When a Book Disappoints

(I have seriously gone back and forth on whether or not to post this… I don’t like to be negative on my blog. I originally wrote this back in July. And since you’re seeing it, I guess I decided it needed to be posted.)

Oh, where to start?

I really wanted to like this book. I went in with NO expectations, other than my experiences with the other four books. I expected more of the same. (And no, my disappointment has nothing to do with Skye. I will explain later, as that does involve spoilers, and I am determined not to have spoilers at this point in the blog post.)

I kind of feel obligated to review this book since I love the other books in the series. Seriously, if you like The Penderwicks, feel free to NOT read this book. You may save yourself some heartache and headache.

The Penderwicks at Last // by Jeanne Birdsall

Genre: MG, Contemporary

**Warning: There will be SPOILERS for this book below.**

penderwicks5

First, let’s be positive. I love the cover for this book! It’s beautiful. It has fireflies. It has a dog. And it has two girls and a hawk and a moon. (I’m trying to pad the positives here.)

Also, I was looking forward to Lydia as a character, because I figured it had to be Lydia’s book. She’s the fifth Penderwick daughter. It’s the fifth book. And her introduction IS delightful. She dances through life. So, yes, Lydia is fine. And so is the other girl in the book (Alice). I like their friendship. These are all good things.

But, I’m sad to say, that’s where it stops…

Disappointment #1

The books up to this point have all been about a group of four sisters. By this book, all four sisters have grown up, even Batty. They’ve joined the ranks of Mr. Penderwick, and Iantha, and Aunt Claire. They don’t do funny things anymore. (Well, not really. Jane’s still a little zany.) They don’t swap homework. Or hide in the back of Dad’s car with Hound. Or kick soccer balls into forbidden gardens. Or sneak into fields inhabited by bulls. Yes, I missed the four girls!

Disappointment #2

Lydia and Alice are fine as characters, but they don’t quite measure up to those who have gone before. They are not super-interesting. And to top it all, there’s no real conflict between the two. Everybody just assumes they’re going to be friends and then they are. I would love to have seen them as “enemies” for a few chapters that turn into friends. Instead, they seem to just play a lot. I believe this is where Birdsall missed a great opportunity to save this book.

Disappointment #3

Let’s talk about Mrs. Tifton. Okay, I will say the one thing I DID like was that Mrs. Tifton actually likes Lydia and that Lydia is not afraid of her. However, I was expecting some cathartic moment where between Mrs. T and the Penderwick girls. All we got was veils. (And I don’t understand their dislike for veils? That was not properly set up.) And a little closure between Mrs. T and Alec would have been nice. I would have loved to have Lydia discover the human being inside this woman, who also happens to be Jeffrey’s mother. I felt there was a lost opportunity to redeem this character. I wanted Mrs. Tifton redeemed! (Or as least as much as she could be redeemed.)

Disappointment #4

The “opening secret” of the book is not really a secret. Apparently the marketing department didn’t get the memo, because the secret isn’t so secret; it’s inside on the jacket flap. And by secret, I mean that Rosalind wants to have her wedding at Arundel. It gets such a build-up in the first chapter that I was expecting a bomb to be dropped. Nope.  If you can’t have secrets that aren’t real secrets, then why bother?

Disappointment #5

There are too many characters in this book. This whole book seemed like a curtain call. We bring out every character that has been in the books before. (Except Harry the Tomato Man. I don’t think he was in the book, was he?) Basically every character gets a moment to take a bow and that’s it.

And there were too many dogs. Way too many dogs. I like the idea of the three-legged dog, but by the time I met him, I didn’t care. I couldn’t tell him from the other dogs in the books. And believe me when I say that none of these dogs were Hound. Although, Birdsall could have done that with Hitch. The problem was that Hitch just got lost in the crowd.

Disappointment #6

The boyfriends/fiancés were duds.

Okay, let’s start with Fiancé #1: Tommy Geiger. So I’ve never been a huge fan of Tommy Geiger. And in fact, I’m okay with the fact that we don’t really get to see him in this book. On the other hand, I have always liked Nick Geiger (because we actually get to know Nick in the books), and I was super sad when he’s thrown away as just another character in this book. (Oh, and he’s already married with a couple of kids.) Result: Tommy’s okay. I’m glad he is marrying Rosalind. But still, Fiancé #1 was a bit of a dud.

Fiancé #2: Some Czec student named Dusek. And yes, that pretty much sums him up. We haven’t ever met him before. We hardly even meet him in this book. And we’re supposed to suddenly feel happy when Skye announces that there’s going to be a double wedding? (Believe me, I just about threw the book in the trash at this point. But it’s a library book, and I would never do that to a library book.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. My dislike has nothing to do with Jeffrey. I went in to this book with the expectation that Skye and Jeffrey would never get together. (I realized this when I did my recent re-read of the series. Everything points to Batty ending up with Jeffrey. Don’t believe me? Read the books. The hints are there.) So, Dusek, that’s not why I don’t like you. I don’t like you because you don’t belong in this book. Seriously. Go back to California and study. I actually would have been happier if Skye had suddenly realized that she was in love with Nick Geiger or even Cagney (assuming that neither were already married off.) Or, leave Skye single at this point. Fiancé #2 was a literary disaster.

Disappointment #7

And then there’s Jeffrey. For some reason he doesn’t recognize Batty when he sees her. What? Isn’t he her mentore? Even this love story doesn’t work.

Maybe there’s just too many love stories going on that have nothing to do with our two main characters: Lydia and Alice. Remember them?

Disappointment #8

What’s with the goats in this book? Or is it sheep? I can’t remember. Actually, goats would have been a good choice as they like to headbutt people. That could have worked into the plot.

And then we had the parts where the girls are reading to the goat. Frankly, this was a little boring.

(Remember in the first book when Skye and Jane have to escape Mrs. Tifton by climbing out a window down a rope ladder? Remember when Jeffrey rescues Batty from the bull? Remember when Batty runs into the woods and gets lost? Where are these events in this book?)

Disappointment #9

I feel that Alice’s brother, Jack, was another missed-opportunity. He wasn’t physically at Arundel so we don’t really get to know him. What we do know is that he has a Canadian cousin and he likes eating pancakes and waffles. Why didn’t Birdsall have Jack and his Canadian cousin at Arundel? Let there be a war between the girls (Lydia and Alice) and boys (Jack and Cousin)! That would have given us some CONFLICT. Or Jack could have been staying with a friend in a nearby town. Which means they could have sneaked over to play tricks on the girls.

Okay, so Jack does make an appearance. In the hedge with Lydia. This is obviously supposed to be a call-back to the first book, but it happens in the wrong place in the book, to the wrong people in the book. Because we hardly know Jack!

Disappointment #10

The MOPS. When I got to the chapter about the MOPS, I was happy. Finally, something I know about these books. Except, it wasn’t a real MOPS. There was no dire situation that they had to figure out. They’re all adults now. Having a MOPS didn’t make sense. Even the parents know they’re having a MOPS (although they’re not invited). Sorry, the MOPS fell completely flat and had lost all its charm.

Final Thoughts

My rating is 2 Stars (out of 5) – I really wish this review was different. It kind of makes me furious that they would even publish this book. The more I think about this book, the more I shake my head. Why did this thing (yes, thing) get published? How in the world did Jeanne Birdsall’s editor NOT see that this wasn’t a good book? How?!

Your Turn

Have you read this book? Do you agree with me? And if not, let me know what you did like about it. (Yes, I am aware that there are people who are giving this book five stars on Goodreads.)

 

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Review: Nerd Camp

camp-nerd.jpgBook: Nerd Camp (2011)
Author: Elissa Brent Weissman
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Gabe is a nerd and proud of it… that is, until he meets his new stepbrother, Zack. Now, in order to seem cool, he has to hide that part of him, including the fact that his sleepaway camp is really a nerd camp! So when he writes home, Gabe only highlights the things that don’t make him sound quite so nerdy. How’s Zack to know, right?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love how each chapter ends with Gabe’s list of “Things I Can Tell Zack” and “Things I Can’t Tell Zack”. These lists are all prefaced showing how Gabe is using the scientific method… “Problem: Am I a nerd who only has nerdy adventures? Hypothesis: No. Proof: (See list.)”

2) I like the friendship Gabe develops with the two boys at camp: Nikhil and Wesley. It was cute how the boys figure out an algorithm to predict when Color War will break (based on when it broke in past years). Yes, despite Gabe’s efforts not to be nerdy, he is indeed very nerdy!

3) Which brings me to Color War itself. This was a fun addition to the story. It brings in some activities that don’t involve a classroom full of nerds learning about rocket science. Like the Scavenger Hunt.

4) There’s a nice little celebrity cameo (from one of the nerdiest shows on the planet) that happens near the end. I won’t spoil it. It’s kind of fun, even if it’s unlikely.

5) The letters are a nice way to show how Gabe interacts differently with the different people back home… with his friends from school, his mom and dad, and of course with Zack.

6) The ending wraps things up quite nicely. I wasn’t really surprised as I figured the story would eventually lead to what does happen. (I won’t spoil it.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The scenes with the lice! My head was itching the entire time!! Yuck.

2) The midnight canoe trip was a little disconcerting to my adult soul. It’s crazy how Gabe talks about Swallows and Amazons (one of my favourite books that contains a similar event!), but then, unlike how the Walkers and Blacketts get into big trouble with the grownups, Gabe doesn’t seem to learn any lesson from this dangerous activity. I didn’t really like that.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A fun look into the struggles of being nerdy; worrying what others will think about it. As a nerd myself (I’m more of a history nerd), I definitely empathized with Gabe!


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Challenge #41 / Symmetry

20180927ma_5024“Brooklyn Bridge” / Theme: Symmetry

A little about this photo…

I absolutely LOVE the the Brooklyn Bridge and it’s definitely on my list of recommended sites for anybody going to New York City. I don’t often get to come here when I get into the City, but we had a day to dedicate to a bit of a history tour of Lower Manhattan. And this just happened to be our first stop. (I have two similar photos. One with the street lamp and a different angle without the lamp. The little rebel in me decided to go with this one, even though it technically goes against the definition of symmetry!)


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

ARC Review: Earthrise

earthriseEarthrise // by James Gladstone
Release Date: October 15, 2018
Genre: Picture Book, Non-Fiction (Space)

Basic Plot: This is the story behind the photograph of the earth taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts back in 1968; and how such a photo led to a different view of our world.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love that the illustrations evoke the 1960s. They are wonderfully done!

2) I love photography, so I found this story particularly interesting. It’s a little behind-the-scenes “snapshot” at how one of the most famous photographs of all time came to be.

3) The story juxtaposes a tumultuous time (1968) with a photograph that is anything but tumultuous. It’s simple and beautiful and serene.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I feel like this could be made for older children with a little more text. Maybe explaining a few things. History-wise. This was the year that Martin Luther King was shot. And Robert Kennedy. And a war in Vietnam. They didn’t have to go into extreme detail, but maybe at least mention MLK.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A wonderfully illustrated book about this moment in history. I’d recommend for 1st through 3rd grade. Maybe Kindergarten?

Question for Those Who Love Harry Potter

Disclaimer: I don’t make it too much of a secret that I am not a huge fan of the series. I don’t hate it. I just don’t love it. And I’ve only read the first three books (almost 20 years ago!)

Which leads me to my question:

It’s about Harry’s uncle and aunt. (You can throw in the cousin, too, if you want.)

How much page-time do they actually get in the books?

From my memories of the first books is that they are pretty much just mentioned. We may even briefly meet them. We basically learn how awful they are (you know, Harry sleep under the stairs). But after that, they don’t actually physically appear in the books.

Is this correct? Do they get some serious page-time, and I’m just not remembering this? Like chapters? Huge dialogue sections? Perhaps this happens in Book 4 or beyond?

Please let me know in the comments! Thanks!

 

 

5 Reasons Bookish Things I’m Thankful For

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I’ve been doing posts this past year entitled 5 Reasons Why I Liked {Insert Book Title Here}. But today, I’m expanding this theme a little… By the way, these reasons are not in any particular order, and there are probably so many other things I’m thankful for. These are the ones that come to mind 🙂

#1 – Talking Books

I’m NOT talking about audiobooks here (although I love audiobooks, too!)… What I mean here is talking about books with other readers. Whether in person, or with the bookish community online. I love to find out what you’re reading, because I might want to read it, too! I love to discuss why I like certain books. I even like to discuss reasons I don’t like a particular book. It’s nice to know there are people out there who share my thoughts. And it’s also great to know there are people out there who think differently than me.

#2 – Book Downtime

Books have the ability to take us away to unknown lands. Yes, even in a contemporary read. I always read before bedtime. It’s the time I take to unwind from the stresses of the day. Sometimes a book will force me to read way past my bedtime, but usually I get in just a chapter or two. It’s something that makes me look forward to the end of the day.

This is probably why I’m not crazy about super-depressing books. I don’t mind that in little doses. Do I need Happily Ever After? I love Happily Ever After! But I don’t mind some slight ambiguity or even a touch of pessimism. I just don’t need to read the end of a book and feel the need to end my life. And that brings me to my next point…

#3 – Book Recommendations

This is related to number one, but it’s also slightly different. I love getting book recommendations. I love giving book recommendations. I love going to the bookish community, which includes blogs, Goodreads, Amazon reviews, bookstagram, etc. I like researching which books I want to read next. I look for recommendations by reviewers or bloggers who like books similar to the ones I like.

That way I know to avoid books like Jude the Obscure! (Sorry Mr. Hardy, I just can’t handle you anymore. Although I love your Far From the Madding Crowd. Probably because that was the last hopeful book you wrote.)

#4 – ARCs

And I’m also thankful for Advanced Reader Copies. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s kind of fun to read a book before everybody else. Of course that’s not strictly true, since there are a lot of other ARC readers out there. And I took heed of the warnings not to go crazy with my ARC-requests, so I haven’t really felt the worry of falling behind.

#5 – Libraries!

Ah, my home away from home. I love libraries! I do buy books, but I really can’t afford all the books I’d want to read. And frankly, I don’t have room to store all the book I’d want to read. That’s where the library comes in. I get to read wonderful books for FREE. (And when I get the occasional dud, it’s not a big deal. I just return it, happy that I didn’t actually pay for it.) There’s so much to choose from. There are new books and old books. Fiction and non-fiction. And audiobooks! And yes, even DVDs. Libraries make me happy 🙂


Your Turn

What are some bookish things you’re thankful for? Anything you’d add to this list?

Photo Challenge #40 / City

20180927ma_5145“It’s 1783 in New York City” / Theme: City

A little about this photo…

This is the Fraunces Tavern in the heart of Lower Manhattan, and it’s not too far from Wall Street and the site of the World Trade Center. Back in 1783, the Revolutionary War had just ended. General George Washington chose this location to bid farewell to the officers of the Continental Army. (Note: This is also not far from the location where Washington would later be sworn into office as the first president of the United States (1789). It wouldn’t be until 1801 that the capital city would be Washington D.C.)

This is not the building you usually picture when you think of New York City. But I think that’s partly why I chose it for the City prompt. I love how this building exists next to all the modern skyscrapers.


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

Review: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet

tragedy-girl-named-hamletBook: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet (2010)
Author: Erin Dionne
Genre: Upper MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Hamlet Kennedy is facing a year of headaches and heartaches. Her genius (younger) sister is joining her at her middle school. Her Shakespearean parents don’t get her. On top of that, they have been invited to speak to her class about… you guessed it, Shakespeare. And then there’s the mystery of who is leaving origami pigs in her locker…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Can I just say how much I love this title?! It’s fun. Plus it gives a great sense of what the story is going to be about.

2) I liked the relationship between Hamlet and her sister, Dezzie. There’s a nice arc in how they relate to one another. There are moments where they fight, and yet they also care about one another. I love how they work together at the end of the story.

3) I also liked their dad… He’s not quite as crazy as the mother. While both are Shakespearean scholars, the dad is a little more down-to-earth.

4) The little twist with the origami pigs was cute. I liked how this part of the plot mirrors the romantic escapades and mix-ups of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I did have a little trouble suspending my disbelief to think that a family would name their daughter Hamlet. Desdemona makes sense. But Hamlet?! Why would you do that to your baby girl? Why?!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A fun contemporary read about sisters, school, and Shakespeare. And origami pigs 🙂


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Autumn Reading Bingo Challenge / September

mgc-bingo-sept2018

Middle Grade Carousel is hosting another Reading Bingo challenge. I wasn’t sure if I’d participate this month, but since I normally ready MG anyway, I figured I’d at least try to get a bingo.

And I did! This month, I finished nine middle grade books.

How Does It Work?

Pick your challenge, grab a book, and fill in the squares. Try and get 5 in a row, or attempt to fill in the whole sheet if you’re a speedy reader.

Rules

  1. Because this is a Middle Grade Carousel challenge, all of the books on your Bingo board should be MG reads.
  2. Each square needs to be filled with a unique book. You cannot use the same title more than once, even if it fits multiple themes. Choose wisely!
  3. You should only be filling in your Bingo board with books you’ve read during June.

Here are my results… (The * means that’s the book that got me my Bingo!)


*A Book About Puzzles

You Go First // by Erin Entrada Kelly

You-go-firstI’m claiming puzzles on this one, even though it’s about Scrabble. I figure that Scrabble is about word puzzles, right?

This book has two protagonists: Charlotte and Ben. I liked both of them and enjoyed reading both their stories. Their only connection is through online Scrabble. Although, at one point, they actually speak to each other on the phone.

This book is about the masks we wear. And about how one friend can change things for us, for the better. Interestingly our two main characters never meet. And they never do get the full picture of what the other’s life is really like. Basically because neither of them will “go first”. However, both kids find their one friend among the kids they already know at school… Kids they have overlooked in the past.

I keep vacillating between 3.5 and 4 stars for this book. I think I’ll go with the higher rating. [4 stars]


*Time Travel

no-wifi-on-the-prairieThere’s No Wifi on the Prairie // by Nicholas O. Time

I wish I liked this book better. I did like the premise about how the girl needs to learn that you can’t always depend on doing a Google-search in life. I probably would have liked this book as a kid, though.

I think the random cows that kept cropping up at the school was a little weird for me. [3 stars]


*’Princess’ in the Title

true-princessA True Princess // by Diane Zahler

This is a delightful retelling of one of my favourite fairy tales. I won’t say which one, because it’s more fun that way. The main character is Liliana* and she’s a spunky one. I loved how the chapter titles connected with the story.

If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, I’d definitely recommend this. I found this one have enough surprises to make me happy, while keeping to its inspiration. [3.5 stars]


*A Boy and His Dog

kindred-soulsKindred Souls // by Patricia MacLachlan

This one is more like a book about a grandfather and his dog! But there’s a boy, too…

This was interesting, especially with the dog. Billy (the grandfather) just happens to come across the dog, Lucy. He’s growing old, and he’s hoping that his grandson, Jake, will build him a sod house (like he had when he was younger). And when he lands in the hospital, Jake decides to do what he can.

I really like how the family comes together in this book to make Billy’s dream come true. And, of course, Lucy the dog is there for it all. [4 stars]


*Pick Your Prompt // Historical Fiction

Fences-Between-Us.jpgThe Fences Between Us // by Kirby Larson

I’ve read quite a few books about the internment of the Japanese-Americans during World War II, but this is the first book that talks about it from the perspective of a non-Japanese protagonist. But what’s cool about this book is that it’s based on a real person.

In the story, Piper’s father is a minister to a Japanese congregation in Seattle. So, when his church is shut down (because all the congregants are interned), he [SPOILER] takes Piper and moves with them. Piper’s not too happy to leave her friends and school behind, just because of her father’s convictions. [END SPOILER] A good, solid historical novel. [4 stars]


A Window on the Cover

cody-mysteries-of-the-universeCody and the Mysteries of the Universe // by Tricia Springstubb

A cute book about a girl (Cody) who welcomes a friend (Spencer) to the neighbourhood. he’s not the only new kid on the block. There’s about the Meen girls: Molly and Maxie. And let’s just point out that Molly and Maxie live up to their last name.

I enjoyed Cody’s imaginative outlook on life… how she tries to protect the younger Spencer. I also like how she also gets things wrong! [4 stars]


Character Shares Your Name

anna-maria-giftAnna Maria’s Gift // by Janice Shefelman

The protagonist in this one is an orphan by the name of Anna Maria. (I don’t share the Anna-part, but my name is Maria!) It’s a cute story of her and her special violin. (As an adult, I don’t know how realistic the plot is, but a kid would probably like it!)

I did love the historical setting in Venice. And I learned a little about Vivaldi. I didn’t know he was a priest who taught violin to orphans! Definitely a story for lower-MG readers. [3 stars]


A Book About Photography

northern-exposuresNorthern Exposures // by Eric Walters

This was a fun story about a boy who wins a photography contest by accident. The prize? Photography the polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba. And because he’s not really a photographer, he has some madcap adventures. Not to mention, the other people in his group are a bunch of senior citizens!

I enjoyed learning about polar bears and getting a little geography/history lesson (which I see as fun!) about Churchill. Plus, as a photographer, I would have loved to be on this trip with Kevin and all the senior citizens! (Oh, and because the book was first published in 2001, I loved all the film-talk. It brought me back to the days when I first started taking pictures.) [3.5 stars]


A Book You Borrowed

middle-school-worse-than-meatloaf.jpgMiddle School is Worse than Meatloaf // by Jennifer L. Holm

This is a story told through “stuff”: Report cards, notes, homework, etc. The protagonist is Ginny and she’s having former-friend trouble, brother trouble, and school trouble. In fact, this book reminded me of Kate Messner’s Breakout in its style.

Actually, I’m guessing this story led to Holm’s graphic novel Sunny Side Up. Many of the plot elements are the same. The one exception is that this story is contemporary whereas the other is set in the 1970s. [4 stars]


Final Thoughts…

September Bingo is complete!

Photo Challenge #39 / Looking Down

20180708ma_3847“Collection” / Theme: Looking Down

A little about this photo…

After collecting these acorns at the park, my nephew came directly to me to photograph them. (He knows his aunt will do stuff like that!) So, we found a spot in the shade and I told him to arrange it. This is what he did. Of course, I first started with a close-up of the acorns, but then I went for the overhead shot. The close-up turned out, but I somehow like this one because it adds that little human touch. This is his collection.


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek