11 of My Favorite Middle Grade Books

Favorite Middle Grade Books

Choosing only a few middle grade books that are my favorites was really difficult! To help, I did not include classics like Anne of Green Gables or Little Women. So, instead, here are some more recent middle grade reads that have, in turn, caused me wonder, made me laugh, and moved me profoundly.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

Amari and the Night Brothers is a gripping fantasy adventure sure to enchant fans from the very first pages. Amari’s brother has gone missing and, though everyone is convinced he is gone for good, Amari is determined to find him. Then she receives a mysterious suitcase inviting her to interview for a supernatural society–the same one her brother secretly worked for. Amari seizes her chance to find her brother, but, if she wants to stay at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs she will first have to pass three trials–not easy when she unwittingly possesses illegal magic. Readers who adore high fantasy involving magical schools, supernatural creatures, and plenty of mystery will love Amari and the Night Brothers.

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New Kid by Jerry Craft

New Kid

New Kid is a brilliant, compelling graphic novel about the struggles of middle school–especially when one is attending a new school.  Jordan Banks really wants to attend art school, but his mother is adamant he attend a fancy prep school instead.  The school boasts little diversity and Jordan faces microaggressions everyday, along with the more general difficulties facing a seventh grader.  Author and illustrator Jerry Craft chronicles it all with warm understanding–and just the right touch of humor.

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Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted stands out among retellings of “Cinderella” both for its original premise and its fully-realized world.  Levine takes the question of why Cinderella would submit to so much abuse from her step-relatives and answers it by suggesting that perhaps she literally had no choice.  From there, the book explores the nature of free will and the gift of choice.  The resulting drama plays out across a richly detailed world peopled with unforgettable characters from the ogres who can seduce their victims to cook themselves to the giants who prove friendlier than readers might expect.  Readers will find themselves, like Ella, enchanted.

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The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

The Two Princesses of Bamarre introduces readers to a magical world full of specters, fairies, wizards, and dragons.  It is a world full of adventures waiting to happen–but the protagonist Princess Addie knows that adventures often contain pain and sorrow.  Her instinctive understanding of the cost that quests can take imparts to the book a subtle richness and depth not often found in middle grade fantasy.

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A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

A Snicker of Magic is one of those rare, wonderful books that seems to defy description, being possessed of a vitality and a heart that cannot be transmitted through a review but rather must be experienced firsthand.  Exuberant, uplifting, fresh, and unexpected, it shines with a, dare I say, magic all its own.  Real, lovable characters; a feel-good message; and an intriguing plot all combine to create the perfect story–the kind that transports you to a place you would love to call your own.

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Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

On some level, I recognize that this book is a little ridiculous. And yet, I am invested in this story. Sophie may read like a Mary Sue, her excess of love interests may be laughable, and the amount of sparkles is absurd. But there is still something utterly winning about a book that is so bad it’s good. I only wish the rest of the series had lived up to this one.

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The Tea Dragon Society by K. O’Neill

O’Neill’s gentle story lines, measured pacing, and whimsically beautiful worlds make her work feel a little like a Hayao Miyazaki film.  She imagines a world where people are kind, all are welcomed, and inclusiveness is a matter of fact.  The drama comes, not from villainy, but rather from misunderstandings, doubt, and fear.  This is the drama of a life, where things that may seem small to some–finding one’s place in the community, learning what one wants to be when grown up–are acknowledged to be big things indeed.   All this combines to make a story filled with wonder, beauty, and hope–the kind of story that invites the reader to sink into it and rest.

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The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society is, ultimately, a celebration of the things that make us unique and the friendships that make us strong. It says that we all need people to love and support us, and that we can go find those people if the ones currently in our lives are not kind. It says that hope and love always triumph in the end. This book is a delight and comfort, one that I return to again and again.

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Lockwood & Co. Series by Jonathan Stroud

The Screaming Staircase is a thrilling start to a new series sure to delight fans not only of Jonathan Stroud and but also of middle-grade fantasy and urban fantasy.  Fast-paced and full of action, it draws readers into its richly-drawn world so tightly that they may not want to leave.

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Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series has enchanted and delighted me right from the start, and I can easily see these books becoming children’s fantasy classics. Book one introduces readers to Morrigan Crow, a young girl who has been told all her life that she is cursed and must die on her eleventh birthday. Instead, however, a bold and brilliant man named Jupiter North arrives, chased by hell-hounds, to whisk her away to the magical world of Nevermoor. The catch is, Morrigan is not meant to be there at all. To stay, she will have to earn a place in the prestigious Wundrous Society, comprised of members who each possess a remarkable talent. But Morrigan does not believe she has any talent at all.

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making possesses a magical charm all its own.  Full of quirks, whimsy, and a lot heart, it grabs readers from the beginning with its evident desire to transport them along with September to the world of Faerie.  And what a world it is.  Far from the safe, comfortable land of candy and sparkles some might expect, Fairyland is rife with danger and the unexpected, hearkening back to traditional tales where an encounter with the fey folk would leave a person changed forever.  September, however, is young–as our sly narrator likes to remind us–and apt to heartlessness.  She does not yet understand the cost her journey may exact and watching her journey carelessly onward full of her innocence broke my own heart just a little.

10 Books If You Like The Baby-Sitters Club

10 Books If You Like the Baby-Sitters Club

Do you love the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels? Looking for more books about middle school, friendship, and identity? Check out these ten recommendations for fans of the Baby-Sitters Club!

Best Babysitters Ever by Carol Cara

Twelve-year-old Malia Twiggs is inspired by the Baby-Sitters Club books to start her own babysitting business. How hard can it be, right? Well…a lot harder than she thought! (Note: Not a graphic novel.)

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Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

Awkward Graphic Novel Book Cover

On her first day at her new school, Penelope (Peppi) Torres pushes a boy so she will not be labelled his nerdy girlfriend.  But soon she discovers that Jaime may be just the friend she needs.  Can she overcome her embarrassment to apologize?  And can the two them find a way to unite their opposing clubs–art and science?  One thing is certain.  Middle school is never dull.

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Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas

Bree cannot wait to start at her new school, Enith Brigitha, and join the Math Club. But then she learns that the only elective still open is Swimming 101–and Bree can’t swim. With the help of her elderly neighbor Etta, however, Bree takes the plunge and even joins the school swim team. The Mighty Manatees are counting on her and her teammates to bring home the State Championship, and save the pool from being sold for a smoothie shop. But the team is having growing pains, and if they cannot work together outside the pool, they may not be able to work together in the pool.

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The Secret of Danger Point by Kim Dwinell

Secret of Danger Point

Sam and Jade’s friendship has felt a little off lately. Jade keeps giggling over boys, which annoys Sam. And now Sam can see ghosts–and Jade thinks she might be losing it. The ghosts want Sam to help save their home. But what can one girl do?

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Twins by Varian Johnson


Maureen and Francine Carter are entering the sixth grade, and things are changing. Francine wants to be called “Fran,” she keeps disappearing after school to hang out with her new friends, and she doesn’t want to share all her classes with Maureen. Then she runs for student council president–but Maureen decides to run, too. Can their sisterly bond withstand the competition?

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Sweet Valley Twins by Francine Pascal

Sweet Valley Twins

Elizabeth and Jessica have always done everything together, but middle school threatens to tear them apart. While Elizabeth wants to join the school newspaper, Jessica is more interested in joining the popular girls in the Unicorn Club–even if that means earning her entry by playing cruel pranks on the other students. Will the twins be able to find their separate ways and remain best friends forever?

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The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat and Joanna Cacao

The Tryout

As a Thai American, Christina has never really felt like she fits in her small Texas town. Then, she sees the middle school cheerleaders. They are everything she is not, but wishes she were. So, along with her best friend, she decides to join the squad. But that means performing a tryout in front of the entire school! Join Christina as she gives her all to the competition.

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Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo

Meg Jo Beth and Amy Graphic Novel Book Cover

The March sisters are facing a Christmas without presents as their mom works late shifts as a nurse and their father serves overseas.  But they soon realize that others have it worse than they do, and that there is still plenty in life to appreciate.  Together, they will face whatever life throws at them and come out stronger.  A graphic novel retelling of Little Women set in modern-day New York City.

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Anne of West Philly by Ivy Noelle Weir & Myisha Haynes

Siblings Matthew and Marilla decide to foster a teenage girl for the first time–and upbeat Anne Shirley immediately makes a place for herself in their West Philadelphia home. She makes friends with Diana, joins the robotics club, and soon is enrolled in STEM competition with her rival Gilbert. But can West Philly be Anne’s home forever?

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Go with the Flow by Lily Williams

Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are sophomores at Hazelton High and they are tired of the tampon/pad dispensers always being empty. If the school can afford new football uniforms, they can stock the restrooms with free menstrual products. They are on a mission to destigmatize periods. But not all of them are as enthusiastic as their leader and, when she goes too far for the cause, their friendship is in jeopardy.

15 of My Favorite Reads of 2022

Choosing the best reads of any year is no easy feat! However, below are 15 titles that particularly resonated with me in 2022. What were some of your favorite reads?

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Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Death on the Nile is one of of Agatha Christie’s finest works, a masterpiece of characterization as well as a truly clever mystery.  Fans of the genre will delight in the plot’s intricacies and red herrings, its myriad of suspects and potential solutions. I have read a number of Christie’s mysteries this year, but this one really stands out.

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Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas

Swim Team is the perfect middle grade graphic novel! With an endearing protagonist, relatable middle school experiences, and fun look at the trials and triumphs of competing on the school swim team, this book takes the classic tale of friendship growing pains and makes it feel fresh.

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Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo Song will enthrall readers with its deeply atmospheric world, its dark suspense, its twists and its turns. But it will also capture them with its complex characters and beautiful prose. Frances Hardinge always delivers an exception story–Cuckoo Song is no exception.

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The Unbelievable Gwenpool by Christopher Hastings, et al

I was not expecting to enjoy Gwenpool as much as I did, but I enjoyed the dark humor, as well as the questions the book raises about the nature of comic books, what they teach us about right and wrong, and how those lessons can shape us.

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All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

 Herriot brings such warmth and humor to his memories of vet practice in the 1930s, that even the difficulties of his profession seem minor when compared to the joy it brings both him and the people (and animals) he helps. Reading his stories feels like tucking into bed with a warm cup of cocoa on a fall evening–cozy, comforting, and altogether perfect!

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Gilded by Marissa Meyer

Gilded is a wonderfully atmosphere fantasy that blends darkness and romance to create a tale that feels so immersive, readers will never want to leave. Based on the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin,” the book quickly makes the story its own, adding in elements of the Wild Hunt, as well as an original mythology that includes gods and their curses and their gifts. Anyone who enjoys a highly inventive fairy tale retelling is sure to fall in love with Marissa Meyer’s Gilded.

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Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra

Frizzy is a must-read for fans of middle grade graphic novels. It is written with sensitivity and insight. And, though it is sometimes hard to read, it ends with a hopeful message that things can change and all hair is beautiful.

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The Dark Queens by Shelley Puhak

Shelley Puhak’s The Dark Queens is one of the most riveting books I have read this year–and one of the most fascinating nonfiction books I have ever read. This narrative nonfiction delves deep into history to recover the stories of female power and leadership that later generations wished to erase. The result is a story so wild, it rivals fiction in its sheer scope of intrigue, wickedness, and just plain weirdness. A recommended read to all who enjoy medieval history or even fiction set in medieval-esque worlds.

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All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

A powerful and timely YA book about police brutality that will leave readers haunted. Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely take turns narrating the story from the perspective of a Black student and a white student from the same school, each responding to the incident differently. The students change throughout the story–and the story will leave readers changed, too.

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The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat and Joanna Cacao

Filled with heart and humor, The Tryout chronicles Christina’s attempts to join the middle school cheerleading team, so she can finally feel like she belongs. Although graphic novels dealing with friendship drama and middle school hierarchies have been trending for years, Soontornvat’s story still feels fresh. She brings to her story not only great sympathy and insight into the desire for acceptance, but also a knowing sense that parts of her story were funny (even if they were not at the time) and that her experience helped her grow (even when things did not turn out the way she wanted). The Tryout is a triumph, a title that is on my personal list of the best middle grade graphic novels.

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Graywaren by Maggie Stiefvater

Stiefvater brings the Dreamer Trilogy to a satisfying conclusion as the stakes are raised, the danger intensifies, and the world starts to change. The sheer inventiveness of Stiefvater’s world, combined with her emotional insight into her characters, makes this trilogy feel not only fresh and original, but also like a wonder to read.

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The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Published in the 1950s, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has become the touchstone of high fantasy. But, for me, Tolkien’s underlying philosophy sets his legendarium apart.  The book implicitly believes in the goodness of people and that good will always conquer evil. It is this belief that keeps me returning to Tolkien’s world.

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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity is one of those rare, sparkling books that seems to come only a few times in a lifetime. It is the type of story that feels so real, so intimate, that it hardly seems it could be fiction. The type of story that is so original, it takes the breath away. The type of story that possibly an author gets only once. Long after I’ve finished the book, Code Name Verity continues to haunt me.

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Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under Fire is a heartbreaking book, one that blends unimaginable horrors with the light of friendship and the strength of human resilience. It is a hard book to read, but an important one.

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Tidesong by Wendy Xu

Tidesong is a gentle fantasy reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film. Young witch-in-training Sophie longs to prove herself, but her self doubt gets in the way of her ability to take direction. As a result, she creates a magical mishap that nearly results in disaster for both humans and dragons. The plot is simple, but also fast paced, so young readers can feel like they experienced a lot of action and growth in a short time.

The 10 Best YA Books I Read in 2022

10 Best YA Books of 2022

I didn’t get to read as much in 2022 as I have in some previous years, but I still read a number of books that were fantastic! Here is my 2022 list for my favorite young adult books of the year. Books are listed in alphabetical order by author last name, and they are books I personally read in 2022, not necessarily published in 2022.

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Flowerheart by Catherine Bakewell

If you want a lighter fantasy that will draw you in and have you cheering for the main character’s success at every turn, while making you feel right at home, Flowerheart may be for you.

Blood and Moonlight book cover

Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty

Blood and Moonlight combines medieval architecture, a murder mystery, and fantasy to create a compelling story unique in the YA scene. Multi-faceted characters kept me riveted to the pages, as they attempted to get into the mind of a serial killer and stop him before his victims pile even higher.

How to Succeed in Witchcraft book cover

How to Succeed in Witchcraft by Aislinn Brophy

How to Succeed in Witchcraft is a creative and moving story that brings readers to a world that functions very similarly to ours–except it’s magic! Protagonist Shay Johnson faces the same pressures as many high schoolers, taking a full load of AP courses in subjects like Potions and Transfiguration and competing hard for a free-ride scholarship to a magical licensing college. Author Aislinn Brophy seamlessly blends her rich magical world building with these real world concerns, creating a story that is sure to stick in readers’ minds after the last page is turned.

Ballad of Never After book cover

The Ballad of Never After by Stephanie Garber

I wrote in my review of Once Upon a Broken Heart that Stephanie Garber had blown me away with a fairy tale world that felt fresh and new and, of course, rather dangerous and with a romance that had my eyes glued to the page. And there is so sequel slump here. The Ballad of Never After continues Evangeline’s story with immersive writing and a story I could hardly put down, and now I’m dying to read the third book.

Forging Silver into Stars by Brigid Kemmerer

If you enjoyed the Cursebreakers trilogy, you will certainly love this continuation. If you were on the fence, I think it’s worth picking this up and giving Kemmerer another shot, as her writing only continues to improve.

A Darkness at the Door by Intisar Khanani

Intisar Khanani has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I fell in love with her storytelling after reading Thorn (a “Goose Girl” retelling), and The Theft of Sunlight was one of my top reads of 2021. I couldn’t wait to continue reading Rae’s tale in A Darkness at the Door, since The Theft of Sunlight ended on a huge cliffhanger, and I was not disappointed. Action, adventure, a bit of magic, a bit of mystery, romance . . . this book has it all, and it’s all led by Rae with her will of iron and a sense of morality she will not have stamped down.


The Dragon’s Promise by Elizabeth Lim

I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Lim’s work since I read Spin the Dawn, and as a sequel to Six Crimson CranesThe Dragon’s Promise did not disappoint. It has action, adventure, vivid world building, and the strong family ties readers first saw in book one when Shiori committed herself to saving her brothers from a life as cranes.

The Drowned Woods book cover

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Every so often I am blessed to read a book that is nearly everything I could want in a YA fantasy. With compelling characters, a fast-paced plot, a vividly imagined world and a corgi sidekick, The Drowned Woods delivers an enchanting reading experience. I finished this book in two days after a minor reading slump, and I’d be happy to check out more of the author’s work in the future.

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove book cover

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrota

Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove is a fast-paced epic fantasy that brings readers into a world of magic and monsters (some of whom are closer to home than protagonist Katyani might like). With lush world building and thoughtful questions about what makes a family and identity, this one is sure to be a hit with fantasy fans.

Hotel Magnifique book cover

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor

Hotel Magnifique is a riveting fantasy that takes readers on a journey with protagonist Jani as she snares a coveted position working in the world’s most (okay, only) magical hotel — and slowly begins to realize things might not be as glamorous as they seem. The lush world building, dazzling magic, sense of mystery, and strong family ties makes this a story very worth reading.


10 Board Books that Make Great Christmas Presents (for Kids 0-3)

10 Board Books to Give as Christmas Gifts

Do you need a Christmas gift for a young child? Here are some fun board book suggestions, most suitable for ages 0-3 that you can consider gifting this holiday! I’ve chosen some that are Christmas-themed and some that are not.

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1. Stir, Crack, Whisk, Bake: A Little Book about Little Cakes by America’s Test Kitchen

An adorable new board book for the littlest of foodies, from the creators of the most-watched cooking show, America’s Test Kitchen, and #1 New York Times bestselling kids cookbook, The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs. Help your little one experience the magic of baking without leaving the comfort of their own home.

“Today is a special day because we’re going to make something together!”

From gathering ingredients to pouring batter to swirling on frosting, little ones will experience the magic of baking cupcakes without leaving the comfort of their bedroom in this first kids baking book. Using an interactive storytelling style, Stir Crack Whisk Bake lets the tiniest chefs be in charge!

In the same vein of interactive books for toddlers including Don’t Push the Button and Tap the Magic Tree, kids can “magically” crack eggs or whisk ingredients together, simply with a swirl of their fingertips! Perfect for little ones who enjoy Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert and want a more interactive board book cooking experience.

2. Santa’s Workshop by Holly Berry-Byrd

It’s time for Christmas Cheer! Come explore the North Pole with your baby or toddler and see inside Santa’s workshop. Visit Mrs. Claus’s kitchen, with this adorable lift-a-flap board book. Simple sentences reinforce future language structure while grasping and lifting the sturdy flaps helps develop fine motor skills. Perfect for stocking stuffers, book exchanges, Christmas gifts and more!

Welcome to the world little one! Come explore Santa’s Workshop Lift-a-Flap board book filled with surprises Perfectly sized for little hands and fingers to open and close the flaps. 6 chunky and sturdy flaps are extra strong so your little one can open and close again and again Surprise and delight baby with bright artwork and special treats under each flap Collect all the books in the Babies Love series. From colors and animals, to first words and holidays, the Babies Love Chunky Lift-a-Flap series is a great introduction to reading with cheerful, contemporary, and whimsical illustrations and sturdy, easy-to-lift flaps.

Jamberry book cover

3. Jamberry by Bruce Degan

This bestselling classic features a berry-loving boy and an endearing rhyme-spouting bear. The fun wordplay and bright paintings with lots of details for young readers to explore make Jamberry a perennial favorite, and this board book edition is a great stocking stuffer.

A small boy and a big friendly bear embark on a berry-picking extravaganza, looking for blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Their fun adventure comes to a razzamatazz finale under a starberry sky.

From author-illustrator Bruce Degen, Jamberry is perfect for sharing. “With delightful, rich illustrations and zany wordplay, Jamberry is a must have book for any family with young children,” according to Children’s Books Guide.

4. Pete the Kitty’s Cozy Christmas Touch and Feel by James Dean and Kimberly Dean

In this Christmas touch-and-feel story, Pete the Kitty gets ready for the holidays! A fun Christmas present for the youngest Pete fans!

Pete the Kitty helps his mom decorate the Christmas tree, he enjoys a cup of hot cocoa outside, and even meets an unexpected jolly visitor at the end!

Toddlers will love celebrating Christmas with Pete the Kitty. Includes five festive touch and feel elements. 

5. There’s an Elf in Your Book by Tom Fletcher

HO, HO, HEY! There’s an ELF in YOUR Christmas book! Get ready for another lively, interactive read-aloud in the Who’s In Your Book series!

Do you have what it takes to make Santa’s Nice List? An elf is here to test you in this participatory read-aloud. Don’t let the elf trick you into being naughty! Just follow his instructions to sing a Christmas carol, clap, BURP… Hey, wait a second! Children will be delighted to join in on the holiday fun.

Bestselling author and musician Tom Fletcher, the creator of the successful West End show The Christmasaurus, has once again paired up with illustrator Greg Abbott to create a creature that readers will fall in love with—and want to play with—again and again!

I Am Otter book cover

6. I Am Otter by Sam Garton

The curious, charming, playful, and internet-famous Otter makes her picture book debut in I Am Otter by author-illustrator Sam Garton. Here’s what Otter has to say about her book: “Hi! I am Otter, and this is a book about me and my best friends, Otter Keeper and Teddy. And it’s about the fun and messy (and little bit scary) adventure we had one day when Otter Keeper was at work. I hope you like the story! (And if you don’t, it’s probably Teddy’s fault.)”

Otter’s utterly winning voice and Sam Garton’s classic yet fresh artwork combine to create a truly hilarious and unforgettable friendship story.

Botany for Babies book cover

7. Botany for Babies by Jonathan Litton

It’s never too early to get an A+ in botany! Here’s a fun new board book series that introduces a wide array of nonfiction subjects to babies and toddlers.

Welcome to Baby 101, where big subjects are tailored for little babies. Featuring simple words and bright and engaging illustrations, this introduction to botany includes information about trees, flowers, seeds, and much more. So don’t be late, because this is one class that babies won’t want to miss. Look for the surprise lift-the-flap ending!

Also available in the Baby 101 series: Anatomy for BabiesZoology for BabiesArchitecture for Babies.

8. Hello, Animals! by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Emily Bolam (Illustrator)

A charming introduction to 10 of baby’s best-loved animals, featuring high contrast black-and-white patterns and a glittering burst of colored foil. With first words to join in with, this stunning book will captivate sparkly little babies everywhere.

9. That’s Not My Reindeer by Fiona Watt

This delightful series of board books is aimed at very young children. The bright pictures, with their patches of different textures, are designed to develop sensory and language awareness. Babies and toddlers will love turning the pages and touching the feely patches.

10. Baby Unicorn: Finger Puppet Book by Victoria Yang

Follow Baby Unicorn as she explores her world:Baby Unicorn Finger Puppet Book invites the youngest readers to follow along with Baby Unicorn as she explores her world and her special healing powers. The simple, comforting story is easy to follow and the permanently attached soft finger puppet keeps little ones engaged. Start building a lifelong love of books at story time with Baby Unicorn.

• Perfect size for curious babies and toddlers to hold and manipulate
• Fun and interactive way to play and read
• Full of colorful, soothing illustrations by Victoria Ying


12 (More) YA Books Perfect for Younger Teens

YA Books Perfect for Younger Teens

Are you looking for a young adult novel for a tween or younger teen? Check out some of these books that are rich in character, storytelling, and world building but that aren’t incredibly dark or overly sexy. And, of course, readers of any age can enjoy them (a lot are my favorites, and I’m an adult!).

Our first list with lower YA recommendations, 15 YA Books for Younger Teens, can be viewed here.

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Queen of the Tiles Book Cover

Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

13 points
noun: a person or thing that precipitates an event or change

When Najwa Bakri walks into her first Scrabble competition since her best friend’s death, it’s with the intention to heal and move on with her life. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to choose the very same competition where said best friend, Trina Low, died. It might be even though Najwa’s trying to change, she’s not ready to give up Trina just yet.

But the same can’t be said for all the other competitors. With Trina, the Scrabble Queen herself, gone, the throne is empty, and her friends are eager to be the next reigning champion. All’s fair in love and Scrabble, but all bets are off when Trina’s formerly inactive Instagram starts posting again, with cryptic messages suggesting that maybe Trina’s death wasn’t as straightforward as everyone thought. And maybe someone at the competition had something to do with it.

As secrets are revealed and the true colors of her friends are shown, it’s up to Najwa to find out who’s behind these mysterious posts—not just to save Trina’s memory, but to save herself.

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Duels and Deception

Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey

Miss Lydia Whitfield, heiress to the family fortune, has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father’s choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Mr. Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.

Until Lydia—and Robert along with her—is kidnapped. Someone is after her fortune and won’t hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert’s help, Lydia strives to keep her family’s good name intact and expose whoever is behind the devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she truly wants…

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Princess of the Midnight Ball

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day Geory

Galen is a young soldier returning from war; Rose is one of twelve princesses condemned to dance each night for the King Under Stone. Together Galen and Rose will search for a way to break the curse that forces the princesses to dance at the midnight balls. All they need is one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all—true love—to conquer their foes in the dark halls below. But malevolent forces are working against them above ground as well, and as cruel as the King Under Stone has seemed, his wrath is mere irritation compared to the evil that awaits Galen and Rose in the brighter world above.

Captivating from start to finish, Jessica Day George’s take on the Grimms’ tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses demonstrates yet again her mastery at spinning something entirely fresh out of a story you thought you knew.

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Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Thorn by Intisar Khanani

A princess with two futures. A destiny all her own.

Between her cruel family and the contempt she faces at court, Princess Alyrra has always longed to escape the confines of her royal life. But when she’s betrothed to the powerful prince Kestrin, Alyrra embarks on a journey to his land with little hope for a better future.

When a mysterious and terrifying sorceress robs Alyrra of both her identity and her role as princess, Alyrra seizes the opportunity to start a new life for herself as a goose girl.

But Alyrra soon finds that Kestrin is not what she expected. The more Alyrra learns of this new kingdom, the pain and suffering its people endure, as well as the danger facing Kestrin from the sorceress herself, the more she knows she can’t remain the goose girl forever.

With the fate of the kingdom at stake, Alyrra is caught between two worlds and ultimately must decide who she is, and what she stands for.

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Spin the Dawn

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

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The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point—he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

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Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom. Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

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Pumpkinheads By Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends.

Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.

But this Halloween is different—Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.

Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if—instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut—they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .

What if their last shift was an adventure?

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Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

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Uglies book cover

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world—and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally’s choice will change her world forever….

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The Fifth Wave book cover

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother-or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

15 YA Books Perfect for Summer

15 YA Books Perfect for Summer

Looking for a summer read? The one that makes you think of days on the beach, travel to foreign countries, or life-changing road trips? Below are 15 YA books that give that perfect summer feeling!

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Alex, Approximately

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Bailey Rydell’s crush is a fellow classic film buff who goes by the name of Alex online. Then Bailey moves across the country to Alex’s California hometown. But Bailey is an evader. Hesitant to tell Alex that she could be living down the street, Bailey determines to try to find Alex herself first. But then Porter happens. Porter is annoying. But also incredibly handsome. And maybe a little funny. Soon Bailey finds herself falling and she wonders if this is fair to Alex. What she doesn’t know is that Porter and Alex are the same person.

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Hurricane Summer

Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield

All Tilla wants is her father to love her, but every year he returns to his true love–Jamaica. Then her mother tells Tilla she will be spending the summer on the island. And Tilla begins to unravel the secrets of her family’s past.

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One True Loves by Elise Bryant

Lenore is heading to NYU in the fall, but without having declared a major. Her family insists she needs to have it all figured out, but sometimes Lenore thinks that isn’t possible. Then she meets the charming Alex Lee while on a Mediterranean cruise. And Alex is the type with a ten-year plan. Could it be the one thing Lenore can predict is love?

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The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Emma Saylor’s mother died when she was ten. Now, she is going to spend the summer with her mother’s family at North Lake. What she did not know is that North Lake is divided into two worlds–the lower-class world where her mother grew up and the upper-class resort where her dad spent his summers. But fortunately a boy named Roo is there to help her put the pieces of her family together.

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How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Moon believes she is destined to fade into the background as the camerawoman for her twin sister, a social media star. Then she takes a job as the merch girl on a summer tour bus full of influencers. She initially hates her bunkmate Santiago, but soon begins to question if this might be the summer when everything for her changes.

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A Love Hate Thing

A Love Hate Thing by Whitney D. Grandison

Nandy lives in the wealthy coastal town of Pacific Hills where she has spent years crafting her perfect image. Then she learns that her parents are taking in a teen boy who was shot on the streets of Lindenwood. And Nandy has a feeling that her perfect image is about to be smashed. But anger and resentment just might turn into love.

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The Summer I Turned Pretty

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

Isabel, known as Belly, experiences first love and heartbreak during one summer as two boys vie for her attention.

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We Were Liars Book Cover

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Every summer, Cady and her cousins go to their grandfather’s private island to spend the summer. Then one year, Cady is found lying on the beach, a hit to her head. And she can’t remember anything.

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This Might Get Awkward by Kara McDowell

Seventeen-year-old Gemma has social anxiety, and can’t even speak to her crush Beau. Then the popular kids at school somehow end up having a party on her solitary beach–and Beau asks her to pretend they are close. After Beau falls out of a boat and becomes unconscious, though, everyone assumes that Gemma is Beau’s girlfriend. Soon, Gemma is too deep into the lie to find a way out.

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple has put school behind her after graduation, but she is excited about attending a summer program for web developers.  Little does she know that her parents are still planning to find her the perfect Indian husband: Rishi Patel is attending the same camp.

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A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey

Lila had her plans for after graduation all figured out–until her family sends her to spend three months in England with family. At first, nothing about England seems satisfactory, until Lila meets Orion Maxwell, a teashop clerk. Orion appoints himself as Lila’s personal tour guide, and soon Lila is falling in love with more than England.

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Beauty and the Besharam by Lillie Vale

After her nemesis Ian Juan witnesses Kavya’s ugly breakup with her boyfriend, she plans to spend the summer after junior year working part time playing princess roles for children’s parties. Unfortunately, not only is she cast as Ariel instead of her beloved Belle, but Ian is going to be her Prince Eric for the summer! Tired of the two fighting, their friends design a series of competitions for Ian and Kavya. But soon, rivalry starts to turn to attraction.

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The Summer of Broken Rules by K. L. Wathers

Meredith Fox goes to Martha’s Vineyard every year for the summer. But this will be the first year since the death of her sister. Fortunately, her cousins is having a huge wedding and the family will be playing the ultimate game of Assassin. Meredith’s target for distraction? A very cute groomsman.

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Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Before Lina’s mother dies, she insists that Lina go to live with her old friend Howard in Italy.  Somehow she forgot to tell Lina what her grandmother does–that Howard is really her father.  Lina doesn’t want to live with a man she barely knows.  And she certainly doesn’t want to stay in Italy, even if it is beautiful.  But then she receives her mother’s old journal and she’s suddenly experiencing Florence for the first time along with her mom.  As Lina continues to read, however, things don’t seem to be adding up.  Why did her mom leave Italy?  And who is Howard, anyway?

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Sunkissed by Kasie West

Avery is not having the best summer. Her best friend betrayed her, and her parents have dragged her and her sister off to camp. But then she notices the mysterious and charming Brookes–who happens to be off-limits.

What YA books would you recommend for summer?

39 of Nancy Drew’s Talents

A List of 39 of Nancy Drew's Talents

Nancy Drew seems to be able to do it all! But have you ever wondered exactly how many skills she has? We read the first 56 Nancy Drew mysteries to create this informal count of Nancy’s many–and varied–talents!

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She can change a tire. (1)

She is an excellent swimmer. (3)

She’s good at tennis. (3)

She was first in her skin diving class. (4)

She can knit. (5)

She is a “skillful rider” on horseback. (5)

She is a great diver. (10)

She is an expert at sailing. (14)

She is good at golf. (15)

She can tap dance. (16)

She knows Morse code. (16)

She has a limited knowledge of ASL fingerspelling. (17)

She’s good at Ping-Pong. (17)

She is a talented sketch artist. (19)

She can read music and play the piano. (21)

She can read Middle English. (22)

She can read French and speak French. (23 and 32)

She plans to take a ceramics class. (26)

She likes to water ski. (28)

She won a novice skier’s competition. (29)

She can ice skate well enough to be in an exhibition with professional skaters. (29)

She knows some ventriloquism. (31)

She can do trick riding well enough to join the circus. (31)

She can do ballet. (32)

She can do rhythmic dance. (32)

She mentions a chance to practice her German (though she does not actually use it in the book). (33)

She wins a prize for Togo at the dog show. (36)

She participates in a water ballet. (37)

She can dance (couples dancing on the dance floor). (37)

She is a swift runner who can vault fences. (39)

She is a wonderful actress. (39)

She learns to play the bagpipes. (41)

She goes scuba diving. (42)

She can sing very well. (45)

She can do first aid like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. (49)

She can cook. (49)

She can play the guitar. (52)

She can speak Spanish (though in another book, only Ned can!) (52)

She learns to fly a plane. (53)

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Even though Nancy is revealed to have at least 39 talents in the first 56 books alone, I fully expected her to have more! At least one new talent per book! Undoubtedly I missed some, or perhaps overlooked some talents the books take as a given for nice, domestic women (cooking, sewing, etc.). But, still, if Nancy can learn to trick ride professionally in a matter of weeks, I think she could pick up a few more skills!

What do you think? Is Nancy Drew as talented as you remember?

10 of My Most Disappointing Reads

10 of My Most Disappointing Reads

Not every book can be a five-star read! Below are some books that failed to meet my expectations.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

I know this is supposed to be some sort of life-changing book with deep philosophy on how to live one’s life to the fullest. But I thought most of the advice was pretty self-evident.

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Dark Waters by Katherine Arden

Dark Waters is rather a low point for the Small Spaces quartet. Under 200 pages in length, the book seems written mainly to fill up the “spring” slot in the series and to bridge the gap until the thrilling conclusion (sold to readers through a cliffhanger). The plot, which features a massive water snake, is simply not as compelling as the plots of the first two books, and it lacks heart. The book is entirely forgettable.

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The Magicians by Lev Grossman

A librarian recommended this to me, saying something about its being Narnia and Harry Potter combined. The book, in fact, lacks any of the magic, delight, and wonder of those two series. Instead, it makes magic seem boring and a chore.

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The Flying Saucer Mystery by Carolyn Keene

Is book 58 in the series the worst Nancy Drew ever? It’s certainly in the running. Nancy heads off to the woods to investigate a UFO, gets high on swamp gas, and spends pages in some sort of weird sci-fi vision where she’s flying through space with Ned. You get the picture.

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Cursebreakers Trilogy by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

While Kemmerer shines as a writer of contemporary romance, the need to create a fully-realized fantasy world with its own internal politics and intrigue was clearly proving a struggle. The Cursebreakers trilogy contains an underdeveloped world with confusing characterization in what appears to be an attempt to make the characters more complex. In the end, the trilogy reads like a bit of a mess, with Kemmerer belatedly trying to convince readers that characters who did wicked things are really good, and that characters with a moral compass are just as bad as the people they are fighting.

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Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

I actually went on to read most of the series after this book, but, wow, book one is rough. Not much happens narrative-wise. It’s not too interesting for characters to walk up a hill.

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Keeper of the Lost Cities Unlocked by Shannon Messenger

I wanted to love this book because I have been an enthusiastic (if not obsessed) fan ever since I read the first Keeper of the Lost Cities books. I have introduced a number of my friends to my series, and I love being able to talk over the latest installments, to argue Keefe vs. Fitz, and to guess what the next book will bring. But even I have to recognize that the series has been getting ridiculously unwieldy, in a way that some more cynical readers might even view as a blatant cash grab. This book is marketed as book 8.5, so readers have to buy one book more before the series finally (I hope) ends with book 9. The marketing implies that there is special bonus material here for fans, but 3/4 of the book is recaps of information fans already know from the other books. Fans have to read the book, though, because it includes a novella that acts as a bridge between books 8 and 9.

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The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

The Dead-Tossed Waves was sometimes unintentionally funny and the possibility of the zombie apocalypse ending the sickening love triangle filled me with naïve hope, but otherwise the book has nothing to recommend it.  An annoying protagonist; terrible prose; bizarre logic; and repetition of scenes, thoughts, and phrases are the most striking aspects of the work. Why was this series popular?

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The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The Thief

I know everyone loves this book, but I really struggle with smart-mouthed characters, and so I really struggled to like this book.

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The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

Some reviewers praised the prose in this book. I…have to disagree. The prose alone almost made me return the book to the library about five pages in. Here’s an example:

“You want to know where Mom is?’” she says, and her teeth are as lurid and luminous as car headlights at night on a secluded highway ribboning through the woods, glinting off the deflective white letters of a green street sign: DO NOT ENTER, STOP, BRIDGE MAY BE ICY, NEXT EXIT ONE MILE, U-TURNS PROHIBITED. Her lips are white, white, white. And I am the animal slinking along the shoulder of the narrow gravel road, thinking I am safe and out of sight. Safe, out of sight, until I am awash in her rictus light.”

Yes, that’s right. Someone’s teeth are compared to car headlights on a nighttime highway. Why??

What are some books that disappointed you?

10 of the Most Romantic Books in Classic Literature

10 Romantic Classic Novels

Do you like classics? Are you looking for a classic book with a romance that will make you swoon? The prefect love story that has lasted generations that you should check out for Valentine’s Day (or any other day of the year?) Here are 10 of our suggestions! (No, Jane Eyre is not on this list; Rochester is a creep.)

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Pride and Prejudice book cover Penguin edition

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

No list of romantic classic novels would be complete without a mention of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett have captivated readers for centuries, in the original novel as well as in various adaptations, sequels, and retellings.


Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott

In this sequel to Eight Cousins, Rose Campbell is all grown up and returning home after two years of travel–and the would-be suitors are lining up.  Will she choose someone suave and debonair or a steady bookish fellow?  Also check out Alcott’s other books if you want to see more of her characters fall in love.

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë 

Young Caroline Helstone is in love with her cousin Robert Moore, but he is too busy attempting to publicly defend his decision to replace workers with more efficient machines in his Yorkshire mill to notice her affections. Caroline is sinking into depression when Shirley Keldar, a wealthy and independent landowner, returns to her estate and befriends Caroline.  But will Caroline lose Robert to her new friend?



A classic love story that has been told and retold (Shakespeare wrote a play, too), featuring star-crossed lovers during the Siege of Troy. If you thought Chaucer only wrote The Canterbury Tales, you’ll be pleased and surprised by the nuance with which he tells the story of Troilus and Cressida and how they fall in love and experience tragedy.


Camille by Alexandre Dumas

This is a very moving and beautiful love story between a pair of lovers who are perfect for each other but doomed by social expectations to be kept apart. When the story begins, their feelings seem as though they could be only infatuation. Armand is obsessed with Marguerite because he thinks she is beautiful. Marguerite tolerates Armand because he knows some of her friends, and then because he expresses pity for her in her sickness. Over time, however, the two develop a meaningful relationship and make sacrifices for each other’s happiness that express their love more strongly than words ever could.


Everyone knows about Jane Austen, but Maria Edgeworth was also quite popular during the Regency era! Her novel Belinda features a seventeen-year-old protagonist looking for marriage and was known by Jane Austen herself.

Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery

Readers familiar with Anne of Green Gables will be familiar with Anne’s contentious relationship with Gilbert Blythe, but it isn’t until the third book in the Anne series that their relationship really begins to bloom. Montgomery writes a romance both sweet and a little bitter as it seems Anne might lose her chance at happiness, due to her own stubbornness.



L. M. Montgomery may be best known for writing Anne of Green Gables (and book three, Anne of the Island, is pretty romantic, as well, as mentioned above!), but The Blue Castle is a beautiful, rather overlooked novel that anyone who wants a light story about unexpected love will enjoy.

North and South book cover

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

While this book is largely about the relationship between employers and employees and worker’s right, when it’s not focused on labor issues, it’s a nuanced exploration of the relationship between the protagonist and a mill owner.


The Scarlet Pimpernel

Readers might best associate this book with adventure (or know it for being a musical and a movie!), as it is set during the French Revolution, and there’s action and intrigue. However, there’s also a lot of romance!