Review: Checked

checkedBook: Checked (2018)
Author: Cynthia Kadohata
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Conor MacRae is really into hockey. Just like his dad. But then Conor’s dog Sinbad gets sick. So sick that he’s going to need chemotherapy, which will cost $7000. It will mean sacrificing some of his training, but Conor is determined to do whatever it takes to save his dog. But then there’s his dad…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I’m not really a hockey person, but I did enjoy that aspect of the story. I felt Kadohata dealt with all the hockey details in such a way that you don’t necessarily have to know the game.

2) I liked the bond between Conor and his dog Sinbad. I thought that was developed quite nicely. I really liked how responsible Conor was with regards to his dog.

3) Mr. Reynolds, the neighbour, was one of my favourite character. I almost felt he was under-utilized in the story. I loved all the interactions with Conor.

4) And then there are Conor’s friends: Jae-Won and Lucas especially. His hockey buddies.

5) And finally… Conor and his dad. What a great relationship! Conor’s dad is police officer, and I liked how that impacted the story.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) At times, I felt I was swimming in alphabet soup! Sometimes, Conor would bring up people that didn’t seem to really matter to the story. It was really hard to keep track of all the hockey kids and their parents. And the coaches. I wish she had combined some of these characters. Yes, I know that it’s probably more authentic to have all these people… but in a book? We need to be able to know who’s who.

2) I felt the plot slow at times. There is actually very little conflict in the story. Conor mentions his “frenemy” Ethan, but nothing ever really happens between the two. Actually, come to think of it, there’s a lot of telling (vs. showing) in this book!

3)At the beginning of the story, there’s this great fire evacuation scene. I somehow expected [SPOILER] that this story line would carry through the book. And especially affect the climax. It did not. Which made the beginning seem like it was… unnecessary.[END SPOILER]

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – Conor’s voice made this book. And, overall, I did enjoy it. Probably will never be my favourite story. I would definitely recommend it to readers who enjoy reading about sports.


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

Advertisements

Newbery Verdict: El Deafo

El Deafo // by Cece Bell (2014)

el-deafoNewbery Honor Book (2015)
Genre: MG, Graphic Novel
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic Plot: Cece loses most of her hearing at a young age due to illness… which means that now she needs to wear a special box to help her hear. The box makes her “different”. Who wants to be different? But as she grows up, she realizes that she has “superpowers” that other people don’t have. Introducing: El Deafo!

MY THOUGHTS…

Cece the rabbit captured my heart! I loved her. And I absolutely loved the fact that the characters in this book were rabbits! (Note: This book is based on the author’s real-life experiences.)

I found it fascinating to see the POV of this young girl who comes to terms with something that makes her so different from the other children in her school and neighborhood. How does she navigate friendships? And then there were all the little tricks she learned to cope with not being able to hear, like reading lips, etc. The book is set in the 1970s, and I thought it captured the flavour of the 1970s (and early 80s?) very nicely.

And can I just say that I love that they’re rabbits! (Yes, I do realize that I’ve told you this before. 🙂 )

NEWBERY VERDICT…

Yes! I’m so glad this book got a Newbery Honor award. I can’t compare it to the winner that year (The Crossover by Kwame Alexander) as I haven’t read that one.

YOUR TURN…

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

Review: Copyboy

copyboyBook: Copyboy (2018)
Author: Vince Vawter
Genre: Upper MG**, Historical (1960s)
Rating: 4 Stars

**Note: This book almost defies categories. My library shelves it with the middle-grade books… even though Victor is seventeen (almost eighteen) and is getting ready for college. Is it really Lower YA??? Not sure. I guess I’ll go with my library and claim it as MG.

Basic Plot: The sequel to Paperboy… Picking up the story when Victor is seventeen years old. And he’s on a mission to fulfill a promise to his mentor, Mr. Spiro. That means taking a trip down to the mouth of the Mississippi River… except his parents aren’t sure about letting him go.

See my review of Paperboy here. (One of my favourite books, by the way!)

WHAT’S COOL…

1) It was nice to be back with Victor for this book! The stuttering was not quite as front and center as in the last book, but it was there. And while it’s good to know that Victor has (in many ways) come to terms with the stuttering, it’s still a sensitive issue for him. And I think Vawter did a nice job bringing that into the story.

2) We get to meet a lot of new people in this book. I particularly liked the glimpse into the world of the newspaper business. It’s not a huge part of the actual plot, but it’s there. I liked the General. And the part about the pennies was cool!

3) I liked meeting Phil. She was a fun character, and it’s cute how Victor’s so smitten with her. I really liked how they bounce ideas off one another, especially with how they deal with their parents.

4) I loved how Mr. Spiro is in the story (and yet he’s not). Victor’s on a mission for Mr. Spiro and keeps referencing Mr. Spiro’s wisdom.

5) The Cajun setting of New Orleans was great to read about. I love how Victor is a bit of a fish-out-of-water… yet he also drinks in the whole experience.

6) The hurricane threat adds a nice element of danger. (As does Phil’s creepy boyfriend! Especially when both the hurricane and the creepy boyfriend collide.) With regards to the hurricane, apparently, it was a real storm that hit New Orleans in 1965… Hurricane Betsy.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I did miss the actual Mr. Spiro. And I missed Mam! I’m not sure how she would have fit into this story, but I did miss her.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I did enjoy this sequel. While I don’t think it’s quite as good as the original, it’s still a good book! And if you liked the first book, you should like this sequel.


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 Benefits of Being an Octopus

benefits-of-being-octopusBook: The Benefits of Being an Octopus (2018)
Author: Ann Braden
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Zoey has a lot of responsibility. She has to take care of her younger siblings while her mom’s at work. They are living with her mom’s boyfriend who’s so neat and tidy, and it’s up to Zoey to keep the little kids out of his hair. Zoey’s goal in life is to be invisible. But Zoey begins to see things that might just force her to speak up. Not just for herself, but for those she deeply cares about.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I liked that Zoey was so responsible for her younger siblings. And they had such a nice relationship!

2) I enjoyed all the little details about octopuses. (Although, it doesn’t really figure into the resolution of the story. Wish it did.)

3) Matt and Silas were some of my favourite minor characters. Matt actually has a bit of an arc, and I wish we could have seen a tiny bit more of that. The silence of Silas intrigued me, but as a minor character, it wasn’t fully examined.

4) Fuchsia was a complex character. A little over-dramatic for me, but she played nicely into the story. I liked how her story and Zoey’s story are on parallel lines that then converge near the end. Nicely done!

5) Debates are NOT my favourite topic… I did not like them when I was a kid and I don’t really care for them now. That said, I did think this part of the book was fairly well done. When it came to the gun debate, I appreciated that both sides of the issue were shown.

6) I liked the teacher. But I like books that have teachers like her in them. 🙂

7) I love the cover of this book. I think I could look at it all day!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I didn’t like the fact that there were no good fathers in this story. At all. Zoey’s family has three fathers (hers, the middle kids’ father, and the baby’s father). And they’re all such jerks. I guess Silas’s father is okay, but he’s such a peripheral father (we never meet him). I wish Frank (Lenny’s father) could have been the one to stand up and give his son a talking to. (*SPOILER) Or at least help Zoey and her family with the get-away. (End Spoiler) Oh, and the solution at the end of the story? Truthfully, I don’t see that working for very long.

2) I’m not sure I really connected with Zoey. I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t really love her either.

3) (*SPOILER) One thing I don’t get about the bullets that were fired at the school. If they were fired from a truck in the parking lot, wouldn’t somebody have noticed the breaking of the glass and the truck eventually speeding away? Something like, we’re looking for a white pickup?? (End Spoiler)

4) Zoey keeps mentioning in the book about how strong her mom is (until Lenny starts putting her down). And yet, I didn’t really see that in the back story. All I know is that the mom has a lousy taste in boyfriends. And that she can’t seem to be the adult in her own life.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, I really liked that this book dealt with some hard topics. I didn’t quite love it as much as I’d hoped, but I’d still recommend it.


YOUR TURN…

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

Review: The Exact Location of Home

Book: The Exact Location of Home (2014)
Author: Kate Messner
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

exact-location-of-homeBasic Plot: Zig wants nothing more than to hang out with his dad. But his mom says his dad isn’t coming. That’s when Zig comes across a GPS unit at a yard sale. And he remembers that his dad used to love geocaching! When Zig discovers somebody who uses the name “Senior Searcher”, he is convinced it’s his dad. Now Zig is following the clues from one geocache to another. Which is way better than the real-life trouble he and his mom find themselves in. When they can’t pay the rent, they end up in a homeless shelter.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This book deals with some great topics, especially with regards to homelessness. One of the best scenes (for me) was when Zig’s teacher “explains” to the class about some (mythological) kids who are homeless… Not realizing that she has such a kid right in her own classroom! And, their upcoming field trip? To visit the homeless shelter. I thought Kate Messner captured this whole sequence quite nicely… Zig’s realization that he knows more than the teacher about this. And the fear at being discovered to be “one of those kids.”

2) I enjoyed the interaction and relationship that develops between Zig and the little kid at the homeless shelter, Scoop.

3) The other friendships in the book were fine. Nothing super special, but I’m glad Zig had friends. He hides a lot from his friends, but that made sense to me.

4) The geocaching adventures were a fun touch. And it was a great way to bring the dad into the story.

5) I really like the cover for this book. And inside… I love the little bicycle at the header of each chapter. What a cute idea 🙂

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The secret with the dad was a little predictable, at least to my eyes (as an adult. Would it be clear to kids? I’m not sure.) This wasn’t necessarily a horrible thing, but it wasn’t a big surprise either that it was supposed to be. Worse was why Zig didn’t figure the truth out for himself… like why didn’t he google his dad’s name? Especially when he was trying to find the dad.

2) The herons seemed to be a boring part of the plot. [*Slight SPOILER] They turn out to be connected to Zig’s dad, i.e. a little important. But they don’t connect in any real personal way to Zig. It’s not like he gets to know the herons. Therefore WE don’t get to know the herons. [End Spoiler]

3) I wish the final revelation of who is under the water tower would have been done a little better. The payoff was weak because there was no great setup. And therefore, it lacked a punch. I didn’t feel any sense of catharsis or homecoming for Zig.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – I’m glad Messner wrote this book. I’m glad she deals with some hard topics. This wasn’t a perfect book, but it wasn’t bad either. The geocaching treasure hunt was fun.


YOUR TURN…

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

Newbery Verdict: The Dark is Rising

The Dark is Rising // by Susan Cooper (1973)

dark-is-risingNewbery Honor Book (1974)
Genre: MG, Low Fantasy
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic Plot: Will Stanton turns eleven, only to discover that he’s one of the Old Ones. As the sign-seeker, he must set out on a quest to bring together six great signs of the Light in order to keep the Dark from rising. Things get complicated and Will doesn’t always know who to trust.

MY THOUGHTS…

I read this book back when I was a kid. I remember liking it, but I actually don’t recall anything about the book… other than the Dark was rising (ahem). So, re-reading this book was like reading it for the first time. And I must say, I really enjoyed it. This book takes place over Christmas, and it involves a lot of snow. Which makes it a very cold read! But that just added to the suspense.

I particularly loved Will and Merriman. And I liked the twist with the Walker near the end. I found it very interesting that the book pretty much takes place in and around Will’s house, with the odd little time-travel sequence. His quest takes place in our world! Basically, it’s up to Will (the last of the Old Ones) to find the six Signs that will keep the Dark from rising.

I did expect more to come of the mask that brother Stephen sent Will. (But maybe the mask becomes important in a later book? See, I remember nothing about this series!)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

This book definitely deserved its Newbery Honor award. It’s well-written and has a host of engaging characters. (Note: The Newbery winner that year was Slave Dancer by Paula Fox; which I haven’t read, so I can’t really say which was better.)

YOUR TURN…

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

Review: Front Desk

front-deskBook: Front Desk (2018)
Author: Kelly Yank
Genre: MG, Near-Historical (1990s)
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Mia is determined to help her parents, recent immigrants from China, and they run the Calivista Motel in California. But with a boss like Mr. Yao, it’s not easy. Especially when he cheats them. And comes an opportunity of a lifetime… to own the motel in their own right. But it’s not going to be easy to come up the money.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Mia. What a go-getter! I loved the letter-writing aspect of the story, complete with mistakes crossed out. That was a nice touch. I thought it was good how it’s all inspired by a poor grade. Does the poor grade get her down? Not Mia!

2) I loved all the friends that Mia makes… with the weeklies (especially Hank) and her friend at school: Lupe. (I love how both she and Lupe have “golden retrievers”.)

3) This book does a good job showing the real struggle immigrants have. My grandparents were immigrants and struggled to make ends meet. Reading this book brought back a lot of my grandmother’s stories–and even my dad’s stories–of being in a country where you don’t know the language… yet.

4) I loved the complications surrounding Jason, the son of Mr. Yao. Jason is your classic bully, but I’m glad there was a twist there. (I love redemption arcs for characters. I don’t think all characters need a redemption arc, but I love it when there is one.)

5) I liked the arc of her relationship with her mom. Mia wants to write. Mom wants her to study math. Friction ensues.

6) Finally, I thought Kelly Yang did a nice job with the themes of racism in the book. I like that it wasn’t just confined to one race, and that it showed how complicated this topic can be. I love how Mia stands up for Hank, and how Hank tries to help and protect Mia’s mother. There was some good imagery… of rollercoasters and bicycles. And I like how Mia wasn’t going to take those metaphors as the only way things have to be.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) At times, I had a hard time suspending disbelief. While I like the letters she wrote, there were a few that had me scratching my head. How did this letter even work?? And (**SPOILER: The fact that they are able to raise so much money to buy the motel seemed unrealistic. I know this is based on the author’s experience. So, perhaps that really is part of her story. I don’t know, but somehow it feels a little too Disney of an ending to be true.**)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – Reading about Mia and her motel was certainly fun. But it’s more than that. There are some great themes written into this book. I highly recommend it. 🙂


YOUR TURN…

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

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.

WHAT’S COOL…

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.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

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!!

FINAL THOUGHTS

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. 🙂


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: 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.

WHAT’S COOL…

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. 🙂

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

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. 😦 **)

FINAL THOUGHTS

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. 🙂


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: 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.

WHAT’S COOL…

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!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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? 🙂


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