Mini Book Reviews

Mini Book Reviews

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I’ll be sharing mini book reviews here on the blog.

(I borrowed each of these books from the library because I wanted to, all opinions are 100% honestly mine, and I’m not compensated in any way for writing them.)

My goal is to help you find books that you–or the young readers in your life–will love.

Mini Book Reviews

Writing Magic (MG)

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by Gail Carson Levine

Writing Magic is a collection of writing advice geared specifically for young writers, covering everything from voice to characters to dialogue to point of view, using examples from her own books and others to illustrate her point. Carson Levine is thorough, addressing nearly every aspect of storytelling, while keeping chapters short, easy, and accessible. Each chapter ends with writing exercises to practice the concept just discussed.

As a lover of kids’ books and of writing books, I really enjoyed this. Her tone is friendly, engaging, and helpful, and the exercises were intriguing (especially the one at the end, but I won’t spoil it). This is a wonderful book for any child or teen who loves to write (the recommended age is 8+, and I agree with that)–I wish I had had it when I was starting out.

Mini Book Reviews

Red Queen (YA)

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by Victoria Aveyard

This is a story of “haves” and “have-nots,” where the “haves” have superpowers and the “have-nots” get trampled underfoot. A “have-not” girl gets unexpectedly thrown in among the “haves,” for surprising reasons and with dire consequences. It’s like X-Men meets Gladiator meets British history’s War of the Roses, where everyone did whatever they could to get the crown.

This book had me hooked from page one—the voice was engaging, the world was intriguing, and the stakes kept rising. If I could have read it straight through in one sitting, I would have, but instead it rattled around in my head whenever I wasn’t reading. It was almost a relief to finish it and have closure for the story, but it was also a relief knowing that there are three more in the series to read—when I have a full day to devote to reading.

Mini Book Reviews

Thirteenth Child (YA)

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by Patricia C. Wrede

This is a coming of age story of a girl on the frontier in an alternate America where magic is a part of daily life and woolly mammoths and steam dragons threaten the settlements. Eff Rothmer must sort out her relationships with magic, her family, the frontier, and herself, while confronting greater threats to the west and the nation.

I love this book. In fairness, this was my second time reading it, so I already knew I loved it. I read it years ago, before the second and third in the series came out, and I’ve been wanting for a while to read the other two, and I finally got around to rereading this one so that I could go ahead and read the others. Wrede is just brilliant–how she reinvents America while keeping it recognizable, devises interweaving magic systems, and creates characters that you fall in love with.

From a writer’s perspective, I learned from this book to ask the question, “What is the story the character is telling herself?” What is the internal monologue, the mantra, whether uplifting or negative? Eff definitely tells herself a story throughout the book, and it defines who she is, and her twin brother tells himself a very different story. We all, as humans, tell ourselves stories that define who we are–whether we say we’re not good enough, or whether we tell ourselves that we’re strong and we’ve got this, or whatever the story may be–and they help shape who we become. I’m going to be paying more attention to those stories within my own characters, and I’m also going to be careful about the stories I tell myself, to keep them positive.

Mini Book Reviews

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It (MG)

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by Gail Carson Levine

This collection of false apology poems (where the poem comes from someone who is not sorry at all) covers a range of topics from sibling fights to fairy tales to nursery rhymes and beyond.

I didn’t know what to expect when I discovered this book at my library, but I thought it was a lot of fun. The form of the false apology poem is simple—not intimidating for someone who thinks they don’t like poetry or who has never been introduced to it. I laughed at several of the poems, and the whole book is very lighthearted, though each poem is confessing to something rather terrible. I don’t think it’s on a level with some of Levine’s other work, but it’s worth reading if you like her style (or if you like people saying harsh things in an apologetic way).

Mini Book Reviews

A Court of Thorns and Roses (YA)

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by Sarah J. Maas

This book is a mash-up retelling of Beauty and the Beast and the legend of Tam Lin, intended for a YA audience, with a good deal of faerie mixed in.

I disliked this book so much I couldn’t even finish it–I made it about three-quarters of the way through. I almost stopped twice before that, but those are two of my favorite legends, and I really wanted to see what she did with them, so I pushed through.

My three major issues: too much sex (definitely not suitable for a younger audience); one of my least favorite characters was getting way too much “screen time”; and I didn’t like her writing style (which was what nearly made me quit the first couple of times). That said, she has a rabid fan base that eagerly awaits each upcoming book, and many of them adore the character I hate. To each his/her own.

Mini Book Reviews

The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle (MG)

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by Hugh Lofting

This is one volume of the classic story of Dr. Dolittle, the English naturalist who can talk to animals. He and his young protegee Tommy Stubbins go on an epic adventure, meeting many interesting people and creatures along the way.

I found this book light, funny, and an easy read, but at times it was a little too silly. There were some references that were a bit dated and less politically correct than modern readers might be comfortable with. But for younger middle-graders who like animals and silly adventures, this is a worthwhile read. (And it’s really nothing like the Eddie Murphy movie that I remember from my own childhood.)

Mini Book Reviews

Fairest (MG)

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by Gail Carson Levine

Fairest is Levine’s retelling of the story of Snow White, set in the world of Ella Enchanted. I was hooked from the start—I loved seeing the occasional cameo appearance by characters from Ella Enchanted, and the narrative voice was wonderful. The characters were fully formed, the setting was beautifully described, and the plot felt fresh and impossible to put down. Within the story, Levine explores what beauty really means and what it’s worth, as well as the power of music and of being yourself. For anyone who loves a good fairy tale, or who enjoyed Ella Enchanted, this book is a must read.

Books I've Read

Books I’ve Read: 2019 and 2020

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I love books. I love talking about books and recommending books, but most of all I love reading books. In light of this, I’m posting the list of books I read last year. Technically this time it’s a year and a half—I started keeping track in June 2019. This list is just MG/YA—join my newsletter  to get the full list, including adult books and nonfiction, plus the books I started but chose not to finish. Any titles with links will take you to the book reviews I’ve posted about them. You’ll see some that I read aloud to my boys (ages 6 and 4). I marked some as rereads, meaning I’ve read them multiple times before. Some of the others I’ve read before as well, but if I read them as a kid I’m not counting that as a reread, since it’s been a while.


Smoky the Cowhorse—Will James

Shadows—Robin McKinley (reread)

Fairest—Gail Carson Levine

Forgive Me, I Meant to do It—Gail Carson Levine

A Tale of Two Castles—Gail Carson Levine

The Language of Spells—Garret Weyr

A Date with Darcy (Bookish Boyfriends)—Tiffany Schmidt

The Creature of the Pines (Unicorn Rescue Society)—Adam Gidwitz

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone–J.K. Rowling (reread)

Sweet Home Alaska—Carole Estby Dagg 

Chalice—Robin McKinley (reread)

What to Say Next—Julie Buxbaum

The Only Alien on the Planet—Kristen D. Randle (reread)

A Tale Dark and Grimm—Adam Gidwitz

Ink, Iron, and Glass—Gwendolyn Clare

Ogre Enchanted—Gail Carson Levine

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban–J.K. Rowling (reread)

The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande (Unicorn Rescue Society)—Adam Gidwitz and David Bowles

Shadows: the Books of Elsewhere—Jacqueline West

The Trumpeter of Krakow—Eric P. Kelly 


Rebel of the Sands—Alwyn Hamilton

Cheshire Crossing—Andy Weir

Jo’s Boys—Louisa May Alcott

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making–Catherynne M. Valente

New Kid—Jerry Craft

Sorcery and Cecelia—Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (reread)

Book of Enchantments—Patricia C. Wrede (reread)

The Sun is Also a Star—Nicola Yoon

The Spiderwick Chronicles (The Field Guide/The Seeing Stone)—Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

Spinning Silver—Naomi Novik

The Hero and the Crown—Robin McKinley

The Ickabog—J.K. Rowling

The Giver—Lois Lowry

The Wind in the Willows—Kenneth Grahame (read aloud with boys)

The BFG—Roald Dahl (read aloud with boys)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—J.K. Rowling (reread)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—Roald Dahl (read aloud with boys)

Little House in the Big Woods—Laura Ingalls Wilder

James and the Giant Peach—Roald Dahl (audiobook with boys)

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh—Robert C. O’Brien

Awaken—Skye Malone

The Birchbark House—Louise Erdrich

Walk Two Moons—Sharon Creech

The Tale of Despereaux—Kate DiCamillo

Matilda—Roald Dahl (read aloud with boys)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—J.K. Rowling (reread)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—C.S. Lewis (read aloud with boys)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—J.K. Rowling (reread)

Prince Caspian—C.S. Lewis (read aloud with boys)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—J.K. Rowling (reread)

Amulet: the Stonekeeper—Kazu Kibuishi

The Belles—Dhonielle Clayton

Island of the Blue Dolphins—Scott O’Dell

What was the best book you read last year? Leave a comment below!

Mini Book Reviews

The Dark Frigate (MG)

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by Charles Hawes

Philip Marsham goes to sea as an honest sailor in a merchant fishing vessel, which is taken by pirates in the Atlantic. Forced to join them or die, Philip and the crew have a series of misadventures before they are captured by a British naval ship and brought back to England for trial. Of all the pirate crew, only Philip is acquitted of the charges against them.

I had a hard time getting into this book. It was hard to understand, between all of the nautical terminology, occasional dialects, and simply the older turns of phrase the author uses. I also just didn’t find it interesting for the first third of the book. I did get into it for a large portion of the second half, but I found the ending disappointing. Maybe middle-grade boys who like pirates will get more out of it than I did.

Mini Book Reviews

The Language of Spells (MG)

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by Garret Weyr

A young girl befriends one of Vienna’s remaining dragons, and together they confront the mystery of the dragons who disappeared at the end of World War II.

This was a beautiful book, told from the perspectives of both Maggie and the dragon Grisha. It explores friendship, being different, love and loss, and memory. I cried at the end (word of warning to those who dislike books that make you cry), but even so the ending felt right and satisfying.