The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Orphan Peter Augustus Duchene lives with and old soldier named Vilna Lutz. His life is pretty sad and dreary until a fortuneteller in the marketplace tells him that his little sister is alive and an elephant will help him find her. Then an elephant drops out of the sky into a magician's show, and many unlikely events unfold. This story, like The Tale of Desperaux, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and Because of Winn Dixie by the same author, is a "warm fuzzy" tale with some unlikely heroes and an ending that makes you believe that anything can be possible. I rated this book 4 out of 5 stars.
Entwined by Heather Dixon
Remember the fairy tale about the 12 Dancing Princesses who would sneak out of the castle and dance all night? Well, this is a more "grown up" version of that fairy tale with a sinister twist. Azalea is the oldest of the 12 sisters, and when their mother (the queen) passes away and their father (the king) orders them to stay in mourning for a year, then goes away to fight a war, she is left in charge of her rambunctious sisters. Soon they find that there is some magic left in their castle, and they start to go through a secret passage each night to a garden pavilion where they dance. The only problem is that the garden is the domain of a mysterious man called the Keeper... and the Keeper likes to keep things... Before long, it is up to Azalea to save her family from the Keeper's evil plan. I rated this book 4 out of 5 stars.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2013-2014 GA Peach Teen Award Nominee)
In many ways, Hazel is like other 16 year old girls... except that she is a cancer survivor and her disease has weakened her lungs to the point that she has to use an oxygen tank. Her mother makes her go to a cancer support group for young people, where she meets Augustus Waters. The two are both very smart and cynical, and at first they connect over Hazel's favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, about a young girl with cancer. As their relationship develops, this novel addresses some major topics- the meaning of life, love- and death with sensitivity and (at times) humor. At a friend's recommendation, I stepped outside of my usual genre choices to read this novel, and I am glad I did. I rated it 4 out of 5 stars.
The Familiars by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson (2013-2014 GA Children's Book Award Nominee)
Aldwyn is a very clever alley cat, surviving on the streets of Bridgetower. It's a tough life, but he is a clever thief and is getting by pretty well until Grimslade the Bounty Hunter catches him stealing from the fishmonger and chases him all over town. To escape, Aldwyn jumps through a window and finds himself in a shop of familiars- magical animal companions for wizards. Before he knows it, a young wizard's apprentice selects Aldwyn to be his familiar. Aldwyn likes the young boy and the promise of a better life, but can he fool everyone into thinking he has the telekinetic powers they think he does? Adventures ensue... This book is just pure fun. I rated it 4 out of 5 stars.
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz (2013-2014 GA Children's Book Award Nominee)
I had always heard that the original Grimm's Fairy Tales were not intended for children (or for the faint of heart). In this "fractured" mashup of several of the stories, Hansel and Gretel travel through several other fairy tales- often with pretty gory results. This book left me interested in reading the original tales, and ready to recommend it to my student friends who like scary books and fantasy novels. I rated it a 4 out of 5 stars.
Chime by Franny Billingsly
Briony Larkin lives in a dark English village around the times of witch trials and sinister suspicions. Because of her ability to see and communicate with the "old ones" she is sure she is a witch. The book opens with her confession, and then jumps back in time to describe the events leading up to it. I found this book a little difficult to get into at first because of the setting and dialect, but once I got into it- wow! It's part fantasy, part mystery with many twists and turns. The surprise ending is very satisfying. I rated it 4 out of 5 stars.