10 Books I Can’t Believe I’ve Read

I'm linking up to share the ten books I can't believe I've read, for one reason or another. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com

.I’m linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday to share my top ten list!

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is all about sharing the books I can’t believe I’ve read. Combing through the past couple of years of books I’ve read, I was surprised at how many books I have read recently that are either out of my comfort zone or from genres that I typically don’t care for.

  • Crime and Punishment. Even after reading and loving Anna Karenina, I never thought I’d pick up another Russian classic. But I did, for the 2017 classics challenge.
  • Wild. I had been aware of this book for a long time–who hasn’t?–but I never wanted to read it. I finally gave in when my book club decided to read it, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I anticipated.
  • Dracula. I tried reading this classic in college and was totally freaked out by it. But I decided to give it another shot in 2017, and I’m glad I did.
  • The Husband’s Secret. I read this book for book club as well. It wasn’t my favorite, but I can see why it has been so popular.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This is one more book club read, one that I had seen floating around for years before I finally read it. And it was fascinating! This is one of my favorite things about the book club I’m in: it forces me to read popular books that I otherwise wouldn’t have tried.
  • Anna and the French Kiss. I don’t usually like YA romances. And I didn’t like this one, either, despite the assurances of many bookish friends that I would.
  • American Gods. This is another book I tried in college and quickly abandoned. This time I listened to this monster of a book on audio, which helped me get through it.
  • The Beautiful and Damned. I can’t even remember why I picked this book up. I felt like it was just a rehashing of the themes from The Great Gatsby (even though this book was written and published before Gatsby), and I didn’t much care for it.
  • Middlesex. The incest in this book totally freaked me out. But I still finished it.
  • Bare Bones. I actually read this book for a challenge, which required you read a book that was a recommendation from a stranger. I had never heard of this guy before, so it was really weird reading his memoir, but I didn’t hate it.

What books are you amazed that you’ve read? Leave your thoughts and links in the comments!

Newbery Reviews: 1944

Quick reviews of the 1944 Newbery winner and honor books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain, a young apprentice silversmith, is caught up in the danger and excitement of 1775 Boston, just before the Revolutionary War. But even more gripping than living through the drama of Revolutionary Boston is the important discovery Johnny makes in his own life.

This historical fiction novel about a boy growing up during the Revolutionary War was one of my favorites from childhood. It’s well-written, interesting, and also very sad–I’ll never forget when Johnny pours liquid-hot silver over his hand and the excruciating recovery that followed. The rest of the details have faded from my memory, but I wouldn’t mind re-reading this classic sometime in the future.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

These Happy Golden Years

Fifteen-year-old Laura lives apart from her family for the first time, teaching school in a claim shanty twelve miles from home. She is very homesick, but keeps at it so that she can help pay for her sister Mary’s tuition at the college for the blind. During school vacations Laura has fun with her singing lessons, going on sleigh rides, and best of all, helping Almanzo Wilder drive his new buggy. Friendship soon turns to love for Laura and Almanzo in the romantic conclusion of this Little House book.

The main plot point of this book is the budding romance and eventual marriage between Laura and Almanzo. As a child, I was shocked at how young Laura was when she married! As always, although I enjoyed the Little House series, it doesn’t hold a nostalgic place in my heart as it does for many readers.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Fog Magic

Greta had always loved the fog—the soft gray mist that rolled in from the sea and drifted over the village. The fog seemed to have a secret to tell her. Then one day when Greta was walking in the woods and the mist was closing in, she saw the dark outline of a stone house against the spruce trees—a house where only an old cellar hole should have been. Then she saw a surrey come by, carrying a lady dressed in plum-colored silk. The woman beckoned for Greta to join her, and soon Greta found herself launched on an adventure that would take her back to a past that existed only through the magic of the fog.

Every time Greta steps into the mist, she is transported back in time. What’s not to like about that kind of adventure? I thought this book was fun (you know I love a good time travel story!), and again, I wouldn’t mind re-reading this one.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Rufus M.

You’ve never met anyone quite like Rufus Moffat. He gets things done, but he gets them done his way.
When he wants to check out library books, Rufus teaches himself to write…even though he doesn’t yet know how to read. When food is scarce, he plants some special “Rufus beans” that actually grow…despite his digging them up every day to check on them. And Rufus has friends that other people don’t even know exist! He discovers the only invisible piano player in town, has his own personal flying horse for a day, and tours town with the Cardboard Boy, his dearest friend-and enemy.
Rufus isn’t just the youngest Moffat, he’s also the cleverest, the funniest, and the most unforgettable.

This is another cute Moffat family story. The family is sweet and loving, and it’s fun to read about the old-fashioned adventures the kids get into. I haven’t read the books in a while, but I bet they’d stand the test of time.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Nonfiction Roundup, January 2018

Quick reviews of my latest nonfiction reads, from the political to the religious to memoirs. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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It’s time for another nonfiction roundup! It has been a while since I posted one of these, and part of the reason is that many of these books were kind of difficult, for one reason or another. Still, I think you’ll find some good ones here, covering everything from politics to religion to American culture.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment–a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year.

Pursuing a different virtue each month, Evans learns the hard way that her quest for biblical womanhood requires more than a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). It means growing out her hair, making her own clothes, covering her head, obeying her husband, rising before dawn, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church, and even camping out in the front yard during her period.

See what happens when a thoroughly modern woman starts referring to her husband as “master” and “praises him at the city gate” with a homemade sign. Learn the insights she receives from an ongoing correspondence with an Orthodox Jewish woman, and find out what she discovers from her exchanges with a polygamist wife. Join her as she wrestles with difficult passages of scripture that portray misogyny and violence against women.

I’m always a fan of Rachel Held Evans, and since feminism and religion are both things that are important to me, I was really excited to read this book. I found some of the things that Evans did a little bit… silly (and I questioned how she made it to the age of 30 without cooking, cleaning, or sewing on a button–no matter what your gender, I feel like these are basic skills that every adult picks up to some extent). But on the whole, I loved how she looked at groups from the Quakers to the Amish to the Jewish people and more to figure out how we have interpreted biblical womanhood in the past and how we can interpret it now.

Evans looks closely at the text and the way different Christian and Jewish traditions have interpreted the Bible’s teachings on women and invites us to do the same. Despite a little corniness that seems to come with any book that revolves around a year-long project, I really enjoyed this book. It gave me plenty of food for thought.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask

What have you always wanted to know about Indians? Do you think you should already know the answers—or suspect that your questions may be offensive? In matterof-fact responses to over 120 questions, both thoughtful and outrageous, modern and historical, Ojibwe scholar and cultural preservationist Anton Treuer gives a frank, funny, and sometimes personal tour of what’s up with Indians, anyway.

• What is the real story of Thanksgiving?
• Why are tribal languages important?
• What do you think of that incident where people died in a sweat lodge?

White/Indian relations are often characterized by guilt and anger. Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask cuts through the emotion and builds a foundation for true understanding and positive action.

This book answers a lot of questions about Native Americans that I never even thought to ask–everything from economics to education to history to politics to culture. It’s amazing (and depressing) how little I know about the present-day lives of the first residents of this country. (In case you’re wondering, Treuer, a member of the Ojibwe people, prefers the term “Indian” rather than “Native American,” “indigenous people,” or “first people,” for reasons that–again–never would have occurred to me.)

If you want to learn more about Native Americans/Indians and their culture, perspectives, and frustrations, this book is a great starting point. If any of you have suggestions about books by and about members of native tribes, I would love to hear them!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The View from the Cheap Seats

An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his bestselling fiction. Now, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together for the first time ever more than sixty pieces of his outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.

This book offers a collection of speeches, introductions, and articles Neil Gaiman has written. I know some of the authors and awards; others were unknown to me, but they were all pretty interesting. It’s amazing how many famous and influential authors Gaiman has interviewed, worked with, or become friends with! I love listening to Neil Gaiman read his own work, so I recommend you listen to the audio book if this collection catches your interest.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

White Trash

Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America’s supposedly class-free society––where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery.

Reconstruction pitted “poor white trash” against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics–-a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ’s Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty.Marginalized as a class, “white trash” have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity.

I realized after I started listening to this book that the subtitle refers to “400 years of history,” and I strongly wish that weren’t the case. Although I did learn some new things about the history of class in America, I was not unaware that class is still an issue in our supposedly classless society, and the book seemed to drag on much longer than I thought necessary. The epilogue discusses how the issue of class affects us today, but I wish the whole book had been that, with only a little history interwoven. I know plenty of people have greatly enjoyed this book, and you might too. I just wanted less history and more modern-day application on this topic.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Wild

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

I finally read this book because my book club was reading it, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Cheryl faces outer and inner struggles (bears, aching feet, a too-heavy pack, the death of her mother, her divorce from her husband) as she traverses the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s an amazingly difficult trek, and it was satisfying to read about how Cheryl overcomes the obstacles that constantly pop up. Despite the questionable and sometimes outright dumb decisions Cheryl makes as she continues her journey, I found myself rooting for her.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mystery Series Roundup

I'm reviewing all the mystery series I've been reading recently. I love me a good mystery! | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m continuing to wrap up my reviews for all the books I read in 2017, and you know I’ve been reading some mysteries. If you’re looking for a new mystery series to try, maybe one of these series will be for you. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Aunty Lee series

This series focuses on Aunty Lee, a Singaporean cook with an interest in murder. She gets her information by being nosy but friendly and plying suspects and detectives alike with her delicious food.

These mysteries are always fun with diverse, unique characters and a Singapore setting that is fascinating to me. Although I predicted most of the twists in at least one of these books, I still enjoyed the ride.

If you like learning a bit about Singaporean culture while curling up with a cozy mystery packed with interesting characters, you should give this series a try.

Thursday Next series

This series can only marginally be classified as a mystery series. Jasper Fforde, as always, jam-packs his books with quirky SFF elements and lots of action scenes. I’ve previously read and reviewed the first set of books in the Thursday Next series; the second half of the series takes place many years later, when Thursday is middle aged and raising children with her husband, as well as fighting criminals and conspiracies in the Book World and the real world.

As always, I love Fforde’s humor and wild love of books. I missed having the real Thursday–we follow the written version for much of the second book–but it was still very fun. In the third book, we get more of the story of Jenny the mindworm, which was wonderful, but it was hard to read about Thursday getting addicted to pain killer patches (I have a hard time reading about drug addiction).

I didn’t enjoy the second half of this series as much as I loved the first half, but even so, I will always be into Jasper Fforde’s writing.

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is not a simple missing person’s case. The house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

I loved this! The story feels so much like the writing of the Veronica Mars show and makes connections with the characters and events of the show and the movie. Plus, the fact that the audio book is read by Kristen Bell just makes it even better.

Marshmallows, you definitely need to get into this book. If you haven’t seen the show (and the wonderful movie!), check that out before you pick up Thousand-Dollar Tan Line.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Mega Roundup: Kid Lit and YA

This mega roundup is jam-packed with all the kid lit, middle grades, and YA fiction I've been reading lately. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As always, I tend to get behind in my reviews over the holidays. But since I don’t stop reading (of course not!), I always have a few books to catch up on reviewing. Or in this case, a lot of books. If you like kids’ books or YA, with an emphasis on fantasy, today’s mega roundup is for you! (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Howl’s Moving Castle

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

I can’t believe it took me this long to read a Diana Wynne Jones book. Howl’s Moving Castle is a very enjoyable, fun fantasy. It’s a treat to read. I needed some lightweight, quirky, sweet books to get me through the holiday season, and this book hit the spot. I can’t wait to read more DWJ now!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, Vol. 2

You might remember my review of the first volume of rebel girls stories. This follow up is just as wonderful. It’s jam packed with lovely illustrations and tons of new, inspiring women and their stories. A great book for girls (and boys!) of all ages.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Josh Baxter Levels Up

Video game lover Josh Baxter knows that seventh grade at a new school may be his hardest challenge yet, but he’s not afraid to level up and win!

Josh Baxter is sick and tired of hitting the reset button. It’s not easy being the new kid for the third time in two years. One mistake and now the middle-school football star is out to get him. And Josh’s sister keeps offering him lame advice about how to make friends, as if he needs her help finding allies!

Josh knows that his best bet is to keep his head down and stay under the radar. If no one notices him, nothing can touch him, right? But when Josh’s mom sees his terrible grades and takes away his video games, it’s clear his strategy has failed. Josh needs a new plan, or he’ll never make it to the next level, let alone the next grade.

He’s been playing not to lose. It’s time to play to win.

Josh gamifies his life when his mom takes away his video games and forces him to focus on improving his grades, making friends, defeating a bully, and winning a video game competition at school (because of course).

I was worried this book would be gimmicky–or possibly not interesting for those of us who don’t play many video games–but it wasn’t. It was a fun MG novel with a video game spin, but its focus is on those timeless, relatable aspects of growing up.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

First Class Murder

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a holiday through Europe on the world-famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it’s clear that each of their fellow first-class passengers has something to hide. Even more intriguing: rumour has it that there is a spy in their midst.

Then, during dinner, there is a bloodcurdling scream from inside one of the cabins. When the door is broken down, a passenger is found murdered, her stunning ruby necklace gone. But the killer is nowhere to be seen – almost as if they had vanished into thin air.

Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked-room mystery – and with competition from several other sleuths, who are just as determined to crack the case as they are.

Hazel and Daisy are back, and their latest mystery takes place on the famed Orient Express. But this time, Hazel and Daisy’s investigations are hampered by Hazel’s father, who wants the girls to stay as far away from murder as possible.

If you’ve read and enjoyed the other books in this series, you’ll like this follow up. I missed Daisy and Hazel’s school friends, who are such fun side characters in the previous installments, but this is still a fun MG mystery.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

TodHunter Moon trilogy

Seven years after the events of the original Septimus Heap series, a young PathFinder named Alice TodHunter Moon—who insists on being called Tod—sets out from her seaside village to rescue her friend Ferdie from the malevolent Lady.

She receives help from ExtraOrdinary Wizard Septimus Heap and Ex–ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia Overstrand, but the Lady’s brother, the Darke Sorcerer Oraton-Marr, has a plan that will put everyone Tod holds dear in danger. To save her people, Tod must embrace her identity as a PathFinder and navigate the often dangerous Ancient Ways.

I was so excited to discover that Angie Sage had written a trilogy set in the world of Septimus Heap! This series picks up seven years after the events of the original series and focuses on Tod, a young PathFinder who discovers she has the ability to combine Magyk and PathFinding to explore the Ancient Ways.

We get to visit with Septimus, Jenna, Marcia, Beetle, Lucy and Simon, and several other characters from the original series, but the star of this spinoff series is definitely Tod. Tod and her friends (new and old) have to save the people from Tod’s village and eventually the Ancient Ways themselves.

This is a fun series, but I found some of the characters irritating, and I kept wishing we could see more of Septimus, Jenna, and Marcia. These books just didn’t grab me the same way the original Septimus Heap series did.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters

After a year at the king’s palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!

Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses.

As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen’s interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.

This book is the final installment in the Princess Academy series. I’m always impressed with how Shannon Hale creates memorable, flawed, smart female characters in a stereotypical role, and the sisters in this book are no exception.

However. As much as I enjoyed the backwoods princesses and their unusual way of life, I was so disappointed in Miri! In the original Newbery book, Miri and her friends are set apart from the rest of the kingdom because of their mountain ways and rugged lifestyle. But in this story, Miri has apparently been softened by her time at the palace, and the princesses are constantly looking down on her fancy clothing and her inability to hunt with them. I wished we had more of Miri the mountain girl.

I’m not sorry I read this book, but compared to the first two books in the series, it was a weak finish.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Save Me a Seat

Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they’re both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL.

Joe’s lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own.

Ravi’s family just moved to America from India, and he’s finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in.

Joe and Ravi don’t think they have anything in common — but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.

This is a cute MG story about two boys, Ravi and Joe, who are having a hard time fitting in at school (Ravi is from India and Joe has a learning disability). Both are bullied and have to learn to band together despite their differences.

All of the events take place in just one week, so the scope of the story is small. Still, it’s sweet to watch Ravi learn humility and Joe learn to stand up for himself.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Last Dragonslayer series

I love Jasper Fforde’s writing, and his YA series is a bit less strange but no less wonderful than his adult fiction. I read the first book years ago, and I finally got around to reading the rest. The second book is great, but the third book in the Last Dragonslayer series pulls off something that I think is very difficult: introducing new lead characters into the mix that we don’t hate. The spoiled princess proves herself to be a surprisingly intelligent and sassy character, and Addie the 12-year-old tour guide is resourceful and reliable. Still, Jennifer and Perkins’ quest to find the Eye of Zoltar and figure out what the Mighty Shandar is up to takes center stage. With characters and a plot that continue to be fun and quirky, I can’t wait for the next book in the series to be released!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Witch’s Vacuum

Poor Mr Swimble is having a bad day.

Rabbits are bouncing out of his hat, pigeons are flying out of his jacket and every time he points his finger, something magically appears – cheese sandwiches, socks . . . even a small yellow elephant on wheels!

It’s becoming a real nuisance – and he’s allergic to rabbits.

His friends at the Magic Rectangle can’t help, but the mysterious vacuum cleaner he saw that morning may have something to do with it . . .

Fourteen fantastically funny stories from master storyteller Sir Terry Pratchett, full of food fights, pirates, wizards and crooks!

These funny, sweet, fantastical short stories are only my second foray into the works of Terry Pratchett (third if you count the book he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman). I enjoyed these quick stories, and they made me more excited to read some of Pratchett’s Discworld series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

These Ruthless Deeds

England, 1883. Still recovering from a devastating loss, Evelyn is determined to use her powers to save other gifted people from those who would harm them. But when her rescue of a young telekinetic girl goes terribly wrong, Evelyn finds herself indebted to a secret society devoted to recruiting and protecting people like Evelyn and her friends.

As she follows the Society’s orders, healing the sick and embarking on perilous recruitment missions, Evelyn sees her problems disappear. Her reputation is repaired, her friends are provided for, and her parents are newly wealthy. She reunites with the dashing Mr. Kent and recovers the reclusive Mr. Braddock (who has much less to brood over now that the Society can help him to control his dangerous power). But Evelyn can’t help fearing the Society is more sinister than it appears…

I really enjoyed this sequel to These Vicious Masks. Mr. Kent’s power to make people tell the truth when he asks a question is used for great comedic effect, but Evelyn’s struggles to decide whether or not to work with the Society of Aberrations and whether or not to kiss Sebastian keeps things tense. Secret powers + romantic tension + possibly evil societies + Victorian England = a YA series I can get behind, even if I don’t usually like romantic tension or paranormal plotlines.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Wonder

Ten-year-old August Pullman wants to be ordinary. He does ordinary things. He eats ice-cream. He plays on his Xbox. He feels ordinary – inside.

But Auggie is far from ordinary. Born with a terrible facial abnormality, he has been home-schooled by his parents his entire life, in an attempt to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world. Now, Auggie’s parents are sending him to a real school. Can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?

So sweet and sad and wonderful! I can see why this is such a classic already. Auggie is a great character, and each of his friends and enemies are interesting and complex. There are a few cliche moments, but on the whole, this is a heartwarming story of a boy who faces bullying over his facial abnormality alongside typical school problems with courage and humor.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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

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