Newbery Verdict: The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars // by Gary D. Schmidt

wednesday-warsNewbery Honor Book (2008)
Genre: Upper MG, Historical Fiction (1960s)
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Holling Hoodhood is the only kid in class who doesn’t have catechism or bar mitzvah lessons on Wednesdays. This means he’s stuck in school with his teacher. And guess what? She’s not exactly keen on having Holling there, and he’s convinced that she’s out to get him. This is confirmed when she assigns him the task of reading Shakespeare. And so begin the Wednesday Wars.

MY THOUGHTS…

This is the story of a boy and his teacher and how their relationship blossoms. One of the best scenes is when Holling suggests they come up with a code so that he knows he’s doing something right. Her response is to basically roll her eyes.

I love all the Shakespeare references. It’s fun how this extends to Holling’s life beyond the classroom, when he finds himself in the theatrical production of The Tempest. Of course, this fact gives us no shortage of conflict involving the school bully and yellow feathers.

The title of this book is spot on. The Wednesday Wars brings out the themes of the war between Holling and his teacher; the war between Holling and his sister; between Holling and his dad; between the dad and the rival architect; and of course, the Vietnam War itself since this is a book set in the 1960s.

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

“No teacher jokes,” I said. “No one ever laughs at teacher jokes.”

“All right… No teacher jokes.” …

“And no rolling your eyes, even if someone says something really stupid.”

“I never roll my eyes,” said Mrs. Baker.

I looked at her.

“All right,” she said. “No rolling eyes. Anything else, coach?”

“When someone does something good, I think you should let them know, with some sort of code.”

“I think you mean that when someone does something well–as in obeying the rules of proper diction–we should use a code. What do you suggest?”

“Well, maybe ‘Azalea’ for something good, and ‘Chrysanthemum’ for something really good.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hoodhood. We’ll dispense with the code, and I’ll simply use the unvarnished English language to tell you when you’ve done something well. But as to teacher jokes, folding of arms, and rolling of eyes, I’ll consider your advice.”

(Chapter – March)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – When I first read this book about 10 years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never read anything by this author before. And I loved it! The Newbery Winner that year (2008) was Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz. I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment. But another Newbery Honor for 2008 was Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (which I have read; and also love). If I had been one of the Newbery decision-makers that year, I’d have had a hard time choosing between those two books!

By the way, there’s a companion book to this one called Okay for Now, which features Holling’s friend: Doug Swieteck. You can read my review here.

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.

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Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

vanderbeekers1Book: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
Author: Karina Yan Glaser
Genre: Upper MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: The five Vanderbeeker children have lived forever at their New York City brownstone. But now their landlord, Mr. Beiderman, is kicking them out, even though it’s Christmas. The kids decide it’s time to try to make friends with The Beiderman, even if he’s an award-winning crank. The problem is that they’ve never seen him because he never comes out of his upstairs apartment.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved this family of five kids. This book reminded me of the The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright, which also takes place in NYC. And I do love the fact that there are five kids. Yay for big families! (And how can you not like their last name!)

2) The illustrations are a wonderful addition to this book. They definitely helped me understand Jessie’s scientific inventions.

3) Quiet Hyacinth, Brave Hyacinth is my favourite Vandereeker! I also like Oliver (the reader) and little Laney is cute. The twins (eldest girls) are fine. I wasn’t crazy about the subplot about the dance, but it was okay. I guess I was just really drawn to the younger Vanderbeekers.

4) There is a hint of mystery to this book with regards to the grouchy recluse neighbour. I was definitely drawn into the mystery surrounding the Beiderman. (I love how they call him “the Beiderman” even though their parents keep reminding them that it’s Mr. Beiderman!)

5) The neighbourhood is sooo New York. I like how Glaser captures the atmosphere of these tiny pockets within the City… the communities where everybody knows everybody else’s business. (It makes me miss living in NYC!)

6) The quotes at the front of the book… One from Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) and the other from Spiderweb for Two (Elizabeth Enright) are delightful. I’m always HAPPY when the authors I read have such love for other authors that I love.

7) The Vanderbeeker parents are wonderful parents. Yay for good parental figures! (Still, the kids always manage to give them the slip, because otherwise it’d be a boring book.)

8) The ending didn’t exactly make me cry, but it DID bring some tears to my eyes. Even though the ending isn’t too surprising, it felt just right.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The winter setting. I kept thinking it was summer. The kids never seem to bundle up, even though it’s December. I’ve lived in NYC. While I know it doesn’t have to be freezing cold, it IS cold enough to have to wear a winter coat in December. And if it were somehow unseasonably warm, why didn’t they mention this? Also, the kids go up on the roof at some point to pour water down a special invention (that was pretty cool!), but why are they doing this in December? It felt like a summer book. Or maybe fall/spring.

2) The five-day ticking bomb (being evicted at Christmas) was not necessary. And I found it a little unbelievable. Like suddenly Scrooge was the villain of this story??

3) They go to the bakery A LOT. Where do these kids get all their money? I can’t imagine that the parents are all that wealthy. They don’t seem to have any jobs. Why are they always going to a bakery when their own mother is an amazing baker (her job)? (If I were the mother, I’d be a bit annoyed. And I certainly wouldn’t give my kids money for that.) And why are they going two times a day to get cookies or cheesy croissants?

4) I had a hard time remembering which child was which. I mean the family does have five kids, so it was a little difficult to remember all their names, PLUS all the pets they have in the house. Since the book already has illustrations, why didn’t they give us a family illustration? Even simple silhouettes with names underneath and something to help us identify each character, like Isa (plays the violin); Jessie (the scientist); etc.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I had some mixed feelings about this book. There’s a lot that I loved. The siblings. The Harlem neighbourhood. The cranky neighbour. The attempts of the children to befriend him. But there were also things that irked to no end. Like the sudden eviction and the summer-y (but wait! It’s supposed to be winter!) weather/atmosphere. But in the end, this book came together. I choked up at the end (in a good way), so I will recommend this book 🙂


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? Who’s your favourite Vanderbeeker? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Review: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow

clockwork-sparrowBook: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow
Author: Katherine Woodfine
Genre: MG, Historical/Mystery
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Sinclair’s, a new department store in London, is approaching its grand opening. But then, the priceless Clockwork Sparrow is stolen. It’s up to Sophie, Lilian, Billy, and Joe to figure just who the villains are and to return the Clockwork Sparrow to its rightful home.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I liked the atmosphere around the opening of the department store: Sinclair’s. I thought the little petty competition between the shop girls was nicely done. This certainly made me like Sophie more. And of course Lil.

2) Which brings me to Sophie and Lil… The two characters are opposites and nicely complement each other. Lil is spontaneous and self-confident. Sophie is more proper and refined.

3) I liked that the mysterious Baron remains mysterious.

4) This book has secret tunnels! Did you get that? Secret. Tunnels. Under London. Ah, who doesn’t like a secret tunnel?

5) The book cover is wonderful. It’s even better in real life. The gold lettering against the blue. The silhouettes are especially fun.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) While I liked the boys (Billy and Joe), I felt it almost too early for them to join the cast. I hardly know the girls and I think the boys might have been better suited to being introduced in later books???

2) The mystery was okay. However, what I don’t understand is why the grown-ups are not looking out for the young people. The Private Detective says at the end that he had a man shadowing Sophie, so… Hmm… Without spoiling the plot, all I can say is I don’t get why they didn’t ACTUALLY protect her.

3) Things were a little too neatly tied up at the end of the book. Like the location of the clockwork sparrow and how it is discovered. Really? (Is the Baron that careless?)

4) The word “bomb” felt out of place in this book world. I would have preferred the word “explosives” instead of “bomb”. It’s supposed to be prior to World War I. I don’t know how much the word “bomb” would have been on the tongues of the people in this world. It felt wrong.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked the story. I loved the setting in the department store. I’m being a little picky here, but there were just a few things that took me out of the story. There are two more sequels. I’m not rushing out to get them, but I will probably give them a go and see where the next mystery leads us.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Don’t you just love that book cover? (The cover looks even better in person!) I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Review: Okay For Now

Okay-for-NowBook: Okay For Now
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Genre: Upper MG, Historical Fiction (1960s)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Doug and his family have just moved to a new town and he hates it there. But then he discovers Audubon’s book, Birds of America, in the library. He goes every Saturday and the librarian sets him on a path to to learn how to draw the birds. Soon he discovers that the birds are slowly being cut out of the book to be sold by the town council. That’s when Doug takes it upon himself to find the missing birds and return them to their rightful spot in the book at the library.

Note: This is a companion book to The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved learning about John James Audubon. Each chapter begins with a picture of one of the birds from the book. And I enjoyed the art lessons at the library with Mr. Powell! I was definitely rooting for Doug to get all the missing birds back into the book.

2) Doug’s English teacher decides that her eighth graders are going to study Jane Eyre (the 160-page abridged version, which for Doug is 160 pages too long). I love Jane Eyre and any book that uses this book as part of their plot is almost a sure bet in my eyes. I also love that this book (Jane Eyre) ends up inspiring other aspects of the plot.

3) I liked how the author had Miss Cowper’s “County Literacy Unit” fit into solving one of Doug’s problems in the book. I love this teacher.

4) The Baseball Quiz/Game at the work picnic for Doug’s father’s work was a fun chapter. Especially in light of the fact that Doug is dealing with some hard things at this time and here he really is able to shine. He’s the one that is able to help his “partner” go for the gold.

5) I loved the character growth and arcs for Doug’s brothers, his father, Coach Reed, Principal Peattie, et al.

6) The relationship with Lil is very sweet.

7) I liked how Schmidt worked the various themes into the book… The flowers (or lack of flowers) for his mother show the growth and the family’s ability to flourish (or not flourish). And the use of the various stages of the Apollo moon mission (Apollos 8 through 11) also is used well to show how much hope and hard work can accomplish.

8) Doug has a great voice in this book.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I felt that some of the teachers/classes were not necessary to mention. I kept getting some of the lesser ones mixed up with the teachers we needed to know about. (For example: I think the Geography teacher could have disappeared from the book and nothing bad would have happened.)

2) In one of the chapters, Doug lists the birds that are missing from the book. I wish this list had been repeated later on in the book with an update on which birds had been successfully retrieved and which ones were still missing. I even tried to go back to find that first list and couldn’t find it easily. That annoyed me.

3) The title of this book is just… OKAY. (Ha ha!) The Wednesday Wars (the companion book) is a great title. Okay for Now… Hmm, not so memorable. (I keep having to look it up to know what it is!)

FAVOURITE QUOTE

Can you imagine anyone buying tickets to Jane Eyre?

Can you imagine Joe Pepitone buying tickets to Jane Eyre?

Me neither.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Okay, so I LOVED The Wednesday Wars by the same author. This is a companion book and I LOVED this one just as much (almost as much?). If these two books had to be ranked in which one I liked better, I don’t know who would win. 🙂


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Newbery Verdict: Gone Away Lake

Gone Away Lake // by Elizabeth Enright

gone-awayNewbery Honor Book (1958)
Genre: MG, Contemporary (Historical)
Rating: 2.5 Stars*

(Note: *Sorry, Elizabeth Enright, I usually LOVE your books, but I just couldn’t love this one. Although, I think that I’d probably have given it a higher rating if I were a kid reading it.)

Basic Plot: Portia and Foster are a sister and brother, who along with their cousin, Julian, discover secrets of a forgotten lake-side community called Gone-Away Lake.

MY THOUGHTS…

Gone-Away Lake and the old houses are uber-cool! As a child, I would have really liked this and as an adult I did. Bonus points! I liked Mrs. Cheever and Mr. Payton who were a little like Miss Havisham, but in a good way. I enjoyed the old stories about the people who summered at the lake. Rescuing the cats. The Philosopher’s stone. These stories in themselves are worth the read.

However, I wasn’t crazy about the main characters. I didn’t hate them, but I didn’t love them either. Then when the grown-ups come in, some of the magic disappeared. (And I’m not talking about the Gone-Away grown-ups).

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

Portia and Julian drew in a breath of surprise at exactly the same instant, because at the northeast end of the swamp, between the reeds and the woods, and quite near to them, they saw a row of wrecked old houses. There were perhaps a dozen of them; all large and shabby, though once they must have been quite elaborate, adorned as they were with balconies, turrets, widows’ walks, and lacy wooden trimming. But now the balconies were sagging and the turrets tipsy; the shutters were crooked or gone, and large sections of wooden trimming had broken off. There was a tree sticking out of one of the windows, not into it but out of it. And everything was as still as death.

“Now who would go and build a lot of houses on the edge of a mosquitoey old swamp like that?” inquired Julian. But the next time he spoke it was in a whisper. “Porsh! Those houses are empty! They’re all deserted, Porsh! It’s a ghost town.”

(Chapter 2)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

This book was published in 1958. I hate to say that I don’t think it has aged very well. I love, love, love this author’s The Saturdays (and its sequels). I wish I could say the same for this book. That said, I do think I probably would have loved reading it as a child, just because of the old, abandoned ghost town. However, the mark of a truly great children’s book is for an adult to pick it up and love it (despite not being a child anymore). Did I just read this book too late??

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Did you read this a kid? Did you love it? Am I being too harsh on this book? 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.

ARC Review: The Button War

button-warThe Button War // by Avi
Release Date: June 12, 2018
Genre: Upper MG, Historical (WWI)
My Rating: 4 Stars

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

Basic Plot: It’s August 1914 in a small village in Poland. The Great War has begun, but Patryk and his six friends are caught up in their own Button War… to see which boy can find (read: steal) the best button from the uniforms of the various occupying soldiers. Little do they know that this war is going to have deadly consequences.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Thank-you, Mr. Avi, for putting “August 1914” before the first chapter. It set the scene right off the bat. I knew exactly what time period I was reading about.

2) I love learning something new. This story takes place in Poland at the outset of the First World War. The inciting incident involves an aeroplane dropping a bomb. Now, I always associate bombs with WWII, not WWI, so I found this an extremely interesting plot point. (And I did some research. Yes, bombing did happen during WWI.)

3) The bickering between the boys. I love how this is portrayed, especially early on in the book. I reminded me of Stand by Me… the Polish version! The sausage-eating Wojtex… Drugi, the one who asks all the questions… Jurek who keeps telling everybody that he’s the descendant of King Boleslaw… and the narrator, Patryk, who’s trying to keep everything balanced.

Next moment, Wojtex said, “My father told me that more Russain soldiers were coming. Maybe Cossacks.”

Jurek said, “Love to see them.”

“Why?” asked Drugi.

Jurek said, “They’re the best fighters in the world.”

Drugi asked, “Who are the Russian going to fight?”

“Germans,” said Wojtex. …

There was a moment of silence. After which Drugi asked, “What’s the war about?”

We were silent. No one knew the answer.

(Chapter 7)

4) The buttons! Maybe because I’ve always had a thing about buttons, I loved the collecting and the descriptions.

5) I love how the button contest echoes what happening with regards to the Great War. The boys are vying to be Button King, just as the nations of Europe were going to war to be king of the world. You have Jurek, the bully who will stop at nothing to be king, dragging the rest of the boys into the Button War, whether they want to or not. And then, really bad things happen.

6) The foreshadowing is just… wow. I didn’t catch all of it, but peeking back at earlier chapters after completing the book, I definitely saw various instances of foreshadowing. Like the the mention of the Cosacks… And the fierce look in Jurek’s eyes after Patryk throws away the first button.

7) The ending is very sad. Although, it’s not necessarily an “unhappy” ending. The last quarter of the book or so, there’s a lot of bloodshed (off screen). Jurek’s claim at the very end is troubling; sad because it’s also so empty. Like, doesn’t he realize what has happened.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The super short chapters. Argh! I don’t understand why authors choose to write super short chapters.

2) I found the names to be difficult at times. I could not always remember who was who. This might have been partly because of all the Polish names I wasn’t familiar with, but it’s also because there are seven boys. And not all the boys are as important to the story as the others are, so it was sometimes hard to keep track of who was who.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book, if “enjoyed” can be a word to describe it. The book deals with some very troubling aspects of war. Actually, come to think of it, it has some overtones of Lord of the Flies. Very interesting on the historical side of things and I would recommend this to anybody who wants to read something something a little different about World War I. Definitely this book is meant for a more mature reader.

Review: Supergifted

supergiftedBook: Supergifted
Author: Gordon Korman
Genre: MG, Contemporary/School
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Donovan and Noah are back from Ungifted. This time, they’re both attending “regular” school. Noah is thrilled at getting his first low grade. But when Donovan tries to protect Noah from a bully, he ends up putting the family dog in jeopardy. Which means, Donovan can’t be seen anywhere near the bully’s home unless he wants the dog to be declared vicious. But, Noah has ideas that set about a course of events that lead to the creation of “Superkid”.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The friendship and the loyalty. I love how Donovan is SO loyal to Noah. Even when Noah does things that hurt him. He knows Noah is a little clueless.

2) The theme of fame and what it can do to us. This was an interesting look at how fame can go to the head… how we blindly worship and adore fame… and how fame can also be so fleeting.

3) The stereotypes. I’m usually not crazy about stereotypes in books. But somehow Gordon Korman knows how to make them work. We have likable ruffian (Donovan); the super-geek (Noah); the super cheerful cheerleader (Megan); the jock/bully (Hashtag).

4) The chapter titles. Korman did something very similar with the first book: Ungifted. Each chapter is called “Super Something-Something”. It’s very clever and it’s always fun to try to figure out what the Something-Something could mean prior to reading the chapter…

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Plot holes. There are a bunch of plot holes throughout the book. The biggest one happens during the event involving the big propane truck. Both Donovan and Noah are present. Noah is in this crazy costume–trying to look like a wrestling star, complete with folding chair. And somehow, the driver of the propane truck does not notice Noah. Really?

Another plot hole happens when Donovan goes to Megan’s party. Again, there’s no reason to incite his going. One minute he’s talking to his sister, Katie, about this missing bone. And the next minute, he’s on his way to the party. There’s no correlation action/reaction to these two scenes.

2) At one point, Hashtag mentions that the cheerleaders have tryouts. If Noah is such a klutz (one that manages to send a cheerleader to the hospital), why don’t the tryouts apply to him. Korman does try to get around this by making the teacher tell Megan that Noah must be on the team… but really, it doesn’t make sense. As in any sport, if one athlete is even a potential danger to the rest of the team, that guy should be out of there!

3) I didn’t believe all the hero-worship of the Super Kid. I mean, it’s the whole school, the whole town, even the governor? It’s not like he saved City Hall or something. He just saved one girl’s house. Yes, the girl’s family is thankful. But the whole state???

FINAL THOUGHTS…

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – Will kids like this book? Yes, I think so. It’s a fun read, and I did enjoy it. But, it’s not Korman’s best. It seems like he’s churning out the books and I wonder if he has the time to really perfect them all…


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Newbery Verdict: Paperboy

Paperboy // by Vince Vawter

Newbery Honor Book (2014)
Genre: Upper MG, Coming-of-Age (Historical)
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: A coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old boy who takes his friend’s paper route for a month in the summer. His greatest struggle: overcoming a debilitating stutter.

MY THOUGHTS…

I’m usually a stickler for proper grammar. This book does not use quotation marks for dialogue and very little commas. This would normally drive me nuts! But in the case of this book, I am fine with it. It’s all part of the characterization of the protagonist.

As a kid, I struggled with a slight stuttering problem. I don’t stutter now, by I remember the struggle to get those words out. In the book, the boy can’t even say his best friend’s name (Art) and calls him “Rat” instead. I loved the relationship between the boy and his Mam. She was wonderful! Especially in how she made him comfortable to let his words come out in their own way. And ditto for Mr. Spiro… He treats the boy like a real person and helps him gain confidence. (And all those books in Mr. Spiro’s house? A dream come true!)

I love the fact that we don’t get the boy’s name until the end of the story. Again, because of plot reasons.

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

This is a scene were the boy has stopped to visit with one of his newspaper customers: Mr. Spiro. He is blown away by the fact that he sees “Books. Hundreds. Thousands. Wall to wall. Floor to ceiling.” (I love it when books feature books!)

Mr. Spiro got up from his chair and walked around the room and put his hand on different crates.

English fiction. Russian fiction. The Medievals, Shakespeare. Biographies. Politics. Science, both modern and classical. Geology. I find myself fascinated by the study of landmasses. No doubt because of so much time spent bobbing up and down at sea.

I got up and walked around the room from crate to crate. The books were old and worn and most had pieces of paper sticking out the top.

s-s-s-s-Do you have s-s-s-s-p…?

Poetry was a word I always had trouble saying but I was going to blast it out of my mouth if that was what it took.

Do you have S-S-S-S-POETRY BOOKS?

(Chapter Eight)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I love, love, love this book! It definitely earned its Newbery Honor award. It’s only a few years old, yet I feel like I read this a long time ago… I’ve actually already done a re-read of this book. That’s how good it is! I feel like it’s been around forever. The award winner that year was Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. Since I haven’t read that book, I can’t tell you if I think it should have beat out this book or not.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Do you think it deserved the Newbery? 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.

Quick Pick Reviews #7

The Ravenmaster’s Secret // by Elvira Woodruff

ravenmasters-secretGenre: MG, Historical Fiction

My Thoughts: Set in the Tower of London in the 1700s… the best part of this book were the little historical tidbits about living in the Tower with the ravens. Forrest Harper is the son of the Ravenmaster. For those unfamiliar with ravens at the Tower, there’s a legend that the Tower (and by extension, the Crown) will fall into enemy hands if ever the ravens were to leave.

The story itself is about Forrest and how he (and his young rat-catching ally, named Rat) befriends a Jacobite (Scottish) prisoner. I won’t spoil the prisoner’s name as this is an important part of the plot. But I will say that this book includes a raven who can perform tricks, covert messages, and a plot for a daring prison escape. [3 Stars]


The Girl with 500 Middle Names // by Margaret Peterson Haddix

436283-M

Genre: MG, Contemporary

My Thoughts: I picked this title up because it intrigued me. What kind of girl has 500 middle names? I was curious. Well, I’m glad I did. The story is about a girl named Janie. Her mother is determined to get her out of the run-down, poorly-funded school she attends. Now she goes to a new school… where she has no friends. And to top it, her mother loses her job.

I enjoy how Janie takes her situation and decides to do something about it. Hence the 500 middle names. She’s feisty. And she’s ultimately willing to learn. Especially when it comes to Kimberly, the rich girl. [3.5 Stars]


Let’s Pretend We Never Met // by Melissa Walker

Let's pretendGenre: MG, Contemporary

My Thoughts: Mattie suddenly moves with her parents to Philadelphia to be closer to her ageing grandmother. She meets her next door neighbour, Agnes, who acts a little strange sometimes. And Mattie soon finds out that if she wants to make friends at school, she needs to keep her distance from Agnes.

I loved how this book deals with befriending the “weird” people in our lives. Mattie learns the value of Agnes, even with her quirks. I love how the teacher (and the door-people at the apartment) play a supportive role for Agnes in this story, helping Mattie see Agnes’ value in the world. The grandmother, Maeve, is an enjoyable character. I felt they dealt well with her onset of dementia, especially as Mattie starts to figure out that that’s what’s going on.

Love the cover on this one. The two girls standing with their backs to one another, with Agnes focused on her birds. And Mattie, not quite sure what she wants to do about Agnes. [3.5 Stars]


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

Review: Code Name Verity

code-name-verityBook: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, WWII
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: The story of two friends, Maddie and “Verity”, who find themselves behind the lines in Occupied France. Maddie goes into hiding, but Verity is being interrogated by the Nazis. As a spy, she is forced to spill secrets in order to survive another day.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved the friendship between the two girls. And the hard choices that have to be made pose a real dilemma for them. (No spoilers here!)

2) We get both versions of what happens to each girl. First, it’s Verity’s turn. Then Maddie’s. I love how when you come to Maddie’s account that, all of a sudden, things from Verity’s account (supposedly throw-away details) start to make more sense.

3) There’s a lot of spy code going on in this book. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

4) I love the Peter Pan references, especially with “Mrs. Darling” (aka Verity’s mum in Scotland). It works very nicely with all the RAF flying done by her children.

5) There are some surprises with the characters, which I don’t want to give away, especially two secondary characters: Georgia Penn and Anna Engel.

6) SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden was a complex character. At times, I hated him. At other times, I found him almost sympathetic. He’s not your typical Nazi caricature. Although, he’s definitely a Nazi. And the Bad Guy.

7) I love how the title of the book fits in with the story. The themes of truth (verity) and lies. And that grey part in-between.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) During Maddie’s account, I sometimes found I mixed up some of the characters. Especially with the family in France where she is staying as a “cousin”. I still don’t fully know who’s who.

2) This book was slow at times. This is not a huge criticism, though.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really liked this peek into Occupied France. It wasn’t a page-turner, so don’t expect that. But it makes you realize what a tough time these spies had when they were caught.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!