Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo
Charlie doesn't want to believe it when he discovers that he can hear the thoughts of people in photographs. But his horrible aunts are delighted — it means he is one of the chosen, and must change schools and attend the Bloor's Academy for gifted children. Once there, Charlie realizes that some of his classmates have equally mysterious powers. Soon Charlie is involved in uncovering the mysterious past of one of them. With the help of this friend Benjamin and his eccentric, gifted Uncle Paton, they discover the truth despite all the dangers that lie ahead.
The first book in the Children of the Red King series (often unfairly compared to the Harry Potter books), Midnight for Charlie Bone is a strong opener. Yes, there is a special school, but it's for all sorts of gifted students not just those with magical talents (and the talents are really one-of, each person seems to have one distinct magical ability). Yes, there are difficult relatives, but they're magically-endowed and the ones pushing Charlie to go to the special school. Yes, there is an evil force in the world, but it is as yet incompletely defined. Magic is underground, but those with magical abilities coexist with normal people. The great overarching mystery seems to be the genesis of the magical powers, the Red King.
Charlie is sympathetic and his life is full of interesting characters. I'll definitely be reading the other books in the series.
Wolf Girl by Theresa Tomlinson
Cwen, a poor weaver struggling to make a living at Whitby Abbey, is accused of possessing a valuable necklace; if found guilty she could be hanged. Wulfrun, Cwen’s daughter, sets out to prove her mother’s innocence.
Set in turbulent Anglo-Saxon times, this is the story of a resourceful dauntless heroine, determined and clever as the wolf that she is named for. Defying rank and convention, braving wind, weather and marauding armies, Wulfrun shows that courage has its own just reward.
I was so pleased when I realized that this coming-of-age adventure story is the first in a trilogy. I enjoyed reading Wolf Girl very much. While the book is set in the mid 600s, an extremely difficult period to make accessible to young modern readers, Tomlinson is able to make the story both historically accurate and approachable (one of the things she does to make the story more manageable for the reader is to use modern place names and the simplest forms of person names).
Wulfrun is a sympathetic character who I think kids today will be able to relate to. Many of the other characters are complex and fully-drawn. The story is engaging and its resolution leaves the reader hungry for more. I look forward to the follow-up books being published.