‘The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames’ by Lisa McMann is the first in a new middle grade fantasy series

The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames

In her new series, “The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames,” Lisa McMann creates an action-filled fantasy with children who have supernatural powers but must survive on their own after the last adult in their group dies. The five children have always lived in a secret hideaway far from civilization as their parents were master criminals who barely escaped with their lives after a heist gone bad. But gradually, the parents have disappeared after returning to civilization, the first few to gather supplies, and then others left to search for the first three adults who disappeared. The last adult, Louis, got sick and died, leaving his daughter a secret message.

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‘Reckless Girls’ by Rachel Hawkins: When “paradise” is anything but

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

With her latest twisty thriller, “Reckless Girls,” author Rachel Hawkins presents us with four young women who end up together on what would appear to be a tropical paradise. A deserted island near Hawaii where the beaches are golden, the water is warm, and the sunsets stunning. With plenty of good food, wine, and charming male companionship, what more could anyone ask for?

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‘The Lock-Eater’ by Zack Loran Clark is an action-filled fantasy with plenty of twists

The Lock-Eater by Zack Loran Clark

In his debut novel, “The Lock-Eater,” author Zack Loran Clark presents us with a very unusual protagonist. Melanie Gate is an orphan, and she lives with other similarly situated girls at the Merrytrails Orphanage for Girls. Mrs. Harbargain is the kindly woman in charge of the orphanage, and she lives with the children and her cat, Abraxas, who is redeemed neither by his looks nor his personality. Melanie has the strange ability of being able to open any door or lock. Other girls in the orphanage have different abilities; one is a talented baker, another is unusually charming, another a gifted storyteller.

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‘Ripped Away’ is historical fantasy as two kids travel back to London at the time of Jack the Ripper

Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick

“Ripped Away” by Shirley Reva Vernick is a middle grade novel, almost a novella, really, at a bit over 100 pages, featuring first person narrator Abe Pearlman. In his very relatable, charming narrative he describes his lonely existence. He’s not in any school clubs nor does he play sports. And when he nods at Mitzi, a classmate he finds interesting, she can’t be bothered to respond with even a nod. As he walks through town on his way home from school, he sees a sign he had never noticed before, “Fortunes and Futures,” in the third story of a building. He decides to investigate.

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‘The Necklace’ by Matt Witten is a fast paced thriller

The Necklace by Matt Witten

“The Necklace” is one of those books that I love reading. Books that are so engaging, you can’t put them down and so you read them in a day. Author Matt Witten does a magnificent job creating a main character, Susan, whom we don’t exactly identify with, but we can certainly empathize with. Thus we really care about her journey—both metaphorical and physical—to seek justice for the daughter who had been brutally raped and murdered twenty years earlier. And while the story seems perhaps a bit far-fetched, reading the Author’s Note at the end shines a light on how something like this could, and maybe actually has, taken place.

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‘A Blizzard of Polar Bears’ by Alice Henderson is a combination of mystery, thrills, and wildlife adventure

A Blizzard of Polar Bears by Alice Henderson

It’s not often that a novel can combine thrilling action with fascinating characters and a setting that is depicted so precisely that we shiver while reading about venturing out onto pack ice in Northern Canada. Alice Henderson accomplishes all that and more in “A Blizzard of Polar Bears,” as she shares another adventure for wildlife biologist Alex Carter, who takes a job researching polar bears for a report for Canada’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. Her job in Montana working with wolverines has just ended, so this job offer seems fortuitous.

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‘Daughter of the Deep’ by Rick Riordan is thrilling and hugely entertaining

Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan

In an exciting leap that is just as thrilling as any twist Percy Jackson might encounter, Rick Riordan brings us a slightly different kind of adventure with “Daughter of the Deep,” his book about a group of students in a maritime academy who end up on the run for their lives and dive straight into an adventure that is based on Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” We first meet Ana Dakkar when she and her brother go for a swim in the ocean on which their special private school sits. We quickly learn that their parents died in an accident two years previously, and Ana and Dev are close. Dev is several years older than Ana, and at the end of their swim he gives her an early birthday present as she is leaving with the freshman class for a final weekend of trials.

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‘Pony’ by R. J. Palacio is a superb new novel about devotion

Pony by R.J. Palacio

While the plot of “Pony” by R. J. Palacio reminded me a bit of another middle grade book about a pony, “Some Kind of Courage” by Dan Gemeinhart, the stories are quite different apart from being historical fiction with both boys having a horse that they love dearly. Each story is beautiful in its own right, and “Pony” is one that will not be quickly forgotten. In “Pony,” Palacio forces us to think about love, loss, and the connections that bind us to each other.

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‘Spy School at Sea’ by Stuart Gibbs is the latest in the middle grade series for lovers of espionage and good writing

Spy School at Sea by Stuart Gibbs

I asked a student who was a huge fan of the Spy School series if I could jump into the Stuart Gibbs Spy School series without having read the first few novels. He said that I’d be too confused. I believed him. Shame on me. I jumped into the series with “Spy School at Sea,” and I was not confused. At all. To the contrary, I was charmed and engaged in the fabulous writing, clever plot, and absurdly silly and yet deadly events that befall our main character. Granted, Gibbs does reference past exploits of main character Benjamin Ripley, and we know that he has a past with his nemesis, Murray Hill, but the fast-paced action and the witty dialogue, not to mention the teenage foibles, all make for a story that is funny, clever, and exciting. No preparation necessary.

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Spidey stories will entertain your kids and teach them something, too

It’s not often that superhero books are more than light entertainment. I’ll be honest in that I was pleasantly surprised that the Spidey Amazing Friends series of books that I read with my grandson had life lessons in addition to the entertainment value. He’s almost five, and he loves superheroes, so when he saw the Marvel board book and early readers on my coffee table, he excitedly asked me to read them to him. We now read them each time he comes to visit.

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‘A Dog’s Courage’ by W. Bruce Cameron; a tribute to the soul of a dog

A Dog’s Courage by
W. Bruce Cameron

In “A Dog’s Courage,” W. Bruce Cameron brings back the courageous and intrepid Bella, the dog we first met in “A Dog’s Way Home.” In this sequel, which also works as a stand alone story, Bella and her human family, Lucas and Olivia, are separated when there is a huge, all-encompassing forest fire that rages out of control in Colorado, where they are camping.

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‘Even and Odd’ by Sarah Beth Durst is a middle grade fantasy about family, love, and sacrifice

Even and Odd by Sarah Beth Durst

The middle grade fantasy “Even and Odd” adds to Sarah Beth Durst’s shelves of fantasy books—from middle grade to young adult to adult. And in this magical story, sisters Emma and Olivia become the title characters, Even and Odd, because they share their magic. Each gets to have magic on alternating days, so while their nicknames are Even and Odd, it doesn’t always quite work out that way. (Some months have 31 days, as is pointed out in the story.) Even loves magic and works tirelessly to gain control of it while Odd doesn’t really want it at all. She just wants to help at the local animal shelter.

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