Book Club Review: “Ghost”

28954126We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick A One Word Title” challenge.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds

Publishing Info: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, August 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Kate’s Thoughts

It occurred to me and the rest of book club that we have been dong a fair  amount of Middle Grade books for this session! Which, hey, that’s just fine. I know that for some of us, me included to a certain extent, the fear with middle grade is that the book may rely less on nuance and more on being explicitly clear about what is going on. But the good news is that with “Ghost,” one of the deluge of books by Jason Reynolds recently, the story never seems to underestimate the middle grade audience. Not only are the themes of this book pretty sophisticated, such as parental abuse, systematic oppression, and bullying, but Reynolds doesn’t seem to feel a need to water anything down. Ghost is a very intriguing and complex protagonist, who is dealing with a large amount of trauma due to his father trying to kill him and his mother when he was younger. I thought that Reynolds addressed this trauma in a way that wasn’t told but definitely shown. Ghost has a lot to deal with, and while his first person POV never explicitly describes how he’s dealing, the reader gets a very clear sense of how much this continues to haunt him. Though I’ll be honest, the sports theme wasn’t really my thing, just because I myself am not really a sports oriented person (outside of hockey and baseball). I was definitely skimming the more sports oriented parts, and wanted to get back to Ghost’s personal life and struggles.

I think it’s also important to note that I greatly appreciate the fact that “Ghost” is a book that has People of Color as the default. What I mean by this is that in many books, ‘white’ is kind of the default character, so when the author describes someone, their skin is kind of assumed to be white, while characters of color have their skin described almost right off the bat. In this book, however, it’s the opposite, and the white characters are the ones who are described as if they are outside the norm. Given that the middle grade and YA publishing industry is still struggling with diversity, this was refreshing.

I liked “Ghost” quite a bit and I think that a lot of kids could find a lot of things to like about it as well.

Serena’s Thoughts

Like Kate said, sports books aren’t really my thing either. Unless it’s, like, magical horse racing or something. I read a few as a kid, like the almost required “Maniac Magee,” but never really went beyond that. But “Ghost” has received a lot of attention as a great new addition to middle grade fiction, including both a diverse cast of characters and a story/topic that is likely to appeal to middle grade boys (the age-group-bane of most public librarians’ existence!), so I was excited to try it out. And while sports books will never be my thing, I found myself quite enjoying this one.

Reynolds expertly mixes the two primary parts that make up this book: track and life trauma. The obvious parallels about literally and figuratively running away from one’s struggles are never hit on the head too fully, and I appreciate the author’s dexterity in creating a story that doesn’t simplify the realities its main character has lived through. As an adult reader I very much enjoyed such literary touches as opening the story with the shot of the gun his father is aiming at Ghost and his mother and closing it with the shot of the pop gun to begin the race. This ability to weave real depth into the story while also creating a relatable main character with an excellent voice that would appeal to young readers really makes this book stand out. Ghost himself could make me laugh on one page and want to shake him on the next.

I also enjoyed the fact that the sport in question was track. There are tons of books out there about the more traditional sports like football, basketball, and more and more often, soccer. But track with its strange balance of individual stakes and teamwork was a unique sport to choose. My own track career was very short (due to a happy ankle sprain that got me out of it, essentially), but I still enjoyed reading the sporting portion of the book as well.

Reading books like this is why I particularly enjoy being involved in a great bookclub. I’m consistently challenged to read outside of my own comfort zone and discover excellent books like this that I likely would never have stumbled upon myself.

Kate’s Rating 8: While I don’t really care about the sports themes of this book, I liked Ghost and the other members of the track team, as well as the way that Reynolds tackled some pretty complex themes.

Serena’s Rating 8: “Ghost” was an excellent middle grade book that provided deep commentary on important topics while never losing sight of its own story and audience.

Book Club Questions

  1. What do you think motivates Ghost to run at the beginning of the book? Do you think that has changed by the end of it?
  2. What did you think of how Coach dealt with Ghost stealing the shoes? Why do you think Ghost impulsively stole the shoes in the first place?
  3. The end of the book is fairly ambiguous about how the track team ended up in the race. Did you wish that there was a definitive ‘win’ or ‘lose’ outcome? Do you think the book needed that?
  4. What did you think of the other members of the track team? This is going to be a series that follows each of these kids. Whose story are you most excited for, and why?
  5. This is a middle grade book, though Reynolds is known for writing YA books as well. How do you think this book would have been different had it been written for a YA audience?

Reader’s Advisory

“Ghost” is included on the Goodreads lists “2016 YA/MG Books with POC Leads”, and “2017 Mock Newbery.

Find “Ghost” at your library using WorldCat!

Next book club book up is “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog”.

Literary Loves: Characters Who Woo Us

We know that we can’t possibly be the only book worms who have fallen for literary characters. So in celebration of all things fantastical and romantic (and perhaps setting up our husbands to fall short), we would like to share the characters who make our hearts thud a little bit faster as we turn the pages of their stories. 

Serena’s Picks

heroes
(source)

Book: “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma,” Northanger Abbey,” Sense and Sensibility,” Persuasion,” and “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen

Literary Crush: Well, let’s see, we have Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightly, Mr. Tilney, Colonel Brandon/Edward Ferrars, Captain Wentworth, and Edmund Bertram

I cheated! Right off the bat! Right out of the gate! But really, there was no other choice because either 1.) the list would be extra long including all seven and made up entirely of Jane Austen characters for my portion or 2.) there would be no post because I could never narrow it down to only 3 and my part would STILL be made up entirely of Jane Austen characters. I will say that Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightly are probably my favorite two of the bunch, but when we start to get into thirds and fourths…nope! Can’t do it! Many, many articles have been written about the appeal of Jane Austen’s heroes, so I won’t bore you with a re-cap here. They’re just the best. The end.

11289310Book: “Daughter of the Forest” by Juliet Marillier

Literary Crush: Hugh ‘Red’ of Harrowfield

Juliet Marillier is one of my favorite authors and “Daughter of the Forest” is my favorite of her books. So it stands to reason that out of the many fantastic heroes she has written (I really resisted not just including them all again, guys! I’m making progress!), Red would be my favorite leading man. He’s pretty much what every woman wishes for. Strong and competent, but endlessly patient and understanding. Sorcha can’t speak for the majority of their time together in this book, and even though he knows she can answer some of his most heart-wrenching questions about his lost brother, he stands by her, giving her the time and space she needs to heal and grow to trust him. He stands up for her against his family and the questions and fear of her that arise from her being a strange outsider. Their love grows slowly throughout the book until in the end she, too, makes her own sacrifice for him. Their love story is beautiful, and Red is a great hero character in his more quiet, steady way.

119324283870Book: “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass” by Philip Pullman

Literary Crush: Will Parry

This one feels a bit strange typing it out as an adult woman since this is technically a child character, but I read these books when I was the main characters’ ages, and it would be wrong to deny the  massive crush I had (have?) on Will. Having been already introduced to the unstoppable Lyra in “The Golden Compass,” Will was already fighting an uphill battle being introduced as a main character in book two. But not only did he stand his own, by the end he may have been my favorite of the two. It was also surprising seeing a meaningful and touching romance develop in a natural way in a book that is about teenagers as young as these two. But especially in “The Amber Spyglass,” we see Will’s willingness to do anything to save Lyra and then to follow her anywhere, even into the Underworld. He has the same quiet, steady strength as Red, so I guess that must be kind of my thing?

Kate’s Picks

77392Book: The “Anne of Green Gables” Series by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Literary Crush: Gilbert Blythe

One of my favorite literary heroines is the impulsive, imaginative, and witty Anne Shirley. I grew up idolizing her (thanks to my Dad’s love for the books about her), and her love interest Gilbert Blythe was hands down the first book character I was totally in love with. Gilbert starts out as a rival, who pisses Anne off when trying to get her attention by calling her ‘Carrots’. But as the series progresses, Anne and Gilbert go from enemies, to friends, to true loves. He’s funny and smart, and sure, a little careless with how he shows his affection for her, but that’s okay. He worships the ground that Anne walks on, but also doesn’t let her get away with some of her more irrational (or spiteful) moments. And boy did it take Anne long enough to figure out that he was the one for her! But the moment that she did (after he nearly died from typhoid fever, OH MY GOODNESS THE FEELINGS), they were just the best couple, and he was everything that she (and I) ever wanted.

4722840Book: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

Literary Crush: Edward Rochester

Snarky? Check. Brooding with a tragic past? Check. Willing to have his true love go toe to toe with him and respectful of her because of it? CHECK MATE. Yeah, it’s probably not great that Edward Rochester lied about keeping his mentally deranged wife locked in an attic, but given how terrible asylums were at the time I’m sort of willing to cut him a little bit of slack. As the love interest in “Jane Eyre”, Rochester falls in love with Jane, the Governess to his ward. Jane is an independent and capable woman and is not willing to let him give her any grief, nor is she willing to let him manipulate her. Rochester does eventually learn from his mistakes, and when he and Jane are reunited they continue to be on even footing, relationship wise. As much as the ‘dark and brooding soul’ trope can get old, Rochester has enough snark and sarcasm to keep it from becoming too much. And for the time period that the book was written, him being on such even footing with Jane in their relationship and romance is quite refreshing!

472331Book: “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Ill.)

Literary Crush: Dan Dreiberg/ Nite Owl II

As someone who loves superheroes and has a thing for a good number of them (Helloooooo Wade Wilson), Dan Dreiberg from “Watchmen” is the one that holds the biggest key to my heart. Dan is painfully geeky and kind of socially awkward, but he’s very smart, way adorable, and fiercely loyal when it comes to his teammates and friends. He is also a very capable crime fighter, who plays to his strengths of tech knowledge and gadgetry by creating a number of doo dads and inventions that aid him in his endeavors. And he is eternally patient when it comes to his unstable partner, Rorschach. Dan does have his issues, of course, as he is a bit neurotic, and is sometimes plagued by self doubt (such as when being a superhero is strictly outlawed by the Nixon Government). But at his heart he’s really just a good guy who puts on the cape and cowl because he wants to make the world a better place. Also, he loves bird watching and has a deep love for owls. He’s just an adorkable and good guy, so what’s not to love?

What about you? Do you have any literary crushes that make your heart sing? Let us know in the comments!!

 

A Blog’s Birthday Bonanza and Giveaway!!!

So last year, the two of us got together with the idea that we should do a book blog. And now it’s, amazingly, a year later, and we are celebrating our Bloggaversary (is that right?)! And with that comes our warmest, deepest gratitude to you guys who have been following us and supporting us and reading our reviews and lists. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And because of this, we wanted to host a huge and special giveaway! Like mentioned yesterday, it’s not just one book, but four books! Each of us picked two to pass on, and we think that you will love them too! So what are these books? We’re glad you asked.

7234875Book: “The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters

Publishing Info: Riverhead Books, May 2010

In post-war England, Dr. Faraday goes to the countryside to tend to the someone who lives at the sprawling and glamorous Hundreds Hall. Though the Ayres family still lives there, changing times, changing economic circumstances, and changing ways have pushed the family closer and closer to losing everything. But along with a changing way of life, there may be something else in these halls that is haunting this family. Dr. Faraday soon finds himself twisted up with this family and whatever else comes with them. This is a haunting and sweeping book, that is a must for fans of “Downton Abbey,” as well of fans of old school haunted house stories.

13132403Book: “17 & Gone” by Nova Ren Suma

Publishing Info: Dutton Books, March 2017

Lauren is a seventeen year old girl who is haunted by disturbing visions. Visions of girls who have gone missing, and also seventeen. She doesn’t know why these girls are reaching out to her, or what it means. But she feels a need to figure out what has happened to them, just in case she is potentially next. After all, she, too, is seventeen. This suspenseful YA book is a tense and interesting rumination on how there are many different ways that a person can be lost, and Nova Ren Suma writes about difficult subjects with lots of care.

18490585 Book: “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor, July 2006

Brandon Sanderson is one of my all time favorite authors, so I had to include a book from him in this giveway, and what is more fitting than “Mistborn” the first book of his I read that served as a gateway drug to the long, loooong list of books this author regularly pumps out. “Mistborn” tackles the question of what a fantasy hero journey would look like if the hero fails. Long ago, instead of saving the world, its hero died, leaving the land to sink into desolation under the heavy hand of its cruel king the Lord Ruler. A ragtag group, featuring our lead character, a spunky street rat teenage girl named Vin, hope to now succeed where this previous hero failed. Kate knows my love of this book as I literally shoved it at her a few years ago, so now I’m shoving it at you all as well!

28220899Book: “Freeks” by Amanda Hocking

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Griffin, January 2017

Mara has grown up in the circus surrounded by the odd and the extraordinary. But so far, she herself seems fairly…normal. When the circus stops at a new town, Mara jumps at the opportunity to blend with the locals where her normalcy is a boon and she can pretend, just for a little while, that she too is leading an ordinary life. That is until members of the circus begin to disappear, starting with the most powerful among them. Mara, along with a dreamy local boy named Gabe, must now rush to untangle the truth before all of her strange family, including her clairvoyant mother, are lost forever. This book hits many of the standard tropes of YA fantasy, but I’m always a sucker for a circus story, so I had to include it in this giveaway!

Enter the giveaway!

 

 

Joint Review: “Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast”

41424Book: “Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast” by Robin McKinley

Publishing Info: Harper, October 1978

Where Did We Get this Book: Serena’s owns it, and Kate borrowed it from Serena!

Book Description: Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.

When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, “Cannot a Beast be tamed?”

Serena’s Thoughts

I originally read this book back in highschool after finding it while browsing through my school library. What a lucky day of my life! I had read a few books by Robin McKinley before this but had somehow missed the fact that she wrote a Beauty and the Beast re-telling (she actually wrote two! Her other book is titled “Rose Daughter” and is a bit more of an adaptation of the tale than a straight re-telling like this one). Fast forward an undefined number of years and “Beauty” is one of a handful of books that I re-read almost on a yearly basis. It’s the epitome of a comfort read for me, at this point. And with that in mind, I’ve found it a bit challenging to review it here for the blog! Unpacking the book as an actual work of fiction outside of my own long history of gushing over it is tricky!

One of the most noteworthy aspects of this tale is its simplicity. There are a million and one Beauty and the Beast adaptations, and they all approach the tale differently with unique additions to the tale and versions of the main characters. What makes “Beauty” stand out is the fact that it really isn’t providing anything extra to the tale: if you could have a novel-length version of the fairy tale itself, no bells or whistles added, this would be it. The tale unfolds in a very familiar way, broken into three parts essentially. There is Beauty’s life through her family’s fall from wealth, then her time adapting to a more simple life and hearing tales about a mysterious woods that one days hits too close to home with her father’s unlucky trip to a strange castle, and then the final third, Beauty’s time in the castle itself, falling in love with a Beast.

I particularly appreciate the fact that McKinley doesn’t rush the first half of this novel. As anxious as I am (and I’m sure many readers as well) to get to the meat of the story, Beauty and the Beast’s love story, this initial build up is important for setting up Beauty as a three dimensional character. We need time to understand Beauty herself, and to grow to love her family as well so that her sacrifice, when it comes, to leave them forever has the emotional weight it deserves.

Due to this greater fleshing out of the beginning of the story, Beauty’s family all get a lot more page time. The sisters, particularly, become their own characters with their own struggles. And, luckily, they are treated much more kindly by McKinley than sisters often fare in fairy tales being neither catty nor selfish.

But, of course, the true joy of the story does indeed come in its second half when Beauty begins her new life at the castle and meets the Beast. Here lies the true brilliance of the story. Under less sure hands we have seen too many incantations of the Beast where he can fall into many character traps, like the overly angsty Beast, or, most likely, the “anger issues are sexy” Beast. The Beast in this story is perfect as a strange, romantic hero. The tragedy of his story and life up to this point is the primary emotion that is brought to the forefront. And it is this sympathy for him upon which Beauty begins to build her feelings. But, even more importantly, McKinley allows her characters to travel the full of arc of a burgeoning relationship. Each are wary of the other (Beauty, for obvious reasons, and the Beast due to the vulnerability he must show to grow close to another human after so long), then through small moments and risks on each character’s part, a friendship develops, and only from there do we begin to see the romance come. McKinley never stumbles in this progression, and its this sure-handedness that makes the story and Beauty and the Beast’s relationship so beautiful and believable.

Re-reading this book for the millionth time, and especially with the new movie on my mind, it strikes me that the original Disney movie might have needed to credit this book for parts of their story. I mean, really, there’s even mention of a dog-like footstool! And this was written before that movie!! Perhaps a questionable lack of attribution on Disney’s part…

Kate’s Thoughts

So I had never actually read “Beauty” until I was at Serena’s house awhile back, and she literally thrust her copy of the book into my hands. I had only read “Sunshine” by Robin McKinley before then, though I had some familiarity with her other works because my mother really likes the “Damar” series. I, too, am a huge fan of the story of “Beauty and the Beast”, as the Disney movie is my favorite Disney movie of all time, and I’ve always enjoyed the fairy tale. Hell, in college I wrote a paper about the symbolism of the Beast in regards to sex and growing up. So yes, Serena was right to toss this my way with the command of ‘read it, read it now’.

I think that the biggest thing that strikes me about this book is that McKinley is very careful to flesh out all of the characters, from Beauty to her sisters to the Beast. While some fairy tales function more on tropes and common themes, McKinley takes these kind of stock characters and explores them a bit more. I was especially happy, like Serena was, that Beauty’s sisters Grace and Hope were also kind and empathetic people. I was worried that there was going to be some of the usual ‘only one girl can be the good one’ malarky, but this book is really kind to it’s female characters. Beauty herself was a wonderful surprise as well, as she is good and kind but has her own weaknesses and is not perfect. I felt a lot of love from her family, which is so rare in so many fairy tales. Seeing them going from wealth to near poverty was a really neat take, giving the story more motivation for the Father to go off, and more motivation for Beauty to make the sacrifices that she ends up making. And I will admit that I was also invested in the love story that befalls upon Grace, who is longing for a long lost love to return to her, even if the odds aren’t in her favor.

And like Serena, I also liked the parts with the Beast and how their relationship progresses. The Beast never really comes off as an actual threat to Beauty, which is a difficult line to treat with this story. I know that a lot of people compare this fairy tale to Stockholm Syndrome (I have a lot of opinions as to why this is incorrect, but that’s another rant for another day), but in “Beauty” it felt more like a mutual understanding between Beauty and the Beast instead of a captive situation. I feel like this gives Beauty the credit she deserves, and it doesn’t let any critiques turn her into a victim in spite of her obvious agency. Her relationship with the Beast is tentative, then sweet, and it was nice seeing them progress and learn about each other.

I think that the best part about this book is that it’s really just fluffy and pure escapism, which sometimes we really just need. There isn’t any unnecessary drama or nonsense, and you know that you’re going to get a happy ending. But even if the ending is guaranteed to be happy, McKinley does a great job of keeping you interested in the journey to happily ever after. If you are a fan of “Beauty and the Beast”, this is definitely a book that you should be picking up. Do yourself this favor!!!

Serena’s Rating 10: My absolute favorite fairy tale re-telling of all!

Kate’s Rating 10: An absolutely lovely retelling of one of my very favorite fairy tales.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast” is on these Goodreads lists: “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Best Fairytales and Retellings.”

Find “Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast” at your library using WorldCat!

Lift Every Voice And Sing: Books About The Civil Rights Movement

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, everyone! Given that today is a celebration and remembrance of one of the most important voices in American History, we thought that we would share with you all some books about the Civil Rights Movement. Some may be familiar, others may not be as well known, but all of them give a voice to this movement, the people within it, and the importance of the ideals at it’s heart.

29844341Book: The “March” Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Top Shelf Productions, August 2013 (Book 1), January 2015 (Book 2), and August 2016 (Book 3).

Kate has talked about this book before on this blog, and it has a clear place on this list. John Lewis, one of the key people in the Civil Rights Movement, decided that he wanted to tell his story, and he did it in graphic novel form. These books talk about his early days as an activist, the Sit Ins, The March on Washington, Freedom Summer, and Selma, amongst many other key moments in the movement. Lewis is honest and candid about his time during this movement, and this book shows the horror, the sadness, the determination, and the hope.

5201814Book: “Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice” by Phillip M. Hoose

Publishing Info: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, January 2009

Though many people have heard of Rosa Parks, they may not have heard of Claudette Colvin. Colvin also refused to give up her spot on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, months before Rosa Parks did the same thing and became a Civil Rights Icon. Colvin, unlike Parks, was not only largely forgotten by history, she also was shunned for her actions and mostly ignored by community leaders. But she then became an figure in the Browder v. Gayle case, a court case that challenged Jim Crow laws in Montgomery. This book tells her story within the context of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Montgomery itself.

92057Book: “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X, Alex Haley

Publishing Info: Ballantine Books, 1965

Both a celebrated and controversial figure, Malcolm X was an important force and speaker within the Civil Rights Movement. This book is his story, as told to Alex Haley (the author of “Roots”), and it covers his early time as a hustler and goes all the way through his conversion to Islam, his position during the Civil Rights movement, and his stances on how to gain freedom within a racist society. Haley eventually added a section to the book after X’s assassination. Malcolm X is still considered a polarizing figure to this day, but to have his story in his own words is invaluable, and continues to serve as inspiration and education about the fight for Civil Rights.

824499Book: “A Wreath For Emmett Till” by Marilyn Nelson, Phillip Lardy (Ill.)

Publishing Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, January 2005

Though Emmett Till’s murder happened in 1955, it is considered to be one of the moments in history that helped set off the Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till was a fourteen year old boy who was murdered for whistling at a white woman, and his death and the aftermath his told in poem form in this award winning picture book. The poetry is beautiful, told in a crown of sonnets, and it both captures the horrific nature of the crime, the injustice of the court ruling, and the despair and sadness of a child who was murdered with no consequence.

How are you guys celebrating and remembering Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday? Let us know in the comments!

That Takes Me Back: Some Favorite Reads from Childhood

So we were feeling a bit nostalgic this week, thinking about how we’ve loved reading our whole lives, and how books can leave lasting impressions. Both of us have our favorite books now, but we also had our favorite books when we were kids. So we thought that we would share with you some of the standouts from our childhoods, and what it was that made them so magical.

Kate’s Picks

39988Book: “Matilda” by Roald Dahl

Publishing Info: October, 1988

Why I Loved It: While I really liked a number of Roald Dahl’s books when I was a kid (particularly “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”), the one that stood out for me most was “Matilda”. It appealed to me in a number of ways, most particularly that she was a little girl who liked to read, and was pretty lonely (as I had few friends in childhood, though my family wasn’t the absolute worst like Matilda’s is). So “Matilda” served as pure escapist fantasy for me, as the lonely, bookish girl also had magical telekinetic powers. It remains as my favorite book by Dahl, as Matilda is spunky and smart and a true role model for girls everywhere.

176690Series: “Fear Street” by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: First book published 1989

Why I Loved It: My love of horror goes all the way back to my childhood. And since I’ve already gushed about my other favorite, “Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark”, I will talk about my other big horror influence: “Fear Street”. I started with “Goosebumps” when I was in third grade, but quickly graduated to the “Fear Street” series because they were more challenging and a lot scarier. I loved the scandal, the murder, the intrigue, and the WONDERFULLY tacky and now dated covers. R.L. Stine published a number of regular “Fear Street” books, and a few off shoot series like “Ghosts of Fear Street”, “Fear Street Super Chillers”, and “Fear Street Nights” (reminds me of “Baywatch Nights”). They were formulaic and repetitive, but man did I love them to pieces.

3729060Series: “The Baby-Sitter’s Club” by Ann M. Martin

Publishing Info: First book published August 1986

Why I Loved It: And on the exact opposite side of the spectrum, my other big series of my childhood was “The Baby-Sitter’s Club” by Ann M. Martin. I think that what I liked about it was that it was about a bunch of tween girls who had responsibilities and deep and lasting friendships. I would go to Barnes and Noble and usually leave with the newest in the series, and boy did I have my strong opinions about all the girls (Mary-Anne was the best, Stacey was the worst). And I also liked the inevitable soapy storylines that came up every few issues, involving boys, drama, and family. I also loved the spin off series “Baby-Sitters Club Mysteries”, which usually had some kind of potential danger or supernatural element. It always goes back to the creepy for me.

Serena’s Picks

156171

Series: “The Mandie Mysteries” by Lois Gladys Leppard

Publishing Info: First book published May 1983

Why I Loved It: This series was pretty much my entrance drug into the world of long-running mystery series featuring spunky heroines. And man, there are even more of them than I remember (I’m sure I didn’t read them all, but I loved the first 12 or so that I did get through!). There are like 40 of these suckers, it turns out. They’re fairly simplistic mysteries, of course, but I found very fun as a young reader. Especially the inclusion of the troubles her cat Snowball always gets into, and my early shipping heart’s love of Mandi and Joe’s interactions.

118754

Book: “The Raging Quiet” by Sherryl Jordan

Publishing Info: April 1999

Why I Loved It: And this, my introduction to the joys of historical fiction! This book falls into the young adult category more than children’s fiction as it deals with some challenging themes. But oh I loved it! I still re-read it once every year or so. The story focuses on Marnie, a young girl who comes to live in a new area due to a forced marriage. After she is suddenly widowed, she is viewed with fear and skepticism by the local villagers, but finds friendship with another outcast of society, Raven, who she learns is deaf. It’s a powerful story of the challenges of being different in a time when that was often looked upon with fear and hatred. It’s a lovely story, but also a tough read at times.

444332Series: “Song of the Lioness” quartet by Tamora Pierce

Publishing Info: September 1983

Why I Loved It: And finally, my first fantasy love. It’s pretty impossible to talk about 80s/90s popular young adult fantasy without the Alanna books coming up. And for good reason! I absolutely loved these books as a kid. Alanna is a spunky, heroine who constantly defies the expectations and limitations that are placed on her as a young girl, and eventually woman, who dreams of being a knight and having her own adventures. I’ve re-read this series a few times as an adult, and I’m even more impressed by the topics it covers that are so great especially for young women readers (it covers the importance of birth control even!) all while never losing its sense of fun, fantasy, and adventure.

What about you? What were some of your favorites from your childhood? Let us know in the comments!

Happy Holidays! Favorite Holiday Books

Happy Holidays everyone! Winter is the perfect time to snuggle down with a cozy blanket, a cat, and a great seasonal book. And in celebration of this great time of year, we’re highlighting our favorite holiday reads!

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 Book: “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis

Publication Info: Geoffrey Bles, October 1950

Not only is the Narnia series a fantasy classic, but this, the first book (let’s not get into the chronological debate, this will always be the first one!!) is a perfect Christmas read, because we all know that the premise is so true: Winter with no chance of Chirstmas would be the worst! Everything about this book makes it a great winter read: the fur coats, the snowy setting, the White Witch, and, of course, Santa Claus. Whether you’ve never read this book before, or read it a million times, this is a great one to check out this winter season!

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Book: “Breadcrumbs” by Anne Ursu

Publishing Info: Walden Pond Press, September 2011

There are a few winter fairytales that must make this list, and my all time favorite “The Snow Queen” is first up with this middle grade retelling. This book features the perfect mix of familiar elements from the original story (a young boy and girl who are friends, boy’s heart becomes frozen, girl goes on adventure to save boy) and many new twists. It’s great for fans of fantasy as there are fun references to other works like “Harry Potter” and “The Wizard of Oz” all over the place. It also features a diverse cast and, bonus!, is set in our hometown of Minneapolis (let’s be honest, Minnesota is the perfect setting for any winter-based story).

161887 Book: “East” by Edith Pattou

Publishing Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, May 2005

Another classic winter fairytale is “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” featuring a girl who is stolen away by a snow bear king who lives in a castle full of secrets. This fiarytale eventually evolved in “Beauty and the Beast,” but also remains popular in its more original form. There are a million re-tellings of this story, but this is one of the best as it is basically a straight up novel-length version of the fairytale with very few major changes to the plot. A perfect read for fans of “Beauty and the Beast!”

17406545Book: “NOS4A2” by Joe Hill

Publishing Info: William Morrow, April 2013

No, don’t look at us like we’re crazy. “NOS4A2” is definitely a good pick for a cozy holiday read! Sure, maybe that’s because a child kidnapper takes his victims to a surrealistic dream scape he likes to call Christmasland, where it’s the worst Christmas ever…. But hey, it’s also a really good book that has to do with family, friendship, independence, and facing your fears. Plus, the main character is a kick butt lady named Vic who rides a motorcycle and is determined to save her son from Charlie Manx, the man who is head of the demonic Christmas town. An the holidays are a time for family.

1370300Book: “The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming” by Lemony Snicket and LIsa Brown (Ill.)

Publishing Info: McSweeney’s, January 2007

So maybe this is a picture book, but Lemony Snicket brings a lot of humor and heart to this story about a Hanukkah latke who is trying to explain his holiday to a bunch of Christmas objects. It’s a witty take on the dilemma that many Jewish children face around Christmas time, when people aren’t as in tune with the menorah and dreidels as they are to Santa Claus and reindeer. Plus it stars a frustrated screaming latke who wants others to know why he is significant.

30152Book: “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd

Publishing Info: Broadway Books, October 1966

No doubt many of you are familiar with the holiday cult classic film “A Christmas Story”. But maybe you didn’t know that it was based on a book by Jean Shepherd (who served as narrator in the original film). This book goes far beyond the movie, however, as it focuses more on the hometown exploits of a boy named Ralph and the things that (possibly) went on in Shepher’s own childhood. But never fear. The authentic Red Rider BB Gun and the ‘Special Award’ still makes appearances! Shepherd is heralded as the original Garrison Keilor, and his dry wit and humor will keep you laughing on cold winter nights.

What are your favorite books to read during the holiday season? Let us know below in the comments! And have a Happy Holiday Season and New Year!