STARFISH by Lisa Fipps

With the nicer weather finally here, I’ve been reading less, which I’m not happy about. I’ve had to really carve out time for the important books, and Starfish by Lisa Fipps is one of them. It’s also a novel in verse, which as you probably already know, I usually love. The reviews on this book put it at Grades 5 and up, but it’s definitely an in-between book – some older kids and younger teens would want to read this. As an adult it was a tough read for me.

Ellie has been nicknamed “Whale” by her sister since she was 5 years old, and it unfortunately stuck. The book starts almost immediately with Ellie hanging out with her best friend, who is moving very far away soon, leaving her totally exposed at school to bullies. Some of the kids are super cruel, and you would hope that her family would at least be kind and supportive, but none of them are (with the exception of her dad). In fact her mom and brother are maybe the two worst bullies of all. With the help of her new neighbor Catalina, her dad, and her therapist, Ellie finds ways to stand up for herself.

I think this book is an important book for young teens to read, it shows both the damage that words and intolerance can cause, and also ways to stand up for one’s self.

YOUR HEART MY SKY by Margarita Engle

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I love a good novel in verse. I also love a good historical fiction book. When I read the reviews for Your Heart My Sky by Margarita Engle, I knew right away I wanted to read it, and it did not disappoint.

In the 90s, Cuba is having a food crisis. Russia has abandoned them, and the United States won’t trade with them. Liana and her family (and really everyone around them) are slowly starving. Liana and another boy, Amado, have refused a government run summer work camp for teenagers, and find themselves sticking together to find food and also fall in love. Do they stay and try to make things livable in Cuba? Or do they try, even though there’s a huge chance of drowning, of running away to the United States?

This beautiful intense book was a quick read, good for any middle or high schooler.

Your Heart My Sky by Margarita Engle

THE SURPRISING POWER OF A GOOD DUMPLING by Wai Chim

I’m not sure what drew me to this book – it may have been its bright pink cover, or perhaps my love of dumplings. Either way, I’m glad that I read The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim. I don’t often read realistic fiction anymore, but this was a very good book, highlighting mental illness and trying to destigmatize it.

Anna Chui lives in a city in Australia, and does not get to experience life as a regular teen, as she is the main caretaker of her younger and brother. Her father owns a Chinese restaurant 90 minutes away, and only comes home once in awhile. Her mother has bouts of depression that keep her in bed for weeks at a time. Mental illness is not something discussed by her family, but rather a lot of effort is put forth in hiding how ill her mom really is. Things change for Anna when she convinces her dad to let her get out more and help out at his restaurant, she builds confidence and also meets the restaurant’s new delivery driver, Rory. They form a friendship, later becoming boyfriend and girlfriend, and Anna gets to have fun and do normal teenage things. Rory also confides in Anna about his own mental health struggles, and they are big help and support for each other. Eventually Anna’s mother reaches a breaking point, but the family then is able to face their problems and get help.

For any high schooler that is interested in reading realistic fiction, particularly about mental illness, then this is the book for them.

Amazon.com: The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling (9781338656114): Chim,  Wai: Books

K-POP CONFIDENTIAL by Stephan Lee

I really didn’t know much about K-pop, except for what I’ve listened to by accident on the radio. K-Pop Confidential was recommended to me, and since it’s by a local author (Stephan Lee is from Fort Lee), I decided to give it a try. 


The main character, Candace, is a shy, viola playing teen, who both loves to sing and is great at it, but her parents are not into letting her pursue it. Her best friend is K-Pop obsessed, and convinces her to go to an open audition, of which she of course nails. She then does the impossible and convinces her parents to let her go train as a K-Pop idol in Korea. Even though she’s heard about how intense it is, nothing really prepares her for the reality of how hard it is. 

This book is fun, I especially enjoyed listening to the audiobook of it. And I learned things about K-Pop which I never would have heard about otherwise, so I get why people love it so much. The author really seems to know so much about it. I also liked reading about Korean culture, and the food descriptions were so good – I’ve been dreaming about Korean food for days. I would recommend this to any teen 7th grade and up, interested in a light, fun book, that has even a little interest in K-Pop. 

K-pop Confidential by Stephan Lee

THE COUSINS by Karen McManus

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus is probably one of the most popular YA books to come out in the last few years. It was a twisty turny mystery thriller, and I, along with tons of other teens and adults LOVED it. I was so excited to hear that she was coming out with a new standalone novel, The Cousins.

Three cousins of similar ages hear from a very rich grandmother that they’ve never met, inviting them to come to an island that she basically owns (she owns much of the properties including a luxury resort) to work there for the summer. Their parents are adamant that they go – their mother cut them off without an explanation more than 20 years prior with just a note “You know what you did”, all of them insisting that they do not actually know what it is that they did. Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah head to the island, and the story just gets twistier from there, with big reveals that I did not see coming.

I loved this book, maybe even more than One of Us is Lying. I would highly recommend it to anyone that loves mysteries and thrillers, teens and adults alike.

THE SNOW FELL THREE GRAVES DEEP: VOICES FROM THE DONNER PARTY by Allan Wolf

As many times as I’ve heard the words “Donner Party“, I really didn’t know much about the its history. All I knew was Donner Party = Cannibals. I was very intrigued by the fantastic reviews I read of The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep by Allan Wolf, and so I picked it up a few days ago. At first I had a hard time getting into it, but then I really couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to know how things turned out for all the people I was reading about. It’s made pretty clear from the get go, that many of the men, women, and children migrating from the Midwest to California die of hunger (one of the narrators of the story is Hunger), sickness, and cold. That didn’t stop me from wanting to know exactly what happened, how people can be driven to become cannibals. The story is told from the points of view of several of the pioneers and Miwok Indian guides, and really makes you understand how they all must have felt that terrible winter. It was a sad and at times, brutal, story, but I’m very glad that I read it. I would give this to any teen, grades 8 and up, interested in history or historical fiction, that would like to learn more about the Donner Party.

Amazon.com: The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party  (9780763663247): Wolf, Allan: Books

THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon

I loved Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and really enjoyed The Sun is Also a Star the first time I read it a couple of years ago. I was so excited to see a bunch of available copies on Libby, so I chose this book for my Not-So-Young Adult Book Club, my adult book club that reads YA. I honestly think I liked it even more this time around. Even though it’s a couple of years old, it’s more relevant than ever, its main characters are Natasha, an undocumented immigrant from Jamaica, and Daniel, a first generation Korean immigrant. Natasha is trying a last ditch effort to stop her family from being deported, and Daniel is on his way to a Yale interview he is not the least bit interested in.  They meet cute in a music store, and spend an intense few hours hitting up different spots in NYC, falling in love and figuring out life in the process. This book is a great realistic fiction book , with just the right amount of corny romance. I still need to see the movie version! I would recommend this book to any teen that likes those genres, 8th grade and up. 

Amazon.com: The Sun Is Also a Star (Yoon, Nicola) (9780553496680): Yoon,  Nicola: Books

2020 Wrap Up

This has been a really tough year for everyone. We have all had to settle for a new normal, along with being stressed about COVID and the changes that has brought to all of our lives. However, there has been one big positive that I have gotten from this year, and that has been the time to read. I have always been a big reader, but as I’ve gotten older, and especially after I had my kids, I’ve had less and less time to read. Finding myself home most of the time, has given me back that chance to read more, 128 YA and Adult books (not including the oodles of picture books) to be exact. And wow, so many of them have been amazing. Since I haven’t been able to write about all of them, I am going to list some of my favorite YA books that I’ve read this year, below:

  1. The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious #3) by Maureen Johnson
  2. Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour
  3. When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson
  4. Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi
  5. Three Things I Know are True by Betty Culley
  6. Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder
  7. What I Carry by Jennifer Longo
  8. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
  9. Frankly in Love by David Yoon
  10. They Went Left by Monica Hesse

All of these great books are available to be checked out here, and many are available as eBooks and/or eAudiobooks on Libby or Hoopla.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading!

The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3) by Maureen Johnson

A GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO MURDER by Holly Jackson

I’ve been intrigued by this book a few times this year, it was recommended to me by Kelli, has been compared to one of my favorite books I read this year, Truly Devious, but it wasn’t until it was voted second place in the YA fiction category on the Goodreads Choice awards that I decided to give it a try. It had a slow start for me, but I’m so glad I forged ahead, because this was a great mystery! It very much reminded me of the Serial podcast.

Pip is doing an independent project for her senior year of high school, and she decides to try to solve a local murder/suicide, one that the police and public think have already been solved. Pip doesn’t believe that Sal Singh murdered his girlfriend (who was never found), and then committed suicide, and so reopens the case to try to find the truth. She interviews people related to the case, pores over social media, and befriends Sal’s brother, Ravi, which leads her on a dangerous path, but one that ultimately proves to be different and more fruitful than the investigation led by the police. The twists and turns were nail biting, and I was very satisfied with the ending.

This is a great murder mystery book for any high school student that likes the genre.

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson: 9781984896391 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

DISPLACEMENT by Kiku Hughes

Today, for the first time ever, I am going to have a guest reviewer on this blog, and share my wonderful co-worker Kelli’s review of Displacement by Kiku Hughes.

“So much of our history had been obscured by silence.” (129)

This is such a heart-wrenching and moving story about not just the impact of the Japanese internment camps on one American family but the lasting impacts of the camps on Japanese-Americans, Japanese diaspora, and on American society as a whole. Actions and behaviors and the memories of both hold power. These actions have consequences that ripple across time and space. This kind of trauma leaves a lasting wound, a scar. Scars represent both hurting and healing — a complexity that I think this story tackles very well. This story challenges readers to hear how loud silence can be, especially in regards to injustices.

I was deeply moved by this story and the approach that Hughes took — telling this story as a kind of generational memory, triggered by current events that seem to be invoking the same injustices and prejudices. It connects the past to the present and conveys that nothing happens in a vacuum. There is a long history of injustice perpetrated against POC in this country. It is important to remember that. As a descendant of white settlers in America, it’s very important that I remember these legacies of oppression and respect these voices calling out oppression now.

I think this is a very important story and I highly recommend it. I think it will especially open doors for younger readers, inviting them to think more critically about this country and about systemic oppression. 

Amazon.com: Displacement (9781250193537): Hughes, Kiku: Books