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!)

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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.

Review: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow

clockwork-sparrowBook: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow
Author: Katherine Woodfine
Genre: MG, Historical/Mystery
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Sinclair’s, a new department store in London, is approaching its grand opening. But then, the priceless Clockwork Sparrow is stolen. It’s up to Sophie, Lilian, Billy, and Joe to figure just who the villains are and to return the Clockwork Sparrow to its rightful home.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I liked the atmosphere around the opening of the department store: Sinclair’s. I thought the little petty competition between the shop girls was nicely done. This certainly made me like Sophie more. And of course Lil.

2) Which brings me to Sophie and Lil… The two characters are opposites and nicely complement each other. Lil is spontaneous and self-confident. Sophie is more proper and refined.

3) I liked that the mysterious Baron remains mysterious.

4) This book has secret tunnels! Did you get that? Secret. Tunnels. Under London. Ah, who doesn’t like a secret tunnel?

5) The book cover is wonderful. It’s even better in real life. The gold lettering against the blue. The silhouettes are especially fun.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) While I liked the boys (Billy and Joe), I felt it almost too early for them to join the cast. I hardly know the girls and I think the boys might have been better suited to being introduced in later books???

2) The mystery was okay. However, what I don’t understand is why the grown-ups are not looking out for the young people. The Private Detective says at the end that he had a man shadowing Sophie, so… Hmm… Without spoiling the plot, all I can say is I don’t get why they didn’t ACTUALLY protect her.

3) Things were a little too neatly tied up at the end of the book. Like the location of the clockwork sparrow and how it is discovered. Really? (Is the Baron that careless?)

4) The word “bomb” felt out of place in this book world. I would have preferred the word “explosives” instead of “bomb”. It’s supposed to be prior to World War I. I don’t know how much the word “bomb” would have been on the tongues of the people in this world. It felt wrong.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked the story. I loved the setting in the department store. I’m being a little picky here, but there were just a few things that took me out of the story. There are two more sequels. I’m not rushing out to get them, but I will probably give them a go and see where the next mystery leads us.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Don’t you just love that book cover? (The cover looks even better in person!) I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Review: Okay For Now

Okay-for-NowBook: Okay For Now
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Genre: Upper MG, Historical Fiction (1960s)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Doug and his family have just moved to a new town and he hates it there. But then he discovers Audubon’s book, Birds of America, in the library. He goes every Saturday and the librarian sets him on a path to to learn how to draw the birds. Soon he discovers that the birds are slowly being cut out of the book to be sold by the town council. That’s when Doug takes it upon himself to find the missing birds and return them to their rightful spot in the book at the library.

Note: This is a companion book to The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved learning about John James Audubon. Each chapter begins with a picture of one of the birds from the book. And I enjoyed the art lessons at the library with Mr. Powell! I was definitely rooting for Doug to get all the missing birds back into the book.

2) Doug’s English teacher decides that her eighth graders are going to study Jane Eyre (the 160-page abridged version, which for Doug is 160 pages too long). I love Jane Eyre and any book that uses this book as part of their plot is almost a sure bet in my eyes. I also love that this book (Jane Eyre) ends up inspiring other aspects of the plot.

3) I liked how the author had Miss Cowper’s “County Literacy Unit” fit into solving one of Doug’s problems in the book. I love this teacher.

4) The Baseball Quiz/Game at the work picnic for Doug’s father’s work was a fun chapter. Especially in light of the fact that Doug is dealing with some hard things at this time and here he really is able to shine. He’s the one that is able to help his “partner” go for the gold.

5) I loved the character growth and arcs for Doug’s brothers, his father, Coach Reed, Principal Peattie, et al.

6) The relationship with Lil is very sweet.

7) I liked how Schmidt worked the various themes into the book… The flowers (or lack of flowers) for his mother show the growth and the family’s ability to flourish (or not flourish). And the use of the various stages of the Apollo moon mission (Apollos 8 through 11) also is used well to show how much hope and hard work can accomplish.

8) Doug has a great voice in this book.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I felt that some of the teachers/classes were not necessary to mention. I kept getting some of the lesser ones mixed up with the teachers we needed to know about. (For example: I think the Geography teacher could have disappeared from the book and nothing bad would have happened.)

2) In one of the chapters, Doug lists the birds that are missing from the book. I wish this list had been repeated later on in the book with an update on which birds had been successfully retrieved and which ones were still missing. I even tried to go back to find that first list and couldn’t find it easily. That annoyed me.

3) The title of this book is just… OKAY. (Ha ha!) The Wednesday Wars (the companion book) is a great title. Okay for Now… Hmm, not so memorable. (I keep having to look it up to know what it is!)

FAVOURITE QUOTE

Can you imagine anyone buying tickets to Jane Eyre?

Can you imagine Joe Pepitone buying tickets to Jane Eyre?

Me neither.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Okay, so I LOVED The Wednesday Wars by the same author. This is a companion book and I LOVED this one just as much (almost as much?). If these two books had to be ranked in which one I liked better, I don’t know who would win. 🙂


YOUR TURN…

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

What Do You Consider a Historical Novel?

20180613ma_3589
I love history. I love novels. Put those two together, and you’ve got one of my favourite things: Historical Novels!

But what exactly makes a novel “historical”?

Jane Austen’s books are set in the 1800s, but that doesn’t make them “historical novels”. And yet Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is considered to be a historical novel simply because Dickens was writing about historical events that took place sixty-some years earlier.

But what about more recent history?

Last month, I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. As I was reading, I got the sense that this book wasn’t set in today’s world… a realization that was solidified with the mention that the sitting president was Bill Clinton. Aha, said my brain. It’s the 1990s!

little-fires-everywhere.jpgNow, as it turns out, Clinton’s presidency (or rather the Monica Lewinsky scandal) weaves its way into the book. Not that President Clinton is an actual character in the book—he’s not; nor is Monica—but he’s talked about, primarily by the narrator… for thematic purposes.

Okay, I reasoned… so, this book is a contemporary read. In fact, I’ve noticed that many bloggers categorize it as such. Which means it must have been written in the late 90s or early 2000s, right?

I checked the copyright date.

2017.

Wait a minute. That’s last year! In case, you didn’t already know. 😉

So, is this book considered contemporary fiction? Or is it historical fiction?

Historical fiction is usually defined as a book where the historical setting is important to the plot of the book. It’s easy to categorize a book set in Japan during World War II, or one set in London during the time of Elizabeth I.

I would argue that the historical references of the 1990s in this book are rather important to the plot. (And it isn’t just the stuff about Clinton. It’s also the timing with regards to test-tubes babies and the days when infertility was discussed in hushed whispers; the nature of Mia’s photography and art; the Jerry Springer talk show phenomenon; an era before smart phones existed.)

Your Turn…

My question is this… Does all this make the book historical fiction? The 90s really isn’t that long ago, and I get the sense that many people don’t like to think of the recent past as “historical”.

So, how would you classify it? Do you call it “historical fiction” if it’s history of the recent past? Or do you consider the 1990s (or even the 1980s or 1960s or 70s for that matter) to be too recent to be labelled “historical”? (And if so, where’s the cut off point for you?)

These are genuine questions and I’d love to hear your thoughts!