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

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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

Newbery Verdict: Ramona and her Father

Ramona and her Father // by Beverly Cleary (1977)

ramona-and-her-fatherNewbery Honor Book (1978)
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic Plot: Ramona’s in second grade when her father suddenly loses his job. When she finds out they have to scrimp and save, Ramona starts coming up with her own ideas to help her family make some money. One of her ideas ends with her hair in snarls. Another of her ideas is aimed at getting her father to quit smoking.

MY THOUGHTS…

I love, love, love this book. I love the relationship that is shown between Ramona and her dad. This book deals with some tough issues like having a father who is out of work. And the depression he goes through. And then there’s the “no smoking” campaign headed up by Ramona and her sister Beezus. One of my favourite scenes is when Ramona comes home to a house to find that her dad has broken his promise. The moment where Mr. Quimby talks to Ramona about what happened is heart-breakingly precious.

As with most middle-grade books, this one has a happy ending. And I’m glad it does. I adore the Christmas scene at the end.

NEWBERY VERDICT…

One of the best of the best Ramona Quimby books there is. It’s easy to see why it was nominated for a Newbery. It didn’t win, but there was tough competition that year. (The winner was Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.) Still, this is a 5-star book for me!

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: Towers Falling

towers-fallingBook: Towers Falling (2016)
Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Deja lives with her family in what can only be described as a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. She’s at a new school, and she’s hoping to stay here. One day, Miss Garcia points out the difference in the Manhattan skyline–namely the absence of the Twin Towers. Deja is intrigued. She doesn’t know anything about those towers. However, when she brings them up to her father, his dark reaction surprises her. And now she’s afraid he’s going to take her away, not just from her new school, but from her new set of friends as well.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really enjoyed watching the friendship blossom between Deja, Ben, and Sabeen. We get to see it from the very beginning, which is nice.

2) I like how the teachers were dealing with the tragedy for a generation that was born after the towers fell. As a teacher in Queens in 2001, I taught the kids who lived through it. So, I was indeed fascinated by this. What blew my mind was that Miss Garcia (the teacher) was in 5th grade during 9/11!

3) The scene at the site of the World Trade Center… The author captured this memorial in a really wonderful way. I was just there, so it was all fresh in my mind. The water fall footprints of the towers. The white roses. The names. This part was possibly the best scene for me.

4) The storyline with the father was nicely done. (Although, I will say, when he finally speaks, he almost says too much. Which I felt was a little out of character for him.) This was a very emotional and cathartic scene.

5) I loved Deja’s dedication to her family. She helps her parents out with her two younger siblings. I loved her for that!

6) I really like what they did with the cover art… how the Freedom Tower stands where the Twin Towers once stood. And how things are upsidedown and topsy-turvy.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Deja was a little too introspective for me at times. Especially when you consider that she’s only ten years old. In some ways, she seems like a teenager.

2) When Deja goes to visit her friend Sabeen for the first time–Sabeen is Muslim–the family makes a comment that Deja would make a good Muslim. I found that a REALLY WEIRD thing to say to a child the first time you meet them. Especially a non-Muslim child. It felt like they were trying to convert her??

3) At one point in the book, Deja brings her dad to the school. He seems to walk right in, down the halls, and enters her classroom. Ahem. I taught school in NYC and NO PARENT (and certainly no adult, unless they were a teacher) was able to enter the school at all. Doors are locked. The only way in is through the school office. (The student entrances are locked or manned by a teacher.) So, I had a really hard time with this part of the plot.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This book is about the events of 9/11, but 15 years after the fact. Since I lived and worked in New York City during September 11, 2001, I feel a close connection. However, I don’t like watching the footage. But this book hit the right notes for me. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s worth the read.


YOUR TURN…

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

Review: Becoming Mrs. Lewis

becoming-mrs-lewisBook: Becoming Mrs. Lewis (2018)
Author: Patti Callahan
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the story of Joy Davidman Gresham and how she came to be the wife of C.S. Lewis. The subtitle kind of says it all: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis

WHAT’S COOL…

1) C.S. Lewis is one of my all-time, favourite authors. And I have always been fascinated by this love story.

2) I loved the little glimpses into the home life of these people. I could just see them sitting at the typewriter, discussing books, and writing over a cup of tea! And I could also see the boys, Davy and Douglas, running off on their adventures.

3) One of my favourite sections of the book is the part when it discusses their collaboration on Till We Have Faces. Not only do I love that book, but I really enjoyed seeing these scenes play out. I knew that she had been instrumental to Lewis in writing the book, but it really was nice to see their collaboration in action.

4) Even though I knew the story and how it ends, I did find myself drawn into the suspense from time to time. This is a really hard thing to do for such well-known stories. Is it done perfectly? No, but at times, it’s done quite well.

5) Love the cover on this book! I thought it nicely captured the essence of the story. 🙂

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wanted a little more subtext in this story. I know that Joy was known to be blunt (and very American). But at times, I felt the dialogue was a little too on-the-nose. Would Joy have brought such things up? Was she never subtle?

2) There seems to be a lot of repetition in this book. I often felt like the plot wasn’t moving very fast and that I’d already read this scene before. (I hadn’t. The scenes were just similar.) Makes me wonder if the author could have cut out some of the scenes.

3) At times, I felt that I didn’t know Joy very well. Yes, the book is written in first person POV, yet I somehow didn’t FEEL for her. At other times I did, but it was a mixed bag.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – An enjoyable read for anybody wanting to know more about this historic couple. Not the quickest read, but that’s okay. I vacillated between 3.5 and 4 stars. I think I went down because, despite the first person POV, I didn’t really connect with Joy of a level of knowing her. I would still recommend this book.


YOUR TURN…

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

Review: Spy School Goes South

spy-school-goes-southBook: Spy School Goes South (2018)
Author: Stuart Gibbs
Genre: MG, Contemporary/Espionage
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: SPYDER is at it again. Murray, who’s been a prisoner at the Spy School since the events of the last book, is willing to lead Ben and Erica to SPYDER’s headquarters. But things (obviously) go wrong. There’s a plane crash and survival tactics come into play. And the best news is that SPYDER thinks they’re all dead, which is perfect when you plan to infiltrate the enemies hide out.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Ben’s a great main character. I love how unassuming he is. And of course, juxtaposed against Erica… well, they make a great team.

2) The Farkle Family Reunion was a fun method for the team of spies to fit in at the resort. I also like that this also turns out to be a bad decision.

3) Love how Catherine Hale (Erica’s mum) shows up.

4) As always, the covers of these books are a fun way to introduce a basic plot of the novel!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Okay, this is where I start pointing out things I didn’t like. And sadly, as this series continues, I find there’s more and more things I don’t like. Why is the CIA and SPYDER run by kids? (Other than Catherine Hale–and the body guards for SPYDER–there are no adults! Even Cyrus and Alexander Hale only pop in at the end, after it’s all over.) I get it. The CIA has been infiltrated by SPYDER. But I still don’t know why Joshua (maybe 18 or 19?) is the one in charge of the special red button that will blow things up!

2) Speaking of the red button… not the most original plot device. I guess this is a spy novel, though.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – This book was okay, but not as good as the first three in the series. I almost wish he’d stop writing this series as it becomes harder and harder to suspend disbelief. I’m guessing he’s going to do at least one more since he seems to have set that up. Do I recommend this book. Sort of. Maybe? Only if you don’t mind kids who make better spies then spies with years of training and experience.


YOUR TURN…

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

Review: Ogre Enchanted

ogre-enchantedBook: Ogre Enchanted (2018)
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Genre: MG, Fairy Tale
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Evie finds herself under one of Lucinda’s curses when she’s turned into an Ogre. To break the spell, she has to accept a proposal of marriage. But she has a time limit, and Evie doesn’t want to be married to just anybody. She’s determined to find her true love, or she’ll remain an ogre forever.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I liked Evie as a character. I like how she keeps on with her healing-ways even after the curse is upon her.

2) I got very excited when I started to recognize characters from Ella Enchanted. It’s been awhile since I read that book. (I don’t remember many of the character’s names.) The fairy Mandy the was the first to tip me off. And then I realized who would become Ella’s mother. So, that was fun. 🙂

3) It was an interesting take on the Beauty and the Beast story… swapping roles. I did like what she did there. And I liked how it fit neatly into the Gail Carson Levine fairy tale world (inhabited by such fairies as Lucinda!)

4) Love the cover of the book. Magical!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Wormy maybe gets the honour for having the Worst-Name-in-a-Book… especially for somebody we’re supposed to be rooting for. In fact, the name made me vacillate between wanting him to succeed in getting Evie’s affections and rooting for the other guys.

2) The time Evie spends with the ogres… I almost felt that this was just prologue to the story. (It’s not. She spends a good portion of the book with them!) But I really didn’t get into the story until after she leaves the ogres.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I wasn’t blown away by this book–it’s definitely not as good as Ella Enchanted–but I did enjoy it. I was excited when I suddenly recognized a few characters from Ella, and it made me want to do a re-read of that book. Which I haven’t read in a long time!


YOUR TURN…

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

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!

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.