Category Archives: book recommendations
Did you know I have my own army?
Unlike most armies of the world, mine consists of a group of young people aged 8-17 who love to read. And over the past few years, they’ve been an invaluable asset in helping me build my reading lists for kids stuck in middle school and teens just trying to survive high school.
They are my reading army.
Every year, toward the end of the school year, my reading army helps me compile my Middle Grade/Young Adult summer reading list. But since I’m getting more and more requests for updates, I’ve decided to put out a second mid-year list.
So with the help of my army, here is the Mid-Winter 2016 MG/YA list. Perfect for those winter school breaks and unexpected snow days.
Below are a few highlights, but for the entire printable list, click here for the Mid-Winter 2016 MG/YA list.
This list is not all-inclusive. And two of these books will be released next month. But what makes this list special is that every book, except for two to be released in March, has been read by myself and at least two members of my army.
(So each book has been vetted for coolness!)
For the Middle Graders, here are a few newer releases.
First up, the newest Rick Riordan book: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.
(Amazon Blurb): Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.
One day, he’s tracked down by an uncle he barely knows-a man his mother claimed was dangerous. Uncle Randolph tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god.
The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.
When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision.
Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die . . .
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(Amazon Blurb): Jordan Stratford imagines an alternate 1826, where Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) meet as girls and form a secret detective agency!
Lady Ada Byron, age eleven, is a genius. Isolated, awkward and a bit rude—but a genius. Mary Godwin, age fourteen, is a romantic. Adventurous, astute, and kind, Mary is to become Ada’s first true friend. And together, the girls conspire to form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary.
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From two of my favorite YA authors, here’s a wonderful new MG fantasy series: The Magisterium Series by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.
(Amazon Blurb): Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.
All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.
So he tries his best to do his worst — and fails at failing.
Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.
The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .
And the second book in the series, The Copper Gauntlet.
(Amazon Blurb): Callum Hunt’s summer break isn’t like other kids’. His closest companion is a Chaos-ridden wolf, Havoc. His father suspects him of being secretly evil. And, of course, most kids aren’t heading back to the magical world of the Magisterium in the fall.
It’s not easy for Call . . . and it gets even harder after he checks out his basement and discovers that his dad might be trying to destroy both him and Havoc.
Call escapes to the Magisterium — but things only intensify there. The Alkahest — a copper gauntlet capable of separating certain magicians from their magic — has been stolen. And in their search to discover the culprit, Call and his friends Aaron and Tamara awaken the attention of some very dangerous foes — and get closer to an even more dangerous truth.
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For the Young Adults, here are a few long-awaited titles. A series ender, a series beginner, and all things in between!
My daughter read Winter, this yearned-for book which ends the Lunar Chronicles series, in one day. Not too surprising for her except the book has 832 pages!
(Amazon Blurb): Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend–the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s national bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.
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The movie based on the first book in this next series, The Fifth Wave, is in theaters now. And the third book in this thrilling Sci-Fi series comes out soon. In the meantime, dive into The Infinite Sea, the second book in the series. It’s not to be missed!
(Amazon Blurb): How do you rid the Earth of seven billion humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.
Surviving the first four waves was nearly impossible. Now Cassie Sullivan finds herself in a new world, a world in which the fundamental trust that binds us together is gone. As the 5th Wave rolls across the landscape, Cassie, Ben, and Ringer are forced to confront the Others’ ultimate goal: the extermination of the human race.
Cassie and her friends haven’t seen the depths to which the Others will sink, nor have the Others seen the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.
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The next book is the first in a new series from mega-author Alexandra Bracken. While her first series The Darkest Minds was dystopian (speculative fiction for you purists!), her newest release Passenger is all about time travel.
(Amazon Blurb): In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles, but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods-a powerful family in the Colonies-and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, his passenger, can find. In order to protect her, Nick must ensure she brings it back to them-whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home forever.
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For fans of the Selection Series, Kiera Cass’s newest title (a revised version of her originally self-pubbed book), The Siren, will be a huge hit!
(Amazon Blurb): From Kiera Cass, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Selection series, comes a captivating stand-alone fantasy romance.
Kahlen is a Siren, bound to serve the Ocean by luring humans to watery graves with her voice, which is deadly to any human who hears it. Akinli is human—a kind, handsome boy who’s everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. Falling in love puts them both in danger . . . but Kahlen can’t bear to stay away. Will she risk everything to follow her heart?
The Siren was previously self-published; this brand-new edition has been completely rewritten and redesigned.
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For fans of the Shadow Hunter series, here is the newest book in the series, Lady Midnight. (It won’t release until March 8, 2016. And although we haven’t read it yet, my army has fully endorsed it! Anything by Cassandra Clare is an auto-read!!)
(Amazon Blurb): It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.
Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions…
Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?
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Veronica Rossi wrote one of our favorite Sci-Fi/Dystopian series — the Under the Never Sky Trilogy. And Riders is her newest fantasy adventure release.
(Amazon Blurb): For eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake, nothing but death can keep him from achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does.
Recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can’t remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen–Conquest, Famine, and Death–are brought together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence.
Now–bound, bloodied, and drugged–Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in a battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he’s fallen for–not to mention all of humankind–he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger.
But will anyone believe him?
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This February 2016 release by C.J. Redwine felt like it was on pre-order forever. Since the teens loved her Defiance series, they couldn’t wait for her newest book. The Shadow Queen is a dark, fantasy re-telling of Snow White, and it was well worth the wait!
(Amazon Blurb): Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.
In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic of his own—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman—and bring her Lorelai’s heart.
But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.
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We have waited AGES for The Raven King, the fourth book in the The Raven Cycle series. If you’re not familiar with this series, start at the beginning. You’ll be so glad you did!
Although we haven’t read this book yet (it comes out March 29, 2016), we’ve read the other three in the series and can recommend this book based on the quality and success for the first three.
(Amazon Blurb): All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
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And since the teens love novellas, here are a few from their favorite series that made the Mid-Winter 2016 MG/YA list:
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Do you have any titles you’d like to add to the Summer 2016 list? If so, we’d love to know!
All covers and blurbs courtesy of Amazon.
All photographs courtesy of Sharon Wray. Copyright 2016
Whether it is genre or literary, excellent fiction is rooted in the real world. In order for you, the reader, to take that leap of faith from the concrete to the virtual worlds of our stories, we, the writers, must first earn your trust that our stories have a foundation in truth, even when they take place in alien or imaginary places. So how do we find those kernels of truth?
Research. Lots of research.
One of my favorite research methods is listening to podcasts—usually in my car, while running my daily errands. (Today that proved impossible when the forecast for snow exceeded expectations so Rosie and I had the day off.)
Here are a few of my favorite podcasts paired with book recommendations.
Get the inside skinny on many usual and unusual professions with these podcast episodes. Titles include: How Does a Forensic Anthropologist Work? How Does an Animal Behavior Specialist Work? How Does a Club Doorman Work? Sometimes the only way for a writer to get inside the head of a character working in an unfamiliar profession is to listen to real people talk about what they do for a living, why they do it, and how it is meaningful to them. After all, it’s not the profession that makes a character compelling, it’s the character’s passion for that profession.
Compelling romantic suspense is grounded it in real world events. As a chemistry major, I have to admit that I either forgot or missed a great deal of what I was taught in high school history class. Luckily for me, this podcast offers a range of interesting historical facts to enrich plots as well as intriguing tidbits such as Who Was the Real Professor Moriarty? I had no idea that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character was inspired by the real life criminal mastermind Adam Worth.
This podcast is too scary for me, but if you like your mystery/suspense wrapped in spooky/scary…
Writers are also avid readers. Listening to these podcast episodes gives me the opportunity to learn from writers I probably will never have the good fortune to meet, let alone engage in conversation. For instance, did you know… Iconic romance author Beverly Jenkins does not write during the NFL playoffs. She once binge-read Harlan Coben’s Bolitar series on her kindle. And she was featured in a 5-page spread in the 1995 Valentine’s Day edition of People magazine written by reporter Nancy Drew.
Do you have a favorite podcast? Add to my list…please!
Carey’s puppy, Scout, talks about TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, GO SET A WATCHMAN and contemplates the question posed by Randall Kennedy in the New York Times Sunday Book Review:
Would it have been better for (Harper Lee’s) earlier novel (GO SET A WATCHMAN) to have remained unpublished?
Like my namesake before me, I know how to get into plenty of trouble, but I have a big heart. My human mother, Carey Baldwin, named me after the protagonist in her favorite book, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Last night at dinner, Carey’s mother-in-law complained that I am such a pretty girl, I should have a pretty name.
Why on earth would you name this puppy Scout? she asked Carey over a plateful of pasta.
I know the answer, and I’m proud of my name.
Scout is the person who taught Carey about justice, fairness and integrity. When Carey was ten years old, she read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, a tale told through the eyes of a young girl named Scout (Like me! Only I’m a puppy.) Carey was young too, and boy did Scout make an impression. The vivid images in this exciting story stuck with Carey throughout her lifetime: toys hidden in the trunk of an old tree, a Halloween costume designed to look like a ham, a pair of britches stuck in a fence, and a father who could put everything that was wrong with the world right again.
We live in a world with many injustices, but sometimes, unless we’re the ones getting the raw deal, we remain unaware. Maybe the injustice is happening far away from where we live or go to school, maybe it’s close by, but we’re afraid to look at it, or maybe we simply don’t understand what’s right in front of us. Like the black marble drinking fountain three feet away from the white marble drinking fountain in a certain fancy department store in Carey’s hometown. Only after reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD did ten-year-old Carey notice.
Why are there two fountains? she asked her mother.
One is for whites and one is for colored people. That’s illegal now, but the fountains are still there, her mother answered. Sure enough, Carey could see the faded paint outlining a rectangular space on the wall that had once been occupied by a sign prohibiting blacks from drinking from the white fountain.
Carey grew up in a time and place where segregation in school, housing, and life was outlawed…yet still largely practiced. She didn’t know very many people who were different from herself, so she didn’t “see” a lot of things. Scout and Harper Lee taught her to open her eyes.
Randall Kennedy says:
“In America in 1960, the story of a decent white Southerner who defends an innocent black man charged with raping a white woman had the appeal of a fairy tale and the makings of a popular movie. Perhaps even more promising, though, was the novel Lee first envisioned (GO SET A WATCHMAN), the story of Jean Louise’s (Scout’s) adult conflicts between love and fairness, decency and loyalty. Fully realized, that novel might have become a modern masterpiece.”
“I think there’s a place for both books. I don’t believe we lost out because Harper Lee’s editor changed the time and setting of GO SET A WATCHMAN to that of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, or that Lee’s first attempt at the story should have remained unpublished. The truth is, Harper Lee’s vision and desire for fairness in the world comes through in both books. One is more polished, one has a hero, the other a flawed man and a conflicted daughter.
We need both books. We need all the windows we can get, because there’s simply not enough light in the world.”
Here’s a link to Kennedy’s full review of GO SET A WATCHMAN in the New York Times.
Have you read a book that has profoundly influenced your life?
P.S. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own.
Dogs are natural sleuths, especially scent dogs like my chocolate Lab Rosie. She is curious about everything. Her inner monologue on a walk: That bush smells different today. Hey there’s a silver wrapper in the grass, maybe it will taste good. Oh yum, a banana peel! Squirrel! What’s in that bag? Does that person getting out of his car want to pet me? Wait, I don’t want to go that way. Look, there’s a bug on the sidewalk. Where’s it going? Is it food? Hey, I’m not done eating that…
But you don’t have to know a dog like Rosie to enjoy the crime-solving antics of Rosie’s favorite dog sleuth Chet the Jet of the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn (aka Edgar Award winning author Peter Abrahams). Chet is a K-9 school drop out and the faithful companion of down-and-out private investigator Bernie Little.
Cozy mysteries with animal sleuths are not uncommon. What sets this part-cozy-part-hard-boiled mystery series apart from others in those genres is that the P.I.’s cases unfold in the first person narrative of Chet the dog. Author Spencer Quinn does an excellent job imagining a canine inner monologue while leaving all the deductive reasoning to Chet’s human partner Bernie. If Rosie could read, I suspect she would find Chet to be a very relatable protagonist.
“What is it, Chet?”
I smelled all kinds of things, but that wasn’t the point. The point was those smells brought back a memory of this grate and what had fallen in: one of the sharpest memories I’d ever had, so sharp my side hurt.
“What are you barking about?” Bernie got down on his hands and knees and peered through the grate. “Can’t see a goddamn thing. Can you?”
Nope. But I didn’t have to: I knew what was down there. I pawed at the grate. Bernie gazed at me, then went to the car and came back with the flashlight. I loved the flashlight, how it poked holes in the dark, and always got a bit excited when we were using it.
“Stop charging around like that.”
I stopped, returned to the grate. Bernie was kneeling again, shining the light down through.
As you can see, the tone of the series is warm and humorous, but there is a brush of darkness that adds depth. Like any fictional detective, Chet encounters real danger and adversity. Chet must outsmart some truly evil villains while navigating a world of humans and machines that is often beyond his ability to understand. Even well-meaning humans can be a danger to a dog. In DOG ON IT (the first book in the series), Chet has a very close call with death when he is separated from Bernie and put in an animal shelter. No one wants to adopt him, and Bernie doesn’t know where he is.
A cold place, with lights that were much too bright shining on machines I didn’t understand. The lawn mower is one of the worst, and these, not much like lawn mowers, somehow looked as bad. I turned back toward the metal door: closed.
And Chet’s relationship with Bernie is rich with emotion while not straying too far from Chet’s doglike thinking.
I knew men could cry—had seen Bernie tear up that time Leda came and packed up Charlie’s stuff; did I mention that already? At that moment I came close to making— What would you call it? A connection, maybe, a connection between Bernie’s situation and—
But it didn’t happen. I spotted a Cheeto under the bed. Munch munch and it was gone.
If DOG ON IT sounds like your kind of read, you’ll enjoy the other Chet and Bernie Mysteries too. Even the titles are fun!
Thereby Hangs a Tail; To Catch A Thief; The Dog Who Knew Too Much; A Cat Was Involved (Prequel, short story); A Fistful of Collars; The Sound and the Furry; Paw and Order; and Scents and Sensibility.
What animal sleuth mysteries do you like to read?