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Diamond Willow by Helen Frost (2008)

diamondwillowHelen Frost tells the story of 12-year-old Diamond Willow, named after diamond willow sticks, which when carved and polished, have beautiful diamond-shaped designs. These designs are the forms that Frost's poems take in the book, each containing a hidden message.

Willow struggles interacting with other humans; however, she loves dogs and has a special connection with her family's favorite sled dog, Roxy. While attempting to save Roxy's life, an unexpected snowstorm ends up landing Willow in a harrowing predicament. Ultimately, though, this adventure leads to the reveal of a family secret kept hidden Willow's entire life.

A quick read and a creative format, Diamond Willow is on the Bluestem nominee list for 2019 for grades 3-5.
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Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017)

manhattanbeachJennifer Egan’s epic novel Manhattan Beach is set in the Brooklyn Naval Yards during World War II. This coming-of-age novel features Anna Kerrigan as a fiercely independent young woman who longs to serve the war effort as a diver, an occupation reserved solely for men in 1940s America. Anna’s underwater training takes her deep into the murky waters of New York Harbor, while her quest to uncover the mystery that has torn her family apart leads her into the dark underworld of organized crime.

Manhattan Beach was long-listed for the National Book Award in 2017. I recommend giving this one a listen — the audiobook narration by Vincent Piazza of Boardwalk Empire adds the perfect touch of noir to this historic novel.

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham (2017)

roosterbarThree third-year law students at a for-profit law school are discouraged that only about half its graduates pass the bar and even fewer find jobs. After a bipolar friend commits suicide, the three lose any motivation to finish their studies and hang around the courts and hospitals trying to find clients to help. Yes, they accept fees and represent themselves as practicing lawyers, so the misadventures begin. Can John Grisham possibly find a soft landing for these three? Read The Rooster Bar to find out.

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn (2018)

womaninthewindowIf you enjoy classic Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, you will surely love this debut novel by A. J. Finn. Dr. Anna Fox, a former child psychologist, suffers from agoraphobia. She never leaves her house, nor does she ever open any windows. Nevertheless, she is quite a busy woman. She spends her time watching classic movies, drinking much merlot, and self-medicating with pills.

One of her favorite pastimes is spying on her neighbors. One day, as she is spying, Anna witnesses something horrible. The only problem? She cannot find a soul who believes her. The Woman in the Window is filled with twists and turns, and will keep readers entertained from beginning to end.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (2012)

shattermeImagine what it would do to a person to never feel the touch of another human being. Not because of loneliness, but out of fear. Something in Juliette’s body causes anyone who makes contact with her skin to undergo such excruciating pain that if contact has been made long enough, they will die.

In and out of doctors’ offices, psychiatric care, and more, her parents just want to rid themselves of their burden after the unspeakable happens. Juliette’s in an asylum—this is her life now. Until a government official takes interest in her and takes her in. Perhaps he can make use of this…gift. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi is filled with anticipation, heartache, and maybe, just maybe, a chance for Juliette to find love. This is her story.

Digging In by Loretta Nyhan (2018)

digginginTwo years after her husband died in an accident, Paige, living with her teenage son, Trey, is going through the motions of life. Adding to the stress, changes are afoot at the advertising agency where she works. Big Frank, the founder of the agency, has passed away and his son, Lukas has taken over. Lukas is enamored of the principles outlined in a trendy new business bestseller and has completely redesigned the workplace. He has also made it apparent that two out of the office's six employees will be let go soon.

One thing that has been extremely satisfying for Paige in this time of upheaval is digging in her backyard, much to the dismay of her noisy and not-so-nice neighbor, Mr. Eckhardt. Soon, Paige decides that she will turn the backyard into a garden. Will Paige be able to pull her professional and personal lives back together--and get a garden to grow? Digging In is a humorous tale of a woman overcoming a tragedy and finding a new self. Loretta Nyhan’s book is a great choice for those who love novels about relationships.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson (2016)

msbixbysWritten from the alternating perspectives of three sixth grade boys, this exceptional novel follows their quest to create a very special "last day" for their teacher, recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and unable to finish the school year. Clever, funny, and heartwarming, this quick read will take you through a range of emotions as you are part of Steve, Brand, and Topher's mission for their beloved Ms. Bixby.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson is among the 2019 Bluestem and Caudill Award nominees for the State of Illinois, designed for students in grades 3-5 and 4-8, respectively, but grownups, don't discount the opportunity to enjoy this book as well!

The Midnight Line by Lee Child (2017)

midnightlineRetired army officer Jack Reacher has not settled down after leaving the service. He travels light, buying new when the old becomes worn and never stays long in one place. He finds a West Point ring in a pawnshop and begins a journey through the Midwest to Wyoming hoping to find the owner and hear her story. Along the way, Jack meets the owner’s twin sister and the detective she has hired to find her twin. They encounter many obstacles including those raised by illegal drugs, but Jack is tough and the honor of a fellow officer is at stake so there is no thought of giving up even when the way is filled with danger.

Check out The Midnight Line for Lee Child’s latest adventure starring Jack Reacher.

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland (2018)

needtoknowVivian works for the CIA as a counterintelligence analyst focusing on Russia, trying to uncover their spies in the United States. One day, while doing her work, she finds information that hits close to home and leads her to question the last ten years of her life. Not really knowing who she can trust or turn to puts her on edge, especially when her children's lives are threatened. Karen Cleveland’s Need to Know is a fast-paced tale for readers who enjoyed Chris Pavone's The Expats and the television show The Americans. It's also the perfect book for your summer beach bag.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2015)

fishinatreeA fascinating and enlightening story, Fish in a Tree follows a sixth grade girl who always struggled in school, but never could understand why until a persistent, caring teacher finally helps diagnose her with dyslexia. The author herself experienced a similar childhood to Ally, which gives so much depth of perspective to the character's struggle with an inability to read and write. Once diagnosed, Ally begins to discover through perseverance that a learning disability does not define who she is or her intelligence.

I only knew the basic symptoms of dyslexia prior to reading Fish in a Tree; however, I now feel a whole new appreciation for those who struggle with this and similar learning disorders on a daily basis because of Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s thoughtful and personal testimony incorporated into her novel.

Fish in a Tree is among the 2019 Bluestem Award nominees for the State of Illinois, designed for students in grades 3-5.

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (2017)

scribeofsienaIn the present day, neurosurgeon Beatrice travels to Siena after her brother, a medieval historian, dies. Somehow, Beatrice travels in time to medieval Siena during the plague (around 1350). As you read The Scribe of Siena, you’ll feel that you were there too—the writing and descriptions are so vivid. Check out Melodie Winawer’s captivating debut novel today. For fans of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn (2018)

womaninthewindowA suspense-filled, attention-grabbing story that kept me riveted from beginning to end. I couldn’t wait to get back to The Woman in the Window when I wasn’t listening to it on CD. Check out A. J. Finn’s debut novel today if you enjoy psychological suspense or Hitchcock films. For similar novels, check out our list.

The Other Side of Everything by Lauren Doyle Owens (2018)

When a few female senior citizens are murdered in their homes, the neighborhood that the victims resided in goes on high alert. Octogenarian Bernard and his friends decide to take action and make sure that the older single women are not alone by having a single man in the group move in with them until the perpetrator is caught. Amy, an artist in her 30s, begins to create paintings about the crimes. Another neighbor, teenager Maddie is home alone a lot with her younger brother since her mother abandoned the family. Maddie also has doubts that the man the police are targeting is guilty since she knows him as a customer at the restaurant where she works as a waitress.

In The Other Side of Everything, Lauren Doyle Owens explores the aftereffects of a series of crimes through these three characters and their intersecting lives. As suggested by the publisher on the flyleaf of the book, Owens’ debut is for readers who like Megan Abbott and Laura Lippman's standalone novels. Also, if you enjoy this book, try the wonderful, yet not well known The Long and Faraway Gone by Louis Berney.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman (2016)

Dystopian writing at its best—it is the distant future, and humanity has overcome poverty, hunger, and even death, while a seemingly benevolent artificial intelligence known as the Thunderhead watches over everything...almost everything. The one thing left to humanity is to control the overpopulation of the planet, and that is left to the scythes: men and women chosen to kill the populace at random based on a quota system. Some scythes are weighed down by the burden of responsibility while others take great satisfaction in their duties. When two teen scythes are pitted against one another to compete for one opening, it sends shockwaves through the entire scythedom.

After reading Neal Schusterman’s Scythe, check out the sequel Thunderhead.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (2017)

wishtreeRed, a wishtree, has been around her community for a long time. She's seen people come together and now she is seeing her community torn apart by a single word carved into her trunk: LEAVE. Red—and her residents, which include owls, skunks, possums, raccoons, and a crow—work to bring their community back together.

Wishtree was recommended to me by one of the K&T librarians, Monica, and it did NOT disappoint!

Katherine Applegate's writing style is accessible and natural. Her words flow and easily tell the story. I was utterly captivated by the history of the wishtree and all that Red has seen in her life. And I love the idea of bringing a community together, so needless to say, I was rooting for everyone!

I listened to this book on audio and it would make a great car trip read for families. I think that fans of Erin Hunter's Warriors series or of Applegate's Newbery winner The One and Only Ivan would absolutely enjoy this title as well.