Review: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

duchess-of-bloomsbury-streetBook: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (1973)
Author: Helene Hanff
Genre: Adult, Memoir
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the sequel (of sorts) to 84, Charing Cross Road. In this memoir, Helene Hanff finally makes it to London. And it’s here that she becomes the “Duchess of Bloomsbury Street”.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved touring London through the eyes of Helene Hanff. The book is in the form of a diary she wrote during her stay (from June to July 1971). She records all her first impressions, and I felt like I was on the tour with her.

2) I enjoyed meeting a whole new cast of characters in this book… all the different people who took Helene around London and over to Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon. This includes Frank’s wife Nora, P.B. (of the succinct notes), Leo and Ena Marks, and so many others.

3) My favourite quote in the book: “I despair of ever getting it through anybody’s head I am not interested in bookshops, I am interested in what’s written in the books. I don’t browse in bookshops, I browse in libraries, where you can take a book home and read it, and if you like it you go to a bookshop and buy it.” (Entry for Friday, July 2) 

My thoughts exactly!

4) I loved the part when she gets the cheque from Reader’s Digest, meaning she can stay a little longer. I think I was celebrating as she much as she did in the book!

5) As she neared the end of her stay (and the end of the book), she exactly captured that feeling of “I only have so much time left”. And the “I don’t want to go home!” feeling. I felt the same way reading this book. I didn’t want it to end. 😦

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Nothing to add here!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book was really a wonderful read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was so close to giving it 5 stars, but when I compare it to 84, Charing Cross Road, it doesn’t quite have the magic. But it’s close. (If you haven’t read my review for that book, check it out here.)


YOUR TURN…

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

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Newbery Verdict: The Year of Billy Miller

The Year of Billy Miller // by Kevin Henkes (2013)

year-billy-millerNewbery Honor Book (2014)
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Billy Miller is starting second grade. When he has a fall and gets a bump on his head, he begins to worry that he’s not quite smart enough for school. And so begins the year where Billy tries to figure out what makes him Billy…

MY THOUGHTS…

So this is the author of some wonderful picture book characters, like Lily (of purple plastic purse fame). Kevin Henkes does a really nice job with Billy Miller and his family. I love his family! He has such a creative and sympathetic Papa! (Although, Billy thinks that he’s getting a little too old to be calling his Papa and begins to call him “Dad”.) I really enjoyed how Billy inspires Papa when he’s feeling down about his work.

One of my favourite parts is when Billy and his sister try to stay up all night. 3-year-old Sal wants to play with her dolls. Billy has no interest in playing with the dolls, but he feels that if he wants Sal to stay awake, he better do what she suggests. THEN, he plays with the dolls by creating an explosion! (Typical boy!) Suffice it to say that Sal isn’t impressed. But the two of them end up working it all out. 🙂

NEWBERY VERDICT…

For a lower grade book, this story is fun with a lot of endearing characters. I can definitely see why they gave this book a Newbery Honor.

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.

Review: 12 Before 13

12-before-13Book: 12 Before 13 (2018)
Author: Lisa Greenwald
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Arianna and Kaylan are best friends. They have a list of 12 items they want to tick off before Arianna’s bat mitzvah in November. However, the first item on the listKeep our friendship strongis proving to be one of the tougher challenges. Ari’s always texting her new friends from summer camp, and Kaylan’s drawn to other friends from school. Turning thirteen is not for the weary…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The list is a fun way to track the plot of this story about two friends who have their ups and downs. It’s nice to see them work things through. I also love how items on the list are trivial (like #5 Perfect our handstand) and some go much deeper (like #6 Help someone else shine).

2) I really enjoyed seeing Arianna’s journey as she starts to take a serious interest in her Jewish heritage as she preps for her bat mitzvah.

3) I like the subplot involving Ari’s dad. It’s nice (well, not really) how it affects the bat mitzvah plans. And how it corresponds to list item #10 Tell a boy how we really feel.

4) It’s nice how it all comes together at the end. Not super-surprising, but it all led to a satisfactory ending.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) One thing I don’t like in these types of books is when they spend too much time on what they call “the big P”. What interesting, though, is that Arianna seems to share my aversion! Kaylan and the lunch table can’t stop talking about it. (I can understand a book where this is plot-important. In this book, it really isn’t.)

2) I felt some of the dialogue and slang was a little too much. There was a lot of slang. And I do know some current 12 to 13-year-olds. They don’t really talk like this. (Are there kids who do?) Anyhow, I found it a little off-putting. But maybe that’s just me.

3) The models on the cover look older than 12 going on 13. Maybe it’s the lipstick?

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, this was a cute story about these two friends. Apparently this is a sequel to another book, which I haven’t read, but I didn’t seem to be missing too much. This one definitely works as a stand-alone.


YOUR TURN…

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

ARC Review: The Phoenix and the Carpet

phoenix-and-carpet

Book: The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904)
Author: E. Nesbit
Genre: MG, Magical Realism
Rating: 5 Stars

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Basic Plot: The five children from Five Children and It are back! This time their magical adventures come in the form of a Phoenix and a flying carpet. And there may (or may not) be a special guest appearance by everybody’s favourite Psammead!

WHAT’S COOL…

1) It’s not often that the sequel is as good as the original, but this book is the exception to the rule. We get more great magical adventures featuring Anthea, Cyril, Jane, and Robert. And of course, the Lamb. How can you forget the Lamb!

2) I love the chatty Phoenix, so different from the grumpy Psammead from the first book. Also, the Carpet’s a nice, silent, companionable foil. Love how that works into the plot at the end of the story.

One of my favourite lines in the book:

“Then we’ve lost the treasure,” said Cyril.

And they had.

“But we’ve got the carpet and the Phoenix,” said Anthea.

“Excuse me,” said the bird, with an air of wounded dignity, “I do so hate to seem to interfere, but surely you must mean the Phoenix and the carpet?”

(The Second Chapter)

3) E. Nesbit is the queen of magical realism. The magic always has a bit of a twist or causes some sort problem for the children. I love how that works. (Even though it’s rather frustrating to the children!) It makes for a great story.

4) I love how the kids work together and bicker and tease. I love their adventurous natures.

5) My favourite episode is probably the chapters that involve the Topless Tower. (Treasure. Towers. What more could you ask for?) Although the bit with the Burglar near the end is also hilarious!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Can’t think of anything to put here!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 Stars (out of 5) – This is a wonderful, magical tale. And it still holds magic even though the story was originally published over 100 years ago. This makes a great re-aloud.

ARC Review: Squint

SquintSquint // by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Genre: MG, Contemporary

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Basic Plot: Squint has problems with his eyesight… but he isn’t letting that stop him from creating a comic for a contest. Except then his former friend plants the seeds of doubt. When he meets McKell, he’s introduced to her brother’s challenges, which is something that just might give him that lift to finish what he started.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved Squint. I definitely felt for him and his insecurities as he navigated through the rough waters of middle school. I was rooting for him the entire book.

2) The Danny subplot was really good, and I liked how it merged with Squint’s story. The authors were able to capture the hurt and emotion necessary to make this work. And yes, I cried at several parts in the book! And there’s a twist with regards to Danny and Squint’s eyes that I didn’t see coming…

3) I loved all the discoveries and the twists. I saw some of them coming, but there were others that I didn’t anticipate. However, once I read those parts I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before!

4) I enjoyed how the comic (the story-within-a-story) worked with Squint’s real life. It was nice to see how Squint took the events of his world and worked them into his comic world.

5) The little “Rules” that Squint scattered throughout were a great addition to the story.

6) Also, what a roller coaster of emotions this book was! There’s a great scene with Squint and his grandfather. And then there’s McKell. There’s a stunning moment when Squint begins to wonder if he’s just an item for McKell to tick off her challenge-list. I liked how this book shows that friendship isn’t always easy.

7) And I liked how things don’t exactly work out in the most ideal way… that things aren’t perfect by the end of the book. And I think that is part of this book’s power. (Not that this story doesn’t have a satisfactory ending, but it’s more a realistic/happy ending.)

8) Love that book cover!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) While I liked the story-within-a-story, I did find was a skipping some of it a bit. I wonder if I would have liked it more IF it were actually the comic itself?

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 Stars (out of 5) – I don’t often give 5 starts. But this is probably one of the best MG reads I’ve read this year. Highly recommend it! 🙂

Review: Granted

GrantedBook: Granted (2018)
Author: John David Anderson
Genre: MG, Magical Realism (Fairies)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the story of how wishes are granted. Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a fairy who’s on a mission. It’s her job to grant the wish of a girl, but she needs the coin that the girl wished upon. The problem is that the coin keeps getting out of her reach. With the help of a new-found friend, a dog named Sam, Ophelia’s determined to make sure the coin’s wish comes true.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love how the fairies are named in this story world! They get their middle name first (from the flower from which they are born); their last name next (based on one of their characteristics/quirks); and their first name last (luck of the draw)!

2) Ophelia is a fun, feisty fairy. Even when she loses the power to fly, she doesn’t give up. I love that kind of gumption. 🙂

3) Sam is adorable. He’s the kind of sidekick who is so enthusiastic, but also kind of clueless. I like how he teams up with Ophelia.

4) The elusive coin is like another character in the book. There are a lot of great scenes involving the coin and Ophelia’s efforts to retrieve it. Love what happens near the end… An event that gives Ophelia a real wish-granting dilemma.

5) It’s interesting how the same family (a brother and sister) keeps popping up in the story. At first I thought this was a little too coincidental, but once I understood where it was going, I really liked this continuity. It was a storyline that added a nice, poignant touch to the book.

6) The cover of this book is what drew me to this story. I love it!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) This book took a long time to start! The plot really doesn’t start until after Chapter 10… And even then, it meanders all over the place.

2) This book has a little more bathroom humour than I like. I can handle about one such joke. More than that and I start rolling my eyes.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this book about how fairy wishes are granted! Even though it had a slow start, it was fun to follow Ophelia and Sam on their adventure with that elusive coin! 🙂


YOUR TURN…

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

When a Book Disappoints

(I have seriously gone back and forth on whether or not to post this… I don’t like to be negative on my blog. I originally wrote this back in July. And since you’re seeing it, I guess I decided it needed to be posted.)

Oh, where to start?

I really wanted to like this book. I went in with NO expectations, other than my experiences with the other four books. I expected more of the same. (And no, my disappointment has nothing to do with Skye. I will explain later, as that does involve spoilers, and I am determined not to have spoilers at this point in the blog post.)

I kind of feel obligated to review this book since I love the other books in the series. Seriously, if you like The Penderwicks, feel free to NOT read this book. You may save yourself some heartache and headache.

The Penderwicks at Last // by Jeanne Birdsall

Genre: MG, Contemporary

**Warning: There will be SPOILERS for this book below.**

penderwicks5

First, let’s be positive. I love the cover for this book! It’s beautiful. It has fireflies. It has a dog. And it has two girls and a hawk and a moon. (I’m trying to pad the positives here.)

Also, I was looking forward to Lydia as a character, because I figured it had to be Lydia’s book. She’s the fifth Penderwick daughter. It’s the fifth book. And her introduction IS delightful. She dances through life. So, yes, Lydia is fine. And so is the other girl in the book (Alice). I like their friendship. These are all good things.

But, I’m sad to say, that’s where it stops…

Disappointment #1

The books up to this point have all been about a group of four sisters. By this book, all four sisters have grown up, even Batty. They’ve joined the ranks of Mr. Penderwick, and Iantha, and Aunt Claire. They don’t do funny things anymore. (Well, not really. Jane’s still a little zany.) They don’t swap homework. Or hide in the back of Dad’s car with Hound. Or kick soccer balls into forbidden gardens. Or sneak into fields inhabited by bulls. Yes, I missed the four girls!

Disappointment #2

Lydia and Alice are fine as characters, but they don’t quite measure up to those who have gone before. They are not super-interesting. And to top it all, there’s no real conflict between the two. Everybody just assumes they’re going to be friends and then they are. I would love to have seen them as “enemies” for a few chapters that turn into friends. Instead, they seem to just play a lot. I believe this is where Birdsall missed a great opportunity to save this book.

Disappointment #3

Let’s talk about Mrs. Tifton. Okay, I will say the one thing I DID like was that Mrs. Tifton actually likes Lydia and that Lydia is not afraid of her. However, I was expecting some cathartic moment where between Mrs. T and the Penderwick girls. All we got was veils. (And I don’t understand their dislike for veils? That was not properly set up.) And a little closure between Mrs. T and Alec would have been nice. I would have loved to have Lydia discover the human being inside this woman, who also happens to be Jeffrey’s mother. I felt there was a lost opportunity to redeem this character. I wanted Mrs. Tifton redeemed! (Or as least as much as she could be redeemed.)

Disappointment #4

The “opening secret” of the book is not really a secret. Apparently the marketing department didn’t get the memo, because the secret isn’t so secret; it’s inside on the jacket flap. And by secret, I mean that Rosalind wants to have her wedding at Arundel. It gets such a build-up in the first chapter that I was expecting a bomb to be dropped. Nope.  If you can’t have secrets that aren’t real secrets, then why bother?

Disappointment #5

There are too many characters in this book. This whole book seemed like a curtain call. We bring out every character that has been in the books before. (Except Harry the Tomato Man. I don’t think he was in the book, was he?) Basically every character gets a moment to take a bow and that’s it.

And there were too many dogs. Way too many dogs. I like the idea of the three-legged dog, but by the time I met him, I didn’t care. I couldn’t tell him from the other dogs in the books. And believe me when I say that none of these dogs were Hound. Although, Birdsall could have done that with Hitch. The problem was that Hitch just got lost in the crowd.

Disappointment #6

The boyfriends/fiancés were duds.

Okay, let’s start with Fiancé #1: Tommy Geiger. So I’ve never been a huge fan of Tommy Geiger. And in fact, I’m okay with the fact that we don’t really get to see him in this book. On the other hand, I have always liked Nick Geiger (because we actually get to know Nick in the books), and I was super sad when he’s thrown away as just another character in this book. (Oh, and he’s already married with a couple of kids.) Result: Tommy’s okay. I’m glad he is marrying Rosalind. But still, Fiancé #1 was a bit of a dud.

Fiancé #2: Some Czec student named Dusek. And yes, that pretty much sums him up. We haven’t ever met him before. We hardly even meet him in this book. And we’re supposed to suddenly feel happy when Skye announces that there’s going to be a double wedding? (Believe me, I just about threw the book in the trash at this point. But it’s a library book, and I would never do that to a library book.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. My dislike has nothing to do with Jeffrey. I went in to this book with the expectation that Skye and Jeffrey would never get together. (I realized this when I did my recent re-read of the series. Everything points to Batty ending up with Jeffrey. Don’t believe me? Read the books. The hints are there.) So, Dusek, that’s not why I don’t like you. I don’t like you because you don’t belong in this book. Seriously. Go back to California and study. I actually would have been happier if Skye had suddenly realized that she was in love with Nick Geiger or even Cagney (assuming that neither were already married off.) Or, leave Skye single at this point. Fiancé #2 was a literary disaster.

Disappointment #7

And then there’s Jeffrey. For some reason he doesn’t recognize Batty when he sees her. What? Isn’t he her mentore? Even this love story doesn’t work.

Maybe there’s just too many love stories going on that have nothing to do with our two main characters: Lydia and Alice. Remember them?

Disappointment #8

What’s with the goats in this book? Or is it sheep? I can’t remember. Actually, goats would have been a good choice as they like to headbutt people. That could have worked into the plot.

And then we had the parts where the girls are reading to the goat. Frankly, this was a little boring.

(Remember in the first book when Skye and Jane have to escape Mrs. Tifton by climbing out a window down a rope ladder? Remember when Jeffrey rescues Batty from the bull? Remember when Batty runs into the woods and gets lost? Where are these events in this book?)

Disappointment #9

I feel that Alice’s brother, Jack, was another missed-opportunity. He wasn’t physically at Arundel so we don’t really get to know him. What we do know is that he has a Canadian cousin and he likes eating pancakes and waffles. Why didn’t Birdsall have Jack and his Canadian cousin at Arundel? Let there be a war between the girls (Lydia and Alice) and boys (Jack and Cousin)! That would have given us some CONFLICT. Or Jack could have been staying with a friend in a nearby town. Which means they could have sneaked over to play tricks on the girls.

Okay, so Jack does make an appearance. In the hedge with Lydia. This is obviously supposed to be a call-back to the first book, but it happens in the wrong place in the book, to the wrong people in the book. Because we hardly know Jack!

Disappointment #10

The MOPS. When I got to the chapter about the MOPS, I was happy. Finally, something I know about these books. Except, it wasn’t a real MOPS. There was no dire situation that they had to figure out. They’re all adults now. Having a MOPS didn’t make sense. Even the parents know they’re having a MOPS (although they’re not invited). Sorry, the MOPS fell completely flat and had lost all its charm.

Final Thoughts

My rating is 2 Stars (out of 5) – I really wish this review was different. It kind of makes me furious that they would even publish this book. The more I think about this book, the more I shake my head. Why did this thing (yes, thing) get published? How in the world did Jeanne Birdsall’s editor NOT see that this wasn’t a good book? How?!

Your Turn

Have you read this book? Do you agree with me? And if not, let me know what you did like about it. (Yes, I am aware that there are people who are giving this book five stars on Goodreads.)

 

Review: Nerd Camp

camp-nerd.jpgBook: Nerd Camp (2011)
Author: Elissa Brent Weissman
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Gabe is a nerd and proud of it… that is, until he meets his new stepbrother, Zack. Now, in order to seem cool, he has to hide that part of him, including the fact that his sleepaway camp is really a nerd camp! So when he writes home, Gabe only highlights the things that don’t make him sound quite so nerdy. How’s Zack to know, right?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love how each chapter ends with Gabe’s list of “Things I Can Tell Zack” and “Things I Can’t Tell Zack”. These lists are all prefaced showing how Gabe is using the scientific method… “Problem: Am I a nerd who only has nerdy adventures? Hypothesis: No. Proof: (See list.)”

2) I like the friendship Gabe develops with the two boys at camp: Nikhil and Wesley. It was cute how the boys figure out an algorithm to predict when Color War will break (based on when it broke in past years). Yes, despite Gabe’s efforts not to be nerdy, he is indeed very nerdy!

3) Which brings me to Color War itself. This was a fun addition to the story. It brings in some activities that don’t involve a classroom full of nerds learning about rocket science. Like the Scavenger Hunt.

4) There’s a nice little celebrity cameo (from one of the nerdiest shows on the planet) that happens near the end. I won’t spoil it. It’s kind of fun, even if it’s unlikely.

5) The letters are a nice way to show how Gabe interacts differently with the different people back home… with his friends from school, his mom and dad, and of course with Zack.

6) The ending wraps things up quite nicely. I wasn’t really surprised as I figured the story would eventually lead to what does happen. (I won’t spoil it.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The scenes with the lice! My head was itching the entire time!! Yuck.

2) The midnight canoe trip was a little disconcerting to my adult soul. It’s crazy how Gabe talks about Swallows and Amazons (one of my favourite books that contains a similar event!), but then, unlike how the Walkers and Blacketts get into big trouble with the grownups, Gabe doesn’t seem to learn any lesson from this dangerous activity. I didn’t really like that.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A fun look into the struggles of being nerdy; worrying what others will think about it. As a nerd myself (I’m more of a history nerd), I definitely empathized with Gabe!


YOUR TURN…

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

ARC Review: Earthrise

earthriseEarthrise // by James Gladstone
Release Date: October 15, 2018
Genre: Picture Book, Non-Fiction (Space)

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Basic Plot: This is the story behind the photograph of the earth taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts back in 1968; and how such a photo led to a different view of our world.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love that the illustrations evoke the 1960s. They are wonderfully done!

2) I love photography, so I found this story particularly interesting. It’s a little behind-the-scenes “snapshot” at how one of the most famous photographs of all time came to be.

3) The story juxtaposes a tumultuous time (1968) with a photograph that is anything but tumultuous. It’s simple and beautiful and serene.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I feel like this could be made for older children with a little more text. Maybe explaining a few things. History-wise. This was the year that Martin Luther King was shot. And Robert Kennedy. And a war in Vietnam. They didn’t have to go into extreme detail, but maybe at least mention MLK.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A wonderfully illustrated book about this moment in history. I’d recommend for 1st through 3rd grade. Maybe Kindergarten?

Review: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet

tragedy-girl-named-hamletBook: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet (2010)
Author: Erin Dionne
Genre: Upper MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Hamlet Kennedy is facing a year of headaches and heartaches. Her genius (younger) sister is joining her at her middle school. Her Shakespearean parents don’t get her. On top of that, they have been invited to speak to her class about… you guessed it, Shakespeare. And then there’s the mystery of who is leaving origami pigs in her locker…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Can I just say how much I love this title?! It’s fun. Plus it gives a great sense of what the story is going to be about.

2) I liked the relationship between Hamlet and her sister, Dezzie. There’s a nice arc in how they relate to one another. There are moments where they fight, and yet they also care about one another. I love how they work together at the end of the story.

3) I also liked their dad… He’s not quite as crazy as the mother. While both are Shakespearean scholars, the dad is a little more down-to-earth.

4) The little twist with the origami pigs was cute. I liked how this part of the plot mirrors the romantic escapades and mix-ups of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I did have a little trouble suspending my disbelief to think that a family would name their daughter Hamlet. Desdemona makes sense. But Hamlet?! Why would you do that to your baby girl? Why?!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A fun contemporary read about sisters, school, and Shakespeare. And origami pigs 🙂


YOUR TURN…

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