ARC: Class of ’59

Class of '59 is the latest installment in the American Journey 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.

When Mary Beth McIntire settles into a vacation house on June 2, 2017, she anticipates a quiet morning with coffee. Then she hears a noise, peers out a window, and spots a man in 1950s attire standing in the backyard.

In the same house on March 21, 1959, Mark Ryan finds a letter. Written by the mansion’s original owner in 1900, the letter describes a basement chamber, mysterious crystals, and a formula for time travel. Driven by curiosity, Mark tests the formula twice.

Within hours, Mary Beth and Mark share their secret with her sister and his brother and begin a journey that takes them from the present day to the age of sock hops, drive-ins, and jukeboxes. In CLASS OF ’59, the fourth book in the American Journey series, four young adults find love, danger, and adventure as they navigate the corridors of time and experience Southern California in its storied prime. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve reviewed several of John Heldt’s books in the past (you can see those reviews here, here, here, and here). This book is the fourth installment in his American Journey series, a time travel/romance series which brings couples together against the backdrop of famous times and places in America’s past.

Unlike earlier books in the series, Class of ’59 opens with the main characters discovering the time-traveling tunnel without the help (or knowledge) of the professor. Mark, a collegiate boy living in the late 50s, discovers an unbelievable story about time travel hidden in a desk in the new house his family moved into. When he tries it out, he finds himself transported to the same house almost sixty years into the future, where he meets Mary Beth and her sister. The two girls make the trip back to 1959 and experience the glory days of southern California, participating in school dances and meeting stars in Hollywood.

Of course, the two girls find themselves falling in love with Mark and his brother. The romances are sweet, if a little rushed. But after a few weeks of bliss, the four new friends find themselves in danger, and they have to quickly make choices that will affect the rest of their lives.

Class of ’59 had a few of the same problems I encountered in the last book, namely the use of descriptors rather than names and some flowery sentiments (how many times do we need to be reminded that Mark views Mary Beth as “stunning” or “beautiful” or “never ceases to amaze” him?). Still, if you can get past those details and enjoy the romance and the historical setting, you might give this book a try. And if you’ve enjoyed the rest of the American Journey series, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mini Review: Never Let Me Go

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy slowly reveal their secrets in the strange, thought-provoking novel Never Let Me Go. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book was not at all what I expected. It started out with an idyllic childhood at Hailsham, where Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy were at boarding school. But as the book goes on, you can see that there is something else going on in their lives–a secret that only now that the three friends are adults can they truly understand. I won’t reveal what the secret is for fear of spoilers, but I will say that it ended up being more sci fi related, instead of the relational drama I was expecting.

Never Let Me Go is a book that will definitely make you think, but it just didn’t work for me. Maybe it’s because I was expecting a totally different kind of book; maybe it’s because I hated several of the characters (fortunately, our narrator Kathy is not nearly as irritating as some of the other characters). Whatever the reason, this just wasn’t the book for me.

Rating: Meh

The Tilted World

The Tilted World is a great historical fiction drama about a little-known natural disaster in the United States. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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The year is 1927. As rains swell the Mississippi, the mighty river threatens to burst its banks and engulf all in its path, including federal revenue agent Ted Ingersoll and his partner, Ham Johnson. Arriving in the tiny hamlet of Hobnob, Mississippi, to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents on the trail of a local bootlegger, they unexpectedly find an abandoned baby boy at a crime scene.

An orphan raised by nuns, Ingersoll is determined to find the infant a home, a search that leads him to Dixie Clay Holliver. A lonely woman married too young to a charming and sometimes violent philanderer, Dixie Clay has lost her only child to illness and is powerless to resist this second chance at motherhood.

Then a deadly new peril arises, endangering them all. Now, with time running out, Ingersoll, Ham, and Dixie Clay must make desperate choices, choices that will radically transform their lives-if they survive. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I love historical fiction, but I haven’t read much lately, as most of the historical fiction books that have come out recently have taken themselves very seriously. (That’s not always a bad thing, but I’m not often in the mood for any book that can be described as “sweeping.”) The Tilted World, on the other hand, is not only great historical fiction, but also has fascinating characters and drama that will keep you turning pages.

Dixie Clay, a young woman married to an alcohol distributer in the midst of Prohibition, has become a moonshiner herself, using the constant activity to keep her from dwelling on the death of her infant son. Ingersoll is a revenuer who comes across an orphan baby and unwittingly hands him over to Dixie Clay. Both are fun characters, and their interactions provide some great moments.

But the real drama comes from the historical background. In the 1920s, there was a huge amount of rain that swelled the Mississippi river, and the subsequent flooding produced one of the greatest natural disasters the United States has ever seen–and I had never heard of it before picking up this book. I loved the backwoods Southern town that featured so heavily in the book, and I loved learning about this real-life disaster that had somehow escaped my knowledge.

There is some language and sexual content, so be aware if those aren’t your things. Otherwise, The Tilted World is a lot of fun. It has interesting characters, a great setting, and a historical backdrop that will inform you about one of this country’s greatest forgotten disasters.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

My Top Ten All-Time Favorite Mysteries

Wanting to pick up some new mysteries? This post is for you! I'm linking up to share my top ten favorite mysteries. | NewberyandBeyond.com
I’m linking up with the Broke and Bookish for today’s Top Ten Tuesday post!

It’s no secret that I love mysteries and have for my entire life. So when I saw that Broke & Bookish themselves chose mysteries for their TTT prompt this week, I knew I had to join in. Since I’ve read such a wide variety of mysteries, I’m going to segment my favorites into groups. If you want to get into mysteries, I think at least one of these will catch your interest!

If you’re looking for a cozy mystery, check out:

  • The Oxford Tearoom series [review copy]. I’ve said many times before how much I enjoy this series of cozies. Gemma is a tea shop owner in Oxford who keeps stumbling upon murders. The setting and characters really shine, and the mysteries are fresh (a rarity for cozy mysteries).
  • The Needlecraft Mystery series. If you’re into cozy mysteries, this series by Monica Ferris is for you. Amateur sleuth and needlework shop owner Betsy is a lot of fun to follow, and the other inhabitants of her small Minnesota town are quirky and sweet. This series is not without its flaws, but it is full of fun, quick, satisfying mysteries.
  • Thus Was Adonis Murdered. This very British mystery revolves around a hapless, clueless barrister on vacation. When she is implicated in a murder, her coworkers back home have to help her out of the mess she’s gotten into. Lighthearted and fun.

If you’re looking for children’s or YA mysteries, start with:

  • The Westing Game. This Newbery book is a classic, and I absolutely love it. It’s convoluted and creepy, but in a way that’s fun and not too frightening.
  • The Three Investigators series. This series of books by Alfred Hitchcock (or at least produced under his brand) was one of my favorites as a kid. They might take a little searching to find them, but if you can get your hands on these books, you (or your child) will probably love the fun adventures the three boys find themselves on.
  • The Dana Girls series. Although I loved the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew series as a kid, the Dana Girls were much more interesting to read about. It’s been a while since I picked up one of these books, so there are likely some outdated and possibly offensive elements within. Still, I think they’re worth a read if you can get your hands on them.
  • Jackaby. Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who. Need I say more? (Bonus: the author has written two sequels so far, and I believe there are more still to come for this series.)
  • The Case of the Cursed Dodo [review copy]. Such a cute mystery! It involves a panda detective, some awesome illustrations, and a fun play on the hardboiled PI tropes.
  • Murder is Bad Manners. This is a fun start to a series that revolves around two girls at an English boarding school. Fun and not too creepy.

If you’d rather read a mystery written for adults instead, look into:

  • The Flavia de Luce series. Although these books have a child protagonist, they are clearly written for adults. Flavia is rude and nosy in the best way, and she ends up poking her nose into matters that are really none of her business. Still, her love of chemistry and her trusty bicycle get her out of most of her scrapes and help her solve mysteries that baffle the adults around her.
  • The Likeness. This book sucked me in. The intense relationships between the characters and the blurring of lines around the undercover detective involved will keep you guessing and turning pages until the very end. I’m looking forward to reading Tana French’s sequel Faithful Place soon.
  • Tommy and Tuppence. Whether you check out The Secret Adversary or my personal favorite N or M?, Agatha Christie’s mystery-solving secret agent couple are sure to bring a smile to your face. The Tommy and Tuppence books are a little more action-packed than Christie’s other novels, so if you’re not sure about taking on the classic Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot mysteries, Tommy and Tuppence are a good place to start.
  • The Junior Bender series. This series has a lot of action and comedy to supplement its mysteries. The characters are fun and unusual, too. Definitely worth checking out.

If your taste in mysteries leans more toward thrillers, read:

  • The Passenger [review copy]. I think of this book as the better version of Girl on the Train. Definitely check it out if you liked that book.
  • All the Missing Girls [review copy]. A murder mystery told backward, this book is another that will keep you guessing till the very end.

Bonus: Here are my top seven favorite murder mystery TV shows–in case you can’t get enough mysteries in your life!

  • Castle
  • Death in Paradise
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
  • Rosemary and Thyme
  • Broadchurch
  • Sherlock
  • Veronica Mars

What are your favorite mysteries (books or TV shows)? Let me know in the comments–I’m always on the hunt for my next favorite mystery!

Oh Dear Silvia

Comedian Dawn French writes a dark but funny look at a woman in a coma and the people whose lives she has affected. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Who is in Coma Suite Number 5? A matchless lover? A supreme egotist? A selfless martyr? A bad mother? A cherished sister? A selfish wife?

All of these. For this is Silvia Shute who has always done exactly what she wants. Until now, when her life suddenly, shockingly stops.

Her past holds a dark and terrible secret, and now that she is unconscious in a hospital bed, her constant stream of visitors are set to uncover the mystery of her broken life. And she must lie there, victim of the beloveds, the borings, the babblings and the plain bonkers.

Like it or not, the truth is about to pay Silvia a visit. Again, and again and again… (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve been a fan of Dawn French ever since watching her hilarious show, The Vicar of Dibley. (If you want to watch it, it’s currently on Netflix. So funny! And if you haven’t seen it, you might remember Dawn French as the Fat Lady in the painting that guards Gryffindor in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.) So when I found out that she has also started a writing career, I knew I had to check her books out. Although Dawn French has written a memoir which I really want to read, this contemporary fiction book made its way into my hands first.

Oh Dear Silvia is a quick read. It’s darker than I expected (Dawn French is a comedian after all, and the cover blurbs made the book out to be a comedy), but it is still a bit funny. Silvia is in a coma for the entire book, so we get to see her life and actions from the viewpoint of her ex-husband, current lover, family, nurse, and housekeeper rather than from her own. Each character has been affected differently by Silvia’s strong personality, but as we go through the story, Silvia’s darkest secret is revealed and many of her actions start to make sense.

My biggest complaint is that the dialects were a bit much. There is a Jamaican character and an Indonesian character, and the written dialects straddle the line between funny and offensive. I’m never a big fan of dialect in books, but this was more bothersome than usual.

Oh Dear Silvia is an easy read that’s both fun and dark, with a twist that’s interesting but not overly shocking. If you’re a Dawn French fan who decides to read this book, go in realizing that it’s not going to provide constant laughs.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Review: Clearing Weather

Clearing Weather: the latest Newbery review from NewberyandBeyond.com
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The story of young Nicholas Drury’s struggle to maintain his uncle’s shipyard in a Massachusetts town in the difficult years following the American Revolution. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Clearing Weather tells the story of the years right after the Revolutionary War. Nicholas is in charge of his uncle’s failing business when he decides to build his own ship and set it off in search of riches. This is not a bad story; I found myself enjoying the plot in many places, but it’s full of racism and sexism. For that reason, I found this book unsalvageable.
Rating: Skip This One

ARC: The STEM Club Goes Exploring

In this short, illustrated book, a group of kids explore various STEM careers. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In The STEM Club GoesExploring, students explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. While interviewing STEM professionals, the students prepare to make career presentations during their school’s Favorites Day.

Join STEM Club members Fran, Sara, Nixie, Winston, Patti, Betik, Jenny, Jesse, and their teacher Mr. Day, as they make field trips to a video game company, a veterinary clinic, a hospital, and even a mine, to learn more about career opportunities for professionals in STEM fields. Author Lois Melbourne, of the My Future Story series, inspires readers to identify their passions, explore them, and shape their own future stories. (Summary via NetGalley.com)

I’m a big fan of encouraging kids to get into STEM fields, especially girls and people of color who are statistically underrepresented in these more technical fields. Because of that, I’m really rooting for the success of this book.

The STEM Club Goes Exploring is a cute exploration of different STEM-related careers, from veterinary science to geology. I love the illustrations, too. My one complaint is that it reads a bit young, but it’s definitely not a picture book–possibly suited for elementary school kids. A fun, quick read to help your young kids get interested in STEM fields.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

September Small Goals + What I’m Into

I'm sharing my September small goals and what I'm into from last month! | 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.

I actually did all right with my goals for August:

  • Prepare my students to perform the national anthem. Check! It was a lot of fun, and I was super proud of my students. They did a great job.
  • Review Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. You can check out the review here.
  • Make some hand lettered cards for my Etsy store. I’m giving this one a half check. I got some fancy new Tombow pens–they have made such a difference!–and I’ve been playing with them for the past few weeks. Now, to make some actual cards…
hand lettering | NewberyandBeyond.com
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  • Get paperwork done. Yep! Thank goodness. I hate having those nagging tasks looming over me.

And my goals for September:

  • Make an opera cake. This fancy cake has so many steps that it’s going to be an all-day project.
  • Get a significant amount of cross stitching done. December is coming much faster than I had hoped, and the stocking I promised to make for my husband isn’t nearly close to done! I need to buckle down and do it.
  • Actually finish making hand lettered cards for Etsy. Are there any particular words or designs you’d like to see? Let me know in the comments!
  • Buy (and wear) red lipstick. It looks so cool on other people, and I want to try it! But this requires that I go into a Sephora and ask for help, because I have no idea what shade would look good on me.

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: I’ve got Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series sitting by my bed, along with Tana French’s book Faithful Place. But both of those are going to have to wait until I finish Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French, which I’m really enjoying so far.

TV shows I’ve been watching: I’m about to start a rewatch of Parks and Rec. I tried watching the series from the beginning a couple years ago, but the first season was so bad I gave up. But I’ve seen episodes from later seasons and thought they were really funny, so I’m going to give the show another shot. (But I think I’ll start from season two this time.)

Music I’m loving: I created a playlist I call “chill” that I’m really loving. Think Bon Iver, The Civil Wars, Hozier, and Jose Gonzalez.

Podcasts I’m listening to: Piano Parent Podcast is right up my professional alley–it has tips for parents of piano students on what instrument to choose, how to help your child practice, and much more. (It’s also hosted by Shelly Davis, my own piano teacher when I was a kid!)

My favorite Instagram:

I went with a couple of friends to do a painting class, and it turned out to be one of the hardest classes the studio offers. Still, we persevered and came out with these enormous, beautiful canvases.

painting | NewberyandBeyond.com
I’m no artist, but I was pretty proud of this piece!

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram (I post lots of book pictures and some of my new hand lettering ventures), 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.

Adult Fiction Roundup: August Edition

Quick reviews of The Little Paris Bookshop, Sold, and Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Sold

Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family.

Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution. Lakshmi’s life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape. Still, she lives by her mother’s words— Simply to endure is to triumph.

Written in spare and evocative vignettes, this powerful novel renders a world that is as unimaginable as it is real, and a girl who not only survives but triumphs. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know that human trafficking is an issue close to my heart. I put off reading this book because I knew it would make me sad and outraged. It did, of course, but that’s not all there is to this book.

Sold is made up of short, almost poetic chapters. Yes, it is heart wrenching and painful, but it is also beautiful and hopeful. If you’re curious about how young girls get trafficked in Nepal, this book (fictional, but based on the author’s firsthand research) is a beautiful way to start.

If you want to know how you can support girls and women who have escaped human trafficking situations like this, check out my post on the subject here.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante

December 1941. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill arrives in Washington, D.C., along with special agent Maggie Hope. Posing as his typist, she is accompanying the prime minister as he meets with President Roosevelt to negotiate the United States’ entry into World War II. When one of the First Lady’s aides is mysteriously murdered, Maggie is quickly drawn into Mrs. Roosevelt’s inner circle—as ER herself is implicated in the crime. Maggie knows she must keep the investigation quiet, so she employs her unparalleled skills at code breaking and espionage to figure out who would target Mrs. Roosevelt, and why. What Maggie uncovers is a shocking conspiracy that could jeopardize American support for the war and leave the fate of the world hanging dangerously in the balance. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Guys, I really didn’t like this book. Even though this is the fifth book in the Maggie Hope series, there’s a lot of exposition and very little action. You would think I would be able to get behind Maggie as a woman doing dangerous work at a time when that was far from the norm, but she’s pretty boring herself. She hardly does anything other than take notes for Winston Churchill and follow Eleanor Roosevelt around.

Even these famous historical characters–FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill–don’t seem familiar. I’m not a historical expert, certainly, but some of the things that these real-life characters said rang false. This totally took me out of the reading experience. I’m definitely not interested in reading any of the other books in this series.

Rating: Meh

The Little Paris Bookshop

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve been seeing this book everywhere, and I finally got around to reading it after a friend of mine bought her own copy and demanded I read along with her. And it was not at all what I thought it was going to be!

The Little Paris Bookshop has beautiful writing, and the setting (France) is pretty gorgeous itself. After Perdu finally reads the letter that his lover left him so many years ago, he begins a symbolic journey down the river, pursuing his memories of Manon. I got annoyed at Perdu sometimes because of his stubbornness, and the book was very sad in places, but I liked his companions (Max, Samy, and Cuneo).

Be forewarned that there is some sexual content, but if you’re good with that, you might enjoy this book about the power of books to heal us. I personally found this one beautiful but forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mini Review: Magyk

Magyk, the first book in the Septimus Heap series, is a fun, magical adventure for middle grades kids. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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The seventh son of the seventh son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby’s father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a new born girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son Septimus? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is the first in the Septimus Heap series, a series that seems to have become popular right after I stopped reading MG books. This is a sweet magical adventure. I think of it almost as Harry Potter for younger kids. It’s funny and snarky, it has great characters, it’s lighthearted, but it doesn’t have the angst and drama of HP. The plot twists are a bit predictable (at least, they were to me, an adult reader), but that doesn’t take away from the fun of the story.

I’m very glad I picked it up this summer, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Septimus Heap series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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