Tag Archives: middle grade books

Recent Reads

Hello, jFIC fans,

Whatever happened to April and May? Proof we’re living in sad and stressful times. Let me catch June before it whizzes by too!

Here are a few titles I’ve read recently along with my ratings. Most should be available as ebooks and/or audio ebooks.

The World’s Greatest Detective, Caroline Carlson 2017 ****

Mystery, 4th-6th grades

A whodunit story with an endearing main character, quirky secondary characters, and high stakes. The mystery itself is a bit simplistic (from an adult perspective), but interesting and entertaining, and will appeal to kids starting to become familiarized with the genre. (Early 20th century white community.)


We’re Not from Here, Geoff Rodkey 2019 *****

Science Fiction, 5th-7th grades

“A quirky sci-fi adventure with a surprising layer of political irony.” (Kirkus) A group of humans are granted refuge on another planet, but while making the trip there, the planet’s government changes, and their request is denied. Highly entertaining and thought-provoking. Loved the aliens, especially the highly intelligent, marshmallow-like Ororos. (Diversity is implied.)


The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley, April Stevens 2018 ****

Fiction, 4th-6th grades

A moving, coming-of-age story about acceptance (of oneself and others), empathy, kindness, forgiveness, friendship, grieving, and growth. Loved the main character’s interest in nature and the impact that the wise and kind aging bus driver has on all the children. Great for gifted kids who feel misunderstood and isolated. (Universal messages, but minimal diversity.)


Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan 2020

Fantasy (I question this classification),  4-6th grades *****

From the book’s blurb: “When eleven-year-old Max uncovers a buried family secret–involving an underground network of guardians who lead people fleeing a neighboring country to safety–he decides it’s time to find out more about his mother, who disappeared when he was a baby.” A poignant commentary on the struggles of refugee immigrants and those who bravely choose to protect them. (Hispanic characters and Own Voices author.)


Aggie Morton Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano by Marthe Jocelyn 2020 ****

Mystery/Historical Fiction, 5th-7th grades

Twelve-year-old amateur detective and aspiring writer Aggie Morton investigates a murder by poison with the help of her Belgian friend Hector Perot. A well-crafted mystery inspired by the imagined life of Agatha Christie as a child. The book’s one disappointment is Perot’s poorly-developed character and insubstantial role. (Also, no diversity.) Hopefully Perot’s characterization will improve as the series progresses. For fans of The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency. 


August Isle by Ali Standish 2019 ****

Realistic Fiction, 5-8th grades

A story about a 14-year-old girl uncovering a painful family secret. The pacing is a bit slow, but the lovely seaside setting, the endearing secondary characters, and the main character’s emotional journey hold your interest, plus the climax and resolution make the wait worthwhile. (White main character/family. Indian and biracial secondary characters.)


Some Places More than Others by Renee Watson 2019 *****

Realistic Fiction, 4-6th grades

A lovely story about an 11-year-old girl’s longing to connect with her father’s side of the family and their history. It reads like a travel journal, but that’s the beauty of it: it takes the reader on a fascinating historical tour of New York. (Own Voices: African American main characters/family.)


The Guggenheim Mystery: Sequel to The London Eye Mystery by Robin Stevens 2018 *****

Mystery, 4-7th grades

“Twelve-year-old Ted Stark, his sister, and cousin investigate the theft of a priceless work of art.” Robin Stevens captures the voices of the characters from the first installment of the series (The London Eye Mystery by the late Siobhan Dowd). The stakes are not as high as in the first book, but the plot and the setting hold your interest, and the writing—especially the characterization— is very good. (Diverse main and secondary characters. Main character/narrator has ASD.)


And last but not least, an important book for the times we’re living in:

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi *****

Nonfiction, YA (Grade 7+)

“The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited. 

“Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.”


Stay safe and happy reading!

“Tea should be taken in solitude.” –C. S. Lewis

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Welcome the New Year

The Reading Café is changing a little bit. Instead of only addressing middle school students, I’ll be addressing jFIC (a.k.a. juvenile or middle grade fiction) fans of all ages. I’ll continue to share book lists, personal recommendations, and useful online resources, but all posts will have a jFIC focus and will be intended for a wider audience. I’ll also continue to include tea and coffee quotes.

So let’s begin:

Hello, jFIC fans,

Happy 2019! I’ve read approximately 45 jFIC titles published in 2018. Most were good and some were great. Here are my favorites:

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis


Twelve-year-old Charlie is forced to pay off a family debt by working for a terrible man who is tracking down fugitives. When Charlie discovers what’s really happening and who the fugitives are, he has to choose between conscience and survival.

Christopher Paul Curtis brilliantly combines humor and heartbreak in his historical fiction stories. He does it again with this outstanding novel.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Sixth grader Merci Suárez deals with difficult middle school and family issues in this highly entertaining novel full of humor and insight. The writing is delightfully peppered with Hispanic American sayings and idiosyncrasies.

The Assasination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson

Elfin historian Brangwain Spurge’s mission is to deliver a peace offering to the goblin kingdom, but also to spy on them in the process. Goblin archivist Werfel’s mission is to serve as Brangwain’s host and enthusiastic tourist guide. But their ridiculously different cultures and conflicting historical perceptions result in dangerous consequences for the two of them and their kingdoms.

The novel alternates between illustrations showing Brangwain’s secret messages to the elfin kingdom and Werfel’s differing narrative, and delivers a funny, clever, and timely social commentary plus the story of a unique friendship.

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Boy is a fearful outcast with a large hump on his back, a gift of talking to animals, and no recollection of his past. A mysterious pilgrim named Secondus notices his climbing abilities and takes him on as his servant on a journey to gather the seven precious relics of Saint Peter. Boy reluctantly agrees in the hope that Saint Peter will answer his prayer and take his hump away. Extraordinary adventures follow, and the reader soon realizes that neither Boy nor Secondus are what they seem.

The Book of Boy is a unique and surprising story about discovering and valuing your identity and gifts.

Nightbooks by J.A. White

Alex loves to watch, read, and write scary stories. When he is trapped by witch Natasha in her magical apartment, he discovers that his hair-raising tales can keep the witch and her home happy, which can buy him time to figure out how to escape. But he soon realizes that escaping—even with the help of two other captives—may be impossible. As he well knows, terrifying stories like the one he’s now a part of, hardly ever have happy endings.

Nightbook is sure to delight young writers and readers of dark and creepy tales.

Granted by John David Anderson

Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a Granter-in-training fairy. A Granter’s job is to leave their magical land called the Haven, fly out into the dangerous human world, and grant a previously selected human wish. Wish-granting is crucial to the fairies because it releases the magic that protects the Haven, so being a Granter is a huge responsibility. Ophelia is given her first assignment, and she enthusiastically sets out to complete her mission, but wish-granting turns out to be far more complicated and difficult than she expected.

Dangerous adventures and a heroine with a noble heart are what make this fantasy novel truly special.

Wicked Nix by Lena Coakley

The fairy queen and her court have gone away and left Nix behind. He concludes that it’s because he was given the important job of protecting the forest from humans until the queen and the rest of the fairies return. So when a trespasser arrives, Nix tries to scare him away with fairy tricks, but to no avail. Who is this trespasser, and what’s the real reason for the fairies to have left Nix behind?

Themes of home, family, identity, and belonging make Wicked Nix a unique and unforgettable fairy tale.       

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Chimney sweep Nan Sparrow’s protector has disappeared, but has left a creature made from soot and ash–a golem–in his place. Nan and the golem form a unique friendship and together find ways to survive and protect each other and other chimney sweeps.

Sweep is a fascinating historical/fantasy story full of wonder, friendship, heartbreak, and hope.

The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond

A tiny angel appears in the pocket of Bert, a bus driver. He takes “Angelino” home to his wife, Betty, and they both become his doting parents. Tiny Angelino charms and cheers up everyone he meets, or rather, almost everyone, for in any happy story, there’s always a meanie who wants to spoil things. But Angelino is not going to let anyone foil his mission of spreading goodness and gladness and of being a special blessing to Bert and Betty.

Angelino Brown is a delightful little story that will bring joy and hope to all who read it.

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night with the cry “The day of reckoning has arrived!” and whisks her off on a road trip to wherever the gasoline left in their old car will take them. Their destination turns out to be a small Georgia town where Louisiana makes some unexpected friends while Granny stays in bed recovering from an emergency dental procedure. Louisiana’s difficult situation worsens when Granny unexpectedly takes off, leaving her with nothing but a shocking good-bye letter. What will happen to Louisiana now? Will she find a way back to her best friends, Raymie and Beverly? Most importantly, will she ever find a place to call home?

Great writing, humor and surprise, unique characters, and themes of kindness, friendship, resiliency, belonging, and forgiveness make Louisiana’s Way Home an oustanding story.

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

Louie is determined to save the sickly newborn donkey that his father has brought home. No one expects the donkey, whom Louie names Winslow, to survive, including his prickly new friend, Nora. But Winslow surprises everyone. He not only survives and grows, but also proves to be a valuable companion to the children and even a hero of sorts.

Saving Winslow is a sweet story full of tenderness, friendship, love, and the hopeful message of finding your place and purpose in the world.

Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay

Love to Everyone is the story from birth to adulthood of smart, kind, and loving Clarry Penrose. Clarry wants to get an education and discover her place and purpose in the world, but it’s not easy with a distant father who doesn’t believe that girls need to be educated and it being the early twentieth century. Fortunately, Clarry has the support of her brother Peter, her cousin Rupert, her grandparents, and her friends. But then World War I happens and everything changes for everyone.

Love to Everyone is both a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of resiliency, perseverance, and steadfast love. (My absolute favorite 2018 jFIC read!)

More 2018 jFIC novels you may like:

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson ****

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden****

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown****

Two Roads by Joseph Bruchac****

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender****

The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins****

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome*****

The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor*****

The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter****

Winterhouse by Ben Guterson****

Otherwood by Pete Hautman****

Very Rich by Polly Horvath****

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson****

The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras****

Bob by Wendy Mass*****

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty*****

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel****

Miraculous Miranda by Siobhan Parkinson ****

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr*****

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed****

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab****

The Collectors by Jacqueline West*****

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr *****

Front Desk by Kelly Yang ****

Happy reading, and love to everyone!

“Home is where the tea is.” —Js Devivre

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New School Year!

Hello, Sweeteas,

Happy first day of school!

Lots of new and not-so-new awesome books are waiting for you in our lovely library. Here are links to sites you  should become acquainted with this year (if you haven’t done so already) so you can find books you’ll love:

1- Lion: Search for books and other library resources (including online databases) in the Denver Public Schools library system.


2- DPL website: Search for books and other library resources  (including online databases) in the Denver Public Library system. (The NoveList K-8 Plus database is fantastic! [You must have a library card.] Go to the DPL homepage; click on research; enter NoveList K-8 Plus in the search bar; click on search; explore the site.)


3- Follett Shelf: Search for ebooks and audiobooks in our school’s digital collection.


4- AR Finder: Find information about books with Accelerated Reader quizzes.


I’ve read several outstanding books this summer that I plan to order for our library. Come visit me, and I’ll tell you about them (no spoilers, don’t worry.)

The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge *****

The Chimes by Anna Smaill ****

Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman ****

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett****

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown*****

Raymie Nightingale by Kate Di Camillo****

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee****

The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne****

See you all at the library!

“Teapot is on, the cups are waiting, favorite chairs anticipating. No matter what I have to do, my friends, there’s always time for you.”  –Author Unknown


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Feelin’ Groovy

Hello, Sweeteas,

Exciting things are happening at our library this month!

1- We have a lot of new, wonderful books in our library. Too many to list on this post! I will, however, mention and rate a few gems:

Beneath by Roland Smith ****

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby *****

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell *****

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin ****

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman *****

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson ****

Noggin by John Corey Whaley ****

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee *****

The Trap by Steven Arntson ****

X: A Novel by  Ilyasah Shabazz *****

You will find summaries of these books in Lion (DPS Library Catalog). (See Blogroll.)

2- February is African American History Month (also known as Black History Month). We have many outstanding books written about or by African Americans. Come take a look!

3- February 14 is Valentine’s Day. We have several sweet books about tween and teen love. Plus I’ll be handing out candy!

4- The Feelin’ Groovy Scholastic Book Fair will take place in the library February 23-25 during the school day and during student-led conferences. The fair will also be online February 17 – March 1. You’ll receive a take-home flier with information soon. Start asking your family for money to buy groovy books! Remember: all sales benefit the school!

And now for some book news:

1- Neal Shusterman won the National Book Award for his YA novel Challenger Deep about a teenager battling a mental illness.

2- Gene Luen Yang, author of the award-winning graphic novel American Born Chinese, was selected as the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

3- The American Library Association Youth Media awards are in. It’s the first time a Hispanic author (Matt de la Peña!) wins the Newbery! Here’s a list of the winners:


Some of the above books are already in our library, and others will be coming soon!

Happy reading!

“Put on the kettle and make some tea,
It’s all a part of feeling groovy.” — mod band The Jam

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Happy 2015!

Hello, Sweeteas,

Happy 2015!

My reading goal for the year is to read 1-2 books per week, which is between 54 and 108 books per year. I read 60 books in 2014, which means I met my goal but didn’t do as well as in years past. (I normally read between 80-100 books per year.) I’m going to try to do better this year.

My favorite book of 2014 was The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: a Flavia De Luce Novel by Alan Bradley***** (BL: 6.5; Pts: 12.0). (I wrote about this mystery series on February 14, 2014. The post is titled “Flavia, Flavia.”) We have the first book in this series–The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie–in our library, and the rest will be joining it soon. A new installment (the 7th!) titled As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust is is being published this week. I can’t wait to read it!

Today I’ll tell you about the book Greenglass House by Kate Milford **** (BL: 5.4; Pts: 15.0):

The story takes place over the winter holidays in a remote mountain inn (Greenglass House) that’s frequented mainly by smugglers. The inn’s owners, their 12-year-old son Milo, their employees, and several mysterious guests are trapped in the ancient house as a result of a snowstorm. The problem is not just the snow, but that someone is stealing the guests’ belongings. It’s up to Milo and his new-found friend Meddy to solve, not just the robberies, but also a mystery having to do with the house itself.

The mystery-solving story line is interesting by itself, but there are three other elements that make this novel a truly remarkable read. 1) Milo is an adopted Asian boy dealing with personal issues regarding his adoption. 2) Milo and Meddy solve the mysteries while playing an elaborate and empowering RPG (role-playing game). 3) The book has a thrilling surprise ending.

Greenglass House will be in our collection by the end of the week. If you’d like to read it, you can place it on “hold.”

“Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?” — From The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

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Adding a Bit of Steam

Hi, Sweeteas,

We have a couple of new steampunk books in our library. What’s steampunk? Wikipedia defines it as a sub-genre of speculative fiction that “involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian-era Britain—and incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy.” Steampunk’s main sources of inspiration are the works of Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues under the Sea, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, etc.) and H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, etc.). Some examples of steampunk novels are: The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, and Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare.

The two new steampunk books in our library are Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger and The Dead Gentleman by Matthew Cody. They are both (hopefully!) first books in a series.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger ****

Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter, fourteen-year-old Sophronia, to become a proper lady, so she enrolls her in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. But what Mrs Temminick doesn’t know is that the academy will train Sophronia not just in the art of feminine elegance, but also in the art of espionage and murder (that’s what the “finishing” in this finishing academy means). Sophronia is of course not interested in learning how to to become an assassin, but she stays at the unusual  academy out of curiosity, practicality (some of the skills she’s being taught may prove useful), and a thirst for adventure. There are werewolves, vampires, flying highwaymen, zeppelins, mecanical creatures, fascinating inventions, intrigue, and a lot of humor in the steampunk world of Sophronia Temminick. Fun read!

The Dead Gentleman by Matthew Cody ****

The 1901 world of eleven-year-old steampunk explorer Tommy Learner collides with the modern world of twelve-year-old Jezebel Lemon. Together they must defeat the evil Dead Gentleman and save–not just planet Earth–but the entire universe. Classic steampunk gadgets abound in this novel, from mechanical weapons and creatures to a version of Jules Verne’s Nautilus. There’s also time and space travel, dinosaurs and vampires, and much more. Don’t miss this interesting and exciting read.

Happy November reading!

“Would you like an adventure now, or shall we have our tea first?” from Peter Pan

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Dragons and Magic Books

Hello, Sweateas,

I’ve been very busy getting the hang of my new job as librarian, so I had to put my writing and blogs on hold for a while, but here I am now, hopefully back on the writing and blogging saddle.

But have I been too busy to read? NEVER!

In the last four months I’ve read 35 books, which is a little over two books per week. My goal is to read at least two books per week, so I’m right on track in spite of being so busy. 🙂

Today I’m praising a couple of fantasy books new to our ebook collection (the Follett Shelf). They are:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman ***** is the first book in a new and exciting YA high-fantasy series:

In the mythical medieval kingdom of Goredd, dragons have the ability to take human form and live and work alongside humans, in spite of having a very different philosophy and code of conduct. Seraphina is a 16-year-old gifted court musician with a shameful secret: she’s half-dragon, half-human. This fascinating new series contains a lot of political intrigue and medieval action, a touch of romance, and some of the coolest dragons ever. Don’t miss it!

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens ***** is the first book in the fantastic new juvenile series: Books of Beginning:

 Kate, Michael, and Emma are siblings who were taken from their parents when they were very young to protect them from a powerful evil that’s threatening the world. They’ve spent the last 10 years hidden in a series of orphanages. While exploring the last–and strangest– of these, they come upon a magical green book which transports them 15 years into the past. Thus begins an exciting and dangerous adventure that includes an evil witch, grumpy dwarves, zombie-like monsters, and more. If you liked the Narnia books, you will definitely enjoy this series.

Come check out a spooky book at our library this week. We have several fun reads to choose from. And if you’re looking for an awesome high-level creepy book, try my favorite: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. We have several copies. Two other Bradbury Halloween gems are The Halloween Tree and From the Dust Returned. Those you’ll find at your local library.

Happy Halloween!

Ms. Pla

“Give me a good cup of coffee and a book I love, and I’ll be happy.”                               source: riseafterfalling.com

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New School Year!

Hello, sweeteas,

It’s been a while since my last post (June!). I’ve been busy with summer activities and writing projects, but I’ve managed to steal a bit of time to read a few gems.

Here’s a list of great middle grade books I read this summer (followed by my ratings):

The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi ****

(a futuristic fantasy adventure  – first book in a series)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate *****

(a delightful  story of an artistic zoo gorilla and his friends)

My Name Is Mina (prequel to Skellig) by David Almond *****

(a lovely portrait of Mina, one of the characters in the novel Skellig)

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt *****

(a sweet and humorous story about appreciating and preserving nature)

Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbitt ****

(a beautifully written fable about the need to have beliefs)

100 Cupboards – Book 1 by N.D. Wilson *****

(a fantasy adventure about portals to other worlds – first book in a series)

The Stricktest School in the World by Howard Whitehouse ****

(a steampunk-like adventure about friendship and resourcefulness)

Doll Bones by Holly Black ****

(a murder mystery involving a creepy doll)

All the above books are great reads. My favorite from the list? My Name Is Mina (prequel to Skellig) by David Almond. The book is an intimate portrait of Mina, a creative and philosophical girl who loves to observe nature, reflect, and write.

Here’s an excerpt:

I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?

Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.

Sometimes there should be no words at all.

Just silence.

Just clean white space.

Some pages will be like a sky with a single bird in it. Some will be like a sky with a swirling swarm of starlings in it. My sentences will be a clutch, a collection, a pattern, a swarm, a shoal, a mosaic. They will be a circus, a menagerie, a tree, a nest. Because my mind is not in order. My mind is not straight lines. My mind is a clutter and a mess. It is my mind, but it is also very like other minds. And like all minds, like every mind that there has ever been and every mind that there will be, it is a place of wonder.

I love it!

I also read a number of YA books which I will write about next month.

School has begun, and it’s time to set reading goals and create reading lists for the new school year.  The Horn Book has a list of recent publications recommended for each grade level:


Happy reading!

“When I grow up I will sit and drink tea in my tea-drinking tree.” –from art print by Joanna Bradshaw

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Changelings and Magic Rodents

Hi, sweeteas,

Hope you are all enjoying the summer break. It’s getting mighty hot, so it’s time for a pitcher of refreshing iced tea. Mm-mm!

Two book recommendations this month:

The Peculiar by Stephan Bachmann **** (1st book in a series)

Steampunk enthusiasts will enjoy this alternative universe in which fairies have crossed to the human world and started — and lost — a war, which has led to a Victorian-like Age of Smoke where iron and mechanics are used to keep magic at bay. In this world, children born to fairy/human couples are called Peculiars (changelings) and are looked down and despised by all. Two such unfortunate children are Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie. Then there’s Arthur Jelliby, member of Parliament and reluctant hero, who is investigating a murder plot where the victims are changelings. When Hattie is kidnapped, Bartholomew joins Jelliby’s investigation so he can rescue his sister. Fantasy, mystery, suspense, wry humor, fascinating characters, mechanical birds, and a heart-wrenching cliffhanger ending make this 1st installment of a series an awesome read.

An excerpt:

A spasm passed over the lady’s face, a flicker under the surface of her skin, and suddenly her expression was no longer blank. Her eyes fixed on Mr. Jelliby’s through the glass. He could see them now, shining bright and full of pain. Then her red lips parted and she was speaking in a creamy soft voice that held the faintest trace of an accent. “It is only the woodwork, my lords. It expands in the head of the day.

Her voice stopped, but she continued to stare at Mr. Jelliby, and her mouth continued to move. It formed two words. Two soundless words, just once, and they rang clear as crystal in his head.

Help me.

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell **** (1st book in a series)

Emmy, a smart and exceptionally good girl, must foil the plans of her evil nanny, Miss Barmy, and cure her parents of their selfish, jet-setting ways. She is both helped and hindered by her unlikely friend, the Shrinking Rat, who accidentally shrinks her to his size. This is a fun Roald-Dahl-like story full of excentric characters where evil adults get their comeuppance. Great read!

Beginning paragraphs:

Emmy was a good girl. At least she tried very hard to be good.

She did her homework without being told. She ate all her vegetables, even the slimy ones. And she never talked back to her nanny, Miss barmy, although it was almost impossible to keep quiet, some days.

Of course no one can keep this kind of thing up forever. But Miss Barmy had told Emmy that if she were a good girl, her parents would probably want to see her more often; and so Emmy kept on bravely trying.

So far it hadn’t helped. Emmy’s parents went on one vacation after another — to Paris, to Salamanca, to the Isle of Bugaloo — and hardly ever seemed to come home, or even to miss her at all.

“If you did better in school, I’m sure they would be pleased,” said Miss Barmy, admiring her polished fingernails.

This was unjust. “My last report card was all A’s,” Emmy said sturdily, remembering how hard she had worked for them.

“But not a single A+, dear.” Miss Barmy smiled sweetly, checking her lipstick in her pocket mirror. “And how are your ballet lessons coming? Are you getting any less clumsy?”

Emmy’s shoulders slumped. She had tripped just last week.

“Really, Emmaline, your parents might pay attention to you, if you did anything worth paying attention to. Why don’t you bring home some more ribbons and trophies?”

“I have a whole shelf-full, ” Emmy said faintly.

“You’ll just have to try a little harder, dear. Fill two shelves.”

So Emmy did. Not that anyone notices.

Still, Miss barmy said that good girls didn’t care too much about being noticed — so Emmy tried not to care.

She really was a little too good.

Which is why she liked to sit by the Rat.

The Rat was not good at all.

Visit your local library and check out these books!

“Imagine a delicious glass of summer iced tea.
Take a long cool sip. Listen to the ice crackle and clink.
Is the glass part full or part empty?
Take another sip.
And now?” 

–Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

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A Delicious Victorian Gothic Thriller

Hi, sweeteas,

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m on a quest for new and extraordinary juvenile, middle grade, and young adult books. Books that break the mold, that don’t follow a formula, and that are interesting and exciting to read. In other words, books that are unique and memorable.

Last month I wrote about Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce. This month I’m recommending Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. *****

Splendors and Glooms is a delicious Victorian gothic thriller that brings together five unlikely characters: three very different pre-adolescent children trying to survive in the dark and dangerous world of Victorian England and two rival magical adults bent on using them for their own selfish and nefarious purposes. Here’s a brief description of the characters:

1- Cassandra Sagredo is an old, ailing witch possessing a deadly magical amulet that she needs to get rid off before it destroys her.

2- Gaspare Grisini is a master puppeteer, an evil warlock, and a criminal who enjoys manipulating and controlling people the way he does puppets. He is also Cassandra’s old lover and rival.

3- Lizzie Rose is a pretty, well-mannered orphan “rescued” by Grisini to assist him with his puppet act. Lizzie is an intelligent and genuinely good girl.

4- Parsefall is also an orphan “rescued” by Grisini. He is the classical crude and grimy street urchin. Grisini has taught him to steal, manipulate the puppets, and fear him.

5- Clara Wintermute is the only surviving child of a wealthy doctor. Her life is darkened by grief and guilt and the belief that her parents don’t love her.

I like how the author places the reader in each of the characters’ minds, and I loved the rich and complex plot and the wonderful descriptions. The novel is replete with suspense and dark humor and the writing is superb.

Here’s an excerpt:

“In the past weeks, Clara had come to look forward to the puppet show even more than Parsefall did. When he lifted the perch and pulled her strings, her bloodless body seemed to tingle, and she felt as if something quickened inside her. She could almost imagine that her limbs stretched and swayed by their own free will. It was not true, of course. But she wondered if one day it might be true — if somehow Parsefall might help her cross the border between paralysis and life. With every touch, the bond between them grew stronger. When he played upon her strings, Clara glimpsed the splendors and glooms that haunted his mind. She shared his appetite for prodigies and wonders, for a world where spangles were stars and skeletons frolicked until their bones fell apart.” (from Chapter 25 – “A Member of the Audience”)

I can’t wait to discover the next extraordinary book!

Happy reading!

We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing it made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.
~Rudyard Kipling

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