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

Quick Pick Reviews #13

Clementine’s Letter // by Sara Pennypacker

clementines-letterGenre: Lower MG, Contemporary (2008)

My Thoughts: This is another super cute story about Clementine. And she’s ready to conquer the third grade! Especially with her Teacher at the helm of their class. But then comes the news that he’s a finalist in a contest where he might get to go on an archaeological dig in Egypt. But Clementine doesn’t want her Teacher to leave them!

This is where Clementine’s letter comes into the story. I really enjoyed Clementine’s journey in this book. And I liked how the letter is used at the end of the story. She reminds me so much of Ramona Quimby, although I do think I like Ramona just a tiny bit better. Not exactly sure why. [3.5 Stars]


The Moffats // by Eleanor Estes

moffatsGenre: MG, Historical Fiction (1941)

My Thoughts: Definitely is a little old-fashioned… but this book about the Moffat family is a fun read. Mrs. Moffat lives with her four children—Sylvie, Joe, Jane, and Rufus—in a yellow house. Their landlord is trying to sell it… to the great dismay of the Moffats.

My favourite episodes were: 1) about Joe at the dance recital; and 2) how the children end up losing the Salvation Army man out of the back of his own horse and wagon. I also liked how the story does come full-circle at the end with what happens to the yellow house. (I can’t stand those Murdocks… trying to buy the house from underneath the Moffats’ feet!) [3 Stars]


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

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: 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!

Quick Pick Reviews #12

The Christmas Doll // by Elvira Woodruff

Genre: Lower MG, Historical (2000)

christmas-dollMy Thoughts: This story seems to me to be a hybrid of a Charles Dickens/George MacDonald tale… It’s about two little orphans who run away from the workhouse and end up on the streets of London. I did like the relationship the two sisters had, and the boy they meet is a fun addition. I love the element of the doll-maker, so that was definitely a bonus for me.

In many ways, the story isn’t terribly realistic. It almost has a fairy tale quality to it. However, if you know that going in, you can enjoy it for what it is. A very nice Christmas story with a sweet and happy ending. [3 Stars]


The True Gift // by Patricia MacLachlan

Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary (2009)

true-giftMy Thoughts: A sweet story about a brother and sister who are staying with their grandparents over Christmas. Liam feels like White Cow could use a friend, and so he goes out to find her one.

I really liked how the siblings worked together on Liam’s project. While I don’t think this book quite match the magic of MacLauchlan’s Sarah Plain and Tall books, it does stand as a nice and enjoyable Christmas story.  [3 Stars]


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

Quick Pick Reviews #11

Eighth Grade is Making Me Sick // by Jennifer L. Holm

eighth-grade-making-me-sickGenre: MG, Contemporary (2012)

My Thoughts: This is the sequel to Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf. The subtitle pretty much sums up the style of this book: Ginny Davis’s Year in Stuff. And it’s surprising how much plot we get from just reading report cards, notes from mom, bank statements, etc. This book picks up where the last one left off and Ginny’s life proves to be as interesting as ever.

I will say that the title of this book is actually quite plot relevant (as opposed to the Meatloaf title; I don’t remember meatloaf factoring into the plot of the first book.) [4 Stars]


Baby-Sitting is a Dangerous Job // by Willo Davis Roberts

baby-sitting-dangerous-jobGenre: MG, Contemporary (1985)

My Thoughts: A cute book about a teen named Darcy who gets a baby-sitting job for a family known to have three, rambunctious kids. That’s how she ends up being kidnapped along with the children. I like how she and the children bond and work together.

Is the book realistic? Not really, but it’s fairly entertaining. I do love the cover on this re-release. (I’ve seen the original 1980’s cover and, well, this one is so much better. Although I’m not exactly sure what the tree house has to do with the plot!) [3 Stars]


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

Review: 12 Before 13

12-before-13Book: 12 Before 13 (2018)
Author: Lisa Greenwald
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Arianna and Kaylan are best friends. They have a list of 12 items they want to tick off before Arianna’s bat mitzvah in November. However, the first item on the listKeep our friendship strongis proving to be one of the tougher challenges. Ari’s always texting her new friends from summer camp, and Kaylan’s drawn to other friends from school. Turning thirteen is not for the weary…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The list is a fun way to track the plot of this story about two friends who have their ups and downs. It’s nice to see them work things through. I also love how items on the list are trivial (like #5 Perfect our handstand) and some go much deeper (like #6 Help someone else shine).

2) I really enjoyed seeing Arianna’s journey as she starts to take a serious interest in her Jewish heritage as she preps for her bat mitzvah.

3) I like the subplot involving Ari’s dad. It’s nice (well, not really) how it affects the bat mitzvah plans. And how it corresponds to list item #10 Tell a boy how we really feel.

4) It’s nice how it all comes together at the end. Not super-surprising, but it all led to a satisfactory ending.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) One thing I don’t like in these types of books is when they spend too much time on what they call “the big P”. What interesting, though, is that Arianna seems to share my aversion! Kaylan and the lunch table can’t stop talking about it. (I can understand a book where this is plot-important. In this book, it really isn’t.)

2) I felt some of the dialogue and slang was a little too much. There was a lot of slang. And I do know some current 12 to 13-year-olds. They don’t really talk like this. (Are there kids who do?) Anyhow, I found it a little off-putting. But maybe that’s just me.

3) The models on the cover look older than 12 going on 13. Maybe it’s the lipstick?

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, this was a cute story about these two friends. Apparently this is a sequel to another book, which I haven’t read, but I didn’t seem to be missing too much. This one definitely works as a stand-alone.


YOUR TURN…

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

Review: Granted

GrantedBook: Granted (2018)
Author: John David Anderson
Genre: MG, Magical Realism (Fairies)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the story of how wishes are granted. Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a fairy who’s on a mission. It’s her job to grant the wish of a girl, but she needs the coin that the girl wished upon. The problem is that the coin keeps getting out of her reach. With the help of a new-found friend, a dog named Sam, Ophelia’s determined to make sure the coin’s wish comes true.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love how the fairies are named in this story world! They get their middle name first (from the flower from which they are born); their last name next (based on one of their characteristics/quirks); and their first name last (luck of the draw)!

2) Ophelia is a fun, feisty fairy. Even when she loses the power to fly, she doesn’t give up. I love that kind of gumption. 🙂

3) Sam is adorable. He’s the kind of sidekick who is so enthusiastic, but also kind of clueless. I like how he teams up with Ophelia.

4) The elusive coin is like another character in the book. There are a lot of great scenes involving the coin and Ophelia’s efforts to retrieve it. Love what happens near the end… An event that gives Ophelia a real wish-granting dilemma.

5) It’s interesting how the same family (a brother and sister) keeps popping up in the story. At first I thought this was a little too coincidental, but once I understood where it was going, I really liked this continuity. It was a storyline that added a nice, poignant touch to the book.

6) The cover of this book is what drew me to this story. I love it!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) This book took a long time to start! The plot really doesn’t start until after Chapter 10… And even then, it meanders all over the place.

2) This book has a little more bathroom humour than I like. I can handle about one such joke. More than that and I start rolling my eyes.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this book about how fairy wishes are granted! Even though it had a slow start, it was fun to follow Ophelia and Sam on their adventure with that elusive coin! 🙂


YOUR TURN…

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

Review: Nerd Camp

camp-nerd.jpgBook: Nerd Camp (2011)
Author: Elissa Brent Weissman
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Gabe is a nerd and proud of it… that is, until he meets his new stepbrother, Zack. Now, in order to seem cool, he has to hide that part of him, including the fact that his sleepaway camp is really a nerd camp! So when he writes home, Gabe only highlights the things that don’t make him sound quite so nerdy. How’s Zack to know, right?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love how each chapter ends with Gabe’s list of “Things I Can Tell Zack” and “Things I Can’t Tell Zack”. These lists are all prefaced showing how Gabe is using the scientific method… “Problem: Am I a nerd who only has nerdy adventures? Hypothesis: No. Proof: (See list.)”

2) I like the friendship Gabe develops with the two boys at camp: Nikhil and Wesley. It was cute how the boys figure out an algorithm to predict when Color War will break (based on when it broke in past years). Yes, despite Gabe’s efforts not to be nerdy, he is indeed very nerdy!

3) Which brings me to Color War itself. This was a fun addition to the story. It brings in some activities that don’t involve a classroom full of nerds learning about rocket science. Like the Scavenger Hunt.

4) There’s a nice little celebrity cameo (from one of the nerdiest shows on the planet) that happens near the end. I won’t spoil it. It’s kind of fun, even if it’s unlikely.

5) The letters are a nice way to show how Gabe interacts differently with the different people back home… with his friends from school, his mom and dad, and of course with Zack.

6) The ending wraps things up quite nicely. I wasn’t really surprised as I figured the story would eventually lead to what does happen. (I won’t spoil it.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The scenes with the lice! My head was itching the entire time!! Yuck.

2) The midnight canoe trip was a little disconcerting to my adult soul. It’s crazy how Gabe talks about Swallows and Amazons (one of my favourite books that contains a similar event!), but then, unlike how the Walkers and Blacketts get into big trouble with the grownups, Gabe doesn’t seem to learn any lesson from this dangerous activity. I didn’t really like that.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A fun look into the struggles of being nerdy; worrying what others will think about it. As a nerd myself (I’m more of a history nerd), I definitely empathized with Gabe!


YOUR TURN…

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