March ARC Roundup

In which I review all the March ARCs I've read this month. #spon | Book reviews from NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received each of the books below for free from the publisher or author. All opinions are my own. All summaries via NetGalley, unless otherwise noted.

I miiiiight have gotten carried away with the number of ARCs I requested in January! I’ve finally gotten around to writing quick reviews for each of them. Several of them are so good, and I can’t wait for you all to get the chance to read them!

Journey on a Runaway Train and The Clue in the Papyrus Scroll

This is a modern-day continuation of the Boxcar Children series. I loved this series as a child, so of course I picked up these two books, the first in a short series featuring Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny’s travels around the world.

I must say, I forgot how shallow the writing is for these books and how little adult supervision the kids get. Reading as an adult, it seems kind of ridiculous! Still, if I were a kid reading this, I’d enjoy the travel to different countries and the mysteries the children face. Don’t read it for nostalgic reasons, though–some memories should be left in the past.

Stormy Seas

This book is a beautifully designed middle grades picture book about real kids who became refugees and escaped their homeland by boat. These short stories, about children from Germany, Vietnam, Cuba, and more, are sad and encouraging and very timely. Stormy Seas would be a great conversation starter with your children.

Daughter of the Pirate King

When the ruthless Pirate King learns of a legendary treasure map hidden on an enemy ship, his daughter, Alosa, knows that there’s only one pirate for the job—herself. Leaving behind her beloved ship and crew, Alosa deliberately facilitates her own kidnapping to ensure her passage on the enemy ship. After all, who’s going to suspect a seventeen-year-old girl locked in a cell?

Then she meets the (surprisingly perceptive and unfairly attractive) first mate, Riden, who is charged with finding out all her secrets. Now it’s down to a battle of wits and will… Can Alosa find the map and escape before Riden figures out her plan?

If you’re into YA romance that focuses on pirates and sirens and spying and forbidden love, this is probably the book for you. I’m not a huge romance fan, but I enjoyed the half pirate, half siren protagonist Alosa and her budding romance with Riden as she finds herself taken captive on a rival ship.

Fly By Night

Mosca and Eponymous Clent are great characters who find themselves on the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of the powerful guilds. Mosca is a young, beaten-down girl who is pretty much alone in the world, so she attaches herself to conman Eponymous Clent. But Clent is entangled in some dangerous circumstances, and Mosca finds herself wondering who she can trust. This is the kind of fantasy I can get behind!

Real Friends

Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

This is such a sweet story about growing up, making friends, breaking up with mean friends, and getting along with aggressive siblings. Shannon Hale is one of my favorite authors, and I loved hearing about her totally relatable childhood. Plus, this graphic novel is filled with lovely art by LeUyen Pham. Middle grades kids–especially girls–will love this one.

Witch Chocolate Fudge

Since arriving in the tiny Cotswolds village of Tillyhenge, Caitlyn is discovering that there are lots of perks to being a witch (although sadly, magic still can’t make your thighs thinner or stop you acting like an idiot every time you meet handsome “lord of the manor”, James Fitzroy).

But when the nasty housekeeper at Huntingdon Manor is murdered and Caitlyn becomes the main suspect, she finds herself surrounded by suspicious villagers. With the help of her sassy American cousin, a mischievous black kitten and a slobbering English mastiff – not to mention the old village witch and her shop of enchanted chocolates – Caitlyn sets out to clear her name. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I did enjoy the first book in H.Y. Hanna’s new magical cozy mystery series, but unfortunately this one is not as good as the first one. There are some strange plot points, and the murderer seems to come out of nowhere (and not in a good way). Still, I enjoyed the characters and the touches of magic (who wouldn’t want magical chocolate?), and I hope that in the next book, the plot will perk up.

The Other F Word

Milo has two great moms, but he’s never known what it’s like to have a dad. When Milo’s doctor suggests asking his biological father to undergo genetic testing to shed some light on Milo’s extreme allergies, he realizes this is a golden opportunity to find the man he’s always wondered about.

Hollis’s mom Leigh hasn’t been the same since her other mom, Pam, passed away seven years ago. But suddenly, Leigh seems happy—giddy, even—by the thought of reconnecting with Hollis’s half-brother Milo. Hollis and Milo were conceived using the same sperm donor. They met once, years ago, before Pam died.

Now Milo has reached out to Hollis to help him find their donor. Along the way, they locate three other donor siblings, and they discover the true meaning of the other F-word: family.

This book offers compelling characters in an interesting situation. Hollis and Milo begin to contact their half-siblings and search for their sperm donor (Milo enthusiastically, Hollis reluctantly), and almost despite themselves, they and their families begin forming bonds with these long-lost relatives. It’s a subject I’ve never read about before, and I really enjoyed it.

Close Enough to Touch

One time a boy kissed me and I almost died…

And so begins the story of Jubilee Jenkins, a young woman with a rare and debilitating medical condition: she’s allergic to other humans. After a humiliating near-death experience in high school, Jubilee has become a recluse, living the past nine years in the confines of the small town New Jersey house her unaffectionate mother left to her when she ran off with a Long Island businessman. But now, her mother is dead, and without her financial support, Jubilee is forced to leave home and face the world—and the people in it—that she’s been hiding from.

One of those people is Eric Keegan, a man who just moved into town for work. With a daughter from his failed marriage who is no longer speaking to him, and a brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son, Eric’s struggling to figure out how his life got so off-course, and how to be the dad—and man—he wants so desperately to be. Then, one day, he meets a mysterious woman named Jubilee, with a unique condition…

Remember how I said earlier that I don’t really enjoy romances? Well, this book proved me wrong. Close Enough to Touch is a super sweet romance about Jubilee and her allergy to human touch, and her relationship with library patrons Eric and his son, Aja. Jubilee has to overcome her fears of being out in the world, while Eric comes to grips with the fact that he might be unable to keep Aja from harm.

Jubilee is a fun character who learns to love life and face her fears, despite her dangerous allergies, and she bonds deeply with Eric and Aja. This sweet romance will draw you in (and possibly make you cry).

Review Copy: Dark Witch and Creamy

Dark Witch and Creamy is the first book in a fun cozy mystery series by H.Y. Hanna. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book from the author. All opinions are my own.

Caitlyn is used to being the ugly duckling in her glamorous showbiz family… until the day she learns that she was adopted as an abandoned baby. Now, her search for answers takes her to the tiny English village of Tillyhenge where a man has been murdered by witchcraft – and where a mysterious shop selling enchanted chocolates is home to the “local witch”…

Soon Caitlyn finds herself fending off a toothless old vampire, rescuing an adorable kitten and meeting handsome aristocrat Lord James Fitzroy… not to mention discovering that she herself might have magical blood in her veins! (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve loved all of the books in H.Y. Hanna’s Oxford Tearoom series, so I was excited to hear that she is starting a new cozy mystery series called Bewitched by Chocolate. This new series has, as you might guess, a bit of magic and a whole lot of chocolate!

On her search to find her birth family, Caitlyn finds herself in a small English town that has more secrets than you might think. Caitlyn befriends the local chocolate maker, a grouchy old woman who is thought of by many as the local witch, and does her best to defend her when the town tries to blame her for a recent murder. But Caitlyn soon finds out that there might be more truth to the rumors of magic than she wants to believe.

As with all of H.Y. Hanna’s works, this is a fun, lighthearted cozy mystery. Caitlyn is very different from Gemma, but she’s still an enjoyable, imperfect character to follow. I loved the small town setting and the quirky characters Caitlyn meets there, and I especially enjoyed the magic chocolate store! I hope we get to spend even more time there in future books.

If you like cozy mysteries with a bit of magic, or if you’ve enjoyed H.Y. Hanna’s other series, you should give this book a try.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Mysterious Children’s Fiction

I'm sharing my recent mysterious children's fiction reads, including books from Sharon Creech and Peter Abrahams. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Down the Rabbit Hole

Ingrid is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or at least her shoes are. And getting them back will mean getting tangled up in a murder investigation as complicated as the mysteries solved by her idol, Sherlock Holmes. With soccer practice, schoolwork, and the lead role in her town’s production of Alice in Wonderland, Ingrid is swamped. But as things in Echo Falls keep getting curiouser and curiouser, Ingrid realizes she must solve the murder on her own — before it’s too late! (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a fun, kind of dark murder mystery for MG readers. It’s pretty obvious that this is Abrahams’ first exploration of children’s fiction; some of the things Ingrid does are kind of unrealistic for a kid her age. Still, I enjoyed following Ingrid as she gets in over her head and tries to solve a murder without implicating herself.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Pleasing the Ghost

As nine-year-old Dennis confronts the ghost of his uncle Arvie, Arvie’s eccentric antics and wonderful wordplay keep the reader laughing. But at its tender heart, the story reveals the holes left in our lives when we lose the ones we love. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I never thought I’d dislike a book by Sharon Creech! She has written some of my favorite books of all time, but Pleasing the Ghost just didn’t do it for me. I think I’m drawn more toward Creech’s MG fiction, rather than her children’s fiction. Still, I found this book cute, and small children will probably still enjoy it.

Rating: Meh

Adult Fiction Mini Reviews

A widely varied collection of light adult fiction. Nothing challenging, but some fun picks in several genres. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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This is a widely varied collection of light adult fiction. Nothing challenging here, but some fun picks in several genres. (All summaries via Goodreads.com.)

Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

I wanted to love this book, but I definitely didn’t. It consists of overly formal writing that devolves as letters become outlawed on the island of Nollop. It’s silly–why did the government decide banishment was a good punishment for accidentally using one of the banned letters?–and the writing drove me nuts. I don’t see the purpose of using long and/or archaic words for the purpose of impressing others, and that’s what the writing in this book felt like to me. (Maybe I’m not really a word lover so much as a story lover.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Lizzy and Jane

In a desperate attempt to reconnect with her cooking gifts, struggling chef Elizabeth returns home. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her estranged sister, Jane, is battling cancer. Elizabeth surprises everyone—including herself—when she decides to stay in Seattle and work to prepare healthy, sustaining meals for Jane as she undergoes chemotherapy. She also meets Nick and his winsome son, Matt, who, like Elizabeth, are trying to heal from the wounds of the past.

I thought Lizzy and Jane would be a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but it wasn’t, not really. It took some (very few) of the elements of that story and incorporated them into a very different romance story. Elizabeth is a New York City chef who has lost her spark. Desperate to get it back and salvage her job, she travels to Seattle to spend time with her father and her sister, Jane. Ever since their mother died of cancer, Elizabeth and Jane have had little to do with each other, but now that Jane herself has cancer, the two must find a way to get along and heal past wounds. (Also Elizabeth falls in love, but honestly, that almost seems beside the point here.)

The story of Elizabeth reuniting with her sister during Jane’s cancer treatment was rough. Both sisters had some very selfish, hurtful moments, and both had moments when they started to heal their relationship. I usually find romance-based novels a bit sappy, and I felt that way a bit with this book. Not having gone through cancer treatments myself or with any close friends or family, I was unsure whether or not that aspect of the book was well done.

If you want a sweet, heartwarming story, Lizzy and Jane might be a good choice. It wasn’t really for me, but it was a fun, quick read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The ABC Murders

There’s a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card, he leaves beside each victim’s corpse the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught – until he makes the mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans.

You know I love me some Agatha Christie, and I’ve been reading through some of her Hercule Poirot books with my husband recently. As always, Agatha Christie will surprise you, even when you think you know it all. This is one of her most famous Poirot mysteries–a serial killer starts killing people alphabetically, leaving an ABC Railway Guide next to his victims, and Poirot must figure out who the killer is before he makes his way through the alphabet–and if you haven’t read it, I don’t want to spoil it for you by saying anything more.

This wasn’t my favorite Christie mystery ever, but I’m not sorry I read it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Middle Grades ARCs

A quick review of two fun middle grades books--one a mystery, one a fantasy. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of these books in exchange for an honest review.

The Best Mistake Mystery

Dogwalker extraordinaire Stephen Nobel can get a little anxious, but his habit of counting the mistakes he and everyone else makes calms him. His need to analyze gets kicked into hyperdrive after two crazy events happen in one day at school: the bomb squad blows up a backpack and someone smashes a car into the building.

To make things worse, that someone thinks Stephen can identify them. Stephen receives a threatening text. If he goes to the police, his favourite dogs, Ping and Pong, will get hurt. The pressure mounts when his new best friend, Renée, begs for Stephen’s help. Her brother has been charged with the crimes and she wants to clear his name.

Is it a mistake to give in to dognappers? How can he possibly save everybody? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a cute mystery for middle grades. Stephen and his new friend Renee must overcome their own mistakes (like losing Ping and Pong, the dogs Stephen is supposed to be caring for) to discover who is threatening their school.

Stephen is a likable character, and while the mystery is pretty forgettable, it’s still a fun read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

When twelve-year-old Nick runs away from his uncle’s in the middle of a blizzard, he stumbles onto a very opinionated bookstore. He also meets its guardian, the self-proclaimed Evil Wizard Smallbone, who calls Nick his apprentice and won’t let him leave, but won’t teach him magic, either. It’s a good thing the bookstore takes Nick’s magical education in hand, because Smallbone’s nemesis—the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and his pack of shape-shifting bikers are howling at the borders. Smallbone might call himself evil, but compared to Fidelou, he’s practically a puppy. And he can’t handle Fidelou alone. Wildly funny and cozily heartfelt, Delia Sherman’s latest is an eccentric fantasy adventure featuring dueling wizards, enchanted animals, and one stray boy with a surprising knack for magic. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is super fun! When Nick runs away from his horrible uncle, he ends up meeting Smallbone, a grumpy old wizard who’s not as evil as he pretends. Slowly Nick learns to do magic himself and must defend the village from an evil wolf wizard and Nick’s horrible uncle and cousin.

The setting is great–who wouldn’t want a library that would offer up whatever book you need next?–and Smallbone and Nick are both great characters. It’s a fun, unique fantasy.

And as usual, I’m tying this post back to my Lovely Words series by sharing my favorite quote from this book:

Anybody who can get through March without breaking a glass, a friendship, a secret, a promise, or somebody’s nose is either a saint or on vacation in Florida.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can read the rest of the posts in the series here.

ARC: Muffins and Mourning Tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

My Top Ten(ish) All-Time Favorite Mysteries

Wanting to pick up some new mysteries? This post is for you! I'm linking up to share my top ten favorite mysteries. | NewberyandBeyond.com
I’m linking up with the Broke and Bookish for today’s Top Ten Tuesday post!

It’s no secret that I love mysteries and have for my entire life. So when I saw that Broke & Bookish themselves chose mysteries for their TTT prompt this week, I knew I had to join in. Since I’ve read such a wide variety of mysteries, I’m going to segment my favorites into groups. If you want to get into mysteries, I think at least one of these will catch your interest!

If you’re looking for a cozy mystery, check out:

  • The Oxford Tearoom series [review copy]. I’ve said many times before how much I enjoy this series of cozies. Gemma is a tea shop owner in Oxford who keeps stumbling upon murders. The setting and characters really shine, and the mysteries are fresh (a rarity for cozy mysteries).
  • The Needlecraft Mystery series. If you’re into cozy mysteries, this series by Monica Ferris is for you. Amateur sleuth and needlework shop owner Betsy is a lot of fun to follow, and the other inhabitants of her small Minnesota town are quirky and sweet. This series is not without its flaws, but it is full of fun, quick, satisfying mysteries.
  • Thus Was Adonis Murdered. This very British mystery revolves around a hapless, clueless barrister on vacation. When she is implicated in a murder, her coworkers back home have to help her out of the mess she’s gotten into. Lighthearted and fun.

If you’re looking for children’s or YA mysteries, start with:

  • The Westing Game. This Newbery book is a classic, and I absolutely love it. It’s convoluted and creepy, but in a way that’s fun and not too frightening.
  • The Three Investigators series. This series of books by Alfred Hitchcock (or at least produced under his brand) was one of my favorites as a kid. It might take a little searching to find them, but if you can get your hands on these books, you (or your child) will probably love the fun adventures the three boys find themselves on.
  • The Dana Girls series. Although I loved the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew series as a kid, the Dana Girls were much more interesting to read about. It’s been a while since I picked up one of these books, so there are likely some outdated and possibly offensive elements within that I’ve forgotten about. Still, I think they’re worth a read if you can get your hands on them.
  • Jackaby. Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who. Need I say more? (Bonus: the author has written two sequels so far, and I believe there are more still to come for this series.)
  • The Case of the Cursed Dodo [review copy]. Such a cute mystery! It involves a panda detective, some awesome illustrations, and a fun play on the hardboiled PI tropes.
  • Murder is Bad Manners. This is a great start to a series that revolves around two girls at an English boarding school. Fun and not too creepy.

If you’d rather read a mystery written for adults, look into:

  • The Flavia de Luce series. Although these books have a child protagonist, they are clearly written for adults. Flavia is rude and nosy in the best way, and she ends up poking her nose into matters that are really none of her business. Still, her love of chemistry and her trusty bicycle get her out of most of her scrapes and help her solve mysteries that baffle the adults around her.
  • The Likeness. This book sucked me in. The intense relationships between the characters and the blurring of lines around the undercover detective involved will keep you guessing and turning pages until the very end. I’m looking forward to reading Tana French’s sequel Faithful Place soon.
  • Tommy and Tuppence. Whether you check out The Secret Adversary or my personal favorite N or M?, Agatha Christie’s mystery-solving secret agent couple are sure to bring a smile to your face. The Tommy and Tuppence books are a little more action-packed than Christie’s other novels, so if you’re not sure about taking on the classic Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot mysteries, Tommy and Tuppence are a good place to start.
  • The Junior Bender series. This series has a lot of action and comedy to supplement its mysteries. The characters are fun and unusual, too. Definitely worth checking out.

If your taste in mysteries leans more toward thrillers, read:

  • The Passenger [review copy]. I think of this book as the better version of Girl on the Train. Definitely check it out if you liked that book.
  • All the Missing Girls [review copy]. A murder mystery told backward, this book is another that will keep you guessing till the very end.

Bonus: Here are my top seven favorite murder mystery TV shows–in case you can’t get enough mysteries in your life! (These are all currently available on Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime.)

  • Castle
  • Death in Paradise
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
  • Rosemary and Thyme
  • Broadchurch
  • Sherlock
  • Veronica Mars

What are your favorite mysteries (books or TV shows)? Let me know in the comments–I’m always on the hunt for my next favorite mystery!

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

Middle Grades Book Roundup

These three middle grades books are fun, diverse, and thought-provoking. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Last month I was in the mood for some light, fun reading, so I checked out a few middle grades books. They were fun, but they also explored some thought-provoking topics–and they’re much more diverse than the MG books of my childhood.

Liar & Spy

When seventh grader Georges (the S is silent) moves into a Brooklyn apartment building, he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer’s first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: how far is too far to go for your only friend? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

With his mother gone, his dad out of work, and a brand new apartment to deal with, Georges is facing a lot of changes in his life. The kids at school make fun of him, so Georges ends up spending a lot of time with Safer, who always seems to have a new, crazy idea for Georges. As you read through the book, Georges’s and Safer’s secrets are revealed, and each has to deal with their own struggles.

Liar & Spy is by author Rebecca Stead, who wrote the 2010 Newbery winner, When You Reach Me. This story isn’t quite as nicely put together, but it’s still a cute book. (And, of course, it’s a bit tearjerky.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Murder is Bad Manners

Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a great English boarding school mystery with, surprisingly, a Chinese MC. Hazel and Daisy are unlikely friends who decide to form a detective agency. But when they start investigating the mysterious death of one of their teachers, they have to struggle to find clues and stay out of trouble at the same time.

Hazel faces some racism (the story is set in 1930s England, after all), but this is treated in a gentle way. It’s an interesting mystery with some fun characters–this is a series I’ll definitely follow.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Out of My Mind

Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom – the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it – somehow. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is the most emotional of all the books I’ve reviewed in this post. Melody has cerebral palsy that leaves her unable to speak, walk, or care for herself. But trapped inside her body is an intelligent, curious mind. After years of repetitive, boring lessons with the rest of her special ed class, Melody receives a computer that helps her speak–and everyone is shocked at how much brain power she has.

Melody is a great narrator. Despite her cerebral palsy, she just wants to be a normal kid, eating meals with friends, wearing trendy clothes, and joining school clubs. It’s incredibly frustrating (for Melody and for the reader) when other students and even teachers underestimate what she can do. If you’re like me, you’ll tear up over the trials and triumphs that Melody faces. This book is a great, quick introduction for young teens to certain types of special needs.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC: All-Butter ShortDead

All-Butter ShortDead is a fun, short prequel to H.Y. Hanna's Oxford Tearoom mystery series. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gemma ditches her high-flying job and returns to Oxford to follow her dream: opening a traditional English tearoom serving warm buttery scones with jam and clotted cream… Only problem is–murder is the first thing on the menu and Gemma is the key suspect! And the only people Gemma can turn to for help are four nosy old ladies from her local Cotswolds village – not to mention a cheeky little tabby cat named Muesli. Who was the mysterious woman Gemma met on the flight back from Australia and why was she murdered? Now Gemma must find the killer, solve the mystery and clear her name if she’s to have her cake–and serve it too. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I’ve enjoyed each of the Oxford Tearoom mysteries (you can read about them here, herehere, and here), so I was thrilled to discover that H.Y. Hanna recently released a short prequel to the rest of the series, detailing how Gemma returned to Oxford, opened a tearoom, and discovered her knack for solving murders.

Whether or not you’ve read the rest of the series, this is a really cute and fun introduction to Gemma and her life as a tea shop owner. If you have read the other books in the series, you’ll find several nods to future events and characters who will become important in later stories. Speaking of which, the characters are great as usual. Gemma’s spunky best friend Cassie, her infuriating and oh-so-proper mother, and the Old Biddies all make an appearance.

Gemma being suspected as a murderer and not being sure how to start investigating is fun. Because Gemma was the last person to see the victim alive, the police have looked no further for suspects, and Gemma is driven to discover the real murderer and clear her name (with the prodding of the Old Biddies, of course). One aspect of the plot is a bit cliche (I won’t say more for fear of mild spoilers), but the author pulls it off and manages to make it fun rather than groan-inducing (at least for me).

A side note: Just so you know, this book is currently free on Amazon! If you’ve been interested in exploring this series, this is a quick, free way to get started. (I don’t get anything for promoting this, although I am on the author’s review team. All opinions are my own, and I truly think that if you’re into cozy mysteries, you’ll love this series.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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