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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.

 

Firstlife by Gena Showalter (2016)

firstlifeImagine if our lives right now weren’t our only lives, that if after we die, there’s another life. But there’s one caveat, we have to choose a side: Myriad or Troika. One, a world of eternal darkness but luxury beyond your deepest desires. The other, a world of eternal light and joy. If you die before choosing, you’re stuck in the Land of Many Ways: a place where you're rumored to be terrorized for all eternity before eventually experiencing your second and final death. Troika and Myriad are rivals trapped in a bitter, never-ending war, looking to recruit the most souls.

Both afterlives are in a race to recruit Tenley Lockwood, but how does she know which is the right choice? This is the afterlife, after all. Once you decide, there’s no going back. Check out Firstlife by Gena Showalter.

Killer Choice by Tom Hunt (2018)

killerchoiceWhat would you do to protect the one you love? When Gary Foster finds out his pregnant wife Beth is diagnosed with a brain tumor and that a clinical trial in Germany might help her, he feels powerless, because there is no way they can afford the $200,000 cost. When a local criminal anonymously approaches Gary, offering to give him the money if Gary kills someone for him, Gary agrees--but complications arise both with the deal and in his personal life.

In Killer Choice, Tom Hunt has written a fast-paced read that's hard to put down, as long as you can buy into the premise. Great for readers of Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, and David Rosenfelt's standalone novels.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2015)

simon-vs-agenda-homo-sapiensSimon Spier has a crush on a guy he's never met, his friend group is undergoing major changes, and he's being blackmailed. Junior year is way more complicated than he thought it would be.

I absolutely adore this book. I listened to the audiobook version of this early last year and it remains one of my favorite reads of 2017.

Becky Albertalli balances humor, teen angst, and romance to create a fabulous first novel.

And if you like Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, there's another book in the Simonverse: The Upside of Unrequited. (A third book, Leah on the Offbeat, comes out later this year.)

And—Simon is being made into a movie! It was renamed Love, Simon and hit theaters last week. Now's your chance to read the book before you see the movie.

 

A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena (2017)

strangerinthehouseTom Krupp thought he had the perfect marriage. He is very much in love with his wife Karen. But does he really know her? Why did she speed away from a murder scene one night and drive so recklessly that she crashes her car into a utility pole? Why does she continue to say she remembers nothing about that night?

Throw in the obsessed neighbor from across the street and you have a very entertaining thriller by Shari Lapena. Check out A Stranger in the House today.

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (2013)

testingJoelle Charbonneau’s dystopian novel takes place in the far future and depicts the aftereffects of a nuclear fallout. It asks the question of what makes a good leader. How does a people choose leaders that will act in the best interest of everyone? Leaders who won’t abuse the power they’ve been given and instead help the country flourish under their guidance? The Test that the title refers to hopes to be a solution to this question.

There hasn’t been a candidate chosen for the Testing in Cia Vale’s small town in a very long, long time. It’s why it comes as such a surprise that after graduating, she was chosen. Why was it her and not her brothers who were just as qualified (if not more so)?

The Testing is action-packed with decent pacing that keeps you wondering what will happen next. There is also some romance without it overwhelming the main plot (and no love triangle!). Journey with Cia Vale as she proceeds through a Test of her own.

Part of a trilogy, The Testing is followed by Independent Study and Graduation Day.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (2014)

alltheboysLara Jean Song Covey has written a love letter to every boy she's ever loved. The letters are in her room, in a hatbox, hidden. Until suddenly they are mailed out...

Lara Jean is a fantastic protagonist. She's incredibly family-oriented, with very tight bonds to her father and both of her sisters.

One of my favorite things about this book series is that while Lara Jean may have a romance, her entire story isn't a romance. She has friends, goals, aspirations, and hobbies besides dating.

Both of the romantic possibilities are fleshed-out, and I could see Lara Jean with either of them -- which made it all the more realistic.

All three books in the series are out now, so there's no waiting to find out how Lara Jean's story ends. Start with To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved by Jenny Han, then check out P.S. I Still Love You (book 2) and Always and Forever, Lara Jean (book 3).

 

Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig (2015)

lastbustowisdomInspired by a cross-country trip Ivan Doig took as a young boy in the summer of 1951, Last Bus to Wisdom is about Donal, an 11-year-old boy, being raised by his grandmother on the Double W Ranch in Montana. When his grandmother requires surgery, Donal is sent to live with his bossy, rule-driven great-aunt Kate in Wisconsin. When Kate reaches her wit’s end, she sends Donal back to Montana. Her husband, Herman, joins Donal on the greyhound for the summer of a lifetime, using their wits to survive.

Along the way, Donal asks characters to sign his memory book, which opens him up to all kinds of people on the road, from hobos and villains to soldiers and kind-hearted travelers, with a few recognizable faces, such as Jack Kerouac. Doig is a great storyteller, whose character-driven novel has a strong sense of place, keeping readers anticipating where the story will go next and who they will meet along the way. In Last Bus to Wisdom, it’s not about the destination, but the journey.

The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy (2017)

libraryedgeofworldHanna, a librarian in the small town of Lissbeg, on the west coast of Ireland, determines that she must renovate the cottage left to her by her Aunt Maggie, because she cannot stand to live with her mother, Mary, anymore. Hanna and her daughter, Jazz, now living in France, had moved back to the area from London three years ago after Hanna discovered her husband, Malcolm, had been cheating on her.

With limited funds, since she took no divorce settlement from wealthy Malcolm, Hanna wonders if she has enough money to get the home in shape. Builder Fury O'Shea just might come through for her, despite his unorthodox methods. Hanna also finds herself involved in local government affairs when it appears that some would like to divert money and resources from the Lissbeg area towards touristy areas like Ballyfin and Carrick. Will they succeed in their plan? Felicity Hayes-McCoy’s The Library at the Edge of the World is a cozy story that will appeal to readers of Maeve Binchy, Jenny Colgan, and Gil McNeil.

Dash by Kirby Larson (2014)

dashI knew little about the Japanese internment camps of WWII before reading this Bluestem-nominated novel (for grades 3-5). But while based in a significant historical time period, the story itself revolves primarily around the relationship between the main character (Mitzi) and her beloved dog, Dash, as well as friends and classmates as they process the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Dash by Kirby Larson is a short listen or read for dog-lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts.