Nonfiction ARCs, Part 1

Quick reviews of Crafting with Feminism and Around the World in 80 Purees. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received free copies of these books in exchange for an honest review.

I recently requested a couple of nonfiction galleys from NetGalley. They don’t have much to do with each other (other than the fact that they’re nonfiction), but they both provided some fascinating ideas.

Crafting with Feminism

This is what a feminist crafter looks like! Wear your ideology on your sleeve by creating feminist merit badges (like “started an all-girl band” or “rocked roller derby”). Prove that the political is personal with DIY power panties (“No means no”). Craft great feminist hero finger puppets (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Frida Kahlo) or googly-eyed tampon buddies. Fun sidebars provide background on (s)heroes of the feminist movement. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

You know I’m into girl power, so I was really interested by this feminist craft book. The book has a few cute ideas–I love the plate that says “sushi rolls, not gender roles,” the faux fur monster pouch for tampons, and the feminist onesies.

Several of the projects, though, were a bit silly (I don’t have any use for finger puppets, for example). Still, it’s a cute book to look through and maybe pass around to your female friends.

But in keeping with my Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words, I’m sharing one of my favorite quotes about feminism (if you want more quotes like this, you can follow my Girl Power board on Pinterest):

I call it feminism instead of equality because it is the feminine traits that men and women are shamed for. It is the feminine traits that society needs to accept. –Unknown

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Around the World in 80 Purees

First foods for little eaters don’t have to be bland and boring! Featuring 100 delicious recipes like Mango Saffron Puree (India), Rosewater Vanilla Smoothie (Middle East), Pastina with Parmesan and Nutmeg (Italy), and Pumpkin Millet Porridge (Russia), Around the World in 80 Purees shows foodie parents how to bring global cuisine to the high chair with little effort and no fuss. Studies show that babies who are exposed to a variety of tastes grow up to be more adventurous (and less fussy!) eaters as kids. This comprehensive and easy-to-follow book is the perfect resource for parents of toddlers aged 6–18 months who want to broaden their baby’s palate. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book has such great ideas! The author gives a quick overview of first foods for babies around the world and then offers easy, tasty recipes to introduce your child to new foods. I want to use these recipes to introduce my kids to spices, varied fruits, vegetables, and meats. This is going in the growing pile of books I’m saving for when I have kids.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

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

Adult Nonfiction Roundup

Today's roundup is full of adult nonfiction reviews--memoirs, history, and parenting books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Today’s roundup contains a significant number of nonfiction books I’ve read lately. Some were forgettable, but a couple made it to the top of my favorites list for this year!

Make Me a Mother

In Make Me a Mother, the author discusses the adoption of her son from Korea. It’s an interesting look at the challenges and joys that come with adopting a child of a different ethnicity.

As someone who looks forward to adopting children someday, I really wanted to enjoy this book. And I did, to some extent, but I wished there were more details included about how the author and her husband dealt with the difficulties they faced in raising their son. (Basically, I wished this book was a how-to guide, rather than a memoir.) I found it pretty forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Why Not Me?

This is Mindy Kaling’s second humorous memoir. The first one, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, was pretty meh for me, so I was excited to find that this book is way better than her first. It contains great photos, a chapter following an average day in her life, advice for feeling confident and successful, and tons of laugh-out-loud stories about celebrities and life in Hollywood.

I have to admit that I didn’t always agree with Mindy’s advice (I am soooo not into her idea of success), but I definitely enjoyed reading it. Good for a laugh, especially if you like following the lives of celebrities.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Princess Problem

It’s no secret that little girls love princesses. Behind the twirly dresses and glittery crowns, however, sits a powerful marketing machine, encouraging obsessive consumerism and delivering negative stereotypes about gender, race, and beauty to young girls. So what’s a parent to do?

The Princess Problem features real advice and stories from parents educators, and psychologists, and children’s industry insiders to help equip every parent with skills to navigate today’s princess-saturated world. As parents, we do our best to keep pop culture’s most harmful stereotypes away from our kids, but contending with well-meaning family members and sneaky commercials can thwart us.

The Princess Problem offers language to have honest conversations with our kids and shows us how to teach them to be thoughtful, open-minded people. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I loved this book! I’m putting it on my mental shelf of books to re-read once I have kids, along with the wonderful book Untangled. The Princess Problem offers some really helpful tips for parents of young children, especially parents of little girls who are being subsumed by “princess culture.”

The author talks about being a pop culture coach, helping kids engage critically with movies, toys, and other areas of pop culture. I love this–you can’t protect your kids from all questionable media (although one of the earlier chapters walks you through creating a suitable media diet for your child), but you can give them the tools to deal with the hurtful messages our culture often presents. So important, so interesting, and definitely worth a read if you’re a parent or educator.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Tiny Beautiful Things

I don’t know much about Cheryl Strayed (I doubt I’ll ever read Wild), and I’d never even heard of the Dear Sugar advice column before I read this book. Still, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed Tiny Beautiful Things.

Even though I didn’t always agree with Sugar’s advice, I always found it thought-provoking and beautiful to read. It made me tear up on several occasions. There should be trigger warnings included here–everything from salty language to sexual content to abuse–but if you’re good with reading about all of that, this book is definitely worth a read.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The Girls of Atomic City

The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!

But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Even though I spent my high school years living not far from Oak Ridge, I knew very little about this military installment before reading this book. The Girls of Atomic City offers a fascinating and eye-opening look into life on this top-secret installment.

This book succeeds mostly because the author was able to interview women who worked at the plant. Some mopped floors, some took coded notes, some adjusted dials, some worked as nurses, and some unclogged pipes, but none of them knew what they were really doing–enriching uranium to create the atomic bomb.

The book covers many aspects of life at Oak Ridge, from the suffocating secrecy surrounding every detail to the sexism that the (mostly female) workers faced to the emotions that the workers felt once the reasons and results of their work were revealed. This is a long read (at least it was for me; I had to keep putting it down and coming back to it later), but it’s an interesting look at a still little-known aspect of WWII.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

There seems to be a theme in today’s roundup: topics I know very little about. I knew very little about the Iranian revolution before I read this book. In fact, I kept having to put the book down and search Wikipedia for information on the events and parties that are discussed. I’m still not sure I completely understand the revolution’s causes and effects, but I do have a better grasp on how average Iranians felt about it at the time.

I loved the way the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran related the classic books she taught to her students (first at the university; later in secret to a select few female students) to the events in Iran. The memoir is written almost in a series of essays, which are sometimes academic and sometimes very personal. The treatment of women is, of course, horrifying, but I’m very glad I read this book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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

Mini Review: Come, Thou Tortoise

Come, Thou Tortoise is a sweet, humorous story about a quirky girl, her father, and her tortoise. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Audrey (a.k.a. Oddly) Flowers is living quietly in Oregon with Winnifred, her tortoise, when she finds out her dear father has been knocked into a coma back in Newfoundland. Despite her fear of flying, she goes to him, but not before she reluctantly dumps Winnifred with her unreliable friends. Poor Winnifred.

When Audrey disarms an Air Marshal en route to St. John’s we begin to realize there’s something, well, odd about her. And we soon know that Audrey’s quest to discover who her father really was – and reunite with Winnifred – will be an adventure like no other. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I don’t even remember why I originally put Come, Thou Tortoise on my TBR list. But it eventually ended up in my possession, and I absolutely loved it.

This book has a very quirky writing style–there are no question marks or quotation marks, which gives it an understated feel, even when emotional things are happening. And there is a ton of wordplay, which I am almost always in favor of. Audrey herself is an odd character; there’s no need to question why her nickname is Oddly. She does some pretty crazy things in order to help the people she loves. Audrey may not be the brightest, but she’s full of love and stubbornness, which endears her to the reader. Memories of her father in her childhood intermingle with scenes from the present day and slowly build to form a picture of Audrey’s father, her uncle, and Audrey herself. (The story is also interspersed with chapters narrated from Winnifred the tortoise’s point of view, which is pretty hilarious as well.)

On the whole, Come, Thou Tortoise is cute and touching and funny and understated. All these aspects combine to make a story that is surprisingly powerful and entertaining. Even if the summary doesn’t draw you in (or if it does and then you forget all about why you put it on your list…), I hope you pick this book up and give it a try.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

ARCs about Women

These nonfiction ARCs about women contain fascinating information about women around the world. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received free digital copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. All summaries are via NetGalley.com

Several of the ARCs I requested earlier this year had to do with girls and women throughout history and around the world. I love supporting and learning about my fellow women, so I knew these books were going to be good. And not a single one disappointed!

Good Girls, Bad Girls of the New Testament

Good Girls, Bad Girls of the New Testament invites readers to take a more nuanced look at twelve stories that feature women, to explore their lives more deeply in historical context, and to understand the real story that includes both men and women. The book goes beyond simply telling the story of a particular biblical woman to challenge readers to explore the enduring lessons the ancient writer sought to impart. These timeless lessons are as important for us today as they were thousands of years ago.

This book is not quite a devotional. It’s more a scholarly study of Biblical history and characters, focusing on twelve women who are discussed in the New Testament. I loved how knowledgeable the author is about the cultural and historical aspects of these stories, and I found myself being surprised by stories that I’ve known since childhood.

If you’re interested in how Jesus talked to and acted around women and what lessons we can learn from the “good girls” and the “bad girls” (those categories aren’t always as cut and dried as they sound) of the New Testament, this book will not disappoint. It’s chock full of historical information as well as applications for the lessons learned from each of these fascinating women.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Untangled

In this sane, highly engaging, and informed guide for parents of daughters, Dr. Damour draws on decades of experience and the latest research to reveal the seven distinct—and absolutely normal—developmental transitions that turn girls into grown-ups. Providing realistic scenarios and welcome advice on how to engage daughters in smart, constructive ways, Untangled gives parents a broad framework for understanding their daughters while addressing their most common questions.

So the description makes this book sound terrible, I have to say. But please don’t pass this one by! Out of all the ARCs about women I’ve read so far this year, this is definitely my favorite.

I spend a lot of time teaching and working with adolescent girls who are becoming young women, and I absolutely love it. They’re thoughtful, smart, and ready to test their boundaries. This book describes the different transitions these girls go through in their teenage years, from friendships and romantic relationships to school and relationships with parents. In each chapter, the author provides examples of what a healthy transition might look like and when you should worry about your daughter in that area. It’s an enjoyable, interesting read, and the author’s suggestions on how to interact with teenage girls–when to push, when to require compliance, and when to be flexible–are spot on. (As they should be–Dr. Lisa Damour is an experienced psychologist and school counselor.)

I’m sticking this book in a file marked “later” and pulling it out when I have a teenage daughter. I highly suggest you do the same.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Excellent Daughters

For more than a decade, Katherine Zoepf has lived in or traveled throughout the Arab world, reporting on the lives of women, whose role in the region has never been more in flux. Today, young Arab women outnumber men in universities, and a few are beginning to face down religious and social tradition in order to live independently, to delay marriage, and to pursue professional goals. But their voices have not been heard. Their stories have not been told.

I was fascinated by this book. Compelling and disturbing, it tells the stories of women in many Arab countries. The author spent years living in Syria and traveling around Middle Eastern countries, interviewing young women and getting to know their worlds. Through her eyes, we get to experience the wildly varying lives of these Arabic women.

I have to say, this one was a little hard to take in. I went in with an open mind, hoping to see what women’s lives were like in this totally different part of the world, ready to accept their various experiences. But when I read about how little freedom many women have in the Arab world, and how many of them accept and defend that, it was a bit painful to read. There are descriptions of honor killings and guardianship that are difficult to swallow, alongside the descriptions of women going to college and traveling the world.

I definitely recommend this book. It’s well written and eye-opening. Just don’t expect to seamlessly connect with all the viewpoints presented.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Adult Fiction ARCs: March Edition

Two of the latest adult fiction books from NetGalley. (Spoiler alert: one is all right, but the other is amazing!) #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received the following books from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All summaries are via Netgalley.com.

I’m still working my way through the bundle of ARCs I requested from NetGalley at the beginning of the year, so get ready for a slew of ARC roundup posts! Today I’m reviewing two of the latest adult fiction novels I’ve read, one of which was all right, and the other which was amazing.

Tears in the Grass

At ninety years of age, Elinor, a Saskatchewan Cree artist, inveterate roll-your-own smoker, and talker to rivers and stuffed bison, sets out to find something that was stolen almost a lifetime ago. With what little time she has left, she is determined to find the child taken from her after she, only a child herself, was raped at a residential school.

It is 1968, and a harsh winter and harsher attitudes await Elinor, her daughter, and her granddaughter as they set out on an odyssey to right past wrongs, enduring a present that tests their spirit and chips away at their aboriginal heritage. Confronting a history of trauma, racism, love, and cultural survival, Tears in the Grass is the story of an unflagging woman searching for the courage to open her heart to a world that tried to tear it out.

Do I know whether or not this book is an authentic representation of a Native American woman’s experience in turn-of-the-century to late 1960s Canada? Absolutely not. I can’t say I know a huge amount about either the Native American experience or Canada. Still, I found this book interesting and sweet.

Elinor, her daughter Louise, and her granddaughter Alice all have secrets they are hiding, but as Elinor reaches the end of her life, she has a strong desire to set things right. Although the three women are very different from each other, each one grows to have a deeper respect for the others and for their Cree heritage.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Passenger

When Tanya discovers her husband’s dead body at the foot of the stairs, she doesn’t scream for help or call the police. Instead, she pours herself a shot of bourbon, packs a bag, and leaves town. As Tanya travels, it becomes clear that this isn’t the first time she’s taken on a new identity, and it certainly won’t be the last. Tanya becomes Debra, Emma, Sonia, and many other people as she runs from her past. Is she innocent? You’ll have to find out for yourself.

The Passenger is what Girl on the Train should have been and wasn’t. Whereas Girl on the Train was predictable and a bit boring, The Passenger will keep you hooked from beginning to end, trying to guess what will happen next. I read this book in two big gulps, only putting it down because I had to get back to work. When I got home, I picked it up and didn’t put it down until it was finished. That’s the way a thriller should be.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles is a fantastic YA book. Seriously, just read it. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 11-year-old Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life–the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

The Age of Miracles is one of those books that I didn’t expect to enjoy nearly as much as I did. When I was overseas, my husband and I took a train from Budapest to Vienna for a day trip. The journey takes about three hours each way–just long enough to spend some quality time with a book. The Age of Miracles is the book I chose for this journey, and I enjoyed it so much that I could hardly wait to get back on the train at the end of the day and finish it.

Even if you’re not normally into apocalyptic novels, I think you’ll enjoy this one. It’s a coming of age story as much as it is a story about the end of the world, and it’s crazy how quickly the longer days and nights become a matter of fact. It’s a fascinating concept, and Julia is a lot of fun to follow into this strange new world. There’s not much more I can say about The Age of Miracles, other than read it! It’s definitely worth your time.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The Lunar Chronicles: Winter

Winter is the conclusion to one of my favorite series. And it was fantastic. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Winter is the conclusion to one of the best series I’ve read in a while (you can see my reviews of Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Fairest by clicking the links). I thought it was an incredibly satisfying end to the series and, other than Cress, my favorite installment in the series. [Note: If you haven’t read the previous installments and wish to avoid spoilers, don’t read this review until you’ve read the other books!]

In Winter, the gang takes their battle against Levana to Luna itself. They stow away on Kai’s ship when he finally consents to marry Levana and form her disastrous alliance with Earth. Meanwhile, the crazy Princess Winter is doing her best to rebel against Levana in her own way, along with Jacin, the guard she’s been in love with since childhood. Despite losses and setbacks, Cinder and her friends are determined to rid Luna–and Earth–of Levana’s manipulation once and for all.

Let me mention first the number of viewpoints that you receive in this book. The 800+ page book has plenty of room to allow Cinder, Cress, Jacin, Winter, Wolf, Levana, Iko, Kai, and practically everyone else from the series at least a chapter or two for themselves. And although I don’t usually like to read books that switch so constantly from viewpoint to viewpoint, it works here. Meyer has worked so hard to create a strong background for each character in her previous books, and we know each character so well that it doesn’t feel dizzying or jerky to switch from person to person; it feels natural. I am flabbergasted by this, but it is awesome.

Secondly, and kind of related, we get to catch up with all our favorite characters from the rest of the series! We all know that my favorite is Cress, and we get plenty of chapters about Cress being afraid and doing the thing anyway, along with tons of Cress + Thorne, which is by far my favorite couple in the series. Cinder, of course, is kicking butt, and Kai is doing his part, even though he’s trapped in Levana’s clutches. I liked Scarlet a lot more in this book than in her own, although she is still the stereotypical “strong female” character, and her romance with Wolf hasn’t gotten any less Twilight-y. Iko is back and loving her new escort body, and Levana has the control freak manipulator vibe cranked up to eleven.

Winter herself is an interesting character, although I can’t say I necessarily liked her. She has gone mad because of her decision to suppress her Lunar gift, which, while an admirable choice, I don’t exactly agree with. I think she could have been a lot more help to the group if she had chosen to make small concessions to use her Lunar gift in order to keep her sanity. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jacin, either. I get his impulse to protect Winter above all else, but it did make him an awkward addition to the already cohesive group. Although the fairy tale that Winter retells is (of course) Snow White, not a favorite of mine, it’s pretty subtle, and Meyer keeps it from taking over the entire story.

I loved that we get to enjoy all of our favorite characters one last time. Each character maintains their own unique personality, and Meyer never lets them blend into one another, even when there’s a crowd of them. The struggles and hard decisions that Cinder and her friends face at the end of their quest to get rid of Levana are a great conclusion to the series. The overly happy endings might be a problem for some, but hey, it’s a fairy tale! What did you expect? A super fun book and a satisfying conclusion to a great series. I’m definitely looking forward to whatever Marissa Meyer puts out next.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Book Pairing: The Westing Game and Mr. Penumbra

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

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

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

The Westing Game

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

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

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

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

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

Rating: Re-read Worthy

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

The Casson Family Series

The tales of the Casson family are funny, sweet, and charming. | A book review from Newberyandbeyond.com
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When I was a kid, I read Saffy’s Angel, not knowing that it was the first book in a series. So when I discovered the rest of the series a couple months ago, I promptly checked them all out from the library and consumed them over the course of a few days. The Casson family series is comfort food in book form. This British family is delightfully silly and sweet, and despite their individual problems, they are each lovable in their own ways (with one possible exception…). I’m not going to review each individual book, since they’re all so short (and because there is a prequel that I have not yet been able to get my hands on!). Instead I’ll provide an overview of the Casson family, which beyond any plot or events that may happen is the real focus of these books.

  • Cadmium, called Caddy, is the oldest of the family. She’s a bit scatterbrained and can’t seem to stay focused on one thing, but she is the loving older sister (who just happens to let her hamsters and guinea pigs run wild through the house and yard).
  • Saffron, or Saffy, is the next oldest. She is sarcastic and fiercely protective of her crazy family. She and her friend Sarah take care of business, whether Saffy’s siblings want them to or not.
  • Indigo is the third child and the only boy. He is quiet and introspective, and he loves reading and music.
  • Rose is the baby of the family. She is artistic like her parents (although she tends to use unusual mediums and canvases for her work), and she is strong willed in a way that many readers dislike, but I don’t mind at all. Rose tends to cause trouble, so thank goodness her older siblings are willing to go to bat for her.
  • Eve is the mother. She is an artist who tends to be scatterbrained and sometimes lives in her painting shed for days on end. Despite her shortcomings and her utter lack of cooking ability, her children love her dearly.
  • Bill is the father, and he is the one character in these books who comes off as absolutely terrible. Bill is disdainful of his wife, her inability to cook or keep the house in order, his children’s escapades, and especially Eve’s art, which he deems “not exactly art” as compared with his own Art that he paints in London. Bill has basically deserted his family, only coming back on the weekends (and later in the books, not at all) and always being glad when he can leave his messy, crazy family. Later on in the series, some even more questionable information about Bill is revealed, and I think he is forgiven far too easily. What a jerk!

 

If you can get past Bill’s bad, irritating behavior, I think you’ll find a lot to love about this series and the family that populates it. Great for a rainy afternoon, a sick day, or anytime you want some sweet, comforting, slightly quirky characters to keep you company.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

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