Tag Archives: Books with Strong Female Lead

Review : Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

YA book review of Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Gods of Jade and ShadowGoodreads Blurb

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

My Thoughts after Reading

Set in Mexico, this YA book interweaves their myths and legends with contemporary life in the 1920s.

Our heroine is the Cinderella equivalent in her family home. Her widowed mother struggled to make ends meet after her father died and came crawling back to her haughty family. Casiopea is her grandfather’s carer. She has to put up with his bad-temper and her golden-boy cousin’s taunts. The only thing that keeps her going is his promise of inheritance after his passing.

One day her defiance gets her into trouble and she is left behind in a family excursion. She finds the key that her grandfather usually hangs round his neck and opens the mysterious box in her room. Her adventure begins.

In similar vein to Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson and Greek mythology, this story is imbued with Mayan gods and beliefs. The detailed description of places took me to the heart of Mexico. I enjoyed getting to know the two main characters and their development as the book progressed.

If you are looking for a book set in South America, check out this one. 3/5

Review : Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

YA book review of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1)Goodreads Blurb

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.


Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

My Thoughts after Reading

This YA fantasy is about a down-trodden magical tribe under the dictatorship of a cruel king.

Our heroine has inherited her late mother’s magical powers. Together with her non-magical brother and father, they eke out a living as the maggots of society. Fate takes a turn when brother and sister go to the city to make a trade. There Zelie gets entangled with the runaway princess and a stolen scroll that could bring magic back to these maji and diviners.

The story is told in 3-POVs: our heroine, the runaway princess and the crown prince who is trying to stop them. The author has done a brilliant job with both the plot and the characters. There is tension in every scene, and I felt for every character. It felt slow to begin with, as world-building takes time. But once this is established, the story just sweeps you along.

A brilliant read. 4.5/5

Review : With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

YA book review on With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on High

Goodreads Blurb

With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.
Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain—and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life—and all the rules everyone expects her to play by—once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.

My Thoughts after Reading

This YA book is about a teen mother and her journey back to school after giving birth.

Emoni is a gifted chef, but the path ahead is not clear and simple. She lives with her grandmother and has a young toddler. They eke out a living with her grandmother’s disability allowance and her part-time work at a local fast-food outlet. The father of her child has visitation rights once a fortnight. Her home-room teacher has fought hard for her to remain in main-stream education, so she can graduate at 18 with the rest of her cohort.

Through the amazing writing, we get to see what life is like for Emoni as she tries to juggle everything. On top of this, she has to think about her future, which is a difficult concept when day-to-day living is a struggle already. This book sends out a strong message of resilience. Whilst she has people rooting for her, she has to make the difficult decisions. There were some parts so well written I just had to go back and reread it again. I also enjoyed reading about the history, background and culture of Puerto Rico.

The ending sentence is brilliant. She talks about the dish flamble and faith : ‘what better way to take a leap of faith than to set something on fire and trust it will not only come out right, but that it will be completely delicious?’

Quite simply, an amazing read. 5/5

Review : The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

Middle-grade review of The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

The Ship of Shadows (The Ship of Shadows, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Aleja whiles away her days in her family’s dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she’s only ever read about in books. After all, she’s always being told that girls can’t be explorers.

But her life is changed forever when adventure comes for her in the form of a fabled vessel called the Ship of Shadows. Crewed by a band of ruthless women, with cabin walls dripping with secrets, the ship has sailed right out of a legend. And it wants Aleja.

Once on board its shadowy deck, she begins to realize that the sea holds more secrets than she ever could have imagined. The crew are desperately seeking something, and their path will take them through treacherous waters and force them to confront nightmare creatures and pitch-dark magic. It will take all of Aleja’s strength and courage to gain the trust of her fellow pirates – and discover what they are risking everything to find.

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade adventure book is about a girls-only pirate ship sailing the oceans blue in search of a treasure map.

Our heroine discovers a secret and this knowledge puts her life in danger. In the chase she meets a captain who offers to hide her in her ship for a few hours. Unfortunately it was still unsafe for Aleja to disembark and she ends up travelling to the far lands with the crew.

This book has everything: a magical ship, an ancestor with a mysterious legacy, cryptic puzzles, strange beasts from the sea and land, exotic locations of towns and deserts and of course, swash-buckling life at sea. What I liked about this book is how all the characters have their own strengths eg linguist, chemist, technologist, soldier, strategist. Together they made a great team.

If you like the sound of this, you might be pleased to know that this is the first book of a series. 3/5

Review : Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Middle-grade book review Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front DeskMy Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about the struggles of a family of Chinese immigrants who went to America to escape the Cultural Revolution in China.

Mia’s parents took up this job running a motel as it offered free accommodation. However, the package was not an perfect as they were led to believe and the family have to work very hard just to make ends meet. Mia enrols in a new school and makes a new friend. At home, she takes care of the front desk duties. We are introduced to the weekly tenants and fellow Chinese immigrants. Before long, she shows us how efficient and resourceful she is.

Moving to a new country is never easy, even more so if you don’t speak the language. In this account, we also see the struggles of fellow immigrants, their culture shocks and gaffs and the traps they fall into. There is also a strong theme on racial prejudice she experiences and witnesses. This book has several themes that can be explored in a classroom. Mia’s approach to seeking justice on behalf of her friends is worthy of discussion.

Mia’s struggles means her maturity is higher than your average middle-grade reader. This book can be extended to a young YA reader. If you are looking for a similar theme aimed for a younger reader, Pie in the Sky is worth checking out. 3/5

Goodreads Blurb

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Review : The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham

Book review on The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham

The Moonlight DreamersMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a heartfelt young YA book. It is about four girls navigating through the bewildering journey known as life. One doesn’t know how to speak to boys. One has two fathers. One has famous parents and one loves living in a boat.

What troubles them is very topical: peer pressure, first crush, fitting in at home, school and society. The girls have totally different background. When then come together and share their hopes and dreams, they discover that one’s weakness is another’s strength. Through their friendships they learn their self-worth. Retiring Sky learns public-speaking from debator Amber, who gets comfort from a non-judgemental Sky. Sky is probably the first person who knows her obsession with Oscar Wilde. Maali learns to talk to boys from model-girl Rose, who got the courage to pursue her baking dreams from Maali. When Rose got into trouble with a photo on social media, it was Sky who knew what she needed. When Sky found the courage to enter a Poetry Slam, the girls rallied round her.

What I like about this is that it reminds us how easy to disregard what comes naturally to you, that what you have is a gift that others would love to possess. If you are looking for a book with female leads, diversity and LGBT, look no further. A lovely read.

Goodreads Blurb

Amber craves excitement and adventure. Instead, she’s being bullied at school for having two dads, and life at home isn’t much better. Inspired by Oscar Wilde, Amber realizes that among the millions of people in London, there must be others who feel the same as she does; other dreamers – moonlight dreamers. After chance encounters with Maali, Sky and Rose, Amber soon recruits the three girls to the Moonlight Dreamers. It’s high time they started pursuing their dreams, and how better than with the support of friends?

Review : Kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Book review of Kira – Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Kira-KiraMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a heart-breaking story.

This is a story about an American-Japanese girl growing up in the early days of Japanese immigrants. Her family worked in a chicken factory with bad working conditions. Her mother was not allowed toilet breaks during the entire working day and had to wear a pad. Their family kept to themselves and were wary of white people. They mixed only with other Japanese people, so it was heart-warming when they discover that these are decent and kind people too. While this story gives insight into what their lives were like in that era, the story centres on the two sisters. Our main character is the middle child. She adores her older sister, who gives her the best advice about the world. However we soon discover her sister is ill.

As time went by, she goes from this innocent child to a carer to both her sick sister and younger brother. Her parents work round the clock to pay for their mortgage and her sister’s medical bills. Naturally this pressure takes the toll on her.

This is a story about grief, love and family. The family is united in their pain. After her sister dies, she takes over the cooking in the family to relief her mother from her burdens. She focuses on her studies in memory of her sister. But in the end, she discovers that her parents have also been doing their part to help her with her own grief. Absolutely incredible.

Goodreads Blurb

kira-kira (kee ra kee ra): glittering; shining Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason and so are people’s eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare, and it’s Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow, but when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering — kira-kira — in the future.

Eight Books with Strong Female Leads

International Women’s Day is on 8 March. To mark this day, here are some children’s books with strong female leads to inspire our female readers. These strong female characters show many traits.  They are creative, courageous and challenge their boundaries.

Middle Grade Books

Serafina and the Black Cloak (Serafina, #1)Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

My review

Blurb

“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity… before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

BrightstormBrightstorm by Vashti Hardy

My review

Blurb

Twins Arthur and Maudie receive word in Lontown that their famous explorer father died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris. Not only that, but he has been accused of trying to steal fuel from his competitors before he died! The twins don’t believe the news, and they answer an ad to help crew a new exploration attempt in the hope of learning the truth and salvaging their family’s reputation. As the winged ship Aurora sets sail, the twins must keep their wits about them and prove themselves worthy of the rest of the crew. But will Arthur and Maudie find the answers they seek?

The Fox Girl and the White GazelleThe Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson

My review

Blurb

Reema runs to remember the life she left behind in Syria. Caylin runs to find what she’s lost. Under the grey Glasgow skies, twelve-year-old refugee Reema is struggling to find her place in a new country, with a new language and without her brother. But she isn’t the only one feeling lost. Her Glasgwegian neighbour Caylin is lonely and lashing out. When they discover an injured fox and her cubs hiding on their estate, the girls form a wary friendship. And they are more alike than they could have imagined: they both love to run. As Reema and Caylin learn to believe again, in themselves and in others, they find friendship, freedom and the discovery that home isn’t a place, it’s the people you love. Heartfelt and full of hope, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is an uplifting story about the power of friendship and belonging. Inspired by her work with young asylum seekers, debut novelist Victoria Williamson’s stunning story of displacement and discovery will speak to anyone who has ever asked ‘where do I belong?’

The Girl, the Cat and the NavigatorThe Girl, the Cat and the Navigator by Matilda Woods

My review

Blurb (There wasn’t one on Goodreads, so I’ve typed out what was on the book jacket)

Set sail aboard the Plucky Leopard for an adventure of myth and marvel among the ice-caps!

Curious, pin-bright Oona Britt dreams of a life of excitement on the wild waves. She has read stories of a mysterious, magical creature called the nardoo which swims through the starts at night, and decides to stow away on her father’s ship to track on down.

But her time on the storm-tossed sea is fraught with danger – there’s a mutinous crew, a sabotaging ship’s cat called Barnacles and a hungry creature of the deep awoken after a long sleep.

The House with Chicken LegsThe House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

My review

Blurb

All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with.
But that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world . . . carrying you with it. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties–and no playmates that stick around for more than a day.
So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules . . . with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife.
With a mix of whimsy, humor, and adventure, this debut novel will wrap itself around your heart and never let go.

The Miscalculations of Lightning GirlThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

My review

Blurb

A lightning strike gave her a super power…but even a super genius can’t solve the problem of middle school. This smart and funny novel is perfect for fans of The Fourteenth GoldfishRain Reign, and Counting by Sevens.

Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!

Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?

A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty’s smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.

Chapter Books

Spider Stampede (Switch, #1)Spider Stampede by Ali Sparkes

My Quick Thoughts:

Mrs Potts is obviously a very clever and inventive scientist. I wish there were more books like the Switch Series. Children, especially girls need to read about female leads and mentor in STEM roles.

Blurb

All Josh and Danny Phillips want to do is play in the yard with their dog, like regular eight-year-olds. Unfortunately, their crazy neighbor Miss Potts makes sure that they never have any fun. When the boys accidentally stumble on Miss Potts’s secret that she is working on experiments that change people into bugs they find themselves in a whole lot of trouble. (They also find themselves with six more legs than normal.) Can the boys survive in the world as spiders? And more important, will they figure out how to change back into humans in time for dinner?

The Magic Mixer ebook cThe Magic Mixer by Justine Laismith

Blurb

This is a story about Mrs Dabble, who is bringing up three children: Billy, who is a pleasant and polite; Melanie, a toddler who likes to do things for herself; and Ruby, a baby.

On a typical day, Mrs Dabble finds herself going from one crisis to another. She really needs some help, but where can she get it from?

Meet Dr Patsy Gerlaxi and her Magic Mixer. This machine takes unique and useful features from any animal and inserts them into humans!

So begins Mrs Dabble’s adventure to getting more help with the assistance of the Magic Mixer …

 

If you are looking for books to inspire the little girl in your life, I hope these eight books will give you a starting point. If you want more suggestions, drop me a note below and I will gladly recommend more. Or if you know of other books must-read strong female leads do drop your suggestions below.

First published 1 March 2019 for International Women’s Day. Updated on 1 March 2020.

Review : Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Book review of Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Lalani of the Distant SeaMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a story of island people living in a primitive world, where they believe in spirits and Gods. In this story, this is a mountain. The island people believe in a paradise north of their island and the best men are selected to sail in search of it. I enjoyed the part-rustic, part-mythical, part-paranormal aspects of the story.

The author’s character developments are great. I like it the subtle way the author refers to Lalani as being plain and unloved by others including the step-relations. Yet there is enough people in the village who accept her as who she is. We see her inner beauty as the story develops. I also like her best friend, who bucks the trend in society of who and what women should be. She has a calling and self-belief in her ability to heal. Most of all, I love the little boy who finally finds the courage to follow his gut instincts.

The author identifies as Filipino-American, and I take it that several of the unfamiliar terms are real words. In a way I wish there was a glossary to refer to. On the other hand, this made the book altogether more mysterious and magical. From her words, I could tell if it’s a sea creature, land creature or a little insect.

The triumphant ending is heart-warming. If you are looking for a book to whisk you to a land faraway, look no further.

Goodreads Blurb

There are stories of extraordinary children who are chosen from birth to complete great quests and conquer evil villains.

This is no such story.

Sometimes, you are an ordinary child.

Sometimes, you have to choose yourself.

This is the story of Lalani Sarita, a twelve-year-old girl who lives on the island of Sanlagita in the shadow of a vengeful mountain. When she makes a fateful wish that endangers her already-vulnerable village, she sets out across the distant sea in search of life’s good fortunes. Grown men have died making the same journey. What hope does an ordinary girl have?

Inspired by Filipino folklore, Lalani of the Distant Sea introduces readers to a landscape of magical creatures, such as Bai-Vinca, the enormous birdwoman; Ditasa Ulod, part woman, part eel; the mindoren, a race of creatures modeled after the water buffalo; and the whenbo — trees that eat the souls of the dead.

Knights and Bikes by Gabrielle Kent

Middle-grade book review of Knights and Bikes by Gabrielle Kent

Knights and Bikes

This younger middle-grade book is about two girls seeking the cursed treasure, a legend of their island.

The book has the thickness of a standard middle-grade book, but it’s dotted with illustrations throughout. This is perfect for an advanced reader in lower primary ready to move on to bigger books. It is also suitable for the younger middle-graders who still enjoy pictures in their books. If you are looking for a book that doesn’t stereotype girls and boys, check out this one. In one of the early scenes our two heroines hijacked a menacing digger.

I wasn’t grabbed at the outset because the opening chapters were rather bizarre. The two girls meet and their initial adventures felt like mindless roller-coaster encounters just to get your adrenaline running. I couldn’t quite piece them together, so I didn’t root for them rightaway. However this strange situation might not bother our young readers. It’s got elements of adventure they will enjoy; some mystery, some knights, something paranormal with ghosts and curses and yet relatable situations like the embarrassment of riding bikes with stabilisers.

Maybe I missed it, but I would have liked the author to explain the power behind the gauntlet. Again this is probably me, and a younger reader might not have picked this up. Overall it is an entertaining read. 3/5

Goodreads Blurb

Welcome to the sleepy island of Penfurzy, where nothing exciting ever really happens. OR DOES IT? Adventure awaits Demelza and her new best friend in the whole world, Nessa, as they explore the island and uncover the mysteries of the Penfurzy Knights. With a honking pet goose sidekick, quirky islanders and a legendary treasure to find, it’s up to Nessa and Demelza to ride their bikes, solve the puzzles before them, and face down danger with frisbees, water-balloons, feathers …. and a toilet plunger. THEIR FRIENDSHIP WILL WARM YOUR HEART. THEIR BRAVERY WILL MAKE THEM LEGENDS.