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

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

Nonfiction ARCs, Part 2

Curious about how to live a good life? These two books offer different perspectives on how to do so. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received free copies of these books in exchange for an honest review.

Last week I discussed a couple of my latest nonfiction galley reads. This week’s nonfiction ARCs focus more on living a good, fulfilling life. I always think I’m going to enjoy this kind of book, but–spoiler alert–these two weren’t that great.

How to Live a Good Life

Seriously . . . another book that tells you how to live a good life? Don’t we have enough of those?

You’d think so. Yet, more people than ever are walking through life disconnected, disengaged, dissatisfied, mired in regret, declining health, and a near maniacal state of gut-wrenching autopilot busyness.

How to Live a Good Life is your antidote; a practical and provocative modern-day manual for the pursuit of a life well lived. No need for blind faith or surrender of intelligence; everything you’ll discover is immediately actionable and subject to validation through your own experience.

Drawn from the intersection of science, spirituality, and the author’s years-long quest to learn at the feet of masters from nearly every tradition and walk of life, this book offers a simple yet powerful model, the “Good Life Buckets ” —spend 30 days filling your buckets and reclaiming your life. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Oh, this book. It has some cliche ideas on how to improve your life (get enough sleep, exercise, meditate), but some good ones too (try to give purpose to your awful, boring job instead of quitting it). I found this so forgettable that, one week later, I can remember practically nothing about this book. If you want to think about living a better, happier life, I’d suggest checking out Gretchen Rubin’s work instead.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

365 Ways to Live Generously

Transform your physical, emotional, and spiritual health with the power of generosity. 365 Ways to Live Generously features an easy, inspiring lesson for every day that focuses on one of the seven generosity habits: Physical Health, Mindfulness, Relationships, Connecting with Yourself, Gratitude, Simplicity, and Philanthropy. Each habit appears once a week, giving readers a whole year to practice and make it a part of their daily life. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Honestly, this book was even worse than How to Live a Good Life. It did have some great ideas for improving your life, giving more, and being more grateful, but there are also plenty of “out there” ideas that just don’t sit well with my personality. Your mileage may vary.

However, this book has tons of great quotes from various celebrities, writers, and thought leaders, and in keeping with the theme of my Write 31 Days series, I’d like to share my absolute favorite quote:

I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli. –George H.W. Bush

Rating: Meh

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

Nonfiction ARCs, Part 1

Quick reviews of Crafting with Feminism and Around the World in 80 Purees. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received free copies of these books in exchange for an honest review.

I recently requested a couple of nonfiction galleys from NetGalley. They don’t have much to do with each other (other than the fact that they’re nonfiction), but they both provided some fascinating ideas.

Crafting with Feminism

This is what a feminist crafter looks like! Wear your ideology on your sleeve by creating feminist merit badges (like “started an all-girl band” or “rocked roller derby”). Prove that the political is personal with DIY power panties (“No means no”). Craft great feminist hero finger puppets (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Frida Kahlo) or googly-eyed tampon buddies. Fun sidebars provide background on (s)heroes of the feminist movement. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

You know I’m into girl power, so I was really interested by this feminist craft book. The book has a few cute ideas–I love the plate that says “sushi rolls, not gender roles,” the faux fur monster pouch for tampons, and the feminist onesies.

Several of the projects, though, were a bit silly (I don’t have any use for finger puppets, for example). Still, it’s a cute book to look through and maybe pass around to your female friends.

But in keeping with my Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words, I’m sharing one of my favorite quotes about feminism (if you want more quotes like this, you can follow my Girl Power board on Pinterest):

I call it feminism instead of equality because it is the feminine traits that men and women are shamed for. It is the feminine traits that society needs to accept. –Unknown

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Around the World in 80 Purees

First foods for little eaters don’t have to be bland and boring! Featuring 100 delicious recipes like Mango Saffron Puree (India), Rosewater Vanilla Smoothie (Middle East), Pastina with Parmesan and Nutmeg (Italy), and Pumpkin Millet Porridge (Russia), Around the World in 80 Purees shows foodie parents how to bring global cuisine to the high chair with little effort and no fuss. Studies show that babies who are exposed to a variety of tastes grow up to be more adventurous (and less fussy!) eaters as kids. This comprehensive and easy-to-follow book is the perfect resource for parents of toddlers aged 6–18 months who want to broaden their baby’s palate. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book has such great ideas! The author gives a quick overview of first foods for babies around the world and then offers easy, tasty recipes to introduce your child to new foods. I want to use these recipes to introduce my kids to spices, varied fruits, vegetables, and meats. This is going in the growing pile of books I’m saving for when I have kids.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

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

ARC: Year of No Clutter

Year of No Clutter, the memoir of an almost-hoarder, was baffling to me. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Eve Schaub is the author of Year of No Sugar, and her latest book, Year of No Clutter, follows in that book’s footsteps. When the Hell Room–an enormous room crammed with odds and ends from her family’s life–starts weighing heavily on Eve’s mind, she decides to finally deal with it. She sorts through years worth of items, including useless clothing from Eve’s own childhood, stacks upon stacks of her children’s artwork, old phone bills, and less savory things like dead mice. Throughout the process, the author struggles with whether or not she should classify herself as a hoarder, and she talks to others surrounding her (hoarders and non-hoarders alike) about the problem of clutter.

I found this book baffling. I’m a neat freak who doesn’t understand the hoarder mindset, so I had trouble sympathizing with the author’s inability to throw away things that had no purpose. At one point, Eve describes her younger daughter injuring herself and losing a fingernail, and when she says she’s going to keep the fingernail, Eve agrees! I have absolutely no understanding of that mindset.

If you find yourself hovering on the edge of becoming a hoarder, you might be interested in this memoir. If you’re just looking for some advice on clutter-clearing, however, Year of No Clutter is probably not for you.

But in honor of my Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words, I’m going to share my favorite clutter-related quote by Wendell Berry:

Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.

Rating: Meh

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

ARC: Muffins and Mourning Tea

Muffins and Mourning Tea is the latest addition to the Oxford Tearoom mystery series. Just as fun as the rest of the series! #spon | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cotswolds tearoom owner Gemma Rose is excited to join the May Day celebrations in Oxford… until the beautiful spring morning ends in murder. Now, she’s embroiled in a deadly mystery – with four nosy old ladies determined to help in the sleuthing! Before she knows it, Gemma finds herself stalking a Russian “princess” and keeping up with the Old Biddies in Krav Maga class, while still trying to serve delicious cakes and buttery scones at her quaint English tearoom.
And that’s just the start of her worries: there’s her little tabby cat, Muesli, who is causing havoc at the local nursing home… and what should she do with the creepy plants that her mother keeps buying for her new cottage?

But the mystery that’s really bothering Gemma is her boyfriend’s odd behaviour. Devlin O’Connor has always been enigmatic but recently, the handsome CID detective has been strangely distant and evasive. Could he be lying to her? But why? (Review via Amazon.com)

Muffins and Mourning Tea is the latest installment in the wonderful Oxford Tearoom mystery series (you can see my previous reviews here, here, here, here, and here), and it was just as fun as always.

Gemma finds herself nearby when a murder is committed in the midst of a crowd, and of course, she can’t resist the temptation to investigate. But what with trying to run her tearoom, fending off the Old Biddies, and dealing with her boyfriend’s sudden evasiveness, Gemma has her hands full.

We get to spend time with some favorite characters in this book, including Gemma’s nosy and overbearing mother (who is still trying to give her daughter hideous decorations and setting her up with her former love interest, Lincoln), the Old Biddies (hilarious as always), and Gemma’s detective boyfriend Devlin. I can’t wait for the next book to find out more details about Devlin’s strange behavior in Muffins and Mourning Tea.

Of course, I also learned some new things in this book–like what banoffee pie is (there’s a recipe in the back of the book that I might have to try!) and more fun traditions from Oxford. I love a good British mystery, and the setting of Oxford makes this series different from the proliferation of British cozies I’ve come across.

If you’re looking for a fun and not super cliche cozy mystery series, I strongly recommend these books. They are always enjoyable with fun characters and a great setting, and Muffins and Mourning Tea is yet another example of H.Y. Hanna’s skill in writing satisfying mysteries.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC: Class of ’59

Class of '59 is the latest installment in the American Journey series. #spon | A 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 Mary Beth McIntire settles into a vacation house on June 2, 2017, she anticipates a quiet morning with coffee. Then she hears a noise, peers out a window, and spots a man in 1950s attire standing in the backyard.

In the same house on March 21, 1959, Mark Ryan finds a letter. Written by the mansion’s original owner in 1900, the letter describes a basement chamber, mysterious crystals, and a formula for time travel. Driven by curiosity, Mark tests the formula twice.

Within hours, Mary Beth and Mark share their secret with her sister and his brother and begin a journey that takes them from the present day to the age of sock hops, drive-ins, and jukeboxes. In CLASS OF ’59, the fourth book in the American Journey series, four young adults find love, danger, and adventure as they navigate the corridors of time and experience Southern California in its storied prime. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve reviewed several of John Heldt’s books in the past (you can see those reviews here, here, here, and here). This book is the fourth installment in his American Journey series, a time travel/romance series which brings couples together against the backdrop of famous times and places in America’s past.

Unlike earlier books in the series, Class of ’59 opens with the main characters discovering the time-traveling tunnel without the help (or knowledge) of the professor. Mark, a collegiate boy living in the late 50s, discovers an unbelievable story about time travel hidden in a desk in the new house his family moved into. When he tries it out, he finds himself transported to the same house almost sixty years into the future, where he meets Mary Beth and her sister. The two girls make the trip back to 1959 and experience the glory days of southern California, participating in school dances and meeting stars in Hollywood.

Of course, the two girls find themselves falling in love with Mark and his brother. The romances are sweet, if a little rushed. But after a few weeks of bliss, the four new friends find themselves in danger, and they have to quickly make choices that will affect the rest of their lives.

Class of ’59 had a few of the same problems I encountered in the last book, namely the use of descriptors rather than names and some flowery sentiments (how many times do we need to be reminded that Mark views Mary Beth as “stunning” or “beautiful” or “never ceases to amaze” him?). Still, if you can get past those details and enjoy the romance and the historical setting, you might give this book a try. And if you’ve enjoyed the rest of the American Journey series, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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

ARC: A Decent Woman

A Decent Woman is a fascinating story of two Latina women struggling to live in male-dominated Puerto Rico. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife, the only one in La Playa. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past while she continues to hide a more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest Padre Vicénte and the young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must fight to preserve her twenty-five-year career.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children who marries a wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. When she’s attacked during her pregnancy, she and Ana become allies in an ill-conceived plan to avoid scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor. (Summary via publisher)

I knew very little about this book before I started reading it. To be honest, I knew very little in general about life in Puerto Rico at the turn of the century. So I found this book really interesting and informative as it covered the lives of Latina women in a place and time that was very harsh on them. It was painful to read about how much these women suffered–there is rape, abuse, painful childbirth, cheating husbands, prostitution, and unfair laws to be dealt with.

Despite the culture that these women live in, Ana is a strong, independent woman. A former slave with a dark past, she now spends her days as a midwife, despite the new trend toward taking laboring women to hospitals where male doctors can care for them. Ana overcomes the sexism, racism, and classism that threaten to take away her livelihood, one step at a time.

Serafina has different struggles. Ana delivered her first two babies and kept her abusive husband from doing too much harm. But when Serafina remarries into a wealthy, upper-class family, she soon finds that this new life has challenges and pains of its own.

If you want to read a book that discusses the struggles and triumphs of women in a male-dominated, chauvinistic society, this book is for you. If you want to learn more about the culture of Puerto Rico one hundred years ago, this book is for you too. It’s interesting, painful, and eye-opening.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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