Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

I loved, loved, LOVED this book. Told in a series of sparse but beautiful narrative poems that depict one short elevator ride, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is a YA standout. This little book is reminiscent of the troubling books of verse by Ellen Hopkins (i.e. Crank, Glass) that explain her daughter’s meth addiction in a captivating, heartbreaking, and highly readable way. Like Hopkins’ works, Long Way Down uses its few words, text spacing, punctuation, and patterns of letters to create visual shapes on the page that linger with a reader long after they’ve put down the book. And, like Hopkins, Reynolds manages to take a frightfully real and painfully ugly topic and deliver a volume that is nothing short of beautiful.

The book focuses on the shooting of Will’s older brother Shawn as he walks home from the corner store. Will finds himself learning about the “rules” which survivors of such tragedies must follow. Will takes possession of a gun and seeks out his brother’s killer to exact the expected revenge. As he descends in an elevator to meet the person who killed Shawn, Will encounters a series of surprising characters as the doors open on each floor. Each character is more unexpected than the last and each has a unique and heartrending message to share with Will before he completes his ultimate goal of becoming a murderer.

Definitely not your mother’s book of love poetry or the famous but stiff Shakespearean sonnets they forced you to read in school, Reynolds’ latest is modern poetry at its evocative and realistic best. I definitely recommend this one!

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The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Set in a revisionist post-WWII alternate reality where Japan and Germany actually won the war, I expected this novel to be fantastic. I knew that this story had been recently picked up as a series by Amazon, and the premise seems fascinating. Still, as much as I wanted to like The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, I found it fell woefully short of my expectations.

In this, Germany has become a superpower taking over the Eastern lands in America, has essentially razed Africa, and is now using its technological prowess to explore the only unconquered regions known to man: outer space. Japan has taken over the West Coast and created a hierarchy of classes and races with Americana-obsessed Japanese-born at the pinnacle of the “Place” standings. A buffer zone of Rocky Mountain states exists between the two former Axis allies who seem to be working against one another here in separate but simultaneous attempts at whole world domination. Superstitions and Chinese divination practices are commonly used to make decisions, black people are once again enslaved, Jews hide in plain sight to avoid detection, and Americans bow and grovel before rich Japanese investors in order to eke out a living. Overall, this future doesn’t show a pretty picture of what life COULD have been like if the war had gone the other way. Interestingly, a man in the Rocky Mountain sector has written his own revisionist tale proposing that the Allies won (although it doesn’t completely look like history as we know it); this tale-within-a-tale called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is banned but secretly read widely throughout the regions. This subplot alone is the only part of the book I enjoyed and even that falls flat when we actually meet the reclusive author.

Full of weird syntax and awkward phrasing likely designed to show the rigidity of the Japanese nationals and infighting among the famous top generals in Germany hoping to become the new Fuhrer, I found the language of the novel itself failed to flow. While it is true that the featured assasination attempts on authors and world leaders and continued genocidal schemes made the book plausible, they didn’t go very far to make it at all interesting. The characters are not fleshed out, the plot seems weak, and the story itself seems to struggle to fill an outline of what could have been a promising and engaging novel, but instead just feels forced and downright boring.

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Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood’s End was sent my way by my college-aged son to whom it was recommended by a friend who read it for a poli-sci class. We both struggled a bit to get into it, but he ended up loving it. Me, not so much. I know that Clarke is huge in sci-fi circles (as he is the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey), and this book is considered something of a seminal work in the sci-fi genre, but as that isn’t really my thing, it didn’t resonate as strongly with me as it did with my son. It had its shocking and enjoyable moments for sure, and was certainly good to spark a literary discussion with my kid (which I adored), but ultimately it wasn’t really my cup of tea.

childhood's end

The premise here is that a series of space ships inexplicably appear over the Earth one day, not to stage a hostile takeover, but instead to make the world more equitable and fair. No violence is necessary to accomplish this odd goal, just a series of strange demonstrations of alien power which allow the humans to understand they could not fight back even if they wished to do so. The alien Overlords meet one-on-one with only the Secretary General of the UN, but refuse to show themselves publicly to anyone for at least 50 years after their initial appearance (phase one of their benevolent takeover). Until then, they are content to observe, guide, and speak to mankind largely incognito.

The story of Earth progresses peacefully and relatively uneventfully through phase two, in which human beings wait to meet the everpresent beings from above, all while society is gradually becoming more equitable and placid. Scientific discovery and artistic prowess ebb as humankind is largely content with its fate and it is clear that alien science so far surpasses our own understanding we could never hope to catch up. The fifty years pass and the Overlords eventually reveal their surprising physical forms. The next period involves humans and Overlords learning to live together without undue conflict. We learn more of the alien’s actual limitations, their motivations for coming to our planet, and about the higher power which even the Overlord rulers answer to.

Phase three marks a stark contrast in earthly developments as the Overlords, having met their ultimate goal, are ready to depart the world as they are no longer needed here either to keep peace or drive progress. Just as the Overlords have become superfluous though, so have most ordinary humans as a new race of men has emerged ready to change the world as we know it. Big surprises occur at this point, but telling any more would simply give too much away.

I think the quote that resonated most with me was the following one (and it is likely for this idea alone why this novel was used in a political science course): “Fifty years is ample time in which to change a world and its people almost beyond recognition. All that is required for the task are a sound knowledge of social engineering, a clear sight of the intended goal—and power.” Too true, that, I’d say.

Overall, I’d have to say Childhood’s End was worth reading, especially if you are into sci fi, but this is not one I’d likely reread.

P.S. Why is this cover so darn ugly? I’m using it for my Popsugar book challenge in that category. Ick.

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Dinner with the Smileys by Sarah Smiley


Kelley and I read this one for our neighborhood book club. (Since she read it some time ago, I’m not sure she’ll post about it, so I didn’t label this one “Two Dorks, One Book.”) Dinner with the Smileys: One Military Family, One Year of Heroes, and Lessons for a Lifetime was about a woman whose military husband went on a yearlong deployment overseas and she decided to invite a guest to a family dinner with her sons to keep the loneliness at bay for the 52+ weeks. It had all the elements I should have liked as I felt I could really relate to the author’s issues: I have also been a military wife and had a deployed spouse, I have three sons, I attended college later in life after having a family and job, I have worked as a writer and a teacher, etc.

Parts of the story WERE very relatable and I liked that Sarah Smiley kept the interactions – particularly those about her sons’ attitudes toward the various guests, situations, and meals – realistic. She didn’t sugarcoat the bad manners or reluctance her kids often displayed (or her own occasional lack of interest in hosting!) which helped to humanize their conversations and home life. She stressed that she tried to keep things informal and real even when inviting senators, governors, and the like to her home.

However, I didn’t like that most of the dinners focused on famous or influential people in their Maine community and very few focused on the regular folks most of us might interact with on a daily basis. I don’t necessarily think she set out with that as her goal, but perhaps based on her job or the notoriety the dinners eventually seemed to garner, it did seem that most of the stories that ended up in the book played out as a “Who’s Who” of Maine’s cultural icons. Most of those stories weren’t even showcased with much depth or color either. My favorite of the dinner anecdotes involved the everyday people and I would have liked to have read more of those. The teachers, the neighbors, the friends who helped them when times were hard made for the most interesting stories, and I felt more of those stories would have provided a clearer picture of what life for the four home-based Smileys was really like.

I also felt a little misled when she revealed in a postscript that she’d also had a professional photographer at most of the sessions and used the same stories in her columns for the Bangor newspaper. As a result, I ended up feeling like the author was trying too hard to pull at the heartstrings and ultimately the book registered as just a little too trite.

Overall, not a bad read, but not one I’d likely reread or recommend.

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Back again!

After a LONG hiatus…I’m back to blogging. Hopefully, kelleybean is too (insert not-so-subtle hint here).

For my first post in several years, and given that the very last post entered on the site was about this very same thing in 2015, I’m hereby committing to the Popsugar Reading Challenge for 2018. This year’s challenge includes 40 books (or 50 if you’re going the advanced route). Since my Goodreads goal for the year is a book a week, this is perfect 🙂pop sugar graphicThe categories are listed below and they have a handy printable graphic on the site linked above to help you chart your progress. I’ll update this post as I finish each category along the way and try to do a individual review of each book choice. Join me and we’ll have some fun, discuss some books, and maybe I’ll even get out of my reading (and blogging) rut!

  1. A book made into a movie you’ve already seen
  2. True crime
  3. The next book in a series you started
  4. A book involving a heist
  5. Nordic noir
  6. A novel based on a real person
  7. A book set in a country that fascinates you
  8. A book with a time of day in the title – (Does dinnertime count as a time of day? Can I make Dinner with the Smileys by Sarah Smiley fit here? I guess for now I’ll plant it here since it seems to fit nowhere else and it’s my challenge so I get to decide…)
  9. A book about a villain or antihero
  10. A book about death or grief –
  11. A book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym
  12. A book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist
  13. A book that is also a stage play or musical
  14. A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you – The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (A reread for school, but this is truly one of my favorites. The prose is sparse and poetic in its simplicity while delving into heavy topics such as racism, poverty, domestic and sexual abuse.)
  15. A book about feminism
  16. A book about mental health
  17. A book you borrowed or that was given to you as a gift – The Clothes Make the Girl (Look Fat?) by Brittany Gibbons
  18. A book by two authors
  19. A book about or involving a sport
  20. A book by a local author – A Thousand Miles from Nowhere by John Gregory Brown (Does an author who lives within two hours of my house count? For now, this book will go here. I guess if I find someone MORE local, I can move this to a book about mental health.)
  21. A book with your favorite color in the title
  22. A book with alliteration in the title
  23. A book about time travel
  24. A book with a weather element in the title
  25. A book set at sea
  26. A book with an animal in the title
  27. A book set on a different planet
  28. A book with song lyrics in the title
  29. A book about or set on Halloween
  30. A book with characters who are twins
  31. A book mentioned in another book
  32. A book from a celebrity book club
  33. A childhood classic you’ve never read
  34. A book that’s published in 2018
  35. A past Goodreads Choice Awards winner
  36. A book set in the decade you were born
  37. A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to – The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Bachman
  38. A book with an ugly cover – Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
  39. A book that involves a bookstore or library
  40. Your favorite prompt from the 2015, 2016, or 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenges
  41. A bestseller from the year you graduated
  42. A cyberpunk book
  43. A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place
  44. A book tied to your ancestry
  45. A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title
  46. An allegory
  47. A book by an author with the same first or last name as you
  48. A microhistory
  49. A book about a problem facing society today – Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (It’s about gang violence and retaliation)
  50. A book recommended by someone else taking the Popsugar Reading Challenge

Others that fit nowhere: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

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Michelle FINISHES the 2015 Popsugar Reading Challenge (UPDATE)

Since I was off to a roaring start on my reading goals for 2015, (three and a half days in, three and a half books read) I added this Popsugar Reading Challenge to help me branch out some. If I can manage to follow along with it, it should get me close to my ultimate Goodreads goal of 80 (since it includes 52 books or one book per week if you count the trilogy as three). However, this challenge has specific requirements, so I may not get as far here, and while some books could count in multiple categories, I vow that I’m going to count each only one time. Check out the challenge itself here and then join me! Maybe we can keep each other on track. I plan to come back and update here as I read.

2015 reading challenge

A book with more than 500 pages – (Damn it, why did I finish Written in My Own Heart’s Blood in the LAST week of December??? I’m not ready to try that again any time soon!)  —-  Then, I decided to fill this slot with our book club read: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, but it became the Pulitzer Prize winner for 2015, so I moved it. (This MAY be the slot that never gets filled!!!)  Ok, finally, just to get this one over with, let’s make it, Grey by E.L. James

A classic romance – H.R.H. by Danielle Steel

A book that became a movie – Still Alice by Lisa Genova

A book published this year – Wreckage by Emily Bleeker 

A book with a number in the title – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

A book written by someone under 30 – Looking for Alaska by John Green

A book with nonhuman characters – The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble

A funny book – The Potty Mouth at the Table by Laurie Notaro

A book by a female author – The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds

A mystery or thriller – The Black: A Deep Sea Thriller by Paul E. Cooley

A book with a one-word title – Anthem by Ayn Rand

A book of short stories – Dear Life by Alice Munro

A book set in a different country – The Unimaginable by Dina Silver

A nonfiction book – Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

A popular author’s first book – Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet – Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

A book a friend recommended – The Gatecrasher by Madeleine Wickham

A Pulitzer-Prize winning book – All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A book based on a true story – The Vow: True Events that Inspired the Movie by Kim & Krickitt Carpenter

A book at the bottom of your to-read list – The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Honestly not sure why this was at the bottom of my TBR list, but somehow it was so, here this shall fit. I liked it and I’m not really sure why I’d put it off!)

A book your mom loves – The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

A book that scares you – The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard (because kidnapping is definitely scary!)

A book more than 100 years old – The Awakening by Kate Chopin

A book based entirely on its cover – The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (ok, so this one is a definite stretch. I don’t normally pick books just because of their covers and this one I read for book club, and it was a re-read. But, that cover IS pretty cool.)

A book you were supposed to read in high school but didn’t – Lord of the Flies by William Golding (And just to clarify for all my teacher friends: I’m not a slacker; I read everything ever assigned to me. However, I should have probably read this as a senior as it’s still assigned to the seniors where I teach, but we got a new teacher my 12th grade year and she never assigned it and I read it on my own in college).

A memoir – Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

A book you can finish in a day – The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

A book with antonyms in the title – Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit – No Time to Wave Goodbye by Jacquelyn Mitchard (Set mostly in California, a place I’d sort of like to visit…these are getting hard as I approach the end of the challenge!)

A book that came out the year you were born – Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

A book with bad reviews – Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

A trilogy – Infected, Contagious, and Pandemic by Scott Sigler

A book from your childhood- The Cay by Theodore Taylor

A book with a love triangle – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

A book set in the future – The Martian by Andy Weir

A book set in a high school – The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

A book with a color in the title – Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

A book that made you cry – Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (Ok, to be honest, I didn’t cry on this or on any previous read of this novella. However, this is likely because I am a terrible person and I NEVER cry at books. Still, this one comes close; I’m just not evil enough that I can squeeze out even a single tear for poor Lennie. I do have so much literary sadness over this one that I WISH I could cry.)

A book with magic – Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

A graphic novel – Resistance: Book 1 by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis

A book by an author you’ve never read before – We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A book you own but have never read – Sounder by William H. Armstrong

A book that takes place in your hometown – Sisters of Shiloh by Becky & Kathy Hepinstall

A book that was originally written in another language – Night by Elie Wiesel

A book set during Christmas – Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand

A book by an author with your same initials – You Deserve a Drink: Boozy Misadventures and Tales of Debauchery by Mamrie Hart

A play – Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

A banned book – To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

A book based on or turned into a TV show – Doctor Who: The King’s Dragon by Una McCormack

A book you started but never finished – Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers


And…for extra books I read while finishing the challenge that fit NOWHERE: Buried Onions by Gary Soto, Timothy of the Cay by Theodore Taylor, Animal Farm by George Orwell, Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella, Oedipus Rex by Sophocles (Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald translation) Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles (unknown translation), Antigone by Sophocles (Fitts and Fitzgerald translation again), The Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus (E.D.A. Morehead translation), Longbourn by Jo Baker, andThe Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.

I’m currently working on One Second After by William R. Forstchen and Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand to try to finish up my overall 80 for the year. With 18 to go and only about 6 hectic holiday-prep weeks left in the year, I don’t think I’m going to make it.


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Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Well, this was GOING to be a Two Dorks, One Book feature post, but SOMEONE didn’t read it. So it’s just me. Reviewing alone again. Like a solitary, non bookdorky, book blogger. Because where are you, Kelley, and what are you reading? And don’t say Wheel of Time or Outlander again! Anyway, this was the February book for our book club but lots of folks didn’t read it, apparently, except me.

midnight crossroad

So here’s what I think:

In general this was a good pick, although I really did not like the cutesy caricature names. I probably would have been able to like this story better without that (it might even have been a love!). I mean, characters should not be named Bobo or Fiji or the Rev if you expect me to take them seriously (although I do suppose that is PARTLY the point). I also felt like a couple of the characters weren’t developed enough (Olivia, Joe Strong, Madonna & Teacher, and even main character Mernardo…which I know wasn’t his name, but I read it that way anyway every DAMN time), but since this is a series, that will probably take care of itself in later novels. I suppose I can live with it.

My other complaint: the ending annoyed me. It just did. I don’t want to spoil anything, but that is NOT okay, Charlaine Harris. Not okay at all. I do not like my evil villians to fall into quite that category. Maybe it is the teacher/mom in me.

I did find the supernatural twists: leeching vampires, eccentric small-town witches, talking pets, and possibly maybe shapeshifters and angels (?) fascinating, refreshing, and fun. Overall, I liked the story, found it had a few surprises and quite a believable small town feel. My favorite parts were definitely the cat familiar (yes, cliche I know, but perfect here) and the detailing of the Cartoon Saloon. Awesome.

Will I read additional books in this series? Likely at least one (too early to say if this is a long-term commitment yet) and maybe more if I’m in a rut, or want something easy and breezy.

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Wreckage by Emily Bleeker

wreckageThis reads a little like Lost mixed with Castaway mixed with Days of our Lives. Lillian and her mother-in-law, Margaret, win an all-expenses-paid vacation to Fiji courtesy of a yogurt brand. While on the promotional trip, the two women, the pilot, a flight attendant, and an executive from the yogurt company go down in their chartered plane. Several of the passengers survive and make it to a small island. Several others do not. When the survivors are rescued a few years later, the coverups and lying begin.

I enjoyed this book, although I could see a few of the big secrets coming a mile away. It was a quick read and enjoyable, but I did wish a few of the characters were a bit more developed. I also craved a different ending, but that’s just personal preference, I think. Still, I’d recommend it, particularly as a good beach read.

This was a Kindle First promo for February and I read it for book published this year. You can get it for $1.99 for the rest of the month 🙂

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming has been winning all sorts of awards (Newbery and National Book Award). It depicts a young black family’s moves from Ohio to South Carolina to New York City amid segregation and racial violence. Woodson also tells the story of growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness and how that made her different from other children. And while those elements are all certainly present, running like an undercurrent through the memoir, they don’t interfere with or overpower the narrative of Woodson’s childhood. Instead, historical events inform and color the verse so that we can learn from the effects on the family without feeling we are being taught. Woodson’s poems are beautiful, subtle, and yet still clear and evocative of a different time.

brown girl dreaming

I even had to read this one twice. I gobbled it down once super quickly to get the story of Jacqueline Woodson’s family life down, and then a second time slowly to savor the images and the language. It was that good. Although I’m not a huge fan of free verse, some of these poems I yearned to read aloud just to hear them spoken.

My favorite is “Composition Notebook” because as a writer, I KNOW the feeling of promise a new notebook brings:

And somehow, one day, it’s just there

speckled black-and-white, the paper

inside smelling like something I could fall right into,

live there — inside those clean white pages.


I don’t know how my first composition notebook

ended up in my hands, long before I could really write

someone must have known that this

was all I needed.


I read this for book with a color in the title and also because I don’t read nearly enough poetry. I’m sure glad I did.

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The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble

I read this for my challenge book with non-human characters.

This is the story of babies left with a childless old healer woman on a mountaintop. The woman’s name is Verity, and as one might expect, she can tell no lies. One baby was delivered by a stork, Clara, and the one who was delivered in a conch shell is Maren. (And, by the way, isn’t Maren the perfect name for a mermaid?) Clara and Maren also have an orphaned half-brother who was discovered under an apple tree. That’s a lot of orphan discovery for one family but since it is fairy tale-like, I’ll suspend my disbelief about that, the mermaid baby in the conch, and the wyvern they keep as a pet. The old woman keeps the foundling girls, and her longtime love, a traveling caravan peddler, takes the apple tree baby, a boy named O’Neill. Over time they grow, and Maren the mermaid girl begins to transform into her true fishy self at sixteen. Since she cannot survive atop the mountain any longer, Clara and O’Neill must return Maren to her true home in the sea.

the mermaid's sister

This is a light-hearted and fun read with quite a few surprises and scares. Overall, I love this if only because it was a NaNoWriMo novel. I only wish it had had a series of pictures to make it even more lovely. It’s clearly meant for young adults, I’d say, but The Mermaid’s Sister was enjoyable nonetheless. It was also one of the Kindle First promotional items for $1.99 this month, so if you get it quickly, you can get it cheap 🙂

Posted in Challenges, Children's, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Fiction, Mythology, NaNoWriMo, Paranormal, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment