What to Read When: You’re Stressed Out

Stressed out? Check out these books to read when you're anxious. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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I don’t know about you, but I’ve been pretty stressed out lately. I struggle with anxiety on the best of days, and the last few months have been filled with illness, financial strain, and the struggles of friends. Of course, when I start to feel stressed, I usually turn to books (or, let’s be honest, Netflix). In this week’s What to Read When, I’m going to give you a few of my favorite de-stressing books, and I’d love to hear your favorites in the comments!

Sharon Creech. Do I need to say anything more? I just love her work, and it’s the perfect antidote for any stressful times.

The Happiness Project. I’m obsessed with projects, and I love reading about Gretchen Rubin’s attempts to make herself happier, healthier, and better at the things she loves most. (I also really enjoyed her book Better Than Before.) Reading about someone else putting their life in order makes me feel a little bit like my life is being put in order, which is something I always want when I’m stressed out. The Power of Habit is another book that gives me the same feeling.

Something juicy. Now’s the time to pick up that YA high school drama that’s been staring you in the face. No need to feel guilty–reading the juicy details of a fictional character’s life can sometimes make you forget, or at least feel better about, the things that are making you anxious in your own life.

A funny memoir. Yep, this is another thing that I’m totally obsessed with, but you should never underestimate the power of a funny memoir. You can read about the struggles and triumphs of someone else’s life–this time, a real person–from a humorous perspective, which will hopefully inspire you to take a similar perspective on your life. Some of my favorites include Bossypants, #GIRLBOSS, and Hyperbole and a Half.

Don’t forget to leave your favorite de-stressing books in the comments!

What to Read When: It’s Raining

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Rainy days are some of my favorite days, and in Florida, we sure have a lot of them. When it’s raining, I want a book to curl up with–the longer, the better. In particular, I love books that are a little dark or sweeping or even (gasp!) atmospheric. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite go-to rainy day books.

Jane Eyre. This classic has to top the list. Jane Eyre is a Gothic classic, full of romance and drama and darkly supernatural events. Plus, it’s thick enough to get you through a few days of stormy weather.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If you want to go even darker, almost into scary territory, Neil Gaiman is for you. The Ocean offers up a magical, frightening world that will continually make you question what is real and what is imagined.

The Phantom Tollbooth. This is a favorite childhood book of mine, and its tales of magical lands and a young boy’s adventures there will capture your attention on any cloudy day.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I love this fun mystery series with its irascible young protagonist, Flavia. If you really get into it, there’s a whole series that will keep you occupied as long as the rain keeps up.

The Children’s Book. I actually didn’t enjoy this book very much when I read it; it’s a little too sweeping and dramatic. Still, it’s long and atmospheric and perfect for a rainy day.

The Magician’s Elephant. This book is so sweet, and the illustrations it’s filled with are beautiful. It’s a strange but cozy story for you or your kids.

Blackout and All Clear. I don’t think I need to say anything more than I said in my first review. These books clock in at over a thousand pages, and I only wish they could have been longer. They are sweet and sad and beautiful.

The Westing Game and Mr. Penumbra. I originally reviewed these books as a book pairing, and it’s still so fitting. They’re both a bit dark, a bit mysterious, and a ton of fun. You’ll want to take a whole afternoon to read them in one sitting.

The Story of Land and Sea. This book is the kind of atmospheric I can get behind. It’s beautifully written, and if you’re interested in dissecting themes and metaphors, this is rich territory for you.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. This book is beautiful, dark, and magical. It’s perfect for a rainy afternoon curled up on the couch.

What books do you reach for on a rainy day? Let me know in the comments!

How To: Get Out of a Book Slump

Stuck in a book slump? Here's how to get out of it. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Have you recently been reading only YA, or celebrity memoirs, or cozy mysteries? I know that feeling. Sometimes it’s fun to binge your favorite type of books, but eventually you’re going to get sick of them. Here’s how to avoid that burnout and get out of a book slump.

Ask your friends (or your favorite book bloggers!) for a recommendation. I guarantee that even your best friend with identical reading taste hasn’t read exactly the same books that you have, but if you’re feeling especially brave, ask someone whose tastes don’t usually line up with yours at all. Maybe you’ll end up with a graphic novel that will blow your mind, or a nonfiction book about a topic you never knew you could be interested in.

Pick a random book off your library’s new release shelf. Don’t even read the back cover; just find a book with an interesting title or a pretty cover and take it home with you. Bonus points if it’s a brand new author as well.

Follow the Amazon rabbit trail. Find the Amazon page of one of the books you’ve enjoyed most recently, and then click through to some of the “also bought” books listed. Keep going until you end up in a totally different genre than you started in.

If your local library or used bookstore has a 50 cent bookshelf, purchase a couple of those books. For a couple of bucks, what’s the worst that could happen?

Try some of these tips the next time you feel like you’re in a book slump and see what happens! Push yourself into a new genre, author, or style, and you might just find your next favorite book binge.

Are There Too Many World War Two Books?

There is a glut of WWII books available for every age group. But how many are too many? Let's discuss. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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If you’ve been with me on this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I love a good World War Two novel. Many of my favorite books from the past three years have been WWII historical fiction: Code Name VerityTo Say Nothing of the DogLife After Life, and Blackout and All Clear. Schindler’s List was a fascinating example of nonfiction about this era, and I very much enjoyed it as well.

I grew up reading books like The Book Thief, Number the Stars, The Upstairs Room, and The Hiding Place, but it wasn’t until I saw the 2016 Newbery books that I started to question the number of WWII books that have flooded my bookshelves. Two of the four books (Echo and The War that Saved My Life) are set, at least partly, during the time period of World War Two. As best I can figure, only seven of the previous Newbery books have been set during WWII, and with the popularity of recent books such as All the Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale (both of which are, I believe, currently on the NYT bestseller list), I’ve started wondering–do we have too many World War Two books?

I’ve often thought about the pull that we feel toward WWII and Holocaust stories. I think part of the draw is the very clear distinction between good and evil. It’s rare in real life to have a person or group of people that almost all readers will agree were in the wrong, and not just misguided but truly evil. WWII books make it easy to know who to root for, and this makes the reversal–books written from the perspective of Nazis–even more effective.

Another reason, I think, that these books are so popular is that World War Two is still very recent. It is fresh in our collective memory; there are still many people alive who witnessed the events of this time period firsthand. We are still making sense of something that was totally senseless, and our books are an important part of that. And maybe, to some extent, we are trying to discover how we can avoid another war like this. With the threat of war constantly looming around the world, maybe we’re looking for clues from the past to help us avoid repeating these events in the future.

But then again, maybe we’re just looking for a good story. The dramatic backdrop of worldwide war and horrific concentration camps offers a compelling setting for almost any type of story, whether it’s a thriller, mystery, coming of age story, time travel, or literary narrative. Even books that I found enjoyable but forgettable, such as The Sweetness or The Mine, are more memorable just because of their setting. It’s an easy way to catch our attention as readers, to signal that there is something important in this story, higher stakes than your average [fill in the blank] story.

Will I ever give up on WWII books? It’s not likely. Flygirl, A God in Ruins, and The Men with the Pink Triangle are still on my TBR list, and I am looking forward to reading the newest set of Newbery books. I sometimes wonder if writers have plumbed the depths of World War Two and Holocaust events so deeply that there is nothing new to say about them, and I have in fact read some WWII books that were derivative and boring. But then I pick up a book like Code Name Verity or Life After Life, and I realize that there are still fresh ways to look at this horrifying time period, something that will make me laugh and cry and feel more connected to humanity. And maybe that’s the best way to redeem such horrible events–to never forget them, but to use them as a catalyst for creating bonds with the rest of humanity.

Do you think authors have written too many WWII books lately? Let’s discuss!

What to Read When: You Can’t Sleep

Can't sleep? Check out these books that will calm you down and get you ready for bed. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Ever have one of those nights when, for whatever reason, you can’t get to sleep? Maybe you’re worried about something, maybe you’re sick, or maybe something woke you up in the middle of the night. No matter what’s keeping you up, I’ve got a list of my go-to books and tips that will help you get ready for a good night of sleep.

Go for something familiar. 2 am is not the time to pull out that brand-new doorstopper that’s been staring you in the face all week. Pick something that you already know the plot of and you won’t be kept awake by wondering what happens next.

On a related note, avoid thrillers. Don’t pick up anything that’s described as “the next Gone Girl.” I’ve been there before, and believe me, it never ends well.

Choose a biography or memoir. Real life is fascinating, but it isn’t typically compulsive reading. I’d suggest something by Russell Freedman if you’re into historical biographies, or maybe Pretty Good Number One if you want something modern (review to come soon!)

Along the same lines, read something nonfiction. It will engage your mind without enthralling you (a good thing when you’re trying to fall asleep). I recommend something by Gretchen Rubin or The Power of Habit.

Avoid graphic novels and comics. It’s so easy with their quick chapters to convince yourself that “just one more” won’t hurt. If you actually want to get to sleep, save those pretty illustrations for later.

Go back to your children’s books. They are such a comfort, as I said in my “what to read when you’re sick” post. Pick up one of Hilary McKay’s wonderful books, or check out my girl Sharon Creech.

I hope this gives you some inspiration for ending your next sleepless night happily! What do you read when you can’t get to sleep?

How To: Get Over a Book Hangover

Still stuck in the world of the book you just finished? You might have a book hangover. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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We’ve all been there–gotten so absorbed in a book or a series that once you emerge, you find it difficult to deal with your lingering feels. Maybe you can no longer relate to the real world, or maybe you’re just finding it hard to dive into a new book when you one you just finished was so amazing. Here are my best tips to help you overcome that book hangover of yours!

Step 1: Talk through your feels. Do you have a friend who recently read the same book who is willing to talk for an hour about the squee-worthy romance, the tearjerker of an ending, or the shocking plot twist in the third act? Great! Make a coffee date with that person to talk all about the book that broke your heart. If not, go online. Goodreads (just to name one option) is stuffed full of book lovers just like you who are ready and willing to debate the merits of your book.

Step 2: Start looking for your next book. Maybe you want to read something similar to the book you just read, because you’re not yet ready to leave that fantasy world (or dystopia, whatever). But your best bet is probably to read something completely different. If you loved that book so much, anything similiar to it will probably pale in comparison, at least for a while. So if you just finished an epic fantasy series, check out a fast-paced thriller. If you enjoyed your long, atmospheric literary fiction, maybe pick up a graphic novel next. Read a memoir if you’ve gotten stuck in a dystopian book hangover. You get the picture.

Step 3: Keep trying. Sometimes it just takes time to get over your book hangover. Every once in a while, it’s nice to linger in the atmosphere a book has set for you. I remember when I finally finished Anna Karenina (of all books), how I felt like I had spent so much time with the characters that they were practically my friends, how even though I was satisfied with how the story ended, I wanted to linger with the characters just a little while longer. That’s totally cool. Feel free to daydream about the characters, the plot, the setting, whatever did it for you in your latest, greatest read. But keep trying new things. Eventually you’ll find another, totally different book that strikes you in just the same way, and you’ll get to start the cycle all over again.

Have you ever suffered from a book hangover? How did you deal with it?

What to Read When: You’re Sick

The first post in the new series, What to Read When, covers the best books to read when you're sick--and what to avoid. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Recently, I was sick for two weeks straight (basically from Christmas Eve past New Year’s Day). Although I still had a fair amount of energy, I didn’t really want to read anything too hefty, and I got really selective about the books I picked up. It started me thinking about the best books to read when you’re sick, so here’s what I’ve come up with.

Audiobooks are an easy way to keep yourself entertained when you’re sick. Sometimes when you have a headache or your eyes are too tired to scan the page, this is the best kind of reading you can do. I’m still working my way through season 3 of Veronica Mars, but once I finish, I can’t wait to read the new Veronica Mars books this way–I’ve heard that Kristen Bell herself is the audiobook narrator. I would also recommend memoirs (one of my favorite easy read genres), especially those narrated by the authors themselves. Bossypants is a fun read, and I bet it would be even better if you listened to Tina Fey read it herself.

Cozy mysteries. I love me some cozy mysteries. They’re usually short, don’t contain a lot of violence or gore, and never get too stressful. Some of the most fun, relaxing cozies I’ve read lately include the Hannah Swensen series (I read at least three of these while I was sick over Christmas), Gone But Knot Forgotten, and A Scone to Die For (review coming soon!).

Children’s books. You just know when we’re talking about children’s books or MG books, I’m going to bring up Sharon Creech. Her books are like comfort food for me. They’re easy to get into, quick but engrossing reads, which is perfect for a sick day. Let me also advocate for Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. This Newbery book is a fantastic read. It will make you cry a bit, but it will leave your heart warmed at the end.

Magazines. I admit it! I don’t usually read magazines, and I have several issues with them in general (the way they teach women that they’re not good enough is the main one). But when I’m sick, the short and simple articles are easy for my brain to digest. I keep a stack of Bon Appetit, Seventeen, and Rachael Ray Every Day under my bed for just such an occasion.

Here’s what I avoid:

Short stories. You might think they would be perfect for a shortened attention span and lessened energy because of their length, but for the most part, short stories are written to pack a punch. They’re supposed to make you think, make you uncomfortable, and when I’m sick I definitely don’t need to feel more uncomfortable than I already do.

Literary fiction. I already struggle with books that are considered “classics” or “atmospheric,” and they will definitely not hold my attention when I’m sick.

Anything scary. Okay, I kind of avoid that most of the time. But my main goal for sick day reading is comfort and ease, not anything that will make my brain hurt or my heart beat faster.

What do you read when you’re sick? I’d love to add some titles for my next sick day.

P.S. This post is the first in a new series I’m starting here on the blog–it’s called What to Read When. If you have any ideas for a future post in this series, I’d love to hear them! Just leave me a comment and let me know.

How To: Track Your Reading

In accordance with my New Year’s blogging goals, I’m introducing different types of posts as well as my usual reviews. This series will be some instructional posts related to bookish things. And since I just posted my reading stats for 2015, I thought I’d start with how to track your reading.

Goodreads, of course, is an easy way to track the books you read. You can write a short review, point out the person who recommended it to you, and even provide information about the copy you own, if you want to. It’s quick and easy, it can be linked to your Amazon account to auto-fill the books you purchase there, and Goodreads even provides a year in review graphic. But if you’re looking for something a little more in-depth and flexible, this is what I did.

I decided I wanted to record more and different information than Goodreads has the capacity to record, so I started a Google Doc spreadsheet to track my reading for 2015. If you have a Gmail account, this is super easy. Just click on the Google Drive button and create a new spreadsheet.

How to track your books using Google Docs | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Once you’ve opened a new spreadsheet, you’ll want to decide what categories you want in your document. I included book title, author’s name, whether the author was male or female, whether the book was diverse in some way, my rating, whether the book was fiction or nonfiction, whether the book was new or backlist, the genre, format, and where I got the book. (As you can see, I’m a total nerd for my reading stats, and I wanted to include a lot of pieces of info. You don’t have to include all of these, and you may have other things you want to track, like the number of pages or publishing year. It’s up to you!) I started a column for each of these categories, and as I recorded each book, I simply put the information into the correct slots.

How to track your books using Google Docs | NewberyandBeyond.com
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At the end of the year, my spreadsheet made it easy to see all my stats. You can sort each column by alphabetical order, so it’s easy to see how many fiction vs. nonfiction books you read over the year. (To accomplish this, just click on the tab at the top of your sheet that says “Data.” The options will drop down from there.)

I hope this helps some of you as you set up your book tracking for 2016! If you’re as nerdy as I am, it’s a lot of fun to see all your stats at the end of the year, and this method makes it easy to track and sort your information.

If you have any ideas for other how to posts you’d like to see on the blog, please leave me a comment and let me know!

Happy New Year 2016!

Happy New Year, everybody! I’m a huge fan of goals and reflection, so New Year’s Day is always a fun day for me. Here’s some of my bookish reflections on 2015 and goals for 2016.

This year, I read 196 books. I worked hard at tracking them in a Google spreadsheet so I could have the fun of seeing all the pertinent details at the end of the year! (Yep, I’m a nerd.)

The genres I read included 15 children’s and middle grades, 3 classics, 6 comics and graphic novels, 10 dystopian, 4 collections (I usually hate short stories, essays, and poetry, so this is not shocking that the number is so low), 17 SFF, 13 historical fiction/history, 9 memoirs, 27 mysteries (that’s almost 14% of all the books I read this year. You know I love me some mystery books), 9 Newbery books, and 14 self help/self improvement.

32 of the books I read were classified as “diverse” in some way (author, MC, country of origin), which is 16%. I hope to bring this number up to 25% next year.

71% of the books were fiction; 29% were nonfiction.

61% were written by females; 39% were written by males; one was written by a husband and wife team. I am totally cool with these percentages.

71% were newly published; 20% were backlist books. I’d like to change this a little this year. We’ll see how many awesome new books are published in 2016!

I gave 1 star to 2% of the books I read, 2 stars to 11%, 3 stars to 34%, 4 stars to 39%, and 5 stars to 15%.

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31% were indie or small press books; 69% were mainstream.

I read 2 audio books (1%), 80 ebooks (41%), and 112 print books (57%).

Of all the books I read this year, 54 were ARCs or review copies (that’s 28%), 7 were physical copies I purchased (hardly any this year), 23 were free online (12%) and 78 were from library (40%).

This year, my bookish and book blogging resolutions are

  • Up my diverse reading to 25% of all the books I read.
  • Consistently blog 3 times a week.
  • Add new kinds of posts, other than just reviews. I really enjoyed mixing it up for my Write 31 Days series, and I’m hoping to add more types of posts to my regular rotation. (Have any opinions on what kind of posts those should be? Leave me a comment!)
  • Improve my book photography and graphic design skills. I’m terrible at this, and I want to do better.
  • Participate more frequently in Top Ten Tuesday. I love lists, and I love this meme, and I love reading other people’s lists and getting their feedback on mine. I really want to make TTT a priority this year.

And that’s it from me! I hope you have a Happy New Year, and that 2016 is filled with amazing books and everything wonderful.

A Serendipitous Mailbox Surprise Swap

A couple of months ago, one of the Facebook blogging groups I belong to started a mailbox surprise swap–you and another blogger swap addresses and lists of favorites, and then you send each other some awesome surprises. I was partnered with Jackie Cheuvront, who is an artist (check out her gorgeous, dreamy paintings on her website). My sister (you might remember Melanie from a few posts in the past) is getting married soon and I’ve been looking for a wedding painter for her–and what do you know? Jackie does wedding painting! It was serendipity.

I had a lot of fun putting together a package for Jackie, and I was thrilled when I received her package to me. It’s stuffed with things that I love, and things I never knew I needed.

A serendipitous mailbox surprise swap. | NewberyandBeyond.com
The complete package. So many goodies!
A serendipitous mailbox surprise swap. | NewberyandBeyond.com
Chocolate, raspberry, coconut, almond–you just can’t beat those combinations. Plus some of my favorite black tea, English Breakfast.
A serendipitous mailbox surprise swap. | NewberyandBeyond.com
I told Jackie about my postcard collection, and she obligingly sent me this awesome vintage postcard, along with some cards of her beautiful artwork.
A serendipitous mailbox surprise swap. | NewberyandBeyond.com
Jackie described this book as kind of offbeat and quirky. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had so much fun doing this swap, and I can’t believe I found the perfect wedding painter for my sister’s wedding by doing it! Remember to check out Jackie’s website for some artsy goodness of your own.

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