Top Ten Favorite Books of 2017

Today I'm linking up to share my favorite books of 2017. Love these books! | NewberyandBeyond.com
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This post is part of the Top Ten Tuesday meme by The Broke and the Bookish.

I can’t believe it’s already time for end of the year lists! I’ve read some good books this year (and a ton of mediocre ones), but here are my favorites of 2017.

  • The Big Book of Christmas MysteriesThis enormous anthology kept me occupied for the entire month of December last year. I loved it.
  • InterruptedI read a huge amount of Christian books this year, and this was one of my favorites. Powerful and relatable.
  • The Septimus Heap seriesThe more I think about this series, the more I love it! I can’t believe it took me this long to finish reading it. Now I just need to acquire my own copies of these books so I can re-read them.
  • Misreading Scripture with Western EyesThis was another favorite from my dive into Christian living books. If you want to understand the Bible more accurately, this is a must read.
  • Fragile ChaosMythology + Beauty and the Beast = Fragile Chaos. I don’t really like mythology or romance, but somehow this book made it work beautifully.
  • The Last Dragonslayer seriesThis is another series that made my list of book series I wanted to finish this year, and I am officially current! Jasper Fforde, as always, is such a creative, fun writer, and I love this YA series.
  • Stars AboveI was sad to say goodbye to the Lunar Chronicles series, so I greatly enjoyed this related collection of short stories.
  • Doomsday BookYou all know how much I love Connie Willis, and this book set in her time travel world is no exception. It’s sad and beautiful and amazing.
  • The Inquisitor’s TaleThis was my favorite Newbery book of 2017 (which is saying something, because there were some really good Newbery books this year!).
  • GeekerellaThis book is just pure fun. It’s a great Cinderella retelling, set in the modern, geeky world.

What are your favorite books of 2017? Share your thoughts or links in the comments!

Newbery Roundup: December 2017

I've almost finished this year's Newbery book challenge! This post includes Newbery reads--and a Caldecott, too. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m getting so close to finishing my Newbery book challenge–just in time, too! Thus, this Newbery roundup actually includes a Caldecott book, too. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

The Truce of the Wolf

This book is full of cute Italian stories and fables, mostly about animals interacting with humans. I enjoyed most of them, except the one which had a moral of “women can’t keep secrets.” Sigh.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Paperboy

An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July, he knows he’ll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything.

The paper route poses challenges, but it’s a run-in with the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, that stirs up real trouble–and puts the boy’s life, as well as that of his family’s devoted housekeeper, in danger.

This Newbery book about a boy with a stutter is sometimes hard to read. It’s filled with discussions about bullies, racism, violence, and more. Still, Victor is a great character who faces up to his disability with courage. I loved that the author says this is basically a fictionalized memoir of his own childhood–you can tell that he understands the struggles and triumphs of growing up with a stutter.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Heavenly Tenants

This supernatural tale was originally published in 1946. In the story, the Marvell family goes away on vacation, leaving their farm, pets, and livestock home alone, to be taken care of by August, the hired man. But August fails to come. That night, the neighborhood is roused by an unusual glow. When August goes to the farm to investigate, he finds that it is under the care of mysterious beings-the twelve signs of the zodiac. This story sparkles with fantasy and humorous realism that both adults and children will appreciate.

This is a very short, illustrated book about how the stars of the zodiac come to visit a family’s home when they go out of town. I don’t have too much to say about it. It’s a bit outdated, and I’m not exactly sure why someone thought it was worthy of the Newbery honor award.

Rating: Meh

Thistle and Thyme

Thistle and Thyme is a short story collection I can actually get behind! It’s filled with entertaining myths, fairy tales, and legends from the Gaelic storytelling tradition. Most of them are amusing; a couple are more serious. I really enjoyed this book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Leave Me Alone!

One day, a grandmother shouts, “LEAVE ME ALONE!” and leaves her tiny home and her very big family to journey to the moon and beyond to find peace and quiet to finish her knitting. Along the way, she encounters ravenous bears, obnoxious goats, and even hordes of aliens! But nothing stops grandma from accomplishing her goal–knitting sweaters for her many grandchildren to keep them warm and toasty for the coming winter.

Here’s the Caldecott book I read for the book challenge! In it, a grandmother looks for some peace and quiet in which to do her knitting. It’s short and sweet with great illustrations. Super cute.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Review Copy: The Case of the Cursed Dodo

*Note: I received a free copy of this audio book from the author. All opinions are my own.

I’ve already read and reviewed the physical version of this book (you can read that review here), so it probably won’t come as a surprise that I enjoyed the audio version. This audio book is special–it’s more like an old-time radio show than a regular audio book. I loved the music, the sound effects, the voice over, and all the character voices. They really keep the story interesting.

I think kids will love this. Everything from the plot (hard-boiled PI panda has to solve a mystery and save endangered animals from harm) to the voice acting and sound effects is fun and engaging. Although adults might notice the fair amount of cliches and stereotypical characters, it’s still an enjoyable story, something the whole family can listen to together.

P.S. If you are a teacher or parent, the author has also provided these cool online resources for learning more about radio drama and endangered animals. Check them out!

Small Goals + What I’m Into, December 2017

The last small goals and what I'm into for the year 2017! | NewberyandBeyond.com
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As always, I’m linking up with writes like a girl for my December small goals, and Leigh Kramer for my monthly what I’m into.

It’s hard to believe that December is already here! I’m looking forward to the rest of the holiday season (and a two-week break from work), so I’m keeping my goals simple this month. But first, let’s see how I did on my November goals:

 

  • Dentist. Check! My teeth are still sore, but I’m starting to recover. So glad I can cross this one off the list!
  • Shop sales for Christmas gifts. Yesssss. I delivered several presents to my family when we visited for Thanksgiving, and we spent the Black Friday weekend hitting up sales and finishing out our shopping lists.
  • Related: Shop for Secret Santa gifts! Also finished! This required making a stop by Books a Million at the end of an eleven hour drive in order to use a coupon I had, but it was worth it.
  • Finish watching Sherlock. Oops again. I didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with this. Maybe December will be the month?
  • Study for an upcoming Praxis exam. Yes!

Phew, glad those are over with! Now for some December goals:

  • See the Christmas lights at a nearby historical house. They always have a lot of Christmas trees decorated by local schools, too, and it’s a fun (and free) way to get into the holiday spirit.
  • Finish learning music for my church’s Christmas program. It’s only a few weeks away–yikes!
  • Reevaluate work, volunteering, and other activities for the coming year. This is a big project and might involve some big changes, but I’m ready for it! The end of the year always feels like a good time for evaluation and reflection.

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: I just got my hands on the latest two books in the Thursday Next series! Can’t wait to finally read them.

TV shows I’ve watched: My husband and I sped through the latest Great British Bake Off season that was just posted on Netflix. It was lovely to have that show to take my mind off more stressful things.

Instagram account I’m loving: Josie Lewis posts lots of watercolor art as well as resin and collage.

My favorite Instagram:

It’s Christmas in SWFL!

Happy holidays from Fort Myers… #floridaproblems #fmbsand #itsonlyeightydegrees

A post shared by Monica Fastenau (@monica.fastenau) on

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!

Top Ten Books on My Winter 2017 TBR List

These are the ten books on my TBR list that I really want to read this winter! | NewberyandBeyond.com
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This post is part of the Top Ten Tuesday meme by The Broke and the Bookish.

Although it never really gets cold here in southwest Florida, I still find my reading habits changing as the holidays approach. I don’t want heavy novels or important nonfiction; give me dystopias and lighthearted mysteries! Here are ten of the books on my TBR list this winter.

  • On the Edge of Gone. A dystopian novel starring an autistic character? Yes please!
  • The rest of the Aunty Lee series. I really enjoyed the first book in this mystery series set in Singapore, and I’m excited to read the next books.
  • The rest of the Junior Bender series. There’s even a Christmas-themed book, so this read is right on time!
  • Death by Darjeeling. Why not spend the winter months getting into a new mystery series?
  • Shadows on the Moon. This is one of the books that has been on my TBR list for so long that I can barely remember why I put it on there in the first place. I need to read this soon.
  • Howl’s Moving Castle. I have still never read a Diana Wynne Jones book (I know, I know!), and this one seems like a good one to start with.
  • Attachments. Because Rainbow Rowell never seems to disappoint.
  • A Tale Dark and Grimm. What fits these short winter days better than some dark fairy tales?
  • Neverwhere. I don’t always enjoy Neil Gaiman’s work, but his creepy, surreal worlds also seem fitting for winter.
  • The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries. This anthology of Christmas mysteries kept me happily occupied during Christmas break last year, and I think this anthology might do the trick this time.

What books are on your winter TBR list? Leave your links in the comments!

22 Ways to Support Women with Your Christmas Shopping

Do you want to support women around the world with your Christmas shopping? Here are some ideas. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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It’s that time of year! Every year I update my list of ways you can support women around the world with your Christmas shopping. I’ve used a few of these websites for my Christmas shopping over the years (and as gift requests for myself), and I hope this list will inspire you to do the same!

I have a great passion for people around the world who have been harmed by human trafficking, especially women. It is very easy for women in poor or war-torn countries (and even in affluent countries like the United States) to fall through the cracks and be forced into slave labor.

One of the most important ways we can help prevent human trafficking and provide an escape for those who have already suffered through it is by supporting these women’s new businesses. In this post, I’ve collected some of the websites that (to the best of my knowledge) sell products that are created by women around the world and give the profits back to the women to provide for their families and support the growth of their small businesses. I’m not affiliated in any way with any of these websites; I just want to support these awesome women!

If you’re looking to do some Christmas shopping, start with these websites. I will update this post over the next month with any sales or special offers, in case you’re a deal shopper like me–none of these discounts will cause less money to be given to the women creating the products. I’ve also included some of my favorite organizations that promote justice and healing for victims of human trafficking or protect women’s rights, in case you’d just like to donate.

Buy your Christmas presents here and support women who are making a better life for themselves and their families:

Sudara
This company specializes in Punjammies, which are super comfortable, beautiful lounge pants. All their clothing is made by women in India who have escaped sex slavery. (I got a pair of these for Christmas two years ago, and still I wear them almost every day when I get home from work. They are so comfortable and cute, and they have pockets!)

Preemptive Love Coalition
I absolutely love this company! They sell soaps (for men and women) that are made by refugees who fled from ISIS. This business helps them rebuild their lives and support themselves in a new country. (Order soon if you want to give these as Christmas gifts–the soaps ship from the Middle East.)

Picture Birmingham
A blogger that I follow takes gorgeous photos and turns them into prints, postcards, calendars, and notecards. 100% of the profits are donated to The Wellhouse, a ministry that provides support to victims of human trafficking in Alabama.

Her Future Coalition
This jewelry, formerly sold as Made By Survivors, is made and sold by survivors of human trafficking. These women and children are given counseling, education, and vocational training to help them create a new way of life.

Better Life Bags
Custom or ready-to-purchase bags. These bags are handmade by women in Detroit, mostly first-generation immigrants, who are unable to find jobs elsewhere.

Ten Thousand Villages
Jewelry, kitchen items, and home accents. The items are made and sold by artisans in Egypt, India, and many other countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

Naja
This lingerie company employs mostly single mothers or female heads of household in the United States and pays them above-market wages and benefits. The company also employs women in the slums of Colombia and helps them receive the education they need.

Amania Africa
This program trains women in five different African nations to sew and manage their finances, and allows them to sell their handicrafts on this website.

Global Goods Partners
Jewelry, accessories, gifts, home items, and toys.  These products are handmade by women in South America, Asia, and Africa.

Mulxiply
Gorgeous jewelry and accessories, made by at-risk women in Nepal.

Good Paper
These hilarious cards are made by women who escaped sex trafficking in the Philippines and by young adult orphans in Rwanda. I’d love to receive one of these cards for Christmas/birthday/no particular reason, and I bet you know someone who would like them, too.

Sari Bari
Beautiful, handmade bags, blankets, and clothing made from upcycled saris. These are made by Indian women who were rescued from the sex trade. (I recently purchased one of these bags, and it is lovely! It’s colorful and fun and sturdy enough for me to take to work every day.)

Malia Designs
Handbags, wallets, and accessories. Cambodia is a dangerous place for women, and these items are made by Cambodian women who are at risk. The company also donates some of its profits to anti-trafficking organizations.

My Sister
These T-shirts, hoodies, and accessories are ethically sourced and environmentally friendly. At least 10% of of proceeds go toward organizations that care for victims of human trafficking, and the company also helps provide jobs for these women.

Thistle Farms
This residential program helps women in the United States who have been victims of trafficking, prostitution, or addiction. They produce lotions, soaps, candles, lip balm, and other bath and body products.

Women’s Peace Coalition
Jewelry, accessories, and home accents made by female artisans around the world. The Coalition supports women’s business enterprises in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Haiti.

Prosperity Candle
This candle company employs female refugees in North America and Haiti. The hand-poured candles give these women a chance to create a new life in the U.S.

SERVV
Jewelry, clothing, kitchen, decor, chocolates, and snacks. This retailer’s artisans come from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and even the United States. (I have previously purchased Christmas gifts on this website, and they were beautiful! I was very pleased with the quality and variety of gifts on this site.)

Global Girlfriend
Clothing, accessories, jewelry, gifts, and more. Products are made by women, and profits go to help send a girl to school (not a given in many places around the world).

MarketPlace India
This program helps around 500 Indian women learn to produce women’s clothing and manage their own business. Their items include dresses, skirts, tops, jackets, pants, and more.

Causebox
If you love subscription boxes (me too!) and want to be continually informed about amazing companies that are run by or support women in need around the world, this is for you. (One of these days, I’ll get one myself!)

Amazon Smile
If you absolutely must do some shopping through Amazon (I get it), don’t forget to shop through Amazon Smile. They will donate a small percentage of your purchase to the charity of your choice.

If you just want to donate:

International Rescue Committee
I’m always looking for a way to help refugees–they are such a vulnerable population, and the refugee crisis isn’t going away anytime soon. IRC works to help refugees restart their lives, providing food, water, shelter, and education to those who need it. (IRC has replaced my former favorite, UNHCR, because a higher percentage of the money they receive goes directly to funding their programs rather than toward other costs.) You can help too by donating here.

International Justice Mission
IJM is an organization that I support as often as I can. IJM employs lawyers, case workers, counselors, after care workers, and other professionals in countries around the world in order to fight human trafficking, forced labor, denied citizenship for certain people groups, and many other types of injustice. They work hard to rescue those who are enslaved, and they also work to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Invisible Girl Project
Millions of girls in India and China are never given a chance to live because of the prevalence of gendercide and infanticide, and many more are trafficked because of the dearth of females in these cultures. Give girls a chance by donating here.

(P.S. I loved this similar list by Sarah Bessey on gifts to empower women. She has listed some of the same companies that I love, as well as some I’ve never heard of.)

I hope this list inspires you to support women who are daring to make something good out of their lives!  Do you have any other ways that you fight human trafficking or support women around the world?

Newbery Roundup: November 2017

In which I review the Newbery books I've read in November 2017. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m still trudging my way through the older Newbery books. *sigh* I have to admit that most of the early Newbery books just don’t hold up very well, whether because writing styles have changed or acceptable treatment of different groups of people has. Still, I’m getting there–only about 75 books left to read. I’m getting close! (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Floating Island

When the doll house they inhabit is shipped overseas as a gift, a terrible storm results in shipwreck on an uninhabited tropical island for the Doll family. This includes Mr. and Mrs. Doll, their children William and Annabelle, and Dinah the cook. The story follows their adventures with affection and humor.

I loved the feel of this book–the dolls’ adventures on a tropical island, the illustrations, the narrator who talks directly to the reader–but the casual racism made it so I can’t recommend this book to modern readers. I would love to have a modernized version of this book; I think that children who like an old-fashioned adventure story would really like it.

Rating: Good but Problematic

Chucaro

Pink certainly is an unusual color for a pony, and when Pedro spies Chúcaro grazing on the Pampa he can hardly believe his eyes. He just has to have that pony for himself. Unfortunately, the estancerio’s spoiled son is equally determined to own the pony. But the wisest gauchos know that ponies as special as Chúcaro can never truly be owned. Chúcaro alone will decide for himself which gaucho will have the privilege of riding him.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Although I don’t usually like books about horses, this short and sweet book with its great illustrations kept my interest. I also appreciated that the author, although Hungarian, seems to have a fair amount of knowledge about the Pampa and its residents, and the book never seems patronizing toward its own characters. (And yes, it’s sad that that was such a surprise!)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Shiloh

When Marty Preston comes across a young beagle in the hills behind his home, it’s love at first sight–and also big trouble. It turns out the dog, which Marty names Shiloh belongs to Judd Travers, who drinks too much and has a gun and abuses his dogs. So when Shiloh runs away from Judd to Marty, Marty just has to hide him and protect him from Judd. But Marty’s secret becomes too big for him to keep to himself, and it exposes his entire family to Judd’s anger. How far will Marty have to go to make Shiloh his?

I was also surprised at how much I liked this book (again, I’m not a huge fan of animal stories). The West Virginian Southern dialect is great, and Marty’s family is wonderful. Their love and support for each other and others in their community, despite the poverty of their region, makes the story sweet even during the painful parts.

(*spoiler alert* that I think you all will be happy to have: The dog doesn’t die in this book!)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Horsecatcher

Praised for swift action and beauty of language, The Horsecatcheris Mari Sandoz’s first novel about the Indians she knew so well. Without ever leaving the world of a Cheyenne tribe in the 1830s, she creates a youthful protagonist many readers will recognize in themselves. Young Elk is expected to be a warrior, but killing even an enemy sickens him. He would rather catch and tame the mustangs that run in herds. Sandoz makes it clear that his determination to be a horsecatcher will require a moral and physical courage equal to that of any warrior. And if he must earn the right to live as he wishes, he must also draw closer to family and community.

I was really bored by this book. 1) I don’t like books about horses (see above). 2) I’m about tired of books about Native Americans not written by Native Americans. And that’s pretty much all I have to say about this book. Unless you’re obsessed with horses, it’s probably not worth your time.

Rating: Meh

Ten Books I Want My Children to Read

I love these books I want my children to read someday! Linking up with Broke & Bookish to share my list. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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This post is part of the Top Ten Tuesday meme by The Broke and the Bookish.

Today’s TTT is all about the books I want my children to read, which I love! I’ve already written a similar post about the books I want my daughter to read and one about the books from my own childhood that I’d like to revisit, so today’s list is a bit of a mashup of the two (with a few new favorites for good measure!).

  1. Pictures of Hollis Woods. This Newbery book, about a girl in foster care who wonders if she’s blown her only chance at having a true family, is one of my all-time favorites. It made an impression on me as a child, and I’d love my children to have that experience too.
  2. Hope Was HereA 16-year-old girl with a history of leaving the people and places she loves makes the move to small-town Wisconsin, where she and her aunt have been hired to turn a small diner into a bustling restaurant. Hope is a strong character and she knows how to fend for herself, but she also learns to rely on the family that she has built.
  3. Code Name VerityThe unbreakable friendship between two girls during their military work in WWII England is powerful and heart wrenching. A focus on the importance of female friendships and the actions of women working dangerous and important jobs makes this tear-jerking YA book a must-read.
  4. Hattie Big Sky16-year-old Hattie gets a chance to create a new life for herself when her dying uncle leaves his Montana homestead for her to prove up. Hattie experiences and learns from hard work, cold winter days, new friendships, failure, and even death. This Newbery book is a powerful look at what young women can do, and a reminder that failure doesn’t mean the end.
  5. Walk Two MoonsThis Newbery book by Sharon Creech is one of my favorite books, period (but you guys probably already knew that!). 13-year-old Sal and her grandparents are going on a cross-country trek to find Sal’s mother. Sal passes the time by telling her friend Phoebe’s story, and in doing so, Sal reveals her own struggles of life without her mother.
  6. A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down YonderThe grandmother in these two Depression-era books is the star–she’s larger than life and seems a little crazy, but she isn’t afraid to stand up to anyone or to flout social norms for what women should wear, or do, or say. She ignores social niceties in order to take care of those who need her help, and her two grandkids get dragged along with her schemes. Hilarious and heartwarming at the same time.
  7. Ella EnchantedThis book is way better than the movie version (of course). Ella is unable to ignore any direct command given to her–her curse means that she must obey every order. However, she is strong willed and struggles against her curse for years, until (*spoiler alert!*) she learns how to break it herself. There is a prince involved (what Cinderella retelling doesn’t have a prince?), but Ella doesn’t need his help to free herself.
  8. The Penderwicks series. These books offer the classic childhood adventures that many of my favorite books from childhood did, but without the problems that come from reading books published in the 1930s. The Penderwick family is warm and loving but isn’t afraid to get into mischief.
  9. El Deafo. This graphic novel about a girl growing up deaf is funny but also thought provoking. Kids can enjoy the art while still learning about being deaf and about inclusion of others.
  10. The Casson family series. The Casson family is flawed, more so than the Penderwicks, but they share a sense of fun and adventure, even in the midst of family difficulties. Each of the very different children gets a book focused on them.

What books do you want your children to read? Share your thoughts or links in the comments!

Latest ARC Reads: November 2017

This post offers quick reviews of the latest ARCs I've read. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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*Note: I received these books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

River Rising

Weeks after his parents disappear on a hike, engineer Adam Carson, 27, searches for answers. Then he discovers a secret web site and learns his mom and dad are time travelers stuck in the past. Armed with the information he needs to find them, Adam convinces his younger siblings to join him on a rescue mission to the 1880s.

While Greg, the adventurous middle brother, follows leads in the Wild West, Adam, journalist Natalie, and high school seniors Cody and Caitlin do the same in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Like the residents of the bustling steel community, all are unaware of a flood that will destroy the city on May 31, 1889.

River Rising is the first book in a new series by John Heldt (whose previous books I’ve reviewed herehere, here, here, here, and here). In this series, the Carson siblings must travel back in time to the 1880s in order to rescue their parents, who are stuck in the past.

If you’ve read any of Heldt’s previous books, you’ll have a good idea of the flavor of this book. There is plenty of romance and peril as the family tries to blend into their new surroundings and track down their missing parents.

The book feels slow to begin, and everyone falling in love gets a bit too sentimental for me. But I liked how both the siblings and their parents are portrayed as they travel through time to try to find each other, and I especially enjoyed the historical fiction elements (the flood in Johnstown and its aftermath was fascinating and heartbreaking). If you’re looking for a sweet, escapist romance with a bit of history tucked inside, you might enjoy this book.

Another One Bites the Crust

Champagne and ball gowns, fairy lights and music… Oxford summer balls are one of the highlights of the calendar and tearoom sleuth Gemma Rose is looking forward to taking a break and slipping into something gorgeous for the evening. But when the night ends with a celebrity chef murdered by his own whisk, Gemma finds herself plunged into a new mystery—and the nosy Old Biddies keen to help with the investigation!

But trouble is also brewing at her quaint Cotswolds tearoom: between fighting claims that she’s serving “fake” custard tarts and stopping her little tabby, Muesli, from being catnapped, Gemma has her hands full—and that’s before she has to fend off an amorous Italian. To top it all, her boyfriend Devlin’s mother is coming to visit and Gemma is anxious to make a good impression… although Mrs O’Connor isn’t quite what she expected!

I really liked this installment in the Oxford Tearoom series (you can see previous reviews here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Gemma finally meets Devlin’s mother, who is much different than Gemma expected her to be, and tries to solve the murder of a famous chef who was electrocuted before a show at Oxford. Plus, there’s a lot of cute Muesli, Gemma’s mischievous cat.

This latest book in the series gives readers more of Gemma and Devlin’s relationship, which I love. The characters in this series make the stories shine, and I love the times when we get to zoom in on specific relationships. And as always, the mystery is interesting and engaging without being gory or scary. A wonderful cozy mystery to spend an afternoon with.

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier is the book that got me into meditation in the first place, so I was excited to find out that he had written a new book filled with practical tips for meditating. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics offers helpful, practical ideas that will help overcome the reluctance of those who want to get into meditation but aren’t into the more “woowoo” aspects. 

Dan wrote this book with the help of his friend, meditation teacher Jeff, as they toured the country in a bus and talked to widely varying groups about meditation. Everyone from former juvenile delinquents to the military to news and radio personalities gets a mention, so no matter what your hangups about meditation, the authors have advice for you. The book is also filled with short meditations that you can try out for yourself.

I enjoyed this book, and if you’re interested in meditation but don’t want to get all mystical about it, you should definitely pick it up.

November Small Goals + What I’m Into

It's my monthly wrap up and my November small goals! | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As always, I’m linking up with writes like a girl for my November small goals, and Leigh Kramer for my monthly what I’m into.

I’ve been busybusybusy doing the most boring things, so I apologize ahead of time for pretty much the lamest October goals ever. However, if you’re like me, even checking off these boring goals is a real energy booster!

  • Get an eye exam and an oil change. Check!
  • Get my piano tuned. Also check! (Bonus: I found out that my piano is worth a loooot more than I paid for it at the thrift store!)
  • Plan a Harry Potter-themed murder mystery party! Okay, this has been postponed until January. I’ve been incredibly busy, and our friends keep getting sick, so we’re going to reschedule in the new year.
  • Finally make it to the beach! Yep! Although we didn’t do much swimming, since we were in the midst of a rare cold snap. We got to watch surfers doing their thing (usually the waves aren’t big enough in the Gulf for this to happen) and have a picnic lunch.
  • Contact insurance companies, credit card companies, and transportation services. Check!

4.5/5 feels pretty good! I completed my overall goal, which was to do as many boring chores as possible in the hopes of freeing up some time to rest and relax and enjoy the holidays. With that in mind, here are my November small goals:

  • Dentist. *heavy sigh* It’s time for me to go back and get those problem teeth taken care of. This is the heaviest thing on my to-do list and the main thing keeping me from enjoying the holiday season, so I’m hoping to get it over with soon.
  • Shop sales for Christmas gifts. I have a lot of businesses that I love to support, and many of them have a lot of great Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales that I want to shop.
  • Related: Shop for Secret Santa gifts! This is one of my favorite things to do every year, and this year I’m signed up for three bookish or geeky swaps. I can’t wait to do some shopping for this!
  • Finish watching Sherlock. I watched the first episode in the latest season and it totally stressed me out, which is why I still haven’t finished watching it. Oops.
  • Study for an upcoming Praxis exam. (Details later!)

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: I have all three of the illustrated Harry Potter books, and I’m soooo slowly making my way through them. They are lovely! And I’m always surprised to remember how sweet the first few books in the series are.

TV shows I’ve watched: Basically nothing (other than the first episode of Sherlock season 4, see above). But I’ve been watching old favorite kids movies–everything from Muppet Treasure Island to Hotel Transylvania to How to Train Your Dragon. It has been pretty great.

Instagram account I’m loving: This ink pen art is so lovely!

My favorite Instagram:

As mentioned above, I’m loving the illustrated Harry Potter 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 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!

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