July Reading Wrap-Up

Happy August! Another month gone, another handful of books read and gallons of coffee sipped. I’ve been busier on Bookstagram than on my blog as of late, especially with the awesome, inspiring Booktubeathon happening last week. I’m still pretty new to this online book-loving community, and I’ve been learning so much! Most specifically, not to take myself so seriously. (Seriously though. I haven’t posted on here in a while because I’m kiiiiind of an anal perfectionist and don’t want to post unless it’s PERFECT. Which is insane.) I’ve also been inspired by “norms” of the Bookstagram community, like #shelfies (I bought a real bookshelf and the comfort level of my new abode skyrocketed), TBR (to be read) lists, and end-of-the-month wrap-ups that neatly tie all one’s reading together at the end of each month. What tidy concepts for my perfectionist brain to contemplate! I’m excited to get started, so let the wrap-up begin!

Here’s what I read this month, in the order that I read them:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan ★★★★☆

Adult Fiction 

A down-on-his-luck ex-startup millennial, Clay Jannon, embarks upon an epic adventure fueled by equal doses of ancient books and Google technology.

Have you ever walked into an old bookstore and thought, “What ancient adventures await me here?” (Or is that just me?) Mr. Penumbra’s is that adventure; quirky and absurd and full of great characters. I listened to this as an audiobook and never wanted it to stop. If you’re a book nerd or a Googler (or by some divine providence, both), READ IT NOW!

 

 

America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell by Don Brown ★★★

Children’s Literature 

An illustrated homage to the heroic people who saved lives across the country on 9/11.

I picked this up because my 6th graders and I had an intense discussion about 9/11, after which I realized that none of them were actually alive during that time. This book does justice to one retelling of that story, for perhaps a younger audience than the 11-year-olds I had in mind.

 

A Million Junes by Emily Henry ★★★★☆

Young Adult Literature

June, a high school senior, remembers her childhood and her father like they’re magical, out of a storybook. Her family’s longstanding feud with the neighboring Angerts only makes it that much more fabled. Then June meets Saul Angert, and he’s actually nice (and funny, and cute, and only slightly older than her…), and she starts wondering what that feud between their families was really about…..

…Okay, it’s impossible to sum up this story without giving too much away or setting it up quite right. There is just something mythical about this read, and something about the characters and their world of Five Fingers, Michigan that pulled me in. Best friends, departing from familial expectations, leaving home, and loss are all explored (and divinely so!). Longer review to come, but this book had me aching in the best way. I’d highly recommend it to any young person dealing with an incredible loss. Or everyone on the planet. Read it NOW!

 

Fablehaven, vol. 5: The Keys to the Demon Prison by Brandon Mull ★★★★☆

Middle Grades Literature 

Kendra and her brother Seth are young teenagers, but for the past two years, they’ve been apprentices to their grandparents at their secret preserve of magical and mythical beasts in Connecticut. In this 5th installment of the series, the fate of the world is in Seth and Kendra’s hands as they try to stop the Society of the Evening Star from opening the Demon Prison, Zzyzx.

Very Hercules-sounding, I know. Reading books like this is usually not my style (Harry Potter is as deep into fantasy as I get). BUT! A student I really like recommended the Fablehaven series to me, and though I’d never pick up a book that looked like this on my own, I did it. And I was hooked. The first book enters into the high fantasy realm slowly, so I think that helped my reading taste buds acclimate. There are a lot of good things I can say about this series, so I may have to write a longer review, but let me leave you with this: The characters grapple with such raw human issues throughout the entire series, and have such mature, good influences helping them along the way, that this became really pleasurable (and intensely action packed!) to read. Even though my boyfriend made fun of me because of the cover. (You gotta admit, the cover is totally ridiculous.) Also, if I had kids in whom I wanted to install a good moral compass, I’d read this series with them.

 

Cinder by Marissa Meyer ★★★★★

Young Adult Literature 

Cinder is working as a mechanic in the marketplace with her android companion when Prince Kai of the Eastern Commonwealth drops by with something for her to fix. He jokes that it’s a “matter of national security”, but can an old android really help the country stop the letumosis pandemic? Or stop the Lunar Queen from her decades-old quest to take over the Earthen Union?

My audiobook game has been on point this month (I listened to this one too, and like Mr. Penumbra’s Ari Fliakos, Rebecca Soler is an awesome narrator.). I didn’t expect to like this book, especially since I feel like I can too easily predict the course of fairy tale retellings. However, Cinder is so different. The world that Marissa Meyer creates is astounding, and the extra complications she gives cyborg Cinder’s character are compelling and empowering, especially compared to the Cinderella I grew up with. I couldn’t put this one down. Read it NOW!

 

Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks ★★★★★

Middle Grades Literature

Kai chooses to move from the Dao homelands to Nameless City to both meet his father and become trained as a Dao soldier. Protecting the city from its two rivals is a constant job for its latest conquerers. But Kai doesn’t mix with the other Dao kids very well, and on his own, he soon realizes that keeping control of the city is much more complicated than his people believe.

I picked this one up at a library book sale because my students are obsessed with graphic novels, but I hadn’t given it a read until now. I was seriously missing out. What a story! The characters hit me in my soft spot – teens trying to figure out their place in the world – and the pace of the tale kept me hungry for more. A tightly woven and heartwarming book about coming together, whatever our differences. Put it on your TBR!

 

When Penny Met POTUS by Rachel Ruiz ★★★★☆

Children’s Literature 

Penny’s mom works for POTUS. Penny imagines what a POTUS looks like (a big, fuzzy, friendly monster) as she roams the White House hoping to find her mom’s boss. But when she actually does meet POTUS, who is… it?

This book is so heartwarming. I read it at a local bookstore because the cover caught my eye, and the minute I got to the end, I yelped with joy and just HAD to buy it… for my future child? I don’t know why I do these things… I don’t actually know any small ones who need this book read to them right now. But I DO know that EVERY CHILD needs this book in their repertoire as they grow up. It’s earth-shattering! Read it NOW!

 

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander ★★★★★

Middle Grades Literature 

Josh Bell has dreadlocks, a wicked crossover, and a reputation as a game-changer on his school basketball team. He’s got basketball in his blood – his dad played for the pros, and his twin brother is on Josh’s team, too. His family is hilarious and tight-knit… until his brother starts becoming more interested in girls than basketball. And when Josh starts piecing together clues about his dad’s early exit from basketball, Josh feels the world as he knew it spinning out of control.

I have been recommending this book to my 6th grader students for a year (it’s a co-worker’s favorite) but hadn’t read it yet. WHAT WAS I WAITING FOR?! This book lives up to the hype. BEYOND the hype, in fact. I was so impressed that a book written in verse could create such real, funny, complex characters and kept me turning pages. It employs really clever devices, too, like the poem titled “Second-Person” that is both written in the second person, and describes the feeling of being alone when, as a twin, Josh has always had a “second person” (!!!). I highly recommend this book to EVERYONE, but especially boys in middle school who might just believe in the power of literature after reading this book.

Phew! That was much longer than I thought it would be, but I read a lot of really great books this month and want to make sure I do them justice! I’m also realizing that my genre and age range tastes are all over the board. Thank you for reading!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What should I add to my August TBR? Should I be less random in the types of books I review?! Leave me a comment!

Where To Find: Free & Cheap Books

As an avid pursuer of the next great read, I am constantly in bookstores, reading the New York Times Book Review, on Amazon and Goodreads, and talking to my coworkers and friends’ moms (lol but for real) and students about books: What’s out there, which I might like, and which are must-reads.

But as you know… books can get expensive. So here are some of my life hacks for getting books on the cheap: 

1. Overdrive

I JUST found out about this resource this year…and it’s life-changing. If you have a library, you have something like Overdrive that offers e-books to anyone with a library card. I use the app version, but you can also use the webpage on your computer to check out and read books as well. Once you get into the system, you simply find your library, log in using your library card, and you’re good to go. Yes, the books still need to be checked out, and have due dates (along with limited copies, and therefore waiting lists for new/high-interest books), but Overdrive is a game changer. Once checked out, most books download to your device as a Kindle book. Plus, any notes or mark-ups you make on the library copy of book will save in your account and transfer to your book if you end up buying it later. Books can easily jump across different devices as long as you’ve got the necessary apps downloaded. SO COOL.

It also offers AUDIOBOOKS!!!!!! For those of you (like me) who need something to listen to during travels/long drives, this is pretty awesome. I 100% deleted my Audible account because of this service. LOVE IT.

Side note: If you haven’t done so yet, make a point to collect library cards if you move, or trade numbers with trusted family/friends in other areas. That’s the best way to navigate Overdrive (imo). I have South-Central Wisconsin, Arlington, DC, and Alexandria library cards, and therefore can scan multiple collections to see who has which books available when I want to read them (or the shortest wait list. Either one.)  Guys, you need to get Overdrive

2. MackinVIA

This is my school’s version of Overdrive. So it might a resource for other library systems, too? Either way, here’s your reminder to ask your librarian if they have an e-book system available for you. 

3. The Library

(Duh. Unless you’re like my mom and can only think about the germs library books collect.)

4. Personal Libraries of Friends & Relatives

Unless you’re an only child/freak about sharing your stuff like I am, borrow and lend from a trusted friend! All throughout college I got my books from a girl in my cohort, and a boss who loaned me her books from time to time. The best part: It’s free!

Stipulation: I say friends because acquaintances can’t always be trusted to return your books… and I add family because you’ll most likely see them again so you can demand your books be returned to you. Tbh you just need to keep track of that stuff. I once lent a coworker my hardcover of JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, then proceeded to move back to college and would have never seen that book again had I not RSVP’d to a work party later in the year and hounded him to bring the book with him. Upon its return, this dude had the gall to say he didn’t even finish it because it was “boring” (OMG can you believe this guy?! I mean, it was grown-up British-suburb-style JKR, but what did he expect?!)! My best piece of advice would be to simply have long-ish conversations about your reading before you trust others with your books. Hint: If people always agree with you or are wishy-washy when you talk books, it might be a sign that they don’t actually care, so try not to force books on them needlessly (Can you tell I’m over-protective about my books?).

5. Little Free Libraries

Have you noticed any cute wooden houses that are too big for birds but strangely located next to a sidewalk? Then you’ve seen a Little Free Library! (Hopefully this is old news to you. I know I have like three of them in a two-block radius of my house (lucky me!).) These can be hit or miss; On one hand, it can be as amazing as lending a book from a friend without having to ask them… or returning it. On the other hand, it can be as anti-climatic as going to a Goodwill and seeing only yellowed romance novels. You win some, you lose some. They sure are adorable, though. 

A sampling of Little Free Libraries located around my neighborhood.

6. Library Sales

As a first-year teacher of middle school Reading, I have become obsessed with finding library sales near me. To find these, I’ve been using booksalefinder.com. The site looks a little ad-heavy, but it’s supremely helpful – you can filter state, zip code, etc. to see where sales are near you. Library sales (like the ones the site tends to list) generally sell lightly used books for under $5 – I got 215 books for $175 this spring! (I’m insane, I know. I’ll never read them all, I know. But what’s life without goals?! Without something to look forward to?!)

An awesome library sale in Arlington, VA sold books for 50 cents to a dollar each – !

7. Garage Sales

This seems too obvious, but I sometimes forget they exist, so here’s your reminder. Garage sales definitely put you at the mercy of the seller’s book tastes, but if you’re lucky you’ll hit up some gems once in a while.

8. Scholastic Warehouse Sales

Remember those monthly book flyers from elementary school? The ones that you gave back to your teacher with a check from your mom and, magically, a few weeks later, those books would show up on your desk?! I was one of those kids who liveddddddd for those book flyers, and school book fairs, and Scholastic is the company that puts them on (And yes, they still do book sales in schools. My teacher status puts me in the know. Yes, kids are still mostly interested in the fun pencils and stuff rather than the books. But some nerds like us dig the books, too 🙂 ). This Scholastic warehouse gig is exactly like stepping inside a book flyer… except it’s a warehouse and all of the books are exposed and in stacks, aisle upon aisle… it’s a bibliophile’s paradise, and you have to have an experience like this at least once in your life. 

When I was a kid, my parents received a flyer about a Scholastic warehouse sale every year in June after I got out of school. I’m still not sure what kind of witchcraft did my parents pulled to find out about these, but if you have a Scholastic warehouse near you, this is an amazing way to get books (new books!) on the cheap, especially books for young folks, published by Scholastic (obviously. But I still had to say it). 

I still have the boxes from these sales in my childhood closet – I asked my dad to snap a picture for me to post!

9. Costco

Yes, I’m saying it. I just got a Costco membership for the first time in my life (#momstatus #idontevenhavekids) and they sell books there, mostly for the same price that Amazon would sell it. Not sure about the ethics of this, but hey, it exists. And, I picked up a signed copy of The Hearts of Men in a Wisconsin Costco on my last trip!

10. Amazon

Okay, let’s be real, yes I’ve bought books from Amazon, but you also have to think about the negative impact the company has on the local bookstores we all love. PSA: Read the next paragraph. 

Last but not least, books on the cheap are great, but if you’re looking for new books, a lot of times we readers just have to bite the bullet and pay cover price for them. Remember to support your local independent book stores! A lot of the ones I’m familiar with have to do a lot of business just to break even, so they love your love. It literally keeps their doors open (I worked for a small independent toy store that my neighbor owned when I was a teen, so I know from experience that small businesses really do love your love!). Don’t let online sales force them out of business! You can also do what I do, which is read books for free, then buy the ones I really need to have on my shelves from the lovely independent stores I love. 

Go forth and read cheaply!