I talked a bit yesterday about my views on diversity in books (short version: more please!), so I’m going to switch gears in today’s post and talk about which authors I would like to share a meal with.
Jane Austen. This is my fantasy list, so of course I’ve got to start with Austen! Her books are classics for a reason–they are funny and insightful. I’ve read many books about Austen’s life and works, but I would love to ask the author herself about her novels and her life. She seems like a witty dinner companion.
Sharon Creech. Readers of this blog already know about my deep love for Sharon Creech’s works. She was one of my favorite authors as a child, and her sweet, quirky characters can still make me tear up as an adult. I’d love to get a cup of tea with Sharon Creech and tell her how much her books have meant to me over the years.
Agatha Christie. Another of my lifelong favorites, I would love to have dinner in an old English country manor and hear Christie tell stories about her life. From her experiences as a nurse and chemist during the first World War to her time in the field as an archaeologist’s wife to her mysterious disappearance, I think Christie would have a lot of interesting things to say.
As always, leave your links in the comments below! I want to hear your thoughts on today’s Armchair Book Expo topics.
I’ve been a reader all my life, and I’ve consumed countless books, blog posts about books, and bookish podcasts. I’ve talked with friends, family members, and strangers about books and bookish events. Still, every reader wants something different from their reading experience, so while the things I list here are things I want, I realize that not every reader will agree. (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on which things you want or don’t want as a reader.)
What makes or breaks a book? For me, a book is all about the plot and the characters (in that order). Setting is a nice bonus, but it’s not a necessity–in fact, I tend to shy away from books that are described as “atmospheric” or “sweeping.” Beautiful writing is also a plus, but if the plot keeps my interest, I’ll put up with a just average level of writing.
How do we rate books? Again, I think this is a deeply personal decision. As I said above, my favorite books are heavy on attention-grabbing plots and likable, interesting, diverse characters. On my blog, I have a rating scale that is roughly equivalent to a 0-5 star rating, but gives me a little more flexibility because I rate my reads on how I felt about them and also on how much I remember about them after I put down the book. I tend to quickly forget things about the books I read, so I know a book is good when I’m still thinking about it weeks or months later.
What do we want from an author event? I’ll admit that I’ve never been to an event like this and I’ve never met a favorite author (maybe one day I’ll make it to the Book Expo in person!). I imagine I’d want something low-key where the author can spend some time talking about their books and their writing process, and maybe a time afterward for autographs or to make a more personal connection with fans. I can be pretty awkward when meeting people in person, so I don’t know if I would know what to say if I met a favorite author! (Top on my list of authors to meet would be Connie Willis, Sharon Creech, Shannon Hale, Marissa Meyer, Nicola Yoon, Neil Gaiman, and obviously J.K. Rowling.)
How does diversity representation fit into all of this? Every year, reading diversely becomes more important to me. As I did last year, I’m making an effort this year to read at least 25% books that are by or about (preferably both) people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTI people, people who follow a different religion than I do, or people from other countries. I love that every year it gets easier to find these voices in both fiction and nonfiction, and my TBR list is filled with new and backlist #ownvoices books that I’m really excited about reading. If I ever attend an in-person bookish event, I would expect and hope to see a lineup of authors and speakers of a variety of ethnicities, cultural and religious backgrounds, and life circumstances.
As always, please leave your links in the comments! I want to hear your thoughts on what readers want.
I participated in the Armchair Book Expo for the first time last year, and I had so much fun that I’ve been anticipating the next event ever since! Today’s post is just a quick introduction. Over the next few days, you can expect posts about what readers really want, diversity in books, dining with authors, and even a giveaway. Let’s get started!
I am . . . an avid reader, a musician, and a teacher.
My favorite . . . book so far this year has been The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood.
My least favorite . . . genre is typically fantasy (though there are some notableexceptions).
My current read . . . is the entire Septimus Heap series–I’m on book four out of seven.
My summer plans . . . involve lots of beach time and a trip to Harry Potter World at Universal.
Please leave your Armchair Book Expo links in the comments–I’d love to check them out!
This just a brief check-in to let you all know how I’m doing on reading the classics. Unfortunately, these books aren’t the ones that have been on my list for ages; they’re just books that happened to cross my path. Still, I’m glad I read them.
This collection offers some interesting and strange stories. I’m not sure if my edition has all the stories of the original (I read the Amazon freebie version), but I enjoyed many of the ones contained within. The expanded story of Aladdin was definitely my favorite. (Caution: There are a fair amount of racist remarks within this book.)
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
For almost two centuries, the stories of magic and myth gathered by the Brothers Grimm have been part of the way children — and adults — learn about the vagaries of the real world.
Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow-White, Hänsel and Gretel, Little Red-Cap (a.k.a. Little Red Riding Hood), and Briar-Rose (a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty) are only a few of the enchanting characters included. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
I’m pretty sure I’ve read this collection before–if not the whole thing, at least many of the stories within the collection. Grimm offers all the classic fairy tales you know (of course, with a darker twist than the Disney version), along with some very strange, lesser-known stories. I wouldn’t give this to a child, but if you’ve never read the original collection of German fairy tales, you should check it out.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Murder at the Vicarage
Murder at the Vicarage marks the debut of Agatha Christie’s unflappable and much beloved female detective, Miss Jane Marple. With her gift for sniffing out the malevolent side of human nature, Miss Marple is led on her first case to a crime scene at the local vicarage. Colonel Protheroe, the magistrate whom everyone in town hates, has been shot through the head. No one heard the shot. There are no leads. Yet, everyone surrounding the vicarage seems to have a reason to want the Colonel dead. It is a race against the clock as Miss Marple sets out on the twisted trail of the mysterious killer without so much as a bit of help from the local police. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
You know I love Agatha Christie, and while I don’t generally like Miss Marple, this first Miss Marple mystery was pretty fun. There are some great characters in this book–the vicar and his much younger and prettier wife, the artist and his lover, the disillusioned young woman searching for freedom, and of course nosy old Miss Marple. It’s not my favorite Agatha Christie, but I did enjoy it.
Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
A Man Called Ove has been super popular for the last several months, so I was glad that my book club recently decided to read it. Some of us loved it, others thought it was cheesy (so be forewarned if you dislike books that wrap up too neatly!).
I thought the book was a lovely, sweet story about an old, grumpy, suicidal man who reluctantly befriends the new pregnant neighbor and her family. It reads like a fairy tale at times, as Ove and the people around him are often archetypal figures, but I didn’t mind that.
As the story progresses, we get to see what experiences made Ove the man he is today–a strict rule-follower (and -enforcer) who nevertheless has a tender heart–and we also get to watch him slowly become more connected to the people who surround him. If you want a sweet, sad, fluffy story and don’t mind things being a bit too neat and tidy, I think you’ll enjoy A Man Called Ove.
Lately I’ve been buried in reading projects other than reading through the Newbery books, so I only have a couple of Newberys to talk about in today’s review. (I hope to share my latest reading project with you all soon–I have many thoughts about it!)
Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night
Welcome to the night, where mice stir and furry moths flutter. Where snails spiral into shells as orb spiders circle in silk. Where the roots of oak trees recover and repair from their time in the light. Where the porcupette eats delicacies—raspberry leaves!—and coos and sings.
Come out to the cool, night wood, and buzz and hoot and howl—but do beware of the great horned owl—for it’s wild and it’s windy way out in the woods! (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Dark Emperor consists of cute poems about the animals and plants that come alive during the night. I especially appreciated the notes from the author which offer more details about each plant or animal mentioned in the poems. The illustrations by Rick Allen are gorgeous as well. I can imagine this book being a great bedtime read for older children.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Ood-le-uk the Wanderer
Ood-le-uk, an American Eskimo boy, accidentally gets across the Bering Strait when his boat is swept to sea. After three years of wandering in Asia and having many exciting adventures, Ood-le-uk returns home and is instrumental in helping establish trade between his tribe and Siberian tradesmen. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Oh, the classic Newberys… This would have been an interesting survival story about living in Alaska and Serbia, but there’s a lot of old timey racism here. Despite the interesting stories about Inuit life, there is too much here that would make modern readers cringe for me to recommend the book. (If you want an updated take on children surviving in the wilderness, may I suggest my childhood favorite, Gary Paulsen?)
I realized recently that I have a long list of middle grades and YA books (including a couple of ARCs that have since been published) that have been languishing on my “to be reviewed” list for way too long. As I went back through the list, I was surprised to remember how many of them I really enjoyed! I hope you find one or two books here to add to your list. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)
Who Could That Be at This Hour?
The adventure began in a fading town. Far from anyone he knew or trusted, a young Lemony Snicket started an apprenticeship for a secret organization shrouded in mystery and secrecy. He asked questions that shouldn’t have been on his mind. Now he has written an account that should not be published that shouldn’t be read. Not even by you. Seriously, we recommend that you do NOT ask your parents for this, the first book in his new ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS series.
I read this book when I was sick as a dog with strep throat, and I actually found it pretty entertaining. It’s about young Lemony Snicket’s adventures, and it has Snicket’s trademark quirky, funny narration and weird circumstances. I’m not sure if I’ll continue reading this series, but you might give it a shot if you enjoyed Series of Unfortunate Events.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Armstrong & Charlie [Note: I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.]
Charlie isn’t looking forward to sixth grade. After all, if he starts sixth grade, chances are he’ll finish it. And when he does, he’ll be older than his older brother ever was. Armstrong isn’t looking forward to sixth grade, either. This year, he’ll have to wake up at 5:30 to ride a bus to an all-white school in the Hollywood Hills.
When Armstrong and Charlie are assigned seats next to each other, what starts as a rivalry becomes a close friendship. Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Armstrong and Charlie is the hilarious, heartwarming tale of two boys from opposite worlds. Different, yet the same.
This book is set during the desegregation of schools in California in the 1970s. Armstrong is part of a small group of black students who are now being bused into white school districts. Charlie’s parents want Charlie to be involved in welcoming these students. Armstrong’s bullying, Charlie’s recent loss of his brother Andy, and ever-increasing racial tensions make these two unlikely friends, but they slowly grow to respect and stand up for each other.
I thought the author did a great job of portraying the sputtering friendship of these two boys as they both face the challenges of growing up, but it does make me a bit nervous that the author himself is white (The Help, anyone?). It seems like he did his research and was respectful of the real racial tensions of the 70s, but I’d love to hear the perspective of someone who is not white.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Odd and the Frost Giants
The winter isn’t ending. Nobody knows why. And Odd has run away from home, even though he can barely walk and has to use a crutch. Out in the forest he encounters a bear, a fox, and an eagle – three creatures with a strange story to tell.
Now Odd is faced with a stranger journey than he had ever imagined.
A journey to save Asgard, City of the Norse Gods, from the Frost Giants who have invaded it. It’s going to take a very special kind of boy to defeat the most dangerous of all the Frost Giants and rescue the mighty Gods. Someone cheerful and infuriating and clever. Someone just like Odd…
You know I’m going to read any children’s book that Neil Gaiman puts out. This is a cute story of Odin, Thor, and Loki and the boy named Odd who saved them from one of their mythical scrapes. It’s a fun book for kids who are into mythology.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life [Note: I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.]
Everything is about to change. Until this moment, Sal has always been certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and their loving Mexican-American family. But now his own history unexpectedly haunts him, and life-altering events force him and his best friend, Samantha, to confront issues of faith, loss, and grief.
Suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and discovering that he no longer knows who he really is—but if Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?
Be prepared to cry as Salvador, Sam, and Fito deal with death, addiction, and hate in their senior year of high school. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but be aware that this book deals with themes of ethnicity, homosexuality, addiction, neglectful parents, death, adoption, and the fear of growing up. Sounds like a downer, right? But there is a real joy in this book. Each of the friends, despite their broken, messy families, find a family with each other and with Sal’s father. They talk like teenagers and make mistakes that teenagers make, but they are always there for each other, respecting each other despite their differences.
I’d only recommend this book to older teens because of its difficult themes. But if you’re up for it, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life provides a sad but ultimately hopeful look at the lives of three teenagers struggling to grow up.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Strange Fruit, Volume I is a collection of stories from African American history that exemplifies success in the face of great adversity. This unique graphic anthology offers historical and cultural commentary on nine uncelebrated heroes whose stories are not often found in history books. Among the stories included are: Henry “Box” Brown, who escaped from slavery by mailing himself to Philadelphia; Alexander Crummel and the Noyes Academy, the first integrated school in America, established in the 1830s; Marshall “Major” Taylor, a.k.a. the Black Cyclone, the first black champion in any sport; and Bass Reeves, the most successful lawman in the Old West. Written and illustrated by Joel Christian Gill, the diverse art beautifully captures the spirit of each remarkable individual and opens a window into an important part of American history.
This graphic novel is filled with comics about real-life African American heroes. I had heard of only a few of these people, and I was fascinated to read these short comics about their lives and successes. Despite the title, which refers to the lynching of African Americans, this book is on the whole an uplifting exploration of some obscure but interesting, hardworking, and talented historical figures.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
A Snicker of Magic
Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.
But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck’s about to change. A “word collector,” Felicity sees words everywhere—shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog’s floppy ears—but Midnight Gulch is the first place she’s ever seen the word “home.” And then there’s Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity’s never seen before, words that make Felicity’s heart beat a little faster.
Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she’ll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that’s been cast over the town . . . and her mother’s broken heart.
So sweet! Felicity meets a new and unusual friend named Jonah in Midnight Gulch, a magical place where she hopes her mother will finally settle down. If you need a lighthearted story which nevertheless explores themes of home and belonging (with a side of magic), this is the book for you.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn
When Miss Eells gives young Anthony a job at the library, he thinks he’ll just be dusting shelves and filing books. Instead, he discovers a hidden clue leading to the treasure of eccentric millionaire Alpheus Winterborn. Miss Eells thinks the clues are a practical joke left by the odd, old Winterborn before he died. But then why do things suddenly start getting so strange? And terrifying?
I don’t remember who recommended this book to me, but my main thought as I finished the book was, “Well, that was weird.” Anthony has to outsmart the evil Hugo Philpotts in order to find the eccentric library founder’s treasure. I had heard it was supposed to be suspenseful, that the author was king of writing gothic and horror works for children, but I didn’t find it dark or creepy, just strange. Maybe it’s because the book seems a bit outdated; maybe it’s because the adults aren’t just incompetent but actually antagonistic; maybe it’s because Anthony himself is a bit of a brat (all the characters in this story are kind of jerks). Whatever the reason, this just didn’t work for me.
I’m linking up with the Broke & Bookish for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday meme.
Today’s TTT prompt revolves around the things I’d like to see more books include. There are definitely some things that consistently trigger my “must read now” impulse, and I’m happy to share them here!
Time travel historical fiction. This is why Connie Willis in particular is like candy for me. (See also here and here.) I love historical fiction in general, and the time travel aspect tends to keep things from getting too serious.
MG books about quirky kids. No matter what time period, setting, or quirk the story has, I’m always up for a good middle grade novel with unusual characters.
Books with a prominent narrator. I love books that have a narrator who inserts herself/himself into the story. Humorous asides are always welcome. (Lemony Snicket is a master of this.)
Books that explore other countries. My reading on lesser-known countries in Africa, Asia, and South America is sadly lacking. I’d love an influx of books in translation or books by authors from these countries.
Diversity! You guys know that reading diversely is important to me, and we still have a lack of characters who are POC, have a disability or mental illness, and so on. I always learn a lot by reading about people who are different from me, so more of that, please!
Books about Millennials that don’t hate on Millennials. This may be a kind of book that only I want, but as a Millennial myself, I’m tired of reading books and articles that either bash my generation for our stereotypical flaws or are written as “how to be a real adult” how-to guides (although I admit there are some books in that vein that I have read and enjoyed). I really want to see some books that describe my generation without being hateful or patronizing.
Hate to love romances. Why does this always get me? It must be because of my formative experience with You’ve Got Mail.
At long last, I’m teaming up with my sister Melanie in order to share our thoughts on the 2017 Newbery books! We had a lot of fun reading and reviewing these books–it’s a good selection this year.
Wolf Hollow [Melanie’s review]
This story takes place during World War II (again!), but in a small town in America that remains relatively unaffected by the war. Annabelle is trying to figure out what to do about being bullied by Betty, who is new in town, as Betty’s actions become increasingly violent. Betty soon targets Toby, a veteran of the first World War who wanders silently through the town, mysterious, but harmless. Annabelle tries to protect Toby from Betty’s false accusations, but soon she and her family are caught up in a web of lies, trying desperately to bring the truth to light.
One thing I really liked about this book was how much Annabelle’s parents listened to and respected her. The conflict doesn’t come from Annabelle’s parents not believing her, but from everyone’s inability to prove Betty is lying. Betty is sadistic and manipulative, and the worst part is that people believe her lies. Through various twists, Wolf Hollow examines themes of prejudice, the power and limitations of the truth, and the nature of evil. In this intense coming of age story, Annabelle learns that the truth doesn’t always win, and good people aren’t always vindicated.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
The Girl Who Drank the Moon [Melanie’s review]
The people of the Protectorate have always feared the witch in the forest, who demands a baby from them every year. They are entirely unaware that Xan, the witch they so fear, rescues the babies, not knowing why they are abandoned. When she accidentally feeds one baby moonlight instead of starlight, imbuing her with magic, Xan knows she must raise the girl herself. Luna grows up with a swamp monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon as her companions, completely oblivious of her intense magical powers bubbling just beneath the surface, threatening to break out uncontrollably. When Luna’s peaceful life inevitably converges with the Protectorate, the true villain is revealed, and Luna must use her magic to save those she loves.
I haven’t loved a book as much as this one in a very long time. The villain is unexpected, and the characters are engaging, with their own backstories and motivations. Xan is wise but realistically flawed, Luna is energetic and self-oriented yet absolutely devoted to her family. The story combines classic fairy tale elements in new ways, creating a complex, well-developed world. If you like fairy tales, you need to check this one out!
Rating: Re-read Worthy
The Inquisitor’s Tale [Monica’s review]
On a dark, stormy night in 1242, travelers at an inn share stories about their interactions with a group of three miraculous children. Each character has a different perspective on these children–are they saints, or are they participating in witchcraft? The three children each portray a different group of people who were downtrodden during the Middle Ages: Jeanne, who can see visions of the future, is female; supernaturally strong William is the son of a Saracen; and Jacob the healer suffers persecution for being Jewish. These three children, along with a greyhound who was raised from the dead, make their way across France, meeting everyone from priests to dragons to royalty.
This story pulls real-life characters and events from the Middle Ages, and even though it explores themes of racism and religious persecution, it keeps the story light and even humorous at times. The author’s historical notes are also fascinating and offer a great starting point for more study about this time period. I found it thoroughly enjoyable.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Freedom Over Me [Monica’s review]
This picture book contains lovely free verse poems and illustrations about the lives of American slaves who are being sold after their master’s death. It is sad and beautiful, as you would imagine. Although the names of these enslaved people come from a historical document, the details about their lives come from the imagination of the author. Bryan does a great job of painting a picture (both literally and figuratively) of these people as human beings with dreams and goals, a history and a future, rather than objects to be bought and sold, as the historical bill of sale implies.
This is an important and beautiful book, and it deserves a place in this year’s Newbery books. Despite the fact that it is a picture book, the subject matter might make you want to save this book for slightly older children.
First, a quick review of my small goals from April:
Prep for all the concerts! Check! The Easter performance and the big recital were a lot of work, but they turned out so nicely.
Start volunteering. Also check! I’m volunteering at a local refugee services center, offering my expertise in speaking English to their ESOL class. So far so good!
Do a spending freeze. Sort of. I’m counting this one as half complete, because knowing that I was supposed to be doing a spending freeze kept me from several frivolous online purchases, but I still managed to put in one Amazon order and eat out more than I’d like.
2.5/3 is not too bad! Now for my May small goals:
Survive my dental appointment. I have many medically-related fears, so my first appointment with a new dentist is at the very bottom of my list of things I want to do. If I can make it through the appointment and any follow-up procedures without passing out, it’ll be a miracle!
Plan something fun for Memorial Day weekend. This year I get Memorial Day weekend off (a wonderful bonus, since I work Saturdays and Mondays during the rest of the year), so I want to plan a quick weekend getaway with my husband. (I’m hoping this will give me something to look forward to as I suffer through dental anxiety!)
Get all the free things to celebrate my birthday! I’m signed up for so many mailing lists just so I can rake in all the freebies every May when my birthday rolls around. There’s nothing I like more than free food, so this is always a fun part of my birthday celebration.
What I’m Into
Book challenge updates: I’m participating in several book challenges this year, and seeing as we’re almost halfway through the year (how??), I thought I’d offer a quick update on how I’m doing with them. So far I’ve read 34/75 points worth of Newbery books and 1/12 classics.
Books I’m looking forward to reading: The most recent Flavia de Luce mystery is sitting by my bed right now, waiting for me to get a spare moment to read it.
TV shows I’ve been watching: One night when my husband was out with friends, I binged eight episodes of Parks and Rec. Now I’m only a few episodes away from finally finishing the series!
Podcast I’m loving: I finally started listening to S-Town, and I can totally see why everyone is so obsessed with it. It’s not for the faint of heart–there’s a significant amount of coarse language, including racial slurs, as well as described violence–but I’m really enjoying it so far. The story is gripping, of course (I wouldn’t expect anything less from the creators of Serial), but what I’m enjoying most is what a clear picture the podcast paints of rural, small town Southern life. It doesn’t shy away from the quirks, the beauty, the surprisingly intelligent residents, or the horrifyingly ignorant and/or racist residents.
My favorite Instagram:
One of my students brought me flowers for the recital, and I was so happy!
If you’d like to follow me on Instagram (I post lots of book pictures and some of my hand lettering), you can do so here.
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