Nazis took over Norway in 1940 without much of a fight, gaining a North Sea foothold and control of a remote industrial plant, Vemork, that was able to manufacture heavy water used in some nuclear reactors. Soon the plant was operating at capacity, sending barrels of heavy water to Berlin where scientists were feverishly trying to develop an atomic bomb. Word reached Churchill, and he tasked patriotic Norwegians in Britain to join the resistance by heading back to Norway and creating a base for operations against the plant. They prepared supplies and scouted the factory before the British sent in a force of demolitions engineers to destroy it, but things went poorly -- bad weather caused the engineers’ gliders to crash, and the survivors were captured. The second attempt, with the Germans on high alert, involved sending six more Norwegians to join the four already hiding in the freezing countryside. They planned to ski to the plant, destroy its production capabilities, and escape through the woods to Sweden. The chances of survival for the skiing commandos was less than fifty percent. And If they failed, there was a good chance that Nazi Germany would develop an atomic bomb before the Allies.
Why I picked it up: Neal Bascomb wrote The Nazi Hunters, one of the few nonfiction books I can give to kids that never fails to amaze them. When I tell them it is about Israeli secret agents kidnapping, drugging, and smuggling a Nazi officer out of Argentina, they are hooked.
Why I finished it: Churchill wanted to harass the Nazis with commando raids across Europe to keep the Germans off-balance. The Norwegian team that attacked Vemork was part of the British Special Operations Executive whose leaders called their unit the "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare." Unbeknownst to the Allied troops, Hitler had ordered that all Allied commandos caught in Europe were to be executed, not captured. In fact, all survivors of the glider crashes were interrogated then summarily shot at point blank range.
It’s perfect for: My student Trevor. He's reading all sorts of military books about famous battles along with technical specifications for military vehicles. This book would entrance him, especially the details about climbing the 600 foot cliffs to the Vemork plant bearing backpacks bulging with high explosives.
The Monster War is the third book in the action-packed, steampunk League of Seven series by acclaimed author Alan Gratz.
Having discovered the monstrous secret of his origins, Archie Dent is no longer certain that he is worthy to be a member of the League of Seven. But with new enemies to face, he realizes that he may not have the luxury of questioning his destiny.
Wielding the Dragon Lantern, the maniacal Philomena Moffett has turned her back on the Septemberist Society, creating her own Shadow League and unleashing a monster army on the American continent. Archie and his friends must race to find the last two members of their league in time to thwart Moffett's plan and rescue humanity once more.
“This hybrid of steampunk and alternate American history features a hell-raising girl’s school, Atlantis, and three highly likable leads in a yarn rip-roaring from start to finish.” —Booklist on A League of Seven (Book #1)
Journalist and food critic Mimi Sheraton was inspired as a young girl by her parents (an adventurous home cook and a produce vendor) plus Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “Travel.” She has spent her life pursuing new flavors and experiences, often writing articles on strange exotic foodstuffs to justify travel. This book is a savory reduction of her life's work.
Why I picked it up: I've always been attracted to books that talk about things you should do before you die, but frequently find them depressing because unless you’re wealthy, it’s impossible to experience even a tenth of the adventures they contain. This is different, though, because Sheraton supplies recipes or mail order information for many.
Why I finished it: My best travel experiences have been when I've visited foreign countries in the company of someone who lived in them for some time. I'll never forget the schnitzel I had in Vienna, all the varieties of ramen I ate in Okinawa with my cousin, and the tasty conch in Belize. Every article in this book makes me feel much the same way, as though I am getting the scoop from someone in the know who wants to share her discoveries with me.
It’s perfect for: Anyone who has ever salivated over the all-too-brief food pages in a DK Eyewitness Travel Guide and wanted a whole book of those, but with history, context, and sometimes even literary references. It is also wonderful for revisiting personal travels, and for understanding how simple foods, such as grilled yakitori chicken in Japan, can taste so amazing.
Winter Kim and her sister, Rose, have always been inseparable. Together the two of them survived growing up in a Korean orphanage and being trafficked into the United States. But they've escaped the past and started over in a new place where no one knows who they used to be.
Now they work as digital stunt girls for Rose's ex-boyfriend, Gideon, engaging in dangerous and enticing activities while recording their neural impulses for his Vicarious Sensory Experiences, or ViSEs. When Rose disappears and a ViSE recording of her murder is delivered to Gideon, Winter is devastated. She won't rest until she finds her sister's killer. To find out what happened to Rose, she'll have to untangle what's real from what only seems real, risking her own life in the process.
"Stokes gives fans of suspense a story full of twists and turns…. The author admirably handles graphic and disturbing content in a subtle manner.” —School Library Journal
Jordyn Michaelson has a pretty good life in her exclusive high school. She’s relatively popular, a starter on the field hockey team, and Alex, a star football player, has taken a liking to her. But she’s keeping a huge secret. The special school her autistic brother attended has closed, and until a suitable replacement is found, he has to attend Jordyn’s school. Fearing that she will lose the life she has built if everyone know she is related to the “weird” new kid, she refuses to acknowledge that she even knows him.
Why I picked it up: My school has a program for students with autism and other developmental challenges. I’m always looking for books that feature these students in a positive way.
Why I finished it: Cozzo didn’t shy away from Jordyn’s embarrassment over her brother. Her attempts to maintain a “normal” existence seemed authentic, and it was clear that she was struggling with a conflict of conscience. She loves her brother, but also resents the way his challenges dominate her family’s time and encroach on her own life. And the growing relationship between Jordyn and Alex was very sweet, which only made it hurt more when Jordyn’s secret comes out and Alex feels betrayed. The resolution brought me to tears.
Readalikes: Wonder by R. J. Palacio, another story about a young man with challenges, this time more physical than intellectual or developmental. Augie has a very visible deformity and has always attended a special school. When he decides to attend a regular school, he experiences a full range of reactions, from embarrassment to antagonism to empathy. Both books emphasize the need for tolerance, understanding, love, and respect.
Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga lives repairing the chimneys, towers, and spires of the city of Bar-Selehm. Dramatically different communities live and work alongside each other: the powerful white Feldish, the native Mahweni—and Ang, part of the Lani community who immigrated over generations ago as servants and now mostly live in poverty.
When Ang is supposed to meet her new apprentice Berrit, she finds him dead. That same night, the Beacon, an invaluable historical icon, is stolen. The Beacon’s theft commands the headlines, yet no one seems to care about Berrit’s murder—except for Josiah Willinghouse, an enigmatic young politician. When he offers her a job investigating his death, she plunges headlong into new and unexpected dangers. Ang must rely on her intellect and strength to resolve the mysterious link between Berrit and the missing Beacon before the city descends into chaos.
“A richly realized world, an intensely likable character, and a mystery to die for." — Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling author
Endymion, a revered hero, sought to marry Aglaia because of her beauty; when she rejected him, he killed everyone in her village and raped her. She somehow makes her way to an island where the three Fates live apart from mortals. The Fates put a spell on Aglaia to calm her, but she cannot remain with them. Chloe, the spinner and the youngest of the three, knows that Aglaia's destiny will destroy them all if she is not killed, but she cannot deny Aglaia’s desire for revenge.
Why I picked it up: It looked like an interesting take on Greek mythology’s Fates.
Why I finished it: I liked the slow pace of this novel and the thoughtfulness of the Fates. The first part of the book follows Chloe's narration of the lives of the Fates and their timeless task. Then Aglaia’s arrival brings the sisters face-to-face with mortality. Aglaia's realization that she is pregnant leads first Chloe, and then her sisters, to wrestle with whether or not to join the world of humans.
Readalikes: Ursula K. Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore trilogy, particularly Voices. In it, Memer must deal with the fact that she is the daughter of a woman who was raped by one of the soldiers who have occupied her city for a generation. Memer is shunned by most of the people in her city because she’s a shameful reminder of the occupation.
People have always treated seventeen-year-old Mana as someone in need of protection. She's used to being coddled, and it's hard to imagine anything could ever happen in her small-town, normal life. As her mother's babying gets more stifling than ever, she's looking forward to cheering at the big game and getting out of the house for a while.
But that night, Mana's life goes haywire.
It turns out, Mana's mom is actually an alien hunter, and now she's missing. Now a guy Mana has never met or heard of (and who seems way too young and way too arrogant to be hunting aliens), has shown up as her “partner”, ordering Mana to come with him. Alone, Mana will have to find a way to save her mother--and maybe the world--and hope she's up to the challenge.
“With nods to numerous science fiction and fantasy works, this series opener from Jones (the Need series) is complex and nuanced while maintaining a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek vibe.”—Publishers Weekly
Claudette wants her father, Augustine, to train her to be a warrior so they can defeat the dragon who took his arm and legs and retrieve his sword, Breaker. Her brother, Gaston, wants to be a sword maker, though he excels at cooking; he has vowed not to cook again until he makes his father proud. Their friend Marie is locked in the castle for princess training, and so she will stick around to meet the princes that have come to court her because of her valor.
The evil Grombach has escaped Calavera Island, and his gargoyle army is about to attack the city. The Marquis thinks there’s nothing to worry about, because the city’s walls protect its citizens. But Augustine knows he needs his sword to defeat Grombach again. After he leaves to get it back, Claudette, Gaston, and Marie soon follow. But before they can reach the dragon’s cave, they’re attacked by gargoyles. Luckily, Claudette’s wooden sword is magic.
Why I picked it up: I loved the previous graphic novel in the series, Giants Beware!
Why I finished it: It’s a lighthearted, entertaining, colorfully drawn book that manages to give equal time to characters who defy stereotypes without reading like a crappy after-school special. Giants make an appearance, the princes courting Marie endure entertainingly minor abuse at the hands of Grombach, and both diplomacy and cooking both have a role to play in the end.