What’s Been in my Bookbag

Just because it’s been a while since my last book review, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy reading, reading, reading!  I’m taking advantage of the opportunity of time I’ve had of late to catch up on titles in a wide array of genres.  I like dabbling in a bit of everything and feel better as a reader when I try books from different genres, intended for various audiences, and about a range of topics.

To try to make this easy reading for anyone who is interested I’m only going to post brief reviews about the titles I’ve read of late below and I’m going to post them according to the intended audience.  Books for children and youth will be first followed by the books intended for adult audiences.  I hope they help match another reader to a story or spark interest in another reader!


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Red:  The True Story of Riding Hood

By:  Liesl Shurtliff

Characteristics:  Fairy tale, fiction, magic, adventure

Audience:  Grades 3-6

I’m a huge fan of fairy tales and love when the retelling of a beloved classic can incorporate and combine characters and elements of other fairytales in the process.  In Shurtliff’s story, Red Riding Hood is no ordinary girl and her granny is no ordinary granny both having inherited magical powers from their lineage.  Red is averse to her magic and tries to avoid using it believing she’ll cause nothing but pain and chaos in creating even the simplest of spells.   A day comes, however, when Red’s grandmother falls ill and the only way to save her takes Red on an adventure that tests her bravery, wit, and requires her to utilize her knowledge of magic.  Along the way Red encounters some familiar fairy tale characters whose stories are told again with their own twists.  This was an engaging story that moved along nicely.  I adored the creativity Shurtliff had in mixing her cast of fairy tale characters and the way she wrapped up Red’s adventure at the end of the book.  It’s clear that this story was personal to the author as she was inspired by her own grandmother to write it.  I would definitely recommend this to younger girls and perhaps point younger boys to Shurtliff’s other fairy tale twist, Rump, for a similar adventure.



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The Family Greene

By:  Ann Rinaldi

Characteristics:  Historical fiction, Revolutionary War, family

Audience:  Grades 6-8

Historical fiction is probably my favorite genre to read and I’m nearly always happy to discover a title by Ann Rinaldi that I haven’t read.  This book focuses on Major General Nathanael Greene’s wife, Caty, and daughter, Cornelia, over a period of several decades.  Major General Nathanael Greene was a prominent officer in the Continental Army and served under General George Washington during the war.  The book begins by introducing readers to Caty at the tender age of ten years old and follows her move to the city to get an education, meet and court her future husband, marry him, and then follow him to various military encampments as the war begins.  The second half of the story is told from the perspective of their daughter Cornelia who has heard rumor that her father may have been another General.  Most of the story surrounds this uncertainty and Cornelia’s attempts to uncover the truth.  The author’s note in the back stresses that this is a work of historical FICTION and that the ‘truth’ lies in what the reader is wont to believe.  I am somewhat disappointed in this title, which is a first for me when it comes to Rinaldi novels. I believe the short 241 page novel wasn’t enough to cover the lives of multiple individuals for the decades that the story stretches over, much was left open and unanswered.  I left the story with great doubt and uncertainty as to how much, or how little, was the actual history that inspired the story.  I would recommend this to readers who enjoy historical fiction, titles about the Revolutionary War, or young girls who enjoy mystery books.



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Fate of Flames

By:  Sarah Raughley

Characteristics:  Dystopian, super-heroes, monsters, action, series novel

Audience:  Grades 10 and up

Maia’s world is filled with monsters, real live monsters.  Cities have developed special technology to keep the Phantoms, as they’re called, away from destroying whole communities and devouring the citizens that live in them, but the technology has been failing of late.  Each time the technology fails cities turn to the four Effigies, four girls who can harness the power of an element to rise, battle the Phantoms, and save their lives.    Maia has always been an Effigy fan girl, she monitors the online blogs, discussion boards, and websites dedicated to tracking and providing every detail of each Effigy’s life, but she’s about to become more than just one of their fans.  When the Fire Effigy suffers an untimely death, Maia discovers she has been chosen to take her place.  Book one uncovers mysterious circumstances surrounding the recent technology failures occurring throughout the world and as Maia begins to receive memories from the old Fire Effigy, she raises concerns that the very group the Effigies are working for may be behind it all.  I read through this story very quickly and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one in the series.  While all of the protagonists in this book are female, I feel like male readers might enjoy the story too.  There is plenty of action and battle scenes and the suspense around the unfolding mystery kept me glued to my seat.



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By:  Joelle Charbonneau

Characteristics:  Dystopian, technology, multiple perspectives, mystery, suspense, social media

Audience:  Grades 9 and up

What do you need?  That’s the question a new social media page is asking students of Nottawa High School and the ‘need requests’ are pouring in.  What do you need?  A good grade?  Money?  More vacation time?  It and anything can be yours, you need only to simply log into the social media page where everything is completely anonymous, post your need, and complete the assignment the site requests of you.  Simple right?  The first few need requests ask students to invite more friends to the page but once all of the students at Nottawa High have joined the assignments get a little more complicated.  You might need to deliver a package to someone anonymously, or submit a fake order under someone’s name at the bakery, but it’s all worth it right?  After all, it’s for something you NEED.  This book is phenomenal about asking the reader to stop and think about the significant difference between needs and wants, the illusion of anonymity and the viral nature of social media posts, and highlights the truth in the phrase ‘nothing in life is free.’  There are some disturbing events that take place in the story so this book should only be read by very mature readers.  This is a title I would definitely want to alert guardians to about the nature of the content but I feel it is well worth a read.  There are so many thought provoking points made here, I’d love to check out some of her other titles.


The Complete Maus

By:  Art Spiegelman

Characteristics:  Graphic novel, World War II, Holocaust, non-fiction, survivor

Audience:  Grades 9 and up

I heard a lot about this book when I was going to library school but I had never read it.  I found it at one of my local libraries and decided to see what the highly acclaimed title was all about.  I knew, being a story of the Holocaust, that it was going to be a heart wrenching story and my hunch was correct.  Honestly this book is hard to write about, it’s a gripping account of a survivor story and one that is sure to stay in my mind.  In Maus, Art Spiegelman tells the story of his father, Vladek Spiegelman’s experiences as a Jewish man living during World War II.  Interspersed throughout Vladek’s telling of his story are frames and explanations of how the book came to be.  They show the very realistic relationship of a father and son and give the reader a glimpse of how life’s events can affect a person well beyond when they’ve taken place.  It’s very hard to say stories like these are ‘good’ because of the pain they contain, but I feel they have a necessary place on shelves and in our hearts.  I think this title is good for readers who have been introduced to the history of the Holocaust and World War II as additional or supplemental reading.




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The Hopefuls

By:  Jennifer Close

Characteristics:  Fiction, Washington D.C., politics, friendships

Audience:  Adults

The life of a Northern Virginian/D.C. Washingtonian is something with which I am familiar so I was interested in the premise of this book.  The story follows Beth and Matt as they move into Washington D.C. and through the bumps, bruises, and celebrations of a life of an aspiring politician.  Beth is unhappy at first with the move to D.C., the traffic is crazy, she doesn’t care for the culture, and she can’t seem to find work.  She is happy to support her husband’s dreams of becoming an elected official and she soon learns about all that entails!  The story doesn’t really have much of an arc, it’s more of a glimpse in on the lifestyles and demands on politicians and their families and it simply records a short period in the life of its two main characters as they navigate through what it all means for them.  I think I enjoyed the story mainly because of the location in which it was set and the way the author presented the discussion of politics from the eyes of someone who usually remains out of political discussions.  It was a good audio book to listen to while I was taking care of the house, I’d recommend it to anyone on a long commute!


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By:  Ruth Reichl

Characteristics:  Fiction, food, journalism, mystery, World War II, New York

Audience:  Adults

As a picky eater I have never been much of a ‘foodie,’ but I’ve been trying to break out of that shell a bit.  Cooking shows tend to make me at least feel a little more adventurous about food so I decided that maybe a story that focused on food might inspire the same.  I found this book to be a gem!  Billie has traveled a long way from California to New York in the hopes to start over and begin a new life.  She’s taken a job with a leading food magazine and is eager to get to work.  She soon finds another opportunity in a nearby shop and so buries herself in work at the magazine and at the store, absorbing everything she can about the food, culture, and the stories of the world she now calls home.  Just as she begins to feel confident in her new world, it begins to crumble.  The magazine closes, all of her friends are forced to leave and find work elsewhere while she stays back, the lone employee left to hold up the magazine’s consumer guarantee.  Little does she know her New York adventure is only beginning when she stumbles upon the magazine’s old library and a trail of old letters and responses from a young reader and master chef during World War II.  Billie races to discover the trail of letters and make peace with her past before the office is sold.  This story was so refreshing, original, and left me hungry for more each time I had the opportunity to sit down and read!  I’d recommend it to anyone especially fans of the World War II era and food enthusiasts.



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A Desperate Fortune

By:  Susanna Kearsley

Characteristics:  Historical Fiction, England, France, Jacobite rebellion, mystery, ciphers, romance

Audience:  Adults

Susanna Kearsley is quite possibly my favorite author.  Her books have a way of telling so many stories at once and often mix elements of many genres.  I was excited to read this story of modern day code breaker Sara who has been tasked with deciphering an ancient diary entirely written in code that, so far, no one has been able to break.   The reader is taken along on an adventure as Sara works to unravel the mysteries of the diary which belongs to the late Mary Dundas.  Mary, having been asked to undertake a dangerous journey to help a well-known Jacobite flee to safety, takes to writing of her trip in code so as to ensure the safety of her traveling companions.  Sara, and the readers, discover little by little more history of the Jacobite cause and secret missions undertaken by faithful followers, a blooming romance between Mary and one of her companions, customs of the era, and common dangers of the time for travelers as the story progresses.  Readers are also treated to Sara’s own budding romance and her growing friendships with her companions.  This is definitely one of the most adventurous novels of Kearsley I have read.  If you decide to enjoy the story please don’t forget to read the author’s note at the end (ONCE YOU’VE FINISHED!!)  It gave me goosebumps.






Quick Picks: The Hired Girl

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Title:  The Hired Girl

Author:  Laura Amy Schlitz

Characteristics:  Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Class and society, Religion, Diary

For:  Grades 6-10

Fourteen year old Joan Skraggs wants nothing more than to live the dream that her mother and the heroines from her novels inspired in her, to get a good education and become a school teacher.  However once Joan’s mother passes away Joan is left to take on all of the ‘women’s work’ in the house looking after brothers and an uncaring and often cruel father.  The drudgery of housework begins to wear on Joan but she holds out hope for a better future until her father pushes her too far.   Armed with a few possessions and a little money her mother managed to tuck away for her, Joan sets out on her own determined to find paid work and build a better future for herself.  Danger awaits a solitary young woman at the turn of the century who dares strike out on her own.  Will Joan achieve her dreams and be the heroine of her own story or will her daring move to strike out on her own write a tale entirely new?

This book is written as a diary and so can easily appeal to reluctant readers who have the opportunity to read little bits at a time.  Historical fiction is one of my very favorite genres so I was excited to finally have an opportunity to explore this story.  Schlitz incorporates a few historical elements, including social customs, into the story without alienating readers who aren’t as fond of historical fiction as I am.  I was intrigued by the religious discussions that are brought up in the book as I don’t often find them in the novels I read.  Joan hopes to become Catholic but is taken in by a Jewish family.  Both Joan and the family hold very strongly to their respective faiths, but they do take time to try and understand the faith and customs behind each.  The family respects Joan’s religious education and in return Joan respects the religious practices the family observes for their holidays and Sabbath days.

The book also incorporates works of art into the story and displays the pieces in the back of the novel for curious minds.  This was a little extra something that caught my interest!  I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5.