Review: All of Me

all-of-meBook: All of Me (2019)
Author: Chris Baron
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Ari has to deal with bullies who make fun of his weight. He can’t help being hungry all the time, can he? But, when he reaches a point of self-harm, his mother finally steps in. He’s going on a diet! It’s hard, but Ari perseveres. But he still has struggles with his dad leaving, his friend Lisa not answering his calls, and his mother not really understanding him. On top of it all, he’s working toward his bar mitzvah. Little by little, Ari grows to accept who he is, while at the same time accepting that he can’t change everything.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I was really rooting for Ari in this book. I thought his struggles with his weight were realistic. I like that we get to see the process of a transformation. Not that he becomes the skinny kid, but he becomes the person he wants to be.

2) I’m so glad Ari has friends in the story. He still has to deal with the teasing and such, but it’s not like he’s completely alone. But, I’m also glad that those friendships aren’t depicted as perfect. Like the friendship with Lisa. And even the part where Pick abandons him on the bike path to hide.

3) The calls with Gretchen were cute! I was expecting a little surprise there that didn’t quite happen, but I still enjoyed this part of the story.

4) One of my favourite parts is when the diet book “drowns”. Very clever way to deal with that part of the story.

5) I loved the Rabbi! Yes, he was a great addition to the cast of adults. I loved how he just talked to Ari, encouraged and helped him.

6) The book was written in blank verse. I thought it worked pretty well in this book.

7) Loved the ending when Ari goes back to school and sees his old bullies for the first time since school got out for the summer.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) While I liked the camping part, I had a hard time believing the parents would let their kids go on that trip alone. Overnight. By themselves.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I would highly recommend this book. Not all people share Ari’s problem, but everybody has something about them that they don’t like. In this book, Ari does some serious soul-searching. And I really like that it ends on a very positive note!


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: Roll

rollBook: Roll (2017)
Author: Darcy Miller
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars

Basic plot: Ren and his family have moved out of town to his grandma’s old farmhouse in the country. Under his dad’s guidance, he’s in training to run cross-country. During one early morning run, he meets Sutton, the (new) girl next door, and discovers that she’s training Birmingham Roller Pigeons. As Ren tries to find his footing (how to relate to the best friend he left behind, how to improve his run times, etc), he also finds himself drawn to Sutton and her pigeons. Now, if only he can get the courage to tell his dad that he doesn’t want to be a great athlete.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The Birmingham Roller Pigeons were pretty cool. Had to look them up on youtube because I have never heard of this before.

2) I like the friendship that develops between Sutton and Ren, especially how they bond over the pigeons. And with the pigeons!

3) I enjoyed Ren’s voice in this book. I liked his nerdiness and how his narration showed that part of him.

4) The comic book thread was a fun aspect of the book. Ren is obsessed with old British comics, ones I’m not familiar with. But sure enough, when I looked them up online, I find that they do indeed exist. (I like how Ren and Sutton watch the old Adam West Batman show!)

5) I also liked how the whole cross-country running thing turned out. Ren’s dad is a runner and Ren expects that he needs to be a runner as well. And even though he tries, Sutton sees the truth. Ren just doesn’t quite LOVE running the way his dad does.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I had a hard time envisioning how Sutton was “training” her pigeons. I got how they flew, but what was she doing to actually “train” them?

2) Ren’s real name is Lauren, which he tells us (right away) that he hates. (I don’t blame him.) Then why does he introduce himself to several people as Lauren? Why not just say that his name is Ren. This did not make sense to me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked the book. The bit about the roller pigeons was pretty fascinating. Who knew that actually existed!


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: Mo Wren, Lost and Found

mo-wren-2Book: Mo Wren, Lost and Found (2011)
Author: Tricia Springstubb
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars

Basic plot: Mo Wren and her family are moving away from Fox Street. Her dad wants to start his own restaurant. Mo feels more lost than found in this whole new neighbourhood, while Dottie seems to have no trouble at all in fitting in. But when their dad has difficulty securing a loan, Mo’s new “friends” at the laundromat step in and get things rolling.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really enjoyed the sisterly bond between Mo and Dottie. I like the one scene where Dottie just takes off and Mo’s like: “Fine! Go. I don’t care.” But then she goes off to find her because she is her sister after all. I really loved how that fits in later on in the book with Carmella.

2) Da! Man, I love this old lady. (I’m a sucker for books about kids making friends with old people!) I was really scared that the author was going to kill her off, especially when Mo’s dad gets a “certain phone call”. But, fortunately, that didn’t happen. (Not sure why this old lady is called “Da”, but she is.)

3) At the beginning, there’s a nice little bit about how Mo’s dad chooses a poorer family to buy their old house instead of selling it to the rich people. I loved how that comes back into the story in a way that helps Mr. Wren out.

4) The theme of moving and moving on was knit into the fabric of this story. I loved how the different threads all came together. I’ve had to move from homes and neighbourhoods I’ve loved dearly, so I really did identify well with this part of the story. I think Tricia Springstubb was able to capture the bittersweetness of this topic very well.

5) The part featuring Handsome (the lizard) was quite cute. I like how Dottie chooses a lizard for a pet!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) This did have a slow start for me. I wasn’t really invested in the story until later in the book.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – This is actually the second book about Mo Wren. I have never read the first, but that didn’t seem to matter too much. Although, perhaps that accounts for the slow start for me. Hmmm. This book would be good for fans of the Penderwicks!


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: Sunny Rolls the Dice

sunny-rolls-diceBook: Sunny Rolls the Dice (2019)
Author: Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Genre: MG, Near Historical/Graphic Novel [1970s]
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the third book in the Sunny series! Sunny is a middle-schooler in the late 1970s and she’s all about checking her Groovy-meter. How groovy is Sunny? Well… not very. She and her friend join the neighbourhood boys in learning to play D&D. But when her friend loses interest in the game, now Sunny isn’t sure if she should continue either.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I was glad to return to the world of Sunny with this book.

2) I like Sunny’s friendship with Deb and how things start to change between them. It’s good to talk about peer pressure; and I like how Sunny learns that friends don’t have to do everything together.

3) I’ve never really played D&D before (Dungeons and Dragons), so I did find that interesting. Although, it doesn’t seem like a game I would obsess about. I will say that the cover did confuse me, but once you understand the D&D connection, it makes more sense.

4) The nostalgia of the 1970s is definitely one of the best parts of this book.

5) I love it when Gramps shows up! I just wish he was in it more. (Him and Dale!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Sunny’s older brother Dale is missing from the plot of this story. (Note: He does make an appearance in this book, but it’s very peripheral.) While I’m glad for his sake, I think the conflict he brings to the other stories is what makes them a tiny bit better than this one.

FINAL THOUGHTS…

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked this book almost as much as I’ve liked the other books in the series. It’s lacking something. Maybe it’s the struggle and conflict that was always there in the form of the Dale plot line. Still a good read, even if just for the “groovy meter”.


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: Nothing Up My Sleeve

nothing-up-sleeveBook: Nothing Up My Sleeve (2016)
Author: Diana Lopez
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Three boysZ, Dominic, and Loop—enter the world of competitive magicians when they happen upon a Magic Shop.  Naturally competitive, the three friends start to turn on each other when their various magic props get sabotaged. On top of everything, each boy has to deal with some sort of trouble at home, whether it’s dealing with divorce or the fact that their parents don’t have the money to pay the entry fee to the competition to a perceived betrayal by a parent. It’s only when they realize that they need to band together and help each other out to succeed.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The magic tricks were pretty cool in this book. Lopez gives us enough of a taste of the tricks each boy learns without revealing too much of how it’s done. (A magician never reveals his/her secrets!)

2) I liked the arc for Ariel… How she gets the boys to compete against each other. Her part got even better once we met Stewart as the guy to beat! I’m not sure how she would have done it, but I felt Lopez almost needed to introduce that kid sooner.

3) Mr. Garza (aka Senor Surprise) hands out a lot of wisdom, but not in a way that’s intrusive. I like how he uses tricks to help the boys with their problems at home. And even though he gives advice, each boy comes up with his own solution to fix the problem.

4) This book made me go google some of the magic tricks it talked about! The French Drop, among others! Fun to see the tricks in action. 🙂

5) I enjoyed reading the little definitions of “magic” terms that precede each chapter. Most terms I already knew, but some were new to me.

6) I’m glad that the boys [*SPOILER] did not win the big competition, considering that they were still pretty green. I’m also glad that Stewart did not win either! [End Spoiler]

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I kept getting confused with which boy was which! We were following three of them, and even by the end of the book, I was getting confused with Loop vs. Dominic vs. Z.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – Definitely would recommend this book to any kids who want to learn magic tricks. I do have an interest in it, but I am pretty hopeless when it comes to performing these sorts of trick. But maybe that’s because I don’t practice enough! 🙂


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: Birdie

BirdieBook: Birdie (2019)
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic plot: Birdie and her mom are living with Birdie’s grandmother Maymee after the death of Birdie’s dad. But suddenly, love birds are everywhere: Maymee, her mom, and even her best friends. Birdie is having all sorts of trouble, yet when she embraces some of this change, she finds that maybe it’s not as bad as she feared.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved Birdie! I loved her voice, her character arc, everything about this book.

2) Birdie’s Maymee is adorable. At first, she’s obsessed with dying (picking out her coffin and all that). But then, that all turns around when a certain somebody shows up in town. I love how this whole Romeo and Juliet scene happens in church as the pastor is reading from the Bible. Everything halts and the “chapter” ends with: “Pastor Carey smiles. ‘May I resume the reading now?'”

3) I like the themes of this book… of loss and death and even the changing relationships of friends. We have the love stories of the grown-ups mirroring those of the young middle-schoolers. Spinelli weaves all this together.

4) The resolution with the relationship between Birdie and Officer Downey was particularly poignant. I love how she goes from completely rejecting him to the scene at the cemetery.

5) The cover is adorable.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Nada.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 Stars (out of 5) – I absolutely loved this book. I’m not always a fan of books written in poetry, but Eileen Spinelli (in addition to Sharon Creech) is one author where this works for me.


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!

Review: Front Desk

front-deskBook: Front Desk (2018)
Author: Kelly Yank
Genre: MG, Near-Historical (1990s)
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Mia is determined to help her parents, recent immigrants from China, and they run the Calivista Motel in California. But with a boss like Mr. Yao, it’s not easy. Especially when he cheats them. And comes an opportunity of a lifetime… to own the motel in their own right. But it’s not going to be easy to come up the money.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Mia. What a go-getter! I loved the letter-writing aspect of the story, complete with mistakes crossed out. That was a nice touch. I thought it was good how it’s all inspired by a poor grade. Does the poor grade get her down? Not Mia!

2) I loved all the friends that Mia makes… with the weeklies (especially Hank) and her friend at school: Lupe. (I love how both she and Lupe have “golden retrievers”.)

3) This book does a good job showing the real struggle immigrants have. My grandparents were immigrants and struggled to make ends meet. Reading this book brought back a lot of my grandmother’s stories–and even my dad’s stories–of being in a country where you don’t know the language… yet.

4) I loved the complications surrounding Jason, the son of Mr. Yao. Jason is your classic bully, but I’m glad there was a twist there. (I love redemption arcs for characters. I don’t think all characters need a redemption arc, but I love it when there is one.)

5) I liked the arc of her relationship with her mom. Mia wants to write. Mom wants her to study math. Friction ensues.

6) Finally, I thought Kelly Yang did a nice job with the themes of racism in the book. I like that it wasn’t just confined to one race, and that it showed how complicated this topic can be. I love how Mia stands up for Hank, and how Hank tries to help and protect Mia’s mother. There was some good imagery… of rollercoasters and bicycles. And I like how Mia wasn’t going to take those metaphors as the only way things have to be.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) At times, I had a hard time suspending disbelief. While I like the letters she wrote, there were a few that had me scratching my head. How did this letter even work?? And (**SPOILER: The fact that they are able to raise so much money to buy the motel seemed unrealistic. I know this is based on the author’s experience. So, perhaps that really is part of her story. I don’t know, but somehow it feels a little too Disney of an ending to be true.**)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – Reading about Mia and her motel was certainly fun. But it’s more than that. There are some great themes written into this book. I highly recommend it. 🙂


YOUR TURN…

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

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

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