Small Goals + What I’m Into, July 2018

As always, I’m linking up with writes like a girl for my July 2018 small goals, and Leigh Kramer for my monthly what I’m into.

June rushed by in a whirl of day trips, catching up with friends and family, and lazy days off. This summer has been exactly what I needed to recover from a season of working long hours. So let’s see how I did on my goals from last month!

  • Prepare for vocal camp. I did this, but then the camp was cancelled. So… check, I guess?
  • Organize paperwork. Yes. Everything is finally in its proper place.
  • Go to the beach. No, but I’ve done a lot of other fun, summery things. I’m putting this back on the list for July!
  • Watch The Good Place. Check! I finished this show in a hurry, and I can’t wait for season two.
  • Read just for fun. Yes, and it has been so rejuvenating! I’ve read buckets over the past few weeks, and I’m hoping to keep on for the rest of the summer.

4 out of 5 seems like a win to me! I’m continuing with a mix of fun and serious goals for July:

  • Study for the FTCE. This is my most serious and weighty goal for this month. I have a teaching degree, and from what I understand, I can just take this test and get certified to teach elementary. It’s a lot of work, but I’m excited for this possible next step in my career!
  • Go to the beach. Let’s try this one again!
  • Read, read, read. Yes please.
  • Make this year’s photo book. Every summer, I make a photo book on Shutterfly to commemorate the past year. I’ve gathered all the photos; now I just need to put the book together.
  • Celebrate our fifth anniversary! It’s hard to believe my husband and I have been married for five years this month! He has been such a support for me this whole year, and I want to do something special to celebrate our anniversary (something we rarely do).

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: The hosts of one of my favorite podcasts, Pantsuit Politics, are writing a book! I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

TV shows I’ve watched: Season 5 of Great British Bake Off is on the PBS website. You know I’m into it.

Instagram account I’m loving: The crochet projects of @supercutedesign really are super cute!

Links I like: Why should you get to know your neighbors?

If you, like me, put off tackling the doorstoppers on your TBR list, this post is for you.

Is it possible–could we get another children’s book from J.K. Rowling??

I love these drawings of Disney princesses as career women.

My favorite Instagram:

My summer book stack! I’m so proud at having whittled this down significantly–I’ll post an update on Instagram at the end of the summer.

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

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

Top Ten Books I’ve Read in 2018 (So Far)

Today I'm linking up to share the top ten books I want to read this spring. | 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!

Today’s TTT post is the top ten books I’ve read so far in 2018. Last year, I felt like most of the books I read were okay but not spectacular, and I had a difficult time filling out a top ten list. But this year (and specifically this summer), that has changed! These are some of the best books (and comics!) I’ve read this year, and I expect you’ll see many of them on my top ten list at the end of the year, too.

What books have been your favorites this year so far? Have you read any of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments!

Classics Roundup, June 2018

Despite my busy schedule this spring, I was surprised as I put this post together at how many classic books I’ve read this year so far. Some of them have been boring or too offensive for me to enjoy, but some of them have been gems. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Middlemarch

Taking place in the years leading up to the First Reform Bill of 1832, Middlemarch explores nearly every subject of concern to modern life: art, religion, science, politics, self, society, human relationships. Among her characters are some of the most remarkable portraits in English literature: Dorothea Brooke, the heroine, idealistic but naive; Rosamond Vincy, beautiful and egoistic: Edward Casaubon, the dry-as-dust scholar: Tertius Lydgate, the brilliant but morally-flawed physician: the passionate artist Will Ladislaw: and Fred Vincey and Mary Garth, childhood sweethearts whose charming courtship is one of the many humorous elements in the novel’s rich comic vein.

Let me be honest: It took me about 2.5 years to finish this book. I was reading it on my beloved Serial app, and I kept getting distracted by books that had only 36 issues, rather than almost 200. No matter how you read it, Middlemarch is a doorstopper, and it can be really intimidating when you’re getting started. But…

I loved this book! Dorothea is a wonderful main character; many of the less likable characters get what they deserve; there’s love and romance and politics and scandal and class conflict. I felt with this book what I felt with Anna Karenina: If you can make your way far enough into the novel to get into the story, the characters will end up feeling like friends.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Julius Caesar

This play was okay. I wish I had more to say about this classic, but I don’t often enjoy reading plays, especially historical ones. I’m glad I read it, but I’m not sure I care to ever see the staged version.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

My Antonia

Through Jim Burden’s endearing, smitten voice, we revisit the remarkable vicissitudes of immigrant life in the Nebraska heartland, with all its insistent bonds. Guiding the way are some of literature’s most beguiling characters: the Russian brothers plagued by memories of a fateful sleigh ride, Antonia’s desperately homesick father and self-indulgent mother, and the coy Lena Lingard. Holding the pastoral society’s heart, of course, is the bewitching, free-spirited Antonia.

I enjoyed this so much. The writing feels amazingly fresh, and I was surprised at how connected it made me feel with Nebraska, my childhood home. If you also have a fascination with the prairie and the hearty but flawed people who populated it, you should give this book a try.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Princess and the Goblin

Princess Irene’s discovery of a secret stair leads to a wonderful revelation. At the same time, Curdie overhears a fiendish plot by the goblins. Princess Irene & Curdie must make sense of their separate knowledge & foil the goblins’ schemes.

Princess Irene and the young miner Curdie spend the length of this classic children’s book fighting goblins with the help of Irene’s mysterious “grandmother” whom no one else can see. It’s a sweet, fun story filled with magic and adventure. I’m not sure I’d hand this to an actual child, but I enjoyed reading it as an adult.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

A Damsel in Distress

When Maud Marsh flings herself into George Bevan’s cab in Piccadilly, he starts believing in damsels in distress. George traces his mysterious traveling companion to Belpher Castle, home of Lord Marshmoreton, where things become severely muddled. Maud’s aunt, Lady Caroline Byng, wants Maud to marry Reggie, her stepson. Maud, meanwhile, is known to be in love with an unknown American she met in Wales. So when George turns up speaking American, a nasty case of mistaken identity breaks out. In fact, the scene is set for the perfect Wodehouse comedy of errors.

This is the first P.G. Wodehouse book I have read, and it was truly funny. A Damsel in Distress is a romantic comedy full of mistaken identity, class conflict, and sweet characters. I would recommend this Wodehouse book before any of the Jeeves series (see below).

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Three Men in a Boat

Martyrs to hypochondria and general seediness, J. and his friends George and Harris decide that a jaunt up the Thames would suit them to a ‘T’. But when they set off, they can hardly predict the troubles that lie ahead with tow-ropes, unreliable weather forecasts and tins of pineapple chunks—not to mention the devastation left in the wake of J.’s small fox-terrier Montmorency.

I didn’t like this as much as I wanted to. Some parts made me laugh, but a lot of the novel just struck me as young rich white men complaining. There was also a fair amount of sexism and racism, which, while not unexpected, was at a level that made me unable to really enjoy the rest of the story.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Right Ho, Jeeves

Follow the adventures of Bertie Wooster and his gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves, in this stunning new edition of one of the greatest comic novels in the English language. Bertie must deal with the Market Snodsbury Grammar School prize giving, the broken engagement of his cousin Angela, the wooing of Madeline Bassett by Gussie Fink-Nottle, and the resignation of Anatole, the genius chef. Will he prevail? Only with the aid of Jeeves!

I felt similarly about this book as I did about Three Men in a Boat. Some parts were funny, but on the whole, Bertram Wooster was too irritating as a main character, and the occasional racist or sexist remark did not make it any easier to enjoy the book. If you’re going to read just one Wodehouse, skip this one and read A Damsel in Distress instead.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Roundup, June 2018

I’m continuing my journey through the oldest Newbery books (slowly but surely, as I’m having to request the out of print books through our interlibrary loan). It’s feeling more like a slog because of the content and writing style of the books I’ve read lately… (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

The Fairy Circus

The fairies, enchanted by a human circus which visits their meadow, put on a circus of their own with the woodland creatures.

I found this book about how the fairies used woodland creatures and flowers to create their own circus kind of boring with boring art. “Meh” basically covers it for me.

Rating: Meh

Children of the Soil

An early Newbery Honor Book, telling the story of two Swedish children and their folk beliefs.

This was better than I expected. The book is about two young, poor children growing up in Sweden and being creative to improve their lot in life. The children work toward their main goal–buying a cow–by selling things that they make or find, and the sections about this are interspersed with folk tales and stories about the culture’s traditions.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Railroad to Freedom

Tells the story of Harriet Tubman who escaped from slavery herself and then brought more than 300 people to the North and freedom by way of the Underground Railway.

I appreciate that the early Newbery books include a story about Harriet Tubman, but the language and art are so outdated that they are offensive. There are a lot of better, more recent children’s biographies of this important historical figure. There’s no reason to read this one anymore.

Rating: Skip This One

ARC: My Grave Ritual

Note: I received a free copy of this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

I’ve read and reviewed the two previous installments in the Warlock Holmes series (you can find those reviews here and here), but if you’re unfamiliar, think Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, except Watson is the actual brains behind the team, and Holmes is filled with demons and connected to the world of hellfire and brimstone–without a lot of what Watson sees as common sense. Each section of the book is inspired by one of the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries, with an added supernatural twist.

This book might have been the best of the series so far! It is hilarious–it made me laugh out loud several times–and I especially loved the section narrated by Holmes rather than Watson. The relationship between Holmes and Watson is sweet and fun, even if the two don’t always see eye to eye. As always, there is a lingering sense of doom (as Watson’s narration is set at some point after the actual events of the book), which never seems to make the story any less fun.

The only thing I disliked about this book was the presence of Irene Adler, whom I hate in any Sherlock Holmes context. Of course, Watson falls madly in love with her, despite Holmes’s warnings, which turns out badly for everyone. Still, if you enjoyed the first two books of this series (or if you think you would like a Sherlock Holmes world in which the supernatural always plays a part), this book is hilarious and just plain fun.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

2018 Newbery Books

It’s June, and I’m finally getting around to reviewing this year’s Newbery winners! I loved the diversity of the 2018 Newbery books. From a picture book for younger kids to a novel of free verse for teens, these books feature great characters, interesting (sometimes heart wrenching) stories, and a look at some of the most difficult parts of growing up.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Crown is a picture book about black hair and feeling good about yourself when you look in the mirror. I can imagine that this book will give black children more self-confidence, and for those with all kinds of different hair, the book offers beautiful art and a fun, upbeat message about loving your personal look. I would love to have this book in my future child’s personal library.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Long Way Down

This book is quick to read, but its message is intense. It’s a free verse story about a 15-year-old boy whose brother was shot. On his elevator ride down to shoot the guy he thinks shot his brother, the boy talks to the ghosts of family and friends who died by gun violence. I’m not generally a big fan of free verse novels, but this one is powerful and (sadly) relevant for today’s teens. It will stick with you long after you read it.

Rating: Good (but definitely not forgettable!)

Piecing Me Together

I really enjoyed this book. It takes an unflinching look at race and privilege and reflects upon how even the most well-meaning people can make problems worse if they don’t truly understand the people they’re trying to help. The main character and her friends learn and grow as they appreciate each other’s perspectives and learn to use their voices to make themselves understood.

If you want a story about growing up that’s fun to read but doesn’t skimp on the complex issues that many teens face, you should check out Piecing Me Together.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Hello, Universe

The 2018 Newbery winner was so fresh and fun and sweet, and it is chock-full of likable characters (both the three MCs and all the side characters). There is also some great representation in the characters (although their diversity isn’t quite as emphasized as in the other Newbery books this year), as the main characters include a Deaf girl as well as other, racially diverse characters. Hello, Universe is not as heavy as Long Way Down or Piecing Me Together, but it is certainly worth your time if you’re looking for a sweet MG read.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Comics Roundup, June 2018

I’ve been exploring comics again, and the more I read, the more surprised I am at how many comics I have enjoyed. This eclectic roundup offers short reviews of the volumes of comics I’ve been reading lately, along with a couple of books that are more focused on art than on words.

Black Panther and Hawkeye

Let’s start with the bad news: I still don’t like superhero comics. I loved the movie Black Panther, and Hawkeye is always a favorite character in the Avengers, but I just couldn’t get into either of these volumes of comics. I wanted to like them, but I just got bored. I’m not a big fan of fight scenes; maybe that’s my issue with superhero comics.

Rating: Meh

Misfit City

This series is just fun–it involves a group of girl friends who find a treasure map in the midst of their boring lives in what they see as a dead end town. This series is strongly influenced by The Goonies, complete with adventures in underground caves. I hope in future issues the girls will be further fleshed out (currently they each only have a couple of stereotypical characteristics to make each character distinct), but even here at the beginning of the series, I am enjoying the adventure.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Not-So-Secret Society

This comic was okay. It’s a little young for me–the story revolves around a group of 12-year-old friends who create science projects that sometimes get out of hand–but it’s really cute. If your child is into STEM, they will probably enjoy this comic.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Backstagers

This series tells the story of an all-boys school in which the stage crew has a magical, fantastical, and dangerous series of tunnels backstage. I have been captivated by the magical world of the backstage tunnels, and I can’t wait for future issues to explore them further. If you liked Bee and Puppycat, you will probably enjoy this series as well.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Herding Cats

This may be my favorite of Sarah’s three books. As always, she produces great comics about being female, being a Millennial, fighting anxiety, and making art. They are super relatable and hilarious if you fit any of those groups.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Arrival

This book is not a traditional comic, but rather a picture book with no words. It’s filled with gorgeous, strange sepia toned art. The wordless story is evocative of an immigrant’s experience, even though the land to which the character immigrates is not any place in our world. Give yourself plenty of time with this short book to pour over the art.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Fables

This comic has been completed (no spoilers please!), and I have been ripping through the many volumes. Fables is the story of fairy tale characters who are forced to live in the “mundane” world because they’ve been exiled from their own world by the Adversary. The series contains a certain amount of sexual and violent content, so be forewarned, but so far it hasn’t been enough to make me squeamish. I’m finding the characters to be interesting and complex, and the story keeps me coming back for more. I’m sure I’ll read several more volumes of this comic before the summer is over.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

YA Roundup, June 2018

(All summaries via Goodreads.com)

The Love that Split the World

Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

The time travel/wormhole aspect of this book really intrigued me when I first heard about it, which is why I decided to read this book. However, I really don’t enjoy YA romance that much, so I couldn’t get invested in Natalie and Beau’s relationship. If you enjoy books like Anna and the French Kiss, you will probably enjoy this book as well. It just wasn’t my favorite.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Truth Beneath the Lies

All Kayla Asher wants to do is run. Run from the government housing complex she calls home. Run from her unstable mother. Run from a desperate job at No Limit Foods. Run to a better, cleaner, safer life. Every day is one day closer to leaving.

All Betsy Hopewell wants to do is survive. Survive the burner phone hidden under her bed. Survive her new rules. Survive a new school with new classmates. Survive being watched. Every minute grants her another moment of life.

But when fate brings Kayla and Betsy together, only one girl will live.

This mystery/thriller was slow to start, but I enjoyed the last third once the mystery started to be revealed. This is a good choice if you enjoy thrillers with unreliable narrators but want something a little less intense than the adult options in that genre.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Universe Versus Alex Woods

A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood.

But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.

So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing …

This book is funny, but it’s also intense. The novel revolves around assisted suicide and grieving the loss of someone important. The characters are quirky and likable, but be prepared for some surprisingly dark content.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless

Top Five Things That Are Ruining Chloe’s Day

5) Working the 6:30 a.m. shift at GoodFoods Market

4) Crashing a cart into a customer’s car right in front of her snarky coworker Sammi

3) Trying to rock the “drowned rat” look after being caught in a snowstorm

2) Making zero progress with her crush, Tyson (see #3)

1) Being accused—along with her fellow teenage employees—of stealing upwards of $10,000

Chloe would rather be anywhere than locked in work jail (aka the break room) with five of her coworkers . . . even if one of them is Tyson. But if they can band together to clear their names, what looks like a total disaster might just make Chloe’s list of Top Ten Best Moments.

You might be surprised to learn (given my earlier opinion of YA romances) that I really enjoyed this sweet book. Six teenagers of widely varying personalities and backgrounds are trapped in the grocery store they work at on Christmas Eve when someone accuses them of stealing money from the charity drive. Although Chloe, an awkward teen struggling to keep her diabetes and her overprotective mom a secret, is our main character, each of the other characters is fun and unique. I loved watching the teens bonding and becoming friends even as they make mistakes and say insensitive things to each other. A sweet romance that’s not only about the romance–possibly why this book charmed me while others fell flat.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Books in Translation, June 2018

One of my long-term reading goals is to read one book from each country in the world. Admittedly, I’m not doing very well. I’ve read books from Russia, Australia, France, Botswana, Mexico, Iran, India, and a few more, but progress has been slow. These books are ones that I picked up purposely because they are very popular in their countries of origin, and they couldn’t have been more different from each other.

Moomin

I read two versions of Moomin, a very popular cartoon character from Finland. The first was the original comic strip for adults, and the second was a cute rhyming picture book for children called The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My.

“Charmingly meandering,” a quote from the back cover of the comic strip collection, is probably the best description for these comics. They don’t seem to have much of a plot, and what plot exists is strange, but the characters are also oddly lovable. If you’re looking for a fun and whimsical way to spend an afternoon, you might spend it with the Moomin family.

The children’s book is adorable, with translated rhymes and cutouts on every page, which really make the artwork shine. Each page ends with the invitation to guess what happens next. It’s silly and fun with unusual artwork. I think small children would love this book.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Jar City

When a lonely old man is found murdered in his Reykjavík flat, the only clues are a cryptic note left by the killer and a photograph of a young girl’s grave. Inspector Erlendur, who heads the investigation team, discovers that many years ago the victim was accused, though not convicted, of an unsolved crime. Did the old man’s past come back to haunt him?

As the team of detectives reopen this very cold case, Inspector Erlendur uncovers secrets that are much larger than the murder of one old man–secrets that have been carefully guarded by many people for many years. As he follows a fascinating trail of unusual forensic evidence, Erlendur also confronts stubborn personal conflicts that reveal his own depth and complexity of character. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a great police procedural/mystery, and it is part of a series that is apparently quite popular in Iceland. However, I was uncomfortable with the amount of description of rape in this book. That’s about all I have to say about this one–interesting mystery, but be forewarned.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Small Goals + What I’m Into, June 2018

Linking up to share my June 2018 small goals + what I'm into. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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As always, I’m linking up with writes like a girl for my June 2018 small goals, and Leigh Kramer for my monthly what I’m into.

It has been ages since I’ve written a post, so I’m coming back from my hiatus with my small goals and what I’ve been up to lately. What with working 60 hour weeks and dealing with all the other issues that always seem to crop up during a busy season, I can’t even remember what my goals were from February!

  • Design a library bag. Okay, I did design it, but I’ve been unable to get my hands on an ink jet printer to use my iron on transfer. I’m counting this as completed, but there’s still one more step!
  • Start meditating again. Not at all. I dropped every extra thing that wasn’t essential to my life during the past three months (and, um, maybe some that were… I’m looking at you, yoga practice). Maybe I’ll be able to get back into this over the summer.
  • Go on a spending freeze. Yep!

Hey, 2/3 is pretty decent, all things considered. For June, my first month of summer “break” (I’m still working, just not nearly as many hours), I’m going for a mix of practical, catch-up items and fun, relaxing goals.

  • Prepare for vocal camp. I signed up to teach vocal camp at my studio again this year, and I need to prep my materials. I’m hoping to use a lot of the same activities I used last year, but I need to get everything out and take stock of what I have.
  • Organize paperwork. My method of just jamming everything into a drawer and out of sight worked temporarily, but now I need to put things where they belong before I lose something important.
  • Go to the beach. Need I say more?
  • Watch The Good Place. I was really enjoying this show, but I only got about six episodes in before the crazy hit. I want to get back into it this summer.
  • Read just for fun. Now that I have time to read again, I want to hit the library and take out a bunch of great beach reads and children’s books that I can fly through.

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: I just started Pioneer Girl, the annotated original manuscript by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and it has been fascinating so far.

TV shows I’ve watched: My husband and I have been getting into The Big Family Cooking Showdown on Netflix. It’s fun and sweet, almost like a Great British Bake Off for families cooking savory meals.

Instagram account I’m loving: Patrix15 posts gorgeous pictures of colorful houses, plus the art that others have made based on those houses.

Links I like: It’s been a while since the Super Bowl, but this article about the sound design is fascinating.

So Tana French is having her books made into a BBC series?

I love unexpected kinds of libraries.

A French carpenter wrote his diary on the boards of a chateau in 1880, and we’ve just discovered it.

My favorite Instagram:

Over Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I had a Bob Ross painting party. Our paintings turned out surprisingly decent!

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

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

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