Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai by Thanhha Lai

I’ve had great luck reading novels written in verse, so much so that I keep thinking surely the streak can’t continue – one of these days I’ll hit a dud. So far though, the streak is intact, as Inside Out and Back Again was fantastic.

While the content of Lai’s novel could make it a difficult read, it’s so beautifully written it ends up being a pleasure. I still might hesitate to hand it over to younger readers depending on their sensitivity, but it’d be an easy one to pre-read if you’ve got any concerns about your children reading it. However, don’t avoid this thinking it’s just for children – it’s not at all – it’s a great book.

My only complaints with it are simply because of the target audience, there ends up being not as much depth to her story as I’d like. Overall though it’s one that I enthusiastically recommend. It’s easy to see why it’s a Newbery Honor book.

The author has a second book out this year, Listen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai, and after reading this one I requested the new one. Listen, Slowly is written in prose, so if you’re not interested in Inside Out and Back Again due to being written in verse, the new one may work for you. I’m eagerly anticipating it.

Don’t skip the information in the back – it adds some of that extra depth I was wanting, and was very interesting! [Read more…]

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

The Fourteenth GoldfishThe Fourteenth GoldfishThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm by Jennifer Holm

A new book by an author I’ve really enjoyed in the past (her title Our Only May Amelia is so good, and Penny from HeavenPenny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm may be even better) – I was excited to try this one! And happily, Holm did not disappoint. Ellie is an appealing character and despite the unlikely plot it all ends up seeming mostly believable, if you can just accept the premise for the story. Roll with it, in other words.

It touches on a lot of different topics, which adds to the appeal – science, multi-generational households, family, death, finding your life’s passion, ethics, some history – they’re all here. Even fashion makes an appearance, as does the life expectancy of goldfish. It’s amazingly readable and accessible despite the topics that could have made for a much heavier tone.

I especially liked how the book would lend itself to discussions with my kids (once they get older; they’re too young for the depth this one offers right now.) It’s very entertaining, but it’s also thought-provoking in a way I wasn’t expecting from the cute cover. The pacing is excellent, and the short chapters would help it to work well as a readaloud.

Enthusiastically recommended!

Publisher’s Description:
Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

Book Details

Title: The Fourteenth GoldfishThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm
Author: Jennifer Holm
Category: Juvenile Fiction
My Rating: 4 Stars

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The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

The 13 ClocksThe 13 ClocksThe 13 Clocks by James Thurber by James Thurber

One of the most helpful ways for me to find great books to read is to find someone with similar reading tastes and see what they’ve liked and disliked. It works a lot of the time, but it’s not foolproof. There are times when someone doesn’t like a book I’ve enjoyed, and then there are times when someone likes a book and I find I don’t care for it. At all.

Guess which category The 13 Clocks falls into? Yup, that last one. Despite Catherine’s recommendation, it fell flat for me, and I didn’t even try reading it to my kids. Perhaps when they get a bit older I’ll try it, but it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic about reading to them when I dislike a book.

And yet, I don’t disagree with her comments on it. It does have inventive characters. There is terrific alliteration and use of language. There are definitely bizarre plot twists. It just didn’t work for me, and I quickly sent it back to the library.

Find the book: Print | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales.

So begins James Thurber’s sublimely revamped fairy tale, The 13 Clocks, in which a wicked Duke who imagines he has killed time, and the Duke’s beautiful niece, for whom time seems to have run out, both meet their match, courtesy of an enterprising and very handsome prince in disguise. Readers young and old will take pleasure in this tale of love forestalled but ultimately fulfilled, admiring its upstanding hero (”He yearned to find in a far land the princess of his dreams, singing as he went, and possibly slaying a dragon here and there”) and unapologetic villain (”We all have flaws,” the Duke said. “Mine is being wicked”), while wondering at the enigmatic Golux, the mysterious stranger whose unpredictable interventions speed the story to its necessarily happy end.

Book Details

Title: The 13 ClocksThe 13 Clocks by James Thurber
Author: James Thurber
Category: Juvenile Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

The Edge on the Sword

The Edge on the SwordThe Edge on the SwordThe Edge on the Sword by Rebecca Tingle by Rebecca Tingle

I think my favorite type of historical fiction is that based on a true individual or story, and then brought to life by filling in details lost to time. I still know it’s fiction, but it becomes so much easier to connect with the actual events and people. (Bonus points to authors who include a note at the end of their books explaining what was real, and what was invented. Major bonus points to authors who don’t contradict any known historical facts, and instead weave a tale that adds color and interest to what is known.)

Tingle is a historian, and in shows in the text – there are lots of detail included, but never so many that it feels like it bogs down the story. A disclaimer though that I love that sort of detail and want a lot of it, so if you’re not as into it as I am, you might disagree with me about how much she includes. 🙂

A heads-up for homeschooling parents looking for historical fiction set in ninth-century Britain: you might want to consider this title. There are seemingly endless options covering the Tudor era, but options for this time period are much sparser, and that’s a shame.

Don’t think this one is only worth reading because there are no other options however – I really enjoyed it! So much so that I went looking to see what else was out there dealing with this time period, which is when I realized just how rare the books are.

It was fascinating learning about Aethelflaed, and the book inspired me to want to know more about her and her time period. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel!

Publisher’s Description:
In ninth-century Britain, fifteen-year-old Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred of West Saxony, finds she must assume new responsibilities much sooner than expected when she is betrothed to Ethelred of Mercia in order to strengthen a strategic alliance against the Danes.

Book Details

Title: The Edge on the SwordThe Edge on the Sword by Rebecca Tingle
Author: Rebecca Tingle
Category: Juvenile Fiction / Historical
My Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

TwerpTwerpTwerp by Mark Goldblatt by Mark Goldblatt

The premise of the book reminded me a bit of The Wednesday Wars (such a great book!), but the many similarities between the two are superficial at best. Both involve an extra project for a teacher. Both have a Shakespeare connection, and an older sister. Both are set in New York in the 1960s. Both have a likeable male main character/narrator.

And they’re both worth reading. I do prefer The Wednesday Wars, but my affection for that book is so strong it’s no surprise this one doesn’t quite match it. Think of this more of as another good choice for after you’ve read The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now.

Twerp also tackles some tougher issues, and it’s done in such a believable way that it was a bit harder to read. I read it half-dreading what the big reveal might be, and cringing for Julian at some of the events as well. It’s rated as a middle-school read, and I agree with that, but I wouldn’t hand it over to a younger reader without knowing them and how they can handle some harder material. It might be a good bridge read between completely gentle books and tougher older reads. It addresses bullying and peer pressure, but in a softer manner than most titles.

Publisher’s Description:
It’s not like I meant for him to get hurt. . . .

Julian Twerski isn’t a bully. He’s just made a big mistake. So when he returns to school after a weeklong suspension, his English teacher offers him a deal: if he keeps a journal and writes about the terrible incident that got him and his friends suspended, he can get out of writing a report on Shakespeare. Julian jumps at the chance. And so begins his account of life in sixth grade–blowing up homemade fireworks, writing a love letter for his best friend (with disastrous results), and worrying whether he’s still the fastest kid in school. Lurking in the background, though, is the one story he can’t bring himself to tell, the one story his teacher most wants to hear.

Inspired by Mark Goldblatt’s own childhood growing up in 1960s Queens, Twerp shines with humor and heart. This remarkably powerful story will have readers laughing and crying right along with these flawed but unforgettable characters.

Book Details

Title: TwerpTwerp by Mark Goldblatt
Author: Mark Goldblatt
Category: Juvenile Fiction
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley to review, but was not required to write a positive review. (And I ended up reading a library copy anyway.) All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!


NorthwoodNorthwoodNorthwood by Brian Falkner by Brian Falkner

The good:
  • It’s got a great beginning, with just enough craziness to let you know that anything might happen here. Plus, her house is made out of balloons.
  • Cecelia is a fun character, and her special ability promised great potential.
  • The pacing is quick and should keep readers’ interest.
  • There are lions and secret passages and an impenetrable forest.
  • The illustrations are fantastic.
The not-so-good
  • Why is her last name Undergarment? She’s not a character who is generally being written for laughs, and I don’t get the reasoning behind using that name.
  • The extreme need to suspend disbelief on a few too many things.
The bad
  • The resolution is rushed rushed rushed.
  • It was all so obvious.
And the acknowledgement:

I’m not the target audience for it, so it’s perhaps unfair to knock it too hard for some things that might not be an issue for that target audience, like that rushed resolution that left some plot points dangling. And the obviousness of several elements. [Read more…]

The Last Full Measure by Ann Rinaldi

The Last Full MeasureThe Last Full MeasureThe Last Full Measure by Ann Rinaldi by Ann Rinaldi

Rinaldi has written some fantastic historical fiction for children/young adults, so my expectations are high when I read a new book by her. While she once again developed a compelling story with an appealing main character, this book doesn’t live up to her best works.

If you’ve got a voracious reader looking for more books about the Civil War (especially related to to the Battle of Gettysburg), this isn’t a bad choice. It might be more emotionally wrenching than the most sensitive readers would want, but it’s an ok book, so my criticisms relate more to how much I expect from Rinaldi, and how good the best juvenile historical fiction can be.

One of my favorite aspects of Rinaldi’s work typically is how she is able to highlight a mostly-unknown aspect of history, and weave it into a complete story. This time, her overall goal seemed more amorphous – she just wanted to write a story set in Gettysburg? She had research to use? I’m not sure. One of her biggest “this really happened” aspects is fairly well known, and it somewhat bugged me how she used the real character in her fictional story.

Do not read the full publisher’s description included on Goodreads or any online retailer if you don’t want to be spoiled for some events that take place towards the end of the book. I included the first paragraph, but omitted the second that includes a ridiculously bad spoiler. [Read more…]

Magic in the Mix

Magic in the MixMagic in the MixMagic in the Mix by Annie Barrows by Annie Barrows

Last year I read Annie Barrow’s book The Magic Half and was charmed by the fun tale that mixed time-travel and fantasy elements into a fun story. It was disappointing to discover that it was a stand-alone title, as I would have happily read more about Molly and Miri.

Turns out I wasn’t alone, and Molly and Miri are back in a second book, and despite how much I liked the first book, I think I liked this one even more. The historical elements are more prominent this time, and I loved how Barrows’ wove together historical events into the twins’ adventures.

While it’s not absolutely essential to have read The Magic Half before reading this one, reading them out of order will spoil events from book #1 so if that’s a concern for you, read accordingly. 🙂

Happily, the book ends with there still being lots of potential for future stories featuring the girls, and I hope there are additional ones eventually published. It’s a fun premise and Barrows is a good story-teller.

Magic in the Mix releases on the 16th, so while it’s not available today, it will be next week. [Read more…]


PeeledPeeledPeeled by Joan Bauer by Joan Bauer

It’s always so disappointing when a beloved author doesn’t quite measure up to expectations.

Yes, that’s what happened here with Peeled. I love Joan Bauer, but this one was nowhere near her at her best. While she can be very formulaic, generally she manages to make each book work well enough so that it doesn’t bother me that she has a clear type of book she writes (plucky and appealing young heroine, who has some sort of characteristic / trait / skill at which she shines. Some sort of life challenge. One major adversary. Fun sidekick characters. A good-guy romantic interest – although it’s a very gentle romantic interest.)

In this case, it’s Hildy, high school journalist who doesn’t let her age stop her from getting the story; a dead father and some suspicious goings-on in town. Will the town survive? Yup – her school paper cohorts, supportive family, a heart-of-gold cafe owner, and a crusty old newpaper veteran. The owner/editor of the town’s surviving newspaper, Pen Piedmont, fills in nicely as the bad guy. Of course, the boyfriend is there too, although he doesn’t start out as the boyfriend. He’s very forgettable though, just serves the role of “good guy boyfriend.”

Despite the formula, it’s not a terrible book, and it could work well for voracious younger readers as a bridge before getting into true young adult fiction. Bauer just generally does it so much better than here. Unless your child is desperate for more reading material, stick with Bauer’s books Rules of the RoadRules of the Road by Joan Bauer (and it’s sequel Best Foot ForwardBest Foot Forward by Joan Bauer), or Hope Was HereHope Was Here by Joan Bauer.

Want still more Bauer? Other solid titles from her are Close to FamousClose to Famous by Joan Bauer and Almost HomeAlmost Home by Joan Bauer.

[Read more…]

The Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum by L. Frank Baum

May’s book club pick, the “young reader” month. This one was selected in honor of the 75th anniversary of the film. Even though we were reading the book, not watching the movie. Although reading the book did make me want to watch the movie – I hadn’t ever seen it all the way through!

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one, and ended up enjoying it. I didn’t lovelovelove it, but I might try to read the next in the series and see what else happens in Oz.

After reading the book, I was inspired to watch the movie, and I enjoyed seeing Oz depicted on screen. It was surprising to me how familiar the songs were despite not having seen more than bits and pieces of the film – obviously they’ve seeped into general American culture well enough that I’ve learned them!

Publisher’s Description:
One of the true classics of American literature, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has stirred the imagination of young and old alike for over four generations. Originally published in 1900, it was the first truly American fairy tale, as Baum crafted a wonderful out of such familiar items as a cornfield scarecrow, a mechanical woodman, and a humbug wizard who used old-fashioned hokum to express that universal theme, “There’s no place like home.”Follow the adventures of young Dorothy Gale and her dog, Toto, as their Kansas house is swept away by a cyclone and they find themselves in a strange land called Oz. Here she meets the Munchkins and joins the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion on an unforgettable journey to the Emerald City, where lives the all-powered Wizard of Oz.

Book Details

Title: The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Author: L. Frank Baum
Category: Children’s Fiction
My Rating: 3 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!