Archive for July, 2019


I think next time I’ll just watch Clueless. CBR11 Review 35.

downloadCBR11 bingo – remix

I found this book in Bunnybean’s room – I had remembered that in 8th grade she had to do an assignment where she read a classic novel and then compared it to a modern retelling for a project. She chose Emma, and then found this book to pair with it.

Folks, I didn’t really like this book. But I’m not going to be too harsh on it. I’m clearly not the intended audience. And Bunnybean really enjoyed it, and saw it as a fun, relatable retelling of a classic. She enjoyed reading Emma as well, but found it a bit harder to get through. She appreciated the breezy nature of The Espressologist, and I get that.

But here’s my big issue:

If you are going to write a book where the main characters are 17 or 18 years old, please spend some time with real human beings who are that age. I spend a lot of time around teenagers, and I never hear any of them say things like:

“I think I am going to go to the mall. Do you want to go to the mall?”

“I do not want to go to the mall. Why do you want to go to the mall? I am going to go to the library.”

Call me crazy, but I don’t believe that human teens speak like that. That brief exchange includes way too many words, far too few contractions, and where are the abbreviations like “gonna” or “wanna”?

This drove me crazy here.

But I digress.

This book is about matchmaking, and the inability to see the perfect match for yourself, even when it might be standing right in front of you.

We have Jane (our Emma), who is about to maybe graduate from high school (there is a weird sub-plot about Jane cutting a ton of classes and not trying all that hard to graduate even though she wants to apply early to college? HUH?), and works at a coffee shop somewhere in Chicago. She has lots friends at the shop, both customers and other employees, but she doesn’t seem all that enamored with the job. She spends most of her time writing down what people order and trying to work out if their favorite coffee drink matches up with what she thinks their personality type is. She even uses her notebook to do a little matchmaking – she sees that one of her favorite customers and the best friend of another barista have coffee preferences that compliment each other, so she arranges a “meet cute” based on their orders and they fall in love.


And then somehow she tricks her boss into making her Assistant Manager and her fabulous skills as a matchmaker, now called AN ESPRESSOLOGIST, are advertised in order to boost sales during the holiday season.

Hijinks ensue, of course.

And of course, she thinks she should match with an obnoxious frat boy named Will (Hello, Frank Churchill), but it turns out that Will likes a coffee drink that Jane doesn’t approve of SO HOW COULD THEY LIKE EACH OTHER IN REAL LIFE? Also, Will is a douche and gave her a fake number and ends up matching with Jane’s number-one enemy (I don’t care what her name is here but I guess she is Jane Fairfax?), a bitch of a bully from high school WHO THEN TURNS NICE AND PROMISES TO HELP JANE GET INTO FASHION SCHOOL BECAUSE REASONS.

Meanwhile, Jane sets her best friend Em (the Harriet of all of this) up on a match with her friend Cam (clearly Knightley) from school.

Guess what happens?

Yeah, nothing here is a surprise. Sure, the end is kind of cute, but still, this wasn’t great. It had a lot of loose threads and a lot of IM TELLING YOU THIS SO IT MUST BE TRUE plot devices. Eh.

My own fault for reading it, it clearly wasn’t for me.


“You can’t run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.”CBR11 Reviews 31-34.

downloadCBR11 Bingo — And so it begins. I’ve desperately been trying to get my kids to read this summer. But in between camps, and summer classes, and the never-ending monster that is swim team, there just hasn’t been a lot of reading going on. So I’ve tried my best to make it easy for them, and to help them pick books that I just know they’ll respond to. Like I’m their personal book sommelier. And so far, we’ve had pretty good results.

I picked up all four of Jason Reynolds’ Track Books for my son, who love all things sports. He’s almost done with the third, and so far he’s been pretty enthusiastic, so I’m calling this a win.

The first book in the series is Ghost. From Amazon:

Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?

All Ghost wanted was to be able to play basketball at the courts in his neighborhood, and to be able to hold his own out there against the local kids. But it turned out that track was his sport, even if he didn’t know it. He accidentally found himself part of the team after challenging another runner (Lu) to a race after a bit of mouthing off from the sidelines while he was waiting for his bus. Once Coach saw how fast Ghost could go, there was no way he was going to let him walk away without getting him on the team. But Coach – and the other new kids on the team – didn’t understand what makes Ghost run as fast as he does. They didn’t know that when he runs, he’s reliving the night that his father tried to kill him.

Ghost spends a lot of time thinking about that night. Thinking about him and his mom hiding from his father and his gun in the storeroom down at the corner store where Ghost buys his daily bag of sunflower seeds. Thinking about how hard his mother works to keep him dressed and fed – even if Ghost doesn’t appreciate WHAT she keeps him dressed in. Thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong, and sometimes doing the wrong thing even when he knows its wrong.

But even though Ghost does something he knows he shouldn’t, he’s surrounded by a great group of people who make him realize that he’s a better person than his actions might lead him to believe, and that his tragic past has made him stronger. His new track friends, his coach, his mom – they all make him realize that we can’t run away from our problems:

“Trouble is, you can’t run away from yourself.” Coach snatched the towel from his shoulder, folded into a perfect square, and set it in the space between us. “Unfortunately,” he said, “ain’t nobody that fast.”

And that when you have people in  your life that want to help you, not hurt you, you can do whatever you set your mind to.

The second book in the series is Patina:

A newbie to the track team, Patina must learn to rely on her teammates as she tries to outrun her personal demons in this follow-up to the National Book Award finalist Ghost by New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds.

Patina, or Patty, runs like a flash. She runs for many reasons—to escape the taunts from the kids at the fancy-schmancy new school she’s been sent to ever since she and her little sister had to stop living with their mom. She runs from the reason WHY she’s not able to live with her “real” mom any more: her mom has The Sugar, and Patty is terrified that the disease that took her mom’s legs will one day take her away forever. And so Patty’s also running for her mom, who can’t. But can you ever really run away from any of this? As the stress builds, it’s building up a pretty bad attitude as well. Coach won’t tolerate bad attitude. No day, no way. And now he wants Patty to run relay…where you have to depend on other people? How’s she going to do THAT?

God. If we thought Ghost had it rough, being chased after by his gun-wielding father, just wait until you read about Patina.

Patty lives with her uncle and aunt (who is white, and Patty hears a lot of commentary about that), goes to a fancy private school where she and her little sister are more or less the only non-white students, and spends Sundays with her mom at church. Patty’s dad, who was a baker, died suddenly, and to deal with her grief, her mom let her diabetes overcome her. She ate cake and cookies and cupcakes, didn’t take care of herself, and had her legs amputated a few years ago. The whole thing was pretty traumatic.

Meanwhile, at the track, Patty is trying her hardest to fit in with the kids who have been on the team together for years. Making things even more difficult is the fact that Coach wants Patty to be part of a relay with three other girls. Why would they trust Patty to run with them as a team when they don’t even know her?

And then, to top it all off, there is an accident. Patty cannot handle any more loss on her own. But now, thanks to track, she isn’t alone anymore. She has a family of runners just like her that she can rely on and trust.

Next up is Sunny, which was my favorite of the four:

Sunny tries to shine despite his troubled past in this third novel in the critically acclaimed Track series from National Book Award finalist Jason Reynolds.

Sunny is just that—sunny. Always ready with a goofy smile and something nice to say, Sunny is the chillest dude on the Defenders team. But his life hasn’t always been sun beamy-bright. You see, Sunny is a murderer. Or at least he thinks of himself that way. His mother died giving birth to him, and based on how Sunny’s dad treats him—ignoring him, making Sunny call him Darryl, never “Dad”—it’s no wonder Sunny thinks he’s to blame. It seems the only thing Sunny can do right in his dad’s eyes is win first place ribbons running the mile, just like his mom did. But Sunny doesn’t like running, never has. So he stops. Right in the middle of a race.

With his relationship with his dad now worse than ever, the last thing Sunny wants to do is leave the other newbies—his only friends—behind. But you can’t be on a track team and not run. So Coach asks Sunny what he wants to do. Sunny’s answer? Dance. Yes, dance. But you also can’t be on a track team and dance. Then, in a stroke of genius only Jason Reynolds can conceive, Sunny discovers a track event that encompasses the hard beats of hip-hop, the precision of ballet, and the showmanship of dance as a whole: the discus throw. But as he practices for this new event, can he let go of everything that’s been eating him up inside?

This book absolutely destroyed me. Poor Sunny, living in a house with a ghost for a mother, and a father who only sees the past instead of the future. When Sunny joins the track team, it’s the first time in his life that he’s had friends – other than his homeschool “teacher” and some of his grandfather’s patients at the hospital, Sunny doesn’t even get to meet a lot of people. He’s been isolated inside his beautiful mansion, with just Darryl (not dad) and his mother’s memory to keep him company. He runs only because she ran. But he doesn’t love running. He doesn’t even think he likes it.

And so, one day, in the middle of a race, he just stops.

His coach doesn’t understand at first, but soon, he and Sunny figure out what his place on the team will be without running.

Darryl, on the other hand, takes a lot longer to see why Sunny did what he did. But Sunny and Darryl are both smart enough to realize that while their wife/mother might be gone, they still have each other.

Sunny may be a bit of a weirdo, but he’s a compassionate, thoughtful, and kind weirdo. He’s just a little lost and alone.

Lastly, book four is about Lu:

Lu must learn to leave his ego on the sidelines if he wants to finally connect with others in the climax to the New York Times bestselling and award-winning Track series from Jason Reynolds. 

Lu was born to be cocaptain of the Defenders. Well, actually, he was born albino, but that’s got nothing to do with being a track star. Lu has swagger, plus the talent to back it up, and with all that—not to mention the gold chains and diamond earrings—no one’s gonna outshine him.

Lu knows he can lead Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and the team to victory at the championships, but it might not be as easy as it seems. Suddenly, there are hurdles in Lu’s way—literally and not-so-literally—and Lu needs to figure out, fast, what winning the gold really means.

Expect the unexpected in this final event in Jason Reynold’s award-winning and bestselling Track series.

Lu has a great life. He lives with his mom and dad in a nice house, he has a lot of friends, and he loves running track. Yes, he’s albino and has been the butt of a lot of jokes for years, but he’s cool and he – and everyone around him – knows it.

And now, his parents have told him he’s going to be a big brother, and that he can name the new baby. That’s a lot of pressure! He has to think of something cool and important, something with swagger that SHINES.

Lu’s relationship with his dad reminded me a lot of Starr and her Dad in The Hate U Give. Lu’s dad has a questionable past, and some of his actions back then have recently come to light. Lu cannot get past them, and he forces his dad to man up and make things right while he still can.

I’ll admit, I didn’t love the end of this one. I understand that this track team was really a family, but I didn’t agree with the decisions the kids made not to compete in the championships. I really don’t think that’s what Coach would have wanted.

Yes, these are books for middle grade kids. But they don’t shy away from VERY SERIOUS content. These kids have been through some dark stuff, and the way that they all help each other through running track together is really heartwarming. I wish there was a book about Coach, and how he sees these kids from his own perspective.



Officially the weirdest book I have read in the past 8 years.

downloadCBR11 Bingo — Youths! Until last week, I always thought that the weirdest book I would read during the Cannonball Read era would be Grasshopper Jungle.

What could be stranger than a gigantic praying mantis army that wipes out civilization while a few teens figure out the truths about their sexuality in an underground bunker while dancing to the Rolling Stones?

Well, I’m here to tell you that I found something stranger. This book is much, much weirder.

Darryl and Kanga are twin brothers who live in Michigan when the story starts in the late 1980s. Like all good Michigan citizens, they worship local hero Magic Johnson and all things basketball.

But unlike the other kids that they go to school with and ride the bus with, Darryl and Kanga are robots.

They are robots who grow, and change, and think, and drink lots of liquids. Gallons and gallons of milk and vinegar.

They are incredibly life-like. But they are not human beings. And they live in a world where being a robot is the worst thing you could be. The last time they witnessed as a robot was discovered, they watched in horror as she was dismantled, thrown out the school bus window, and left for dead on the side of the road. By grade school children.

So, yeah. Darryl doesn’t want any one to figure out their secret.

Darryl works hard to make sure they blend in. He follows the rules set out in the massive tome of a handbook for all robots, The Directions. And he makes sure that they are never reported to Detroit (where all American robots are made) as being “Obsolete”. Once you are declared Obsolete, you disappear. Are you destroyed? Are your parts recycled? Nobody quite knows.

And Kanga? Kanga doesn’t quite seem as concerned as Darryl. In fact, it doesn’t really seem like Kanga even accepts the fact that he and his brother are different from everyone else.

When Darryl and Kanga were in the fourth grade, Darryl called Detroit and reported that his “parents” were Obsolete. His Mom and Dad were old models, and Darryl didn’t think they needed them anymore. One day, they disappeared while he and Kanga were at school, never to be seen or heard from again. Kanga doesn’t know that Darryl was the one who reported them, and still hopes that they’ll come home some day. While Darryl teaches himself to make tacos (all robots should know how to make one recipe, just in case humans show up for a meal), while Kanga teaches himself to eat fast-food and dresses like Jalen Rose and the rest of Michigan’s “Fab Five”.

Did I mention that this book is weird?

Eventually, Darryl discovers that Kanga has pretty much been programmed to be amazing at basketball. He joins the freshman basketball team, becomes a star player, and navigates the world of high school popularity. The team worships him, the cheerleaders love him, and the coaches are grateful for him.

Meanwhile, Darryl has yet to hit his growth spurt, so he has to watch his brother’s success from the sidelines, where he meets Brooke, the team manager. Darryl and Brooke maybe like each other, but can a robot fall in love??

Darryl tries to deal with all of the usual perils of navigating high school: sibling rivalry, first love, peer pressure, getting good grades, and fitting in…all while desperately trying to seem human and obsessing about having his robot-phobic (robophobic? Hmm.) community realize he is different.

If I was going to rate this book simply on its originality, I’d give it 5 stars. It was truly unlike anything I’d read before.

Did I love it? No. Not all of it. But it was an interesting spin on growing up and the anxiety that every teen feels about everyday things – like the need to be popular and the fear of being seen as “different”. And of course, every teen is pretty sure that they are smarter than their parents ever were.

It was maybe a little bit too quirky for me (AND THIS IS SAYING SOMETHING AS I LOVE ME SOME QUIRK), but it was a fun slice of early 90s suburban life, and how kids interacted before social media and cell phones.


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