Booked by Kwame Alexander

“The poems
were cool.

The best ones were
like bombs,
and when all the right words

came together
it was like an explosion.”

Synopsis from GoodreadsIn this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel THE CROSSOVER,  soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read. This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match!

Feelings: A couple of years ago, I read The Crossover and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. The way the author fuses together storytelling and poetry is really special. Kwame Alexander manages the same feat in this book, as well, showing us the perspective of a young boy who’s dealing with budding romance, divorcing parents, and hopes of soccer stardom.

This is a book I’d like to teach – we see the power of words (and learn new ones along the way), interactions with bullies and friends, and how to interpret the choices our parents make. And beautifully done poetry. What more could you ask for? I think this is a great read not only for kids, but for adults, as well. Whether you’re a parent or just someone who works with kids, this book allows us to get a glimpse at what our kiddos deal with and how they see the world. The author uses second person, which we don’t see too often, helping us to walk a mile in the main character’s shoes.

What I really love about the poetry in this book is that each individual poem serves a purpose. Some draw emotions out of us, others move the storyline along, and others still paint a picture of action and drama. When read together, we get a full story – characters, conflict, suspense, action. Masterfully done and very compelling.

Characters: Sometimes I struggle with books told from the male point of view. It’s just harder for me to connect with, for obvious reasons. However, I was able to understand Nick. I think part of it was because it was told through poetry and partly because it was second person, but I just felt what he was feeling. I was right there with him the whole time. Sometimes he frustrated me, but that’s because he’s a kid and I could see the bigger picture. I loved his relationship with his mother and getting to see his softer side.

This book has a great cast of minor characters. We have The Mac, adding some comic relief and an outside perspective, drawing us in with that mysterious box. We have Coby, who is mixed race and deals with bullying, handling it like we all hope we would. We have Nick’s parents, who are real people and dealing with very real struggles. And we have April. April is open and kind and inviting, adding another special layer to this story.

Final thoughts: I really, really enjoyed this book. It has so much going for it and I recommend it to everyone. Don’t go into it expecting it to be all about sports. Soccer is just the backdrop, but it’s not the heart of this story. People are.

Pick this up if you liked:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

Goodreads rating: 4.21/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.5/5

My rating: 4.5/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Summerlost by Ally Condie

“…once you see something big, you can’t help seeing it in everything small.”

Synopsis from GoodreadsIt’s the first real summer since the devastating accident that killed Cedar’s father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.

Infused with emotion and rich with understanding, Summerlost is the touching middle grade debut from Ally Condie, the international bestselling author of the Matched series, that highlights the strength of family and personal resilience in the face of tragedy.

Feelings: This book saved me from a pretty deep reading slump. I hadn’t picked up a book in a couple of weeks, which for me…is a LONG time. This story feels simple and yet also really deep. I went through a variety of emotions without ever feeling heavy or overwhelmed. It’s a sweet story with characters who feel really real. The setting could have been anywhere, yet it was also a really special place with a lot of character. I enjoyed reading about the Summerlost festival and now I want to see a play. Ha!

Issues: The only (albeit, minor) issue that I had was about the 2 stories and the way they wove together. For the most part, I found Cedar Lee’s story mixed with the mystery of Lisette’s death went together well. However, it was only a tiny bit disconnected. We went from trying to solve a murder to secretly watching a soap opera back to asking questions about Lisette’s life to thinking about Cedar’s dead brother. Sometimes the going back and forth could have been a little smoother. But really, it’s a tiny baby issue. It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story much, if at all.

Characters: I really felt for Cedar. Sometimes I forgot that she was 12 years old because of the way she was wrestling some major conflicts. Then, she’d react sharply or talk about her blossoming crush and I’d remember how young she was. I found her perspective to be refreshing and different from anything else I’ve read lately.

My feelings for Leo changed multiple times throughout the novel. At first, I thought he was a fun best friend character who could really help Cedar process what was going on in her life. He was confident and friendly, taking her under his wing. Then, like with Cedar, I was reminded of how young and innocent he was. He had his own conflicts and goals, some that encouraged Cedar and others that seemed to jar her. Their friendship and the way their relationship develops is really sweet and was written well, I think.

Final thoughts: This is a book that’s been on my radar for a while and I’m really glad that I finally picked it up. It sparked me back into a reading groove! The story is great if you’re looking for something you can connect with and enjoy, rather than really dig deep into and take a lot of time with. It’s a quick and easy read that’ll stay with you.

Pick this up if you liked:

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Goodreads rating: 3.87/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.4/5

My rating: 4.25/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan (audiobook)

*This review may contain spoilers if you haven’t read the first book, The Sword of Summer.*

“Just like the good old days: marching together into the unknown, searching for missing magical weapons and risking painful death. I’d missed my buddies!”

Synopsis from GoodreadsThor’s hammer is missing again. The thunder god has a disturbing habit of misplacing his weapon–the mightiest force in the Nine Worlds. But this time the hammer isn’t just lost, it has fallen into enemy hands. If Magnus Chase and his friends can’t retrieve the hammer quickly, the mortal worlds will be defenseless against an onslaught of giants. Ragnarok will begin. The Nine Worlds will burn. Unfortunately, the only person who can broker a deal for the hammer’s return is the gods’ worst enemy, Loki–and the price he wants is very high.

Feelings: While I didn’t care much for the narrator, the storyline was pretty good. There were a lot of hot button “issues” going on in this story, which made it feel really relevant, even with all the mythology and history mixed in. I think Riordan handled it well, showing us multiple perspectives, dishing up truths, and making us feel vulnerable all at the same time.

Issues: I still don’t love the talking sword. Sorry, Jack. It just weirds me out!

I got to the end of this book and was only dazzled by mentions of Annabeth and Percy. It just…ended. I didn’t feel like things were really resolved, but rather recycled. I felt like I’d read this story before. Sometimes Riordan’s books echo each other (lost item, angry gods, tricky monsters) but it doesn’t always FEEL so familiar because of the new crew and circumstances. This time, though, I just felt like I’d done this song and dance before. I’m still going to give the story 4 stars simply because the characters and writing overshadowed any issues I had.

Narrator: Kieran Culkin narrates this book and adds a good amount of fun to the story. However, I noticed the voices he used changed over time. So the way he voices Alex, the girl, in the beginning, is different from how he voiced Alex, the girl, in the middle or the end. Culkin just lacked some consistency. While I think he narrated Magnus well, the rest of his performance lacked depth. My rating for the narrator alone is 2.5 stars out of 5.

Final thoughts: As always, I love Riordan’s writing and the way his narrators have a voice. I enjoyed the cast of characters in this story and the journey we took together. It’s definitely an upper middle grade level story, so just know that going into it. I’d recommend the print version of this book over the audio, just as a personal preference.

Pick this up if you liked:

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Loki’s Wolves by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr

Goodreads rating: 4.37/5

Audible.com rating: 4.6/5

My rating: 4/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

“Life is easy and hard, beautiful and ugly.”

listen-slowly

Synopsis from GoodreadsA California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

Feelings: This was one of the books for my school’s book club, which is focusing on other cultures and view points. I really appreciated this pick; there were so many things I didn’t know or hadn’t realized about Vietnamese culture.

There’s a lot that this book does well: great messages on friendship, identity and what defines us, as well as strength and what it looks like. There are also undercurrents of family, the power of our choices, and patience. I think the author does a great job of weaving all of these elements together, while also crafting an engaging and fun storyline. There are some surface-level conflicts, sure, because it’s about a 12-year-old girl. But there’s also a pool of depth when it comes to culture and history.

Issues: I don’t know that I had any specific issues. For me, it just felt like the story was unfinished. While the main conflict was certainly resolved in the end, there was a lot left hanging. I’m not sure if this story lends itself to a sequel, but maybe a companion novel. But for now, it just left me feeling like…soooooo what about all this other stuff?

Characters: For some (especially adult) readers, I can see how Mai would be an annoying narrator. I mean…she’s definitely annoying. But you also have to keep in mind that she’s a child and this book is targeted to middle grade readers, mostly ages 8-12. I think for that age group, there are a lot of kids that could totally relate to Mai’s struggles. As an adult, there was a hint of nostalgia there, remembering what it was like to think everyone was conspiring against me, rooting for my complete discomfort. She almost lost me in the beginning, but I stayed with her and she grew on me.

Her grandmother made me miss mine so much. That quiet strength and the way Mai really SAW her at the end…got me right in the feels. I don’t know what I was expecting from the main conflict, centered around grandma and her long lost husband, but I felt content with its resolution.

The Vietnamese boy who goes to school in Houston, Texas was so great. (I don’t remember his name or know how to spell it, since I listened to the audiobook. That’s so terrible, I know!) The southern gentleman’s accent the narrator gave him was great. It gave him a sophisticated air about him that shook up the dialogue from time to time. And the girl who cut off her hair and wants to be a scientist…she was brilliant. (Again, sorry about the lack of character name.) She added that taste of rebellion that the perfect community needed, wanting to get her hands dirty and go outside of what was expected.

Narrator: I don’t think I would have cared much for this book in the very beginning if it hadn’t been for the narration by Lulu Lam. The first chapter is SO whiny valley girl middle schooler and I almost couldn’t hang. But she was so engaging that I wanted to keep listening. As the story went on, I could hear the character growing and changing in Lam’s voice, which I think takes great skill. Also, her pronunciations saved me. I really enjoyed her accents and different voices that she used for the varying generations and backgrounds of characters. Simply looking at the narrator, without any influence from my view of the storyline, I’d give Lulu Lam 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Final thoughts: I liked this book! I thought it was different from anything else I’d read and I really appreciated how the author gave us a history lesson without an information dump. Facts were delicately weaved in with the storyline and it just seemed natural. If you’re looking for a good realistic fiction middle grade read, I’d recommend this one, especially if you have kids. This would be a good one to preview for them or just put straight into their hands.

Pick this up if you liked: (These are all novels in verse…there’s no particular reason why that happened…they’re just the first ones I thought of!)

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg (another perspective from a child on the Vietnam War)

Goodreads rating: 3.89/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.4/5

My rating: 4/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (audiobook) by JK Rowling (narrated by Jim Dale)

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

hp-4

Synopsis from GoodreadsThe Triwizard Tournament is to be held at Hogwarts. Only wizards who are over seventeen are allowed to enter – but that doesn’t stop Harry dreaming that he will win the competition. Then at Hallowe’en, when the Goblet of Fire makes its selection, Harry is amazed to find his name is one of those that the magical cup picks out. He will face death-defying tasks, dragons and Dark wizards, but with the help of his best friends, Ron and Hermione, he might just make it through – alive!

Feelings: I’d forgotten how different this book is from the movie! It’s a good 5 chapters into the book before we get to where the movie starts. I need more Bill and Charlie! More Pig! I would have loved to see the scene where the Weasleys arrive at No. 4 Privet Drive.

If you’re new to the audiobook world, I highly recommend listening to Jim Dale narrate the Harry Potter series. He’s the best of the best. He’s somehow able to give each character their own unique flair and persona, while managing to keep in time and step with the story. He doesn’t miss a beat. I could listen to him read something as droll as an instruction manual. All day.

I was in the car for a couple of hours with my mom and was itching to continue with this book. I asked her if she’d mind if we listened to it and we both giggled and commented on it as we listened. I forced her to sit through a Harry Potter movie marathon this summer (1 movie a night…it was great), so she was commenting left and right about what was to come. We had a blast! That’s one thing I love about the Harry Potter world – the love, the nostalgia, and all of the smiles.

It’s hard to think critically about this book because of how many years that I’ve straight up loved it. This has been one of my favorite books of the series for a long time. By book 4, Rowling had exploded the wizarding world. We get so much history in this story, as well as international know-how. Every aspect of this building story gets expanded in Goblet of Fire. We see more into how Voldemort and his followers were originally brought down. The inner-workings of Hogwarts itself is revealed. We start to see how the Ministry of Magic works and who the key players are. More charms and hexes. More character development (including some conflict between friends)…and more! In my opinion, this book is like the fulcrum of this series. It’s not that it’s in the middle or bigger than the previous 3 books…it’s crucial to where the series is going in a lot of ways.

Issues: If I were to nitpick, I’d say that there could be a small chance that there was too much happening in this one book. Major world Quidditch match where the Death Eaters strike, major international tournament among 3 wizarding schools, someone clearly trying to see Potter die, a revolution in the name of house elves, the Yule Ball (hormones, beware), Crouch family drama, and more. I think Rowling balances it ok and I couldn’t even begin to make suggestions about what could have been cut. It all matters…but it is a lot.

The only other tiny issue I have is that in the last 4 of 5 chapters of the book, there’s a giant information dump. We have a couple of characters that just monologue mysteries away. There’s been so much build up and things we don’t understand…then someone talks about it and reveals everything in one go. I don’t love when that happens and it made for a long-winded ending.

Comparisons: This book is better than the movie! There was a lot of stuff that happened that I’d forgotten about. If any of the movies should have been split into 2 films, it should have been this one. We could have used the explanation of how Barty Crouch, Jr. ended up out of Azkaban in the movie!

Final thoughts: I’m so glad that I’m re”reading” this series. If you’re one of those people that never bothered to read the books because the movies were out…I’d highly recommend that you give the books a chance. The movies have nothing on the original stories. They’re just so much more.fully rounded out than the films are. Rowling is a master storyteller, always and forever.

 

Goodreads rating: 4.51/5

Audible.com rating: 4.9/5

My rating: 5/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

“We all have our la-la-la song. The thing we do when the world isn’t singing a nice tune to us. We sing our own nice tune to drown out ugly.”

one-crazy-summer

Synopsis from GoodreadsEleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.

When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.

Feelings: This is a book that we read for our book club at school. The focus this year is on diverse books, allowing some of us to see through different windows of life, courtesy of YA literature. This book definitely shows a welcome side of history. We see the Black Panthers as a group that cared for the children in their community, including feeding them and providing a safe space for them to learn about their culture. We see a hint of the violence that history paints, but it’s just there enough to show that the author wasn’t trying to glaze over the past. Instead, she narrows her focus.

I really enjoyed the author’s writing style and the voice that she gave to Delphine. She had so much heart and personality in what felt like a short story. I kept forgetting how young she was! I especially enjoyed the author’s word choice and the way she painted history.

I think one of this story’s strengths was the way the author delicately balances a lot of topical issues. We see family and abandonment, racism and sexism, poverty and more. But this book isn’t really about ONE of these, it’s about all of them…it’s about life. It’s about how our environments shape us AND it’s about how our environments don’t have to define us. There’s a lot going on.

Issues: While I enjoyed the writing, and I think there was a lot going on…I still got to the end and felt like nothing really had happened. Weird, right? They spend a month with their mother and go on a couple of adventures, learning about themselves along the way, but what was the heart of the story? What was the climax? It’s more like a portrait than a novel. We have feelings and emotions when we see it, it opens a door of understanding that we may not have been prone to otherwise, but there isn’t action. There’s no central driving force.

Final thoughts: I liked this story and I’m glad I read it, but it’s not one that I’ll rave about and press into people’s hands. It gave me a lot of new views about history, which I’m grateful for, and it was special that it was through the eyes of a child.

 

Goodreads rating: 3.93/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.5/5

My rating: 3.5/5

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