Magical YA and MG Books!

I’ve read a lot of YA and middle grade books this summer that can be summed up with the word “magical.” From wonderful plots and characters to actual fantastical elements, all of these books are magical in one way or another. I hope you find one on this list that you will love. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

There’s a murderer on the loose—but that doesn’t stop the girls of St. Etheldreda’s from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.

The students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.

One of the best books I’ve read this year. The girls are all flawed but lovable and interesting, and even when they work together to hide two murders so they can keep their freedom, the book remains funny and lighthearted and sweet (and a bit gruesome). You will enjoy this book if you like books about boarding school, Victorian England, teens solving mysteries, or independent girls.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Greenglass House

It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.

This might actually be my favorite book I’ve read this year so far! It’s stocked with fun, engaging characters, including Milo (a kid whose identity as an adopted child is part, but not all, of the focus of the story) and Meddy (the only other kid in a houseful of strange and mysterious guests), and Milo’s parents, who are kind and trusting and not oblivious (a rare quality for most children’s fiction). If you like books about odd characters and kids solving mysteries, plus the great atmosphere of an old inn at Christmastime, this book is a must read.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Book Scavenger

Twelve-year-old Emily is on the move again. Her family is relocating to San Francisco, home of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger, a game where books are hidden all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles. But Emily soon learns that Griswold has been attacked and is in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold and leads to a valuable prize. But there are others on the hunt for this book, and Emily and James must race to solve the puzzles Griswold left behind before Griswold’s attackers make them their next target.

Reminiscent of The Westing Game, this is a fun story about two kids searching for books, solving puzzles, and getting caught up in a game that is much more dangerous than it seems. I’d love to have a real life Book Scavenger game! I’m not sure if I’ll finish reading the series, but I enjoyed this book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways

Far to the south of the land of Ingary, in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, there lived in the city of Zanzib a young and not very prosperous carpet dealer named Abdullah who loved to spend his time daydreaming. He was content with his life and his daydreams until, one day, a stranger sold him a magic carpet.

That very night, the carpet flew him to an enchanted garden. There, he met and fell in love with the beauteous princess Flower-in-the-Night, only to have her snatched away, right under his very nose, by a wicked djinn. With only his magic carpet and his wits to help him, Abdullah sets off to rescue his princess….

AND:

Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle William’s tiny cottage while he’s ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few.

By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizard, and a box of the king’s most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift—so desperate that they’ve even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind?

I read Howl’s Moving Castle a while back, and I finally finished the other books in the series. The two books have a very different feel from one another. Castle in the Air is fun, but not quite as good as the other books in the series. It’s almost an Aladdin retelling, complete with magic carpet and an Arabian setting.

House of Many Ways, on the other hand, was wonderful! It’s almost as good as Howl’s Moving Castle–or maybe even better? I loved Great-Uncle William’s wizard house with the many mysterious rooms, and Charmain was a fun character. And Sophie and Howl play a sizable role in this book, which I enjoyed as well.

Rating: Good but Forgettable, Pretty Darn Good

Ghostly Echoes and The Dire King (*spoilers ahead!*)

Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly lady of 926 Augur Lane, has enlisted the investigative services of her fellow residents to solve a decade-old murder—her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, Detective R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancé, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all, and her killer may be far more dangerous than they suspected.

AND:

The fate of the world is in the hands of detective of the supernatural R. F. Jackaby and his intrepid assistant, Abigail Rook. An evil king is turning ancient tensions into modern strife, using a blend of magic and technology to push Earth and the Otherworld into a mortal competition. Jackaby and Abigail are caught in the middle as they continue to solve the daily mysteries of New Fiddleham, New England — like who’s created the rend between the worlds, how to close it, and why zombies are appearing around. At the same time, the romance between Abigail and the shape-shifting police detective Charlie Cane deepens, and Jackaby’s resistance to his feelings for 926 Augur Lane’s ghostly lady, Jenny, begins to give way. Before the four can think about their own futures, they will have to defeat an evil that wants to destroy the future altogether.

If you haven’t read the Jackaby series yet, be warned: there are spoilers ahead!

I greatly enjoyed the first two books in this series for their Sherlock-meets-Doctor-Who mysteries, but as we get into the last two books, the feeling turns much more Supernatural. Jackaby and Abigail begin by attempting to uncover the truth behind Jenny’s death, and what they find leads them to a much bigger and more dangerous mystery.

The last book wraps up the series with Jackaby and Abigail, along with their human and non-human allies, fighting the titular Dire King and his army. It was a good ending, but I missed the smaller, cozier mysteries of the early books. Still, if you enjoyed the previous books, you should stick around for the spectacular ending.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good, Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1946

All summaries via Goodreads.com

Medal Winner: Strawberry Girl

Strawberries — big, ripe, and juicy. Ten-year-old Birdie Boyer can hardly wait to start picking them. But her family has just moved to the Florida backwoods, and they haven′t even begun their planting. “Don′t count your biddies ′fore they′re hatched, gal young un!” her father tells her.

Making the new farm prosper is not easy. There is heat to suffer through, and droughts, and cold snaps. And, perhaps most worrisome of all for the Boyers, there are rowdy neighbors, just itching to start a feud.

This book has a bit of the feeling of Laura Ingalls Wilder–it’s filled with the details of running a farm (and, of course, picking strawberries). I wish I could remember more of the book, as I remember enjoying it a lot as a child. I’m putting Strawberry Girl on the list of Newbery books to re-read someday.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Justin Morgan Had a Horse

In 1791 a Vermont schoolmaster by the name of Justin Morgan comes home with a two-year-old colt named Little Bub. Taken as payment for an outstanding debt, the little colt doesn’t seem like he is worth much, but the kindly teacher asks one of his students, Joel Goss, to train him. Joel knows the horse has great potential, and soon word about Little Bub spreads throughout the entire Northeast for his ability to outwork, outrun, outtrot, and outwalk any horse in the area.

This is the extraordinary tale of a little workhorse, who, after being born in obscurity, becomes one of the greatest breeding stallions of all time.

Ah, Marguerite Henry, the queen of the horse stories (Misty of Chincoteague is probably her most famous novel). Unlike other girls my age, I was never fascinated by horse stories, but this one was pretty enjoyable. However, I don’t feel the same need to re-read this book as I do with Strawberry Girl.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC: My Grave Ritual

Note: I received a free copy of this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

I’ve read and reviewed the two previous installments in the Warlock Holmes series (you can find those reviews here and here), but if you’re unfamiliar, think Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, except Watson is the actual brains behind the team, and Holmes is filled with demons and connected to the world of hellfire and brimstone–without a lot of what Watson sees as common sense. Each section of the book is inspired by one of the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries, with an added supernatural twist.

This book might have been the best of the series so far! It is hilarious–it made me laugh out loud several times–and I especially loved the section narrated by Holmes rather than Watson. The relationship between Holmes and Watson is sweet and fun, even if the two don’t always see eye to eye. As always, there is a lingering sense of doom (as Watson’s narration is set at some point after the actual events of the book), which never seems to make the story any less fun.

The only thing I disliked about this book was the presence of Irene Adler, whom I hate in any Sherlock Holmes context. Of course, Watson falls madly in love with her, despite Holmes’s warnings, which turns out badly for everyone. Still, if you enjoyed the first two books of this series (or if you think you would like a Sherlock Holmes world in which the supernatural always plays a part), this book is hilarious and just plain fun.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Comics Roundup, June 2018

I’ve been exploring comics again, and the more I read, the more surprised I am at how many comics I have enjoyed. This eclectic roundup offers short reviews of the volumes of comics I’ve been reading lately, along with a couple of books that are more focused on art than on words.

Black Panther and Hawkeye

Let’s start with the bad news: I still don’t like superhero comics. I loved the movie Black Panther, and Hawkeye is always a favorite character in the Avengers, but I just couldn’t get into either of these volumes of comics. I wanted to like them, but I just got bored. I’m not a big fan of fight scenes; maybe that’s my issue with superhero comics.

Rating: Meh

Misfit City

This series is just fun–it involves a group of girl friends who find a treasure map in the midst of their boring lives in what they see as a dead end town. This series is strongly influenced by The Goonies, complete with adventures in underground caves. I hope in future issues the girls will be further fleshed out (currently they each only have a couple of stereotypical characteristics to make each character distinct), but even here at the beginning of the series, I am enjoying the adventure.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Not-So-Secret Society

This comic was okay. It’s a little young for me–the story revolves around a group of 12-year-old friends who create science projects that sometimes get out of hand–but it’s really cute. If your child is into STEM, they will probably enjoy this comic.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Backstagers

This series tells the story of an all-boys school in which the stage crew has a magical, fantastical, and dangerous series of tunnels backstage. I have been captivated by the magical world of the backstage tunnels, and I can’t wait for future issues to explore them further. If you liked Bee and Puppycat, you will probably enjoy this series as well.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Herding Cats

This may be my favorite of Sarah’s three books. As always, she produces great comics about being female, being a Millennial, fighting anxiety, and making art. They are super relatable and hilarious if you fit any of those groups.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Arrival

This book is not a traditional comic, but rather a picture book with no words. It’s filled with gorgeous, strange sepia toned art. The wordless story is evocative of an immigrant’s experience, even though the land to which the character immigrates is not any place in our world. Give yourself plenty of time with this short book to pour over the art.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Fables

This comic has been completed (no spoilers please!), and I have been ripping through the many volumes. Fables is the story of fairy tale characters who are forced to live in the “mundane” world because they’ve been exiled from their own world by the Adversary. The series contains a certain amount of sexual and violent content, so be forewarned, but so far it hasn’t been enough to make me squeamish. I’m finding the characters to be interesting and complex, and the story keeps me coming back for more. I’m sure I’ll read several more volumes of this comic before the summer is over.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

YA Roundup, June 2018

(All summaries via Goodreads.com)

The Love that Split the World

Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

The time travel/wormhole aspect of this book really intrigued me when I first heard about it, which is why I decided to read this book. However, I really don’t enjoy YA romance that much, so I couldn’t get invested in Natalie and Beau’s relationship. If you enjoy books like Anna and the French Kiss, you will probably enjoy this book as well. It just wasn’t my favorite.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Truth Beneath the Lies

All Kayla Asher wants to do is run. Run from the government housing complex she calls home. Run from her unstable mother. Run from a desperate job at No Limit Foods. Run to a better, cleaner, safer life. Every day is one day closer to leaving.

All Betsy Hopewell wants to do is survive. Survive the burner phone hidden under her bed. Survive her new rules. Survive a new school with new classmates. Survive being watched. Every minute grants her another moment of life.

But when fate brings Kayla and Betsy together, only one girl will live.

This mystery/thriller was slow to start, but I enjoyed the last third once the mystery started to be revealed. This is a good choice if you enjoy thrillers with unreliable narrators but want something a little less intense than the adult options in that genre.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Universe Versus Alex Woods

A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood.

But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.

So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing …

This book is funny, but it’s also intense. The novel revolves around assisted suicide and grieving the loss of someone important. The characters are quirky and likable, but be prepared for some surprisingly dark content.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless

Top Five Things That Are Ruining Chloe’s Day

5) Working the 6:30 a.m. shift at GoodFoods Market

4) Crashing a cart into a customer’s car right in front of her snarky coworker Sammi

3) Trying to rock the “drowned rat” look after being caught in a snowstorm

2) Making zero progress with her crush, Tyson (see #3)

1) Being accused—along with her fellow teenage employees—of stealing upwards of $10,000

Chloe would rather be anywhere than locked in work jail (aka the break room) with five of her coworkers . . . even if one of them is Tyson. But if they can band together to clear their names, what looks like a total disaster might just make Chloe’s list of Top Ten Best Moments.

You might be surprised to learn (given my earlier opinion of YA romances) that I really enjoyed this sweet book. Six teenagers of widely varying personalities and backgrounds are trapped in the grocery store they work at on Christmas Eve when someone accuses them of stealing money from the charity drive. Although Chloe, an awkward teen struggling to keep her diabetes and her overprotective mom a secret, is our main character, each of the other characters is fun and unique. I loved watching the teens bonding and becoming friends even as they make mistakes and say insensitive things to each other. A sweet romance that’s not only about the romance–possibly why this book charmed me while others fell flat.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Books in Translation, June 2018

One of my long-term reading goals is to read one book from each country in the world. Admittedly, I’m not doing very well. I’ve read books from Russia, Australia, France, Botswana, Mexico, Iran, India, and a few more, but progress has been slow. These books are ones that I picked up purposely because they are very popular in their countries of origin, and they couldn’t have been more different from each other.

Moomin

I read two versions of Moomin, a very popular cartoon character from Finland. The first was the original comic strip for adults, and the second was a cute rhyming picture book for children called The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My.

“Charmingly meandering,” a quote from the back cover of the comic strip collection, is probably the best description for these comics. They don’t seem to have much of a plot, and what plot exists is strange, but the characters are also oddly lovable. If you’re looking for a fun and whimsical way to spend an afternoon, you might spend it with the Moomin family.

The children’s book is adorable, with translated rhymes and cutouts on every page, which really make the artwork shine. Each page ends with the invitation to guess what happens next. It’s silly and fun with unusual artwork. I think small children would love this book.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Jar City

When a lonely old man is found murdered in his Reykjavík flat, the only clues are a cryptic note left by the killer and a photograph of a young girl’s grave. Inspector Erlendur, who heads the investigation team, discovers that many years ago the victim was accused, though not convicted, of an unsolved crime. Did the old man’s past come back to haunt him?

As the team of detectives reopen this very cold case, Inspector Erlendur uncovers secrets that are much larger than the murder of one old man–secrets that have been carefully guarded by many people for many years. As he follows a fascinating trail of unusual forensic evidence, Erlendur also confronts stubborn personal conflicts that reveal his own depth and complexity of character. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a great police procedural/mystery, and it is part of a series that is apparently quite popular in Iceland. However, I was uncomfortable with the amount of description of rape in this book. That’s about all I have to say about this one–interesting mystery, but be forewarned.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC Roundup: April 2018

It’s been so long since I’ve had a chance to blog that a lot of really wonderful ARCs I’ve received lately have gone un-reviewed–until today! Today’s roundup includes books about friendship, science fiction, and (of course) murder mysteries.

Death at the Selig Studios

The next book in the Emily Cabot series is set in 1909 and involves the blossoming film industry. Interestingly, Emily is very judgmental of the actors and actresses, thinking that the films are tawdry and for the working class. When Emily’s brother Alden, who is involved in the movies (and possibly with one of the actresses), is accused of murder, Emily is torn between her desire to vindicate her brother and her desire to make him face the consequences of his choices.

I like how the historical setting in this book made such a difference in the characters’ actions and attitudes, making it different from many historical fiction mysteries I’ve read in which the time period stays firmly in the background. If you enjoy the combination of historical fiction and murder mysteries, you might want to give this series a try.

Strawberries and Strangers

Dumped by her cheating husband, Jenny King is trying to build a new life in the small seaside town of Pelican Cove. Locals are lining up at the Boardwalk Café for her tasty cakes and muffins. But when her aunt is accused of killing a stranger, Jenny is forced to set her apron aside and put on her sleuthing cap.

Jenny battles with the cranky local sheriff and quirky local characters to get to the truth. Aided by her new friends, she will move heaven and earth to find out who the dead stranger was and what he was doing in Pelican Cove.

If you like cozy murder mysteries with friendly small towns, scenic settings, yummy food and a touch of romance, you will like Strawberries And Strangers. (Summary via the author)

Romance and mystery abound on a small island on the East Coast. After a murder at one of the most exclusive parties in this small town, Jenny splits her time between wrangling with the sheriff, whom she can’t seem to meet without arguing, and trying to prove the innocence of her aunt.

I enjoyed the island setting–you know I love a cozy mystery with a good setting–and the interesting characters who populate the island. I’m usually not a big fan of romance, so I didn’t care much about Jenny’s love life in the book, but I am curious about where it will go in future installments. If you prefer a modern cozy mystery over a historical one, this is a light, relaxing read.

Belong

This book about friendship was lovely; much better than I anticipated. The design of the book is beautiful, and the advice contained within goes far beyond the usual tips for making friends. Agrawal suggests that you go IN first and gently deal with your own baggage, discovering what kind of friends you’re looking for and what kind of friends you need to distance yourself from, before you go OUT and find these people in the real world. Some of her advice wasn’t great (I couldn’t fathom why the author is so against identifying as an introvert or extrovert when this can be such a helpful tool in understanding personality, especially since both types clearly want and need friends), but on the whole, I greatly enjoyed the book. If you want a book about making friends that avoids cliches and has a lovely design, I highly recommend this one.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Fresh Ink

I really enjoyed this collection of YA short stories. Some are SFF, some are stories set in the real world, and all feature diverse characters of all kinds by many wonderful authors. I would love to read some full-length books by these authors (and, in fact, I have several of their novels on my TBR list!).

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Apple Strudel Alibi

This book is a fun addition to the Oxford Tearoom series, in which Gemma and the Old Biddies go to Vienna and must solve a murder which takes place in their hotel. I missed the usual Oxford setting (always one of my favorite parts of the books in this series), but it was fun to see Gemma and some of our other favorite characters in a new setting. As always, the mystery and the characters are fun and lighthearted. If you’ve enjoyed other books in this series, you’ll like this one too.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Bob

Bob is a fun, short story of a girl rediscovering a childhood friend–who might just be a zombie. But this middle grades book isn’t scary. It’s fun and sweet and heartwarming and a little magical. It hasn’t stuck with me, but I enjoyed it as I read it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Inventors at No. 8

George, also known as Lord Devonshire, is living in a crumbling house with only an old manservant for company, after the unlucky deaths of both his parents. When he reluctantly tries to sell his grandfather’s map, he meets up with Ada (a young Ada Lovelace) and Oscar, who loves painting and adventuring with his orangutan. They go on a wild adventure across Europe in order to find George’s lost family treasure, find Oscar’s pirate father, and save Ada from the organization who wishes her harm.

I liked Ada and her flying machine, but I found both orangutan-owning Oscar and curmudgeonly George to be irritating. Still, the group’s adventure was fun, and their friendship despite the frequently insensitive or hurtful comments they made to each other was a lot more realistic than most friendships in MG books.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Fiction Roundup: February 2018

An eclectic assortment of fiction books I've been reading lately. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’ve been reading an eclectic mix of fiction over the past two months, and they’ve all been enjoyable in different ways. But if you want to find out which book actually captured my imagination and kept me turning pages, scroll down to the end of this post!

(All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

What do a dead cat, a computer whiz-kid, an Electric Monk who believes the world is pink, quantum mechanics, a Chronologist over 200 years old, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (poet), and pizza have in common? Apparently not much; until Dirk Gently, self-styled private investigator, sets out to prove the fundamental interconnectedness of all things by solving a mysterious murder, assisting a mysterious professor, unravelling a mysterious mystery, and eating a lot of pizza – not to mention saving the entire human race from extinction along the way (at no extra charge).

This mystery/ghost story/sci fi novel by Hitchhiker’s Guide author, Douglas Adams, is just about what you would expect it to be. The book is funny and bizarre, and although it is (mostly) centered on earth rather than on space, it still has that science fiction/supernatural element that Adams is known for. If you’re looking for a quirky, entertaining book that defies strict genre classification, you’ll probably like this book.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Little Elvises

LA burglar Junior Bender has (unfortunately) developed a reputation as a competent private investigator for crooks. The unfortunate part about this is that regardless of whether he solves the crime or not, someone dangerous is going to be unhappy with him, either his suspect or his employer.

Now Junior is being bullied into proving aging music industry mogul Vinnie DiGaudio is innocent of the murder of a nasty tabloid journalist he’d threatened to kill a couple times. It doesn’t help that the dead journalist’s widow is one pretty lady, and she’s trying to get Junior to mix pleasure with business. Just as the investigation is spiraling out of control, Junior’s hard-drinking landlady begs him to solve the disappearance of her daughter, who got involved with a very questionable character. And, worst news of all, both Junior’s ex-wife and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Rina, seem to have new boyfriends. What a mess.

I read the first book in this series a long time ago, and I finally got my hands on a copy of the second book. The Junior Bender series has a bit more grit and gore than the mysteries I typically read–think action movie complete with guns and car chases–but it’s nothing too intense. Just like in the first book, the characters are interesting, the writing is fast-paced, and the mystery will keep you engaged. I did find a fair amount of weirdness in this book (why does the 37-year-old character living in 2012 not understand how to use Google and YouTube? What’s up with Junior’s relationship with his ex-wife, his daughter, and women in general?), but I’m still looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message.’

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

This book has some similarities to Life After Life, which you may recall is one of my favorite books ever. The kalachakra live the same life over and over again, with complete memory of all previous lives. Harry has to outwit his former friend Vincent, who is having kalachakra killed before they are born, destroying Chronus clubs, and trying to build a quantum mirror, no matter what the cost.

I think the fact that this book is similar to one of my all-time favorite books did it a disservice, as I kept comparing it unfavorably to Life After Life. The other main issue I had with the book is the torture scenes (yes, multiple). It was a little too intense for me, and I had to stop listening to the audio book and borrow an ebook version so I could skim the rough parts.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Maltese Falcon

Sam Spade is hired by the fragrant Miss Wonderley to track down her sister, who has eloped with a louse called Floyd Thursby. But Miss Wonderley is in fact the beautiful and treacherous Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and when Spade’s partner Miles Archer is shot while on Thursby’s trail, Spade finds himself both hunter and hunted: can he track down the jewel-encrusted bird, a treasure worth killing for, before the Fat Man finds him?

I don’t enjoy a detective story as much as other kinds of mysteries, but I can see why this book is a classic. Sam Spade is iconic as the hard-boiled PI, and I did enjoy reading about his adventures. The book is very well written, but (of course) filled with sexism. I have another Dashiell Hammett book on my TBR list, so I’m looking forward to more tight writing, well-crafted characters, and several sighs and eyebrow raises over the author’s treatment and portrayal of women and minorities.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Year of Wonders

When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna’s eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As death reaches into every household and villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must find the strength to confront the disintegration of her community and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a “year of wonders.”

This book is my favorite on this list, and honestly, one of my favorite books of 2018 so far. It provides a well-researched, heartbreaking look at a village who cut themselves off from the world when the plague started to ravage their residents. The novel looks not only at how the disease makes life difficult, but how residents sometimes turn on each other rather than supporting each other. It’s fascinating historical fiction, and the author’s note provides interesting information on how much of the story is based in fact. I highly recommend Year of Wonders whether or not you think you’re interested in the plague. It’s that good.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Comics Roundup: February 2018

The best of the comics I've been digging into lately--starring strong, interesting, flawed female leads. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’ve been reading a lot of comics over the past few weeks, and I’ve found some that I really enjoyed. I discovered that most of my favorite comics are published by Boom! Studios (Lumberjanes, Adventure Time, Giant Days, and Goldie Vance are all theirs), so I’m really excited to explore some more of their series. (Note: Because I’ve read varying numbers of issues for each of these series, I’m just writing a brief summary of the series as a whole, rather than trying to give a specific rundown of each issue’s plot!)

Giant Days

Three college girls overcome boy troubles, finals, and childhood enemies, making each college event an adventure.

I’m loving the female characters and their college mishaps in this series! The girls are very different from each other, which makes them a lot of fun to follow, but it also creates tension within their group. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of this series. It brings back memories about the crazy adventures of college, while also coating all the boring parts with a layer of fun and silliness.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Lumberjanes

A group of girls at summer camp discovers that there’s more to the camp than meets the eye–in fact, there are a lot of magical creatures and adventures to discover.

The continuing adventures of the Lumberjane girls! I read several issues of this series previously, and I really enjoyed it. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to read the most recent issues, as I had forgotten some of what happened in earlier issues. But this is still one of my favorite comics ever.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Goldie Vance

Goldie Vance, a young valet at a hotel in Florida, is constantly getting wrapped in mysteries.

Goldie is constantly getting into trouble investigating mysteries when she’s supposed to be parking cars, but that’s exactly what makes her fun to follow. The old-fashioned Florida resort is a great setting, too.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Paper Girls

A group of rough and tumble girls discover a possible alien invasion during their route and have to fight to stay safe.

This series is a bit harsher than the other comics I’ve been reading lately. There is more swearing and more content that is… not for kids. It feels similar, really to the other Brian K. Vaughan comic I’ve read. I did enjoy reading it, but I’m not sure if I will continue the series.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Gravity Falls

Dipper and Mabel end up spending the summer at Gravity Falls, fighting wacky monsters while hanging out with their weird Grunkle Stan.

This was okay. I’ve never seen Gravity Falls, although I’ve heard the show is very good, so maybe I’m missing something? I’ll probably read the next collection in the series, just to make sure. It just doesn’t come across as quite as funny or clever as I’m sure the TV show was.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC Reviews: The Boy from Tomorrow and Seven Pets for Seven Witches

Quick ARC reviews of The Boy from Tomorrow and Seven Pets for Seven Witches. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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*Note: I received a free copy of these books from the publishers. All opinions are my own.

(All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Seven Pets for Seven Witches

Double, double toil and trouble…
The pets in these cozy paranormal short stories are stirring up nothing but fun—and maybe a dash of trouble—for the witches in their lives.

These short stories are fun, cozy mysteries about witches and their pets/familiars. It’s impressive how, although these stories are written by different authors about different characters, they all hang together so well–each has a similar feel. All the stories are silly and sweet. If you like cozy mysteries with a bit of magic, you’ll find plenty of new authors here.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Boy from Tomorrow

Josie and Alec both live at 444 Sparrow Street. They sleep in the same room, but they’ve never laid eyes on each other. They are twelve years old but a hundred years apart.

The children meet through a handpainted spirit board—Josie in 1915, Alec in 2015—and form a friendship across the century that separates them. But a chain of events leave Josie and her little sister Cass trapped in the house and afraid for their safety, and Alec must find out what’s going to happen to them. Can he help them change their future when it’s already past?

A girl from 1915 and a boy from 2015 are able to communicate through a talking board (basically a Ouija board), and what they say changes each child’s life. It’s both exciting and heart-wrenching to watch as Alec uses his resources–the library and the internet–to help Josie and her sister escape from their abusive mother.

At the beginning, this book seems like it’s going to be spooky and mystical. Both Alec and Josie initially think they’re communicating with spirits through the talking board. But when it becomes clear that the two kids are communicating across time, the story becomes much more interesting.

This book isn’t for everyone. I think younger kids are likely to be frightened by the spooky events, or by the abuse Josie and Cass suffer. But for older kids, this book has a fun twist on the typical ghost story.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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