The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt

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This was a quick read, but very touching and real. Drew is a quiet 13-year-old with no true friends besides her mom and her pet rat, Hum. She helps out at her mom’s gourmet cheese shop in a city in between LA and San Francisco. Drew keeps to herself, pondering the weird world of Jr High and reading “The Book of Lists” – a notebook written by her father, who passed away when Drew was three.

Then one day she meets Emmett Crane, a boy who is constantly hungry, and bears mysterious scars. They are drawn to one another, but it takes a few rocky starts before they trust each other enough to divulge secrets. Drew finds out that Emmett has run away from home, and is seeking a miracle. He plans to find a hot spring that was in a legend he was told as a child. This hot spring is supposed to bring healing for the people you love. Emmett’s brother never learned to talk, and they have no money to get him help. Emmett is willing to risk everything to help his brother, and Drew quickly gets swept up in helping him reach his goal. She has to make some big decisions, and risks damaging her relationship with her mother in order to start breaking some rules to help her friend.

I loved this book – it felt so real. Drew and Emmett are such great characters, and their friendship is great. They’re 13 and 14, so there is plenty of awkwardness and tension, but also just real, genuine friendship. I loved that they were a boy and a girl who were just friends – the author didn’t feel the need to pair them off, send them to college together and live happily ever after. They share one sweet kiss, then part ways.

I also loved the mother-daughter relationship. Since it’s been just the two of them for so long, they have a fun and trusting relationship, but Drew is classically 13 – pushing boundaries and feeling misunderstood, yet missing all the struggle her mother is going through. Drew never sets out to hurt her mother, but ultimately puts her through a lot of worry. On the other hand, her mother doesn’t really take the time to listen to WHY Drew is suddenly breaking rules. In general, very realistic and believable.

Loved it. Go read it!

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The Dagger Quick by Brian Eames

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This is a classic young-boy-falls-in-with-pirates story, but man is it good! Kitto has a clubfoot, and is convinced by his father that this makes him unfit to follow his dreams and go to sea. When his mysterious pirate uncle shows up and his father is killed, Kitto heads off on the adventure of a lifetime to avenge his father and save his mother and brother. Kitto’s ship is full of pirates, but they are realistic in that they are a rather motley crew who are just trying to make a living. The other ship, however, is more your typical pirate villians. A creepy captain with a severed nose and a fondness for murder and mayhem has Kitto’s remaining family on board his ship as ransom. Kitto is determined to rescue them, but his uncle is feeling torn about surrendering the barrels of expensive nutmeg that he has waited many long years to reclaim. The Uncle is a great character, very well-rounded and has many human failings, but ultimately has you cheering for him. Kitto is pure gold – love him. His mother taught him to visualize the outcome he wants and believe with all his heart that something will be so. This helps him through countless dangerous and difficult situations. He is so determined and brave and real. Just lovely. The minor characters have great backstories and depth to them as well, even characters that only get one or two lines.

This book was clearly well researched, and Eames teaches middle school, which has helped him find a voice that young readers will love.

This is a must read, and would appeal to many ages and both boys and girls.

Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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Oh my goodness. I read this all in one sitting, which I don’t usually have time for. I am SO glad I did on this one! Miss Peregrine’s is billed as a horror, or dark mystery book, but it’s not really. I found it strange, and sad, and lovely. Jacob is the main character, and at 15 he is the only one in his family who wants to spend time with his ailing grandfather. Grandpa Portman has told Jacob stories about the children’s home he lived in during World War II. He tells Jacob of the small island off the coast of Wales, and the strange children who lived with him – the invisible boy, the girl who can create fire with her bare hands, the boy with bees living inside him – Jacob thinks these stories are fairy tales. But when his grandfather is mysteriously killed by monsters that only he and Jacob can see, Jacob goes on a quest to find the island and the children. He seeks closure with his grandfather’s death and the stories, but he also needs to prove to himself that he isn’t crazy.

When Jacob arrives on the tiny island, all he finds is a crumbling ruin of the children’s home. Locals tell him that the home was bombed during the war, and only Jacob’s grandfather survived. Undaunted, Jacob starts investigating the house, and crosses a portal back to 1940 – the very day the bomb falls. The day is set on a loop, so that the day resets right before the explosion. No one ages, but they have been there since the real 1940. They cannot leave, or all their borrowed years will hit them at once, and they will die. Once through this portal, Jacob discovers that all his grandfather’s stories were true – all the strange children really do exist – and so do the monsters. Jacob must decide whether he will return to his ordinary life in Florida, or stay in 1940 with his new friends. There is a lot at stake, and Jacob may be the key to saving the peculiars – and he may be one of them!

The photographs that illustrate this book are actually real photos – though some may have been doctored many years ago. Ransom Riggs tracked down all these photos from various collectors, and wrote his story around them. The photos are fascinating and strange, and bring life to the story. The writing was excellent, and I hope there will be sequels!

Dr. WHO?

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OK, without too many “spoilers!” – can we talk about that Dr. Who finale?! Holy bowties. One of those finales that kind of leaves you breathless. So many questions, and so many crazy answers! The handfasting! The eye-drives! Amy Pond and her amazing train office! (I want one.)

So much love. Cannot WAIT for more. And I also need to go back at re-watch Silence in the Library (GET it? SILENCE in the library?! Whoa!)

I’m just floored by how much prior planning this must have had. Everything connects! It’s insane. Steven Moffat is amazing.

Unrelated awesome – Arrested Development is coming back! Hooray!

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series

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The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

I flew through these books (pun intended.) – loved the steampunk world, the alternate history, the characters…ooh everything. This is going to be a very gushy review, bear with me. It has World War 1, but with genetically fabricated creatures, mechanical creatures and crazy machines. The alternate history didn’t feel far-fetched, and we still got all the classic things that make the World War 1 era so fascinating. It was such a time of change and discovery – something which Westerfeld uses to great advantage.

The main characters, Deryn Sharp and Prince Aleksander were fabulous. Deryn dresses as a boy to join the British Air Service on board the Leviathan, a fabricated “beastie” that resembles a giant whale. That flies. When the ship is shot down in the middle of the icy Alps, she meets Alek, a prince on the run from the people who killed his father – who just happens to be Franz Ferdinand. No big deal. The two form a deep friendship and become allies even though they are technically on opposite sides of the war. Deryn trusts Alek, and even starts to feel something more than friendship, but can she trust him with her greatest secret and reveal her gender? Alek’s journey is complex and well-written. He must break free of the sheltered world of his childhood and become an independent person. He is dealing with the guilt of feeling as if his birth caused the war, and wondering if he has a way to put it to a stop.

This is such a fast-paced, detailed series – I’m glad I started reading them right before the third book (Goliath) came out. Waiting around for these would have been awful! These could be great for a large age range. There isn’t anything really “grown-up” in these books. The characters swear, but Westerfeld has made up his own new lexicon of creative swear words. I haven’t seen many kids reading these – not sure the steampunk genre has taken off in the real world like it has in my head…but I’d love to get these more popular. They’re just fascinating, and the illustrations by Keith Thompson (no relation!) are superb.

And the ending. Oh, the ending. The trilogy kept me on the edge of my seat, and did not disappoint in the least at the end. It was one of those endings that had me tearing up and cheering at the same time. I don’t want to spoil anything, but…just…oh. So good.

Easily the best YA books I’ve read recently. Go read them!

Scott Westerfeld’s Website: http://scottwesterfeld.com/