Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson

Bobby is a Dublin kid, always in trouble. He thinks nothing of stealing money, crashing cars, or dodging the police. In fact, these are the things he most enjoys. Only when he’s out of control does he feel truly alive.

To save her son from inevitable trouble with the law, Bobby’s mother moves the family to a small house in the Irish countryside. There, she says, they will start a new life.

“I won’t stay,” Bobby tells her. “I’ll go back to the city, first chance I get.”

Bobby thinks the country is a bore, with its cows and daisies and broken-down stone walls. And it isn’t just boring, either. It’s creepy. The man who last rented this house disappeared without a trace. The people before him were rumored to have murdered their own daughter. And now, Bobby’s little brother is talking about strange noises during the night.

Suddenly, Bobby is scared: scared of the wild energy inside him, of the future that seems so hopeless, and most of all, of whomever — or whatever — is visiting their house in the dark.

(For all you eighth-graders: this is a really good novel for book forms because it’s full of symbolism and character development. And it’s also very suspenseful — I read it in one day.)

The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford

front_cover_secret_tree-330At first, Minty’s life seems like so much fun: Summer is just starting, her best friend Paz lives next door, and all the kids play together in the woods near Minty’s house. However, things aren’t perfect for Minty: Paz is suddenly making new friends and leaving Misty alone more and more often. She doesn’t even want to practice for roller derby anymore. One day, while Minty is walking by herself in the woods, she comes upon a tree with a hollowed out trunk. Sticking out of the hollow is a small slip of paper. A message. It reads: “I put a curse on my enemy. And it’s working.”

What? Who wrote this message and why did he/she leave it the hollow of a tree?

As the days pass, Minty finds more messages. They are all written in different handwriting, and they all contain secrets: “Nobody loves me except my goldfish,” “I’m betraying my best friend in a terrible way, “I wish I had the guts to run away.”

Minty is fascinated. She knows all the people who live in her neighborhood, every single person in every house surrounding the woods. She decides that she just HAS to figure out who wrote which messages. Could one of the writers be her friend Paz? Luckily, she has Raymond, the new boy in town, to help with her investigations. And before the summer ends, Misty will have her own secret to put in the tree.

I loved this book. I love this author, too. She also wrote “How to Say Goodbye in Robot,” which is just plain awesome.

Trouble in My Head by Mathilde Monaque

troubeheadThis memoir, about a teenage girl and her battle with depression, won’t appeal to everyone. Some readers may find it too heavy, too real, and maybe even too scary. But for anyone interested in adolescent psychology and the long journey from desperation to hope, the author’s story will captivate.

Mathilde Monaque, a young French woman born in 1989, was hospitalized at the age of 14 for severe depression and a possible eating disorder. She had no idea why she felt so bad; she felt totally unconnected to the other teenage patients around her; she saw herself as a burden on her family; she denied herself food and nutrition; she considered herself altogether unworthy of happiness.

The plot and action of the memoir take place almost entirely inside Monaque’s “troubled head.” We learn of her pain, her affections, her insecurities, and most of all, finally, her love. The lessons she learns, after much fighting and suffering, are ones that all of us should embrace: our place in this world is unquestionable and others will benefit from our unique presence, even if we are far from perfect.

Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

*Check out the author’s response to this post! (Comment below.) How exciting that Michelle Zink is already working on the third book in the series. I can’t wait for the second one to come out!prophecy

In honor of Halloween, I thought I should feature a dark novel, and this one, a sort of fantasy-thriller, is absolutely perfect for a chilly October afternoon. It opens in a cemetery, on the day of Lia’s father’s funeral. She and her twin sister Alice, along with their little brother, are now orphans. Lia is grief-stricken, and her mourning is intensified by the appearance of a strange, circular mark on her wrist. It’s the sign of the jorgamund, a snake eating its own tail. Instictively, Lia knows to say nothing about it — not to her friends, not to her aunt, not even to Alice, her twin sister. Especially not to Alice.

Thanks in part to a mysterious book discovered among her father’s possessions, Lia begins to suspect that the jorgamund is part of an ancient prophecy, one that’s been turning sister against sister for thousands of years. Now, Lia and Alice have inherited the curse. One twin is destined to be the Guardian, the other, the Gate; one to protect the world from evil, the other, to invite evil in. It seems crazy at first, but when Lia meets another girl with a similar mark on her wrist, she can no longer deny the forces at work within and around her. But what exactly is her role in the prophecy? Is she the good twin or the evil twin? And what can she do to keep the demons at bay?

This novel has all the ingredients of a good gothic suspense story and then some: countryside estates, seances, messages from the dead, hellish creatures threatening the world’s ruin, and even the threat of sibling murder. I’m warning you, it’s dark. Just look at the cover! (But isn’t the cover awesome, though?)

Hoot and Scat by Carl Hiaasen

HootI know what you’re thinking. Hoot? Are you serious? That book is likScate seven years old! Ms. Ryan is just getting around to reading it? And my answer, sadly, is yes; after receiving dozens of recommendations, I finally listened to Hoot this weekend, on CD, in my car. Last spring, I read Scat, which was brand new at the time. That’s right, I didn’t let the dust settle on that one.

Both novels, as some of you know, are funny, are set in Florida, and feature middle-school kids going up against big, bad corporations in the name of endangered animals. Here’s a fact. I liked Scat so much that I drove down to Southern Florida this summer and visited the Everglades. It was just as wild and weird and beautiful as Hiaasen promised. Wow. (Photos of the trip available for interested readers.)

In Scat, the animal in danger is the Florida Panther; in Hoot, it’s the Burrowing Owl. Some other characters you will encounter on the pages of these uproarious books: a barefoot running boy, a fake-fart champion, a scary Science teacher with a collection of real stuffed animals, a boy who snacks on pencils, a pancake house spokeswoman, several renegade eco-activitsts, and a few regular kids to whom you might actually relate.

Seriously, don’t wait seven years. Give these a try

A Mysterious Weekend

enolaGildaMystery fans, rejoice! Gilda and Enola, two of the most brilliant young sleuths in literature, are at it again. Happily for us, Jennifer Allison and Nancy Springer have been hard at work, penning new installments of the Gilda Joyce and Enola Homles series, respectively. For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with these charaters, Gilda is a contemporary high-school girl who just happens to be interested in solving paranormal mysteries. Using her psychic abilities (ahem) and her typewriter, she bravely runs into ghostly situations, while most other people are running away. As for Enloa, she’s Sherlock Holmes’s intrepid little sister who refuses to behave as a proper Victorian English girl should; instead, she wanders the streets of London alone, usually in disguise, and always on the run from her older brothers, who are determined to make a lady out of her. As if! Enola loves ciphers and codes, but her penchant for solving puzzles often leads her into dangerous — and even murderous — territory. (The second book in the series, The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, is downright scary.) So, it’s going to be a good weekend for me. I plan to read both books by Monday. Anyone else up for the pleasure? If so, here are the latest titles:

Gilda Joyce: The Dead Drop, by Jennifer Allison

Enola Holmes and the Cryptic Crinoline, by Nancy Springer

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

whenyoureachmeThere is so much going on in this book that it’s hard to summarize cleverly and succinctly. So, for this one, I’m going to try a list of facts to see if I can convey the flavor of this intriguing novel:
1. Miranda, a sixth-grader, knows the streets of her Manhattan neighborhood like the back of her hand, including which corners to avoid, when to cross the street, and where the crazy homeless man stands every afternoon.
2. One day Sal, her best friend, gets punched in the stomach for no reason by some random kid they don’t even know.
3. Now, for some reason, Sal won’t talk to Miranda anymore, so she has to walk home from school alone.
4. Soon after this, Miranda’s apartment is broken into. The spare key is missing from its secret spot. Yet nothing seems to be missing. Strange…
5. Then, Miranda finds a mysterious note from somebody who says he wants to save her friend’s life. What? Even weirder, the notes keep coming, and they seem to be predicting events before they even happen.
6. Could somebody be trying to reach her from the future? And is Sal ever going to speak to her again? After all, it wasn’t Miranda’s fault he got punched!

The Red Blazer Girls by Michael D. Beil

red blazerOkay, to really get into this book, you’d better like puzzles, mysteries, and math (well, at least a little bit of math). Sophie, Rebecca, and Margaret are seventh-graders at an all-girls Catholic school in New York City. They’re into dances, music, and books. They’re just discovering that boys aren’t always gross and weird (just most of the time). They think this is going to be just another ordinary school year with breakfast at Perkatory and after-school homework sessions at Sophie’s apartment. But then, a lot of stuff happens. For one thing, there’s this new girl Leigh Ann, who looks like a Seventeen model. That’s pretty annoying, especially since the boy Sophie likes seems to get all silly and red whenever Leigh Ann is around. But the main action of the novel surrounds a ring — a really old, really valuable ring that is supposedly hidden somewhere in the church across from school. Soon, the girls are decoding secret messages, digging through moldy books in the library storeroom, breaking into to secret passageways, and hiding under tables from priests! This is definitely NOT your typical middle school mystery. If you read and liked The Puzzling World of Winston Breen, you might like The Red Blazer Girls, which also provides puzzles for readers to solve along the way. If only a fun, exciting mystery would drop into my lap in the middle of a boring Tuesday afternoon.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

jellicoeroad1.JPGFor the first thirty or forty pages, this novel had me totally baffled. There are a few different story lines, and it’s not at all obvious how they connect. Right away, there’s a terrible tragedy, a recurring dream with a boy in a tree, and a girl being dragged from bed in the middle of the night to some sort of underground school election. But this book has received so much critical attention and so many outstanding reviews that I stuck with it. I knew it didn’t receive the Printz Award for nothing (I always love the Printz Award winners and nominees). Besides, all of these loose pieces intrigued me. So did the main character, Taylor Markham, whose personal history is so full of heartbreak and pain that she’s blocked most of it out. All she can be sure of is her name and address. She lives on the Jellicoe Road, at an Australian boarding school where she’s a senior in high school. Where she’s responsible for the younger boarders in her dormitory. Where she participates in the territory wars, the competition for land and resources among the boarding school students, the local kids, and the military cadets. Where she loses her best friend, finds a mysterious manuscript, and falls in love.

This is a strange and beautiful novel, which had me totally transfixed. These kids are so removed from regular society (they don’t even have cell phone service on the Jellicoe Road) that a unique culture arises among them. They have their own codes of conduct, their own laws, their own systems of justice. These kids might as well be on a desert island, so separated are they from the pulse of civilization. It took some work to get into this novel, but it was well worth the effort. Reading it, I felt transported to another world and I totally escaped from this one. From me, that’s the highest praise possible for any book. Melina Marchetta is an author to watch.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

jenna-fox.jpgJenna Fox just woke up from a long sleep — from an eighteen-month coma. The house in which she finds herself is unfamiliar. The adults who say they’re her parents are strangers. So is the girl in the mirror. Jenna Fox. A girl with amnesia. A girl who can remember all the details of the French Revolution, but not whether or not she has a best friend. As time passes, details begin to return to Jenna’s bewildered mind. But they don’t make any sense. Where, for example, is the scar on her chin that used to be there? And why is she two inches shorter than she was before the accident? Who — or what — is she? Jenna Fox. A girl struggling to uncover the truth in a world where some people adore her — but many despise her.

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