Small Goals + What I’m Into, January 2018

I'm linking up to share my small goals and the things I'm into in January 2018. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As always, I’m linking up with writes like a girl for my January 2018 small goals, and Leigh Kramer for my monthly what I’m into.

December was a crazy month for me, despite all my planning to make it a little easier! I was so glad to have some time off work at the end of the month to hibernate and prepare for the new year.

  • See the Christmas lights at a nearby historical house. Done.
  • Finish learning music for my church’s Christmas program. Yes, and it went so well! This is always one of my favorite events of the Christmas season, even though it means a lot of extra work for me.
  • Reevaluate work, volunteering, and other activities for the coming year. Yes. I spent some time during the last few days of 2017 to plan how I want my 2018 to go. Time to make some changes!

I kept my goals simple for December, but now that it’s January, I’m feeling a little more ambitious!

  • Make appointments for upcoming events. This goal is vague because this encompasses a lot of things. Basically, I want to get started putting plans in motion for those changes I mentioned earlier!
  • Read at least three books in the towering TBR pile by my bed. This stack of books has gotten out of hand. I really need to read some of the books I own before I go back to the library…
  • Make dinner more often. Since I get home super late most nights, my husband ends up doing most of the cooking. He enjoys it, but I’d like to take some of that work off his hands this month.
  • Do a digital declutter. Delete old files, change passwords, back up photos, organize bookmarks… It needs to be done. This is my boring goal for the month.

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: That. huge. stack of books by my bed. There are so many good books in that stack (Tana French, Dashiell Hammett, Emily Henry)!

TV shows I’ve watched: I’m rewatching Psych with my husband–he has never seen it all the way through!–so we can watch the movie. So fun!

Instagram account I’m loving: Guinea Pig Lovers always posts such cute photos and videos!

My favorite Instagram:

This Page Habit box was one of my favorite gifts this year:

Got this awesome Page Habit box for Christmas! #mypagehabit

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!

Happy New Year 2018!

Happy New Year, blogging world! Today I'm sharing some stats from my 2017 reading year and my bookish goals for 2018. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Happy New Year, bookish friends! I can’t believe that it’s 2018 already. I love to get into the nitty gritty details of the books I’ve read, so as always, I’m sharing my favorites and all the statistics of the books I read in 2017.

This year, I read 247 books, which is surprisingly similar to last year’s 251 books. My increased work schedule and other life changes would have lowered this number, I think, except for the book challenges that pushed me to finish certain books.

35% of these books were diverse books, which I defined as written by or about underrepresented groups. Books in translation, books about feminism, books about countries other than America or England, and books by or about people of color, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBT+, or adherents of non-Christian religions all fell into this category. (Up a bit from 33% last year, which is awesome!)

The genres I read most this year were (of course) Newbery books, middle grades, YA, mystery, and (surprisingly) fantasy.

I read 75% fiction and 25% nonfiction this year. This is a little bit more fiction and a little less nonfiction than the past two years, which I think is probably because the nonfiction I did read was pretty heavy.

61% of the books I read were written by female authors, which means the other 39% were written by male authors or by both a male and a female author.

64% of my 2016 books were backlist books; 30% were new; 6% were classics. This seems to show how I’m leaning toward reading books from my TBR list rather than only picking up the latest book that catches my eye!

9% of the books I read were published by indie or small press publishers; 91% were by mainstream publishers. I’d like to do better at reading small press books this year.

My Goodreads ratings overwhelmingly fell into the 3-4 range. I rated only one book as a 1 this year, and I only gave nine books a 5 (which explains why I had such a hard time creating favorites lists this past year; there were very few books that blew me away in 2017).

Almost all of the books I read this year were from the library (or Hoopla/Overdrive, both of which I have access to through our library system). Other sources included Amazon (of course), Paperback Swap, the thrift store, and my other online sources, Scribd and Serial.

11% of the books I read this year were audio books, which is way up from any years in the past. 22% were ebooks, and the other 67% were print books (no surprise, as I still much prefer paper to reading on a screen or listening to a book).

reviewed 81% of the books I read this year. Some of the 19% I didn’t review because I didn’t have much to say about them; others I read for personal reference.

I’m also taking a cue from Alise at Read. Write. Repeat. and sharing a few books that I enjoyed in certain categories.

Longest: The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm (880 pages). It certainly didn’t seem that long when I was reading it on my Kindle.

Shortest: The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse by Alan Bradley (27 pages). I’m not sure if this even counts as a book at this length!

Favorite classic: Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. It’s sweet, old-fashioned fun.

Most thought provoking: $2.00 a Day by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. This book was painful but fascinating to read.

Best children’s series: Septimus Heap. I’m sure frequent blog readers will not be surprised to see that series here, considering how much I’ve gushed about it this year!

Best adult series: Aunty Lee. I love the Singapore setting for these mysteries, and Aunty Lee is such a fun character.

I set only three bookish goals for 2017:

  • Write more joint book reviews. I didn’t complete as many of these as I had hoped, but you can see my annual Newbery reviews with my sister here, and I did a guest post for Jane of Raincity Librarian here.
  • Participate in Armchair BEA. I did this, and it was so fun! Unfortunately, the organizers of Armchair Book Expo have stepped down, so I’m not sure if this will continue next year, but I’m very glad I was able to participate again in 2017.
  • Continue to read at least 25% diverse books. I did this handily!

I hope you all have a great start to 2018! I’m wishing you all happy reading in the new year.

Top Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to Reading in 2018

I'm linking up for the last Top Ten Tuesday of the year. These are the books I'm most looking forward to reading in 2018! | 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.

It’s the last TTT of 2017! I have so many books that I’m looking forward to reading next year, but these books made my top ten list.

  1. Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America
  2. Redefining Girly
  3. Sourdough
  4. Year of Yes
  5. Peas and Carrots
  6. The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery
  7. Bellweather Rhapsody
  8. Heartless
  9. Putin Country: A Journey Into the Real Russia
  10. When Dimple Met Rishi

What books are you looking forward to reading in 2018? Let me know in the comments!

Book Challenge Wrap Ups!

It's time to wrap up both of the book challenges I completed this year! Classics + Newbery books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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It’s the end of the year, and somehow I was able to finish both of the book challenges I started! I joined Smiling Shelves for the Newbery reading challenge and read 75 points worth of Newbery winners and honor books (and one Caldecott!). You can find the reviews for these books here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Whew!

I also completed the Books and Chocolate classics challenge, which was definitely more difficult for me. Listed below are the books that I read for each category and a link to my review of that book. I earned all three entries into the drawing–woo hoo! (Contact email for this drawing–monica@newberyandbeyond.com)

1. A 19th century classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899. The Awakening; Kate Chopin

2. A 20th century classic – any book published between 1900 and 1967. Dead Man’s Folly; Agatha Christie

3. A classic by a woman author. Murder at the Vicarage; Agatha Christie

4. A classic in translation. Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. Candide; Voltaire

5. A classic originally published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category. Translations can be modern in this category also. Othello; Shakespeare

6. A romance classic. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot. Lady Susan; Jane Austen

7. A Gothic or horror classic. Dracula; Bram Stoker

8. A classic with a number in the title. An actual number is required — for example, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None would not qualify, but The Seven Dials Mystery would. 1984; George Orwell

9. A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title. It can be an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name in the title. Swallows and Amazons; Arthur Ransome

10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc. The War of the Worlds; H.G. Wells (London)

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. A Raisin in the Sun; Lorraine Hansberry (Tony Award for Best Play)

12. A Russian classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. Crime and Punishment; Fyodor Dostoyevsky

These book challenges were so much fun! I’m not going to sign up for any this year, but I loved how these challenges pushed me to read more of the classics and Newbery books that have been lingering on my TBR list.

Did you participate in any book challenges this year? Let me know in the comments!

Newbery Roundup: December 2017 (Part Two!)

It's the last Newbery roundup of the year! Here are all the Newbery books I read in December 2017. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’ve been reading a lot of Newbery books this month (you might have noticed) because I’m trying to finish reading 75 points worth of books for my Newbery book challenge. With the books in this post, I’ve just made it! (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Abraham Lincoln, Friend of the People

Clara Ingram Judson presents Lincoln in all his gauntness, gawkiness, and greatness: a backwoods boy who became President and saved the Union. Judsons careful reading is enlivened by her visits to his home and vivid descriptions of the Lincoln familys pioneer life. She reveals the unforgettable story from his boyhood and days as a shopkeeper and lawyer, to Lincolns first elected offices and his election as president, the Civil War, and assassination.

This book was okay, but I, like most Americans, know a lot about Lincoln already. This is nothing special, although it’s perfectly acceptable as a children’s introduction to Abraham Lincoln.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Winterbound

The story of young people from the city adjusting to a winter in the Connecticut hills.

I really liked this story of four siblings making their way through their first winter in the country of Connecticut. The story is sweet and old fashioned–it reminded me of the Penderwicks. I would gladly read a sequel to this book if there was one.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

In December of 1938, a chemist in a German laboratory made a shocking discovery: When placed next to radioactive material, a Uranium atom split in two. That simple discovery launched a scientific race that spanned 3 continents. In Great Britain and the United States, Soviet spies worked their way into the scientific community; in Norway, a commando force slipped behind enemy lines to attack German heavy-water manufacturing; and deep in the desert, one brilliant group of scientists was hidden away at a remote site at Los Alamos. This is the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world’s most formidable weapon. This is the story of the atomic bomb.

This book about the creation of the atomic bomb is interesting and informative, but also horrifying. I kept asking myself, Is this book really for kids? If you want to be terrified about the future of nuclear war (as well as learn some admittedly fascinating history of the international race to create the ultimate weapon), this book is for you–no matter what your age.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Perilous Gard

In 1558, while exiled by Queen Mary Tudor to a remote castle known as Perilous Gard, young Kate Sutton becomes involved in a series of mysterious events that lead her to an underground world peopled by Fairy Folk—whose customs are even older than the Druids’ and include human sacrifice.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book! The beginning was slow, as Kate’s bubbly sister accidentally gets Kate sent to a country estate known as the Perilous Gard, but as Kate meets the mysterious residents of the castle and the surrounding village, she finds that there is something strange going on. Kate’s interactions with the Fairy Folk, who are treacherous and heartless, just get more and more enthralling as the book continues. If you like dark-ish books about magical beings, you might enjoy this book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

One Crazy Summer

In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

I read this book several years ago (for the Newbery challenge I participated in, it’s acceptable to re-read books you read as a child, and that’s what I did here). As I read through, I remembered most of the events, but I got even more nuance out of it than when I read it the first time. It’s a quick read about a family of sisters who spend a summer with their poet mother and the Black Panthers. Interesting and sweet.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Top Ten Books I Want to See Under My Christmas Tree

I'm linking up to share the top ten books that I want to find under my Christmas tree this year. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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This post is part of the Top Ten Tuesday meme by The Broke and the Bookish.

I’ve already received a couple of books from my Christmas wish list (thank you, Secret Santa!), but there are always plenty more I’d like to add to my shelf. Here is this year’s edition of the ten books I want to find under my Christmas tree.

  1. All Clear. You guys know how I feel about this book. I have a copy of Blackout, so I really need the second book in the duology.
  2. Texts from Jane Eyre. This book is hilarious. It would cheer me up when I’m having a rough day and need something easy to read.
  3. The Year of Living Danishly. This sounds so fascinating!
  4. The rest of the Septimus Heap series. I’ve acquired copies of the first three books in the series. I know I want to re-read it in the future, and one day introduce the series to my children, so I need a complete set.
  5. The Complete Stories of Dorothy L. Sayers. I haven’t read any Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries (crazy, right??), so why not just get them all at once?
  6. Neverwhere. I’ve been wanting to read this Neil Gaiman story for a long time.
  7. Pioneer Girl. I think it would be really interesting to read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiography–this time written for adults.
  8. Black Dove, White Raven. I loved Code Name Verity, and this book has been on my TBR list for a long time.
  9. Accidental Saints. To someone who spent a fair amount of time reading about non-traditional Christianity this year, this book sounds super interesting.
  10. The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. Because of course.

What books are you hoping to receive this holiday season? Let me know in the comments!

Classics Roundup: December 2017

In today's classics roundup, I'm sharing the rest of the classics that I read in 2017! | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’ve finally finished reading all the classic books for my 2017 book challenge! It came down to the wire a bit (I struggled my way through a few of these), but I made it! Below are quick reviews of all the classics I’ve been reading lately. Before the end of the year, I’ll have a post up summarizing both of the book challenges I participated in this year. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

The Awakening

When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity. Audiences accustomed to the pieties of late Victorian romantic fiction were taken aback by Chopin’s daring portrayal of a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside the confines of her domestic situation.

This was an interesting classic in which Mrs. Pontellier has an “awakening” of her self and refuses to fall in line with societal expectations. She does this by having an affair and moving into her own home, so I can see how this would have been shocking to contemporary readers.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Kate Chopin’s writing, but I had no idea what to expect from this book. I was pleasantly surprised by it, but it isn’t one of the classics that I’ll be mulling over for years to come.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Dracula

Jonathan Harker is travelling to Castle Dracula to see the Transylvanian noble, Count Dracula. He is begged by locals not to go there, because on the eve of St George’s Day, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will come full sway. But business must be done, so Jonathan makes his way to the Castle – and then his nightmare begins. His beloved wife Mina and other lost souls have fallen under the Count’s horrifying spell. Dracula must be destroyed . . .

Several years ago, I attempted to read Dracula and utterly failed. I got freaked out by the castle scenes and never made it into the rest of the book. So I was excited to read this one for real this time. I found that it was well written and not too scary, but oh, there was a lot of sexism. I get that the time period in which this book was written was sexist, but it made it difficult to sympathize with the male main characters. Still, I’m really glad I read this one all the way through this time.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Swallows and Amazons

The first title in Arthur Ransome’s classic series, originally published in 1930: for children, for grownups, for anyone captivated by the world of adventure and imagination. Swallows and Amazons introduces the lovable Walker family, the camp on Wild Cat island, the able-bodied catboat Swallow, and the two intrepid Amazons, Nancy and Peggy Blackett.

What a fun children’s book! It’s slow to get started, but I found the siblings’ adventures on Wild Cat Island really fun and quaint–it’s reminiscent of the Penderwicks series. I definitely recommend this book for adults who like old-fashioned adventures or children with the patience for the slower-paced action of a classic book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

A Raisin in the Sun

“Never before, in the entire history of the American theater, has so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage,” observed James Baldwin shortly before A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway in 1959.

Indeed Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning drama about the hopes and aspirations of a struggling, working-class family living on the South Side of Chicago connected profoundly with the psyche of black America–and changed American theater forever.  The play’s title comes from a line in Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem,” which warns that a dream deferred might “dry up/like a raisin in the sun.”

This play offers a powerful and painful look at a black family in the 1950s who receive a large insurance payment and each have different ideas of what to do with it (pay for the daughter to go through medical school, buy a house in a white neighborhood, get involved in a questionable investment). It hurts to watch the characters struggle because of racism as well as their own poor choices, but I’m glad I read it. I don’t generally enjoy reading plays, so I’m not likely to re-read this one, but I might go see it someday.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Outsiders

According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers–until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.

Wow. I can see why this book is a classic that is still taught in high schools today. It’s hard to believe that the author was only 16 when she wrote The Outsiders–it is powerful, heart wrenching, and realistic. I loved the relationships between Ponyboy and his brothers, Soda and Darry, as well as their friendships with their group of greasers and their rivalry with the well-to-do Socs. Despite the fact that this book was written 50 years ago, it is still relatable for teenagers trying to fit in and find their group. The group names may have changed, but the teenage struggle has not.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The War of the Worlds

Even long before man had learned to fly, H.G. Wells wrote this story of the Martian attack on England. These unearthly creatures arrive in huge cylinders, from which they escape as soon as the metal is cool. The first falls near Woking and is regarded as a curiosity rather than a danger until the Martians climb out of it and kill many of the gaping crowd with a Heat-Ray. These unearthly creatures have heads four feet in diameter and colossal round bodies, and by manipulating two terrifying machines – the Handling Machine and the Fighting Machine – they are as versatile as humans and at the same time insuperable. They cause boundless destruction. The inhabitants of the Earth are powerless against them, and it looks as if the end of the World has come. But there is one factor which the Martians, in spite of their superior intelligence, have not reckoned on.

I was surprised at how enjoyable and interesting this book was. It offers a fairly short account of how London–and the world–was almost destroyed by Martians. This is the grandfather of alien invasion stories, and I wasn’t expecting to like it nearly as much as I did. It’s worth a read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

1984

Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life–the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language–and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell.

This was intense. It was slow to start, and I was worried that nothing would ever happen, plot-wise. But I was so wrong. I listened to the audio book, and I could barely listen to the descriptions of torture. The beginning was dark, the ending was dark, and I barely made it through because of the lack of hope that anything would ever get better (and I usually don’t mind dystopian fiction!). I won’t be re-reading this one.

Rating: Meh

Crime and Punishment

The poverty-stricken Raskolnikov, a talented student, devises a theory about extraordinary men being above the law, since in their brilliance they think “new thoughts” and so contribute to society. He then sets out to prove his theory by murdering a vile, cynical old pawnbroker and her sister. The act brings Raskolnikov into contact with his own buried conscience and with two characters — the deeply religious Sonia, who has endured great suffering, and Porfiry, the intelligent and discerning official who is charged with investigating the murder — both of whom compel Raskolnikov to feel the split in his nature. Dostoevsky provides readers with a suspenseful, penetrating psychological analysis that goes beyond the crime — which in the course of the novel demands drastic punishment — to reveal something about the human condition: The more we intellectualize, the more imprisoned we become.

As I was reading the Goodreads summary of this book (above), I felt a little guilty that as I read through this book, I wasn’t thinking about any of these deep themes. What I was mostly thinking about was, “Why is Raskolnikov so whiny?” Very few of the characters are truly sympathetic, least of all Raskolnikov, the murderer and main character. I was hoping to enjoy this book more, as the last great Russian novel I read (Anna Karenina) really captured my imagination, but I felt kind of bored with a lot of Crime and Punishment. The end, however, is surprisingly hopeful, which I actually enjoyed (perhaps a reaction against 1984 above!).

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1943

Quick reviews of the 1943 Newbery books I've read. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Medal Winner: Adam of the Road

“A road’s a kind of holy thing,” said Roger the Minstrel to his son, Adam. “That’s why it’s a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It’s open to the sun and wind and rain. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it’s home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle.”

And Adam, though only eleven, was to remember his father’s words when his beloved dog, Nick, was stolen and Roger had disappeared and he found himself traveling alone along these same great roads, searching the fairs and market towns for his father and his dog.

Here is a story of thirteenth-century England, so absorbing and lively that for all its authenticity it scarcely seems “historical.” Although crammed with odd facts and lore about the time when “longen folke to goon on pilgrimages,” its scraps of song and hymn and jongleur’s tale of the period seem as newminted and fresh as the day they were devised, and Adam is a real boy inside his gay striped surcoat. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I really enjoyed this book when I first read it, probably 15 years ago. It’s an interesting story set in medieval times, and both the story and the characters are enjoyable. I wouldn’t mind re-reading this one sometime and seeing if it holds up to my memories of it.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Middle Moffat

Who is Jane Moffat, anyway? She isn’t the youngest in the family, and she isn’t the oldest-she is always just Jane. How boring. So Jane decides to become a figure of mystery . . . the mysterious “Middle Moffat.” But being in the middle is a lot harder than it looks.

In between not rescuing stray dogs, and losing and finding best friends, Jane must secretly look after the oldest inhabitant of Cranbury . . . so he can live to be one hundred. Between brushing her hair from her eyes and holding up her stockings, she has to help the girls’ basketball team win the championship. And it falls to Jane-the only person in town with enough courage-to stand up to the frightful mechanical wizard, Wallie Bangs.

Jane is so busy keeping Cranbury in order that she barely has time to be plain old Jane. Sometimes the middle is the most exciting place of all. . . (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I really like Estes’ books. They capture the feeling of being a child in the 1940s so well. This is the second book in the Moffat series, and as you can tell from the title, it focuses on the middle child, Jane. The book is jam packed with cute, old fashioned stories about growing up.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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!

Newbery Roundup: December 2017

I've almost finished this year's Newbery book challenge! This post includes Newbery reads--and a Caldecott, too. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m getting so close to finishing my Newbery book challenge–just in time, too! Thus, this Newbery roundup actually includes a Caldecott book, too. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

The Truce of the Wolf

This book is full of cute Italian stories and fables, mostly about animals interacting with humans. I enjoyed most of them, except the one which had a moral of “women can’t keep secrets.” Sigh.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Paperboy

An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July, he knows he’ll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything.

The paper route poses challenges, but it’s a run-in with the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, that stirs up real trouble–and puts the boy’s life, as well as that of his family’s devoted housekeeper, in danger.

This Newbery book about a boy with a stutter is sometimes hard to read. It’s filled with discussions about bullies, racism, violence, and more. Still, Victor is a great character who faces up to his disability with courage. I loved that the author says this is basically a fictionalized memoir of his own childhood–you can tell that he understands the struggles and triumphs of growing up with a stutter.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Heavenly Tenants

This supernatural tale was originally published in 1946. In the story, the Marvell family goes away on vacation, leaving their farm, pets, and livestock home alone, to be taken care of by August, the hired man. But August fails to come. That night, the neighborhood is roused by an unusual glow. When August goes to the farm to investigate, he finds that it is under the care of mysterious beings-the twelve signs of the zodiac. This story sparkles with fantasy and humorous realism that both adults and children will appreciate.

This is a very short, illustrated book about how the stars of the zodiac come to visit a family’s home when they go out of town. I don’t have too much to say about it. It’s a bit outdated, and I’m not exactly sure why someone thought it was worthy of the Newbery honor award.

Rating: Meh

Thistle and Thyme

Thistle and Thyme is a short story collection I can actually get behind! It’s filled with entertaining myths, fairy tales, and legends from the Gaelic storytelling tradition. Most of them are amusing; a couple are more serious. I really enjoyed this book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Leave Me Alone!

One day, a grandmother shouts, “LEAVE ME ALONE!” and leaves her tiny home and her very big family to journey to the moon and beyond to find peace and quiet to finish her knitting. Along the way, she encounters ravenous bears, obnoxious goats, and even hordes of aliens! But nothing stops grandma from accomplishing her goal–knitting sweaters for her many grandchildren to keep them warm and toasty for the coming winter.

Here’s the Caldecott book I read for the book challenge! In it, a grandmother looks for some peace and quiet in which to do her knitting. It’s short and sweet with great illustrations. Super cute.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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