ARC: Jorie and the Magic Stones

Jorie and the Magic Stones is the beginning of a children's fantasy series by A.H. Richardson. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Good but Forgettable

My Favorite Feminist Books of 2016

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

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

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

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

Rating: Re-read Worthy

A Century of Women

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

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

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Half the Sky

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

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

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Jesus Feminist

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

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

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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

Her Stories (children’s fiction)

Reading Lolita in Tehran (adult nonfiction)

The Girls of Atomic City (adult nonfiction)

The Princess Problem (adult nonfiction)

Interstellar Cinderella (picture book)

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

Untangled (adult nonfiction)

Excellent Daughters (adult nonfiction)

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

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

Words in the Dust

Words in the Dust is a powerful middle grades novel about a girl coming of age in Afghanistan. | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven from Afghanistan; a good relationship with her hard stepmother; and one day even to go to school, or to have her cleft palate fixed. Zulaikha knows all will be provided for her–“Inshallah,” God willing.

Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the Afghan poetry she taught her late mother. And the Americans come to her village, promising not just new opportunities and dangers, but surgery to fix her face. These changes could mean a whole new life for Zulaikha–but can she dare to hope they’ll come true? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I listened to this audio book because I was hoping to get a glimpse at the life of an average girl in modern-day Afghanistan. I was fascinated by my last look at the Arab world, and I wanted to have another perspective.

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t exactly focus on the average Afghani girl. Zulaikha has a cleft palate that causes others to tease or pity her, but when the Americans come to town, they might be able to help. I found Words in the Dust a bit dramatic and overwrought at times, as Zulaikha despairs over her looks and the people around her do nothing to help. I kept wondering how close the events of this novel were to actual Afghani girls’ experiences.

It’s not a bad story, but I think I’ll keep looking for a more subtle look into the experiences of teenage girls in the Middle East.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Classic Book Reviews: Lord of the Flies and The Little Prince

In which I review my latest classic reads: Lord of the Flies and The Little Prince. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m continuing my journey of reading all the classics I never got around to in today’s post. These two books are very different from each other, and while I understood why they’re considered modern classics, I didn’t particularly enjoy either one.

Lord of the Flies

When a plane crashes on a remote island, a small group of schoolboys are the sole survivors. From the prophetic Simon and virtuous Ralph to the lovable Piggy and brutish Jack, each of the boys attempts to establish control as the reality – and brutal savagery – of their situation sets in.

The boys’ struggle to find a way of existing in a community with no fixed boundaries invites readers to evaluate the concepts involved in social and political constructs and moral frameworks. Ideas of community, leadership, and the rule of law are called into question as the reader has to consider who has a right to power, why, and what the consequences of the acquisition of power may be. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Lord of the Flies is a thought provoking, well written book, if a bit racist and sexist. I absolutely understand why they teach it in high schools–it introduces some controversial ideas about social contracts and the behavior of humans, but it’s not overly complex. Really, that’s the main reason I disliked this book. I found the behavior of the boys on the island pretty unrealistic and over the top. I get that kids are mean, and any humans are more likely to resort to violence when they are afraid and outside their normal social structures, but I don’t think things would have gone so far downhill so fast.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Little Prince

Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is one of those books that makes me feel like I missed the “point.” What is this “moral allegory” you speak of, Goodreads? Still, it’s a sweet story about a little boy who travels the universe and discovers a great many adults acting in ways that make no sense to his innocent mind. Plus, there are great illustrations.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC: Snow White

This graphic novel set in the Jazz Age is a beautiful but generic Snow White retelling. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This graphic novel retelling of Snow White is set in the Jazz Age (and you know how much I love a good Jazz Age fairy tale retelling). The artwork is beautiful, noir style, although I don’t know enough about art or illustration style to describe it further. (Sorry, guys!) All I can say is it’s worth checking out Matt Phelan’s work.

Unfortunately, I found the story itself a bit short and generic. I wish we could have explored the events more deeply. Like, what was up with the ticker tape that told the evil stepmother what to do? Clearly it’s replacing the magic mirror, but it barely gets a mention, much less an explanation. I just wish there had been more content to flesh out the characters and the plot. I feel like the author could have done a lot more with the Jazz Age revamping of Snow White, and I was disappointed that he didn’t.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Audio Books Roundup

I'm not a big audio book fan, but I've been listening to more and more on my commute. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m not a big fan of audio books, but my commute to work has nearly doubled since our recent move. Because my favorite podcasts only update once a week, that still leaves me with a lot of driving time to fill. So on the days that I don’t feel like listening to music, I’ve started turning to audio books. I have a huge collection from the SYNC summer audio book program, and I’ve listened to a few of those.

The Perfect Storm

It was the storm of the century – a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it “the perfect storm.”

When it struck in October 1991, there was virtually no warning. “She’s comin’ on, boys, and she’s comin’ on strong,” radioed Captain Billy Tyne of the Andrea Gail from off the coast of Nova Scotia. Soon afterward, the boat and its crew of six disappeared without a trace. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This nonfiction book offers an interesting look at commercial fishing, how hurricanes work, drowning, and true life deaths and rescues from the storm of the century. If you’ve seen the movie The Perfect Storm, you know the central characters from the book, but you’ll be surprised at how much more information is contained here. Although the crew of the Andrea Gail did not survive, there were many other boats in need of rescue, and the stories of these rescue attempts are both harrowing and heartwarming.

“Meteorologist see perfect in strange things, and the meshing of three completely independent weather systems to form a hundred-year event is one of them. My God, thought Case, this is the perfect storm.”

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Here in Harlem

These fifty-four poems, all in different voices but written by one hand, do sing. They make a joyful noise as the author honors the people-the nurses, students, soldiers, and ministers-of his beloved hometown, Harlem. Worship with Deacon Allen, who loves “a shouting church,” and study with Lois Smith, who wants “a school named after me.” Don’t get taken by Sweet Sam DuPree, who “conned a shark right outta his fin.” And never turn your back on Delia Pierce, who claims she “ain’t the kind to talk behind nobody’s back” while doing precisely that-with panache. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

The audio version of this book of poetry is amazing–there is a different narrator for each character, and there is jazz/blues music and sound effects in the background. The poetry itself is great, too. The collection of poems talks about life in Harlem from the viewpoint of people of all ages and occupations, and Walter Dean Myers’ writing makes each character come alive.

If you decide to read this book, I strongly suggest the audio version. It is just wonderful.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Courage Has No Color

World War II is raging, and thousands of American soldiers are fighting overseas against the injustices brought on by Hitler. Back on the home front, the injustice of discrimination against African Americans plays out as much on Main Street as in the military. Enlisted black men are segregated from white soldiers and regularly relegated to service duties. At Fort Benning, Georgia, First Sergeant Walter Morris’s men serve as guards at The Parachute School, while the white soldiers prepare to be paratroopers. Morris knows that for his men to be treated like soldiers, they have to train and act like them, but would the military elite and politicians recognize the potential of these men as well as their passion for serving their country?

Tanya Lee Stone examines the role of African Americans in the military through the history of the Triple Nickles, America’s first black paratroopers, who fought in a little-known attack on the American West by the Japanese. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, in the words of Morris, “proved that the color of a man had nothing to do with his ability.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I was really interested by this book, as the Triple Nickles are not a group I ever learned much about in school. The stories of racism in America, even as our troops battled one of the most evil regimes in history, are horrible. In particular, I’ll never forget one African American soldier’s description of how much better the German POWs were treated than the black soldiers.

Still, if you can face up to these awful moments (and I think we have the responsibility to do so), you’ll find a lot of good here. Although the writing itself is nothing special, the story is important and interesting.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

Lumberjanes

This fun series of comics follows the Lumberjanes as they fight supernatural creatures and build friendship to the max. | Review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are new friends at the Lumberjanes summer camp. But things aren’t as simple as they seem.

Throughout this fun series of comics, the girls and their reluctant counselor Jen battle supernatural creatures, solve riddles, and develop friendship to the max. Although the girls are very different and have their disagreements, they always end up working together to creatively solve their problems.

I love that the Lumberjanes are a diverse group of girls who love each other despite their differences. I also love that this is a girl power story without the stereotypical “strong woman” character. Each character is unique and complex: April loves cute clothes and mermaids, but she’s also ultra competitive. Ripley is small and scrappy with a ragged, blue-dyed haircut, and she loves giving out hugs. Each of the girls is a fun character on her own, but together, they are magic (sometimes literally).

Even if you don’t usually like comics (I don’t), you should check this series out. The artwork is great, the characters are awesome, and the story is super fun. I can’t wait for the next issue!

“Did you have a plan?”

“I thought adrenaline would take over but it did not.”

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can find the rest of the posts in this series here.

Middle Grades ARCs

A quick review of two fun middle grades books--one a mystery, one a fantasy. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of these books in exchange for an honest review.

The Best Mistake Mystery

Dogwalker extraordinaire Stephen Nobel can get a little anxious, but his habit of counting the mistakes he and everyone else makes calms him. His need to analyze gets kicked into hyperdrive after two crazy events happen in one day at school: the bomb squad blows up a backpack and someone smashes a car into the building.

To make things worse, that someone thinks Stephen can identify them. Stephen receives a threatening text. If he goes to the police, his favourite dogs, Ping and Pong, will get hurt. The pressure mounts when his new best friend, Renée, begs for Stephen’s help. Her brother has been charged with the crimes and she wants to clear his name.

Is it a mistake to give in to dognappers? How can he possibly save everybody? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a cute mystery for middle grades. Stephen and his new friend Renee must overcome their own mistakes (like losing Ping and Pong, the dogs Stephen is supposed to be caring for) to discover who is threatening their school.

Stephen is a likable character, and while the mystery is pretty forgettable, it’s still a fun read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

When twelve-year-old Nick runs away from his uncle’s in the middle of a blizzard, he stumbles onto a very opinionated bookstore. He also meets its guardian, the self-proclaimed Evil Wizard Smallbone, who calls Nick his apprentice and won’t let him leave, but won’t teach him magic, either. It’s a good thing the bookstore takes Nick’s magical education in hand, because Smallbone’s nemesis—the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and his pack of shape-shifting bikers are howling at the borders. Smallbone might call himself evil, but compared to Fidelou, he’s practically a puppy. And he can’t handle Fidelou alone. Wildly funny and cozily heartfelt, Delia Sherman’s latest is an eccentric fantasy adventure featuring dueling wizards, enchanted animals, and one stray boy with a surprising knack for magic. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is super fun! When Nick runs away from his horrible uncle, he ends up meeting Smallbone, a grumpy old wizard who’s not as evil as he pretends. Slowly Nick learns to do magic himself and must defend the village from an evil wolf wizard and Nick’s horrible uncle and cousin.

The setting is great–who wouldn’t want a library that would offer up whatever book you need next?–and Smallbone and Nick are both great characters. It’s a fun, unique fantasy.

And as usual, I’m tying this post back to my Lovely Words series by sharing my favorite quote from this book:

Anybody who can get through March without breaking a glass, a friendship, a secret, a promise, or somebody’s nose is either a saint or on vacation in Florida.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can read the rest of the posts in the series here.

Dodger

Dodger is a fun story from Terry Pratchett about a street urchin in Dickens' London. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he’s…Dodger.

Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London’s sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He’s not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl–not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.

From Dodger’s encounter with the mad barber Sweeney Todd to his meetings with the great writer Charles Dickens and the calculating politician Benjamin Disraeli, history and fantasy intertwine in a breathtaking account of adventure and mystery. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

So I’ve never read a Terry Pratchett book (except for Good Omens, which he co-wrote with the amazing Neil Gaiman). I know, I know! How can this be? Well, fantasy isn’t usually my thing, and all I know about Terry Pratchett is his massive Discworld series. One day I’ll tackle that, but when I came across this standalone novel in audio form, I thought I’d give it a try.

But Dodger wasn’t anything like what I thought it would be. For one thing, there are no sci fi/fantasy elements in it at all! Dodger is a young man growing up on the dirty streets of Victorian London, but when he is caught standing up for a young woman, his life takes a sudden turn. He meets Charlie Dickens, Sweeney Todd, and Benjamin Disraeli, mixing actual historic figures with those from fiction.

Dodger is a great character, and his scrapes on (and below) the streets of London were fun to read about, and the audio version I listened to had a great narrator, but on the whole I found this book forgettable. Here’s hoping that the next Terry Pratchett book I pick up will wow me like I was expecting this one to do.

Of course, in keeping with my Write 31 Days series called Lovely Words, here are a few of my favorite quotes from Dodger. (Terry Pratchett has such a clever way with words.)

“Money makes people rich; it is a fallacy to think it makes them better, or even that it makes them worse. People are what they do, and what they leave behind.”

“There were two ways of looking at the world, but only one when you are starving.”

“The man gave Dodger a cursory glance that had quite a lot of curse in it.”

Rating: Good but Forgettable

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series Lovely Words. You can read the rest of the series here.

ARC: The STEM Club Goes Exploring

In this short, illustrated book, a group of kids explore various STEM careers. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In The STEM Club GoesExploring, students explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. While interviewing STEM professionals, the students prepare to make career presentations during their school’s Favorites Day.

Join STEM Club members Fran, Sara, Nixie, Winston, Patti, Betik, Jenny, Jesse, and their teacher Mr. Day, as they make field trips to a video game company, a veterinary clinic, a hospital, and even a mine, to learn more about career opportunities for professionals in STEM fields. Author Lois Melbourne, of the My Future Story series, inspires readers to identify their passions, explore them, and shape their own future stories. (Summary via NetGalley.com)

I’m a big fan of encouraging kids to get into STEM fields, especially girls and people of color who are statistically underrepresented in these more technical fields. Because of that, I’m really rooting for the success of this book.

The STEM Club Goes Exploring is a cute exploration of different STEM-related careers, from veterinary science to geology. I love the illustrations, too. My one complaint is that it reads a bit young, but it’s definitely not a picture book–possibly suited for elementary school kids. A fun, quick read to help your young kids get interested in STEM fields.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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