The Rundown- June ’17

0-439-02348-3The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins (reread)

I started out my summer rereading this dystopian trilogy. I read it for the first time six years ago (around this time actually!) and it immediately dropped into my favorites category. Here’s what I said then:

These books were by far the most exciting {I read this summer.}There was hardly ever a dull moment (except maybe in the third one). Perfect summer reads in my opinion. I flew through these books, hardly able to put each down once I started it. Definitely recommended!

I still agree. For the uninformed, here is the gist: in the future, North America is condensed to a nation named Panem, with the all powerful Capitol in the middle, surrounded by twelve districts. Each year, to remind the districts of their power, the Capitol sends two kids from each one into an event called The Hunger Games. There, they fight to the death until one victor is left standing…. did I mention the entire nation watches this live on television? The books follow 16 year old Katniss Everdeen, who becomes one of the tributes (the contestants) after volunteering for her younger sister, whose name is picked.

As I previously stated, these books are jam packed. The world Collins has created is intriguing and, at times, scary. She does an excellent job of fleshing out the characters and settings, creating extremely vivid images. Katniss is a great protagonist and role model, even through her flaws. To me, this is a trilogy that spans age, gender, culture, and genre. Anyone can get into this and relate to something. Especially in these times!

VERDICT: There is no doubt in my mind that this series deserves a place among the best of all time! “Catching Fire” is my favorite of the trilogy, but they’re all great 🙂

**You can find Ashley’s review HERE**

**After reading, I watched all four of the movies this weekend. Watching them so closely after reading, I basically consider them the Cliff Notes of the books. There is SO MUCH that is left out, especially in “Mockingjay.” You may want to watch a movie or two to see if you’re interested in the story, but then definitely read the books because they are such a better experience! After I saw the first movie when it came out, I wrote a little piece about the differences, which you can read here.


The Wall by Peter Sis (new read)

thewallThe full title of this book is The Wall: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain. Seeing the full title immediately had me intrigued. Second surprise: it’s a picture book! Thus, I was able to read this while I was at school last week opening the library for summer checkout.

Peter Sis’ memoir tells of his life growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. The story is told mostly through drawings and panels. Some pages contain several of his journal excerpts to show the passage of time. He aligns the rise of Communism with what he’s allowed to create and listen to throughout the years.

I think this is a great way to introduce young adults to this difficult topic. It simplifies it and also makes it personal. His drawings are in black and white, with uses of red (and sometimes other colors) for emphasis. The illustrations are focused and specific, and draw out quite a bit of emotion. They’re great conversation starters.

It was really interesting to read the progress of events from someone who was there. I learned several new things myself! For instance, in 1968 a new leader took over the country and they were on the way to making progress away from Communism. However, Russia got wind of it and came in and took back over, which set them all the way back.

VERDICT: Even though I had never heard of it previously, I think this book deserves its place on the list. The story is one that needs to be told. The way Sis constructed this book is purposeful and accessible. A must read historical text!


Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (new read)

johnny tremainThis was one of the books I wasn’t looking forward to reading from this list, so I figured I’d power through after getting to read some of my favorites!

In the introduction to this book, the backstory to this Newbery winner was told. Forbes wrote this story immediately after winning a Pulitzer Prize! for a book about Paul Revere. She decided to use all the research she had done for that book to write a children’s story. That is amazing to me. To write for two wildly different audiences about the same topic (and win awards doing both!), is impressive.

The story takes place on the eve of the American Revolution in Boston. Johnny Tremain is an apprentice in a silversmith shop. While working on an important order for John Hancock, Johnny sustains an injury and the course of his life is altered. We see Johnny’s journey over the next two years, with the story ending just after the beginning of the war.

Because of Forbes’ research, the story is extremely detailed and specific. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but sometimes I got bogged down in it. I enjoyed the first third of the book, but the more I read, the less interested I became. It, of course, turned into a story of politics and war, which I don’t typically care to read about. However, I think it was well written and historically accurate to my knowledge.

VERDICT: Good historical fiction, especially for young adults, is lacking in general. Since my aversion to this book is purely based on preference, I think it should be included on the list. It’s a great teaching tool, and I think it would appeal to many students.



May ’15 Update – Ashley

So… another late post, I know!  But school is officially out for the summer, which (in theory) leaves a lot more time for reading, so here’s to that!

* The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (reread) – Full disclosure: this was not my first “reread” of The Hunger Games…  Or my second…  Actually, I’ve read the entire series at least three times.  Yeah, I’m one of those groupies.  Sorry, not sorry.  I read this book for the first time back when I was in graduate school.  One of my friends in class was always talking about the series and insisted that I just had to read the books for myself!  At that time, I had yet to realize my love for  YA novels – specifically YA dystopian novels – but, after reading The Hunger Games, I could no longer deny it!

0-439-02348-3For anyone new to the series, The Hunger Games trilogy is set in the post-apocolyptic and dystopian nation of Panem.  Panem is divided into thirteen Districts in varying states of poverty and desolation, all surrounding The Capitol, which is seemingly all-powerful and full of ostentatious luxury.  Years ago, the thirteen Districts joined forces in a failed attempt to defeat The Capitol.  In the process, District Thirteen was completely obliterated and The Capitol felt need to further establish their supreme authority in Panem.  As a result, they established “The Hunger Games” – an annual pageant where a young girl and boy from each of the twelve remaining Districts is sent into a deadly arena where only one can return – alive and victorious.  Through a series of events, our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is sent into The Hunger Games as the female tribute from District Twelve.  The first book in the trilogy tells the story of her time in the Games, fighting to stay alive without losing her sense of self along the way.

My Take: Without a doubt, this book series, belongs on ‘the list.’  In it’s simplest interpretation, the book is an easy and (it feels wrong to say this about a book that features children killing children) pleasurable read.  The entire series is extremely well-written, with characters that are as complex as they are entertaining.  However, for me, the best part is the layers of meaning within the story.  I have a particular soft spot for dystopian novels because of the “what if” factor…  What if something like this were to really happen?   What if this (in any sense) is what the world is really coming to?  I am also very drawn to the characters in this particular series – their motivations, the sides of themselves that they choose to show and those they choose to hide from other, the factions of people they represent in our current reality, and what parts of myself I see in them.  If you haven’t already, READ IT!!!

* A Separate Peace by John Knowles (new read) – At the beginning of this journey, I went online and bought a stack of “challenge books” off of Amazon to add to my collection.  (I have a vision of having an entire shelf – or two, or three – of just the 100 books from this challenge once we have completed it…)  I tried to pick a variety of books from the list to purchase with my first order – some I had already read but didn’t own a copy of, some I had been wanting to read for some time, some I had just heard about and felt instantly drawn to, and some “dark horses” that didn’t really jump out at me from the list – mostly, because I didn’t want to leave all those for the very end of this journey.  A Separate Peace was one of those “dark horse” purchases.  The premise sounded decent enough, but I can’t honestly say I was super-excited to read it.  And, let’s face it, that cover is just a little bit depressing…  However, I can honestly say that I go into every new book wanting to love it and this book was no exception – I was hoping that I was going to kick myself later for not looking forward to it.


This story takes place during the early 1940’s at the beginning of World War II and features the friendship between introvert Gene and exuberant Phineas (Finny) during their tenure at Devon, an exclusive boys’ boarding school in New England.  The two are an unlikely pair – the studious soon-to-be-valedictorian and the natural athlete with a penchant for mischief and a knack for working the room.  One summer, their unique bond is challenged in a way that neither of them saw coming – and the aftermath comes with its own struggles as both boys attempt to discover themselves in this coming-of-age tale.

My Take:  I did not kick myself later.  I found myself wanting so much more from this entire story.  It was fine enough, but I felt very much “set up” for something that never climaxed.   Every time I turned the page, I thought “This is it!  The *big thing* is going to happen now and the entire pace of this story is going to drastically change.”  That theory only led to more disappointment.  It was not a particularly challenging read, although definitely a bit wordy for my taste at times – entire sections were sometimes skimmed to avoid the endless comparisons and descriptive language.  Now, to be fair, the underlying message is powerful and profound in its own right, but I can only imagine about a thousand other ways we could have gotten to that message in a more moving manner.  According to its jacket, A Separate Peace is a “masterpiece” and has been a bestseller for over thirty years…  They’ve also made not one, but TWO, movies based on the book – one, as recently as 2012.  Maybe I am missing something, but I would never read this book again and it certainly won’t be one that I recommend to friends or insist my children try as they get older.   I’m so confused!  Who out there has read this?  Am I totally off-base?