12 and up


5M4B disclosure


I love awkwardly lovable teen characters (such as those featured in the YA novels of Maureen Johnson, see related links below), and Penny, the heroine of this novel is that. Girl Online is subtitled “The First Novel by Zoella.” I am not familiar with the You Tube vlogger Zoe Sugg, but the book didn’t need star hook to pique my interest. Penny’s honesty and humility drew me in from page one. Whenever she gets in a situation with a boy she likes, she inevitably says the wrong thing. Worse than that, a tumble she takes at school showing her underpants ends up broadcast on YouTube for all to see.

Three things save her from focusing completely on her humiliation. One is her anonymous blog where she is known as GirlOnline. She shares her struggles, her humiliations and insecurities. This is her goal:

I have this dream that, secretly, all teenage girls feel exactly like me. And maybe one day, when we realize that we all feel the same, we can all stop pretending we’re something we’re not. That would be awesome. But until that day, I’m going to keep it real on this blog and keep it unreal in “real” life.

The other thing that provides is an immediate respite is a trip to New York City. Her mother is a wedding coordinator. When a wealthy couple from New York City comes into her London shop with a last-minute request for a no-holds barred Downton-themed wedding at the Waldorf Astoria, the entire family takes an all-expenses paid trip to New York for Christmas.

The third thing that helps Penny keep her head on straight is her best friend Elliot. They have the kind of relationship teens long for. Their bedrooms share a wall of their building, so they tap secret codes and respond to any emergency (whether it’s real or imagined). Elliot doesn’t feel that he can be honest with his family about his sexuality or anything that is important to him, so he spends a lot of time with Penny and her supportive parents.

He’s invited along on the trip, which is absolutely perfect, until Penny meets a boy. The grandson of the cook at the hotel is perfect. She can tell him anything — something she only ever felt about Elliot — but because she’s busy helping her mom with the wedding and Elliot is out sight-seeing with her Dad, they don’t have time to talk, and Elliot has to read about her encounters with “Brooklyn Boy” on her blog.

That’s the first — but not the last — of Penny’s difficulties in the midst of this dreamy week.

I loved so much about this book. It was funny and sweet and magical with just the right amount of teen angst and drama, but it’s not completely lightweight chick lit for teens. Like so much wonderful YA lit does, it also touches on issues that are so real to many teenagers today such as cyber-bullying, anxiety and panic attacks. I especially loved this element, as so many teens suffer from mental illness and it is not often represented in an honest, healthy way in novels. The conflict with his parents that


This is the kind of YA book I can recommend without reservation. It’s a solid teen read, featuring a chaste romance between an almost-16 year old girl and an 18-year old boy. There was no drinking or drugs or other unsavory (not to mention illegal) teen activity. I don’t think there was any swearing. If there was, it was mild and infrequent.


Hannah Tointon read the book. Her British accent accentuated the sense of place, and her sweet delivery contributed to Penny’s likability. There were also interesting sound effect like a buzz for a text coming in and clacking of the keyboard as Penny wrote her blogs.

Listen to a sample of the Girl Online audiobook at the Simon & Schuster site.


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The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence #ZodiacLegacy #Giveaway

The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence introduces a brand new series from Stan Lee, Stuart Moore and Andie Tong and Disney Press. I’m reading it aloud with my 5th grade son. We aren’t quite finished, but I wanted to post my thoughts, and point you to my phone interview with the creators, who helped me explain exactly how this new series came to be. It’s not a comic book, it’s not a graphic novel. It’s a full (very long, in fact!), novel, with a few images per chapter, but the whole thing reads very visually. In spite of the fact that it’s so long, I think that a reluctant reader, especially one interested in super heroes and already a fan of comics, would definitely be engaged by
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Looking Beyond Gender when Recommending Books for Kids

Dawn wrote a fantastic post at 5 Minutes for Mom explaining what factors she uses when finding books for her own children and make recommendations to other people who ask. Please click through and read the post.
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Looking for some good books for preschoolers to teens? Check out the #Cybils

Dawn and I were pleased to have the opportunity to serve as Cybils judges once again, Dawn for the Fiction Picture book category, and me in Middle-Grade Fiction. The results are in! The winners have been announced in categories from graphic novel, to app, to YA, fiction and non-fiction. Check them out for a good read with the perfect blend of literary merit and kid-appeal. I always look at the finalist lists as a special bonus. There are no losers, so be sure to check out the complete list of finalists for even more books to love.
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David Baldacci on his switch from adult legal thrillers to fantasy for kids #ReadBaldacci

I’d be willing to wager that most of you are familiar with David Baldacci’s work as a best-selling fiction author. Even if you haven’t read one of his legal thrillers, it’s likely that someone in your family has, or you’ve at least seen his books featured in airport bookstores, grocery stores or on the bestseller list. I was thrilled to be able to participate in a group conference call interview with him last week. This year he published two books The Finisher for older middle grade readers and young adults, and The Escape, a John Puller novel. I was curious about the switch, not only in genre but in the target age group. Baldacci spoke passionately about this new direction: I’ve always felt that a
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Guys Read: True Stories

Spiders, shipwreck, elephants, dental care, singing the blues: you’ll be wiser about all of these topics when you read Guys Read: True Stories, the newest collection edited by Jon Scieszka. This is a collection of nonfiction works, which my 5th grade son happily devoured. As a part of his curriculum, they have explore different kinds of reading which includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry. This was the first book I suggested, and the short small bites of informative writing whetted his appetite for me. He’s been surprised to find that he enjoys biographies “as long as the writing is good.” The collection has “good writing” from Scieszka, Nathan Hale, Candace Fleming, Nathan Hale, Thanhha Lai, Sy Montgomery and more. And just like the writers aren’t all
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Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata #Giveaway

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata is a heart-warming and honest story. Twelve-year-old Jaden was adopted from Romania four years ago from the orphanage where he grew up, when he was abandoned by his mother. Although his parents are loving and kind, Jaden doesn’t feel love, either from them or for them. Of course the truth is that he doesn’t know what love is, but hearing it through his own thoughts brings a new perspective. That’s one of the things I love about reading middle grade and young adult fiction. Skillful authors like Kahohata do such a wonderful job of capturing those thoughts and emotions of that particular moment in time, leaving behind the filter of adult experience. When Jaden’s parents go to Kazakhstan
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David Baldacci Books for Everyone in the Family #Giveaway

David Baldacci is a familiar name to many adult fans of the legal thriller genre, but did you know that he has also written for tweens and teens? On 5 Minutes for Mom, we’re featuring two Baldacci novels as part of the ongoing Christmas Giveaway Event. While The Escape is his latest for adult readers, older tweens and teenagers are the target audience for The Finisher, released earlier this year. To read my full review and enter to win copies of both books, along with a $25 Visa card, head over to 5 Minutes for Mom. While you’re there, be sure to browse all the Christmas Giveaways going on this month.
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Books for Little Women (Tweens and Teens) #Giveaway

I’ve written so much about this series, the Mother-Daughter Bookclub by Heather Vogel Frederick, that I don’t even know what to say anymore. That’s not really true. I get more and more excited, to be honest. Check out the related posts list below to find out more about mine and my daughter’s love for this series. I am beyond thrilled to be able to give away the complete set (well–as of now, since she’s announced that she’s writing another one, even though she thought it was over!), as well as a beautiful picture book, Little Women Christmas, AND her brand new novel (which looks wonderful and I hope to review within the next few weeks). Read my review of A Little Women Christmas over at
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Revisit Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer with Penguin Classics

When was the last time you read Mark Twain’s classics Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? I’m fairly certain I read Huck Finn’s story way back in high school, but I don’t think it really struck a chord with me until a few years later. I attended Elmira College, a small school in western New York located in the town in which Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) resided for many summers with his wife’s family who hailed from Elmira. Every day, I would walk past an octagonal study relocated to campus from the land on which the family lived, and it was thrilling to know that Clemens wrote some of his best work inside that little building, including these two novels. Each of the new Penguin Classics editions feature an introduction
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5 Books to Read with Your Teenage Daughter {Friday’s Five}

I’ve read some passionately written posts in which the blogger gets very upset about the fact that grown women are devouring Young Adult literature. Oh my. And many of them are mothers, no less. It’s scandalous! My teenage daughter would describe those kinds of people as ‘judgy’. We don’t like when people are judgy. We like to read what we want, and we like to share stories with each other. If she doesn’t think it’s weird to read the same novels as her already weird novelist mother, then why would I complain? I write my novels for the future adult in her, so the least I can do is read the ones she already loves right now. Here are five of our favorites: Walk Two
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The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys

At first I thought The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys was a little too cutesy and contrived, but that feeling didn’t last long. I was immediately taken back to 8th grade (or even better, the fun fictitious version of 8th grade), as I got lost in the story of Maya and Finley. Things are changing, like the fact that they aren’t super-close with all the girls they grew up with. Another thing has really changed, and is constantly changing, and that is the boys. Maya and Finley started classifying the boys in Finley’s science notebook, aka The Amphibian Life Cycle. The tadpoles are those boys who still burp and fart and act like 6th graders. Croakers have voices that croak, showing some sort of
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