Mini Book Reviews: Summer Fiction


Parents are too easily frightened by the world their children live in. We have to protect them from harm, keep them safe as long as we can, no matter how we feel about them. It’s our duty.

The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin: Set in Idaho at the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, The Girls of No Return is narrated by Lida who has been sent to the Alice Marshall School because she has a Thing. I have mixed feelings about this book. Mainly because most of the other girls at the camp are far more interesting than Lida. In fact, I spent most of the book wondering why on earth Lida was telling the story. I will say, though, that Saldin does pretty deftly show why Lida’s story is important when the climax and resolution occur. And I thought it was cheating that Lida’s Thing isn’t revealed until really late in the narrative.

On the plus side, the story was beautifully written and easy to read. Loved the setting. LOVED. The wilderness just sounds beautiful and awe inspiring. I wish Saldin had used the majesty of the setting even more. Especially because Lida talks about feeling so good out in the wilderness. And! I want to know how that translates into her life after Alice Marshall, especially since the framing device is her writing about the events after the fact.

Source: Library

It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: Ah, there is so much I want to say about this book, most of which is spoilery. I will say that it took me a long time to read/finish (maybe because I was in end of the semester hell), and I almost put it aside. But when I got to that line about best friends, I had to finish. I just had to.

I’m glad I stuck with the book. The plotting is ace, and I found myself flipping back and forth from the end to the beginning to pick up clues I had missed about some of the twisty elements. I love that this book looks at non-traditional roles of women in the war effort (on both sides) and how it plays with expectations. Mostly, I love it because it’s about best friends and their fierce love for one another.

Also, it just cannot be said enough that war sucks so hard.

Source: Borrowed from a member of book club

“I’m going to tell you a secret. Our lives are shaped by the future, not by the past. Once you decide how you want your life to be, all you need to do is live into that future.”

Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall by Wendy Mass: This book was a lot darker than I thought it would be (the cover and title are cutesy), but I enjoyed it so much. Told in verse, the story recounts Tessa’s life through different items she got from the mall (where both of her parents work). Hanging in the balance between life and death, Tessa has a lot to learn about herself and how she wound up in a coma from a dodgeball accident.  That makes it sound heavy, but it’s really not. Everything is handled with a light touch and, while I understood Tessa’s disconnect, she wasn’t hopeless as a character or narrator.

I love Tessa. She’s so flawed and honest. The way she feels about her family and the way they treat her are brought out in really interesting ways. The book also has one of the best opening lines ever, endorsed by Judy Blume. So there’s that.

Source: Library

If I couldn’t name it, would I even know what it is? Would I even feel it at all?

Matched by Ally Condie: I am on a dystopian fiction hiatus, but this was a book club choice. I enjoyed it for what it was. I mean, making it a romance with a bonafide love triangle was the certainly the way to go to keep my interest. So I appreciated it for that alone. I also appreciated that this book is more like The Giver in its setting (we’re keeping you from pain!) than some of the darker dystopian fiction that’s out now (kill all the children!). That said, I won’t be seeking out the other books in the trilogy.

Oh, and I’m Team Xander. Obviously. Although I have nothing against Ky.

Source: Library


“It was a mistake,” you said. But the cruel thing was, it felt like the mistake was mine, for trusting you.

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan: Gah, this is a book experiment done right. The book chronicles a relationship in the form of dictionary entries, in alphabetical order. I love this book so hard. I love that it’s non-linear. I love that it’s heartbreaking and painful and joyous. I love it. Love, love, love it. Such a great read.

Source: Library

The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes: I read this book a while ago, so I’m iffy on the details, but I know it deals with the aftermath of a bad accident which left one friend exiled to France, one disabled, and one physically unscathed. I had a hard time with this book, though there are things I like about it. Mainly, the girls’ focus on being elected Homecoming Queen and campaigning for it and how much the mother cared and that they were preparing for it their WHOLE LIVES just never connects with me–mostly because that’s so opposite of the experience I had in high school. Any book/movie/TV show with that sort of popularity contest at its core makes me roll my eyes, unless it’s played for ridiculousness. I do appreciate that the main character is over it all, but all the role playing and campaigning and angst about it with the perfect hair and perfect boyfriend stuff just…whatever.

But, on the plus side, this is a book about the impact of an inspiring English teacher and I can’t help but love that kind of plot/character. Not that I’m biased or anything. And! It’s about female friendship! So another mixed feelings book.

Source: Netgalley


Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce: My first Tamora Pierce! Ever! I was underwhelmed by the book, and I’m not sure if I would’ve loved it as a kid. (Probably.) Everything just moved kind of fast, and I didn’t really care about Alanna that much. In that sense, the book felt more like a plot outline, especially because the characterization was so flat. The premise is so cool, though.

Off the Shelf: 6/30

Source: My shelf

Now and Zen by Linda Gerber: Story of a Japanese-American girl who goes to Japan and finds herself. Liked the look at Japan. Everything else was pretty forgettable.

Off the Shelf: 5/30; POC Reading Challenge: 5/25

Source: My shelf

I mean, if my mother were introducing us she would say, “My daughter Jill, the actress. My son Douglas, the musician. My son Dennis; would you like to hear him do the Anacin commercial?”

But when she got around to me, what could she say? “And this is Laura. She’s twelve.”

And This Is Laura by Ellen Conford: Ellen Conford is so great! She takes this idea of a girl who feels invisible in her family, gives her a special gift (she’s psychic! maybe!) and then still manages to make it all so realistic and like it’s happening right next door. So, clearly, I need more Ellen Conford in my life.

Off the Shelf: 4/30

Source: My shelf

Mini Reviews: Summer Audiobooks

So, yes, my life has been chaotic and busy, mostly due to all of the teaching and grading I’ve done this summer. Oh, and the moving. So add it all together, and that left me with precious little time to read and even less time to actually update. So! Mini reviews! I’ll start with audiobooks, then do fiction, non-fiction, picture books, and BSC graphic novels.

Trust needs time to heal, but forgiveness is a decision.

Let It Go: Forgive So You Can Be Forgiven by T.D. Jakes (read by the author): In this book, Jakes offers information about why forgiveness is necessary. He also gives information about how to forgive. My favorite part of the book is that he spends a lot of time focusing on forgiving oneself, something that I think often goes overlooked when talking about forgiveness. The book has a Biblical bent–Jakes references Bible verses throughout–but gets more explicitly Christian as the book goes on.

I listened to this book while packing, and it was engaging enough, except sometimes I found myself tuning out. That may have had more to do with Jakes’s narration than the content, honestly. I was expecting to hear Jakes, the exuberant and exciting preacher, not Jakes, the subdued book reader. So, yes, I was looking for more of a performance with the narration and got a bedtime reading voice. I never quite got over that.

That said, I probably would have enjoyed it more if I read it on the page because I would have heard Jakes’s voice the way I wanted to in my head. Good content, though. And I loved the woman who introduced the chapters.

Audiobook Challenge: 3/12; POC Challenge: 4/25

Source: Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer Program

Invisible by Pete Hautman (read by Norm Lee): This one was actually a reread for me, but it was new for my daughter. (We listened to it together in the car.) Brief synopsis: Dougie has been labeled troubled by his family and schoolmates, but he doesn’t think he is, nor does his best friend Andy. This book chronicles Dougie’s relationship with Andy and his obsession with a classmate, and some of the decisions he makes in between.

The book was really captivating. As a reader/listener we could tell something was off with Dougie, but it was hard to tell until his interactions with other people. My daughter thought that was really well done, and the characterization was good. She liked it a lot more than I did since I just found it okay. To the book’s credit, we did need to know what was going to happen and finished it pretty quickly, so that’s a plus.

Audiobook Challenge: 2/12

Source: Library

Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen Degeneres (read by the author): Guys, I love Ellen Degeneres. I just do. She’s so great. She’s fun and funny, and her audiobook was fun and funny, too. My favorite bits were (a) when she talked about being a Cover Girl and how that doesn’t make her just another gorgeous blond and (b) when she meditated. The meditating bit was great because it’s exactly how my mind works when I attempt quiet meditation, which is to say it goes all over the place.

Anyway, I am 100% sure that this book is more fun as an audiobook because Ellen is kind of ridiculous and her delivery is fantastic. Some bits are just her reading funny words or making weird noises. Oh, and I loved the way she introduces each chapter. She gets more and more enthusiastic about them as the book goes on.

My daughter listened to this one with me as well, and we had a lot of fun. In fact, she would turn to me at various times in the car and say, “Ellen is so silly!”

Relatedly, I know Ellen is happy that Finding Nemo is getting a sequel. The fact that it didn’t have one is a sticking point in the book.

Audiobook Challenge: 1/12

Source: Library