Young Adult Book Review ~ Truly Devious

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When I was working at the library I spent a good part of my day reading the new books that came in in order to be able to recommend them to patrons. I breezed through multiple picture books a day and then at least one middle grade and one young adult book each week besides taking books home for my personal reading. I wish I had that kind of time to devote to reading these days but no such luck. And unfortunately it’s been the young adult books that have slipped by the wayside. And with the diminished numbers I’ve not found as many amazing books to shout about. But this one redeemed everything. I couldn’t put it down.

In 1936, Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter disappeared from the millionaire’s lavish mountaintop retreat and private school in Vermont. His wife’s body was eventually found but not before he’d paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom. His daughter remains missing and while someone confessed there were too many questions left unanswered and the case remains cold to this day.

Enter Stevie Bell, high school junior, who has been admitted to the Ellingham academy because of her obsessive interest in the case and in studying detective work. Her classmates are equally focused on their various pursuits; an artist who’s spent the bulk of her life in a commune, an internet video star, an inventor/engineer, an author and more. But they’re not all the innocent students they’d like each other to believe and when one of them ends up dead Stevie is forced to question her instincts and everything she thinks she knows.

Told in alternating chapters between Stevie’s day in/day out routines at school and flashbacks to the events of 1936 I was riveted from page one. Be warned, there is no conclusion in this volume. This is the beginning of a trilogy so you’ll have to wait (but hopefully not too long!) before getting all the answers.

Truly Devious book review

Truly Devious
Written by: Maureen Johnson
Number of Pages: 416
Publisher: Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Books, 2018
Age Range: 12+
Rating: 4.5/5

Picture Book Review ~ Mela and the Elephant

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I spent several months in Thailand teaching English to pre-schoolers at an international school and absolutely fell in love with the country and the people. Reading this sweet story (and the fantastic back matter) made me more than a little homesick. I want nothing more than to go back to wander the streets and wild places before ordering Pad Thai from a street cart and revel in the land of Smiles. Take a step into the wonder that is Thailand and enjoy this great little story.

 Mela and the Elephant book review

Mela and the Elephant

Written by: Dow Phumiruk

Illustrated by: Ziyue Chen

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press, 2018

Age Range: 3-9

Rating: 4/5

Mela learns an important lesson when she heads out one day to explore the river near her home. She gets pulled downstream and off course by a big fish and then gets tricked by a crocodile, a leopard, and some monkeys as she tries to make her way home. Finally, a kindly elephant comes to her rescue and reminds her what kindness is all about.

Mela and the Elephant book review1

This book has all the flavor of a folk tale re-telling though it’s an original story. The author (a Thai native) provides a note about the country, its culture and customs in a detailed note in the back. Give it a read and let me know what you think! (And when you’re ready to start planning your trip to Thailand, give me a holler…I’ve got lots of tips and suggestions!)

 

Mela and the Elephant book review2

Picture Book/Audio Book Review ~ Tolkien

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How many of you have succumbed to the lifestyle trend that is Hygge? (Pronounced “hooga” it’s a Danish word basically meaning coziness…it involves lots of candles or firesides, fuzzy blankets, books, board games, walks on the beach, connecting with people and unplugging.) There are all sorts of books, pins, articles and whatnot to give you ideas on how to do it with kids, during all the seasons, in small spaces etc. I love the idea of slowing down, being more present and aware and any tips to do it are always welcome.
Well, when I picked up this book I hadn’t realized that’s what I would be getting but I was pleasantly surprised. The author walks us through various traditions, cultures, and habits of the characters of Middle Earth (specifically focusing on the Hobbits of the Shire) and tells us how we would benefit from modeling our own lives after theirs. Everything from relishing the drinking and eating we do (emphasis on the relishing, slowing down, while at the same time doing it with gusto and our whole being and attention) to gardening and being close to nature, walking, staying home more often (yet being open to adventure occasionally to help us be more grateful for what we’ve got), singing regularly and taking naps. He also delves into some advice on how to deal with the Gollums that surface in our own lives, advises us to give gifts on our birthdays rather than to focus on receiving them, and keep a full larder (or at least a pot of tea and some cookies) on hand for any visitors.
I listened to this as an audio book which was read by Simon Vance (who has a lovely British accent which always makes things seem more credible and authoritative…plus it’s Tolkien, you need a British accent for Tolkien. No offense to the author who is American. 🙂 )
It’s full of Tolkien quotes, tidbits and explanations about the who and what of Middle Earth. Anyone who is a mega fan will probably be bored by the references but those with a passing knowledge will find something that resonates even if it’s just that simple reminder to slow down.
Wisdom of the Shire book review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life (Audio book)

Written by: Noble Smith

Read by: Simon Vance

Publisher:  Blackstone Audio, 2013

Number of Pages: 222 (4 hours 47 minutes audio)

Age Range: Adult

Rating: 3.5/5

For those of you looking for a little more information on the creator of the aforementioned Shire or if you’ve got a younger audience you’d like to start introducing Hobbits, Ents and elves to, then this next book is for you.

 

This is a fantastic bio of the father of modern fantasy with bits of magic on every page. The text and illustrations effortlessly showcase the magic and devastation of Tolkien’s life. Both pulling from his experiences and trying to escape them, John Ronald created worlds, creatures, languages, and stories that have become a cultural phenomenon with lives of their own opening the door to other phenomenon such as Dungeon’s and Dragons and Harry Potter.

 

There’s some detailed back matter including author’s and illustrator’s notes providing more details about Tolkien’s life and the creation of the book. There’s also a bibliography and catalog of the dragons that influenced and appeared in Tolkien’s stories. A brilliant and beautiful addition to any home or classroom library, particularly for Tolkien or fantasy fans.

John Ronalds Dragons book review

John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien

Written by: Caroline McAlister

Illustrated by: Eliza Wheeler

Number of Pages: 48

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2017

Age Range: 6-12

Rating: 4.5/5

Picture Book Review ~ Books for a Rainy Day

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April is notorious for being wet and dreary (April Showers, sound familiar?!) But it’s also on the cusp of the season changes so things begin to warm up and bloom and it’s definitely an invitation to head outside and soak up the moments of sunshine when they appear. But the rain has a beauty of its own, especially when you’ve got littles to entertain. So pull on the wellies and see who can make the biggest puddle splash! Then warm up some cocoa and enjoy a few of these rainy day stories. (And by the way, littles are not a pre-requisite for this day of fun! 😉 )

Raccoon isn’t eager to be alone on such a stormy night so he heads out into the forest, splish-splashing his way to seek shelter with one of his friends. But alas, he’s too big to join any of them in their homes. His last hope is Rabbit’s den, full to overflowing with ten little rabbits all hopping and bopping off the walls. But Rabbit welcomes him warmly and he feels cozy and safe. Soon the other friends appear at the door and they are all welcomed in as well because there’s always room for friends! A fun read aloud for pre-school age.
May I Come In book review
Written by: Marsha Diane Arnold
Illustrated by: Jennie Poh
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press, 2018
Number of Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5
Rating: 3/5
One of my absolute all-time favorite rain books, this was always a hit in my pre-school/kindergarten read-alouds. This builds in a “House That Jack Built” sort of way with each character succumbing to the gloomy spirit of the rainy day and falling asleep on the big bed. Until a pesky flea sets off a chain reaction that finds everyone awake and laughing. Take a look at the progress of the stormy skies outside the window as you read, and see if you can read it without giggling.
The Napping House book review
Written by: Audrey Wood
Illustrated by: Don Wood
Publisher: Harcourt Publishing, 1984
Number of Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-6
Rating: 5/5
After a rainstorm Ava is eager to look for the rainbow and quickly wishes that the one she finds could stay around forever. Magically, it does! Night and day the rainbow soars above the town and becomes the center of attention…until he becomes so commonplace that the townspeople forget he’s even there. Ava despairs that they could ignore something so special and he vanishes. Thankfully he returns again after another storm and both he and Ava realize the importance of appreciating the beauty of the fleeting and temporary.
Ava and the Rainbow book review
Written and Illustrated by: Ged Adamson
Number of Pages: 32
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2018
Age Range: 4-9
Rating: 4/5
By the door is a big, friendly umbrella. When it ventures out during a rainstorm it invites all to take shelter and it’s miraculously always big enough for everyone, no matter who you are. Told in simple, spare text it’s a beautiful little metaphor for older readers of the way our world can work. And for younger, more literal readers it’s a cheerful tale to brighten a rainy day.
Big Umbrella book review
Written and Illustrated by: Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates
Number of Pages: 40
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2018
Age Range: 3-8
Rating: 4/5
Need more rainy day books? Here are a few favorites both old and new:
Did I miss any of your favorites? Please share them in the comments!

Middle Grade Favorites ~ Book Reviews

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I have a great love of middle grade books. (Ok, ok, I have a great love of all books!) But seriously, middle grade books are fantastic. They make me feel super accomplished cause I can plow through them pretty quickly, but they often have great messages, heart, and depth. Here are a few I’ve particularly loved lately.

 

Mustaches for Maddie

Written by: Chad Morris and Shelly Brown

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Number of Pages: 245

Age Range: 7-11

Rating: 3.5/5

Maddie has an overactive imagination and some trouble with the other girls in her class. As she tries to navigate the mean girl situation and figure out her feelings about boys, things get even more complicated when she learns she has a brain tumor and will have to go through surgery. Full of heart and humor readers will fall in love with Maddie and cheer for her success. Based on a true story.

 

Walking With Miss Millie

Written by: Tamara Bundy

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Number of Pages: 227

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4.5/5

This one is my favorite of the lot. Alice and her family have moved in with her Grandma who’s begun suffering from dementia. She is not happy to be there and even less happy to have to walk the next-door neighbor’s dog as penance for listening in on her conversation on the party line. Clarence is having none of it so Miss Millie is forced to go too and she and Alice strike up a multi-generational, inter-racial friendship that changes their whole town. This one had all the feels and made me want to hand it to everyone who keeps showing up on the news lobbing slurs and spouting intolerance.

 

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness

Written by: Kate Beasley

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

Number of Pages: 250

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

Gertie’s mom abandoned her when she was a baby and now the home she lives in across town is for sale. Gertie is determined to become the best, most awesome fifth-grader in the universe to convince her mom to stay. But the new girl in class is going to ruin everything with her seat stealing and movie star friends. Gertie is spunky and a tad awkward, like my childhood favorite Ramona Quimby. She deals with some tough stuff in a realistic and charming way. Another favorite.

Here are a few more pretty recent releases worth tracking down:

Heartwood Hotel: A True Home

Nightmares!

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls

Wishtree

The Van Gogh Deception

And if you aren’t already following me on Instagram, hop on over and check out the two other MG reads I’ve shared today.

What have you been reading recently? Tell me in the comments below!

Middle Grade Book Review ~ Just Sayin’

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

I love me a good epistolary novel. (For anyone unfamiliar with that term, it’s a book written in the form of letters, diary entries or the modern-day version generally uses emails or even text messages.) I fell in love with the form back in 3rd or 4th grade when I spent my hard-earned money at the school book fair on a copy of Dear Mr. Henshaw (which is a little tattered but still graces my bookshelves today!)

Today’s middle grade book is a rare modern setting that actually relies on letters (our poor narrator constantly bugs her mom for a cell phone to text, can’t get on her grandma’s computer to email like she’d prefer and absolutely hates to talk on the phone.) It sounds a little contrived but it works.

Cassie is living with her grandmother while her mother goes off to ‘find herself’ and recover from a broken engagement. Meanwhile, Nick and Julie are forced to move from their home to a retirement community with their grandfather while helping their father heal. The kids spend the summer writing each other letters trying to piece together what happened between their parents to ruin the family they’d all hoped to have.

Cassie and Nick are the main writers but Julie, their parents, grandma, the local preacher and even a game show host each have a chance to have their say.  There’s a bit of Parent Trap-esque scheming involved but I really appreciated that the adults weren’t absent, just distracted. The realistic portrayals of each character’s growth and progression throughout the book was another point in its favor. It’s a great introduction to the genre and a fun, feel-good tale for middle grade readers.

Just Sayin' Book Review

 

Just Sayin’

Written by: Dandi Daley Mackall

Number of Pages: 190

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 3.5/5

 

For fans of the genre, or those looking to explore more epistolary novels these are a few of my favorites:

Picture Books

The Quiet Place

Dear Mr. Blueberry

The Jolly Postman

Meerkat Mail

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type

Middle Grade

Dear Max

When Audrey Met Alice

Trial by Journal

Diary of A Wimpy Kid

Young Adult

Life as We Knew It

Monster

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares

Book of A Thousand Days

Code Name Verity

Adult

Dear Mr. Knightley

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

84, Charing Cross Road

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Young Adult Book Review ~ They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End Book Review

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They Both Die at the End

Written by: Adam Silvera

Number of Pages: 384

Age Range: 14 and up

Rating: 4/5

In a not-too-distant future, Death-Cast, a group that is somehow able to forecast the exact date of a person’s death, calls each person just after midnight on their End Day. This gives people the chance to take advantage of many organizations and companies that create once-in-a-lifetime experiences, offer discounts and help provide for the end of life.

Two very different teens in New York both receive their calls and set out to try and reconcile a few things before they die. Mateo’s a bit of a recluse who needs to say his goodbyes to his best friend and her daughter and his comatose father but his anxieties continue to plague him even in the face of death and he ends up back in his apartment, alone.  Rufus is in the midst of beating up his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend (with the help of a few of his gang) when he gets his call and then dashes from his fake funeral leaving his friends to deal with the cops that show up. They both sign onto the app, Last Friend, which connects them with each other and their differences balance each other out leading to a day filled with sky diving, karaoke, soaking in the sites and food of the city, making amends, saying goodbye and falling in love.

Yes, they really both die but there’s a lot of living, philosophical discussions and food for thought crammed into their last day.  And as the two guys face their mortality, their life choices and what it means to live and love the reader can’t help but face those same questions about their own lives.  It’s definitely eye opening and would make for some fabulous discussions among reading groups.

Middle Grade Book Review ~ Saving Marty

Saving Marty Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

Saving Marty

Written by: Paul Griffin

Number of Pages: 195

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 5/5

There are books that grab you by the lapels and shake you until your soul falls back into place, particularly when you didn’t know your soul was out of place to begin with. I admit, it may have just been my mood that day but this book, my goodness!

Marty was the runt of the litter. And just like another literary runt, he’s more than just a pig. Marty doesn’t befriend a spider, but he does think he’s a dog and consequently gets his owner Lorenzo into a bit of trouble, and also out of some trouble as well.

Eleven-year-old Lorenzo wants nothing more than to be a hero like his father who died in the war. His best friend Paloma is the only thing that makes life bearable until Marty comes into his life. The three are inseparable and spend their time singing songs Paloma has written (Renzo accompanying her on his father’s guitar), trying to avoid the town bullies who have it out for Marty, and hanging out with Renzo’s grandpa.

But then Paloma wins a songwriting contest and a scholarship to an arts school in another town. Marty causes a dangerous accident and is doomed to be sent away as well. And then Renzo learns a truth about his father he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to process.

This book had all the feels and then some. Renzo is the best kind of underdog, perfectly lovable and heart-breakingly sweet. The story is timeless. The text is punctuated with hand-written copies of Paloma’s songs and letters to and from Renzo’s dad. If you like stories filled with honesty and hope, put this on your to read list!

 

Middle Grade Book Review ~ Every Soul a Star

Every Soul a Star Book Review

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

Title: Every Soul a Star

Written by: Wendy Mass

Number of Pages: 322

Age Range: 10-14

Rating: 4/5

Three teens’ lives intersect at the occurrence of a total solar eclipse and none of them will ever be the same.

Told in alternating points of view the book opens with 13-year-old Ally describing Moon Shadow, the isolated campground her family established and her home for as long as she can remember. An amateur astronomer, she’s looking forward to the upcoming eclipse and honoring her grandfather’s memory by discovering a comet. She loves the quiet, the hot springs, her home school studies with her brother, and conversing each night with her friends, the stars and planets she studies.

Next up is Bree. She wants nothing more than to be a model, run the A-Clique at school, and anything else she can come up with to distance herself from her uber-scientific parents and nerdy little sister. When her parents drop a bombshell and tell her they’ll be taking over running a campsite in order to devote more time to their science she’s convinced her life is over.

And finally we’ve got Alex, a smart, shy kid who’d rather spend time drawing and thus finds himself facing summer school until his science teacher invites him to join a research trip to witness the eclipse. He hops a bus full of strangers prepared to keep his head down and muddle through but the universe has other ideas.

As they converge on camp Moon Shadow, the kids are forced to face their realities and what they had envisioned for their respective futures. The other camp goers also play a part in helping each one of the narrators expand their views of what happiness can mean and how to appreciate what’s right in front of us.

I missed the totality of the recent eclipse by a couple hundred miles but heard so many accounts of the incredible experience that reading the descriptions in this book made me feel as if I was somehow reliving it anyway. Apparently words like “magical” and “life changing” aren’t an exaggeration. (I’ve added it to my bucket list.) But I’ve always been fascinated by the stars and found so much to love and think about in these pages.

Mass has a great talent for creating stories that reach out and grab you and make you re-think your place in the world.  If you, or your child, witnessed the eclipse you should definitely give this one a look. And if you missed out on the totality and wondered what all the fuss was about add it to your list as well. Or, if you just love stories about self-discovery filled with heart and magic…well, this book’s for you!

I’d love to hear about your astronomical experiences or your favorite book about the stars in the comments below.

Happy reading!