Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

9780316123082You know Lemony Snicket from his critically acclaimed and bestselling Series of Unfortunate Events books. He’s written other titles, of course, my favorite of which is the disturbing and hilarious The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming (finally, a holiday picture book for jaded grownups!).

Snicket is back with All the Wrong Questions a new series for middle grade readers! Parents should note that some of the scary stuff that made SOUE difficult to hand to sensitive (or younger) readers is pretty much rejected here. Any tense situation is leavened by absurd characters and hilarious flights of Snicket’s signature offbeat imagination. It’s Hardy Boys meets Mysterious Benedict Societya sure pick for fans of aspiring gumshoes and outlandish plot twists. 

The plot’s simple enough: a young Lemony Snicket begins his apprenticeship with an unnamed organization and attempts to solve the mysterious disappearance of a strange object in an even stranger town. The events that ensue are, of course, strange, puzzling, and utterly entertaining!

I love this book as a pick for advancing chapter book readers—or as a read aloud choice for the whole family!

Read on, readers!

Miss Megan

Who Could That Be at This Hour? (All the Wrong Questions #1), by Lemony Snicket; Little, Brown; 15.99; Ages 8-12

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Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

This is quite possibly my #1 middle grade gift recommendation going into the holiday season. (Though I’ve got a lot of love for The Spindlers, too!)

Told from various perspectives, Splendors and Glooms is a Dickensian tale that pretty much has it all: magic, adventure, humor, plucky orphans, dastardly criminals, street urchins—the list goes on. Set mainly in Victorian London (though we take some notable detours), the story follows orphans Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, assistants to the sinister puppeteer Gaspare Grisini.

In contrast to the shabby, hand-to-mouth existence of Lizzie and Parse, young Clara Wintermute lives in the lap of luxury. But even with her warm home and fancy toys, Clara’s life is clouded by sadness and guilt. When Grisini and company are hired to perform for Clara’s birthday party, Lizzie and Parse are immediately drawn to the strange, winsome little girl. But after the party, disaster strikes: Clara disappears, and Grisini is the main suspect.

Haunted by the birthday girl’s hesitant attempt at friendship, Lizzie and Parse set out to solve the mystery of her disappearance. What they find will astonish and amaze them. Don’t worry, readers with delicate constitutions! There’s a happy ending here—for everyone who deserves it, that is.

Baltimore librarian and Newbery medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz (her Victorian thriller A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is another of my favorites) dazzles with lush descriptions, hilarious dialogue, and an utterly engrossing setting. I didn’t want this book to end, and that’s saying something, since it’s almost 400 pages. But those pages flew by! All I wanted to do was curl up in a warm blanket, grab a mug of cocoa, and get lost in this brilliant read.

But don’t take my word for it—check out Cecilia’s glowing review here!

Read on, readers!

—Miss Megan

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Candlewick Press; 17.99; Ages 10-adult

Hot Off the Press: Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

I love magical realism. I love when a story starts in our world and then somehow (usually through a portal of some kind) transitions to a fantasy setting. Last year was prime time for fantastic middle (and upper) grade books of this genre. As any reader of this blog will know, we’re crazy about Breadcrumbs, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairylandand A Monster Calls, all of which hit shelves last fall. And, if Lauren Oliver’s Spindlers is any indication, this year’s shaping up to be equally great.

Oliver just keeps getting better and better. I enjoyed her debut novel Before I Fall, and her YA Delirium series is a big hit with fans of dystopian lit. But it wasn’t until Liesl & Po, her foray into middle grade fiction, that we saw what she can really do. She’s a tremendously gifted storyteller who knows how to craft characters with emotional depth that radiates from the page. 

In The Spindlers, young Liza is the only person to see the truth: her little brother Patrick’s soul has been stolen by Spindlers, the hideous spider-like creatures from the hidden world beneath her parent’s basement. Armed only with a broom, Liza sets off on what she thinks is a quest to save her brother. But as she adventures on, it soon becomes clear that if Patrick’s soul is lost, her own will be forfeit as well.

I tore through this book in a matter of hours. It’s not that the reading level is low, or that Oliver skimped on action or plot. In fact, the opposite is true—this story flows absolutely beautifully. The arc feels complete, the adventure is fully developed, but there are no gratuitous plot lines and absolutely no opportunity for boredom. It’s a fully satisfying tale that will suck you in and then let you go at precisely the right moment. And even though I read The Spindlers in an afternoon, I spent the rest of the day still entrenched in that world—which is one of the highest compliments I can give to an author.

Just when I think I can’t be more of a Lauren Oliver fan, she releases something new, and I fall in love all over again. I may have a serious author crush going here.

Read on, readers!

—Miss Megan

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver, illus. by Iacopo Bruno and Lauren Oliver; HarperCollins; 16.99; Ages 9-12

Hot Off the Press: The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech

I’ve always loved stories about plucky, resourceful orphans. The literary canon is full of them: Anne of Green GablesThe Secret GardenJane Eyre, Oliver Twistand the list goes on. The dramatic stakes are immediately raised if a young protagonist is on his own in the world, and that pulls readers in like a magnet. Sharon Creech makes full use of this notion in her newest novel, the utterly charming The Great Unexpected.

A pair of orphaned girls in the tiny town of Blackbird Tree embark on an incredible adventure when a mysterious boy named Finn shows up by, quite literally, falling from a tree. As Naomi and Lizzie get to know that “Finn boy,” they notice other mysterious happenings in their little village. A cast of curious characters eventually lead them across the wide Atlantic to Ireland, where secrets are waiting to be discovered, secrets that will change the girls’ lives forever.

Newbery medal winner Creech is masterful with the art of interconnected plotlines, and her talent is brilliantly on display here. Little clues dropped along the way coalesce into an utterly satisfying reveal at the conclusion. But it’s Creech’s characters that make this a must-read—they’re funny, unique, and completely lovable. This has got to be one of my top middle grade picks for fall. Highly, highly recommended!

Read on, readers!

Miss Megan

The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech; HarperCollins; Ages 8-12; 16.99

Miss Megan’s Favorite Summer Reads

There are some books that are just better during the summer. They’re good all the time really, but they’re all the more memorable if you’re reading them on the beach with an ice cold lemonade in your hand.

These are my favorite books for summer, as synonymous with the season as the smell of sunblock or the taste of watermelon. (Yum!)

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall; Yearling Books (Random House); 6.99; Ages 8-12

Four sisters spend the summer on a grand estate and have all sorts of adventures! There’s plenty to discover and plenty of mischief to get into, especially when there’s a boy next door who’s ready to play and a rambunctious dog frolicking about. I like to compare this delightful read to a modernized version of Little Women with younger characters. It’s got that kind of winning, classic feel that’s impossible to resist! And, with four sisters, there’s sure to be a heroine for every reader to identify with. Indiebound says: “Deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, this is a story as breezy and carefree as a summer day.”

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker; Balzer & Bray/Harperteen (HarperCollins); 15.99; Ages 9-12

When unexpected events leave Stella and Angel alone for the summer in a house on Cape Cod, the girls must work together to stay afloat. As the summer progresses, they make surprising discoveries about themselves and each other. At the end of the day, this is a novel about family, the family we are born into and the family we choose. I love Gary Schmidt’s (Okay for Nowdescription: “Beneath the comedy and the suspense and the horror and the wit of this remarkable read lies the deepest secret of all: that we can learn to love each other.” Read my full review here.

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han; Simon & Schuster; 9.99; Ages 12+

You’ve gotta love a heroine with a quirky nickname. Our central character in this charming novel is Isabel, but she’s known as Belly. See? You want to read it already, don’t you? Every summer is the same for Belly, spending the season with her family and best-friends-who-are-boys in their beach house. But this year is different. This year, Belly isn’t a little girl anymore. This summer, as the title hints, Belly has turned pretty. You may think you know what happens next, but you’d be surprised by the poignant twists Han gives this coming of age novel. And, lucky for you, there are two more books in the series: It’s Not Summer Without You and We’ll Always Have SummerThis is a great adult/teen crossover book for the beach this year!

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder; Razorbill (Penguin); 17.99; Ages 14+

This book is seriously good. Seriously well written, seriously hilarious, seriously awesome. I laughed out loud more times than I could count. And, yes, the main protagonist has cancer. Don’t run away! Debut novelist Wendy Wunder has created a wondrously creative, hilarious, and ultimately satisfying read that will keep you glued to the very last page. Heartfelt without being sappy, sarcastic without being rude, Wunder’s characters are brimming with energy and warmth. This is most emphatically not a book about cancer–instead, it’s a book about family, first love, baby flamingoes, Polynesian dancers, and the small miracles of everyday life. I loved every moment. Read it read it read it!

BONUS PICK FOR GROWNUPS: Pure by Julianna Baggott; Grand Central Publishing (Hachette); 25.99; Ages 14+

I’m sort of cheating with this one. It doesn’t take place during the summer. At least, Julianna Baggott never indicates that. But it’s made of pure awesome. And isn’t that what you want to read in your hours and hours of summer leisure time? I know I do. Give me fantastic dystopian world building (check), non-stop action (check), multiple perspectives to keep me interested (check), and some shocking twists and turns (check, check). And while you’re at it, make sure this dystopian world is super creepy and weird and unsettling. In a good way. I dare you to put this book down without finishing it. Give yourself some uninterrupted time, because you’ll want to tear from cover to cover in one sitting!

Come by the store anytime and ask our other booksellers for their favorite picks for summer. If there’s anything we love doing, it’s matching people up with the perfect book!

New in Paperback: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this remarkable novel until now. It’s absolutely brilliant. Along with Breadcrumbs and A Monster Calls, it was one of my favorite books of 2011—and now one of my favorite books of all time! Everyone else here at HFB seems to agree, because it made our Newbery shortlist in January.

Here’s a big statement: everyone should read this book. Everyone. Even adults. Especially adults.

When a young, plucky girl named September is spirited away from her home in Omaha by the jovial Green Wind, she’s in for the adventure of a lifetime. Drawn into Fairyland, September is confronted with an epic quest: to unseat the cruel Marquess, the childlike tyrant who holds Fairyland in her tight grasp. Joined by A-Through-L, a library-oriented dragon, and Saturday, a quiet, loyal Marid child, September attempts to right the wrongs done in the kingdom.

Catherynne M. Valente’s imagination is magnificent, and her storytelling is breathtaking. September’s tale is given such incredible depth that it belongs in the hands of readers of all ages. This is a tale about growing up, becoming brave, and embracing the truth, even if it’s dangerous. This is a tale about friendship, creativity, and sacrifice. Anyone who has loved the rich, dark, classic works by greats like C.S. Lewis, J.M. Barrie, or Lewis Carroll will be utterly entranced by The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland.

I obviously can’t recommend this book enough! Read it immediately. (Pretty please with a cherry on top.)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, illus. by Ana Juan; Square Fish (Macmillan); 6.99; Ages 10-adult

Deadweather and Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey

Looking for a swashbuckling adventure? Stop looking. We’ve got it.

Egg has grown up on Deadweather Island, known to be populated almost entirely by pirates. The thirteen-year-old has led a pretty dull life, punctuated by the occasional bullying from his awful siblings. But when his father takes the family to the neighboring island of Sunrise, everything changes. Suddenly, Egg is surrounded by riches and sophistication he never thought possible. And, when an innocent balloon ride goes terribly awry, spiriting his relations away on the wind, it looks like he might be able to stay forever.

But Egg quickly learns that the beauty and comfort of Sunrise hides a dark secret, a secret to which Egg himself may hold the key! Assisted only by a plucky girl named Millicent and a strange, sinister young sailor, Egg must unravel the mystery that connects Deadweather and Sunrise. Along the way, he might just learn something very important about himself.

The first in a series, this is the perfect read for guys (and girls!) who love adventure and a good mystery. Geoff Rodkey has a pretty perfect formula going here: a smart, under-appreciated hero, a bevy of dastardly pirates, wicked bureaucrats, bratty siblings (who get their comeuppance in the end), a feisty sidekick, and treasure! Yep, there’s ancient, epic treasure, too. What’s not to love?

Deadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg #1 by Geoff Rodkey; Putnam Publishing (Penguin); 16.99; Ages 10-12