Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling: Recommended. The first in a series of seven, Sorcerer’s Stone is a cute(?) story with darker undertones. One may not entirely understand the reason for everything that goes on in the novel at the time, but it is an important ground structure for the books to come. If read alone, it makes for a nice story about a magical world, although Rowling’s writing had not been perfected at the time, nor had she entirely figured out all the details of the way her magical world works. Not my favorite of the series, but definitely worth reading, especially if one intends to read the rest of the books.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling: Recommended. Second in the series, Chamber of Secrets continues Harry’s story. This book is a little more interesting than the first, but still is creating a foundation of the story to come.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling: Recommended. Although it may seem to go off-track from the story of Voldemort for a bit, this is actually my favorite of the first three books of the series. I remember reading it all in one school day and being enamored and hungry for more. I don’t think the next book came out for a while, but if this is your first time reading the series, you’re a lot luckier than the rest of us who had to wait.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling: Recommended. This book takes a big leap from Harry being a child to finally beginning to understand what is going on in his life and dealing with growing up. The story is multi-layered but mostly focuses on the Tri-Wizard Tournament, an exciting game sort of like the Olympics but not really. Anyway, it’s a really great book, although it’s something like three times the length of the previous books. I may be exaggerating.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling: Recommended. The story continues and Harry deals with things that happened in the fourth book while also dealing with a whole new set of complications. The story’s layers begin to be revealed…
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling: Recommended. Much comes to light in this penultimate installment of the series. Harry and everyone else deal with the threat of a coming war, as well as trying to find a way to defeat Voldemort once and for all. I don’t want to give too much away if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t read anything or seen any movies or heard anything, but this is definitely a book you should pick up.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling: Recommended. Finally you find out what everything’s been all about. Pretty much everything is explained, and you find yourself going back to the previous books to look for clues, hints, and foreshadowing events, and there certainly are a lot of them. Rowling tells her tale with plenty of emotion, including humor and sadness. I recommend reading this series more than once.
Tales of Beetle the Bard by JK Rowling: Recommended. If you read Deathly Hallows, you’ll appreciate the fact that Rowling took the time to publish this book. Mostly a book of children’s fairy tales, it is fun to look at some background behind occurrences in Hallows in more detail. Very short and entertaining.
Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond: Recommended. Written for younger audiences, I first read this book when I was in fifth grade. However, I still enjoy it enough to read it now, ten years later. It tells the story of a young boy learning to adjust to his new life in an ancient mining town. He deals with the illness of his grandfather, making new friends, and coming to terms with death and the dark past of the little town. I highly recommend it, even if you’re an adult. If you are, you can read it in a couple of hours or so.
A Walk in Wolf Wood by Mary Stewart: Neutral. I was supposed to read this book a long time ago, when I was still young enough. I did appreciate Stewart’s descriptive prose, and thought that she had a good conflict going in the children threatening to lose their memories the longer they stayed in the mystical land, but she sort of dropped it when the story was drawing to a close, and I thought that was bad form on her part, so that’s why I am neutral in recommending it. I would certainly recommend it for children, but I think it’s perhaps too young for older readers.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles: Recommended. This story is a very good telling of how school-age boys dealt with coming of age with a war on the horizon. It also talks about jealousy, friendship, and what is right and wrong. I highly recommend this book—it’s one of the best coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read.
Skellig by David Almond: Recommended. Although this book is for young readers, I still enjoy it. It doesn’t take long to read (it’s the shortest of Almond’s YA novels), but it’s worth it. A young boy must learn to deal with living in a new house, a baby sister who is ill, and also a mysterious man he finds living in the decrepit garage. This man turns out to be something more and, with the help of a new neighbor and friend, the boy learns to deal with everything going on in his life. It sounds sad, but it’s a very good book.
Heaven Eyes by David Almond: Recommended. Perhaps not my favorite of Almond’s YA novels, but still a good read. A couple of orphans sail down the river and get stuck in the middens in the middle of the night. They come across a creepy old man and a mysterious little girl. The theme of this story is finding a family in your friends when you don’t really have a family by blood. There is an element of mystery when it comes to the little girl. Overall, it’s a good book.
When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson by Barry Denenberg: Recommended. I recommend this book for young readers. It only took me about an hour and a half to read the whole thing, and it was enjoyable because of the diary format, and because I enjoy things that show the “other side” in a war (watch, for instance, Traitor with Don Cheadle, if you can), because it annoys me when people forget that “the enemy” are people too, with ambitions, lives, and families.
Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger by Louis Sachar: Recommended. I read the Wayside School series many times when I was younger. This one I think is the third in the series, and perhaps the funniest. “Pet Day” was and still is my favorite chapter. Read it. Make your kids read it. Whatever.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell: Recommended. This book reminds me of my childhood and everything my siblings and I pretended we were. Not the sad parts, of course, but the living alone and living off the land, having wild dogs as pets and making friends with the native wildlife. Not to mention, it takes place on an island off of Southern California. I remember reading it in fourth grade and thinking of how brave the girl was to live alone for all those years. It’s a good book even today, and it took only the morning for me to read. And it has the Newbery Medal, so that’s always a plus.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: Recommended. I’ve read this a few times, and the interest of the puzzle mystery never gets old. I also appreciate the sometimes quirky humor. I’ll read it again many times, I know. If you’ve never read it, take the time to read it, as I’m sure it will peak your interest.
Eragon by Christopher Paolini: Not Recommended. Although I appreciate that a fifteen year-old could attempt to take on the task of writing a 500-page book, and the first in a trilogy, I think that perhaps his age and his parents’ “in” with the publishing business were probably factors that led to his being published. The world seems a ripoff of Tolkien's (with even some elements reminiscient of Harry Potter), and the story drags on and on. Most of the 500 pages are taken up by boring accounts of traveling around with the occasional chance meeting with those you don’t want to meet. Some of the analogies or wordings Paolini used were a little on the ridiculous side; for instance, he said something about the steam coming off of water “like blood in winter.” Really now, who can relate to that? Eragon was hurt so often I wondered if Paolini had never been hurt much himself and thus had a strange fascination with it. And another thing: just because your third grade teacher gave you list of words you can use instead of “said” doesn’t mean you have to use them all in one novel. I felt like Paolini had been going through a checklist in his thesaurus. But if you’re young and have never read Tolkien, this book is good for you. But if you want good fantasy, read Tolkien. The end.