Adult Nonfiction Roundup

Today's roundup is full of adult nonfiction reviews--memoirs, history, and parenting books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Today’s roundup contains a significant number of nonfiction books I’ve read lately. Some were forgettable, but a couple made it to the top of my favorites list for this year!

Make Me a Mother

In Make Me a Mother, the author discusses the adoption of her son from Korea. It’s an interesting look at the challenges and joys that come with adopting a child of a different ethnicity.

As someone who looks forward to adopting children someday, I really wanted to enjoy this book. And I did, to some extent, but I wished there were more details included about how the author and her husband dealt with the difficulties they faced in raising their son. (Basically, I wished this book was a how-to guide, rather than a memoir.) I found it pretty forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Why Not Me?

This is Mindy Kaling’s second humorous memoir. The first one, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, was pretty meh for me, so I was excited to find that this book is way better than her first. It contains great photos, a chapter following an average day in her life, advice for feeling confident and successful, and tons of laugh-out-loud stories about celebrities and life in Hollywood.

I have to admit that I didn’t always agree with Mindy’s advice (I am soooo not into her idea of success), but I definitely enjoyed reading it. Good for a laugh, especially if you like following the lives of celebrities.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Princess Problem

It’s no secret that little girls love princesses. Behind the twirly dresses and glittery crowns, however, sits a powerful marketing machine, encouraging obsessive consumerism and delivering negative stereotypes about gender, race, and beauty to young girls. So what’s a parent to do?

The Princess Problem features real advice and stories from parents educators, and psychologists, and children’s industry insiders to help equip every parent with skills to navigate today’s princess-saturated world. As parents, we do our best to keep pop culture’s most harmful stereotypes away from our kids, but contending with well-meaning family members and sneaky commercials can thwart us.

The Princess Problem offers language to have honest conversations with our kids and shows us how to teach them to be thoughtful, open-minded people. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I loved this book! I’m putting it on my mental shelf of books to re-read once I have kids, along with the wonderful book Untangled. The Princess Problem offers some really helpful tips for parents of young children, especially parents of little girls who are being subsumed by “princess culture.”

The author talks about being a pop culture coach, helping kids engage critically with movies, toys, and other areas of pop culture. I love this–you can’t protect your kids from all questionable media (although one of the earlier chapters walks you through creating a suitable media diet for your child), but you can give them the tools to deal with the hurtful messages our culture often presents. So important, so interesting, and definitely worth a read if you’re a parent or educator.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Tiny Beautiful Things

I don’t know much about Cheryl Strayed (I doubt I’ll ever read Wild), and I’d never even heard of the Dear Sugar advice column before I read this book. Still, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed Tiny Beautiful Things.

Even though I didn’t always agree with Sugar’s advice, I always found it thought-provoking and beautiful to read. It made me tear up on several occasions. There should be trigger warnings included here–everything from salty language to sexual content to abuse–but if you’re good with reading about all of that, this book is definitely worth a read.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The Girls of Atomic City

The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!

But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Even though I spent my high school years living not far from Oak Ridge, I knew very little about this military installment before reading this book. The Girls of Atomic City offers a fascinating and eye-opening look into life on this top-secret installment.

This book succeeds mostly because the author was able to interview women who worked at the plant. Some mopped floors, some took coded notes, some adjusted dials, some worked as nurses, and some unclogged pipes, but none of them knew what they were really doing–enriching uranium to create the atomic bomb.

The book covers many aspects of life at Oak Ridge, from the suffocating secrecy surrounding every detail to the sexism that the (mostly female) workers faced to the emotions that the workers felt once the reasons and results of their work were revealed. This is a long read (at least it was for me; I had to keep putting it down and coming back to it later), but it’s an interesting look at a still little-known aspect of WWII.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

There seems to be a theme in today’s roundup: topics I know very little about. I knew very little about the Iranian revolution before I read this book. In fact, I kept having to put the book down and search Wikipedia for information on the events and parties that are discussed. I’m still not sure I completely understand the revolution’s causes and effects, but I do have a better grasp on how average Iranians felt about it at the time.

I loved the way the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran related the classic books she taught to her students (first at the university; later in secret to a select few female students) to the events in Iran. The memoir is written almost in a series of essays, which are sometimes academic and sometimes very personal. The treatment of women is, of course, horrifying, but I’m very glad I read this book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Middle Grades Book Roundup

These three middle grades books are fun, diverse, and thought-provoking. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Last month I was in the mood for some light, fun reading, so I checked out a few middle grades books. They were fun, but they also explored some thought-provoking topics–and they’re much more diverse than the MG books of my childhood.

Liar & Spy

When seventh grader Georges (the S is silent) moves into a Brooklyn apartment building, he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer’s first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: how far is too far to go for your only friend? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

With his mother gone, his dad out of work, and a brand new apartment to deal with, Georges is facing a lot of changes in his life. The kids at school make fun of him, so Georges ends up spending a lot of time with Safer, who always seems to have a new, crazy idea for Georges. As you read through the book, Georges’s and Safer’s secrets are revealed, and each has to deal with their own struggles.

Liar & Spy is by author Rebecca Stead, who wrote the 2010 Newbery winner, When You Reach Me. This story isn’t quite as nicely put together, but it’s still a cute book. (And, of course, it’s a bit tearjerky.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Murder is Bad Manners

Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a great English boarding school mystery with, surprisingly, a Chinese MC. Hazel and Daisy are unlikely friends who decide to form a detective agency. But when they start investigating the mysterious death of one of their teachers, they have to struggle to find clues and stay out of trouble at the same time.

Hazel faces some racism (the story is set in 1930s England, after all), but this is treated in a gentle way. It’s an interesting mystery with some fun characters–this is a series I’ll definitely follow.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Out of My Mind

Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom – the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it – somehow. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is the most emotional of all the books I’ve reviewed in this post. Melody has cerebral palsy that leaves her unable to speak, walk, or care for herself. But trapped inside her body is an intelligent, curious mind. After years of repetitive, boring lessons with the rest of her special ed class, Melody receives a computer that helps her speak–and everyone is shocked at how much brain power she has.

Melody is a great narrator. Despite her cerebral palsy, she just wants to be a normal kid, eating meals with friends, wearing trendy clothes, and joining school clubs. It’s incredibly frustrating (for Melody and for the reader) when other students and even teachers underestimate what she can do. If you’re like me, you’ll tear up over the trials and triumphs that Melody faces. This book is a great, quick introduction for young teens to certain types of special needs.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Classics Link Up: Slaughterhouse-Five and A Room with a View

The latest classic books I've checked off my list: A Room with a View and Slaughterhouse-Five. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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You might remember the classic book challenge that I’m doing myself (and you are welcome to participate too! Just post your links in the comments below with your latest classic book reads). These two books are the latest on my list (I actually finished A Room with a View just before I created my list, which is why it doesn’t appear there).

A Room with a View

One of E. M. Forster’s most celebrated novels, A Room With a View is the story of a young English middle-class girl, Lucy Honeychurch. While vacationing in Italy, Lucy meets and is wooed by two gentlemen, George Emerson and Cecil Vyse. After turning down Cecil Vyse’s marriage proposals twice Lucy finally accepts. Upon hearing of the engagement George protests and confesses his true love for Lucy. Lucy is torn between the choice of marrying Cecil, who is a more socially acceptable mate, and George who she knows will bring her true happiness. A Room With a View is a tale of classic human struggles such as the choice between social acceptance or true love. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is sweet, reminiscent of Jane Austen. After a life-changing trip to Italy, Lucy has to decide which man to marry–Cecil, a protective and traditional man, or George, who refuses to live by society’s rules. I must say, I was confused about feminist overtones–I’ll admit, this is one of those classic books that I’m not sure I’m getting completely. Have any of you studied A Room with a View? I’d love your perspective on it!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

This is one of those classic books that I’m pretty sure everyone except me has already read. It’s actually an easy read, and the structure is interesting–Billy Pilgrim, the main character, thinks he has become “unstuck in time,” and his reminiscences shoot from one phase of his life to another, all centering on his experiences in Dresden during WWII.

Despite the ease of reading and the occasional humorous (or at least absurd) scene, the book tackles huge topics about the effects of war. It’s very reminiscent of Catch-22 (although it didn’t make me nearly as angry as that book did; Slaughterhouse-Five was more resigned and hopeless). It’s an unsettling look at the bombing of Dresden and its effects on the humanity of soldiers.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Have you read either of these books? What classics have you read lately? Don’t forget to leave your links in the comments!

Newbery Roundup: August

Some of my latest Newbery book reads, reviewed on the blog. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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If you receive my newsletter (and if you don’t, get on that!), you know that I’ve been relying on our wonderful library’s interlibrary loan system to help me get some of the older, out of print Newbery honor books. Unfortunately, these books are often not as enjoyable as the more recent Newbery books, but I soldiered through them so you don’t have to! Read on to find out what I thought of three recent reads.

Tod of the Fens

Mystery farce with historical novel aspects set against the development of England’s merchant fleet and its trade in wool with the continent in the early 15th century. A bluff and jovial man, with an infectious laugh and a great shock of unkempt hair, Tod of the Fens leads a band of merry rogues and adventurers who live in rude huts in the fens near the port of Boston and prey on travelers for fun. Tod takes into his band Dismas, who is really Henry, the Prince of Wales. For a lark, he wagers Tod’s men that in a week and a day he will make fools of all the townsmen in Boston. Assuming various disguises, he steals one by one the five keys to the town strong box. he leaves the contents untouched and deposits the ekeys at the foot of the steeple of St. Botolph’s. The townspeople assume their treasure has been stolen, and suspicion falls on the wrong person. A series of amusing misadventures ensues involving a large number of people until finally Tod of the Fens takes possession of the treasure. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is full of Old Timey Racism (this kind of goes without saying for most of the older Newbery books). And sadly, it doesn’t get interesting until the second half. Johanna, the mayor’s daughter, was pretty cool, though (she wants to sail, despite the restrictions on women in the 15th century, and she later gets kidnapped, providing some of the only excitement in the book).

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Runaway Papoose

Nah-Tee, a young Pueblo Indian girl, is separated from her parents when enemies raid their camp. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I actually really enjoyed this story. The illustrations are nice, and the story kept my interest the whole way. I wanted to find out what happened to Nah-tee and Moyo as they get in and out of trouble in their quest to find Nah-tee’s parents. Unfortunately I can’t recommend this book wholeheartedly, as it is (shockingly!) a bit racist and sexist.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Wonder Smith and His Son

The classic Gaelic stories about Gubbaun Saor, maker of worlds and shapes of universes, and his son, kept alive by Ella Young — as she heard them — in the tradition of Celtic storytelling. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

People, I just don’t like myths, or fables, or tall tales. So it probably comes as no surprise to you that I didn’t really enjoy this book. Some of the stories were entertaining, but I forgot them about as quickly as I read them. If you liked any of these other Newbery books, you’ll probably like this one.

Rating: Meh

ARC: A Decent Woman

A Decent Woman is a fascinating story of two Latina women struggling to live in male-dominated Puerto Rico. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife, the only one in La Playa. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past while she continues to hide a more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest Padre Vicénte and the young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must fight to preserve her twenty-five-year career.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children who marries a wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. When she’s attacked during her pregnancy, she and Ana become allies in an ill-conceived plan to avoid scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor. (Summary via publisher)

I knew very little about this book before I started reading it. To be honest, I knew very little in general about life in Puerto Rico at the turn of the century. So I found this book really interesting and informative as it covered the lives of Latina women in a place and time that was very harsh on them. It was painful to read about how much these women suffered–there is rape, abuse, painful childbirth, cheating husbands, prostitution, and unfair laws to be dealt with.

Despite the culture that these women live in, Ana is a strong, independent woman. A former slave with a dark past, she now spends her days as a midwife, despite the new trend toward taking laboring women to hospitals where male doctors can care for them. Ana overcomes the sexism, racism, and classism that threaten to take away her livelihood, one step at a time.

Serafina has different struggles. Ana delivered her first two babies and kept her abusive husband from doing too much harm. But when Serafina remarries into a wealthy, upper-class family, she soon finds that this new life has challenges and pains of its own.

If you want to read a book that discusses the struggles and triumphs of women in a male-dominated, chauvinistic society, this book is for you. If you want to learn more about the culture of Puerto Rico one hundred years ago, this book is for you too. It’s interesting, painful, and eye-opening.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Oh yes, I'm reviewing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. (I liked it!) | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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If you haven’t heard about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the new Harry Potter play that was just released in book form, well, you’ve probably been living under a rock. It has been hyped beyond all belief, and early readers have had wildly varying reactions. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy from my library the day after the book was released, so I’m sharing my thoughts with you. (**Mild spoilers follow, so don’t read on unless you’re okay with that.**)

When I started reading this book late one evening, I thought I would only read the first act or two. Then I decided to read just a few more scenes… and then the next act… and, readers, you know how that ended. All that to say, this is a fun read with interesting characters, and it’s a quick read because it’s a play, rather than a several hundred page tome like the original novels.

First, let’s discuss the plot. Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione are all in their late 30s, preparing to send their children off to Hogwarts. Albus Potter befriends Scorpius Malfoy, and the unlikely pair of friends team up using a Time-Turner to go back in time and right the wrongs Albus feels his father committed. Meanwhile, Harry struggles with being a father and Ministry of Magic worker, as well as with feelings of guilt toward all who sacrificed so that he could live all those years ago.

Because the plot hinges on time travel, I was a bit skeptical when I picked it up. I thought the story would be ridiculous or overly convoluted. But I was pleasantly surprised at how well Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was able to use this plot device. Some of the events were a bit… questionable in terms of the likelihood of them actually happening (more on that later), but on the whole, it provided a fun way to look back at memorable events and characters from the original series. (We even get a cameo from Snape, who is just as dry and strangely lovable as ever.)

The characters, however, were the thing I was most worried about. Harry, Hermione, and Ron are some of the most beloved characters ever written, and many Harry Potter fans grew up alongside them. And I must say, this is where the play falters a bit. Still, Albus and Scorpius, children of these beloved characters, are really great. Albus has a huge chip on his shoulder (reminiscent of Harry in some of the later books), and Scorpius is a nerdy, quirky boy who remains loyal to his friend even when their fathers’ history threatens to interfere.

The adult characters were fairly consistent with the original series characters. Harry is brooding and conflicted and sometimes lashes out at the people who care most about him. Draco is even better than he was in the books–he is still imperious but actually gets a bit more depth and becomes more sympathetic in this play. But unfortunately Ron and Hermione–especially Hermione–get very little page time. They may be the Ron and Hermione we know and love, but we see so little of them that it’s hard to tell. As a life-long Hermione fan, this was my greatest disappointment with the play.

Now, there is one huge exception to this consistency (**spoilers ahead**)–Cedric Diggory. As a friend of mine pointed out, his new life as a Death Eater in one of the alternate histories Albus and Scorpius inadvertently create was totally out of character for him.

Many of my friends who have read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child have discussed how this play reads like fan fiction. I have to agree. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as there are many nods to the original series and to popular fan theories, but it’s a good thing to know before you read it. Also realize that the play doesn’t have nearly the depth in terms of character or world building as the books do; it’s much more simplistic. This is mostly the fault of the format–a play can’t have long paragraphs of description, and the inflection is brought by the actors–so I wonder if those who have panned the book would enjoy it in its original form. I would love to see the play myself!

So, to summarize: I actually really enjoyed Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It’s a quick, fun read in which you can revisit the magical wizarding world and the characters you know and love. There are some inconsistencies in world building and characterization, but if you can look past a few flaws, it’s a fun ride. I’m glad I read it.

Have you read the book? What did you think about the characters and the plot? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC: All-Butter ShortDead

All-Butter ShortDead is a fun, short prequel to H.Y. Hanna's Oxford Tearoom mystery series. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gemma ditches her high-flying job and returns to Oxford to follow her dream: opening a traditional English tearoom serving warm buttery scones with jam and clotted cream… Only problem is–murder is the first thing on the menu and Gemma is the key suspect! And the only people Gemma can turn to for help are four nosy old ladies from her local Cotswolds village – not to mention a cheeky little tabby cat named Muesli. Who was the mysterious woman Gemma met on the flight back from Australia and why was she murdered? Now Gemma must find the killer, solve the mystery and clear her name if she’s to have her cake–and serve it too. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I’ve enjoyed each of the Oxford Tearoom mysteries (you can read about them here, herehere, and here), so I was thrilled to discover that H.Y. Hanna recently released a short prequel to the rest of the series, detailing how Gemma returned to Oxford, opened a tearoom, and discovered her knack for solving murders.

Whether or not you’ve read the rest of the series, this is a really cute and fun introduction to Gemma and her life as a tea shop owner. If you have read the other books in the series, you’ll find several nods to future events and characters who will become important in later stories. Speaking of which, the characters are great as usual. Gemma’s spunky best friend Cassie, her infuriating and oh-so-proper mother, and the Old Biddies all make an appearance.

Gemma being suspected as a murderer and not being sure how to start investigating is fun. Because Gemma was the last person to see the victim alive, the police have looked no further for suspects, and Gemma is driven to discover the real murderer and clear her name (with the prodding of the Old Biddies, of course). One aspect of the plot is a bit cliche (I won’t say more for fear of mild spoilers), but the author pulls it off and manages to make it fun rather than groan-inducing (at least for me).

A side note: Just so you know, this book is currently free on Amazon! If you’ve been interested in exploring this series, this is a quick, free way to get started. (I don’t get anything for promoting this, although I am on the author’s review team. All opinions are my own, and I truly think that if you’re into cozy mysteries, you’ll love this series.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

July Wrap Up + August Small Goals

I'm reviewing last month and making goals for August in my July wrap up post! | NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m linking up with writes like a girl for my August small goals, and Leigh Kramer for my monthly what I’m into.

Small Goals

To start with, here’s a quick review of my July small goals:

  • Celebrate my third anniversary with my husband. Check! We ate at an Indian restaurant we’ve been wanting to visit, and, of course, ate our wedding cake replica.
NewberyandBeyond.com
Delicious!
  • Actually finish a couple of Etsy projects. So close! I’m not sure if I can count this as completed, but I did finish formatting one project and ordered supplies for another.
  • Work on my hand lettering. Again, I completed this one about halfway. I ordered some brush pens to experiment with, and I’ve been watching all the how-to videos.
NewberyandBeyond.com
Yeah, my spacing needs work.
  • Type up a chord and scale sheet for my students. Done!

So two goals completed, two half completed. Not too bad! Now, my goals for August:

  • Prepare my students to perform the national anthem. And probably brush up on my own conducting skills–I haven’t directed a group since I was in college! Still, I’m excited to lead my kids in singing at our local baseball game.
  • Review Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Oh yes, I read it. But if you want to know what I thought, you’ll have to check back next week.
NewberyandBeyond.com
Review coming soon…
  • Make some hand lettered cards for my Etsy store.
  • Get paperwork done! I have several nagging paperwork-related tasks that have been on my to do list for a while. Now is the time for me to actually get them done. Not the most fun goal, but a necessary one.

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: As part of my classic books challenge, I’m currently working my way through Middlemarch. I haven’t had much time recently to read it, but I’m really looking forward to picking it up again this month.

TV shows I’ve been watching: I was looking for something to put on in the background while I work on cross stitching a stocking (a project that has turned out to be much more involved than I anticipated), and I ended up selecting Guy’s Grocery Games. I’m not a huge fan of Guy Fieri, but this game show/cooking competition is funny, lighthearted, and something that I don’t have to watch every second to enjoy.

Music I’m loving: I’ve had Meghan Trainor’s “Me Too” and Adele’s “Send My Love” stuck in my head on repeat for weeks.

Podcasts I’m listening to: If you enjoy Gretchen Rubin’s books about happiness and habits, you’ll love the podcast she hosts with her sister Elizabeth. It’s called Happier, and it covers the same topics as The Happiness Project and Better Than Before. Gretchen and Elizabeth are fun to listen to, and they always have interesting tips and tricks to make your life better.

My favorite Instagram:

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Some of my all-time favorite books

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 once a month and bring you the latest blog news and the things I’m loving.

Review Copy: Death at the Paris Exposition

Death at the Paris Exposition is a great historical fiction mystery filled with gorgeous fashion, socialites, and murder. #spon | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Amateur sleuth Emily Cabot’s journey once again takes her to a world’s fair–the Paris Exposition of 1900. Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer is named the only female U. S. commissioner to the Exposition and enlists Emily’s services as her secretary. Their visit to the House of Worth for the fitting of a couture gown is interrupted by the theft of Mrs. Palmer’s famous pearl necklace. Before that crime can be solved, several young women meet untimely deaths and a member of the Palmer’s inner circle is accused of the crimes. As Emily races to clear the family name she encounters jealous society ladies, American heiresses seeking titled European husbands, and more luscious gowns and priceless jewels. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Death at the Paris Exposition is the sixth book in the series, but this was my first experience with Emily and her adventures. If you’re like me and pick this book up out of order, don’t worry–it won’t take away from your enjoyment and understanding of the book.

This story revolves around Bertha Palmer (a real, historic Chicago socialite) and her family’s troubles. Emily, our main character, is Mrs. Palmer’s social secretary, and as such, she and her family have been invited to Paris to see the 1900 Paris exposition. But as these rich and privileged people (and the many lower-class people surrounding them) prepare for the upcoming festivities, their fun is marred by several thefts and a couple of murders.

The author does a fantastic job of exploring Paris at the turn of the century. I loved the descriptions of fashion at the Paris exposition, especially. The characters spend a lot of time at the House of Worth, a couture house in Paris, and each of the women’s dresses are described in vivid detail.

While the setting is well fleshed out, some of the characters are not. Bertha Palmer is an interesting character, but her (fictional) counterparts, like the Johnstones, are often static. An unfortunate side effect of the focus on fashion does portray some of the women as shallow, since they think of little other than the newest gowns and their efforts to snag a high-class European husband. Even Emily’s own husband gets little page time, even though he spends most of his time in the same social circles.

Still, the mystery was engaging, and I was definitely surprised by the ending. This is a fun book for those who want a historical mystery that’s rich in detail and don’t mind if some of the characters fall flat.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

 P.S. Want to know what other mysteries I’ve been enjoying lately? Check out Crashed, The Likeness, and Till Death Do Us Tart.

Newbery Review: 1935

A quick review of Day on Skates, a Newbery Honor winner from 1935. | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Although the 1935 Newbery award was given to several books, I have read only one of the honor books. Day on Skates: The Story of a Dutch Picnic is a sweet, fully illustrated story of a winter day in Holland when the canal ices over.

Day on Skates is exactly what the title leads you to believe. It’s very short, making it a great book to read with your younger kids (but do watch out for Old-Timey Sexism). I enjoy reading about the daily lives of people from countries other than the U.S. and England, the locations of most of the children’s books that are readily available in my country, and this book scratches that itch.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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