A Few Great Middle Grade Books for Your TBR List

After I finished patting myself on the back for reaching my 2015 reading goal in June in this post, it occurred to me that a few of my recent reads weren’t getting the “air time” they deserve. So while really enjoyed Cinder by Marissa Meyer and The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater, you don’t need me to tell you they’re good. The Twitter chatter and award nominations speak for themselves. Let tell you about a few books that are great but not getting the buzz they deserve.

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Present day England is haunted by ghosts that threaten the population every night and can only be seen by kids. Teenaged Anthony Lockwood starts a Psychic Detection Agency and hires Lucy and George to help him take on cases to rid clients of the spirits haunting them. But while other agencies are run by adults, Lockwood & Co decides to face the ghosts on their own, and their methods are sometimes not the most conventional. Will their psychic senses and rapiers save them from being frozen by the ghost-touch? Lockwood & Co has great world-building, humor and is down-right creepy.

Space Case by Stuart Gibbs

What could be more interesting than getting a spot living in the first space station on the moon? A lot of things, according to 12-year-old Dash Gibson. But when the base’s top scientist turns up dead, Dash doesn’t believe the story that it was suicide. Dash and his family are trapped in the base with the killer, making life much more interesting. Dash launches his own investigation, but soon finds himself in hot water. The Space Case has great characters and enough action to distract a gamer from his iPad.

At Your Service by Jen Malone

Twelve-year-old Chloe Turner’s dream is to be a concierge at a top NYC hotel, just like her dad. She’s well on her way, serving as junior concierge under her father. She handles the hotel’s smallest and sometimes most demanding guests. Organizing back-stage visits with the Rockettes is right up Chloe’s alley. But when Chloe loses a visiting princess on the streets of Manhattan, can she find her before the king finds out? Or the press? At Your Service is a great romp through the tourist spots of New York, as well as a story about having a dream and working hard to achieve it.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Okay, you’ve heard of Huck Finn, but when was the last time you read it? For me, it was probably high school. I bought the audio book because it was assigned for one of my son’s summer literary art projects and I was worried that my twelve-year-old would have trouble getting through a classic over vacation. I was so wrong! Huck has a hilarious voice that while very different from the way we talk today, is nonetheless approachable. Huck, Jim and Tom Sawyer get themselves caught in one mess after another and their schemes for escape generally make things worse rather than better. This book got two kids and I through 20 hours of driving to and from a visit to Grandma’s. ‘Nough said.

What’s your favorite recent middle grade read? (The comment button is right under the post title.)

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How I Hit My 2015 Reading Goal in June.

2015 was the first year I had a goal for the number of books I wanted to read. In previous years, I read books, but not as many as I would have liked. There were always books that came up in writerly discussions that I felt I should have read, but hadn’t gotten to. I had all the typical excuses: “I don’t want to cut into my writing time” and “I read a lot for critiquing and beta reads.” But I decided that this year I was going to get past the excuses and pick up the pace.

How did I do it?

I set an achievable goal. Well, as it turns out, I set my goal way too low. I saw other writers on Twitter talking about their goals to read 50 books. A book a week? It just didn’t seem possible with writing and critiquing and kids/family commitments and life. I set my goal at 25.

Clearly my goal should have been 50. I read 27 books before June 30th and I haven’t even had my beachy, read-a-thon vacation yet. I’ll easily hit 50 books easily by the end of the year. But if I set my goal at 50 initially, I wouldn’t be able to write this blog post…so there’s that.

I tracked my progress. I set up a simple excel spreadsheet where I could type in a new title as I started a book and mark it as read when I finished it, then get excited about the next title I was going to add. It’s the tiny rewards in life that keep us plugging away.

I read in all formats. At any given point in time I have a few different books going. I have a physical book I’m reading, I have an audio book I’m listening to when I’m driving or when chopping vegetables (see my post on Why Writing Podcasts Are Better Than Brocolli to find out more about my love of anything that turns errand time into productive time), and I usually have a second audio book I’m listening to when my kids are in the car. The “kids’ book” strategy started when my son needed to make it through Tom Sawyer as a summer read. Too classic for a 12 year old boy, I thought, but not so! We all loved it and listened to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as well. “Reading” in the car not only cuts down on squabbling in the back seat, but also means my kids are reading more too. Audio reading with my kids means that there are more 39 Clues titles in my “read books” list than I would care to admit. I love Halli Gomez’s voice in this series, but still would have dropped it after book 3 if it weren’t for the back seat’s insistence.

Since I had a little spreadsheet tracking my books, I also tracked the format of the books I was reading. Seven were hard cover, 4 were paperback, 2 were kindle and a whopping 14 were audio books. My take-away is that for me, this “made” reading time from listening to audio books is key to getting more books read.

The 27 books I read even include 2 on craft. I’m pretty bad about spending precious reading time on craft books rather than getting lost in a novel, so I’m particularly proud of having had two on my list. I have to credit this to awesome critique partners who gave me great recommendations: Bird by Bird and Save the Cat. Both were great! In fact, I’m sure I’ll reread Save the Cat since I’m trying to get better at plotting

What will I do differently in the second half of the year?

From July on, I’d like to be a bit more mindful about the audio books I suggest to my kids. Too many 39 Clues titles. ‘Nough said.

I’m considering an Audible subscription. I’ve held off on buying audio books because they’re more expensive than Kindle or paperback. Of the audio books I read in the last 6 months, one was purchased, the others were borrowed from the library. But my little study of how much more reading I can do when listening rather than having to find time to sit down with a book makes it pretty clear that audio books helped a lot.

The Audible subscription comes down to being mindful about listening to the books that will be the most enjoyable and will most help me improve my writing. While browsing the library’s audio catalogue led to some great finds, it also limited me to their catalogue.

Next week’s post will be about the books I most enjoyed over the first 6 months of 2015.
Do You Have a Reading Goal for 2015? How’s it going? Feel free to leave a comment! (The comment button is right under the post title.)