End-of-Year Reading Challenge Update

By Megan

2017’s Reading Challenge is in the books (ha – ok, maybe pun intended) – so I wanted to share the last few books I read to finish it up along with a few tips I learned about doing a “reading challenge” as well as share my goal for this new year (actual books on my list coming later).

Tips about Reading Challenges:

  1. DO try utilizing Goodreads – this website/app makes it really easy to keep track of books you’ve read/are reading/want to read. I almost always have my phone with me, so if I hear about a book or read something online, I can quickly add it to my “want to read” list – no more forgetting all those “friend recommendations.” They also set up a Reading Challenge that you can customize to any amount you want. And any book you mark as “Read” will go towards your reading goal for the year.
  2. DON’T try to assign titles to all of your reading goals – for instance, I want to read 40 books this year. But this time, I’m not going to write down 40 titles – only 25-30. I get so many recommendations throughout the year, I want to have room to fill in with new ideas.
  3. DO try to read a wide variety of genres – this is always stretching for me, but I loved the variety I got from last year’s challenge.
  4. DON’T shop for books on Amazon or Thriftbooks.com if you have no money. Enough said.

2017 Books reviewed:

Here are 10 books that I read this year that I haven’t reviewed yet – some might be good ideas for your own reading challenge lists (or your kids’ lists!). A good number were juvenile/Young Adult books because I am now a volunteer school librarian, so … it just kind of happens. 🙂

  • cgCinnamon and Gunpowder, by Eli Brown – A very fun read – great for a vacation or if you want something light with a little bit of pizazz. I’d describe this book as Pirates of the Caribbean meets MasterChef meets … something else. Anyway, I enjoyed it. Plotline on Goodreads. 3.5/5 stars
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein – Get this for your kids, Moms (and Dads)! I somehow found this scrolling through Amazon and got it for the library. It was an instant hit with the upper-elementary kids. They fought over who’d get to check it out every week (and after one girl started crying I finally bought another copy). There are 2 sequels now too. Lots of fun, easy read, perfect for kids who love books and/or games. 5/5 stars (because it makes kids read!!)
  • The Reason for God, by Tim Keller – It’s a NYTimes bestseller but also a fantastic apologetic book that is probably the most gracious and humble rendition of an apologetic book I’ve ever read. Keller skillfully connecting points of faith with people from varying worldviews and religions. Never is he condescending or harsh. He is, however, highly intelligent and willing to answer the hard questions. 4/5 stars.
  • Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson – Somehow this English BA has never read this book. Don’t know why because it’s so short. But if you want to put a piece of classic literature on your list, DO THIS. It’s nice and short and also brings up great question about the duality of conscience, separation of good and evil, etc. 5/5 stars (because who am I to criticize R.L.S.?)
  • mbMockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine – This Juvenile/YA novel is a fabulous first-person narrative of a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome working through her grief and trying to find “closure” after a school shooting that kills several including her brother. Thought-provoking and perfect in its symbolism and reference to the classic To Kill a Mockingbird5/5 stars
  • The Making of Pride and Prejudice, by Sue Birtwhistle – Put it this way: if you love the movie (and there is ONLY one movie version of P&P worth its existence), you will LOVE this book (tons of full-color photos, Colin Firth interviews, etc.). If you don’t like the movie, well, there’s not much that can be done for you. 4.5/5 stars
  • If I’m Found, by Terri Blackstock – Sequel to If I Run, this book pretty much followed the same formula and dragged the premise on for another 280 pages. I was mildly intrigued by the first book, but I got worn out with the cliched plotlines early on. Not sure if I’ll even be finishing the trilogy (since I’m fairly certain there will be the predictable-Christian-Fiction pairing up of female protagonist and “damaged but loveable” private detective following her. Meh. 2/5 stars (Note: If I’m wrong about girl-and-boy get-together at the end of the series, I will not only read the book but I’ll mail a free book to anyone calls me on this.)
  • Paper Towns, by John Green – This is one I read that got donated to the library. I wasn’t a huge Fault in our Stars fan, but the premise of this one piqued my interest. Overall, I’d say it really is insightful into the minds of teens (and their normal responses to life) – and the creativity with the whole concept of “paper towns” and the “What happened to Margo” plotline was pretty fascinating. I was not a fan of all the “sex talk” and other language that seems to go on endlessly (at least with a few characters). But by the end, Green made some great points (and finally got rid of all the garbage talk). Might be worth a mature reader’s time. 3/5 stars
  • Echoes of Eden, by Jerram Barrs – Our bookclub all came to the same consensus about this one – Barrs does great in the first half making his point (about finding the “echoes of Eden” in literature and art); but all of his application in the second half is only fascinating if you have read/are familiar with all the books he’s referring to. So I thoroughly enjoyed it (having read ALL of them). But many others did not. Favorite part: He makes a great case for the Harry Potter books. 😉 3.5/5 stars
  • the-flinkwater-factor-9781481432528_hrThe Flinkwater Factor, by Pete Hautman – I found this book by National-Book-Award-winning author Hautman on my birthday in a little basement mystery bookstore – and it was autographed. So it was already a win there! But this is a delightful story perfect for the in-between juvenile/young adult fiction age. It’s set in a fictional town during a fictional futuristic era (where “roombas are out of date”) and uses what the author calls “sciency-fiction” to tell a funny and playful story of a young girl living in a very techy era with very techy parents and friends … and how alllll that technology is either going to ruin their lives or save them. 4/5 stars

Serafina and the Splintered Heart, by Robert Beatty

3 reviewers reflecting on the 3 Serafina books – and how book #3 compared to the others. 


(Serafina and the Black Cloak [1] & Serafina and the Twisted Staff [2]): 

Serafina 3AB: I thought Beatty continued to do an excellent job of hooking the reader. Within the first few pages, I found myself asking, “What in the world is going on here?” In that respect, Beatty does not disappoint.”

Natalie: This one didn’t land for me quite like the other two. But I have been reading a lot of fantasy lit lately, and I think maybe I overdid it in the supernatural. It was fun to read it so close to Halloween.

Meg: Once again, I read this in a sitting. It’s gripping and a little darker than the other two, but in a similar fashion still gives you something good to fight for. I did think this one was a little more “mystical”/New-Age-y than the previous two.


Continue reading

Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle, by N.D. Wilson

outlaws of timeUpon first glance, Sam Miracle’s name appears to be a misnomer. After all, he is stuck in an orphanage in the middle of the desert, and his arms don’t work. Miracles aren’t exactly likely for this teenager. All he has going for him are his incredibly vivid dreams in which he time-travels to fight the evil El Buitre . . . and in which his arms function properly. Continue reading

The Secret of Spellshadow Manor, by Bella Forrest

spellI’d like to say that I’ve never succumbed to the lure of clickbait. Usually I’m a strong person on Facebook. Clickbait? That’s for simpletons. But … well, there was this kind of ad post with a cool-looking book cover for The Secret of Spellshadow Manor that said “If you loved Harry Potter, you will LOVE this new series! Get the kindle deal today only!” And unfortunately, I’m a huge HP fan, and, well, anyway it was a great kindle deal. I mean, yeah, the author is known for a ton of cranked-out vampire mysteries, but this could be her Shining Star … right? Continue reading

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness: Wingfeather Saga, vol. 1 – by Andrew Peterson

by AB

As a middle school English teacher, I am always looking for quality fantasy fiction for young readers. Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga first came to my attention when it was recommended to me by my 13-year-old nephew. Here’s a tip: if a teenage boy sings the praises of a fiction book, that’s a big deal and worth your attention.ap Continue reading

Interview with Robert Beatty, author of the Serafina books

We were thrilled to meet up with best-selling author Robert Beatty at a book signing; and we appreciate his time in allowing our interview. We hope you’ll enjoy it as well!  

Interview by AB


RB1What inspired you to write a book set at the Biltmore Estate?
My family and I live very close to Biltmore, and we visit there often. It’s a place filled with history, beauty and a sense of mystery. We thought it was the perfect setting for a mysterious, spooky story from a child’s point of view.

The character of Serafina was inspired by my middle school-aged daughter, Genevieve, who used to prowl around our house and try to sneak up on me in my office when I was writing.

How has being a father played a role in your Serafina stories?
I’ve always been interested in strong, young female characters. I’ve always felt that girls can do anything they want to do, and be anything they want to be. One of my main goals in writing Serafina was to give my three daughters a story about a heroic girl they can relate to.

Do you have plans to write a third Serafina book? (Please say “yes.”)
Yes, a third book in the Serafina Series is in progress now.  Look for it in summer 2017. Continue reading

Serafina and the Black Cloak series

By Robert Beatty            Genre: Middle Grade Lit (mystery)
Reviewed by AB                   5/5 stars

You probably wouldn’t expect that one of the pioneers of cloud computing, the Chief Technical Officer and Chairman of the Board at
Narrative Magazine,Sera both books and an entrepreneur in the field of robotics would care anything about writing children’s stories. But that’s exactly what Robert Beatty did when he began pursuing writing full-time in 2013.

#1 New York Times Bestsellers Serafina and the Black Cloak (2015) and its sequel Serafina and the Twisted Staff (2016) were born out of a love that Beatty and his family have for Asheville’s Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home.

0714161842 (2)Recently, I had the chance to attend a book signing for Serafina and the Twisted Staff  (already in its second week on the New York Times Bestseller List) held at the Barnes and Noble on Woodruff Road in Greenville, SC. My 8-year-old daughter and 12-year-old niece were with me along with about 200 other young fans.

Mr. Beatty, who lives in nearby Asheville, NC, spoke briefly, answered questions, showed a trailer that he and his daughters had made for the second book, and signed hundreds of copies (including the 6 I had with me for all the founding members of The Shabby Coat Book Club). The excitement at the event was palpable and with good reason. Continue reading