Read Anything Good Lately? Seven Guest Reviews

I've been thinking for a while that I ought to have some of my bookish friends over onto my book blog. So I emailed 7 women whose taste in books is a great match with mine.  I asked them to recommend a book they've loved, a book that everyone should read, or a book to which they want to give a signal boost. Well these books have just jumped to the top of my list! 

Welcome to my
Guest Review Party!

We've been listening to the audiobooks of the Michael Vey series, by Richard Paul Evans. They are SO much fun! Michael Vey is a teenager who secretly has the power to manipulate electricity. He thinks he's alone in this gift, until one fateful night, his mother is kidnapped, and he discovers that he's one of 17 electric children, born within the same week at a hospital with an experimental machine that went haywire and imbued a number of newborn babies with varying electrical talents. Now he has to find his mother, rescue her from the bad guys who are trying to use the electric children to take over the world, and maybe rescue some of the other electric teens along the way. It has action, adventure, humor, and suspense, and we have loved taking it on road trips or just listening together while we make dinner or do the dishes at night. The series is already complete with 7 books, so no need to wait for new installments. Two thumbs up! -- Ashley my erstwhile coblogger

The book that stands out for me this year is Crownchasers, the first in a series by Kansas author Rebecca Coffindaffer. It's a great Science Fiction adventure with an absolutely smashing heroine in Alyssa Farshot, the captain of a worldship and the niece of the emperor. When her uncle suddenly dies, Alyssa is dragged into a race across space against some of her closest friends to become the next emperor. Except the race isn't as fair as everyone thinks. The worlds and peoples that Coffindaffer dreamed up are incredible, but beyond that: this book was a non-stop adventure I couldn't put down. I can't wait to read the next installment! -- Melissa Fox of The Book Nut

I would love to shine a light on Emily Arrow's Studio: A Place for Art to Start. I love whenever I find a book that doesn't follow the typical pattern of solving a problem or extending a familiar series. Studio is a sweet read-aloud poem that celebrates creativity and collaboration in a way that feels fresh and even quietly subversive. The text and illustrations invite readers to think about creativity beyond arts and crafts, and I'm sure it's inspiring readers of all ages to go make something quirky, weird, and totally original. -- Heidi Fiedler at https://www.helloheidifiedler.com/

The book that stands out for me lately is City Spies, by James Ponti. It’s the first of a new middle grade series about a group of five kids from around the world who are recruited to be spies. It’s a perfect combination of humor and action. I was reading it with my daughter nearby, and she asked why I kept laughing aloud. Always a good sign! City Spies inspired me to go read Ponti’s Framed trilogy, which I devoured over the next week or so. I’m eagerly awaiting the second City Spies book, due out in March. -- Jen of Jen Robinson's Book Page

Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries, by Sarah Albee, is a great book to offer the 10-12 year old who has an interest in archaeology--the sort of kid that went through an Egyptology phase as an 8 year old--, or indeed to anyone, young or old, who enjoys learning new and different things about history told in a friendly, easy style!

The book is self-described as a collection of "chance discoveries by ordinary people" that contributed to our understanding of the past. Arranged in chronological order of the discoveries (which has the added bonus of seeing how archaeology has changed over time), these chance finds from around the world are indeed extraordinary, marvelous, discoveries. Included are some that will be familiar to many kids in the US, like Pompeii and Herculaneum, and some that will quite possibly be new, like an Aztec temple in Mexico City, and a South African cave full of the fossils of a previously unknown early human species. They really are all tremendously exciting finds from around the world!

Albee does a truly great job providing historical context for many of the finds (along the way, for instance, you'll learn lots about the history of Thailand, and slavery in New York), and in some cases, the discoverers are brought to life too--like the black cowboy who found the first huge bison kill site in the US--which adds human interest. Lots of vintage illustrations, maps, and sidebars give even more substance to the already rich descriptions of each discovery. The accessible, almost conversational style of the stories allows Albee to include past injustices, misconceptions, and mistakes in a way that's thought provoking without being preachy.

In short, reading books like this is a great way to learn, and there's lots to learn here, not dumbed down at all, and so much more fun than reading books written for grown-ups! As a professional archaeologist myself, I'm happy to be able to endore this book wholeheartedly!-- Charlotte at Charlotte's Library

I came across one of the strangest books I've ever encountered the other day, and I truly don't know what to think about it so I'm hoping that writing about it will help me wrap my mind around it...you should check it out. Victor by Jacques Maes and Lise Braekers.

Victor has achieved his life's goal of shooting a cheetah and he proudly displays the skin in his home. But after a night of restless sleep during which he dreams of the cheetah's mourning friends, a remorseful Victor decides to make things right with the cheetahs by creating his new life goal: protect the murdered cheetah's coalition from the same fate. Victor sews himself into the cheetah skin and befriends the cheetah's old friends, who think their friend has returned, and he feels a sense of love and family for the first time in his life. However, the coalition eventually comes to realize they've been deceived and decide to give him a taste of his own medicine at that moment Victor awakes from what has been a dream all along.

Most of the story's emotional and tonal progression lies in Braekers' illustrations, and readers are encouraged to seek out every last detail to capture the story in its entirety -- in fact, much like a hunter taking its prey by surprise, the visual story begins even before the title page, where we see Victor shoot the cheetah on the front endpaper. Created in mostly yellows and greens, Braekers' images heavily rely on the contrasts in shape, size, and shadow to carry the emotional weight of the story. The text is fairly minimal, but Maes' words are poignant and resonant.

Haunting? Yes. Horrifying? Definitely. But valuable in its unbridled efforts to generate a lasting sense of empathy.

 -- Mel at Let's Talk Picture Books

You already know Dav Pilkey, author of Dog Man. I am always looking for books that straddle the Pilkey line; i.e. they are equally amusing to elementary students and middle school ones, and I find them engaging as well!

An excellent example of this is Julie Falatko’s Two Dogs in a Trench Coat series. These are definitely goofy. We get to see dogs Sassy and Waldo navigate their boy Stewart’s world and showcase their obsession with food. Since they are bored at home, they plan an elaborate ruse. With the aid of a trench coat, they convincingly present themselves as a new student, Salty, from Liver, Ohio. They are interested in school primarily because of the lunches, but get into many school hijinks. Through it all, their classmates and teacher are, of course, completely oblivious to the fact that Salty is really two canines.

Hysterically funny writing aside, the Colin Jack illustrations are humorous and endearing as well. Stewart loves his dogs and wants the best for them, and if it involves bringing them to school so they are not lonely at home, he is willing to do that. The plots are all vaguely reminiscent of ones where students move to new schools and struggle to make friends, making this a very clever twist on an established middle grade trope.

What I liked best about this series, which makes me a little sad now, is that Falatko seemed to understand my dog Sylvie’s very soul. The attitude that Waldo and Sassy have towards squirrels, their constant attention to all available food, and their phrasing all harken to the “conversations” that my dog had with my daughters before she passed away. “Tiny carrots wrapped in bacon!” has become a family catch phrase for good eats! Given that I was the primary voicer of Sylvie's thoughts, perhaps Falatko understands MY very soul.

Two Dogs in a Trench Coat has numerous slapstick moments, many visual jokes, and plenty of goofy humor, but at its heart, the series is a highly philosophical discussion of the bond between dogs and their human, and the deep contentment that dogs find in moments of domestication. Waldo voices this perfectly in this interchange:

"If wild dogs knew how dry and warm it was inside, they'd stay in when it's raining, too. But okay. We are wild dogs on the inside."

"Inside of the house," said Sassy.

--Karen at Ms. Yingling Reads


It has been so fun putting this post together. It brought back memories! I thought of eating lunches together at KidLitCon. I smiled about long email threads exchanged with these friends about Cybils books. I felt like I got a peek at the bookshelf, in this time when I haven't seen anyone else's bookshelves in ages! 

The thing I miss most about pre-Covid life right now is the "incidental learning" that happens naturally when people get together. I miss noticing that a friend has a book sticking out of her purse and asking her about it. I miss watching my friends in their kitchens and going home with new ideas on how to cook and clean. I can see the light at the end of this tunnel, and I'm thankful for some of the brilliant moments within the tunnel as well.

Happy Reading! 


  1. Such a fun idea! Thanks for doing this, Alysa!

  2. Thanks for including me! Definitely some new titles I'll have to investigate.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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