Random Roundup, July 2019

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The Tea Book

This coffee table book offers readers a fascinating look at how tea is grown and processed, tea traditions all over the world, tea recipes, and much more. It is written by the company teapigs, so some of the pages are basically ads for the company’s own line of teas, but despite that I found a lot of interesting information and gorgeous photos.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The House with Chicken Legs

I loved the House, and Marinka’s journey as she searches for a friend (and later for her Baba) is sweet and sad. I’m a big fan of Baba Yaga stories in general, and I found this middle grades book sweet, touching, and magical.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Garlic and Sapphires

This book gives an interesting look at how a restaurant critic dressed up in different outfits to write honest reviews of expensive restaurants. She finds that she doesn’t like the person she’s becoming, and I don’t like the atmosphere either–where people eat meals just because they are expensive and dine out for the prestige rather than the joy of eating wonderful food. Still, many of the stories are funny or revealing, and the food described made me want to save up all my money to eat at these super fancy New York restaurants.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Well Witched

This was a surprisingly dark dark fantasy novel, in which three preteens gain frightening powers to grant wishes after stealing coins from a wishing well. Not my favorite, but if you or your teen are into fantasy stories set in the real world, you might check it out.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Love to Everyone

This was not my favorite Hilary McKay. The book has her classic bad parents and quirky children, but the WWII setting makes things more serious than I had hoped for. I prefer her Casson family series.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Penderwicks at Last

What a fun ending to this series. I wish there weren’t so many pop culture references–this book which was published in 2018 will quickly sound dated, unlike the rest of the timeless series–but I still loved spending some more time with the sweet, quirky Penderwicks family as Lydia grows up and her older sisters get married.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

My Latest “Issue” Reads

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I wasn’t sure how to title this review roundup, but what it contains is a selection of books about the “issues”–everything from the death penalty to purity culture, and many things in between. These books made me think, and were engaging reads as well. I hope you’ll find one to add to your list. [All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Fighting for Their Lives

Through vivid interviews amplified by the author’s responses and commentary, these attorneys reveal aspects of their internal experience that they have never talked about until now. How do capital defenders manage the weight of the responsibility they carry? To what extent do they experience symptoms of trauma in the aftermath of losing a client to execution or as a result of the cumulative effects of engaging in capital defense work? What motivates them, and what do they draw upon, in order to keep engaging in such emotionally demanding work? Have they considered practicing other types of law? What can we learn from capital defenders not only about the deep and long-term effects of the death penalty but also about broader human questions of hope, effectiveness, success, failure, strength, fragility, and perseverance?

What a powerful look at the experience of capital defense lawyers, who represent people on death row. This doesn’t necessarily address the morality of the death penalty, or even the crimes which bring people to death row, but instead focuses on the lawyers’ experiences and ways of dealing with a truly intense, stressful job. I highly recommend it.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Next Worship

 Pioneering worship leader Sandra Maria Van Opstal is known for crafting worship that embodies the global, multiethnic body of Christ. Likening diverse worship to a sumptuous banquet, she shows how worship leaders can set the table and welcome worshipers from every tribe and tongue. Van Opstal provides biblical foundations for multiethnic worship, with practical tools and resources for planning services that reflect God’s invitation for all peoples to praise him. When multiethnic worship is done well, the church models reconciliation and prophetic justice, heralding God’s good news for the world.

I loved the described steps toward more diverse worship, explained by a Latina woman who has worshiped and led worship in churches all over the world. I’d love to see my own church implement these strategies in our musical worship.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Sea Prayer

A short, powerful, illustrated book written by Khaled Hosseini in response to the current refugee crisis, Sea Prayer is composed in the form of a letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey. Watching over his sleeping son, the father reflects on the dangerous sea-crossing that lies before them. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Homs, Syria, before the war, and of that city’s swift transformation from a home into a deadly war zone.

A sweet, beautiful, powerful look at the Syrian refugee crisis told through art and a short story of one family swept up in the conflict.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Becoming

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

Wow. What a great writer Michelle Obama is, and what an amazing story she has to tell. I loved how the focus in this memoir constantly stayed on Michelle herself, rather than letting the story stray toward Barack Obama, even during the years of his presidency. Michelle Obama comes across as down to earth, incredibly smart, and passionate about the issues facing our country. This book became an instant bestseller for a reason–not just because it was written by one of the most influential women in our country right now, but because it is a well-written, fascinating, and touching memoir.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free

Fearing being marked a Jezebel, Klein broke up with her high school boyfriend because she thought God told her to, and took pregnancy tests though she was a virgin, terrified that any sexual activity would be punished with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. When the youth pastor of her church was convicted of sexual enticement of a twelve-year-old girl, Klein began to question the purity-based sexual ethic. She contacted young women she knew, asking if they were coping with the same shame-induced issues she was. These intimate conversations developed into a twelve-year quest that took her across the country and into the lives of women raised in similar religious communities—a journey that facilitated her own healing and led her to churches that are seeking a new way to reconcile sexuality and spirituality.

I had so many thoughts and feelings about this book. If you didn’t grow up in the evangelical Christian church, you probably won’t have much interest in this book, but if you did, I’d consider it a must-read. My only regret about this book is that the author didn’t delve even deeper into the topics she covered. I think of this book as the starting point for a much-needed discussion in the church today.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Going Clear

A clear-sighted revelation, a deep penetration into the world of Scientology by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the now-classic study of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack, the Looming Tower. Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with both current and former Scientologists–both famous and less well known–and years of archival research, Lawrence Wright uses his extraordinary investigative skills to uncover for us the inner workings of the Church of Scientology: its origins in the imagination of science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard; its struggles to find acceptance as a legitimate (and legally acknowledged) religion; its vast, secret campaign to infiltrate the U.S. government; and its dramatic efforts to grow and prevail after the death of Hubbard. […]

In Going Clear, Wright examines what fundamentally makes a religion a religion, and whether Scientology is, in fact, deserving of the constitutional protections achieved in its victory over the IRS. Employing all his exceptional journalistic skills of observations, understanding, and synthesis, and his ability to shape a story into a compelling narrative, Lawrence Wright has given us an evenhanded yet keenly incisive book that goes far beyond an immediate exposé and uncovers the very essence of what makes Scientology the institution it is.

This book, a deep dive into the church of Scientology, started off ridiculous and ended at horrifying. It’s long but compulsively readable. I’m so glad I read it.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue

Studies on gender and child development show that, on average, parents talk less to baby boys and are less likely to use numbers when speaking to little girls. Without meaning to, we constantly color-code children, segregating them by gender based on their presumed interests. Our social dependence on these norms has far-reaching effects, such as leading girls to dislike math or increasing aggression in boys.

In this practical guide, developmental psychologist (and mother of two) Christia Spears Brown uses science-based research to show how over-dependence on gender can limit kids, making it harder for them to develop into unique individuals. With a humorous, fresh, and accessible perspective, Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue addresses all the issues that contemporary parents should consider—from gender-segregated birthday parties and schools to sports, sexualization, and emotional intelligence. This guide empowers parents to help kids break out of pink and blue boxes to become their authentic selves.

I appreciated how much the author delves into the science behind the inherent differences between boys and girls (spoiler alert: there are almost none, except the ones that are culturally imparted). Thought provoking, but it did get bogged down at times.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Putin Country

More than twenty years ago, when NPR correspondent Anne Garrels first visited Chelyabinsky–a gritty military-industrial center a thousand miles east of Moscow–her goal was to chart the aftershocks of the USSR’s collapse. Returning again and again, Garrels found that the city’s new freedoms and opportunities were both exciting and traumatic. As the economic collapse of the early 1990s abated, Chelyabinsky became richer and more cosmopolitan while official corruption and intolerance for minorities grew more entrenched. Sushi restaurants proliferated; so did shakedowns. In the neighboring countryside, villages crumbled into the ground. Far from the glitz of Moscow, the people of Chelyabinsk were working out their country’s destiny, person by person.

Putin Country crafts an intimate portrait of Middle Russia. We meet upwardly mobile professionals, impassioned activists who champion the rights of orphans and disabled children, and ostentatious mafiosi. We discover surprising subcultures, such as a vibrant underground gay community and a circle of determined Protestant evangelicals, and watch as doctors and teachers trying to cope with inescapable payoffs and institutionalized negligence. As Vladimir Putin tightens his grip on power and war in Ukraine leads to Western sanctions and a lower standard of living, the local population mingles belligerent nationalism with a deep ambivalence about their country’s direction. Drawing on close friendships sustained over many years, Garrels explains why Putin commands the loyalty of so many Russians, even those who decry the abuses of power they regularly encounter.

What a fascinating look at Russia’s social issues and culture. The book does not focus on Putin himself at all, but on the average Russian citizens and their struggles. The author, a reporter who has spent several months a year for almost two decades in Russia, makes connections with a variety of Russians, from the very rich to the struggling poor. These personal stories shed a new light on the current news from Russia.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Hate U Give

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

I put off reading this book for the longest time, because I knew it was going to be a difficult read. And it was sad and infuriating, but also hopeful and even funny in places. The book refuses to give easy answers; every character is complex and flawed, but their relationships give them strength as they process the horrific shooting in their own ways. Starr and her family, Kenya, Maya, and Chris will stay with me as I process the news of the police shootings that keep happening in our country.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

What I’m Into + Small Goals July 2019

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As always, I’m linking up with writes like a girl for my July 2019 small goals, and Leigh Kramer for my monthly what I’m into.

I haven’t written one of these posts since October–yikes! So I’m going to look quickly at my goals from October and then move on to my late summer goals for this year.

  • Prep for the holidays. Check!
  • Go to the tropical fruit marketWe tried to go and it was closed, so I’m counting this as completed.
  • Prep for our first chorale performancesYes. It was a lot of work, but it paid off in the end.
  • Watch/read some spooky stuff. Yes! You can find the post about the books I read here.

I completed all of these goals, but it has been so long ago that I barely remember working on them! Here are a few of my small goals for July:

  • Make a photo book. I try to make a photo book every year around this time, and I haven’t started yet.
  • Have a painting party with friends. My husband and I did a super fun Bob Ross paint-along last year, and I want to do it again with some of our friends!
  • Write studio policies. I need to get my piano studio policies down in writing, and I just haven’t done it yet.
  • Apply to be a sub. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get a teaching job before the school year starts, so I need to get my substitute teacher paperwork in just in case.
  • Go fishing at the beach. It has been a long time since we spent a day fishing at the beach, and I’m hoping to squeeze in a beach day before the end of the summer.

What I’m Into

Books I’m looking forward to reading: I’m finally going to read the second Veronica Mars novel which has been sitting beside my bed for an entire year. The upcoming Hulu series has motivated me!

TV shows I’ve watched: I finally caught up on the second season of The Good Place (looooooved!), and I binged watched all of Brooklyn Nine Nine with my husband (also obsessed with!).

Online creator I’m loving: Baumgartner Restoration makes videos of their painting restoration process which are just fascinating.

Links I like: There are a lot this time, because I continued to stockpile links even when I wasn’t writing these posts!

What is it really like to be on House Hunters? I found this article fascinating and hilarious.

I love the way kids react to music.

How does a person lose track of their diary?

Why boys should read books about girls.

The latest adaptations and releases I’m excited about: Dumplin’, Rebecca, The Testaments, several Roald Dahl books.

When bookstore owner competitors come together.

The one book you need to read, based on your favorite American Girl doll.

Related: How American Girl dolls would decorate their apartments.

Photos of Jane Austen’s family have just been discovered!

Related: Jane Austen’s subversive linguistics.

For fans of Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Why we should stop using the term “women’s fiction.

My favorite Instagram:

I brought back my blue hair for the summer:

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram (I post lots of book pictures and the occasional selfie), you can do so here.

What are you all up to this month? Let me know in the comments!

Newbery Reviews: 1948

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: The Twenty-One Balloons

Professor William Waterman Sherman intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. But through a twist of fate, he lands on the secret island of Krakatoa where he discovers a world of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and incredible balloon inventions.

Wow, I loved this book growing up! It’s so fun, so interesting, so unusual. The island, the fact that everybody’s named after a letter of the alphabet, the weekly dinners, the different styles of houses, the diamonds, the hot air balloons! A must read.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Li Lun, Lad of Courage

Banished to a mountaintop to learn to grow rice, Li Lun proves his courage as he fights the elements and his own loneliness to make his rice seedlings flourish where no one else has for generations.

I enjoyed this book as a kid, but I remember practically nothing about it now. I wish I could! This is another that I might re-read one of these days.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Quaint and Curious Quest of Johnny Longfoot

Based on a Polish folktale, it tells the story of a shoe king’s son who outwits guard dogs and a bear and is sent on a quest for gold and seven-league boots by a cat.

I remember this as a cute story–but that’s about all I remember. It sounds fun, and I wouldn’t mind re-reading it someday.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Cow-Tail Switch, and Other West African Stories

The stories of West Africa are about men and animals, about kings, warriors, and hunters. They tell about clever people and stupid people, about good ones and bad ones, about how things and animals got to be how they are. Some stories in this book will make you think. Some will make you laugh. All of them are retold with folk spirit full of generosity and vitality.

Pretty good African folk tales. Long time readers of the blog will know how I feel about short stories (which is not great), but I didn’t mind these sweet, funny tales.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Misty of Chincoteague

On an island off the coasts of Virginia and Maryland lives a centuries-old band of wild ponies. Among them is the most mysterious of all, Phantom, a rarely seen mare that eludes all efforts to capture her–that is, until a young boy and girl lay eyes on her and determine that they can’t live without her. The frenzied roundup that follows on the next “Pony Penning Day” does indeed bring Phantom into their lives, in a way they never would have suspected. Phantom would forever be a creature of the wild. But her gentle, loyal colt Misty is another story altogether.

Here it is: the classic horse book. If you were into horses as a child, I guarantee you read this one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if horse-loving kids are still reading it today. I was never obsessed with horses like some of my friends were, but I still enjoyed this Marguerite Henry classic.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Book Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

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Book Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? | Newbery and Beyond

Photo via Amazon

I hate to say it, but (Mindy Kaling is not as funny as Tina Fey).  *Wince*  I hate to say it, because even Mindy herself brings up the inevitable comparison between her memoir and Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which I also recently read, but it’s true.  (At least in my opinion.)

Mindy’s book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) does have its moments.  I especially liked reading about her awkward childhood moments.  However, she’s definitely a more showy personality than Tina Fey, and I just didn’t enjoy reading about her point of view as much (I also think 30 Rock is much funnier than The Office, so there you go.  Judge for yourself).

Halfway through reading this book, I read a review of it on Reading the End in which Jenny said that this book is more suited to a blog (the essays are very short), and I thought, yes!  That’s exactly the way I feel about it!  Not that there’s anything wrong with short chapters, but Mindy’s thoughts were a little more scattered and topic-jumping than I would like for a book.  It wasn’t too bad, but the book just didn’t come together.

Rating: Meh

If you think this is a book you’d like to read, you can follow my Amazon affiliate link to purchase it: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).  Thanks for supporting Newbery and Beyond!

 

Book Review: The Anybodies

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The Anybodies: Good but Forgettable | A book review by Newbery and Beyond

Photo via Amazon

This book is silly.  In a good way, sure, but silly.  It has the same kind of pseudonymous author that the Series of Unfortunate Events and the Secret series have, but this book is much more cheerful!

Fern has always felt like an oddball in Drudgers’ house.  Her parents are bland and boring, and they try to quell the strange things that Fern says and does–in particular, her fantastical stories about bats that turn into marbles, snowflakes that spell out words, and nuns that turn into lampposts.  When the Bone shows up at their door with a boy Fern’s age in tow, Fern finds out that she was switched at birth, and she goes with the Bone–her birth father–for a summer of wonder and confusion.  Fern discovers that her mother, who died in childbirth, her father, and her father’s worst enemy (the Miser) are all Anybodies, who can turn into other people or objects, and have other powers as well.  Fern and her father, in disguise, make their way to her grandmother’s house to beat the Miser to Fern’s mother’s book, The Art of Being Anybody.  Of course, hijinks ensue.

I love all the literary references to famous children’s books at Mrs. Appleplum’s house (that is, Fern’s grandmother).  In fact, Mrs. Appleplum sets up a series of tests for Fern to see if she will recognize all the references.  The narrator, though not as distinctive as Lemony Snicket, is entertaining enough.  And Fern herself is great.  She has always struggled to fit in with her bland family, and now she is in a wild new world where she can shake things out of books and reach into paintings and maybe even transform into somebody else.  The only thing that kept me from rating this book higher is that, despite all the magical and weird things that happen in the story, the world is not very vivid.  Mrs. Appleplum’s house is made almost completely out of books–let’s have more of that!  Hobbits and fairies live in the backyard–give me some details!  I’ll probably finish the trilogy, but I doubt I’ll reread the books after that.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

If this is a book you’d like to read, you can follow my Amazon affiliate link to purchase it: The Anybodies.  Thanks for supporting Newbery and Beyond!

Newbery Roundup, May 2019

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 I’m continuing my journey through the backlist of Newbery honor books, but today’s post also includes the 2019 Newbery books, which I really enjoyed. I hope you’ll enjoy this odd mix of old and new Newberys! (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

The Forgotten Daughter

 Chloe, the young daughter of a noble Roman man, has been lost to her father, and has spent her life unknown to him, as a slave on one of his own villas. Cruelly treated, and with no hope of freedom, her only escape is into the stories of her Grecian mother’s home town of Eresos, as told to her by Melissa, a fellow-slave and her mother’s dearest friend.

Aulus, a brave young Roman soldier, is banished from Rome and escapes to his own villa in the Italian countryside. There he is faced by a life-threatening misfortune, is saved by the enchanting young Chloe, and falls in love with her, despite the fact that she is a slave.

Forgettable but well written. I don’t have a lot to say about it, but I also didn’t hate reading it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Davy Crockett

 Blending myth and reality, Constance Rourke aimed to get at the heart of Davy Crockett, whose hold on the American imagination was firm even before he died at the Alamo. Davy Crockett, published in 1934, pioneered in showing the backwoodsman’s transformation into a folk hero. It remains a basic in the Crockett literature.

This book contains so much racist content toward Native Americans and African Americans. We can do better.

Rating: Meh

The Pageant of Chinese History

 Told in human terms against the background of a rich and ancient culture, there emerges a vivid picture of the people the Chinese have been, their family life, their culture, their humor and philosophy. A vast panorama it is—from about 3000 B.C. to our time, Miss Seeger tells the story of a great nation.

This history of China is long–fittingly so–and sometimes dry, but I was impressed at how interesting I found it most of the time. The version I read had been updated around 1960, so there was some information on Communist China. There are some outdated terms and ways of looking at other people groups, but not as much as I was expecting. This one surprised me!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Young Walter Scott

 Young Walter Scott is a fictionalized biography of the early life of Walter Scott by Elizabeth Janet Gray, set in Edinburgh in the late eighteenth century.

This book offers a look at Walter Scott’s life as a boy, giving a fictionalized overview of how he overcame his lame leg and started writing poetry. Like some of the other historical fiction in today’s post, I didn’t mind reading it, but I also didn’t love it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Audubon

 Naturalist, artist, woodsman—all these descriptions fit John James Audubon, and each of them adds its own color to the story of his life. His personality grips the imagination—unflagging energy drove him from Pennsylvania to Texas, from Florida to Labrador in his unending search for birds; salty humor was capable of self-appraisal; unwavering devotion served Lucy, his wife. Courage and independence armed him equaly against frontier dangers and the slander and flattery of civilization. His singleness of purpose never faltered from his youth to his death.

Audubon’s life is way more fascinating than I would have guessed. From his mysterious origins to the financial struggles he and his wife faced to the many prominent figures of the time he interacted with, I really enjoyed reading about this scientist/artist’s life, even though the book was dense at times.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Book of Boy

 Boy has always been relegated to the outskirts of his small village. With a large hump on his back, a mysterious past, and a tendency to talk to animals, he is often mocked and abused by the other kids in his town. Until the arrival of a shadowy pilgrim named Secondus. Impressed with Boy’s climbing and jumping abilities, Secondus engages Boy as his servant, pulling him into an expedition across Europe to gather the seven precious relics of Saint Peter. Boy quickly realizes this journey is not an innocent one. They are stealing the relics, and gaining dangerous enemies in the process. But Boy is determined to see this pilgrimage through until the end—for what if St. Peter can make Boy’s hump go away?

This is the story of Boy, a hunchback in 1350 who is chosen to accompany a strange pilgrim on his quest to steal all of Saint Peter’s relics, and who discovers some amazing, possibly supernatural things along the way. It is well written and interesting–it reminds me of another recent Newbery book about medieval times, The Inquisitor’s Tale.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Codfish Musket

 Tale of early 19th century gun theft and trading.

I love how brief and nondescript the Goodreads summary is for this book. That pretty much sums up my own feelings about the book–it’s not a poorly written story, but I personally didn’t find it interesting.

Rating: Meh

The Night Diary

 It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

I learned a lot from this book about historical events I probably should know a lot more about. It’s sad, but ultimately hopeful. A must read middle grades book if you’re into historical fiction.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Golden Basket

 Celeste and Melisande visit the Hotel of the Golden Basket with their father, there they meet the boy Jan and his frog, two English traveling-together ladies, and Monsieur Carnewal.

What a lovely, sweet story of two girls, the son of a hotel owner, and their parents having a peaceful summer. This book features beautiful nostalgic art and a guest appearance by Madeleine. I loved it.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Merci Suarez Changes Gears

 Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school.

I loved seeing Merci’s intergenerational family and the non-dramatic way eleven year old friendships were treated—no enemies, just kids who can’t get along well; no secrets because she’s too embarrassed to talk about her grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, I really enjoyed the South Florida setting!

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Doctor Desoto

Doctor De Soto, the dentist, did very good work.” With the aid of his able assistant, Mrs. De Soto, he copes with the toothaches of animals large and small. His expertise is so great that his fortunate patients never feel any pain.

Since he’s a mouse, Doctor De Soto refuses to treat “dangerous” animals–that is, animals who have a taste for mice. But one day a fox shows up and begs for relief from the tooth that’s killing him. How can the kindhearted De Sotos turn him away? But how can they make sure that the fox doesn’t give in to his baser instincts once his tooth is fixed? Those clever De Sotos will find a way.

Cute pictures and a fable-like story. This is a short and sweet story for younger kids.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Whistlers’ Van

Set in rural Wales shortly after World War I, Whistlers’ Van tells the story of a young farmboy, Gwilyn, who spends one summer traveling with the gypsies.

Lots of old-timey racism, mostly concerning the “gipsies” who are the whistlers from the title. This wasn’t my favorite.

Rating: Meh

2018 Random Roundup

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Because of my crazy work schedule, there are still many books from 2018 that I wanted to review and didn’t. So, instead of trying for a themed roundup like I usually do, I’m just going to collect all those leftover books and do some quick reviews in this post. Hopefully you’ll find something in this hodgepodge you’ll enjoy!

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

So much fun! I loved adorable Merle, hilarious Magnus, and fabulous Taako. This novelization really captures the magic of the D&D podcast. I can’t wait for the next novel to come out this summer.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The Prince and the Dressmaker

Sweet art and a touching story about a prince who likes to wear dresses and Frances, the talented dressmaker who supports him and keeps his secret. I read this one in a spurt of reading graphic novels, and I loved how sweet tempered this one was.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Nimona

Funny, sweet, heartbreaking, lovely. Another must read graphic novel about what makes a monster and what makes a hero.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The Eleventh Hour

What a fun picture book! Poetry, secret codes, and a mystery to solve. I had fun solving the puzzles with my husband, who said it was a favorite childhood book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Cardboard Kingdom

Fun, interconnected stories that show a large group of neighborhood friends and how they spend their summer. This graphic novel shows the power of imagination, friendship, and cardboard. It’s a lot of fun, but it isn’t afraid to tackle the big issues that kids face.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Tea Dragon Society

Gorgeous art and a sweet story about raising tea dragons and making new friends. I read this as a webcomic and just had to have it in book form. It is lovely.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

On the Edge of Gone

An interesting, intense look at the end of the world from a comet impact and an autistic girl’s experiences trying to get herself and her family onto a generation ship. It’s a bit dark, but if you like apocalyptic YA, you should check it out.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Ghosts of Greenglass House

Not quite as fun as the first one, but still chock full of quirky characters who aren’t what they seem (and ghosts!). If you enjoyed Greenglass House, this follow up is worth a look.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

An Unquiet Mind

A brief, interesting look at the mind of someone who not only studies but actually has bipolar disorder. The memoir gave me insight into why people who struggle with mood disorders often struggle to stay on the medication that is saving their lives. I’m glad I read this.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Creepy Books Roundup

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I’m not a big fan of scary books, but I found myself craving something creepy last Halloween season. (Yep, that’s how far behind I am in reviews!) some of them weren’t for me, but I read some wonderful books, both classics and new releases, that are perfect for when you want something creepy but not really scary.

The Turn of the Screw

Is the governess crazy, or are there actually ghosts interfering in her students’ lives? I didn’t care that much about finding out the answer. I’m glad I read this short classic, but I didn’t find it creepy like I thought I would.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Heap House

This is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. A strange, powerful family called the Iremongers lives on the Heaps–just piles and drifts of items. One of the young Iremongers can hear these items saying names, while a new worker at Heap House tries to hold on to her identity despite the things coming alive. This certainly was a creepy, unsettling book, and it’s unique among the books I’ve read in my life. But I can’t say I really enjoyed it. I won’t be reading the rest of the series.

Rating: Meh

Coraline

A fun, creepy Gaiman book. If you’re not sure you’ll like Neil Gaiman’s regular fare, start with this children’s story. It certainly has its strange, scary moments, but it still has a sweet happy ending (which I appreciate!).

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Castle Hangnail

What a fun, magical story! I loved the quirky, sweet characters and the magic that the young witch works as she attempts to hold onto the castle she has scammed her way into and her new friends at the same time. I’d really like to read this one again soon.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

What a strange book this was. I’ve read a previous Bellairs book, and I think he’s just not for me (although this one was definitely better). I’m curious to see the movie this book was based on; I’m sure there have been considerable changes made to the plot in order to make it work as a movie.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mystery Roundup, March 2019

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In the Woods, Broken Harbor, The Secret Place

As always in her Dublin Murder Squad series, Tana French expertly combines the beauty of her setting (Ireland) with the darkness of murder and of the human heart. However *spoiler for In the Woods* I really wished Rob Ryan had been able to remember what happened to him and his two friends as a child! I found that very annoying.

Broken Harbor was also not my favorite of the series. Although there is a gruesome triple murder, the creepiness factor isn’t nearly as high here as in the other Dublin Murder Squad books. Fun but forgettable. I felt the same way about The Secret Place. I think I’m just waiting for an installment that feels as surreal and creepy as The Likeness or Faithful Place, both of which I loved.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Envious Casca

I have heard a lot of good things about Georgette Heyer’s novels, so over Christmas I picked up Envious Casca. I enjoyed this mystery, but it wasn’t quite Agatha Christie for me. Very few characters were sympathetic, and for me that’s an important aspect of a novel.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Broken Teaglass

A fun mystery, told through notes in a lexicography file. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it; it has been on my TBR for years! I really enjoyed the quirky setting and unusual way of revealing the mystery.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Scarlett Undercover

What a fun, fascinating teenage sleuth mystery! Part Veronica Mars, part something brand new. I wish there were some sequels; I would love to read more of Scarlett’s adventures. If you’re a fan of teenage private eyes, you must pick this one up.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Whose Body?

I really enjoyed this first in the Lord Peter Wimsey series (can you believe I’ve never read any of them before??). It’s so cheery and old fashioned and British. I’m looking forward to reading the next installment in the beloved series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good