NEW! I recommend some books! REALLY GOOD ONES!

Though I write a lot and read a lot, I rarely write about what I read.  But that’s all going to change!

Every once in a while,  I plan to share some books with you and talk about why I like them (or love, love, love them).  I will not talk about books I DON’T like, mostly because I’m not a paid book reviewer, and there are plenty of places you can go for snarky, harsh or haughty negative reactions.

Lately I’ve been trying to write a middle grade novel.  I’ve never attempted a novel before, and it sure ain’t easy.  As I write, I’m also immersing myself in current books of that genre.  Here are a few of my current favorites:

Okay, so I was drawn to this book — face out in the “new” section of our children’s library — because of the awesome cover, and the even more awesome title.  Flipping to the jacket flap, I read that Camille has low blood sugar.  This interested me because I was looking for books with diabetic characters (Mitzi had just been diagnosed).  While Camille isn’t a diabetic, she is ten kinds of funny.

Camille has a lot to be bummed about.  She has to carry around extra food in a cooler in case her blood sugar bottoms out.  Her best friend moved to Japan.  Her beloved cat is missing.  Her parents are fighting.  She’s cast in the world’s worst school play ever.  But Camille plows through, hilariously stumbling — literally and figuratively — eternally optimistic that her world will, eventually, become a little more fair.  (by Kristen Tracy, Delacourte, 2009)

Okay, another cover that got me.  What could a hamster with a microphone possibly have to do with surviving middle school?  As it turns out, quite a lot.  And no, the picture to the left here is not a video clip, but YouTube plays a big role in this hysterical, fast-paced story about a kid who feels like a real-life dork, but dreams of being a superstar.

David Greenberg’s summer isn’t going as planned.  His best friend becomes girl crazy instead of helping David make his videos.  After a fight, his friend teams up with the horrible local bully, who promises to make David’s first year of middle school a nightmare.   David continues his YouTube posts of Talk Time, mirrored after The Daily Show.  David’s new best friend — a girl! — sends links of his videos to everyone she knows, and it soon goes viral, eventually getting David the fame he’s been craving.  But through it all David has to deal with the threat of toilet swirlies on his birthday, a runaway mom, and the constant bullying.   By his side there’s Hammy, a star in David’s shows and in his heart.  (by Donna Gephart, Delacourte, 2010.  Check out Donna’s website for a super-hilarious Hammy Time video!)

To be honest, I checked out this book for two reasons:  Kurtis Scaletta is a terrific writer, and the premise just seemed to cool to ignore.

When his dad gets a job in Liberia, twelve-year-old Linus is excited to have the chance to remake his image.  The instant he steps foot off the plane he spots a deadly black mamba. Though he’s assured these snakes are rare, Linus soon realizes that he can’t go anywhere without seeing one.  Turns out, the mamba might be a kaseng — an animal which, some people believe, have a mystical connection to a person.  As Linus begins his life in Africa, he finds himself braver and more confident.  Is this a real change, or does it have something to do with his scaly new friend?

Mamba Point isn’t rollicking like the two books above, but it is filled with humor.  Set in the ’80s (the decade in which the author lived in Liberia as a boy), I got a kick out of references to Atari and other period items.  Linus’s story is compelling, the details rich, and the writing engaging.  I had to read it in one sitting — then do it again the next day.  (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010)

What are some awesome books you’ve read lately?

58 thoughts on “NEW! I recommend some books! REALLY GOOD ONES!

  1. LOVE your post. I’m also a writer, but I write mainstream romance. I’m currently revising my first draft and boy is it hard. Hopefully soon you and me both can say “I’m published!” I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you.

  2. I enjoy reading Janet Evanovich, Stephanie Plum Between-the-Numbers novels. Stephanie is a bounty hunter and her adventures take you on a bumping ride filled with laughter and scary and spooky people. Wonderful read…

  3. I just wish there were more books about strong characters. Let’s just forget the if-I-just-had-one-more-of-these-things-my-life-would-be perfect! I know children need encouragement to overcome their troubles…but I just wish more publishers would publish strong male and female leads. Won’t you find some for us? You are a wonderful writer.

    • Ah, yes, well being a children’s writer I tend to read more on that level, but, sure, I’ll come up with some rec’s for adults too and add them to a future post!

  4. The first Evanovich books were fun, though her romance-writer roots are clear, which can either be a plus or not depending on your tastes. I’ve been disappointed with her last few books; I don’t think they were up there with her first ones and though that’s just my opinion I’ve heard the same sentiments from other readers. For kids of any age who enjoy a good comic heist, I’d recommend the ‘Dortmunder’ books by my all-time favorite writer, Donald Westlake. And if anyone’s interested in checking out a fairly new writer with some dark humor and a smart young female protagonist, you could take a look at my book, Last Exit In New Jersey.

    C.E. Grundler

  5. Ladies might not find the topic of Vietnam War all that exciting, but from a writing standpoint – The Things They Carried – by Tim O’Brien is essentially poetry in narrative form. Highly recommend it. I had to read it in college for a history class and still think about it 10 years later. Guess I know what I’ll be reading later tonight.

  6. Humor, I love humor. Thanks for mentioning the “rollicking” good middle grade books. I am always looking for good books though my kids are grown and my book currently in print ( is for elementary grade readers.

  7. Pingback: NEW! I recommend some books! REALLY GOOD ONES! (via A Mom’s World) « Good Books in Bad Times

  8. I love Jim Butcher, Patrica C. Wrede, and Janet Evanovich. Their writing style is so appealing, and plots deep and moving. I wish I had more of all of their books.

  9. I don’t if this is a middle school but I love this book called Who Was That Masked Man Anyways? by Avi.
    Its hilarious. Well at least I thought it was hilarious when I read it as a kid.

  10. Your reviews are great! Even as a fifty year old I would love to read those books. I really enjoyed reading Ginger Pie a few years ago as I somehow missed it as a youngster. Oh my absolute favortie younger person book is secret letters 0 to 10. I think thats what its called.

    As for adult books I just read Free-Range Knitting. Trust me even if you don’t knitt it is one of the funniest books you will ever read. I only knitt a little. Just scarves. I believe the woman who wrote Free-Range Knitting (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) could knitt a house! I will be subscribing to your blog.

  11. Thanks for the great recommendations! I just found out about Isabelle Allende’s series for young adults, starting with the City of Beasts. I just got through reading one for a younger reader, Cloud Tea Monkey’s by Mal Peet & Elspeth Graham and illustrated by Juan Wijngaard. It’s a stunningly illustrated folk talk about a young girl who tries to take her sick mother’s place on a tea plantation and is helped out by the monkeys she plays with. I think it’s a great book for any age!

  12. It’s a little bid sad to undertand that our kids are reading new books. Books from our days are not so suit today.
    But anyway I’m trying to read with them books from my childhood.

  13. I am also in the midst of writing a young-adult novel, though my genre of choice is magical realism and fairy tales. A couple of books in this genre that I love are Wild Wood Dancing by Juliet Marillier and I, Corriander by Sally Gardiner. I love the way these two novels explore both the sublime and the darker side with bold strokes of poetic intrigue. Dreamy, ecstatic literature. Most adults don’t know what they-re missing!

  14. What a great post! I tend to read young adult rather than middle grade, but I’m a huge fan of Kid Lit.

    The Hunger Games was a fantastic read and so was The Book Thief. And Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book was just fantastic. I think a middle grade reader could enjoy this book.

    I’m also diabetic (Type I) and there just isn’t a lot of fiction that features the disease. I remember being frustrated when I was a kid about that. I’m so glad you’re writing! Best of luck!

    • Thanks, Kate! I agree…when my oldest daughter was diagnosed with Type 1, just 2 months ago, I searched for books that she, a voracious reader, might enjoy, that featured diabetic characters, because, at the time especially, she was feeling quite isolated. We had little luck. Fortunately, our super-librarian ordered a Babysitters’ Club book with just such a character and my daughter read it many times over.

      Oh, and the Hunger Games! Yes, yes, yes!!!! I love YA too, but haven’t dared even dream of writing there yet…though a few characters nag at me who are YA. Someday I hope to give them a voice.

  15. There are really great books out there. But the ones I tend to enjoy most are based on reality, and they are really important books that most people including our young, should be reading though perhaps not every day.
    ‘A short history of nearly everything.’ By Bill Bryson,
    ‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond. These books make you stop and think, about the direction we are going in, and about the human condition, and why we need to be mindful and fully aware. Other than that, most of us tend to find and read too much that just titivates, but leads nowhere.

    • There are definitely fabulous books out there which are based in reality and challenge our thoughts and perceptions daily. I actually think that there are many young adult novels today which do just that, while at the same time are engaging, compelling reads. Certain YA Fantasy/SciFi titles come to mind (Paul Westerfield’s “Uglies” series, Susan Collins’ Hunger games trilogy, and MT Anderson’s “Feed” are a few examples). There are also many examples of YA literary fiction that challenge convention or address issues of humanity (13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Speak and Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Dirty Little Secrets by CJ Omololu are just a few of the many I can think of). I think it’s important for adults to continue to expose kids to a variety of styles and genres, to lead them to a world of free thought and communication. I also believe that for many young readers, especially at the middle grade and lower (this would be, say 12 and younger), an engaging story comes first — the lessons are welcome byproducts.

      The bottom line — storytelling!

  16. I love this post, and I hope you write more posts like it. I’m a huge advocate for reading to kids, and I love everything about children’s books. My son is 6, so most of the books I’m familiar with are in the age range of 5-7 years old. I was excited to see someone else blogging about books, but within an age range that I’m not quite as familiar with at the moment.

  17. I am an avid reader AND a writer. My kids were reading when they were three like I did and we used to get at least 20 books a week at the library. I still love children’s books even at the age of 46. Thanks for the post.

  18. I just wanted to thank you so much for this quote:
    “I will not talk about books I DON’T like, mostly because I’m not a paid book reviewer, and there are plenty of places you can go for snarky, harsh or haughty negative reactions.”
    As a published author, I find it amazing how mean-spirited some Amazon reviewers get, ripping your work to shreds rather than leaving constructive criticism of your book. If they only knew what went into the process….

    • I think there’s a difference between a helpful crit and a nasty review. That’s why I save my feedback for my crit buddies or peers in the writing community who ask. For my blog, my purpose is to share work I love, not rip apart the “flaws” in others’ work. Plenty of other people have time to do that. I have four kids, work, and writing. I don’t have time — or energy or desire — to review a book to say, simply, it stinks. Why not spend the time to applaud the wonderful writing that surrounds us?

  19. Hi Jennifer – enjoyed reading your post, and even more it was great reading your About page. You sound like you might be in a similar place as me – coming out of toddler-hood and trying to get back to you a bit, with writing being a big part of it. I, however, had these things coincide with my turning 40, which prompted me to write my blog. Stop by if you get a chance! As for children’s books, I just finished reading Charlotte’s Web with my daughter, and cried like a baby at the end! The way EB White was able to capture the joy of being alive by describing the simple pleasures of life is timeless. Anyway, thanks for your great recommendations and keep on writing!

  20. I’ll keep checking back to your blog to see if you have any good reading recommendations for the middle school age group. I’m frustrated with my 13-year-old daughter’s resistence to reading any books that have been read for generations (think LIttle Women, Little House, Anne of Green Gables), I don’t want her to miss out on these treasures. Do you think this generation of teens just finds that old fashioned stuff — old fashioned and not worth reading?
    These seem like some good picks.

    • They are definitely good picks! But for some, it takes a little time to want to read them, since this new generation has different sensibilities. I started reading my oldest the Little House books years ago, but it wasn’t until the past year that she picked them up and started reading them on her own. I think sometimes with this age group it can be a matter of letting them be the boss of choosing….in my case, I salvaged my collection from my parents’ house and left them hanging around. My daughter just sort of picked them up one day. This generation…well, for some, it might seem old-fashioned. But others will see beyond that and just read, because reading is what they do, what they love. So, for the reluctant readers, I say, let them read whatever, and keep showing them new stuff. Surround them with books of all types, ages, topics. They are bound to come to the classics, simply because the classics are classics for a reason.

      An example: My little sister (ha, ha, she’s mid-30s now) HATED to read as a child. But she came to it, eventually, on her own, and is now voracious. She even returns to books she missed back in her “I hate reading” period.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is, keep the treasures around, just let her hunt at her own pace. I look forward to hearing from you again!

  21. Great post. It’s always good to get book ideas from other people who are just normal moms who read. It’s also always great to read other writers’ blogs. Good luck with everything.

  22. Love, love, loved your post! I know you are probably busy, but do you, or anyone else reading this, happen to have any suggestions on how to get published? I have written a children’s book and my mother has really been pushing me to try and publish it (i’m 36 with 2 kids of my own, I shouldn’t need the pushing) but I am starting to see her point.

    Thanks in advance!

  23. I love your blogs and will noe follow you! I really enjoyed reading what you had to say ( sorry i do not have a picture on my avatar thing, i dont know how to do it and its making me mad)

    Lots of love!


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  26. Pingback: Two terrific books by Donna Gephart, reviewed by M & C « A Mom's World

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