Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R.L. LaFevers

theodosia-and-the-staff-of-osirisTheodosia Throckmorton is in even more trouble than usual.  And as readers of her first adventure, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, know, trouble is one of the many things that find Theodosia on a regular basis.  Among the other things that seem to find their way to Theo: ancient Egyptian curses, power-hungry madmen seeking to control the world, mummies that walk the Earth, and the most terrifying thing of all: Theodosia’s Grandmother.

During her previous adventures, Theodosia was introduced to the nefarious Serpents of Chaos, an organization that seeks to engulf the world in chaos and violence.  And when Theodosia accidentally reactivates the Staff of Osiris, an ancient Egyptian object with mysterious power over the dead, the Serpents of Chaos want in on the action.  It will take all of Theo’s considerable ingenuity and spunk to stop their evil plan – but first she’ll have to get away from the many governesses hired by her grandmother.

The second book in the Theodosia Throckmorton series delivers with nonstop action, good history, sly humor, and a delightfully precocious protaganist.  A few characters from the first book are not who they seem – and is Theodosia’s grandmother actually showing signs of – gasp – humanity?

These books aren’t just a load of fun – they’re also beautifully made with great attention to detail.  The cover art is striking, and the spine is designed to look like an old leatherbound book.  The old-book look is continued with the thick stock of the paper, slightly old-fashioned typeface, and an uneven deckle edge.  Finally, if you peek underneath the jacket you’ll find an old map of London where a curious reader can follow Theodosia’s adventures.

This is a great choice for Percy Jackson readers who are chomping at the bit waiting for the final book, or for anyone who likes their heroes smart and sassy.  I’ll be looking forward to more from Theodosia.

R.L. LaFevers on the web

R.L. LaFevers’ blog

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris on the web

Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel

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Matt Cruse lives a life he loves, sailing through the air as a cabin boy on the Airship Aurora and hoping to one day captain a great Airship. When Kate, a headstrong and very rich young passenger, confides in him that she is searching for an undiscovered race of flying creatures that were discovered by her uncle shortly before his death, Matt is swept up in her search. It is only when a pirate attack leaves the Aurora stranded on an island that they finally find what they are looking for.

Oppel’s novel is a richly detailed, rollicking adventure set in a Victorian fantasy world. Matt’s narration is fresh and lively, and his passion for flying gives the novel a joyful feel. With exploration, flight, romance, piracy, adventure, shipwrecks, a realistically drawn fantasy world, a rich plot, and compelling characters, there is a lot to love about this book. While the plot is fun and adventurous, it is Matt’s quietly competent passion and Kate’s strong will and curiosity that carry the novel. The quick pace of the plot and Matt’s enthusiastic narration make Airborn’s 500 pages fly by. I look forward to reading the sequel.

A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly

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Mattie Gokey is desperate to earn enough money to escape her tiny North Woods town and attend college in New York. Her dream is to be a writer, but in reality she is caring for her younger sisters and helping her father run the family farm. When she goes off to work at a popular summer resort camp to earn money for a new mule, Molly meets a young couple, and Grace, the young lady, gives Mattie a bundle of letters to burn. However, before Mattie gets around to burning the letters, Grace Brown turns up drowned in a boating accident on the lake, and her boyfriend is no where to be found. Reading the letters, Mattie discovers that Grace was murdered. Grace’s story, combined with Mattie’s own blossoming relationship with a local farmboy, make Mattie question whether relationships are harmful to women.

Donnelly’s narrative is complex and nonlinear, shifting seamlessly from Mattie’s life on the farm to her life at the hotel in the wake of Grace Brown’s murder. The parallel narratives of Grace Brown’s doomed relationship, Mattie’s confusing relationship with Royal, and the several other romantic relationships that are scattered through the text are skillfully woven, and the book is beautifully written. I did feel a little bit beat over the head by the “marriage is bad for women!” message of the book. While choosing not to pursue a relationship with Royal is part of Mattie’s journey, and the relationships of Grace Brown, Mattie’s teacher, and other women are illuminating to that journey, the exploration of this theme felt very one-sided.

The book was based on an actual 1906 murder, which was also explored in Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy.

Finding Lubchenko, by Michael Simmons

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When Evan’s millionaire dad is suddenly arrested for murder, and Evan learns that the evidence that could acquit his father is hidden in his best friend’s garage, he is left with a dilemma. Leave his father to rot in jail, or admit that he has been stealing office equipment from his dad’s company and selling it on eBay? Complicating things is Evan’s stormy relationship with his father, a penny-pinching disciplinarian. Eventually, Evan lights on a kind of solution – using the evidence on the stolen laptop to start his own investigation. With his dad’s credit card and his two best friends in tow, Evan flies off to Paris and finds himself in the middle of international intrigue, danger, mystery, and a possible bioterrorism plot.

While the book’s plot is fast-paced and fun, the true delight in reading Finding Lubchenko is Evan’s narrative voice. Yes, Evan is a sarcastic, whiny, self-involved narrator, but he is also uproariously funny. Refreshingly, Evan does not grow up a whole lot of the course of the novel. In keeping with the rest of Simmons’ funny, irreverent book, there is no tearful reunion with his father, and Evan is still the same aggravating teenager at the book’s end.

King Dork, by Frank Portman

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The Catcher in the Rye changed Tom Henderson’s life. But not in the way you think – he’s not a part of the Catcher cult, who carry the book everywhere and idolize Holden Caulfield as the perfect teenager. It was Tom’s dead father’s copy of the book that changed his life, when Tom finds a mysterious note written inside. Notes in several of Tom’s father’s old books lead him into a strange conspiracy involving his father’s death and the Vice Principal’s seedy past. At the same time that Tom is investigating the mystery of his dad’s library, he is also trying to navigate the strange world of girls, several of whom suddenly and strangely drop into his life. Add to this the daily struggle that is high school, and Tom’s best friend Sam’s constant re-vamping of their band, and Tom’s life is suddenly very complicated.

Portman’s first novel is a brilliant, cynical look at the life of a high school dork. That he leaves the plot’s complex intricacies fairly open-ended and unresolved at the finish of the novel was a perfect reflection of Tom’s high school life, where nothing ever has any deeper meaning. The Catcher in the Rye allusions add another layer to this pastiche of a teenager searching for something. Tom’s narration is caustic, thoughtful, and most of all funny. It is easy for most readers to relate at some level to a clever outsider, and Tom fills that role well. However, Portman never lets his novel fall into the typical YA cliches. Instead, he consistently challenges and surprises the reader, and also treats them to a really excellent book.