51. The Golden Rat by Don Wulffson (168 pages) reread for teaching. My kids really enjoyed this exciting, engaging historical murder mystery.
"He had grown up believing in America and the individual and it was a stronger faith than his faith in God. This was the land where no man had to bow. In this place at last a man could stand up free of the past, free of tradition and blood ties and the curse of royalty and become what he wished to become. This was the first place on earth where the man mattered more than the state. True freedom began here and it would spread eventually over all the earth. But it had begun here. The fact of slavery upon this incredibly beautiful new clean earth was appalling, but more even than that was the horror of old Europe, the curse of nobility, which the South was transplanting to new soil. They were forming a new aristocracy, a new breed of glittering men, and Chamberlain had come to crush it. But he was fighting for the dignity of man in that way he was fighting for himself. If men were equal in America, all these former Poles and English and Czechs and blacks, then they were equal everywhere, and there was really no such thing as foreigner; there were only free men and slaves. And so it was not even patriotism but a new faith. The Frenchman may fight for France, but the American fights for mankind, for freedom; for the people, not the land. Yet the words had been used too often and the fragments that came to Chamberlain now were weak. A man who has been shot at is a new realist, and what do you say to a realist when the war is a war of ideals?"
"Honor without intelligence is a disaster. Honor could lose the war."
52. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (374 pages) One of the most brilliant, moving, extraordinary, and beautiful novels I have ever read, The Killer Angels details the events of the Battle of Gettysburg from the perspective of the men who fought it. Union soldier Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is a professor turned soldier that will make a brilliant tactical move out of desperation, a move that not only will win the battle but perhaps the war. Chamberlain is fighting the war to destroy the aristocratic South that has no business owning slaves in the democratic United States, but is also fighting to understand his feeling toward the black man and his role as a soldier. On the Confederate side, James Longstreet is fighting a war he doesn't believe in, knows he cannot win, against his own men and own army, using tactics that he knows will result in massacre and failure. And he can't even quit. Longstreet's ideas are decades ahead of his time and are considered cowardly in this age of Romantic chivalry and honor. This is the story of two armies clashing in an epic battle. One a homogeneous army of white, protestant men fighting for disunion, for their "rights", homes, and honor. They fight with morale under a leader they adore. The other, an army deeply varied in customs, religion, language, and color, fighting for the union of the country under the ideal that all men are created equal. This powerful, fascinating and very readable novel brings to life and understanding this momentous, chaotic, complex period of history, brings to life the men who fought this war, brings to life what went through their tortured souls and minds with staggering brilliance. An amazing novel. Grade: A+
53. The Pearl of the Soul of the World by Meredith Ann Pierce (301 pages) The brilliant conclusion of the beautiful and amazing Darkangel Trilogy sees Aeriel finally facing the White Witch who enslaved her husband, Irrylath, who is massing an army. Aeriel must claim both her destiny (unraveling the Ravenna's mystery) and her husband's love or her entire world will end. Emotionally powerful as it is stunningly beautiful in its deceptively simple gothic and dream-like imagery, the conclusion to the Darkangel Trilogy is just as strong as its predecessors and cements this as one of the greatest series of the fantasy genre. Grade: A
54. Austenland by Shannon Hale (196 pages) Jane is obsessed with Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy and the idealized versions of Austen's romantic Regency stories. To help herself overcome her fantasies, she chooses to go on holiday to resort of pretend Regency living. There, she finds herself caught between a Mr. Darcy-type and the more real gardener. Hale's writing is decent and enough to keep the attention, but lacks great wit or realism or depth of character or observation. Perhaps if she had kept her narration more omnipotent. The plot is entertaining enough (with a couple of clever twists and a good premise that allows her to examine the very Austen themes of reality and fantasy), but--like Jane herself--hard to engage in when so much is fake. Refreshingly, the novel knows exactly what it is and the short comings of its protagonist. A decent light read. Better than any other Jane Austen rip off, save the satirical and brilliant Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Grade: B
55. Beastly by Alex Flinn (304 pages) In this urban, teen retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Kyle, a handsome, popular prep-school snob, is transformed by a witch into a hideous beast. Abandoned by his father, Kyle hides himself away in a beautiful house, gardening his roses. When a drug-dealer breaks in, Kyle takes his daughter as his prisoner. Will the bookish, plain Lindy be the one to break the spell? Decently written tale reworks the fairy tale well for the audience and setting, along with clever reference winks and a strong teenage voice, but lacks any depth of character or any refreshing twists to bring new meaning to the tale or genre. Grade: B-