Bethany's Readers' Advisory

The place to go for readers' advisory on books for children, teens, and adults

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley March 11, 2016

War That Saved My LifeThe story begins as Ada is punished for looking out the window of the dingy one-bedroom London apartment she shares with her mother and younger brother Jamie. Ada is nine years old and has never been allowed to leave the apartment. Her mother tells Ada that people would be disgusted by her twisted foot. She accepts her lot in life. At least she has Jamie to keep her company. But when Jamie starts school and spends more and more time away, playing outside with his new friends, Ada realizes the little she has in life is slipping away.

Ada begins to prepare. For what, she doesn’t know. She teaches herself to walk on her crippled foot. It is painful, but she is used to pain. When Jamie comes home from school one day, he says a war is coming and they are sending the children away from the city into the safety of the country. Ada realizes this is her chance to escape her cruel mother, the nights spent locked in the cupboard as punishment for the slightest infraction, the life spent trapped. She and Jamie run away and find themselves thrust into the home of Susan Smith, a strange but kind woman. Ada finally has a life of freedom, but can she really trust that things are as good as they seem? Or do all good things come to an end?

This was an outstanding historical fiction novel about vulnerability, trust, and redemption. Ms. Bradley’s books pack an emotional punch and present history in an interesting and relatable way. I would recommend this to older children and teens. I also think this would be a great read aloud for a classroom.

5 out of 5 stars


The Steep & Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Steep and Thorny WayThe story begins as Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and a black man, sets out with a small handgun hidden under her skirt to kill her father’s murderer. It’s almost too easy- Joe Adder is naked, bathing in the small pond behind the shed where he’s been hiding out since getting out of prison. But before she can pull the trigger, Joe tells her he’s innocent… and the true killer is closer to her than she might think. Hanalee needs answers and finds surprising friends and foes along the way. The Steep and Thorny Way is an atmospheric tale of racism, fear, intolerance, and friendship set in rural Oregon in the early 1920s.

This is my third Cat Winters book, and it’s been my favorite so far. Her books have all featured a strong female character who defies social norms and are historical fiction with a spooky supernatural twist. This book tackles some big issues (bigotry, the KKK, eugenics, homosexuality) in an interesting and engaging way. I appreciate historical background and author’s note at the end; they added context and acted as a springboard for further research on the subject. I also appreciated that story was romance-free. Yay, no stupid love triangles! I could see this as a good book club choice- lots of good discussion points. I would recommend this to teens and adults.

5 out of 5 stars


In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume January 23, 2016

In the Unlikely EventThe story begins in 1987 as the main character, Miri, travels back to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. In the early 1950’s, 15-year-old Miri and her friends and family experience a series of tragic and unexplained events that set the course for the rest of her life. That year, Miri gets her first glimpse of love, loss, hope, and broken promises. The stories of many Elizabeth residents unfold alongside Miri’s and allow the reader to experience the fear and uncertainty of this tumultuous time in New Jersey’s history.

It had been quite a while since I’d read a Judy Blume book. After the trauma that resulted from reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret as a young teen, I was wary. However, the story sounded interesting so I took the leap. The concept was good, but the execution was lacking. There were way too many characters introduced, too many stories to keep straight. My opinion of the story improved when I read the author’s note and found that the plane crashes, which I originally thought bordered on absurd, actually happened in real life. I suppose I would recommend this book to people who grew up in the 50’s and would appreciate the cultural references. (For example, why would someone put off having a pregnancy test to avoid killing a rabbit? I had to look it up. Weird.)

3 out of 5 stars


In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters April 20, 2014

Shadow of BlackbirdsThe year is 1918. The county is at war both overseas and at home. The boys are fighting in the trenches in Europe and the citizens on the homefront are battling the deadly Spanish influenza. After her father is taken away to jail for  traitorous talk, sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black heads to San Francisco to stay with her aunt. What she finds is an atmosphere of fear, with faces covered in gauze masks and home remedies mean everyone reeks of onions and garlic. Mary Shelley seeks out news of her sweetheart, away at war, to find his brother running a bustling spirit photography business. She doesn’t believe in ghosts, until after an accident, she finds one in her bedroom. Will her skepticism about capturing the spirits of loved ones on film be overpowered by her desire to know the truth about her beloved Stephen?

While this story took place in a time period I enjoy and it piqued my interest about the devastation of influenza in the United States, I didn’t love this book. It was nominated for 2014 Teens’ Top Ten award, so it appears I’m in the minority. I could see this well-researched, historically accurate story paired nicely with some nonfiction titles about the era for teens.

3 out of 5 stars


Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson May 1, 2013

Hattie Ever AfterAfter leaving Uncle Chester’s homestead in Montana, Hattie is ready to move on. She is given the opportunity to travel to the big city, San Francisco, and decides to go and pursue her dream of being a reporter. Upon arrival, Hattie sets out to find out why her uncle referred to himself as a scoundrel, to find her uncle’s long-lost flame, and to make her way into the newspaper office.  Will she make it on her own? Will Charlie wait for her to follow her dreams? Things are different in the big city and make Hattie realize that she has a lot to learn along the way.

I loved Hattie Big Sky and was excited to learn there was a newly-published sequel. The writing is simplistic and the story is innocent; this is a book I could recommend to upper elementary or homeschool patrons as well as anyone else who is looking for historical fiction. I didn’t like the sequel as much as the original, but the time period (early 20’s) is interesting and Hattie is a likeable character.

3 out of 5 stars


Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein February 21, 2013

Code Name Verity“I AM A COWARD.” It is the height of World War II when “Verity” is captured by the Gestapo. Her task is to confess her mission in writing or be brutally executed.  She wants to get everything down before her inevitable death. She is given two weeks. On a variety of paper (blank recipe cards, sheet music, etc.), Verity writes the story of how she met pilot Maddie and how she arrived in France. This was a thought-provoking story of friendship, loyalty, and sacrifice.

Code Name Verity was an excellent book but a hard one to read. I can’t even imagine doing some of the things these young women had to do during wartime.  This is an interesting historical fiction I would recommend to older teens and adults.

4 out of 5 stars


Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley November 9, 2012

Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston Hemings have a complicated family.  Their father is president Thomas Jefferson and their mother is his slave, Sally Hemings.  They must keep the identity of their father a secret and he does not acknowledge them as his children- what would people say if they knew?  The kids live with their mother in a cabin on Mulberry Row, the location of the slaves’ quarters at Monticello.  They are treated better than the other slaves- better clothing, violin lessons, even the promise of freedom when they turn 21.  Some of the children have light enough skin that they will have no problems once they are free, but one of the children is not so lucky.  Narrated by Beverly, Madison (called Maddy), then later Peter, another boy who is a slave, they tell of life as a slave with a father so close, yet so far away.

This is an interesting piece of historical fiction.  The author carefully researched Jefferson’s family tree and the history of Monticello and filled in the gaps with her imagination.  An afterword identifies the facts in the book and explains why the author chose to write the story.  Jefferson’s Sons taught me about Monticello and Thomas Jefferson’s secret life and is great for discussion.

4 out of 5 stars


The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver August 18, 2012

The story begins in 1959 with the Price family on a plane, dressed in all of the clothes they own, with various household necessities in their pockets.  When they arrive in the Belgian Congo for their mission, they realize that they were woefully unprepared for the life that awaited them.  The family adjusts to beds surrounded by mosquito nets, weekly quinine pills, poisonous snakes in the doorway, and boiling every drop of water before they can use it.  Reverend Price becomes more and more engulfed in his mission to bring Jesus Christ to the village, growing more frustrated and extreme with each passing day.  His four daughters figure out what he refuses to see- the people do things differently in the Congo because that’s what it takes to survive.  The story is told from the mother’s and each girl’s point of view in alternating chapters.  The political, spiritual, and familial unrest changes each family member’s life forever.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  On one hand, it was amazing to read about life in the Congo and how it changed everyone in the Price family in such a profound way.  On the other hand, reading it was an arduous task.  I started and stopped reading it several times; it was very long and the last quarter of the book dragged on.  Kingsolver definitely has strong feelings about  the political upheaval that took place in that region; presumably, her opinions were woven into character Leah’s story.  It also caused me to ruminate on my feelings about religion and Christian missions.  Overall, I’m glad I read the book.  The Price family has haunted me since I finished and will continue to do so for some time to come.





The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston April 30, 2012

The book begins in 1920 when Frankie Pratt is graduating from high school.  After her dad died, Frankie didn’t think she’d be able to go to college.  She was able to get a scholarship to Vassar where she rubbed elbows with the rich girls who were in school only to find a husband.  Frankie didn’t want what the others wanted; she wanted to be a writer.  After finishing school, she moved to New York City where working for a magazine is not as glamorous as she had expected.  A failed romance and a brief stint overseas change Frankie’s mind about what she wants in life.

The format was fun; everything was scrapbook-style photos, drawings, and mementos interspersed with short bits of text.  I liked Frankie’s spirit and the story line was interesting.  I would recommend this to those who like historical fiction or a short, easy read.

4 out of 5 stars


Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson November 13, 2011

“Being of sound mind, I do hereby leave to Hattie Inez Brooks my claim and the house and its contents, as well as one steadfast horse named Plug and a contemptible cow known as Violet.  Postscript: Bring warm clothes and a cat.”

In 1917, shortly after her friend Charlie leaves for war, 16-year-old Hattie receives a letter.  The letter is from a long-lost uncle that is dying and leaving his homestead in Montana to her.  Hattie, whose mother and father died when she was young, has long thought of herself as Hattie Here-nor-There.  She finally has a purpose, a place where she belongs.  She is not prepared for the life of a homesteader, but she learns as she goes with the help of her neighbors, the Muellers.

Homesteading life is not easy- blizzards, sickness, fires, and loss make it hard to go on.  The war wages on in Europe and hardships trickle back to the U.S.  Will Hattie be able to prove up in time?  Will her friend Charlie make it back from war?  If he does, will be the same person he was when he left?


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