Review: The Exact Location of Home

Book: The Exact Location of Home (2014)
Author: Kate Messner
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

exact-location-of-homeBasic Plot: Zig wants nothing more than to hang out with his dad. But his mom says his dad isn’t coming. That’s when Zig comes across a GPS unit at a yard sale. And he remembers that his dad used to love geocaching! When Zig discovers somebody who uses the name “Senior Searcher”, he is convinced it’s his dad. Now Zig is following the clues from one geocache to another. Which is way better than the real-life trouble he and his mom find themselves in. When they can’t pay the rent, they end up in a homeless shelter.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This book deals with some great topics, especially with regards to homelessness. One of the best scenes (for me) was when Zig’s teacher “explains” to the class about some (mythological) kids who are homeless… Not realizing that she has such a kid right in her own classroom! And, their upcoming field trip? To visit the homeless shelter. I thought Kate Messner captured this whole sequence quite nicely… Zig’s realization that he knows more than the teacher about this. And the fear at being discovered to be “one of those kids.”

2) I enjoyed the interaction and relationship that develops between Zig and the little kid at the homeless shelter, Scoop.

3) The other friendships in the book were fine. Nothing super special, but I’m glad Zig had friends. He hides a lot from his friends, but that made sense to me.

4) The geocaching adventures were a fun touch. And it was a great way to bring the dad into the story.

5) I really like the cover for this book. And inside… I love the little bicycle at the header of each chapter. What a cute idea 🙂

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The secret with the dad was a little predictable, at least to my eyes (as an adult. Would it be clear to kids? I’m not sure.) This wasn’t necessarily a horrible thing, but it wasn’t a big surprise either that it was supposed to be. Worse was why Zig didn’t figure the truth out for himself… like why didn’t he google his dad’s name? Especially when he was trying to find the dad.

2) The herons seemed to be a boring part of the plot. [*Slight SPOILER] They turn out to be connected to Zig’s dad, i.e. a little important. But they don’t connect in any real personal way to Zig. It’s not like he gets to know the herons. Therefore WE don’t get to know the herons. [End Spoiler]

3) I wish the final revelation of who is under the water tower would have been done a little better. The payoff was weak because there was no great setup. And therefore, it lacked a punch. I didn’t feel any sense of catharsis or homecoming for Zig.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – I’m glad Messner wrote this book. I’m glad she deals with some hard topics. This wasn’t a perfect book, but it wasn’t bad either. The geocaching treasure hunt was fun.


YOUR TURN…

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

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Review: One-Third Nerd

one-third-nerdBook: One-Third Nerd (2019)
Author: Gennifer Choldenko
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Liam lives with his mom and sisters, Dakota and Izzy. Oh, and their dog Cupcake. But Cupcake has a problem with controlling her, ahem, bladder. And that isn’t good news when the landlord is a grouch and is threatening to evict the family because of it.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really liked the main character, Liam. I especially love his relationship with his sisters… even the one that gives him the most grief. (Dakota. We’ll talk more about her later.)

2) And then there’s Izzy, the youngest of the three siblings. I love Izzy! She has down-syndrome, and I really enjoyed reading about her family-interactions. I like how she and Liam have a shared love of Bigfoot! And I thought it was nice how she fits into the plot… (**MINOR SPOILER: with regards to finding the solution to their problems… both with Cupcake and with the landlord’s daughter.**)

3) The tennis part of the book was pretty neat. (Although, I’m not sure how super necessary it was to the plot.)

4) Crash is Liam’s friend’s awesome grandpa! He also happens to be the kids’ babysitter. I wish there was more of Crash in the book. He didn’t get enough page-time for my taste.

5) I also enjoyed the character of Moses. Because Moses is one of those “rich kids”, it added a nice layer when Liam is trying to hide where he lives, etc. I particularly loved the scene near the end with Moses and the “lawyer” mom! I love this kid. 🙂

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I didn’t fall in love with the dog Cupcake. Which means I wasn’t 100% rooting for them to keep the dog. Frankly, I just didn’t care. (Not that I don’t care about pets in general. I know what it’s like love a pet.) But I was more drawn to the humans in this story. Particularly Izzy.

2) Dakota drove me batty! Half-way through the book, I realized that I did NOT actually like her as a character. (**SPOILER: She sells Liam’s Bigfoot collection on eBay without asking Liam’s permission to do so! She also does the same with Izzy’s horse collection. I was furious and felt oh so betrayed.**)

3) I absolutely hated it when she started calling her mother: Kimberly. And her mom, not really okay with this, does nothing. Nothing!

4) I was waiting for some redemption arc for the landlord. (**SPOILER: Doesn’t happen. 😦 **)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – The book was good but not as good as what I’ve come to expect from Choldenko. I think the main culprit is this: I didn’t really care about the dog. And that’s pretty much the goal of the story. To save the dog. That said, the book is a fun read. I like the whole “one-third nerd” thing. And I really like the friendship that springs up between Liam and Moses. And Izzy. 🙂


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: Cool Zone

cool-zoneBook: Cool Zone with the Pain and the Great One (2008)
Author: Judy Blume
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: This is another story starring the Pain (younger brother Jake) and the Great One (older sister Abigail). Told in alternating chapters, we get their differing points of view. There’s a whole lot of sibling rivalry, but also a bunch of sibling-love at the heart of each story.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love the sibling rivalry, but I’m glad that there’s more to it than that. Even if the kids don’t quite admit it, they love each other. 🙂

2) I don’t mind the episodic nature of this book. Not many books get published nowadays that are basically a collection of short stories. Judy Blume does a great job with this one. Each story is self-contained and fun.

3) Judy Blume’s characterization of the kids is perfect. Reminds me of her Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing series. I love how she starts out each of these books with how the Pain thinks their parents prefer the Great One, and the Great One thinks the Pain gets all the breaks in their family. Isn’t that how it always is?

4) This book is a quick read. I think my favourite story was the one about the lost tooth. (I could feel Abigail’s frustration!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The only thing I didn’t really like was that the Pain (Jake) calls his teacher “Mary”. Every other teacher in the book is called Mr./Ms. This is just a personal preference of mine. In fact, I ended up just substituting Ms. Mary in my mind every time I saw her name in the book.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this book. Not sure whose POV I liked better. The POV of the Pain? Or that of the Great 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

Newbery Verdict: Ramona and her Father

Ramona and her Father // by Beverly Cleary (1977)

ramona-and-her-fatherNewbery Honor Book (1978)
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic Plot: Ramona’s in second grade when her father suddenly loses his job. When she finds out they have to scrimp and save, Ramona starts coming up with her own ideas to help her family make some money. One of her ideas ends with her hair in snarls. Another of her ideas is aimed at getting her father to quit smoking.

MY THOUGHTS…

I love, love, love this book. I love the relationship that is shown between Ramona and her dad. This book deals with some tough issues like having a father who is out of work. And the depression he goes through. And then there’s the “no smoking” campaign headed up by Ramona and her sister Beezus. One of my favourite scenes is when Ramona comes home to a house to find that her dad has broken his promise. The moment where Mr. Quimby talks to Ramona about what happened is heart-breakingly precious.

As with most middle-grade books, this one has a happy ending. And I’m glad it does. I adore the Christmas scene at the end.

NEWBERY VERDICT…

One of the best of the best Ramona Quimby books there is. It’s easy to see why it was nominated for a Newbery. It didn’t win, but there was tough competition that year. (The winner was Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.) Still, this is a 5-star book for me!

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.

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: Towers Falling

towers-fallingBook: Towers Falling (2016)
Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Deja lives with her family in what can only be described as a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. She’s at a new school, and she’s hoping to stay here. One day, Miss Garcia points out the difference in the Manhattan skyline–namely the absence of the Twin Towers. Deja is intrigued. She doesn’t know anything about those towers. However, when she brings them up to her father, his dark reaction surprises her. And now she’s afraid he’s going to take her away, not just from her new school, but from her new set of friends as well.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really enjoyed watching the friendship blossom between Deja, Ben, and Sabeen. We get to see it from the very beginning, which is nice.

2) I like how the teachers were dealing with the tragedy for a generation that was born after the towers fell. As a teacher in Queens in 2001, I taught the kids who lived through it. So, I was indeed fascinated by this. What blew my mind was that Miss Garcia (the teacher) was in 5th grade during 9/11!

3) The scene at the site of the World Trade Center… The author captured this memorial in a really wonderful way. I was just there, so it was all fresh in my mind. The water fall footprints of the towers. The white roses. The names. This part was possibly the best scene for me.

4) The storyline with the father was nicely done. (Although, I will say, when he finally speaks, he almost says too much. Which I felt was a little out of character for him.) This was a very emotional and cathartic scene.

5) I loved Deja’s dedication to her family. She helps her parents out with her two younger siblings. I loved her for that!

6) I really like what they did with the cover art… how the Freedom Tower stands where the Twin Towers once stood. And how things are upsidedown and topsy-turvy.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Deja was a little too introspective for me at times. Especially when you consider that she’s only ten years old. In some ways, she seems like a teenager.

2) When Deja goes to visit her friend Sabeen for the first time–Sabeen is Muslim–the family makes a comment that Deja would make a good Muslim. I found that a REALLY WEIRD thing to say to a child the first time you meet them. Especially a non-Muslim child. It felt like they were trying to convert her??

3) At one point in the book, Deja brings her dad to the school. He seems to walk right in, down the halls, and enters her classroom. Ahem. I taught school in NYC and NO PARENT (and certainly no adult, unless they were a teacher) was able to enter the school at all. Doors are locked. The only way in is through the school office. (The student entrances are locked or manned by a teacher.) So, I had a really hard time with this part of the plot.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This book is about the events of 9/11, but 15 years after the fact. Since I lived and worked in New York City during September 11, 2001, I feel a close connection. However, I don’t like watching the footage. But this book hit the right notes for me. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s worth the read.


YOUR TURN…

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

Newbery Verdict: The Year of Billy Miller

The Year of Billy Miller // by Kevin Henkes (2013)

year-billy-millerNewbery Honor Book (2014)
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Billy Miller is starting second grade. When he has a fall and gets a bump on his head, he begins to worry that he’s not quite smart enough for school. And so begins the year where Billy tries to figure out what makes him Billy…

MY THOUGHTS…

So this is the author of some wonderful picture book characters, like Lily (of purple plastic purse fame). Kevin Henkes does a really nice job with Billy Miller and his family. I love his family! He has such a creative and sympathetic Papa! (Although, Billy thinks that he’s getting a little too old to be calling his Papa and begins to call him “Dad”.) I really enjoyed how Billy inspires Papa when he’s feeling down about his work.

One of my favourite parts is when Billy and his sister try to stay up all night. 3-year-old Sal wants to play with her dolls. Billy has no interest in playing with the dolls, but he feels that if he wants Sal to stay awake, he better do what she suggests. THEN, he plays with the dolls by creating an explosion! (Typical boy!) Suffice it to say that Sal isn’t impressed. But the two of them end up working it all out. 🙂

NEWBERY VERDICT…

For a lower grade book, this story is fun with a lot of endearing characters. I can definitely see why they gave this book a Newbery Honor.

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.

Quick Pick Reviews #11

Eighth Grade is Making Me Sick // by Jennifer L. Holm

eighth-grade-making-me-sickGenre: MG, Contemporary (2012)

My Thoughts: This is the sequel to Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf. The subtitle pretty much sums up the style of this book: Ginny Davis’s Year in Stuff. And it’s surprising how much plot we get from just reading report cards, notes from mom, bank statements, etc. This book picks up where the last one left off and Ginny’s life proves to be as interesting as ever.

I will say that the title of this book is actually quite plot relevant (as opposed to the Meatloaf title; I don’t remember meatloaf factoring into the plot of the first book.) [4 Stars]


Baby-Sitting is a Dangerous Job // by Willo Davis Roberts

baby-sitting-dangerous-jobGenre: MG, Contemporary (1985)

My Thoughts: A cute book about a teen named Darcy who gets a baby-sitting job for a family known to have three, rambunctious kids. That’s how she ends up being kidnapped along with the children. I like how she and the children bond and work together.

Is the book realistic? Not really, but it’s fairly entertaining. I do love the cover on this re-release. (I’ve seen the original 1980’s cover and, well, this one is so much better. Although I’m not exactly sure what the tree house has to do with the plot!) [3 Stars]


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

Review: 12 Before 13

12-before-13Book: 12 Before 13 (2018)
Author: Lisa Greenwald
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Arianna and Kaylan are best friends. They have a list of 12 items they want to tick off before Arianna’s bat mitzvah in November. However, the first item on the listKeep our friendship strongis proving to be one of the tougher challenges. Ari’s always texting her new friends from summer camp, and Kaylan’s drawn to other friends from school. Turning thirteen is not for the weary…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The list is a fun way to track the plot of this story about two friends who have their ups and downs. It’s nice to see them work things through. I also love how items on the list are trivial (like #5 Perfect our handstand) and some go much deeper (like #6 Help someone else shine).

2) I really enjoyed seeing Arianna’s journey as she starts to take a serious interest in her Jewish heritage as she preps for her bat mitzvah.

3) I like the subplot involving Ari’s dad. It’s nice (well, not really) how it affects the bat mitzvah plans. And how it corresponds to list item #10 Tell a boy how we really feel.

4) It’s nice how it all comes together at the end. Not super-surprising, but it all led to a satisfactory ending.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) One thing I don’t like in these types of books is when they spend too much time on what they call “the big P”. What interesting, though, is that Arianna seems to share my aversion! Kaylan and the lunch table can’t stop talking about it. (I can understand a book where this is plot-important. In this book, it really isn’t.)

2) I felt some of the dialogue and slang was a little too much. There was a lot of slang. And I do know some current 12 to 13-year-olds. They don’t really talk like this. (Are there kids who do?) Anyhow, I found it a little off-putting. But maybe that’s just me.

3) The models on the cover look older than 12 going on 13. Maybe it’s the lipstick?

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, this was a cute story about these two friends. Apparently this is a sequel to another book, which I haven’t read, but I didn’t seem to be missing too much. This one definitely works as a stand-alone.


YOUR TURN…

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

ARC Review: Squint

SquintSquint // by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Genre: MG, Contemporary

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

Basic Plot: Squint has problems with his eyesight… but he isn’t letting that stop him from creating a comic for a contest. Except then his former friend plants the seeds of doubt. When he meets McKell, he’s introduced to her brother’s challenges, which is something that just might give him that lift to finish what he started.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved Squint. I definitely felt for him and his insecurities as he navigated through the rough waters of middle school. I was rooting for him the entire book.

2) The Danny subplot was really good, and I liked how it merged with Squint’s story. The authors were able to capture the hurt and emotion necessary to make this work. And yes, I cried at several parts in the book! And there’s a twist with regards to Danny and Squint’s eyes that I didn’t see coming…

3) I loved all the discoveries and the twists. I saw some of them coming, but there were others that I didn’t anticipate. However, once I read those parts I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before!

4) I enjoyed how the comic (the story-within-a-story) worked with Squint’s real life. It was nice to see how Squint took the events of his world and worked them into his comic world.

5) The little “Rules” that Squint scattered throughout were a great addition to the story.

6) Also, what a roller coaster of emotions this book was! There’s a great scene with Squint and his grandfather. And then there’s McKell. There’s a stunning moment when Squint begins to wonder if he’s just an item for McKell to tick off her challenge-list. I liked how this book shows that friendship isn’t always easy.

7) And I liked how things don’t exactly work out in the most ideal way… that things aren’t perfect by the end of the book. And I think that is part of this book’s power. (Not that this story doesn’t have a satisfactory ending, but it’s more a realistic/happy ending.)

8) Love that book cover!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) While I liked the story-within-a-story, I did find was a skipping some of it a bit. I wonder if I would have liked it more IF it were actually the comic itself?

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 Stars (out of 5) – I don’t often give 5 starts. But this is probably one of the best MG reads I’ve read this year. Highly recommend it! 🙂