MG Mini-Reviews / April

bookshopBook: The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams (2021)
Author: Mindy Thompson
Genre: MG, Historical Fantasy

Opening lines from the book …
The bookshop is feeling blue today. I sense it the moment my brother James and I arrive home from school. The lights are low, the ever-shifting wallpaper is a cheerless dark gray, with somber books on display—Wuthering Heights, Old Yeller, A Little Princess. The gloom sinks into my bones.


Love the magical bookshop! In many ways, this bookshop, called Rhyme and Reason, is its own character. It somehow senses different things and morphs accordingly. And it has a special connection to Poppy, the bookstore owners’ daughter. The bookstore is a haven for time-travelers. (It’s kind of neat that Poppy is really wanting to read books like the Chronicles of Narnia, which haven’t been written yet!)

The story takes place during World War II. Poppy’s father gets very sick and it seems like it might have something to do with the weird things that are happening with the bookstore. On top of that, news comes that a close family friend has died in the war. Poppy’s older brother wants to use the magic of the bookstore to change things. But, of course, that’s forbidden.

In some ways, this book is a little dark, which surprised me a bit. But then again, it does make sense. It’s really about choices we make.

capt-daughtersBook: The Captain’s Daughters (2021)
Author: Doreen D. Berger
Genre: MG, Sci-fi

Opening lines from the book …
“Dad, we know what to do!” Diane assured him again, totally exasperated, as he gave her and Robin last-minute instructions. “We’re twelve!” she reminded him. “We don’t need your help! Honestly, we don’t.”


I find I don’t read a lot of science fiction. This book turned out to have a big Star Trek vibe to it! While I enjoyed that, I also found it sometimes a little too distracting because I’d be comparing it to the Star Trek universe!

Let’s get to the two main characters! Diane and Robin are two girls set out for adventure. The story begins when they are kidnapped and their attempts to get home again. Just at the time when you think they’re about to succeed, there’s a nice little twist that throws them even further way from their goal. I found it interesting to see the juxtaposition of the shiny world of space travel against the dirt and sweat of the horseback riding scenes. There’s even the grandma’s homecooked meals being compared with the sterile futuristic cooking aboard the starship Polaris.

My head also began to spin a bit with different universes and counterparts and trying to figure out who is where and when! But that’s what happens when you deal with multiple universes! And there were a lot of flashbacks which also got to be a little confusing at times. I’d get caught up in a fun story where the girls get into some scrape, but then I’d forget that I was in the past. There are some really fun scenes, though. The scene at the end  (*SPOILER! where the two Captain Marshes—Dad and Uncle Bill—are together and the girls aren’t sure which one is their dad… End Spoiler) is priceless!

Review / The Last Cuentista

20211113ma_3955Book: The Last Cuentista (2021)
Author: Donna Barba Higuera
Genre: MG, Sci-fi

Opening lines from the book …
Lita tosses another pinon log onto the fire. Sweet smoke drifts past us into the starry sky. Her knees crack as she sits back down on the blanket next to me. The cup of hot chocolate with cinnamon she’s made me sits untouched this time.


1) Lita is a storyteller. And so is her granddaughter Petra, the protagonist of our story. The opening of the book is Petra’s final visit with her grandmother before she and her family leave on the rocket. They are part of the mission to settle a new planet because a comet is set to destroy Earth. So you know this visit is going to be bittersweet. I love books that have a strong grandparent/grandchild thread running through it.

2) This book is such a wonderful mix of sci-fi and folklore. Lita’s stories (that Petra later makes her own) filter through the futuristic spaceship and exploration setting. I love how Petra’s audience (the other children) are drawn to her cuentos (stories), especially the one boy Voxy who has never know life outside of the spaceship.

3) Speaking of Voxy, I loved him! I love how he’s drawn to Petra and to the others. He hasn’t quite been overtaken by the radical agenda of those who are running things. Love how he helps Petra “break in” to find out a little more about their situation and what happened to their parents, etc.

4) And then there’s … Nyla, the Chancellor of the “Collective” (yeah, not a fan of this having watched the Borg do their thing on Star Trek!). She’s one of those authoritarian antagonists you love to hate. Each of the people from Earth have been put into status for the trip. The ones who are monitoring everything will go through several generations. Meaning Nyla and her compatriots have never set foot on Earth and therefore have no real attachment to Earth or Earth’s values. She is the embodiment of those who want to make humans forget all about Earth, even to the point of renaming all the children. (Petra’s name is Zeta-1. We don’t even know the real names of some of the other Zetas.)

5) I love the little twist with Epsilon-5, which I won’t spoil. I like how he works together with Petra.

6) Love that beautiful blue cover!


This book definitely had the vibes of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, but with a hint of Star Trek and other space sagas. I would also recommend for anybody who does like folklore and the art of storytelling, as well as to those who like science fiction and dystopian.



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: Planet Earth is Blue

planet-earth-blueBook: Planet Earth is Blue (2019)
Author: Nicole Panteleakos
Genre: MG, Near Historical [1986]
Rating: 4.5 stars

Basic plot: Nova is autistic and pretty much nonverbal. She loves all things “space” and is excited about the upcoming launch of the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle. She knows that older sister Bridget promised to watch it with her, and Bridget is the one person in Nova’s world that is always there for her.


1) So, I love near historical novels… Not surprised that this one (that takes place in 1986) interested me. Of course, knowing that this book is centered around the Challenger was bittersweet. I loved how the author was able to incorporate that into the story. (One of the scenes that takes place prior to the launch is the incident where Nova is playing with her toy astronauts in the attic.)

2) The relationship between Nova and her sister Bridget is told mostly from Nova’s “letters” to Bridget. This is a very clever way to give us Nova’s thoughts when she rarely speaks in the story. It was also a great way to get to know (and love) Bridget the way Nova knew (and loved) her.

3) I loved Nova’s foster family. (The one she’s with, not the ones from her past.) It’s nice to see a family that knows how to work with Nova and accept her for a person. Both parents are great, and so is Joanie the college-aged daughter.

4) All the pop-culture references were spot on with their thematic significance, even ones that don’t seem to be at first. (I’m looking at you, Bridge to Terabithia poster!) I wasn’t too familiar with David Bowie’s song Space Oddity (which is quoted from extensively in the book, even lending a lyric to the title of the book!), but the other references were fun throwbacks to childhood in the 1980s.

5) I do like the cover. Nicely done. 🙂


1) I did NOT like how she did the Neil Armstrong quote in the book: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” In 1986, we did NOT use the word “a”, and nobody I knew ever made fun of Armstrong for saying it that way. Of course, it does make more sense with the “a”, but if we want to be historical, Nova would not have known the quote with the “a”. That really, truly bothered me!!!! (Okay, I’m calm again. Rant over.)


My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – I know it’s written for kids, but this is the type of book that may be more interesting to the adult reader. That said, I really did enjoy it. It does have some sadness in it, so be warned (but if you know what happens to the Challenger, you should already know that).


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

Photo Challenge #44 / Look Up

20180928ma_5331“Starry Sky” / Theme: Look Up

A little about this photo…

This is the Great Hall, located in Queens, NY. It was constructed for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Housed in the Hall of Science, its theme was Rendezvous in Space… hence the blue glass that makes up the walls of this giant room. And it really is a giant room (something you can’t quite grasp from the photo). During the World’s Fair, the exhibit featured Frank Capra’s final film projected onto a suspended screen. Apparently, when the film ended, two space modules performed a docking maneuver overhead!

I have two photos and I couldn’t decide which one I liked better. So I decided to put the second one below…


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

ARC Review: Earthrise

earthriseEarthrise // by James Gladstone
Release Date: October 15, 2018
Genre: Picture Book, Non-Fiction (Space)

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

Basic Plot: This is the story behind the photograph of the earth taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts back in 1968; and how such a photo led to a different view of our world.


1) I love that the illustrations evoke the 1960s. They are wonderfully done!

2) I love photography, so I found this story particularly interesting. It’s a little behind-the-scenes “snapshot” at how one of the most famous photographs of all time came to be.

3) The story juxtaposes a tumultuous time (1968) with a photograph that is anything but tumultuous. It’s simple and beautiful and serene.


1) I feel like this could be made for older children with a little more text. Maybe explaining a few things. History-wise. This was the year that Martin Luther King was shot. And Robert Kennedy. And a war in Vietnam. They didn’t have to go into extreme detail, but maybe at least mention MLK.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A wonderfully illustrated book about this moment in history. I’d recommend for 1st through 3rd grade. Maybe Kindergarten?

Quick Pick Reviews #2

I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at present. Below are three non-fiction books (for adults) that I finished recently.

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

51VgMgGUWCL._SY346_Book: When Books Went to War
Author: Molly Guptill Manning

My Thoughts: If you are a book lover, than you’re in luck. If you are also a lover of history (particularly of the World War II variety), then this is the book for you! This book tells the story behind how the U.S. used books to help bolster the troops during the Second World War. I really enjoyed this book. I also love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and finding out that that book was one of the most sought-after books by the soldiers… well, Bonus! My heart is happy when I hear how books play an important part in people’s lives. 🙂

51XOMTe3NCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Author: Mary Roach

My Thoughts: This is a book full of fun-filled facts about all things space. I particularly liked the historic parts that dealt with the Space Race, from the Russian cosmonauts to the Mercury and Apollo astronauts. But the modern stuff is also good. Like the origami-folding tests given to Japanese astronaut hopefuls! Origami? Really?! (How interesting!) Roach also asks questions that most people would be too afraid to ask (like detailing the challenges of using the bathroom in space). I particularly like the story she tells of her own experience to try to “pass the test” to become an astronaut. She’s told she’s going to get a phone call from Europe. The call comes in at something like 3:00 in the morning and she’s quite grumpy at being woken up from a sound sleep. But it’s only later that she realizes that that was part of the test. Oops. Obviously she’s not cut out to be an astronaut!

51+aO13QmWL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders
Author: Brady Carlson

My Thoughts: Carlson takes us on a journey through history with a focus on the various the Presidents of the United States… but it’s all about their deaths. And considering the topic, oddly enough, his voice is quite chipper! In other words, this isn’t a morose read. It’s interesting. One of the more fascinating stories for me was of President Garfield’s death. After he was shot, the doctors couldn’t find the bullet! But they kept poking their unsanitized fingers around his wound; in fact, making him a whole lot worse. Actually, according to the book his death was not due so much to the assassin’s bullet, but due to the care given to him by his medical team! (Poor Garfield. He wasn’t even in office that long. He probably never knew that one of his greatest legacies was to have a cat named after him!)

Review: Apollo 8

Apollo-8-Cover-GalleyCat.jpgBook: Apollo 8
Author: Jeffrey Kluger
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: The true story behind the space mission of Apollo 8… How astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were the first to orbit the moon in 1968.


1) The subtitle of the book is: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon. For a space mission that really had no mishaps and went off pretty much like clockwork, Kluger somehow does indeed make it a “thrilling story”. What a story-telling gift!

2) This book brought NASA in the Gemini and Apollo eras to life like no other book I’ve read. I finally understand who some of the personalities were and what they actually did during in the space program. People like Chris Kraft and Deke Slayton and Gene Kranz, in addition to the astronauts themselves and their wives. And Kluger made all of them into real people.

3) The story of the Apollo 1 disaster was heartbreaking. Very well-written.

4) I really liked how he handled the Christmas message. He was able to use story-telling to create anticipation for an event that I already knew about!

5) I also like how the tragic events of 1968 (such as the war in Vietnam and the assassinations of MLK and RFK) were juxtaposed against this amazingly optimistic achievement. Especially amazing is how the author ties it all together in the final chapter with a telegram received by one of the astronauts.

6) I loved the cover. Very sleek, yet appropriate. Especially cool is how the lettering looks like a Saturn V rocket.


1) Hmm? Anything? Radio blackout, here. Nothing to report.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I like space books and I enjoyed this one very much! Bonus on the audio book version which has an interview with Frank Borman, the commander of Apollo 8, as well as audio soundbites from the mission itself!

Review: Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth

imagesBook: Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth
Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Rating: 3.5 Stars:

Basic plot: Prez is in foster care (or Children’s Temporary) when he meets an alien/dog named Sputnik (he’s really an alien, but everybody thinks he’s a dog). Sputnik’s goal is to save earth from annihilation. All Prez wants to do is go home and live with his Grandad.


1) The List and how it works into the chapter titles and the plot.

2) I really liked Prez. He’s quiet and doesn’t talk much, but this didn’t feel gimmicky to me. We really get to know him through his first-person narration. And of course, through his conversations with Sputnik in his head. I really liked how this backfires on him a few times.

3) The plot connects realism with complete fantasy very well. There are some crazy, memorable moments, including the light sabre and Hadrian’s Wall (not at any way connected, by the way, but I won’t spoil it here).

4) The relationship of the Grandad and Prez. And how Prez starts to figure out what’s real and what’s not with regards to the map and the sea chest, etc.

5) Laika. The space history buff in me got quite excited when Laika comes into the story. (The journal is quite clever.)


1) For some reason, I wasn’t crazy about Sputnik, the alien/dog. In fact, I would never want to meet Sputnik. Ever. I felt I should like him, but I don’t. And I feel kind of bad that I don’t.

2) This isn’t a page-turner. Is that bad thing? Maybe not.


My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – Liked quite a bit, but didn’t super love it. The best parts are Prez and the Grandad. I would definitely spend an afternoon with them, as long as they promised Sputnik wasn’t going to show up!