The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: It took me a while to read this book, even though I've had it for months. I picked it up some time ago and started reading and didn't make it past the creepy, disturbing intro. It's told from the point of view of "the man Jack," who has just stabbed to death three members of a family and is looking for the baby. I tried again, and I am so glad I did. There's a reason this book won the Newbery Award. Gaiman is basically telling the story of The Jungle Book using a graveyard as a setting, and his imagination makes it seem plausible that Bod (short for Nobody) Owens would be adopted by a ghost couple and raised in the graveyard, learning tricks of the dead, like Fading, that allow him to escape the notice of the living. Predictably, Bod leaves the safety of the graveyard and the protection of Silas, his not-exactly-dead guardian, and finds danger in the new world. Bod is sweet and sympathetic, even when he defies Silas and his adoptive parents and the slightly clueless ghosts. The Graveyard Book is an imaginative, beautiful coming-of-age tale with a paranormal setting that spurs an apt allegory for growing up.
Percy Jackson: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan: Here it is, the last book in the Percy Jackson series. It was an excellent end to the series. The full prophecy is finally revealed, we learn the identity of the spy at Camp Half-Blood, and Percy's romantic dilemma is resolved. Even better, while the cycle of the first five books ends in a satisfying way, Riordan hints at future books set at Camp Half-Blood. If you've read the first four books, you'll almost certainly appreciate this final chapter, and if not, I don't want to spoil anything for you, so go pick up the first book, The Lightning Thief, which introduces Percy, a twelve-year-old boy who learns that his father is a Greek god. He joins the other demigods at Camp Half-Blood to learn to manage his powers. Naturally, strange happenings tend to follow demigods out of Camp Half-Blood and into New York, where Olympus now resides. The mix of Greek mythology and coming-of-age story is very well done, with abundant comic relief from all the action.
Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers: I love reading about ancient Egypt, so this seemed a sure bet for me. However, it took me a bit of effort to get into this book about Theodosia Throckmorton, the eleven-year-old daughter of archaeologists who bring Egyptian artifacts home to their museum in Edwardian England. Since she was little, Theodosia has been able to see the curses on the artifacts, and, finding that the rest of her family doesn't notice them, takes it upon herself to learn how to lift the curses. When a particularly dark curse is brought back on an artifact called the Heart of Egypt, which then disappears, Theodosia joins forces with a little brother, a pickpocket, and a stranger who notices her special abilities. In the end, it was a fun read, but it doesn't evoke its setting quite as well as, say, Percy Jackson or the Sisters Grimm. Theodosia's voice seemed uneven, with too many deliberate Britishisms and a mix of child-like and very adult thoughts. The betrayal and the identity of the villain seemed obvious. Still, there's a lot to like about a spunky girl with a mission, and the Egyptian mythology woven into the tale is a good touch.
The Bard Academy series by Cara Lockwood: These fall into the definite "guilty pleasure" category for reading. I wish I could remember which book blog reviewed this series. The review made me immediately look for used copies of the three books, Wuthering High, The Scarlet Letterman, and Moby Clique, but I can't seem to find it again. In Wuthering High, fifteen-year-old Miranda totals her (mostly) absentee father's car and maxes out his latest wife's credit card buying push-up bras. Her parents agree that something has to be done, and Miranda is sent to Bard Academy, a boarding school on an island off the coast of Maine. Her iPod and cell phone are confiscated, there is no internet access, and her Goth roommate has taken a vow of silence and has a poster of Satan on the wall. It's not all bad, though. Ryan, the cute jock from her previous school, actually notices her existence at Bard, and the dark, broody guy who says his name is Heathcliff can't stop staring at her. She meets some great new friends and settles into Bard life, such as it is. She soon learns that strange happenings at Bard stem from its status as a kind of purgatory for authors who died before their time was up. Her teachers are all ghosts, which explains a lot. And Heathcliff is THE Heathcliff, escaped from Wuthering Heights. Jasper Fforde this isn't, but the mix of fictional, ghostly, and teen delinquent characters is fun, and the mystery kept me guessing. There is a bit too much brand name-dropping for me, and the constant pop culture references (I had an AHA! moment when I noticed the publisher was MTV Books) mean that teens five or ten years from now will be pretty lost. Still, there is plenty of fun to be had.
The second book, The Scarlet Letterman, focuses a bit more on teen-angst and a love triangle (OMG, how can Miranda choose between the missing Heathcliff and hunky Ryan), but the growing friendship among Miranda, Blade, Samir, and Hana feels genuine, and the search for the Hooded Sweatshirt Stalker is fairly interesting (though it has boyfriend Ryan walking popular-girl Parker everywhere for "protection"). I wanted to smack Miranda for being so dumb about Ryan, but other than that, it was a fun follow-up.
The third book, Moby Clique, brings Lindsay, Miranda's annoying, suck-up of a little sister to Bard after she crashes their dad's car into his latest wife's boutique. Lindsay, who has always gotten out of trouble by blaming Miranda, attaches herself to Parker and starts drooling over Miranda's ex, Ryan. Miranda is distracted from all this drama by rumors of pirates on Shipwreck Island. I thought the villain was a bit obvious in this one, but it was a fun entry nonetheless. Miranda and her odd group of friends set out on an adventure to the other side of the island when Lindsay goes missing, presumably kidnapped by pirates.