Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy

If you’re a fan of Little Women and its various interpretations like me (I still am dying to buy the The Annotated Little Women from W. W. Norton & Company, it’s so gorgeous) then you’ll love this nonfiction companion to the book.

Summary: Little Women. You may think you know the story, but do you truly understand it? Do you truly understand the context of Louisa May Alcott’s life – or how she considered her manuscript to be nothing short of a snoozefest at first? What about the feminism of Jo March, long considered to be an icon of strong will and womanly success? Is Little Women worth having boys read? Better yet, is it even worth it for girls? (I lie staunchly on the affirming side of this position, but you’ll have to read to see what they say) What about the multiple film and stage adaptations of this classic American tale? How accurate to the books are they and were the creative liberties taken worth it? Anne Boyd Rioux answers all these questions and more in Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters.

My Thoughts: I have always been a huge fan of this book. It’s a near and dear volume to my heart, so it was with delight that I stumbled across this nonfiction volume. Author Anne Boyd Rioux does a fantastic job with this book, deftly exploring both sides of the argument. While she does draw conclusions, for the most part she leaves ultimate judgement on the novel to the reader, instead choosing to take the opportunity for intellectual perusal of this classic book. I highly recommend it.

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The Art of Disney Costuming

This week we’re reading through a wonderful nonfiction book from Disney. If you’re a fan of their films and the beautiful costumes featured in them, you’re going to love this one!

Summary: Love the Red Queen’s regally quirky wardrobe? Think the swashbuckling threads of Jack Sparrow and crew are dashingly tattered? If you have an interest in fashion, films, and Disney in general, check out The Art of Disney Costuming: Heroes, Villains, and Spaces Between. From costume designers such as Colleen Atwood to Penny Rose, the work on Disney films is as intricate and varied as the movies themselves; fans will find themselves once more transported back to the world of their favorite films through the high (or low) style of the colorful characters who inhabit them.

My Thoughts: I’m part of a strong film-oriented family. Watching films is a social event for us, complete with critique making it only natural to pay attention to the art of the costumes as well. It’s always enjoyable to see – and in this case read about – artists who are truly passionate about their work. This isn’t an incredibly deep read. Aspiring costumers will find more inspiration than substance, making it still well worth the time for the wondrous designs found throughout. I highly recommend this to the enthusiastic Disney nerds or clever designers out there. This is one you’ll want to return to for good afternoon  perusal again and again.

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23 Minutes

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but I’m a huge fan of thrillers, especially those that have something of a paranormal element to them. Time peeking, monsters, interdimensional travel – you name it, I’ll likely read it. This week, Vivian Vande Velde brings us an exciting read.

The Story: When Zoe steps into the bank on Independence Street to get out of the rain, the last thing she expects is to get caught in the middle of a robbery. When she watches a kind customer get shot right in front of her, Zoe knows that she must. She has to say it. Because the truth is Zoe is not quite normal. She has a special ability – she can travel back twenty-three minutes into the past. If she can just alert someone, maybe she can stop death from happening again. But she’s only got ten times to make this work before her playbacks stop and the more Zoe attempts to change the future/past, the worse things get. The truth is Zoe’s not even sure if she can stop it and she might die trying.

My Thoughts: With a well-paced plot, great use of character, and excellent exposition woven throughout in a way that seems natural, Vivian Vande Velde proves herself to be an excellent writer. 23 Minutes is an exciting read that keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next. Readers will enjoy reading this tale that keeps them guessing as to what the final future will be and whether Zoe will even live to see it.

Parental Advisories: I would not recommend this book for younger readers as there is some slight mention of violence and gore (e.g. Zoe is spattered with blood from a character being shot in front of her, descriptions of someone being shot, [nothing too profane or grisly]) and there is some cussing [d**n, a**, bull****]. That having been said for older teenagers or adults, I highly recommend this novel. The cussing appeared maybe three times and the violence was played down, with the emphasis being on the urgency to stop the bank robbery from taking place. Read at your own discretion.

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The League of Secret Heroes

This week we’re reading through some very heroic material for our latest book review. Interested in superheroes, historical fiction, and female leads? You’ll love this one by Kate Hannigan.

The Story: Josie O’Malley knows that superheroes don’t exist – not now anyway. They disappeared a while back, but she’s crossing her fingers that they’re still out there, fighting the good fight across the ocean. Maybe they’ve hung up their capes here in America, but she’s certain no true hero would forget about the war with Germany and Japan. If only she was superhero enough to take up the fight on her own home turf. When she decided to try out to become a puzzler and help the war effort, she soon discovers she’s not the only one who wants to contribute to the war effort. Mae and Akiko both believe in their country and fighting injustice, despite the injustice they face in their own lives. Through a bizarre turn of events, the three girls find themselves transformed into the very heroes they aspire to be. Everything finally seems to be working in their favor. But what happens when you’re not sure who you can trust, you’re fighting to be recognized by the people you’re trying to protect, and you’re not even sure the war you can’t fight will even end?

My Thoughts: I’m a big fan of historical fiction. What with the plethora of WWII novels being released, there’s plenty to enjoy, but The League of Secret Heroes: Cape stood out to me. With its unique format (graphic storytelling scattered throughout the book) and plucky heroines, this is a book that will teach, inspire, and enthrall.

Parental Advisories: None! A clean read all the way through. The book does touch on racism, the Japanese internment camps, and WWII though, topics worthy of discussion if your reader hasn’t come across them.

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Pie in the Sky

There’s nothing like a story that allows us to take a peek into different worlds and understand what it feels like to be the outsider. This week on the blog we’re reading a particularly unique book by author Remy Lai.

The Story: Jingwen is pretty sure he’s just landed on Mars. Where else could he be? What with the weird languages, new smells, and sights – everything his little brother Yanghao seems to pick up on and he doesn’t – Australia is about as far from home as it gets. If only he could understand English, if only he weren’t so s l o w. For Jingwen it seems the only thing he can do to fix everything is to make Pie in the Sky cakes like his father did. Maybe then he can help his little brother remember everything about the past. Maybe then he can make up for everything he did. Maybe, little by little, his cakes can fix everything…sort of.

My Thoughts: I absolutely powered through this read. With its half comic, half narrative format, Pie in the Sky, is an utterly unique way to tell a story. Remy Lai does a remarkable job of conveying what it’s like to not only be the new kid, but to communicate the language barrier of moving to a new country. Jingwen is a relatable protagonist and the character dynamics feel very natural and enjoyable to read.

Parental Advisories: Given that these characters are new to life in an English speaking country, there is some mention made of cussing, though the worst that is printed is cr*p. For parents who are concerned, they could wait to hand this book off to younger readers, though I highly recommend this book for at least junior high students. It’s a good read for those trying to get into heftier fiction, without quite as high a word count.

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Knights vs Monsters

In 2019, Matt Phelan brought us a unique take on the middle ages and knighthood with his Knights vs Dinosaurs. This time the unique troupe of heroes are poised to take on an altogether different kind of foe in this exciting follow up read.

The Story: The quest for the Holy Grail drags on, but the Band of the Terrible Lizards knows this is not their place. They’re meant for more than journeying from town to town looking for an ancient cup, with the most exciting bit of news being Hector’s mustache being clipped down. When will they finally get back to their adventures of daring do? When a mysterious boat sails towards them, the knights decide to see where it will lead. But when they reach the Isle of Orkney, where Queen Morguase, Mordred, and her three sons inhabit the stone castle, the knights realize there’s more to this new quest than meets the eye. Indeed, once night has fallen, the brave troupe will realize there’s a lot more than just dragons awaiting them in the twilight, but perhaps something far worse…

My Thoughts: Having enjoyed the previous work, Knights vs Monsters was a welcome sequel. I think the story was well-written, with intriguing beats being woven in and certain story threads left open rather well to lead into yet another book (but if you haven’t read it, you’ll have to see what I mean and comment on whether you agree). Matt Phelan does a good job of honoring Scottish folklore by weaving in some traditional mythical creatures. This was a highly enjoyable read and I would definitely recommend it.

Parental Advisories: A clean read! Some mild violence, and mention is made of witchcraft, so parental discretion advised. However, the magic is no more than a mysterious mist that is controlled by a queen who supposedly is practiced in sorcery. Explicit ceremonies, spells, and the like are not made mention of.

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Ada’s Violin

If there’s something I love, it’s a story that focuses on characters who overcome their circumstances. Even better? When it’s based on true to life events as in this week’s read based off of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comfort.

The Story: In a trash heap in Paraguay, children like Ada yearn for a different life. There’s not much hope however. They must be content knowing their life is built on, in, and around trash. When music lessons are offered legacy, a little bit of hope emerges – only to be dashed once more. With only so many instruments available, instruments that cannot be taken home for practice given their high cash value, how can any of the children even dare to dream of becoming musicians? Still, there’s nothing that can-do attitude can’t fix and where better to find the material for instruments then in the middle of the biggest foraging spot ever.

My Thoughts: For anyone who says “can’t”, there are others around the world who say “can”. This is one of those books that will inspire readers to not only take comfort and develop gratitude for what they have, but to inspire them to reach higher. Nothing is impossible and your circumstances are not deciding factors in what will and won’t happen in your life. These children and their parents proved determination and courage are much more than the things that may seem to hold you back.

Parental Advisories: None! Clean and inspiring, regardless of age.

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The History of Rock

Yeah we know. Anything nonfiction with the word “history” in the title aimed at children and there’s an instant trepidation. But who says learning can’t be fun? Rita Nabais and illustrator Joana Raimundo certainly think it can be and they prove it with this week’s rockin’ read.

Summary: Rock n’ roll. Once a rebellious fad for teenagers, now a ubiquitous form of music featured everywhere from your local roller rink to blockbuster superhero films to your grandma’s living room. As wellspread as the genre is, it’s just as colorful and varied. To catalogue the Beatles with Alice Cooper? This is one genre that’s just got to be explored, and this book does that job well. From the roots of soul, country, and the evolution from Elvis to Led Zeppelin, this is the perfect introduction to the story behind rock n’ roll for big fans and little punks alike.

My Thoughts: Having been raised in a household where Van Halen (who deserved more than a footnote to Led Zeppelin based on Eddie alone but I digress) was considered to be one of the greats. That having been said, author Rita Nabais and illustrator Joana Raimundo do an excellent job of making rock n’ roll history fun to learn. If you were ever a music and/or rock junkie, this is the perfect book to get you back into the classics and introduce you to that vivid, showstopping (or dark and metallic – whatever your preference) world of rock music.

Parental Advisories: None! Clean nonfiction read that is suitable and enjoyable for all audiences.

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Welcome to Superhero School

We love our ARCs – and this one is an exciting read from author Gracie Dix! If you’re looking for an exciting middle grade book, you’re in luck. This one won’t disappoint.

The story: It’s not so easy being a superhero. Just ask Oliver and Jess, siblings at Superhero School. Their powers don’t come easy. There’s a lot of training involved just to become a quality leader. And if that weren’t enough, superheroes always have an opponent. Supervillains come in all shapes and sizes and this time the siblings are faced against the deadly villains of Vork. What with the secrets of twins Mason and Jason, the incredible locations, and the danger that lurks around every corner, it seems it’s not going to be dull school year.

My thoughts: Part Marvel origin story, part Percy Jackson, and all parts awesome, Welcome to Superhero School is yet another great read from authoress Gracie Dix! This is a novel definitely targeted towards younger audiences (no lengthy prose or intricate prose), but it serves its purpose well. Highly entertaining and a delightful book to while away the afternoon with, this is one to hand off to your middle grade readers who have graduated from lighter reads and are looking for something a bit more hefty.

Parental Advisories: None! This is a clean read straight through!

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Pretend She’s Here

It is the rare YA novel that manages to capture my attention so thoroughly and my regard even more so. This week we’re reading a thriller for teens that is well-paced, cunningly plotted – and impossible to put down.

The Story: Emily knows pain. Her best friend Lizzie has died of cancer and there’s no one who can quite understand that hurt. That is, until the Porters come back into town. Emily knows Lizzie’s family will understand better than ever. Maybe a little too well. When she finds herself kidnapped and transported to a completely different town, Emily wakes up to see a different girl in the mirror. It’s not just pain that she’s forced to live now, but her best friend’s life. In order to placate the forces who have taken her, she’ll have to walk the fine line between being her dead best friend and herself, before she loses Emily Lonergan forever.

My Thoughts: Pretend She’s Here thrihooked me right from the middle. Yes, that’s right, the middle. I opened the book up a few chapters in, and was so caught up that I never bothered to go back. After my first read through, I went back and read this a second time because wow. This book is written so well and the thriller genre is never forgotten, even when familiar slice of life elements make an appearance. Luanne Rice weaves her tale deftly, managing to balance the dark and the light as masterfully as she manages to convey the tragedy of the situation as well as the multi-faceted character dynamics.

Parental Advisories: We love a clean read. I was especially shocked given that this was a thriller and I expected a fair amount of cussing, but this was a clean book the whole way through! Highly recommend it for any reader. This is a thrilling read clean and clear enough for any audience.

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