Princess Violet, last princess of the Andulan Realms, is not a fairy tale princess. She is plain, bold, and outspoken, but truly loved by her people. The Mirrored Kingdom enjoys peace and the intelligence of their royal family, but an ancient evil is trying to break into the kingdom. When Violet and her best friend Demetrius find a hidden library with a forbidden book and an evil painting, some of the evil begins to find its way in. Soon, unrest and discord filter into the hearts of the people. Kindness is replaced with resentment and the peace is shattered.
As war and disaster take over the land, it is up to Violet, Demetrius, and the kingdom’s last dragon to overcome the evil and restore the peace. Together, they learn the importance of trust and friendship in a world that is falling apart. Iron Hearted Violet presents a fairytale-like story with strong characters and important life lessons, great for a family read aloud or older independent readers.
Recommended for ages 8 and up.
For lovers of quirky British comic fantasy and fans of Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde’s new young adult series is a perfect fit. Jennifer Strange lives in the alternate present of the Ununited Kingdom. In her world, magic and sorcerers used to rule, but magic is fading. Now those same sorcerers are pressed to find jobs magically rewiring houses or, worse yet, performing at children’s birthday parties. However, with flares in magic and strange predictions of the death of the final dragon, it feels like the world is on the edge of change.
In an attempt to stop the death of the world’s last dragon, Jennifer finds herself caught in the middle of political and magical upheaval. She struggles to do what is right, but learns that life never goes the way we plan. Fforde creates a compelling story about the dangers of greed and judgmentalism in the midst of truly ridiculous British humor. This is a fun read, but be prepared for British intelligent silliness.
Recommended for ages 12 and up.
A strange explosion destroying their house is just the beginning of unexplained changes disrupting Jaide and Jack Shield’s lives. The twins are sent to live with Grandma X, a woman they have never met who is as mysterious as her name. With Grandma X, more disasters continue and Jaide and Jack soon learn their life is no longer normal and neither are they. The twins begin showing strange powers in response to the evil that seems to be closing in on them. Through a series of adventures, they learn what it means to be troubletwisters.
TroubleTwisters is a great read for fantasy and adventure enthusiasts who love Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. It provides the same non-stop action with mysterious and fantastical powers. Jake and Jaide are interesting characters learning about their new-found powers in a battle against evil. The action is captivating, but not too frightening for most young readers (but might be a little intense for those who scare easily).
Recommended for ages 8-11 years.
When Fer saves a strange dog from an attack by wolves, she is introduced to an amazing new realm. It is a world where she finally feels she belongs, but also feels terribly wrong. When Fer saves Rook, she also opens the Way to a fairy realm. In this new land, she meets strange creatures and experiences enchanting adventures. Fer soon learns the Lady of the Land is no true lady, but one who has used evil to perpetuate her power. In the end, it is up to Fer to make things right and bring true magic to the land.
This magical adventure is full of suspense and fantastical creatures. It is a good read for lovers of fairies and fairy tales. However, it also reveals dark magic and a few less than peaceful scenes. It might be a little too dark for young readers, but is good for pre-tween readers.
Recommended for ages 9-12.
Sammy Keyes amuses herself by observing the world outside her Gram’s apartment through binoculars. Her sightings are common until one day Sammy witnesses a burglary in the Heavenly Hotel across the street. When she tries to report her findings, no one wants to listen to a middle schooler turned sleuth. However, the burglar is on to Sammy and she has to use her wits to solve the crime and prove her evidence.
This modern-day Nancy Drew has the same deductive brain, but a little more sass. Sammy’s adventures are complex enough for middle school readers, but harmless enough for younger children, too. This first book in the series and the others that follow are great entertainment for clue seekers with a skill for deduction.
Another dystopian novel for all you fans of The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Matched, and so forth. I’m really not a fan of these types of books, but I read this one for a book group and it was an interesting premise and much less violent than The Hunger Games. It is actually quite clean, but has some harsher and more mature themes, so would be a good read for older teens.
Rhine Ellery is a sixteen-year-old girl in a future North America. By this time, the world has cured cancer and other known threats, but a mysterious virus kills all girls at age twenty and all boys at twenty-five. It is a common practice for young girls to be stolen and forced into becoming polygamist brides to rich men in an attempt to increase the population. Rhine is caught and put in one of these households, but, although she is treated kindly by her husband, she finds other disturbing secrets in the house. As she faces these secrets, Rhine will stop at nothing to win back her freedom and return to her twin brother.
Digger is used to playing roles while working as a thief, forger, and even a spy. However, after barely escaping from one dangerous job, she finds herself in her most crucial and frightening role yet. Mostly by accident, Digger becomes Celyn Contrare, lady-in-waiting to Merista Nemair. She travels with the Nemair court to the mountain castle of Bryn Shaer with the intent to stay alive and stay hidden. Her plans are thwarted when Lord Dual recognizes her for what she is and blackmails her into spying on the other members of the court. In her efforts to protect her identity, Digger discovers treason, but she also discovers a cause she wants to support.
This story is part adventure and intrigue, part fantasy story, and part coming of age. Digger is a strong character, but one who is still coming to understand herself and others. Her experiences include danger and risk, but she also learns about trust and friendship. StarCrossed is an exciting story with well developed characters. It is also clean and supports good moral decisions. It is appropriately written for teen readers, but I think it is also entertaining for adults.
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a profound story about loyalty and adversity. With his experience as a family therapist, Chris Crutcher knows and reveals the ugliness of cruelty, prejudice, and human suffering. He writes about issues like child abuse, abortion, depression and suicide with raw honesty. However, his books also show the beauty of personal strength, true compassion, and loyal friendship. His stories aren’t for readers who want a fairy tale version of the world, but his reality shows the victory of people helping each other through inevitable hard times.
Sarah Byrnes and Eric Calhoune have been friends since junior high. Their friendship began because Sarah’s scars and Eric’s fat made them outcasts and allies. Eric relied on Sarah Byrnes’s tough disregard for public opinion or authority. But when Sarah Byrnes ends up in the Sacred Heart psychiatric ward, it is up to Eric to save her from herself and others. This novel is uplifting, but deals with hard issues. I recommend it for older teenagers, mature enough to understand hard life lessons.
“Beware the whited sepulcher,” are the last words of advice Elodie hears from her mother when leaving home for a ten year apprenticeship. This charge to trust only those who deserve trust becomes quite a challenge as Elodie begins her adventure in the town of Two Castles. A dragon detective, a shape-shifting ogre, a handsome cat trainer, a flighty princess, and a greedy king…these are just some of the characters Elodie must decide are kind, cruel, honest or false.
Through this engaging, fairy tale-like mystery, Gail Carson Levine teaches the principle that appearance can be deceiving and friendship is often found in unlikely places. Elodie is a straightforward and strong girl learning to find her place in an unfamiliar world. A Tale of Two Castles is an engaging story that is light enough for a young audience, but interesting enough for adults. Good for independent readers or a read aloud for younger kids.
Bella, Yetta, and Jane are three very different girls, but they are each fighting for freedom. Bella, newly arrived from Italy, is fighting to be free of the crippling poverty that plagues her family. Yetta, a Russian Jewish immigrant, wants to be free of workplace injustice. Jane, part of the social elite, wants freedom from high society restraints and the mundane life of a turn of the century woman.
Through the eyes of these three young women, Haddix shows the plight of an American woman in the early 1900s. The girls become involved in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company strike against the great injustices of the Industrial Revolution factories. As readers follow the characters’ struggles, they will vow along with these girls, “We will not be stupid girls. We will not be powerless girls. We will not be useless girls.”
Haddix does an excellent job of bringing a harsh time in history to life. She makes me grateful to be a woman who has benefitted from those who have gone before. This is an important book to teach young women the value of our place in the world and the fight it took for us to get here.