Mini Book Reviews

The Birchbark House (MG)

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by Louise Erdrich

Follow Omakayas, a young Ojibwa girl, through one year, spring to spring, and see how it will change her life forever. 

This is a well-told, beautiful story with rich characters. The cultural details immerse the reader in Omakayas’ world. The chapters on smallpox are a bit intense, so use caution with younger readers, and prepare for some heartbreak. But also prepare for love and hope and a book well worth reading. 

Mini Book Reviews

Awaken (YA)

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by Skye Malone

Attracted by the sea her whole life, Chloe sneaks away for her first ever trip to the beach. But while there, she learns secrets about herself, her parents, and her friends—secrets that could cost her life. 

I couldn’t put this book down. I loved the characters. There were a few confusing explanations, and some repetitive words/actions, but overall it was a fun read. 

Mini Book Reviews

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (MG)

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by Robert C. O’Brien

Mrs. Frisby’s youngest son Timothy is ill, too ill to leave their cinderblock mouse house. Unfortunately, the house is in the middle of a field that the farmer is going to plow in less than a week, which will destroy the house—and anyone in it. Can Mrs. Frisby find anyone able and willing to help her save her son?

I loved this book as a kid, and I still love it. Mrs. Frisby is brave and bold in her desperation to save her son, and in the process, she learns secrets about her dead husband, her children, and the secretive rats who live at the edge of the farm. The story is engaging, the characters are vivid, and the ending is gripping, heartbreaking, and hopeful.

Mini Book Reviews

The Ickabog (MG)

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by J.K. Rowling

In a distant, marshy corner of a peaceful and prosperous kingdom lives a hideous, deadly monster—or so the tales say. No one takes the stories of the Ickabog too seriously until the king decides to ride to the marsh to prove, once and for all, if the legends are true.

This was a fun read, despite all the lies, fear, and otherwise terrible things that happened. Very lighthearted and hopeful, the story emphasized learning about others before judging them, spreading kindness, and looking out for the wellbeing of everyone instead of just yourself.

Mini Book Reviews

The Giver (MG)

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by Lois Lowry

Jonas has grown up in an “ideal,” well-ordered community, where life is easy and comfortable and everyone is always polite. When, at 12, his classmates are assigned to their adult jobs for training, Jonas is not assigned. Instead he is selected to be the next Receiver of Memory. He learns from the previous Receiver—now the Giver—of things both good and bad that no one in his community has ever experienced and of dark secrets behind the order and simplicity of life there.

This book is absolutely beautiful. The love and beauty Jonas learns about ring so true to our own lives, and so do the pain and loneliness. His experience with having choices for the first time reminds us how important our own choices are, especially when we have to make the hard ones.

Mini Book Reviews

The Hero and the Crown (YA)

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by Robin McKinley

Aerin is the king’s daughter, but her mother was a mysterious “witchwoman” of the North, and her father’s people will not let her forget it. When her father’s kingdom is under attack and the last of the great dragons has awoken, can Aerin rise to the challenge and save the kingdom that doesn’t want her?

I didn’t love this book when I read it as a kid (despite adoring nearly all of McKinley’s other books), and I didn’t love it this time around either. If you love The Blue Sword (which I do), it’s worth reading because it gives a lot of depth and background to that story. And I loved several of the characters. But to me most of the second half feels like a disconnected digression from the story as set up in the beginning. The villain who’s supposed to be responsible for all the evil events is introduced way too late with too little lead-up for me to care about their confrontation or its result, which feels unsatisfying and confused. There were too many things that just kind of happened without a reasonable explanation, and Aerin only succeeded by her own skill/ability/wit about half the time.

Mini Book Reviews

Spinning Silver (YA)

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by Naomi Novik

The king of the winter kingdom steals Miryem, a moneylender purportedly able to “turn silver into gold.” He uses her without her knowledge to create winter in the middle of summer. But could there be a creature more awful than the one freezing the crops and starving the daylit kingdom? And what can Miryem, an ordinary Jewish girl, do about it?

I was so excited to read this, since I loved Uprooted, and I wasn’t disappointed. The writing was beautiful, the action kept me turning the pages, and all of the promises in the story paid off in a very satisfying ending. The characters were rich, deep, and strong, finding courage to fight in the big moments and the small.

Mini Book Reviews

Chalice (YA)

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by Robin McKinley

When the previous Master and Chalice of Willowlands die in a sudden catastrophe, Mirasol is drawn from her woodright to become the new Chalice. The old Master’s younger brother, halfway through becoming a priest of Elemental Fire, is the only remaining blood heir. Can an inexperienced beekeeper-turned-Chalice and a Fire priest save Willowlands from the destruction begun by the previous Master?

This was a reread for me. For about the 10th time. I love this book—the characters, the plot, the richly imagined world, the honey—all of it.

Mini Book Reviews

Smoky the Cowhorse (MG)

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by Will James

This book is the story of a wild range horse, Smoky, from birth through his time helping his favorite cowboy wrangle cattle and beyond, offering a look at cowboy culture and the life of a horse in the west from a horse’s perspective.

Despite the fact that the horse’s perspective is very well done (as someone who grew up loving horse stories, I loved the beginning sections about growing up on the range and working with the cowboys), I can not recommend this book. My largest issue with it is racism: the two worst characters in the book were people of color.  A milder issue is the narrative voice—it is written in the dialect and slang of a cowboy, and the word choice/order was often jarring. I frequently had to reread sentences to figure out what was meant. My third problem with the book is that there are several scenes of animal abuse perpetrated by the bad guys. I was not expecting this and nearly stopped reading, but I was already invested in the horse and wanted to see how he made out. (Spoiler: it does have a happy ending.)

Mini Book Reviews

Ogre Enchanted (MG)

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by Gail Carson Levine

Evie, a 15-year-old healer, isn’t expecting her best friend Wormy to propose, nor that a fairy will punish her for refusing. Yet suddenly she is an ogre, with only 62 days to accept another marriage proposal if she ever wants to be human again. She has to rely on her wits and her skills—both human and ogre—and the friends she makes along the way if she’s going to beat the idiot fairy’s spell.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t love this one as much as some of her others. It has a lot in its favor: suspense, true love, secrets, purple dragon pee…. I liked Evie, and I was totally rooting for her. But I don’t love ogres, and I didn’t love the young men she met—it was only on thinking it over later that I began to like Wormy, though he’s not my type at all.