Review / Measuring Up

Book: Measuring Up (2020)
Author: Lily LaMotte
Illustrator: Ann Xu
Genre: MG, Contemporary/Graphic Novel

Basic plot: Cici misses her grandmother, A-má, who lives all the way in Taiwan. When she sees a kids’ cooking contest, she hopes she has what it takes to win because that prize money would be perfect to buy that plane ticket for A-má.  During the contest, she’s teamed up with a girl named Miranda. Soon, Cici begins to doubt her ability to cook and turns to learn from watching the great Julia Child on TV. As one contestant after another is eliminated, Cici soon realizes that she’ll soon be competing against her teammate.

Opening lines from the book …
My life in Taiwan is sweet. My favorite is mango flavor but Siu-Lian and Siu-Khing always get Lychee. We never get tired of watching the panda… or running on the Dragon Bridge… but A-má is the best part.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Cici is such a likable character! I love her connection to her grandmother and how she decides to do something about the fact that they live so far apart.

2) The cooking part of the story was really fun. Seeing Miranda and Cici come up with their amazing culinary delights made me hungry to do a taste test! And ditto for when Cici is experimenting with Julia Child’s recipes. 

3) I like the relationship that develops between Cici and Miranda. They don’t quite start off on the right foot. And, let’s face it, Miranda is a bit of a know-it-all. But Cici does take this as an opportunity to learn from her (because Miranda does actually know a lot about cooking). But in the end, Cici decides to take a risk that would go against some of Miranda’s “expertise”. I loved that Cici was able to see where her own “expertise” clicks in.

4) Now for the three judges! If you’ve seen any reality show that involves judges, you will know there’s always that one judge. In this case, it’s the bald one, Mr. Bonze. I loved his little snarky remarks, although I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of them. And nor did I want Cici to be criticized either! But as a reader, he did add a little spice and drama.

5) I loved how Cici’s mentor becomes TV’s Julia Child! The montage where Cici is trying to flip the potato pancakes is great. Courage and conviction!

6) Ultimately, I loved how Cici brings her A-má’s Taiwanese cooking into the story. While it’s nice to see Cici branch out with other foods, it was even nicer to see her embrace the simplicity of her heritage. And be able to come up with her own modifications to old recipes.

7) I thought the graphic novel format worked really well for this book.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) Not much to report here.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Such a fun book! I won it in a giveaway contest by Completely Full Bookshelf! Yay! I really did enjoy it and would recommend it for anybody who enjoys watching those cooking shows or competitions.

 


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 / My Life as a Potato

20210228ma_0330Book: My Life as a Potato (2020)
Author: Arianne Costner
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: California Ben and his family have moved to Idaho. In order to fit in with the other students, he gets caught throwing a hot dog across the cafeteria and ends up in the principal’s office. His punishment? He gets to wear the costume for the school mascot, which happens to be … a potato! And that’s something Ben really doesn’t want the rest of the school to know about. And with the school dance fast approaching, he decides it’s time to keep his ‘life as a potato’ a secret.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Ben is a sympathetic narrator. He’s quite likable, and I was definitely rooting for him through all his trials and tribulations as he navigates the middle school halls of Idaho. (I don’t think I would have wanted to be dressed like a potato either! Although, in another way, it does sound kind of fun.)

2) I love Ellie and Hunter, the bickering cousins. I’m glad Ben has such good friends at the school, especially since he’s so new to the town (and state). The whole how-to-ask-somebody-out-to-the-dance part of the plot was quite amusing. I thought Hunter’s preoccupation with the bacon was cute. All the planning. Not sure I would survive in middle school these days if this is what it’s like.

3) Which brings me to Jayla! She’s Ben’s crush and happens to be one of the popular girls and a lead cheerleader. I love how Ben gets to see a different side of Jayla while he’s incognito as the potato. There are quite a few ups and downs with Jayla during the book.

4) And then there’s Mitch the Snitch. Poor guy. I do like how Ben befriends him, even though he does it imperfectly. And it’s fun how Mitch comes into the climax of the story. Which I won’t spoil… You will have to read about it for yourself.

5) The best part of the story, in my opinion, were the potato mascot scenes! Oh, the fun of Ben trying to figure out how to be the best potato dancer possible. And yet, also maintain the secret of his identity. And when things go wrong, well, that’s part of the enjoyment of reading about it, rather than living it in real life!

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) While I appreciated the creativity that went into the asking-people-out-to-the-dance, I do think it feels a little more high school to me. That is just way too much pressure for middle school kids! (Raises my adult hand. But I’m sure the kids wanting a little romance in their books will enjoy this one.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

You know with a title about potatoes, it’s got to be a fun 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 / Class Act

20210212ma_0275Book: Class Act (2020)
Author: Jerry Craft
Genre: MG, Graphic Novel
Companion to: New Kid

Basic plot: Drew is in eighth grade this year. He’s got new hair and even a girlfriend. But he’s having trouble figuring out where he fits in. There’s his friends, Jordan and Liam. But after a visit to Liam’s amazing house, he’s not sure if he and Liam are really cut out to be friends. He definitely doesn’t think he can invite Liam to his own home. I mean, what would happen if his friends saw the little apartment he lives in with his grandmother? He’s not sure he’s ready to find out.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) While the first book was Jordan’s book, this one features Drew. Jordan and Liam are definitely part of Drew’s world, but the POV really focused on Drew this time. Drew and his new hair! I enjoyed seeing his perspective, especially over his uncertainty about where he belongs. (The ending works well, IMHO.)

2) One of my favourite scenes is when the kids go to Jordan’s house. I love this family! Loved seeing them in action, including as they interact with Jordan’s neighbourhood friends. It was a nice break from the school scenes.

3) I love it when the kids are at the assembly and the movie comes on: “Sad-Faced Pictures Presents: The Mean Streets of South Uptown.” This is a little nod to the first book (New Kid) that explores the idea that the Black experience is often summed up or portrayed in only one light: street life, gangs, trouble. What I love about THIS book is that we get to meet kids (two of them Black) who are living a different experience… even though that life isn’t always easy. I taught kids like Jordan and Drew. I would have loved to have put these books (New Kid and Class Act) into their hands.

4) There are some nice running jokes. One is about body odor (especially with regards to sweet-smelling Jordan)! And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I thought it was nicely done! (Although, I’m glad I didn’t have to actually smell it…) And the joke about everybody thinking Mr. Pierre was Liam’s dad (because he came to all his games) was a nice (if slightly sad) touch. 

5) I love the journey Drew goes on, especially with regards to Liam…  (SPOILER) to realize that maybe Liam isn’t his parents. Another great scene is when Drew finally invites Liam over to his house to meet his grandmother. And then they look out and admire the view. (End Spoiler)

6) Best Comic: “I Lost the Bet: Written by Chuck Banks (Dad) and art by Jordan Banks” wherein Dad explains that kids today are weirder than kids in his day… especially when it comes to social media. (But I’m biased since I’m probably Dad’s age!)

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) Alexandra and the nose thing! Argh! The book makes such a big deal about people touching Drew’s hair, but not so with Alexandra??? 

2) The title. I thought with a title like Class Act that it’d be about a talent show or theatre. Nope. And the juggling is just metaphorical!

FINAL THOUGHTS

A good sequel to the Newbery Winner, New Kid! Definitely recommend this one. 🙂


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 / Three Keys

Book: Three Keys (2020)
Author: Kelly Yang
Genre: MG, Historical [1990s]
Sequel to: Front Desk

Basic plot: Mia and her parents are now running the Calivista Motel on their own. But California is headed for an election and on the ballot is a threatening new immigration law, a law that is making everybody in Mia’s world question who needs to be in America and who shouldn’t. While Mia has trouble with a new teacher at school, Jasonnow Mia’s friend—is having trouble with his parents. And then there’s Lupe and her family…

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Mia! Such a fun and enthusiastic voice. It was great to be back in her world as she navigates through new challenges. She still wants to be a writer, but her new teacher keeps giving her low grades! Oh, and she’s back to writing letters… of course! This time, she’s writing to VISA and letters to the editor.

2) I love her relationship with her BFF, Lupe. And I like how Jason is now a friend. But, as complications go, there’s a nice tension that exists between Lupe and Jason. Since the plot revolves around immigrants, it’s nice to see the three different types of immigrants side-by-side.

3) Lupe’s story is particularly interesting in this book. Seeing her navigate through some trying times, especially with what happens with her parents. I do like how Mia’s family (and Hank too!) take her under their wing. 

4) And then there’s Mia’s new teacher, Mrs. Welch. She is extremely unlikeable at the beginning of the story, especially when we see her give out those C’s to poor Mia. At first, I was a little worried that she was going to turn out to be a one-dimensional ‘bad guy’ character. But Kelly Yang had a trick up her sleeve. We do get to see her as a real person, more complex than young Mia realizes when they first meet.

5) And the motel setting is great. I love the weeklies (although, they don’t seem to be featured as much in this book). And Hank is definitely a star in Mia’s world! I love how the family and friends work so hard, banding together to save the motel.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) Okay… the title. I was expecting something more prominent with this title. What are the three keys? Are they metaphorical? Are they real? I was intrigued, hoping for a little bit of both but… I kind of forgot about the title until near the end of the book. Then… BAM! (SPOILER!) It comes out of the blue in an off-comment by Hank (I think). It does come near the climax, however, I felt nothing when I read it. I don’t think it was set up well enough. (End Spoiler) *Sigh*

FINAL THOUGHTS

A good sequel to Front Desk! It was nice to be back in the world of Mia and her letter-writing. Definitely recommended for fans of the first book. And even if you haven’t read the first book! (Although, if you do read this one first, you will get some spoilers.)


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 / Daily Bread

Daily-BreadBook: Daily Bread (2020)
Author: Antoinette Truglio Martin
Genre: MG, Historical [1911]

Basic plot: It is 1911. Crammed into a three-room flat in a Mott Street tenement, the large Taglia family needs all the help they can muster. Spunky songbird Lily wants to help by baking Daily Bread at the bakery like big sister, Margaret. But Margaret says Lily is just a little kid, and there is more to baking Daily Bread than height and an artist’s heart. Lily learns to navigate in a grown-up world when facing bullies, disasters, dotty bakers, and treacherous streets to cross by herself..

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Loved Margaret and her ambition! In some ways, she reminded me of Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I especially loved the little part where she reveals to Lily how she saves her money. Of course, what’s also nice is how this is juxtaposed by Margaret’s friend, Connie, and her views about money.

2) And then there was Lily’s connection to Mrs. Goldberg through song and dance (ballet). One particularly touching scene is when Mrs. Goldberg seems to be in a deep depression which is then breached by Lily’s song. Later on in the story, I found the revelation about the Goldbergs’ backstory to be fascinating.

3) And let’s not forget the knot surprises. I want a knot surprise! (Not with cheese, though. Jam, please!) Frankly, all the bread in this book did make me hungry. And, while I have never worked in a bakery, I have helped my mother bake bread. (There is almost nothing more fun than punching down the raised dough.)

4) I loved the Lower Manhattan setting. One of my favourite “tourist sites” in all of New York City is the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. It’s a spot I’ve repeatedly taken visitors when I lived in New York. This book took me back to those places!

5) When I first saw mention of the Triangle Waistshirt Factory, I knew there was something coming. Whether or not you’re aware of what happened there in 1911, this book will let you relive that historical moment in time.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I found the ending a little abrupt. Like, that’s it? I liked the ending, but I wanted a bit more of a resolution after the very traumatic climax. That said, it’s not a bad ending, it’s just that I wanted more.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This book definitely had the flavour of the classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I would recommend this book to readers who are fans of authors like Patricia Reilly Giff, especially if you’re interested in the immigrant experience to New York.

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the author in exchange for an honest review.**


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: 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!

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!

Review: The Unforgotten Coat

unforgottenBook: The Unforgotten Coat
Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Julie becomes the “Good Guide” for Mongolian brothers Chingis and Nergui. She helps them learn to integrate into British society, to hide from the “demon” who is trying to “eat Nergui”.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Learning some cool Mongolian facts. After being chosen by Chingis to be their “Good Guide”, Julie researches Mongolia and insists on giving a presentation to her sixth grade class. Of course, Chingis is the one who is supposed to be the one giving info about his homeland, but Julie ends up doing the most talking. Nice touch by the author (especially in light of how this quietness about Mongolia fits in well with how the story ends.)

2) I liked the Polaroid photos scattered throughout the story. At first, I thought they were just atmosphere, but they definitely are important to the plot.

3) Interesting how the fear of these immigrants/refugees manifests itself. Through baking the little raisin man, to taking a different route each day when walking home from school, to insisting that Nergui stay with Chingis in the sixth grade classroom, even though he’s much younger. Coming to a new country is tough under any circumstance. I liked how the author understates this fear. He uses very little suspense and basically presents facts without making a big deal about it. After all, we are reading this story through the eyes of Julie, not the boys.

4) **SPOILER: I like how the ending is not super-happy. It’s not super-sad either. I thought it was realistic that the boys are deported, thus making their fear justified. Eaten by the “demon”. However, the final image gives hope. END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I was a little confused at times. I liked the photos, but they sometimes also brought me out of the story. Was this a true story? Why did he take that photo? When does this take place? It wasn’t until the end that I realized that this is a fictionalized account of some true events. While this isn’t a bad thing (I don’t mind fictionalized accounts!), it’s the being taken out of the story that isn’t so good.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this book! I absolutely loved Cosmic and Framed by the same author. I don’t think this book is as good as those ones, but I did enjoy it.