Bethany's Readers' Advisory

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

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt August 18, 2016

book cover2Ally knows she is different from the other kids. Reading is hard for her, almost impossible. She’s gotten good at hiding it from teachers, her mother, everyone. She’s become the master at creating a diversion, saying something funny, even getting sent to principal’s office if she has to, just to keep her secret. But her secret is draining to keep. It feels like she’s carrying a heavy weight that makes it hard to keep afloat. When she starts sixth grade, her teacher Mr. Daniels sees what’s really going on. It is a relief for Ally, like the weight has been taken from her shoulders. But can Mr. Daniels really help her? As far as she knows, there’s no cure for dumb.

ThisĀ is a heartwarming story about a girl with dyslexia. It is both believable and unbelievable that her parents and previous teachers did not catch on to her struggles. I want to believe that someone would have noticed, but I’ve heard many stories about kids slipping through the cracks. I would recommend this story to upper elementary or younger middle schoolers who will be able to relate to Ally’s desperation to have her problems disappear and wanting to blend in with her classmates.

3 out of 5 stars

 

The Longest Night by Andria Williams March 23, 2016

Longest NightBased on true events that took place in Idaho Falls, Idaho in 1959-1961 as the military was experimenting with nuclear power, The Longest Night is a tale of family, trust, secrets, and the drama those things create. The story begins as Paul and Nat Collier and their two young daughters move to Idaho Falls. Paul has just completed training with the U.S. Army to be an operator at a small nuclear reactor 50 miles outside town. Nat, a free-willed California native, is adjusting to life raising two young girls in a small suburb taken over by military families. Both are figuring out how to navigate their new home, from uncomfortable dinner parties at the commanding officer’s house to the rumor mill generated by Army wives. When tension at Paul’s workplace leads to an unexpected deployment, Nat’s loneliness threatens to rip their relationship apart. Will their family survive when physical and emotional disasters strike?

This was a quiet drama set in an interesting period in recent history. It’s both comforting and frustrating to know that the joys and struggles of middle class Americans are essentially the same in 1959 as in 2016. The author’s note informs readers that Paul’s job and the disaster that occurs there are based in fact. I did a bit of research (read: Wikipedia) to find out more about Idaho Falls and its history and found myself wanting to reread parts of the book. Overall, I think the author did a nice job capturing that era and the life of a young Army wife stifled by social norms in a small town. I would recommend this book to adults who like historical fiction and family drama stories.

4 out of 5 stars

 

West of the Moon by Margi Preus March 11, 2016

Filed under: ages 10-14,drama,fantasy,Uncategorized — Bethany @ 5:24 pm
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West of the MoonAstri’s father left Norway for America, promising to send for her and her sister as soon as he could. Unfortunately, her aunt and uncle sell her to a nasty goat farmer before she receives even one letter. After months of punishing physical labor and mistreatment, Astri escapes her captor, pausing only long enough to retrieve the mysterious girl also being held captive by the goatman and her younger sister. The strange trio must stay ahead of the goatman and make their way toward America, armed only with a stolen troll treasure, a magical hairbrush, and the hopes of fairy tales and their own imaginations.

This was an interesting story and a refreshing departure from the typical young adult novel. The descriptions of the Norwegian countryside and the ambiguity of the time period added to its fairy tale-like quality. An added bonus came in the author’s note at the end, explaining the story was inspired by a line from her great great grandmother’s diary. Norwegian words and folklore make for an intriguing tale. I would recommend this to teens and adults who like fairy tales and stories with a bit of magic.

4 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

 

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff February 9, 2016

Fates and FuriesFrom the outside, it seems young married couple Lotto and Mathilde are the perfect couple. They are madly in love, attractive, and intelligent. But marriage is never perfect, no matter how much we want it to be. The first half of the book focuses on Lotto, born Lancelot, the golden child. Beneath his charisma, good looks, and “life of the party” personality, he harbors a deep mourning for his childhood and the adoration of his mother. The second half of the book reveals the truth about Mathilde’s life pre-Lotto. The unshakably supportive wife of a genius is not without secrets of her own. This story reassures us, in its own dark way, that even the most picture-perfect are flawed and prone to cracking under the pressures of life.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It was complex and well-written, but it had plenty of dark, uncomfortable moments. It dragged on in some scenes and didn’t give us enough in others. I didn’t care for the twist near the end and felt the story would have been fine, maybe even better, without it. Overall, though, I liked it and am still thinking about the characters days later. I would recommend this to adults who like drama and literary fiction.

3.5 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

 

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood December 31, 2015

Filed under: adult fiction,dystopian fiction,Uncategorized — Bethany @ 10:08 pm
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Heart Goes LastThe economy has plummeted and things on the east coast are dire. Married couple Charmaine and Stan, once hardworking newlyweds fixing up their first home, are living in their car. Stan sleeps in the driver’s seat with the key in the ignition so they can quickly get away in case of trouble, of which there is much. Charmaine is bolstering their meager existence with tips from her bar job. Stan does the only thing left and seeks out his conman brother to repay a loan. Just when things seem most bleak, Charmaine sees the commercial on TV for the Positron Project, a social experiment in which people sign away their troubles for the promise of steady employment and a clean, safe home of their own. She and Stan sign up right away. Even the thought of regular showers is worth giving up their freedom at this point.

Everything seems fine at the beginning. The couple has a home of their own, some money to buy the essentials, and fulfilling jobs. The only catch is that they must share. Every other month is spent apart, living in a prison, while another couple uses the house. The system is set up to be economical and efficient. Only when attractions begin to brew with their “alternates” (the other couple who shares their house) do Stan and Charmaine realize they may have gotten in too deep.

I read Margaret Atwood’s famous book The Handmaid’s Tale this fall and LOVED it. This book began with a similar theme, the aftermath of a breakdown of society, the loss of freedoms previously taken for granted. I really liked the beginning of the story with Stan and Charmaine cheerfully signing their lives away to a social experiment. The idea of Consilience, with the alternating months between the home and prison, the job assignments, the carefully controlled social interactions, were fascinating. But then it got weird. The whole sexual thing was unsettling. Eventually things went from weird to goofy. I was interested in the story throughout, but I wish it would have gone a different direction. I would recommend this to adults who like dystopian futures and have a dark sense of humor.

3 out of 5 stars

 

 
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