The Rundown: February-April ’18

My goal was to read the Percy Jackson series before my baby arrived, and I did it! With that said, this will probably be my last blog for a while as I try to figure this whole new mommy thing ūüôā

LightningThief2014Percy Jackson and the Olympians series

by Rick Riordan (new read)

This series was a great fantasy anthology, which had lots of parallels to Harry Potter (which was not a bad thing!).

Percy Jackson is a twelve year old boy who discovers that he is a demigod/half blood— one parent is mortal and one parent is a Greek god. After a harrowing trip with his mom, he is sent off to Camp Half Blood,¬† where there are lots of other demigods like himself. He soon learns who his father is (which is half the fun of the first book, so I won’t spoil it by telling you), as well as necessary skills to survive in the world.

                         It contains five books:

The Lightning Thief

The Sea of Monsters

The Titan’s Curse

The Battle of the Labyrinth

The Last Olympian

Unlike some other series, I didn’t feel that this one overstayed its welcome. The pacing was excellent. There was lots of action, but also suspense that kept the stories moving forward. The background information and occasional flashbacks never took me out of what was happening at the moment.¬† I was never a big fan of learning about Greek myths in school, but Riordan does an awesome job of integrating those characters and stories into modern day. There’s lots of humor and sarcasm, which is appealing to most of the young adult demographic.

VERDICT:¬†I loved this series and I think it has a wide appeal to readers of all ages and genders. There’s a little something for everyone! Even if you are not a huge fantasy fan, the modern setting and vernacular can help you suspend some of your disbelief. Absolutely deserves its spot on the list!

**Ashley reviewed the first book of this series HERE**

**They made movies of the first two books, which I watched over spring break. I was pretty disappointed. Some of the characters were in complete contradiction to their description in the book, not to mention they made them all significantly older. They also left out a TON of backstory, and had events happen that weren’t related to one another, as well as leaving out a significant subplot from the first book. I’m glad they decided not to continue on with the series.



The Rundown- March/April ’17

It took me a loooong time to get through this first book, hence the doubled-up post.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (reread) Huckleberry_Finn_book

There were two things I remembered about this book: the majority of the book is written in dialect and the rampant use of the “n-word.” The combination of those two made it a difficult book to get through, not to mention it’s just plain LONG.

This book is a sequel to¬†The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but there’s no need to have read that in order to be able to follow this. There’s a succinct recap in the first chapter that gives all the pertinent information.

Huck Finn runs away when his father shows up back in his life without the best of intentions. He runs across a neighbor’s slave, Jim, who is trying to escape his life as well. They decide to help each other on the way to freedom.

It’s a journey story with a lot of stops along the way. There are a lot of characters to keep up with, which becomes more difficult when they are referred to with multiple monikers. As they go through different territories along the Mississippi, the dialect changes with each new place and Twain uses it all. I had to slow down a lot and hear the voice in my head to be able to understand what they were saying!

VERDICT:¬†In general, it’s a decent story. It has a good premise and there are some important themes. It wasn’t my favorite book, but I can’t think of a good enough reason not to keep it on the list, so… let’s keep it.

**Check out Ashley’s review of it HERE**

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (new read)¬†

91DRp5i5J-LThis is another of those books I’ve heard of my whole life, but had no idea what it was about. Now that I’ve read it, I wish I had know the premise, because my elementary-aged self would have LOVED it. As it is now, I still think it’s a fun book!

Mrs. Frisby is a widowed mouse who has four children to take care of. It’s the time of year when the family has to move their house for planting season, but her youngest son, Timothy, is ill. She finds her way to a group of creatures called the rats of NIMH, who help her come up with a plan.

When I first started reading, I got bored pretty quickly. As the problem begins to unfold though, it quickly became more interesting. One of the best parts of the book was finding out about the rats of NIMH– who they were, what they did, and how they came to be there. I can’t give any of that away though!

VERDICT:¬†Once again, I don’t know if this is really a “young adult” book– I mean, can any Newbery winner be considered one? However, I really enjoyed it as a unique fantasy adventure. Definitely recommended!

April/May/June ’16 Update – Ashley

Yeah, I know… It’s kind of cheating, but life happens! ¬†I’ve also read the second book in the Percy Jackson series, which I still love! ¬†ūüôā

* Beezus and Ramona¬†by Beverly Cleary¬†(reread) – This is a book that I read for the first time many, many years ago. ¬†It wasn’t one that I revisited often, but I always remembered being beezus-and-ramona-book-cover-author-beverly-clearyfond of it. ¬†I was excited to see it on the list and to have the chance to see if it lived up to my memories.

Here are the¬†basics: Beezus is the big sister. ¬†Ramona is the little sister. ¬†Beezus is trying to grow up and do typical ten-year-old things. Ramona doesn’t get it and wants to do¬†typical preschool things. ¬†This causes predictable, yet amusing, mishaps. ¬†They’ve got the underlying sisterly love thing going on, but that doesn’t mean they always have to like each other, right?

My Take:¬†What a fun book! ¬†Easy, but fun. ¬†And classic. ¬†And ¬†relatable and non-intimidating. ¬†It was such a relief to read a book from this list that wasn’t heavy and didn’t require a whole lot of depth in thought. ¬†But yet, this is easily the most I’ve identified with any book in this challenge so far. ¬†I mean, who can’t relate to classic older-younger sibling dynamics? ¬† ¬†However, one of the 100 best YA novels of all time??? ¬†If best = classic, absolutely! ¬†If best = most forward/moving/provocative? ¬†Not so much. ¬†Not a clear choice for me…

** Click here to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **


* The Westing Game¬†by Ellen Raskin¬†(new read) –¬†Everything I knew about this book excited me from the beginning – it was one that I was looking forward to reading as soon as we found “The List.” ¬†The title, the premise, the cover art… everything abwesting gameout it appealed to me.

Samuel W. Westing, mysterious millionaire, has died.  One of the sixteen (seemingly random) tenants of the Sunset Towers is the heir to his fortune.  In order to claim their inheritance, the group is divided into teams of two and then given a check and a clue.  They are tasked with using those clues to uncover the murderer among them.  The first to do so will win the remaining Westing fortune.   As the teams gather more and more information, secrets are uncovered, relationships formed, and motives questioned.

My Take: ¬†Really wasn’t a fan of this one… It was fine. ¬†I think my main issue was that I didn’t like or care about any of the characters. ¬†They were well-developed in the sense that we came to know different layers of them throughout the story, but that didn’t ever change my feelings towards them. ¬†I also found the supposed mystery element lacking. ¬†It was infuriating to know “the answer” the whole time, but still suffer through the characters’ ridiculous attempts to solve it. ¬†I certainly don’t think this one belongs on “The List.” ¬†How ’bout a good ol’ Agatha Christie instead?

** Click here to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **


*¬†The Book Thief¬†by Markus Zusak¬†(new read)¬†– I was very hesitant to¬†read this book. ¬†I had heard such high praise for it, that I assumed there was no way it’d live up to the hype. ¬†I wanted to¬†enjoy it so badly that I worried that I had jinxed myself. ¬†Of course, in the end, I had nothing to fear!

Set in Germany during the second World War, this is the story of Liesel¬†Meminger, who lives with foster parents after a devastating separation from her natural family. ¬† At only ten years old, Liesel is still a child, but yet old enough to notice¬†the horrors happening all around her every day. ¬†She struggles ¬†to understand the very grown-up¬†world she’s living in, all while trying to hold¬†on to her childhood. ¬†She ends up finding comfort in the words of stolen books and the friendship of the Jew hidden in her basement. ¬†What results is a story of self-empowerment and a gut-wrenching, emotional testimony to the power of the written word.

My Take: This might be my favorite challenge book so far! ¬†The writing is absolutely brilliant. ¬†It took me a minute to adjust to the unusual narration, but then I was hooked. ¬†For me, the best part was the development of Liesel’s relationships throughout the story. ¬†Each one was so perfectly complicated and beautiful. ¬†Plus, as ¬†reading teacher, I love any story that speaks to the oft-unnoticed power of reading and writing! ¬†This was one of those “I-can’t-put-it-down-until-I-finish” books. ¬†It went everywhere with me until I was done – car, purse, pool, lake… ¬†Worthy of a spot on this list? ¬†Without a doubt. ¬†This is one I will come back to over and over again!

** Click¬†here¬†to see Tiffany’s review of this book! **

The Rundown- April ’16

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (new read)Hatchet1

Full disclosure: I am not a big fan of survival stories. That probably explains why I never read this book when I was younger, even though I had plenty of opportunity.

Hatchet is a story about a thirteen year old boy named Brian who, on his way to visit his father, goes down in a plane crash. The pilot dies and he is forced to go at it alone. We read all about the trials and tribulations he goes through as he tries to survive on his own.

Kids could actually learn a lot from this book as far as wilderness skills go. It details the processes of trying to start a fire, how to obtain food, and making a shelter.

Although I didn’t care for the subject matter, in general, it was a well written book. It seemed realistic as far as I could tell and the epilogue at the end even put some specific names to plants and animals that were described in the story. It’s also a great lesson in perseverance.

VERDICT:¬†I will go ahead and agree that this book has earned its place on the “best of” list. Between the story itself, the realism, and the social/moral dilemmas presented, I think it’s a well rounded book. It has a fairly broad appeal.

**If you find that you really enjoy this book, there are apparently at least four sequels that feature Brian, so you could read a whole miniseries if you want!

April ’15 Update – Ashley

First of all, let me apologize for the “lateness” of this post… ¬†My brother is recently engaged and I spent most of the month of April helping my mom get ready to host their engagement party. ¬†Unfortunately, that put young-adult-novel-reading-challenges on the back burner, but that just means I got to spend all of Mothers’ Day weekend reading… and I won’t complain about that!!! ¬†So, here’s what I read this ¬†“month”…

* The Hobbit by JRR ¬†Tolkien (reread) –¬†The Hobbit is one of my all-time favorite books and holds a very special place in my heart (although my students will tell you that’s true of every book I’ve ever read!). ¬†One of the reasons I will always treasure this book is because it was also my dad’s favorite book. ¬†My dad and I typically have a lot in common, but my interest in reading was always somewhat foreign to him – until I was assigned this book in my middle school English class. ¬†I knew I would love it, as soon as I heard how much he had loved it! ¬†(It was the same with listening to Aerosmith…)

Hobbit_coverThe Hobbit is a classic journey tale – complete with an main character who begins the story¬†as an underdog: under appreciated by those around him, including himself. ¬†Inevitably, through the course of his unlikely¬†adventure, he winds up proving his worth tenfold and discovering things within himself that, of course, had been there all along and only required dire circumstances in order to discover. ¬† The story takes place in Middle Earth, a fantasy land that is home to all manners of mythical beings – elves, dwarves, wizards, trolls, and the titular hobbit. ¬†This hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is a creature of comfort and takes great pride in living a life full of routine and simple pleasures. ¬†That all changes the day that he is called upon to be a part of a — quest to the distant Lonely Mountain, in order to help reclaim the long-lost dwarfish treasure, stolen and still guarded by the dragon Smaug. ¬†So, along with a dozen — dwarves and a great wizard, Bilbo embarks on a long and often treacherous journey across the wild lands of Middle Earth, full of goblins, giant spiders, and many other strange creatures.

My Take: To be honest, I would have been highly skeptical¬†of this list had it not included The Hobbit! ¬†I absolutely love this book – and the trilogy that follows – for it’s imagination. ¬†It’s one of those books that you can be easily lost in, a book that makes you want to live in this magical land and know these magical beings. ¬†Unfortunately, I think that’s a desire that is lost on our current ¬†generation. ¬†I don’t want to sound cynical, but¬†it does seem as though the only worlds children are currently getting lost in are those controlled with a handheld device. ¬†I love my cell phone, computer, and television as much as the next person, but nothing will ever compare to the escape provided by a book like The Hobbit.¬† Required reading for all!! ¬†ūüôā

* The Fault in Our Stars¬†by John Green¬†(new read) –¬†Well, I figured it was probably time for me to pick this one up, although I admit I was a little nervous because of all the hype with the movie release. ¬†What if it didn’t live up to my now exceedingly high expectations? ¬†What if all the hoopla was disproportionate after reading it for myself? ¬†What if, after hearing about how I will need a box of tissues to make it through the book, I have become too ready for the impending sadness and don’t cry? ¬†But, alas, by including this book on “the list,” TIME made my decision for me – it needed to be read. ¬†Also, for background purposes, I have a general rule to not see movies based off books unless I have already read the book, so none of my review has been tainted by the movie!


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know that The Fault in Our Stars is a story centered around two teenagers at different points in their journey with cancer. ¬†Augustus (“Gus”) is in remission after having lost his leg to a bout of¬†Osteosarcoma. ¬†Hazel is in the midst of her battle with terminal thyroid and lung cancer, after¬†experiencing a “medical miracle” that will only serve to lengthen her short lifetime. ¬†Hazel’s life expectancy may be¬†grim, but that doesn’t keep her from falling in love with the “hot boy” she meets in her dreaded support group.¬† What follows is the story of¬†two teenagers who are living in a horrible juxtaposition of worlds – children by age, yet¬†adult by circumstance. ¬†They are teenagers navigating the complicated territory that is a¬†first love, only to have it further complicated by an¬†unavoidable truth that is far beyond what they should have to understand so young. ¬†This story is less about the specific plot points and more about the uncountable ways that our lives intertwine with others – those who are immediate and yet others ¬†that we don’t realize.

My Take:¬†This story is in equal parts beautiful and maddening – both aspirational and depressingly honest. ¬†There were moments when I wasn’t sure whether or not I was enjoying the book at all. ¬†It was an easy enough read, but “listening” to the existential musings of two teenagers as they ponder life, death, and their purpose on Earth was hard. ¬†Hard because I tend to dislike existential musings in general and hard because it seems cruel ¬†that children should ever be in a situation that prompts that kind of thinking. ¬†On the flip side, I wish that more people could have even a sliver of that kind of awareness, as it could serve an important purpose in our mostly self-centered society. ¬†Clearly, I am majorly conflicted about this particular title and, as such, agree with its placement on “the list.” ¬†If it can cause so much internal dialogue for just one person, imagine the possibilities in a room full of young adults who are figuring out their own place in life!

PS – I didn’t cry. ¬†:/

The Rundown- April ’15

I really enjoyed my reads for April… and they were very different!

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (new read)

2422558909_a2f4ddfe74_oTo be honest, I’m not sure why I’ve never read The Phantom Tollbooth. It was even in our house, as I borrowed my brother’s copy of the book to complete this challenge!

It ended up being quite a fun, humorous tale. It tells the story of Milo, a young boy who receives the gift of a tollbooth. It turns out to be a portal to a place called the Kingdom of Wisdom, where Milo is transported as he drives his car through the tollbooth. He acquires several companions along the way and is tasked with the rescue of two princesses.

The thing that sets this book apart is the constant wordplay. There are a ton of puns, and idioms are personified or portrayed in a literal way.¬† That is one of the ways it reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. It was an easy read, but kids have to be pretty intelligent to understand all of the ‚Äújokes‚ÄĚ that transpire, otherwise the story isn‚Äôt going to make much sense. Taking that into consideration, I‚Äôd recommend this for kids anywhere from fourth to sixth grade.

VERDICT: I think this book definitely earned its place on the list as a story that strays away from the norm. I also appreciate the fact that it makes the reader think in an academic way.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (reread)

This book ignited my life-long passion for Holocaust literature. I read it for the first time in elementary school and several nts02times since then, although not at all recently. I have always found that era extremely interesting. The stories that come out of those situations are fascinating and inspiring.

Number the Stars is a Newberry Award winning novel about a girl named Annemarie, and her family, who live in Denmark. The story occurs at the beginning of the Nazi German occupation and Annemarie’s best friend is Jewish. It features an astounding act of bravery on the part of Annemarie, as well as a couple of other intense moments as the families interact and try to help one another.

One of the coolest things about the book, and I don’t know if it was an addition for the anniversary edition, is the author’s note in the back. It turns out that the people of Denmark smuggled almost the entire county’s Jewish population to Sweden over the course of a handful of years. I’m so glad that she used this angle to write the book because it is a side of the story that is not often told. In fact, I don’t think I have ever read anything else about Denmark’s role.

VERDICT: I really can’t put into words how important this kind of book is to kids, to present a personal side of history that they can relate to. It absolutely deserves its place on the list!