Wrapping Up November, Again

Thanks for following along with my blog this month. I hope you found something that you connected with: nostalgia for Zenon, a look back at the places you traveled in books this year, or a review that has you adding a book to your TBR pile.

I read 6 books this month, which surprised me because we were busy. I read two middle grade chapter books, a political nonfiction book, two young adult books (one mystery, one fantasy), and one graphic novel. I also read a bunch of children’s books, a graphic novel, and two chapter books to my five year old – but those go on her Goodreads account instead of mine.

  1. Zenon Kar, Spaceball Star by Marilyn Sadler
  2. The Trouble with Fun by Marilyn Sadler
  3. The Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg
  4. Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus
  5. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
  6. By Night, Vol. 1 by John Allison

In addition to posting, I also enjoyed reading other blogger’s posts. I think it’s so cool to see how people tackle NaBloPoMo and how all of our blogs are unique. I picked up a few book recommendations, and I even learned a thing or two. For instance, after posting about voting in the first round of the Goodreads yearly choice awards, I found several other bloggers posting about the lack of diversity (both in the authors and the characters) in the books that were nominated. It was something I hadn’t noticed, and I appreciated the insight and information that other bloggers brought forth.

There is room for improvement for next year. I missed several days of posting this month and never found time to catch up on those missing days. I also had a google doc full of saved bookish tidbits and hardly even touched on any of them. If I could figure out how to post before midnight, that would be a win, too! That being said, NaBloPoMo still brings me joy because I get to talk about books (my favorite thing!) and be creative.

I hope you had a lovely November. Let’s not be strangers. Happy reading this holiday season.

A Summer Library Memory

This past June, we signed up for the summer reading program for the first time. The previous summer, we had fun exploring several libraries in our area. We played at lots of different libraries and at parks in different towns. We didn’t get to explore new libraries quite as much this summer since we had to be at our local library every week to turn in our reading log and complete activities. But here’s a fun memory of a day complete with TWO libraries!

First, we started off the day building “green machines” based on an episode of nick jr.’s Butterbean’s Cafe. In the show, there’s a drawing to win a green ATV, but Jasper is having such bad luck, he thinks it’s not even worth trying to win. Butterbean creates little cars out of apple slices, toothpicks, and other fruit. We used blueberries for the wheels because that’s what we had (but we’ve also made them with grapes). I think our green machine turned out pretty cute!

Next, we went to our local library to turn in our weekly reading and activity log. My daughter got a slip to put in a jar for a prize drawing. She also turned in a list of ten books we had read so that there would be $1 donated to the food pantry. My daughter also got three marbles to send through a marble track. After all that, we picked out new books to read for the following week. As we looked through the shelves, we found a display showing how tall different space objects were and a ruler to compare your height to the objects. The theme for the summer was “A Universe of Stories,” so there we several space-inspired activities.

Since there was still plenty of time left in our day, we decided to check out a library we had never visited before. While it isn’t super far away from us (maybe 20 minutes or so), it’s in an area with lots of one-way streets and confusing intersections, so I don’t like to drive there often! This particular day was VERY hot, so my plan was to head straight into the library and its air conditioning, but my daughter noticed the playground so we got side-tracked. The playground was so cute, though – because it was Arthur-themed! Yes, like Marc Brown and the PBS show Arthur! Unfortunately, my daughter didn’t seem to remember the show or books we had read when she was really little, but I definitely sang the theme song for her to see if it sparked a memory! “Every day when you’re walking down the street/everybody that you meet/has an original point of view…”

Once we got too sweaty, we went inside the library. We ended up walking around the entire building though, because we weren’t really sure where the front door was. Turns out, it’s pretty obvious – if you park in the right spot! Inside, the library was very big and spacious. There was a large area where adults were working at computers. We went upstairs to the children’s area and were impressed with the sensory area for little kids. There were lots of fun little places to sit and tons of materials to choose from. We found a cool window seat to sit in, where we could spy on the adults down below! We read a few cute books before heading home.

After supper, we finished off our meal with a simple yet delicious dessert: strawberry shortcake. I had thawed a Sara Lee All Butter Pound Cake (which I found in our local supermarket’s freezer section) in the fridge, and then cut it into slices when I was ready to serve it. I chopped up strawberries and added a bit of sugar and then heaped it on top of the slices of pound cake. Adding a generous dollop of cool whip to the top, this dessert was the perfect way to end a summer day.

It may only be the beginning of winter, but this memory sure has me dreaming about the fun things we’ll do next summer!

F is for Friday: Nov. 29th

F is for Friday is a weekly meme created and hosted by Nomadic Worlds. I learned about the meme from Reading at Teatime, so, thanks for the post inspiration!

How to participate in the meme:

1. Credit the creator of this tag and link back.

2. Answer the following four questions to the best of your ability.

3. Most important of all, enjoy yourself!


F – Feature your latest book obsession (it doesn’t have to be your current read).

I – Indicate which book/s you are looking forward to reading this weekend.

F – Favourite quote of the week/day.

F – Five things you’re happy or grateful for this week.

F – Feature your latest book obsession (it doesn’t have to be your current read).

Currently, I’m obsessed with graphic novels. In fact, I read one in the car on our way to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving – don’t worry, I wasn’t driving! I read By Night, Volume One by John Allison. I also visited a comic book store for the first time this week and bought a book I can’t wait to read: Paper Girls, Vol. 6.

I – Indicate which book(s) you are looking forward to reading this weekend.

I want to finish reading Girls of Paper and Fire. I am approaching the end and I just know there’s going to be a cliffhanger.

I also got Becoming from OverDrive again so that I can finish the final chapter of the book and officially declare that I’ve read it! Nonfiction takes me sooooo long to read.

F – Favorite quote of the week/day.

I snapped this picture from the graphic novel I was reading in the car today because this view on parenthood was kind of funny, but also spot on. You worry about your kids, but also just sort of trust that they’re mostly going to be just fine.

F – Five things you’re happy or grateful for this week.

  1. Thanksgiving spent with family – and especially getting lots of love from my cutie-patootie niece
  2. Visiting a comic book store for the first time this week and finding a bunch of great materials
  3. Getting a (very overdue) eye exam, updating my prescription, and ordering new glasses
  4. Feeling grateful that we were able to go on vacation for 10 days – the beach resort portion of our trip was the best
  5. It will be December soon and I can start decorating the house for Christmas! And I can start putting the Hanson Christmas CDs on repeat.

Have a great Thanksgiving weekend everyone!

Our First Trip to the Comic Book Store

With 19 graphic novels read this year, it seems appropriate that I made my first trip to the comic book store this week. I was on the hunt for Paper Girls, vol. 6, as our local libraries weren’t carrying it yet, nor was OverDrive. Volume 6 is the final book in the series, and is one of my top 5 books I’m looking forward to reading. I could order it from Amazon, of course, but when I noticed the comic book store in a neighboring town a few months ago, I was looking forward to visiting the local shop. 

My daughter and I walked inside and we were immediately greeted with a “Hello! Do you need help finding anything?” My five-year-old noticed all the action figures right away – especially all the Wonder Woman figurines (she was Wonder Woman for Halloween last year). I looked around at the shelves and boxes full of comic books and decided, yes. Yes, I did need some help finding what I was looking for! I asked, “Is there a difference between graphic novels and comic books, and do you carry both?” The worker told me something like, “Graphic novels is just a fancy term bookstores came up with to make comic books sound better.” He led me to the right set of shelves, and sure enough, I spotted the spines of the Paper Girls series all lined up. After picking up volume 6, my daughter and I looked around on our own. We spotted lots of characters we knew, like the Teen Titans and Harley Quinn and Batman. We found a children’s area and discovered lots of things we were interested in! We quickly had a stack of books to purchase. We saw action figures and figurines displayed in glass cases, a He-Man Castle Grayskull playset, and lots of games. Eventually, we carried our stack of books to the counter and paid. I think you’ll find us at the comic book store again some day.       

Our Comic Book Store Haul:

  • Paper Girls, Vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
  • DC Superhero Girls Giant #1 from DC Comics
  • Incredibles 2: Crisis in Mid-life! & Other Stories Part One by Disney Comics
  • Disney Descendants The Rotten to the Core Trilogy Book 2 from TOKYOPOP 

What We Read Before Bed #2

Here’s what I read out loud to my five year old:

First, we finished up a graphic novel that we started while on vacation last week, Frozen: Breaking Boundaries. I found this book at Walmart before our trip. All the Frozen II merchandise came out just in time, so I picked up some new items to take along in our airplane bag. In Breaking Boundaries, Anna questions what her purpose is. Elsa makes all the important decisions for the kingdom, so what does Arendelle need a princess for? Anna meets a girl named Mari who is also questioning what her purpose is. Together, they try out different jobs in Arendelle, but they always seem to cause trouble. Luckily, because of Mari’s knowledge of animals and animal behavior, she’s able to fix many of the problems. Meanwhile, Elsa is trying to figure out why trees are being cut down in the forest. Olaf makes an appearance, of course, as does Kristoff and Sven. The artwork is just like the movies. We enjoyed the book and would read another one of these Disney graphic novels. 

Next, we started another chapter book. This time, an Amelia Bedelia book from a four-book collection my daughter received at her fifth birthday party from a great-aunt. Amelia Bedelia has been revamped for the next generation of readers (the newer stories are all written by the original author’s nephew). Instead of a maid in a blue dress and white apron who needs specific instructions to “undust” the furniture, she is a young kid. In Amelia Bedelia Means Business, the titular character sees a classmate’s shiny new bike and decides she needs a fancy new bike, too. Her parents tell her that if she can earn half of the money, they’ll pay for the other half. “Which half costs more?” she asks. Amelia Bedelia tries to earn money, but she obviously struggles with the turns of phrase people use. For instance, when a customer asks her to bring a piece of cake, “And step on it!” Amelia Bedelia doesn’t understand that the customer is in a hurry, and literally steps on the cake. These word plays are sometimes tricky to explain to a five year old, who – much like Amelia Bedelia – takes words at their literal meaning. However, my daughter sat and listened to the story (while also breaking in to tell me lots of other things she was thinking about!), and we made it through four chapters before stopping. While reading, I was also reminded of my mom, who has told me that Amelia Bedelia books are some of the hardest to read out loud because of the tongue-twistery name! I would have to agree. Amelia Bedelia always goes by her full, first and last name, so the book definitely gave my tongue a work out!

And here’s what I read on my own:

I’ve been reading Girls of Paper and Fire, a young adult fantasy series by author Natasha Ngan. Forwarded by James Patterson (and published by JIMMY Patterson Books), the series has gained quite a lot of hype and positive reviews. The author has a multicultural background, which influenced her storytelling, as did her own experience as a sexual abuse survivor. 

In this series, there are three castes of people: Paper, Steel, and Moon. Paper caste is at the bottom and they are lowly humans. Steel is in the middle, and they are humans with animal characteristics, like fur and tails. Moon caste is the highest and they are animal demons. The kingdom is ruled by the Demon Bull King. Each year, eight Paper girls are brought to him as concubines – which is supposed to be an honor to their families. Main character Lei is ripped from her country home and taken to the king as a gift because of her stunning eyes. She must go along with being a Paper Girl in order to keep her family safe. She is given beautiful clothes and lessons to make her civilized, but when the king calls for her, Lei can’t submit. When he tries to force himself on her, she runs away. She is punished for her disobedience, which only solidifies her distaste for the Paper Girls tradition. Along the way, she also falls in love – but that love could prove dangerous in more ways than one.

While some of the girls in the story view Paper Girls as an honorable job, it clearly isn’t. At best it’s sex slavery and at it’s worst, rape. It’s rather disturbing. To me, this is not a young adult book at all. On the Goodreads page, the author responds to a reader’s question about how vivid the sexual abuse is in the book, saying that she “tried to write it as delicately and respectfully as possible, so the scenes are…not graphic, but the characters do talk and think about what happened afterwards. [She] didn’t write it with the intention to distress or shock readers – it’s written with love and care.” However, when a 16 and 17 year old girl are expected to sleep with a man/bull/whatever he is, despite their fear and own desires, we’ve tipped into some heavy stuff. I haven’t read any of the reviews yet on Goodreads (I wait until after I finish a book so I don’t accidentally see spoilers) to see what other readers thought, but I’ll be quite shocked if other readers didn’t have an issue with the maturity level of the book. Will I keep reading it? Yes, because I want to see where the author takes this and find out what the lesson will be, but this is really more of an adult book with the fast pacing of a young adult novel.

What did you read today?

Faraway Lands, Vol. 2

Last year, I visited an assassin’s keep in a desert oasis, a utopian-like land called Antica, the creepy Fennbirn Island, and a colony on the moon. I was transported to these amazing places through the pages of the books I read. I made some pretty spectacular journeys this year, too. In 2019, I traveled:

  • To a towering 1,000 floor skyscraper in technologically-advanced NYC in The Towering Sky.    
  • All over Sarah J. Maas’s lands – from Morath to Anielle, to the Ferian Gap and Perranth, all the way to Terrasen – in Kingdom of Ash.
  • To Bri Jackson’s tough neighborhood in On the Come Up, experiencing what it’s like to get the power turned off.
  • In the cold woods of Beartown and Us Against You, where hockey reigns supreme.
  • Throughout the city as Mateo and Rufus make the most of their last day of life in They Both Die at the End.
  • To space and space stations in Space Boy, Sanity & Tallulah, and Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.
  • To a ninja hideout in the woods, a tea house, and a palace full of secrets in Flame in the Mist.
  • To an East Coast boarding school in A Study in Charlotte.
  • Through an old library, a French chateau, and a witch house in A Discovery of Witches.
  • From a family home to a Muslim-American internment camp in the desert near Manzanar in Internment, kept under surveillance by drones and soldiers.
  • On the campaign trail in Pennsylvania with Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win.
  • On a Korean-Brazilian food truck in The Way You Make Me Feel.
  • To a Russian Orthodox summer camp in the graphic novel Be Prepared.
  • Through time to Elizabethan London, to the court of Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Rudolf II in Prague, and the French countryside in Shadow of Night.
  • On a dangerous journey from an African village through the Sahara Desert, on an inflatable raft in the Mediterranean Sea, and a ship crowded with migrants on their way to a better life in Europe in the graphic novel, Illegal.
  • To dystopian versions of the United States in Broken Throne and Defy Me.
  • And even to South Bend, Indiana, in The Shortest Way Home, and Michelle Obama’s south side Chicago home in Becoming.

Each journey was a glimpse at another way of life. Where did you travel in books this year?

NaBloPoMo in Mexico

The toughest part about participating in NaBloPoMo during November is that it coincides with our yearly trip to Mexico to visit my husband’s family and friends. There’s just so much to do between packing, traveling, and spending time with people we only see once or twice a year. For ten days, we traveled in the Yucatan peninsula, visiting Merida, Motul, Celestun, and Cozumel. I was grateful that our trip was longer than usual this time because I was sick with a stomach bug for the first few days. I mean, is it even vacation if someone isn’t throwing up?! Or is that just my family? Next year I’m seriously considering picking a different month to post daily in – perhaps February? It’s a short month and doesn’t have any major holidays or commitments.

Rating + Review: A Study in Charlotte

When Victoria Aveyard’s War Storm book tour was in my area, I was lucky enough to attend, and Brittany Cavallaro was another author who shared a stage with Aveyard. I got to hear Cavallaro talk about her books and writing process and found her to be a really great speaker, but I hadn’t read any of her books prior to the event. I wanted to remedy that and gave A Study in Charlotte a read.

A Study in Charlotte uses Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock novels as the jumping off point, imagining that Holmes was a real man and had descendants who would carry on his name and detective abilities. Embarrassingly enough for an English teacher and an avid reader, I’ve only read one Sherlock Holmes novel: The Hound of the Baskervilles. I’ve also seen the early 2000s films starring Robert Downey Jr., and Jude Law. Even though I may not be a Sherlockian expert, the atmosphere and intellect of A Study in Charlotte felt spot on.

In this book, James Watson – a descendant of John Watson – finds himself at a boarding school in Connecticut near his estranged father. Charlotte Holmes – the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes – also attends the boarding school. Even though Charlotte is a teenager, she’s just as neurotic as Sherlock. She’s also a great detective, as she’s been trained since she was a child. Not long after James comes to school, a classmate that both he and Charlotte despise winds up dead. All the evidence points to Charlotte and Jamie because the killer has recreated scenes from the original Sherlock stories. Holmes and Watson have to prove they’re innocent and find the true killer before anyone else gets hurt.

I was really impressed by this book. The writing was dark and formal, making it feel very different than the usual YA books I read. Charlotte even has Sherlock’s drug habit, which I thought was pretty risky for the author to include in YA. The writing style was refreshing – despite feeling old-fashioned – and such a good match to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work. Since the book was a mystery, it was also suspenseful and it was fun to make predictions as I read.

“We’re not on who, or why, Watson, we’re still working out how. You can’t theorize in advance of facts, or you’ll waste everyone’s time.”

Even though I assume the rest of the books in the series will be formulaic (like most mystery series are), I feel like it’s worth it to continue reading this series. Charlotte and Jamie are complex characters with a complex relationship. They understand each other and need one another’s friendship, but they are also just teenagers who have a lot of family pressure on them.

I wanted the two of us to be complicated together, to be difficult and engrossing and blindingly brilliant.

There is room for Charlotte and Jamie to grow personally and I appreciate the diligent work Cavallaro has put into crafting this novel.

The Long and Short of it

Well, I did it! I read an entire nonfiction book! I successfully completed Pete Buttigieg’s The Shortest Way Home.

The book covers everything from growing up in a college town, to volunteering for campaigns, to failing when he ran for state treasurer, to joining the Navy Reserves and spending seven months in Afghanistan (while also being mayor of South Bend, by the way), to coming out as a gay man, to getting married, to running for (and losing) DNC chair, and looking ahead to the future. Though he’s only 37 years old (just four years older than me!), he’s already experienced and accomplished so much.

Barring some salacious scandal, I’d vote for Buttigieg! What a smart, forward-thinking, kind, hard-working leader. Mayor Pete really listens to the citizens of South Bend and works to actively address issues. He is someone I’m very excited about.

But also, I have to keep thinking about this sign whenever I have to pronounce Mayor Pete’s last name correctly:

Rating + Review: Flame in the Mist

“Let’s get down to business, to defeat *pause* the Huns.” If you were a kid in the ’90s, I’m 100% sure that you not only sang that line out loud, but that you’ve got the rest of the song stuck in your head now. You’re welcome! I didn’t do this to mess with your day, but rather to introduce book #13 of my Goodreads 2019 challenge, a twist on the story of Mulan: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh.

I had been looking forward to reading this book because 1) who doesn’t love Mulan? and 2) I was ready for another snarky, magical romance à la The Wrath & the Dawn from Renée Ahdieh. Sadly, I’m not sure that it delivered on everything I wanted it to be.

Flame in the Mist introduces us to Mariko, a young woman who is on her way to the capitol to wed her betrothed: a prince whom she hasn’t even met. Her convoy enters a creepy forest wherein they are attacked. Mariko manages to escape, and even though she knows her amazing tracker of a brother will find her, she decides to take care of herself by pretending to be a boy so she can figure out why her convoy was attacked and who wants her dead. The obvious choice is the notorious Black Clan, but it’s so obvious that it doesn’t quite make sense – especially once she joins their ranks and gets to know the young men. Meanwhile, court intrigue seems to be at play, along with some magic. Will Mariko be able to keep her identity a secret and discover who is plotting against her family?

While the premise is interesting, and I don’t mind well-done re-tellings, I found the beginning of the book dull and slow moving. In fact, I switched to another book and read it before coming back to Flame in the Mist. Thankfully, the action and intrigue started to pick up around 60% of the way through the book.

Things I liked about Flame in the Mist:

  • Great moments related to Girl Power and Feminism
  • “She remembered Chiyo telling her that finding one’s match was like finding one’s other half. Mariko had never understood the notion. She was not a half. She was wholly her own.”
  • Disney’s Mulan moments like chopping off her hair and the lines, “Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain,” obviously reminded me of the lyrics to “Be A Man.”
  • A romance built on mutual respect
  • Things I was disappointed by:

    • The magic was confusing. I didn’t get what was happening. Like The Wrath & the Dawn, the magic had potential but was a missed opportunity. For me, Ahdieh hasn’t quite figured out how to write magic that makes sense for the reader yet.
    • I just couldn’t believe these guys who are so cunning and observant couldn’t figure out that Mariko was a girl. She keeps changing the pitch of her voice and she doesn’t know how to do anything useful. She’s not a cartoon character- she’s an actual person.
    • The beginning was so uneventful that I almost gave up on this book.

    While the book wasn’t all I wanted it to be, I still want to go ahead and read the second book, Smoke in the Sun. The ending is cliffhangery and I’m hopeful that the romance, descriptive imagery, and the message of girl power will make for a strong second book.