Review: Patina

Book: Patina (2017)
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

patinaBasic Plot: Patty hates losing a race. Or even coming in second. She also has a to-do list longer than your arm. She’s starting to find it hard to juggle her sister, her mom, her mother/aunt, school, and, of course, track. When Coach puts her on the relay team, she comes nose-to-nose with some unhappy teammates. Couple that with a group project where Patty is doing all the work while her partners take it easy. And then comes a family emergency that Patty never even anticipated. Something that might just threaten to keep her off the track for awhile.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is a continuation of the series with Ghost. In this book, Ghost is only a minor character. The MC is his newbie teammate: Patty (Patina). (And yes, we do find out in this one what happened in the race at the end of the first book!)

2) I was nervous about reading this book. Partly because Patty had the potential to be a Mary-Sue character. In the previous book, she doesn’t seem to have any flaws. But that worry melted away immediately. Maybe she was perfect in Ghost’s eyes, but once Patty starts telling her story, we get to see her faults… just enough to make her a human being we can relate to.

3) I loved the relationship between Patty and her little sister, Maddie. Actually, I love her whole family. Her ma, who no longer has her legs due to diabetes. And her uncle and aunt (Momly) who have legal custody of her. I enjoyed getting to know them.

4) The Coach was awesome yet again. He’s not in the book as much as he was in the last. But he has some great moments. I love the part where Coach Whit is teaching the girls to dance and Ghost and Lu? are laughing at them… along with Coach. Then, what Coach does next is priceless.

5) Jason Reynolds has talent for capturing voice. Patty’s voice in this book is unique to Patty, just as Ghost’s voice is unique to Ghost. (And I’ve already started reading the next book: Sunny. Ditto.)

6) The story of the dad is good. I like the cupcakes. And I like the scene near the end with the uncle and the cupcakes.

7) Another race at the end, but Reynolds does things a little differently this time. But I won’t spoil it.

8) Whoever does those book covers… I’m liking them. I like how each one is geared to each character. (Although, Patty really should have a baton in her hand.)

9) Finally, I like that you don’t technically have to read Ghost to enjoy this book. It really is Patty’s story and a stand-alone.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I don’t get why Momly thinks it’s okay to serve turkey wings every night for supper. Don’t they get sick of them?

2) The Momly-janitor story was a little odd. Not sure exactly if this backstory was needed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I liked this book better than Ghost and I’m trying to figure out why. Premise-wise, I think Ghost is a stronger story, but the pacing was off. (Ghost could have been a 5-star book, which is saying something.) Patina’s story is good, and the pacing and emotional beats are right on. I’m glad I gave it a chance!


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: 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!

Quick Pick Reviews #8

Clementine // by Sara Pennypacker (2006)

Genre: Lower MG, Contemporaryclementine

My Thoughts: A cute story about an ants-in-her-pants girl named Clementine. She gets in trouble for helping her school friend cut her hair. And she’s always being sent to the principal’s office.

But Clementine has a big heart. I love how she tries to help out her dad and mom. This book is definitely meant for a younger audience. I loved the illustrations! [4 Stars]


Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing // by Judy Blume (1972)

Genre: MG, Contemporaryfourth-grade-nothing

My Thoughts: I can’t believe I haven’t read this book until now. Peter is in fourth grade, and his nemesis is his little brother: Fudge. In some ways, this book reminds me a lot of the characters of Beezus and Ramona (Beverly Cleary). Fudge is definitely a Ramona character, and (from what I can tell) goes on to having his own books.

I loved the story of the turtle and how that plays into the plot. And the visit by the dad’s client and his wife. The birthday story is also pretty funny, especially the kid that doesn’t want to stay, but then doesn’t want to leave. [4 Stars]


Raymie Nightingale // by Kate DiCamillo (2016)

Genre: MG, Historical (1975)

raymie-nightingaleMy Thoughts: This is the story of three girls: Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana. As Louisiana likes to say, they are the Three Rancheros. They are all preparing to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. I love the idea of incorporating Florence Nightingale into the story (I loved Florence Nightingale when I was a kid. In fact, all my dolls were named Florence.) Although, that part of the story didn’t pan out in any way that I felt was very meaningful. It somehow lacked something.

Overall, though, the three girls are delightful. I love their chemistry and antics. And Louisiana’s grandmother is adorable. (Just saying!) [3.5 Stars]


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

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!

What Do You Consider a Historical Novel?

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I love history. I love novels. Put those two together, and you’ve got one of my favourite things: Historical Novels!

But what exactly makes a novel “historical”?

Jane Austen’s books are set in the 1800s, but that doesn’t make them “historical novels”. And yet Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is considered to be a historical novel simply because Dickens was writing about historical events that took place sixty-some years earlier.

But what about more recent history?

Last month, I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. As I was reading, I got the sense that this book wasn’t set in today’s world… a realization that was solidified with the mention that the sitting president was Bill Clinton. Aha, said my brain. It’s the 1990s!

little-fires-everywhere.jpgNow, as it turns out, Clinton’s presidency (or rather the Monica Lewinsky scandal) weaves its way into the book. Not that President Clinton is an actual character in the book—he’s not; nor is Monica—but he’s talked about, primarily by the narrator… for thematic purposes.

Okay, I reasoned… so, this book is a contemporary read. In fact, I’ve noticed that many bloggers categorize it as such. Which means it must have been written in the late 90s or early 2000s, right?

I checked the copyright date.

2017.

Wait a minute. That’s last year! In case, you didn’t already know. 😉

So, is this book considered contemporary fiction? Or is it historical fiction?

Historical fiction is usually defined as a book where the historical setting is important to the plot of the book. It’s easy to categorize a book set in Japan during World War II, or one set in London during the time of Elizabeth I.

I would argue that the historical references of the 1990s in this book are rather important to the plot. (And it isn’t just the stuff about Clinton. It’s also the timing with regards to test-tubes babies and the days when infertility was discussed in hushed whispers; the nature of Mia’s photography and art; the Jerry Springer talk show phenomenon; an era before smart phones existed.)

Your Turn…

My question is this… Does all this make the book historical fiction? The 90s really isn’t that long ago, and I get the sense that many people don’t like to think of the recent past as “historical”.

So, how would you classify it? Do you call it “historical fiction” if it’s history of the recent past? Or do you consider the 1990s (or even the 1980s or 1960s or 70s for that matter) to be too recent to be labelled “historical”? (And if so, where’s the cut off point for you?)

These are genuine questions and I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

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

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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!)