Review / Leaving Lymon

20210814ma_2840Book: Leaving Lymon (2020)
Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome
Genre: MG, Historical [1940s]
Companion to: Finding Langston

Basic plot: Lymon doesn’t have it easy. With his daddy in prison and his momma gone, he’s being raised by his grandparents. But when Grandpops dies, he and Ma are transported to the world of Milwaukee. Ma isn’t well herself, and soon enough, Lymon ends up with his momma and her new family in Chicago. Meanwhile, Daddy keeps promising to be there for Lymon, but he keeps leaving. The only thing that seems constant is Lymon’s love of music, but even that’s in danger of being taken away from him.

Opening lines from the book …
Ma and Grandpops didn’t tell me nothing ‘cept we were going on a train.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I felt for Lymon! It’s been a while since I read Finding Langston, so I didn’t actually remember this character. (Although, it did come back to me once the two stories merge.)

2) Loved Mr. Eugene, the barber! After Lymon leaves Milwaukee, the person I missed the most was Mr. Eugene. I enjoyed being in his barber shop with Lymon. One of my greatest hopes as I was reading the Chicago parts was that somehow Mr. Eugene would come back in the story.

3) The musical elements of this book was nicely done. While Langston was into poetry, Lymon is definitely drawn to music. His grandfather’s guitar plays a nice role in the story. And when something happens to that guitar… I felt for poor Lymon. But I like how he is drawn to all sorts of instruments, from the trumpet to the piano. You just knew that if he could just have half a chance that music would be a great help in his life.

4) I waited a long time for Langston to come into the story. He isn’t in it for very long. I love his introduction as “country boy”. It was a nice bringing of the two books together.

5) I loved the ending with Daddy and Ma. I won’t spoil it here, but I like seeing hope at the end of a book.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) The story is set through the war years (early 1940s) and yet I didn’t have ANY notion that a war was going on. There were no men walking around in khaki. No mention that the war was over in 1945. Lymon does have a radio, so I’m surprised that he seems completely obvious to this. I’m not saying that he needed to be super aware or anything, but a few references might have help ground me in the early 1940s.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I did not love this book as much as I loved Finding Langston. (That book is a gem!) But I did find Lymon to be quite sympathetic, and I really wanted him to be understood and succeed. Would definitely recommend for anybody who did enjoy the first book.


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 / Ways to Grow Love

penderwicksBook: Ways to Grow Love (2021)
Author: Renee Watson
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Sequel to: Ways to Make Sunshine

Basic plot: Ryan Hart is back. This time, her family is preparing for the birth of a baby. And that means eating a lot of pickles, going home early because Mom isn’t feeling well. She can’t wait to get away to attend her first sleep-away camp. But that also means dealing with her arch-enemy, Red.

Opening lines from the book …
Nothing is the same. Now that Mom is pregnant, everything has changed.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I loved coming back to spend time with Ryan and her family. I felt her frustration over the changes in her life because of the baby. But I love how she loves her mom so much, that she’s willing to eat jars and jars of pickles to help her out! (I love pickles, by the way. Not sure I could eat as many as Ryan eats!)

2) One of the first scenes is the trip to the library. Ryan’s mom can’t go, so her grandmother promises to take her. They are in and out of that library so quick! Poor Ryan. I think Grandma could have at least grabbed one more book on your summer reading list! (I loved the summer reading lists as a kid.)

3) I was ready to go to war for Ryan against her brother at the summer camp! This was definitely a highlight of the novel… All the pranks. And of course, Ryan has to deal with her nemesis, Red. I do like that Red is a little more subdued in this one and that they seem to be making progress. But then, Red betrays them. Lots of nice conflict!

4) Deacon Leroy is just awesome. He isn’t in the book much, but his part in the camp fiasco was great.

5)I loved the naming of the baby part of the book. I was all set for the baby to be named “Ruby” (I think that’s a pretty name!) but then Watson gives us a wonderful little twist with this part of the book. (But I won’t spoil it.)

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) Come on, Grandma! I think you could have picked one more book on the list before leaving the library! (I don’t remember if we ever learned if Ryan made her full card book bingo, either.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

So much fun to come back to Ryan and her family! A sequel worthy of the first book.


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 / Vanderbeekers #4

20210627ma_1378Book: The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found (2020)
Author: Karina Yan Glaser
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Sequel to: Vanderbeekers to the Rescue

Basic plot: The Vanderbeekers are out to help their friend, Orlando. His mom has disappeared and they want him to come live permanently with their upstairs neighbour Mr. Jeet and Miss Josie (who happen to be his uncle and aunt). Orlando isn’t sure and thinks maybe he should move back to Georgia but promises to stay at least until the New York City marathon.

Opening lines from the book …
Bright morning sunshine drifted through the windows of the red brownstone on 141st Street, filling the kitchen with a soft glow.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I love this family. I like that it’s a big family and that they treat this like it isn’t all that unusual. But I also like how the whole building (with Mr. B and Mr. Jeet and Miss Josie) are also part of the “family”. 🙂

2) There’s a new character, Jessie’s friend Orlando. He brings in the whole “lost and found” aspect of the story. I like the little mystery involving him and how they figure it out. And while the kids are trying to help him with his situation, I like how he maintains a love for his own mother, even when she can’t look after him. There’s a nice moment when he explains this to the other kids.

3) There are some touching scenes with Lanie and Mr. Jeet. His health is declining, but she faithfully visits him every day, bringing one of the pets to bring him some joy (much to the chagrin of one of the mean nurses on duty).

4) I love the New York City marathon part of the story. Mr. Beiderman (their old nemesis) is training with Orlando for the race. It’s hilarious when one of the kids (I think it’s Lanie?) gives him his sparkly purple shirt with his name on it so people know to cheer him on. If I were Mr. B, I would have refused to wear that in public. But, he’s an old softy!

5) I think Hyacinth is my favourite character. So, I really did sympathize with her over trying to make friends at school. I understood her “solution” to arrive at school just in time for the bell. No sooner. No later. So when she all of a sudden has to go to school well before the bell rings… Yeah, I feel for you, Hyacinth. Her siblings don’t quite get this about her, but they also know that it’s important to push her to reach to make new friends.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) The rooftop is featured on the book cover. I kind of thought it’d play more of an important role in the story. But it didn’t. (Cool cover, though.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed this latest installment of the Vanderbeeker saga. I like the new characters and look forward to the next book. Yes, there’s a new book on the horizon…

 


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 / Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

20210627ma_1388Book: Stand Up, Yumi Chung! (2020)
Author: Jessica Kim
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Yumi Chung’s dream is to be a stand-up comedian, but her parents have other ideas. Plus, she’s kind of shy. When she accidentally gets mistaken for another girl named Kay at a comedy camp, at first she doesn’t know what to do. She ends up becoming Kay and secretly attends the comedy camp! But she can’t tell her parents who are dealing with their own issues as their restaurant might be closed forever…

Opening lines from the book …
I should have known better than to think anyone would listen to me at the Korean beauty salon.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Yumi is such a fun character. I completely understand the shy part of her. So, I know what it’s like when you get caught unaware when somebody calls you the wrong name. (Although, I never pretended to BE somebody else, Yumi!)

2) Loved all the humour in the book. The funny situations are nicely surrounded by Yumi’s efforts to create comedic gold. It was fun to see how she and her friends fail but then go on to create a successful sketch.

3) I loved the relationship between Yumi and her older (very smart) sister Yuri. There’s a little secret involving the sister, and it’s going to affect the family. One of my favourite sister-scene is when Yuri tries to go to bat for Yumi to be allowed to go to the comedy camp and frames it in a way that just might convince their parents (who want Yumi to be a doctor or something like that.)

4) I liked how Yumi interacts with the teacher of her special hagwon classes. Yumi is able to actually raise her GPA and still do the secret comedy camp, but only because she works really hard.

5) The plot and subplots of this book are wonderfully connected. I love how the parents’ restaurant and stand up and karaoke all fit in by the climax of the story.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) Something small, but I felt Yuri and Yumi’s names were are little too close in spelling. I know this happens in real life, but that one letter difference can be hard to spot sometimes!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Books with a comedic theme can be a hard sell for me. But I felt like this one hit all the right beats. I really enjoyed spending time with Yumi and her family and friends!

 


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 / Ways to Make Sunshine

20210620ma_1301Book: Ways to Make Sunshine (2020)
Author: Renee Watson
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Ryan Hart is a girl with a name that means ‘king’. And her family is always telling her to live up to that name. But it’s hard when you have a fear of public speaking. But Ryan’s a plucky kid and she’s going to try. Well, maybe not the public speaking bit, but she’ll make up for that!

Opening lines from the book …
I am a girl with a name that a lot of boys have. So when the substitute teacher takes roll and calls out, “Ryan?” she looks surprised when I answer.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Ryan Hart is such a wonderful, plucky protagonist. She knows what she likes and she’s not some shy violet. I loved that about her. And she really is out to make sunshine…

2) I loved her family. Her brother is a typical, teasing older brother, but they can get along too. Her parents are wonderful. And her grandmother who spends hours straightening Ryan’s hair!

3) The story with regards to Ryan’s hair is hilarious! I love how it starts in the one chapter (before the big Easter service) and then extends to the next story with the sleepover. Poor Ryan! I don’t have the hair issues that Ryan has, but I can understand how hard it is to stand by when that one girl (named Red) keeps provoking and poking.

4) The chapter where Ryan and her friend “make sunshine” is really fun. I love her creativity.

5) I did enjoy the whole public speaking storyline. It starts with the preparation and failure at the Easter service. By the end of the book, you know Ryan is going to have to do something to face that fear, right?

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) It wasn’t until something like the fourth chapter until I realized that Ryan is in fourth grade, something that had me very confused for the first few chapters. From the cover (i.e. from the way Ryan is dressed), I assumed she was in sixth or seventh grade, but in those opening chapters, she definitely acted a younger. Like a fourth grader. Of course, once it’s revealed that she’s nine years old, it made a whole lot more sense.

FINAL THOUGHTS

What a fun story! It’s been compared to Ramona Quimby, which is good. I do love Ryan’s enthusiasm and her loving family…

 


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 / Merci Suarez Can’t Dance

20210604ma_1213Book: Merci Suarez Can’t Dance (2021)
Author: Meg Medina
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Sequel to: Merci Suarez Changes Gear

Basic plot: Merci Suarez and her lovable family are back! This time, Merci’s in seventh grade. And with it being February, get ready for Valentine’s Day… which means dancing. But Merci can’t dance (or doesn’t want to). She also gets stuck with this boy named Wilson. She likes him, but isn’t sure if she likes likes him. Of course, nemesis Edna’s still around making all sorts of trouble for Merci…

Opening lines from the book …
It was Miss McDaniels’s idea for me and Wilson Bellevue to work together in the Ram Depot, a job that nobody wants. For the record, I applied for an anchor spot on the morning announcements with my best friend Lena. But wouldn’t you know it? Darius Ulmer’s parents decided it was time he addressed his “shyness issues,” so he got the job instead.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I love Merci’s big extended family. This book does tend to focus more on Tia Inez and her love of dance. And on the mystery surrounding all her errands with her sweetheart Simon. Hmmm.

2) And how great is it when Merci and Wilson get creative in their advertising ideas for the Valentine’s Day dance. I do have a soft spot for corny jokes and puns, so THAT worked for me! And it also was nice to see them work together so well!

3) I do find Edna to be quite fascinating. In this book, she seems to have lost all her friends. (Which makes sense.) She’s still not a likeable character, but there were times when I did feel sorry for her. I love how Medina keeps bringing her into the story. Not necessarily as the “bully” but as someone who might need Merci’s friendship more than Merci might need hers.

4) The part about (minor spoiler) selling the bike is fun. Especially, how Wilson becomes involved and how he gets his mom to help try to get it back only to find that a young couple came to buy it already! Oh boy!

5) I really like Miss McDaniels, aka Stopwatch. She the secretary in charge of assigning all the different community service projects. And she runs her operation like clockwork. It was nice to see her in action again for this book. 🙂

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) Lolo’s hardly in this book! I missed him.

2) I found it a little unrealistic for the school to (Spoiler!) want Tia Inez’s dance studio to perform when they have just barely been formed as a dance school and don’t really have any students yet! I just felt that part of the plot could have been handled a little differently.

FINAL THOUGHTS

What a good sequel to Meg Medina’s first book. Like I said, it was good to have the Suarez family back in action.

 


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 / Ten Good and Bad Things About my Life

20210516ma_1038Book: Ten Good and Bad Things About my Life (2012)
Author: Ann M. Martin
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Sequel to: Ten Rules for Living with my Sister

Basic plot: Pearl is back! And this time, she’s entering the fifth grade. And on the first day of school, she’s given an assignment about her summer vacation. Except, her family’s summer plans did not go as expected. That’s because Dad loses his job and, suddenly, the family has to find ways to make ends meet. Pearl chronicles it all…

Opening lines from the book …
“Lexie?” I said on the first day of fifth grade. “Are you nervous about school?”

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Pearl has such a spirited and endearing personality. She is just a bundle of energy and it’s great to see her thought process as she says or does the wrong thing and then tries to fix it.

2) JBIII (pronounced JB-three) is back. He’s James Brubaker the Third, but Pearl shortened his name. He’s such a good friend. But their friendship is not without its ups and downs. I enjoyed seeing them weather the tough stuff.

3) I love the relationship between the sisters. Lexie still doesn’t like underwear visits (if you remember that from the first book), yet the relationship has matured. I love how they go about job-seeking together. Or rather Pearl just tags along.

4) The scenes at camp are great! My favourite part is when Pearl is at the sleep-away part of camp and she explains how you have to go out into the dark, dark woods in order to use the bathroom (known as Goose Lodge), something she really does NOT want to do! When she gives an outline of each day of her camp experience, she always makes note of this: Really hope do not have to go to Goose Lodge alone tonight. Or Did not have to go to Goose Lodge in pitch dark last night.

5) This book deals with a dad who loses a job. And no, that’s not really a spoiler since Pearl basically spoils us with this news in the opening lines of the second chapter. I love how the family works together to weather this not-so-good news. And I love how the girls want to help by finding their own jobs! 

6) Which brings me to how Pearl finds a “job”. I won’t spoil it, but it does fit in very well with her personality and her talents and abilities. 🙂

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) We get a glimpse of Pearl’s brand new teacher, Ms. Brody, at the beginning of the novel. I was expecting more about Ms. Brody. Turns out, she’s really just a device. The whole book is basically a flashback for one of those “How I Spent My Summer” assignments. Not sure how I feel about that. The opening chapter made such a big deal about school and starting fifth grade, and we really don’t get anything about fifth grade!

2) While I love the atmosphere of New York City, the staycation fell a little flat for me. They do a lot of touristy things (that most New Yorkers don’t do!), but nothing really of substance happens during these scenes. Really, they could have been taken out and nothing would be amiss.

FINAL THOUGHTS

What a fun sequel to Ann M. Martin’s first book about these same characters. The family has been compared to the Quimby family (i.e. Ramona and Beezus), and I can see their point. Modern-day Quimby family living in NYC!

 


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 / Counting Thyme

counting-thymeBook: Counting Thyme (2016)
Author: Melanie Conklin
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Thyme Owen’s little brother Val has cancer. What that means is that their family leaves their home in California to go to get him a special treatment in New York City. Thyme’s not keen on leaving behind her best friend Shani. So, she plans to save up the slips in her Thyme Jar (a little reward system used by her parents) so she can go home early to spend her birthday with Shani in March… just like they do every year. But things start to get complicated, especially when Thyme starts to make new friends. She even signs up to take part in the Spring Fling musical at school in… uh oh… March. And then there’s Val’s cancer treatments…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I enjoyed the relationship between Thyme and her little brother Val. And also the relationship (at times hard; at other times sisterly) with her sister Cori. And I do like that their names are all garden herbs… thanks Mom (i.e. Rosemary)! Thyme = well, Thyme; Cori = Coriander; and Val = Valerian. Okay, so I’m not super enamored with Val’s name. First, because valerian root is a sleep agent and that seems a little weird to me. Not sure what would have been a better name, though! But I do like the names for Thyme and Coriander.

2) One of the best characters is Mrs. Ravelli, the Italian woman who comes to help the family by cooking, cleaning, and walking Thyme to school. What a wonderful woman she is! I love how Thyme gives her the nickname (in a fond sense) of Ravioli. Because well, her name sounds a lot like it.

3) It’s hard to leave your home and friends behind. I love stories that deal with this. Conklin does a nice job with making this work for the story in just the right balance… the longing vs. the acceptance of a new situation. I like the fact that we get to see how the different family members deal with this.

4) The new friendships that develop in the story were nicely done. They took a few little turns I wasn’t quite expecting, which is good! 🙂

5) I almost wanted more interaction between Thyme and the neighbour-man who lives in the apartment below Thyme’s family. Mr. Lipinsky has a good deal of bite to him, but (of course) he turns out to be a bit of a softy at heart. And then there’s his bird, Sylvie.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I like the cover art, but… there is one thing that bothers me about it. If this is New York City, where are the fire escapes?! (That building is a death trap!)

2) There are a few moments where the conflict resolves a little too easily… just like that! *snap* I’m thinking particularly about a scene between the mom and the sister Cori. I was like… well, that was super easy. (If only life worked like that!)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Love the New York City setting. Thyme is a likeable character. And who wouldn’t want Mrs. Ravioli to cook for them? *Highly recommended.


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

*Note #2: You may notice that I didn’t put a rating for this book. After reading this post by Krysta @ Pages Unbound, I’m rethinking my rating system. Basically, I find I don’t really review books I don’t recommend. And my ratings all tend to be the same anyhow. (Usually, I fluctuate between a 3-4 stars which mean I like the book!) I will probably continue to put ratings on my Goodreads account, because well, that’s how that website works. But for now, I’m planning to give my recommendation in the Final Thoughts.

Re-read / I Am David

i-am-davidI am David // by Anne Holm (1963)

This is the story of a boy who escapes a concentration camp and journeys through Europe in search of his long lost mother. As the book says, David is a strange child. He doesn’t understand the ways of living in freedom. He doesn’t know anything except the life of the concentration camp, and only what his friend and protector told him. But he a quick learner.

My favourite scenes are when he meets the family of Maria. It’s an exciting introduction as it involves a rescue from a burning building! And while I like Maria, the best part of this section, to my mind, involves Carlos. David actually meets up with Carlos earlier in the story, and it’s not a pretty meeting. So much so, David actually hates Carlos and compares him to them (i.e. the Soviet guards). David has such a fear of them (and rightly so!), that he cannot see any hope for Carlos. But this is the storyline where David grows the most.

I read this book for school when I was in the seventh grade. I don’t think I really understood it back then. Re-reading this book gave me a greater appreciation for this classic. One thing to note: Because it was written so many years ago (and also, originally, in Danish), the pace is slower than most modern books. [4.5 stars]


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: The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue

vanderbeekers-rescueBook: The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue (2019)
Author: Karina Yan Glaser
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars

Basic plot: The excitement is great in the Vanderbeeker house. Mama has an interview and photoshoot for her home baking business. But disaster strikes when the inspector arrives at a time when only the kids are home. Needless to say, the inspection doesn’t go well and Mama is now in danger of losing her license. The kids are determined to make things better by scheduling a whole new inspection. Their goal is to pull this off without Mama and Papa ever suspecting a thing. But it isn’t helping that some mysterious person keeps leaving pets on the Vanderbeekers’ doorstep.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I’ll say it again. I love, love, love this big family of five kids. Can I just say that I want a tree house like they build for Oliver? (Although, how they manage to do this in NYC confuses me. I didn’t even know from the previous books that they even had a backyard.)

2) I like how the kids all band together to try to solve this problem. Even when their opinions don’t always mesh, they work through it!

3) I’m glad Herman Huxley is back. At first, I didn’t think he’d make an appearance, but then good ole Herman Huxley pops into the story! I wish Glaser had brought him in a little more.

4) [Minor **Spoiler] The idea of a cat cafe is such fun for kids and animal-lovers. Yes, there really are such places as these. Not sure I’d really want to go, but I know a lot of people who have gone to cafes like this and raved about the experience. (I’m not really a cat person.) [End Spoiler]

5) There’s a nice little mystery involved over WHO is leaving all the animals at the Vanderbeekers’ house. It definitely had me trying to figure it out.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The violin recital. What was the purpose of this? I’m not sure. It didn’t seem to add to the story. (Nor did it take anything away. It just seemed not all that necessary.)

2) The grown-up in me wanted to cringe at times. Especially with the inspector-business! The realism wasn’t quite there, but kids will probably enjoy it.

3) We need MORE Herman Huxley!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – A fun book. Like I mentioned, I wasn’t keen on the fact that I didn’t find the whole premise to be super-realistic. But, kids probably won’t notice and will enjoy the freedom these children have as they run all over New York City!


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