Category Archives: Grab Bag

My 2019 in Books


It’s that time of the year again: the time when I like to look back and reflect on the previous year.  This is always the simplest of the reviews that I do because Goodreads does most of the work for me.

I acquired 28 books this year that I did not begin to read. I acquired two more that I am currently reading. One of those 28 was the first book that I finished in 2020.


This is the second year that I have done only one story time per week and the first year that I have led the YA book club that our company started—though that’s a generous description as though we have done six such events, only one person has ever shown up and then only to the first such event. I have stopped being as diligent about reading the books that I acquire for these events; the company is kind enough to provide the questions and a fairly detailed summary of each book, which I do still read in the event that anyone ever should come.

The longest book that I read was a novel that was chosen for that book club, but it is the shortest longest book that I have read in four years—which I find a tad ironic because it is the first that has been a book for teens instead of for middle-grade readers.  J. K. Rowling really did change the publishing world’s expectations about the length of book that a kid could handle.

I read 49 novels including graphic novels and audiobooks.  Because I borrowed several this year and have already given away some that I didn’t love as much, not all of them are pictured here.  25 of those 49 were new to me.  My favorite new-to-me novel was I think Mackenzi Lee’s The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, followed by in no particular order Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet, Jerry Craft’s New Kid, and Ru Xu’s NewsPrints (I owe you a review for that one and its sequel too).



The book with the highest rating is rated on Goodreads only by me. I gave it five stars out of five. Only one other person has yet told Goodreads that they have read it. Y’all, it’s a great read for pirate lovers, and it comes with a craft. Check it out. Our Barnes & Noble currently has it for $5 on discount.

For the 4th year, my average rating has remained the same, so I can at least say that I am consistent there.

This is the highest my average length per book has been in these four year.

I read eight novels by Rick Riordan and four picture books by Mo Willems. I re-read three novels by Sharon Shinn (and I’m hankering to do another re-read now, though I know I should read some new books) and re-read three by Diane Duane (two of those I owe you reviews for). I read three picture books by John Jory and Pete Oswald three by Norman Bridwell (all of Bridwell’s probably re-reads but from my childhood, though two I had read as recently as 2017). I read two graphic novels by Jen Wang (I owe you both reviews) and listened to two audiobooks by Liz Kessler (I owe you a book review for the second). I read two picture books by Jon Stone, two by Dr. Seuss (the two that I read every year, The Grinch and Oh! The Places You’ll Go), two by Craig Manning (one of those, Kindness Makes the World Go Round, I read multiple times), two by Naomi Kleinberg (both Sesame Street books), two by Ryan T. Higgins (both re-reads), two by James Dean (one a re-read), and two by Aaron Blabey (one a re-read).

I’m only 18 reviews behind this year, and several of those are prepped and just awaiting me to proofread and publish. I have started reviews for many of the novels, and I am considering now perhaps doing a quick wrap up, shorter reviews of each of them, just to get the word out about them. What do you all think of the idea?

I have added a tag to each year that I have done these reviews.  Use it to take a look through my books for the past four years.

My 2018 in Books


2018 was a strange reading and reviewing year for me.  I still owe you all three months of picture book reviews (March, June, and July).  I didn’t review all of the novels that I read either.  I still owe you a total of 49 reviews.  Yikes!  Sorry, friends.  9 of those are novels.  I may swing back and catch some of those reviews over 2019, but I doubt that I will catch them all, and it might be better for my mental health to begin 2019 with a clean, guiltless slate as far as reviewing goes.  If I haven’t got it in me to do complete reviews, would you be interested in really short ones for at least those 9 novels and maybe some of the best of the 40 picture books?


I read fewer books and fewer pages in 2018 than I have done in previous years—even accounting for the additional 1204+ pages of novels not in the above total that I began reading but haven’t yet or probably never will finish.  For the first time in a long while, I got most way through a book, but gave it up without finishing it; I had just gotten what I needed from it without finishing it.  That was a rare nonfiction, an autobiography in the form of an encyclopedia of thoughts on various topics from Amy Krouse Rosenthal (An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, which I was very much enjoying and would recommend but also warn you is sort of like an alphabetized Tumblr feed).  Right now I am in the middle of 8 novels.  I am actually enjoying most all of them (some more than others admittedly), so I am not rightly sure why I keep setting these aside except that other books keep presenting themselves and that there is comfort in the familiar.  I would like 2019 to be a year of finishing what I start—but I am making no promises and so far not making much headway in 7 of those 8.

goodreads2My average rating remained the same, actually matching my average rating of 2017 and 2016.

I am amused that the highest rated book of 2018 was a picture book written for adults by a late night comedy news show in response to a picture book written by the family of our vice president about their pet bunny rabbit, the White House, and the office of the vice president.

M. H. Bradford is a local, self-published author.  How his book came to be in our ARC pile at Barnes & Noble, I don’t know, but I took it home to review.  I am ashamed to admit that I have not yet.  So let’s do that here really quick, yeah?

This book takes the form of a set of questions posed to moon, wondering where it goes during the night. The book posits several theories from the moon descending into the ocean to seek treasure to it lighting the way for monsters in the darkest caves of the earth to it being protected by fireflies on the forest floor.

The illustrations use mostly a dark palette, contrasting sharply with the pale yellow orb of the moon, except for the furry monsters who are jewel-toned. The rhymes seemed a bit forced to me, sometimes repeating an idea to land on a rhyming syllable, sometimes using language above the reading level. I think that made the ending jar just a little. That and maybe the use of ellipses.

It’s a fun question to ask though.


Because I like to read more than one picture book for story time when possible, I often read multiple books by the same author.  I read 2 books from many writers—too many to list.  I read 3 picture books of Kobi Yamada‘s, 3 of Anna Dewdney‘s Llama Llama books, and 3 of Chris Ferrie‘s.  I read 4 books from when Dr. Seuss was going by Theo LeSieg and 4 of Aaron Blabey‘s Pig the Pug picture books.  I read 4 of the Pete the Cat books, all of them rereads for me.  I read 5 of Jane O’Connor‘s Fancy Nancy picture books.  I read 6 picture books of Mo Willems‘, all of them rereads, and 6 of Ryan T. Higgins‘.

I reread 2 novels of Maggie Stiefvater‘s The Raven Cycle and 2 of Sharon Shinn‘s The Twelve Houses.  I read 2 novels by Susan Cooper, 1 a reread and 1 new to me (and not yet reviewed).  I read 2 of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, both for the first time.  I read 5 novels of Rick Riordan‘s books; 3 of those were new to me.

To view the full infographic from Goodreads, follow the link.

Anything surprising in looking at your reads last year?

My 2017 in Books


I really enjoy the infographics that Goodreads provides at the end of (and I found out this year at any point in) the year.  And since this is Goodreads‘ second year of providing such graphics, we can compare my stat’s to last year’s!


There are at least two 10-page books that I read this year, Salina Yoon‘s A Pirate’s Life came up another time that I visited this site. Is 10 the required number of pages for a book?  Last year’s shortest book, Perfect Pets, was the same length.

I read more–just more–this year.  The longest book that I read is 273 pages longer than last year’s, The House of Hades.  I read 69 more books.  I read 6,819 more pages.  Those books were on average 5 pages longer.

I read a lot of picture books both years.

Other observations?  More people should read A Letter to Daddy.  I gave it a solid 4 stars.  How have more people read the 7th Harry Potter book than have read books 5 or 6?  Have that many people really decided that they can skip to the end, or is it merely that more people have marked it as read on Goodreads?  P.S.–DON’T skip to the last book.  The last book isn’t even the best book, contrary to what the average ratings suggest.


My average rating remained steady over these past two years.

This year, I read 13 books by Gene Yuen Lang, all of them Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels, which are written in sets of three slim paperbacks for each storyline.  I read 9 picture books from Mo Willems.  I read 8 novels from Rick Riordan.  I read 5 of Maggie Stiefvater‘s novels.  I read 4 books from J. K. Rowling (if we include The Cursed Child), and 4 picture books from Ryan T. Higgins.  I read 3 Dr. Seuss books, and 3 picture books each from Dan Santat, Marcus Pfister, Norman Bridwell, and Sherri Duskey Rinker.  I listened to 2 audiobooks from Orson Scott Card.  I read 2 books too of Neil Gaiman‘s; one was a picture book, but another was an audio book of one of his adult novels.  I read two picture books each from 19 different authors.  I started listing them, but the list became too expansive, and it didn’t account anyway for illustrators, which I know would make the list longer.  When I want to create a theme for a story time, I often choose multiple books by a single author or a single illustrator.

If you’re interested in seeing all of the books that I read this year, check out the Goodreads infographics page for yourself.

My 2016 in Books


2016 is over!  I say that with some relief.  I think a lot of us feel relief over the dawning of the new year.

But the end of a year is also a time of reflection, and Goodreads has this year (maybe it’s done so too other years, but this is the first I’ve noticed it) come up with a pretty spectacular few infographics to help reflect on my year of reading.



*As of this afternoon, Tillman‘s Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You is still the highest rated book that I read in 2016, but it’s average rating is actually 4.58.  Bradbury‘s Fahrenheit 451 has also climbed this afternoon to 1,583,738 total reads by others.

There’s also a pictorial list of every book that I read this year.  Or there’s this form of that list too, which will give you more information, including my ratings for each book.

Here’s a fun fact that Goodreads missed in its infographics:  I read more than one book each by many authors this year.  I think that has something to do with my twice weekly story times,for which oftentimes highlighting an author is just simpler than highlighting a theme. I read the most books (12) by Mo Willems, no surprise there, and the second most by Rick Riordan (7).  After that followed Dr. Seuss with 4 books and Maggie Stiefvater, Roger Priddy, and Mike Curato all with 3 each.

I rely on Goodreads pretty heavily to help me track the books that I read (even that last tally, I discovered with its help). I like watching the lines of the bar graphs grow as the year progresses and racing myself.  This year, though I read 168 books to the 93 I read in 2015, it took me till Christmas Eve to pass last year’s page count total of 12,445 (2015’s totals are not entirely accurate because if I reread any books this year, those books are moved to 2016 instead of counting for both years).  I read far more picture books than anything else this year.  Reading for two weekly story times will do that to you, I suppose.  This year’s longest books is also significantly shorter than last year’s, George R. R. Martin‘s A Dance with Dragons at 1,112 pages.

As January progresses, I have a few more end of year lists to get to you: one celebrating all the five-star books that I read this year and another highlighting the books that included people of color.

I say it every year it feels like, but I hope to make 2017 a good year for my blog with weekly updates, helpful reviews, and some fun shenanigans.  Stay tuned.


Shelfie with Cat


IMG_0423While I don’t generally approve of my cat making her way onto this second shelf–from which I fear she can reach the things that we’ve moved to the third shelf to keep them out of her reach–I had to admit that she looked too classy and too photo-worthy sitting there, so I snapped a picture or two (in the first she was looking at the camera but blurrier than she and the books are here).  This photo just deserved to be shared here.  So here’s a shelfie.  Enjoy perusing the titles.

This photo has me thinking of perhaps adding a new feature to this blog.  Who would enjoy a Shelfie Saturday maybe that is just a post with a pretty picture of books–my books or the books that I work with or maybe even the book that I am writing?  There might be occasional cameos from my cat, but I’d never promise them every week.  What do you think, loyal readers?  Like the post if you think I should do the thing?







AKA: A thank you, an apology, and a promise.

First of all, I want to say a HUGE thank you to the 200 of you who have found my blog worth keeping up on.  Then I want to apologize because it wasn’t long after the two-hundredth of you chose to subscribe that I hit a busy patch in my life and have now had two weeks without an update.  I promise you that I have two review posts almost complete, but neither of them will be complete enough to go up on this Tuesday (which ends in 12 minutes).  I hope and endeavor to have one of them up for you next Tuesday.

Again, thank you.  I’m really gratified to think that someone–let alone 200 someones–might be benefiting from this blog that has become as much for me to organize my thoughts as to share them with anyone else.

Foretelling the Reception of Lee’s Second: Go Set a Watchman and The Casual Vacancy


As you may or may not know, today marks the release of Harper Lee’s second published book, Go Set a Watchman, a companion to her famous To Kill a Mockingbird. Barnes & Noble prior to its release treated the book with a secrecy and suspense to equal their response to a new Harry Potter book. While the American company, Barnes & Noble, has been treating Go Set a Watchman with the utmost secrecy, The Guardian, a British-born newspaper (they’ve had an online American edition since 2007), released online Friday the first chapter of the book, a thing they wouldn’t have dared to do for any of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. As I woke up to open the story three hours early for the throng of people that Barnes & Noble expected to rush to buy the book, I started thinking of J. K. Rowling.

Following the runaway success of her Harry Potter series, Rowling, a British author, released The Casual Vacancy, a book condemned as “too British” by too many Americans and by many worldwide as not enough like Harry Potter. Her reviews were tainted by fans expecting another Harry Potter, never minding that the two books were written for different aged audiences.

I can’t claim any knowledge of how The Casual Vacancy was handled by bookstores in the U.K. or frankly of how it was handled in the U.S., but I wonder if the very American nature of Lee’s prior novel meant that the British newspaper felt Go Set a Watchman deserving of less sanctity than did the American company, Harper Lee being something of an American heroine.

I don’t think I would be alone in citing To Kill a Mockingbird as one of “the great American novels.” The novel deals with America’s historic and present problems of racism and classism and lauds the purported American ideal of individual worth. The more innocent parts of young Scout’s childhood are nostalgically read by many Americans. It is one of the bestselling novels of all-time by an American author. (It is soundly surpassed by only seven other novels by American authors.*)

I think Go Set a Watchman is Lee’s Casual Vacancy, certainly in the way it will be received. Already I had one customer tell me that she had heard that reviews complained about Lee “ruining” her characters (an impossibility, really, since Lee as the author is the only authority on her characters), comparing the novel to To Kill a Mockingbird without consideration not only to the history of the manuscript (which is an interesting one to say the least) or the intended audiences of each novel, which I believe differ, though I wouldn’t swear to it.

To escape such colored reviews of her next book following Casual Vacancy, Rowling published under the male pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Since outed as Galbraith, Rowling has done a decent job of slipping beneath the radar. Her latest publication, a hardbound copy of her 2008 commencement speech for Harvard University, I discovered only after it had been put on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, the publication having been subjected to no hype whatsoever.

As Go Set a Watchman uses the same characters as To Kill a Mockingbird, it would be impossible for Lee to have chosen a pseudonym, but I wonder if she might wish that she had been able to do so. Were she to publish a third book with a different set of characters and a different setting (unlikely sadly), I would be unsurprised to see her try to distance from the Finches and from Maycomb by choosing a pseudonym as Rowling did to distance herself from Harry and Hogwarts. I fear, as it did for Rowling with The Casual Vacancy, the hype and love for her first book will ultimately hurt the reception of Lee’s second.

*Yeah, so Wikipedia’s not the best source, but according to Wikipedia, those novels are Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code, J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County, J. P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur, and Johnston McCulley’s The Mark of Zorro. This list excludes non-fiction books, of which there were three by American authors that sold better than To Kill a Mockingbird according to this same source.

Full disclosure: I’ve not read even the first chapter of Go Set a Watchman, but I have been following the drama surrounding its publication.

In Defense of the Small, Women’s, Liberal Arts College

Hollins University.  Photo credit to myself.

Hollins University. Photo credit to myself.

Today is International Women’s Day making this attempt to process recent events seem particularly timely.  I hope this says what I want it to say.


The world is big. Like, really big. Most of you are not from our little valley, down here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Most of you probably have not heard of Sweet Briar College if you’ve heard of Sweet Briar College at all till Wednesday when the college announced that at the end of this summer, they will shut their doors forever.

But sometimes things happen, and you have to process them. I process by writing, and I have a blog, so I may as well share my thoughts. So welcome to my thoughts.

Sweet Briar College was my first choice until a somewhat disastrous overnight visit changed my mind. I ended up at Sweet Briar’s rival college, Hollins University, and I never looked back—or maybe only once or twice.

The girl I was who dreamed of marrying a landed nobleman and running a household while walking about in opulent clothes and changing to go riding through fields and woodlands that I owned, that girl loved Sweet Briar. Wandering the grounds feels like wandering through a Bronte or an Austen novel. The wooden banisters are worn smooth by thousands of hands over decades. There’s one room in the library that could have been lifted from my wildest imaginations of my manor house, all dark wood, plush couches, and pleasurable fiction. The horse barn is the nicest I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen a fair few. I’d have loved to spend nights going up to the observatory, from which I could view the night sky with so much less light pollution than, well, just about anywhere I’ve ever been.

My opinion of Sweet Briar has been clouded both by that overnight visit and by the traditions and history of my own alma mater, which proclaimed the annual soccer game between our two universities “Burn the Briar Day” and sold student-made t-shirts proclaiming “Friends don’t let friends become Vixens” (the Vixen is the Sweet Briar mascot).

I never had the opportunity to interact with any of the Sweet Briar women or visit the college again after deciding to become a Hollins woman.


The announcement of the closing of Sweet Briar rings like death knells across the Internet (or at least within certain circles of the Internet) for a certain types of universities, or at least universities that, like Sweet Briar, share three qualities. Sweet Briar is a small, rural, women’s college. (And a liberal arts college besides, but enough large liberal arts colleges are thriving that I’m going to leave the argument alone for now.) Maybe the three stresses were too much, but each I feel has its benefit, and if the landscape of colleges becomes one where any of these three aspects is absent, we as a country will lack much. In this alternate universe where schools like Sweet Briar, schools like Hollins do not exist, social pressure probably would have found me in a college, but I would not be the woman I am, and I honestly don’t think that the woman I am now would much like the woman I would be.

I wanted a small university. I wanted a relationship with my classmates and professor. Coming from a town of 16,000 and a high school graduating class of 200, I was used to personal attention, and I was unwilling to give that up. I needed a small university. I would not be the woman I am had I not attended a small university. I am quiet by nature. I don’t like to be called on in class because I would rather reflect and observe and process and answer questions later, preferably in writing. Being in a small class and being called on even when I didn’t feel like the most qualified student in the room or the only active participant in a class (the reasons I’d have spoken out in high school) taught me how to express myself. The observation rather than participation mode of learning works for me, and I would have learned the class material in a large university setting, but I would not have fought for my turn to ask questions or to share opinions and I would not have become the more confident woman I am today, more unrepentant than my high school self about having opinions and more willing to share those opinions.

That town of 16,000 is a Connecticut suburb not long removed from its days of farming, with open spaces aplenty but shrinking and old stone walls dividing properties and crisscrossing the woodlands between. By the time I was looking for a college to attend, I’d been to New York City and Boston, and I knew I didn’t want that hustle and bustle or that gray. I am not a city-girl. I specifically avoided schools in large cities, as surely as I avoided schools that are cities, anything with a population to rival my hometown’s. The landscape of Sweet Briar stole my breath and nearly stole my heart—did steal my heart for several months, and I think in my heart, I always believed that Hollins never really did compare for all its green hills and lawns, and its shady garden, and cool creeks, and the woods that kept us bounded on two sides, and the horse pasture that formed the third side. Hollins’ grounds became home, and I felt and feel privileged to walk and run unchecked across them, to explore their crannies and surprises, but Sweet Briar’s grounds are nearer to what Heaven will look like, and I would have spent my four years discovering their secrets and communing with nature among the grasses and woodlands. I’d have been unhappy anywhere without greenery, and Sweet Briar offered me by far the best.

Lastly, women’s colleges. Let me tell you about women’s colleges. I stumbled across women’s colleges accidentally. I didn’t intend to go to a women’s college when I began looking for schools, I just didn’t exclude them, especially as my guidance counselor pinned Hollins as the school for me from the get-go. All of the colleges of which I became aware that happened to have the right climate (I wanted to move south and escape the cold) and environment (small, intimate, with caring professors, and enough greenery to keep me sane) also happened to be women’s colleges.

The small class size was necessary to teach me to speak out, but I think an environment entirely composed of women helped me speak out as well. We were women who shared ideas, ideals, and circumstances, and my classmates were supportive in ways that I think male classmates would not have been able to be, speaking as they would have been from a position of privilege that had been denied to us women since birth. My classmate and I were all of us in some way, however intentionally or unintentionally, coming from a background of repressed voices, and so we listened to one another and encouraged one another to speak out as some of us had never been encouraged to speak out.

In a women’s college, I learned to see the struggles of women, of myself that would have been repressed beneath the usual blanket of social etiquette in a co-ed environment.

It took a little while longer to sprout, but there’s a fighter in me planted there by my experiences at Hollins. My experiences there opened my eyes—or gave me the tools to see the truth when it was in front of me later in the work field, in relationships. That fighter learned to speak out. She learned to see the injustices that needed righting. She learned to be unafraid to get dirty, to not dislike the grease of fried chicken on her fingers, to be unafraid of paint splatter or the “herpes of all craft projects”: glitter. She left behind the prim and proper lady who wanted to be only another ornament in an ancient household and peerage of ornaments, that woman who first fell in love with Sweet Briar’s campus.

There’s one thing more that the Hollins environment did for me, the most important thing. And I hope this is true of Sweet Briar too.

I would not trade the friendships for anything. I have a solid group of friends, any of whom I would take a bullet for, and among whom I know for whom I shouldn’t take a bullet because they’d be too wracked with guilt. Six of us meet weekly to discuss our lives and whatever else comes up, anything from trifling matters like television shows to big things like current events and societal problems.

Those six are the bulwark that keeps me together, at least as important as my family. It makes me so sad that there are those who do not have this support network and when I try to explain to them what my friends mean to me cannot understand. Those six are an absolute and true Godsend. But they are a small, small part of Hollins for me. We are all of us family—the whole of the university—and while we have divisions, our cliques, at the end of the day, we are Hollins women—everyday. Living with these girls was like living among an eternal educational summer camp or slumber party.

Now that I am an alumna, the divisions have ceased to matter near as much. No matter where we are or how many years divide us, Hollins women support one another. I once met a Hollins woman in a tack shop in Connecticut. She offered to let me ride her horses during that first meeting, before we’d even realized that we were Hollins sisters; it was an instantaneous Hollins recognition. I was recognized as a Hollins woman by man who, as a young orphan, had been “adopted” by Hollins women, students who took him out and bought him Christmas presents and generally loved him even if they couldn’t take him home. He stopped me at work to confirm that I was a Hollins woman and then to reminisce about those years, ask after me, and advise me.

We call the alumnae network “the Hollins mafia” because they are everywhere, unexpectedly, and those in the network will move earth to help you once they realize that you’re family.

In the end, Hollins and Sweet Briar share much, both small, women’s, liberal arts colleges, and neither in a large city, though Hollins is in a much more active area. We need small colleges like these to give personal attention to our students, to tease answers out of the more reluctant speakers, and to teach them to speak. We need women’s colleges to continue to inform our women, to show them the world in a new light. As I write this, women are demanding equality, fighting again for our rights. We fight against microaggressions and violence towards women, the unequal social footing, and unconscious and conscious degradation of our sex.  I know the Sweet Briar Vixens and my Hollins sisters will all back me up when I say:

Please, please, let’s not let this one university’s closing spell the closing of universities with their qualities and of their caliber.


My heart goes out to the Vixens and residents of Sweet Briar, VA. I know the college and college town more intimately than some as someone who so strongly considered the college. I know how tiny, how rural is Sweet Briar, VA. My heart goes out to those who work in the town of Sweet Briar, the population of which is almost entirely college students and staff. Without the college, I don’t know what will happen to that strip mall. I don’t know what will happen to that town.

I know that if it were my college, if Sweet Briar had been my college, I would be heartbroken to know that soon there would be no home for me to return to.

Vixens, we’ve been rivals for a long time, and I’m sure you’ve enjoyed that rivalry as much as I did. In this trying time, I hope we can learn to be friends. I hope we can focus on our commonalities and not on our differences. I know that no home will ever replace your home, and that your home is what they’re taking away from you, I hope you can find a little solace elsewhere, at Hollins if Hollins is where you choose to find rest. I know it may be too hard to come to us.