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

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.

Mini Book Reviews

A Tale of Two Castles (MG)

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by Gail Carson Levine

A young girl named Elodie leaves home to begin her apprenticeship. She hopes to become an actress, but instead ends up as the assistant to a dragon private investigator.

I really enjoyed this book—it was a fun, light mystery with a fascinating cast of characters, all of whom had something to hide. Elodie and her dragon masteress were both very likeable and well-rounded, and it was satisfying to see Elodie taking charge.

Mini Book Reviews

A Date with Darcy (YA)

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by Tiffany Schmidt

When bookworm Merrilee transfers to a new, co-ed private school, she soon discovers that the boys there are eerily like the boys she swoons over in her books. But being part of a romance story is not at all what she expected. 

I loved this nerdy, slightly cheesy rom-com. The witty banter was fun, and there were times when certain descriptions stopped me in my tracks, they were so good. I literally couldn’t put it down. 

Mini Book Reviews

Tales from Silver Lands (MG)

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by Charles J. Finger

This is a collection of folktales from South America. The author learned the tales from native storytellers during his own travels.

I love fairy- and folktales, telling how things came to be the way they are, animals talking… This book has all of that. Each of the stories was new and fresh, and I loved it.

Mini Book Reviews

The Creature of the Pines (MG)

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by Adam Gidwitz

In this first volume of the Unicorn Rescue Society, two children discover something extra strange on their most unusual field trip.

I first heard about this series on the Books Between podcast, in an episode where she shares her students’ top 20 favorite books. It definitely deserves to be on the list—it was fun, light, and quick, and I can’t wait to read the next in the series. The characters were diverse, funny, and well-developed. I would definitely recommend this to young readers. 

Mini Book Reviews

The Only Alien on the Planet (YA)

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by Kristen D. Randle

When Ginny and her family move across country at the same time that her favorite brother goes to college, she feels totally lost and alone. In the midst of her upheaval, she is drawn to Smitty Tibbs, the strange boy in her homeroom who hasn’t spoken a word to anyone since he was two years old. What keeps him trapped within himself? And if she can help him break free, what then?

I read this book in high school, and it stuck with me. I’ve been thinking about it for the past several years, and I finally got around to rereading it. It feels a little bit dated, between the lack of technology and some of the slang, but it is still a really good book. I love the characters and the depth. It addresses some hard stuff, like emotional abuse, but there is nothing explicit, and it consistently emphasizes hope and light and love.

Mini Book Reviews

Sweet Home Alaska (MG)

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by Carole Estby Dagg

Eleven-year-old Terpsichore Johnson moves to Alaska with her family as part of FDR’s New Deal program to resettle families on relief onto their own farms. Terpsichore has to deal with all of the usual challenges of moving and making new friends along with less common challenges like not having electricity or even a house at first. She also has to do her best to convince her mother that the family should stay in Alaska.

I can’t speak for whether the historical details of this story are accurate—I enjoy historical fiction, but this isn’t a time frame I know well—but I’m always a fan of pioneer stories, especially in Alaska. I enjoyed the characters, particularly spunky and courageous Terpsichore, and while the writing wasn’t flawless, the story was well told. One of my favorite takeaways from the book is that kids are just as capable as adults to do big things and change the world.