What We’re Reading

We are all reading a LOT of books right now. I’m in the process of compiling a literature recommendation list by age group: our favourite 100 books for 3-5, 6-8, 9-12-year-olds, and teens/young adults.

Our lack of familiarity with current book selections from the teen and young adult section has meant that MrJ, Bean11 (where appropriate), friends, family and I have been busily searching through options and reading as many of them as we can physically manage. I confess that it’s been one of the most joyful jobs I’ve had to do! Although some books we’ve had to dismiss outright, others have been utterly gripping!

Bean10 has been in on the action too. Although we already have many favourites in the younger age categories, I wanted to make sure we hadn’t missed anything exceptional, so he’s also been reading new selections for me.

The only issue: that some of the best books are parts of a series and leave you desperate for more! The desire to forget that you have another twenty or so books to read and instead just dip into the next in the series is very tempting! So far, we’ve been strong!

To give you a taster, here are some of the favourites we’ve each recently read.

My Recommendations

It’s important to say that although my and MrJ’s selections are technically considered teen/young adult books, I’d highly recommend them all for adults too!

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

(officially 14+ years)

Legendborn by [Tracy Deonn]

I’ll be truthful and say I wouldn’t normally read fantasy books, but this was by far and away my favourite of all the teen/young adult books I’ve read. Just utterly captivating. It was so good that I cancelled all our plans for one day and devoured it all. Although it has a 14+ age recommendation, I think it would be also enjoyed by tweens provided they’re not easily scared. I know Bean11 is going to love it.

Struggling to cope with the loss of her mother, sixteen-year-old Bree moves to a residential college program for intelligent high-schoolers. But within the first couple of days here, she both witnesses and is directly involved in two attacks by terrifying flying demons, her wounds from the latter requiring help from a healer. This leads her to a secret society within the college of “Legendborn”, descendants of King Arthur’s knights, who defend humans from these evil creatures.

Curious to uncover the truth about her mother’s death and whether there is a connection to the society, she soon finds herself in a fierce and dangerous competition to fight for the chance to become a Legendborn and infiltrate the organisation’s secrets. Throughout this process, she starts to discover her own magical powers and those of her ancestors. But when it’s clear that Camlann, a magical war, is on its way, will Bree use these powers to bring the society down or help the Legendborn in their battle?

A thrilling novel with a strong female lead – highly recommended. The only problem is the next book in the series is yet to have a release date (and trust me I’ve searched for it!) – you can guarantee I’ll reserve my copy from Waterstones as soon as it is available!

 The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron

(officially 12+ years, although I would caution that it deals with some tough topics)

This book is heartbreakingly beautiful, based on a true story, highlighting the exceptional bravery of one teenage Polish girl and her little sister, Helena, in WW2.

In 1943, Stefania Podgorska, a sixteen-year-old Catholic, goes to live with the Jewish Diamant family, helping out in their grocery store and falling in love with one of their sons. When the Germans invade their city of Przemsyl, the Diamant’s are forcibly removed from their home and into the horrendous ghetto. Left behind, Stefania’s industriousness ensures she obtains just enough food for them all, secretly and dangerously passing it into the ghetto.

As the war progresses, the treatment of the Jews worsens. Only two of the Diamant brothers remain alive, but for how much longer? When one of them comes to Stefania asking for help, she risks her own life along with Helena’s by hiding him and several others from the ghetto in a small cottage she’s found. Slowly but surely more Jews beg for her help until she has thirteen trying to keep quiet and survive in a secret part of her attic. Working full time in a factory, bargaining to find sufficient food for them all and trying to keep prying eyes away from her precious hideaways takes its toll. And when German nurses and doctors requisition some of the rooms in her house, how can she possibly keep them from discovering her secret?

Like the Diary of Anne Frank, this is a book that should be read by all. Stefania and Helena’s bravery in the most terrifying and dire of situations is a shining example from which we could all learn. Sharon Cameron does an exceptional job of bringing this incredible story to life. Just stunning.

MrJ

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

(12-17+ years)

Avery Grambs is at rock-bottom with no money and living in her car when her prospects suddenly change on receiving the news that she’s the sole heir of the recently deceased billionaire Tobias Hawthorne’s estate. Despite not knowing Tobias, his will states that in order to inherit his wealth, Avery must first live in his mansion, filled with secret passageways, codes, puzzles and dark secrets around every corner, for one year. But she must also do this alongside Tobias’ relatives, including the four Hawthorne grandsons, who had fully expected to inherit billions on their grandfather’s death. Seen as a con-woman by the relations, who are keen to take her down, Avery must have her wits about her if she is even to survive the games Tobias is playing with them from the grave.

A fast-paced page turner with twists and turns aplenty and endearing characters, this is a book I’m desperate to read and one that MrJ couldn’t put down. Be warned though it’s another one that leaves you on a cliff hanger, with the next in the series yet to be finished! What are these authors doing to us?!

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

(officially 12-15 years, but MrJ thinks this is quite gruesome in parts and so possibly better for the older end of this age range).

Thief, conman, and criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered the opportunity to become rich beyond his wildest dreams if only he can extract a key hostage from Fjerda’s Ice Court, a military stronghold that has never before been infiltrated. The target captive is the inventor of a drug addictive to the Grisha, which also allows them to amplify their powers. Kaz agrees to pull together a crack team to rescue the inventor and prevent the drug’s existence from being released into the world at large.

The team: “A gambler, a convict, a wayward son, a lost Grisha, a Suli girl who has become a killer, a boy from the Barrel who had become something worse.”

Written from the perspectives of each of the six dangerous outcasts, each very different but all with a hidden past, who join together to attempt to pull off the deadly heist. Can they achieve the impossible without killing each other first?

Another fantastically addictive page-turner, but fortunately with this duology, the second book is at least written and available to tuck into!

Bean11

Reviews written by Bean11.

The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery

(9-12 years)

The Midnight Guardians by [Ross Montgomery]

Col is a war evacuee who has suffered a great tragedy. Alone and frightened, all he has left in the world is his precious sister, Rose, still in London. So, when he finds out that the imaginary friends of his younger childhood are real, and that they have a terrible message to deliver to him – Rose is in great danger – he sets out on a terrifying quest to get to London before time runs out. But he and his imaginary friends are not only racing against time, but they are also battling against the evil – and ever growing – powers of the Lord of Darkness, the Midwinter King. Can they reach London in time, even with the entirety of the Midwinter King’s army on their tail? It seems impossible, but someone is following them each step of the way. And someone will be by their side when there is no hope left…

I loved this book. It’s so imaginative, incredibly creative, and all the characters are vivid and real. However, the novel – so awesomely magical and fantastical – also has a serious side. It is a phenomenal story of hope: a light in the darkness, and a family’s love for one another – a love so strong that it can cross impossible boundaries.  

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

(9-12 years)

The Secret of Nightingale Wood: the first novel from Waterstones Prize-shortlisted author Lucy Strange by [Lucy Strange]

Henrietta and her family have moved to a new house – Hope House – in the hope of a “fresh start”. But the fresh start doesn’t go well at all. Her father leaves the country to find work, and her Mama is seriously ill. What is more, Mama’s doctor – Dr. Hardy – seems to have intentions that are not to make his patient better but are much more sinister in nature. Mama’s door is locked, and she is kept drugged, away from her family. And, to make matters worse, Henrietta’s faithful nanny seems to be on the doctor’s side.

She finds refuge in the eerie Nightingale Wood – and more importantly, its strangest inhabitant, who seems, in some mysterious way, to be connected to their house. Hope House itself is revealing more and more secrets to Henrietta, who tries to piece them all together.

Then, Henrietta finds out Dr Hardy’s true plans. She is alone, scared and helpless. Can she, with the help of the lady in the woods, conjure up the bravery to save her family and reunite them for the first time since the terrible happening that forced their move to Hope House?

This book, too, is all about a family, striving to stay together. I have not read a novel this good for a long time. It is wonderfully written (and by a local author too) – everything that Henrietta feels, you feel: her despair, anger, grief. A heart breaking read, yet ever so powerful. It shows that one girl’s tenacious willpower to carry on fighting can overpower even the strongest opposition.

Bean10

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

(9-12 years, although later books in the series have an older recommended age range)

I was recommended this book and so asked Bean10 to try it out for me. He was hooked immediately and begged me to buy the next in the series.

When twelve-year-old Stephanie’s Edgely’s uncle – a writer of horror fiction – dies and leaves her his estate, she bumps into his friend, Skulduggery Pleasant, the wise-cracking detective skeleton of a dead sorcerer… The odd couple are pulled into a world of magic and intrigue as they investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding her uncle’s death. Despite their bickering, the two form a strong bong and together they work to bring down Nefarian Serpine, an evil megalomaniac intent on bringing back to life the ‘faceless ones’ (old gods) to gain power over the whole world…

Packed with colourful and complex characters, and interspersed with light and dark moments, this is a great fantasy series for your child to get stuck into this summer.

Amazon Adventure by Willard Price

(9-12 years)

I LOVED the Willard Price series of books as a child and was so excited to pass on such a thrilling and memorable book from my own childhood. I remember being blown away by the vivid descriptions of the colourful animals and plants of the rainforest, so unlike anything from my own experience in rural England. Like my childhood self, Bean10 was quickly addicted and couldn’t put Amazon Adventure down almost from the first page! As soon as he’d finished, he ordered the next in the series: South Sea Adventure.

What I would caution is that the story is of its time – it was written in 1949 – and as such some of the terminology and the overarching storyline of collecting animals for a zoo, needs to be considered in that light. It’s not remotely politically correct, but if your child can accept that people’s attitudes, behaviour and appreciation for conservation were different back then, the story itself is a ripping tale, full of adventure and dangers, sprinkled with fascinating animal facts.

John Hunt works for a zoo on Long Island and spends much of his time travelling the world collecting exotic animals. In this story, he decides that his two sons, Hal (19) and Roger (13) are finally old enough to join him on his adventures. When John is called home in an emergency (a fire has destroyed his Long Island property, killing the animals), his two sons opt to carry on the mission without him, exploring unchartered parts of the wild Amazon River and its wild creatures. But when rival animal collectors – notorious for using foul means to gain success – follow them and attempt to sabotage their expedition, can the boys escape the dangers at every turn and return home safely?

Our Current Read Aloud

Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls

(12-17 years)

And last but not least our current read aloud, which we’re all thoroughly enjoying: Things a Bright Girl Can Do. We’re studying the Suffragettes and this piece of historical fiction has proved to be the perfect way for the Beans to fully absorb themselves in the time period and understand the multitude of issues surrounding the fight for the women’s vote.

The story follows the lives of three strong young women pushing for women’s rights to be the same of those of men. First, we have Evelyn, intelligent and from a wealthy family. Her greatest wish is to be allowed to go to university like her brother Kit and then do something important with her life. Initially held back by her family who can’t understand why she doesn’t want to just settle down and get married, she throws herself into the Suffragette cause, even getting arrested and taking part in a dangerous hunger strike.

Then there are May and Nell, one the daughter of an open-minded Suffragist Quaker and the other a girl from the East End, whose family live on the bread line. They’re drawn to each other and fall in love (this is written for teens/young adults, so I had to skip a few of their sex scenes when reading aloud to my ten-year-old!).

But as the First World War starts, life changes for them all. The views of pacificist May who alongside her mother campaigns for a peaceful end to the War are worlds apart from those of Nell, who is forced to take a job in a factory making shells for the soldiers. The differences drive them apart.

Evelyn also changes. First, she is able to follow her dream of studying at Oxford (at my old college too!) and later, she marries her greatest friend Teddy, home after being shot and suffering a gas attack in the war. She matures quickly as she struggles to cope with the demanding work at Oxford whilst nursing a sick Teddy at home, healing from physical ailments as well as PTSD.

The story concludes in 1918, when women finally got a limited right to vote (voting on the same terms as men didn’t come until 1928). The three women are primed and ready to make their mark on the world, having all played a small but important part of a monumental change in our country’s history.

This is an excellent novel, a rich account of social history in England between 1914-1918 and the perfect tribute to the inspirational women who fought so hard to make such an essential change to women’s rights.

So, that’s what we’ve all been reading this week.

What are you reading? I’m always on the lookout for new and inspiring books, so if you have any recommendations, I’d love you to add them to the comments below.  


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