Review: Sunny Side Up

sunnysideupBook: Sunny Side Up
Authors: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: During the summer of 1976, Sunny goes to stay with her grandfather who lives in  a Retirement Community in Florida. It’s hard to be a place where everybody’s old. But that isn’t the only hard thing for Sunny. It’s even harder to work through the reason she’s in Florida in the first place.

WHAT’S COOL

1. I liked the superhero thread that was woven throughout the story. (Although, I don’t know why Sunny doesn’t like Wonder Woman!!)

2. It took me a few times to figure out how the flashbacks were working, but once I did, I really liked how that worked. Little by little, we are let in on Sunny’s big secret.

3. I love the “Girls” who hang out with the grandfather. How they are so full of life and vigor. And good advice… like taking the uneaten roll for later. (This is something we totally would in my family!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL

1. While I thought the graphic novel worked well, I could really see this as a full-scale novel. Is there anything lost when it’s condensed into the graphic novel format? I did find a few things a tiny bit confusing. But maybe that’s because I don’t read a lot of graphic novels. I’m more of a words person.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – I really liked the story. I would love to see words flesh the story out (i.e. turning the story into a full novel). But overall, I felt the story was touching. I felt for Sunny and her family.

Review: Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth

imagesBook: Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth
Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Rating: 3.5 Stars:

Basic plot: Prez is in foster care (or Children’s Temporary) when he meets an alien/dog named Sputnik (he’s really an alien, but everybody thinks he’s a dog). Sputnik’s goal is to save earth from annihilation. All Prez wants to do is go home and live with his Grandad.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The List and how it works into the chapter titles and the plot.

2) I really liked Prez. He’s quiet and doesn’t talk much, but this didn’t feel gimmicky to me. We really get to know him through his first-person narration. And of course, through his conversations with Sputnik in his head. I really liked how this backfires on him a few times.

3) The plot connects realism with complete fantasy very well. There are some crazy, memorable moments, including the light sabre and Hadrian’s Wall (not at any way connected, by the way, but I won’t spoil it here).

4) The relationship of the Grandad and Prez. And how Prez starts to figure out what’s real and what’s not with regards to the map and the sea chest, etc.

5) Laika. The space history buff in me got quite excited when Laika comes into the story. (The journal is quite clever.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) For some reason, I wasn’t crazy about Sputnik, the alien/dog. In fact, I would never want to meet Sputnik. Ever. I felt I should like him, but I don’t. And I feel kind of bad that I don’t.

2) This isn’t a page-turner. Is that bad thing? Maybe not.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – Liked quite a bit, but didn’t super love it. The best parts are Prez and the Grandad. I would definitely spend an afternoon with them, as long as they promised Sputnik wasn’t going to show up!

Review: Going Where It’s Dark

510+MH3rPYL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Going Where It’s Dark
Author: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: When Buck’s friend David moves away, he also loses his “caving” buddy. Now he starts to explore “caves” on his own. While he knows the danger, he keeps this a secret from his family. But that’s not the only secret.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Buck’s a likeable kid. I felt Naylor captures quite well how he deals with his stutter and the bullies, etc.

2) I like Uncle Mel and how he fits into the story. He’s sympathetic to Buck and definitely a good role model. His absences due to his trucking job also allow for Buck to be able to keep some of his “secrets” from him.

3) The military approach by Jacob Wall to Buck’s stuttering problem… I found this fascinating. And to make it even more cool is that this approach seems to be based on how Naylor’s husband himself helped with people who stuttered. (This reaction is possibly due to the teacher coming out in me.)

4) I like how the theft at the sawmill is linked to… well, I won’t spoil it for you.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I was not convinced that Katie was Buck’s twin. They don’t seem to be twins. Period. She seems more like an older sister. I can’t really put my finger on it.

2) The cave parts. I think I might be a tiny bit claustrophobic, because any book that deals with people climbing through holes under ground makes me want to skim. And yes, I did skim the underground parts. This is not really a fault of this particular book, but just my personal reaction to small caves and being trapped underground.

3) The ending seemed a little abrupt to me. It felt like there should be another chapter. I’m not sure why, because Naylor has pretty much tied up all the plot strands. It just seemed like there should be more.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – While not my favourite of Naylor’s books, I did enjoy the stuttering plot-line. Again, this is probably a personal preference on my end.

Review: Spy Ski School

spyschool4
Book: Spy Ski School
Author: Stuart Gibbs
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Ben and his fellow spies-in-training are activated for their first mission. They go to ski country to try to figure out the nefarious plot of crime boss, Leo Shang, by cozying up to his daughter, Jessica.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The cast of characters from this fourth installment of the Spy School books is top-notch… Everyone from Ben and Erica to Zoe and the rest of the gang. Cyrus and Alexander, too!

2) The setting for this book is a fun addition to the series. I especially love the random umlauts in the names of the “fake” Austrian names at the ski resort. Since when does the word ünd have an umlaut?? 🙂

3) I love the fact that “perfect” Erica is (**SPOILER: not very good at skiing! Even though she’s confident that she’ll be able to pick it just as easily as she’s mastered other sports, she turns out to be, GASP!… an average skier. END SPOILER)  I like that Erica is really good at what she does (she’s the best spy at the school), but it’s nice to have this little touch to humanize her!

4) The cover art continues to be excellent for this series. How can you not love this cover art?

5) Anytime you can use the word “nefarious” (and it’s appropriate) gets a bonus point!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I’m not crazy about how Alexander Hale is portrayed in these last couple of books… Yes, he is obnoxiously James Bond-like, but that little quirk makes him likeable. However, as the series grows, so do the contempt of both Alexander’s daughter and father… to the point of despising him. I wish Gibbs had made him a little less incompetent. Sure, he can exaggerate about his spy skills, but does he have to be a complete idiot??? I LIKE Alexander Hale, quirks and all!! I like Erica Hale (and yes, she has her own quirks) and I like Cyrus Hale (although, in this book I did find him at times unlikable due to a mean streak I don’t remember from the other books).

2) I’m also not crazy about the character of Mike. Mike is Ben’s best friend, which should mean I should like him, right? But the thing is, I don’t. And I really don’t know why. I just don’t like him. Every time he comes into the plot, I feel like he’s intruding on the story. (**SPOILER: And I’m not really looking forward to his recruitmenthinted at in the bookto Spy School. Sorry, but I guess I just don’t really like Mike! END SPOILER)

3) (**SPOILER: Why is Murray in this book? Totally and completely not necessary. Shang’s a “good” bad guy. He doesn’t need Murray to help him with his nefarious plotting. END SPOILER)

4) The title of the book is a weird alliteration that, frankly, is hard to say.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – A fun read! I like the development of the characters in this series (with the exception of those listed above). I look forward to the next Spy School book! 🙂

Review: A Little Princess

littleprincess.jpgBook: A Little Princess
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Sara Crewe comes to a boarding school by her rich papa where she is treated like a little princess. Tragedy strikes when her father dies, leaving her penniless and at the cruel mercy of the headmistress of the school.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Sara SHOULD be a spoiled brat. But she isn’t. She really is a princess, but in the best of ways.

2) I liked the friendship between Sara and Becky, Lottie, and Ermengarde.

3) Miss Minchin is a character that you love to hate. Her hypocrisy is evil! Definitely a memorable character :/

4) The scene with the bun lady is a beautiful scene. She is everything that Miss Minchin is not. I was actually glad when she shows up at the end of the story once again.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Miss Minchin. Yes, she appears above in the “What’s Cool” section, but she also appears here. Could a headmistress be this evil? I suppose she could, but really, this character almost doesn’t seem real. I wish Burnett would have given some redeeming quality, even if just to make her a more rounded character.

2) Sara is too good! Consider her next to Burnett’s other heroine: Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden. Mary is a spoiled brat who is NOT likeable at all in the beginning of the story. But she has a character arc. Sara really has no character arc. She’s good and wise at the start of the book. She’s good and wise at the end of the book. I like Sara, but I don’t love Sara. Certainly not in the way that I love Mary Lennox.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – A re-read for me. I still hate the Miss-Minchin-treating-Sara-badly parts… actually to the point of me not wanting to read the book. Overall, it’s a good book, but not a great book. If you want a great book by this author, check out The Secret Garden.

Review: The Unforgotten Coat

unforgottenBook: The Unforgotten Coat
Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Julie becomes the “Good Guide” for Mongolian brothers Chingis and Nergui. She helps them learn to integrate into British society, to hide from the “demon” who is trying to “eat Nergui”.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Learning some cool Mongolian facts. After being chosen by Chingis to be their “Good Guide”, Julie researches Mongolia and insists on giving a presentation to her sixth grade class. Of course, Chingis is the one who is supposed to be the one giving info about his homeland, but Julie ends up doing the most talking. Nice touch by the author (especially in light of how this quietness about Mongolia fits in well with how the story ends.)

2) I liked the Polaroid photos scattered throughout the story. At first, I thought they were just atmosphere, but they definitely are important to the plot.

3) Interesting how the fear of these immigrants/refugees manifests itself. Through baking the little raisin man, to taking a different route each day when walking home from school, to insisting that Nergui stay with Chingis in the sixth grade classroom, even though he’s much younger. Coming to a new country is tough under any circumstance. I liked how the author understates this fear. He uses very little suspense and basically presents facts without making a big deal about it. After all, we are reading this story through the eyes of Julie, not the boys.

4) **SPOILER: I like how the ending is not super-happy. It’s not super-sad either. I thought it was realistic that the boys are deported, thus making their fear justified. Eaten by the “demon”. However, the final image gives hope. END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I was a little confused at times. I liked the photos, but they sometimes also brought me out of the story. Was this a true story? Why did he take that photo? When does this take place? It wasn’t until the end that I realized that this is a fictionalized account of some true events. While this isn’t a bad thing (I don’t mind fictionalized accounts!), it’s the being taken out of the story that isn’t so good.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this book! I absolutely loved Cosmic and Framed by the same author. I don’t think this book is as good as those ones, but I did enjoy it.

Review: Moo

28217808Book: Moo
Author: Sharon Creech
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Reena and Luke move to Maine with their mom and dad. Pretty much on a whim. They instantly go from being city kids to country kids when they begin to help a crotchety old lady named Mrs. Falala with her ornery cow, Zora.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The relationship between Reena and Luke is nice. I like how their parents insist on the kids’ need to be respectful to their elders. Even crotchety old ladies.

2) The book is told very simply. Yet the characters are well-rounded. Zora the cow is a character in her own right!

3) **SPOILER: Reena shows Zora at the Fair. I liked how Zora takes off just as she first appears before the judges and Reena has to chase her. Obviously, this is a completely mortifying experience. But Reena gets “back up on that horse” once she has calmed Zora down. She ends up showing Zora for the next category of judging. I’m glad Zora doesn’t magically win. (She only gets fourth place. Good job, Zora!) END SPOILER

4) **SPOILER: Of course, Mrs. Falala dies near the end of the book. That wasn’t much of a surprise to me. But the secret of her upstairs room (or for that matter, how she wants and learns to draw)… I didn’t see that coming. Which is good 🙂 END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wasn’t sold on the reason WHY they move to Maine. It’s pretty much done on a whim. In fact, I find their reason slightly disturbing (as an adult). As a kid, I would have been horrified at this possibility.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – Which means it’s a good book. While it’s not my favourite book by Sharon Creech, it’s still a fun, fast read. (I think Zora the cow bumps the rating from 3 to 3.5 Stars! Way to go, Zora!)