Adult Fiction Roundup

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Attachments

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now—reading other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers—not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained—and captivated—by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say . . . ?

Goodreads.com

Attachments has a sweet, slightly creepy premise that develops into to the type of adorable romance that Rainbow Rowell does so well. After I got past the creepiness of snooping through someone else’s email, I really fell for the characters and rooted for them to make it work.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Tea Dragon Festival

Rinn has grown up with the Tea Dragons that inhabit their village, but stumbling across a real dragon turns out to be a different matter entirely! Aedhan is a young dragon who was appointed to protect the village but fell asleep in the forest eighty years ago. With the aid of Rinn’s adventuring uncle Erik and his partner Hesekiel, they investigate the mystery of his enchanted sleep, but Rinn’s real challenge is to help Aedhan come to terms with feeling that he cannot get back the time he has lost.

Goodreads.com

*Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. This has not affected the contents of my review.

What a lovely companion to the original tea dragon book! The art, as always, is colorful and gorgeous, and the story is sweet and gentle. I loved it.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Outlander

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

Goodreads.com

This was not for me. The book is filled with what a back cover blurb calls “striking sex scenes” and rape, and it was excessively long. I’m glad others enjoy this series so much, but I will not be reading any of the other Outlander books.

Rating: Meh

Bridge of Clay

The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome?

Goodreads.com

Slow to start (530-some pages), but once it got going, it was a touching story of the five Dunbar boys, their parents, and their tragedies and hopes. I enjoyed it but didn’t love it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Flatshare

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

Goodreads.com

I don’t read many romances (although there are a few in this post), but I enjoyed The Flatshare. There is a truly sweet romance between Tiffy and Leon, along with a surprisingly intense backstory involving an abusive ex and a brother in prison. A fun, satisfying story.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Crocodile on the Sandbank

Amelia Peabody inherited two things from her father: a considerable fortune and an unbendable will. The first allowed her to indulge in her life’s passion. Without the second, the mummy’s curse would have made corpses of them all.

Goodreads.com

A fun mystery with a great setting (Egypt) which is marred by outdated, insensitive stereotypes about Egyptians. A sweet romance subplot fits in well with the mystery. This is the beginning of the Amelia Peabody mystery series, and while I have read some of the later books, I’m not sure I’m committed to finishing the series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Fangirl

Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…. But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend; a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world; a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… and she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Goodreads.com

A great picture (though dramatic) of the freshman year of college and the world of fanfiction. There is such a sweet romance between Cath and Levi, and the family relationships are so well drawn. Rainbow Rowell’s books are sometimes hit or miss for me, and this definitely was a hit.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

On her sixtieth birthday, Auntie Poldi retires to Sicily, intending to while away the rest of her days with good wine, a view of the sea, and few visitors. But Sicily isn’t quite the tranquil island she thought it would be, and something always seems to get in the way of her relaxation. When her handsome young handyman goes missing—and is discovered murdered—she can’t help but ask questions . . .

Soon there’s an investigation, a smoldering police inspector, a romantic entanglement, one false lead after another, a rooftop showdown, and finally, of course, Poldi herself, slightly tousled, but still perfectly poised.

Goodreads.com

Another fun mystery with a great setting (Italy this time), but not as enjoyable as I had thought it would be. There was a lot of buzz around this novel when it first came out, but I found it a bit forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Neverwhere

Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.

Goodreads.com

Neverwhere is not super creepy, unlike some of Neil Gaiman’s other work; it’s about the London Below where the people, places, and times fall through the cracks. Fantastical and magical, but I wanted more of the world—not something that I usually say about the setting and world building in fantasy novels!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Ice Princess

Returning to her hometown of Fjallbacka after the funeral of her parents, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice-cold bath, it seems that she has taken her own life.

Erica conceives a book about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will answer questions about their own shared past. While her interest grows into an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case. But it is only when they start working together that the truth begins to emerge about a small town with a deeply disturbing past.

Goodreads.com

This Swedish novel presents a classic murder mystery with a little bit of gore. I’m interested to read more from the burgeoning Scandinavian crime genre because I really enjoyed this one.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

A Quiet Life in the Country

Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life.

But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation…

As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country.

Goodreads.com

A cozy mystery starring Lady Hardcastle and her maid/friend Flo Armstrong being the sweetest of English friends and solving a village murder. This was the series that kept me going through the early days of quarantine. They are fun, witty, gentle mysteries starring two strong female leads with a great friendship at the core of the series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Thirteenth Tale

All children mythologize their birth…So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter’s collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself — all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida’s storytelling but remains suspicious of the author’s sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

Goodreads.com

A gothic tale, reminiscent of a twentieth century Jane Eyre, filled with twins, a fire, unknown identities, and dark passions. (As a content warning/possible spoiler, there is a large amount of incest in this book.) As with some of the other novels on this list, I enjoyed it but didn’t love it.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Kindred

Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given…

Goodreads.com

This was my first Octavia E. Butler novel, but it won’t be the last. Dana’s journeys into the past become more and more horrific as she faces more of the awfulness of slavery. Rufus thinks of black people like objects or animals, while Dana’s white husband Kevin brings his own 1976 racial bias into his five years of being stuck in the 1820s. I will be thinking about this intense, gripping book for a long time to come.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Check, Please!

Helloooo, Internet Land. Bitty here!

Y’all… I might not be ready for this. I may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It’s nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all? There’s checking. And then, there is Jack—our very attractive but moody captain.

A collection of the first half of the megapopular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: #Hockey is the first book of a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

Goodreads.com

So sweet! Bitty balances playing hockey, college classes, baking, and romance. This book helped kickstart my new interest in hockey. I absolutely loved it.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Arcanos Unraveled

Meet Anya Winter, junior professor of magical textiles at Arcanos Hall. Thrown into exile with only her knitting needles and invisibility cloak, Anya teams up with a mysterious programmer to save her school–and her reputation–before it’s too late. But can she really change the world with just a ball of yarn?

Goodreads.com

Fun and adventurous. Anya and the mysterious Kyril work to fight against the elitist wizards with her knitting magic. A truly enjoyable fantasy.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Dry

In the grip of the worst drought in a century, the farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily when three members of a local family are found brutally slain.
Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown for the funeral of his childhood friend, loath to face the townsfolk who turned their backs on him twenty years earlier.
But as questions mount, Falk is forced to probe deeper into the deaths of the Hadler family. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret. A secret Falk thought was long buried. A secret Luke’s death now threatens to bring to the surface in this small Australian town, as old wounds bleed into new ones.

Goodreads.com

A great mystery/suspense novel. Aaron Falk comes back to the small, poverty-stricken town he grew up in and has to solve a horrific murder that may have a connection to what happened to his childhood friend. There are some intense moments, but Falk remains likable throughout, which I appreciated.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Man in the High Castle

It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war — and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.

This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to wake.

Goodreads.com

This book offers a look at what would have happened if Germany and Japan won WWII. The ending is strange and abrupt; it fails to tie together some of the plots and felt unsatisfactory to me.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Behind the Red Door

When Fern Douglas sees the news about Astrid Sullivan, a thirty-four-year-old missing woman from Maine, she is positive that she knows her. Fern’s husband is sure it’s because of Astrid’s famous kidnapping—and equally famous return—twenty years ago, but Fern has no memory of that, even though it happened an hour outside her New Hampshire hometown. And when Astrid appears in Fern’s recurring nightmare, one in which a girl reaches out to her, pleading, Fern fears that it’s not a dream at all, but a memory.

Back home in New Hampshire, Fern purchases a copy of Astrid’s recently published memoir—which may have provoked her original kidnapper to abduct her again—and as she reads through its chapters and visits the people and places within it, she discovers more evidence that she has an unsettling connection to the missing woman. As Fern’s search becomes increasingly desperate, she hopes to remember her past so she can save Astrid in the present…before it’s too late.

Goodreads.com

*Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. This has not affected the contents of my review.

Intense and emotional. When Astrid goes missing for the second time, Fern faces memories that she never knew she had and must figure out what happened to her 20 years ago. This thriller is not so much twisty as intense, as Fern looks at who she can trust and what kind of person she wants to be. I liked it but found it unrealistic, which is probably a good thing for a thriller to be, but it did take me out of the story occasionally.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Recipe for Persuasion

Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen?

Rico Silva, that’s what.

Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster.

FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn’t too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he’s definitely over her.

But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico. Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion…?

Goodreads.com

*Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. This has not affected the contents of my review.

I think I just don’t love romances, despite the few exceptions in today’s post. I liked Ashna and Rico, and I enjoyed the reveal of their secrets, but it just made me sad that they hadn’t communicated better earlier. Plus, I found the cooking show setting a little cheesy. The novel was fine, but it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Reading Around the World

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The Day My Father Became a Bush

A clear-eyed, funny, and off-beat novel about a girl making sense of a baffling world. Toda’s father has gone away to fight in the war. Luckily, he’s read about camouflage and will be able to hide from the enemy by disguising himself as a bush. Toda is sent to stay with her mother where it’ll be safer. Her journey across the border is full of danger and adventure, but she doesn’t give up. She has to find her mother.

Goodreads.com

This book from the Netherlands is an off beat, sad, funny book about a young girl who must cross a border by herself in order to avoid the war that is tearing her country apart. Quirky illustrations too. I liked it but didn’t love it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

A Collection of Uzbek Short Stories

This book contains ten Uzbek short stories which have been translated into English. Each story is unique in its own way in that it portrays the cultural life of the Uzbek nation as well as the social and political events of Uzbekistan. These stories are translated to provide the English reader with information about Uzbekistan and its society.

Goodreads.com

There are some interesting stories in this collection, but as an American with little exposure to the Uzbek culture, I would have liked to have read a short story collection with more information about the country. This is an area I definitely need to do some more research on in order to appreciate these stories more!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Dark Heart

In late summer of 2012, millionaire landowner Göran Lundblad went missing from his farm in Sweden. When a search yielded nothing, and all physical evidence had seemingly disappeared, authorities had little to go on—except a disturbing phone call five weeks later from Göran’s daughter Maria. She was sure that her sister, Sara, was somehow involved. At the heart of the alleged crime: Sara’s greed, her father’s land holdings, and his bitter feud with Sara’s idler boyfriend.

With no body, there was no crime—and the case went as cold and dark as the forests of southern Sweden. But not for Therese Tang. For two years, this case was her obsession.

A hard-working ex-model, mother of three, and Missing People investigator, Therese was willing to put her own safety at risk in order to uncover the truth. What she found was a nest of depraved secrets, lies, and betrayal. All she had to do now, in her relentless and dangerous pursuit of justice, was prove that it led to murder.

Goodreads.com

An interesting true crime story set in Sweden—you get to explore the Swedish justice system which is very different from the American system with which I am much more familiar. I really enjoyed this, and I think most true crime fans will as well.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Name of the Rose

The year is 1327. Benedictines in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical insights of Roger Bacon—all sharpened to a glistening edge by wry humor and a ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, where “the most interesting things happen at night.”

Goodreads.com

This is a long book, filled with theological treatises and infighting in the Catholic Church of long ago, and when I started it, I had my doubts that I would enjoy it. However, this novel turns out to be a fascinating mystery set in a 14th century abbey (and you all know how I love a good mystery!). Now I understand why The Name of the Rose is on so many people’s list of favorites.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Good Morning Comrades

Luanda, Angola, 1990. Ndalu is a normal twelve-year old boy in an extraordinary time and place. Like his friends, he enjoys laughing at his teachers, avoiding homework and telling tall tales. But Ndalu’s teachers are Cuban, his homework assignments include writing essays on the role of the workers and peasants, and the tall tales he and his friends tell are about a criminal gang called Empty Crate which specializes in attacking schools. Ndalu is mystified by the family servant, Comrade Antonio, who thinks that Angola worked better when it was a colony of Portugal, and by his Aunt Dada, who lives in Portugal and doesn’t know what a ration card is. In a charming voice that is completely original, Good Morning Comrades tells the story of a group of friends who create a perfect childhood in a revolutionary socialist country fighting a bitter war. But the world is changing around these children, and like all childhood’s Ndalu’s cannot last. An internationally acclaimed novel, already published in half a dozen countries, Good Morning Comrades is an unforgettable work of fiction by one of Africa’s most exciting young writers.

Goodreads.com

This novel tells the sad, funny story of Angola gaining its independence from the perspective of a school boy. This is one of those books that made me see how little I know about a certain country’s history and made me hungry to learn more.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Borrowed

Covering six cases that span Kwan Chun-dok’s impressive fifty-year career, The Borrowed takes readers on a tour of Hong Kong history from the Leftist Riot in 1967; the conflict between the HK Police and ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) in 1977; the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989; the Handover in 1997; to the present day of 2013, when Kwan is called on to solve his final case, the murder of a local billionaire, while Hong Kong increasingly resembles a police state. Along the way we meet Communist rioters, ultraviolent gangsters, stallholders at the city’s many covered markets, pop singers enmeshed in the high-stakes machinery of star-making, and a people always caught in the shifting balance of political power, whether in London or Beijing.

A gripping and brilliantly constructed novel from a talented new voice in crime fiction, The Borrowed paints a dynamic portrait of Hong Kong and reveals just how closely the past and present are connected in this fascinating city.

Goodreads.com

A fascinating set of mysteries told in reverse chronological order and showing the turmoil in Hong Kong over the past 50 years. It’s a great mystery collection that uses a great framing device, and along with all of that is a brief overview of recent Hong Kong history and politics.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Picnic at Hanging Rock

It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared. They never returned.

Goodreads.com

Gorgeous, evocative writing and a great setting in the countryside of Australia, but the mystery and creepiness factor were unsatisfying. I wanted more mystery than this story had to offer.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris

Alpha has been living alone in Abidjan since his wife and son left without a visa for Paris, Gare du Nord. With rage in his heart, he decides to leave everything to find them. It’s always better than rotting in place. Several routes are possible, years of travel in perspective … On the endless dusty roads, the adventure is built according to its unforgettable encounters. From dishonest smugglers on desert roads, from refugee camps to overloaded canoes, against all odds, Alpha stays the course: Gare du Nord.

Goodreads.com, translated from the French through Google Translate

This book delivers a depressing and detailed look at an African immigrant’s journey to Europe, complete with all the hardships he and his companions faced. It’s an interesting but difficult read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Persepolis

Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

Goodreads.com

A fascinating, sad, and educational look at Marji’s childhood in Tehran during the revolution and all the cultural turmoil that came with it. This is one of the many places and time periods I wish I knew more about, and I definitely learned some of that history from this book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Akissi

Poor Akissi! The neighbourhood cats are trying to steal her fish, her little monkey Boubou almost ends up in a frying pan and she’s nothing but a pest to her older brother Fofana… But Akissi is a true adventurer full of silliness and mischief, and nothing will scare her for long!

This collection of the hilarious Akissi comics by critically acclaimed author Marguerite Abouet will delight young readers with its cheeky protagonist and the mischief she gets up to in her West African village.

Goodreads.com

Akissi is funny and mischievous, and the comics about her adventures are sure to please kids. They can sometimes get pretty gross, so it wasn’t my favorite comic collection, but your mileage may vary depending on how much grossness you can handle!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Roundup

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Phebe Fairchild: Her Book

Depicts family life in New England around 1830.

Goodreads.com

Truly, we are starting off this roundup (which is in no particular order other than the approximate order in which I read the books) with one of the most forgettable reads. I remember Phebe’s account of her life in New England as being somewhat enjoyable, but not at all memorable. Not worthy of a reread, in my opinion.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Bright Island

Born and raised on Bright Island off the Maine coast, Thankful Curtis is more like her sea captain grandfather than any of her older brothers are. Nothing suits her better than sailing and helping her father with the farm. But when her dreaded sisters-in-law suggest that Thankful get some proper schooling on the mainland, the wind is knocked from her sails.

Thankful finds the uncharted waters of school difficult to navigate: there’s a rocky reception from her rich roommate, Selina; the breezy behavior of the charming Robert; and stormy Mr. Fletcher, the handsome Latin teacher whose caustic tongue masks a tender heart. And while Thankful works hard to make the best of her new life, Bright Island continues to flash in her thoughts, like the sparkle of the sun on the water.

Goodreads.com

This book is sweet and old fashioned. I was honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Thankful’s life at the boarding school, as well as her adventures in Bright Island, are just fun to read about. Although I don’t remember most of the finer points of the plot, I remember the feeling of reading the book, and it was a pleasure.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Penn

A biography for young people of the man who renounced wealth and position to become a Quaker, and who became governor and proprietor of the new colony of Pennsylvania.

Goodreads.com

This book tells the story of William Penn, the Quaker who fought for religious freedom and founded Pennsylvania. It’s a bit dry, so it won’t be a favorite among today’s children, but I have a deep interest in Quakerism, so I enjoyed it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Leader by Destiny

A children’s biography of the first president of the United States of America.

Goodreads.com

This is a boring and romanticized account of George Washington’s life and career. In today’s world, I think everyone (even and perhaps especially children) should be exposed to the flaws and failings of our country’s leaders and heroes, along with their great deeds. This book does not fit the bill.

Rating: Meh

Hello, the Boat!

This is the story of an everyday family who fled the depression of 1817 by moving westward. Rafts and flatboats and Conestoga wagons moved slowly into the new territory beyond the Alleghenies, but the Doak family made the journey down the Ohio river from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati on a boat fitted out as a store, peddling pots and pans, hardware, bonnets, dry goods and Yankee notions. Responding to the call of “Hello, the boat!” from settlers along the banks, Mother, Father, the children, Old Pappy and his fiddle all helped to make the trip as profitable as it was adventurous.

Goodreads.com

An interesting historical fiction novel about a family who owns a store boat and travels down the Ohio river, but full of racist and sexist comments. For that reason, I can’t recommend it.

Rating: Meh

Nino

The story of the simple pleasures and hard work of an Italian family, living around 1900 in a small village. Based upon the author’s childhood.

Goodreads.com

This book consists of tales of a young Italian boy centered around different holidays and festivals. It’s fun but nothing special.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Nansen

A biography of the Norwegian explorer, scientist, and diplomat Fridtjof Nansen.

Goodreads.com

A fascinating biography of a Norwegian arctic explorer and statesman who fought for the rights of refugees after WWI. I don’t remember many of the details of Nansen’s life, but I really enjoyed learning about this Norwegian figure about whom I had no prior knowledge.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Young Mac of Fort Vancouver

This is a story about the typical sons of the fur trade, whose fathers were traders and whose mothers were Indian women. It takes place across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon in the city of Vancouver, Washington.

Goodreads.com

This book is filled with truly upsetting stereotypes and racist remarks about Native Americans. Definitely give this one a miss.

Rating: Traumatizingly Bad

Down Ryton Water

A work of historical fiction for children, telling the story of the Separatists of Scrooby and the Pilgrim Fathers, through the first-person narrative of young Matt Over.

Goodreads.com

Down Ryton Water combines fascinating details about the early Pilgrims and their lives in England and the Netherlands with truly upsetting casual racism. Because of this, although I found some parts of the book interesting, it’s not worth the read.

Rating: Meh

The Undefeated

This poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present.

Goodreads.com

There is gorgeous art in this picture book/poem filled with some of the greatest figures and the most important events in African American history. Beautiful and inspiring.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

New Kid

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

Goodreads.com

A graphic novel that illustrates the struggles of a Black boy from Washington Heights attending a mostly white day school. It was (not surprisingly) hard to read in places but so needed. I’m sure a lot of kids will relate to Jordan’s middle school experience.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Have You Seen Tom Thumb

A biography of the midget entertainer who was a favorite attraction of the P.T. Barnum circus.

Goodreads.com

Racial epithets mixed in with a strange history/factionalized account of P.T. Barnum and his “exhibit,” a little person named Charley make this book another one to skip.

Rating: Skip This One

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

The haunted season has arrived in the Antler Wood. No fox kit is safe.

When Mia and Uly are separated from their litters, they discover a dangerous world full of monsters. In order to find a den to call home, they must venture through field and forest, facing unspeakable things that dwell in the darkness: a zombie who hungers for their flesh, a witch who tries to steal their skins, a ghost who hunts them through the snow . . . and other things too scary to mention.

Goodreads.com

This book offers a collection of interrelated tales presented as scary stories for foxes (including topics like rabies, taxidermy, starvation, and more). I found it kind of depressing and strange. I’m sure many kids who like creepy books will enjoy it; my childhood self would have absolutely hated it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Other Words for Home

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

Goodreads.com

Jude and her pregnant mother move from Syria to America and have many lessons to learn about home, prejudice, and family. Sweet, uplifting, and insightful. I really liked this book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Genesis Begins Again

This is the story of a thirteen-year-old girl who is filled with self-loathing and must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.

There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?

Goodreads.com

Genesis hates her black skin and the way her alcoholic father and her stuck up grandmother treat her, until she enters her school’s talent show. You can probably tell from the description, but this book about racism, difficult families, and learning to love yourself is dark; I would save this for older kids who can better process the themes and appreciate Genesis’ journey.

Rating: Good but Dark

Miss Hickory

Most dolls lead a comfortable but unadventurous life. This was true of Miss Hickory until the fateful day that her owner, Ann, moves from her New Hampshire home to attend school in Boston—leaving Miss Hickory behind. For a small doll whose body is an apple-wood twig and whose head is a hickory nut, the prospect of spending a New Hampshire winter alone is frightening indeed. In this classic modern day fairy tale, what’s a doll to do?

Goodreads.com

A sweet story written from the perspective of a doll named Miss Hickory. I remember almost nothing about this book, but it was fairly enjoyable to read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Classics

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Tess of the d’Urbervilles

When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her ‘cousin’ Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future.

Goodreads.com

It is so painful to read about Tess being raped, taken advantage of, abandoned, etc. as she progresses through her young, tragic life. The book offers a heart wrenching look at how sexism played such a powerful role in the lives of women during the late 1800s, and because I don’t know anything about the author, it’s difficult to know how much of the viewpoints presented are his and how much are social commentary. I’m glad I read Tess, but I don’t think I’ll want to reread it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Fahrenheit 451

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television ‘family’. But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people did not live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known.

Goodreads.com

This book is a classic for a reason—the terrifying dystopia where books are illegal still resonates today. It’s also not a book that I would love to revisit anytime soon, but I found reading it a more enjoyable experience than reading Tess.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Woman in White

The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.

Goodreads.com

I loved the mystery—I’m a huge fan of mysteries, and this is one of the earliest examples, and a well written one at that. I enjoyed how the novel was presented as a series of accounts by multiple narrators, collected in one volume. It becomes a bit convoluted, and for that reason I have a hard time remembering the plot, even though I enjoyed the book.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Vanity Fair

A novel that chronicles the lives of two women who could not be more different: Becky Sharp, an orphan whose only resources are her vast ambitions, her native wit, and her loose morals; and her schoolmate Amelia Sedley, a typically naive Victorian heroine, the pampered daughter of a wealthy family.

Goodreads.com

I hated the characters; all but Dobbin were bad people. I suppose that’s the point of Vanity Fair, but it made it difficult for me to enjoy. I’d rather watch the movie (and for a diehard “the book was better” kind of person, that’s really saying something!).

Rating: Meh

Les Miserables

A thrilling tale of narrow escapes, romance in the midst of a revolution, and battlefield heroism, Victor Hugo’s sprawling 1862 novel focuses on the Parisian underworld. Ex-convict Jean Valjean, who served 19 years in prison for stealing bread, attempts to redeem his life by helping the downtrodden. But his every move is dogged by the implacable policeman, Inspector Javert, whose relentless pursuit of a reformed criminal reflects a morally empty state that values retribution rather than justice.

Goodreads.com

A moving story. Hugo goes off on long tangents about the sewer system, cloistered life, Paris slang, and much more, but when he gets to the story, it is a classic—just as good as the movie and the musical, but with even more character development. This book is a commitment, but I’m so glad I finally finished it.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth

One of the most famous and admired African-American women in U.S. history, Sojourner Truth sang, preached, and debated at camp meetings across the country, led by her devotion to the antislavery movement and her ardent pursuit of women’s rights. Born into slavery in 1797, Truth fled from bondage some 30 years later to become a powerful figure in the progressive movements reshaping American society.

This remarkable narrative, first published in 1850, offers a rare glimpse into the little-documented world of Northern slavery. Truth recounts her life as a slave in rural New York, her separation from her family, her religious conversion, and her life as a traveling preacher during the 1840s. She also describes her work as a social reformer, counselor of former slaves, and sponsor of a black migration to the West.

A spellbinding orator and implacable prophet, Truth mesmerized audiences with her tales of life in bondage and with her moving renditions of Methodist hymns and her own songs. Frederick Douglass described her message as a “strange compound of wit and wisdom, of wild enthusiasm, and flint-like common sense.” This inspiring account of a black woman’s struggles for racial and sexual equality is essential reading for students of American history, as well as for those interested in the continuing quest for equality of opportunity.

Goodreads.com

A powerful story of a formerly enslaved person with a strong faith in God’s provision. If you, like me, really only knew Sojourner Truth’s famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” I highly recommend reading this book about her life as a strong advocate for racial and gender equality.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Born a slave circa 1818 (slaves weren’t told when they were born) on a plantation in Maryland, Douglass taught himself to read and write. In 1845, seven years after escaping to the North, he published Narrative, the first of three autobiographies. This book calmly but dramatically recounts the horrors and the accomplishments of his early years—the daily, casual brutality of the white masters; his painful efforts to educate himself; his decision to find freedom or die; and his harrowing but successful escape. An astonishing orator and a skillful writer, Douglass became a newspaper editor, a political activist, and an eloquent spokesperson for the civil rights of African Americans. He lived through the Civil War, the end of slavery, and the beginning of segregation. He was celebrated internationally as the leading black intellectual of his day, and his story still resonates in ours.

Goodreads.com

A firsthand look at slavery, written before the Civil War for abolition purposes. Again, I knew the bare bones information about Frederick Douglass, but reading him in his own words is a powerful experience. Highly recommended.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Leavenworth Case

The Leavenworth Case is the first novel of Anna Katharine Green, an American poet and novelist, who was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America, and distinguished herself for writing well plotted, accurate legal thrillers.

Green is credited with many firsts. With the character Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Metropolitan Police Force, Green developed the series detective. Amelia Butterworth, a nosy society spinster who assists Gryce in three novels, is the prototype for Miss Marple, Miss Silver and other similar mystery solving female characters. And with Violet Strange, a debutante with a secret life as a sleuth, she invented the ‘girl detective.’

Goodreads.com

So this is a mystery that hinges on the beauty of two women. These cousins cause all of the (male) main characters to act erratically and irrationally. As much as I typically enjoy mysteries, and as much as I wanted to like this predecessor to the queen of murder mysteries, Agatha Christie, the sexism made this impossible for me to enjoy.

Rating: Meh

A Passage to India

When Adela Quested and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced ‘Anglo-Indian’ community. Determined to escape the parochial English enclave and explore the ‘real India’, they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves with Aziz, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects. A masterful portrait of a society in the grip of imperialism, A Passage to India compellingly depicts the fate of individuals caught between the great political and cultural conflicts of the modern world.

Goodreads.com

This book talks a lot about British colonialism in India, which could be interesting, but instead is boring and still uncomfortably of its time (though I’m sure at the time many people were made uncomfortable by how liberal it was). Maybe if I had a deeper grasp of what it was like to live in colonized India at the time this book was written, I would have enjoyed it. As it was, I found myself in engaged by this E. M. Forster novel.

Rating: Meh

Newbery Review: 2012

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Breaking Stalin’s Nose

Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six:

The Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism.

A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.

A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings.

But now that it is finally time to join the Young Pioneers, the day Sasha has awaited for so long, everything seems to go awry. He breaks a classmate’s glasses with a snowball. He accidentally damages a bust of Stalin in the school hallway. And worst of all, his father, the best Communist he knows, was arrested just last night.

This moving story of a ten-year-old boy’s world shattering is masterful in its simplicity, powerful in its message, and heartbreaking in its plausibility. [Summary via Goodreads.com]

I really enjoyed this book for younger children set in 20th century Russia. It is powerful and fascinating, and I would love to reread it sometime. My only wish, as with so many of these Newbery books, is that I remembered more of it!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 2011

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: Moon Over Manifest

Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.

Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”

Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

This book reminded me of another Newbery favorite, A Year Down Yonder. It’s a wonderful story with great characters. I would love to give this a reread sometime, as I remember it being one of my favorites from more recent years.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 2010

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: When You Reach Me

Miranda is an ordinary sixth grader, until she starts receiving mysterious messages from somebody who knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

I can’t say too much about this novel without giving away the twist–which is so fun! I love mysteries, and very few Newbery books fall into that category. This one defies categorization, but it does have a bit of a mystery. It’s fascinating and fun. Once you finish it, you’ll probably want to reread it with the ending in mind!

Rating: Reread Worthy

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

“When it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’” – Claudette Colvin

On March 2, 1955, an impassioned teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.

Based on extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others, Phillip Hoose presents the first in-depth account of an important yet largely unknown civil rights figure, skillfully weaving her dramatic story into the fabric of the historic Montgomery bus boycott and court case that would change the course of American history.

This is a really interesting account of Claudette Colvin and the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century. Colvin is a much less well known character than Rosa Parks, although her experiences were quite similar, and reading about how strategic the civil rights leaders were in presenting their cases was something I was never taught in school. This book really is a must read for kids learning about this period of history.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 2009

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: The Graveyard Book

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Well, he would be perfectly normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the world of the dead.

There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard: the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer; a gravestone entrance to a desert that leads to the city of ghouls; friendship with a witch, and so much more.

But it is in the land of the living that real danger lurks, for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.

The first time I read this book, I actually watched Neil Gaiman read it aloud on his book tour. I’m not sure if those videos are still available, but if not I highly recommend listening to the audio book, because Gaiman is a great narrator. The book itself is really interesting and surprising. If you’ve read any of Gaiman’s books for adults, you probably have an idea of his style, and The Graveyard Book does an amazing job at taking his creepy, supernatural themes and translating them into something children can enjoy, without the story ever feeling watered down. Each chapter is a different episode in Bod’s life, so we get to see him grow from an infant to a teenager and experience a lot of unusual and macabre things. Of course, the mystery of who killed his family and why is an undercurrent in the book. Truly a unique reading experience, and a great read for older kids who love spooky books.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom

It is 1896. Cuba has fought three wars for independence and still is not free. People have been rounded up in reconcentration camps with too little food and too much illness. Rosa is a nurse, but she dares not go to the camps. So she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her.

Black, white, Cuban, Spanish—Rosa does her best for everyone. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war? Acclaimed poet Margarita Engle has created another breathtaking portrait of Cuba.

This book offers up a history of Cuba in poem form.  Before reading this book as a young adult, I knew pitifully little of Cuban history, so I really enjoyed reading and learning about this period of time. It’s worth a reread at some point.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Savvy

For generations, the Beaumont family has harbored a magical secret. They each possess a “savvy” -a special supernatural power that strikes when they turn thirteen. Grandpa Bomba moves mountains, her older brothers create hurricanes and spark electricity . . . and now it’s the eve of Mibs’s big day.

As if waiting weren’t hard enough, the family gets scary news two days before Mibs’s birthday: Poppa has been in a terrible accident. Mibs develops the singular mission to get to the hospital and prove that her new power can save her dad. So she sneaks onto a salesman’s bus . . . only to find the bus heading in the opposite direction. Suddenly Mibs finds herself on an unforgettable odyssey that will force her to make sense of growing up-and of other people, who might also have a few secrets hidden just beneath the skin.

I loved this book! Interesting, unusual, and fun; it follows a family in which each of the members has a “savvy,” a sort of magical power that appears on their thirteenth birthdays. Mibs is about to receive hers when things go very wrong, and she, her siblings, and a couple of friends find themselves in a van, traveling far from home. The powers are creative and varied, and the way they play out and affect the characters’ lives and decisions is fascinating. The sequels to this book, although not quite as good, are still fun.

After Tupac & D Foster

D Foster showed up a few months before Tupac got shot that first time and left us the summer before he died. The day D Foster enters Neeka and her best friend’s lives, the world opens up for them. D comes from a world vastly different from their safe Queens neighborhood, and through her, the girls see another side of life that includes loss, foster families and an amount of freedom that makes the girls envious. Although all of them are crazy about Tupac Shakur’s rap music, D is the one who truly understands the place where he’s coming from, and through knowing D, Tupac’s lyrics become more personal for all of them.

The girls are thirteen when D’s mom swoops in to reclaim D—and as magically as she appeared, she now disappears from their lives. Tupac is gone, too, after another shooting; this time fatal. As the narrator looks back, she sees lives suspended in time, and realizes that even all-too-brief connections can touch deeply.

At the time I read this book, I had pretty much no knowledge about Tupac specifically or about rap in general. I loved this book for taking me into an unfamiliar world of Queens in the 90s, with characters who rely on Tupac’s music as they process their personal losses. I’d love to read this again as an adult who is much more familiar with Tupac’s life and music.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 2008

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Elijah of Buxton

Eleven-year-old Elijah is the first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just over the border from Detroit. He’s best known in his hometown as the boy who made a memorable impression on Frederick Douglass. But things change when a former slave steals money from Elijah’s friend, who has been saving to buy his family out of captivity in the South. Elijah embarks on a dangerous journey to America in pursuit of the thief, and he discovers firsthand the unimaginable horrors of the life his parents fled — a life from which he’ll always be free, if he can find the courage to get back home.

Christopher Paul Curtis is such a good writer. Elijah of Buxton offers an interesting voice to tell this historical story. It’s a story I haven’t heard often–that of formerly enslaved people who are making a new life in Canada–and I enjoyed reading it.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Wednesday Wars

Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

Interesting, funny, and touching. The characters are relatable, and the recent historical setting of the Vietnam War is a strong backdrop to an otherwise timeless school story.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Feathers

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” starts the poem Frannie is reading in school. Frannie hasn’t thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more holy.” There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he’ is not white. Who is he?

During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light: —her brother Sean’s deafness, her mother’s fear, the class bully’s anger, her best friend’s faith and her own desire for the thing with feathers.”

Jacqueline Woodson once again takes readers on a journey into a young girl’s heart and reveals the pain and the joy of learning to look beneath the surface.

This is a short and sweet novel about race, deafness, school, and growing up. Jacqueline Woodson is another amazing author, so although this isn’t my favorite of hers, it is still worth a read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 2007

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: The Higher Power of Lucky

Believing that her French guardian is about to abandon her to an orphanage in the city, ten-year-old Lucky runs away from her small town with her beloved dog by her side in order to trek across the Mojave Desert in this Newbery Medal–winning novel from Susan Patron.

Lucky, age ten, can’t wait another day. The meanness gland in her heart and the crevices full of questions in her brain make running away from Hard Pan, California (population 43), the rock-bottom only choice she has.

It’s all Brigitte’s fault — for wanting to go back to France. Guardians are supposed to stay put and look after girls in their care! Instead Lucky is sure that she’ll be abandoned to some orphanage in Los Angeles where her beloved dog, HMS Beagle, won’t be allowed. She’ll have to lose her friends Miles, who lives on cookies, and Lincoln, future U.S. president (maybe) and member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. Just as bad, she’ll have to give up eavesdropping on twelve-step anonymous programs where the interesting talk is all about Higher Powers. Lucky needs her own — and quick.

I love a story populated with interesting characters, and this book certainly qualifies. Lucky is a quirky, lovable main character, and the other residents of Hard Pan are also enjoyable to read about. Heartwarming and fun.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Penny from Heaven

It’s 1953 and 11-year-old Penny dreams of a summer of butter pecan ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But nothing’s that easy in Penny’s family. For starters, she can’t go swimming because her mother’s afraid she’ll catch polio at the pool. To make matters worse, her favorite uncle is living in a car. Her Nonny cries every time her father’s name is mentioned. And the two sides of her family aren’t speaking to each other!

Inspired by Newbery Honor winner Jennifer Holm’s own Italian American family, Penny from Heaven is a shining story about the everyday and the extraordinary, about a time in America’s history, not all that long ago, when being Italian meant that you were the enemy. But most of all, it’s a story about families—about the things that tear them apart and bring them together. And Holm tells it with all the richness and the layers, the love and the laughter of a Sunday dinner at Nonny’s. So pull up a chair and enjoy the feast! Buon appetito!

I really enjoyed this book when I was younger. It has some sad moments along with the funny, sweet ones, and I appreciate that about it. Penny from Heaven is that great kind of historical fiction that will transport you to its time and place, and I just wish I could remember more of it! (Adding this to my “to reread” list now!)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Hattie Big Sky

After inheriting her uncle’s homesteading claim in Montana, 16-year-old orphan Hattie Brooks travels from Iowa in 1917 to make a home for herself and encounters some unexpected problems related to the war being fought in Europe.

This is one of my all-time favorite Newbery books. Even though I have reread it many times now, it still makes me laugh and cry every time. Hattie Big Sky follows a teenage girl who travels to Montana to prove up her uncle’s claim. She works the land on her homestead, scrapes together money, takes care of chickens, tries to survive the freezing cold winters, writes letters home, and makes friends with a nearby family who is being persecuted because the dad is German. This book is fantastic, especially if you were a childhood fan of pioneering stories.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Rules

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She’s spent years trying to teach David the rules-from “a peach is not a funny-looking apple” to “keep your pants on in public”-in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she’s always wished for, it’s her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?

It’s surprising to me (although it probably shouldn’t be) how few Newbery books there are that star characters with disabilities or neurodivergence. Even in this book, which revolves around autism, focuses on the sister of the boy who has autism. It’s a great book about how Catherine tried to make rules for her brother David’s behavior and slowly comes to terms with her own role in life. I definitely recommend it and am wishing for additional Newbery books that will place the kids with disabilities or neurodivergence in a starring role!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good