Middle-grade Gems, as Told by My Fifth Grader

My ten year old is an advanced reader who loves books. He can read anything, ability-wise (although Shakespeare might take a while), but he does have specific tastes. I thought it would be fun to write a blog post, talking specifically about his current favorites.

Randoms by David Liss

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Zeke Reynolds comes from a long line of proud science fiction geeks. He knows his games, comics, movies, and TV shows like Captain Kirk knows the starship Enterprise. So it’s a dream come true when he learns the science fiction he loves so much is based on reality—and that he’s been selected to spend a year on a massive space station. To evaluate humanity’s worthiness, the Confederation of United Planets has hand picked three of Earth’s most talented young people—and then there’s Zeke. He’s the random.

Unfortunately, Zeke finds life in space more challenging than he’d hoped. When he saves his transport ship from a treacherous enemy attack, he’s labeled a war criminal. Now despised by the Confederation, rejected by his fellow humans, and pursued by a ruthless enemy, Zeke befriends the alien randoms: rejected by their own species, but loyal to each other. But their presence in the Confederation may not be so random after all, and as the danger increases, Zack’s knowledge of science fiction might be the only thing that can save himself, his friends, and Earth itself. (Taken from Amazon)

His opinion: “It’s a good sci-fi for readers my age, and slightly older. It’s good for geeky nerds out there because it’s got a lot of funny references to sci-fi. There’s even some Serenity in there [I’m a huge Firefly fan]. Overall, it’s a really good book with great characters. Although it’s a more serious sci-fi, it has a lot of fun points and the characters are easy to relate to. The main character doesn’t really have that much going for him. I like how down-to-earth it is, even though it’s in space. ”

Gamer Army by Trent Reedy

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After Rogan Webber levels up yet again on his favorite video game, Laser Viper, the world-famous creator of the game invites him to join the five best players in the country for an exclusive tournament. The gamers are flown to the tech mogul’s headquarters, where they stay in luxury dorms and test out cutting edge virtual-reality gaming equipment, doing digital battle as powerful fighting robots. It’s the ultimate gaming experience. (taken from Amazon)

His opinion: “Best points: First of all, I liked the fact that it was a different setting that most sci-fi books that I’ve read. Everyone is living in virtual reality.
Secondly, I like how the characters evolved throughout the book, especially the main character.
Third, the action scenes were really cool and exhilarating.
Overall, Gamer Army is a fast-paced combo for both video game fans and action fans.”

Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan

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They have always scared him in the past—the Rangers, with their dark cloaksand shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice. What he doesn’t yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied. . . (taken from Amazon)

His opinion: “I thought that the first Ranger’s Apprentice book wasn’t going to be that good when I saw how old it was, but once I read the book, I really liked it. The characters are nicely done and the action’s good. I like how accurate it is to medieval times while still having its own fantasy style. My favorite character is Will. He’s a great archer, and he’s fun and mischievous, and I like that. I like that they keep introducing new villains.”
Honorable Mentions:

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The Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann

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The Zodiac Legacy series by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong

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The Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage

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The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

These are my fifth grader’s current favorites. I’m curious how this will change over the course of the year. I might have to interview him again in around six months.

Do you have young readers? Have they read any of these? What are their favorites?


Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

For my birthday, I was given free reign of the bookstore. I came home with this lovely book, which I’d been dying to read. Wow. It was so good!

It’s a re-imagining of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, a lesser-known fairy tale that I loved as a child. Told with nods to the original, as well as to classic fairy tale tropes (such as cruel stepmothers and the power of love) , it is nonetheless wholly its own.

Echo, the main character, was very well developed. She had her flaws, but she wasn’t annoying. Her inner strength and her loyalty made it easy to cheer for her. I also loved how beautifully described the settings were, and I am dying to visit the mirror library.

It’s a wonderful adventure, a journey full of magic and wonder, deftly told by a skilled weaver of words. This was the first book I’ve read by Joanna Ruth Meyer, but it most definitely will not be the last. If you enjoy beauty, enchantment, and a visit to the fairy tales that many children (myself included) grow up on, this book is one to read.

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Non-boring Nonfiction

I’m not a nonfiction fan. At least, I haven’t read much nonfiction. I’m trying to branch out into more genres, and I’ve discovered something interesting: I like nonfiction. Not all of it, but I’ve read enough to say that, maybe, the genre deserves more of a chance. With that in mind, here are a few that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed:

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

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The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary — and literary history. The compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. (taken from Amazon)

This was absolutely engrossing. Prior to reading it, I had no idea how weird the genesis of the Oxford English Dictionary was.

A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Money, Murder, and Deceit by Robert Lindsey

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The yellowed manuscripts threatened the foundations of the Mormon Church, and the elders were willing to pay millions of dollars to suppress them. But the documents were fakes, and their brilliant forger committed double murder to hide his crime. The sensational case of the 1985 Salt Lake City bombings exposed a master plot to topple the powerful Mormon empire. (taken from Amazon)

Having grown up in Salt Lake City, I naturally found this engrossing, although the events in the book happened when I was too young to remember. I devoured this book.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

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The bestselling author of Postcards from the Edge comes clean (well, sort of) in her first-ever memoir, adapted from her one-woman Broadway hit show. Fisher reveals what it was really like to grow up a product of “Hollywood in-breeding,” come of age on the set of a little movie called Star Wars, and become a cultural icon and bestselling action figure at the age of nineteen. (taken from Amazon)

This book is brilliant. Equally hilarious and inspiring, this meant even more to me because I was diagnosed with bipolar when I was in high school. She handled her mental illness with grace and more than a bit of humor.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

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An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. “A fascinating look at the disease that . . . could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life” (People), Brain on Fire is an unforgettable exploration of memory and identity, faith and love, and a profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.

I found this utterly engrossing. Due to her symptoms, at times the author relied on others to tell what happened simply because she didn’t remember. It was a very interesting read.

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

Nineteen-year-old Greg Sestero met Tommy Wiseau at an acting school in San Francisco. Wiseau’s scenes were rivetingly wrong, yet Sestero, hypnotized by such uninhibited acting, thought, “I have to do a scene with this guy.” That impulse changed both of their lives. Wiseau seemed never to have read the rule book on interpersonal relationships (or the instruc­tions on a bottle of black hair dye), yet he generously offered to put the aspiring actor up in his LA apart­ment. Sestero’s nascent acting career first sizzled, then fizzled, resulting in Wiseau’s last-second offer to Sestero of costarring with him in The Room, a movie Wiseau wrote and planned to finance, produce, and direct—in the parking lot of a Hollywood equipment-rental shop.

Wiseau spent $6 million of his own money on his film, but despite the efforts of the disbelieving (and frequently fired) crew and embarrassed (and fre­quently fired) actors, the movie made no sense. Nevertheless Wiseau rented a Hollywood billboard featuring his alarming headshot and staged a red carpet premiere. The Room made $1800 at the box office and closed after two weeks. One reviewer said that watching The Room was like “getting stabbed in the head.”

The Disaster Artist is Greg Sestero’s laugh-out-loud funny account of how Tommy Wiseau defied every law of artistry, business, and friendship to make “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” (Entertainment Weekly), which is now an international phenomenon, with Wiseau himself beloved as an oddball celebrity. Written with award-winning journalist Tom Bissell, The Disaster Artist is an inspiring tour de force that reads like a page-turning novel, an open-hearted portrait of an enigmatic man who will improbably capture your heart. (taken from Amazon)

Tommy Wiseau is the most fascinating, mysterious person I’ve ever had the extreme pleasure to read about. This book is fantastic! After you read the book, look him up on YouTube and watch some clips of him acting. Just…Oh, man.

There you have it. If, like me, you don’t read much nonfiction, I suggest you give it a go!

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

A viking-inspired world? Epic, well-written battle scenes? Characters that break from any mold? Yes, please!

I loved this book! It follows Eelyn, a hardcore warrior. Her clan, the Aska, have a long-standing feud with the Riki clan. The first chapter of the book opens on a heated battle, which I loved. The author assumed the reader is smart enough to pick up on details and information as the story progresses, instead of throwing a long-winded explanation in at the very beginning.

During the battle, Eelyn learns that not only is her brother- whom everyone thought died five years ago- alive, but he’s fighting for the enemy. Reeling from the betrayal, Eelyn ends up being captured by the Riki in the next battle. As she is among them, she begins to question her assumptions. Eventually, she has to decide whether to work with the Riki to help defeat a more powerful enemy, or face the destruction of both clans.

While the battle scenes are incredible, the characters are what really stood out to me. They all develop naturally, and are written with such emotion that the book kept me riveted. I also liked that in Eelyn’s culture, women are seen as equals. She didn’t have to sneak out in disguise, or argue for an opportunity to fight with the warriors; it was just assumed that she would.

Another plus was the lack of overtly saccharine romance. While there is a relationship, it develops over time, and is much more natural feeling. I ended up really enjoying this book. It’s one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in quite a while.

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Book Blogger Confessons/Book Tag

This is my first attempt at a book tag, so hopefully I do it right. Thanks for tagging me, fictionnochaser. Check out her awesome blog here: www. https://fictionnochaser.com/2019/01/11/book-blogger-confessions-book-tag/


  1. Answer these questions truthfully.
  2. Once you’re done, tag 5 other book bloggers to answer these questions next.


    Mariah Mundi #1: the Midas Box by G.P Taylor

    I tried, I really did. But, man this book was boring! I honestly had a hard time remembering the character’s names, the plot was all over the place, so I ended up shelving it to try again at a later time. Maybe. It’s too bad: I love the cover!


    The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. I’ll be the first to say that the writing isn’t on par with, say, Patrick Rothfuss, and the “maybe it’s incest, but I can’t help it” thing is pretty disturbing if you think about it. I love these books, though! I think the big draw for me is the Shadowhunter world. It’s pretty stinking cool.


    Um…probably the Twilight series. I found out, after reading the trilogy, that it’s actually four books long and I skipped an entire book without even realizing it. Obviously, that means the books weren’t for me. I think it was the third book I missed, but it might have been the second. I still haven’t felt the urge to remedy that.


    The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. This was the worst book I’ve read in a very long time. I tried to find something positive about it…nothing. Trust me: skip this one.


    The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I pretty much have the entire trilogy memorized. I reread them at least twice a year. They’re phenomenal!


    Um, I don’t think I’d hate to receive any book as a gift, because it means the giver knows me well enough to know how much I love to read. I reserve the right to not read any book I’m given, though. I don’t read romance novels, so that would be a pretty useless gift.


    I’d be pretty bummed if I lost my copy of A Diversity of Dragons by Anne McCaffrey, Richard Woods, and John Howe. I’ve had it forever, and it’s a hard one to find.


    The book that made me the angriest recently is Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare. I hated it so much that it ruined my enjoyment of the previous two books. I’m pretty sure my opinion isn’t shared by too many people, though, so don’t avoid it based on what I thought of it.


    The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky. This is another book I’ve read multiple times and I cry every single time. It’s heart wrenching and beautiful in its honesty. I love it so much. My favorite literary quote comes from that book:

    “So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”


    I loathe any cover that’s a movie poster. If the book came first, I want a book cover!

    Okie dokie! I’m tagging

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

I absolutely loved this book! Ostensibly about an unsolved murder and disappearance that happened in 1862, this beautifully told book is really a commentary on time, and how events and people connect, despite seeming unrelated.

The book starts with an archivist, Elodie, finding a satchel with both a photograph of a beautiful woman and an artist’s rendition of a two-gabled house. The house sparks something in Elodie’s memory; something about a fairy tale she was told as a child. She’s drawn to the mystery of the house and the woman in the photograph.

Honestly, Elodie bothered me. She was incredibly naive and seemed to be fond of martyrdom. Thankfully, while the book begins with her, she’s not the main character and is actually in it very little. The main storyline is told from the point of view of Birdie, a clockmaker’s daughter. I can’t say much about her without giving anything away. Suffice it to say, she is an enthralling narrator.

The book follows several different characters living in Birchwood Manor over many years: there’s the widow with three young children; the girl from India; an artist with his muse, and several others. Despite not seeming to have anything in common, their narratives flow together like tributaries in a river, blending into one skillful tale.

The setting is as important as the events that unfold there and is used very skillfully. I was engrossed in this book, even though it’s not a genre I normally get excited over. I will be on the lookout for Kate Morton’s other books. She’s a wonderful weaver of narratives.

If you are able to get your hands on this book, you won’t be disappointed.

Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

My husband found this for me at the library. I almost didn’t read it, once I realized that it was written by an athlete: that would have been a mistake. It was an enjoyable book, one that flies by because it’s so much fun.

This book is, as the title suggests, about Mycroft, Sherlock’s older brother. In fact, Sherlock appears in this book for less than five pages. I really liked that. Mycroft was written as a slightly less analytical, but more emotional genius and wasn’t overshadowed by the more well-known Sherlock.

In this book, Mycroft stumbles across a series of murders that seem to involve his fiance in some way. He travels to Trinidad with his best friend, Douglas, in an attempt to track her down and get to the bottom of things.

I loved Douglas. He was wise and long-suffering, without in any way being a Watson rip-off. In fact, this whole book walked the fine line between being an homage and being a copy with ease. It was a wholly original book.

My biggest complaint about it is that it rapidly switched from being a mystery to being an adventure novel. If I had gone into it knowing that it wasn’t going to be a mystery, I would have liked it more. Now that I have a better idea what to expect, I’m happily planning on reading the sequel, Mycroft and Sherlock.

The historical aspects of the book were well researched, the descriptions of the various places were vivid, and the story was fun. It was a fun addition to the Sherlock Holmes pastiche.

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