Quick Pick Reviews #16

NOTE: I did a review of Brave by Svetlana Chmakova… which is actually the middle book in the series! So, I decided to do a combined quick pick review of Book #1 and #3. 🙂

awkwardAwkward // by Svetlana Chmakova

Genre: MG, Contemporary Graphic Novel (2015)

My Thoughts: Liked this first book in the series. Peppi has an adorable name! And personality. Particularly funny were all her attempts to avoid Jaime. Of course, he ends up being her science tutor! Cue the awkwardness. (One of my absolute favourite parts was when Chmakova puts little definitions of the word “awkward” = “this” with an illustration similar to the one of the cover the book!)

There’s a fun geocaching section. And I really like how the art and science clubs come together for the fair. What they create is out of this world! 😉

One of my favourite parts of these books is the design gallery at the end. Here Chmakova shows us various sketches and talks about the “making of” process she goes through for each book. [4 Stars]

CrushCrush // by Svetlana Chmakova

Genre: Upper MG, Contemporary Graphic Novel (2018)

My Thoughts: This is Jorge’s story. As I mentioned in my review of Brave, I loved Jorge, so I was glad to get a book devoted to him.

In this book, we get how Jorge is secretly crushing on Jazmine. The cover does a beautiful job conveying this. But it’s about more than that. We also have Jorge’s two friends: Olivia and Garrett. I really liked (painful as it was) the storyline that follows Garrett’s attempts to join the popular crowd and how he [*SPOILER] betrays Jorge in the process. [End Spoiler]

The one thing about this book is that it almost seemed older than the other books. I kept thinking that they were in high school. I checked. No, it’s middle school. Maybe it was the dance that seemed a little like “Prom” to me. (Although, I know there are dances in middle school.) [4 Stars]

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

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

Review: The Frightful First World War

Book: The Frightful First World War (1998)
Author: Terry Deary and Martin Brown
Genre: MG, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 stars

frightful-first-world-warBasic plot: This is one of the books in the Horrible Histories series. The introduction puts it this way: “History can be horrible. So horrible that some boring old fogies think young people should not be told the whole, terrible truth… Of all the history in the world, the story of the First World War… is perhaps the most horrible… But it’s also a story of courage and craziness, brave people and batty people, friendships and fierce hatreds, love… and lice.”


1) The book gives the history of World War I in bite-sized chunks. Each year of the war (from 1914-1918) has its own little timeline.

2) It includes little games/quizzes. For example, in the 1915 section, they ask which of the following is true:

  1. British spies used girl guides to carry their messages (as long as the girls promised not to read said messages).
  2. An American spy (for the Germans) was arrested after his socks were tested and shown to have invisible ink on them.
  3. A German spy put up a poster offering £5 to anybody giving him info about the warships in Portsmouth.
  4. British spies were told that (when they were in Germany) if anybody took an interest in them, they would end up having to kill that person. “So don’t waste time. Do it.”

(The answer is of course provided in the book.)

3) The book is peppered with lots of cartoons to illustrate various events during the war. This is definitely one of the highlights… and will definitely appeal to the reluctant readers. (And non-reluctant readers like myself!)

4) I thought that the explanation about the causes of World War I was particularly easy to understand. Usually, all you get is that the Archduke was shot and thus began the war. But this book explains the whole history behind the assassination… beginning with the failed attempts and the final one that ended the Archduke’s life.


1) Some of the jokes are groaners! (But maybe you’ll think that’s cool.)


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This book is definitely a fun read! I’d recommend it for anybody who has an interest in history; but it will also appeal to those who don’t. (And for those who don’t, they just might learn something about history!)


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

Fall Reading Bingo Challenge / October


I’m back to Middle Grade Carousel’s Reading Bingo challenge!

This month, I finished ten middle-grade books that fit the descriptions on the bingo card. And yes, I get to call out “Bingo!”

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 #MGCarousel challenge, all of the books on your Bingo board should be MG reads. Find out more about #MGCarousel 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…

‘Truth’ or ‘Dare’ in the Title

Double Dog Dare // by Lisa Graff

MG, Contemporary (2012)

double-dog-dareThis was a cute story about a girl (Francine) and a boy (Kansas) who get into a dare contest to see WHO will be the new anchorperson for the school announcements. She really wants; he doesn’t but is the kind of boy who can’t turn down a dare.

Most of the book was pretty silly. I really like how both kids are each struggling with their newly divorced parental situation. This is at the heart of the story and what makes the story worth the read. Most of the dares are pretty fun, but the solution was a little too obvious for me.  [3.5 stars]

Title Starts with ‘O’

The Other Half of my Heart // by Sundee T. Frazier

MG, Contemporary (2010)

other-half-heartThis book is about bi-racial twins. One of them is black and the other is white. And when their grandmother enters them in the Miss Black Pearl beauty pageant… cue the drama.

For the most part, the story is told through Minni’s eyes (the white twin). I loved how the author dealt with how she portrayed the two sisters, the love and connection they have with each other. As tensions in the book rise, Minni starts to question her place in the world. Is she black? Is she white? She has some good conversations with her grandmother’s neighbour, Dr. Oliphant (probably one of my favourite characters in the book!) [4 stars]

A Book You Own

A Bear Called Paddington // by Michael Bond

MG, Classic (1958)

paddington-bookOne of my favourite books from my childhood. Paddington is adorable. I like how he just fits right in with the Brown family. And I love his relationship with Mr. Gruber! How they share elevensies together. And Mr. Curry! Arrgh! The ultimate mean next-door neighbour.

I remember as a kid not even questioning the fact that a bear could come and live in a family.  [5 stars]


Fairy Mom and Me // by Sophie Kinsella

MG, Magical Realism (2018)

fairy-momCute story about a girl and her mom who is a great mom, but she’s not very good at being a fairy. The book is very episodic. In one of their adventures, Ella wants to bake cupcakes, but Fairy Mom’s Computawand doesn’t quite work the way she intends. Enter Zoe, the next-door neighbour who gives Ella trouble. But, don’t worry, all ends well. And Ella ends up with a delicious batch of cupcakes. (I just won’t tell you how that happens.)  [3 stars]

Secret in the Title

The Perfect Secret // by Rob Buyea

MG, Contemporary

perfect-secretFrom the author of Because of Mr. Terupt… Here’s another group of middle-school kids, each of them telling their version of the events in their lives. I did not realize that this was a sequel to another book, so I didn’t already know the characters. This left me a wee bit confused over what was happening, especially at the beginning of the book.

This book did have some good parts. I particularly liked the storyline belonging to Scott, aka “Junior, the stats man” and Coach (who isn’t really their coach but lives at the Senior Center). And the relationship between Gavin and his little sister is sweet.  [3 stars]

Other MG Books I Finished this Month…

    • An Only Child // Absolutely Almost // by Lisa Graff
    • Magicians // Nothing Up My Sleeve // by Diana Lopez
    • Pick Your Prompt / A 5-Star Book // Birdie // by Eileen Spinelli
    • Gate on the Cover // Mysterious Benedict Society // by Trenton Lee Stewart
    • A Retelling // Once Upon a Toad // by Heather Vogel Frederick

Final Thoughts…

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

For November’s challenge, go to https://elymnifoquent.com

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

Review: Nothing Up My Sleeve

nothing-up-sleeveBook: Nothing Up My Sleeve (2016)
Author: Diana Lopez
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Three boys—Z, Dominic, and Loop—enter the world of competitive magicians when they happen upon a Magic Shop.  Naturally competitive, the three friends start to turn on each other when their various magic props get sabotaged. On top of everything, each boy has to deal with some sort of trouble at home, whether it’s dealing with divorce or the fact that their parents don’t have the money to pay the entry fee to the competition to a perceived betrayal by a parent. It’s only when they realize that they need to band together and help each other out to succeed.


1) The magic tricks were pretty cool in this book. Lopez gives us enough of a taste of the tricks each boy learns without revealing too much of how it’s done. (A magician never reveals his/her secrets!)

2) I liked the arc for Ariel… How she gets the boys to compete against each other. Her part got even better once we met Stewart as the guy to beat! I’m not sure how she would have done it, but I felt Lopez almost needed to introduce that kid sooner.

3) Mr. Garza (aka Senor Surprise) hands out a lot of wisdom, but not in a way that’s intrusive. I like how he uses tricks to help the boys with their problems at home. And even though he gives advice, each boy comes up with his own solution to fix the problem.

4) This book made me go google some of the magic tricks it talked about! The French Drop, among others! Fun to see the tricks in action. 🙂

5) I enjoyed reading the little definitions of “magic” terms that precede each chapter. Most terms I already knew, but some were new to me.

6) I’m glad that the boys [*SPOILER] did not win the big competition, considering that they were still pretty green. I’m also glad that Stewart did not win either! [End Spoiler]


1) I kept getting confused with which boy was which! We were following three of them, and even by the end of the book, I was getting confused with Loop vs. Dominic vs. Z.


My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – Definitely would recommend this book to any kids who want to learn magic tricks. I do have an interest in it, but I am pretty hopeless when it comes to performing these sorts of trick. But maybe that’s because I don’t practice enough! 🙂


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: Birdie

BirdieBook: Birdie (2019)
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic plot: Birdie and her mom are living with Birdie’s grandmother Maymee after the death of Birdie’s dad. But suddenly, love birds are everywhere: Maymee, her mom, and even her best friends. Birdie is having all sorts of trouble, yet when she embraces some of this change, she finds that maybe it’s not as bad as she feared.


1) I loved Birdie! I loved her voice, her character arc, everything about this book.

2) Birdie’s Maymee is adorable. At first, she’s obsessed with dying (picking out her coffin and all that). But then, that all turns around when a certain somebody shows up in town. I love how this whole Romeo and Juliet scene happens in church as the pastor is reading from the Bible. Everything halts and the “chapter” ends with: “Pastor Carey smiles. ‘May I resume the reading now?'”

3) I like the themes of this book… of loss and death and even the changing relationships of friends. We have the love stories of the grown-ups mirroring those of the young middle-schoolers. Spinelli weaves all this together.

4) The resolution with the relationship between Birdie and Officer Downey was particularly poignant. I love how she goes from completely rejecting him to the scene at the cemetery.

5) The cover is adorable.


1) Nada.


My rating is 5 Stars (out of 5) – I absolutely loved this book. I’m not always a fan of books written in poetry, but Eileen Spinelli (in addition to Sharon Creech) is one author where this works for me.


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: Because of the Rabbit

because-of-rabbitBook: Because of the Rabbit (2019)
Author: Cynthia Lord
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Emma entering school for the very first time in fifth grade (after being homeschooled). As the new kid, she finds it tough to know where to fit in. She tries to make friends, but sometimes they’re friendly, sometimes not. And then there’s Jack. He doesn’t really fit in with their classmates either, but Emma’s not quite sure if she wants to be friends with him. But things begin to change when they bond over the rabbit Emma’s rescued.


1) As somebody who has been the “new kid” in various different schools, I completely got Emma! It’s hard when everybody else knows everybody and you just want a friend. I like how Emma reaches out. (One thing where we differ, she’s definitely not as shy as I was!) But she makes some errors, like the little lie about pickles. It was funny (for us as readers, not her as a character) how that comes back to bite her!

2) The rabbit part was interesting. I like how she and her dad rescue it at the beginning of the book, then it actually comes into the plot later on at school.

3) As Emma becomes more comfortable at the school, we get a good dilemma for her with regards to Jack. Jack’s definitely a little different from the other students. And Emma makes some not-so-kind decisions with regards to him (especially at the lunch table). But I like how Lord lets us see Emma’s struggle and eventually how Emma comes to embrace Jack as a friend.

4) Loved the little Monsieur Lapin stories. The grandfather’s voice came through, even though he’s not even a character in the book… And so it was.

5) I also really liked the relationship between Emma and her brother. In fact, it’s because of her brother that Emma decides she wants to go to school. I like how he helps her get her photos for her project with Jack.


1) The part about the search for the owners of the rabbit felt a little off to me. Maybe a bit too cliche? Especially with how it ended. I guessed that’s what would happen. But maybe that’s just the adult-reader coming out in me.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Another solid read from Cynthia Lord. I really enjoyed this one about rabbits and finding your place as the new kid in school. 🙂


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: Lucky Luna

lucky-luna.jpgBook: Lucky Luna (2018)
Author: Diana Lopez
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: When Luna plays a prank on her prima (cousin Claudia), she gets in big trouble. Not only does she have to face the consequences (of not being allowed to wear her favourite hats), but now Claudia is going to be attending school with Luna! Needless to say, Luna’s not happy about it, but she gets some wise advice from her abuela (drink plenty of water, Luna 😉 ) and that helps… a bit. But when the kids at school seem to be making fun of her prima, Luna decides that maybe she should stick up for Claudia.


1) Luna has a fun voice in this book. She’s so sure of herself, but she endears herself. What I think is really cool is Luna’s strip of white hair (due to poliosis). I have a childhood friend who has this same thing! (We always thought it was super cool.)

2) And I loved all her primas! What fun to have so many primas (cousins). It was great to see the connection even though there are age gaps. I love how they greet each other: “Prima!”

3) And then there’s Luna’s prima, Claudia. This is a classic relationship of sibling (prima?) rivalry. I like how the book works through their miscommunications. Both girls learn and grow.

4) One of my favourite parts was when Luna goes to visit her grandmother. Abuela has all these pithy sayings, except she says them in Spanish, but Luna only knows a little Spanish. So, she misses key things. (Like about drinking water!)


1) I wondered about the “no wearing hats” punishment fitting the crime of locking Claudia in the bathroom. Especially when the mom knows Luna’s a little self-conscious about her strip of white hair.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – What a fun read! I loved Luna and all her primas. And her abuela.


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: New Kid

new-kidBook: New Kid (2019)
Author: Jerry Craft
Genre: MG, Contemporary/Graphic Novel
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic plot: Jordan’s the new kid at his brand new prep school. What he really wants is to go to an arts school, but his mom insists on this academic prep school. And now that he finds himself away from the neighbourhood kids, he’s not always sure where he fits in. It’s hard being the new kid…


1) There’s just something about prep school settings that are fun to read about. They’re kind of like boarding schools, without the boarding.

2) I really liked all the friendships in this book. I’m glad Liam turns out to be a real friend. When you first meet him, it seems like it’s going to go in the opposite direction. I also really liked Drew, especially with how he and Jordan are able to connect.

3) I found the subplot involving Alex and the puppet on her hand to be very interesting. At first, I thought it was odd and questioned why the author chose to put this character in the story. But, as the story progresses, I really like how it story-arcs… From how Jordan’s parents making the mistake of telling her parents that Jordan is her friend (when, at the time, he wants nothing to do with the “weird girl”) to how he digs deeper into the reason for the puppet and, finally, his solution.

4) Love the comic elements… the doodles. I thought it was a nice way to show Jordan’s love of art. And the moment when his teacher finds the doodles… A tense moment in the story.

5) I thought Jerry Craft did a nice job bringing out many of the issues that black students face in situations similar to Jordan’s. The one that really struck me was the book recommendations given to the black students were all gritty titles about kids in slums, belonging to gangs, etc… And then the same teacher turns around to recommend some fun fantasy to one of the white students.

6) My favourite line is at the end of the book. Jordan is hanging with his neighbourhood (non-prep school) pals when he starts explaining the meaning of the word metaphor. His  friend says: “Actually, Jordan, that’s a simile.”


1) The zombie-school kids I found… weird. Just a preference on my part. Not a huge deal-breaker, though.


My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this graphic novel. I liked the characters and the story arcs. A definite two thumbs up from me. 🙂


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: Finding Perfect

finding-perfect-1Book: Finding Perfect (2016)
Author: Elly Swartz
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Molly likes things perfect. So much so, that she arranges and rearranges everything with a ruler. And with her mom away for the year on a job in Toronto, she’s feeling a little lost. Her hope is to get Mom to come back if she wins the poetry slam contest at school. But, Molly starts to realize that something might be wrong with her, something called OCD…


1) I liked getting to know Molly. She’s really big into poetry… while poetry is not my favourite type of writing, even I found those parts interesting. I like how it all fits in with the plot.

2) In the book, Molly displays signs of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). As the book progresses, so does the OCD, and so did my empathy for Molly. I thought Swartz did a good job of getting us (the reader) into Molly’s head… her thoughts and struggles over whether or not to tell somebody and who to tell.

3) I thought the friendship between Molly and Hannah was nicely done. There are misunderstandings. And then there’s that scene where Hannah oversteps the bounds a bit, but not because she hates Molly. She wants to help, it’s just that her help betrayed some trust. Many times, in books like these, there’s a clear cut “we’re no longer friends”. What I liked about this book is that the girls remain friends throughout, even if there are periods of miscommunication.

4) The other friend (Bridgett) was interesting. She’s obsessed with reading obituaries. That was an interesting sub-plot that worked nicely with the main plot.

5) Love the cover, especially with the barely-noticeable numbers on the white background. I like how that fits into the story’s plot.


1) I’m still a little confused by the mom and dad and their “separation”. [**SPOILER] At times, they seem on the brink of divorce, and at other times, (going by what the mom says) the mom is just gone for a job for the year. But then, when she returns near the end of the book, she’s living somewhere else??? [End Spoiler] I’m still confused by what was going on there.

2) I found the middle of the book to be slightly repetitive. This is the part where Molly realizes there’s something wrong and is trying to hide it. (Should she tell somebody? Counting. Trying to hide this from her family. More counting.) For me, this slowed down the plot a bit. Not a huge problem, but I did start to want to skip in a few places.


My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book reminded me a little of a book I read last year about OCD: Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske (but that one was about the girl’s mom). I thought this was an interesting take on OCD in the kid herself. I like that she recognizes that she needs to get help…


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

Quick Pick Reviews #15

desirableDesirable // by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Genre: MG, Contemporary/Magical Realism (2008)

My Thoughts: This was a fun little book. And when I say little, I actually mean little. It was surprisingly short. Especially considering that the main character is in the eighth grade! I read it in a half-hour…

The story is about a boy named George who is anything but popular. He’s pretty much a loner and not even the other unpopular kids want to hang out with him. That is until his grandpa gives him a birthday gift of cologne called “Desirable”. Once he puts it on, suddenly everybody wants to be his best buddy… including the principal of his school.

I liked how it ended, but I didn’t quite see how it got to that place. [**SPOILER] With Danielle giving him the cologne. I didn’t see enough evidence that she even knew he had it in the first place. It would have been better if it had been a gift from his mum. [End Spoiler] That said, I still enjoyed this book! [3.5 Stars]

royal-giftA Royal Gift // by Marietta Moskin

Genre: Lower MG, Historical (1982)

My Thoughts: What an adorable book! This is the story of a Royal Wedding and two old ladies (sisters: Miss Agatha and Miss Prudence) who decide to give a gift to the prince and his bride. And the gift (with the twist at the end)… well, I won’t spoil it.

As a chapter book, there are gorgeous illustrations on every spread… some in black and white and others in colour. The whole book has a very old fashioned feeling to it. (Sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this book is out of print! My copy came from my SIL and she got it from a library book sale. It’s a pity if it is out of print because the book and story are so beautiful.)

I really liked the author’s note at the end. She calls this story “one of those ‘it might be true’ type of stories.” Apparently, it made the rounds when the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and the Queen Mum) were married in 1923. [4 Stars]

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

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