One of the Best: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Happy Sunday everyone!

Writing reviews when I truly enjoyed/loved a book can either be difficult (fear of too much gushing) or really easy (the love just flows). Writing my review for Doll Bones by Holly Black was incredibly easy. This book is that good.


Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining Doll Bones by Holly Blacka magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity.


If you asked me for one of the best titles to introduce you to middle grades fiction, Dolly Bones would be the book I pressed into your hands. Everything about this book is well done. This is quality middle grades fiction right here people!

As I look back on some of the best middle grades books I’ve read (and coming of age tales in general) I’m noticing a major commonality between them; that perfect yet strange mix of realism and fantasy mixed together (think the Sandlot with “the beast” for example). When a book succeeds at weaving both the realistic and fantastic together what you get is a blindingly beautiful portrayal of that preadolescence stage in life where you’re stuck in limbo between childhood and the teen years. The characters, Zach, Poppy and Alice are each exploring (in different ways) their new teenage interests, yet are still clinging to the comforts of childhood, like imagining and playing games. This struggle is exemplified so flawlessly well on the cover. I love how this cover sets the stage for a coming of age story (yes the kids are on a physical and emotional journey) set in and spurred on, by the atmosphere of a ghost story.

Another major factor in this whole coming of age theme is realizing that adults, specifically your parents, are human being with flaws. We see this primarily in the strained relationship between Zach and his father. Because it hurts so much to realize that his dad isn’t perfect Zach longs for the days when his father wasn’t there; its easier to ignore him than face the truth. When in reality this often painful father/son relationship is caused by a hurt man doing the best he knows how with a son he doesn’t quite understand. There is just so much truthful emotion going on here!

There are some slightly creepy goings on in Doll Bones, but it is completely appropriate for middle grade readers and up (perhaps even a mature fifth grader) who crave a good adventure tale. The audiobook would make for a good family listen as well, so if you haven’t read Doll Bones yet, please get it added to your (or your reader’s) TBR stack; you wont be disappointed.

Author: Holly Black

Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry Books (May 7, 2013)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library)

Length: 5 hours and 15 minutes

Narrator(s): Nick Podehl

Series: Standalone


Buy the Book:


Don’t Pass It Up: Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby


Have you ever postponed reading a book because you thought you knew what it was about and you were just certain you weren’t interested?  I have on a few occasions. I had this experience with Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby, but in the end I can’t believe I waited so long to read it. It is a fantastic story!

Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her Icefall by Matthew J. Kirbybrother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father’s victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.

Those charged with protecting the king’s children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father’s watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?

Seriously, this book was a huge surprise to me. I have no idea why I thought this wouldn’t appeal to me…maybe it was the cover? Not sure. But honestly, why didn’t anyone tell me how awesome of a book this is?!?!

First of all Icefall reminded me of a fairy tale. Yes, it has some magical elements to it, but I think it felt fairy tale-like to me because I have almost no knowledge of the Nordic setting or culture. Medieval Nordic culture is so far from anything I’m familiar with that it just felt like it was laced with magic. It was so interesting to see glimpses of the daily life in a winter hall like the class structure, the story telling, even down to the wild behavior of the Viking Berserkers. I think the mix of learning about a different culture and Kirby’s amazing story telling skills worked together to make this book completely engrossing. I only put it down because I actually had life responsibilities (like work haha).

The King’s middle daughter, Solveig, is our unlikely heroine and Icefall is her coming-of-age story. In the beginning, Solveig is haunted by her father’s disregard for her. She is not her beautiful sister, or her “future king” little brother. Solveig believes that she is of no true importance and craves her father’s approval and attention. But as she is caught up in the midst of an atmosphere of danger, distrust, and treachery Solveig begins to come into her own and even realizes that she has gifts and strengths that are, in fact, important. She is a character painted beautifully and with much detail.

Additionally, Kirby’s entire cast of characters are so multifaceted that anyone can be the traitor and the reader really is left to discover the truth as Solveig does. The complexity of the characters is impressive as we learn, like Solvieg that even those who commit the worst of crimes have real motives and real strengths and real faults. Not every thing or everyone is painted black and white and Solveig learns to see the gray areas, as in any quality coming-of-age story. Ahhh! I want to give examples here but can’t because I’d give so much away!

Please don’t make the mistake of passing this book over, like I almost did. It is a well told middle grades historical mystery that anyone who enjoying a well crafted story will enjoy. Also, listening to the audiobook is a great choice that I highly recommend, as the narrator’s voice is so lyrical and only adds to Icefall’s themes of storytelling.

Author: Matthew J. Kirby

Publisher: Scholastic Audio (October 1, 2011)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 9 hours and 18 minutes

Narrator(s): Jenna Lamia (she is awesome)

Series: Standalone


Buy the Book: Icefall


Enjoy a Nice Story: 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen JohnsonI finally read a book by Maureen Johnson!

Inside little blue envelope 1 are $1,000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket.

In envelope 2 are directions to a specific London flat.

The note in envelope 3 tells Ginny: Find a starving artist.

Because of envelope 4, Ginny and a playwright/thief/ bloke-about-town called Keith go to Scotland together, with somewhat disastrous-though utterly romantic-results. But will she ever see him again?

Everything about Ginny will change this summer, and it’s all because of the 13 little blue envelopes.

I have heard great things about Maureen Johnson’s books and I’ve had my eyes on this one for a while before realizing that it was one of Johnson’s.  I was immediately caught by the premise of a sort of scavenger hunt, it automatically made me think of the 39 Clues or National Treasure, which I love!  The idea of someone sending characters on a search to find something valuable is just so much fun!

In 13 Little Blue Envelopes the valuable “item” isn’t literal its the idea of finding out who you are.  Ginny, the teenage main character, is not confident in herself at all.  In fact, she believes that her life isn’t interesting unless her Aunt Peg is involved.  You can really see how much Ginny admired and cared for her aunt, and how confused she was when Peg disappeared from her life.

Although Johnson touches on pretty heavy themes of death and grief, she manages to create a read that is very light and breezy, like I imagine a summer on the Mediterranean would feel. I was never overwhelmed by the grief Ginny has at the loss of her aunt, which is a good thing because, as I’ve mentioned before, I dislike books that make me cry!

I will say that Maureen Johnson’s writing style is not what I’m used to and it took me a little bit to get into the story, but once I did I was hooked.  Johnson is hilarious and there were multiple scenes and situations that make me chuckle. My favorite was Ginny’s embarrassing experience in the Richard’s squeaky bathtub.  As one who is afraid of bathroom noises (any people hearing them!) this scene had me cringing and laughing at the same time!  Also, I really enjoyed all the different supporting characters that Ginny meets along the way from the stressful family in Amsterdam to the creepy guy in Italy, each person has a role to play in Ginny’s experience.

I’ve read some reviews where readers complain that they went through most of the book feeling like they didn’t know anything about the main character.  I would agree with this.  Johnson doesn’t give up a lot of inner monologue or detailed information about who Ginny is and what she’s thinking, so in some way, we’re very limited in understanding of Ginny.  But I do think that’s the point.  Ginny doesn’t know much about herself either; she’s doing a lot of self discovery on this trip that Aunt Peg has sent her on.  That’s why Peg as sent Ginny on his trip in the first place!

I’ve also seen some readers complaining about the fact that 13 Little Blue Envelopes is non realistic; suggesting that no parent would ever let their teenage daughter jaunt around Europe alone with no cellphone or contact with home.  Yes, they’re probably right.  But that’s what I love about fiction.  It doesn’t have to be reality!  It’s okay, I don’t think Johnson is suggesting that this is or should be the parental norm.  Lets just enjoy a nice story and not worry about the details all the time! :)

In the end, I was pleased with this story and really want to read the sequel, The Last Little Blue Envelope.  I’d recommend 13 Little Blue Envelopes to older middle school readers and up who love traveling and a good coming of age story.

I wish someone would send me to Europe!

Author: Maureen Johnson

Publisher: HarperTeen (August 23, 2005)

Format: Hardcover (Library Bound)

Length: 366 pages

Series: First in a two book series


Buy the Book: 13 Little Blue Envelopes