London Belongs to Me by Jacquelyn Middleton

“I’ve spent so much time in the last few years trying to be perfect…and independent. And in the end, a rough draft and my friends made the difference.”

london-belongs-to-me

Synopsis from GoodreadsYour flight is now boarding! Join Alex Sinclair for a life-changing, trans-Atlantic journey. London Belongs to Me is a coming-of-age story about friendship, following your dreams, and learning when to let go … and when to hang on.

Meet Alex, a recent college graduate from Tallahassee, Florida in love with London, pop culture, and comic cons. It’s not easy being twenty-one-years-old, and Alex has never been the most popular girl. She’s an outsider, a geeky fangirl … with dreams of becoming a playwright in a city she’s loved from afar, but never visited. Fleeing America after a devastating betrayal, she believes London is where she’ll be understood, where she belongs. But Alex’s past of panic attacks and broken relationships is hard to escape. When her demons team up with a jealous rival determined to destroy her new British life, Alex begins to question everything: her life-long dream, her new friends, and whether London is where she truly belongs.

Feelings: I connected with this book on so many levels and have a lot in common with our main character, Alex. The panic attacks, the self doubt, the love of all things theatre and fandoms, a tour guide job, an obsession with London…Alex is me and I am her. I was so happy to see the way Alex and her anxiety were portrayed. It was a comfort to feel like I wasn’t the only one.

One of my favorite things about this story was the sightseeing we get to do vicariously through Alex. We get to travel to a few famous theatres and landmarks throughout the city and she teaches us some new (to Americans) slang. It was a fun adventure!

Issues: The author kept referring to characters by their hair color. This wouldn’t usually bother me, but it happened a LOT. “The blonde one”…”the brunette one”…it just got old. Which is odd, because at other points the writing is crazy descriptive. Almost too descriptive.

It thought it was interesting that there was so much GIRL POWER with Alex’s plays and at the same time, a major beef between Alex and Olivia throughout the book. As a result of this tiff, we saw a lot of struggle for Alex and we watched as she tried to navigate this conflict, leading to some strong character development. However, I wish there’d been some stronger resolution that fit with this empowering-each-other theme in the book.

Characters: I’ve already raved about Alex, but I’ll just also add that she’s a very real character. Sometimes I get annoyed with characters make stupid choices because why couldn’t they have done something else, but it was different with this book. She was so relatable that when she goofed up, I was going…yep…I totally get that. It just worked for me.

This book was SO friendship-centric and I loved every second of it. Lucy and Freddie were a strong cast of the classic “friend group” we find in young and new adult literature. They had so much in common, but were wholly unique at the same time. Each friend had their own specific voice and I loved that they disagreed with each other! They had their own minds and called each other out on their stupidity. Even when the love interest entered the scene, we kept up with the friendship at the heart of the story. I really appreciated that. I do wish they’d been developed a teeny bit more. At times, it felt like they were just there to impact the protagonist, rather than have their own journeys. It was like they went back and forth between being dynamic and static characters, ending up as the latter. But ultimately, I loved their trio friendship and was jealous multiple times.

Uh, yes…I’d like to order one Mark, please. Talk about a swoon-worthy love interest. He was an imperfect character, sure, but again with the realness. The way that he really SAW Alex was refreshing and I liked the way the author handled the friendship dynamic. And then there’s Harry. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a companion novel that focuses on his journey from where this book ends up. I think that character has a lot of potential and I’d like to see it fleshed out. I’m rooting for him. For all of them, really.

Final thoughts: This book isn’t perfect, but it was really fun and I ate it up and it’s the type of story I’ll be forcing my friends to read just so we can discuss it. If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety or panic attacks, this book is a refreshing depiction of what it’s like to live with constant worry. You’ll finish the book feeling like you can do anything. What’s not to love about that??

Pick this up if you liked:

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

Goodreads rating: 4.02/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.5/5

My rating: 4/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Books I Read Because of Hype

I’m one of those readers who runs on recommendations. I’m always looking for the latest craze or hype-inducing storyline. I want to know what I’m talking about when I join the conversation, so I always fall prey to hype. These are 5 books that I read because of all the conversations they started amongst the blogosphere and Goodreads threads.

anna and the french kiss

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

SO MANY people told me to read this book. I was skeptical because I hadn’t really gotten into the contemporary scene at that point. But I finally decided to dive in on a sick day and I’m so glad that I did. Since I finished reading about Anna and Etienne, I’ve read the next two books in this companion story trio and I loved them. This book is the reason I reach for a contemporary romance. Plus that cover art. *Swoon*

throne

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I love high fantasy. I’m always interested in new worlds and innovative magic systems. I’d heard a lot of people talk about this series after the sequel came out, but the cover threw me off. It seemed weird, I’ll be honest. But I watched a spoiler-free review of the first book and the vlogger was SO into it. I love fangirling, so I wanted what she was having. And now? I freaking love this series. I always pre-order the new books long in advance and anxiously await their arrival, even clearing my schedule for them. These stories consume me. There are so many characters and so much world building that I’m too invested to stop now.

outlander

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Everyone and their cat’s mom has talked about this series. I’m all about historical fiction and time travel, plus romance and Scotland…hubba hubba. But then, the romance also made me hesitated. I’m not one of those people who just LOVES blush inducing love scenes, call me crazy. Once the TV show started airing, I wanted to be part of the conversation, so I picked up the first book. I actually read it as I watched the episodes, which was pretty interesting. Then I watched the second season of the show and haven’t read the book. I AM glad that I read it. I thought the writing was powerful and the world was engaging. I would like to continue the series, but I haven’t settled on whether it’ll be print or TV, or both.

wrath

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

I read a few blog posts and watched some booktube videos of readers raving about this story, so I picked it up. I sat down and read it cover to cover in one sitting. Not necessarily because it was a work of genius, but because it hooked me in and I had the time. Since then, the sequel has been released and I have yet to read it. I don’t really remember what happened in the first book, probably because I read it TOO quickly. I don’t know that I’ll pick up the second book any time soon. I already have it on my Kindle, staring at me, longing to be given a chance. Maybe the hype sucked me in TOO much the first time around.

all the light

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Again I say, I love me some historical fiction. Last year, I was on a major WWII kick and read book after book about that time period. I was also teaching The Diary of Anne Frank along with a WWII unit, so I was thirsty for more information. Everyone kept telling me that I should read this book, but the page count was daunting. Once I finally decided to give it a chance, I flew through it. The characters lept off the page and I was so emotionally invested in their fictional little lives. I love this book. It’ll forever be one of my favorites.

What books has hype made you read? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Books I’m Thankful For

I love Thanksgiving. I love November and December in general, really. I just love holidays and pumpkin spice lattes and Christmas joy. There are so many things that I’m thankful for: my family and friends, my job and education, breath every morning and a safe place to sleep every night…the list could go on and on. I’m thankful for a family that encourages learning and reading. I’m thankful for the chance to travel to new worlds or dive into history, just by reading pages from the comfort of my own home. Books have given me so much over the course of my life. Some books have given me a new level of understanding, some have given me courage and confidence, while others have given me moments of peace. These are 5 books that I’m particularly thankful for.

harry_potter_and_the_sorcerers_stone

I’m trying really hard to think outside the box and reach beyond the first thing to pop in my head, but listen…there’s no denying the impact that Hogwarts and Co have had on my life. The first book came out when I was 6 years old and it was just a couple of years later that I finally convinced my mom to let me read it. I can honestly say that this series is one of the reason I love books so much today. I felt a plethora of emotions over the years of being engaged in this world: anxiety, joy, fear, hope, friendship, safety, and more. I’m thankful for Harry Potter and for having stories that feel like home.

crazy-love

Non-fiction and I are not usually friends. However, there was a season in my life where a friend literally put this book into my hands and I started reading. I didn’t want to, but I caved. I’m a sucker. This is the one non-fiction book that I keep coming back to. Sometimes it’s just to reread a chapter or a paragraph, while other times it’s to start at page 1 and see what happens. Francis Chan has a way of helping me understand who God is and how He loves. This is a love that I couldn’t wrap my head around…until I read this book. I’m thankful for Francis Chan and the new eyes that I see the world through.

anne of green

I was late to the Anne of Green Gables game, I’ll admit. My mom told me over the years that I should read it and that the main character reminded her of herself. I think that’s the reason I resisted reading it. Typical teen. Ha! I randomly decided to give it a chance just a couple of years ago and now I’m obsessed. It’s like Anne and I have always been friends. (Maybe that has something to do with my mom, too…) This series is so full of hope and joy, laughter and love. I know that I can open any one of these books or turn on the audiobook and I’ll crack at least one smile. I’m thankful for Anne Shirley and for reminders that beauty is all around us.

lineage-of-grace

Francine Rivers is one of those rare individuals that I would do untold things to meet. You know those basketball game half-time half-court contests? I’d do that for a chance to meet her. And I once had the chance to do that for a cool prize and vehemently refused. So…trust me when I tell you that means something. When I think about how much I love her books and honestly, I’m thankful for all of them, this one sticks out. This book includes 5 stories about Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary from the Bible. Rivers has a way of taking what we know about them from God’s word, and turns them into full fledged stories. She gives them voices, ambitions, and humanizes them in a way that I hadn’t pictured before. I’m thankful for this book and the way it helped me to read the Bible.

fangirl

Man, I love this book. When I read the last page, I felt this overwhelming sense of understanding. I felt seen and known by these characters and the author. Rainbow Rowell always writes books that are poignant and funny, while also being complex and surprising. This Rowell book in particular really spoke to me. I’ve read it twice now and I’m sure I’ll read it again when I need a reminder that it’s ok to be myself and that in fact, that’s what makes me awesome – no one else is 100% like me. I’m thankful for Fangirl and I’m thankful to be me.

What books are you thankful for this holiday season? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Books I’ve Recommended to Students Lately

I love pairing people with books. I think about who they are, what they might enjoy, what they would put down in 5 minutes, and how fast they read. If someone is a slower reader, a book that takes a while to get in to probably isn’t the best bet. Not all of my students are big time readers – shocking, I know – so I can’t just assume they’ll dive into the same stories that have captivated me. Then there’s also the age and maturity difference. That definitely plays a factor.

These are books that I’ve personally recommended to my students lately.

 just listen

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Student requested: An easy-to-follow storyline with some romance thrown in.

After a week, my non-reader student told me she’d finished this book! She’d stayed up late and even read while some of her teachers were talking. She was so invested in these characters and desperate to see how their storylines played out. That’s exactly how I’d felt when I read it earlier this year! Annabel was a model with a bright future, until that future was suddenly over. Then she meets Owen, a guy full of mystery who makes Annabel finally feel seen.

nimona

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Student requested: A graphic novel that was a little bit different.

That’s a perfect way to describe this story! The illustrations are unique, compared to what I’ve read, and the story is definitely different. Nimona is a shapeshifter with a whole lot of spunk.She teams up with Lord Blackheart, a well known villain, to bring down the “heroes” and prove that they aren’t who they appear to be. A twist on the usual hero vs. villain storyline, this book will keep you on your toes!

illuminae

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Student requested: An adventure book of epic proportions.

When a non-reader approaches me and says they want to read about an adventure, this is the first book I think of. This boy in particular is hard to please, gets bored easily, and doesn’t think reading can be even remotely fun. Then I put this book in his hands. He flipped through it, eyes wide at the page count, and said, “Wait…is this really a book?” YES! It has illustrations and transcripts, diagrams and even classic paragraphs. This book takes place during 2575 and a war is raging over a planet. No one is safe and no one can be trusted. You have to read it to believe it, folks.

 sword-of-summer

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Student requested: A book that was kind of like Percy Jackson.

Not only is this book LIKE Percy Jackson, but it was written by the same author and has some crossover to that beloved series. This is the story of Magnus Chase, the cousin of Percy’s girlfriend Annabeth Chase. Magnus’s storyline doesn’t stick to the Greek or Roman family line as Riordan’s previous books, but rather detours through Norse mythology. It’s got personality and grit, it’s just different enough to feel like a new story, while still feeling comfortable like you’re reading an old friend (AKA Percy).

goose girl

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Student requested: A fairy tale, “but like a different fairy tale.”

That’s literally what the student said. She didn’t want Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, she wanted something new and fresh. I pointed her towards The Lunar Chronicles but she wasn’t interested. (Don’t worry, I’ll work her up to it!) So then I gently forced her towards Shannon Hale. The Books of Bayern series reads like a classic fairy tale, but it also feels new and different. It has magical elements that are really interesting to read about and characters that jump off the pages.

Do you have books that you’d recommend to middle schoolers? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

October 2016 Wrap Up

When September ended, I wasn’t in the mood to read any of the books on my TBR list. I just wasn’t feeling any of it, you know? So I found myself wandering around the book store and came across the first book on the list below. Then I had motivation! I had inspiration! I was back, people!

This month, I read a total of FOUR books!

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

  • Funny. Sad. Corny. (All tied together nicely.)
  • My rating: 4.5 stars

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard (audiobook)

  • Boring 1st half. World expansion. Annoying Mare.
  • My rating: 3 stars

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

  • Historical Fiction + Magical Elements + Humor = My kind of book.
  • My rating: 4.75 stars

The Healer’s Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson

  • Innocent. Obvious. Sleeping Beauty.
  • My rating: 3 stars

What did you read this month? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

“The pain of losing doesn’t get less with each person I lose. But I have the wisdom of knowing the pain isn’t forever. That fades. The memories stay. And the love isn’t going anywhere.”

loose-ends-list

Synopsis from GoodreadsMaddie has big plans to spend the last months before college tying up high school “loose ends” alongside her best friends. Then her beloved grandmother drops two bombshells: (1) Gram is dying. (2) She’s taking her entire family on a round-the-world cruise of dreams come true—but at the end, Gram won’t be returning home. With a promise to live in the now without regrets, Maddie boards the Wishwell determined to make every moment count. She finds new friends in her fellow Wishwellians, takes advantage of the trip’s many luxuries, gets even closer to her quirky family, and falls for painfully gorgeous Enzo. But despite the copious laughter, headiness of first love, and wonder of the glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram, and she struggles to find the strength to let go in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, grief, and laughter.

Feelings: When I randomly picked this book up at my local bookstore, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Death cruise? Dying grandmother? One of these things I could relate to. The other was a curveball. Friends, I read this book in a day. I mean, I devoured it. I laughed. I cried. I was totally enveloped. Sometimes when you read a book about cancer and death and family heartbreak…there’s just a lot of sadness and ugly crying. This book, however, was just the right mix of humor, crudeness, sadness, and sass. I never thought I’d enjoy that combination, but I really enjoyed this book. For every sad moment, there were 5 funny and heartwarming ones that followed it up. One aspect of this story that I really enjoyed was the parallel of Maddie’s firsts and her Gram’s lasts. Maddie is experiencing some things for the first time and while her Gram is at the end of her life, she’s able to walk her through them and shake some sense into her along the way. 

Issues: I think this book teeters on the line of realistic at times. I’m not talking about the big stuff, like a cruise ship that lets you die with dignity, but the little things. For example, every time they decided to throw a party out of the blue and have the most random food…am I supposed to believe that was all stocked on the ship? Also, how could that ship be a secret? The people of this world would find out about it and tweet about it, giving it all kinds of crazy hashtags. The whole top secret death cruise idea is hard for me to completely buy.

While I kind of enjoyed the crass and rude moments every once in a while, some of it felt out of place and awkward, like it was forced. It kind of broke up the flow of the story, but it would always pick back up again pretty quickly.

Characters: Maddie annoyed the heck out of me at first. She had this group of friends that honestly, are terrible friends (except for Rachel). And the fact that Maddie ignored Rachel at school was SO high school. But then I thought…she’s a high school girl. This is what high school girls are like sometimes (aka most of the time). Then I went on this journey with Maddie and my opinion of her changed some. I kept having to remind myself that she was 17 and then 18…still a kid, learning about the world and about people, obsessing over a boy she just met and having plenty of pity parties.

I don’t know about you, but neither of my grandmothers would have been caught dead saying the things Maddie’s gram did. I guess because of that, I found her to be a refreshing grandma character. She’s so far and away from the normal grandma I’ve read about, or known in my lifetime. It was really interesting to find out some things from her past alongside her family. She lived a full life, full of adventures and mishaps, but zero regrets. It was nice to read the wisdom she gave Maddie about love and life, considering what all Maddie was experiencing.

I was hoping for some more character development in the end. I had high hopes for Janie, that she’d get out of her slutty slump and commit to something real with Ty. Jeb saw some growth, and Maddie did, too, except for the fact that she was back with her idiot friends in the end. Come on, Maddie girl! A little more resolution between Maddie and her brother would have been welcome, but in real life that doesn’t always happen!

Final thoughts: While death is the headlining topic of this book, it’s not a story dripping in sadness and despair. It’s full of love, hope, and reminders to live for those snow globe moments. Something that I appreciated about this book was how there wasn’t some magic cure-all at the end, taking away all the sadness. Maddie experienced real heartache and a very real response to it. Then she had to pick herself up by her bootstraps and learn to live on. In the end, I enjoyed how unique this story was and how engaging the writing was. This is actually one that I’d read again.

Pick this up if you liked:

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Wanderlost by Jen Malone

Goodreads rating: 3.8/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.3/5

My rating: 4.5/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Final Reading Challenge Update

I’d planned on this being my 3rd of 4 total reading challenge updates for the year, but…I’M FINISHED. That’s right, friends. I have completed my reading challenge for 2016. This year, I was motivated to complete the challenge, but to BE challenged. This list didn’t encourage me to look for certain types of books, but rather to read what I wanted and see how I could fit it into the challenge.

I’m wanting to do something different for 2017. I don’t think I want to do a list of challenges like this for the third year in a row. Any suggestions?

In the meantime, check out the list of 50 books below! For books that I wrote full reviews on, I’ve included the link to that page!

Challenges completed: 50/50

  1. A winner from the 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards – Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (read my full review HERE)
  2. A book about books – Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (read my full review HERE)
  3. A book from the Rory Gilmore Challenge – Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  4. A book with one of the 5 W’s in the title (who/what/when/where/why) – What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen (read my full review HERE)
  5. A book set more than 100 years ago – An Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers (read my full review HERE)
  6. A book whose main character is in a profession that interests you – The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay (read my full review HERE)
  7. A book by an author who writes under more than one name – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling  (read my full review HERE)
  8. A fairytale from a culture other than your own – The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (I Googled “fairytale” and according to the world wide web, “myth” is a synonym for “fairytale”. So it’s a stretch, but I’m running with it.) (read my full review HERE)
  9. A historical fiction book – The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson (read my full review HERE)
  10. An award winning book (ex: Newberry Medal, National Book Award, etc.) – Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (read my full review HERE)
  11. A book you’re embarrassed to read in public – Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (read my full review HERE)
  12. A book published in 2016 – Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare (read my full review HERE)
  13. A book with a blue spine or cover – Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (read my full review HERE)
  14. A book with a horrible/ugly cover – Nothing But the Truth by Avi
  15. A book picked for you by someone else – Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (read my full review HERE)
  16. A favorite book you read for a second time – A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers (read my full review HERE)
  17. A book you feel that everyone has read but you – Wolf by Wolf  by Ryan Graudin (read my full review HERE)
  18. A book recommended by a famous person – For the Love by Jen Hatmaker (read my full review HERE)
  19. A book you know nothing about – Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen (read my full review HERE)
  20. A book set in the country of your ancestors – An Honest Heart by Kaye Dacus (read my full review HERE)
  21. A book with a child as the main character – Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen (read my full review HERE)
  22. A book with an unreliable narrator – The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (read my full review HERE)
  23. A book whose main character shares your name (first, middle, or last) – Dreamland by Sarah Dessen (read my full review HERE)
  24. A book set during a war (historical or fictional war) – Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
  25. A chick-lit book – This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen (read my full review HERE)
  26. A book written before you were born – Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (read my full review HERE)
  27. A collection of poems – The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan (While it may not be a “collection” of poems, there were poems throughout it. So I’m counting it. Ha!) (read my full review HERE)
  28. A book outside your comfort zone (genre, topic, number of pages, etc.) –The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin (read my full review HERE)
  29. A book about second chances – Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe by Max Lucado (read my full review HERE)
  30. A prequel to a book series – Stars Above by Marissa Meyer (read my full review HERE)
  31. A book that has more than one author – Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
  32. A book by an author who is from a different country – City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (read my full review HERE)
  33. A book that’s an author’s debut novel – That Summer by Sarah Dessen
  34. A book that you got for free – Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson
  35. A book that was made into a movie, TV series, or mini-series – Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen [Movie version = How to Deal] (read my full review HERE)
  36. A play that was adapted into a musical or a movie – Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw
  37. A book that’s on the bestseller list – Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (read my full review HERE)
  38. A book spun off from another book – The Shadowhunter’s Codex by Cassandra Clare and Joshua Lewis
  39. A book that made you laugh out loud – Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs (read my full review HERE)
  40. An audiobook –Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (read my full review HERE)
  41. A book your grandma (or other family member) loves – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  42. A book with a nonhuman protagonist – A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas (read my full review HERE)
  43. A book that takes place at a university – The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright (read my full review HERE)
  44. A mystery or thriller – I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
  45. A book recommended by a blog or Booktube video – Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, & Maureen Johnson (read my full review HERE)
  46. A book that takes place during a holiday – Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (read my full review HERE)
  47. A book you own, but haven’t read – The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen (read my full review HERE)
  48. A book that you’ve “been meaning to read” – Ms. Marvel, Volume 3: Crushed by G. Willow Wilson
  49. A book you read with a friend or a book club – Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (read my full review HERE)
  50. A book you saw someone reading – Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs (read my full review HERE)

 Are you working towards completing a reading challenge? Do you have any recommendations for a 2017 Reading Challenge? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn