But Wait- There's More!: Must-Read Series.
For almost as long as there have been books written for children and teens, there have also been series books. Authors (and publishers) have long-understood the allure of re-visiting the same characters multiple times, and as readers, we demand it. Books draw us into their world, and make us care deeply about the characters who inhabit them. These characters are our friends, and the idea that their story is finished is almost too much to grasp. Like many of you, I love series books. I sleuthed right alongside Trixie Belden as a kid. I went along on every adventure with the Famous Five and the Bobbsey Twins, and I laughed myself silly at the antics of Bruno and Boots, and followed the Wakefield twins from Middle-School to College. Though the names change over the years, series fiction is as popular as ever, and there are many great series worth trying while you're waiting for the next book in your current favourite series. One series that I particularly enjoy for Middle Schoolers is the Circles of Heck series by Dayle E. Basye.
In the first book, titled Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go, readers are introduced to siblings Milton and Marlo Fauster. When the pair die in a freak marshmallow explosion in their local mall, they find themselves in Heck- an otherworldy reform school, and a kind of limbo for kids. Milton can understand why his kleptomaniac sister was sent there, but he's sure a mistake was made in sending him there. But the principal of darkness- B Elsa Bub doesn't make mistakes, and she personally sees to it that Heck—whether it be home-ec class with Lizzie Borden, ethics with Richard Nixon, or gym with Blackbeard the Pirate—is especially, well, heckish for the Fausters. Will Milton and Marlo find a way to escape? Or are they stuck here for all eternity, or until they turn 18, whichever comes first? The series borrows liberally from classic literature (particularly from Dante's Inferno), and those of you schooled in classic literature will easily recognize the inspiration for many of the character's names. Thankfully, there's a healthy mix of poop humour as well as clever wordplay, and kids in middle-school through junior high will enjoy them. There are 9 planned books in the series (for the 9 circles of Heck), and book 6 is releasing this fall. Some of the more sophisticated jokes might go over the heads of kids, but for the adults reading these with kids, they are an unexpected reward. If you Love the Pirates of the Carribean movies and Twilight and you haven't read the Vampirates novels yet by Justin Somper, run to your nearest bookstore and grab the first book in the six book series, Demons of the Ocean.
Twins Grace and Connor never dreamed there was any truth to the Vampirate shanty their father sang them every night before bed. But that was before their father is killed, and they are shipwrecked, and separated from each other after leaving their island home in their boat. Connor, taken aboard a pirate ship, finds friendship amongst the crew, and jumps at the chance to learn sword-fighting and to become a pirate. Grace is taken aboard a Vampirate ship by the Irish Vampirate Lorcan Furey where she is in constant danger of becoming a meal for the hungry Vampirate crew. As they fight to find each other, they discover that they have chosen different paths and loyalties, but will they ever find each other again, or is it too late? When the six book series begins, the twins are only twelve, but as the series progresses, the characters age, and the books become progressively darker. I was fully expecting this series to be silly, and it's far from it. The world of Vampirates is complex, highly ordered, and surprisingly involved. They have action, adventure, mystery and romance, and there definitely some comical moments to offset the darkness. The plot has a lot of surprising twists and turns, and I am hoping that the author is working on a new story arc for these characters! Another series that I've especially enjoyed is the Theatre Illuminata trilogy by Lisa Mantchev.
The first book takes place inside the Theatre Illuminata, where every character from every play ever written can be found behind the curtain. The characters are bound my magic to a special book, containing the scripts for all of the plays. Because of this tie, they are unable to leave the theatre. Beatrice Shakespeare (known as Bertie) is human and is not bound to the book, but she's lived in the theatre as long as she can remember. In her seventeen years, she's been in trouble more times than she can count, but the theatre manager has always been patient with her- until now. Utterly shocked at being asked to leave, she makes a deal with the manager- if she can sell out her production of Hamlet and receive a standing ovation, she can stay. With everything on the line, Bertie will have to deliver the performance of a lifetime, but will it be enough to save everything she holds dear? I'm a romantic at heart, and what I loved most about this series is the perfect blending of fantasy, romance and adventure in a literary setting. Bertie is a strong and intelligent girl, and she's caught in a love triangle with Nate (a Pirate from The Little Mermaid, and Ariel from The Tempest. As much as Bertie adores Nate, there's something dangerous and exciting about Ariel that Bertie finds difficult to resist. Now give Bertie a bit of her own magic and a secret past that's been kept hidden from her, and you've got an enchanting story that tween/teen girls will devour. All three books are out now, and the third and final book will be available this fall. And finally, just so you don't think I've forgotten about the boys, I've got to give a nod to Alexander Gordon Smith's Escape From Furnace series, which begins with Lockdown.
In the near future, Furnace Penitentiary is the world's most secure prison for young offenders. It's built beneath layers of rock, deep below the earth's surface, making it impenetrable and inescapable. Wrongly convicted of murder, new fish Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: Either find a way out, or resign himself to dying in the prison. But as Alex soon finds out, in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. The prison is a place of pure evil. Inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night. Giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, and deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below. Behind everything is the all-powerful warden- a man as cruel and evil as the devil. Together with a bunch of inmates, Alex plans an escape. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace’s deeper, darker purpose, Alex’s actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that’s hidden from the eyes of the world. I have to confess that I stumbled on this series by accident, but I'm so glad I did. From the first book I was completely riveted. The five book series (book 5 is releasing- you guessed it- this fall) is a complete adrenaline ride. There is action, adventure, mystery and horror. It's fast-paced, scary and totally creepy (in a good way) and I am actually breaking my no manuscript rule to read the final book in manuscript form because I can't wait! IF you enjoyed Maze Runner, definitely check these out! Now you know.
Rachel Seigel is the Children's/Young Adult Book Buyer at wholesaler S&B Books in Mississauga, Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at http://readingtimbits.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.