J Adventure

THE MAZE OF BONES by Rick Riordan

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Dan and Amy Cahill always thought they were Grace’s favorite grandchildren.  Ever since their parents had died, Grace had been a mentor to them both–and the coolest grandmother ever!  She taught Dan about ancient weaponry and shared books with Amy, and instead of yelling when they broke things in her mansion, she used every mistake as a learning opportunity.  When Grace dies, the entire hoard of Cahill relatives from all over the world converge on Grace’s home, hoping to get a share of the inheritance.  Dan is sure that Grace would have left all of her wealth to him and Amy, as the favorites.  But it turns out that the matriarch of the Cahills had something much more complicated in mind: a contest, open to every true Cahill, to follow a set of mysterious clues all over the world and uncover a secret that could save the Cahill family and the world from some unknown destruction.  So begins Dan and Amy’s adventure.  At first it seems like Grace has left them nothing to help them along the way–they do not have the same financial resources as some of their nastier relatives–but it soon becomes clear that Grace has left them more than they thought, and Dan and Amy are determined to win.

The Maze of Bones is the first book in the fun mystery-adventure series The Thirty-nine Clues.  The mystery is fun to unravel along with the characters, and both Amy and Dan are engaging narrators.  These books will likely snag reluctant readers, as well, as it has a high level of action and suspense compelling readers to turn the page!

If you liked The Maze of Bones, check out The 100 Year Old Secret  and The Westing Game.

POWERLESS by Matthew Cody

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When Daniel and his family move to a new town to take care of his aging grandmother, Daniel immediately notices something odd about the kids of Noble’s Green.  At first he excuses the strange things he sees as tricks of his mind.  Mollie couldn’t possibly move as fast as he thought she did.  Certainly the bully Clay couldn’t be strong enough to hurl him that far through the air.  But when Eric rescues him from a would-be-fatal fall and flies him up to their secret hide-out, Daniel has to face the truth.  The kids of Noble’s Green have superpowers.  Most of them choose to use their powers only for good and to hide their abilities from the adults.  But one thing is universally true: the powers disappear on your thirteenth birthday.  Your old talents vanish, and with them your memories of your childhood adventures and even of your friendships.  Some of the kids have accepted this change as destiny, and watched their older friends drift away from them, knowing it would one day be their turn.  But Mollie suspects that something else might be going on.  Unfortunately, any kid who tried to figure out the truth in the past lost their powers prematurely.  But Daniel has no superpowers, and his talent at detective work makes him the perfect man for the job.  It is all up to Daniel to discover who or what is stealing the superpowers of Noble’s Green, before the supers lose another friend.

I just picked this book up when I was browsing, and boy am I glad I did!  This is a great adventure mystery, built on themes of growing up and changing relationships that we can all relate to.  It will probably appeal most to upper elementary and middle schoolers.   A truly fun, imaginative read–I highly recommend it!

If you liked Powerless, you might like Sidekicks by Jack D. Ferraiolo.

INKHEART by Cornelia Funke

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Meggie’s father, Mo, is a book doctor.  He repairs old books with loving care and encourages Meggie in her own love of books and stories.  But Mo never reads aloud.  Meggie has never given this too much thought until a mysterious man called Dustfinger shows up at their house in the middle of the night, and Meggie’s world is turned upside down.  She and her father are forced to flee from some sort of evil man by the name of Capricorn, and no one will explain to Meggie what is going on, who Capricorn and Dustfinger are, or what all of this has to do with a book called Inkheart.  Meggie, Mo, and Dustfinger seek refuge at the home of their book-obsessed relative, Elinor.  But it isn’t long before Mo’s past catches up with them.  When a bunch of thugs steal Mo and Inkheart, Meggie learns of her father’s ability to read characters out of books, discovers the truth about her mother’s disappearance nine years earlier, and prepares to embark on a dangerous adventure to rescue her father from the clutches of Capricorn.

This fantasy adventure will greatly appeal to all readers who have ever imagined joining characters in the world of their story–or having those characters come to life in their own lives.  It is a long book, but fast-paced with beautiful imagery and complex characters.  I also recommend the audio book–although it is quite long (15 hrs!)–as Lynn Redgrave’s performance really brings the book to life.


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Rapunzel’s mother, Gothel, raised her in a beautiful home surrounded by luscious gardens–the product of Gothel’s growth magic–and a high stone wall which separated them from the outside world.  When Rapunzel grows old enough to wonder what lies beyond the wall, she disobeys her mother’s orders and climbs to the top.  There she sees the barren wasteland outside her mother’s protected garden, land stripped of all fertility by the witch’s powers and peopled by laboring peasants, Gothel’s slaves.  Rapunzel also learns that one of the peasants is her true mother, from whom Gothel stole her in infancy.  When Rapunzel confronts the witch with her new knowledge, Gothel takes her to a far off forest and imprisons her in the hollow of a tall, tall tree.  Gothel expects that her “daughter” will eventually come to her senses and choose to support the system of slavery that keeps them living in luxury.  Instead, Rapunzel grows increasingly bitter in her isolation.  Gothel’s growth magic that made the tree tall also makes Rapunzel’s hair grow quickly and soon she has enough to create a lasso to help her in her escape.  Teaming up with a young thief named Jack, Rapunzel adventures across the desert countryside, trying to devise a plan to destroy Gothel’s empire and using her hair to bring vigilante justice to the lawless towns she passes through.

This adventurous Wild West retelling of Rapunzel is tons of fun.  The graphic novel format is perfect for the story’s fantastic action sequences.  Plus, it is very, very funny!  I highly recommend this book to middle grade and teen readers.

The sequel Calamity Jack came out recently and I am very excited to read it!

PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

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Peter was the leader of the orphan boys at St. Norbert’s for several reasons.  First, he was the oldest—or at least he said he was.  He was also very smart and very brave.  And he could spit the farthest, which is an important qualification for leadership.  So when Peter, James, Prentiss, Thomas, and Tubby Ted end up as cabin boys on the rickety old ship the “Never Land” on their way to become snake food at the royal palace of King Zarboff the Third, Peter takes charge.  He leaves the rat-infested cabin every night to find the other boys some food.  That’s how he meets Molly, a girl who can talk to porpoises, and discovers the mysterious trunk that she is guarding—a trunk with the power to make rats fly and men feel light as a feather.  Molly is the daughter of a Starcatcher, in charge of protecting the trunk’s magic from the evil “Others” in her father’s absence.  But when Molly learns that her enemies are onboard the “Never Land,” she needs Peter’s help to keep the trunk and its contents safe.  And then, there are the pirates: Black Stache and Smee and the terrible crew of the “Sea Devil” who also want to get their hands on the greatest treasure ever to be taken on the sea.

This prequel to Peter Pan is a wonderful adventure story full of action, magic, and humor (it is very clear that Dave Barry is one of the writers).  It is the first in a series, followed by Peter and the Shadow Thieves, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon and Peter and the Sword of Mercy.   They are intended for an upper elementary/ middle grade audience, but this is one grown up who enjoys them very much!  There are also several “spin-off” books about the Lost Boys and the adventures of the Mollusk Indians: Escape from the Carnivale, Cave of the Dark Wind, Blood Tide, and The Bridge to Neverland.

A word on the series:  The first book can stand alone.  There are a few things that aren’t explained fully, but you can make the jump from the ending of Starcatchers to the beginning of Peter Pan pretty easily.  Shadow Thieves and Secret of Rundoon are a lot scarier than Starcatchers (I read Starcatchers aloud with a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old with a few minor alterations to pirate vocabulary and behavior, and they loved it, but I  did not continue on in the series because it would have been too scary).   It’s fine for 4-6th graders, who are the book’s intended audience, but just a heads up if you start it as a read aloud with younger kids—preview the Shadow Thieves before you jump in!  The fourth book, Sword of Mercy, breaks the prequel logic, unfortunately, because it occurs years after the first three end, and involves the Darling children, but does not fit into the original Peter Pan timeline.   So that disappointed me.  I might recommend only reading books 1-3.  But if you really enjoy the characters and won’t be bothered by the series becoming more “fan fiction” than true “prequel,” Sword of Mercy is a good book, too.