Eats, Shoots & Leaves: By Lynne Truss and Bonnie Timmons

     In honor of National Punctuation Day, I read this classic story to my class.  They thoroughly enjoyed the humorous scenarios created by the use and misuse of commas.

     This is an excellent, fun read for all ages!  It is interesting to see the drastic changes that can be made by the simple placement of punctuation marks. 

Grade Level: 1.6

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: By Ransom Riggs

Haunting photographs.

An island devastated by war.

An empty, ruined orphanage.

And Jacob.

Jacob lives an ordinary life.  He eats ordinary things and has a very ordinary job working at a Smart Aid.  The only special thing he has is his Grandfather.  Then, one fateful night, he doesn't have him anymore.  Jacob is then haunted by the terrors that invade his grandfathers' childhood.  Are they real? 

After his grandfather's death, Jacob finds a letter that takes him to the desolate island off the coast of modern-day Wales.  Did the children in my grandfathers stories actually exist? Or is there more to this story than meets the eye?

This book I simply could not put down.  I HAD to find out what was going to happen next!! I did get a little creeped out by some of these old photographs as well.   Be advised, this novel does have (sorry!!) a few crass conversations and (gasp!) a bad word or three.  I would recommend this only to older students (High school and up) due to such content.  

Grade Level: 5.7

The School for Good and Evil: Soman Chainani

     Welcome to your first day of class!! If you are in Good (the school for princes, princesses and all manner of kind folk) you will learn what it truly means to be heroes.  If you are in Evil...well you can figure that one out on your own.  
     Sophie thinks that with her pink dresses, sweet smile, and blonde hair, she will be a shoe-in for the school of Good.  Agatha, her best friend, would rather sit in her dark, dungeon of a bedroom than socialize with anyone.  They seem to fit the exact stereotype for Good and Evil.  But when they arrive, a terrible mix up happens, and they are sent to the wrong schools.  
     Is this all some terrible accident? Or is this the first step in finding out who really is good and who really is evil?
     This book is an excellent, fast paced read.  I would recommend this book for high-school aged students, based on content (after all, there is a whole school devoted to being evil.  When they say Evil, it is really EVIL and frankly kind of unnecessary with the amount of time they spend learning about maiming and harming cute animals.)  

Grade Level: 5.1

Pride and Prejudice By Jane Austen

     The most wonderful news has come to the ears of the mother of the Bennet Daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia. A young gentleman will be renting a large manor who is fabulously wealth and, of course, single.  Mrs. Bennet is exceedingly desperate to marry of each of her daughters as not let them become burden upon society.  Little does she know that with all of her meddling wiles, Mrs. Bennet could not conceive the events which were to follow Mr. Bingley's coming.  
     Jane, the eldest, develops a certain fondness for Mr. Bingley right away.  Love at first sight seems very real to Jane.  She confides in her sister Elizabeth, who has a very different view of love.  Upon meeting Mr. Bingley for the first time, the also happen to meet his dear friend, Mr. Darcy.  He seems sour; brooding even and wants very little to do with the things of this world which are enjoyable.  Upon meeting, he insults Elizabeth who swears that she will never understand why such an arrogant and unpleasant man could exist.  
     Thought to be one of Austen's finest novels,Pride and Prejudice is certainly among the most well known.  And while character development is present in all of her novels, this one in particular I believe has the most drastic changes and some of the most relate-able characters.  
Grade Level: 12.0
Interest Level: 8.0-12.0

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

As poor Percy Jackson struggles through school (and does something rather embarrassing to his math teacher)  he begins to suspect that his life is not what it seems. He discovers that his lifelong reading and attention troubles are all signs that he is a half-blood-a child of the Greek gods. After training, Percy and the gang go on a quest to recover Zeus' lost thunderbolt and stop a war between the fickle gods. Along the way, where modern life and mythology intersect to create both humor and excitement, Percy will come to know his father Poseidon, rescue his mother, and discover that he has what it takes to be a hero. Ultimately, Percy learns to trust his friends and his abilities and to choose love over despair. -Scholastic Review 

This is such a great beginning to a series!! Riordan is a master of creating reading appeal to children (and adults!!).  The Lightning Thief is the first book of the Olympian series, and has earned all of the hype.  Truly an excellent novel; one which stays true to its mythological backgrounds.  I appreciate when fiction is accurate when portraying concepts taken from Ancient mythologies.  This novel is informative as well as a load of fun!

Grade Level: 4.7-4.9

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: By C.S.Lewis

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis is one of my all-time FAVORITES.  If you are familliar with the Narnia stories, you are already aware of the drastic transformation that each child goes through with each visit to Narnia.  And for good reason! Epic battles, trying sibling rivalry, and, of course, Aslan!! Whenever we spend time with God, we are drastically changed for the better.  I LOVE this series, and especailly this novel.  

Edmund, Lucy and their boisterous (and awful) cousin Eustace are pulled into Narnia throught he painting of a ship (soooo cool!!) to aid Prince Caspian in his recent plight.  They join forces with Caspian and traverse the great Eastern Ocean.  Caspian swore an oath to Aslan that he would find and bring home the 7 missing lords from the outlying islands who had been banished during Caspian's Uncle's tyrannical reign.

This novel is a fantasy classic for many reasons!! Heroism, epic adventures and leadership combine forces to create this amazing novel.  

Grade Level: 5.9-6.1

The Aviary: Kathleen O'Dell

     Eleven-year-old Clara Dooley has no friends.  She has never seen past the boundaries of the household she resides in, due to a heart defect she developed as a child.  Her mother is the keeper of the Glendoveer Mansion, where they live in relative quiet.  The aviary outside, however, is usually far from silent.  How much trouble could a pack of old performance birds be?

   Slowly, Clara's well-kept life begins to unravel.  The details surrounding this old mansion are constantly elusive.  Clara  goes in search of answers about the mysterious deaths of the Glendoveer children, and finds out more than she bargained for.

     This novel is extremely well-done.  I would recommend it for middle grade ages, due to some scary content.  This is, after all, a murder mystery.

Grade Level: 4.7

Wuthering Heights: Emily Brontë

      Cathy is a lively, free-spirited young girl who loves her father very much.  She comes from a well-to-do family, yet has little desire to be the 'lady' everyone thinks she will become. After returning home from a long journey, her father brings them back a very unique gift: a boy named Heathcliff.  At first she is unsure what to make of this gypsy child in her home.  Later Cathy begins to love him like her own brother Hindley.  As they grow up, Cathy sends all of her time with Heathcliff, running wildly around the moors and fields. As Cathy grow into an adult, she desperately tries to hold onto the wild side of her youth, and Heathcliff.  
     One night, after being attacked my dogs, Cathy is forced to stay in the home of Edgar Linton, a kind man who is absolutely in love with her.  She tries to push him away, but decides to let her wild side disparate instead, and conforms to the norms of society.  Heathcliff, however, does not change, and despises Cathy for leaving him and turning away from the old life.  

     This one of my All-Time favorites.  I read this novel every so often whenever the weather is properly cloudy and grim.  

Grade Level: 11.3

Coraline-Neil Gaiman

     Coraline has a booooring life.  She doesn't have ANY fun; just sits inside all day imagining what life would be like with a better family.  Then one day, Coraline finds an old door.  Yet when she opens it, there is only a wall!!.  Later that night, she discovers the wall behind the door is gone and has revealed an alternate world.  Her 'other' family' is everything she wants, even though they have buttons for eyes.  Little does she know the horror that awaits her. 
     Gaiman is an excellent writer and has many very prominent novels to his name.  His style is very unique, and draws kids in to the whimsical nature of his stories. 
Grade Level: 5.1

The Last Unicorn- Peter S. Beagle

     Quite a melancholy masterpiece! While the cover may try to fool you into thinking this is a silly  children's book, it is far from that!! This is one of my all-time favorite novels. 
     Lady Amalthea is the last of her kind, and by some strange happenstance, she is turned into a human.  She goes through intense depression after realizing her own mortality (Unicorns are immortal, in case you didn't know) and also learns how vain she was as an immortal.  Slowly, Amalthea learns how to be compassionate, caring, and eventually, how to love.  
     This novel is excellently done, and filled with vivid imagery.  

Grade Level: 6.2

Tuck Everlasting- Natalie Babbit

     The Tuck family has a unique problem: they cannot die.  To some facing death, this would be wonderful. To them...well we simply have to read to find out!! Given eternal life after drinking from a spring in the forest, the Tuck family does their best to stay out of sight.  Yet, when unsuspecting Winnie Foster runs away from home, their secret runs the risk of being exposed.  
     Winnie starts to think living forever seems like a good idea. But when a man shows up who seems to know about them, the Tuck family must protect the well from being sold to others to make money.  

Grade Level: 5.0

Story's End-Marissa Burt

In the thrilling sequel to  novel Storybound, the King is missing, and Una and her friends are desperate to find a way to defeat the Enemy that is threatening all of the land of Story.  Little do they know, Una has more at stake than anyone else.   In an epic turn of events, the Muses of Story are back. Are they truly evil? Or have the leaders been lying to the people? Truth will out, as the saying goes, and of course, poor Una is caught in the middle.  

Is she willing to risk the lives of her friends to regain a lost childhood? Or will she abandon her family and save Story?

Grade Level: 5.1

Wonder: R.J. Palacio

August Pullman considers himself to be ordinary.  Yet he is far from that.  He is a wonderful artist, great at science, and reads constantly.  He also has a genetic disorder that makes him  quite the sight to see.  'Auggie' Pullman and his family deal with his deformity on a daily basis, but up until now he has been home-schooled   His parents decide to start him at Beecher Prep, a middle school near their home.  This is their way of helping him join the real world, and no one is quite prepared for him.  

I LOVED this book.  The characters react in real human ways, and are as flawed as you and me.  

Grade Level: 4.8

Between Shades of Gray: Ruta Sepetys

Lina is a young girl living in Russia.  She hopes to become an artist someday, and is talented beyond compare.  SUddenly, her father goes missing, and she and her family are forced out of their home with less than an hour to pack.  They are taken by the KGB to a train that few people return on.  

To speak out against Stalin paints a target on your back.  As for your family, very few survivors make it out of the camps.  Lina and her mother and brother work to keep alive and to find their father.  They must survive harsh winters with little food, disease, and the abuse of the soldiers.  I recommend this novel to all of my girls in the 6th & 7th grade.  This is an excellent depiction of the Russian side of WWII.  I would only recommend this novel to my girls, because of some mention of issues that only girls would be comfortable with reading.  

Grade Level: 3.6

The Yellow Star:Carmen Agra Deedy

King Christian of Denmark is not happy about the German invasion of his beloved country.  But by standing up to the Nazis, he could risk the lives of his countrymen.  Everyday Christopher rides out, un-escorted, through the city of Copenhagen to meet his countrymen.  He is a symbol of confidence and pride for all of his subjects.  With the invasion of the Nazis and the Jews being forced to wear the Yellow star on their clothing, the country of Denmark is in a state of unrest.  This short story tells of the legend of King Christian and the Yellow stars.

Grade Level: 3.7

Fiddler's Gun: A.S. Peterson

This is not a children's book. 

    Fin Button is not your typical teenage girl.  She would rather go run and fight with the boys than wear dresses and brush her hair. Since birth, Fin has felt unwanted.  Her parents didn't want her, so they left her at the church to be cared for by the Sisters that run the orphanage.  Little does she know, God has her ever in His sights.
     As she grows up, Fin seems determined to escape from this dull lifestyle.  She soon realizes that people really do love her, despite her rough exterior and crude language.  Although she  still feels alone, she soon befriends cook, Bartimaeus, who teaches her to play the fiddle.  She also realizes that she is ready to grow up, move on, and marry Peter, her best friend since being left at the orphanage.   
     Life seems to be looking up, until spurts of fighting begin to break out in the nearby areas.  The new American Colonies are on the brink of war with England  and a sudden tragic turn of events sets Fin on a whirlwind of a journey aboard a pirate ship called The Rattlesnake. 
    After a series of violent raids, stormy weather, and a mutiny, Fin returns to a war ravaged homeland.  Will she find Peter waiting for her? Or does God have a different path in mind for her?
     This is not a book for children.  There are many violent scenes as well as severely crude language.  This story is riddled with Christian themes, and is an excellent read for adults.  It is the first book of two written by A.S. Peterson, the brother of Andrew Peterson, whom I have written reviews on previously.  Talented writing must run in this family!! 

Summer and Bird: Katherine Catmull

Summer and Bird awake one cold, lonely morning to discover two things. One: they are entirely alone, no  mother, no father, no pet cat, only each other.  Two: they have a secret message that they think their mother meant for them to find and follow.  But follow where?  This book takes the two girls on a journey to Down, a woodland, snowy forest that has been in winter for almost 13 years.  A sinister force is at work in this world, and will stop at nothing to take these girls and turn them into puppets.

This story has one unnerving plot twist after another!! I loved the writing style and imagery Catmull creates.  This is definitely a book for people who love fantasy/fiction and even a good mystery.  Search with Summer and Bird as they search for their lost parents, and discover what secrets lie in store.

Grade Level: 5.3

Shiloh: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

This is one of my all time favorite books and favorite choice for summer reading!! Marty is a young boy who finds a poor,sad, neglected dog.  Marty does everything he can to take care of the dog and keep him away from his awful ex-owner Judd.  Marty knows that he cannot keep a dog long without someone noticing.  Time is running out for Marty and Shiloh.  Will Marty be able to rescue his beloved dog? Or will Judd find out and take him away forever?  Read to find out!!

This is the first book of three int the Shiloh series.  I read these for the first time many years ago and LOVED them like I do now.  Marty is such an all american boy who loves this dog! Shiloh is too lovable to resist.  If you love dogs, this book is a must-read!!

Grade level: 4.4

A Voice in the Wind:Francine Rivers

After loosing everything she's ever known, watched her family die of starvation in front of her, and seen the incredible fall of Jerusalem  Hadassah is in complete and utter despair.   To make matters inconceivably worse, Hadassah is then taken prisoner and sold as as a jewish slave to the invading Romans.  She is purchased by a family who chooses to make her the personal servant of their youngest daughter.  Little does the family know that the slave they have just purchased is actually one of the many Christians, a new religion that even the mention of the name can land you in prison or killed.  Hadassah's faith in this novel is such an inspiration.  She has faults , and doubts from time to time, but she never takes her eyes of Jesus.  Even into the Lions' den (literally) she stands firm for her faith.  She clings to God, even though self-indulgent Rome is ever calling, and her very life hangs in the balance.

I would recommend this book for high-school age and older.  It reads decently for younger grades, but I would recommend it for an older crowd.  This is due to the severe violent nature represented in many scenes.  While it is not written in a gruesome way, I think this book is meant for older students.  Also, there is some mention of pagan rituals and a few other non-child friendly, darker themes.  After all, this book is set in Ancient Rome.  Pagan worship and other idolatry is running rampant during this era.  However, I still thoroughly condone this book!! It is an excellent story about a person who has steadfast faith in Jesus Christ.  She can put many of us to shame with her level of devotion.  

Grade level: 5.5
Maturity level: Young Adult/Adult

Eragon: Christopher Paolini

Eragon is out in the forest one day and discovers a shiny, blue stone.  Happy with such an unusual discovery, this poor farmer carries his treasure home.  Little did he know that this was no mere stone, but a dragons' egg!  Without knowing what his future holds, Eragon is forced into a fascinating yet dangerous journey to correct the evil that has been spreading in his beloved country.

Spoiler Alert: Be prepared to cry!!!  This novel is the first in the series, and each book takes you for a bumpy ride!! Just when you think you know a person, (or fictional characrter) they go and turn on you!! (Well, not really turn on you, since you AREN'T in the story....)  This novel is so well done, and it is a credit to Paolini to write such a convincing fantasy.  I was literally on the edge of my seat reading this, several times!!

Grade level: 5.6

Emma: Jane Austen

Emma Woodhouse is the wealthy daughter of a nervous but loving man.  She has no want of anything, and therefore proceeds to become the town match-maker in the hopes of making everyone 'happy'.  Little does she realize, that the matters of the heart are a treacherous plaything.  This book is filled with quick, witty remarks, shocking turns of events, and of course, true love.  Has Emma really met her match? Or is it too late? READ TO FIND OUT!!

This novel is one of my all time favorites!! This book is simply a MUST read for high school age/level students, and especially for girls.  As you read, you explore the inner-workings of a clever mind who learns that being prideful and flaunting her cleverness can get cause serious problems for her and those close to her.  

Grade Level: 9.3

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters: Jane Austen with an adaptation by Ben Winters

In this twist of Austen's classic, the Dashwood sisters are send to a mysterious island where they are left at the mercy of stormy seasons, violent octopi battles, and frightening sea monsters of a lively variety.  In an interesting twist, Colonel Brandon is now a tentacle-covered yet kind individual with eyes only for sweet yet misguided Marianne.  The sisters must fight against their own short-comings, biases, and aversion to those who might be squid-like.  

I must admit, at first I was a little skeptical of any variation to my beloved Austen classics.  However, I simply cannot express fully how much I enjoyed this book! Making Brandon a sea-creature has significant affect on the story, and teaches the reader to love based on personality, kindness and courage; not get caught up in appearance. 

Grade Level:8.7

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness:Andrew Peterson

Long, long ago, when thwaps and toothy cows roamed free, there lived the Igiby family.  Janner, Tink, and Leeli seem like ordinary children living ordinary lives. They live in peace, unless you take into account of the Black Carriage that comes every night to take children way from their homes.   UThey live free of danger, unless you take note of the scaly, slimy, evil, lizard-like Fangs of Dang, threatening their peaceful hometown.  The Igiby family must defend themselves against these frightening creatures in a search to discover what the 'Jewels of Aniera' are, and what makes them so important to protect.

This book is riddled with amazing, strong characters and  loaded with major Christian motifs.  The 7th grade class goes through the entire Wingfeather Saga as part of their Literature Curriculum, and this is the first book in that series.  I have never had a more positive class outlook on an entire book like I have had for this series!  They are simple too good to put down.  The characters in the story put us to shame when it comes to being brave, chivalrous, and fighting for what they know is right! This book is good for middle grades 6-8.

Grade Level: 6

Gregor The Overlander: Suzanne Collins

Gregor is a boy with nothing extraordinary about him.  Until one day, he falls through an air vent in search of his baby sister.  He tumbles down into a dangerous, deadly underground world known as the 'Underland'.  Here, human beings live in a delicate harmony with giant bats, spiders, rats and other unsavory creatures.  Gregor has no choice but to become a part in this story in order to save himself and his family from certain doom!

This is an excellent middle grade book for students who love the Hunger Games series.  Good for students in grades 4 through 8.

Reading Level:4.8

Storybound-Marissa Burt

In Marissa Burt's Novel Storybound, an orphaned girl name Una Fairchild spends her lonely days perusing the dusty old shelves of her school library.  One day she finds an unusual looking book: "The Ledgend of Una Fairchild".  What??? She wonders.  And so the story unfolds!  Una is suddenly swept into the story (literally) and finds herself facing terrible dangers as she explores the town of Story looking for answers to how she became a 'part' in her book. 

This novel sucked me in, just like Una!!  This is a wonderful story for students in the middle grades.  It is an interesting twist on classic fairy tales, riddled with humor, suspense and old fashioned chivalry. 

Reading Level: 4.9