Newbery Reviews: 1938

In which Kate Seredy finally wins a Newbery medal and Laura Ingalls Wilder wins a Newbery honor. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Medal Winner: The White Stag
Finally Kate Seredy wins a Newbery Medal! This book of myths from the Hungarian culture is by the author of The Good Master and The Singing Tree, and if you remember how much I enjoyed those books, you’ll have an idea of how I felt about this one. I’m not usually a fan of myths, but these are well written and a beautiful look at a country to which I feel a deep connection.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

On the Banks of Plum Creek
This book is part of the Little House on the Prairie series, which I loved as a child. This one wasn’t my favorite, but it fits well in the series. Other than that, I honestly can’t remember much about this book–all of them seem to blur together. It may be time for a Little House on the Prairie readthrough!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Funny Memoir Roundup

In which I review Furiously Happy, Modern Romance, and The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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In today’s funny memoir roundup, there’s only one real standout book. Unfortunately, I’ve read a lot of meh memoirs recently that haven’t made much of an impact on me. (Spoiler alert–Furiously Happy is the best one on this list. It’s hilarious!)

Please note as you proceed that each of these books has a fair amount of sexual content and/or salty language. If that’s something that you want to avoid, skip this post and come back on Friday for a roundup of my latest children’s and YA reads!

Furiously Happy

In her new book, FURIOUSLY HAPPY, Jenny explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

According to Jenny: “Some people might think that being ‘furiously happy’ is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he’s never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Jenny Lawson is so funny (if you laughed at the snippet above, just know that the rest of the book is pretty much like that). I laughed out loud at several parts of this book, but I also appreciated her honesty about her struggles with mental and physical illness. My absolute favorite entry was about her sleep study (I read it, laughing hysterically, and then immediately read it again over my husband’s shoulder as I forced him to read it), but there are great chapters containing her late night iPhone notes, various adventures involving taxidermied animals, and the bright spots in the darkness of depression.

(As with Lawson’s last book, and anything Bloggess-related, be aware that this book contains a fair amount of salty language.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Modern Romance

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I don’t really like stand up comedy, so I’m not super familiar with Aziz Ansari’s work outside of Parks & Rec. Still, when I started listening to this on audio book, I expected a silly look at dating in the era of Tinder and Match.com. There is a fair amount of humor (especially in the audio book, read by Ansari himself!), but I was surprised to find a serious, well-researched book about finding love in the digital age.

Ansari and his research team do a great job of exploring the different experiences of various age groups and cultures in dating, love, sex, and marriage, and they are honest about the limitations of their studies. I found this book interesting, but ultimately forgettable. Check it out if you’re really curious about how romance has changed with the advent of the internet.

(As will probably surprise no one, there is a large amount of sexual content and swearing that may make readers uncomfortable. Be forewarned.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

Being an introvert in a world that glorifies cool isn’t easy. But when Issa Rae, the creator of the Shorty Award–winning hit series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” is that introvert—whether she’s navigating love, work, friendships, or “rapping”—it sure is entertaining. Now, in this debut collection of essays written in her witty and self-deprecating voice, Rae covers everything from navigating the perils of eating out alone and public displays of affection to learning to accept yourself—natural hair and all.

A reflection on her own unique experiences as a cyber pioneer yet universally appealing, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girlis a book no one—awkward or cool, black, white, or other—will want to miss. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I don’t know much at all about Issa Rae, but I picked up this book over the Thanksgiving holiday on a whim. It contains funny, interesting stories about Jo-Issa’s childhood, life in Senegal and America, and understanding who she is and how her race affects her life. Mixed in with these stories are what the author calls “ABG [awkward black girl] guides.”

This book is interesting, and I definitely learned more about Senegal than I (sadly) knew before, but it didn’t make much of an impact on me. (As with the previous two books, there is a fair amount of sexual content/swearing that you may or may not enjoy.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Self Help Roundup

I'm reviewing a collection of self help books, including Marie Kondo's smash hit, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m a sucker for certain kinds of self help–not the sappy kind, but the kind that pairs research with practical tips. These three books, to some degree, all fit that description, and they’ve all been on my recommended list for a while.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

If you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo’s book by this point, well… where have you been? This smash hit covers a topic that you wouldn’t think would be that interesting: tidying your house. A lot of people find this book a little “woo woo,” as Marie Kondo claims you should discard any items that don’t “spark joy” and that you should thank your belongings after a day of service. This didn’t bother me at all. I completely understand what the author means when she says your belongings should spark joy, and I found a lot of helpful tips in this book.

If you liked the idea of Year of No Clutter but, like me, couldn’t see yourself in the shoes of a hoarder, this book might be more your speed. I personally can’t wait to try Marie Kondo’s methods!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

I Know How She Does It

Balancing work and family life is a constant struggle, especially for women with children and ambitious career goals. It’s been the subject of countless books, articles, blog posts and tweets in the last few years, and passions run high in all directions.

Now Laura Vanderkam, the acclaimed time management expert, comes at the “having it all” debate by asking a very practical question. Given that we all have the same 168 hours every week, how do people who do have it all—women with thriving careers and families—use those hours? When you study how such women fit together the pieces of their lives, like tiles in a mosaic, the results are surprising. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve read a lot of books on time management and how women can or can’t “have it all” (usually defined as having a demanding career and raising a family). This book takes the perspective that you can “have it all,” even if you are working long hours.

I Know How She Does It has lots of interesting and surprising statistics about how people spend their time. The author uses time logs from various women with high-paying jobs and at least one child to show how they form a mosaic of their time, interweaving work, play, and family time, rather than taking each as an immovable chunk. This inspired me to keep a time log myself and look for ways to form a mosaic of my time.

My one regret is that this book is skewed toward upper middle class women. The author suggests that if you want to spend more time with your family, you can hire a housekeeper, or that if you want to spend more time working from home, you could hire a nanny. These choices simply aren’t options for women working lower-paying jobs. While I realize that the purpose of the book was to encourage women to enter high-powered jobs, traditionally held by men, I still found this aspect a bit irritating.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mindfulness

Unlike Marie Kondo’s book, this one was actually a little woo woo for my taste, although I like the meditation ideas offered. The authors give you an eight-week plan for getting into several kinds of meditation, almost a sampler of the various options available. They emphasize the importance of mindfulness in everyday life, even in stressful situations.

While I found their ideas interesting, I didn’t think they were particularly groundbreaking, and in many cases, their views on mindfulness made me feel skeptical.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Roundup: November

Quick reviews of my latest Newbery reads, both recent and backlist. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’ve been working my way through several more Newbery books, both new and old, this month. Surprisingly, all of them were enjoyable, and a couple were very good!

Splendors and Glooms

The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants.

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is just fun children’s fiction. It’s a dark story with lots of magic. The kids are likable characters, and the inner thoughts of each of the three (pampered but overprotected Clara, hardworking Lizzie Rose, and frightened, angry Parsefall) are interesting to follow.

If you or your kids are looking for a magical story with a bit of an edge, you couldn’t do much better than Splendors and Glooms.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Inside Out & Back Again

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Inside Out & Back Again is a novel told in free verse poetry. It depicts the author’s fictionalized experiences of moving to Alabama after the Vietnam War, and it is by turns heartwarming and saddening. The first segment of the book describes Hà’s life in Vietnam with all the foods and traditions that she loves. But after the Vietnam War forces Hà and her family to move to the United States, Hà finds herself struggling to learn a new language, eat new foods, and meet people who aren’t excited to see a different face.

This is a book that not only teaches about a certain era of our world’s recent history, but also has important applications in our world today. In a time of worldwide upheaval with millions of refugees fleeing their home countries, Inside Out & Back Again can offer middle grade kids a new perspective on the struggles and joys that many immigrants face.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Her Stories

In the tradition of Hamilton’s The People Could Fly and In the Beginning, a dramatic new collection of 25 compelling tales from the female African American storytelling tradition. Each story focuses on the role of women–both real and fantastic–and their particular strengths, joys and sorrows. Full-color illustrations. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is probably my favorite book in this whole roundup, and it’s not even a Newbery book (Virginia Hamilton is a multiple-time Newbery author, but this book is not one of those Newbery books). Her Stories is a book of lovely stories and illustrations. It includes African, African-American, and Creole folk tales and fairy tales, along with a few nonfiction bios, all focused on female protagonists. And I love the fact that each of the tales includes helpful explanatory notes which describe the origins of the story and how it ties into that culture’s storytelling tradition.

If you want to add diversity to your child’s bookshelf, you could hardly do better than this collection of stories about African and African American women. The stories themselves are wonderful, the illustrations are gorgeous, and the short story format makes it easy to read one or two with your child before bed. I can’t recommend this not-quite-Newbery book enough.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Little Blacknose

A fictional history of railroading, as told by the first steam engine. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Little Blacknose is a short story for young children about the first steam engine in the United States. The little engine makes its journeys to Schenectady and gradually meets many other engines throughout his career.

Reading this as an adult was not super enjoyable; it’s just too simple and even silly. If your young child is really into trains, though, this might make a good read-aloud book (just be sure to skip the few racist bits).

Rating: Meh

The Crossover

“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’m not a big fan of poetry (another recent Newbery book, Brown Girl Dreaming, is a notable exception), but this book was good. Josh and his twin brother JB deal with basketball, girls, tragedy, and growing up through Josh’s rhymes.

Crossover is a fun book with some surprisingly dark themes. Definitely recommended for middle grade readers.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1936

Quick reviews of the 1936 Newbery medal and honor books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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It’s time for another round of quick reviews of my long-ago Newbery reads! Today’s post is all about the 1936 Newbery books.

Medal Winner: Caddie Woodlawn

Caddie Woodlawn is a real adventurer. She’d rather hunt than sew and plow than bake, and tries to beat her brother’s dares every chance she gets. Caddie is friends with Indians, who scare most of the neighbors — neighbors who, like her mother and sisters, don’t understand her at all.

Caddie is brave, and her story is special because it’s based on the life and memories of Carol Ryrie Brink’s grandmother, the real Caddie Woodlawn. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is yet another historical fiction book I read while in elementary school. Although I remember enjoying it, I remember almost nothing about the plot. Caddie is a fun character, though, and reading the plot summary has made me want to re-read the book and see how it holds up.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Good Master

As you may remember from my review of The Singing Tree, I really like Kate Seredy’s books. This one (a prequel to The Singing Tree) still has a lot of interesting Hungarian history, but it’s a lot more cheerful, and the kids are much younger and more mischievous. Kate is sent to the Nagy farm by her father, who is at his wits’ end. Kate is selfish, spoiled, and temperamental, but her cousin Jancsi, her aunt and uncle, and life on the farm soon straighten her out. Definitely worth a read, especially if you follow it up with the sequel.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Faithful Place

Faithful Place by Tana French is a dark thriller/mystery, but not as intense as some of French's other books. | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was a nineteen-year-old kid with a dream of escaping his family’s cramped flat on Faithful Place and running away to London with his girl, Rosie Daly. But on the night they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn’t show. Frank took it for granted that she’d dumped him–probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again. Neither did Rosie. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie’s suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank, now a detective in the Dublin Undercover squad, is going home whether he likes it or not.

Getting sucked in is a lot easier than getting out again. Frank finds himself straight back in the dark tangle of relationships he left behind. The cops working the case want him out of the way, in case loyalty to his family and community makes him a liability. Faithful Place wants him out because he’s a detective now, and the Place has never liked cops. Frank just wants to find out what happened to Rosie Daly–and he’s willing to do whatever it takes, to himself or anyone else, to get the job done. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I enjoyed Tana French’s earlier book in her Dublin Murder Squad series, The Likeness, but it was so intense that I put off reading Faithful Place, even though I bought it for fifty cents at a thrift store almost four months ago.

Fortunately, although this book is still dark, it’s not nearly as intense as The Likeness. Frank left behind his abusive, dysfunctional family and his poor, rundown neighborhood without looking back, but when new information appears regarding the disappearance of his childhood sweetheart, Frank is sucked back in. Frank has to balance loyalty to his past with his desire to find the truth about what happened to Rosie, and he’s willing to risk alienating coworkers, friends, and even family to do so.

Frank, a minor character from The Likeness, is a great MC. He’s a successful undercover detective with a hardscrabble past and an uncertain future, and despite his decisions, he always remains likable. His family is that uncomfortable mix of horrible and lovable, as is Faithful Place. And while I wouldn’t necessarily classify this series as mysteries (more like thrillers, I suppose), the ending definitely took me by surprise.

It’s not necessary to read this series in order, so if you’ve been put off by the goriness of In the Woods or the intensity of The Likeness, you might pick up Faithful Place instead.

I think this quote summarizes the book pretty well:

“Most people are only too delighted to wreck each other’s heads. And for the tiny minority who do their pathetic best not to, this world is going to go right ahead and make sure they do it anyway.”

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

Audio Books Roundup

I'm not a big audio book fan, but I've been listening to more and more on my commute. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m not a big fan of audio books, but my commute to work has nearly doubled since our recent move. Because my favorite podcasts only update once a week, that still leaves me with a lot of driving time to fill. So on the days that I don’t feel like listening to music, I’ve started turning to audio books. I have a huge collection from the SYNC summer audio book program, and I’ve listened to a few of those.

The Perfect Storm

It was the storm of the century – a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it “the perfect storm.”

When it struck in October 1991, there was virtually no warning. “She’s comin’ on, boys, and she’s comin’ on strong,” radioed Captain Billy Tyne of the Andrea Gail from off the coast of Nova Scotia. Soon afterward, the boat and its crew of six disappeared without a trace. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This nonfiction book offers an interesting look at commercial fishing, how hurricanes work, drowning, and true life deaths and rescues from the storm of the century. If you’ve seen the movie The Perfect Storm, you know the central characters from the book, but you’ll be surprised at how much more information is contained here. Although the crew of the Andrea Gail did not survive, there were many other boats in need of rescue, and the stories of these rescue attempts are both harrowing and heartwarming.

“Meteorologist see perfect in strange things, and the meshing of three completely independent weather systems to form a hundred-year event is one of them. My God, thought Case, this is the perfect storm.”

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Here in Harlem

These fifty-four poems, all in different voices but written by one hand, do sing. They make a joyful noise as the author honors the people-the nurses, students, soldiers, and ministers-of his beloved hometown, Harlem. Worship with Deacon Allen, who loves “a shouting church,” and study with Lois Smith, who wants “a school named after me.” Don’t get taken by Sweet Sam DuPree, who “conned a shark right outta his fin.” And never turn your back on Delia Pierce, who claims she “ain’t the kind to talk behind nobody’s back” while doing precisely that-with panache. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

The audio version of this book of poetry is amazing–there is a different narrator for each character, and there is jazz/blues music and sound effects in the background. The poetry itself is great, too. The collection of poems talks about life in Harlem from the viewpoint of people of all ages and occupations, and Walter Dean Myers’ writing makes each character come alive.

If you decide to read this book, I strongly suggest the audio version. It is just wonderful.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Courage Has No Color

World War II is raging, and thousands of American soldiers are fighting overseas against the injustices brought on by Hitler. Back on the home front, the injustice of discrimination against African Americans plays out as much on Main Street as in the military. Enlisted black men are segregated from white soldiers and regularly relegated to service duties. At Fort Benning, Georgia, First Sergeant Walter Morris’s men serve as guards at The Parachute School, while the white soldiers prepare to be paratroopers. Morris knows that for his men to be treated like soldiers, they have to train and act like them, but would the military elite and politicians recognize the potential of these men as well as their passion for serving their country?

Tanya Lee Stone examines the role of African Americans in the military through the history of the Triple Nickles, America’s first black paratroopers, who fought in a little-known attack on the American West by the Japanese. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, in the words of Morris, “proved that the color of a man had nothing to do with his ability.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I was really interested by this book, as the Triple Nickles are not a group I ever learned much about in school. The stories of racism in America, even as our troops battled one of the most evil regimes in history, are horrible. In particular, I’ll never forget one African American soldier’s description of how much better the German POWs were treated than the black soldiers.

Still, if you can face up to these awful moments (and I think we have the responsibility to do so), you’ll find a lot of good here. Although the writing itself is nothing special, the story is important and interesting.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

Newbery Reads: October

Reviews of Monica's latest Newbery reads. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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The Family Under the Bridge

This is the delightfully warm and enjoyable story of an old Parisian named Armand, who relished his solitary life. Children, he said, were like starlings, and one was better off without them. But the children who lived under the bridge recognized a true friend when they met one, even if the friend seemed a trifle unwilling at the start. And it did not take Armand very long to realize that he had gotten himself ready-made family; one that he loved with all his heart, and one for whom he would have to find a better home than the bridge. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a book I’m almost sure I read as a child, but I couldn’t quite remember it, so I decided to read it again. It’s a sweet story about a homeless man whose home under a bridge in Paris is suddenly invaded by a trio of children and their mother. Armand takes the children on adventures (much to their mother’s chagrin), and he even begins to enjoy their company.

There is a bit of sexism throughout the book, as well as references to “gypsies” that are outdated at best and Old-Timey Racism at worst. There are also some great illustrations by the illustrator behind the Little House on the Prairie series, Garth Williams.

Despite some questionable aspects, this is still an enjoyable, sweet book. If you read this one to your child, you can skip over some of the more offensive statements.

“Today is today and tomorrow may come late this year.”

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Belling the Tiger

The classic story is brought to life with colorful illustrations in a picture book format. Award-winning illustrator Pierre Pratt adds whimsical new art to this charming tale about two little mice assigned to a mission of putting a bell collar on the mean house cat. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is all about the illustrations. The well-known story about mice attempting to put a bell on the house cat turns into a wild adventure when two small mice get taken away on a ship and eventually meet a tiger. It’s a short, cute, funny story that younger kids will love.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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

Lumberjanes

This fun series of comics follows the Lumberjanes as they fight supernatural creatures and build friendship to the max. | Review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are new friends at the Lumberjanes summer camp. But things aren’t as simple as they seem.

Throughout this fun series of comics, the girls and their reluctant counselor Jen battle supernatural creatures, solve riddles, and develop friendship to the max. Although the girls are very different and have their disagreements, they always end up working together to creatively solve their problems.

I love that the Lumberjanes are a diverse group of girls who love each other despite their differences. I also love that this is a girl power story without the stereotypical “strong woman” character. Each character is unique and complex: April loves cute clothes and mermaids, but she’s also ultra competitive. Ripley is small and scrappy with a ragged, blue-dyed haircut, and she loves giving out hugs. Each of the girls is a fun character on her own, but together, they are magic (sometimes literally).

Even if you don’t usually like comics (I don’t), you should check this series out. The artwork is great, the characters are awesome, and the story is super fun. I can’t wait for the next issue!

“Did you have a plan?”

“I thought adrenaline would take over but it did not.”

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

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.

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