Year 9, Book 8

8. Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

This book is a young adult romance that is essentially a take off on When Harry Met Sally even down to the exchanges between Macallan and Levi in the present talking back about their relationship in between chapters. If you like When Harry Met Sally you will probably like this. There’s nothing astounding about it, but it’s a good solid YA genre romance. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 7

6. A Hope for Annie by Merrillee Whren

This is a manuscript of my mother’s that I did a first read for before she sent it off to her publisher. I’m not reviewing it, but leaving this here to note that I did read this book.

Year 9, Book 6

6. The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

From the outside Prenna seems like an ordinary teenage girl potentially falling in love with her best friend Ethan, but Prenna is far from ordinary. She is actually an immigrant from the future where a mosquito-borne illness has killed much of the population of the world. Those who remained found a way to travel back in time to before the illness began, but must live by strict rules including no romantic relationships with people not from the future.

While trying to fight off her feelings for Ethan and questioning why the rules she has to follow exist, Prenna discovers that she may be able to change history and avert the coming of the illness that is so devastating in the future. I really liked this book. It’s a short young adult novel, but in addition to the romance it touches on some really tough questions. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 5

5. Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston

It’s been four years since 11 year old Justin disappeared without a trace. His family has tried to hold it together in his absence but are often barely hanging on with his parents and younger brother all secretly blaming themselves. Now suddenly the news comes that Justin has been found, and the family has to learn to right itself once again in trying to embrace his return and deal with the changes the pain of the previous four years have inflicted on them.

I really loved this book. Johnston creates such a sense of place in his writing. The town and it’s people felt palpable and very real to me. I appreciated that he didn’t dwell on exactly what happened to Justin during his absence. He provides enough detail to answer the big questions, but what happened to Justin in his time away is not the focus of the book. The coverage of those four years is mainly to show what brought his family to the state they’re in upon his return. The real crux of the book is how they deal with where they are now and try to move on.

It’s a lovely story, and I would highly recommend it. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 4

4. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train is the story of two women decades apart in age, but whose lives are very similar. Molly is a teenage girl about to age out of the foster care system and living with a couple who are the most recent in a long line of foster families that don’t want her. Caught stealing a book from the library lands Molly on probation with service hours. To fulfill her requirement she winds up helping 91 year old Vivian clean out her attic.

As Molly helps out Vivian she discovers Vivian’s past and realizes they have a lot in common. An Irish immigrant, Vivian loses her family in a fire and winds up an riding sent across the country on an orphan train to be adopted by families who essentially wanted to use her as slave labor. The two develop an unlikely friendship as Vivian’s story is fully revealed and Molly works to right her situation in the present.

I really liked this book a lot. I was not familiar with the concept of orphan trains at all before I read it, but it’s a fascinating topic about a period in our history I knew nothing about. I love the way the two stories twine together and parallel each other. I would highly recommend this book. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 3

3. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I would have loved this book a lot more if hadn’t been 775 pages long. By the end I was really ready to be done reading it. This book could have been edited down and tightened up and I would have liked it a whole lot better. Instead portions of it just dragged for me.

The story revolves around a boy named Theo whose mother is killed in a bomb set in a museum. Theo escapes the blast and in his daze grabs his mother’s favorite painting, “The Goldfinch” which is lying right next to him. The book follows him over decades as he deals with his mother’s death, reconnects with his father, becomes involved with people connected to someone else he witness die in the explosion, and most of all struggle between his love for the painting and his realization that he will be in big trouble if ever caught with it.

I really liked Theo as a character. Tartt however was much more in love with Boris, a friend of Theo’s than I was. The section of this book that takes place in Las Vegas drags on way too long, and is where I would have cut significantly. I think she could have gotten her point across about what was happening there and how it influenced who Theo becomes as an adult in way less space. Tartt pretty much indicates that Boris is going to return at some point in the book, so I was expecting it but don’t think I didn’t groan when he showed up again because I did. His returned presence led to a whole other section of the book I wasn’t thrilled with. Though I kind of loved his revelation to Theo when he first returns. Everything after that though I could have done without.

This book is my favorite of Tartt’s three books though. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 2

2. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

After letting a galley of this book sit around on my bookshelf for over a decade I finally decided to pick it up and read it. One Mother’s Day a little boy is found murdered in his backyard. The case is never solved. 12 years later his little sister, Harriet, who was a baby at the time sets out one summer to figure out who killed her brother.

There were parts of this book that really worked for me and some that didn’t. I enjoyed the main story and all of Harriet’s plotting to try and solver her brother’s murder. I also liked all of her aunts and the role they played in her life. I felt like the parts about her older sister really weren’t fleshed out enough. I never got a good sense of her as a character and didn’t really understand her purpose in the story.

I mostly liked the book though and found the ending with Harriet’s crushing realization about her actions to be heart rending and true. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 1

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Prior to reading this book I had never read any of Donna Tartt’s books. Her second book, The Little Friend came out when I was working at Barnes and Noble and everyone was excited about it and kept talking about how great this book was. I managed to pick up a galley of The Little Friend at the time, but never read it. It languished on my book shelf for over a decade. Then the Goldfinch came out and so many people in my Twitter feed started raving about it that I decided it was high time I read all three of Donna Tartt’s books. I decided to read them in chronological order, so The Secret History was my first one.

The story revolves around a group of students at a college in New England. Richard is the outsider who gets drawn into a group with 5 other scholars studying in a special program with one professor at the school. He eventually finds himself in the middle a big secret that leads to even more horrifying events and secrets.

I was really not a big fan of this book for the most part. Books that treat college (or boarding school) like this kind of drive me nuts. It’s like people making movies, writing books, etc. have created this fiction of snobby, erudite college kids that resembles no reality I have ever encountered in all my time spent on college campuses as an undergrad, grad student, or employee. You see it over and over again and it bugs me, so this book was pretty much doomed with me from the start.

All the characters are pretty horrible people and pretty much get what they deserve in my opinion or maybe not even what they deserve. This book was definitely my least favorite of the three. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 117

117. The Ninja Librarians by Jennifer Swann Downey

This book is a kid’s book probably aimed at the same age Harry Potter was originally intended for. I was of course drawn in by the idea of ninja librarians.

From the book blurb:

Dorrie Barnes had no idea an overdue library book would change her life. When Dorrie and her brother Marcus chase her pet mongoose into the janitor’s closet of their local library, they accidentally fall through a passage into Petrarch’s Library -the headquarters of a secret society of ninja librarians who have an important mission: protect those whose words have gotten them into trouble. Anywhere in the world and at any time in history.

It sounds like something I would really get into, but for some reason I never could. I don’t know if it’s the setting I was reading it in (on an airplane well past my bedtime) or if it’s because I’m not the target age group, but it just never really grabbed me. I’ve seen other positive reviews of it though, and I do suspect that late elementary school/early middle school kids would really like it.

I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 116

116. For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu

Peter Huang grows up with his three sisters revered as the only boy the house by a Chinese father who longed for nothing more than son to treat as a king. Yet Peter secretly knows that he too is a girl and longs to be like his sisters, a shameful secret that he tries to keep hidden. The book details their childhood and some of what happens to his sister’s after they leave home, but mostly focuses on Peter once they reach adulthood.

I found it odd how the book went into real detail with some of the sisters’ stories, especially Adele only to then completely drop them and never really tell you what happened to her. I can’t say that I really cared for this book much at all.  I give it a 3 out of 10.