Mini Book Reviews

Daughter of the Forest (YA)

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by Juliet Marillier

Sorcha is the youngest daughter of an Irish warlord. Her world is turned upside down when her father’s second wife turns her six older brothers into swans and their only hope of survival rests with her.

This is a beautiful and haunting retelling of “The Wild Swans” by Hans Christian Andersen. I loved this book just as much at this reading as I did when I read it in high school, but I would only recommend this book with a STRONG caution: for mature readers only. There’s some graphic description of sexual assault and the aftermath, plus slightly less graphic description of a war prisoner’s injuries from torture.

Mini Book Reviews

Island of the Blue Dolphins (MG)

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by Scott O’Dell

Karana’s people have always lived undisturbed on the Island of the Blue Dolphins—that is, until the Aleuts came to hunt otter and ended up killing half of the villagers. The rest of the villagers welcome the chance to leave the island a couple of years later when a ship comes to take them across the sea. But Karana’s younger brother doesn’t make it to the ship in time, and rather than leave him alone, she jumps ship to stay behind with him. She lives on the island for many years before another ship comes back for her, learning to hunt and make the things she needs and building friendships with the creatures on the island.

This is a well-written survival story with a strong, empowered, likable heroine. Survival stories have never been my favorite, but I found it more interesting knowing that it was based on a true story. It’s not a happy-go-lucky story—the poor girl loses everyone (and that’s not really a spoiler, since most of it happens within the first quarter of the book). Speaking of spoilers, if your copy has an introduction by Lois Lowry, I’d recommend reading the introduction AFTER reading the book—it’s really interesting, but it gives away a lot.

Mini Book Reviews

The Belles (YA)

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by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles were created to bring beauty to Orleans. But the people of Orleans have become too obsessed with beauty, and so has their power-mad princess. It’s up to one Belle to make a change…

This book was beautifully written with vivid characters and loads of action and intrigue. (It reminded me of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard if the world was run by beauty queens.) If you’re not into makeup and clothes, at least a little, it might be a bit much—I started skimming the descriptions of clothes and flowers and food by the time I got halfway through the book. I also wasn’t a fan of how everyone seemed to have a lover on the side, either gay or straight, and it was just an expected part of life, with no respect for marriage. But I think Clayton did an amazing job of painting a world where people will give anything to be beautiful and of exploring what the costs might be.

Mini Book Reviews

Amulet: The Stonekeeper (MG)

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by Kazu Kibuishi

After Emily’s father dies, her family moves to mysteriously missing great-grandfather’s house. When her mother is abducted by a monster in the basement, Emily and her brother must rescue her or risk losing another parent.

I had mixed feelings about this book. I really like the premise, characters, and art. But there were times when the dialogue felt forced, like there was information that needed to be given and it was squeezed in where it didn’t necessarily fit. I also found the ending unsatisfying—I know there’s a whole series that follows, but if you’re not immediately devouring the rest, this one feels unfinished. A caution about death: every death in the book happens right on the page, which may be a bit intense for younger readers.

Books I've Read

Books I’ve Read: 2021

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In 2021 I read a lot. But most of that was bingeing sweet romances and cozy mysteries, not MG and YA. I did read a handful of YA that I loved this year, though, and I’m glad to share them now. (If you want the full list, including the romances and cozies and the few nonfiction titles, my email subscribers get access to everything.) A few of the YA books include some adult situations, violence, or language that may not be suitable for younger readers, so I’ve marked them as PG13.

A lot of these books knocked my socks off, to be honest. I always love Patricia C. Wrede’s books (as you can see by how many of them I reread this year), and Naomi Novik has quickly become one of my new favorites. The Night Circus and Instructions for Dancing were both gorgeous and heartbreaking, and I’m already thinking of rereading Dear Hero. I hope you find some books to enjoy!

The Westing Game—Ellen Raskin

Daughter of the Forest—Juliet Marillier (reread, PG13)

Son of the Shadows—Juliet Marillier (reread, PG13)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon—Kelly Barnhill

Child of the Prophecy—Juliet Marillier (reread, PG13)

The Graveyard Book—Neil Gaiman

The Silence Between Us—Alison Gervais

Holes—Louis Sachar

The Good Hawk—Joseph Elliott

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

A Deadly Education—Naomi Novik

Mairelon the Magician—Patricia C. Wrede

Magician’s Ward—Patricia C. Wrede

Beauty’s Cursed Sleep—Mary E. Twomey

Spindle’s End—Robin McKinley (reread)

Children of Blood and Bone—Tomi Adeyemi (BIPOC)

Dear Hero—Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat

Beauty—Robin McKinley (reread)

The Lady Jewel Diviner—Rosalie Oaks

The Moria Pearls—Rosalie Oaks

The Sapphire Library—Rosalie Oaks

The Crossover—Kwame Alexander (BIPOC)

The Rose Legacy—Jessica Day George

Tuesdays at the Castle—Jessica Day George

Merci Suarez Changes Gears—Meg Medina (BIPOC, Newbery)

The Night Circus—Erin Morganstern (PG13)

Instructions for Dancing—Nicola Yoon (BIPOC)

More than His Best Friend—Sally Henson

When You Reach Me—Rebecca Stead

A Thief in Time—Cidney Swanson

The Blue Castle—L.M. Montgomery

Pure—Catherine Mesick

Thirteenth Child—Patricia C. Wrede (reread)

Across the Great Barrier—Patricia C. Wrede (reread)

The Far West—Patricia C. Wrede (reread)

From the Desk of Zoe Washington—Janae Marks (BIPOC)

Anne of Green Gables—L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Avonlea—L.M. Montgomery

The Bear and the Nightingale—Katherine Arden

Rule #1: You Can’t Date the Coach’s Daughter—Anne-Marie Meyer

Ink and Bone—Rachel Caine

Off Limits: the Best Friend—Kat Bellemore

The Girl in the Tower—Katherine Arden

The Last Graduate—Naomi Novik (PG13)

Mini Book Reviews

Walk Two Moons (MG)

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by Sharon Creech

Sal goes on a 6-day road trip across the country with her grandparents to see the truth of her mother’s disappearance for herself. On the way, she tells them the story of her friend Phoebe, which parallels her own and helps her process the events of her own life. 

This book was compelling, and I loved the characters. But I didn’t love the book. It was heartbreaking, and I had a sense of impending doom from the beginning that the ending would be terribly sad. If you like sad books, it’s beautiful; if you’re looking for a fun read, this is not it.  

Book Release

Sabryn

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Sabryn’s throat erupted in pins and needles, and she began coughing uncontrollably. The spasm passed quickly, replaced by something on the back of her tongue, causing her to gag. She spit it out into her hand. An emerald and a ruby twinkled in her palm. She gaped, a second too slow to close her hand.

Saby, what is that?” Li gasped.

The royal family of Alondra is forbidden to have magic. When a fairy’s curse forces eighteen-year-old Princess Sabryn to flee the kingdom in search of dragons and the all-knowing Talking Dog, she’s faced with unexpected choices: should she embrace the wild magic now bursting from her, uncontrolled? And how much should she risk to save the kingdom that won’t welcome her back?

Available on January 15, 2022, from Amazon and from your favorite bookseller or library!

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.