Top Ten Favorite Books of 2017

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

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

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

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

Small Goals + What I’m Into, December 2017

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

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

 

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

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

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

What I’m Into

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

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

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

My favorite Instagram:

It’s Christmas in SWFL!

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

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

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram (I post lots of book pictures and the occasional selfie), you can do so here.

If you want to see more of what I’m into every month, along with sneak peeks and my favorite posts from the blog, sign up for my email newsletter! It’ll show up in your inbox about once a month and bring you the latest blog news and the things I’m loving.

What are you all up to this month? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Books on My Winter 2017 TBR List

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

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

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

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

Ten Books I Want My Children to Read

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

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

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

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

November Small Goals + What I’m Into

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m Into

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

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

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

My favorite Instagram:

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

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram (I post lots of book pictures and the occasional selfie), you can do so here.

If you want to see more of what I’m into every month, along with sneak peeks and my favorite posts from the blog, sign up for my email newsletter! It’ll show up in your inbox about once a month and bring you the latest blog news and the things I’m loving.

What are you all up to this month? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Food-Related Books

This top ten post is all about food! I'm linking up with the Broke & Bookish to share my favorite food-related books. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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This post is part of the Top Ten Tuesday meme by The Broke and the Bookish.

I’m taking today’s Top Ten Tuesday theme in several different directions. Some of these books are actual cookbooks. Others are novels that feature food, or even books with foodie covers. A couple are even books about food that I haven’t actually read yet but reeeeeally want to. I hope you’ll share with me your favorite cookbooks or your TTT lists in the comments!

(P.S. Several of these books are ARCs which I have already reviewed, but as always, all opinions are my own. These books made the list not because I received a free copy of them, but because I truly enjoyed them.)

  • The Coincidence of Coconut Cake [ARC]. I didn’t actually enjoy this book that much (please click through if you want to read one of my more rambling, off-topic reviews), but the cover is amazing.
  • Redwall. This suggestion comes straight from my husband. He has fond memories of reading this series as a child and drooling over the feast descriptions.
  • The Pho Cookbook [ARC]. Andrea Nguyen is my go-to source for all things Vietnamese food-related, so I was super excited to read this ARC when it came out earlier this year. (And, of course, to ask my husband and resident chef to make me some pho!)
  • Hope Was Here. This book, a childhood favorite and one of the few books I’ve re-read more than once, is set in a diner where Hope is a waitress. She sprinkles her viewpoints on being a waitress and loving food throughout the book, and every major event centers around the diner and the people Hope meets there.
  • A Scone to Die For [ARC]. You guys know I love this cozy mystery series about a tearoom in Oxford (I’m even on the author’s review team!), and the first in the series is packed with food references and even a recipe.
  • Around the World in 80 Purees [ARC]. I loved this book. It offers so many good ideas for helping even your little ones enjoy different flavors. As an adventurous eater myself, I’ll try anything to help my future kids start to love food and avoid becoming picky eaters!
  • Pretty Good Number One [review copy]. This is the book that made me want to explore Japan and basically eat everything. The book isn’t all about food (but it kind of was for me!).
  • The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I’m eagerly awaiting the second cookbook from my favorite food blogger!
  • The Little Library Cookbook. I haven’t read this cookbook yet, but I love this food blogger also. She takes inspiration from books (both childhood favorites and adult fiction) to create her recipes.
  • The Cardamom Trail. This is another cookbook I haven’t read yet, but as a big fan of the Great British Baking Show, I really want to! I loved Chetna’s unique flavors on the show, and I’d love to try them for myself.

Small Goals + What I’m Into, October 2017

I'm sharing my small goals and what I'm into for October 2017. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As always, I’m linking up with writes like a girl for my October 2017 small goals, and Leigh Kramer for my monthly what I’m into.

It feels like only a few days ago that I wrote my small goals for September, and now we’re already into October! The couple of weeks of chaos surrounding Hurricane Irma definitely threw off my schedule, but I’m grateful that it wasn’t nearly as awful for SWFL as predicted, and I’m focusing on praying for and supporting Puerto Rico, who are much worse off than we are here.

  • Go for a walk every day after work. Haha, nope. Sadly, I didn’t even get close on this goal.
  • Finish a couple of book series I’ve started but have yet to finish. Yes! You can read about the book series I finally finished reading here.
  • Listen to In the Heights. Yep, and I’ve started listening to Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 as well.
  • Spend time connecting with friends and family. This is the goal that the hurricane interrupted the most. I was in contact with a few friends and family, but only surrounding hurricane plans, and after that things were too crazy and communication too limited for me to even think about doing this. Maybe next month.
  • Scrapbook. Yes, mostly. I found out that I don’t have any photo mounting stickers, so I didn’t actually stick anything down. But I did trash all the photos and mementos I didn’t want and organize everything by event, so all I have to do when I get the stickers is stick things on a page.

So 3/5 during a ridiculously chaotic month? I feel pretty good about that! Now that we’re in October, this is my last month of relative freedom before my schedule gets booked up with holiday-related parties, travel, and rehearsals, so I’m hoping to get a lot of boring household stuff done.

  • Get an eye exam and an oil change. Yeah, these don’t seem related, but they’re actually located close enough to each other that I can drop off my car and get my eye exam done while I’m waiting.
  • Get my piano tuned. During the events of the hurricane, we found out that my neighbor is a piano tuner! I’m hoping to have him over to tune my beloved thrift store piano.
  • Plan a Harry Potter-themed murder mystery party! TBD if this will fall around Halloween or if I’ll have to postpone it until November…
  • Finally make it to the beach! I keep trying this without success. Maybe this will be the month!
  • Contact insurance companies, credit card companies, and transportation services. I want to get all this annoying paperwork and phone calls off my list before the craziness of the holidays starts.

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: I have a stack of Newbery books waiting to be read.

TV shows I’ve watched: Have I mentioned my obsession with Father Brown? It has been keeping me sane lately.

Instagram account I’m loving: This hair stylist does crazy amazing colorful hairstyles that I love.

My favorite Instagram:

I didn’t post a single picture on Instagram in September (oops), so here’s a cute photo of my husband and our guinea pig Zoe from August.

Guinea pig snuggles 🙂

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

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram (I post lots of book pictures and the occasional selfie), you can do so here.

If you want to see more of what I’m into every month, along with sneak peeks and my favorite posts from the blog, sign up for my email newsletter! It’ll show up in your inbox once a month and bring you the latest blog news and the things I’m loving.

What are you all up to this month? Let me know in the comments!

Ten Books with Quirky Characters

I'm linking up with the Broke & Bookish to share ten of my favorite quirky book characters. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Today I’m linking up with the Broke and the Bookish to share my top ten quirky characters! Nothing makes the reading experience even more fun than some unusual, eccentric, or even strange characters, and below are some of my favorites.

  • Come Thou Tortoise. The whole book is quirky (yes, this is one of those that has no punctuation), which fits perfectly with the main character whom no one can figure out.
  • The Thursday Next series. Thursday herself isn’t that strange, but all of her companions in the book world (and in the real world) are a bit out there.
  • The Series of Unfortunate Events. Everything Lemony Snicket writes is quirky and unusual, and everyone from the three siblings to Count Olaf to the countless strange people the family meets fit into this category.
  • You’re Never Weird on the Internet. Does Felicia Day count as a character? Because she’s definitely quirky in all the best ways.
  • The Westing Game. One of my favorite childhood books with a cast of eccentric characters.
  • The Case of the Cursed Dodo. I’ve never read another book starring a private eye panda.
  • The Great Beanie Baby Bubble. Ty is another real-life quirky character.
  • The Casson family series. Caddy, Saffy, Indigo, Rose, and their parents are the strangest but sweetest fictional family.
  • The Great Unexpected. One of Sharon Creech’s newer books, this one is filled with her classic quirky characters.
  • Walk Two Moons. Speaking of Sharon Creech, I couldn’t leave out this childhood favorite with unforgettable characters.

Who are your favorite literary quirky characters? Leave your TTT links below!

Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List, 2017

I'm linking up with the Broke and the Bookish to share the top ten books on my fall TBR list. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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This post is part of the Top Ten Tuesday meme by The Broke and the Bookish.

Like most of you (probably? Tell me I’m not alone in this issue!), I have a huge, towering TBR list to which I’ve been adding books for so long that sometimes I forget why I put a book on the list. So for my fall TBR list, I decided to go back and select ten of the oldest books on the list, ones which I don’t even remember why they originally appealed to me. The books range from adult fiction to YA, from mysteries to nonfiction. I may not tackle all of them this fall, but I hope to cross off at least a few of these old TBRs off my list!

  1. A Grown Up Kind of Pretty
  2. While Beauty Slept
  3. There is No Dog
  4. Where Things Come Back
  5. The Broken Teaglass
  6. Death by Darjeeling
  7. The Godmother Tree
  8. Will Grayson, Will Grayson
  9. Around the Bloc
  10. You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know

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

What I’m Into + Small Goals: September 2017

I'm sharing what I'm into and my small goals for the upcoming month. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As always, I’m linking up with writes like a girl for my September small goals, and Leigh Kramer for my monthly what I’m into.

Despite the temperature, which continues to hover around 95 degrees here in SWFL, summer is officially over! I spent much of this month battling anxiety, which meant a lot of my plans went undone. But I’m over the hump, and I’m starting to feel ready to buckle down and get things done in September.

  • Get paperwork in order. Yessss. One of my most boring adulting skills is filing paperwork, and I’m happy to say I was able to utilize that skill this month.
  • Go to the beach. Yeah, no. I’ll try this again in September.
  • Gear up for the busy season at work. Sort of… I didn’t prep new games like I wanted to (see above), but I did get my schedule in order. I’ll count this one as half completed.

1.5/3 for August? I’ll take it. Now for my September goals! (Will five goals be too many? We’ll see…)

  • Go for a walk every day after work. When I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I tend to want to curl up in a ball and ignore the world, but I know getting in some movement outside always helps me feel better.
  • Finish a couple of book series I’ve started but have yet to finish. Am I the only one who enjoys the first book in a series and then lets the later installments languish on the TBR list for months?
  • Listen to In the Heights. As obsessed as I am with Hamilton, it’s hard to believe it has taken me this long to listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s previous musical.
  • Spend time connecting with friends and family. September always reminds me of back to school and my old school friends, and it makes me realize how long it has been since I’ve spoken to some of them! I want to take a few minutes to text/email/call the friends and family members I haven’t been in contact with recently.
  • Scrapbook. People, I still have memorabilia floating around from my college graduation… which was over four years ago. I want to stick these items in a scrapbook where I can actually look at them.

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: I just started book five in the Incorrigibles series, and I can’t wait to reveal some answers to the mysteries in the previous book!

TV shows I’ve watched: My husband and I are finally watching the latest season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I think it’s the funniest season so far.

Instagram account I’m loving: This guy rescues cats in Istanbul and also plays piano with them. It’s super sweet.

My favorite Instagram:

I built an Ikea shelf a couple of weeks ago and was super proud of myself.

I built this ikea shelf all by myself and I'm feeling absurdly proud of it.

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

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram (I post lots of book pictures and the occasional selfie), you can do so here.

If you want to see more of what I’m into every month, along with sneak peeks and my favorite posts from the blog, sign up for my email newsletter! It’ll show up in your inbox once a month and bring you the latest blog news and the things I’m loving.

What are you all up to this month? Let me know in the comments!

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