THE OGRESS AND THE ORPHANS by Kelly Barnhill

The National Book Award longlist for Young People’s Literature came out, and my favorite book of the year (so far) is on the list, All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir. So when I saw The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill on the list, I was intrigued. It’s a fantasy world that doesn’t feel that far from our home, with trolls, ogres, and dragons, people that can communicate with crows, and stones that remember stories.

Stone-in-the-Glen was a wonderful town where everyone was neighborly, there were tons of fruit trees with free fruit for the picking, a fantastic library – until the library was burned down by a dragon. This started a chain of events that led to the loss of the fruit trees, the park turning into a giant sinkhole, and people were distrustful and uncaring towards each other. The orphans in the Orphan House are having trouble making ends meet and in trying to help each other, figure out why the town has become this way and start taking steps to fix it. Along with the help of the wonderful and neighborly ogress.

I really loved this fantasy book about kindness and found family. A great book for middle schoolers, and honestly high schoolers as well.

NOTHING MORE TO TELL by Karen McManus

I love a Karen McManus book, they’re all GREAT. She’s a great writer and spins a mystery you (or at least I) usually can’t see coming. I was super excited for her newest book, Nothing More to Tell, and it totally lived up to my expectations. If you like mysteries, thrillers, and true crime, this is definitely the book for you. This seriously might be her best book yet.

Brynn is moving back to her hometown in MA after her dad’s work transfer, and lands a big internship with a popular true crime podcast. How does she get this coveted position? She tells them she has an in and wants to investigate an unsolved murder at her school. Her English teacher had been murdered 4 years before, and her best friend, Tripp, was one of 3 kids that had found him. So many suspects, twists and turns, and the end is shocking.

One of the best YA books I’ve read so far this year, for high schoolers and adults.

ALTE ZACHEN/OLD THINGS by Ziggy Hanaor

I grew up with my grandmother, a German-Jewish survivor of WWII, and so Alte Zachen by Ziggy Hanaor really called to me. The main character, Benji, is visiting his Bubbe Rosa, helping her get around the city so that she can gather ingredients for a special dinner. Bubbe Rosa is a survivor of the Holocaust, and has lived in NYC for 70 years. She is having a tough time adapting to all of the changes around her – different clothes, customs, music, places have closed or moved, and this makes her cranky and sometimes she lashes out at people. Benji is so patient with her and treats her with love and understanding. Bubbe Rosa also has several flashbacks to her life as a child in Germany and as a young woman in Germany, which gives the reader a better understanding of her life. I really loved this short quiet story, it made me a little sad, and the Yiddish peppered throughout it (there’s a glossary at the back), made me feel nostalgic for my childhood.

I would recommend this book to anyone, including adults, 7th grade and up. A beautiful book to share and discuss.

CLOSE-UP ON WAR by Mary Cronk Farrell

Why did I choose to read Close-Up on War: The Story of Pioneering Photojournalist Catherine Leroy in Vietnam by Mary Cronk Farrell? It was a combination of a great review, old photographs, and information about what led to the Vietnam War (which I knew nothing about). This was a book about a spitfire of a woman, Catherine Leroy, who at the age of 21 in 1966 traveled to Vietnam in the middle of a war to become a war photographer, for which she had no training. The book combines letters that Catherine wrote, information about her time before, during, and after Vietnam, and also information about what led up to Vietnam and the war itself. It was super interesting, and kind of disturbing (as anything about war usually is), with lots of amazing photographs from Catherine Leroy.

I would recommend this book to any teen, in middle or high school, that is interested in learning more about history and war.

OUR CROOKED HEARTS by Melissa Albert

I can’t really tell you what drew me to Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert. It may have been the amazing reviews, or the very creepy/awesome cover. I’m not usually into fantasy, but this leaned more into the paranormal and witches…and I kind of loved it. The writing was just so good, the tone was super creepy but not scary, and the story was captivating. 

Ivy sees a ghostly woman in the woods after a car accident with her boyfriend, and that sets off a mystery that is told from her pov in the present, and her mom’s pov in the past. Ivy doesn’t realize, but her mom and aunt have magical powers – but then they disappear. And the ghostly woman seems to be following Ivy, and may even know her. Ivy needs her mom, but where is she?

This book is for anyone that likes creepy mysteries, 8th grade and up. 

THE LAST CUENTISTA by Donna Barba Higuera

I read The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera with my Not-So-Young-Adult Book Club, something I’ve been meaning to do for months. This book won the Newbery Medal (and several others), and it was well-deserved. It was a sci-fi/dystopian book that I think is a definite crowd-pleaser.

Petra and her family are part of the lucky few that have been selected to escape Earth before a comet destroys it. They are going to be in stasis for several hundreds of years while they travel to a Goldilocks planet, Sagan. However, the people minding the ship change the well-laid plans, and when Petra finally wakes up, she has to figure out how to save herself and the remaining humans that have also awoken.

This book was relevant to our time, exciting, twisty, and also beautiful. The reviews say 5th grade and up, but I think it’s more 7th grade and up (including adults).

JACKABY by William Ritter

I LOVE a historical fiction, I LOVE a mystery, and I LOVE books about serial killers, so with Jackaby by William Ritter I got to put my hands together! I liked this book so much more than I expected (I wasn’t super excited about the supernatural element), but it was very fun.

Abigail, with her last bit of savings, sails to New England to find adventure. She has a tough time finding a job, until she sees an ad from R.F. Jackaby – a detective that is looking for an assistant. A murder occurs shortly before she meets him to apply for the job, and so she is immediately hired and quickly swept into the work of solving the crime. Which supernatural creature is murdering people in the town of New Fiddleham? Along the way she meets a ghost, a man turned into a duck, a banshee, werewolf, and more.

A great read for 7th grade and up. It also makes for a wonderful audio book. And if you like this book, there are several more that follow.

MURDER AMONG FRIENDS by Candace Fleming

I don’t want to use the word love, but I’m very fascinated by true crime. Candace Fleming wrote The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh, which chronicles the accomplishments of Charles Lindbergh, the kidnapping/murder of his son, and also how he became a Nazi sympathizer, it was so interesting and I learned so much from it. I was very interested in reading her newest book – Murder Among Friends: how Leopold and Loeb tried to commit the perfect crime, as it has multiple starred reviews.

In May of 1924, Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, two rich, good looking young adults, committed a horrible kidnapping and murder. Why did they do it? Candace Fleming writes a very well written and well organized account of their childhoods, what led to the crime, the court case, and then about their time in prison. It was a very interesting read, but I found it very macabre.

This book is for high school students only, and for ones that are okay reading about disturbing crimes.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE BIRDS GONE? by Rebecca Hirsch

I’m not sure why I picked up this book, because I don’t read a ton of non-fiction. Also, I don’t have a particular affinity for birds. However, I’m so glad that I did, because I learned so much, and starting right this minute I am going to make an effort to help the birds. 

All kinds of birds are disappearing from the world at an alarming rate, and they are super important to our ecosystem. Where Have All the Birds Gone by Rebecca Hirsch highlighted some examples of birds and how they’ve gone extinct (i.e. passenger pigeons), are in decline, or some that are even seeing their numbers rise due to conservation efforts. The author explains how these things have happened (did you know that windows are one of the largest killers of birds??), and what we can do to change things. 

An excellent book, and important for everyone to read – teens and adults alike. 

THE MOST DAZZLING GIRL IN BERLIN by Kip Wilson

I really love a good historical fiction novel AND a novel in verse, so The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin by Kip Wilson puts two of my favorite things together.

Hilde leaves a Berlin orphanage and finds a job in a queer nightclub on the cusp of WWII. Jobs are scarce, and she is lucky to be taken under a young singer’s wing, Rosa. Money and food are not the only things tough to come by, the LGBT community, which was very active and had many night clubs in Berlin, were being targeted by the Nazi party leading up to the war. Rosa is both Jewish and queer, so she is doubly in danger. 

This book is on a topic I haven’t read much about, so it was very interesting reading a story pre-WWII. It was super quick, but I’m not sure the writing sounded very poetic like (I listened to it). However, I would recommend this book to any middle or high schooler interested in historical fiction, especially WWII.