Review: Pay Attention, Carter Jones

pay-attention-carter-jones.jpgBook: Pay Attention, Carter Jones (2019)
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: It’s a rainy morning when the Butler shows up at the front door. A Butler! And he’s about to change the lives of Carter Jones and his family. From his “Remember who you are, Young Master Jones” to how he introduces Carter to the world of cricket… the Butler helps Carter work through one of the toughest experiences of his young life.


1) The Butler. Man, I liked this guy! He was kind of like the male version of Mary Poppins. Although not quite as vain (at least about his looks). Seriously, this book made me wish we could all have a butler in our lives.

2) I love all the Britishisms. (Yeah, that’s probably not a real word.) The tea. The cricket. (Somehow Mr. Schmidt managed to make the cricket match have suspense.) The fact that the Butler calls Carter “Young Master Jones.” I love how Carter decides to take the Butler’s suggestion to look at the “Tory” POV with regards to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. (And, boy, does he get it at school!)

3) I like that Carter’s family is quite big. It’s not often that you get big families in books these days. Three sisters. Not to mention the brother.

4) I also like the friendships that develop in the book. Of course, there’s Billy Colt, but later on, there are the eighth-grade boys… the cricketers. Especially Krebs.

5) The emotional journey Carter takes through the book is also very nicely done. I like this little reveals, just enough at just the right time. The moment when Carter’s sister asks him the big question while they are out walking the dog… that was heartbreaking. (Moments like these are what I’ve come to expect when reading a Gary D. Schmidt book.)

6) I like the cover for this one… All the little hints as to what’s in the book are right there in the book cover.


1) (**Slight SPOILER here) The fact that Carter drives the Eggplant… (i.e. the Butler’s car.) I just couldn’t believe that. I just don’t see how a twelve-year-old would NOT get in trouble for driving! On the road. In 2019. (End spoiler.) This seriously is THE reason why I think I cannot give this book 5 stars!!


My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – I loved this book! I loved Carter and the Butler and the tea and everything. And weirdly enough, I even liked the stuff about cricket. 🙂


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

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday


Review: One-Third Nerd

one-third-nerdBook: One-Third Nerd (2019)
Author: Gennifer Choldenko
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Liam lives with his mom and sisters, Dakota and Izzy. Oh, and their dog Cupcake. But Cupcake has a problem with controlling her, ahem, bladder. And that isn’t good news when the landlord is a grouch and is threatening to evict the family because of it.


1) I really liked the main character, Liam. I especially love his relationship with his sisters… even the one that gives him the most grief. (Dakota. We’ll talk more about her later.)

2) And then there’s Izzy, the youngest of the three siblings. I love Izzy! She has down-syndrome, and I really enjoyed reading about her family-interactions. I like how she and Liam have a shared love of Bigfoot! And I thought it was nice how she fits into the plot… (**MINOR SPOILER: with regards to finding the solution to their problems… both with Cupcake and with the landlord’s daughter.**)

3) The tennis part of the book was pretty neat. (Although, I’m not sure how super necessary it was to the plot.)

4) Crash is Liam’s friend’s awesome grandpa! He also happens to be the kids’ babysitter. I wish there was more of Crash in the book. He didn’t get enough page-time for my taste.

5) I also enjoyed the character of Moses. Because Moses is one of those “rich kids”, it added a nice layer when Liam is trying to hide where he lives, etc. I particularly loved the scene near the end with Moses and the “lawyer” mom! I love this kid. 🙂


1) I didn’t fall in love with the dog Cupcake. Which means I wasn’t 100% rooting for them to keep the dog. Frankly, I just didn’t care. (Not that I don’t care about pets in general. I know what it’s like love a pet.) But I was more drawn to the humans in this story. Particularly Izzy.

2) Dakota drove me batty! Half-way through the book, I realized that I did NOT actually like her as a character. (**SPOILER: She sells Liam’s Bigfoot collection on eBay without asking Liam’s permission to do so! She also does the same with Izzy’s horse collection. I was furious and felt oh so betrayed.**)

3) I absolutely hated it when she started calling her mother: Kimberly. And her mom, not really okay with this, does nothing. Nothing!

4) I was waiting for some redemption arc for the landlord. (**SPOILER: Doesn’t happen. 😦 **)


My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – The book was good but not as good as what I’ve come to expect from Choldenko. I think the main culprit is this: I didn’t really care about the dog. And that’s pretty much the goal of the story. To save the dog. That said, the book is a fun read. I like the whole “one-third nerd” thing. And I really like the friendship that springs up between Liam and Moses. And Izzy. 🙂


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

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review: Cool Zone

cool-zoneBook: Cool Zone with the Pain and the Great One (2008)
Author: Judy Blume
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: This is another story starring the Pain (younger brother Jake) and the Great One (older sister Abigail). Told in alternating chapters, we get their differing points of view. There’s a whole lot of sibling rivalry, but also a bunch of sibling-love at the heart of each story.


1) I love the sibling rivalry, but I’m glad that there’s more to it than that. Even if the kids don’t quite admit it, they love each other. 🙂

2) I don’t mind the episodic nature of this book. Not many books get published nowadays that are basically a collection of short stories. Judy Blume does a great job with this one. Each story is self-contained and fun.

3) Judy Blume’s characterization of the kids is perfect. Reminds me of her Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing series. I love how she starts out each of these books with how the Pain thinks their parents prefer the Great One, and the Great One thinks the Pain gets all the breaks in their family. Isn’t that how it always is?

4) This book is a quick read. I think my favourite story was the one about the lost tooth. (I could feel Abigail’s frustration!)


1) The only thing I didn’t really like was that the Pain (Jake) calls his teacher “Mary”. Every other teacher in the book is called Mr./Ms. This is just a personal preference of mine. In fact, I ended up just substituting Ms. Mary in my mind every time I saw her name in the book.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this book. Not sure whose POV I liked better. The POV of the Pain? Or that of the Great One? 🙂


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

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Winter Reading Bingo Challenge / January


Here’s my bingo card for Middle Grade Carousel’s Reading Bingo challenge. This month, I finished nine middle grade books. Well, eight titles that fit the descriptions on the bingo card. (I actually read more than nine books, including a few books for adults.)

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.


  1. Because this is a Middle Grade Carousel challenge, all of the books on your Bingo board should be MG reads. Find out more about Middle Grade books here.
  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 this month.

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

*Graphic Novel

The Little Mermaid // by Metaphrog

little-mermaidMG, Graphic Novel, Fairy Tale (2017)

So, this is the Hans Christian Anderson version of the fairy tale. (But it does borrow some elements from the Disney version!) The illustrations did not blow me away, but I did like a few of them. Particularly when the sea witch bargains for the little mermaid’s voice. They did the whole thing in pink and it is striking!

The one thing I didn’t like was the ending. They got it wrong. 😦 She doesn’t turn into sea foam! She joins the daughters of the air. [4 stars]

*A Book by a Favourite Author

Ramona and her Father // by Beverly Cleary

ramona-and-her-fatherMG, Contemporary (1977)

This is perhaps the most perfect of the Ramona books! Okay, I love them all, but this one is extra special. And it definitely earned the Newbery Honor.

I love how it tackles her dad’s job loss and his smoking. Ramona has come a long way from her days as Henry Huggins’ nemesis. I think that’s what I really like about these books. Ramona still does things her own way, except now we get to see it through her POV. And, frankly, that makes all the difference.

The scene with the burrs? Wonderful! [5 stars]

*First in the Title

Jacob Two-Two’s First Spy Case // by Mordecai Richler

jacob-two-two-first-spy-caseMG, Contemporary (1997)

This was a fun read in the same sort of vein as The Phantom Tollbooth. Jacob Two-Two breaks into espionage when his neighbour turns out to be a Master Spy.

Lots of fun word-play. (The villains are Mr. I.M. Greedyguts and the Perfectly Loathsome Leo Louse.) And lots of little Canadian jokes 🙂  [4 stars]

*A Tail on the Cover

The Unteachables  // by Gordon Korman

unteachablesMG, Contemporary (2019)

Gordon Korman’s back on top of his game for this book! Hooray 🙂 As for the tail… yes, there is a tail on the cover of the book. See the little lizard sitting on the desk?

I enjoyed getting to know the group of kids nicknamed the Unteachables. As in many of Korman’s books, we get to see things through several differing viewpoints… including the teacher Mr. Kermit, and even the principal. [4 stars]

*Author’s First Name is Jonathan

Bridget Wilder: Spy-in-Training // by Jonathan Bernstein

bridget-wilder.jpgMG, Contemporary/Espionage (2015)

This book reminded me of the Spy School books. But it’s a little weirder than that. There were some nice twists and turns, but I wasn’t crazy about a few of the things that happen in the book. Mainly with regards to the big brother Ryan, who is constantly in trouble. But this all seems to be part of a running joke in the book. Maybe I was taking it too seriously. Anyhow, this book was okay, but nothing to get excited about. [3 stars]

Other MG Books I Finished this Month…

    • Double O’s in the Title // Cool Zone with the Pain and the Great One // by Judy Blume
    • A Book that was Recommended // The Moffats // by Eleanor Estes
    • Pick Your Prompt / A Mystery // Room One // by Andrew Clements
    • A Quest // The Dark is Rising // by Susan Cooper

Final Thoughts…

January Bingo: Complete! Have you read any of these books? Let me know what you thought of them.

Newbery Verdict: Ramona and her Father

Ramona and her Father // by Beverly Cleary (1977)

ramona-and-her-fatherNewbery Honor Book (1978)
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic Plot: Ramona’s in second grade when her father suddenly loses his job. When she finds out they have to scrimp and save, Ramona starts coming up with her own ideas to help her family make some money. One of her ideas ends with her hair in snarls. Another of her ideas is aimed at getting her father to quit smoking.


I love, love, love this book. I love the relationship that is shown between Ramona and her dad. This book deals with some tough issues like having a father who is out of work. And the depression he goes through. And then there’s the “no smoking” campaign headed up by Ramona and her sister Beezus. One of my favourite scenes is when Ramona comes home to a house to find that her dad has broken his promise. The moment where Mr. Quimby talks to Ramona about what happened is heart-breakingly precious.

As with most middle-grade books, this one has a happy ending. And I’m glad it does. I adore the Christmas scene at the end.


One of the best of the best Ramona Quimby books there is. It’s easy to see why it was nominated for a Newbery. It didn’t win, but there was tough competition that year. (The winner was Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.) Still, this is a 5-star book for me!


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal, or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Two Different Books, Same Topic

I recently read two middle-grade books that take place during Hurricane Katrina. What an interesting experience to read these books back-to-back.

finding-someplaceFinding Someplace // by Denise Lewis Patrick

Genre: MG, Near-Historical (2015)

My Thoughts: This one had a lot of potential, but it got mixed up with too many characters and too many themes. It’s a book that doesn’t quite know what it is. The main character is Reesie, the only daughter in an African-American family living in New Orleans. It’s her goal in life to be a fashion designer. And guess what? It’s her birthday!

That’s when Hurricane Katrina strikes. So far, so good. We soon learn that she’s terrified of water! (Backstory: She almost drowned in a swimming pool once.) But here’s where things start to go downhill. When there’s water all around her, does she freak out? Does she have a panic attack? No and no. The only other time this fear is mentioned (that I recall) is when her neighbour says something about it toward the end of the book. Like “I noticed you were afraid, Reesie.”

Also, there was also too many characters. So many people came and went. They were developed, then BAM! They were gone. (And don’t get me started on the kiss that was not set up properly.) What I really wanted was to spend more time in the book as she connected with (and possibly have conflict with) Miss Martine!

That said, I did like Reesie! Perhaps they rushed publication on this one? The book needed to be longer in order to deal with everything Denise Lewis Patrick introduced to us. [3 Stars]

zane-and-hurricaneZane and the Hurricane // by Rodman Philbrick

Genre: MG, Near-Historical (2014)

My Thoughts: I read this book after the one above. But this book was so much tighter. In a lot of ways, it was very similar. But there are differences. Zane is half-black and comes from New Hampshire. But guess what? His mom sends him down to visit his great-grandma in New Orleans. And it just happens that this happens right before Hurricane Katrina strikes.

There is an old neighbour character (Tru), and there’s conflict with the sassy girl (Malvina). This book stays pretty much within the time-frame of the hurricane and the day or so after. (Unlike the other book which jumps us to Christmas in New Jersey and then back to New Orleans in the spring. Not necessarily bad in and of itself; but like I said, that book tried to cram too much into not enough pages.)

I really enjoyed the character dynamics between Tru, Malvina, and Zane. We got to know them and care about them. We wanted them to survive! [4 Stars]

So, if you have to pick between these two books? I’d definitely go with the second one by Rodman Philbrick. The one by Denise Lewis Patrick had potential, but (unfortunately) it did not live up to that potential. I wish it was so much more! Zane, on the other hand, was well-written and knew what it was going for.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

*Note: I’m posting this for the first time for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Quick Pick Reviews #13

Clementine’s Letter // by Sara Pennypacker

clementines-letterGenre: Lower MG, Contemporary (2008)

My Thoughts: This is another super cute story about Clementine. And she’s ready to conquer the third grade! Especially with her Teacher at the helm of their class. But then comes the news that he’s a finalist in a contest where he might get to go on an archaeological dig in Egypt. But Clementine doesn’t want her Teacher to leave them!

This is where Clementine’s letter comes into the story. I really enjoyed Clementine’s journey in this book. And I liked how the letter is used at the end of the story. She reminds me so much of Ramona Quimby, although I do think I like Ramona just a tiny bit better. Not exactly sure why. [3.5 Stars]

The Moffats // by Eleanor Estes

moffatsGenre: MG, Historical Fiction (1941)

My Thoughts: Definitely is a little old-fashioned… but this book about the Moffat family is a fun read. Mrs. Moffat lives with her four children—Sylvie, Joe, Jane, and Rufus—in a yellow house. Their landlord is trying to sell it… to the great dismay of the Moffats.

My favourite episodes were: 1) about Joe at the dance recital; and 2) how the children end up losing the Salvation Army man out of the back of his own horse and wagon. I also liked how the story does come full-circle at the end with what happens to the yellow house. (I can’t stand those Murdocks… trying to buy the house from underneath the Moffats’ feet!) [3 Stars]

Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

Review: Towers Falling

towers-fallingBook: Towers Falling (2016)
Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Deja lives with her family in what can only be described as a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. She’s at a new school, and she’s hoping to stay here. One day, Miss Garcia points out the difference in the Manhattan skyline–namely the absence of the Twin Towers. Deja is intrigued. She doesn’t know anything about those towers. However, when she brings them up to her father, his dark reaction surprises her. And now she’s afraid he’s going to take her away, not just from her new school, but from her new set of friends as well.


1) I really enjoyed watching the friendship blossom between Deja, Ben, and Sabeen. We get to see it from the very beginning, which is nice.

2) I like how the teachers were dealing with the tragedy for a generation that was born after the towers fell. As a teacher in Queens in 2001, I taught the kids who lived through it. So, I was indeed fascinated by this. What blew my mind was that Miss Garcia (the teacher) was in 5th grade during 9/11!

3) The scene at the site of the World Trade Center… The author captured this memorial in a really wonderful way. I was just there, so it was all fresh in my mind. The water fall footprints of the towers. The white roses. The names. This part was possibly the best scene for me.

4) The storyline with the father was nicely done. (Although, I will say, when he finally speaks, he almost says too much. Which I felt was a little out of character for him.) This was a very emotional and cathartic scene.

5) I loved Deja’s dedication to her family. She helps her parents out with her two younger siblings. I loved her for that!

6) I really like what they did with the cover art… how the Freedom Tower stands where the Twin Towers once stood. And how things are upsidedown and topsy-turvy.


1) Deja was a little too introspective for me at times. Especially when you consider that she’s only ten years old. In some ways, she seems like a teenager.

2) When Deja goes to visit her friend Sabeen for the first time–Sabeen is Muslim–the family makes a comment that Deja would make a good Muslim. I found that a REALLY WEIRD thing to say to a child the first time you meet them. Especially a non-Muslim child. It felt like they were trying to convert her??

3) At one point in the book, Deja brings her dad to the school. He seems to walk right in, down the halls, and enters her classroom. Ahem. I taught school in NYC and NO PARENT (and certainly no adult, unless they were a teacher) was able to enter the school at all. Doors are locked. The only way in is through the school office. (The student entrances are locked or manned by a teacher.) So, I had a really hard time with this part of the plot.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This book is about the events of 9/11, but 15 years after the fact. Since I lived and worked in New York City during September 11, 2001, I feel a close connection. However, I don’t like watching the footage. But this book hit the right notes for me. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s worth the read.


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

Review: Spy School Goes South

spy-school-goes-southBook: Spy School Goes South (2018)
Author: Stuart Gibbs
Genre: MG, Contemporary/Espionage
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: SPYDER is at it again. Murray, who’s been a prisoner at the Spy School since the events of the last book, is willing to lead Ben and Erica to SPYDER’s headquarters. But things (obviously) go wrong. There’s a plane crash and survival tactics come into play. And the best news is that SPYDER thinks they’re all dead, which is perfect when you plan to infiltrate the enemies hide out.


1) Ben’s a great main character. I love how unassuming he is. And of course, juxtaposed against Erica… well, they make a great team.

2) The Farkle Family Reunion was a fun method for the team of spies to fit in at the resort. I also like that this also turns out to be a bad decision.

3) Love how Catherine Hale (Erica’s mum) shows up.

4) As always, the covers of these books are a fun way to introduce a basic plot of the novel!


1) Okay, this is where I start pointing out things I didn’t like. And sadly, as this series continues, I find there’s more and more things I don’t like. Why is the CIA and SPYDER run by kids? (Other than Catherine Hale–and the body guards for SPYDER–there are no adults! Even Cyrus and Alexander Hale only pop in at the end, after it’s all over.) I get it. The CIA has been infiltrated by SPYDER. But I still don’t know why Joshua (maybe 18 or 19?) is the one in charge of the special red button that will blow things up!

2) Speaking of the red button… not the most original plot device. I guess this is a spy novel, though.


My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – This book was okay, but not as good as the first three in the series. I almost wish he’d stop writing this series as it becomes harder and harder to suspend disbelief. I’m guessing he’s going to do at least one more since he seems to have set that up. Do I recommend this book. Sort of. Maybe? Only if you don’t mind kids who make better spies then spies with years of training and experience.


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

Review: Ogre Enchanted

ogre-enchantedBook: Ogre Enchanted (2018)
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Genre: MG, Fairy Tale
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Evie finds herself under one of Lucinda’s curses when she’s turned into an Ogre. To break the spell, she has to accept a proposal of marriage. But she has a time limit, and Evie doesn’t want to be married to just anybody. She’s determined to find her true love, or she’ll remain an ogre forever.


1) I liked Evie as a character. I like how she keeps on with her healing-ways even after the curse is upon her.

2) I got very excited when I started to recognize characters from Ella Enchanted. It’s been awhile since I read that book. (I don’t remember many of the character’s names.) The fairy Mandy the was the first to tip me off. And then I realized who would become Ella’s mother. So, that was fun. 🙂

3) It was an interesting take on the Beauty and the Beast story… swapping roles. I did like what she did there. And I liked how it fit neatly into the Gail Carson Levine fairy tale world (inhabited by such fairies as Lucinda!)

4) Love the cover of the book. Magical!


1) Wormy maybe gets the honour for having the Worst-Name-in-a-Book… especially for somebody we’re supposed to be rooting for. In fact, the name made me vacillate between wanting him to succeed in getting Evie’s affections and rooting for the other guys.

2) The time Evie spends with the ogres… I almost felt that this was just prologue to the story. (It’s not. She spends a good portion of the book with them!) But I really didn’t get into the story until after she leaves the ogres.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I wasn’t blown away by this book–it’s definitely not as good as Ella Enchanted–but I did enjoy it. I was excited when I suddenly recognized a few characters from Ella, and it made me want to do a re-read of that book. Which I haven’t read in a long time!


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