Review / Summerlost

summerlostBook: Summerlost (2016)
Author: Ally Condie
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Cedar Lee joins the crew at the town’s summer Shakespeare Festival where she meets Leo. It’s not long before they’re running an under-the-table tour of the festival’s most famous actress. There’s a little mystery surrounding her death twenty years prior and Cedar and Leo are determined to figure it out…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The Shakespeare festival is such a fun setting for this book. I love books about the theatre. Where I live, we have two big summer theatre festivals (within a 2-hour driving radius), so this is familiar ground to me. I also have done work in theatre myself (all behind the scenes).

2) There are tunnels that run under the theatre for the actors to get backstage. How fun is that? (And yes, this is a huge attraction to the kids in the story.)

3) I love how the kids are hired to sell the programs and concessions at the festival. And that their boss, Gary, is so into it. “Remember, you are in England!” Of course, they’re not actually allowed to speak with a British accent… except Leo.

4) The backstory of the death of Cedar’s dad and brother in a car crash is nicely woven into the plot. I also love Cedar’s relationship with her younger brother Miles. (Although, I don’t understand their fascination with watching the soap opera; I’m with the mom on that one!)

5) Leo is awesome. I love his enthusiasm for Lisette Chamberlain and how he knows everything there is to know about her. And how the kids set up a little tour-guide business!

6) I loved that the book was divided up into “Acts.” Although, since this was a Shakespearean festival, in my opinion, it should have been divided up into five acts, instead of three. And the epilogue… They totally missed the opportunity to call it: Curtain Call!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Another name that didn’t feel like it needed to be sooooo unique. And I kept forgetting her name (the story is told in first person). And with her brothers named Ben and Miles, Cedar seems like she doesn’t belong to the same family.

2) The ending was a little bit meh for me. (*SPOILERS) There’s this big build-up to the tunnels that run under the theatre. And while the kids do get to explore them, it’s probably the least interesting part of the book. Nothing happens there. We already know about the ring. Basically, it felt anti-climatic. (End Spoiler)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I would recommend to theatre-lovers. Double points for anybody who loves Shakespeare. I wish the hint at mystery worked better than it does, but overall it’s not a bad read. I enjoyed it.


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 / Shakespeare’s Spy

shakespeares-spyBook: Shakespeare’s Spy (2005)
Author: Gary Blackwood
Genre: MG, Historical
Rating: 3 stars

Basic plot: Widge is one of the theatre prentices at the Globe Theatre when young boys played the roles of characters like Juliet and Ophelia. He’s also Shakespeare’s scribe. When Shakespeare has a case of writer’s block, he gives a play to Widge, telling him that he can do with it as he pleases. Widge decides to try to finish the play! But, there are other problems. Good Queen Bess is dying and all theatre is canceled. And to make matters worse, there’s a spy among the players, but Shakespeare doesn’t know who it could be…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is the third book featuring Widge. I haven’t read the second book, but I have read the first book in the series⁠—The Shakespeare Stealer. I’m glad Widge gets a new name in this one!

2) I felt like we were in Elizabethan London! I enjoyed the setting. And I liked the history behind the book… like the death of Queen Elizabeth I. It happened at a time of plague. And then, the theatres are shut down! (Actually, this sounds like 2020, not 1603!)

3) I liked the relationship between Widge and the fatherly Mr. Pope. He’s more of a father to Widge than his real father. My favourite scene with Mr. Pope has to do with the return of Julia!

4) The mystery of the spy in Shakespeare’s troop is set up quite nicely. Although the resolution is a bit too quick for my tastes (see below).

5) Seeing William Shakespeare in action is fun! I like how he relies on Widge. And I like how his “rejected” play comes into the story. Gary Blackwood explains why he wrote these parts in this way in his author’s note at the end.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Julia shows up at the end of this book. She’s mentioned earlier, but everything about her feels like a backstory being told. It almost felt like she didn’t really belong in this story. And yet, she does. It just felt… awkward.

2) The whole thing about Shakespeare’s spy? It happens close to the end of the story. And it’s WAY too easily solved. It hardly took a chapter! I was disappointed in this part. I wanted at least a little danger of the characters being found out!

3) Why is Judith Shakespeare in this book again? First of all, her name is far too similar to Julia’s name. Secondly, nothing seems to come from her being in the story!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I would recommend this book to those interested in Shakespeare or theatre in general. Or for those who like historical fiction. Widge is a sympathetic character. The book doesn’t live up to its name, but it’s still good in its own way.


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: William S. and the Great Escape

william-s-great-escapeBook: William S. and the Great Escape (2009)
Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Genre: MG, Historical (1930s)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: William S. Baggett and his sister decide that it’s finally time to run away from home–away from an abusive father and a stepmother who doesn’t like them. And so begins the Great Escape. What makes it even harder… They decide to bring their little brother and sister with them to the safety of their aunt’s house. Along the way, they end up at the home of a girl they don’t know. She seems nice enough, but is she telling the truth when she tells them it’s not safe for them to continue on their journey?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The “S” after William’s name stands for “Shakespeare”. And one of William’s coping mechanisms is to immerse himself in reading from his big book of Shakespeare’s plays. He even entertains his siblings with his dramatizations.

2) I liked Clarice, despite the fact that she was quite selfish at times. But she does keep things interesting. And I like how she affected the ending of the story. 🙂

3) There was a nice sense of suspense as the kids are traveling. Some good conflict added when they finally realize they don’t actually have their aunt’s address!

4) The little kids added a nice bit of conflict to the escape as well. I like that William and Jancy won’t leave without the little ones, even though they know they will just slow them down.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) At times, I had to keep reminding myself that this is supposed to be set in the 1930s. There were references to Shirley Temple and everything, but I’m not sure I was fully immersed in time period as I should have been.

2) This book has the disadvantage of having to move away from William’s POV to explain what happened. And I found that a little… awkward. I’m not sure how she could have done it, though.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Not as good as her other books (The Egypt Game, especially), but I did enjoy it. There’s a second book which I’m looking forward to reading… so, that’s definitely a positive.


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: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet

tragedy-girl-named-hamletBook: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet (2010)
Author: Erin Dionne
Genre: Upper MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Hamlet Kennedy is facing a year of headaches and heartaches. Her genius (younger) sister is joining her at her middle school. Her Shakespearean parents don’t get her. On top of that, they have been invited to speak to her class about… you guessed it, Shakespeare. And then there’s the mystery of who is leaving origami pigs in her locker…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Can I just say how much I love this title?! It’s fun. Plus it gives a great sense of what the story is going to be about.

2) I liked the relationship between Hamlet and her sister, Dezzie. There’s a nice arc in how they relate to one another. There are moments where they fight, and yet they also care about one another. I love how they work together at the end of the story.

3) I also liked their dad… He’s not quite as crazy as the mother. While both are Shakespearean scholars, the dad is a little more down-to-earth.

4) The little twist with the origami pigs was cute. I liked how this part of the plot mirrors the romantic escapades and mix-ups of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I did have a little trouble suspending my disbelief to think that a family would name their daughter Hamlet. Desdemona makes sense. But Hamlet?! Why would you do that to your baby girl? Why?!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A fun contemporary read about sisters, school, and Shakespeare. And origami pigs 🙂


YOUR TURN…

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

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.