The books

cardturner The Cardturner by Louis Sachar.

The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him, he has no money and no job, and his parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester, who is old, blind, very sick, and very rich, to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner. But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. There is Trapp’s longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family. Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda, as he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.

Everyone has heard of Holes, but this is very much a lesser-known Sachar title. That “Will kids really read a book about bridge?” question, mentioned all over in 2010 and phrased in tones of utter internet shock, still haunts me. Yes. Yes, they will. This is not only a book about bridge.

chimeChime by Franny Billingsley

Briony has a secret. It is a secret that killed her stepmother, ruined her sister’s mind, and will end her life, if anyone were to know. She has powers. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and a great mane of tawny hair. He is as natural as the sun, and he treats her as if she is extraordinary. And everything starts to change…

Six starred reviews and yet no Printz recognition. Plus the absolute worst paperback redesign in recent memory. If The King of Attolia wasn’t my barometer for underappreciated books, this would be.

crownduelCrown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Young Countess Meliara swears to her dying father that she and her brother will defend their people from the growing greed of the king. That promise leads them into a war for which they are ill-prepared, which threatens the very people they are trying to protect. But war is simple compared to what follows, in peacetime. If she is to survive, Meliara must learn a whole new way of fighting – with wits and words and secret alliances. In war, at least, she knew in whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one.

I once saw this described as part adventure story, part comedy of manners. I love that description. This book was actually first published in two volumes, which have been combined in the current print version. I own a both a print copy and an ebook version – $3.99 for the ebook! How could I pass that up?

demonkingThe Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

One day Han Alister catches three young wizard setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet away from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to ensure the boy won’t use it against him. The amulet once belonged to the Demon King, who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece so powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.

Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna has her own battle to fight. She’s just returned to court after three years of riding and hunting with her father’s family. Raisa aspires to be like Hanalea, the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But it seems that her mother has other plans for her – plans that include a suitor who goes against everything the Queendom stands for.

The first in the Seven Realms series. You will want to read the next books after reading this one (I make no apologies for that). Also, the covers are absolute works of art; the hardcover copies take up a lot of space on my bookshelf, but they were too beautiful to pass up.

facelikeglassA Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

In the underground city of Caverna, the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare. They create wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned. Only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to show (or fake) joy, despair or fear – at a price.

Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a little girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell’s emotions are as obvious on her face as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, though entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed.

This was published in the UK and Canada in 2012, but there’s still no US publication – despite raves from critics and book bloggers. It’s beyond comprehension. Amazon has the ebook, which is fantastic, because this book should not be missed.

floatingislandsThe Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings. Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself.  The only one who fully understands his passion is Araene, his newfound cousin.  Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araene has a secret of her own, a dream a girl cannot attain.

Trei and Araene quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths.  But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands.

If it’s well-written YA fantasy, and seemingly no one I know has read it, it’s probably on this list. This is another title that fits those parameters. It also fits that non-European/medieval fantasy list I’ve been meaning to compile.

jellicoeroadJellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

At age eleven, Taylor Markham was abandoned by her mother. At fourteen, she ran away from boarding school, only to be tracked down and brought back by a mysterious stranger. Now seventeen, Taylor’s the reluctant leader of her school’s underground community, whose annual territory war with the Townies and visiting Cadets has just begun. This year, though, the Cadets are led by Jonah Griggs, and Taylor can’t avoid his intense gaze for long. To make matters worse, Hannah, the one adult Taylor trusts, has disappeared. But if Taylor can piece together the clues Hannah left behind, the truth she uncovers might not just settle her past, but also change her future.

Won the Printz in what I consider the best year the Printz ever had. Has since been rarely mentioned and is not on the shelf in any NYC Barnes and Noble, despite being a medal winner. Still the best of the great Australian YA I’ve read since, and one of my top YA novels of all time.

katincorrigibleKat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she’s inherited her mother’s magical talents, and despite Stepmama’s stern objections, she’s determined to learn how to use them. Magic may be the greatest scandal in Regency England. But that’s not going to stop Kat Stephenson when there are highwaymen to foil, sinister aristocrats to defeat… and true loves to capture for her two older sisters.

A wonderful period piece – magic and humor and such charm. An absolute joy. This is a standalone title and the first of a series.

kingofattoliaThe King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

By scheming and theft, the Thief of Eddis has become King of Attolia. Eugenides wanted the queen, not the crown, but he finds himself trapped in a web of his own making. Attolia’s barons seethe with resentment, the Mede emperor is returning to the attack, and the king is surrounded by the subtle and dangerous intrigue of the Attolian court.

When a naive young guard expresses his contempt for the king in no uncertain terms, he is dragged by Eugenides into the center of the political maelstrom. Like the king, he cannot escape the difficulties he makes for himself. Poor Costis knows he is the victim of the king’s caprice, but he discovers a reluctant sympathy for Eugenides as he watches the newly crowned king struggle against his fate.

This is the first book I loved that no one had ever heard of, much less read. I’d never heard of it myself, but I randomly picked it off the library shelf because I liked the cover. I didn’t know it was part of a series (the third volume, in fact) and I understood and loved it anyway. This one has always been my favorite, though The Queen of Attolia comes very, very close.

kingofshadowsKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper

Only in the world of the theater can Nat Field find an escape from the tragedies that have shadowed his young life. So he is thrilled when he is chosen to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a new replica of the famous Globe theater. Shortly after arriving in England, Nat goes to bed ill and awakens transported back in time four hundred years – to another London, and another production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Amid the bustle and excitement of an Elizabethan theatrical production, Nat finds the warm, nurturing father figure missing from his life – in none other than William Shakespeare himself.

I trace my love of Shakespeare directly back to this book. My love for Susan Cooper’s work predates this, though. (Let’s not mention the title that fits my “disappointing 2013 releases” list.)

riddlemasterhedThe Riddle Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip

Long ago, the wizards had vanished from the world, and all knowledge was left hidden in riddles. Morgon, prince of the simple farmers of Hed, proved himself a master of such riddles when he staked his life to win a crown from the dead Lord of Aum. But now ancient, evil forces were threatening him. Shape changers began replacing friends until no man could be trusted. So Morgon was forced to flee to hostile kingdoms, seeking the High One who ruled from mysterious Erlenstar Mountain. Beside him went Deth, the High One’s Harper. Ahead lay strange encounters and terrifying adventures. And with him always was the greatest of unsolved riddles; the nature of the three stars on his forehead that seemed to drive him toward his ultimate destiny.

This is the first book of a trilogy. Check used bookstores for this – unfortunately, the series is out of print and not available in ebook form. I wish it was widely read and lauded and the fantasy classic it deserves to be.

roadhomeThe Road Home by Ellen Emerson White

Not all victims were soldiers… Lieutenant Rebecca Phillips went to Vietnam as a nurse, to heal and give comfort, and maybe to find answers. The war had torn her family apart and she wanted to know why. But there were no answers for her in Vietnam – only more questions.

When Rebecca returns to the US, her war still isn’t over. For only when she’s home is she able to confront the horrific realities she experienced during her tour of duty. To piece her life back together, Rebecca travels across the country in search of hope, of forgiveness… of the way home.

Does for the Vietnam War what The Grapes of Wrath does for the Great Depression. Vivid and moving. Another title on this list that never should have gone out of print, but at least the ebook is newly available via Amazon.

schoolstoryThe School Story by Andrew Clements

Twelve-year-old Natalie Nelson has written a powerful school story. It’s a short novel called The Cheater, and her best friend Zoe is certain it should be published. All Natalie has to do is give the manuscript to her mom, an editor at a big publishing house. But Natalie doesn’t want any favors from her mom. Still, Zoe won’t drop the idea. But if the girls are to succeed, they’ll need support from their wary English teacher, legal advice, and some clever maneuvering to outwit the overbearing editor in chief of Shipley Junior Books.

Why has everyone read Frindle, but never made it to this novel? I wrote a paper in a lit class supporting this book as one that should be in all elementary school libraries. I feel that strongly about it. Also features: Dr. Seuss.

sorceryceceliaSorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevenmer

A great deal is happening in London and the country this season. For starters, there’s the witch who tried to poison Kate at the Royal College of Wizards. There’s also the man who seems to be spying on Cecelia. (Though he’s not doing a very good job of it – so just what are his intentions?) And then there’s Oliver. Ever since he was turned into a tree, he hasn’t bothered to tell anyone where he is.

Clearly, magic is a deadly and dangerous business. And the girls might be in fear for their lives… if only they weren’t having so much fun!

The best collaboration I have ever read. Actually written by two authors, each writing one point of view. I laughed out loud reading this – and so did my mother.

viewfromsaturdayThe View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg

How had Mrs. Olinski chosen her sixth grade academic bowl team? She had a number of answers. But were any of them true? How had she really chosen Noah and Nadia and Ethan and Julian? And why did they make such a good team?

It was a surprise to a lot of people when Mrs. Olinski’s team won the sixth grade academic bowl contest at Epiphany Middle School. It was an even bigger surprise when they beat the seventh grade and the eighth grade, too. And when they went on to even greater victories, everyone began to ask: How did it happen?

Like Holes, this is also a lesser-known book by a famous author. This is the only novel on this list currently on the shelves of NYC Barnes and Nobles – and yet no one I know has read it.

yearofthegriffinYear of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones

It is eight years after the tours from offworld have stopped. High Chancellor Querida has retired, leaving Wizard Corkoran in charge of the Wizards’ University. Although Wizard Corkoran’s obsession is to be the first man on the moon, and most of his time is devoted to this project, he decides he will teach the new first years himself in hopes of currying the favor of the new students’ families and obtaining money for the University (which it so desperately needs). But Wizard Corkoran is dismayed to discover that one of those students is a hugh golden griffin, and that none of the others has any money at all. Wizard Corkoran’s money-making scheme backfires, and life at the Wizards’ University spins magically and magnificently out of control.

Not a Chrestomanci title; obviously not Howl’s Moving Castle. This is a rarely-discussed gem with all the classic Jones elements. Dark Lord of Derkholm is the companion novel that precedes it chronologically, but I read Year of the Griffin first, and it is a standalone.

The complete bracket can be found here.


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