Review / Ambassador of Nowhere Texas

20210815ma_2847Book: Ambassador of Nowhere Texas (2021)
Author: Kimberly Willis Holt
Genre: MG, Near Historical (2001)
Companion Book to: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Opening lines from the book …
My grandmother told me she once watched an abandoned house fold inside itself. The roof had caved in, leaving a hollow shell. “A house needs people, Rylee,” she claimed, “or it will die.”

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I like how this book is connected to another book by the same author. While, I have never read When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. (That book seems to be about Rylee’s dad, Toby.)

2) I really enjoyed Rylee’s enthusiasm. I love that they had a snow cone stand! Joe could be a little surly and mysterious at times, but it works with the story. I like how they team up!

3) And then there’s Twig. She’s Rylee’s friend who decides to take a break from friendship with Rylee. I felt for both girls and I did like how the story brings them together by the end.

4) I love how the title worked into the story. Joe is not particularly friendly in the story, especially when he first arrives. Being from New York City, he looks down on “Nowhere” Texas and he asks if Rylee is the town’s ambassador. I love how Rylee decides that, yes, she can indeed be the ambassador for her town!

5) I like that they referred to the attacks as “September 11th”, which is how we tended to do it back then. Later on in the book, it switches to 9/11, which again did seem authentic to me.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) For most of the time when I was reading, I didn’t FEEL like I was back in 2001. I’m not sure she captured the time period. There were hints every now and then (like references to dial-up internet). I wish it had been more consistent.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I lived in New York City during the attacks on 9/11, so I knew I had to read one of the many books that came out this year to mark the 20th anniversary. This one got my attention. (And it does make me want to read the companion 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 / War and Millie McGonigle

20210815ma_2849Book: War and Millie McGonigle (2021)
Author: Karen Cushman
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)

Opening lines from the book …
George lifted the slimy creature to his mouth and bit it right between the eyes. I had seen him and the other Portuguese octopus fishermen do that a hundred times, but it still made me shudder. “Doesn’t that taste muddy and disgusting?”

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Millie is not a particularly likeable child at the beginning of the story. However, she does have a character arc and I really liked watching her grow. I loved the little reference to the Secret Garden and how Mary Lennox isn’t the most likeable character at the start of her story!

2) I did like that the story did follow various relationships Millie has… with her younger brother and sister, with her mother, and with a new friend.

3) I love the library scenes! Millie is obsessed with finding books about dying and death, but the librarian won’t let her take out adult books yet. So, she decides to get her older friend to get a library card. The best scene is when Millie gets introduced to a very wonderful book! (“What’s a hobbit, anyway?”)

4) McGonigle is such a fun name to say! One of Millie’s quirks is that she writes her last name in the sand or the mud. And each time she did this, I’d get to say the name McGonigle in my head. 🙂

5) I like that the book doesn’t end in 1945. Most books about World War II think they have to take us to the end of the war. I’m glad this one didn’t. It takes place in 1941-42 and the story wraps up very nicely in its own way. (At least, that’s what I remember. I don’t think the book took us beyond 1942.)

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) The neighbor-lady (mother of Icky) kind of bothered me. I felt she (and pretty much all of her family, with the exception of the niece) were portrayed in a very one-dimensional way. At one point, they demonstrate their evilness by their prejudice against the Japanese. While I agree that such prejudice was NOT a good thing (and the ensuing camps were an atrocity!), these attitudes were a very real part of history following Pearl Harbor. There were “good” and “bad” people who held these views (due to fear, etc.) I think a more nuanced approach would have been stronger. I would have been more interested in seeing Millie struggle with neighbors she actually liked and admired for having these prejudices. What would Millie do? Stand up for what she believes in? Could she say something that might change the character’s mind? So many possibilities.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, I didn’t love this one as much as I think I normally like these books. However, I was satisfied when I finished the book. I like how everything is wrapped up, AND that it didn’t have to include the end of the war.

 


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 / Blackbird Girls

20210808ma_2823Book: Blackbird Girls (2020)
Author: Anne Blankman
Genre: MG, Historical (1986/1941)

Opening lines from the book …
Valentina wondered where the birds had gone. They weren’t waiting on the sill when she went to the sitting room window that morning.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) This book is set in the Soviet Union and goes back and forth between 1986 and 1941. Of course, at one point, the characters in each time period merge. I really enjoyed seeing that happen. I know quite a bit about life in the Soviet Union as my grandmother grew up there. The parts set in 1986 were less known to me, but I found them equally as interesting.

2) This book is about Chernobyl. (Can’t you tell from that cover?) I’m fascinated by this topic, although this is the first book I’ve read about the disaster that occurred in 1986. The opening chapters deal with what happened. I was riveted! The author did a wonderful job in pulling us in, especially with regards to all the lies that were being told (or not told) in the wake of the nuclear disaster. The Soviet Union was a place where fear reigned. From the whisper-campaign of neighbors against neighbors to the ever-present threat of the secret police, I felt this story got that right. 

3) I love how the two main characters, Valentina and Oksana, are not at all friends at the beginning of this story. It sets us up for some wonderful conflict between the two. I love the uneasy-alliances trope in books. The book also flashbacks to 1941 where we meet Rifka. She’s Jewish and must escape the arrival of the Nazi army as it invades the Soviet Union. Of course, at one point all three of them come together.

4) The title was quite interesting. I was interested to see how it developed. It has to do with how the two girls end up standing up for one another.

5) I loved the author’s note at the end of the book explaining how this is story is based in part on a friend’s experiences. I usually like authors’ notes, and this one did not disappoint!

FINAL THOUGHTS

There are not so many books about the Soviet Union. Because of my grandmother, I definitely am drawn to them. But I think this is history that we need to know, whether or not we have a connection.

 


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 / Camp Average

IMG_8027This is a two-for-one book review. These two MG books are the first in a series about the kids at Camp Avalon (aka Camp Average). In the stories, the villain is the camp director: Winston of the short red shorts. He’s obsessed with winning (it’s even in his name: Wins-a-ton). And his focus is to bring Camp Avalon up to speed as a bonafide sports camp. But the Camp Average kids are going to have something to say about that…

Camp Average // by Craig Battle (2019)

Opening Line: It was late June, as always, when the buses arrived.

My Thoughts: The books follow Mack (11 years old in this one) and his ragtag group of friends from Cabin 13. All (or at least most) of them just want to do fun camp things like swimming. However, camp director Winston puts them on the baseball team. Mack leads the (secret) charge in trying to lose every game. He even convinces his good friend Andre, who actually really is a good baseball player.

I think what I enjoyed best about the books is the friendships that develop. There’s the youtube star who is kinda quiet. And the prankster who keeps losing his “silver dollar”. And there’s the kid who has no athleticism at all but is great with stats. Winston is a formidable opponent who seems to be able to match Mack and his buddies step for step… until he makes a promise. And that promise might just lead the Camp Avalon team to victory against their arch-rivals at Camp Killington.

Camp Average: Double Foul // by Craig Battle (2020)

Opening Line: Mackenzie Jones had seen this look on his friend’s face before.

My Thoughts: This time, the Camp Average kids are focused on basketball! At first, Mack refuses to leave his beloved swimming activities, even though basketball’s his favorite sport. But, one by one, all the camp activities mysteriously get shut down… leaving only the sports team. Oh, and rocketry. Mack’s convinced it’s due to Winston, and he’s not wrong when all the swimming facilities suddenly open up when Mack joins the basketball team!

This summer, the camp has opened up to girls. So in order to prepare for the big sporting event at the end of camp, the boys’ team plays the girls’ team. But Mack and his friends decide to give Winston a little more grief as they sabotage the practice games. (They really don’t want Winston to win!) But when Winston does his own sabotage, they suddenly change their minds and try to figure out how to play the game.

This book has a nice lead into what appears to be a third book.

Final Thoughts

A fun series about a sports camp. These books reminded me a lot of Gordon Korman’s books, especially those with a definite sports angle.

 


Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

*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 / 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

PB Review / Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away

evelynBook: Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away (2020)
Author: Meg Medina
Illustrator: Sonia Sanchez
Genre: Picture Book

Opening Lines of the Book…
Evelyn Del Rey is my mejor amiga, my numero uno best friend.

MY THOUGHTS…

Such a beautiful celebration of friendship! Poor Daniela is losing her best best friend, Evelyn Del Rey, to a move. The story begins with their last day of being together.  As somebody who had to deal with such moves as a child (I was usually the one moving away!), I can see how this might help a child deal with such a hard part of their world. Because it is very hard to say goodbye to a good friend.

The illustrations are just perfect by evoking a child’s drawing/colouring. And they go well with the beautiful, almost haunting, lyrical language. The title alone is a beautiful piece of internal rhyme. (And this book is not written in rhyme!)

In some ways, it’s a sad book, yet it’s also hopeful at the same time. That friendships do survive such moves. (And I can absolutely attest to that!)

Review / Until Niagara Falls

until-niagara-fallsBook: Until Niagara Falls (2020)
Author: Jennifer Maruno

Genre: MG, Historical Fiction (1960)

Basic plot: Brenda lives in Niagara Falls, Canada. She’s doing a school project on the Great Blondin who’s famous for walking across the falls on a tightrope. When she meets Maureen, the new girl from Toronto, Brenda begins to feel like she’s walking on her own tightrope…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved all the Niagara Falls information in this book. I didn’t actually live there, but we lived close enough that I knew about most of her references. Like Dufferin Islands as a swimming location! (Sadly, you can’t swim there anymore. Really, it was one of the coolest places you could swim!)

2) Maureen was a complex character to like. And yet, she really needs a friend like Brenda! At times I felt bad for her, and other times I wanted Brenda to just get out of there.

3) I liked how the neighbour fit into the story. Especially, with the dog and the CNE. I thought it worked well.

4) The scene with the bicycle at the library! Ooh boy. That Maureen is a tricky one. I love how it slowly dawns on Brenda about how Maureen really got the bike. And even better yet was how it all fit into the plot by the end of the story!

5) I liked that Maureen’s mom, while obviously overwhelmed, isn’t a horrible parent. I was glad that Brenda figures out that she can go to the mom to appeal to her with regards to Maureen and the stolen bracelet.

6) Granny is also a complex character that I grew to love. I was prepared to NOT like her, but she grew on me. I hope she does make it to Scotland!

7) Loved the Krick’s Pickles story line! (Doubly cool that it’s partly true!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) (**Spoiler alert! The chicken pox came on a little too suddenly! Normally, it takes two to three weeks for the spots to appear… rather than the two days in the book! Minor problem.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

Love this book! I found all the Niagara Falls bits to be like a nostalgic walk back in time. But, even if you’ve never been to the Falls, this would be an enjoyable read. The friendship between Brenda and Maureen complicated. Well worth the read!


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 Riddle of Ages

riddle-of-agesBook: Mysterious Benedict Society & the Riddle of Ages (2019)
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Genre: MG, Adventure
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: The Mysterious Benedict Society is back. The kids are older, and this time, they have a new recruit: five-year-old Tai. Their challenge is to break into the old institute-turned-prison to rescue Mr. Benedict and his criminal twin brother from certain death. But, with McCracken and the rest of the Ten Men close on their heels, it’s not going to be easy.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) What fun to be back with Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance. Even though they are considerably older. (From what I can guess is that the three older ones are around 16 or 17; Constance would be around 7.)

2) Tai was a nice addition. I was quite skeptical about him at first, and at times he was a little “too cute”. But he fits in nicely with the plot, especially the part at the end. I think it was also good to get another kid into the story since the three older ones have grown up so much.

3) Lots of riddles and adventure in this one. I’m horrible at solving riddles, but I do enjoy seeing the Society figure them out. (Or should I say, Reynie is the one that always figures them out.)

4) Milligan has a nice little cameo. Probably one of my favourite parts of the story. I wish he was in it a little more, but I understand why he wasn’t.

5) One of my least favourite developments of this series has been Constance’s telepathic abilities. However, I didn’t actually mind it in this story. I felt it worked really well within the plot. And I will say, overall, I have really grown to like Constance as a character. Sure, she’s moody. But she’s interesting. And not quite as contrary as she is in the other books.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Little things didn’t pan out. [*Slight SPOILER] Like the mysterious letter ‘M’ that Tai talks about at the beginning of the book. I was WAITING for that to actually be something. It wasn’t. Or S.Q.’s big feet? I’m not sure why that kept be brought up when it didn’t do anything for the climax of the story. [End spoiler] Not a huge problem. Just a disappointment because it didn’t live up to my expectation.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I was excited when I first found out about the existence of this book about a year ago. BUT, I was also skeptical. However, I was pleasantly surprised. This book had all the fun worthy of a Mysterious Benedict Society book. The kids are older (and really, with the exception of Constance and Tai, no longer “kids”) but their characters remained true. And I liked how Stewart was able to bring together all the events of this 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