Review: The Dancing Pancake

Book: The Dancing Pancakedancing
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Bindi’s dad mysteriously leaves one day. And her mom and aunt decide to start a restaurant called The Dancing Pancake. All these changes bring an upset to Bindi’s life that she must adjust to.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The depiction of Bindi’s struggles over adjusting to the big changes in her life. She’s moody, but she’s also a very likeable character. I liked the through-line of the need for forgiveness (with regards to her dad, Ruby Frances, etc.). It’s nice to see her grow up in the story.

2) The empathy Bindi shows to Grace, the homeless lady. However, I also like how that plot point does not work out exactly as Bindi originally intends. But still, Bindi learns to accept people for who (and where) they are.

3) The blank verse works well in this book. (It seems to be Spinelli’s thing.)

4) I found the opening-a-restaurant plotline interesting.

5) Characters I enjoyed: Jackson, the little cousin and Ruby Frances, the waitress. I like how their stories intermingle with **SPOILER the theft of the $50 from the cash register. END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Nothing really to add here.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This is an enjoyable book! I loved how she worked an actual dancing pancake into the climax of the story 😉

Review: Paperboy

paperboyBook: Paperboy
Author: Vince Vawter
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.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) 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.

2) The stutter. I thought Vawter dealt well with the boy’s struggle regarding his debilitating stutter. The story made me completely empathize with him… How he can’t even say his best friend’s name (Art) and calls him “Rat” instead. However, this changes by the end of the book as the boy starts to push himself to overcome.

3) I loved the relationship between the boy and his Mam. She was wonderful!

4) Ditto for Mr. Spiro… How 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!)

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

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) When I was reading it, I wasn’t sure what time period this was. Did I miss something? (Of course, looking back at the book jacket, I realize that it says it takes place in 1959. But I don’t always read the book jacket prior to reading the story. Mainly due to the fact that I want to avoid spoilers.)

2) I was a little uncomfortable with the character of Mrs. Worthington. **SPOILER She’s an alcoholic, painted with a lot of sexual overtones. I felt this was a little too heavy for this age group. And I wasn’t sure what she would do to the protagonist. (Nothing really bad happens, which is good. She’s played more like a victim than anything else.)  END SPOILER

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – I loved this book! While I never stuttered quite so badly as the boy in this book, I did have a little stutter as a young child. So, I definitely related to the attempts and struggle of working through getting those words out.

Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

TheWitchOfBlackbirdPond_4821Book: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic plot: Kit arrives in the Puritan colony of Connecticut, which is a far cry from her home in Barbados. But with her grandfather dead, she has no choice. She and her aunt’s family both experience culture shock. In defiance of her uncle, she makes friends with the “Witch of Blackbird Pond” and soon finds herself the target of a witch hunt.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Speare writes an engaging historical novel. She gets the tone right… the rebellious nature of Kit pitted up against the Puritan community. And this book still has appeal for the modern reader (even though it was first published in 1958. Now, that’s a classic!)

2) I liked the complex relationship of Kit and Nat. How Nat is obviously drawn to Kit, and yet is confused by how to react to her non-conformist ways.

3) The “villain” of the story is set up quite nicely in the opening.

4) The uncle is well-characterized. **SPOILER: I like how he’s clearly one who opposes Kit throughout the story. Yet, in the end, he is redeemed. His character grows to accept her, even though she is so different. I hate it when books make the father-figure evil and awful with a good-riddance to bad rubbish. This book doesn’t do that.  END SPOILER

5) I like Hannah Tupper, the Quaker (i.e. the Witch of the title). I thought her relationship to Kit was very touching. And her fragility as she ages was well-written.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) **SPOILER: Nat gets his own ship at the end of the story. I’m not crazy about the name he chooses. But it sort of makes sense. END SPOILER

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book is actually a re-read for me. I read it as a kid. I must say I enjoyed it even more so as an adult! Which says a lot about a book. No wonder it won the Newbery.

Review: The Unforgotten Coat

unforgottenBook: The Unforgotten Coat
Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Julie becomes the “Good Guide” for Mongolian brothers Chingis and Nergui. She helps them learn to integrate into British society, to hide from the “demon” who is trying to “eat Nergui”.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Learning some cool Mongolian facts. After being chosen by Chingis to be their “Good Guide”, Julie researches Mongolia and insists on giving a presentation to her sixth grade class. Of course, Chingis is the one who is supposed to be the one giving info about his homeland, but Julie ends up doing the most talking. Nice touch by the author (especially in light of how this quietness about Mongolia fits in well with how the story ends.)

2) I liked the Polaroid photos scattered throughout the story. At first, I thought they were just atmosphere, but they definitely are important to the plot.

3) Interesting how the fear of these immigrants/refugees manifests itself. Through baking the little raisin man, to taking a different route each day when walking home from school, to insisting that Nergui stay with Chingis in the sixth grade classroom, even though he’s much younger. Coming to a new country is tough under any circumstance. I liked how the author understates this fear. He uses very little suspense and basically presents facts without making a big deal about it. After all, we are reading this story through the eyes of Julie, not the boys.

4) **SPOILER: I like how the ending is not super-happy. It’s not super-sad either. I thought it was realistic that the boys are deported, thus making their fear justified. Eaten by the “demon”. However, the final image gives hope. END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I was a little confused at times. I liked the photos, but they sometimes also brought me out of the story. Was this a true story? Why did he take that photo? When does this take place? It wasn’t until the end that I realized that this is a fictionalized account of some true events. While this isn’t a bad thing (I don’t mind fictionalized accounts!), it’s the being taken out of the story that isn’t so good.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this book! I absolutely loved Cosmic and Framed by the same author. I don’t think this book is as good as those ones, but I did enjoy it.

Book Blunders in Narnia

20170317ma_0063Quick Disclaimer: I love the writing of C.S. Lewis! He’s one of my absolute favourite authors of all time. I particularly love the world of Narnia. But that doesn’t mean that the books are free of error. Tiny writing inconsistencies and imperfections… These are the subject of this post. This is not to disparage the books. But like how hand blown glass is more valuable because of the imperfections!

Here I bring up three of the “book blunders” of Narnia…

1) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

When the four Pevensie children first come to Narnia, they find that the White Witch has been ruling for 100 years. It’s “always winter but never Christmas.”

Then we meet the Beavers. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver invite the children to a wonderful spread of tea, including “a wonderfully sticky marmalade roll”. With fare like this, the Beavers don’t seem to be quite as oppressed they claim! It contradicts the whole alway-winter-never-Christmas thing.

2) Prince Caspian

At the end of the book, King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy have to leave Narnia.

“It was odd, and not very nice, to take off their royal clothes and to come back in their school things (not very fresh now) into that great assembly. One or two of the nastier Telmarines jeered.”

A similar thing happens in The Silver Chair. This time, Eustace and Jill return to our world still dressed in their Narnian clothing.

“Eustace buried his fine clothes secretly one night in the school grounds, but Jill smuggled hers home and wore them at a fancy-dress ball next holidays.”

Now compare these to the ending of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“And next moment they all came tumbling out of a wardrobe door into the empty room, and they were no longer Kings and Queens in their hunting array but just Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy in their old clothes.”

Where did the old clothes come from? Especially in light of the fact that they had to change clothes in Prince Caspian and Jill and Eustace were still wearing theirs in The Silver Chair!

3) The Horse and His Boy

Shasta grows up in Calormen, under the ruthless hand of Arsheesh. Yet, from time to time, he often acts like a boy from our world, and even sounds more like Edmund or Eustace:

“Oh bother breakfast. Bother everything,” said Shasta. “I tell you I can’t move.”

Oh, Shasta, you sound so British!

Review: Moo

28217808Book: Moo
Author: Sharon Creech
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Reena and Luke move to Maine with their mom and dad. Pretty much on a whim. They instantly go from being city kids to country kids when they begin to help a crotchety old lady named Mrs. Falala with her ornery cow, Zora.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The relationship between Reena and Luke is nice. I like how their parents insist on the kids’ need to be respectful to their elders. Even crotchety old ladies.

2) The book is told very simply. Yet the characters are well-rounded. Zora the cow is a character in her own right!

3) **SPOILER: Reena shows Zora at the Fair. I liked how Zora takes off just as she first appears before the judges and Reena has to chase her. Obviously, this is a completely mortifying experience. But Reena gets “back up on that horse” once she has calmed Zora down. She ends up showing Zora for the next category of judging. I’m glad Zora doesn’t magically win. (She only gets fourth place. Good job, Zora!) END SPOILER

4) **SPOILER: Of course, Mrs. Falala dies near the end of the book. That wasn’t much of a surprise to me. But the secret of her upstairs room (or for that matter, how she wants and learns to draw)… I didn’t see that coming. Which is good 🙂 END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wasn’t sold on the reason WHY they move to Maine. It’s pretty much done on a whim. In fact, I find their reason slightly disturbing (as an adult). As a kid, I would have been horrified at this possibility.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – Which means it’s a good book. While it’s not my favourite book by Sharon Creech, it’s still a fun, fast read. (I think Zora the cow bumps the rating from 3 to 3.5 Stars! Way to go, Zora!)

Rating the Chronicles

20160204ma_0260If I had to rate the books in the Chronicles of Narnia in order of my favourite to my least-favourite, I could do it. It’d be hard, but yes, I could do it.

Mind you, the order has changed over the years. As a kid, I did not really like The Silver Chair or The Horse and His Boy. I’m pretty sure the reason for this is simply because neither of these stories feature the Pevensie children. (Okay, The Horse and His Boy has King Edmund, Queen Susan, and Queen Lucy, but they’re minor characters.) Fast forward to today, and those two books rank much, much higher in my estimation.

My Ranking (as a kid)

#1 – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
#2 – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
#3 – The Magician’s Nephew
#4 – The Last Battle
#5 – Prince Caspian
#6 – The Horse and His Boy
#7 – The Silver Chair

My Ranking (as an adult)

#1 – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
#2 – The Horse and His Boy
#3 – The Silver Chair
#4 – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
#5 – Prince Caspian
#6 – The Magician’s Nephew
#7 – The Last Battle (Sorry, I think this is due to how Shift treats Puzzle!)

Please note: I love ALL the books. Just because one is ranked lower on the list doesn’t mean I hate it. No indeed. It just means I’d prefer to re-read the other ones first. 🙂

And if I had to give the books ratings, they’d all be either 4 or 5 Stars!

Review: The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones

28814927Book: The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones
Author: Wendelin Van Draanen
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Lincoln Jones is the “new kid” and that makes him a bit of a loner and outcast at school. What makes it worse is that he spends his after-school hours at an old folks home. He tries to hide this from his peers, but one particular girl won’t leave him alone before she finds out his secret life.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I like the kid’s voice. He’s interesting. I felt I’ve met him. I also was drawn to his relationship with his mom.

2) I like books that bring the generations together… Where young kids get to know “old people” in a real way. It’s nice to see Lincoln’s viewpoint change on “oldies”.

3) The ending was cool (**SLIGHT SPOILER HERE) with how it ended where it began. END SPOILER

4) **SPOILER: Lincoln and his mom are hiding from an abusive boyfriend and home life. While this is a heavy topic, I felt it was dealt with in a real, yet age-appropriate way. It didn’t gloss over such situations, but it doesn’t dwell on them either. END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) There’s very little I did not like. The pickiest thing I can say is that one character, Isaac, suddenly appears at the Old Folks Home and I didn’t remember who he was. I had to go back in the book and find how I’m supposed to know why he matters. But that wasn’t a huge problem.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Yes! My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I’d definitely recommend it!

Review: How Nancy Drew Saved My Life

41G6qx0cmCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book: How Nancy Drew Saved My Life
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
My Rating: 1 Star

I’ve had one of those throw-down-the-book-in-disgust moments. The book in question? How Nancy Drew Saved My Life. I had read a short essay by the author and wanted to try one of her novels. I guess I picked it out for sentimental reasons; I loved Nancy Drew as a kid.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The cover. It’s whimsical. I like it.

2) The main character (a nanny/governess) is named Charlotte Bell. If you are a real Charlotte Bronte fan, you will realize this is a combination of Bronte’s first name and her pseudonym Currer Bell. Now, I didn’t realize the Jane Eyre influence when I first picked up the book, but it’s there. In fact, the story line has more to do with Jane Eyre than it does with Nancy Drew. I love Jane Eyre! So this was a very pleasant discovery that made me happy.

But that’s where the pleasantness ended. (At least for me.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I found the book to be borderline blasphemous. An example of this was the repeated use of the term WWNDD (What Would Nancy Drew Do). IMHO, that is just clever… in the **wrong** way!

2) Actually, I found myself skimming a lot. The main character spends far too much time in bed (and she’s not alone in bed either). For a character based on Jane Eyre, it goes against everything Jane stands for. Jane would be horrified.

3) SPOILER HERE: By the end of the book, Charlotte’s pregnant (Hmm. That would NEVER have happened to Jane Eyre!). There seem to be no realistic consequences for Charlotte. It’s like the author is saying, “Good for you, Charlotte. This baby will solve all your loneliness issues!” She never even takes into account that she’s single and will have to provide for this baby… in New York City, no less, which is one expensive place to live! And she doesn’t even have her nanny job anymore! (Although the book hints that she may get back together with the baby’s father, even though he’s not yet divorced from his wife). END SPOILER.

4) I couldn’t really tell you how Nancy Drew Saved Her Life.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This book had so much potential. I wanted to like it. But I can only give it 1 Star. And that’s mostly for the cover artwork. 😦

All Things Jane

20160307ma_0717I’ve been getting Jane Austen commentaries out from the library. The one sitting on my nightstand right now is called Flirting with Pride and Prejudice (edited by Jennifer Crusie).

The book contains commentaries and essays about the most famous of Austen’s books. After reading a dozen or so of the different authors, one of the better observations came in an essay entitled “Plenty of Pride and Prejudice to Go Around” by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. Here she compares Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet with the many incarnations of the Elizabeth in the movies either based upon or inspired by Pride and Prejudice.

Baratz-Logsted questions why the Elizabeth Bennet characters have been deteriorated “into characters who, however lofty their careers, however many modern choices arrayed before them, are charming ditzes at best, babbling and insecure bumblers at worst?”

This makes me recall a comment made by one of my friends after first watching Bridget Jones Diary a few years ago. She pointed out that Bridget is in fact NOT an Elizabeth Bennet. No, the movie (and book) is really about the story Mr. Darcy and Lydia Bennet. And I have come to whole-heartedly agree with Wise Friend that Bridget Jones is really Lydia masquerading around behind the mask of the Elizabeth Bennet character.

But back to the book on my night stand (which is now on my lap since I had to look up that quote above). I wasn’t too keen on the section which included the fictionalized mini-stories based on various characters from the book. Why does it feel wrong when another person tries to take Jane Austen’s place and write Georgiana’s story, or tell what happened to Elizabeth after she married Darcy? The one account I did manage to read (it wasn’t long—about five pages) was “The Secret Life of Mary”. But it just seemed convoluted. I mean, a love story between Mary and some Irish footman named Rory who works for Sir William Lucas?! Where Mary becomes famous for writing Austen-esque sketches of her family?!

People, please leave the Jane Austen characters in the capable hands of Jane Austen.

And since Jane Austen is dead, that means, unfortunately, we have to be satisfied with the body of work she turned out. But cheer up! When you read Pride and Prejudice or Emma or Persuasion (or you name the book) a second or third or fourth time, the story only gets better, right?

That’s what makes Jane Austen a great author.