The Sisters Grimm: The Fairytale Detectives by Michael Buckley

Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have been on their own since the day their parents disappeared. They’ve been moved from horrible foster home to foster home and when they get placed in Ferryport Landing where a supposed relative has been uncovered. While there the girls discover the truth about their family: the Brothers Grimm were not writing children’s tales, they were writing journals of true stories, as did their family after them. When the fairytale creatures, who prefer to be called Everafters, came to America, one of their ancestors had a curse put on them that could not leave Ferryport Landing. But the other side of the curse is that so long as the fairytale creatures must remain there, so must a Grimm. They also discover that there parents did not abandon them, they were taken, by some Everafters who weren’t in Ferryport Landing at the time of the spell.

When the sisters get to Ferryport Landing, they are thrown into the magical world when their grandmother and Mr. Canis (formerly, the Big Bad Wolf) are taken by giants. Sabrina and Daphne must find their grandmother, with the help of Puck and Jack the Giant Killer (aka Jack and the Beanstalk) and save her.

But not all is as it seems and not all Fairy Tale creatures are as innocuous as their stories would have you believe. Who is behind bringing the giants to Ferryport Landing?

Retellings have always been a favorite of mine as far as genres go. (Wicked for example, pretty awesome.) This one does a good job of bringing in all sorts of beloved stories and making them real. There are some things that aren’t quite clear (like how the Three Little Pigs can shift to human form) but it’s a series so there’s bound to be more information to come.

Like with the Septimus Heap series, this one is a little young for me, but it’s well thought out and sweet.

Read it for yourself: The Fairy Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, Book 1) (Bk. 1)

Magyk: Book 1 of the Septimus Heap Series by Angie Sage

I’d like to preface this by saying how much I’m thrilled about the rise in fantasy series. (Thank you JKR!) Growing up, the really popular kids’ series were Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Baby Sitters’ Club, Sweet Valley Twins, etc. Finally, the fantasy stuff has become really big. Now on to the story…

One winter night, a family gives birth to their seventh son and names him Septimus Heap. That same night, the queen gives birth to an heir. But the queen is murdered and the baby is presumed dead. Septimus is carried out by the nursemaid who reports that he died. Silas finds a baby girl in the woods and their family takes her in, names her Jenna, and raises her as one of their own. Things seem to settle down for a time until the truth is revealed: Jenna is the Princess. And Septimus may not be gone for good.

The book is full of action and the wizarding world is fairly detailed. The characters are likable and entertaining. The writing is set for a slightly younger age group than Harry Potter, which for me, was a little tough. I like children’s books but it was a little too young for me and the magic was too simple and easy to pick up.

I don’t love the series but I’m curious enough to want to read the book and see how the series progresses. Book 1 has more the feel of setting up the rest of the series than of being like the rest of the books. I do recommend the book for young children but if you’re like me, and enjoy the YA stuff, this isn’t quite for you. (But I’ll let you know for sure after I try book 2.)

Read book one: Magyk (Septimus Heap, Book 1)

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

This book is one of those eerie, hard to forget books. We Need To Talk About Kevin tells the story of Kevin Katchadorian, a teenage boy who goes to school one day and kills a number of his schoolmates. In the world of school shootings, this not an unrealistic story.

Written from the perspective of Eva, Kevin’s mother, in the form of letters to her estranged husband. Eva tries to come to terms with everything that happened. Was it her fault? Was it Kevin’s upbringing and her relationship with him lead him to become a killer? Was it something in Kevin’s personality? All the questions that you can’t help but wonder about when you hear about a school massacre.

I found myself equally appalled and fascinated by Kevin, Eva, and Franklin (the father) throughout the book. And I was pleased to find myself surprised at the end of the book.

One of the most fascinating things about this story is that the story is written from the parent’s perspective. Parents seem to get ignored when talk of school shooters arises. They are blamed for what happened and no one thinks about the fact that the parents’ lives have just been shattered. They’ve just lost a child (even if not literally), people view them with horror and despise, and they can’t grieve in the open. And what do they do if their child ends up in jail for their actions? Support them? Shun them? Can they stay where they are or do they have to move?

While I’m not normally a huge fan of books written in letter or diary format, the book was done in a way that did not make it feel cumbersome. The narrative flows despite the letter style and the story is engrossing. And disturbing. There may not be a resolution to the nature vs nurture question of whose fault everything is, but We Need To Talk About Kevin leaves you with a lot to think about.

Read the book: We Need to Talk About Kevin: A Novel (P.S.)

Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Outcasts United tells the story of Clarkston, Georgia, a small southern town just outside of Atlanta. Once a quiet, mostly white town with little going on, Clarkston was quickly changed when a refugee resettlement program brought in an influx of foreigners.

Luma Al-Mufleh, a woman born into a well off family in Jordan, found that living the strict, structured life of the Muslim woman and decided to remain in the United States after college. Her family, furious with her decision, cut her off completely. Left to fend for herself, Luma struggled to find her place for herself and eventually stumbled into Clarkston where she saw a group of refugee boys playing soccer. So she started a soccer program for the boys, including mandatory tutoring sessions for anyone who wanted to play. Luma, a strict coach, demanded the best of her players and expected them to put in the time, effort, and energy required to succeed in the sport. But she was much more than a coach to the boys. She became friends with their families, began helping them in life off the field as much as on.

The team was a positive element in the lives of boys who’d experienced so much tragedy, but it wasn’t easy. Clarkston was not prepared for the scores of people who were moved into the town without many skills, without any idea of American culture, and often, without the ability to speak English. Many people were resentful of the changes being forced on them without any say on the matter. The boys were banned from using the town’s all-purpose field, the explanation being that it was a baseball exclusive field. Of course, the fact that there were no baseball leagues in the town was irrelevant.

The story is an interesting and inspiring one. One of my only problems with the book is that it is written like a report or a newspaper article. This is to be expected, as the writer, Wallace St. John worked (works?) for the New York Times (and wrote three articles about the team while doing research for the book). He goes into depth about the histories of the places where the boys come from and really gets to the heart of their stories, but the reporter style made it a little difficult to get engrossed in the book.

The other thing I disliked was that the author was very analytical. He didn’t seem to trust that the reader could draw the lesson or connection from a story he wrote. This is the same problem that the author of a sports memoir we are agenting has. You do not need to say the following things happened and from that I learned this,” let the story do the explaining. It’s clear that a church that integrated the refugees is an example of some people accepting the refugees, so you do not need to say “and this was an example of the refugees being accepted.”

To read more about the boys’ stories you can check out their site: outcastsunited.com.

Read the book here: Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Ever wonder how Peter Pan and the Lost Boys got to Neverland? How Tinker Bell came to be? How the pirates and the Indians got to the island? Or the origins of pixie dust? Or how George and Molly met? Well, all these questions and more get “answered” in the Peter and the Starcatchers series.

Long before Wendy, John, and Michael, there was Molly Aster, daughter of Leonard Aster, a prominent English man who belongs to a group called the Starcatchers. The group’s purpose is to collect stardust, a magical substance, when it lands on earth before the Others get it. Peter was one of a group of orphan boys being taken overseas to be used as slaves. Events bring Molly and Peter together to fight the Others and protect those closest to them.

Knowing Dave Barry from his humor column, this was a novel I did not expect. While it still has moments of humor, that is certainly not the base of the book. Barry and Pearson have created an entire, thought out world with new and exciting characters while keeping the things we love about the myth.

In the most recent installment of the series, Peter Pan and the Sword of Mercy, back by popular demand, we skip ahead, closer to the time we all know and love from the original story. Molly is all grown up and married to George, Wendy is eleven and has never heard of Neverland or Peter Pan. Until the Others return with a plot that extends all the way to the king of England.

I love this series, both for the nostalgia and retelling elements and for the well written story itself. If you want a fun, exciting story with well thought out characters and great interaction, this is a great book to pick up.

Read the series: Peter and the Starcatchers: The Starcatchers Series Books 1-3: Paperback Box Set (20the Starcatchers Series Books) and Peter and the Sword of Mercy (Starcatchers)