The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. Hyperion Books for Children, 2005.

This is the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and it has fired the imaginations of teens for the last year or more! It's been called "the next Harry Potter", and there are still dozens of holds in the queue. I read it shortly after Gaiman's American Gods, which has a similar premise: that ancient gods and Olympians are alive and unrecognized in America except by special individuals. And they still fight and cause trouble.

Percy, age 12, has been expelled from six schools in six years for causing serious trouble. In desperation, his mother has finally decided to enroll him in a summer camp for exceptional children. She's been putting it off in order to keep him close to her for a little longer. On the way, their car explodes and his mother is killed by a monster who has been following them. Percy barely manages to hike the rest of the way into camp.

He learns that all the campers including himself - are sons and daughters of one or another of the Olympians and a human parent. He also learns that Zeus's master thunderbolt has been stolen, and a war is brewing between the Olympian factions. Because his father is implicated, Percy is sent on a quest to find and restore the thunderbolt.

Foreshadowing and hints liberally placed throughout the text, while maybe a little obvious to an adult reader, make the younger reader feel pretty smart for figuring out the allusions and guessing plot twists. The prose is spare, descriptive, and contemporary. I can understand why readers are still lining up to read the rest of the series.
Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold. Hyperion, 2001

Part biography, part fantasy, this novel invites readers to suspend belief for a few hours as Carter's story unfolds. From his childhood, he's been interested in magic, and works hard on the carnival circuit to become a master magician, ultimately winning enough recognition to mount his own shows. He has challengers, notably the mysterious Mysterioso, and there are a couple of romantic interests. Gold liberally spreads references to contemporary magicians, including Houdini, and detailed accounts of historical events throughout the novel. Like the best magicians, who depend on misdirection for the success of their illusions, the author skillfully "directs" the reader's attention in ways that continually surprise, right up to the suspenseful climax and conclusion.