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

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–

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!

2017 Book Challenges

I'm excited to be joining two book challenges this year--one focusing on Newbery books and the other on classic books. |

A couple of years ago, I participated in a book pairing challenge, but last year I somehow ended up with no book challenges. I want to change that this year, so I’m joining up with two book challenges!

The first challenge is a Newbery book challenge, so you know I had to join. This one is being hosted by Smiling Shelves, and participants can get points by reading Newbery Medal or Honor books as well as Caldecott books. Because reading all the Newbery books is the whole reason I started this blog, I’m going to aim for the highest challenge level (Konigsburg, which is 75+ points).

The second challenge is a classic books challenge hosted by Books and Chocolate. Reading the classics that I somehow missed is another reading goal that I’ve been attempting, so I’m excited to have this challenge to keep me on track. I’m hoping to complete all twelve challenges, but this one is sure to be more difficult than the Newbery challenge. I really struggle with reading classics when I’m not in the mood to trudge through antiquated writing and slow plots. (I’m going to do my best to read books from this list.)

What about you guys? Are any of you joining a book challenge this year?

Book Pairing: The Westing Game and Mr. Penumbra

This next installment in the Reading to Distraction book pairing challenge is made up of two of my favorite books *ever.* | A book review by

This next installment in the Reading to Distraction book pairing challenge (you can read the previous posts here and here) includes two of my favorite books ever. I seriously love both of these books, and I read them even before I had ever heard of this challenge. So go ahead and put both of these books on your TBR list, and then sit back while I explain why!

The books in this pairing are The Westing Game, a Newbery book by Ellen Raskin, and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. According to BuzzFeed, here’s the connection:

What was great about The Westing Game wasn’t necessarily the mystery, but the characters involved in it. It was suspenseful, for sure, but it was fun and at times even funny. Robin Sloan captures that feeling in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a fast-paced and heady mystery that follows a former web designer who suspects there’s something more to the bookstore he’s taking shifts at. As he delves into analysis with his eclectic friends, he uncovers a world of secret societies, mysterious literati, and a web of technological riddles.

The Westing Game

A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger—and a possible murderer—to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing one last game! (Summary via

This is the most amazing book. I read it several times as a kid, each time feeling a little creeped out, but in a good way. The book is full of puzzles that an eccentric group of characters (adults and children) must attempt to solve in order to inherit Sam Westing’s fortune. The whole thing is intriguing and very well written. It’s easy to see why this book received the 1979 Newbery Medal.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything―instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave. (Summary via

This book is also full of intriguing puzzles that the quirky characters have to solve, and it has the benefit of being set in a mysterious bookstore complete with a secret society. I’ve highlighted this book before, but I’ll say it again: This is a must read.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Both of these books are unusual mysteries–unusual in that they’re not really murder mysteries in the vein of Agatha Christie–set in unusual locations. They both have a great cast of characters, and both leave you longing for more. Unlike my last disappointing pairing, I couldn’t have picked a better pair myself. For a mystery-loving kid, The Westing Game was just creepy enough to make me want to re-read it several times, and as a mystery-loving adult with a thing for quirk and for books themselves, Mr. Penumbra was an amazing follow up. You absolutely must put both of these books on your reading list!

Yes, I Finally Read It: The Hobbit

In which I finally read The Hobbit and compare it to Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book very much, because I wasn’t a big fan of LOTR (sorry, guys!).  But, to my surprise, I LOVED it.

This book is just charming.  It’s engaging, funny, and cheerful–and mostly devoid of the endless scenery descriptions and battle scenes that I hated in LOTR.  Gandalf is grumpy, the elves are silly; everyone is less serious and more enjoyable to read.  The book talks directly to its readers, something I truly enjoy when done well.  It makes mention of trips to the post office, and even suggests that goblins might have had a hand in making WMDs!

Bilbo is a truly unlikely hero.  He is constantly wishing for home–“not for the last time,” as our narrator tells us whenever Bilbo thinks of a hot cup of tea or a seed cake or smoking a pipe in his comfortable hobbit hole.

Basically, this book lives up to the hype, even for me, a total non-fantasy-lover.  It’s amusing, fun, and engaging.  Read it, read it, read it.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

This book is part of a book pairing in the Reading to Distraction reading challenge that I’m taking part in this year.  In this challenge, based on a BuzzFeed article, you read one favorite childhood book, and then read a similar, grown-up version.  The pairing for The Hobbit was Michael Chabon‘s Gentlemen of the Road, which I also thoroughly enjoyed.

According to the BuzzFeed article, here’s the connection:

So it doesn’t have any hobbits or wizards, but what Gentlemen of the Road lacks in fantasy it more than makes up for in action, adventure, and enthralling characters. Zelikman and Amram, physican and ex-soldier respectively, make their way through the Caucasus Mountains in the year 950, fighting and stealing and somehow getting in the middle of a full-scale revolution.

Gentlemen of the Road was, to me, not as memorable as The Hobbit.  It has Chabon’s unique writing style, but isn’t as memorable as the last book of his that I read (it’s much shorter, too).  The characters, though, are funny and likable, despite their cheating outlaw ways:

They’re an odd pair, to be sure: pale, rail-thin, black-clad Zelikman, a moody, itinerant physician fond of jaunty headgear, and ex-soldier Amram, a gray-haired giant of a man as quick with a razor-tongued witticism as he is with a sharpened battle-ax. Brothers under the skin, comrades in arms, they make their rootless way through the Caucasus Mountains, circa A.D. 950, living as they please and surviving however they can–as blades and thieves for hire and as practiced bamboozlers, cheerfully separating the gullible from their money.

None of which has necessarily prepared them to be dragooned into service as escorts and defenders to a prince of the Khazar Empire. Usurped by his brutal uncle, the callow and decidedly ill-tempered young royal burns to reclaim his rightful throne. But doing so will demand wicked cunning, outrageous daring, and foolhardy bravado . . . not to mention an army. (Summary via

As you can probably tell from the Amazon summary, it’s a bit more over the top than Tolkien’s book, which is fairly subdued and gentle.  Sometimes that makes for some great moments, but sometimes it’s just… over the top.

On the whole, these two books make a pretty good pair.  Gentlemen of the Road doesn’t fare quite as well when compared with The Hobbit, but that’s mostly my personal preference.  Each book is a fun road trip/journey story, just with totally different flavors.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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