Review: Elephant Secret

elephant-secretBook: Elephant Secret (2018)
Author: Eric Walters
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Sam and her dad run an elephant sanctuary where they care for a herd of misfit elephants. Just as one abused elephant arrives, another is born to an elephant of the herd. But the new baby elephant has a secret… one that Sam and her father have yet to find out. A secret they won’t know about until they  meet their mysterious benefactor… Or should we call him “partner”?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Sam (Samantha) is an elephant girl. She knows elephants better than anything. In fact, she has such as strong bond with the elephant herd that it’s fun to watch (i.e. read about) her doing her thing. I love how she ends up leaving her eighth grade dance (in full formal-dress mode) to go be with the elephants when the new baby is born.

2) I loved the elephants in this book! I thought Walters did an amazing job of letting us get to know the herd. This isn’t always an easy thing to do for authors since the elephants never talk. They act like… elephants. And yet, we as readers get to know them and their personalities. I loved the matriarch, Trixie. And the younger ones, Raja and, of course, Woolly (who is adorable). I think my favourite elephant is the rescue one: Burma.

3) Jimmy was an interesting character. He’s portrayed almost as if he were a kid who never grew up. He’s also one of those characters that you’re not sure if you like him or hate him.

4) I really liked Sam’s dad, especially with his relationship to his daughter and to the elephants. Joyce (the lawyer girlfriend) is an interesting addition to the cast of characters. It was nice to see her relationship grow with Samantha, especially toward the end when the “girls” stand together after Dad gets upset over the incident with Burma.

5) (**SPOILER) The scene where Burma gets out of the cage was probably the best scene in the book. I found this scene quite emotional. Sam is completely crazy in that scene, but it all makes sense since she’s the elephant girl. Every step she took with those apples was tense. (End Spoiler)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) We never find out what happens to Burma in the long run. I was really rooting for him so I want to know what happens!!

2) There is an element on cloning in this book. It’s actually the Elephant Secret. (**SPOILER) It all has to do with cloning animals. Think: Jurassic Park. Although, not with dinosaurs, but with woolly mammoths. I wasn’t too crazy about they concluded things. I don’t think cloning is a good thing. THAT was the lesson of Jurassic Park! (End Spoiler)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I loved the elephants in this book. And I enjoyed reading about the inner workings of an elephant sanctuary. This book has some great discussion points. I would definitely recommend this to animal lovers.


YOUR TURN…

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

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Review: The Impossible Journey

impossiblejourneyBook: The Impossible Journey (2004)
Author: Gloria Whelan
Genre: MG, Historical (Soviet Union 1934)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot:  Marya and Georgi want nothing more than to be reunited with their parents who have been taken during one of Stalin’s purges. The two determined children set out on an impossible journey across Russia towards a remote village in Siberia with the slight hope that they will find their mother there. (A companion book to Angel on the Square.)

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I read Angel on the Square a long time ago. (Hint: It’s about Marya’s and Georgi’s mother.) I didn’t know this book existed until now! I like that it’s not a direct “sequel”, but that it does give us another peek into the lives of the characters from the first book. (Note: You can also read this book without having read Angel.)

2) The sibling relationship between Marya and Georgi is both realistic and sweet. He’s the typical younger brother who frustrates Marya. And yet she can’t leave him behind!

3) I love the look at the different families in this book. The book is about two children seeking to reunite their own split-apart family. Then there’s the neighbor family (with the bear) who initially take them in…. The doctor’s family on the train… And the “big family” of the Samoyeds (nomadic tribe).

4) The history of the time period of this book has always fascinated me. I thought Whelan did a good job in depicting the hardships of living under Stalin. One of my favourite parts was when Marya meets the Government Man and is forced to sing the praises of Stalin. (And how Georgi almost sabotages her plan!)

5) I really enjoyed learning about the Samoyeds (nomads who lived in Russia/Siberia at this time). I liked the interaction they had with the children, especially with regards to Georgi’s snow globe. I really liked how Marya and Georgi are not only helped by them, but also end up helping them in return.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I found it hard to understand Marya’s impulsive nature, especially with regard to showing off her mother’s locket. (I suppose you could argue that it’s still only 1934 and she doesn’t yet know the danger of such items. The height of Stalin’s purges doesn’t happen until 1938.) Not a major criticism as the episode does show how school was a place where information was gleaned about parents.

2) In the very end, there is (what I’d consider) an unnecessary death. Certainly it’s realistic, but it didn’t seem to be absolutely necessary to the book.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This book gives a good sense of this oppressive time period in history. I’d definitely recommend for anybody who likes history as well as those who like plucky-children-who-take-impossible-journeys stories.


YOUR TURN…

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: Skylar

skylarBook: Skylar (2008)
Author: Mary Cuffe-Perez
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary (Animals)
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot:  Skylar and his friends are pond geese. They never migrate. That is until a heron shows up needing to find his way to Lost Pond. Now it’s up to Skylar and his ragtag band of geese to tap into their instinct and begin the journey…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I found this very interesting. Told from the perspective of the geese, it’s an interesting look into the migration of Canada geese. Plenty of goose facts, but in the format of a story.

2) I loved the quirks of all the geese! The boasting of Skylar and quiet wisdom of Esther. Roosevelt’s a bit of a know-it-all, too. And then Weedle and Loomis add a lot of fun to the story with their antics. Love the character arcs for all of them… Especially with how they band together (despite all their bickering).

3) And then there’s the Who-on (the name the geese give the heron). He’s so patient with them. Even when he finally gets angry at them for not knowing exactly where they’re going! I especially loved the part at the end when he speaks to Skylar and reveals some things. (I won’t spoil it here.)

4) The illustrations are a nice touch.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) At times, I found the story a little slow. (But it does pick up.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – A fun* story about Canada geese. It is lower MG, and I would definitely recommend for kids who like animals-can-talk books. Also, if you’re interested in learning about geese migration, this is a nice peek into that topic (from the POV of the geese).

(SPOILER Warning: *There is a sad event that does happen in the book involving a death. Nothing graphic, but it is sad in the vein of a book like Charlotte’s Web.)


YOUR TURN…

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: Island War

island-warBook: Island War (2018)
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot:  Izzy and Matt arrive on an Alaskan island around the same time–Izzy with her mother, and Matt with his father. When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, it isn’t long before Japanese soldiers land and the islanders are evacuated to camps in Japan. However, Izzy and Matt find themselves left behind. Now they have to survive on their own, making sure nobody knows they’re even on the island.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved this from a historical perspective. I didn’t know the U.S. was “invaded”. So, this part of history really grabbed me.

2) The beginning of the novel (when Izzy and Matt both get used to life on the island) was very pleasant and interesting to read. I particularly liked Maria, the island girl that befriends Izzy. (She also has a super cool name. Just saying.)

3) Then half-way through the book, the plot takes a turn… to more of an Island of the Blue Dolphins vibe. Once the kids are on their own it becomes a survival story. Not only do they have to find food, but they also have to hide from the enemy. (And I love that one particular soldier may not be such a bad guy after all.)

4) The story is told through alternating chapters and POVs of Matt and Izzy. I loved their rivalry and how Giff portrays their mutual dislike of one another. It makes it even better when they have to put their differences behind them in order to survive. I liked how both characters have arcs.

5) I really like the muted colour on the cover of this book. I think it works very nicely for the story inside.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Some of the backstories were a little confusing to me. Especially with what happened to Izzy’s dad. I think he’s dead (but I’m not sure… Did I somehow miss that part?)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This book is for anybody who is interested in a lesser-known story about World War II. And also for people who enjoy a good survival story.


YOUR TURN…

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: Love Double Dutch

love-double-dutchBook: Love Double Dutch (2018)
Author: Doreen Spicer-Dannelly
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Kayla can’t wait to go to the National Jump-off at Madison Square Garden with her Double Dutch team. But with her parents always fighting, she and her brother have to spend the summer in North Carolina while they work out their problems. That’s when Kayla joins up with her cousin to create their own Double Dutch squad. But they have some hefty competition. The cousin’s ex-best friends…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Kayla is Brooklyn-cool! Yep. She’s definitely got attitude. But in a good way. I used to teach girls like her, so it brought back good memories of some of my students. 🙂

2) The Double Dutch stuff was very interesting. I remember jumping rope when I was a kid, but we never really did Double Dutch. This book made me want to go to youtube to watch a few videos of the competitions. And wow! Pretty amazing stuff.

3) I liked how Kayla’s confidence just pushes her team forward. They’re the outcasts, but the girls work really hard to get where they need to be.

4) The story has a happy ending, which I always love. I enjoyed the friendship developed by Kayla and Sally and Melissa and Tina. I was definitely rooting for them.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The realism was a little lacking for me. At times, I kept saying… “Really? I’m not so sure that would happen.” Especially with rope-jumping novices like Melissa and Tina. Especially when nerves play a really big part in competitions like this.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – A fun story about kids who skip rope competitively. The book has some great messages about cooperation and working together. A good summertime read.


YOUR TURN…

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: Dealing with Dragons

dealing-with-dragonsBook: Dealing with Dragons (1990)
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Genre: MG, Fantasy
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Princess Cimorene hates the idea of being a princess. She never gets to cook or fence or learn magic. So she runs away and ends up in the clutches of the dragon, Kazul. But they soon become friends. And even when the knights and princes come to rescue her, she plots ways to stall them. However, when the wizards show up, well, that’s just asking for trouble…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The tone of this book is what makes this worth reading! I absolutely loved all the references to fairy tales. It’s so meta. For example:

“Then they gave me a loaf of bread and told me to walk through the forest and give some to anyone who asked. I did exactly what they told me, and the second beggar-woman was a fairy in disguise, but instead of saying that whenever I spoke, diamonds and roses would drop from my mouth, she said that since I was so kind, I would never have any problems with my teeth.”

“Really? Did it work?”

“Well, I haven’t had a toothache since I met her.”

“I’d much rather have good teeth than have diamonds and roses drop out of my mouth whenever I said something”

– Dealing with Dragons

2) I liked the spunky Princess Cimorene. And the (almost motherly) dragon Kazul. They make a great team! I loved all Cimorene’s plots for getting rid of the princes.

3) I particularly enjoyed the short little chapter descriptions before each chapter. They give us just enough information, but not too much to ruin the story.

4) The Stone Prince was quite entertaining. I love how he bumbles into the plot and changes everything.

5) The end section is great. (Slight SPOILER: once the dragons are trying to find a new king — End Spoiler.) I loved how everything comes together at this point in the story for Cimorene and Kazul.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The book started out great, but somewhere in the middle, I hit a bit of a slow stretch. It did take a bit of time to get through it. (Picks up at the end again, though.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A fun fantasy. I would recommend it for anybody who like dragon stories or fairy tales with a twist.


YOUR TURN…

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: Genevieve’s War

genevieves-warBook: Genevieve’s War (2017)
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Genevieve and her brother have been visiting their grandmother in France in the summer of 1939. While her brother leaves, she chooses not to go back to the States… What she doesn’t know is that the war is going to be a long one. Including battles with her own grandmother, Meme. Little by little, Genevieve gets drawn in to helping with the French Resistance. She also soon finds an ally in Meme against the Nazi invaders. But Genevieve is not always sure who to trust.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The spunky Genevieve is a fun protagonist. I particularly liked her relationship with her grandmother, Meme. Or should I said non-relationship. Those two are at odds for most of the book.

2) I liked the intrigue. Since the story is about the French Resistance, there is plenty of intrigue. With who Genevieve should trust or not trust… including her best friend Katrin. And hiding her other friend. And then there is the mystery of the sweater!

3) When I was reading, I wanted to know the dates of when things were happening. At first, I thought this might be something to put in my “What’s Not Cool”, but after finishing the book, I’ve changed my mind. I think it’s stronger not to know the dates because (at least for me) the dates would tell me how soon D-Day was coming. The datelessness forced me to live the events of the story not knowing how much longer the people would have to hold out.

4) Events near the end made me cry. Anytime that a book makes me care about the characters… Hey, that’s a win!

5) I loved how everything came together at the end of the story. I like that not all was wrapped up. There were some bittersweet things that happened. And I liked the realism of that.

6) I thought the cover worked with the story.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The book had a slow start for me. Events that I wasn’t sure were all that important seem to drag things a bit.

2) I’m not sure I completely bought Genevieve’s reasons for staying back in France. It seemed a little far-fetched to me, especially in light of her relationship with her grandmother at that time. I wish Patricia Reilly Giff had come up with a different reason.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I would definitely recommend to anybody who wants to read more about World War II and the French Resistance.


YOUR TURN…

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: Every Shiny Thing

every-shiny-thingBook: Every Shiny Thing (2018)
Author: Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Lauren feels lost when her autistic brother goes away to boarding school. When Lauren’s best friend doesn’t seem to understand, Lauren starts spending more and more time with the new girl, Sierra. Sierra’s a foster kid who just wants to go back with her mom. But she’s drawn to Lauren and soon becomes the only one who knows about Lauren’s little problem: shoplifting. But Lauren isn’t stealing things to be bad. Her plan is to help others. Sierra doesn’t know quite what to do…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The dual POVs work quite nicely in this book. Lauren’s POV is written in prose, while Sierra’s is written in blank verse. At first it was jarring, but I came to like it.

2) I liked how Lauren (the rich kid) is the one with the sticky fingers, rather than Sierra (the poor kid). I love how Lauren rationalizes everything! And Sierra’s struggle about what to do. I loved how complicated everything was.

3) I enjoyed watching Sierra’s growth in the book. I think I probably liked her more than I liked Lauren (who got on my nerves sometimes). I liked the development with the foster parents: Anne and Carl.

4) Ryan isn’t in the book much, but his presence is felt in the book. He’s the brother who’s away. He’s also the reason why Lauren’s starts her own little Robin Hood campaign.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) So I loved all the restitution at the end, but I almost think Lauren got off a little easier than if it had been Sierra.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Enjoyed this story, especially Sierra’s POV.


YOUR TURN…

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: The Detective’s Assistant

detectives-assistantBook: The Detective’s Assistant (2015)
Author: Kate Hannigan
Genre: MG, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Nell is orphaned and is sent to live with her Aunt Kitty. Except there’s one big problem. Aunt Kitty doesn’t want Nell. Reason #1: She’s busy enough as it is as the only female detective of the famed Pickerton Agency. Reason #2: Nell’s father killed Aunt Kitty’s husband. So now it’s up to Nell to show how useful she can be to her aunt. As well, she plans to prove that the fatal shot to her Uncle Matthew (fired by her now-dead father) was an accident. And the only person who can help reveal the truth had to escape on the Underground Railroad to Canada.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love the historical connection to the Pickerton Detective Agency. I had not read much about them before this book. What’s really cool is that Aunt Kitty is based on the real life Pickerton agent: Kate Warne. (And the plot of this book includes some of her cases!)

2) The cases involving Aunt Kitty and Nell are fun to read. I love how Nell helps out! She and Aunt Kitty get to wear some fabulous disguises 🙂

3) And oh! How Lincoln is brought into the story is a history-lover’s dream. (And to top it all, there really IS a historical event that connects Lincoln to Pickerton.)

4) The bickering between Nell and Aunt Kitty is hilarious. I love how Nell keeps calling her “Aunt Kitty” even though her aunt wants to be called “Kate”. And then, when they’re in disguise, Nell always seems to slip up while Aunt Kitty always remains in character.

5) The letters between Jemma and Nell have some fun codes to decipher. I could see kids enjoying the challenge.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) On the other hand, the letters were the most unrealistic part of the book. They talk in code and yet the code would have been too easy to break. (This was the part that grown-up Maria thought a little too much.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – The historical part of this book was great. I loved Spunky Nell and all of Pickerton’s detectives. I especially enjoyed how the climax worked out and how it connects to really historical events. I would definitely recommend this book!


YOUR TURN…

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: Twice Magic

twice-magic.jpgBook: Twice Magic (2018)
Author: Cressida Cowell
Genre: MG, Fantasy
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Xar (a Wizard) and Wish (a Warrior) are back. This time, they’re in big trouble. Xar has a witchstain that’s threatening to take over. And Wish needs to hide her powerful and magic eye. And they out to try to stop the Witchking… if they can collect all the ingredients to a special recipe that will get rid of the Witches.

Note: You can read my review for the first book in this series: The Wizards of Once.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I still really liked Xar and Wish and their quirks… how they’re not perfect. They have plenty of faults. But I also like how they grow during this story.

2) I love the voice Cressida Cowell uses for this story. It’s very similar to her How to Train Your Dragon series. One of my favourite lines: “…in a British Isles so old it did not know it was the British Isles yet.”

3) Love the fact of the “unknown narrator”. I have my theories. So does my nephew. And he may be right.

4) I really enjoyed the story told by the Giant. (But I love fairy tales!) And I thought Xar’s little snarky comments were good. But more importantly, I liked how it all comes around to the parents and the whole feud between the wizards and warriors.

5) Probably one of my favourite parts was the Giant’s last breath and how THAT connects to the whole feud theme.

6) Like the book before it, this book has its own ending. Even if it does lead us into the next book, at least it’s not a cliffhanger book. I’m not a huge fan of cliffhangers at the end of books.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Still not too crazy about Squeezjoos, the little baby sprite. :/

2) The opening was a little slow for me. And it took me a bit to get into the story… especially trying to figure out where everybody was since the last book. It took a bit of time.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Really liked this book, especially with how things seem to be developing. I’m looking forward to reading Book 3 🙂


YOUR TURN…

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