Mini Review: Never Let Me Go

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy slowly reveal their secrets in the strange, thought-provoking novel Never Let Me Go. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book was not at all what I expected. It started out with an idyllic childhood at Hailsham, where Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy were at boarding school. But as the book goes on, you can see that there is something else going on in their lives–a secret that only now that the three friends are adults can they truly understand. I won’t reveal what the secret is for fear of spoilers, but I will say that it ended up being more sci fi related, instead of the relational drama I was expecting.

Never Let Me Go is a book that will definitely make you think, but it just didn’t work for me. Maybe it’s because I was expecting a totally different kind of book; maybe it’s because I hated several of the characters (fortunately, our narrator Kathy is not nearly as irritating as some of the other characters). Whatever the reason, this just wasn’t the book for me.

Rating: Meh

Adult Fiction Roundup: August Edition

Quick reviews of The Little Paris Bookshop, Sold, and Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Sold

Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family.

Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution. Lakshmi’s life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape. Still, she lives by her mother’s words— Simply to endure is to triumph.

Written in spare and evocative vignettes, this powerful novel renders a world that is as unimaginable as it is real, and a girl who not only survives but triumphs. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know that human trafficking is an issue close to my heart. I put off reading this book because I knew it would make me sad and outraged. It did, of course, but that’s not all there is to this book.

Sold is made up of short, almost poetic chapters. Yes, it is heart wrenching and painful, but it is also beautiful and hopeful. If you’re curious about how young girls get trafficked in Nepal, this book (fictional, but based on the author’s firsthand research) is a beautiful way to start.

If you want to know how you can support girls and women who have escaped human trafficking situations like this, check out my post on the subject here.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante

December 1941. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill arrives in Washington, D.C., along with special agent Maggie Hope. Posing as his typist, she is accompanying the prime minister as he meets with President Roosevelt to negotiate the United States’ entry into World War II. When one of the First Lady’s aides is mysteriously murdered, Maggie is quickly drawn into Mrs. Roosevelt’s inner circle—as ER herself is implicated in the crime. Maggie knows she must keep the investigation quiet, so she employs her unparalleled skills at code breaking and espionage to figure out who would target Mrs. Roosevelt, and why. What Maggie uncovers is a shocking conspiracy that could jeopardize American support for the war and leave the fate of the world hanging dangerously in the balance. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Guys, I really didn’t like this book. Even though this is the fifth book in the Maggie Hope series, there’s a lot of exposition and very little action. You would think I would be able to get behind Maggie as a woman doing dangerous work at a time when that was far from the norm, but she’s pretty boring herself. She hardly does anything other than take notes for Winston Churchill and follow Eleanor Roosevelt around.

Even these famous historical characters–FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill–don’t seem familiar. I’m not a historical expert, certainly, but some of the things that these real-life characters said rang false. This totally took me out of the reading experience. I’m definitely not interested in reading any of the other books in this series.

Rating: Meh

The Little Paris Bookshop

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve been seeing this book everywhere, and I finally got around to reading it after a friend of mine bought her own copy and demanded I read along with her. And it was not at all what I thought it was going to be!

The Little Paris Bookshop has beautiful writing, and the setting (France) is pretty gorgeous itself. After Perdu finally reads the letter that his lover left him so many years ago, he begins a symbolic journey down the river, pursuing his memories of Manon. I got annoyed at Perdu sometimes because of his stubbornness, and the book was very sad in places, but I liked his companions (Max, Samy, and Cuneo).

Be forewarned that there is some sexual content, but if you’re good with that, you might enjoy this book about the power of books to heal us. I personally found this one beautiful but forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Roundup: August

Some of my latest Newbery book reads, reviewed on the blog. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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If you receive my newsletter (and if you don’t, get on that!), you know that I’ve been relying on our wonderful library’s interlibrary loan system to help me get some of the older, out of print Newbery honor books. Unfortunately, these books are often not as enjoyable as the more recent Newbery books, but I soldiered through them so you don’t have to! Read on to find out what I thought of three recent reads.

Tod of the Fens

Mystery farce with historical novel aspects set against the development of England’s merchant fleet and its trade in wool with the continent in the early 15th century. A bluff and jovial man, with an infectious laugh and a great shock of unkempt hair, Tod of the Fens leads a band of merry rogues and adventurers who live in rude huts in the fens near the port of Boston and prey on travelers for fun. Tod takes into his band Dismas, who is really Henry, the Prince of Wales. For a lark, he wagers Tod’s men that in a week and a day he will make fools of all the townsmen in Boston. Assuming various disguises, he steals one by one the five keys to the town strong box. he leaves the contents untouched and deposits the ekeys at the foot of the steeple of St. Botolph’s. The townspeople assume their treasure has been stolen, and suspicion falls on the wrong person. A series of amusing misadventures ensues involving a large number of people until finally Tod of the Fens takes possession of the treasure. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is full of Old Timey Racism (this kind of goes without saying for most of the older Newbery books). And sadly, it doesn’t get interesting until the second half. Johanna, the mayor’s daughter, was pretty cool, though (she wants to sail, despite the restrictions on women in the 15th century, and she later gets kidnapped, providing some of the only excitement in the book).

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Runaway Papoose

Nah-Tee, a young Pueblo Indian girl, is separated from her parents when enemies raid their camp. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I actually really enjoyed this story. The illustrations are nice, and the story kept my interest the whole way. I wanted to find out what happened to Nah-tee and Moyo as they get in and out of trouble in their quest to find Nah-tee’s parents. Unfortunately I can’t recommend this book wholeheartedly, as it is (shockingly!) a bit racist and sexist.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Wonder Smith and His Son

The classic Gaelic stories about Gubbaun Saor, maker of worlds and shapes of universes, and his son, kept alive by Ella Young — as she heard them — in the tradition of Celtic storytelling. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

People, I just don’t like myths, or fables, or tall tales. So it probably comes as no surprise to you that I didn’t really enjoy this book. Some of the stories were entertaining, but I forgot them about as quickly as I read them. If you liked any of these other Newbery books, you’ll probably like this one.

Rating: Meh

Roundup: Funny Memoirs

Interested in reading funny memoirs? Check out this roundup and see if any of them strike your fancy. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I read a lot of funny memoirs, as you may have noticed. Some of them may not technically be memoirs, but my brain has stuck to that phrase, so that’s what I’m going to call the following roundup of books. They’re all varying degrees of funny, except one (which I guess is more a straight up memoir, but I stuck it in here anyway). Here’s hoping you can find at least one funny memoir among the group to make you laugh!

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened

“Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

If you like the Bloggess already, you’ll enjoy this book (so if you’re unsure, check out some of her blog posts before you get the book). In it, Jenny talks about the horrifying and hilarious events of her childhood, as well as some of the traumatizing (and also hilarious) events of her adult life. In my opinion, this is probably the funniest of the funny memoirs I’ve read recently. But it’s not for everyone. The book is filled with non sequiturs and swear words, and some chapters could be labeled TMI. Still, if you’re not afraid of some cursing and you don’t mind following the author down a rabbit trail, you’ll probably enjoy these bizarre stories and the accompanying photos (which may be the best part!).

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

People I Want to Punch in the Throat

“Known for her hilariously acerbic observations on her blog, People I Want to Punch in the Throat, Mann now brings her sharp wit to bear on suburban life, marriage, and motherhood in this laugh-out-loud collection of essays. From the politics of joining a play group, to the thrill of mothers’ night out at the gun range, to the rewards of your most meaningful relationship (the one you have with your cleaning lady), nothing is sacred or off-limits. So the next time you find yourself wearing fuzzy bunny pajamas in the school carpool line or accidentally stuck at a co-worker’s swingers party, just think, What would Jen Mann do?” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I found this book a bit disappointing. I had been looking forward to reading it for months, but when I finally picked it up, I found it funny, but not overly so. Jen is another popular blogger, but unfortunately her style of humor didn’t translate well to book format. This is partly because of my own stage of life–the essays are mostly talk about bratty suburban moms and their bratty kids–but I just didn’t think it was that great.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Dear White People

“Based on the eponymous award-winning film, which has been lauded as a smart, hilarious satire, this tongue-in-cheek guide is a must-have that anybody who is in semi-regular contact with black people can’t afford to miss!” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I have to admit that I’ve never seen the movie Dear White People, although I’ve heard it’s very good. This “guide” for white people is written by the screenwriter of the movie. Full of graphics, quizzes, and rants, I found this book funny and uncomfortable. (I’m embarrassed to admit that there were several things I didn’t know about the African-American experience until I read this book.)

Definitely pick this book up if you’re interested in learning about how African-Americans experience racism today and what you can do to stop contributing to the problem (or, if you’ve had the same experiences, nodding along), all the while laughing along with the author.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

How to Be a Woman

“Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I know nothing about Caitlin Moran, but I have an abiding interest in feminism, and I knew that, for better or for worse, Moran’s book had a big impact as a feminist piece. The book is interesting and frustrating (and filled with lots of British slang that I didn’t always get). I didn’t agree with many of Moran’s stances, although I did find it interesting to see how she arrived at those positions. I found many of her stories more cringe-inducing than laugh-out-loud funny. Unless, like me, you want to see what Moran has said about feminism that made such an impact, maybe leave this one alone.

Rating: Meh

Dear Diary

“A collection of a girl’s funniest diary entries from 12 to 25 years old. She updates each entry by tracking down the people involved and asking awkward questions like, “Do you remember when I tried to beat you up?” Sometimes old friends apologize. Sometimes they become new enemies. No matter who she talks to about the days we all discovered sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Boys are totally immature.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

The concept of this book is fantastic: Lesley inserts an old diary entry from her teen or young adult years, and then writes an update or interviews the people mentioned in it. When I think about all the ridiculous things that are probably written in my own childhood diary entries, I can’t help wondering what kind of updates I’d end up inserting.

But the main thing that happens in Lesley’s life at this point is her addiction to drugs. Yikes! It’s crazy to read about her experiences as a drug addict, and sometimes it gets pretty uncomfortable. I really do love the idea of this book, but the drugs just didn’t interest me.

Rating: Meh

The Year of Reading Dangerously

“Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved, and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he’d always wanted to read. Books he’d said he’d read that he actually hadn’t. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the daily grind. And so, with the turn of a page, Andy began a year of reading that was to transform his life completely.

This book is Andy’s inspirational and very funny account of his expedition through literature: classic, cult, and everything in between.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

So this is the one non-funny memoir in my funny memoir collection. Andy Miller decided to improve his life by reading the classics he lied about having read, which I love. This book inspired me to make my own list of classics (I’ll talk more about this later). But I kept wishing there was a little more description of how he decided on these books. There are so many books that can be considered “classics” that I wonder how he picked the few that he did read. I also found there was a bit too much personal/memoir stuff that didn’t fit well with the overall theme of his quest to read the classics.

On the whole, the idea was inspiring, but the content was forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Adult Fiction Mini Reviews

Mini reviews of some of the adult fiction I've been reading lately--everything from Neil Gaiman to Agatha Christie. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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A quick note before we get started on today’s mini reviews. You may have noticed that I’ve recently revamped the blog, including a new logo and everything! I’ve moved all the information about my editing services to this blog, and I’ve updated almost every page. Take a look around and let me know what you think!

M is for Magic

The best part about listening to this as an audio book like I did is that it is narrated by the author, who is a fantastic narrator. This collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman is so representative of his style. It’s classic Gaiman creepiness without really being scary. Each story stands alone (something I generally dislike, but it worked here), and they run the gamut from fascinating (the months of the year personified hang out and tell stories) to ridiculous (a hard boiled detective story set in the land of nursery rhymes). The collection also includes a long excerpt from The Graveyard Book, Gaiman’s wonderful Newbery book.

The one bad thing I have to say about this book is that I’ve forgotten pretty much all the stories in the book, other than the ones I’ve mentioned here.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Secret Adversary

You already know how I feel about this book, since it made my best of 2016 (so far) list. I enjoy Agatha Christie in general, and Tommy and Tuppence are my absolute favorites. This story, written about the couple’s very first adventure, is more action-packed than most of Christie’s murder mysteries, but it is still suspenseful, well-written, and filled with awesome characters. I was slightly disappointed for a moment when I thought I had figured out the solution, but never fear, Agatha Christie subverted my expectations like the master mystery writer she is. If you’re a Christie fan, this book is not to be missed.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed

“I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed “is the story of Kyria Abrahams’s coming-of-age as a Jehovah’s Witness — a doorbell-ringing “Pioneer of the Lord.” Her childhood was haunted by the knowledge that her neighbors and schoolmates were doomed to die in an imminent fiery apocalypse; that Smurfs were evil; that just about anything you could buy at a yard sale was infested by demons; and that Ouija boards — even if they were manufactured by Parker Brothers — were portals to hell. Never mind how popular you are when you hand out the Watchtower instead of candy at Halloween. When Abrahams turned eighteen, things got even stranger. That’s when she found herself married to a man she didn’t love, with adultery her only way out. “Disfellowshipped” and exiled from the only world she’d ever known, Abrahams realized that the only people who could save her were the very sinners she had prayed would be smitten by God’s wrath. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book, a humorous memoir about growing up in the Jehovah’s Witness church, sounded like it was going to be amazing. And parts of it were–there are some truly funny stories about the strange beliefs and activities Kyria had when she was a kid. But there’s an awful lot of sex and drugs and abusive relationships in here; it’s a little darker than I had hoped it would be. Proceed with caution if you decide to check out this book.

Rating: Meh

Washed Hands

Breaking up can be one of the hardest things a person can do, something that the dedicated team at Washed Hands, Inc. thoroughly understands. Whether one’s soon-to-be-ex is manipulative, violent, or anything else that makes a clean break difficult, the company’s rejection counselors ensure that the split is established and maintained in no uncertain terms. And in the toughest cases, no one’s better at this than Monica Deimos.

Brought in on what appeared to be a relatively straight-forward domestic nightmare, Monica realizes all-too-late that she has been set up to take the fall for the murder of a wealthy socialite. As the police close in, Monica needs to discover who she can trust, who wants her out of the way, and why she was framed. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Did I pick up this free Kindle book just because the MC’s name is the same as mine? Maybe. I honestly don’t know, because this has been languishing on my Kindle for at least a year. Monica is a jaded agent for Washed Hands who isn’t really interested in making friends. But when she is set up to be framed for murder, she has to quickly figure out who she can trust and why she was set up.

This was a surprisingly good mystery (filled with a lot of swearing, just FYI). Monica’s prickly nature makes it difficult for her to find someone to help her solve the mystery before the cops find her, but her skills–akin to those of a detective or secret agent, despite the fact that her job is ending bad relationships–help her as she tries to uncover who set her up. I enjoyed the characters and was surprised by the solution. What more can you ask for in a mystery?

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Classics Roundup

Reviews of my most recent forays into the classics, including Orwell, Gaskell, and Woolf. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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In my continual quest to catch up on all the classics I “should have” read in high school or college, I’ve collected tons of books that I’ve decided I don’t really want to read. As I sorted through my Kindle books this month, I found dozens of classics that I knew I would probably never read, and a few that I decided to give a chance. These three are a few of the books that made the cut.

A Room of One’s Own

First published on 24 October 1929, the essay was based on a series of lectures Virginia Woolf delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, two women’s colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. While this extended essay in fact employs a fictional narrator and narrative to explore women both as writers of and characters in fiction, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, titled “Women and Fiction,” and hence the essay, are considered non-fiction. The essay is generally seen as a feminist text, and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Reading this book offers an interesting view of what feminism was like 100 years ago. There were some things that Virginia Woolf said that I agreed with and found fascinating, but there were also others that made me cringe. Still, I’m really glad I read it. This short book is my first by Virginia Woolf, and I look forward to reading some of her fiction in the future.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Animal Farm

Tired of their servitude to man, a group of farm animals revolt and establish their own society, only to be betrayed into worse servitude by their leaders, the pigs, whose slogan becomes: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This 1945 satire addresses the socialist/communist philosophy of Stalin in the Soviet Union. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

There’s nothing I can say about this book that a million high school students haven’t said before. I was one of the few who wasn’t required to read it in high school, but reading it as an adult still wasn’t very enjoyable. It’s heavy handed and missing subtleties. Maybe I’m expecting too much from a satire, or maybe I’m just expecting the wrong things, but I admit I was glad that this book is mercifully short.

Rating: Meh

Wives and Daughters

Set in English society before the 1832 Reform Bill, Wives and Daughters centres on the story of youthful Molly Gibson, brought up from childhood by her father. When he remarries, a new step-sister enters Molly’s quiet life – loveable, but worldly and troubling, Cynthia. The narrative traces the development of the two girls into womanhood within the gossiping and watchful society of Hollingford.

Wives and Daughters is far more than a nostalgic evocation of village life; it offers an ironic critique of mid-Victorian society. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I actually listened to this one on audiobook, and it’s a long one, clocking in at 24 hours of listening time. So I was super disappointed when I neared the end and the inevitable sweet conclusion to the romance and discovered that the author had died before finishing the book! Noooooooooooo! That disappointment aside, this is a very good book. It’s in the vein of Jane Austen, but rather than focusing on a particular woman and her love interest, this book spends a lot of time focusing on a girl and her family (with, of course, some romance thrown in as well). It’s well written and engaging. I just wish I could have gotten the fulfillment of a tidy ending!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Which classics have you enjoyed? Which should I skip?

ARC Roundup: Mysteries

The latest mysteries and suspense novels for teens and adults--some great, some forgettable. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received free digital copies of these books from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All summaries are via NetGalley.com

My love of mysteries is no secret; N&B’s archives are full of cozies, thrillers, and whodunits. Thus, this collection of ARC mysteries and suspense novels. Some I recommend, but others are best left alone.

Love, Lies and Spies

Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She’s much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she’s determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish her research.

Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana’s traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself.

The idea of this novel is awesome. It’s touted as homage to Jane Austen and her spunky heroines, with a little bit of mystery thrown in as well. Unfortunately, the execution does not live up to the idea.

Juliana is supposed to be intelligent, unconventional, and impertinent, but mostly I found her bland and forgettable. Her and Spencer’s romance takes up most of the plot, rather than the mystery that you would expect from a “spy” novel. If the concept of this novel intrigues you, sit tight–one of the books below executes it in a much more interesting way.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Murder of Mary Russell

Mary Russell is used to dark secrets—her own, and those of her famous partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes. Trust is a thing slowly given, but over the course of a decade together, the two have forged an indissoluble bond. And what of the other person to whom Mary Russell has opened her heart: the couple’s longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson? Russell’s faith and affection are suddenly shattered when a man arrives on the doorstep claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s son.

What Samuel Hudson tells Russell cannot possibly be true, yet she believes him—as surely as she believes the threat of the gun in his hand. In a devastating instant, everything changes. And when the scene is discovered—a pool of blood on the floor, the smell of gunpowder in the air—the most shocking revelation of all is that the grim clues point directly to Clara Hudson. Or rather to Clarissa, the woman she was before Baker Street.

This book is the latest in Ms. King’s series of Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell mysteries, and as I read it, I was startled to realize that I actually read the first book of the series (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) several years ago. Although I definitely don’t recommend that you pick up this book without having read the rest of the series first–there’s very little talk about Sherlock and Mary themselves, as the book mostly focuses on Mrs. Hudson’s backstory–it was still an enjoyable read.

The most frustrating part, to me, was the fact that so much of the book took place in flashbacks–most of the first half, in fact. Especially if you haven’t read the rest of the series first (see my note above), the book focuses very little on our two main characters, instead exploring the dark secrets of the housekeeper’s past. Once you get into the second half of the book, things move quickly, but the first half is a bit of a slog.

Verdict? If you’ve read and enjoyed the rest of the series, I see no reason why you would be disappointed with the latest installment. If you haven’t, start with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and then decide if you want to continue.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

These Vicious Masks

Evelyn has no interest in marriage and even the dashing Mr. Kent can’t make her want to live up to society’s expectations. She’d much rather assist her beloved sister Rose in achieving her radical dream of becoming a doctor. But everything changes the night she meets Sebastian Braddock – not only is the reclusive gentleman both vexing and annoyingly attractive, he’s also quite possibly mad, and his interest in Rose is galling. So when Evelyn wakes up to discover that Rose has disappeared, she immediately suspects Sebastian.

But then she discovers that Sebastian’s strange tales of special powers are actually true, and that Rose’s kidnappers have worse in mind for her than simply ruining her reputation. Surrounded by secrets, lies, and unprecedented danger, Evelyn has no choice but to trust Sebastian, yet she can’t help but worry that Sebastian’s secrets are the most dangerous of all…

I’ve been hearing good things about this book for months, and after reading it, I can see why. This is what Love, Lies and Spies (see above) should have been but wasn’t. Evelyn is, in fact, impertinent and unconventional, and she pulls this off without being irritating or bland. And the romantic subplot never takes over the story–something I greatly appreciate in a YA novel.

The science (or magic) of the special powers some of the characters have is never quite clear, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a fun story with interesting characters and a unique way of spicing up the Jane Austen era. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation

It’s the summer of love in late 1960s England. Basil D’Oliveira has just been dropped from the English cricket team before for a test series in apartheid South Africa; the war in Biafra dominates the news; and the Apollo 11 astronauts are preparing to land on the moon. In the midst of all this change, Sidney Chambers, now Archdeacon of Ely Cathedral, is still up to his amateur sleuthing investigations.

A bewitching divorcee enlists Sidney’s help in convincing her son to leave a hippie commune; at a soiree on Grantchester Meadows during May Week celebrations, a student is divested of a family heirloom; Amanda’s marriage runs into trouble; Sidney and Hildegard holiday behind the Iron Curtain; Mrs Maguire’s husband returns from the dead and an arson attack in Cambridge leads Sidney to uncover a cruel case of blackmail involving his former curate.

I requested this one on a whim after seeing that it has been made into a BBC series (I can’t resist the BBC!). Unfortunately, this is the fifth installment in the series, so I was a bit confused as to who each character was and how they knew Sidney, the archdeacon and amateur sleuth.

I was also disappointed that each chapter was a short story in itself. There was no overarching mystery to tie them all together, so most of them came off a little flat. Maybe prior installments were one long mystery, and they probably gave a better introduction to each character, but just based on this one book, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Rating: Meh

Newbery Roundup: March Edition

The March Newbery roundup contains this month's best (and worst) of the Newbery books I've been reading. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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We’re back with another Newbery roundup for March! Other than the 2016 Newbery winners that my sister and I reviewed, I’ve read some older books as well. Some were pretty decent, several were forgettable, and one was something I’m definitely not interested. So, on we go!

The Corn Grows Ripe

When his father is badly injured in an accident, a young Mayan boy called Tigre wonders who will plant and harvest the corn that they need to survive–and to please the Mayan gods. Twelve-year-old Tigre has never done a man’s work before. Now he will have to take his father’s place. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I felt all right about this book. It was interesting to read about the culture of the Mayans and how important corn was to the families of the time, but I didn’t care very much, to be honest.

Good but Forgettable

The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane

I always enjoy what Russell Freedman writes (as you might remember). He is a fantastic biography writer, and this book about the Wright brothers is no exception. I found it amazing how much the brothers had to discover for themselves; they really did pioneer the science of flight, not just flying itself. The book was crammed with tons of pictures (the Wright brothers were meticulous about documenting their progress). I did sometimes skim the more technical parts, though.

Good but Forgettable

Kildee House

In this book, a man decides to escape his former life by building a home in the midst of the redwood forest. He then makes friends with a slew of animals, including a family of skunks, a pair of raccoons, some squirrels, and many other woodland creatures, as well as a preteen girl. The girl and the old man work together to raise the animals and make them comfortable, even as their families continue to grow.

It’s a cute idea, and the illustrations were pretty awesome. If your kid is into animals, they’ll almost definitely enjoy this book.

Good but Forgettable

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger.

As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This was probably my favorite book of this month’s Newbery roundup. It’s well written and interesting, and Callie is a really fun character. I did struggle with how much her parents attempt to shove her into the turn of the century “female” box–they’re constantly discouraging her interest in science and trying to make her better at needlework and baking. I know it’s realistic, but it’s still heartbreaking, and I’m not sure I can force myself to read the rest of the series, good as this book was.

Pretty Darn Good

Pecos Bill

I really didn’t care for this book. I’m not a fan of mythology and tall tales, as a general rule, and this book wasn’t an exception to that rule. Add to that the casual racism and sexism that comes with many of the older Newbery books, and you come up with a book that I had to force myself to finish. Unless you or your kid is obsessed with American tall tales, maybe don’t bother.

Meh

ARC Roundup: February Edition

The good, the bad, and the ugly of this month's ARCs. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received the following ARCs from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All summaries via NetGalley.com.

I’m still working through the huge amount of ARCs and review copies I got from NetGalley at the beginning of the year. I’m like a kid in a candy store with requesting books–everything looks so good! So which ones satisfied my sweet tooth, and which ones just gave me a stomachache? Read on to find out.

Radical Self-Love

Have you ever dreamed of a life full of laughter, love, and sequins … but felt totally clueless about how to make it happen? You’re not alone. Best-selling author and speaker Gala Darling spent years in soul-sucking jobs, battling depression, an eating disorder, and a preference for chaos and disaster—simply because she didn’t know how to create the life she dreamed about.

In Radical Self-Love, you’ll discover exactly what makes you so magnificent, and you’ll gain a litany of tools and techniques to help you manifest a life bursting with magic, miracles, bliss, and adventure! Featuring fun homework exercises and cool illustrations, this book will take you from learning to fall madly in love with yourself, to loving others, to making your world a more magical place through style, self-expression, and manifestation.

So, I admit, I’m not sure why I expected something different from this book than what I got. I wanted a book filled with inspiration, if not actual practical advice, something that would make me look at life differently. But really, this book was way too “woo-woo” for me. I dropped it after the first two chapters.

Rating: DNF

The Art of Being Normal

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth: David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal: to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in his class is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy.

As David prepares to come out to his family and transition into life as a girl and Leo wrestles with figuring out how to deal with people who try to define him through his history, they find in each other the friendship and support they need to navigate life as transgender teens as well as the courage to decide for themselves what normal really means.

I requested this book because I’m doing my best to diversify my reading even more this year, and I don’t think I’ve read even one fiction book about transgender teens before this one. The book was interesting, but it didn’t go very in depth into the issues it presented, as I had hoped. I wanted it to be thought-provoking, but it was pretty forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Restaurant Critic’s Wife

Lila Soto has a master’s degree that’s gathering dust, a work-obsessed husband, two kids, and lots of questions about how exactly she ended up here.

In their new city of Philadelphia, Lila’s husband, Sam, takes his job as a restaurant critic a little too seriously. To protect his professional credibility, he’s determined to remain anonymous. Soon his preoccupation with anonymity takes over their lives as he tries to limit the family’s contact with anyone who might have ties to the foodie world. Meanwhile, Lila craves adult conversation and some relief from the constraints of her homemaker role. With her patience wearing thin, she begins to question everything: her decision to get pregnant again, her break from her career, her marriage—even if leaving her ex-boyfriend was the right thing to do. As Sam becomes more and more fixated on keeping his identity secret, Lila begins to wonder if her own identity has completely disappeared—and what it will take to get it back.

Lila is a former businesswoman and mother of two, and she is going crazy taking care of her kids full time. Her husband, Sam, is in love with his job as a restaurant critic, and to protect his identity, he has requested that his wife quit her high-profile job and not make any friends in their new town. This book absolutely drove me insane. I totally identified with Lila’s desire to have an outlet for meaningful work and adult friends in addition to raising her children–it’s the same impulse that makes me cringe whenever a well-meaning acquaintance implies that of course I will quit my job and become a full-time stay at home mom when I have kids. Being a full-time, at-home parent is a tough job, and it’s not for everyone. Lila is one of those people who can’t handle it, and her husband is forcing her into that role for the sake of his own career.

Now, I will say that the author does a masterful job of making Sam a well-rounded character. He does things for Lila and the kids that are truly sweet, and the reader never gets the sense that he is putting Lila in this position because he doesn’t care about her or her needs. Still, this book stressed me out, and I wanted more of a resolution than it offered.

Rating: Meh

Newbery Book Roundup: January Edition

A collection of all the Newbery books I read in January. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Over the past month or so, I spent a lot of my reading time catching up on some Newbery books. If you’re here for the Newbery part of Newbery and Beyond, this post is for you. Enjoy!

Along Came a Dog

This book is by Meindert Dejong, a guy who I’ve had limited success reading in the past. This is partly because his books are old, and they read that way–the stories are old-fashioned and slow, and usually not much happens. Another strike against Dejong is that he tends to write animal books, something I have a hard time liking. But this one wasn’t too bad. I enjoyed the story of the little red hen, the big dog, and the man who watches out for them both. It’s cute and lighthearted, especially if you or your kids are particularly interested in the eccentricities of farm animals.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Voyagers

Ah, a book of mythology and short stories, two things which I really dislike as a general rule. Unfortunately, The Voyagers was no exception. This book was a 1926 Newbery honor book, and Colum’s writing is just as outdated as Dejong’s. (I realize this makes me sound like a spoiled modern-day reader who can’t stand anything slower paced than The Hunger Games… I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about that!)

The many stories in this book are all about ships and exploration and discovering new lands. Some are myths, but Columbus and Magellan also get a mention here. These short stories could make for fun bedtime reading if your kid is especially interested in exploring new worlds.

Rating: Meh

Honk, the Moose

This book was adorable. It’s a 1936 Newbery honor book, and it’s all about a moose that two boys discover inside their barn in Minnesota. At first, everyone is afraid and doesn’t know how to get rid of the moose, but the boys befriend him and start calling him Honk. The book is fully illustrated by Kurt Wiese, which makes it even more fun. The book does get into some dated and offensive cultural stereotypes (it was written in the 1930s), but these are easy to skim over if you are reading it aloud to your child.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Voice that Challenged a Nation

Oh, Russell Freedman. You are the best. You make me care about reading biographies, which is yet another book genre I usually steer clear of. Freedman has a way of shining new light on the famous figures in American history (his book on Eleanor Roosevelt is one of my favorites), and his biography of Marian Anderson is fantastic. Freedman discusses not only the incredible musical achievements of the contralto, but also gets into her fight for civil rights for African Americans. She, like Eleanor Roosevelt, broke ground in ways that were shocking for their time, ways which I was only remotely aware of before reading this book. (And apparently, Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson were friends! I love that thought.) Chock full of photos and snippets from newspapers and personal letters, this book is sure to teach your kids (or you) something new about this amazing woman.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Great Wheel

This Newbery honor book was a pretty interesting look at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (especially in light of one of my other recent reads). It follows Conn, a young Irish man who moves to Chicago to help his uncle build the first Ferris wheel in time for the fair. I do wish women weren’t relegated only to a romantic role throughout the book, but it’s still a fun read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Waterless Mountain

Let me start this mini review by saying that I have absolutely no idea how this book would have been received by Native Americans at the time it was written. The story follows a young Navajo boy (spelled “Navaho” throughout the book) and his journey to become a medicine man, but it was written in the 1930s by a white woman. Armer was well respected by the Native Americans she lived with, and she became very familiar with their customs and way of life, but it does beg the question of how accurate a portrait this book actually is.

As a story, I found Waterless Mountain pretty interesting. I enjoyed reading about the ceremonies and traditional stories that the Navajos passed down through the generations, and I didn’t find it patronizing as many Goodreads reviewers did. Still, use caution before passing this book down to your child.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ABC Bunny

This is a rhyming ABC book that tells the story of a bunny and his adventures, complete with black and white illustrations and a song you can sing with your child. (Interestingly, Gag’s sister and brother were the ones who wrote the song and drew the illustrations.) It’s pretty darn cute.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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