Here’s what we’ve been reading:
The Adventurers Guild by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos
In Zed’s world, your guild is your destiny—which is why he has his heart set on joining the Mages Guild, even though he knows the chances of a half-elf getting in are slim. So when he gets plucked by the very worst guild, the famously perilous Adventurers Guild, Zed is crushed. The only silver lining: The Adventurers Guild has also conscripted his best friend Brock.
Zed, Brock, and motley crew of new recruits quickly discover that being part of the Adventurers Guild is even worse than they’d imagined. Ever since the monsters took over the outside world, walled cities like Freestone have been the only safe places—but keeping them safe is a full-time, non-stop job. When a new danger threatens the city, Zed and his Guild-mates will have to venture outside the city to save it.
This book is written by a couple of long-time Dungeons and Dragons players, and it totally reads that way—and I mean that as a compliment! It’s playful, action-packed, and peopled with all kinds of unusual characters. The backstory is complex enough to leave room to explore but simple enough to follow without a lot of exposition, and lots of magic and magical creatures keep things interesting. Highly recommended for fantasy fans from about 5th grade and up.
(late elementary to middle grades)
The Song from Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold
This is a surprisingly weird, tender little book. Frank, facing a rough summer being bullied by a neighborhood jerk, finds unexpected aid from the class weird kid, Nick Underhill. Nick rescues Frank and brings her home with him, and while she’s there, she hears a strange, haunting music that she can’t get out of her head. As Frank discovers Nick’s secret, she starts to realize that she’s not the only person who needs some help. It’s a very particular kind of book, but if you liked The Imaginary, give this one a try.
(late elementary grades)
The World’s Greatest Chocolate-Covered Pork Chop by Ryan K. Sager
What a fun read. Twelve-year-old Zoey Kate has everything it takes to be a great chef but her own restaurant—and after savvily negotiating her first business loan, she’s about to have that restaurant, too.
Plucky, precocious Zoey Kate is lots of fun, and her imaginative dishes (including cinnamon-bacon octopus pho, fried banana fondue and the titular chocolate pork chops) may well inspire some ambitious kitchen projects. The set-up—which requires you to believe that a tween can land a $50,000 bank loan pretty much on her own—is ridiculous and don’t get me started on the lack of insurance for Zoey Kate’s working trolley restaurant—but go with it—the story’s fun enough to suspend your disbelief. I’d pass this spunky story on to late elementary readers who can’t get enough Masterchef Junior.
(late elementary to middle grades)
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
“Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”
That’s the last message from Alice’s mother, Ella, who’s finally been captured by the hidden enemies she’s been running from for as long as Alice can remember. Alice has lost count of all the rented apartments, houses, and motel rooms she’s called home over the years as her mom moved from place to place, but the one place she’s never been is her famous grandmother’s equally famous country estate, the Hazel Wood. Alice knows that’s where her mother has gone, and despite her mother’s desperate message, she’s determined to follow her and bring her home. But the Hazel Wood is more dangerous than Alice understands—a place where dark, twisty fairy tales are alive, a place where princesses are doomed, and danger lurks around every corner.
This is one of the slow, spooky books that you don’t realize is freaking you out until you’re trying to fall asleep and all you can think about is Twice-Killed Katherine. It’s genuinely eerie, first as the fairytale folk stalk Alice and her mom through the city and then as Alice ventures into her grandmother’s mysterious estate, where the darkest story of all is waiting for her. Great for teens who love the gory original Grimm stories or who are in the mood for a spooky, atmospheric book tinged with horror.