Middle Grade Review: Other Words for Home

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Genres: Middle Grade, Novel in Verse
Maturity Level: 2
Content Warning: Islamophobia
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.


This will be a short review. I don’t fully “get” free-verse poetry, so I’m not quite sure what all to say, but this book felt just amazing.

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Review: Love From A to Z

Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali

Genres: Young Adult, Romance
Maturity Level: 3
Content Warnings: Islamophobia, Degenerative Illness
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break. Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since [redacted by reviewer, because spoiler!], Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister. Adam’s also intent on keeping [redacted] a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals. Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.


I loved this book so much! Maybe even more than A Very Large Expanse of Sea, which was my favorite YA book last year, and in several years, tbh. While the content of this book was similar, the style this book was written in was much more my preference and equally good.

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Middle Grade Review: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Series: Tristan Strong
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan chases after it — is that a doll? — and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?


I feel like in writing a review of a Rick Riordan Presents book it’s impossible to not compare the book to Percy Jackson. Tristan Strong was just about as different from Percy Jackson as possible while still falling under the same modern-mythology umbrella.

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Favorites February: Catching Fire

Welcome back to Favorites February 2021! This year I’m re-reading the Hunger Games trilogy for the first time in (maybe) a decade. And here you are, just in time for the sequel that actually lived up to it all! I didn’t love Catching Fire the first time I read it, but the more I read it the more I love it.

As always, spoiler alert.

Summary

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol—a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest that she’s afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

Why I Love This Book

  • Finally getting to know Peeta and Haymitch as people.
  • Seeing the other districts.
  • The revolution themes, especially because they are obscured and uncertain.
  • Cinna’s amazing design for Katniss’s opening ceremonies outfit.
  • How Collins explores that killing a person never really leaves you and Kanitss’s PTSD.
  • Seeing Katniss fall in love with Peeta in the arena, and watching everyone else figure it out even though she doesn’t.
  • Even though it’s longer and the Games don’t even start until the last 75 pages, it’s still so compulsively readable.
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Review: Maybe in Another Life

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genres: Fiction, Chick Lit
Maturity Level: 4
Content Warning: Miscarriage
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.


Maybe in Another Life is entertaining enough, but compared to some of Reid’s more recent books was just kind of lackluster.

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Favorites February: The Hunger Games

Welcome to Favorites February 2021! This year I’m reading The Hunger Games trilogy, and had an absolute BLAST kicking it off with the one that started it all. I can’t believe it’s been a DECADE since I discovered this series. And I was already an adult… Geez Louise, I’m old aren’t I?

I’m assuming that everyone who is ever going to read The Hunger Games probably already has, so spoilers in the discussion. You’ve been warned.

Synopsis

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weight survival against humanity and life against love.

Why I Love This Book

  • Compulsively readable
  • Katniss is such an unusual protagonist: cold, calculating, and ruthless.
  • The complexity of the love story
  • Of all the dystopias I’ve ever read, this one is the most eerily plausible.
  • Rue! My broken heart will cry forever.
  • The elimination-style competition has turned into a kind of bad trope, but it is so compelling and convincing in this book.
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Middle Grade Review: The Wild Robot

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

Series: The Wild Robot
Genres: Middle Grade, Science Fiction
Maturity Level: 1
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is all alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is–but she knows she needs to survive. After battling a violent storm and escaping a vicious bear attack, she realizes that her only hope for survival is to adapt to her surroundings and learn from the island’s unwelcoming animal inhabitants.

As Roz slowly befriends the animals, the island starts to feel like home–until, one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her.


What a delightful book! Everything about it was just so CHARMING and NICE and SWEET. Literally, I am dying from the adorableness and the feels and the lovely illustrations.

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Review: The Guest List

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Genre: Thriller
Maturity Level: 5
Content Warnings: self-harm, suicide, abortion
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Rating: ⋆⋆

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?


I guess it is just time for me to finally admit that I don’t like thrillers and just give up on the genre. If I didn’t like this one, I’m not going to like any of them.

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Review: The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

Series: The Broken Earth
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

This is the way the world ends… for the last time.

The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever.

It continues with a lost daughter, found by the enemy.

It continues with the obelisks, and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last.

The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.


This is a really hard review to write, because I can’t assume you’ve read The Fifth Season, but I really WANT you to, so I don’t want to give anything away. But this sequel is pretty impossible to talk about without giving anything away… I’ll summarize by saying OH MY GOD IT WAS SO GOOD.

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6 Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time

Some books improve every time you re-read them. You notice more and more details with every re-read, catch things you didn’t catch the first time, get to know the characters even better. But for some books, nothing is quite like the experience of reading it for the first time. For me, those books feel like literal magic when I read them. I can get lost in them for hours at a time.

And sometimes I wish I could forget the book entirely so I can go back and read it for the first time again.

The Night Circus

The experience of reading The Night Circus was a lot like the experience of falling in love. Discovering the Circus was so enchanting, watching Marcus and Celia fall in love so heart-wrenching, discovering the terms of the bet so devastating. Though I loved re-reading this book (and I think I’ve re-read it twice), I would love to be able to read it for the first time and experience that feeling of falling in love with a book.


Life of Pi

Life of Pi is a book that is wonderful to analyze on a re-read, and things make more sense and you see where Martel was going and why he wrote what he wrote in each spot. But the ending is such a shock the first time. Some people hate that, but I love it. I hate to reference Twilight, but it’s like the way Meyer describes the whole world re-orienting when the wolf boys imprint, that’s what the end of Life of Pi was about. The whole book flips upside down, and it forces you to question EVERYTHING.


And Then There Were None

I haven’t re-read And Then There Were None, mostly because I don’t think it would re-read very well. Christie wrote it as an unsolvable mystery, very successfully, I might add. But then she hated to do that to her readers (thank God), so the epilogue explains the whole thing. But I can’t imagine that the reading experience would be quite as exciting now that I know.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I remember my fifth grade teacher reading Harry Potter to us as a class, and just begging her to keep reading each day. I think it must be partly that we experienced it together, partly the charming writing that I’m still enchanted by when I read the first book, and partly that I’d never read anything like it before. I’m still a Harry Potter fan, but I would love to recapture the feeling I had reading it for the first time when I was ten years old, still young enough to imagine that my Hogwarts letter might come, without knowing what all would happen next, and of course without all the baggage that comes with HP in 2021.


The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a book I’ve read maybe a half dozen times, and loved it every time. But I just remember the first time I read it, HOW exciting it was, HOW MUCH I was desperate to know who the Scarlet Pimpernel was. I remember reading so quickly that the words started to blur, so desperate was I to know what happened next. And like Life of Pi or And Then There Were None, there’s nothing quite like finally finding out who the Scarlet Pimpernel really is. And I just can’t experience that again.


Ender’s Game

Like with Life of Pi, the shocking ending of Ender’s Game is something that can’t be experienced again. This is yet another book that I’ve re-read again and again and enjoyed it every time, but it lacks that emotional and exciting impact at the end of the first time you read it. Similarly, the companion novel Ender’s Shadow is one that I would love to be able to read for the first time again. Its another of those that makes you re-frame everything you read in the first book.


Is there a book you wish you could read for the first time again? Why? Let me know in the comments!