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

Podcast Spotlight: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

I recently jumped on the bandwagon that is the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast. I was in the market for a new show to obsess over and boy, did I find one. The show’s co-hosts, Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile, dig into one chapter at a time, going through the Harry Potter books in order. Not only do they analyze them, they treat them like a sacred text. They are both absed at Harvard Divinity School and bring in different practices to each podcast.

Each episode begins with a 30 second recap of the chapter in question, as well as a discussion on that week’s theme. Then they choose a spiritual practice to use while approaching that chapter, which is where things get interesting. Sometimes they’ll imagine a section of the book and discuss what they’re seeing in their heads. Other times, they’ll select a random line or two and approach it from a literal and allegorical standpoint. At this point, I’m about halfway through the first book with them and I think these are the only two practices they’ve used so far.

I was hesitant to listen to this podcast at first, wondering if treating Harry Potter as a sacred text was almost sacrilegious. But what I’ve found is that the approach allows me to connect with the text more and to see it as more than just an entertaining story. I see so much more depth and complexity, probably far more than J.K. Rowling ever could have intended. We see character motivations in a different light, as well as symbolism and lessons galore.

As someone who has read the books multiple times, I really enjoy this podcast series. I think it would also be really fun to read a chapter, then listen to the podcast episode about it, then continue on like that. Everything is fresh in your mind and you can see if you’re seeing the same things they are. They are very much aware of spoilers (meaning they try really hard to avoid them) so you’re safe there.

They have just recently begun going through the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, so you’ve got plenty of time to catch up, if you want to give it a listen! For more information, check out their website at harrypottersacredtext.com.

What are some podcasts you enjoy listening to? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading (and listening)! – Caitlyn

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

“Life is a gift. Don’t forget to live it.”

Synopsis from GoodreadsMadeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her seventeen years. But when Olly moves in next door, and wants to talk to Maddie, tiny holes start to appear in the protective bubble her mother has built around her. Olly writes his IM address on a piece of paper, shows it at her window, and suddenly, a door opens. But does Maddie dare to step outside her comfort zone?

Everything, Everything is about the thrill and heartbreak that happens when we break out of our shell to do crazy, sometimes death-defying things for love.

Feelings: This book has been on my radar since it came out in 2015. I’d heard what it was about and I wanted to read it, but just never actually picked it up. I saw that the movie was coming out soon and KNEW that I’d want to read it first, so that motivated me to get my own copy of it. I start it at around 10 PM on a Saturday night, and was finishing it not even 24 hours later. That’s partly because I had time to read and partly because of how quickly it moves.

I really enjoyed the formatting of the writing and it’s something I’m starting to see more often. Some authors are moving away from traditional blocks of text (aka chapters) and towards more creative and engaging writing. We get drawings, emails and IMs, paragraph-long “chapters”, and longer chapters. Every few pages is different and it made me understand the main character a little bit better, like I was more part of her world.

Issues: About halfway through the book, I made a predication about how it would all unfold. And I was right…exactly right. I wish the author had anticipated how some of the details could lead the reader to a certain conclusion and added in a curveball or two. It wasn’t so obvious that it affected my overall enjoyment of the story, but it did effect the way I read the last 20 pages or so.

The ending left me somewhat unsatisfied, even outside of me knowing what to expect. Now that I’ve said that, I couldn’t tell you what would have been a satisfying ending. I wanted more closure for the main character and for those around her.

Characters: I found Madeline and Olly’s relationship to be really sweet. It made sense that they’d be drawn to one another and they complimented each other really well. There’s definitely a little bit of instalove between them and the way Maddy was so easily able to interact with Olly, even though she’d literally only been around like 5 people in her life, was a little bit unrealistic. But overall, I enjoyed reading their story and seeing them grow both together and individually.

I enjoyed having Carla there, like a voice of reason and understanding. She was a stable character that was holding the narrative up, at times. However, I was a little thrown off at how she bended to Maddy’s will (no spoilers) and disregarded her mother’s concerns. That seemed like something a younger character might do.

Maddy’s mom is a whole other story. She’s one of the reasons I was unsatisfied with the ending – I thought she deserved more. Her relationship with Maddy is really fun and sweet for the majority of the book, so we grow to sympathize with her. Then the book ends and she’s got some loose ends that could have been tied up a little better.

Final thoughts: While I did have a few small issues with predictability, the ending, and character motivations, I still overall really enjoyed this story. I especially liked the writing style and the narrator’s voice. It was really easy to read and is one I’ll be recommending to a lot of friends, including you!

Pick this up if you liked:

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

Goodreads rating: 4.1/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.6/5

My rating: 4/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Top 5 Cinderella Retellings

You guys, I really love fairy tales. I’m not necessarily one of those Disney fairy tale crazy fans, but I just love the genre in general. Give me a set of prince and princess characters, a talking pet sidekick, and a happily ever after any day.

I also really get into fairy tale adaptations and retellings. There’s something really fun about reading a reimagination of a classic story and finding ways that they parallel. I’ve seen and read all kinds of adaptations over the years – Snow White, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood – but I think most often, I’ve read Cinderella retellings, so that’s what I’ll focus on today. These are 5 of my favorite Cinderella retellings.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

This is the most recent Cinderella adaption that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. We have a science fiction fandom twist to the classic story, which parallels the film “Ever After” more so than the original tale. It’s witty and chalk full of references to bigger fandoms. The love story is a little different from a classic fairy tale and their meet cute is unique. We’ve got a fun cast of characters here for this modern take on a classic – plus it’s a quick read!

 

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

I couldn’t leave out my favorite of them all! I remember seeing this book around for a couple of years before actually picking it up and I’m SO glad that I did. Cinder takes us on a galactic journey with this fairy tale twist and throughout this series, we see other adaptations as well, including Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White. The connections to Cinderella are pretty prominent in this first book and it’s a gripping, hilarious story.

It Started with Goodbye by Christina June

This is another modern adaptation of Cinderella, with some looser connections. Our main character lives with her stepmother and stepsister and has a fairy godmother in her abuela. This retelling focuses less on the dynamic between the main protagonist and her “Prince Charming” character and moves it more towards family and friendship. The characters are all VERY real, which is great for a fairy tale adaptation!

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Time for a classic retelling of Cinderella! You may be thinking about the movie, but I’m just going to stop you right there. Don’t even. This is a classic case of the book being significantly better than the movie. It doesn’t even come close. This author is one of my favorites when it comes to fairy tales. All the elements are there – magic, friendship, self-discovery, hope, and a happy ending. Plus, a prince. Got to have a prince! If you haven’t ever read this book, give it a go. You won’t regret it!

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Another throwback example! I remember reading this in middle school. It was one of the first fairy tale adaptations I’d read and is probably the reason I love them so much today. This book gives us a look at the aftermath of Cinderella’s class tale – post-ball and post-wedding life. The twist with this retelling is that there’s no magical anything, it’s a more realistic take. This is a more empowering tale, as Ella didn’t go to the ball in search of a prince, but of a way out of her miserable life. Definitely a different take!

What’s your favorite Cinderella retelling? Let me know in the comments below!

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

5 Rainy Day Reads

Here in Texas, Spring time means storm time. We live in “tornado alley”, so that means a couple times a week, we’ll be dealing with severe weather threats. We stay inside, we get away from windows, and we ride out the storms. For me, I turn the weather on the TV or my iPad and grab a book. On calmer rainy days, I may sit outside on the patio or by the window to read. There’s something really relaxing about reading on a rainy day, especially if all that’s happening is actual rain!

London Belongs to Me by Jacquelyn Middleton

Nothing says rainy day like a book set in London! I read this recently and really enjoyed it. Not only is it in one of my favorite cities to read about, but it centers around the theatre! Win! Alex is our main character who’s struggling to find consistency in busy London – with her job, her friends, and her family…even her living situation! I love the focuses on friendship and self discovery. Great for a day indoors, all cozied up. Read my full review HERE!

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Don’t worry! I didn’t forget my kindred spirit, Anne Shirley! You guys, I love these books so much. I’m actually listening to the new audiobook (narrated by Rachel McAdams) as I go to bed at night. This story makes me feel like I’m going home. If it’s storming outside, I want comfort and assurance. I want to be swept away and thoroughly distracted. Plus, Anne makes everything in her story seem far more dramatic than what I’m experiencing. Read my full review HERE!

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Sometimes on a rainy day, I want to experience something completely outside my norm. That’s where historical fiction comes into play. This book is  a great choice because it will completely consume you. Doerr is a master painter. You’ll feel, smell, hear, and experience everything right along with the characters. It’s a hefty read, but once you get going, it’s hard to stop! Read my full review HERE!

Saga, Volumes 1-7 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Maybe on your rainy day, you want to experience a visual journey. Graphic novels are a great choice! They’re easy to read and the artwork can suck you in. I’ve read all 7 volumes of Saga and it’s been quite an experience! There are twists and turns, strange new worlds and unique characters. I’ve mentioned these and other graphic novels HERE!

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare OR Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Sometimes on a rainy day, I need a good supernatural series. Both of these are great options for a day of storms, or just a day inside. I like diving into worlds that are totally different from mine with characters are tackling something I can’t even imagine. Clare, especially, is great at world building and pulling you into the wars her characters are fighting. AND if you finish reading, you can watch it on TV! The Freeform show Shadowhunters is based off of Clare’s characters and of course, there are the Twilight films. Read my full review for City of Bones (movie, book, and show) HERE!

What do you reach for on a rainy day? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

“If you believe in yourself and have a few good friends, then you can do anything. You can be anything. So, as the saying goes: Look to the stars. Aim. Ignite.”

Synopsis from GoodreadsGeek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

Feelings: This book was perfect for a reader like me. I love all the fandoms and enjoy subtle (and also not so subtle) references to things I love. PLUS, I love a good fairy tale retelling. This one in particular was done really well. Let’s talk Cinderella first.

This story paralleled the Ever After version of the Cinderella story, more than any of the others. The character’s name is Danielle, she has one nasty sister and one that has a sympathetic side, Danielle and “the prince” have a secret kind of relationships before the “ball” scene, and so on. And I’m glad the author chose that route. In terms of making the story realistic, this was the best way to go.

For the fandom aspect – so much fun! We saw everything from Battlestar Galactica to Game of Thrones to Batman to basically any fandom you can think of. I love the way the story is centered around the (fake, for us) TV series of Starfield, and we get to learn about this show as go go along this journey with the characters. I’m glad it wasn’t focused on an existing show; it made me bond with the characters more this way.

Issues: The story arc with Brian made the story get jumbled. For a while, we kept seeing that name and knew that there was something major that happened between him and Darien. I felt anxious to know what it was! Then when we find out, it comes out in a weird way and sort of falls apart. I didn’t really see Darien learn from that experience and it didn’t develop him as a character, so it just seemed out of place.

There were some small repetitions that annoyed me, like the “holy ______ Batman” line and the references to Darien’s abs. We get it, you’re a fan. We get it, your abs are insured.

What is with GAIL? Darien goes on and on about how he trusts her and how she’s the only one from before his fame began who really knows him, but she was useless. She missed all the drama happening with him, loses his phone at a very important plot point, and is a discombobulated mess. I think Darien needs new friends.

Characters: These characters all felt so REAL. Elle isn’t a perfect protagonist. She’s certainly got some issues, but she’s a teenager and it all made sense. It made her relatable, unlike Disney’s Cinderella character. (She took too much for too long, that’s all I’m saying. Start a mouse rebellion and take that house back, queen.) I like that she finds her voice by the end and discovers what makes her happy. We all go on that journey at some point.

Darien was a bit of a different love interest character. He’s got his own thing going, sure, but he isn’t that perfect, dreamy, Sarah-Dessen-esque boy character. Like Elle, he’s imperfect and makes mistakes along the journey. He learns about trust (sort of) and taking the reigns of his own life.

This book has a great set of side characters (except for Gail). I loved Sage. At first, I thought she was going to be that grumpy character who spoils everything, but she turned out to be the exact opposite. Chloe, the evil step sister, is exactly who the plot needed her to be, and Cal was that sweet surprise in the end. The step mother never got any redemption, like some “evil” parent characters do, which is fitting with the classic fairy tale. I’m okay with her remaining a negative source in Elle’s life, rather than this huge come-to-Jesus-scene where they promise to both “try” or whatever. That isn’t how things go sometimes.

Final thoughts: Not only was it a lot of fun, it was emotional, too. I actually teared up a few times because of the way I felt for the characters and was connected to them. If you love fandoms (or even just one fandom) and/or you love fairy tale retellings, then this is the perfect book for you. I read most of it in one sitting, because I just couldn’t find a good stopping point!

Pick this up if you liked:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

It Started With Goodbye by Christina June

Goodreads rating: 4.24/5

My rating: 4.25/5

*This book is out TODAY! I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review. All opinions are my own.

Happy reading! – Caitlyn