The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan: Holly reviewed this book extremely well here. I had such a great time reading this book. And I took one of my Christmas B&N gift cards and ordered 2&3 right away. And probably I'll be pre-ordering #4. This was such a fresh take on juvenile fantasy. And such a sneaky way to get kids interested in learning about Greek mythology. There are two ways to go with this sort of story; either put the hero into a magical world or bring the magic into this world. Harry Potter goes the first way, and the Percy Jackson books go the other. Matt asked what I was reading and I told him "post-Harry Potter juvenile fantasy." He laughed and asked if we were already at the post-Harry Potter age of literature. I guess I just think of juvenile fantasy written since Harry Potter became an unstoppable force as inevitably influenced by it (at least authors publishing new books, especially series--authors who were already writing don't really have this problem). And Riordan really could have pitched this to his publisher as "Harry Potter, but in New York and with Greek gods." But his writing is crisp and witty, Percy is an immensely likable hero with whom kids will love to identify (especially kids who tend to not like reading, those with dyslexia and ADHD, both of which Percy has as a result of being half-blood), and the book was just plain fun and action-packed to the hilt. He's charting Percy's hero journey, and the necessary archetypal elements make comparisons to Harry Potter inevitable. It didn't bother me, though, because Riordan's story is original and inventive, and the ways he finds to bring Greek gods into modern-day America are endlessly creative. I can't wait to read the next installment.
The Beasts of Clawstone Castle by Eva Ibbotson: Madlyn and Rollo go to spend the summer with distant relatives who live in Clawstone Castle, a crumbling money pit opened to the public to raise funds to preserve a herd of white cattle. The children audition ghosts to help bring in more visitors, but a terrible fate befalls the cattle, leading to their quest (together with the memorable collection of ghosts) to save them. Ibbotson has written several ghost stories with a twist. In the tradition of Dial-a-Ghost and The Great Ghost Rescue, the ghosts are good guys and the bad guys are very human. She has subtle anti-animal-cruelty and environmental messages in the text, but nothing preachy or extreme. Madlyn and Rollo are good kids who want to help out their great-aunt and great-uncle as well as the cattle. Ibbotson, as always, is very, very funny in a dry, witty way that I really enjoy. I would definitely recommend this, as well as her other books.