Review: The Tin Snail

tin-snailBook: The Tin Snail
Author: Cameron McAllister
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: It’s 1938. A French boy wants to save his father’s job and to do that, he needs to help his father design a “people’s car”. But just when they’re on to something, the Nazis invade France. Now it’s time to hide their work before it falls into the wrong hands.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really liked the main characters. No, wait. I really liked ALL the whole cast of characters in the book. They were quirky without being too quirky. Angelo with all his gumption and inspiration. Camille. Bertrand. The mayor who is the enemy, turned ally.

2) I loved the historical setting. France. World War Two. This is really a book about the French Resistance… in a really weird way. And it’s a book about a very unique type of automobile. (I’ve seen those old Citroen cars in Europe. And, yes, I thought they were ugly. But ugly, in a cute way.)

3) Bertrand’s philosophy: “Some things aren’t meant to be… The rest aren’t meant to be, yet.” In fact, Bertrand’s optimism and enthusiasm is particularly appealing… especially how he deals with Angelo and the father and the pitfalls surrounding the creation of a brand-new car.

4) I loved the three acts: the Inspiration, the building of the car, and finally the attempts to thwart the Nazis from stealing the hard work. The final act has enough intrigue and chases to grab anybody’s attention.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wish they would have put more illustrations about the various prototypes. There’s an illustrator, and each prototype is described in the book. But oddly enough, there really are no illustrations to help the reader “see” the car as it is developed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4! Stars (out of 5) – Yes, I really liked this book. It has a historical bent, but I didn’t really see the whole French Resistance thing coming, at least not right away. This book is fresh and fun with a great cast of characters… And that makes for an enjoyable read.

Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

magicstringsBook: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
Author: Mitch Albom
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Detailing the life of superstar musician, Frankie Presto… his ups and downs… tragedies and triumphs. He travels everywhere with his guitar from his maestro. And then, one day, one of the strings turns blue. That’s when he realizes that his life is affecting those around him.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The narrator is “Music”. I liked how Music is able to give us details of the story that even Frankie himself doesn’t know. I also like the musical lingo and refrains. “Everybody joins a band in this life…”

2) Aurora and Frankie. I won’t give out spoilers here.

3) The rogue’s gallery of real-life musicians and performers. In a way, this book reminded me of Forrest Gump. Now I didn’t care too much for that movie, because I felt the coupling of real events with Forrest’s life was forced. I did not feel the same way with this book. Not every event is Frankie “doin’ Elvis”. There was just enough to make it seem real and legit. Well done, Mr. Albom!

4) Lyle and his friends. I wasn’t sure at first about this little thread, but I loved how that turned out. 🙂

5) The Woodstock story interspersed with other stories. I thought it was well done. A nice twist with Aurora that I was not expecting!

6) **SPOILER ALERT: The daughter. I love the connection made later on with regards to his own adopted father and his rejection of him. And then the realization that you can truly love a child who is not biologically yours. As Frankie loves Kai. END SPOILER**

7) El Maestro.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) **SPOILER ALERT: The final revelation of his death. I felt this was a tiny bit anti-climatic. I was expecting something disastrous and awful, and it wasn’t. Part of me is glad, because I didn’t want him murdered spectacularly, but I still have mixed feelings about the ending. END SPOILER**

2) The aunt in Detroit. I felt this scene was almost unnecessary. Almost. What I didn’t like about it is how quick it is. How does Frankie come to even understand everything she tells him? I feel that in real life, Frankie would need a longer time with them to grasp the reality that there is no way his “father” could be his father.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book! The real musicians mixed in with the fiction. I thought it was well done.

Review: The Dancing Pancake

Book: The Dancing Pancakedancing
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Bindi’s dad mysteriously leaves one day. And her mom and aunt decide to start a restaurant called The Dancing Pancake. All these changes bring an upset to Bindi’s life that she must adjust to.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The depiction of Bindi’s struggles over adjusting to the big changes in her life. She’s moody, but she’s also a very likeable character. I liked the through-line of the need for forgiveness (with regards to her dad, Ruby Frances, etc.). It’s nice to see her grow up in the story.

2) The empathy Bindi shows to Grace, the homeless lady. However, I also like how that plot point does not work out exactly as Bindi originally intends. But still, Bindi learns to accept people for who (and where) they are.

3) The blank verse works well in this book. (It seems to be Spinelli’s thing.)

4) I found the opening-a-restaurant plotline interesting.

5) Characters I enjoyed: Jackson, the little cousin and Ruby Frances, the waitress. I like how their stories intermingle with **SPOILER the theft of the $50 from the cash register. END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Nothing really to add here.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This is an enjoyable book! I loved how she worked an actual dancing pancake into the climax of the story 😉

Review: Paperboy

paperboyBook: Paperboy
Author: Vince Vawter
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic plot: A coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old boy who takes his friend’s paper route for a month in the summer. His greatest struggle: overcoming a debilitating stutter.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I’m usually a stickler for proper grammar. This book does not use quotation marks for dialogue and very little commas. This would normally drive me nuts! But in the case of this book, I am fine with it. It’s all part of the characterization of the protagonist.

2) The stutter. I thought Vawter dealt well with the boy’s struggle regarding his debilitating stutter. The story made me completely empathize with him… How he can’t even say his best friend’s name (Art) and calls him “Rat” instead. However, this changes by the end of the book as the boy starts to push himself to overcome.

3) I loved the relationship between the boy and his Mam. She was wonderful!

4) Ditto for Mr. Spiro… How he treats the boy like a real person and helps him gain confidence. (And all those books in Mr. Spiro’s house? A dream come true!)

5) I liked the fact that we don’t get the boy’s name until the end of the story. Again, because of plot reasons.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) When I was reading it, I wasn’t sure what time period this was. Did I miss something? (Of course, looking back at the book jacket, I realize that it says it takes place in 1959. But I don’t always read the book jacket prior to reading the story. Mainly due to the fact that I want to avoid spoilers.)

2) I was a little uncomfortable with the character of Mrs. Worthington. **SPOILER She’s an alcoholic, painted with a lot of sexual overtones. I felt this was a little too heavy for this age group. And I wasn’t sure what she would do to the protagonist. (Nothing really bad happens, which is good. She’s played more like a victim than anything else.)  END SPOILER

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – I loved this book! While I never stuttered quite so badly as the boy in this book, I did have a little stutter as a young child. So, I definitely related to the attempts and struggle of working through getting those words out.

Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

TheWitchOfBlackbirdPond_4821Book: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic plot: Kit arrives in the Puritan colony of Connecticut, which is a far cry from her home in Barbados. But with her grandfather dead, she has no choice. She and her aunt’s family both experience culture shock. In defiance of her uncle, she makes friends with the “Witch of Blackbird Pond” and soon finds herself the target of a witch hunt.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Speare writes an engaging historical novel. She gets the tone right… the rebellious nature of Kit pitted up against the Puritan community. And this book still has appeal for the modern reader (even though it was first published in 1958. Now, that’s a classic!)

2) I liked the complex relationship of Kit and Nat. How Nat is obviously drawn to Kit, and yet is confused by how to react to her non-conformist ways.

3) The “villain” of the story is set up quite nicely in the opening.

4) The uncle is well-characterized. **SPOILER: I like how he’s clearly one who opposes Kit throughout the story. Yet, in the end, he is redeemed. His character grows to accept her, even though she is so different. I hate it when books make the father-figure evil and awful with a good-riddance to bad rubbish. This book doesn’t do that.  END SPOILER

5) I like Hannah Tupper, the Quaker (i.e. the Witch of the title). I thought her relationship to Kit was very touching. And her fragility as she ages was well-written.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) **SPOILER: Nat gets his own ship at the end of the story. I’m not crazy about the name he chooses. But it sort of makes sense. END SPOILER

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book is actually a re-read for me. I read it as a kid. I must say I enjoyed it even more so as an adult! Which says a lot about a book. No wonder it won the Newbery.

Review: The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones

28814927Book: The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones
Author: Wendelin Van Draanen
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Lincoln Jones is the “new kid” and that makes him a bit of a loner and outcast at school. What makes it worse is that he spends his after-school hours at an old folks home. He tries to hide this from his peers, but one particular girl won’t leave him alone before she finds out his secret life.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I like the kid’s voice. He’s interesting. I felt I’ve met him. I also was drawn to his relationship with his mom.

2) I like books that bring the generations together… Where young kids get to know “old people” in a real way. It’s nice to see Lincoln’s viewpoint change on “oldies”.

3) The ending was cool (**SLIGHT SPOILER HERE) with how it ended where it began. END SPOILER

4) **SPOILER: Lincoln and his mom are hiding from an abusive boyfriend and home life. While this is a heavy topic, I felt it was dealt with in a real, yet age-appropriate way. It didn’t gloss over such situations, but it doesn’t dwell on them either. END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) There’s very little I did not like. The pickiest thing I can say is that one character, Isaac, suddenly appears at the Old Folks Home and I didn’t remember who he was. I had to go back in the book and find how I’m supposed to know why he matters. But that wasn’t a huge problem.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Yes! My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I’d definitely recommend it!