‘Starfish’ by Lisa Fipps is a sensitively written middle grade novel in free verse about image and bullies

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

“Starfish” is Lisa Fipps’ debut novel, and it’s a winner. Think Jennifer Weiner for middle grade readers and you will come close to picturing this book. It’s about Ellie, who is known as Splash for an unfortunate exclamation made by her older sister when she did a cannonball into the family pool at age five. It’s tough being a five-year-old and having your mother and everyone in your family berate you for your weight. The only one on Ellie’s side is her dad, but it’s not enough.

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‘A Stranger in Town’ is the newest Rockton novel by Kelley Armstrong in a thrilling series

If you haven’t started the “Rockton” series by Kelley Armstrong, you are missing out on a wonderful detective series with a setting that is unique and that makes each mystery in the series much more than a typical whodunit. “A Stranger in Town” is the sixth book in the series, and Casey and Eric, the detective and the sheriff in this Northern Canadian, off-the-grid town of Rocton, made up of people hiding from something in their past, come across a woman who has been attacked and is in desperate need of medical care. Continue reading

‘The Bone Maker’ by Sarah Beth Durst is a fantasy for those past their prime who still dream of being heroes

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The heroes we see in movies and read about in books are usually striking young people in the prime of their lives. We don’t see what happens to those heroes after time passes and they get wrinkled and older with aches and pains like the rest of us. We especially don’t think about what might happen to those retired and all-but-forgotten heroes if there were a disaster and they were needed. Can middle-aged heroes save the day?

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Picture books with memorable animals

Kids and animals go together like peanut butter and jelly. Books with animals naturally interest children, and these five picture books include a range of funny, interesting, and just plain curious animals who will fascinate young readers. From an inquisitive owl to an angry bear, a grandmotherly wolf to a white peacock, the range and the humor in these stories will encourage not only good discussion but also a bit of laughter.

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‘City Spies: Golden Gate’ by James Ponti is a perfect middle grade spy story

City Spies: Golden Gate by James Ponti

“City Spies: Golden Gate” is the sequel to “City Spies,” and both middle grade action books will be loved by those who enjoy reading novels that are quick-paced, filled with interesting characters, and boast satisfying endings. This series doesn’t fail to entertain, and even readers who haven’t read the first book in the series will be able to start right in on the second book, although it’s more fun getting in on the ground floor, so to speak.

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‘The Berlin Girl’ by Mandy Robotham is fascinating and engrossing historical fiction

berlin girl

In this novel of prewar Germany, “The Berlin Girl” by Mandy Robotham brings us right into the close-knit world of the journalists who staff tiny offices in capitals around the world in times of strife. Through the eyes of George Young, born Georgina Young and also known as Georgie Young, we enter the cosmopolitan, complex, and perilous environment of Berlin as the Nazis became more ruthless and less concerned with world approbation.

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‘The Unwilling’ by brilliant storyteller John Hart is a searing tale of courage, honor, and war

The Unwilling by John Hart

One of the things that makes John Hart’s novels, including his newest, “The Unwilling,” so compelling is his ability to create complex characters whose actions and courage linger with us long after we’ve finished reading the story. Jason French is one such character, and his inability to reconnect with his family after serving almost three years as a soldier in the Vietnam War is what we first learn about him. We learn much more about not only Jason, but his younger brother Gibby, and their parents. What we learn and how Hart shares the relationships and the emotions is what makes this an unforgettable story.

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‘Poisoned’ by Jennifer Donnelly is a beautiful, complex, fractured fairy tale retelling of Snow White

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly’s fairy tale retellings are beautiful in their complexity and their reimagining; but make no mistake, the beauty of the writing doesn’t equate with “beauty” being foremost among the traits of the main characters in her newest fantasy “Poisoned,” or her previous fractured fairy tale, “Stepsister.” Both young adult fairy tales are beautiful in the sense that they take fairy tales in which originally the most important trait of the young women — Snow White and Cinderella — is their beauty and change our concept of what beauty is. Donnelly turns that ideal on its head. And while the Disney cartoon version shows that both fairy tale creations love animals, there isn’t much else about them that has any depth or substance.

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‘Ground Zero: A Novel of 9/11’ by Alan Gratz is a middle grade novel bringing important historic events into focus for young readers

“Ground Zero” by Alan Gratz

Children’s author Alan Gratz is known and revered for his historical fiction middle grade novels like his newest, “Ground Zero: A Novel of 9/11.” As he has done in other novels including the award-winning “Refugee,” Gratz presents readers with two main characters from different backgrounds and different perspectives who share the story in alternating narratives. In “Ground Zero,” we meet Brandon Chavez from New York and Reshmina from Afghanistan.

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‘The Girls I’ve Been’ by Tess Sharpe is a surprisingly touching YA story of friendship, love, a bank robbery and much more

The Girls I’ve Been

In “The Girls I’ve Been,” Tess Sharpe’s brilliant writing draws us into the lives of the three teens at the center of this young adult thriller. We meet them just as they are on the cusp of being held hostage at their local bank in rural California, and from the first chapter (the chapters are labeled with the time, and the amount of time that has elapsed since they were taken captive), we are mesmerized by Nora and her extraordinary narration of the events that are happening both in the present and also as she intersperses the present narration with snippets of her past that serve to explain who Nora is now.

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‘I Hope You’re Listening’ by Tom Ryan is a thrilling YA story of abduction, guilt, and making amends

In “I Hope You’re Listening” by Tom Ryan, main character Dee Skinner has never been able to shake her guilt over being the kid who wasn’t abducted. When she was seven, she and her best friend Sibby were playing near their tree fort when Sibby was abducted. And although Dee was right there, she was left behind, helpless, watching as her best friend was carried away by two men, never to be seen again. Continue reading