Newbery Roundup: January 2017

The latest Newbery books, both new and old, that I've read over the past couple of months. | Book reviews by

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was so lovely! Minli’s journey to find the Old Man of the Moon was such a fun way to string together the Chinese folk stories that author Grace Lin grew up reading. Plus there is beautiful full color art. This is a quick read that should be on your (or your child’s) TBR list.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Tangle-Coated Horse

Ella Young was born in 1867 in the little village of Feenagh, County Antrim. “From childhood I heard tales of ghosts, banshees, haunted castles, mischievous and friendly sprites, snatches of ballads, and political arguments….It was not until I came to Dublin and met Standish O’Grady, A.E., and Kuna Meyer that I realized what a heritage waited for me in Celtic literature. I read every translation I could get, learned Irish, and betook myself to Gaelic Ireland where, by turf fires, I could hear the poems of the Fianna recited by folk who had heard the faery music and danced in faery circles…”

This is one of the old, out of print Honor books that I’ve ordered through interlibrary loan. I’m finding that most of the books that fall into that category are short story collections, which I’m not a big fan of (as you might remember). This one, a collection of tales about ancient Ireland and the magical creatures that lived there, is not too bad, but I found myself getting bored much of the time. I have a feeling your kids will probably feel the same way about it.

Rating: Meh


Tales and legends from Finland form the background to this story of a modern Finnish boy who is a student during the Finnish Revolution of World War I that freed that country from oppressive Russian rule.

Vaino was surprisingly enjoyable. Expecting another short story collection (see above), I was glad to find that the majority of this book consists of historical fiction focused on Finland in the early 20th century. There are short stories here about the fictional creatures and gods that populated ancient Finland (of course there are), but they are interspersed with the real-life events of the Finnish revolution during WWI and the adventures of Vaino, a young Finnish boy who gets caught up in these events. The intertwining of these two threads made this book work.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

In the Beginning

A thought-provoking collection of twenty-five stories that reflect the wonder and glory of the origins of the world and humankind. With commentary by the author.

You know I love Virginia Hamilton. This Newbery book of hers, In the Beginning, retells many of the world’s creation stories. The book is filled with great illustrations and explanations of these myths, including the various types of creation stories. I didn’t find this book as compelling as the last Virginia Hamilton I read, but I certainly don’t regret reading it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Year of Billy Miller

When Billy Miller has a mishap at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at the end of summer vacation, he ends up with a big lump on his head. What a way to start second grade, with a lump on your head! As the year goes by, though, Billy figures out how to navigate elementary school, how to appreciate his little sister, and how to be a more grown up and responsible member of the family and a help to his busy working mom and stay-at-home dad.

If you’ve read as many Newbery books as I have, you start to realize that there are major themes for the different time periods in which they’ve given the award. As mentioned above, many of the early Newbery books are collections of myths and short stories, while the 70s and 80s brought a glut of historical fiction. The most recent decade or so has been marked by unique, easy-to-read writing styles and a branching out from the topics of previous years.

The Year of Billy Miller, a Newbery honor book from 2014, fits nicely into that description. It’s a sweet story about a wonderful, ordinary second grade year. In four consecutive sections, seven-year-old Billy learns how to get along with his teacher, his mother, his sister, and his father. Your second grader will almost certainly enjoy this book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Happy New Year 2017!

Happy New Year from Newbery and Beyond! I'm sharing my bookish stats and goals on the blog. |

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

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.

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.

22 Ways to Support Women Around the World with Your Christmas Shopping

16 Ways to Support Women with Your Christmas Shopping |

Every year I update my list of ways you can support women around the world with your Christmas gift purchasing. 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. Especially in the worldwide chaos that has taken place this year, it is very easy for women in poor or war-torn countries 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:

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 last year, and 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 (one for men, one for women) that are made by refugees who fled from ISIS. This business helps them rebuild their lives and support themselves in a new country.

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

Made By Survivors
This jewelry, now sold under the name Relevée, 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.

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.

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.

Stop Traffick Fashion
Most–though not all–of these T-shirts and bracelets are made by survivors of human trafficking around the world. They offer cute and affordable graphic tees and totes.

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.

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 got several of my Christmas gifts last year from 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.

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 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.

International Rescue Committee
I’ve been following the refugee crisis in Syria with concern for over a year now, and I’m always looking for a way to help. 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.

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?

How To: Choose the Perfect Book Gift

Are you wondering how to select the perfect book gift for your friends and family? Check out these questions to ask before you buy. |

A friend recently asked me for advice on choosing a book gift, and this got me thinking about how difficult it is sometimes to pick an amazing book to give as a gift to someone else, even if you know them well. I think the best way to choose the perfect book gift is to ask yourself questions about the gift recipient, so I hope the following questions help you choose!

  • Does your friend enjoy fiction or nonfiction? This one question will narrow your options greatly.
  • Is there a particular interest that has been consuming all of her energy recently? This might be running, soap making, parenting, baking, Russian history… the list could go on forever. If your gift recipient has a new passion, your job just got a whole lot easier.
  • Does he have an aversion to foul language, violence, etc.? I tend to skim scenes that I know would bother me, but many people would rather just avoid such a book altogether. By keeping this in mind, you can avoid giving your friend a book that will make him uncomfortable.
  • Does she need something lighthearted or something serious-minded? If your friend has been going through a tough time, you might give her something lighthearted, like a cozy mystery or a fantasy novel (you can check out my list of books to read when you’re stressed out for more ideas). But if she’s looking to chew on some big ideas (or get outraged about injustice), you might pick literary fiction or something historical.
  • How much time does he have to put into reading? Maybe he has a newborn or a demanding job. Or maybe he’s about to go on vacation and wouldn’t mind something long to fill up the time. The amount of time your recipient will have to read the book you give them can help dictate the length of that book.
  • If your gift recipient is a big bookworm and you’re afraid of choosing a book they’ve already read, consider a bookish gift. (If you want my best suggestions for bookish gifts that aren’t books, sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send it to you!)

Have you given any book gifts that were particularly successful? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

#BloomVoxBox Review

Sponsored post thanks to Influenster!

Note: I received these products for free from Influenster in exchange for an honest review.

I’m not normally into beauty products, but when Influenster offered to send me a free sample box, I couldn’t refuse! They’ve requested that I post a quick review of all the products in the box, so I will do that and then get back to your regularly scheduled book reviews. 🙂

  • Sunbelt Bakery granola bar–I remember eating these as a teenager, and they still hold up now. This one made a great pre-work breakfast as I rushed out the door.
  • Sinful Colors nail polish–I haven’t painted my nails since I was a kid (at least ten years ago), but this polish made it way easier than I remembered. The bright pink was a little much for me, though.
  • Cutex–When I was ready to remove my nail polish (which was almost immediately after I put it on), I reached for these nail polish remover wipes which were handily included. They worked great and were a lot less messy than a bottle of acetone and cotton balls.
  • Not Your Mother’s–I was really excited about this. It’s supposed to plump fine hair like mine. It smelled great and was easy to use, but I’m not sure I noticed a real difference in the thickness of my hair.
  • Nuxe–I’ll admit it, I had to look up how to use this oil. Once I figured it out (you can use it on your skin like a lotion or in your hair), I was totally into it. It smells great, dries quickly (no oily hands!), and really helped de-frizz my hair.
  • Secret deodorant–I totally loved this. It smells great and works even better. I’m definitely going to buy this brand the next time I need deodorant.

What to Read When: You Need a Good Cry

When you need a good cry, these are the books you should turn to. |

Sometimes you just need a good cry. Here are my go-to books for when I need to get the tears flowing.

Code Name Verity. Female friendship during WWII makes for a fascinating story with strong voices. And it will definitely leave you in tears.

Hattie Big Sky. This Newbery book about a high-spirited teenage girl who leaves her home to become a homesteader is full of sweet characters and funny events, but it packs a serious emotional punch in the middle. (You can see my review of the much inferior sequel here, but really, you should just get this book.)

Walk Two Moons. My love for Sharon Creech is well documented, and this book is probably my favorite of hers. I thought that maybe this book wouldn’t get to me anymore (since I’m now an adult and I’ve read this book several times), but I was wrong.

Mockingjay. Total *spoiler alert* if you’re one of the seven people who haven’t read the Hunger Games trilogy, but the part where Katniss’s sister is killed gets me every time. It hits too close to home to think about losing my own little sister!

Blackout and All Clear. Not only are these fantastic books on my favorites of all time list, but they are surprisingly touching. When several time travelers get stuck in WWII-era England with no way of getting home, they must suffer the same heartaches, joys, and losses as the rest of England at her finest hour. It’s a lot of pages to work through, but I can practically guarantee that you’ll tear up at the end.

The Book Thief. You can really see the World War II theme going on here, right? Yes, it may be cliche, but The Book Thief is yet another book set during this time period that will make you emotional. This one’s a YA classic narrated by Death (and if that doesn’t capture your interest, I don’t know what will!).

Although I haven’t read these books, I have it on good authority that they will make you teary, if not straight up bawl: The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Room.

What books do you turn to when you need a good cry?

April Small Goals

Linking up with writes like a girl to share my small goals for April! |

I’m linking up with Nicole from writes like a girl this month to share my April goals.

I’m a huge goals person. I’m obsessed with lists and bullet journaling and 101:1001 goals. But I tend to make these grand plans and forget about the little things that make life better, so that’s what I’m focusing on this month.

  1. Get my students ready for their recital. Less than a week to go, and I’ve still got a few stragglers who are struggling to polish their pieces.
  2. Select the 25 good deeds that I want to do for my 25th birthday (next month!). Right now, the list is pretty short, so I’m open to suggestions!
  3. Double date with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend.
  4. Finish reading the books on my Kindle. Okay, not all of them, but the short ones that have been languishing in my freebie folder for months (or years). I’m not going to allow myself to check any books out of the library until I finish this goal!


What are your small goals for April? Let me know in the comments!

It’s Survey Time!

It has been a long time since I did an official survey on the blog, and many things have changed since then. So I’m posting one today, and I’d love to hear your thoughts! As always, you’ll be able to sign up for my monthly newsletter and receive a bookish gift guide (with gifts that aren’t books), but I’m adding a new reward to say thank you for filling out the survey–if you include your mailing address, I will send you a personalized postcard! (If you live outside the USA, be sure to include your country.)

But enough of me talking–it’s time to hear from you!

What to Read When: You Want to Be Outraged

Want to be outraged, or read all about injustice? These books will do it for you. | A series by

It sounds stupid, but sometimes, you just want to get angry. If you’re in the mood to get riled up about injustice, here are some books to get you started.

  • The Witness Wore Red is a fantastic read about a woman who escaped a cult-like branch of the Mormons. The treatment of young girls and women is particularly horrifying.
  • The Shame of the NationThis book is for you if you are an educator of any kind. The de facto racial segregation of our schools, and the truly awful state of many of the schools that serve mostly minorities, will either shock you or cause you to nod along grimly. Either way, it’s a fascinating read.
  • Not For Sale is like an introduction to human trafficking around the world. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it shares stories of terrible wrongs around the world along with stories of people who are working to make things right.
  • Catch-22. If you want to be cynical about war and government, I can’t think of a better book than this classic. It made me angry, even though my experience with military life has been minimal.
  • The Restaurant Critic’s Wife might only make me outraged, to be honest. The way the main character’s husband forced her to give up a career and a city she loved in sacrifice to his own career made my blood boil.
  • Overwhelmed/Unfinished Business. In a similar vein, both of these books talk about the roles of women at work and in the home, as well as focusing on the unfair policies that cause both men and women to feel overwhelmed and unsatisfied. If you’ve ever wondered if it’s really possible to have a work/life balance, these books will be of interest.
  • The Color Purple is another classic that will leave you angry. This one focuses on, among other things, the disenfranchisement of being a black woman in the 1930s.


What books have left you outraged? Let me know in the comments below!

How To: Get Into a New Genre

Want to to start reading a new genre, but don't know where to start? This blog post will help you on your quest. |

So maybe you’ve never been one for sci fi, but you want to try it out. Or your best friend has been raving about the latest YA novel, and you have no idea what she’s talking about. Whatever your reason for wanting to try a new genre, it can be intimidating if you don’t know where to start. Keep reading for my best tips on how to get started with the new genre of your choice.

Keep it short. Don’t start with Dune, even if it is a SFF classic. Those 600 pages are likely to cut short your foray into your new genre, so start small. Start with The Hobbit instead of LOTR, and you’re much more likely to want to explore more later.

Choose a topic you already care about. If you want to start reading nonfiction and you’re a teacher, boy do I have some suggestions for you. Similarly, pick a favorite author who is writing in a new genre, like I did when I picked up Shannon Hale’s books for my first graphic novels.

Ask a friend who’s into that genre. If your BFF has been raving over The Hunger Games or Everything, Everything, ask her if she thinks you’d like that book. If not, see if she has a suggestion for a book in that genre you would like.

Look for an author who is considered classic for that genre. But don’t go too old–choose Terry Pratchett over J.R.R. Tolkien, for example. If you want to get into horror, you can’t go wrong with Stephen King. Even if you’re not familiar with the genre and who might be considered a “classic” author, you can check the NYT bestsellers. I know nothing about romance, but if I wanted to get started, I’d look into Danielle Steel. Anyone who has sold over 800 million copies of her books probably knows a little something about her genre.
Have you ever picked up a new genre? How did you go about it?
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