Growing up in 1950s England, Flavia isn’t an average eleven year old girl. She loves chemistry, poisons, and plotting vengeful pranks against her two older sisters. But when her father is accused of murdering a man found dead in their garden, Flavia channels her creativity and intelligence toward solving the mystery of what really happened. One thing is certain–whether innocent or guilty, her father is not the man she thought he was. Trying to stay one step ahead of the police, Flavia begins her investigations with a cold-case apparent suicide of a school teacher that has some connection to her father’s and the recent victim’s past. As she learns more about her father’s past she discovers the key to the mystery is more complex than she had first imagined. Flavia is a witty, clever, and endearing narrator, and the mystery itself is intriguing and difficult to unravel. It’s a fun read, especially if you are interested in chemistry (or poison)!
Primary Colors was originally published anonymously in December, 1996, and caused immediate controversy. The novel follows a Southern governor’s campaign for the Democratic Party Nomination for President; but each character is a near exact replica of a member of Bill Clinton’s staff. Jack Stanton (the Clinton figure) runs into trouble on the campaign trail when news breaks of his affair with his wife’s hair dresser. He fiercely denies these claims and his aide Henry (the narrator and protagonist) struggles to cover up his messes. He soon enlists the aid of the loud-mouthed ex-mental patient and former Stanton political adviser Libby to help him “dust-bust.” The novel reveals the inner machinations of political campaign, the conflicts between Stanton’s staff and his ambitious wife’s staff, the temptation of negative advertising, the pitfalls of staff romances, but above all, the idealistic and genuine principles on which Stanton and his wife build their campaign. These principles are tested and tried throughout the novel, and in the end, Henry and Libby administer the ultimate test of Stanton’s true character.
Joe Klein, a journalist, was not involved in any Clinton campaigns. Yet his observations and imaginations of how the larger-than-life personalities might interact proved accurate. Immediately upon the book’s anonymous release, White House staff members began to accuse one another of having written it and of revealing too many personal details. The novel is an engaging–and apparently perceptive–glimpse into our nation’s political system.
The 1998 Mike Nichol’s film starring Adrian Lester, John Travolta, Emma Thompson, and Kathy Bates, is an excellent adaptation. Klein actually confesses that when writing the character of Libby, he pictured Kathy Bates.
When Princess Alyss Heart was seven years old, her life changed forever. Her evil Aunt Redd gathered an army of card soldiers and murdered Alyss’ mother and father, securing the Wonderland throne for herself. Alyss barely escaped through the Pool of Tears into a parallel world, where for years she was trapped in a strange land called England. Her magical powers of Imagination failed her in this new world, and eventually the memories of her childhood faded into seeming fairytales (tales which the Reverend Dodgeson would later record and publish in a work of “nonsense” entitled Alice in Wonderland).
But Alyss cannot stay lost in England forever. Wonderland has suffered under Redd’s totalitarian regime, and people live in darkness and fear–their only hope being the return of the child queen Alyss and her powerful Imagination. When Hatter Madigan, the deadly milliner bodyguard, whisks Alyss back to Wonderland, she, her childhood love Dodge Anders, and a rag-tag group of rebels must find a way to free their home from Redd’s tyranny. This book is the first in a trilogy, followed by Seeing Redd and ArchEnemy.
The trilogy is an incredibly clever, engaging, but dark re-imagining of Wonderland (think Alice in Wonderland meets 1984). Although it is sometimes shelved with juvenile fiction, I would recommend this book more to teens and adults.
Quentin grew up next door to Margo Roth Spiegleman–the girl of everyone’s dreams. One night, near the end of their senior year of high school, Margo shows up at his bedroom window dressed like a ninja and takes him on an adventure around the town to exact revenge on her cheating boyfriend and various other offenders. The next morning, Margo has disappeared, and Quentin and his best friends, Ben and Radar, begin a quest to find her. Along the way, he discovers the real “Margo” behind the super-human image that he and the rest of the school have attached to her. He discovers her human fears and insecurities and her human flaws. He also discovers a new confidence in himself along the way.
This book is hilarious and poignant, with a wonderful mix of witty, bathroom, and slapstick humor. The intended audience is high school age teens, but it resonates with many adults as well.
Additionally, if you are not familiar with John Green and you are a nerd, you should check out the Vlogbrothers on Youtube (John and his brother, Hank) who post several times weekly on a variety of nerdy topics. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers. To all of you nerdfighters out there, DFTBA.
If you are one of those people who believes that there must be a colony of gargantuan rats and cockroaches living under the streets of New York City, consider your paranoid fears vindicated. When Gregor’s baby sister crawls into an air vent in the basement of their apartment building, he follows her down a long dark chute and into the Underland. Fortunately, they are found by the friendly giant cockroaches and not the malicious six-foot-tall rats. The cockroaches bring them to the city of the Underland humans. There, Gregor learns that his father who disappeared two years earlier fell down the same chute and ended up prisoner of the rats. He also learns that he himself may be the warrior hero mentioned in an ancient Underland prophecy. Together with the snobby young Underlander queen and her insufferable cousin, two loyal bats, two kind cockroaches, and the snarky, bitter traitor rat, Ripred, Gregor and his baby sister set off on a quest to save the Underland human race from destruction.
This is definitely one of my favorite children’s fantasy series. The overall tone of the book is somewhat dark but also incredibly humorous. Collins also uses the series to challenge some of the notions of right vs. wrong and heroism vs. barbarism that are often taken for granted in heroic fantasy literature. And she is simply an excellent writer. If you enjoyed the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series, or Suzanne Collins’ other series, The Hunger Games, you should check out this book! There are four subsequent books in the series: Gregor and the Prophecy of the Bane, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, and Gregor and the Code of Claw. Personally, I think they get even better, the farther you get into the series!
What is the true meaning of Smekday–the day formerly known as Christmas, the day that the Boovish aliens arrived to colonize Earth, and the day the Boov left one year later? This is the essay question that Gratuity “Tip” Tucci must answer. The winning essay will be put in a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. In her three attempts at writing the essay, Tip gradually reveals the story of the Boov’s arrival and the events that followed.
While trying to reach the human reservation in Florida by car, Tip and her cat, Pig, met up with a Boov criminal, who has taken as his Earth name J.Lo. (a name that he believes is a popular Earth name due to its frequent appearance in media publications). Together they travel across the country searching for Tip’s mom, who was abducted toward the beginning of the invasion. Then Tip, J.Lo, and Pig join forces with a gang of boys who have been hiding in a secret tunnel system under Disney World, and together, they drive the Gorg (another set of invading aliens–much more evil than the Boov) out of Earth. Throughout her story, Tip includes illustrations and pages of comics drawn by J.Lo who can’t write in English.
This book is both hilarious and poignant, a nice blend of hard- and soft-science fiction, approaching issues of race and prejudice through the blunt, sarcastic, witty voice of 11 yr. old Tip. The book is written for an upper elementary/middle school reading level. It is one of my all-time favorites.
Reynie Muldoon is incredibly gifted at solving puzzles and logic games. Kate Weatherall is incredibly resourceful with the items she carries around in her beloved bucket; she can create almost anything. Sticky Washington can read at lightning speed and remembers everything he has ever read, heard, or seen. And Constance Contraire. . .well, Constance is stubborn. And for reasons that will not become clear until the very end of the book, Mr. Benedict insists that she is far more brilliant than the other children realize.
Mr. Benedict gathers this group of brilliant children together to form a team of secret agents who will infiltrate an institution for gifted children that is really a front for a madman’s secret plans for world domination. Although the implications of the madman’s plot are quite dark, the brain teasers and vibrant characters keep the tone of the book light. The book is intended for a 4th-6th grade audience, but anyone who loves puzzles and codes and a bit of science fiction and mystery will enjoy it. The Mysterious Benedict Society is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma.
No moon shines over the dark waters of the Newburyport coast as a Persian assassin slithers ashore. Her mission: to kill Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States. Only Professor Mikhal Lammeck has a chance of tracking the elusive Judith and eliminating her before she reaches her target.
Lammeck has spent years teaching the theory of assassin psychology. Now, called back into the field against his will, he realizes he is in way over his head. As the distance between him and his quarry narrows, Lammeck finds himself entering the assassin’s mind. No longer motivated by the desire to help his country, the professor is drawn forward by the allure and enigma of his brilliant adversary.
Robbins’ novel is not simply an action-packed thriller. His alternate history is filled to bursting with historical detail, set against the complex backdrop of the 1940s social climate. Industry, war, racism, and sexism writhe in the background, complicating an already intriguing plot. Robbins also devotes considerable energy to developing the character of his assassin, lest she be seen as a “faceless” enemy. Along with Lammeck, the reader comes to understand the motivations and history of the assassin, the challenges she faces, the depth of her resolve, and the reason that she is determined to succeed in her objective, against all odds.
As far as Snowman knows, he is the last human left on Earth. The blazing sun—hotter now that the atmosphere has thinned—burns his skin, even in the shade of the tree that is his home. His only companions are the human-like Children of Crake, a tribe of genetic experiments of whom Snowman was made guardian, before the known world came to an end.
Food is scarce, and Snowman must brave a dangerous trail, crawling with genetically-modified predators, to find supplies in the ruins of a nearby city. Haunted on his journey by the memories of Crake, the cunning super-genius, Oryx, his enigmatic lover, and Jimmy, the unremarkable boy that Snowman used to be, he relives the series of seemingly inconsequential events that led to the destruction of his world.
Oryx and Crake is both exciting and thought-provoking–taking readers on a journey through the monster-infested ruins of American civilization and forcing them to consider the potential dangers of genetic engineering, cyber-stalking, global warming, and biochemical warfare. As in most post-apocalyptic tales, Snowman’s story is intense and tragic. It isn’t a light read, but this book is hard to put down!
If you liked Oryx and Crake, you might like The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.