ARC: Jorie and the Magic Stones

Jorie and the Magic Stones is the beginning of a children's fantasy series by A.H. Richardson. #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.

When Marjorie went to live with her frosty maiden aunt, she couldn’t imagine the adventures she would have with dragons — good and bad — and all the strange creatures that live in a mysterious land beneath the Tarn. The spunky 9-year-old redhead forges an unlikely friendship with an insecure young boy named Rufus who lives with his crusty grandfather next door. When Jorie — for that is what she prefers to be called — finds a dusty ancient book about dragons, she learns four strange words that will send the two of them into a mysterious land beneath the Tarn, riddled with enchantment and danger. Hungry for adventure, the children take the plunge, quite literally, and find themselves in the magic land of Cabrynthius. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Jorie is a young girl with a lot of spunk, so when she goes to live with her strict, elderly aunt, of course she gets into mischief. Jorie teams up with the boy next door, Rufus, whom she drags along on her adventures. The two find a book full of dragons and words they can’t understand, which helps transport them to a world of magic.

Let me start by saying that I loved the characters in the real world. Jorie, her aunt, the housekeeper, Rufus and his grandfather–their interactions were so fun. Each character has a unique voice and personality, even the characters who don’t get enough page time to be fully fleshed out.

My one issue with the story is the fantasy world. Although the characters here are also interesting, I found the world itself a bit flat. The issue that I sometimes have with fantasy novels is that they fall quickly into cliches, and there was a bit of that issue in Jorie and the Magic Stones. I found myself looking forward to the time the characters spent in the real world, rather than in Cabrynthius. Still, the MG kids this novel is aimed toward may feel differently about that than I do.

For me personally, I thought this book was enjoyable but forgettable. But if you have a child who loves dragons and magic, they might want to give Jorie and the Magic Stones a shot.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

2017 Book Challenges

I'm excited to be joining two book challenges this year--one focusing on Newbery books and the other on classic books. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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A couple of years ago, I participated in a book pairing challenge, but last year I somehow ended up with no book challenges. I want to change that this year, so I’m joining up with two book challenges!

The first challenge is a Newbery book challenge, so you know I had to join. This one is being hosted by Smiling Shelves, and participants can get points by reading Newbery Medal or Honor books as well as Caldecott books. Because reading all the Newbery books is the whole reason I started this blog, I’m going to aim for the highest challenge level (Konigsburg, which is 75+ points).

The second challenge is a classic books challenge hosted by Books and Chocolate. Reading the classics that I somehow missed is another reading goal that I’ve been attempting, so I’m excited to have this challenge to keep me on track. I’m hoping to complete all twelve challenges, but this one is sure to be more difficult than the Newbery challenge. I really struggle with reading classics when I’m not in the mood to trudge through antiquated writing and slow plots. (I’m going to do my best to read books from this list.)

What about you guys? Are any of you joining a book challenge this year?

What I’m Into + January Small Goals

I'm linking up on the blog today to share what I'm into recently + my January small goals. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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As always, I’m linking up with writes like a girl for my January small goals, and Leigh Kramer for my monthly what I’m into.

December was a whirlwind of parties, concerts, and family get-togethers, but I still somehow managed to get things done!

  • Organize all my bookish statistics for the year. You can see that post here.
  • Post watercolor pieces on my Etsy store. Yes! The watercolor gift tags I made last month were one of my favorite pieces so far. Be sure to check out the Etsy store, and be on the lookout for even more pieces to come this month.
  • Create space to relax. I did this! The first half of the month was crazy, but since I had some time off between Christmas and New Year’s, I was able to do a lot of things that filled my relaxation need: eating out with friends, playing board games with the roommates, watching movies with my husband, and (of course) doing lots of reading.
  • Read through my backlog of books. Mostly. I’m counting this one as completed because I did read a significant amount during the last few weeks of 2016… but I still have a huge stack of books by my bed. Some were gifts or last-minute purchases, but I also have a large amount of library books I need to burn through before I have to return them!
  • Sponsor a businesswoman through Kiva. Yep! (If you want to check out Half the Sky, the book that helped inspire this goal, you can read my review of it here.)

I am absolutely thrilled at completing all of my goals for December! (I think this may be the first month that has actually happened.) Now, for my brand-new January small goals:

  • Post three new items on the N&B Etsy store. I’m bubbling over with ideas, including some bookish-related items, and now that the holidays are over I’m hoping to have enough time to complete a few of them.
  • Start meal planning. I hate the idea of meal planning, but since my husband and I are both getting busier at work (more on that below), I know it needs to happen. Unless we want to continue eating dinner at 9:00 every night. (If you have any favorite recipes that are quick, tasty, and somewhat healthy, please let me know in the comments!)
  • Do a joint book review with my sister. Posting more joint reviews is one of my overall goals for 2017, so I figure I might as well start now! My sister has posted on the blog before, and it’s always a lot of fun to talk books with her.
  • Take care of home maintenance tasks. Why does it seem like the lightbulbs burn out, faucets leak, and doorknobs get loose all at the same time? I’ve been ignoring these small inconveniences for waaaay longer than a responsible home-renter should.
  • Continue to carve out time for relaxation (and reading!). I’ve just added more time to my work schedule, which means I’ll need to be more intentional about getting things done around the house (see above), but it also means that I’ll need to focus on relaxing. It sounds silly, but if I’m not careful, I’ll spend all my downtime spinning my wheels, trying to complete tasks and worrying about things that I can’t change. (Anybody else have this problem??)

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book is still sitting next to my bed. I’m waiting for the perfect time to dig in. I also have some new books from two of my other favorite authors, Jasper Fforde and Shannon Hale.

TV shows I’ve been watching: My husband and I finally finished watching Veronica Mars (the TV series and the movie), and I am totally obsessed! I wish there were more seasons to watch, but I’ve heard the Veronica Mars audio books (written by show creator Rob Thomas and narrated by Kristen Bell) are really good.

Music I’m loving: I can’t stop listening to Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen. (If you don’t mind a bit of raunchy humor, this interpretive dance to the song is hilarious!)

Podcasts I’m listening to: I’m not usually a fan of D&D-related media, but my husband and I are hooked on The Adventure Zone podcast. The McElroy brothers and their dad are hilarious. (Listen at your own risk! There’s a lot of swearing and sexual innuendo here.)

My favorite Instagram:

I love to take part in the Broke & Bookish secret Santa swap, and I got some lovely gifts from my secret Santa this year.

NewberyandBeyond.com
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If you’d like to follow me on Instagram (I post lots of book pictures and some of my 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.

Happy New Year 2017!

Happy New Year from Newbery and Beyond! I'm sharing my bookish stats and goals on the blog. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Happy New Year, everyone! I love how the New Year always causes a lot of reflection and goal setting, and I’m going to continue my tradition of posting a summary of the books I read over the past year. If you like a good statistical breakdown, this post is for you.

This year, I read 251 books, which is up significantly from last year’s 196 books. How did I do this? Honestly, I have no idea. I didn’t do anything to push myself to read more (other than check out masses of books from the library).

33% of these books were diverse books, which I defined as written by or about underrepresented groups. Books in translation, books about feminism, books about countries other than America or England, and books by or about people of color, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTI, or adherents of non-Christian religions all fell into this category. (I’m excited about this percentage, since I made a resolution last January to read 25% diverse books.)

I read a huge variety of genres this year, including biographies, thrillers, comics, and graphic novels. The most significant percentages are the 7% children’s books; 6% YA; almost 16% mysteries (this is partly because I got hooked on a very long series, but also because I love me some mysteries); 14% Newbery books; and 7% SFF.

I read 70% fiction and 30% nonfiction this year. This is almost exactly the same breakdown as 2015.

63% of the books I read were written by female authors. 35% were written by men, and 2% had both male and female authors. This works for me.

55% of my 2016 books were backlist books; 39% were new; 6% were classics. This is a much better balance than 2015, when I read 71% newly published books.

19% of the books I read were published by indie or small press publishers; 79% were by mainstream publishers.

I made a handy pie chart showing how my Goodreads ratings stacked up. Over 80% of my reads in 2016 were rated either 3 stars or 4 stars.

Book statistics from NewberyandBeyond.com
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Only one of the books I read was one that I already owned! 3% came from Amazon; 20% were ARCs (that was surprising to me, but apparently it’s less than last year); 36% were from the library (not including the interlibrary loans I took out); 12% were from Paperback Swap (if you’re not on there, you should be!); 8% were from Scribd (my favorite online book subscription); and 5% were bought from thrift stores. The rest were borrowed from friends, given to me as a gift, found free online, or bought from various sources.

6% of the books I read this year were audio books, which is way up from any years in the past. 31% were ebooks, and the other 63% were print books (no surprise, as I still much prefer paper to reading on a screen or listening to a book).

I reviewed 76% of the books I read this year. Some of the 24% I didn’t review because I didn’t have much to say about them (or occasionally because I really hated them); others I read for personal reference.

At the beginning of 2016, I set some bookish and book blogging resolutions:

  • Up my diverse reading to 25% of all the books I read. As I already mentioned, I surpassed this with 33%. Woohoo!
  • Consistently blog 3 times a week. Ahem. Mostly. I did my best, but some weeks busyness got the better of me.
  • Add new kinds of posts, other than just reviews. I did this for a while, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. (My favorite non-review post is probably this one questioning whether or not we have too many WWII books.)
  • Improve my book photography and graphic design skills. I did this! At least mostly. The best thing I did was invest in some gorgeous stock photos and spend a lot of time redesigning my graphics. I also got a logo, which I love!
  • Participate more frequently in Top Ten Tuesday. Yep, but I’d love to do even more this year!

Now I’d like to set a few goals for 2017:

  • Write more joint book reviews. I love reviewing books with other people, and both my sister and husband have agreed to review books with me in the past. Look forward to more posts like these in the upcoming year!
  • Participate in Armchair BEA. This was one of the most fun things I did on my blog this year. I loved getting to connect with other book lovers through this event, and I can’t wait to do it again.
  • Continue to read at least 25% diverse books. This goal is more important to me than ever this year.
  • Put more bookish items on my Etsy shop. I have some ideas, but feel free to leave a comment if there’s a bookish idea you’d like to see in my shop!

I hope you all have a wonderful start to 2017! I’m wishing you the best of everything in the New Year and, of course, lots of wonderful reads.

Top Ten Best Books I Read in 2016

Linking up with the Broke and the Bookish to share my top ten best books I read in 2016. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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It’s the end of the year, which means tons of reflection posts and best-of lists (which I love!). I read many wonderful books this year, but these ten were the best books on my list. I recommend each of them wholeheartedly!

The Penderwicks series

If you enjoy Hilary McKay’s delightful writing style and quirky families, you must read this series. The Penderwicks are a family of sisters whose different personalities often clash, but who deeply love and take care of each other. They have fun adventures together and help each other adjust to the changes of growing up. I’m currently reading the fourth and latest book in the series, and so far each one has been just as wonderful as the last.

The Passenger

I don’t often read thrillers, but I greatly enjoyed this one. I read it practically in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down.

Come, Thou Tortoise

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Audrey has to come to terms with her recent loss, and as odd as our main character is, the writing style is just as strange–there are no question marks or quotation marks here. A quirky book with surprisingly lovable characters.

The Secret Adversary

I absolutely love Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence mysteries, so I really liked reading their first adventure together.

Thursday Next series

This series is a must read for book lovers and anyone who thinks a humorous time travel/alt history SFF series sounds awesome (it is).

Last Stop on Market Street

This is just a lovely picture book. Whether or not you have kids, you should pick this Newbery winner up.

Half the Sky

Heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. If you care about women’s issues, you should read this book.

Abandoned America

I have a weird obsession with abandoned buildings, and reading this book made me realize I’m not alone. The author treks through various abandoned places, from a classic ghost town to an enormous mall, from hotels and vacation spots to theaters and mental hospitals. The photos are amazing, and he tells the fascinating stories of why each place was abandoned.

Dumplin’

A wonderful YA book about an overweight girl trying to fit in and stand out in her beauty pageant-obsessed town. All the characters are wonderful–they make bad choices sometimes, sure, but none of them are cringe-worthy–and I love the Texas setting.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

This picture book is definitely one of the best books of this year. For any child (or adult) who wants to look at some beautiful artwork and read about the amazing women who shaped our world.

What were your favorite reads of 2016?

My Favorite Feminist Books of 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, I'm sharing my favorite feminist books that I read this year. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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It’s no secret that I care about women around the world, and my reading life often reflects that. I’ve recently read some incredible feminist and women-focused books, and I wanted to share some of my favorites with you. There are reviews of my newest reads, as well as a list of my favorite feminist books from earlier in the year.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

If you haven’t heard about this lovely picture book, you must check it out! It was created through one of the most-funded Kickstarters ever, and I was lucky enough to be one of the backers.

This book is filled with lovely illustrations by female artists, and it features the stories of tons of women of various occupations, countries, and eras. It’s written for little kids, of course, but I think it’s enjoyable for adults too. If you have little ones (boys or girls) that you want to teach about important women of the past and present, you need Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

A Century of Women

I picked this book up for 50 cents in a recent thrift store splurge, and I was surprised at how wonderful it was! Published in the late 90s or early 2000s, the “century” in the title refers to American women in the 1900s.

The main attraction for A Century of Women is the amazing collection of photographs and quotes from primary sources. From suffrage to workers’ rights, from family planning to representation in the arts, this book has a little bit of everything that has happened in American women’s 20th century history. It’s worth reading just to hear the varying opinions of women throughout this time and to view all the gorgeous photos.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Half the Sky

Half the Sky is eye-opening and powerful. It reveals the horrible issues facing women around the world, from maternal health and economic inequality to sexual slavery, rape, and violence, as well as various failed attempts at understanding the culture and fixing the problems. Still, it offers hope and concrete steps to making a difference in women’s lives.

If you, like me, have a passion for women’s health and equality around the world, this book is a must-read.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Jesus Feminist

If you’re a Christian wondering if feminism is for you, take heart! This book will offer hope. As someone who considers herself a Christian and a feminist, it was so exciting to find someone else who believes in equality and Jesus.

This book isn’t for everyone. Some of Sarah’s writing is a bit flowery and hippy-dippy. Still, if you can get past that, I’d say it’s worth a look.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Other books I’ve already reviewed that made my list:

Her Stories (children’s fiction)

Reading Lolita in Tehran (adult nonfiction)

The Girls of Atomic City (adult nonfiction)

The Princess Problem (adult nonfiction)

Interstellar Cinderella (picture book)

Good Girls, Bad Girls of the New Testament (adult nonfiction)

Untangled (adult nonfiction)

Excellent Daughters (adult nonfiction)

The Voice that Challenged a Nation (children’s nonfiction)

I hope these books give you a starting place for some wonderful feminist reading!

Ten Books I’d Like to See Under My Christmas Tree This Year

Linking up with Broke & Bookish to share my top ten books I'm thankful for. | NewberyandBeyond.com
I’m linking up with the Broke and Bookish for today’s Top Ten Tuesday post!

I’ve already received a couple of awesome books for Christmas (thanks, Secret Santa!), but there are always more books I’d love to receive. Here are just a few I’d like to see under my Christmas tree this year.

1. The Year of Living Danishly. This book sounds so fun! And sadly my library doesn’t have a copy of it.

2. Refuse to Do Nothing. This book on ending modern-day slavery has been on my TBR list for a couple years now, and unfortunately my library doesn’t have a copy! I want to have a copy of my own.

3. Hyperbole and a Half. I’ve already read this book, and it is hilarious! I want to be able to read this book anytime I need a pick-me-up.

4. The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run. Another book that just sounds hilarious. I need more of those books in my life.

5. The Cardamom Trail. My husband and I got obsessed with The Great British Baking Show this year, and we fell in love with Chetna’s baking style. If I had this book, I could probably convince my husband to do some baking with me!

6. I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla. As someone who wants to adopt someday, this book on interracial adoption is a must read.

7. Quiet Power. I’ve read Susan Cain’s original book and enjoyed it a lot. I want to add this one to my stack of books!

8. The Princess Problem. I loved this book! I want to have my own copy for when I have children.

9. The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. I’ve been reading my library’s copy of this book, and I loooove it! (You know how much I’m into mysteries.) I really want my own copy so I can reread my favorites every December.

10. Eleanor Roosevelt: You Learn by Living. Eleanor Roosevelt is my role model! I’ve read a lot about her, but I’d love to read a book that she wrote.

What books do you want to see under your Christmas tree this year?

Adult Fiction Mini Reviews

A widely varied collection of light adult fiction. Nothing challenging, but some fun picks in several genres. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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This is a widely varied collection of light adult fiction. Nothing challenging here, but some fun picks in several genres. (All summaries via Goodreads.com.)

Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

I wanted to love this book, but I definitely didn’t. It consists of overly formal writing that devolves as letters become outlawed on the island of Nollop. It’s silly–why did the government decide banishment was a good punishment for accidentally using one of the banned letters?–and the writing drove me nuts. I don’t see the purpose of using long and/or archaic words for the purpose of impressing others, and that’s what the writing in this book felt like to me. (Maybe I’m not really a word lover so much as a story lover.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Lizzy and Jane

In a desperate attempt to reconnect with her cooking gifts, struggling chef Elizabeth returns home. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her estranged sister, Jane, is battling cancer. Elizabeth surprises everyone—including herself—when she decides to stay in Seattle and work to prepare healthy, sustaining meals for Jane as she undergoes chemotherapy. She also meets Nick and his winsome son, Matt, who, like Elizabeth, are trying to heal from the wounds of the past.

I thought Lizzy and Jane would be a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but it wasn’t, not really. It took some (very few) of the elements of that story and incorporated them into a very different romance story. Elizabeth is a New York City chef who has lost her spark. Desperate to get it back and salvage her job, she travels to Seattle to spend time with her father and her sister, Jane. Ever since their mother died of cancer, Elizabeth and Jane have had little to do with each other, but now that Jane herself has cancer, the two must find a way to get along and heal past wounds. (Also Elizabeth falls in love, but honestly, that almost seems beside the point here.)

The story of Elizabeth reuniting with her sister during Jane’s cancer treatment was rough. Both sisters had some very selfish, hurtful moments, and both had moments when they started to heal their relationship. I usually find romance-based novels a bit sappy, and I felt that way a bit with this book. Not having gone through cancer treatments myself or with any close friends or family, I was unsure whether or not that aspect of the book was well done.

If you want a sweet, heartwarming story, Lizzy and Jane might be a good choice. It wasn’t really for me, but it was a fun, quick read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The ABC Murders

There’s a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card, he leaves beside each victim’s corpse the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught – until he makes the mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans.

You know I love me some Agatha Christie, and I’ve been reading through some of her Hercule Poirot books with my husband recently. As always, Agatha Christie will surprise you, even when you think you know it all. This is one of her most famous Poirot mysteries–a serial killer starts killing people alphabetically, leaving an ABC Railway Guide next to his victims, and Poirot must figure out who the killer is before he makes his way through the alphabet–and if you haven’t read it, I don’t want to spoil it for you by saying anything more.

This wasn’t my favorite Christie mystery ever, but I’m not sorry I read it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Classic Book Reviews: Uncle Tom’s Cabin + The Beautiful and Damned

I continue my adventures in reading the classics with Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Beautiful and Damned. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m continuing my journey of reading the classics that have somehow escaped me (you can read previous posts here and here). Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Beautiful and Damned were next on my list, simply because I happened to have audio book versions of each. (I admit to listening to each of them on 2x speed and using my 30 minute commute to force myself to listen to them when they got dry and boring.) Still, it’s easy to see how each of these books became classics, and I’m glad I read them.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

First published in 1852, this book follows the story of several slaves and the white people who surround them. When Mr. Shelby, the slave owner, finds himself in debt, he has to sell two of his favorite slaves–kind, patient Tom and the young child of Eliza. Eliza decides to run away with her child, while Tom agrees to be sold downriver. We follow both characters, along with the masters and fellow slaves they encounter on their travels.

I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. It is powerful and surprisingly modern for the time it was written. It’s easy to see why Abraham Lincoln reportedly cited it as the cause of the Civil War. Of course, there is a fair amount of racism still present (it was written in the 1850s, after all), and there is a strong case of White Savior Complex and a large group of simple, pure-hearted slaves, but I was amazed at what a case Stowe built for ending slavery. She focused on how deeply these mothers felt the loss of their children, husbands the loss of their wives, and often directs her narrative voice at the audience, urging them to think about how they would feel in similar circumstances. Stowe clearly had a deep Christian faith, as did many of her readers at the time, and she gathers evidence for how unchristian it is to own slaves. She even attacks those who justify slavery by describing how kind they are to their own slaves and how lost these people would be without guidance–Stowe rightly points out that everyone desires freedom above practically all else and how harmful it is to be even a kindly master.

If you can get past the historical racism inherent to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the length which at times feels dry, you should read this book. I’m glad I did, even though I doubt I’ll pick it up again.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Beautiful and Damned

Embellished with the author’s lyrical prose, here is the story of Harvard-educated, aspiring aesthete Anthony Patch and his beautiful wife, Gloria. As they await the inheritance of his grandfather’s fortune, their reckless marriage sways under the influence of alcohol and avarice. A devastating look at the nouveau riche and New York nightlife, as well as the ruinous effects of wild ambition, The Beautiful and the Damned achieved stature as one of Fitzgerald’s most accomplished novels.

Fitzgerald is great at presenting a depressing, dark view of human nature, and that’s exactly what he does in The Beautiful and Damned. Anthony and Gloria selfishly mistreat each other and fall into straits as they can’t control their spending/drinking/vanity. It’s painful to see them do so much harm to themselves and each other, although it is of course very well written. If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, you’ll know what to expect from this book.

Rating: Meh

Funny Memoir Roundup

In which I review Furiously Happy, Modern Romance, and The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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In today’s funny memoir roundup, there’s only one real standout book. Unfortunately, I’ve read a lot of meh memoirs recently that haven’t made much of an impact on me. (Spoiler alert–Furiously Happy is the best one on this list. It’s hilarious!)

Please note as you proceed that each of these books has a fair amount of sexual content and/or salty language. If that’s something that you want to avoid, skip this post and come back on Friday for a roundup of my latest children’s and YA reads!

Furiously Happy

In her new book, FURIOUSLY HAPPY, Jenny explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

According to Jenny: “Some people might think that being ‘furiously happy’ is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he’s never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Jenny Lawson is so funny (if you laughed at the snippet above, just know that the rest of the book is pretty much like that). I laughed out loud at several parts of this book, but I also appreciated her honesty about her struggles with mental and physical illness. My absolute favorite entry was about her sleep study (I read it, laughing hysterically, and then immediately read it again over my husband’s shoulder as I forced him to read it), but there are great chapters containing her late night iPhone notes, various adventures involving taxidermied animals, and the bright spots in the darkness of depression.

(As with Lawson’s last book, and anything Bloggess-related, be aware that this book contains a fair amount of salty language.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Modern Romance

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I don’t really like stand up comedy, so I’m not super familiar with Aziz Ansari’s work outside of Parks & Rec. Still, when I started listening to this on audio book, I expected a silly look at dating in the era of Tinder and Match.com. There is a fair amount of humor (especially in the audio book, read by Ansari himself!), but I was surprised to find a serious, well-researched book about finding love in the digital age.

Ansari and his research team do a great job of exploring the different experiences of various age groups and cultures in dating, love, sex, and marriage, and they are honest about the limitations of their studies. I found this book interesting, but ultimately forgettable. Check it out if you’re really curious about how romance has changed with the advent of the internet.

(As will probably surprise no one, there is a large amount of sexual content and swearing that may make readers uncomfortable. Be forewarned.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

Being an introvert in a world that glorifies cool isn’t easy. But when Issa Rae, the creator of the Shorty Award–winning hit series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” is that introvert—whether she’s navigating love, work, friendships, or “rapping”—it sure is entertaining. Now, in this debut collection of essays written in her witty and self-deprecating voice, Rae covers everything from navigating the perils of eating out alone and public displays of affection to learning to accept yourself—natural hair and all.

A reflection on her own unique experiences as a cyber pioneer yet universally appealing, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girlis a book no one—awkward or cool, black, white, or other—will want to miss. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I don’t know much at all about Issa Rae, but I picked up this book over the Thanksgiving holiday on a whim. It contains funny, interesting stories about Jo-Issa’s childhood, life in Senegal and America, and understanding who she is and how her race affects her life. Mixed in with these stories are what the author calls “ABG [awkward black girl] guides.”

This book is interesting, and I definitely learned more about Senegal than I (sadly) knew before, but it didn’t make much of an impact on me. (As with the previous two books, there is a fair amount of sexual content/swearing that you may or may not enjoy.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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