At this midpoint of summer vacation for schoolkids, here are some reading recommendations for middle-grade readers and the Young Adult over-12 audience.
• Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein; Delacorte Press, $15.99. This perfect summer read has everything: suspense, humor, a wonderful plot, a worthwhile message about the love of books and a kindhearted kid hero who loves video games. And it’s set in Alexandriaville, Ohio, a town where kids have grown up without a library (a nod to the famous library in Alexandria that was burned). Eccentric game creator/billionaire Luigi Lemoncello is the brains and money behind the conversion of a former bank into a computerized library wonderland complete with holograms and a hover ladder/high-tech book arrangement that carries library patrons skyward to the book they have chosen. For the grand opening, 12 12-year-old essay contest winners get to stay overnight in a library lockdown, competing to find an exit other than the front door for a grand prize. Kyle Keeley, our hero, who loves all kinds of games (video games, board games, word games), is surprised to find himself among the winners (along with the insufferable villain of the story, rich and nasty Charles Chiltington, who wins a trivia contest with a question about Richard Nixon). The riddles and games given the kids are hugely entertaining to figure out and full of clever references to books of all kinds (including Patricia Highsmith) and the conclusion is hugely satisfying. This entertaining book is reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
• The Mouse With the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck; Penguin Young Readers Group, $16.99. Buckingham Palace and the British royals are in the news, and that makes it great timing for this enchanting adventure, of an undersized young mouse seeking answers to his identity in Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace in the year of her Golden Jubilee. Witty and wise and full of richly drawn characters and wonderful writing, Peck creates a world in delightful miniature (a mouse commander “all muscle like a hummingbird”; a captain riding “a sleek and stripy chipmunk, imported at who knows what expense from North America”). This is a follow-up to “Secrets at Sea” from the author of Newbery Medal winner “A Year Down Yonder” and National Book Award finalist “The River Between Us.”
Young Adult titles
• In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters; Amulet Books (Abrams), $16.95. A 16-year-old girl grieves the death of a World War I soldier, her first love, in this fascinating debut novel, with its vivid portrait of 1918 San Diego and a populace terrorized by the twin horrors of war and the deadly Spanish influenza epidemic (wearing gauze masks or bathing in raw onions in hopes of avoiding the contagion). Winters deftly combines elements of coming-of-age novel, mystery and love story against the backdrop of the Spiritualist craze of the era.
• Unremembered by Jessica Brody; Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.99. A 16-year-old girl is discovered floating in the wreckage of Freedom Airlines Flight 121 in the Pacific Ocean with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Seraphina struggles to piece together her past (why the tattoo on her arm sets off the bar code scanner at the supermarket, for example, or why she is strong enough to rip the door off the car) in this intriguing first installment of a sci-fi trilogy by the author of “52 Reasons to Hate My Father.”
• The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble; SohoTeen, $17.99. Her father, a newspaper columnist, disappeared years ago. Her mother spends all day in bed. And Jenna Samuels herself may be dying of some strange ailment doctors haven’t diagnosed yet. And then we come to the terrible car accident when her older brother is driving her to the hospital … This engaging supernatural thriller, from the author of the “Dreaming Anastasia” series, is narrated in our appealing heroine’s sassy voice and is equal parts love story and satisfying mystery.
• Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff; Little Brown, $18. Other authors have attempted the young James Bond, but Zadoff’s spy-anti-hero may be the most entertaining one yet. This is the promising first book in a series starring a high school student trained as an assassin and here going off program when his target is the mayor of New York and he finds himself in love with the mayor’s gorgeous daughter.
• If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch; St. Martin’s Press, $17.99. While it’s a bit hard to believe that a mentally ill meth addict could have successfully concealed her two daughters in a broken-down camper in a national forest for more than a decade, this debut novel otherwise is the compelling, well-crafted tale of a girl surviving horrific abuse against all odds.
Jean Westmoore is The News’ children’s book reviewer.