Review: I Love You, Michael Collins

I-love-you-Michael-CollinsBook: I Love You, Michael Collins (2017)
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Genre: MG, Historical (1969)
Rating: 5 stars

Basic plot: It’s 1969 and the Apollo 11 moon landing mission is taking the world by storm. Mamie’s fifth-grade class is given the assignment to write to one of the three astronauts. Everybody chooses Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, all except for Mamie. She decides to write to Michael Collins, the third astronaut on the mission. Somehow, she feels a kinship with him. Especially when her family all seem to abandon ship, leaving her to pilot the “ship” all by herself.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love a good epistolary novel. This one works quite nicely as Mamie writes to Michael Collins (who is in space for some of the time she is writing!)

2) I thought Baratz-Logsted was able to capture Mamie’s voice quite nicely. One of my favourite parts near the opening of the book (which then sets the tone of the story) is when she talks about her teacher (Mrs. Collins) and how she knew that it was not the same person as Michael Collins wife, even if they shared a name.

3) Buster was a such good friend for Mamie. I loved all the Tang he brought over for them to drink. It made me want to drink Tang! (You can even see the Tang on the cover of the book!)

4) The sisters and parents drove me crazy! How they leave Mamie. But it worked well for the story! One of my favourite lines is when Mamie writes: Doesn’t anybody stay with the ship anymore! (And the fact that she’s telling this to Michael Collins… well, he understands, right?)

5) What a fun little backstory of how the sisters in the story are all named for Presidents’ wives. Which, of course, is how Mamie gets her name, after Mamie Eisenhower. 🙂

6) I’m glad about [*slight SPOILER] the happy ending. I like happy endings! [end Spoiler]

7) One of the things I liked about this book is the focus on Michael Collins. I barely knew his name until this past summer, which was the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. He was always just the “third astronaut” to me. I think it was Google who had Michael Collins narrate a piece about his experience aboard Apollo 11. He had such a down-to-earth kind of voice. And Mamie’s right… somebody has to stay with the ship. Here’s to all the Michael Collins types out there! (And yes, I’m a Michael Collins type of person!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Honestly, I actually can’t really think of anything to put here.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book. I love the historical setting and letters Mamie writes to her hero. Such a quick and fun read, but also doesn’t shy away from some more difficult themes. I’d definitely recommend to anybody who’s interested in astronauts and space!


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: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

Aint-So-Awful-FalafelBook: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel (2016)
Author: Firoozeh Dumas
Genre: MG, Near Historical [1970s]
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Cindy’s family comes from Iran. Her real name is Zomorod, but she thinks she’d rather be called “Cindy” as she attempts to navigate middle school life in the U.S. But it’s the 1970s and things over in Iran aren’t going well. When news of the Iran Hostage Crisis hits, suddenly her dad loses his job and people are telling her to go back home to Iran. What can she and her family do?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is a very relaxed book in many ways. It’s set in the late 1970s and there’s a lot of nostalgia here. It does take some time to get to the hostage crisis.

2) The relationship between Cindy and Brock is nicely developed. As her friend Carolyn points out, you can tell they “like” each other, but I’m glad it’s just kept at the mutual-crush stage. I really don’t like it when middle-grade books put in some kissing scene, and I’m happy this book doesn’t go there. It just remains sweet and awkward and… well, sweet.

3) The friendship between the girls is lovely! Even when others are telling her family to go home, the girls (Carolyn, Rachel, and Dewey) stick by Cindy. The Halloween scenes are especially fun.

4) The parents are hilarious. I love the bit about the mom and how she’s always trying to force-feed everybody. Like with Skip and the grape-leaves. And the father is a really good dad. I just love his support of his daughter.

5) The theme of kindness is much needed in our world today. I love how she quotes from A Streetcar Named Desire (about the kindness of strangers)… and that’s true when it comes to characters like Skip (one of my favourites! He’s also the guy who speaks the words of the book’s title…) But really it’s more the kindness of friends that help Cindy and her family out.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I found the book a little long. We don’t get to the hostage part until over half-way through the book. It actually sat on my night table for quite a while before I decided to read it, and I think that may have been because of the page count.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I loved Cindy/Zomorod. She was a likable character. And reading this book was definitely meant to feature her character. I loved the historical setting and learned a lot about Iranian customs.


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!

Two Different Books, Same Topic

I recently read two middle-grade books that take place during Hurricane Katrina. What an interesting experience to read these books back-to-back.

finding-someplaceFinding Someplace // by Denise Lewis Patrick

Genre: MG, Near-Historical (2015)

My Thoughts: This one had a lot of potential, but it got mixed up with too many characters and too many themes. It’s a book that doesn’t quite know what it is. The main character is Reesie, the only daughter in an African-American family living in New Orleans. It’s her goal in life to be a fashion designer. And guess what? It’s her birthday!

That’s when Hurricane Katrina strikes. So far, so good. We soon learn that she’s terrified of water! (Backstory: She almost drowned in a swimming pool once.) But here’s where things start to go downhill. When there’s water all around her, does she freak out? Does she have a panic attack? No and no. The only other time this fear is mentioned (that I recall) is when her neighbour says something about it toward the end of the book. Like “I noticed you were afraid, Reesie.”

Also, there was also too many characters. So many people came and went. They were developed, then BAM! They were gone. (And don’t get me started on the kiss that was not set up properly.) What I really wanted was to spend more time in the book as she connected with (and possibly have conflict with) Miss Martine!

That said, I did like Reesie! Perhaps they rushed publication on this one? The book needed to be longer in order to deal with everything Denise Lewis Patrick introduced to us. [3 Stars]


zane-and-hurricaneZane and the Hurricane // by Rodman Philbrick

Genre: MG, Near-Historical (2014)

My Thoughts: I read this book after the one above. But this book was so much tighter. In a lot of ways, it was very similar. But there are differences. Zane is half-black and comes from New Hampshire. But guess what? His mom sends him down to visit his great-grandma in New Orleans. And it just happens that this happens right before Hurricane Katrina strikes.

There is an old neighbour character (Tru), and there’s conflict with the sassy girl (Malvina). This book stays pretty much within the time-frame of the hurricane and the day or so after. (Unlike the other book which jumps us to Christmas in New Jersey and then back to New Orleans in the spring. Not necessarily bad in and of itself; but like I said, that book tried to cram too much into not enough pages.)

I really enjoyed the character dynamics between Tru, Malvina, and Zane. We got to know them and care about them. We wanted them to survive! [4 Stars]


So, if you have to pick between these two books? I’d definitely go with the second one by Rodman Philbrick. The one by Denise Lewis Patrick had potential, but (unfortunately) it did not live up to that potential. I wish it was so much more! Zane, on the other hand, was well-written and knew what it was going for.

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

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