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!

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Review: You Go First

You-go-firstBook: You Go First (2018)
Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the story of two protagonists who are Scrabble partners online. Charlotte is dealing with a father in the hospital and Ben is dealing with the news that his parents are getting a divorce. On top of that, they’re both having trouble at school.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is a book about the masks we wear. Each of our two protagonists (Charlotte and Ben) have their own struggles that they hide from the world.  It’s an interesting topic explored in this book… how we know people, but really do not “know” them because none of us wants to go first with our story. Both kids (Charlotte and Ben) are facing some challenging stuff. But the answer is not in finding each other. The answer (given in the book) is finding a friend. A friend where you are. Of course, in real life this is harder than the book makes it out to be.

2) I like how this book takes on the topic of bullies… many different kinds of bullies; including former friends who betray you. This is Charlotte’s problem. And then there are the more classic bullies, the ones that Ben has to face. The answer (which I think is in fact very true) is in finding that one friend. Fortunately for both Ben and Charlotte, they do each find a good friend by the end of the book.

3) The online Scrabble component of the story was a fun connection between the two characters.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Ben and Charlotte never actually meet. By the end of the book, I wondered why she wrote about two kids that never meet and never really interact in any meaningful way. (Neither one of them “go first” in revealing the tough stuff that they’re dealing with.) Come to think of it, this could have been two different books in a series.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I rather liked this story. Would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a book dealing with how how kids deal with tough issues in their lives.


YOUR TURN…

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

Review: Ghost

ghostBook: Ghost (2016)
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Ghost is good at running, ever since that night when he and his mom had to run away from his dad. So, when he joins a track team, he’s good, but not as good as he thinks. It isn’t long before Ghost realizes that part of his problem is that he doesn’t have the right tools to be the best on the track. And in the world of track, the right tools means the right kind of running shoes.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love running stories, so this one was right up my alley! I liked the scene where Ghost first comes across the track team. And I enjoyed the peek into the subsequent training sessions.

2) The friendship that develops with the track newbies was great. I loved Patty and Sunny. Lu was a little weird, but I kind of liked him as well.

3) The Coach was just awesome. I like how he drives a taxi… I like how he connects with the kids. How he’s tough on them, and yet obviously enjoys what he’s doing.

4) I absolutely love Ghost’s voice in this story. It comes through beautifully and made me want to root for him.

5) Kudos to the person who designed the cover of this book. I love how Ghost is running so fast, that he’s running off the page. And we don’t even get to see his face!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The secrets they tell at the restaurant… Man! These kids hardly know each other and they’re spilling their deepest, darkest secrets. All of them. And then when they challenge their coach to tell his secret? I was like… what? That’s not even a secret. You let these kids reveal things (in fact, you even encouraged these kids) to tell you a secret and you pretend that your secret is on par with theirs? (Not that I think the coach should have revealed a deep, dark secret to these kids. Actually, I’m just a little ticked off at the author for making these revelations come with little to no work. It makes the secrets almost trivial. Where’s the subtext? Where’s the drama? Where are the set-ups and pay-offs?Why aren’t you saving to reveal true secrets for later on?)

2) The climax of the story seems to be the one with the shoes. [SPOILER] It’s a good idea for a climax. But I feel it was mishandled. This is where revelations needed to happen. This is where Ghost needed to be afraid that he had lost Coach’s respect forever. Then take that angst and drama and bring it to the track. [END SPOILER] Unfortunately, this is not quite how it plays out. Which is a pity.

3) At the end of the story… [SPOILER] Ghost is about to run his first race when he meets his arch-nemesis at the track. (This is in the FINAL pages of the book.) Here’s how Ghost puts it: “No way. No Freakin’. Way. He ran? He ran? By now you know who I’m talking about. Brandon Simmons.” Actually, Ghost, I had no idea that name was going to pop up here. I had no idea, whatsoever. [END SPOILER] This reveal just wasn’t set up. It just came out of nowhere!!

4) The ending was weird. [Possible SPOILER] There’s a big lead-up to the race at the end of the book. And just as we get to the starting line, BAM, it’s over. Not that I needed to know who wins the race. Actually that part didn’t bother me. I felt confused over what led up to that moment. In other words: the climax. It’s like it was all mixed up. Reynolds re-introduces the main bullies within paragraphs of the final sentence, and nothing comes of it! (See Spoiler above.) Like, what happened there? I want to know. [END SPOILER] Perhaps it was too short a book. I felt like it could have benefited from another chapter or two.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – This book started out as a 5-star book. I was loving it. Then it went down to a 4-star near the middle, for some minor plot points. By the end, we were down to 3 stars. Frankly, the end was a disappointment. It’s like Reynolds lost the thread of his story. I felt this book could have gone through another edit, to be honest. Perhaps several more edits. I love, love, love the premise. I loved the characters. I know there are some sequels. I’m not sure if I will give them a shot. Maybe one more shot?


YOUR TURN…

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

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: Young Man with Camera

young-man-wth-cameraBook: Young Man with Camera
Author: Emil Sher
Genre: YA Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: T— is the young man with the camera. And he’s dealing with a lot of issues, including a disfiguring scar, and the school bullies. He finds an escape in photography. Then he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a homeless woman. 

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Love the stuff about photography. As a photographer myself, I enjoyed the analysis of various famous photos that the teacher shows to T—. In addition, we have the actual black and white photos scattered throughout the book show a young photographer’s attempts at viewing the world around him.

2) T—’s relationship to the various secondary characters, especially Lucy, the homeless woman. I especially liked the realism captured with her character. There’s a moment where he can’t reach her (it obvious she has some form of mental illness), and he doesn’t know what to do. I liked how that played out. Sometimes with mental illness, there isn’t anything we can do… in the moment. But T— still comes back another time. He doesn’t give up on Lucy.

3) Another relationship I enjoyed was that of Sean and Watson the dog. What a good friend Sean is.

4) While I didn’t like the bullies, I thought they were well-portrayed. It was painful to see T— trying to deal with them. I liked his “unsaid” moments… things he said in his mind, but wouldn’t say out loud. He does this throughout the book, and not just with the bullies, but with many of the adults around him.

5) Other elements I liked… Jared’s character arc. I like how that played out. Especially with regards to the photo that T— gives him.

6) I like the cover of the book with the blue-toned black and white image. Especially with how the camera is covering the identity of the boy’s face.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The adults around T— are somehow amazingly dense (with the exception of Ms. Karamath). The Principal especially and the police officer. I don’t understand why they think T— is such a trouble-maker. Because he’s so quiet? Because Ryan lies about him all the time? I didn’t quite buy this, and so it felt forced to me… like the author said that’s how it is, so there.

2) T—’s attraction to fire… I didn’t think this was set up right. So, he likes to go out and watch houses on fire. I don’t see how that marks him as having SUCH a fascination with fire. Why not make him carry matches around? Why not make it so he light fires in the park? Why not make it so he lights fires in order to take photos of the flames. THOSE would seem like it would earmark somebody with an attraction to fire. But none of that happens in the book (except that he goes to see a few house fires). Oh, and his made-up Zito scale to measure the intensity of a fire. That’s actually quite cool, except nobody knows about this scale but us, the reader. (I’m not even sure Sean know about the Zito scale.)

3) The thing that got to me most of all is the ending. This is what downgraded a 4-star book to a 3-star book, in my opinion. [*SPOILER] I don’t understand why he doesn’t tell his parents, teachers, principal, police that he didn’t set the fire! Why doesn’t he show the pictures of Lucy’s attack!! It doesn’t make sense!!! Especially once Ryan is charged… Can’t these adults see?! I think the author was trying for realism by not having a sugar-sweet-every-works-out ending, and I like that idea in theory. But to make that work, T— would have had to have been a real trouble-maker. If he had been caught, early on in the book, setting other fires (I mean really caught, not framed by a look-alike), then I could see why the adults around him wouldn’t trust him, including his parents. He has SUCH a good relationship with his teacher. Her message that you can change things through photography isn’t fully played out. He has the pictures to change things, but he never uses them. Like I said, I wasn’t convinced by this ending, and so it seemed off to me. [END SPOILER]

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, I liked this book. I liked the message of the teacher that you can change things through photography. Of course, when it comes to photography, maybe I’m biased 😉

Review: The Losers Club

losersclubBook: The Losers Club
Author: Andrew Clements
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Alec loves to read. This year, he has to stay in the after-school program and so he starts a reading club… which he calls it the Losers Club, so that everybody will just leave him alone to read. But then other kids start joining the Losers Club, including his former-friend-turned-bully.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Alec loves to read. Hello? I’m hooked.

2) I love all (or at least most) of the books Alec loves. I completely understand his desire to just sit and read. To get lost in a book. When we were in grade 6, my friends and I would have fit right in with this club!

3) The younger brother, Luke, was a neat character. I like his Yoda impersonations. I also like how Clements connects the two brothers story-wise through the bully, Kent: The Losers and the Mini-Losers.

4) I love WHY Alec lets the younger Lily join the club. Especially what he says to her about how she identifies herself as a loser. (But I won’t spoil it here.)

5) Lots of wonderful reading quotes in this book. For example this passage about the value of old books:

Nina looked at the book. “It’s really old—actually, a lot of your books are old, practically antiques. Like that copy of Treasure Island in your backpack? That book is ancient.”

“So what?” he said. “And anyway, books aren’t like that. A book is either good or not. And if it’s good, it never gets old.”

6) Kent’s character arc was well-done. He doesn’t seem quite like the caricature of the school bully. He’s a little more complex.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) A bully named Kent?? Really? This seemed very strange to me.

2) While I like the brother Luke’s Yoda impersonation, I thought it was a little weird to have the mom do it. Why have two characters have the same quirk?

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This has become one of my favourite Andrew Clement books. Probably because of all the reading that is done in the book.

Review: Restart

mediumBook: Restart
Author: Gordon Korman
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: A bully named Chase is given a second chance at life when he falls from the roof and wakes up with amnesia. He can’t remember a thing about his past shenanigans… which frustrates his former buddies. And worries his former victims.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Chase. I like how Chase has to navigate the old Chase with his feelings as the new Chase.

2) This bully story shows that bullies are complex beings. Many books treat them in a 2-dimensional way. At one point in the book, somebody conjectures whether or not the old “bully” Chase felt remorse over the piano incident. Since we only get to know the new Chase, it seems that maybe he did, in his secret heart of hearts.

3) I liked the fact that Chase does the wrong thing by sticking up for his old friends during the fire extinguisher incident. It shows that his transformation is not so pristine (and therefore it is more realistic). The old and new Chase are still the same Chase. It’s just that the new Chase has the chance to change some of his patterns of behavior.  This incident created some real moments of conflict that moved the story along nicely.

4) I liked the Senior Citizen angle to the story. Cranky Mr. Solway was a great addition to the cast of characters. And I’m a sucker for anything that touches on recording oral history from people who lived in momentous times.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The mom is pretty much a non-entity. Chase lives with her, yet we get to know the dad and his new wife (Chase’s stepmom) better than we get to know his mother. I felt she was rather 2-dimensional.

2) Flip cameras?! I felt the video club was using technology from a bygone era. This is 2017. Do they even make flip cameras anymore when the kids probably have better cameras on their smartphones? (And yes, I know about video production, so this was a biggie for me!)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – I liked the book. It has the “Korman-touch”. I would compare it to some of his other books like: Pop, Ungifted, and Schooled. All these books have a character you can root for.