Back to School: Books for Every Subject

Back To School: Books for Every Subject

Labor Day has come and gone, which means it’s back-to-school time for kids in the United States! To celebrate the new school year, I’ve put together a list of books inspired by the various subjects studied in American schools. Load up your backpacks, pack those lunch boxes, and let’s get ready to read!

Math

Book cover for Flatland by Edwin A. AbbotBook cover for Little Brother by Cory DoctorowBook cover for Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbot: Who would have guessed that a fictional tale of geometric shapes, written as a satire of Victorian society, could be entertaining? Certainly not me, but this little book, narrated by “A. Square,” is actually quite clever.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow: Little Brother is a computer nerd’s dream and a civic student’s nightmare. It’s about teen hackers using technology to protest governmental oppression, and it explains a ton of cool facts about information technology and the mathematics behind it.

Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School by Louis Sachar: I loved the wacky Wayside School stories as a kid, and this particular book is a lot of fun, even though I still can’t wrap my head around the majority of its quirky math puzzles. Here’s a typically goofy quote from the book: “Everyone take out your spelling books,” said Mrs. Jewls. “It’s time for arithmetic.”

Science

Book cover for Catalyst by Laurie Halse AndersonBook cover for Kissing Frogs by Alisha SevignyBook cover for The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson: I don’t remember a ton of details about the plot and characters in Catalyst – it’s been many years since I read it – but many of the science-y facts from the book fortunately stuck with me. In fact, I recall getting really excited in ninth-grade Chemistry because I got the question “What is a catalyst?” on an exam. The only reason I knew the answer was because of this book.

Kissing Frogs by Alisha Sevigny: When Jess Scott starts failing her high school Biology class, her only shot at saving her grade is extra credit – namely, spending her Spring Break in Panama with the school’s Conservation Club, working to protect an endangered species of frog. This novel is light and fun and shares the importance of ecosystems and conservation. (Read my review here.)

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett: Bennett’s book introduced me to a career I never knew existed: medical illustrator. (For some reason I thought medical journals just used photos nowadays.) The book’s protagonist, Bex, spends much of her time drawing careful diagrams of muscles, organs, bones, and more. It’s not a job that I could do – too squeamish – but it’s definitely a cool idea.

Literature

Book cover for The Fall by Bethany GriffinBook cover for For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana PeterfreundBook cover for This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

The Fall by Bethany Griffin: This novel-length retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” is deliciously Gothic and creepy. Griffin fleshes out the story and makes it, in my opinion, even better than the original. (Read my review here.)

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: Persuasion has always been my least favorite of Jane Austen’s books, but this futuristic, quasi-dystopian reimagining brought the tale alive for me in a whole new way.

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel: I’ve never read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but this prequel makes me want to do so quite badly. It introduces a teenage Viktor Frankenstein and shows him taking the first steps on his path to knowledge and power. (Read my review here.)

History

Book cover for Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear ShecterBook cover for Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse AndersonGone With The Wind

Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Shectar: A love story set in Pompeii, this book includes great historical details about what life would have been like in the days leading up to the infamous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson: This fictional account of a true event – a mass breakout of yellow fever in Philadelphia that left more than 5,000 dead – was the first plague book I ever read. It made me supremely grateful for modern medicine!

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Mitchell’s tale is a classic not only for its iconic characters and volatile romance, but also for its portrayal of the American Civil War and the profound transformation that war had on the Southern way of life.

Physical Education

Book cover for Whale Talk by Chris CrutcherBook cover for Winger by Andrew SmithBook cover for Summerland by Michael Chabon

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher: An unlikely group of outcasts form a swim team and confront racism, bullying, and injustice in this short but super-special novel.

Winger by Andrew Smith: Although Winger is about so much more than just sports (like first love, friendship, and tolerance, for example), rugby does play a big role in the story, as you might guess from the title. The school rugby team’s camaraderie and pranks are part of what makes this book so much fun to read. (Read my review here.)

Summerland by Michael Chabon: I don’t know much about baseball, but Summerland makes me wish I did. The great “American pastime” lies at the center of this magical tale, which is also full of adventure and faeries and a battle of good vs. evil.

Art

Book cover for David by Mary HoffmanBook cover for I'll GIve You the Sun by Jandy NelsonBook cover for From The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler

David by Mary Hoffman: Hoffman’s book tells the fictional story of the man who supposedly modeled for Michelangelo’s statue of “David.” I love the insight it gives into the relationship between model and artist and the way it showcases the political climate of Italy at the time of the statue’s creation.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: Twins Jude and Noah are best friends turned bitter rivals, bound by their shared love of art yet constantly striving to outdo one another in a bid for their mother’s attention. Art is the lifeblood of this story, from paintings to sketches to sculptures, and as a decidedly non-artistic person I really enjoyed seeing the world from an artist’s point of view.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: In this story, two kids run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eleven-year-old me thought this was the coolest idea ever, and I still entertain fantasies of sleeping in Marie Antoinette’s bed, wandering through the Egyptian galleries, and diving for spare change in the fountains after hours like Claudia and Jamie in the book.

Music

Book cover for Just Listen by Sarah DessenderBook cover for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van RooyenBook cover for Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen: Music aficionados will find a kindred spirit in Owen, the music-obsessed love interest in Just Listen. Music is Owen’s life, and he’s constantly trying to induce Annabel, the book’s protagonist, to explore new musical genres: “Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.”

I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen: Tyri is a teenage girl torn between her passion for music and her family’s expectations. Quinn is a run-away companion droid who yearns to be human and move people with his music. When the two musicians’ paths intersect at a prestigious orchestra, neither realizes just how big an impact they will have on each other’s lives and on the fight for robot autonomy. (Read my review here.)

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater: When it comes to literary bad boys, musician Cole St. Clair is one of my favorites. He’s one half of the romance in Sinner and the front man of the wildly popular band NARKOTIKA. Brilliant, troubled, and self-destructive, Cole strives to find an outlet for his love of music and performing without giving in to his addictive personality.

What books you would add to the lists for each school subject above? Let me know in the comments section!

Around the World in 14 Days: Scotland

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Fàilte gu Alba! Or, in English, “Welcome to Scotland!”

Today’s post is part of the 2016 Book Blogger Creativity Project, run by Nori @ ReadWriteLove 28. The project is intended to promote creativity and new friendships among book bloggers, and participants are divided into teams and tasked with developing a unique post idea. I’m pleased to be a member of the Red Team, which has, for our project, decided to take a figurative, literary journey around the world.

Each stop on our team’s mini blog tour features books from a different country. I’ve always been fascinated with Scotland, and that’s the country I’ve chosen to represent for my stop. So let’s put on some bagpipe music, dig out the clan tartan and step into the Scottish highlands!

Book cover for Girl in a Cage by Jane Yolen and Robert J. HarrisGirl in a Cage by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris: Girl in a Cage is the book that first got me interested in historical fiction. It’s based on the true story of Marjorie Bruce, a Scottish princess who was kidnapped by the English king during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 1300s. Marjorie, only 12 years old, was imprisoned in an outdoor cage, where she was tormented and ridiculed by the English. It’s stunning and terrible to believe that a young girl could have been mistreated this way, but in the story Marjorie withstands the abuse with amazing courage and strength.

The Moorchild Book cover for THe Moorchild by Eloise McGrawby Eloise Jarvis McGraw: It’s been a long time since I last read The Moorchild, but every time I think of it I’m overwhelmed with feelings of wildness and magic and longing. The protagonist, Moql/Saaski, is a strange young girl who’s never fit in in her village. Suspected of being a fairy changeling, Saaski is torn between the lure of the fae and her desire to belong with her family. Although the book isn’t explicitly set in Scotland, it has a strong Scotch/Irish vibe, with bagpipes, heather-covered moors, and tales of the fair folk.

Mary, Queen of Scotland and the IslesBook cover for Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George by Margaret George: I’ve read quite a few books about Mary Queen of Scots, but George’s book is my favorite. It’s no mean feat to make it through the book in its entirety – it’s pretty hefty, with close to 900 pages and a hearty dose of historical details. Historical minutiae can be hit or miss for me, but George uses it to spin such a complex, believable picture of Mary and the people, culture, and times surrounding her that I was enrapt.

Outlander Book cover for Outlander by Diana Gabaldonby Diana Gabaldon: Outlander is one of those rare books that not only lives up to, but exceeds all of the hype surrounding it. I’m not usually big on time travel books, nor on adult fiction, but this tale of a World War II nurse who’s magically transported to the Scottish highlands in the 1740s is phenomenal. As great as the book is, the TV adaptation on Starz is even better. I’m utterly obsessed, and waiting for the release of Season 3 will likely be the death of me.

An Earthly Knight Book cover for An Earthly Knight by Janet McNaughtonby Janet McNaughton: This was the first – and, so far, best – retelling I’ve read of the Scottish legend The Ballad of Tam Lin. It tells of the story of young Jenny, the daughter of a 12th-century nobleman, who falls in love with a mysterious young man and must free him from the clutches of the Queen of the Fae. Like many of the other books on the list, it’s also chock-full of awesome historical information.

Book cover for The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim by Shane PeacockThe Dark Missions of Edgar Brim by Shane Peacock: I just started reading this novel a few days ago, so I can’t speak to much of the plot. It’s got a deliciously strange, gothic feel, though: a grim, imposing school on the mist-covered Scottish moors; eccentric professors who take a ghoulish interest in grisly murders and the occult; and a young boy for whom stories literally come alive, for better or worse. I can’t wait to see what else this book has in store!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to novels set in Scotland! Don’t forget to continue your bookish journey around the world by stopping by to visit the other members of the Red Team!

Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Excerpt: Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor

Tour banner for Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle TaylorAbout Nora and Kettle

Book cover for Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle TaylorWhat if Peter Pan was a homeless kid just trying to survive, and Wendy flew away for a really good reason?

Seventeen-year-old Kettle has had his share of adversity. As an orphaned Japanese American struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to—the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”—things are finally looking up. He has his hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys.

Desperate to run away, the world outside her oppressive brownstone calls to naïve, eighteen-year-old Nora—the privileged daughter of a controlling and violent civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie and wishing on the stars every night for things to change.

For months, they’ve lived side by side, their paths crossing yet never meeting. But when Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window.

In her honeyed eyes, Kettle sees sadness and suffering. In his, Nora sees the chance to take to the window and fly away.

Set in 1953, Nora and Kettle explores the collision of two teenagers facing extraordinary hardship. Their meeting is inevitable, devastating, and ultimately healing. Their stories, a collection of events, are each on their own harmless. But together, one after the other, they change the world.

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Excerpt

I snort, push my sleeves up, and lean back on my forearms. She watches me, her eyes on my bare skin, and I wonder what she’s thinking. “Dances. Really? What’s to miss?” My experience with dances was one forced event in the camps where we watched the grownups awkwardly shift in lines to scratchy music. It didn’t look very enjoyable.

She releases the button she’s been playing with and smirks. “Says someone who’s clearly never been to one.”

“How do you know that?” I say, raising an eyebrow and touching my chest, mock offended.

She laughs. It’s starlight in a jar. I blink slowly. “Oh, I can tell just by looking at you, the way you move. You,” she says, pointing at me accusingly. “Can’t dance.”

The candlelight twinkles like it’s chuckling at me. “I can dance,” I say, not sure why I’m lying to defend myself. I’ve never danced in my life.

She stands up and beckons me with her finger, and I think there’s something wrong with my heart. It’s hurting… but the pain feels good.

She looks like a pirate’s cabin boy, shirt billowing around her small waist, ill-fitting pants rolled over at her hips to stop them from falling down. She points her bare foot at me. “Prove it!”

Shit!

I cough and stand nervously. I don’t know what to do with my hands, so I put them behind my back. She giggles. Touches me. Runs her fingers lightly down my arms until she finds my hands. She grasps my wrists and I gulp as she places one on the small dip between her hips and her ribs, extending the other out like the bow of a boat. Her hand in mine.

I follow her small steps and we wind in circles, avoiding the clumps of debris, painting patterns in the dust.

I stare at my socks and her narrow bare feet, listening to the swish of them across the dirt. “You know, this is pretty weird without music,” I mutter, looking up for a moment and suddenly losing my balance.

She exhales and brings us back to equilibrium. She starts humming softly. It’s a song I’ve heard before, but I pretend it’s the first time. Her voice is sweet, cracked and croaky, but in tune as she gazes at the ground and leads us up and down the back of the tunnel.

This moment is killing me. I don’t want it, but I do. Because I know it won’t be enough and it’s all I’ll get.

The end of the song is coming. It rises and rises and then softly peters out. We look at each other, understanding that something is changing between us, and we have to decide whether to let it. Please, let it.

She sings the last few bars. “And if you sing this melody, you’ll be pretending just like me. The world is mine. It can be yours, my friend. So why don’t you pretend?”

Her voice is like the dust of a comet’s tail. Full of a thousand things I don’t understand but want to.

She stops and starts to step away. She’s so fragile. Not on the outside. On the outside, her body is strong, tougher than it should have to be. It’s inside that’s very breakable. I’m scared to touch her, but I don’t want to avoid touching her because of what she’s been through. That seems worse.

So I do it, because I want to and I don’t think she doesn’t want me to. Her breath catches as I pull her closer. I just want to press my cheek to hers, feel her skin against mine. There is no music, just the rhythm of two barely functioning hearts trying to reach each other through miles of scar tissue.

She presses her ear to my chest and listens, then she pulls back to meet my eyes, her expression a mixture of confusion and comfort. She breathes out, her lips not wanting to close but not wanting to speak. She settles on a nervous smile and puts her arms around my neck. I inhale and look up at the ceiling, counting the stars I know are up there somewhere, and then rest my cheek in her hair.

I don’t know how she is here. I don’t know when she’ll disappear.

We sway back and forth, and it feels like we might break. That we will break if we step apart from each other.

I can’t let her go.

I think I love dancing.

About the Author

Author photo for Lauren Nicolle Taylor

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Lauren Nicolle Taylor lives in the lush Adelaide Hills. The daughter of a Malaysian nuclear physicist and an Australian scientist, she was expected to follow a science career path, attending Adelaide University and completing a Health Science degree with Honours in obstetrics and gynaecology.

She then worked in health research for a short time before having her first child. Due to their extensive health issues, Lauren spent her twenties as a full-time mother/carer to her three children. When her family life settled down, she turned to writing.

She is a 2014 Kindle Book Awards Semi-finalist and a USA Best Book Awards Finalist.

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Giveaway

Clean Teen Publishing is giving away a mystery box full of swag, books, and more! To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below. The giveaway ends March 10, 2016.

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You can also get a free gift by taking a picture of Nora and Kettle, sharing it on social media, and sending a URL of your post to publicity@cleanteenpublishing.com! For full details, please visit www.cleanteenpublishing.com/contests

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Blog Tour, Giveaway and Review: The Last Necromancer

Tour banner for The Last Necromancer by C.J. Archer

About The Last Necromancer

Book cover for The Last Necromancer by C.J. Archer

Victorian London: For five years, Charlotte (Charlie) Holloway has lived as a boy in the slums. But when one theft too many gets her arrested, her only means of escape lies with a dead man. Charlie hasn’t raised a spirit since she first discovered she could do so five years ago. That time, her father banished her. This time, she brings even more trouble upon herself.

People are now hunting Charlie all over London, but only one man succeeds in capturing her.

Lincoln Fitzroy is the mysterious head of a secret organization on the trail of a madman who needs a necromancer to control his newly “made” creatures. There was only one known necromancer in the world – Charlotte – but now there appears to be two. Lincoln captures the willful Charlie in the hopes the boy will lead him to Charlotte. But what happens when he discovers the boy is in fact the young woman he’s been searching for all along? And will she agree to work for the man who held her against her will, and for an organization she doesn’t trust?

Because Lincoln and his ministry might be just as dangerous as the madman they’re hunting.

Review

A free copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Four-star rating

 

 

A good friend once told me a story about her kids and their annual beach vacation. On their very first trip to the shore, my friend exhausted herself chasing her young boys around the boardwalk, where they spent hours playing the arcade games and devouring ice cream cones and riding all the rides. The second year they went to the beach, my friend decided a more relaxing experience was in order and told the boys that the boardwalk attractions had been a carnival and that it hadn’t come back to town. They spent a quiet, restful time on a beach that was near the boardwalk but not in sight of it. My friend’s sons were none the wiser, not for that trip or all the subsequent ones. It wasn’t until the boys were teenagers that they learned the truth and realized they’d been missing out on boardwalk awesomeness for years.

That’s kind of how I feel about C.J. Archer – I’m amazed that I’ve been missing out on her books for so long. When I signed up to do The Last Necromancer blog tour, I mistakenly thought Archer was a debut author. It was only after I finished the book and did an excited Google search for the sequel that I discovered Archer has penned at least five series, as well as a handful of standalones. How did I not know these books existed?! Why am I only now learning about this awesome author?! So many wasted years!!!

The Last Necromancer, the first installment of the Ministry of Curiosities series, is the story of Charlie Holloway, a young girl who has the power to command the dead. As a result of this ability, Charlie has spent the past several years living on the street after being turned out by her religious father. By masquerading as a boy, Charlie manages to stay safe and inconspicuous….until the day she finds herself in a tough spot that forces her to reveal her abilities. As you might expect, reanimating a corpse doesn’t make the list of Top Ten Things to Do When Trying to Fly Under the Radar, so it’s not long before Charlie finds herself captured by a secret society who has big plans for her powers.

The society, known as the Ministry of Curiosities, investigates paranormal crimes and is in hot pursuit of a scientist bent on creating an army of corpses for his own nefarious purposes. In order for the scientist to create said army, he needs a necromancer, and it’s up to the Ministry to make sure that none fall into his hands. This means tracking down and securing any and all known necromancers, a task that the Ministry wants Charlie to help them with.

The relationships in The Last Necromancer are the key to this book’s success. First of all, there are the interactions between Charlie and Lincoln Fitzroy, the leader of the Ministry of Curiosities. There’s a mutual wariness between the two of them, but there’s also a growing attraction that makes for some fun scenes. I loved watching the two of them maneuver around one another, each trying to feel the other one out and discover their respective secrets. Fitzroy is cool, dangerous, and mysterious, and Charlie’s attempts to push past his defenses are alternately amusing and sexy.

Much as I liked the simmering tension between Fitzroy and Charlie, there’s another relationship in this story that I liked even more: the one between Seth and Gus, two of Fitzroy’s lackeys. It’s rare for a fictional friendship to top a fictional romance for me, but C.J. Archer is a pro at writing camaraderie and banter. I found myself anxiously awaiting scenes where Seth and Gus were present because I couldn’t wait to see what crazy things they’d say or do next. The two of them rib each other mercilessly and keep up a steady stream of jests throughout the book. Here’s one exchange between the two:

“That ain’t fair.”
“Life isn’t fair. If it were, I’d be spending my evenings deflowering virgins instead of cleaning up the sick of a gutter snipe.”
“Ha! You couldn’t deflower a flower.”
“That doesn’t make sense. And I’ll have you know, the ladies fell over themselves to get to me when I used to attend balls.”
“You had money and a good name then,” Gus said, striding for the door. “Course they’re going to throw themselves at you. Weren’t nothing to do with that ugly face of yours.”
Seth looked offended, and I couldn’t blame him. He wasn’t ugly in the least. He trailed after Gus. “I’ll have you know I had an indecent encounter with a lady three nights ago. And no, I didn’t pay her a penny. She gave herself freely to me.”
“Gave you the French disease for free, more like.” Gus’s chuckles faded as he closed the door.

Seth and Gus add wonderful humor to The Last Necromancer, but they’re not just there for comic relief. You don’t get a ton of backstory on either of the guys, but they still come across feeling like fully developed flesh-and-blood men. Their relationship feels so natural and comfortable, and it shines as one of the most outstanding aspects of this novel.

The paranormal parts of The Last Necromancer are well done, but I found myself much more invested in the people linked to the Ministry of Curiosities than in the curiosities themselves. The search for the evil scientist and the mystery of whether the Ministry can be trusted are interesting, but the personal lives of the ministry members are what really drew me into this story. I was so absorbed by watching Charlie try to crack Lincoln Fitzroy’s composure, or listening to Seth and Gus bicker back and forth, or speculating about the potential romantic history between Fitzroy and Lady Harcourt, that I couldn’t have cared less about the occult affairs of the Ministry. It could have been devoted to ornithology or flower arrangements, for all I cared – I would have loved this book regardless.

I had a lot of fun reading The Last Necromancer and can’t wait to see where Archer takes the characters in the next installment, Her Majesty’s Necromancer. If this series is any indication of how great Archer’s other books are, I need to read the rest of her work immediately.

And now, a few bonus quotes, from this book because they make me smile. J

“Think of us as the sword of the empire,” Seth said, puffing out his chest. “And Mr. Fitzroy is the pointy end.”

And:

“You’re a tosspot.”
He grunted. “I expect a gutter dweller to come up with something more offensive than that.”
“A fucking tosspot.”
“Better.”

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Author photo for C.J. ArcherAbout C.J. Archer

C.J. Archer has loved history and books for as long as she can remember and feels fortunate that she found a way to combine the two with her writing. Under her other name of Carolyn Scott, she has published contemporary short stories in women’s magazines, and she also writes romantic mystery novels under this name.

She has at various times worked as a librarian, IT support person and technical writer but in her heart has always been a fiction writer. She has won and placed in romance writing contests including winning RWAustralia’s Emerald Award in 2008 for the manuscript that went on to be released under the title HONOR BOUND. C.J. spent her early childhood in the dramatic beauty of outback Queensland, Australia, but now lives in suburban Melbourne with her husband and two children.

To be notified when C.J. releases a new book, subscribe to her newsletter from her website. She only sends out the newsletter when she releases a new book, and never spams.

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Giveaway

C.J. Archer is generously giving away a copy of The Last Necromancer! To enter the giveaway, which is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada, please fill out the Rafflecopter below.

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Review: Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Dodger Book Cover Dodger
Terry Pratchett

A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he's...Dodger.

Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London's sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He's not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl--not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.

From Dodger's encounter with the mad barber Sweeney Todd to his meetings with the great writer Charles Dickens and the calculating politician Benjamin Disraeli, history and fantasy intertwine in a breathtaking account of adventure and mystery.

Beloved and bestselling author Sir Terry Pratchett combines high comedy with deep wisdom in this tale of an unexpected coming-of-age and one remarkable boy's rise in a complex and fascinating world.

Review:

I don’t usually presume to speak for famous authors, let alone one as prestigious as Charles Dickens. In this case, however, I feel justified in saying that Dickens would probably have been very, very pleased with Terry Pratchett’s Dodger.

Pratchett’s reimagining of The Artful Dodger, who appears in Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, is nothing short of a masterpiece. This story is packed with everything I love in a book: a charming, clever scallywag of a main character; a colorful and unforgettable supporting cast; tongue-in-cheek wit; inside jokes that you may only get after reading the book for a second time; and a setting that is so unique and well described that it’s practically a character in its own right.

We first meet our scrappy protagonist when he springs from the London sewers on a stormy night to rescue a young woman being beaten in the street. This feat brings Dodger to the attention of Charlie Dickens and his friend Henry Mayhew, who happen to be passing by at the time and assist Dodger in taking the unconscious lady to safety.

Dodger, infuriated by the treatment of the beautiful, mysterious girl, refuses to rest until her attackers are brought to justice. Assisted by Dickens and a motley assortment of waifs and urchins, Dodger sets forth to track down the people responsible for the girl’s mistreatment and do whatever it takes to secure her safety.

It’s usually characters that make or break a book for me, but in the case of Dodger it’s actually the setting that made me fall in love. This isn’t to say that Dodger doesn’t have fantastic characters – it does, and I’ll get to them in a minute. However, the setting is so spectacular, so vividly drawn, that it outshines everything else in the book, even its charming hero.

Like Dickens, Pratchett has a gift for bringing 19th-century London, in all its glory and filth, to life on the page. The sounds and smells and tastes of London permeate the book until you can actually hear the coaches rattling by and smell the fog rolling in from the Thames. It’s a world of chimney sweeps and violet sellers, pickpockets and Punch and Judy puppet shows, prostitutes and games of Crown and Anchor at the local pub. There are a million little details that build the “character” of London and enrich the story, from the slang the street urchins use (“cove,” “tosher,” and “Bobbies”/ “Peelers” are a few of my favorites) to descriptions of the weather:

“The rain was falling faster now, rain that was undeniably London rain, already grubby before it hit the ground, putting back on the streets what had been taken away by the chimneys. It tasted like licking a dirty penny.”

Pratchett does more than simply paint a picture of London; he paints it in a way that is insightful and entertaining. Dodger is filled with observations that are as amusing as they are astute, such as this description of the Thames: “[One] could only call what was in the river ‘water’ because it was too runny to be called ‘dirt.” There’s a great deal of tongue-in-cheek humor, not just in the story itself but also in the helpful and hilarious footnotes that are used to explain certain words and facts within the book.

The setting may be my absolute favorite part of Dodger, but the characters come in at a close second. I’ve always been delighted by crafty, mischievous characters, and Dodger fits the bill perfectly. He’s scrappy, resourceful, and a skillful actor, able to produce tears on demand or charm the pants off of a well-to-do passerby. He’s an all-around fun, hilarious, and wily protagonist, and I couldn’t have loved him more if I tried. Although he’s a little rough around the edges and liable to pick your pocket as soon as look at you, Dodger’s what the folks in this book would call a “decent cove.” He’s always quick to jump to the aid of the defenseless, even if it means donning a dress in order to save a group of young flower girls:

“And so when the sharp-suited gentlemen who liked to go down among the poor flower girls to see if there were any new blossoms they could pluck came to ply them with strong liquor until they could have their wicked way with them, they would actually be subtly directed to the shrinking and simpering violet who was, in fact, Dodger.

Actually, he had to admit that he had been incredibly good at it, because to be a geezer was to be an actor and so Dodger was better at being a shrinking violet than any of the other flower girls who had, how could you put it, better qualifications. He had already sold quite a lot of his violets because his voice hadn’t broken then and he could make himself a real little virgin when he wanted to. After a few hours of this, the girls tipped him off to the whereabouts of a particularly nasty dandy who always hung around the smaller girls, and who was heading towards him with his nice coat and his cane, jingling the money in his pockets. And the street applauded when a suddenly rather athletic little flower girl grabbed the smarmy bastard, punched him, dragged him into an alley and made certain that he would not be able to jingle anything in his pockets for some time to come.”

The secondary characters in Dodger are spectacular as well. Historical figures make cameo appearances, such as Benjamin Disraeli, Angela Burdetts-Coutts, Robert Peel, and John Tenniel. There’s also a cast of fictional – but no-less-interesting – characters with fun names like Mary-Go-Round, Messy Bessie, and Stumpy Higgins who play small yet memorable roles in the story.

Dodger‘s phenomenal setting and smart, hilarious characters make this book a definite must-read. My enjoyment of this novel grows every time I read it, something I intend to keep doing as often as possible.