Comics Roundup: February 2018

The best of the comics I've been digging into lately--starring strong, interesting, flawed female leads. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’ve been reading a lot of comics over the past few weeks, and I’ve found some that I really enjoyed. I discovered that most of my favorite comics are published by Boom! Studios (Lumberjanes, Adventure Time, Giant Days, and Goldie Vance are all theirs), so I’m really excited to explore some more of their series. (Note: Because I’ve read varying numbers of issues for each of these series, I’m just writing a brief summary of the series as a whole, rather than trying to give a specific rundown of each issue’s plot!)

Giant Days

Three college girls overcome boy troubles, finals, and childhood enemies, making each college event an adventure.

I’m loving the female characters and their college mishaps in this series! The girls are very different from each other, which makes them a lot of fun to follow, but it also creates tension within their group. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of this series. It brings back memories about the crazy adventures of college, while also coating all the boring parts with a layer of fun and silliness.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Lumberjanes

A group of girls at summer camp discovers that there’s more to the camp than meets the eye–in fact, there are a lot of magical creatures and adventures to discover.

The continuing adventures of the Lumberjane girls! I read several issues of this series previously, and I really enjoyed it. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to read the most recent issues, as I had forgotten some of what happened in earlier issues. But this is still one of my favorite comics ever.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Goldie Vance

Goldie Vance, a young valet at a hotel in Florida, is constantly getting wrapped in mysteries.

Goldie is constantly getting into trouble investigating mysteries when she’s supposed to be parking cars, but that’s exactly what makes her fun to follow. The old-fashioned Florida resort is a great setting, too.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Paper Girls

A group of rough and tumble girls discover a possible alien invasion during their route and have to fight to stay safe.

This series is a bit harsher than the other comics I’ve been reading lately. There is more swearing and more content that is… not for kids. It feels similar, really to the other Brian K. Vaughan comic I’ve read. I did enjoy reading it, but I’m not sure if I will continue the series.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Gravity Falls

Dipper and Mabel end up spending the summer at Gravity Falls, fighting wacky monsters while hanging out with their weird Grunkle Stan.

This was okay. I’ve never seen Gravity Falls, although I’ve heard the show is very good, so maybe I’m missing something? I’ll probably read the next collection in the series, just to make sure. It just doesn’t come across as quite as funny or clever as I’m sure the TV show was.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC Reviews: The Boy from Tomorrow and Seven Pets for Seven Witches

Quick ARC reviews of The Boy from Tomorrow and Seven Pets for Seven Witches. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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*Note: I received a free copy of these books from the publishers. All opinions are my own.

(All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Seven Pets for Seven Witches

Double, double toil and trouble…
The pets in these cozy paranormal short stories are stirring up nothing but fun—and maybe a dash of trouble—for the witches in their lives.

These short stories are fun, cozy mysteries about witches and their pets/familiars. It’s impressive how, although these stories are written by different authors about different characters, they all hang together so well–each has a similar feel. All the stories are silly and sweet. If you like cozy mysteries with a bit of magic, you’ll find plenty of new authors here.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Boy from Tomorrow

Josie and Alec both live at 444 Sparrow Street. They sleep in the same room, but they’ve never laid eyes on each other. They are twelve years old but a hundred years apart.

The children meet through a handpainted spirit board—Josie in 1915, Alec in 2015—and form a friendship across the century that separates them. But a chain of events leave Josie and her little sister Cass trapped in the house and afraid for their safety, and Alec must find out what’s going to happen to them. Can he help them change their future when it’s already past?

A girl from 1915 and a boy from 2015 are able to communicate through a talking board (basically a Ouija board), and what they say changes each child’s life. It’s both exciting and heart-wrenching to watch as Alec uses his resources–the library and the internet–to help Josie and her sister escape from their abusive mother.

At the beginning, this book seems like it’s going to be spooky and mystical. Both Alec and Josie initially think they’re communicating with spirits through the talking board. But when it becomes clear that the two kids are communicating across time, the story becomes much more interesting.

This book isn’t for everyone. I think younger kids are likely to be frightened by the spooky events, or by the abuse Josie and Cass suffer. But for older kids, this book has a fun twist on the typical ghost story.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1945

Quick reviews of the 1945 Newbery books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Today we’re going back in time again, this time to review the Newbery books of 1945! (Book summaries via Goodreads.com)

Medal Winner: Rabbit Hill

It has been a while since Folks lived in the Big House, and an even longer time has passed since there has been a garden at the House. All the animals of the Hill are very excited about the new Folks moving in, and they wonder how things are going to change. It’s only a matter of time before the animals of the Hill find out just who is moving in, and they may be a little bit surprised when they do.

I remember this as a very cute animal story by Robert Lawson (and as longtime readers know, I usually don’t like animal stories). This is a fun book for younger kids, but I’m not sure I would re-read it as an adult.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Hundred Dresses

Eleanor Estes’s The Hundred Dresses won a Newbery Honor in 1945 and has never been out of print since. At the heart of the story is Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl in a Connecticut school who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. Wanda claims she has one hundred dresses at home, but everyone knows she doesn’t and bullies her mercilessly. The class feels terrible when Wanda is pulled out of the school, but by that time it’s too late for apologies. Maddie, one of Wanda’s classmates, ultimately decides that she is “never going to stand by and say nothing again.”

In this Newbery classic, Wanda is constantly bullied and teased by her classmates, and it isn’t until she leaves the school that her classmate Maddie learns the truth about Wanda. This is a sad but sweet and touching story with beautiful illustrations. Eleanor Estes wrote several Newbery books, but I think this is her most memorable. I would definitely recommend you give this short book a read (or a re-read).

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Top Ten Books that Have Been on My TBR List the Longest

These are just a few of the books I've had on my TBR list for way too long. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday to share my top ten list!

Some of these books have been on my TBR list for so long I’ve forgotten what they’re about or why I even put them on my list. I’m going to try to explain why these books are on my TBR list, and maybe that will prompt me to finally read them!

  • A Grown Up Kind of Pretty. I have absolutely no idea why this book is on my list…
  • While Beauty Slept. Gothic Beauty and the Beast retelling.
  • There is No Dog. Quirky MG (or possibly YA).
  • The Escape from Home. I always love Avi’s work.
  • The Broken Teaglass. Murder mystery + tea.
  • Orlando. I want to read a lot more of Virginia Woolf, but I struggle with her writing.
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Because I’ve only read one John Green book, and I feel like that’s not enough for me to judge if I like his writing style or not.
  • You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know. Crazy but true neurological issue that keeps the author from recognizing faces.
  • The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. Why was this the first Terry Pratchett book that made it to my list? (It wasn’t the first I read, obviously.)
  • Human.4. I’m always a sucker for dystopian YA.

Have you read any of these books? What books have been lingering on your TBR list the longest? Leave your thoughts and links in the comments!

Small Goals + What I’m Into, February 2018

I'm sharing my February 2018 small goals + the things I'm into right now. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As always, I’m linking up with writes like a girl for my February 2018 small goals, and Leigh Kramer for my monthly what I’m into.

What a whirlwind January was! It was stuffed with craziness, some of it good, a lot of it… not good. To be honest, I totally forgot what my small goals were until I re-read my post this morning!

  • Make appointments for upcoming events. I’m working on it. Some appointments finished, some scheduled, some still waiting to be decided. But I’m counting this one finished for now.
  • Read at least three books in the towering TBR pile by my bed. I actually did great on this one! I read five books from my TBR stack, I only checked out one book from the library, and I requested only four ARCs (usually I go a little crazy and request a bunch at the beginning of the year), two of which I’ve already finished.
  • Make dinner more often. Well… mostly. I’ve made dinner twice, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s a start.
  • Do a digital declutter. Sigh. Yes. I hated it, but I did it.

I am amazed that amidst the stress and busyness of January, I was able to complete all four of my goals! Here’s hoping my February goals go even better:

  • Design a library bag. I need a big canvas bag to carry all my library books. I saw an adorable one on Etsy that sadly is no longer for sale, so I’ve ordered a plain canvas bag and iron-on transfer paper. Now I just need to design it!
  • Start meditating again. Whether you call it mindfulness or meditation, it helps keep my anxious thoughts from spiraling. And I’ve been neglecting this lately. I want to get back into meditating more consistently.
  • Go on a spending freeze. It’s that time again! Whenever a particularly large bill hits, I like to go on a spending freeze so we can start rebuilding our savings.

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: The one new thing I have requested recently is comics! I have several digital copies awaiting me, and they’ve been a really nice, relaxing thing to read in between heavier books.

TV shows I’ve watched: I just started watching The Good Place, and it is bizarre and wonderful.

Instagram account I’m loving: I’ve been laughing at Overheard New York‘s hilarious (and often swear-filled, so be aware!) overheard conversations.

My favorite Instagram:

Curious what my TBR stack looked like at the beginning of the month? Here it is:

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram (I post lots of book pictures and the occasional selfie), you can do so here.

If you want to see more of what I’m into every month, along with sneak peeks and my favorite posts from the blog, sign up for my email newsletter! It’ll show up in your inbox about once a month and bring you the latest blog news and the things I’m loving.

What are you all up to this month? Let me know in the comments!

10 Books I Can’t Believe I’ve Read

I'm linking up to share the ten books I can't believe I've read, for one reason or another. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com

.I’m linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday to share my top ten list!

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is all about sharing the books I can’t believe I’ve read. Combing through the past couple of years of books I’ve read, I was surprised at how many books I have read recently that are either out of my comfort zone or from genres that I typically don’t care for.

  • Crime and Punishment. Even after reading and loving Anna Karenina, I never thought I’d pick up another Russian classic. But I did, for the 2017 classics challenge.
  • Wild. I had been aware of this book for a long time–who hasn’t?–but I never wanted to read it. I finally gave in when my book club decided to read it, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I anticipated.
  • Dracula. I tried reading this classic in college and was totally freaked out by it. But I decided to give it another shot in 2017, and I’m glad I did.
  • The Husband’s Secret. I read this book for book club as well. It wasn’t my favorite, but I can see why it has been so popular.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This is one more book club read, one that I had seen floating around for years before I finally read it. And it was fascinating! This is one of my favorite things about the book club I’m in: it forces me to read popular books that I otherwise wouldn’t have tried.
  • Anna and the French Kiss. I don’t usually like YA romances. And I didn’t like this one, either, despite the assurances of many bookish friends that I would.
  • American Gods. This is another book I tried in college and quickly abandoned. This time I listened to this monster of a book on audio, which helped me get through it.
  • The Beautiful and Damned. I can’t even remember why I picked this book up. I felt like it was just a rehashing of the themes from The Great Gatsby (even though this book was written and published before Gatsby), and I didn’t much care for it.
  • Middlesex. The incest in this book totally freaked me out. But I still finished it.
  • Bare Bones. I actually read this book for a challenge, which required you read a book that was a recommendation from a stranger. I had never heard of this guy before, so it was really weird reading his memoir, but I didn’t hate it.

What books are you amazed that you’ve read? Leave your thoughts and links in the comments!

Newbery Reviews: 1944

Quick reviews of the 1944 Newbery winner and honor books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain, a young apprentice silversmith, is caught up in the danger and excitement of 1775 Boston, just before the Revolutionary War. But even more gripping than living through the drama of Revolutionary Boston is the important discovery Johnny makes in his own life.

This historical fiction novel about a boy growing up during the Revolutionary War was one of my favorites from childhood. It’s well-written, interesting, and also very sad–I’ll never forget when Johnny pours liquid-hot silver over his hand and the excruciating recovery that followed. The rest of the details have faded from my memory, but I wouldn’t mind re-reading this classic sometime in the future.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

These Happy Golden Years

Fifteen-year-old Laura lives apart from her family for the first time, teaching school in a claim shanty twelve miles from home. She is very homesick, but keeps at it so that she can help pay for her sister Mary’s tuition at the college for the blind. During school vacations Laura has fun with her singing lessons, going on sleigh rides, and best of all, helping Almanzo Wilder drive his new buggy. Friendship soon turns to love for Laura and Almanzo in the romantic conclusion of this Little House book.

The main plot point of this book is the budding romance and eventual marriage between Laura and Almanzo. As a child, I was shocked at how young Laura was when she married! As always, although I enjoyed the Little House series, it doesn’t hold a nostalgic place in my heart as it does for many readers.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Fog Magic

Greta had always loved the fog—the soft gray mist that rolled in from the sea and drifted over the village. The fog seemed to have a secret to tell her. Then one day when Greta was walking in the woods and the mist was closing in, she saw the dark outline of a stone house against the spruce trees—a house where only an old cellar hole should have been. Then she saw a surrey come by, carrying a lady dressed in plum-colored silk. The woman beckoned for Greta to join her, and soon Greta found herself launched on an adventure that would take her back to a past that existed only through the magic of the fog.

Every time Greta steps into the mist, she is transported back in time. What’s not to like about that kind of adventure? I thought this book was fun (you know I love a good time travel story!), and again, I wouldn’t mind re-reading this one.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Rufus M.

You’ve never met anyone quite like Rufus Moffat. He gets things done, but he gets them done his way.
When he wants to check out library books, Rufus teaches himself to write…even though he doesn’t yet know how to read. When food is scarce, he plants some special “Rufus beans” that actually grow…despite his digging them up every day to check on them. And Rufus has friends that other people don’t even know exist! He discovers the only invisible piano player in town, has his own personal flying horse for a day, and tours town with the Cardboard Boy, his dearest friend-and enemy.
Rufus isn’t just the youngest Moffat, he’s also the cleverest, the funniest, and the most unforgettable.

This is another cute Moffat family story. The family is sweet and loving, and it’s fun to read about the old-fashioned adventures the kids get into. I haven’t read the books in a while, but I bet they’d stand the test of time.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Nonfiction Roundup, January 2018

Quick reviews of my latest nonfiction reads, from the political to the religious to memoirs. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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It’s time for another nonfiction roundup! It has been a while since I posted one of these, and part of the reason is that many of these books were kind of difficult, for one reason or another. Still, I think you’ll find some good ones here, covering everything from politics to religion to American culture.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment–a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year.

Pursuing a different virtue each month, Evans learns the hard way that her quest for biblical womanhood requires more than a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). It means growing out her hair, making her own clothes, covering her head, obeying her husband, rising before dawn, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church, and even camping out in the front yard during her period.

See what happens when a thoroughly modern woman starts referring to her husband as “master” and “praises him at the city gate” with a homemade sign. Learn the insights she receives from an ongoing correspondence with an Orthodox Jewish woman, and find out what she discovers from her exchanges with a polygamist wife. Join her as she wrestles with difficult passages of scripture that portray misogyny and violence against women.

I’m always a fan of Rachel Held Evans, and since feminism and religion are both things that are important to me, I was really excited to read this book. I found some of the things that Evans did a little bit… silly (and I questioned how she made it to the age of 30 without cooking, cleaning, or sewing on a button–no matter what your gender, I feel like these are basic skills that every adult picks up to some extent). But on the whole, I loved how she looked at groups from the Quakers to the Amish to the Jewish people and more to figure out how we have interpreted biblical womanhood in the past and how we can interpret it now.

Evans looks closely at the text and the way different Christian and Jewish traditions have interpreted the Bible’s teachings on women and invites us to do the same. Despite a little corniness that seems to come with any book that revolves around a year-long project, I really enjoyed this book. It gave me plenty of food for thought.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask

What have you always wanted to know about Indians? Do you think you should already know the answers—or suspect that your questions may be offensive? In matterof-fact responses to over 120 questions, both thoughtful and outrageous, modern and historical, Ojibwe scholar and cultural preservationist Anton Treuer gives a frank, funny, and sometimes personal tour of what’s up with Indians, anyway.

• What is the real story of Thanksgiving?
• Why are tribal languages important?
• What do you think of that incident where people died in a sweat lodge?

White/Indian relations are often characterized by guilt and anger. Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask cuts through the emotion and builds a foundation for true understanding and positive action.

This book answers a lot of questions about Native Americans that I never even thought to ask–everything from economics to education to history to politics to culture. It’s amazing (and depressing) how little I know about the present-day lives of the first residents of this country. (In case you’re wondering, Treuer, a member of the Ojibwe people, prefers the term “Indian” rather than “Native American,” “indigenous people,” or “first people,” for reasons that–again–never would have occurred to me.)

If you want to learn more about Native Americans/Indians and their culture, perspectives, and frustrations, this book is a great starting point. If any of you have suggestions about books by and about members of native tribes, I would love to hear them!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The View from the Cheap Seats

An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his bestselling fiction. Now, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together for the first time ever more than sixty pieces of his outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.

This book offers a collection of speeches, introductions, and articles Neil Gaiman has written. I know some of the authors and awards; others were unknown to me, but they were all pretty interesting. It’s amazing how many famous and influential authors Gaiman has interviewed, worked with, or become friends with! I love listening to Neil Gaiman read his own work, so I recommend you listen to the audio book if this collection catches your interest.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

White Trash

Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America’s supposedly class-free society––where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery.

Reconstruction pitted “poor white trash” against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics–-a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ’s Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty.Marginalized as a class, “white trash” have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity.

I realized after I started listening to this book that the subtitle refers to “400 years of history,” and I strongly wish that weren’t the case. Although I did learn some new things about the history of class in America, I was not unaware that class is still an issue in our supposedly classless society, and the book seemed to drag on much longer than I thought necessary. The epilogue discusses how the issue of class affects us today, but I wish the whole book had been that, with only a little history interwoven. I know plenty of people have greatly enjoyed this book, and you might too. I just wanted less history and more modern-day application on this topic.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Wild

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

I finally read this book because my book club was reading it, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Cheryl faces outer and inner struggles (bears, aching feet, a too-heavy pack, the death of her mother, her divorce from her husband) as she traverses the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s an amazingly difficult trek, and it was satisfying to read about how Cheryl overcomes the obstacles that constantly pop up. Despite the questionable and sometimes outright dumb decisions Cheryl makes as she continues her journey, I found myself rooting for her.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mystery Series Roundup

I'm reviewing all the mystery series I've been reading recently. I love me a good mystery! | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m continuing to wrap up my reviews for all the books I read in 2017, and you know I’ve been reading some mysteries. If you’re looking for a new mystery series to try, maybe one of these series will be for you. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Aunty Lee series

This series focuses on Aunty Lee, a Singaporean cook with an interest in murder. She gets her information by being nosy but friendly and plying suspects and detectives alike with her delicious food.

These mysteries are always fun with diverse, unique characters and a Singapore setting that is fascinating to me. Although I predicted most of the twists in at least one of these books, I still enjoyed the ride.

If you like learning a bit about Singaporean culture while curling up with a cozy mystery packed with interesting characters, you should give this series a try.

Thursday Next series

This series can only marginally be classified as a mystery series. Jasper Fforde, as always, jam-packs his books with quirky SFF elements and lots of action scenes. I’ve previously read and reviewed the first set of books in the Thursday Next series; the second half of the series takes place many years later, when Thursday is middle aged and raising children with her husband, as well as fighting criminals and conspiracies in the Book World and the real world.

As always, I love Fforde’s humor and wild love of books. I missed having the real Thursday–we follow the written version for much of the second book–but it was still very fun. In the third book, we get more of the story of Jenny the mindworm, which was wonderful, but it was hard to read about Thursday getting addicted to pain killer patches (I have a hard time reading about drug addiction).

I didn’t enjoy the second half of this series as much as I loved the first half, but even so, I will always be into Jasper Fforde’s writing.

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is not a simple missing person’s case. The house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

I loved this! The story feels so much like the writing of the Veronica Mars show and makes connections with the characters and events of the show and the movie. Plus, the fact that the audio book is read by Kristen Bell just makes it even better.

Marshmallows, you definitely need to get into this book. If you haven’t seen the show (and the wonderful movie!), check that out before you pick up Thousand-Dollar Tan Line.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Mega Roundup: Kid Lit and YA

This mega roundup is jam-packed with all the kid lit, middle grades, and YA fiction I've been reading lately. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As always, I tend to get behind in my reviews over the holidays. But since I don’t stop reading (of course not!), I always have a few books to catch up on reviewing. Or in this case, a lot of books. If you like kids’ books or YA, with an emphasis on fantasy, today’s mega roundup is for you! (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Howl’s Moving Castle

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

I can’t believe it took me this long to read a Diana Wynne Jones book. Howl’s Moving Castle is a very enjoyable, fun fantasy. It’s a treat to read. I needed some lightweight, quirky, sweet books to get me through the holiday season, and this book hit the spot. I can’t wait to read more DWJ now!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, Vol. 2

You might remember my review of the first volume of rebel girls stories. This follow up is just as wonderful. It’s jam packed with lovely illustrations and tons of new, inspiring women and their stories. A great book for girls (and boys!) of all ages.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Josh Baxter Levels Up

Video game lover Josh Baxter knows that seventh grade at a new school may be his hardest challenge yet, but he’s not afraid to level up and win!

Josh Baxter is sick and tired of hitting the reset button. It’s not easy being the new kid for the third time in two years. One mistake and now the middle-school football star is out to get him. And Josh’s sister keeps offering him lame advice about how to make friends, as if he needs her help finding allies!

Josh knows that his best bet is to keep his head down and stay under the radar. If no one notices him, nothing can touch him, right? But when Josh’s mom sees his terrible grades and takes away his video games, it’s clear his strategy has failed. Josh needs a new plan, or he’ll never make it to the next level, let alone the next grade.

He’s been playing not to lose. It’s time to play to win.

Josh gamifies his life when his mom takes away his video games and forces him to focus on improving his grades, making friends, defeating a bully, and winning a video game competition at school (because of course).

I was worried this book would be gimmicky–or possibly not interesting for those of us who don’t play many video games–but it wasn’t. It was a fun MG novel with a video game spin, but its focus is on those timeless, relatable aspects of growing up.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

First Class Murder

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a holiday through Europe on the world-famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it’s clear that each of their fellow first-class passengers has something to hide. Even more intriguing: rumour has it that there is a spy in their midst.

Then, during dinner, there is a bloodcurdling scream from inside one of the cabins. When the door is broken down, a passenger is found murdered, her stunning ruby necklace gone. But the killer is nowhere to be seen – almost as if they had vanished into thin air.

Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked-room mystery – and with competition from several other sleuths, who are just as determined to crack the case as they are.

Hazel and Daisy are back, and their latest mystery takes place on the famed Orient Express. But this time, Hazel and Daisy’s investigations are hampered by Hazel’s father, who wants the girls to stay as far away from murder as possible.

If you’ve read and enjoyed the other books in this series, you’ll like this follow up. I missed Daisy and Hazel’s school friends, who are such fun side characters in the previous installments, but this is still a fun MG mystery.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

TodHunter Moon trilogy

Seven years after the events of the original Septimus Heap series, a young PathFinder named Alice TodHunter Moon—who insists on being called Tod—sets out from her seaside village to rescue her friend Ferdie from the malevolent Lady.

She receives help from ExtraOrdinary Wizard Septimus Heap and Ex–ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia Overstrand, but the Lady’s brother, the Darke Sorcerer Oraton-Marr, has a plan that will put everyone Tod holds dear in danger. To save her people, Tod must embrace her identity as a PathFinder and navigate the often dangerous Ancient Ways.

I was so excited to discover that Angie Sage had written a trilogy set in the world of Septimus Heap! This series picks up seven years after the events of the original series and focuses on Tod, a young PathFinder who discovers she has the ability to combine Magyk and PathFinding to explore the Ancient Ways.

We get to visit with Septimus, Jenna, Marcia, Beetle, Lucy and Simon, and several other characters from the original series, but the star of this spinoff series is definitely Tod. Tod and her friends (new and old) have to save the people from Tod’s village and eventually the Ancient Ways themselves.

This is a fun series, but I found some of the characters irritating, and I kept wishing we could see more of Septimus, Jenna, and Marcia. These books just didn’t grab me the same way the original Septimus Heap series did.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters

After a year at the king’s palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!

Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses.

As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen’s interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.

This book is the final installment in the Princess Academy series. I’m always impressed with how Shannon Hale creates memorable, flawed, smart female characters in a stereotypical role, and the sisters in this book are no exception.

However. As much as I enjoyed the backwoods princesses and their unusual way of life, I was so disappointed in Miri! In the original Newbery book, Miri and her friends are set apart from the rest of the kingdom because of their mountain ways and rugged lifestyle. But in this story, Miri has apparently been softened by her time at the palace, and the princesses are constantly looking down on her fancy clothing and her inability to hunt with them. I wished we had more of Miri the mountain girl.

I’m not sorry I read this book, but compared to the first two books in the series, it was a weak finish.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Save Me a Seat

Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they’re both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL.

Joe’s lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own.

Ravi’s family just moved to America from India, and he’s finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in.

Joe and Ravi don’t think they have anything in common — but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.

This is a cute MG story about two boys, Ravi and Joe, who are having a hard time fitting in at school (Ravi is from India and Joe has a learning disability). Both are bullied and have to learn to band together despite their differences.

All of the events take place in just one week, so the scope of the story is small. Still, it’s sweet to watch Ravi learn humility and Joe learn to stand up for himself.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Last Dragonslayer series

I love Jasper Fforde’s writing, and his YA series is a bit less strange but no less wonderful than his adult fiction. I read the first book years ago, and I finally got around to reading the rest. The second book is great, but the third book in the Last Dragonslayer series pulls off something that I think is very difficult: introducing new lead characters into the mix that we don’t hate. The spoiled princess proves herself to be a surprisingly intelligent and sassy character, and Addie the 12-year-old tour guide is resourceful and reliable. Still, Jennifer and Perkins’ quest to find the Eye of Zoltar and figure out what the Mighty Shandar is up to takes center stage. With characters and a plot that continue to be fun and quirky, I can’t wait for the next book in the series to be released!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Witch’s Vacuum

Poor Mr Swimble is having a bad day.

Rabbits are bouncing out of his hat, pigeons are flying out of his jacket and every time he points his finger, something magically appears – cheese sandwiches, socks . . . even a small yellow elephant on wheels!

It’s becoming a real nuisance – and he’s allergic to rabbits.

His friends at the Magic Rectangle can’t help, but the mysterious vacuum cleaner he saw that morning may have something to do with it . . .

Fourteen fantastically funny stories from master storyteller Sir Terry Pratchett, full of food fights, pirates, wizards and crooks!

These funny, sweet, fantastical short stories are only my second foray into the works of Terry Pratchett (third if you count the book he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman). I enjoyed these quick stories, and they made me more excited to read some of Pratchett’s Discworld series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

These Ruthless Deeds

England, 1883. Still recovering from a devastating loss, Evelyn is determined to use her powers to save other gifted people from those who would harm them. But when her rescue of a young telekinetic girl goes terribly wrong, Evelyn finds herself indebted to a secret society devoted to recruiting and protecting people like Evelyn and her friends.

As she follows the Society’s orders, healing the sick and embarking on perilous recruitment missions, Evelyn sees her problems disappear. Her reputation is repaired, her friends are provided for, and her parents are newly wealthy. She reunites with the dashing Mr. Kent and recovers the reclusive Mr. Braddock (who has much less to brood over now that the Society can help him to control his dangerous power). But Evelyn can’t help fearing the Society is more sinister than it appears…

I really enjoyed this sequel to These Vicious Masks. Mr. Kent’s power to make people tell the truth when he asks a question is used for great comedic effect, but Evelyn’s struggles to decide whether or not to work with the Society of Aberrations and whether or not to kiss Sebastian keeps things tense. Secret powers + romantic tension + possibly evil societies + Victorian England = a YA series I can get behind, even if I don’t usually like romantic tension or paranormal plotlines.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Wonder

Ten-year-old August Pullman wants to be ordinary. He does ordinary things. He eats ice-cream. He plays on his Xbox. He feels ordinary – inside.

But Auggie is far from ordinary. Born with a terrible facial abnormality, he has been home-schooled by his parents his entire life, in an attempt to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world. Now, Auggie’s parents are sending him to a real school. Can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?

So sweet and sad and wonderful! I can see why this is such a classic already. Auggie is a great character, and each of his friends and enemies are interesting and complex. There are a few cliche moments, but on the whole, this is a heartwarming story of a boy who faces bullying over his facial abnormality alongside typical school problems with courage and humor.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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