Middle Grade and YA: What’s On My Nightstand? September 28, 2020

I really do love Middle Grade and YA novels and, right now, my nightstand is chock full of titles that I can’t wait to get to! Today’s list contains ten titles that are as varied as they are exciting: everything from a more serious YA look at gender identity and teen love to a fun-filled romp of an adventure to save grandpa! None of these titles are to be missed…I’ll read a few with my son but most of them I’ll devour on my own.

There’s something to be said for the quick, sweet satisfaction of a pithy Middle Grade title. YA titles too seem to serve as palette cleansers for me between slightly heavier adult reading. Do you read Middle Grade and YA? Do you read them alone or with a young person? Are you hoping to recommend this list to young people you know or keep it all for yourself? I’d love to hear more about your ‘younger literature’ reading habits in the comments. I can’t be alone in loving to read new and exciting titles for the younger set!

YA Book Review: It Came From the Sky by Chelsea Sedoti – 4 stars

As many of you who follow my blog regularly already know, I read a lot with my 12-year-old son. He’s a very advanced reader and we’ve been reading together since he was a baby. These days, he’s usually reading something on his own, something for school and something out loud with me. It Came From the Sky is a book that he chose from my ARC collection (Thank you, Sourcebooks!) to read as his ‘choice’ book for 8th Grade Enriched English. I usually try to read along (seperately) so we can discuss the book together and so that I can spot any tricky topics or confusing bits that I might need to help clarify. Most of the time, I must admit, I enjoy the books he chooses. Occasionally, I don’t enjoy the school-assigned books (I’m thinking Call of the Wild and Treasure Island here…call me a philistine!) but between the great characters and the emotional content in the Middle Grade and YA selections he makes, I’m generally pretty pleased to read along with him.

It Came From the Sky did not disappoint. I had previously read Chelsea Sedoti’s As You Wish on my own and found myself charmed and intrigued by her work. I wasn’t surprised to find the It Came From the Sky was similarly intriguing and contained lots of lovable characters and surprising plot points.

In general, It Came From the Sky focuses on two brothers, Ishmael and Gideon, who find themselves the masterminds of biggest hoax ever played on their town. Their family, Mom, Dad and sister, Maggie, are all portrayed as part of the story in different ways and each has a unique story trajectory that both contributed to the overall plot and stood alone in keeping me interested in this amusing book.

A few of my favorite things about this YA novel:

  1. Gideon is portrayed as a gay, science-minded junior in high school who probably registers somewhere on the autism spectrum. The great part about his character, however, is that neither his sexual preference nor his neuro-atypicality, while germain to the story, are treated as particularly noteworthy. That’s just who Gideon is. The fact that he has a boyfriend was actually so minimally highlighted at the beginning of the book that my son (who had never heard the name Gideon before) assumed heterosexuality and thought he was a girl for a couple of chapters.
  2. The Hofstadt family feels real. Mom and Dad have inherited some money and a family farm and aren’t pressed to have careers outside of the home so Dad stays home with the kids while Mom is incredibly involved in a multi-level marketing business/scheme. The dynamic that occurs between them and between them and their children is believable, heartwarming and amusing. It didn’t surprise me at all that, in the midst of this major hoax, Mom and Dad are aware that Gideon and Ishmael are in over their heads but refuse to acknowledge the situation to ‘teach them a lesson.’ I could relate to that kind of parenting and loved Sedoti made that editorial choice.
  3. This is primarily a story about two brothers but the women are not afterthoughts in this story. Sister Maggie has her own basket of cats that she is wrangling throughout the story (much to her brothers’ surprise) and Gideon’s closest friends Cassie and Arden are strong, determined young women who are very different in their approaches to life. Their relationships with Gideon as well as their ‘stories’ outside of his hoax are integral to the plot and to the ultimate resolution of Gideon and Ishmael’s big mess!
  4. This story is told in an interesting format: journal notes, online stories, blog comments, etc. make the story move along quickly and kept me intrigued and entertained by the whole cast of characters.
  5. There’s a little folk tale that runs underneath that main plot and ties the whole thing together. It never took my attention away from the story of Gideon and Ishmael but it left me smiling at the end when I saw was Sedoti was able to do!

The book is 452 pages start to finish but I was flabbergasted when I actually went back to look up that number. It reads so quickly – very short chapters punctuated by interviews, text messages, etc. keep it moving and the plot thickens with every page you turn.

While it may never qualify as ‘serious literary fiction,’ there’s something to be said for an interesting, amusing story told in such a way that you come to care about the characters and the story’s outcome. I highly recommend this book for young men and women who are looking for a fun romp of a read that will leave them amused, educated and feeling satisfied at the end of the book! And, if you happen to be the parent of one of those young men or women, by all means, read along! You won’t regret it!

A Consolidated List of All the Books I Reviewed in 2019

You asked for it…so here it is! A bookclub.org list of all the books that I did full reviews of in 2019! Guess what? I’m going to start doing more full reviews for 2020 too! So stay tuned for that list as well!

There are 48 books on this list and they include titles I loved and titles that were a miss for me. You can find something here for everyone…there are great Children’s, Middle Grade, YA and Adult books and none of my reviews of them contain spoilers! Take a look at the list and the cruise on over to the blog to get an in depth peak at the book so you can decide if it’s really for you!

Oldies but Goodies: Twenty Big Hits from 2017


It’s easy to forget, amongst all the new and shiny titles, that there are a TON of backlist titles that you may not have gotten to yet. To remedy that situation, I’m providing this lists of 20 titles that I read in 2017 and would wholeheartedly recommend!

In true Mama Panda form, this list contains Middle Grade, YA, Literary and General Fiction and Nonfiction! There are some true titles to love here…and some that I would highly recommend reading with someone else. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things brings with it a fair bit of controversy and would be great for an openminded book club! Circus Mirandus and Better Nate Than Ever are titles that I can’t recommend enough for parent/child read alouds!

There are both laughs (The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher) and tears (Peace Like a River and Saving Marty) and everything in between. Some of these titles will make you cheer for the protagonist (Americanah) and some will just make you shake your head (The Two-Family House!)

All in all, there’s something for everyone on this list. Honestly, I had forgotten how much I loved my reading life in 2017…I just may have to go back and read a few of these again!

What’s Waiting on my E-Reader – September 21, 2020

I have to admit it: I have a soft spot for shiny, new books! And, because of my blog…I get access to numerous Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) every month from publishers who want me to include their books in a list or a review! Usually, those books are in digital format so my e-reader is generally packed to the gills with books I can’t wait to read!

This week, my list of e-reader titles includes almost all brand-spanking-new titles…everything from the newest from Emily St. John Mandel to the new Kevin Kwan! If you haven’t read these (or potentially even heard of them) yet…please check out my list. I always provide a little blurb about each book on Bookshop and the link to the publisher’s blurb is also included. It’s a great way to find books you might love AND support independent booksellers! Is there something new on the horizon that I don’t know about? What’s an upcoming release that you are really looking forward to?

What’s On My TBR? September 21, 2020

Here’s another little glimpse into my TBR! 10 titles that I’m dying to get my hands on. (A little secret: I’ve actually started a few of them because I can’t help but dip into titles I’m really looking forward to!)

This list is 40% nonfiction…which is HUGE for me. Given, most of that nonfiction is in the form of memoir and the rest of it is told in a very narrative style! Nonetheless, if you find my lists usually lack in the nonfiction category…this just might be the list for you!

Another anomaly about this list: there is NO Middle Grade or YA fiction here. I did read one of these books with my son but only because it’s important for him to know about…not because it was targeted to the 12 year old demographic!

I love this list…it truly gives me something to look forward to! Check it out…I hope it’ll be equally exciting for you. What’s on your TBR? By the way, how long is your TBR? How long is too long? I must admit…I could write posts about my TBR for months and never reach the end! How about you?

15 Great Books for Young Readers – Ages 4- 8 Years Old

I have loved reading to my son since the day he was born. Honestly, during those long winter months after his birth, I often laid him on the bed and read book after book to him. I’ll definitely be making a list of board books that we loved…but today, I’m highlighting one of our favorite kinds of books – those for early readers!

15 Great Books for Early Readers – Ages 4 to 8 Years Old

This is a list of books that we had SO MUCH fun with! These are books that either 1) he and I loved way back when or 2) we’ve acquired since he’s been older just because we love these kinds of books! Some of these are books that still bring tears to my eyes (I’m looking at you, Plant a Kiss!) because the memories of reading them with my son are so fresh and warm. I’m building a collection to keep for someday if he has kids and all of these books will be part of that set!

I hope you and yours enjoy these as much as we did! Don’t forget, if you purchase any of these books from my store at bookshop.org, a percentage of the book’s price goes to support indy bookstores!

What’s on My Nightstand? September 21, 2020

Oooh…this list is exciting. It’s full of Middle Grade, YA, adult and non-fiction titles and there are some REALLY intriguing ones in there!

What’s On My Nightstand? September 21, 2020

I have only begun one or two of these but there are specific reasons why I’m excited about each of them! I call those out in my list at bookshop.org. Don’t forget that if you decide to purchase one of these books (in any format) from the list, your purchase will be fulfilled and a percentage of the purchase will be split between the indy bookstores that are involved with www.bookshop.org.

What’s Waiting on My E-Reader – September 14, 2020

If you haven’t already recognized this fact: I’m reading multiple books in multiple formats, all the time! I usually have one paper book, several audiobooks and a ton of e-books going at any moment and, for whatever reason, I don’t seem to struggle with switching between stories.

That being said, today, I want to show you what I’ve been e-reading!

What’s Waiting on My E-Reader – September 14, 2020

My favorite things about e-books are:

  1. That I can get them so inexpensively (from http://www.bookshop.org/shop/ndgrad95reads, of course, but also from my local library!) and,
  2. That I can carry them everywhere on my Kindle reader on my phone. That convenience allows me to read constantly…whether I’m standing in line at Target or waiting for my son’s baseball game to start. I get so much more reading in than I did before I discovered e-books!
  3. That I can switch up what I’m reading at any time. I don’t have to have 3 books in my purse. If I’m not in the mood for the book I thought I wanted to read, I just dial up something else on my e-reader and come back to it later!

While any and all of these books could also be enjoyed in paper form, if you love a good e-book, I’ve outlined the 10 that I’m gobbling up right now! Oddly for me, these are all adult books at the moment (no YA, no Middle Grade) and all fiction. Mosts of these titles are also very new (for some reason I lean toward the new titles on my e-reader.) I know that’s just what some of you love, so this will be the perfect list for you! Check it out and let me know in the comments how you feel about e-books vs. paper books vs. audiobooks!

Audiobooks: What’s Playing in My Ear? September 14, 2020

It’s time to talk about audiobooks and my favorite book of ALL TIME is on this list. I’m listening to it again with my son (he wasn’t quite old enough the first time I listened to it) and loving it all over again.

What’s Playing in My Ear? September 14, 2020

Traditionally, I’ve listened to A LOT of audiobooks but, given the impact of COVID in 2020, I’m just out of the house less than I used to be. I tend to default to paper or e-books when I’m home so my audio stack has gotten less love than usual.

Nonetheless, I have several audio titles going right now and I want you to know about them! Click through to my list and pick up one of these for yourself while supporting independent bookstores! What’s playing in your ear these days? I’d love to know!