Andrew Clements' Extra Credit also tries to shed life on the ways of others, this time on a brother and sister who live in the mountains of Afghanistan. Because Abby doesn't care much about doing her school work, she is in danger of being held back, unless she completes an extra credit project-- having a pen pal in Afghanistan. Her letter comes to the attention of a village school, and the elders decide that while Sadeed is the best student, it would not be appropriate for him to write to a girl, so he is instructed to oversee the letters his younger sister, Amira, writes. While I liked this, and generally like Clements, this seemed forced. Abby's academic struggles seemed unrealistically portrayed, and the friendship between Abby and Sadeed a bit odd, since they haven't shared that much information about each other. Still, fans of Clements will demand this, and it's not a bad book. I just wish some things had been handled differently.
For pure fun, Cabot's Being Nikki (sequel to Airhead) can't be beat. Emerson, whose brain has been transplanted into the body of supermodel Nikki, is still struggling with reconciling the two sides of her new being. She's doing modeling assignments and partying with celebrities, but also trying to keep up in school and keeping in contact with her real family. When Nikki's brother shows up, upset that their mother is missing, Em/Nikki gets drawn into the evil doings of the Stark corporation, along with Christopher, her best friend as Em. There are a lot of plot twists that I didn't see coming, and there is sure to be another book to follow this one.
Brandon Mull's penultimate Fablehaven book, The Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary, is full of incredible magical detail that fantasy aficionados will find enthralling. While I enjoyed the book, I'm not good on details, so I had trouble remembering some of them. The book starts with Kendra being kidnapped, and a stingbulb impersonating her. Seth, reeling from her "death" finds that he is a shadow master and can talk to magical creatures from the dark side. The two set off separately to get an artifact from the dragon sanctuary, a trip which, understandably, is fraught with danger. There are many characters from previous books who help them, and some which turn out to be evil. Lots of running around fighting, magical objects (I loved the back pack that Kendra could climb into and be carried around), and saving the world against evil. The children will be much more able to remember all the wonderful details.
Lost, by Jacqueline Davies, is yet another book about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (Auch's Ashes of Roses and Haddix's Uprising being the most recent), but I found it hard to put down. Harriet Abbot is clearly not the usual sort of girl who works in a sweat shop, and Essie is drawn to her cultured ways as well as her helplessness. Essie is also trying to come to terms with the death of the younger sister for whom she has cared. Throw in a mystery about a missing heiress, and this makes for a compelling read. I did wonder, however, how many wealthy women really did care about the workers or tried to get jobs in the sweat shops to try to help and/or reveal working conditions-- this seems to be something that recent writers like to do. I also wondered about a young law student living in an immigrant neighborhood, and about Essie reading works of social philosophy. Still, a good book to have on hand for fans of historical fiction.