You may remember me sharing my top 10 favorite books I read this summer. Well, the to-be-read list never rests, and behold, I have more books to share!
Today I have four recommendations: two for people who enjoy middle-grade novels, one for YA readers, and one for my fellow writers.
Without further ado, here are the books and my spoiler-free thoughts. 😉
Books for Readers of Middle Grade
Since the novel I’m currently writing (All These Voices Not My Own) is for an older middle-grade audience, I’ve been reading more middle-grade books this fall. I am still waiting on getting the Phantom Tollbooth from the library, but here are the two I read.
Boy, did I miss out! How did I not read these earlier in life?? Whether you are ten or 62, I highly recommend these reads.
Twelve-year-old Henry York is going to sleep one night when he hears a bump on the attic wall above his head. It’s an unfamiliar house—Henry is staying with his aunt, uncle, and three cousins—so he tries to ignore it. But the next night he wakes up with bits of plaster in his hair. Two knobs have broken through the wall, and one of them is slowly turning…
Henry scrapes the plaster off the wall and discovers doors—ninety-nine cupboards of all different sizes and shapes. Through one he can hear the sound of falling rain. Through another he sees a glowing room—with a man strolling back and forth! Henry and his cousin Henrietta soon understand that these are not just cupboards. They are, in fact, portals to other worlds.
100 Cupboards is the first book of a new fantasy adventure, written in the best world-hopping tradition and reinvented in N.D Wilson’s own inimitable style.
I have a friend who is a big N.D. Wilson fan, but the only N.D. Wilson book I had read until this fall was The Legend of Sam Miracle. I read it when I was younger, and I think I got a little confused, or maybe weirded out by the snake arms, so I didn’t read any more N.D. Wilson after that.
Until 100 Cupboards, that is. The #1 thing that get it on this list is his description and writing voice. It is so engaging and quirky and fun! Check out a sample on Amazon if you have time.
The pacing is perfect, and the characters are awesome too. My favorite is Anastasia—unrelated to the exiled princess in Romanov, which I’ll talk about later. Anastasia is the younger cousin in 100 Cupboards, and she’s hilarious.
Four of my siblings, age 11 to 15, have also read the book and loved it. I am now reading Dandelion Fire, the second book of the series, and though I prefer the first book, it is also pretty good! The middle is kind of dragging right now, but maybe the end will redeem it, who knows?
Orphaned Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean island she left behind. In her relatives’ stern Puritan community, she feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely. The only place where Kit feels completely free is in the meadows, where she enjoys the company of the old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, and on occasion, her young sailor friend Nat. But when Kit’s friendship with the “witch” is discovered, Kit is faced with suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft!
To be honest, I was a little intimidated by The Witch of Blackbird Pond at first. I wasn’t sure if I would like it based on the title, and the cover on the library catalog was… eh. (It is the same one as on Goodreads.) I know you aren’t supposed to judge a book by cover, but I was glad when we were able to find our own copy, with the much prettier cover pictured above.
Despite my initial hesitations, it didn’t take long for me to learn why The Witch of Blackbird Pond is so many people’s favorite.
And don’t worry, it does not endorse witchcraft! It’s actually a historical fiction, not fantasy, and it has a beautiful message about not jumping to conclusions about people who are different.
The plot of The Witch of Blackbird Pond was absolutely beautiful and made my writer heart very very happy. Kit is so relatable and—like many of the characters—very well developed. The character arcs and plot were all wonderfully fluid.
The last few chapters of the book had me squeaking out loud with happiness the whole time. :’D My 12-year-old sister also enjoyed this book. Definitely #1 on this list for me! (I would have put it above 100 Cupboards, but it comes first alphabetically.)
A Recommendation for Y.A. Readers
As much as I enjoy middle grade, I also really enjoy Y.A.—or “young adult”—novels. Romanov is a historical fantasy Y.A. novel I read this fall. You may remember me ranting a little about Fawkes this summer, which is another historical fantasy by the same author. They are both standalones, but I would highly recommend also reading Fawkes. (I thiiiiink I like Fawkes better, but both the books are very special in their own ways!)
The history books say I died.
They don’t know the half of it.
Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.
Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are to either release the spell and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her.
That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.
I’m pretty sure I watched the Anastasia movie when I was little, but I didn’t rewatch it until after I read Romanov—and WOW, the Romanov family’s story is pretty epic!! The Romanovs were the last royal family of Russia, and during World War 1, they were put into exile and eventually executed. However, the details about Anastasia’s death are a little fishy, and there are rumors in St. Petersburg… 😉
If you have already watched the Anastasia movie, I have to warn you that the plotline of this book is very different from the movie. The movie has her as a teenager after her family’s execution—whereas the book focuses more on the Romanov family while they are in exile, and Anastasia is already a teenager at that time. Even though the book has a heavy dose of magic, I feel like it’s more historically accurate in a lot of ways…? XD
One thing I think I’ll mention is that Romanov gets kind of weird during the middle. But don’t worry too much, and keep reading, and things will start to make a little more sense.
Ok, and let me just get this in here: the Russian vibes. Nadine Brandes doesn’t overdo it, but the Russian details here and there are all so cool, and I can hear the accents, and I love it. The Russian-ness has a whole aesthetic of its own, if that makes sense, and Nadine makes the scenes come to life. Does anyone else feel this way about reading about any cultures?
Something for My Fellow Writers
If you want to improve in your writing, writing is a great place to start. And reading books in your genre is a great place to start too. On top of both of those, books about writing can be tremendously helpful in themselves. Recently, I’ve been reading Wordsmithy.
Wordsmithy is for writers of every sort, whether experienced veterans, still just hoping, or somewhere in between. Through a series of out-of-the-ordinary lessons, each with its own takeaway points and recommended readings, Douglas Wilson provides indispensable guidance, showing how to develop the writer’s craft and the kind of life from which good writing comes.
Disclaimer! I’m only 77 pages out of 120 as I write this. But this list would feel too short without it, and I’m enjoying it too much to keep it to myself anyway.
Wordsmithy sticks out from other books on writing I’ve read mainly because the author’s voice is so fun and unique. It is extremely addicting compared to much nonfiction. The book is a beautiful mix of formal and informal. The conversational tone is aided with lots of headers, and never strays too far from its main point. The flow of the chapters does a good job going in-depth into its points while not growing dull.
(Look at those chapter titles!)
Another thing that sticks out is that Douglas Wilson has a talent for convincing you of his points. With The Anatomy of Story, I couldn’t take too much of it very seriously, because the author always states his opinions as facts, and a lot of them mostly applied to adult movies. And I usually only partially agreed with the tips in Steal Like an Artist.
But Wordsmithy is extremely practical, and the author makes pretty good arguments for his points, while not spending too long backing them up. And while the chapter’s main points might just be common sense, like “read a lot,” when you go a bit deeper in, you can find some really profound advice. Specific, but applicable for all sorts of writers.
One thing that really jumped out at me is when it said not to read like you’re cramming for a test. I had been doing that without even realizing it, looking back at headers and subconsciously trying to commit them to memory. XD So much to learn!
It is also a tiny book. So you don’t have much reason to procrastinate it too long. 😉
What Do You Think?
Well, that’s all folks! I was thinking about adding some thoughts on books I didn’t like as well, but it looks like I’ve gone on long enough about these ones. ;P
Enough about my reading, what about you? Have you read any of the books I mentioned? If so what did you think?
Or want to tell me about what you’ve read this fall? Head on over to the comments!
By the way, here’s my more immediate to-be-read (the complete list is much longer):
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Unblemished by Sara Ella
Unlocked by Shannon Messenger
The Winter King by Christine Cohen
(Alphabetical order. ;))
What are you looking forward to reading this winter?