Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
This book is steampunk: history and fantasy meet and mingle, and it is great. Set in an alternate version of World War I, Leviathan alternates between Alek, the son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and Deryn, the daughter of a hot-air-balloon pilot who is determined to fly, even if it means breaking the law.
I really liked this one! I had heard it was good, Ashley raves about the trilogy and so do others. I checked out the audio book for our cross-country drive this summer. Sadly, my CD player fritzed out. Luckily, I had brought a hard copy. "Be Prepared!" That's my motto. So Jacob and I read this to each other on the drive, pausing when our stomachs threatened us, and we both give it the thumbs up.
Westerfeld did a great job of exposition and world building -- we got to head right into the action and we learned about the world as we went along. Illustrations were interspersed throughout the book and helped me visualize some of the descriptions of intricate machines and engineered animals.
I was able to identify with both of the main characters and liked Deryn's determination particularly. In my opinion, Alek's best quality is his compassion.
The end of the narrative ties things up somewhat, but definitely leaves plenty of room for book two, Behemoth, and book three, Goliath. I've got book two now. :)
The author's note at the end explains which parts of the book are based in history and which are fictionalized -- quite a boon to me, finishing in the middle of nowhere with no internet access. Another personal plus: no foul language (unless you count "barking" as a swear word) or inappropriate content (though some crushy feelings add tension to the end of the book). This is a book I wholeheartedly recommend that my parents and siblings listen to on their next road trip, and they range in age from nine on up.