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: 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: 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: Stolen Magic

stolenmagicBook: Stolen Magic
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Rating: 2.5 Stars

Basic plot: Elodie, her masteress the dragon, and Count Count Jonty Um are all on their way to Elodie’s home island of Lahnt. Suddenly, they discover that the Replica, a statue that magically keeps the volcano from erupting, has been stolen. Now it’s up to them to deduce, induce, and use common sense find the thief.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is the second book in “A Tale of Two Castles” series. I really liked the first book, so it was nice to join Elodie and the Dragon again. And Count Jonty Um as well.

2) I liked the introduction of Master Robbie and the friendship between him and Elodie.

3) The Dragon is a delightful character.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The first book is based (very lightly) on the Puss in Boots fairy tale (which was a delight to discover while reading it). This book doesn’t seem to be based on anything. To my mind, this makes the story a little bit weak. I think Levine is usually strongest in weaving those classic tales into her own stories… which is why “Ella Enchanted”, “Fairest”, and “A Tale of Two Castles” are top-notch reads. This one seems to be missing that little magic. (Maybe it was stolen?? Ouch!)

2) The three characters are split up for most of the story. I love the interplay between the three main characters, which obviously can’t happen if they are all in different locations.

3) I wanted to know who stole the Replica, but when I did find out the truth, I didn’t really feel relieved or satisfied. In fact, I really hate to say it, but I found I didn’t really care that much.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 2.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book was okay. It was SO close to getting 3 Stars, but the more I thought about it, I realized that it’s just not Levine’s best writing. It’s not exactly a bad book either, it’s just… okay. It was nice to revisit the same characters from “A Tale of Two Castles”.

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 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 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.