MG Mini-Reviews / April

bookshopBook: The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams (2021)
Author: Mindy Thompson
Genre: MG, Historical Fantasy

Opening lines from the book …
The bookshop is feeling blue today. I sense it the moment my brother James and I arrive home from school. The lights are low, the ever-shifting wallpaper is a cheerless dark gray, with somber books on display—Wuthering Heights, Old Yeller, A Little Princess. The gloom sinks into my bones.

MY THOUGHTS…

Love the magical bookshop! In many ways, this bookshop, called Rhyme and Reason, is its own character. It somehow senses different things and morphs accordingly. And it has a special connection to Poppy, the bookstore owners’ daughter. The bookstore is a haven for time-travelers. (It’s kind of neat that Poppy is really wanting to read books like the Chronicles of Narnia, which haven’t been written yet!)

The story takes place during World War II. Poppy’s father gets very sick and it seems like it might have something to do with the weird things that are happening with the bookstore. On top of that, news comes that a close family friend has died in the war. Poppy’s older brother wants to use the magic of the bookstore to change things. But, of course, that’s forbidden.

In some ways, this book is a little dark, which surprised me a bit. But then again, it does make sense. It’s really about choices we make.


capt-daughtersBook: The Captain’s Daughters (2021)
Author: Doreen D. Berger
Genre: MG, Sci-fi

Opening lines from the book …
“Dad, we know what to do!” Diane assured him again, totally exasperated, as he gave her and Robin last-minute instructions. “We’re twelve!” she reminded him. “We don’t need your help! Honestly, we don’t.”

MY THOUGHTS…

I find I don’t read a lot of science fiction. This book turned out to have a big Star Trek vibe to it! While I enjoyed that, I also found it sometimes a little too distracting because I’d be comparing it to the Star Trek universe!

Let’s get to the two main characters! Diane and Robin are two girls set out for adventure. The story begins when they are kidnapped and their attempts to get home again. Just at the time when you think they’re about to succeed, there’s a nice little twist that throws them even further way from their goal. I found it interesting to see the juxtaposition of the shiny world of space travel against the dirt and sweat of the horseback riding scenes. There’s even the grandma’s homecooked meals being compared with the sterile futuristic cooking aboard the starship Polaris.

My head also began to spin a bit with different universes and counterparts and trying to figure out who is where and when! But that’s what happens when you deal with multiple universes! And there were a lot of flashbacks which also got to be a little confusing at times. I’d get caught up in a fun story where the girls get into some scrape, but then I’d forget that I was in the past. There are some really fun scenes, though. The scene at the end  (*SPOILER! where the two Captain Marshes—Dad and Uncle Bill—are together and the girls aren’t sure which one is their dad… End Spoiler) is priceless!

PB Review / Hair Love

20220108ma_0067Book: Hair Love (2019)
Author: Matthew A. Cherry
Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
Genre: Picture Book

Opening Lines of the Book…
My name is Zuri, and I have hair that has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils and curls every which way.

MY THOUGHTS…

This is such a lovely book about about a daddy and his daughter. Zuri loves her hair, and when the “big day” arrives, she knows it’s time for a special hairdo. I especially loved all of Daddy’s failures as he doesn’t quite get her hair right. The rubber band one had me smiling. (Poor Dad.)

The cat that hangs around is also a nice little touch. Like at the tea party? Oh, yeah. I like how the cat’s reactions mirror young Zuri!

The book doesn’t reveal what the “big day” is until the moment it happens. So, that kept me guessing about why Zuri was so intent on getting her hair just right. The reveal at the end was perfect!

Thank you to Judy Campbell-Smith @J_CampbellSmith for recommending this book to me!


12-PBs

12 CHALLENGE

12 months to read 12 books recommended by 12 friends…

This picture book review is part of a monthly challenge I’ve set for myself. I’ve asked my friends on Twitter to recommend picture books they’ve enjoyed reading (published within the past 3 years). I will choose to feature one each month.

Note: The original 12 Challenge isn’t necessarily just for picture books. But I’ve set it up this way for my own challenge.

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 / From the Desk of Zoe Washington

20210604ma_1210Book: From the Desk of Zoe Washington (2020)
Author: Janae Marks
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Zoe looks baking, especially sweet stuff. And her big dream is to be a contestant in a bake-off competition. But Mom and Dad want her to intern at a bakery first. Problem is, she never gets to do any baking there. Meanwhile, she comes across a letter addressed to her from her biological dad, the guy she’s never met because he’s in prison. Now she’s curious about why he’s been locked up, curious enough to start a clandestine correspondence with him. It’s a secret until her grandmother finds out and becomes Zoe’s accomplice …

Opening lines from the book …
The day I turned twelve, I was certain it’d be my favorite birthday yet, but then I got the letter.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I loved the creativity Zoe exhibits when she decides to impress the owner of the bakery with her own cupcake recipe. It’s great how it’s partly inspired by the letters from her dad. It was fun to watch the process as Zoe figures it all out. (It kind of made me want to try baking it myself!)

2) The Little Tomato nickname is really cute. And I love how it works into the plot! I mean, it actually becomes very important to the story. It’s neat how father and daughter connect over the songs.

3) Man, that grandma! She and Zoe go behind Mom’s back. I think it’s great how she wants to keep Zoe safe (and makes sure she keeps an eye on the correspondence). Of course, you know it’s all going to blow up in their faces when Mom finds out.

4) Zoe really is a go-getter, isn’t she? She goes out of her way to find out about her dad’s alleged crime and about his supposed alibi. Then she and her next-door neighbour figure out a way to find the alibi. Not sure I’d want kids to be doing this in real life, but putting myself in the shoes of a kid-reader, I’d be all for it!

5) I do love the relationship Zoe has with her stepdad and her mom. It’s nice to read about a happy family not on the brink of divorce.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) And while I really like the stepdad’s reaction in the story, I also did find it a tad unrealistic. Like does he not feel any sort of jealously toward this other man who was once the love of his now-wife? Not a big deal, but I think relationships are a little more complicated. But maybe Dad is just covering it up really well!

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve been meaning to get my hands on this book for some time. I really did enjoy it, and I was rooting for Zoe all the way! I wish I could hire her to bake some delicious treats for my next birthday! 🙂

 


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 / Summerlost

summerlostBook: Summerlost (2016)
Author: Ally Condie
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Cedar Lee joins the crew at the town’s summer Shakespeare Festival where she meets Leo. It’s not long before they’re running an under-the-table tour of the festival’s most famous actress. There’s a little mystery surrounding her death twenty years prior and Cedar and Leo are determined to figure it out…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The Shakespeare festival is such a fun setting for this book. I love books about the theatre. Where I live, we have two big summer theatre festivals (within a 2-hour driving radius), so this is familiar ground to me. I also have done work in theatre myself (all behind the scenes).

2) There are tunnels that run under the theatre for the actors to get backstage. How fun is that? (And yes, this is a huge attraction to the kids in the story.)

3) I love how the kids are hired to sell the programs and concessions at the festival. And that their boss, Gary, is so into it. “Remember, you are in England!” Of course, they’re not actually allowed to speak with a British accent… except Leo.

4) The backstory of the death of Cedar’s dad and brother in a car crash is nicely woven into the plot. I also love Cedar’s relationship with her younger brother Miles. (Although, I don’t understand their fascination with watching the soap opera; I’m with the mom on that one!)

5) Leo is awesome. I love his enthusiasm for Lisette Chamberlain and how he knows everything there is to know about her. And how the kids set up a little tour-guide business!

6) I loved that the book was divided up into “Acts.” Although, since this was a Shakespearean festival, in my opinion, it should have been divided up into five acts, instead of three. And the epilogue… They totally missed the opportunity to call it: Curtain Call!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Another name that didn’t feel like it needed to be sooooo unique. And I kept forgetting her name (the story is told in first person). And with her brothers named Ben and Miles, Cedar seems like she doesn’t belong to the same family.

2) The ending was a little bit meh for me. (*SPOILERS) There’s this big build-up to the tunnels that run under the theatre. And while the kids do get to explore them, it’s probably the least interesting part of the book. Nothing happens there. We already know about the ring. Basically, it felt anti-climatic. (End Spoiler)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I would recommend to theatre-lovers. Double points for anybody who loves Shakespeare. I wish the hint at mystery worked better than it does, but overall it’s not a bad read. I enjoyed it.


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: Checked

checkedBook: Checked (2018)
Author: Cynthia Kadohata
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Conor MacRae is really into hockey. Just like his dad. But then Conor’s dog Sinbad gets sick. So sick that he’s going to need chemotherapy, which will cost $7000. It will mean sacrificing some of his training, but Conor is determined to do whatever it takes to save his dog. But then there’s his dad…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I’m not really a hockey person, but I did enjoy that aspect of the story. I felt Kadohata dealt with all the hockey details in such a way that you don’t necessarily have to know the game.

2) I liked the bond between Conor and his dog Sinbad. I thought that was developed quite nicely. I really liked how responsible Conor was with regards to his dog.

3) Mr. Reynolds, the neighbour, was one of my favourite character. I almost felt he was under-utilized in the story. I loved all the interactions with Conor.

4) And then there are Conor’s friends: Jae-Won and Lucas especially. His hockey buddies.

5) And finally… Conor and his dad. What a great relationship! Conor’s dad is police officer, and I liked how that impacted the story.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) At times, I felt I was swimming in alphabet soup! Sometimes, Conor would bring up people that didn’t seem to really matter to the story. It was really hard to keep track of all the hockey kids and their parents. And the coaches. I wish she had combined some of these characters. Yes, I know that it’s probably more authentic to have all these people… but in a book? We need to be able to know who’s who.

2) I felt the plot slow at times. There is actually very little conflict in the story. Conor mentions his “frenemy” Ethan, but nothing ever really happens between the two. Actually, come to think of it, there’s a lot of telling (vs. showing) in this book!

3)At the beginning of the story, there’s this great fire evacuation scene. I somehow expected [SPOILER] that this story line would carry through the book. And especially affect the climax. It did not. Which made the beginning seem like it was… unnecessary.[END SPOILER]

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – Conor’s voice made this book. And, overall, I did enjoy it. Probably will never be my favourite story. I would definitely recommend it to readers who enjoy reading about sports.


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 Benefits of Being an Octopus

benefits-of-being-octopusBook: The Benefits of Being an Octopus (2018)
Author: Ann Braden
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Zoey has a lot of responsibility. She has to take care of her younger siblings while her mom’s at work. They are living with her mom’s boyfriend who’s so neat and tidy, and it’s up to Zoey to keep the little kids out of his hair. Zoey’s goal in life is to be invisible. But Zoey begins to see things that might just force her to speak up. Not just for herself, but for those she deeply cares about.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I liked that Zoey was so responsible for her younger siblings. And they had such a nice relationship!

2) I enjoyed all the little details about octopuses. (Although, it doesn’t really figure into the resolution of the story. Wish it did.)

3) Matt and Silas were some of my favourite minor characters. Matt actually has a bit of an arc, and I wish we could have seen a tiny bit more of that. The silence of Silas intrigued me, but as a minor character, it wasn’t fully examined.

4) Fuchsia was a complex character. A little over-dramatic for me, but she played nicely into the story. I liked how her story and Zoey’s story are on parallel lines that then converge near the end. Nicely done!

5) Debates are NOT my favourite topic… I did not like them when I was a kid and I don’t really care for them now. That said, I did think this part of the book was fairly well done. When it came to the gun debate, I appreciated that both sides of the issue were shown.

6) I liked the teacher. But I like books that have teachers like her in them. 🙂

7) I love the cover of this book. I think I could look at it all day!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I didn’t like the fact that there were no good fathers in this story. At all. Zoey’s family has three fathers (hers, the middle kids’ father, and the baby’s father). And they’re all such jerks. I guess Silas’s father is okay, but he’s such a peripheral father (we never meet him). I wish Frank (Lenny’s father) could have been the one to stand up and give his son a talking to. (*SPOILER) Or at least help Zoey and her family with the get-away. (End Spoiler) Oh, and the solution at the end of the story? Truthfully, I don’t see that working for very long.

2) I’m not sure I really connected with Zoey. I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t really love her either.

3) (*SPOILER) One thing I don’t get about the bullets that were fired at the school. If they were fired from a truck in the parking lot, wouldn’t somebody have noticed the breaking of the glass and the truck eventually speeding away? Something like, we’re looking for a white pickup?? (End Spoiler)

4) Zoey keeps mentioning in the book about how strong her mom is (until Lenny starts putting her down). And yet, I didn’t really see that in the back story. All I know is that the mom has a lousy taste in boyfriends. And that she can’t seem to be the adult in her own life.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, I really liked that this book dealt with some hard topics. I didn’t quite love it as much as I’d hoped, but I’d still recommend it.


YOUR TURN…

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

Newbery Verdict: Ramona and her Father

Ramona and her Father // by Beverly Cleary (1977)

ramona-and-her-fatherNewbery Honor Book (1978)
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic Plot: Ramona’s in second grade when her father suddenly loses his job. When she finds out they have to scrimp and save, Ramona starts coming up with her own ideas to help her family make some money. One of her ideas ends with her hair in snarls. Another of her ideas is aimed at getting her father to quit smoking.

MY THOUGHTS…

I love, love, love this book. I love the relationship that is shown between Ramona and her dad. This book deals with some tough issues like having a father who is out of work. And the depression he goes through. And then there’s the “no smoking” campaign headed up by Ramona and her sister Beezus. One of my favourite scenes is when Ramona comes home to a house to find that her dad has broken his promise. The moment where Mr. Quimby talks to Ramona about what happened is heart-breakingly precious.

As with most middle-grade books, this one has a happy ending. And I’m glad it does. I adore the Christmas scene at the end.

NEWBERY VERDICT…

One of the best of the best Ramona Quimby books there is. It’s easy to see why it was nominated for a Newbery. It didn’t win, but there was tough competition that year. (The winner was Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.) Still, this is a 5-star book for me!

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal, or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday