilling world of Hogwarts with all its twists and turns and surprises, rumors of Voldemort’s return are reaching the magical world again. There’s also a locked door on the third floor of Hogwarts Castle, a very nervous new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, friends and enemies (and ghosts) who roam the halls, and an exciting new sport played on broomsticks. And Harry most definitely has a role to play and a destiny to fulfill as all the mysteries and secrets of his history are revealed. Filled with astonishingly imaginative details and delightfully quirky characters (human and mythical alike), this first stage of Harry’s enchanting seven-book journey to rid the world of the desperately evil Lord Voldemort—and find himself along the way--is absolutely certain to delight, charm, chill, and intrigue readers from age eight to eighty. With the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling creates one of the most richly crafted fantasy worlds in literature.   posted Jun 9, 2009 at 9:48AM

Cover ArtThe lion, the witch and the wardrobe
by Lewis, C. S. 1898-1963
Not only was C.S. Lewis one of the first to fling everyday children into a fantasy world and let them to save the day, he’s still one of the absolute best. It’s really quite perfect—four ordinary children literally open a door to a magical, faraway world. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are sent to a rambling country mansion to wait out the London bombing raids of World War II. One day they play hide-and-seek, and Lucy hides in a big empty wardrobe that is not at all what it seems to be. It is, in fact, a magical passage into the world of Narnia, a land where animals talk, the spirits of trees walk, and a golden lion named Aslan rules all. At least, that’s the way things should be in Narnia, but just now the land is under the thumb of the evil White Witch, whose hundred-year curse makes it always winter but never Christmas. When Lucy leads her brothers and sister into Narnia, she sparks a fantastic adventure of belief, betrayal, and talking beavers. This is the first book in the ever-popular Chronicles of Narnia (though it takes place second in the internal chronology of the series) and the adventures continue in six other books, which have remained immensely popular for generation after generation. Whether you’re reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for the first time or the fiftieth, you will never forget saving the wonderful world of Narnia with Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.   posted Jun 9, 2009 at 9:47AM

Cover ArtA wrinkle in time.
by L'Engle, Madeleine
Meg Murry’s little brother Charles Wallace is a misunderstood child genius. Meg is just an awkward teenage misfit--impatient and stubborn and angry about it to boot. Meg is also missing her father, who disappeared on top-secret government work and, on this particular dark and stormy night, Meg is also dealing with a very odd stranger who’s been blown off course and taken shelter in the Murry’s kitchen. The visitor is Mrs. Who and she’s here to lead Meg, Charles Wallace, and their neighbor Calvin O’Keefe (as popular in school as Meg is plain) on a journey to find Mr. Murry and restore him to his family—an act which will, in its own way, restore a much-needed sense of balance to the world in which the Murrays live. This journey will take the young trio through space and time by means of a tesseract—a wrinkle in the fabric of time—which, to put it mildly, is a very unique way to travel. A Wrinkle in Time is fantastic science fiction. It’s about time travel, dystopian societies, family, romance, and the good old-fashioned struggle to grow up. Madeleine L’Engle won the Newberry Award for her book, the first of a quintet about the Murry family and their various sci-fi travels. The series quickly became classics, but A Wrinkle in Time remains the best-known and best-loved of L’Engle’s books. This is because Meg is a prickly, realistic teenage heroine with a wonderfully understanding family, Mrs. Who and her companions (Mrs. What and Mrs. Which) are delightfully quirky, and their adventure is ultimately about recognizing your flaws, turning them into strengths, and accepting yourself for who you really are.   posted Jun 9, 2009 at 9:47AM

Cover ArtGood omens
by Gaiman, Neil
No kidding around this time; the world is about to end. This is the real Apocalypse we’re talking about. Armageddon is scheduled for next Saturday, actually, according to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, fifteenth century Witch and fortune-teller. But there are a few kinks in the plan. The ancient rivals of Good and Evil have decided that the end of the world would seriously cramp their lifestyles. Besides, they like the human race. The charmingly clumsy Newton Pulsifer has been recruited to the witch-hunting profession and finds himself smitten with a so-called “occult professional” who is, in fact, the lovely descendent of the aforementioned Agnes Nutter. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride motorcycles. But the biggest obstacle to the end of the world is the Antichrist—an eleven-year-old boy quietly making mischief in the English countryside. Young Adam has grown up with a vague sense of purpose and power, and even his rough-and-tumble pack of best friends and his devoted pet dog (who’s actually a Hound of Hell) can’t predict what Adam will do when the forces of Heaven and Hell collided. This farcical book is a collaboration between two of the top fantasy writers today, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and their blend of wry sci-fi and dark humor make for a hilarious, devious read. Adam is the calm around which the chaotic, comic mess of Good Omens centers, which makes it more than a fun book to read. It makes Good Omens a clever, irreverent satire that proves the simplest answer is often the best.   posted Jun 9, 2009 at 9:44AM

Cover ArtGregor the Overlander
by Collins, Suzanne
Gregor is a kid with all the responsibilities of an adult and few of the perks. He has little to look forward to except a summer babysitting his little sister and his senile grandmother while his mother works all day to make ends meet. But when his precocious baby sister, Boots, slips down a vent in the laundry room, Gregor dives down after her and finds himself in a magical world deep beneath the streets of the city. This sunless land is populated by pale humans with bright eyes and oversized talking animals—spiders, bats, cockroaches, and the bad guys of the underworld realm, rats. Gregor just wants to go home, but a prophecy that an “Overlander” will save the day and rumors that his father, who disappeared years ago, might be held captive by the rats keeps Gregor underground. He sets out to find his father with a group of Underland royalty and their majestic bats, two cockroaches who dote on little Boots, and a sly warrior rat who is leading the way—or betraying Gregor’s group to the other cruel rats who hunt them. Gregor is a reluctant hero, but his determined sense of right and wrong gives him an edge that few others have. Gregor the Overlander is an atmospheric, compelling fantasy that matures as the story evolves and Gregor faces more challenges. This is the first of Suzanne Collins’ Underland Chronicles, a series of adventures with Gregor and his otherworldly friends.   posted Jun 9, 2009 at 9:39AM

Cover ArtSummerland
by Chabon, Michael
Ethan Feld plays Little League baseball at the Summerlands, a little peninsula of land where the weather is perfectly idyllic year-round (though Ethan’s game doesn’t match the climate—he holds the team record for most errors and fewest hits). The Summerlands also provides a link between our world and other worlds, and it is through this path that the trickster Coyote creeps to kidnap Ethan’s inventor father. Much to Ethan’s surprise, he is recruited by the Ferishers, the fairy-like tribe of baseball-loving beings who dwell secretly in the Summerlands, to be their own personal hero and save them from Coyote’s schemes. Ethan collects a motley crew of companions along the way--including a wise werefox, a lonely Sasquatch, and his teammates Jennifer T. and Thor Wignutt--and ends up playing the game of his life against Coyote’s band of ghouls. More is at stake than the Ferishers’ right to their homeland or even Mr. Feld’s life. The fate of the world rests in the baseball bat and glove of young Ethan, worst baseball player in the history of the game. An imaginative, complex fantasy full of magical lands and otherworldly creatures, Summerland is a story for all ages from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Summerland is infused with adventure, challenging and entertaining themes, American mythology, and above all, the grand game of baseball.   posted Jun 9, 2009 at 9:38AM

Cover ArtThe princess bride : S. Morgenstern's classic tale of true love and high adventu
by Goldman, William, 1931-
Most of us know The Princess Bride best as swashbuckling action-adventure romantic comedy movie from the 1980s. But first The Princess Bride was a book, and that book is just as swashbuckling and even—if you can believe it—funnier than its big screen counterpart. This is in part because the book’s author, William Goldman, also wrote the screenplay. Goldman frames the book as an abridged version of an old classic by a certain long-winded S. Morgenstern. So Goldman presents the “Good Parts” version, skimming over the supposedly boring (but actually very funny) historical bits and getting right to the good stuff—the adventure of Buttercup and her farm boy Westley. The road to true love is never smooth, and Buttercup and Westley are up against a prince, a pirate, a genius, and a giant—not to mention a drunken swordsman, a six-fingered man, and a species of rodent of unusual size. The Princess Bride is Goldman’s baby from start to finish, and his unique brand of witty humor translates equally well to page and to screen. The film has a narrative frame of a grandfather reading the story to his grandson, home sick in bed. The book goes a step farther—Goldman writes himself into his own book through the notes to the abridgment and becomes as active a character as Westley or Buttercup. Fact and fiction mix for a unique tongue-in-cheek reading experience. And still, of course, there’s the classic Princess Bride story, the real stuff of fantasy, adventure, and legend: “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles…”   posted Jun 9, 2009 at 9:30AM

Cover ArtThe princess bride : S. Morgenstern's classic tale of true love and high adventu
by Goldman, William, 1931-
Most of us know The Princess Bride best as swashbuckling action-adventure romantic comedy movie from the 1980s. But first The Princess Bride was a book, and that book is just as swashbuckling and even—if you can believe it—funnier than its big screen counterpart. This is in part because the book’s author, William Goldman, also wrote the screenplay, and his unique brand of wit and humor translates equally well to both mediums. The Princess Bride is Goldman’s baby from start to finish, though he frames the book as an abridged version of an old classic by a certain S. Morgenstern. Morgenstern, Goldman claims as editor, was a historian from the country of Florin who got a little long-winded at times whilst telling his story, going into too much detail about ancient history, obscure customs, and court rules. So Goldman presents the “Good Parts” version, skimming over the supposedly boring (but actually very funny) historical bits and getting right to the good stuff—the adventure of Buttercup and her farm boy Westley. The road to true love is never smooth, and Buttercup and Westley are up against a prince, a pirate, a genius, and a giant—not to mention a drunken swordsman, a five-fingered man, and a species of rat of unusual size. In both the book and the film, the story really begins when a scruffy old man shuffles into the bedroom of a boy home sick from school, pulls out a tattered old copy of The Princess Bride, and begins to read about the stuff of fantasy, adventure, and legend: “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles…”   posted Jun 5, 2009 at 3:09PM

Cover ArtMiss Pettigrew lives for a day
by Watson, Winifred, 1906-2002
When the film version of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was released in 2008 and a new edition of the book was printed, one critic wrote, “Why has it taken more than half a century for this wonderful flight of humor to be rediscovered?” That critic had a point—Winifred Watson’s captivating tale of how the middle-aged, out-of-touch, ex-governess Miss Pettigrew spends a glamour-filled day with the fetching but flighty nightclub singer Delysia La Fosse is a story most of us have never heard. Pre-World War II London is full of flash and glitter, Delysia’s many entanglements with men are dizzying, and we enjoy the surprises, triumphs, and revelations of the day right along with the wonder-filled Miss Pettigrew. The movie that put this little book back on the map is a fine adaptation starring Frances McDormand as Miss Pettigrew and Amy Adams as Delysia. Some of the action in the book is toned down for the film (references to drug use, such as they are, are deleted) and the romance is played up, but both the film and book will brighten up any day.   posted Jun 2, 2009 at 2:47PM

Cover ArtCold Comfort Farm
by Gibbons, Stella, 1902-1989
Flora Poste is an elegant, sophisticated young lady living in glamorous London in the 1930s. She’s also an orphan, and her determined sense of order demands that she put her good taste to work and find a new branch of the family to fix. She settles on the oddest bunch she can find—an aunt, uncle, and cousins who live deep in the country on Cold Comfort Farm. Armed with her journal, several issues of Vogue magazine, and a tall pair of rubber boots, Flora sets out to drag Cold Comfort Farm into the modern fashionable age. This act of generosity proves a bit more challenging when Flora finds herself confronted with an over-sexed, moving-picture-obsessed cousin; an uncle who preaches until his congregation literally quivers in Fear of the Lord; a poetry-writing, free-spirited young sprite who’s in love with the dashing lord next door; and a great aunt who’s “seen something nasty in the woodshed.” A parody of the earthy, melodramatic novels of D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy, Cold Comfort Farm is, quite simply, hilarious. The 1995 film version (starring Kate Beckinsdale as the no-nonsense, never-give-up Flora) wonderfully captures Gibbons’ sense of the odd, the eccentric, and the absurd, and genuinely brings the page to life.   posted Jun 2, 2009 at 2:46PM

Cover ArtA Room with a view
by Forster, E. M. 1879-1970
Edwardian England was a prim and proper era with little time for the real passions of real people. But when young Lucy Honeychurch has a romantic encounter with George Emerson (the son of a free-speaking Socialist—shocking!) in a flower-filled field in Italy, she faces precisely that dilemma—follow convention or follow her heart. Back home in England, surrounded by her charming and well-meaning family and neighbors, Lucy attempts the proper path and engages herself to the very prim Cecil. Less-than-satisfied but encouraged by her spinster aunt, Lucy’s orderly world is thrown into disarray when George reappears in her life. A Room with a View features some of the most delightful characters in literature—the outlandish lady writer Eleanor Lavish, the ultimate snob’s snob Cecil, the truth-speaking clergyman Mr. Beebe, and the primmest and proper-est spinster Aunt Charlotte. These characters are cast to a tee in the 1986 film adaptation which stars some of the day’s great actors, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Daniel Day-Lewis. The scene where George Emerson meets Lucy’s brother Freddy is priceless—few films these days feature grown men skinny-dipping in a very small pond…   posted Jun 2, 2009 at 2:46PM

Cover ArtThe African Queen
by Forester, C. S. 1899-1966
You might know The African Queen as an excellent old movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. This is the book that film is based on, and it’s every bit as good--even without Bogie and Kate. They play the characters of Charlie Allnutt and Rose Sayer, a burned-out trader with a beat-up old steamboat and a stern, no-nonsense missionary’s sister. Rose is indignant with anger at the World War I German threat to the British way of life (even in the heart of the African jungle), and Mr. Allnutt is the hapless fellow who gets roped into her outrageous plan. But first, they have to get their boat, The African Queen, down the river past rapids, waterfalls, malaria-ridden swamps, and German outposts. They also have to get to know each other—alone, in the jungle, on a rickety old boat. C.S. Forester knows boats and adventure, and what’s more, he knows character, dialogue, and human nature. The 1951 film is best-known for the performances of Hepburn and Bogart (who won the Oscar for best actor) and they are excellent as Rose and Allnutt, whether wading through swamps or nursing each other’s wounds. The film was shot on location in Africa, and remains as good as an adventure and romance as the book it was based on. Another link between the page and the screen is Katherine Hepburn's funny little 1987 memoir, The Making of The African Queen, or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost my Mind.   posted Jun 2, 2009 at 2:45PM

Cover ArtNorthanger Abbey
by Austen, Jane, 1775-1817
Northanger Abbey is probably Jane Austen’s least-known novel. It was published after Austen’s death in 1817, but it was written in 1799 and was in fact her first complete novel. The story of Catherine Morland’s introduction to society, her many blunders, and her overactive imagination is usually noted for its parody of the Gothic literature that Catherine obsessively reads. But Northanger Abbey is also a very sweet little romance. Jane Austen is at her most clever and wry in this slim novel and she writes one of her most charming and funny heroes in Henry Tilney, who teases and laughs where Mr. Darcy, Edward Ferrars, or Mr. Knightley would only glower, sulk, or lecture. Northanger Abbey is the only Austen novel that Hollywood has overlooked, but there have been film versions made for television. The most recent—and far and away the most pleasing—is the production that aired as a Masterpiece Theater presentation on Public Television in 2007. Masterpiece Theater is notoriously professional and accurate in their book adaptations so every nuance of Austen’s little masterpiece is distinguished. J.J. Field and Felicity Jones play the witty Tilney and the charmingly naïve Catherine to perfection, and the ending is exceptionally sweet. If you’re an Austen lover, don’t forget about Northanger Abbey in either of its engaging forms.   posted Jun 2, 2009 at 2:42PM

Cover ArtThe thirteenth tale : a novel
by Setterfield, Diane
A writer is famous and beloved, as much for her published works as for the outlandish lies she’s told about her personal history. Her best-known collection of stories lacks one thing—its promised thirteenth tale. Now, on her deathbed, the writer Vida Winter wants to tell that final tale. She wants to tell the true story of her life—a story of an old-fashioned family of identical daughters, a beautiful mother, a ghost, and a governess—and she chooses another writer to hear her tale. Margaret Lea is skeptical and wary of the famed writer’s charm, but she is irresistibly drawn deeper and deeper into Vida’s life and stories. And so too is the reader. Besides ghosts and mysteries and Gothic gloom galore, The Thirteenth Tale is full of everything that bibliophiles love and adore—stories within stories, histories within histories, and characters who are authors, writers, readers, and real devourers of books.   posted May 22, 2009 at 10:50AM

Cover ArtThe shadow of the wind
by Ruiz Zafon, Carlos, 1964-
At the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a young boy finds a new book that will obsess him for years to come. Daniel is the son of a bookseller, and each generation of his bookselling family guards a lost book, a classic work of literature that time has forgotten. Daniel’s choice is The Shadow of the Wind, an obscure book by an equally obscure writer named Julian Carax. Daniel searches for other Carax novels, only to discover that he is not the only reader to do so—in fact, copies of Carax’s books are being destroyed one by one, and Daniel may have the last copy of The Shadow of the Wind in existence. As young Daniel grows up in post-World War II Spain, he meets a wide array of mysterious characters—beautiful women and charming young men—who help and hinder him on his quest. Zafón’s book spent two years on the bestseller lists in its native Spain; it topped bestseller lists here as well, and with good reason. Atmospheric, epic, absorbing, almost obsessive—you’ll not only be unable to put this book down, you’ll be entirely and completely immersed in its story and mystery.   posted May 22, 2009 at 10:50AM

Cover ArtThe haunted bookshop
by Morley, Christopher, 1890-1957
The Haunted Bookshop is a sequel to Parnassus on Wheels, in which the discontented farm spinster Helen runs off with the charming travelling bookseller Roger Mifflin. Happily married, the Mifflins run a second-hand bookstore in Brooklyn that is haunted by quirky characters of both the dead and undead variety. Helen bakes chocolate, Roger waxes, and romance and comedy abound. Morley’s novels about the Mifflins are charming, delightful little books that are really about the importance of reading and the sheer love that everyday people—from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first—have for books, whether they’re romances, mysteries, or ghost stories. If the other books on this haunted booklist have set your hair on end, this older, lighter, comical ghost story might be just what you need to fall asleep again.   posted May 22, 2009 at 10:49AM

Cover ArtThe historian : a novel
by Kostova, Elizabeth
In Amsterdam in 1972, a motherless girl finds a bundle of secret letters and a medieval book in her father’s library. The book is blank, save for a disturbing illustration of a dragon and a single word: Drakulya. The letters, dated Oxford, 1930, are addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor.” Our heroine, nameless and bookish though she is, more than proves herself as she embarks on a quest to find out what this book and its letters means and why they have a nasty habit of changing the lives of its readers (who include her father and her father’s mentor) forever. Just don’t confuse The Historian with any old spooky horror story—Kostova’s book is as thoughtful and contemplative as it is chilling and thrilling. The characters have unique voices, the locations are exotically detailed, and Count Dracula--or Vlad Dracul the Impaler, as we should call him--is transformed from a tired and worn old fairytale into a very real and threatening menace. For readers who thought vampires were just for the teeny-bopper crowd, this detailed, layered, literary novel proved them wrong years before Twilight made bloodsuckers a trendy fad.   posted May 22, 2009 at 10:48AM

Cover ArtThe ghost writer
by Harwood, John, 1946-
Another young, lost boy (the almost-orphaned child with only books for company is a real staple of the haunted books-about-books genre) stumbles across a bunch of stories that he was never meant to read. This time it’s Gerald, a fatherless boy in Australia whose mother is supremely secretive about her past life. All Gerald has are his British pen pal Alice and the ghost stories that his Victorian grandmother wrote—stories that seem to have a tendency to come true and invade Gerald’s real life and history. As Gerald searches for the story of his mother’s life and the truth about mysterious Alice, the line between fantasy and fiction becomes distressingly and disturbingly blurred. A true blue old-fashioned ghost story that spans continents and centuries, The Ghost Writer is guaranteed to keep you up at night, in the best and most addictive way possible.   posted May 22, 2009 at 10:48AM

Cover ArtThe book of lost things
by Connolly, John, 1968-
David’s books have begun talking to him. Whispering really, alone in his attic bedroom as David mourns the death of his mother and keeps out of the way of his new stepmother. Soon David’s books become more real than the world around him, and he finds himself traveling through a fantasy land in the company of the Woodman, hunted by the Crooked Man, and searching for a King whose wondrous Book of Lost Things might just contain the one and only secret to sending David home again. The gloomy post-World War II setting, the fractured but still familiar fairy tale beasts and monsters, and the time-honored coming-of-age story combine to make The Book of Lost Things a spooky, entertaining, but always adult novel about the loss of innocence and the enduring power of a good story.   posted May 22, 2009 at 10:46AM

Cover ArtTwilight
by Meyer, Stephenie, 1973-
Ah, Twilight, the teen-angst-filled saga about one teenage girl’s crush on the dreamiest vampire-hunk this side of Brad Pitt. Or should we say Zach Efron or the Jonas Brothers? Roll your eyes all you want—Twilight has made the name of fictional character Edward Cullen synonymous with those real-life teen idols, and that’s a rare for any book (in fact, more people might have crushes on Edward than on Mr. Darcy!). Twilight was written with a teen audience specifically in mind, but millions of its readers have turned out to be real actual grown-ups. There’s even a fan website called “Soccer Moms for Twilight.” Sure, the writing is clunky and the dialogue is corny. Yes, author Stephenie Meyer takes some controversial liberties with the classic vampire mythology. True, the depiction of Bella and Edward’s relationship has some sticking points that don’t resonate with every reader. But the appeal of Twilight is Classic Romance—two young lovers, torn apart by circumstances beyond their control, must fight against all odds to stay together. Whether you love it or hate it (and there’s really no in-between), even adults will find themselves passionately devoted to debating their own point of view. And any book that gets us talking—or crushing on its characters—is worth looking into, regardless of how old we are.   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:30PM

Cover ArtThe graveyard book
by Gaiman, Neil
The Graveyard Book is actually not a teen book—it’s a kid’s book, the 2008 winner of the esteemed Newbery Prize for children’s literature. But its storyline begs to differ. The book begins with a serial killer picking off the members of a family in the dead of night. The lone survivor is a baby. With no family and no home, the little tot wanders up to the town graveyard, is adopted by the ghosts who haunt the hill, and bestowed with the appellation of Nobody “Bod” Owens. The boy faces dangers within the graveyard and without, but the tale is ultimately charming and sophisticated—just what we expect from author Neil Gaiman, who is equally at ease writing his unique brand of fantasy for adults, young adults, and children. The Graveyard Book, much like that other fantasy about an orphaned boy (Harry Potter, anyone?), is an ideal crossover title for ages eight to thirty-eight to eighty-eight.   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:29PM

Cover ArtThe book thief
by Zusak, Markus
The Book Thief is only a young adult book here in the States; in its home country of Australia, it was published as a general fiction title for adult readers. Why the publishers here opted for the young adult label is anyone’s guess, but lucky for us, it is readers who make a book great and not its publishers. In The Book Thief, Death narrates the story of grubby little Liesel, a mere child struggling to understand life in Nazi Germany. Despite being illiterate, Liesel copes by becoming a full-fledged book thief, stealing her first book from her brother’s graveside and moving on to raid Nazi book-burnings and rob the mayor’s library. Liesel’s accordion-playing foster father teaches her to read and Liesel is enchanted with the world of words, but life is dangerous, and more so when the family hides a Jew in the basement. World War II is always a complicated subject; when you make Death one of your main characters and let him tell your story, it’s really complicated. But that complexity makes it ideal for every age, especially when combined with Zusak’s sensitivity, intelligence, intensity, and humor (yes, humor, a very dark humor, much of which comes from Death's periodic bold-font bulletins). Whether you’re a teen in Australia or an adult in America, bibliophiles everywhere will beg, borrow, or steal to read The Book Thief.   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:29PM

Cover ArtThe hunger games
by Collins, Suzanne
In the not-so-distant future, the nation of Panem has risen from the ruins of North America. To keep its citizens in line, the Capital forces one boy and one girl from each of its twelve distracts to act as “tributes” in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death televised live to the people at home. Katniss Everdeen is this year’s tribute. She’s a fighter, but her determination to win is complicated by shifting loyalties, the pressure to perform for those in control, a desire to rebel, and the pressure to win at any cost. The story is more than an adventure of survival; it’s a commentary on government power and the entertainment value of reality TV. It’s also a dystopian moral tale in the grand tradition of The Giver, Brave New World, and 1984. More to the point, The Hunger Games (the first book in a planned trilogy) is an absorbing and thrilling page-turner, and that makes it required reading for any age group.   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:28PM

Cover ArtThe perks of being a wallflower
by Chbosky, Stephen
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a young adult title that its publisher nearly placed in the adult fiction section. True, the book is a coming-of-age story that tells the story of an awkward high school boy, but then again, we’ve all been awkward high school boys in our day (well, you know what I mean). Charlie is sensitive, intelligent, and endearingly bewildered about life in general. He befriends an older group of students who appreciate and understand his oddities, but will they be there to keep Charlie grounded when he starts to lose control? Charlie pours his heart out in letters to an unidentified recipient, and as readers we are privy to all Charlie’s charms, foibles, and deep secrets. Like Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye or Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Charlie is a kid telling an adult story, and his unique point of view will be universally appealing no matter how long ago or how gracefully you got through your own high school years.   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:28PM

Cover ArtThe astonishing life of Octavian Nothing, traitor to the nation. Volume one. the
M.T. Anderson’s other books (Thirsty, Burger Wuss, Feed) have all been books for young adults; it makes sense that his newest title is a teen book too. But that Octavian Nothing is different is apparent at first glance. Octavian is a young boy living in Boston on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Raised in isolation by a strange group of philosophers and scientists, Octavian doesn’t understand his place or purpose in the world—until one day when he does, and he is horrified. M.T. Anderson gives us a world and a set of characters that don’t know the outcome of the Colonies’ war with England, and that have some very difficult choices to make. Octavian Nothing forces us to ask a new set of questions about what we thought we knew—questions about history, hypocrisy, and personal choice--that are worth asking whether we took American History last year or last decade. The sequel, Volume II: Kingdom on the Waves, was published in 2008.   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:27PM

Cover ArtFeeling sorry for Celia
by Moriarty, Jaclyn
"Dear Miss Clarry, It has come to our attention that you are incredibly bad at being a teenager. Yours sincerely, The Association of Teenagers" This is just one of the letters Australian teenager Elizabeth Clarry writes and receives as she begins her first year of high school. Her best friend Celia has run away, her normally absent father is back in town, her communication with her mother consists of wacky notes left on the refrigerator, and an English assignment requires her to write to a Complete and Utter Stranger. A funny and touching coming-of-age story, Feeling Sorry for Celia is a best-seller in Australia and was a nominee for Best Book of the Year by the American Library Association.   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:23PM

Cover ArtLast days of summer : a novel
by Kluger, Steve.
This is the story of a smart-aleck boy who brags that a baseball player is his best friend, the letters he writes and the tall tales he tells to get the baseball player to be his best friend, the smart-aleck baseball player who writes back and gives as good as he gets, and the relationship they develop despite their tough-guy exteriors. Set in Brooklyn against the backdrop of World War II, the story is told in letters, notes, telegrams, newspaper clippings, interviews, and report cards. Last Days of Summer is a humorous, timeless tale of friendship, war, growing up, and the grand game of baseball.   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:22PM

Cover ArtLady Susan
by Austen, Jane, 1775-1817
The epistolary form goes back a long way, and few have used it to greater advantage than Jane Austen. In this novella, written when Austen was little more than a teenager, widowed Lady Susan is intelligent, beautiful, sophisticated--and rather wicked. She needs her daughter to marry well and herself to marry even better. She charms, she flirts, and she manipulates as she schemes away in letters to gullible (and not-so-gullible) family and friends. This is both a clever tale of one woman’s charm and desperation and a social satire of aristocratic life in 18th century England. Lady Susan is one of Austen’s earliest complete works and the story shows the same wit and insight of Austen’s greater works.   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:21PM

Cover ArtSorcery and Cecelia, or, The enchanted chocolate pot : being the correspondence
by Wrede, Patricia C., 1953-
It is England, 1817. Cecelia stays at home in the countryside while cousin Kate is off to the big city for her first London season. The girls write to each other, and the book could be a comedy of manners based on the likes of Jane Austen--except that this is an England where Magic is real. Sorcery and Cecelia is also a collaborative novel. Wrede wrote as Cecilia and Stevermer wrote as Kate, and the story grew out of the chapters they sent back and forth to each other. The result is a charming and witty tale of wizards, chocolate pots, and Proper Etiquette in Polite Society. The (mis)adventures continue in The Grand Tour, or, The Purloined Coronation Regalia (2004).   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:20PM

Cover ArtThe Eyre affair : a novel
by Fforde, Jasper
Thursday Next is a hard-headed, soft-hearted woman living in Swindon in an alternate England circa the 1980s. She is a veteran of the hundred-year Crimean War. Her pet, Pickwick, is an early model clone of a dodo bird. Her job involves hunting down criminals who, in this literature-obsessed version of England where citizens take their reading very seriously, can go to jail for forging Shakespearean verse. For a bit of extra cash, Thursday helps destroy the occasional vampire or ghoul. Then, just as Thursday has finally decided to win back her long-lost love Landon Park-Lane, things begin to get interesting. Her uncle Mycroft’s new invention, a Prose Portal that can transport readers into the books they’re reading, is stolen by a criminal mastermind. Soon, one of Thursday’s favorite characters of all time and a beloved heroine of Western literature has gone missing, kidnapped out of her book—Jane Eyre herself is in mortal danger, and only Thursday can save the day. And that’s just the first book. Throughout the rest of her wildly inventive genre-bending books, Thursday maneuvers between the world of fiction and the real world on a series of adventures involving literary characters like Hamlet and the Cheshire Cat, wooly mammoths, mind-controlling villains, Neanderthals, evil corporations bent on global control, and—tah da!—time travel. Thursday’s father is an ex-member of an elite team of government agents who specialize in time travel; years ago, he disagreed with his superiors and took refuge in constant time travel. Supposedly eradicated, completely erased from existence, Thursday’s dear old dad still manages to pop up to give her advice, warn her about events to come, or just have a cuppa tea. Zany, wickedly funny, and satirical, The Thursday Next novels are a highly amusing jumble of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery and without a doubt one of the more delightful ways to solve a crime, travel through time, or simple get lost in a good book. Thursday Next Novels by Jasper Fforde 1.The Eyre Affair 2.Lost in a Good Book 3.The Well of Lost Plots 4.Something Rotten 5.First Among Sequels 6.One of Our Thursdays is Missing (due 2010)   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:15PM

Cover ArtThe Looking Glass Wars
by Beddor, Frank
Lewis Carroll got it wrong. Alice was NOT a silly little girl who fell down a rabbit hole. Wonderland is a real place, and Alyss Heart is its rightful Queen. The problem is, she's trapped in Victorian England while her band of rebels tries to hold off the armies of her murderous Aunt Redd. This is no mere fantasy adventure; this is the true story of Alice in Wonderland, and a fractured fable that parallels our own real world.   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:10PM

Cover ArtPride and prejudice and zombies : the classic Regency romance -- now with ultrav
by Grahame-Smith, Seth
Our story opens on the Miss Bennets, five lovely sisters well-versed in both the domestic and deadly arts, as they fight to rid the English countryside of the zombie threat. Elizabeth Bennet is soon distracted from the undead by the arrogant Mr. Darcy. The beloved text of "Pride and Prejudice" is interspersed with scenes of zombie mayhem. Mr. Darcy admires Elizabeth's fine eyes; zombies attack. Elizabeth strolls through the grounds at Pemberley; zombies attack. It's ridiculous, hilarious, gross, and romantic all at the same time. Zombies really DO make everything a little more fun.   posted May 18, 2009 at 1:02PM

Cover ArtTo say nothing of the dog : or, How we found the bishop's bird stump at last
by Willis, Connie
Rowboats, cats, the niceties of Victorian etiquette, and the restoration of the space-time continuum are just some of the challenges that Ned Henry and Verity Kindle face in this comic sci-fi romantic adventure, based in part on the Victorian era book "Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)" by Jerome K. Jerome.   posted May 18, 2009 at 12:57PM


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