AHMED AZIZ’S EPIC YEAR by Nina Hamza

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Ahmed can’t believe his parents are making them move all the way from Hawaii to Minnesota. Even though his dad will have better treatments for his cirrhosis there, getting a liver transplant is still a long shot. And his dad’s childhood home might be full of memories, but not all of them will be good. After all, Minnesota is where Ahmed’s uncle died.

As soon as they arrive, another problem rushes to join Ahmed’s long list of epic disasters. His name is Jack, and he’s the biggest bully in Ahmed’s neighborhood. And his bus. And his school. And his Advanced Language Arts class. Further complicating matters, Ahmed’s Language Arts teacher is an old friend of his dad’s. If Ahmed told her what was going on with Jack, she’d probably intervene, but then he’d be a tattletale, which would be even worse than being the new kid and the only brown kid in school. As he reads the classic books that his teacher assigns, though, Ahmed starts to better understand the other kids in his school and his own family. And as new friendships develop and Jack’s bullying worsens, Ahmed realizes he might have a way to turn his year from an epic disaster to an epic victory.

This is a novel for any middle schooler who’s ever been the new kid or felt like they didn’t fit in (so … every middle schooler…). Ahmed’s voice balances humor and sincerity, and the ways that he applies lessons from HOLES, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, and FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS BASIL E FRANKWEILER to his daily life will make every English teacher and librarian swoon. A good pick for fans of middle grade contemporary friendship stories!

Ahmed Aziz's Epic Year: Hamza, Nina: 9780063024892: Amazon.com: Books

THE SMASHED MAN OF DREAD END by J.W. Ocker

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Noe wasn’t particularly upset about moving to a new neighborhood. It’s not like there was anything left for her in her old neighborhood or her old school–not since her sleepwalking cost her her best friend. But the new neighborhood (Dread End, as its street sign proclaims) isn’t exactly full of friend potential. In fact there are just a couple of mopey, creepy girls, and all they seem interested in doing is telling Noe to stay out of her basement.

So of course, that’s the first place Noe goes.

It doesn’t seem like anything special. A dirt floor. A washing machine. A few cracks in the walls. But when Noe sleepwalks downstairs at night, she discovers the dark secret her neighborhood hides: a paper thin man with a grotesquely smashed face who oozes out of the cracks in the basement walls of all the houses on Dread End. Only children can see him, and the Dread Enders have pretty much accepted that there’s nothing they can do to get rid of him, especially since the last girl who tried to fight him wound up in a coma. But Noe knows that all monsters have rules, and all monsters can be beaten. She just needs to figure out how–before she sleepwalks into his clutches.

I am in love with this inventive middle grade horror novel! The monster was as original as it was thoroughly blood-chilling, and the heroines wouldn’t give up, even in the face of terror and the possibility of bodily harm. What a fabulous ride! I highly recommend this one to upper elementary and middle school fans of the genre.

CARRY ME HOME by Janet Fox

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Lulu doesn’t know where her father has gone or when he’s coming back. He left once before, for a whole month, shortly after Lulu’s mother died. But that was back in Texas and they had Aunt Ruth to take care of them. Now Lulu and Serena are on their own in Montana in the car where they’ve been living. Lulu knows she can’t let anyone know where they live or that her dad is gone. She’s heard of social services and knows the first thing they’ll do is separate her from her sister, and taking care of Serena is her responsibility. She promised her mom. But with teachers getting suspicious and lunch money running low, Lulu’s secrets are ready to burst out, especially once a budding friendship leads her to form the kinds of connections she’d promised herself to avoid.

This sweet story about community and hope shows the humanity and agency of a homeless family. The writing style is beautiful, powerfully communicating Lulu’s grief and anxieties as her desire to take on the responsibilities of a parent conflict with her need to be a kid. I’d highly recommend this title to upper elementary and middle school fans of contemporary fiction and to middle grade book clubs.

DO I KNOW YOU? by Sarah Strohmeyer

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Jane is a rare individual with an almost superhuman ability to recognize people after only seeing them once. It’s an asset in her job for the Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately, it hasn’t helped her achieve the one thing she cares about: unraveling the mystery of what happened to her sister.

But when she sees the girl who she last saw with her sister–now all grown up and on the arm of the wealthy young man her sister was dating at the time of her disappearance–Jane finally has her first clue to the case. Though the powerful family warns her away, Jane can’t help returning to her hometown in search of answers. Her boyfriend thinks she needs another trip to the psych ward and the wedding-of-the-century is taking place on the wealthy family’s estate, but Jane isn’t going to rest until she finds out what happened to her sister–or dies trying.

With numerous untrustworthy characters–including the protagonist–it’s difficult to figure out the culprit behind the sinister events of this thriller. Plot drives the story, although it is light on physical action. The mystery unfolds gradually through various points-of-view, and the character we’re allowed to get closest to (Jane) is also the most erratic and in many ways, least reliable even though we’re inside her head. The alliances and motivations are so complex, I may have to reread it to untangle them all. Overall, a good addition to an adult thriller collection and a great pick for readers who enjoy plot-driven thrillers that keep you guessing.

THOSE WHO LIE by Diane Jeffrey

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Emily doesn’t know why the police are next to her hospital bed. She doesn’t even know why she’s in a hospital bed. But as the memories start to come back, she finds the explanation for the pain in her head and the questions the constable is asking about her argument with her husband. The car accident. She was driving, and Greg is dead.

The suspicions of the police follow her home, along with the confusion from her memory loss. What were she and Greg arguing about when the car crashed? Is it possible she did it on purpose? The only memory that lingers is that they were talking about her abusive father, who died over a decade ago, for whose murder (or voluntary manslaughter) Emily has already served her time. But when Emily begins getting messages from a dead man, she begins to wonder if someone is stalking her–or if maybe she’s losing her mind–again…

This psychological thriller is a page-turner! I wouldn’t call it twisty, but the narrator’s constant withholding of information–and the protagonist’s possible mental illness–keep the suspense high throughout. The timeline jumps from present to past, but dates at the start of each chapter as well as a change in tense help you keep track as you read. I’d recommend this novel to fans of psychological thrillers.

THE SECRET STARLING by Judith Eagle

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Clara has lived with her uncle her whole life–well, her uncle and the servants who staff their manor home. Truthfully, she sees far more of the servants than of her uncle, who would prefer to have nothing to do with her. But everything changes when her uncle goes bankrupt, abandoning her in the manor house with a bit of cash and no one to care for her. When Clara meets another orphan named Peter, the two decide to turn the manor into a suitable house for unsupervised children–a place for them to live and for their eccentric friends to come and play. But when they discover a ballet slipper that once belonged to Clara’s mother, Clara realizes she doesn’t want to just create a new routine in the same old house. She wants to uncover the truth of her mother’s past that her uncle never told her–and maybe wind up on an adventure!

This middle grade novel, originally published in England, has an old-fashioned vibe that will appeal to fans of books as varied as THE PENDERWICKS, ESCAPE FROM MR LIMONCELLO’S LIBRARY, FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS BASIL E FRANKWEILER, and THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY. It is part mystery, part historical fiction, and part adventure, but mostly the story of a quirky cast of young people making their way in the world.

The Secret Starling: Eagle, Judith, Rioux, Jo: 9781536213652: Amazon.com:  Books

MY CONTRARY MARY by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Mary, Queen of Scots, is as powerful as she is deviant. After all, it’s not every queen who dresses in a man’s clothes to sneak out for a night of revelry. But no one knows about her most secretive deviance–that she is one of the shape-shifters who can change into animals at will (in her case, a mouse) that are at the center of a political power struggle. Her fiancĂ©, the french prince Francis, doesn’t even know. Of course he has problems of his own, now that his father has announced that he and Mary will be getting married within the week and even if he was sure that Mary loved him as much as he loved her (which he’s not), the wedding night is going to be incredibly awkward because his father plans to watch. Ew. Further complicating matters a Nostradamus (specifically the daughter of the Nostradamus) has been tasked with spying on the young queen and is about to discover her secret. And in case that isn’t enough going on, the king is about to die, and when that happens, everything is going to get very interesting…

This book is extremely weird (in a good way), guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. Narrators address the reader directly with a tongue-in-cheek, informal style as the utterly bizarre events unfold and the dialogue moves with perfect comedic timing. Pick up this one if you’re in the mood for a YA farcical twist on history!

Amazon.com: My Contrary Mary (The Lady Janies): 9780062930040: Hand,  Cynthia, Ashton, Brodi, Meadows, Jodi: Books

HOLLOW CHEST by Brita Sandstrom

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Charlie can’t wait for his brother Theo to come home from the war. Since losing his father when the German’s bombed London, Charlie has been trying to fill the absence in his family, to help his mother around the house and especially to care for his grandfather who has dementia, but terrible nightmares of falling bombs and wolves clawing at his chest leave him exhausted. Once Theo returns, things will finally feel more normal.

But Theo comes home changed–no longer the supportive big brother, but irritable and closed off. Charlie’s grandfather assures him that Theo just needs time to heal, but Charlie soon discovers the truth: the wolves from his nightmares are real and one of them ate Theo’s heart. Despite the danger that lies ahead, Charlie is determined to find the war wolves and do whatever it takes to get his brother’s heart back.

This historical fantasy novel is really an extended metaphor about the effects of war on mental health and the ways that love can help families heal. Though the premise may sound frightening, this novel is a far cry from horror; the fantasy elements are introduced and resolved gently, the focus always on real-world character relationships. I’d recommend this book to fans of Anne Ursu and similar “metaphorical folklore” middle grade stories.

Hollow Chest: Sandstrom, Brita: 9780062870742: Amazon.com: Books

DON’T HATE THE PLAYER by Alexis Nedd

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Emilia’s gaming is the one thing she’s actually good at. Well, actually she’s good at a lot of things, but gaming is the one thing that she’s good at that she actually likes. And that’s kind of why she keeps it a secret. Her field hockey coach mom pushes her in school sports and micromanages her college choices. Her best friend ropes Emilia into serving as VP in her student government campaign. But Emilia’s role as the best DPS player on her anonymous team–that knowledge is just for her.

Until a boy from her past shows up on a rival team at a gaming convention.

Emilia only met Jake a couple times as kids, bonding over gaming, but apparently he remembers her. And if she’s being honest, she remembers him, too. But he goes to her high school, and that’s a huge problem. Jake agrees to keep their friendship on the DL, but the attraction they felt as preteens still lingers. When their secret friendship starts getting tangled in politics and the high stakes gaming competition, will Emilia be willing to let Jake’s friendship go? Or will she finally find the courage to be true to her heart?

Although I think this contemporary YA rom-com will be most appealing to gamers, it has all the elements to make romance lovers swoon and comedy lovers laugh out loud. It sideswipes both the friends to lovers and enemies (or gaming rivals) to lovers tropes while keeping its roots as a character-driven, YA coming-of-age story of a girl who needs to be true to herself when everyone else is pulling her in different directions. A fun, light read for YA rom com fans!

Amazon.com: Don't Hate the Player: 9781547605026: Nedd, Alexis: Books

THE SEA IS SALT AND SO AM I by Cassandra Hartt

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

A small town in Maine is slowly eroding into the sea, and the lives of three high schoolers are crumbling with it. When Tommy swam out into the ocean, he wasn’t planning on swimming back or being rescued. He was hoping to sink beneath the waves, to leave his miserable existence behind. His twin brother, Ellis, has been trying to pretend Tommy’s depression doesn’t exist, focusing on his own struggles as an aspiring track star whose prosthetic leg is starting to irritate him from overuse. And his best friend and Tommy’s sworn enemy, Harlow, knows that all of it–from Ellis’s leg to Tommy’s depression–is her fault. But through their efforts to save their town and their relationships with one another, the teens begin a journey toward healing where new romances blossom, old secrets are purged, and forgiveness will lead to a path forward.

Lyrical prose and authentic emotions guide readers through this poetic story. Fans of emotional contemporary YA, such as A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL, WE ARE OKAY, or AN EMOTION OF GREAT DELIGHT will love this quietly beautiful debut. Hartt includes a warning at the start for scenes of suicidal ideation, suicide, and depression, which are upsetting in their realism, but the hope and healing that propels the story makes it a rewarding read for anyone who won’t be triggered by the content. I highly recommend this one.

Amazon.com: The Sea Is Salt and So Am I: 9781250619242: Hartt, Cassandra:  Books