One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Twelve-year-old Carley Connors can take a lot. Growing up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving mother, she's learned to be tough. But she never expected a betrayal that would land her in a foster care. When she's placed with the Murphys, a lively family with three boys, she's blindsided. Do happy families really exist? Carley knows she could never belong in their world, so she keeps her distance.

It's easy to stay suspicious of Daniel, the brother who is almost her age and is resentful she's there. But Mrs. Murphy makes her feel heard and seen for the first time, and the two younger boys seem determined to work their way into her heart. Before she knows it, Carley is protected the boys from a neighborhood bully and even teaching Daniel how to play basketball. Then just when she's feeling like she could truly be one of the Murphys, news from her mother shakes her world.


Overall, I enjoyed this book. It even made me tear up a bit at the end. I thought Carley was a well developed character and her story gave a believable depiction of the life of a foster child. It was clear that this was a YA novel, however. There were aspects of the book - Carley’s mother, the court case, even the social worker, to name a few - that were underdeveloped or glossed over. These are realities that foster children and foster families have to deal with, and they are not always pretty. I felt like this narrative shied away from some of the more unpleasant aspects of Carley’s situation. The focus was definitely on Carley and her developing relationships with the various members of the Murphy family. This was my favorite part of the book and the most endearing. It’s also what made me tear up at the end, when it was time to say goodbye. Definitely a worthwhile YA novel. 

2016 Reading Challenge: A book from the library

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Illustrated Edition) by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay (Illustrator)

For the first time, J. K. Rowling's beloved Harry Potter books will be presented in lavishly illustrated full-color editions. Rowling herself selected artist Jim Kay, whose over one hundred illustrations make this deluxe format as perfect a gift for the child being introduced to the series as for the dedicated fan.

Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility.

All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley--a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry--and anyone who reads about him---will find unforgettable.


I love the Harry Potter series. It has become one of those books that I pick up when I need to escape reality into a familiar and comforting story. I have read this series so many times and I never get bored with it. It is definitely a series that will forever hold a special place in my heart. 

When I heard that there was going to be an illustrated edition of the story released, I was incredibly excited to get my hands on it. Jim Kay's illustrations are breathtakingly beautiful. He perfectly captured the wonder, humor, magic, and heartbreak of Harry's story and his first introduction into the wizarding world. 

This will make a wonderful edition to any Harry Potter fan’s library.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book that's guaranteed to bring you joy


Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices #1) by Cassandra Clare

In a kingdom by the sea…

In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.

A parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles, where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries—the most powerful of supernatural creatures—teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge—and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks…and before the murderer targets them.

Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets. What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter Law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents—and can she bear to know the truth?


Cassandra Clare knocks it out of the park with her latest Shadowhunter spinoff series, The Dark Artifices. This series is centered around the Los Angeles Institute and the two young Shadowhunters, Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn, that were introduced to us at the end of the Mortal Instruments series. Book one in the series, Lady Midnight, is full of everything that makes Clare’s novels special - adventure, lovable characters, mystery, magic, drama, and a little bit of romance. We even get to check in with some old friends from the previous series, which I loved. I felt like these characters, perhaps because they have already experienced such adversity, added a new level of maturity to the story which helps set this series apart from the others. I’m excited to see where Clare takes the story from here. Can’t wait for the next one!

2016 Reading Challenge: A book that's more than 600 pages


The Daniel Fast: Feed Your Soul, Strengthen Your Spirit, and Renew Your Body by Susan Gregory

What if you could grow closer to God and improve your health in just 21 days? Susan Gregory, “"The Daniel Fast" Blogger,” has a plan to help you do just that. Widely recognized as the expert on this 21-day fast inspired by the book of Daniel, Susan has helped thousands of people discover a safe and healthy way to fast. The principles you learn from "The Daniel Fast" will change the way you view food, your body, and your relationship with the one who created you. Includes 21 days’ worth of Daniel Fast recipes! Visit www.daniel-fast.com


Even though I have been a Christian all my life, I have never engaged in fasting before. I decided to take on the Daniel Fast after hearing about it from several people who attend my church. I found the book to be incredibly informative about what a fast is and the reasons behind the act of fasting. Susan Gregory offers several different approaches on how to implement the Daniel Fast and also has free online resources on her website. 

In essence, the Daniel Fast is a vegan diet - no meat, animal by-products, processed foods, leavened breads, caffeine, etc. The only beverage allowed is water. The typical length of a Daniel Fast is 21 days, but can be shortened or extended. The “diet” is very restrictive and definitely takes discipline, but I found that completing the fast wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. The recipes in the book were very good and fairly easy to make. Many of them made several servings and could be frozen, which meant that it was not necessary to “cook” every day. The hardest part for me was going without my morning coffee. 

I was hoping to get a few things out of my fast. First, I was looking for a way to grow my prayer life. Prayer is not something that comes naturally to me and I knew that I would need to pray a lot to get through this experience. Secondly, I was looking for a way to detox my body and get back on track with my healthy eating and exercise goals. Overall, I accomplished my goals and experienced some great health benefits from fasting (namely a 10 pound weight loss!). The only thing that I wish was better developed was the daily devotionals in the book. I was hoping for more guided reflection.

If you are new to fasting, I would recommend this book as a good place to start.


Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking, Colm Toibin's sixth novel, Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself. Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. Though skilled at bookkeeping, she cannot find a job in the miserable Irish economy. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn to sponsor Eilis in America--to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood "just like Ireland"--she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. 

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, a blond Italian from a big family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. He takes Eilis to Coney Island and Ebbet's Field, and home to dinner in the two-room apartment he shares with his brothers and parents. He talks of having children who are Dodgers fans. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future. By far Toibin's most instantly engaging and emotionally resonant novel, Brooklyn will make readers fall in love with his gorgeous writing and spellbinding characters.


As someone who is mostly of Irish descent, I am always interested in stories about Irish immigrants. I heard good things about this book and for the most part I wasn’t disappointed. I enjoyed the story and felt sympathetic towards Eilis, who found herself torn between two lives - her old, familiar life in Ireland and her new life in America. The narrative was entertaining, heartbreaking, and well written. I wasn’t crazy about the ending. It felt a little unfinished to me, like there was more to be said. Overall, I would say that this novel is worth the time.


Nothing But the Truth by Avi

Ninth grader Philip Malloy is forbidden to join the track team because of his failing grades in English class. Convinced that the teacher just doesn't like him, Philip concocts a plan to get transferred into a different homeroom. Instead of standing silently during the national anthem, he hums along. And ends up on trial.


This was a fun narrative because it doesn’t follow the traditional format. The story is told through a series of transcripts, memos, newspaper articles, and letters. It was fun to read this one with my students as it focuses on a conflict between a student and a teacher. My students enjoyed using the documents as evidence to persuade others to agree with them about who was really at fault. I was also able to make some great connections to what they learned in Civics about the First Amendment. This is a great book to use with students when studying perspective, justice, and bias. It is a highly engaging YA novel.


Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been inseparable. After all, nothing can bond four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage out on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.


This was an incredibly creative narrative. I loved how Coakley used the characters and settings of the Brontes’ real life stories in this work of fiction. It made the literary nerd in me very happy to see these references. The switching of perspectives kept the narrative interesting and progressing forward at a good pace. Coakley does a good job of weaving together the story lines of each Bronte sibling without the narrative becoming convoluted and confusing. It is an imaginative, fantastical, YA novel that is sure to entrance.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book recommended by someone you just met