Review: Genevieve’s War

genevieves-warBook: Genevieve’s War (2017)
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Genevieve and her brother have been visiting their grandmother in France in the summer of 1939. While her brother leaves, she chooses not to go back to the States… What she doesn’t know is that the war is going to be a long one. Including battles with her own grandmother, Meme. Little by little, Genevieve gets drawn in to helping with the French Resistance. She also soon finds an ally in Meme against the Nazi invaders. But Genevieve is not always sure who to trust.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The spunky Genevieve is a fun protagonist. I particularly liked her relationship with her grandmother, Meme. Or should I said non-relationship. Those two are at odds for most of the book.

2) I liked the intrigue. Since the story is about the French Resistance, there is plenty of intrigue. With who Genevieve should trust or not trust… including her best friend Katrin. And hiding her other friend. And then there is the mystery of the sweater!

3) When I was reading, I wanted to know the dates of when things were happening. At first, I thought this might be something to put in my “What’s Not Cool”, but after finishing the book, I’ve changed my mind. I think it’s stronger not to know the dates because (at least for me) the dates would tell me how soon D-Day was coming. The datelessness forced me to live the events of the story not knowing how much longer the people would have to hold out.

4) Events near the end made me cry. Anytime that a book makes me care about the characters… Hey, that’s a win!

5) I loved how everything came together at the end of the story. I like that not all was wrapped up. There were some bittersweet things that happened. And I liked the realism of that.

6) I thought the cover worked with the story.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The book had a slow start for me. Events that I wasn’t sure were all that important seem to drag things a bit.

2) I’m not sure I completely bought Genevieve’s reasons for staying back in France. It seemed a little far-fetched to me, especially in light of her relationship with her grandmother at that time. I wish Patricia Reilly Giff had come up with a different reason.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I would definitely recommend to anybody who wants to read more about World War II and the French Resistance.


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

Advertisements

Review: The Detective’s Assistant

detectives-assistantBook: The Detective’s Assistant (2015)
Author: Kate Hannigan
Genre: MG, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Nell is orphaned and is sent to live with her Aunt Kitty. Except there’s one big problem. Aunt Kitty doesn’t want Nell. Reason #1: She’s busy enough as it is as the only female detective of the famed Pickerton Agency. Reason #2: Nell’s father killed Aunt Kitty’s husband. So now it’s up to Nell to show how useful she can be to her aunt. As well, she plans to prove that the fatal shot to her Uncle Matthew (fired by her now-dead father) was an accident. And the only person who can help reveal the truth had to escape on the Underground Railroad to Canada.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love the historical connection to the Pickerton Detective Agency. I had not read much about them before this book. What’s really cool is that Aunt Kitty is based on the real life Pickerton agent: Kate Warne. (And the plot of this book includes some of her cases!)

2) The cases involving Aunt Kitty and Nell are fun to read. I love how Nell helps out! She and Aunt Kitty get to wear some fabulous disguises 🙂

3) And oh! How Lincoln is brought into the story is a history-lover’s dream. (And to top it all, there really IS a historical event that connects Lincoln to Pickerton.)

4) The bickering between Nell and Aunt Kitty is hilarious. I love how Nell keeps calling her “Aunt Kitty” even though her aunt wants to be called “Kate”. And then, when they’re in disguise, Nell always seems to slip up while Aunt Kitty always remains in character.

5) The letters between Jemma and Nell have some fun codes to decipher. I could see kids enjoying the challenge.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) On the other hand, the letters were the most unrealistic part of the book. They talk in code and yet the code would have been too easy to break. (This was the part that grown-up Maria thought a little too much.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – The historical part of this book was great. I loved Spunky Nell and all of Pickerton’s detectives. I especially enjoyed how the climax worked out and how it connects to really historical events. I would definitely recommend 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

Middle Grade Books for Black History Month

Here are some of my favourite recent reads. I didn’t exactly plan them to be for Black History Month, but that’s how it turned out. These are books I’d recommend reading at any time of the year. Note: I read more than this, but I’ve limited my choices to three books that I really enjoyed.


Finding Langston // by Lesa Cline-Ransomefinding-langston

MG, Historical Fiction – 1940s (2018)

I loved this book! And yes, it contains poetry. (I’m not always too crazy about poetry in books.) So, when a book can get me excited about poetry, I consider that to be a well-written book.

I loved Langston! I felt for him as he attempts to navigate the big city of Chicago after coming north with his father. I love the library! I think as soon as the library made an appearance, I KNEW I was going to love this book. I love the character arcs in this book and the friendships that develop. I loved the discoveries made.

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and it’s only February. [5 stars]


Days of Jubilee // by Patricia C. & Fredrick L. McKissack

days-of-jubileeMG Non-Fiction / Civil War (2003)

I really enjoyed this book that details the events that led up to the Civil War to the Emancipation Proclamation to the 13th Amendment. The authors lay everything out in a clear, easy-to-read way. They also include little stories throughout. One of my favourites involved Mary Todd Lincoln and her dressmaker. Wow! That dressmaker is one smart woman.

And history is not always neat and tidy. People and events are complicated. I liked how the authors didn’t steer away from the complication. But I also like that they didn’t dwell on the ugliness. Instead, they focused on hope for the future.  [5 stars]


Stella by Starlight // by Sharon M. Draper

stella-by-starlightMG,  Historical Fiction – 1930s (2015)

This book opens with a chilling scene of the main character (Stella) witnessing the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross. The main theme deals with fear and how the Klan was trying to intimidate the black families in the community so that they wouldn’t register to vote. The voting scenes were particularly amazing. And I like how Stella starts her own little newspaper (only to be read by one: her!)

I did feel there was a little cohesion lacking in bringing the story together as a whole, which is why I didn’t give the book 5 stars. But it’s an interesting read. And I really enjoyed Stella’s voice.   [4 stars]


YOUR TURN…

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any books that you read for Black History Month? Tell me about them in the comments!

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

Quick Pick Reviews #13

Clementine’s Letter // by Sara Pennypacker

clementines-letterGenre: Lower MG, Contemporary (2008)

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

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


The Moffats // by Eleanor Estes

moffatsGenre: MG, Historical Fiction (1941)

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

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


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

Review: Becoming Mrs. Lewis

becoming-mrs-lewisBook: Becoming Mrs. Lewis (2018)
Author: Patti Callahan
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the story of Joy Davidman Gresham and how she came to be the wife of C.S. Lewis. The subtitle kind of says it all: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis

WHAT’S COOL…

1) C.S. Lewis is one of my all-time, favourite authors. And I have always been fascinated by this love story.

2) I loved the little glimpses into the home life of these people. I could just see them sitting at the typewriter, discussing books, and writing over a cup of tea! And I could also see the boys, Davy and Douglas, running off on their adventures.

3) One of my favourite sections of the book is the part when it discusses their collaboration on Till We Have Faces. Not only do I love that book, but I really enjoyed seeing these scenes play out. I knew that she had been instrumental to Lewis in writing the book, but it really was nice to see their collaboration in action.

4) Even though I knew the story and how it ends, I did find myself drawn into the suspense from time to time. This is a really hard thing to do for such well-known stories. Is it done perfectly? No, but at times, it’s done quite well.

5) Love the cover on this book! I thought it nicely captured the essence of the story. 🙂

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wanted a little more subtext in this story. I know that Joy was known to be blunt (and very American). But at times, I felt the dialogue was a little too on-the-nose. Would Joy have brought such things up? Was she never subtle?

2) There seems to be a lot of repetition in this book. I often felt like the plot wasn’t moving very fast and that I’d already read this scene before. (I hadn’t. The scenes were just similar.) Makes me wonder if the author could have cut out some of the scenes.

3) At times, I felt that I didn’t know Joy very well. Yes, the book is written in first person POV, yet I somehow didn’t FEEL for her. At other times I did, but it was a mixed bag.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – An enjoyable read for anybody wanting to know more about this historic couple. Not the quickest read, but that’s okay. I vacillated between 3.5 and 4 stars. I think I went down because, despite the first person POV, I didn’t really connect with Joy of a level of knowing her. I would still recommend this book.


YOUR TURN…

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

Quick Pick Reviews #12

The Christmas Doll // by Elvira Woodruff

Genre: Lower MG, Historical (2000)

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

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


The True Gift // by Patricia MacLachlan

Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary (2009)

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

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


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

Quick Pick Reviews #9

Maid of the King’s Court // by Lucy Worsley (2016)

Maid-of-King's-CourtGenre: YA, Historical (Henry VIII)

My Thoughts: This is the story of Katherine Howard, who becomes Wife #5 to Henry VIII. It’s told through the eyes of her cousin, Elizabeth (but not to be confused with Princess Elizabeth, who eventually becomes Good Queen Bess.) It’s certainly an interesting look inside court life at the time of Henry VIII, especially interesting to me were the games the courtiers all played. The flirtatious activity among… well, everybody. This is really what gets Katherine Howard into trouble.

In the history books, there’s so much attention given to Henry’s first three wives. (This makes sense, since they are the mothers of his three children that became Edward VI,  Mary I, and Elizabeth I.) This book gives a little insight into his next two wives…  [3 Stars]


Crossing Ebenezer Creek // by Tonya Bolden (2017)

crossing-ebenezer-creekGenre: YA, Historical (Civil War)

My Thoughts: I thought I’ve read everything there is to read about the American Civil War, but apparently not. This book brought to my attention something new. (And I always love learning something new about history!) This story revolves around General Sherman’s March to the Sea. And joining that march were the newly freed slaves, courtesy of the Emancipation Proclamation. We get two POVs in this story: Mariah and Caleb.

I will have to say that I wanted to love this book more than I did. But for some reason, I did not really connect with either of the protagonists. I think this may have been due to the fact that there are too many other characters “cluttering” the story. Not that there couldn’t have been other characters. I think it’s important to the story to include the other people. But the writer in me wanted to combine some of them. As a reader, I was getting too confused! Who was who? The cover is also slightly misleading. I would have loved to see a row of silhouetted characters standing over on the other side of the water. (It IS a beautiful cover, though.)

This is a heart-breaking story. I won’t spoil exactly what happens. You’ll just have to read to book. [3 Stars]


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

Review: A House of Tailors

Book: A House of Tailors (2004)
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Genre: Upper MG, Historical (1870s)
Rating: 4 Stars

house-of-tailorsBasic Plot: Dina is coming to America. It was supposed to be her sister on the boat, but plans don’t always go the way you intend. When her uncle sees her at the dock, he isn’t happy. And the situation at her uncle’s isn’t quite what Dina was planning for either. She wants nothing more than to escape the life of a seamstress. The problem is that the Uncle is a tailor, and he expects her to help him as part of her keep. That’s when Dina decides she’s going to start saving her money so she can buy a ticket back to Germany. However it’s not going to be as easy as she thinks.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) History is my thing. And it’s been awhile since I’ve read a good immigrant story. This one happens to be about the 1870s in New York City. One of my favourite historical sites in NYC is the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. While technically this story takes place in Brooklyn, I assume there’s a lot of similarities. So, it was fun to read a story that has a setting from one of my favourite museums! Complete with the sewing machine!

2) The Uncle and Dina go head-to-head. First, I love how he’s called the Uncle. Not Uncle Lucas, but just the Uncle. It perfectly encapsulates their relationship. Then compare Dina’s relationship to Barbara (the aunt, but always called just Barbara) and baby Maria, who give Dina the love and support she needs so far away from her family back in Germany. (And, as it turns out, the Uncle isn’t as bad as all that.)

3) Dina’s a feisty one. I admire her determination and her quick thinking. One of my favourite stories involves the small pox plot. I loved it even more when I found out that this is a story that stems from the author’s own family history!

4) I like how the hats come into play in the story. And can I say that I was cringing during the scene where she’s a brand new maid at the rich lady’s house. She’s just supposed to take breakfast up and leave it for the mistress of the house, but when she sees all the hats… Well. Ooh, boy!

5) I love the twist with the sister. I’ll leave it at that.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I’m not sure I completely bought the motivation near the end of the book where [SPOILER] the Uncle decides to send Dina back to Germany, like she wished.[END SPOILER] I understand the reason why the author needed this to happen, but I wasn’t totally sold on how it fit in with the plot.

2) Also, the relationship with Johann is a little odd since she’s only 13 years old. During those scenes, she seemed so much older, like I was suddenly reading a book about a 16-year-old. Again, I understand why the author did this, but at times this plot-line almost  seemed too old.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book. Which isn’t too surprising since I really enjoy reading almost everything by this author. I’d recommend it to anybody who loves history, especially if you love a good historical book about the immigrant experience in New York City.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Quick Pick Reviews #8

Clementine // by Sara Pennypacker (2006)

Genre: Lower MG, Contemporaryclementine

My Thoughts: A cute story about an ants-in-her-pants girl named Clementine. She gets in trouble for helping her school friend cut her hair. And she’s always being sent to the principal’s office.

But Clementine has a big heart. I love how she tries to help out her dad and mom. This book is definitely meant for a younger audience. I loved the illustrations! [4 Stars]


Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing // by Judy Blume (1972)

Genre: MG, Contemporaryfourth-grade-nothing

My Thoughts: I can’t believe I haven’t read this book until now. Peter is in fourth grade, and his nemesis is his little brother: Fudge. In some ways, this book reminds me a lot of the characters of Beezus and Ramona (Beverly Cleary). Fudge is definitely a Ramona character, and (from what I can tell) goes on to having his own books.

I loved the story of the turtle and how that plays into the plot. And the visit by the dad’s client and his wife. The birthday story is also pretty funny, especially the kid that doesn’t want to stay, but then doesn’t want to leave. [4 Stars]


Raymie Nightingale // by Kate DiCamillo (2016)

Genre: MG, Historical (1975)

raymie-nightingaleMy Thoughts: This is the story of three girls: Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana. As Louisiana likes to say, they are the Three Rancheros. They are all preparing to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. I love the idea of incorporating Florence Nightingale into the story (I loved Florence Nightingale when I was a kid. In fact, all my dolls were named Florence.) Although, that part of the story didn’t pan out in any way that I felt was very meaningful. It somehow lacked something.

Overall, though, the three girls are delightful. I love their chemistry and antics. And Louisiana’s grandmother is adorable. (Just saying!) [3.5 Stars]


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

Newbery Verdict: The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars // by Gary D. Schmidt

wednesday-warsNewbery Honor Book (2008)
Genre: Upper MG, Historical Fiction (1960s)
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Holling Hoodhood is the only kid in class who doesn’t have catechism or bar mitzvah lessons on Wednesdays. This means he’s stuck in school with his teacher. And guess what? She’s not exactly keen on having Holling there, and he’s convinced that she’s out to get him. This is confirmed when she assigns him the task of reading Shakespeare. And so begin the Wednesday Wars.

MY THOUGHTS…

This is the story of a boy and his teacher and how their relationship blossoms. One of the best scenes is when Holling suggests they come up with a code so that he knows he’s doing something right. Her response is to basically roll her eyes.

I love all the Shakespeare references. It’s fun how this extends to Holling’s life beyond the classroom, when he finds himself in the theatrical production of The Tempest. Of course, this fact gives us no shortage of conflict involving the school bully and yellow feathers.

The title of this book is spot on. The Wednesday Wars brings out the themes of the war between Holling and his teacher; the war between Holling and his sister; between Holling and his dad; between the dad and the rival architect; and of course, the Vietnam War itself since this is a book set in the 1960s.

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

“No teacher jokes,” I said. “No one ever laughs at teacher jokes.”

“All right… No teacher jokes.” …

“And no rolling your eyes, even if someone says something really stupid.”

“I never roll my eyes,” said Mrs. Baker.

I looked at her.

“All right,” she said. “No rolling eyes. Anything else, coach?”

“When someone does something good, I think you should let them know, with some sort of code.”

“I think you mean that when someone does something well–as in obeying the rules of proper diction–we should use a code. What do you suggest?”

“Well, maybe ‘Azalea’ for something good, and ‘Chrysanthemum’ for something really good.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hoodhood. We’ll dispense with the code, and I’ll simply use the unvarnished English language to tell you when you’ve done something well. But as to teacher jokes, folding of arms, and rolling of eyes, I’ll consider your advice.”

(Chapter – March)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – When I first read this book about 10 years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never read anything by this author before. And I loved it! The Newbery Winner that year (2008) was Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz. I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment. But another Newbery Honor for 2008 was Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (which I have read; and also love). If I had been one of the Newbery decision-makers that year, I’d have had a hard time choosing between those two books!

By the way, there’s a companion book to this one called Okay for Now, which features Holling’s friend: Doug Swieteck. You can read my review here.

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.