Quick Lit: Recent Middle-Grade and YA Reads

The PenderwicksThe Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

As I mentioned on my Instagram, I would have LOVED this book as a kid. LOVED IT. It’s funny and imaginative and the girls make it sound like being a Penderwick is so much fun. As an adult reading it, I can see lots of flaws with it, so I’m still debating how to rate it on Goodreads. A 5-Star book for kids, and a 3-Star read for me. Read it to your kids, let them read it themselves, or read it yourself and try and channel your inner 10 year old.

Looking for AlibrandiLooking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Read during my Australia books binge, and the premise sounded like it was going to be just another typical coming-of-age story. Although it could have been completely cliched, Josephine is such an appealing character she turns the book into something much more than I expected. Nicely written, and it deserved a better cover for the American version than it got. There are some mature themes in it, so be aware of that if you’ve got younger teens interested in it.

An Uncertain ChoiceAn Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund

Light historical romance. I usually enjoy Hedlund’s books, but didn’t like this one (her first YA novel) as much. There are two more in the series but I’m unlikely to pick them up. Disclaimer: I don’t typically like romance novels so if you do and think this one sounds good, I’d give it a try. I wanted more emphasis on the history and less on the romance angle, and the plot was WAY too predictable.

The School for Good and EvilThe School of Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

I’d heard RAVES about this book so I stuck with it even when I wasn’t enjoying it, thinking it had to get better. Sadly, no, it didn’t. I love fractured fairy tales, and while I loved the premise of this, it was dreadful. Derivative, repetitive, with awful messages – it makes me wonder what other people were seeing in it to like it so much. I’m dumbfounded that it was a best seller.

Please don’t waste your reading time, and please don’t give it to your daughter(s) to read. Want to know more details about why not? This gif-heavy review summarizes my main issues with the book. A heads-up though that there’s some language in it if that offends you, and it’s loaded with spoilers.

For more peeks at what people are reading, head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s link-up!

Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Quick Lit: Recent Middle Grade and Young Adult Books
Two years ago: Quick Lit: Recent Christian Reads (2014)
Three years ago: Quick Lit: Recent Christian Reads (2013)

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The Best Kids Books (I Read for Myself) in 2015

Last week I shared my favorite books from 2015, and this post was originally going to feature all of the best children’s books I read in 2015 – board books, picture books, readalouds, and the ones I read for myself.

Except 2015 was a knockout year with great kid lit, and I needed to split it up so it’s not completely ridiculous.

So, today is all about the books I picked and read for myself. Not books I read to a child or three – these were my reads.

The Year of Miss AgnesThe Year of Miss AgnesThe Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill by Kirkpatrick Hill

A reread in preparation for the online kids book club I’m doing with Jessica (Quirky Bookworm). I adored this book the first time I read it, and suggested it for our Arctic theme. Then I was scared that it wouldn’t hold up well to rereading, or what if people hated it?

Well, so far everyone who has commented about it has said they’ve enjoyed it (yay!) and I loved it just as much the second time through. It’s heartwarming and inspiring, and all around a lovely read.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Where the Mountain Meets the MoonWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
by Grace Lin

Also read when it was a possibility for that book club (we ended up not selecting China as a theme this year). It’s gorgeously written, and charmingly illustrated – go for the print version, not the electronic as I did, or you’ll miss out on some of the illustration details. Loved, loved, loved it.

The War that Saved My LifeThe War that Saved My LifeThe War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

An uplifting look at World War II evacuees, and how being sent away from London ended up being the best thing to happen to one girl. It’s heart-rending but ultimately hopeful. Because of the descriptions of abuse that Ada suffers I wouldn’t advise it for younger readers, but for those emotionally ready to read it, it’s a fantastic book.

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

A heartbreaking account, beautifully written in verse that manages to make the semi-autobiographical story emotionally easier to read. Well-deserved winner of the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor Book.

Listen SlowlyListen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai by Thanhha Lai

Yes, a second book by the Thanhha Lai. Unlike Inside Out and Back Again, this is written in prose, and she is just as adept in that form. It’s a captivating story, with lots of appealing characters, that brings contemporary Vietnam to life.

Sparrow RoadSparrow RoadSparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor by Sheila O’Connor

Relationship-focused middle grade book with beautiful language and appealing characters. I like how it’s got a bit more depth in the content than some books I’d recommend to early elementary readers, while still being gentle enough for all but the most precocious of readers.

Goodbye StrangerGoodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead by Rebecca Stead

Precocious reader alert: because of some of the topics addressed (including bullying and sexting), this isn’t one you’ll want to hand off to younger readers, but it’s a wonderfully written tale for those old enough for the content. It’s not as amazing as Stead’s When You Reach Me, but it’s still a solid book.

The ThiefThe ThiefThe Thief (The Queen's Thief, Book 1) by Megan Whalen Turner by Megan Whalen Turner

(a reread)

It still is one of my favorites, and I gave away my copy this year and may need to replace it soon so I can read it another time. 🙂 If you’re new to this series, don’t give up on this one – it has a slow start – but ultimately it is so good. Vaguely historical in feel, with some fantasy elements as well, and flashes of humor add up to a winning read.

When You Reach MeWhen You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery) by Rebecca Stead by Rebecca Stead

(A reread for book club)

Possibly even better as a reread, as you know what’s going to happen, and can appreciate the clues Stead weaves throughout the text. No more details, lest I slip and give spoilers, but READ THIS BOOK.

For more peeks at what people are reading, head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s link-up!

Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free by Kathleen Karr

Gilbert and Sullivan Set Me FreeGilbert & Sullivan Set Me FreeGilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free by Kathleen Karr by Kathleen Karr

Perhaps the only thing I like better than historical fiction is historical fiction that’s based on real events, especially little-known ones. Kathleen Karr has found one of those types of events and brought it to light in this delightful account.

It’s a terrific coming of age tale, with history and friendships and lots of wonderful characters. The book is out of print, but there are used copies easily available, or check your library.

Several years ago I read the book and really enjoyed it. Before writing this post I decided I needed a refresher on it, and I’m currently listening to it. That’s turned out to be an excellent choice, because it’s fabulous as an audio book – music plays such a big role in the story so I love that the audio book includes that as well.

Listening to the actors sing the parts from the performance is even better than reading about it, so I’d highly recommend getting this on audio if you can. It’s available through Audible or OverDrive, so check your library if you don’t have an Audible subscription.

Find the book: Print | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
In prison, there are few secrets. But Libby Dodge, the youngest inmate, guards the nature of her crime from the other women, even as they openly recount their former lives as arsonists, thieves, and prostitutes. Libby’s hopeless and miserable situation changes unexpectedly with the arrival of a new chaplain, Mrs. Wilkinson. Mrs. Wilkinson has surprising and newfangled ideas about prison reform, which include launching an elaborate production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. The production transforms the women–their views of themselves, their abilities, their place in the world.

Book Details

Title: Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me FreeGilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free by Kathleen Karr
Author: Kathleen Karr
Category: Juvenile Fiction / Historical
My Rating: 5 Stars

Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Two years ago: Death’s Acre by Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson

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

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

Daddy-Long-LegsDaddy-Long-LegsDaddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster by Jean Webster

Sweet and charming, if completely predictable. Don’t let that keep you from trying this book – despite the complete lack of any sort of surprise involved in the narrative, it was such a fun, comforting read. Yes, I know, I’m a committed fan of epistolary novels, but I don’t think you have to be as partial to them as I am to still appreciate this.

There’s a sequel companion novel, that follows this one chronologically (thank you Caroline for the correction on the term), Dear EnemyDear Enemy by Jean Webster, which I’m excited to read. And Dear Mr. KnightleyDear Mr. Knightley: A Novel by Katherine Reay seems to be an updated version of the story. I can’t wait to get to this one too.

It’s also one that would work for precocious readers, if you’ve got younger girls whose reading ability surpasses their maturity for some of the content in contemporary YA titles.

Thanks Jessica for picking this as part of your Young Adult Book and Movie Club – I wouldn’t have read it without that prompting, and I so enjoyed it.

A heads-up: the Kindle version is only $.99, which is admittedly a great deal. But it doesn’t include the drawings that are scattered throughout the text, which is a real shame. Something to consider if you’re thinking about purchasing it.

Publisher’s Description:
Bright and lively Judy Abbott is an orphan who dreams of escaping the drudgery of her life at the John Grier Home. One day she receives a marvelous opportunity—a wealthy male benefactor has agreed to fund her higher education. In return, Judy must keep him informed about the ups and downs of college life. From horrendous Latin lessons to falling in love, the result is a series of letters both hilarious and poignant. Fans of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women will relish this American-girl-power coming-of-age story.

Book Details

Title: Daddy-Long-LegsDaddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster
Author: Jean Webster
Category: Juvenile Fiction
My Rating: 4 Stars
Buy the book: Print | Kindle | Audible

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

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye StrangerGoodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead by Rebecca Stead

Rebecca Stead is a phenomenal storyteller. Her Newbery winner When You Reach Me is amazing, and Goodbye Stranger stands up to the lofty comparisons that are sure to arise. While not quite as layered as When You Reach Me (for reasons which would involve spoilers for When You Reach Me so I’m not going to detail them), it’s still much more layered and thoughtful than the stereotypical middle grade book.

There is plenty of meaty content in the book, but it’s never explicit, and I wouldn’t hesitate to share this book widely. It would be easy for the book to become harsh with the topics and themes it addresses, but Stead manages to keep it more gentle almost.

I think this works as a middle grade or young adult book. It opens up many avenues of discussion with children who read it – the nature of friendship, bullying, cell phone use and abuse (including sexting), the challenges of growing up (especially the perils of 7th grade), and more.

Despite my praises and saying it’s surprisingly gentle considering the content, I’d still be careful before giving the book to super precocious readers. Know your readers and what they can handle!

Highly, highly recommended. I finished it and then immediately wanted to re-read it, to better appreciate the way Stead wove the story together.

Publisher’s Description:
Bridge is an accident survivor who’s wondering why she’s still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody’s games–or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade?

This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl–as a friend?

On Valentine’s Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?

Book Details

Title: Goodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Author: Rebecca Stead
Category: Fiction
My Rating: 5 Stars
Buy the book: Print | Kindle | Audible

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

Listen, Slowly

Listen SlowlyListen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai by Thanhha Lai

If you saw my post about my favorite books of the year so far, this one will look familiar, and the fact that I’m about to gush over it will be no surprise. Lai is a new discovery for me this year, and I first read her book Inside Out and Back Again. As a Newbery Honor book and National Book Award winner, it’s no surprise that the book is FANTASTIC.

Could her new title Listen, Slowly live up to the high standards she’d set?

Happily, yes. While it’s a very different book (written in prose instead of verse, set in contemporary Vietnam, instead of historical Vietnam and the US), it’s still a beautifully written and captivating story. She brings Vietnam to life, and compels you to both continue reading, and care about all the individuals you meet.

I loved how well she differentiated the relatives. It would have been easy for them to become merely a group of extended family (kind of how they are when Mai first arrives), but most of them quickly become individuals.

The book is perfect for middle schoolers or high schoolers, and easily enjoyable by adults as well. Super sensitive readers might have a bit of trouble with some details at the very end, but I don’t want to share specifics for risk of spoilers. Ask me if you’re concerned with appropriateness for your kids and I’ll fill you in. Another possible concern for those with really strict standards on what they allow is that Mai is thinking about one boy quite a bit, and frets about her figure slightly (she’s not the curvy supposed American-ideal). Nothing is detailed, and it felt very accurate for her age. It also all ends up resolving nicely, if that makes a difference.

This could also work very well as a discussion book if you’re looking for one to read with your kids. Topics addressed include the obvious ones of family and history, but it also touches on friendships, prioritization, Americanization, travel, war, culture, food, and more.

Highly recommended, and do also read her other book, Inside Out and Back Again.

Publisher’s Description:
This remarkable novel from Thanhhà Lại, New York Times bestselling author of the National Book Award–winning and Newbery Honor Book Inside Out & Back Again, follows a young girl as she learns the true meaning of family.

A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

Perfect for fans of Rita Williams-Garcia and Linda Sue Park, Listen, Slowly is an irresistibly charming and emotionally poignant tale about a girl who discovers that home and culture, family and friends, can all mean different things.

Book Details

Title: Listen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
Author: Thanhha Lai
Category: Juvenile Fiction
My Rating: 4.5 Stars

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

Book of a Thousand Days

Book of a Thousand DaysBook of a Thousand DaysBook of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale by Shannon Hale

Retellings of fairy tales may be quite common, but a retelling of the Maid Maleen fairy tale? Not so common. It’s probably just as well that that fairy tale itself isn’t commonly known, since Hale sticks close to the original in many plot points. Since I definitely was NOT familiar with that tale it allowed me to still be somewhat surprised by certain plot twists.

An age range for this is a bit tough to peg – there are very brutal events, although most take place off stage, and the ones that take place in the book itself aren’t detailed. There are threats of rape, but readers who are unaware of that horror won’t catch the reference, as it’s only hinted at and not stated explicitly. The main character faces starvation, torture, and even death – this is not a book I’d blithely hand over to someone without knowing them and their sensitivities.

And yet, that makes it sound harsher than it really reads, and likely would keep anyone from voluntarily picking it up, which would be a shame. Yes, there are difficult events in it, but the book retains a wonderful sense of hope throughout it. Hale does an amazing job of somehow not making the book feel too dark or heavy despite some of the topics. The setting is a great adaptation to the original tale – I loved the Mongolian customs that are described, and how one of them plays a pivotal role in the overall story (not saying more as I’m skirting a spoiler there). I adored the main character and was sad to come to the end of the book.

There are scattered illustrations throughout the text, and they add to the story’s charm yet also make it feel targeted more towards younger teens or tweens. I know, I just referred to the book’s charm after that earlier paragraph; seems unlikely and yet it does have a great deal of charm.

Finally, the book is told in journal entries, so that was another plus for it as far as I’m concerned. Am I extra swayed in a book’s favor when it’s an epistolary novel? Quite likely. 🙂 [Read more…]

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

The Last SongThe Last SongThe Last Song by Eva Wiseman by Eva Wiseman

Let’s start with the positive: the premise of this book is fantastic. There are so many historical fiction books for kids on certain topics, but other events have very few books available. The Spanish Inquisition is one of the more neglected topics.

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t help much, and I wouldn’t recommend it even if you’re desperate for something covering this topic or time period. The plot itself is so obvious and also has some glaring holes. The characterizations are all either stereotypical or simple cardboard. The main character should be sympathetic, but I found her to be completely unbelievable and absurd.

I fell for this one based on the cover and description, but I wish I’d saved my reading time. If I hadn’t been reading it for review, I’d have given up on it sooner, but since I did accept it I felt like I should finish it in hopes that it improved (or at least so my review was on the entire book.) [Read more…]

A Scholar of Magic

A Scholar of MagicsA Scholar of MagicsA Scholar of Magics (A College of Magics) by Caroline Stevermer by Caroline Stevermer

I had a lot of complaints about Stevermer’s book College of Magics, and yet still wanted to see where the story went so I had to read the follow-up title.

That ended up being not the best reason to read this one though – there is actually very little plot connection between the two books. Jane, a supporting character in the first book (and one of my favorites) plays a very prominent role in this one, and I loved that. The main character from the previous book appears only briefly, and I found I didn’t miss her at all, thanks to Jane and Lambert.

I enjoyed this one more, maybe because I liked the characters more, but maybe because my expectations for what the book would be were more in line with what it actually was. It’s a crazy tale in an alternate England, where magic plays a role but somehow still isn’t the predominant element in the story. [Read more…]


InvasionInvasionInvasion by Walter Dean Myers by Walter Dean Myers

I’ve read other books by Myers, and he’s a dependable author for me, so I expected to enjoy this one despite military history not being my favorite. And I did, in large part because Myers’ focus isn’t on the military tactics aspect that I don’t enjoy, but on the experiences of the individual soldier, which I do. All in all, this is a good book about the time period, with a focus that isn’t often found in books for this age range.

My one real complaint with the book is (and this is a possible spoiler for some events, so read on only if you don’t mind knowing some of what takes place in the book) that the description of it makes it seem like there will be significant interaction between the white and black soldiers, Josiah and Marcus. Instead Marcus appears at the very beginning, and once or twice more later in the book he’s there for a few pages. If you’re expecting a lengthy look at the war from the perspective of a black soldier, it’s not here, so I wouldn’t pick it if you’re wanting something discussing race beyond the most superficial aspects*. I hate criticizing books for not being something other than what they are, but because of the description of this one, it seems to set this up for possible disappointment if you’re thinking it will be something else.

While I haven’t read them, two of the author’s other books have a connection to this one, although they can be read in any order apparently. Marcus Perry, the black soldier who appears so briefly in this book, is related to the main characters in the books Fallen AngelsFallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers and Sunrise Over FallujahSunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers. I’m looking forward to reading both of them.

If you do read this one, don’t miss the authors’ note at the end – it’s excellent, and gives some details about the writing of Invasion, and the inspiration behind Fallen Angels and Sunrise Over Fallujah.

Recommended, with some strong cautions that should be fairly obvious given the topic of the book – it follows an ordinary soldier through the Normandy Invasion of D-Day, and events shortly afterwards. There is a small amount of profanity (although nothing like I’d imagine it really was like among soldiers), but mostly it is the violence of war, sudden death, and the risk of death at any moment could make it so inappropriate for younger or more sensitive readers.

(*For a great book on that, covering the same age range – or even a bit younger – , try Courage Has No Color. It’s nonfiction, but very readable.) [Read more…]