THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angleberger

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This book is a casefile compiled by sixth grader, Tommy, as he struggles to figure out the truth:  does Origami Yoda have magical powers?  Dwight, who created Origami Yoda and wears him on his finger, is the weirdest kid in school, and it seems like he never does anything right.  So how is it possible that when Dwight is speaking as Origami Yoda, he gives the best possible advice and even sees into the future?  It is vitally important to determine whether or not Origami Yoda is really magic or just a hoax, because Tommy needs to decide whether to take Origami Yoda’s latest advice in a matter of life-changing proportion.

This book is incredibly funny and great for upper elementary and middle school students; it is especially popular among boys.  It includes instructions for creating your own personal Origami Yoda (magic powers not included).

If you liked The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, you might also be interested in How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida CowellDiary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, and the Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce.

REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly

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The death of Andi’s little brother Truman has torn her family apart.  With her father in Paris with his new girlfriend and her mother slowly losing her grip on reality, all Andi has to comfort her is her music.  But when her father unexpectedly returns and discovers the state of his ex-wife’s mental health and Andi’s grades, he checks Andi’s mom into a mental hospital and whisks Andi away to Paris where she can work on her senior thesis “without distraction.”

Andi does not want to go to Paris, but once she arrives, she discovers new distractions she didn’t anticipate.   First she stumbles upon the diary of a young girl from the French Revolution who had a personal connection with the lost prince Louis-Charles.  She also meets another musician, an attractive man named Virgil who quickly becomes a friend–or perhaps something more.  As Andi gets deeper into the diary and deeper into Paris’ underground music scene, her life begins to become intertwined with the girl from the diary and the subject of her thesis, almost to the point that they become one.

This story is written for teenagers and would be of interest to anyone who enjoys books about dysfunctional families, overcoming grief, or the French Revolution.

THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES by Jody Feldman

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Gil Goodson has had a very difficult year.  Since his father was accused of embezzling money from his employer, the Gollywhopper toy corporation, no one has treated his family the same way.  Even though his father was found not guilty, all of Gil’s friends believe that he did it and have forced Gil out of their social circles and off of his sports teams.  But now, one year later, Gil has the chance to escape it all.  Gollywhopper is hosting a huge scholarship competition called the Gollywhopper Games.  If Gil wins the games, his family could afford to move to a new city and leave The Incident behind them.  Much to the dismay of the Gollywhopper CEO, Gil is determined to solve every puzzle they throw at him.  But personality differences among his teammates make the task much more difficult than he had previously anticipated.

If you like brainteasers, solving puzzles, and unraveling mysteries, this is a very fun book!  It is aimed at an upper-elementary school audience.

THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley

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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 by Joe Klein

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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.

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS by Frank Beddor

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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.

If you liked The Looking Glass Wars, you might like Cinder by Marissa Meyer or Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta.

PAPER TOWNS by John Green

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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.