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

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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

 

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

 

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

 

Landline by Rainbow Rowell December 17, 2015

LandlineJust a few days before Christmas, Georgie tells her husband Neal the bad news. Even though they’ve already booked a trip back to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska for Christmas, something came up at work and she can’t go. She knows it’s bad timing; she knows their marriage is in trouble. What she doesn’t know is how bad things are about to get. Neal goes to Omaha without her and takes their two daughters. He won’t answer his phone. Something is wrong and Georgie doesn’t know how to fix it. In a bizarre turn of events, Georgie discovers the cure for their relationship may be as simple as talking to Neal on the landline phone in her childhood bedroom. But is a little magic all they need… or even what they want?

I like Rainbow Rowell as an author. I LOVED her book Eleanor & Park. I like that she’s from Nebraska and got a little thrill every time I saw the word Omaha. (Close to my childhood home.) However, this book fell flat for me. I liked the flashbacks to the beginning of their relationship and the time travel-ish element, but the plot, the characters, and the ending were all a bit dry. This won’t be the last Rainbow Rowell book I read, but I probably won’t go out of my way to recommend it.

3 out of 5 stars

 

 
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