See You in the Cosmos

It’s not very often that I read a book and think, “Man, I wish I’d listened to this as an audiobook.” But that’s just what happened with my latest read, See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng. The very nature of this book makes it a perfect story to listen to…providing you’ve got the right narrator(s). I haven’t experienced the audiobook, so I can’t speak to how well it’s done, but, like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, this is a book that you probably need to hear to truly appreciate.

See You in the Cosmos is essentially a transcript of eleven-year-old Alex Petroski’s life. He’s recording the world around him on his Golden iPod–a tribute to the Golden Record launched by his hero, Carl Sagan–and everything that pops into his head goes into this record. But who is Alex making this recording for? Aliens, of course. Alex wants to show them what life on Earth is/was like and to provide them with the sounds of his home.

Alex talks about Carl Sagan and his canine namesake, his mom and her quiet days, his absent brother, and the rocket he’s built to launch his Golden iPod into space. He talks about his solo trip to SHARF (the Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival) and the people he meets there. He also talks about what he’s discovered about his dad through Ancestry.com, and that’s what leads him on a journey that he never could have anticipated.

From his home in Colorado to New Mexico to Nevada to California and back again, Alex meets new people, makes friends, and finds a sense of family that will help him through some tough times ahead. And even when things get difficult, Alex keeps his sense of wonder about the world around him and his hope that things will work out. His attitude is contagious and may just help to change the lives and hearts of those around him.


Even without listening to this book, Alex’s voice shines through each page. He actually reminds me of one of my all-time favorite students. (Yes, all educators have favorites. Anyone who says different is lying.) My favorite student–or “My Boy,” as I like to call him–is inquisitive, funny, innocent, generous, very literal, and always wants to see the best in people…even when some of them don’t deserve it. That’s what I see in the character of Alex. He is all of those things I just mentioned, and he never holds a grudge against those who wrong him. It would have been all too easy, but, at least in my mind, Alex’s focus on the larger universe allows him to truly see the bigger picture.

So what age-range would I recommend See You in the Cosmos to? Well, I think some upper elementary readers may like it, but I think this book is ideally suited for a middle grade audience, particularly readers who appreciate science. It’s a fun, sometimes light-hearted, read, but it also deals with serious stuff like abandonment, mental health, family secrets, and holding onto true friends.

See You in the Cosmos isn’t like any book I’ve read in recent memory, and I’m betting anyone else who gives it a try will feel the same way. Read it, and let me know what you think. If you’ve read it as an audiobook, I’d also love to get your take on how that experience may differ from the print version.

For more information on this book and others by Jack Cheng, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Hammer of Thor

It might be a good idea to read The Sword of Summer and Hotel Valhalla: Guide to the Norse Worlds before proceeding with this post. At the very least, it is absolutely necessary to read The Sword of Summer prior to starting The Hammer of Thor. You’ll be all kinds of lost if you don’t.

Last night, I skipped all of my shows so that I could finish reading The Hammer of Thor, book two of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan. If you follow this blog at all, you’ve probably figured out that I really dig anything Riordan cares to write, and this book didn’t change that at all. If anything, I love this writer even more because of his inclusion of diverse characters in his books–this book in particular. Add in loads of action, suspense, humor, and sarcasm, and I’m completely sold. Many of my students are with me on that.

In The Hammer of Thor, Magnus Chase and friends are on the lookout for Thor’s missing hammer. But Thor hasn’t just misplaced Mjolnir this time. No, the mighty weapon is now in the hands of the giants, and Magnus and company have to get it back before one of their own, Samirah, is traded for the weapon. If they fail, giants are set to invade Midgard (Earth) and will lay waste to everything in their path. (Life can never be easy for a bunch of demigods, can it?)

As Magnus, Samirah, Blitzen, Hearth, and newcomer Alex try to find Thor’s hammer and avoid war and/or Ragnarok, they will face family difficulties, Norse zombies, a super-dangerous sword, a rigged bowling competition against giants, and–worst of all–a wedding. As if that’s not enough, in their quest to find Mjolnir, they may just play into their worst enemy’s hands.


As you’ve likely surmised, I’ve left out a crap ton of details. That is intentional. Like all of Riordan’s books, you really need to experience this one for yourself. The cover alone, though, makes it pretty obvious that a lot of the conflict in this book involves Loki. (This version is not to be confused with the Marvel “villain” played by Tom Hiddleston.) He’s a wily one, and his hand is in most of what happens in this book–including totally failing at being Parent of the Year. We’ll just have to wait and see if things work out for him in the end.

The next book in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, The Ship of the Dead, is expected to be out on October 3rd, 2017. You can probably guess from the title that this book will involve a bit of sea travel, and, based on how The Hammer of Thor ended, may even feature an appearance from a noted Greek demigod. (Hint: His name rhymes with Smercy Thackson.)

If you can’t wait nearly a year for the next Riordan book, you’re in luck! The second book in The Trials of Apollo series, The Dark Prophecy, will be out in May. (Still a long wait, I know.) If you haven’t read book one, The Hidden Oracle, you’ve got plenty of time.

For more information on The Hammer of Thor and all of Riordan’s other fantastic books, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with him on Twitter, Tumblr, Blogspot, and Facebook.

Finally, check out the official trailer for the Magnus Chase series. It doesn’t give away much (and the narrator’s accent is a little weird to my Southern ears), but it’s worth a watch or two.

Just One Day

Last night, when I should have been packing for a conference, I was instead devouring Just One Day by the fabulous Gayle Forman. This book had been on my to-read list for quite a while, but I didn’t make time for it until this weekend. Oh, how I wish I had read it sooner!

Like If I Stay and Where She Went, Just One Day shows that Gayle Forman is a master at writing love stories that pack an emotional punch. Even more important, in my opinion, she’s excellent at giving readers examples of young women who, while navigating the perilous waters of relationships, also work to discover their own inner strength.

Allyson is nearing the end of a whirlwind tour of Europe, and, to be honest, the trip has been something of a disappointment. Yes, she’s oohed and aahed at all the appropriate moments, she’s seen some impressive sights with her best friend Melanie, and she’s even gotten a haircut to mark what should have been the start of the greatest vacation ever. But Allyson feels like she’s just going through the motions. She should be excited about this extravagant graduation gift, but something just doesn’t feel quite right.

Everything changes, though, when Allyson and Melanie deviate from their rigid plans and are persuaded to take in a performance of Twelfth Night in a Stratford-upon-Avon park. It is here that Allyson’s life changes forever. She meets Willem, a Dutch actor in the play, and she’s immediately drawn to him. There’s something about him that makes Allyson want to break free of limits and responsibilities. Maybe it’s because Willem doesn’t really know her. He doesn’t even know her name. He calls her Lulu because she reminds him of Louise Brooks, the silent film star. Maybe it’s that little bit of anonymity that gives Allyson the freedom to do something that’s so out of character. The freedom to eschew her plans to spend just one day with Willem in Paris.

One day in Paris. One day to see the sights and experience all that the City of Light has to offer. One day to fall in love with Willem, a young man who is so different from the Allyson she’s always been. Here she’s Lulu, a girl who takes things in stride, who has the attention of someone who could be–and probably has been–with dozens of other girls. It’s not easy to leave her good girl image behind, but Allyson wants to be someone different with Willem, and she’s coming to think she can be different when she returns to her real life.

All of that changes, though, when Allyson’s one day in Paris comes to a shattering end. After waking to find Willem gone, Allyson’s entire world seems to explode, and she doesn’t really know how to put the pieces back together. Nothing seems to fit anymore, and Allyson is struggling. It’s hard to admit that one day, one boy could have such a huge impact on her life, but Allyson will have to face what happened and the still unanswered questions if she has any hope of moving on with her life.

In the year after her day in Paris, Allyson must come to grips with how all of this has changed her. She has to deal with going back to being the “good girl” everyone expects and all of the pressure that entails. She faces the undeniable truth that she’s not the person she once was, and she’s no longer content living out someone else’s dreams. She must do what feels right to her…even if that means standing up to her parents, becoming more independent…and returning to the “scene of the crime” and discovering just what happened to make Willem walk away from her.

As Allyson attempts to make sense of everything that has happened in the past year, she’ll also discover that she’s stronger and more capable than she thought. Even if she never discovers why Willem left her, her quest for answers may just leave her with the peace and determination to become exactly who she was meant to be.

_______________

I think you can safely assume that I adored this book. If I weren’t so held back by my own fears–much like the Allyson we see early in this book–I would take off right now on a Parisian vacation, hoping to find my own sense of peace. Unfortunately, I am a big chicken, and that just won’t happen. (Not to mention the matter of not having the money and having to attend a conference for most of this week.)

I’d love to have a journey of self-discovery like Allyson experienced. I imagine that many readers will feel a similar longing. Even with the lows that Allyson dealt with after her day in Paris, she learned so much about herself. She learned that she had to let go of some things, even friendships, her parents’ expectations, and her own need to please those around her. I’m thirty-five years old, and I wish I could do that. Maybe one day.

While I’m envious of Allyson breaking free of her own boundaries, I’m also insanely jealous of her travels through Europe. The only time I’ve been out of the U.S. was when I went on a cruise to the Bahamas. I’ve wanted to travel to Europe, particularly Great Britain, for as long as I can remember, but finances, health issues, and a hefty dose of fear have always held me back. Allyson has inspired me, though. I’m somehow finding a renewed determination to make my dreams a reality. I’ve now got the beginnings of a plan in my head–a plan to save some money, lose some weight, and finally turn my desire for travel into a reality. How long with it take to put this plan into motion? I have no clue, but at least I’m getting started. Thank you for that, Allyson and Gayle Forman!

So, I finished Just One Day late last night, and I fully intend to start reading Just One Year, the companion novel from Willem’s perspective, within the next hour or so. (I have a two-hour ride to Atlanta ahead of me, so I should be able to make quite a dent in the book.) After that, I will read Just One Night, an ebook novella and the final chapter in the captivating story of Allyson and Willem. I can hardly wait to get started!

If you’d like more information on Just One Day or the other amazing books by the brilliant Gayle Forman, check out her website (which has quite a bit of info on the upcoming movie adaptation of If I Stay), Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. You may also want to take a quick look at the Just One Day book trailer below. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have!