Friday, January 19, 2018

MMGM (1/19/2018): Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

I haven't had much time to read for the last few weeks, but I looked at the books I've been hoarding saving and found one which I remember finding unique. Therefore, I am reviewing Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.

Here's the publisher's description:

In her own singularly beautiful style, Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech intricately weaves together two tales, one funny, one bittersweet, to create a heartwarming, compelling, and utterly moving story of love, loss, and the complexity of human emotion. This Harper Classic edition features new back matter, including a teacher’s guide with discussion questions and exclusive information about the author.

Thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle, proud of her country roots and the "Indian-ness in her blood," travels from Ohio to Idaho with her eccentric grandparents. Along the way, she tells them of the story of Phoebe Winterbottom, who received mysterious messages, who met a "potential lunatic," and whose mother disappeared.

As Sal entertains her grandparents with Phoebe's outrageous story, her own story begins to unfold—the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose only wish is to be reunited with her missing mother.

I have mixed feelings about this Newbery Medal-winning novel. Although the idea of a child with deceased family members may have been original back in 1994 when the book was published, it has become spectacularly overused in both MG and YA literature. There's nothing particularly offensive about the way this book portrays the situation (it actually captures the grief very well), but reading about all of the effects of grief that many people have already read about many times or even experienced gets exhausting quickly (and the death of a major character at the end of the book does not help). Also, there is something particularly poignant about the novel—I came out of it when I first read it for school in sixth grade with a feeling of inexplicable, unresolved sadness. However, Walk Two Moons has many good qualities. The way it alternates between Sal's present-day travels and the story she is telling keeps the novel interesting, and Creech puts in many interesting anecdotes about Sal's grandparents, family, and more that create a vivid backstory for the novel. Sal's story has many well-developed characters and an interesting aspect of mystery as well. Walk Two Moons is an imperfect novel, but many readers will enjoy it and recognize why it is the near-classic it is today.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

MMGM (1/14/2018): 5 MG Books to Read When You're Sick!

This week, with all of the flu and illness going around, I was planning to go back through my reviews and make a list of MG books that are great to read when you’re sick. I wasn’t really sure what made books better than others when one is sick, but now I know, since . . . I got sick! :( I realized that the best books for when someone is sick are those with rich description and something constantly happening, allowing readers to leave their own misery for a while. Therefore, here are my 5 top books to read when you’re sick!

Dumpling Days by Grace Lin
Click here for original review

This book (the third in a series based on the author's real life, although this novel can be read by itself) chronicles her trip to Taiwan as a child. As I read this novel, I felt like I was on a trip myself, getting to try new foods, learn about Taiwanese culture, and even see what the different cities of Taiwan are like! Pacy (or Grace in English) is kept busy throughout the trip, visiting new areas, taking classes, and seeing family. For anyone who wants to drop everything and travel but cannot do so practically, Dumpling Days is a perfect read!

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Click here for original review

This classic novel has been famous for its entire 107-year existence, and for good reason! Mary's new life with her uncle and his servants in England is full of discovery and nature as Mary begins to explore and warm up to England and mystery as she discovers the titular garden and other, stranger secrets as well. The Secret Garden could be thought of as a precursor to the many novels of today set in mysterious, old-fashioned homes. If you're looking for intrigue, nature, and a different time period, The Secret Garden is for you!

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Click here for original review

The Mysterious Benedict Society shows the at-times-delightful, at-times-suspenseful, and always-interesting adventures of four genius children (logical Reynie, fact-filled Sticky, resourceful Kate, and stubborn Constance) as they try to thwart evil by infiltrating a suspicious school. The interactions between the four main characters are often hilarious and sometimes sad, and interest is piqued as the kids discover just what the school owner, Mr. Curtain, is up to. The Mysterious Benedict Society is a great pick for a fast-paced, enjoyable read!
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Click here for original review

Greenglass House is a very unique mystery. In a part of the world filled with smugglers and thieves, Milo's parents run a small hotel, which fills up with five interesting characters during the winter holidays. Milo and his new friend Meddy are then forced to team up, adopt alter egos, and try to solve the suspicious crimes that keep occurring at the hotel. Learning the backstory and motives for each character will keep readers guessing until the end, and anyone can sink into the vivid setting! For anyone looking for a wonderful, unique mystery, Greenglass House is for you!

Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur
Click here for original review

After her father and sister die in a car accident and her mother, consumed with guilt for driving the car, runs away and leaves her daughter alone, Aubrey ends up moving from Virginia to Vermont to live with her grandmother. In this new setting, she makes new friends and gets to know her grandmother, but she is also upset by her father's and sister's deaths. Aubrey's struggles are not overly upsetting, however, and readers will find themselves drawn into the novel. Love, Aubrey is perfect for anyone who prefers a more lifelike story that still sucks readers in.

If any of you get sick, I hope you get well soon and enjoy these picks! If you don't get sick, I hope you will consider reading these novels at some point, since they can be enjoyed at any time!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

MMGM (1/8/2017) Classic Critique: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

It’s time for another Classic Critique! I haven’t had much time recently to read new books, but, for school recently, I had to read A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Since I have already spent much time analyzing and studying it, I figured I might as well review it! (F.Y.I. I wouldn't be shocked if this review ends up working better as a commentary for people who have already read the novel, since it will probably turn most readers away from the book.)

Here's the publisher's description:

An American classic and great bestseller for over thirty years, A Separate Peace is timeless in its description of adolescence during a period when the entire country was losing its innocence to World War II.

Set at a boys' boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.

  • Each event is negative. I want to start this review with the cons and end with the pros. A Separate Peace is not supposed to be a happy story, as it represents a sad time in the U.S.’s history. However, most authors try to inject happiness somewhere in the story, which Knowles fails at. Every conversation that Gene has, every activity that Finny organizes, every outpouring of poeticism from a now-adult Gene (who seems incredibly pretentious, as I will mention next) fills the reader with emotions that range only from apathy to crushing sadness dulled by exasperation. Even times that are supposed to be happy and joyous, such as the Winter Carnival that Finny organizes, are tainted by the characters' constant meanness and inability to show any true happiness. This rant brings me to my next point:
  • The characters are awful in so many ways. I hate several characters in A Separate Peace, one of whom is unfortunately the main character and narrator, Gene. A line early in the novel which best represents the problem I have with Gene is when he criticizes his younger self for being sarcastic and now views sarcasm as “the protest of people who are weak.” The adult Gene and narrator has never overcome the pessimistic attitude of his younger self and forgiven child-Gene. He seems to have become one of those people who has unrealistic expectations for children and finds himself above them. Although this personality and how it has originated from his immense guilt as a child is interesting, it does make for an unpleasant narrator whose intelligent points I cannot help but think are pretentious and ignorant. Finny's naïveté and positivity are annoying and have a nearly-hidden hint of something unpleasant deeper within him, and other characters such as Brinker are just mean (I was upset when, after everything Brinker had done to both Gene himself and others, he still remains friends with him and his adult self makes no mention of it). A Separate Peace shows an interesting portrait of life at a boarding school amongst other boys who have no real direction from parents, but it makes a better case study than gripping read.

  • The depiction of the war is excellent. Knowles does an excellent job showing all of the shadows that World War II cast over America, as well as how it could seem potentially exciting to kids who want to enlist. Unlike a war of today, in which usually only those who join the armed forces of their own accord fight, WWII ended up requiring many people to be forced to join the army. The students at Devon School in A Separate Peace did not know if they would enter the army only to never have a day of fighting, or if they would take part in whatever horrendous battles were to come, and they also did not know which would be good and which would be bad. A Separate Peace makes me intrigued about the war's effects on ordinary people in America, as opposed to just soldiers and people where the war was fought. 
  • The way the novel and nature intertwine is incredible. Knowles clearly enjoys the outdoors. He is able to make nearly any scenery, such as the tree at the beginning, into a metaphor for the characters' experiences (I wrote an entire essay on how he uses weather this way), and his descriptions of the outdoors as Gene walks between buildings or plays outside are just lovely. If I could jump right into the scenery of this book, I definitely would! Even the characters love being outdoors: kids jump out of a tree, swim in the lake, visit the beach (against the rules), play a made-up game known as blitzball (named after the blitzkrieg of the war), or even ski. 

In writing this review, I came to an interesting conclusion: John Knowles should have been a poet instead of an author. He had incredible talent with regards to figuring out how people think and are affected by the events of their lives, and he was also excellent with metaphors and imagery. However, he had trouble creating characters that people could root for and designing a plot that people would race through (neither of which would have been a problem in the short-form art of poetry). All in all, Knowles was able to write a book which had many great qualities, helping to make it a classic, but several large missteps, which may be harder for future readers to overlook.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

MMGM (1/1/2018): Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (a re-review)

Today, I'm doing something odd: instead of looking forward toward the new year (happy new year, by the way!), I am looking backward, to April, specifically. In April, I reviewed what I consider to be my favorite book of all time, Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. However, as I even recognized in the review itself (click here), my comments do not do the book justice, which has nagged at me for eight months. Therefore, in order to enter the year with a clean conscience, I am re-reviewing Goodbye Stranger. (My old review will remain up for anyone who is curious.)

Here's the publisher's description:

This brilliant, New York Times bestselling novel from the author of the Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me explores multiple perspectives on the bonds and limits of friendship.

Long ago, best friends Bridge, Emily, and Tab made a pact: no fighting. But it’s the start of seventh grade, and everything is changing. Emily’s new curves are attracting attention, and Tab is suddenly a member of the Human Rights Club. And then there’s Bridge. She’s started wearing cat ears and is the only one who’s still tempted to draw funny cartoons on her homework.

It’s also the beginning of seventh grade for Sherm Russo. He wonders: what does it mean to fall for a girl—as a friend?

By the time Valentine’s Day approaches, the girls have begun to question the bonds—and the limits—of friendship. Can they grow up without growing apart?

There are so many wonderful things I could say about this book! First, it does not fall prey to the overused topics that have plagued many middle-grade books, such as death (although Bridge has had a near-death experience, having been hit by a car and heavily injured at the time) and loss of friends (although Bridge, Em, and Tab are changing in different ways, they have a strong bond and are always there for one another). The book jumps between several stories (a main one which follows Bridge and her experiences, a smaller one which centers around an unidentified high schooler who is hiding on Valentine's Day, and a yet smaller one which consists of letters from Sherm to his grandfather and occasional backstories about him). Each of these stories is always entertaining, at times heartbreaking or thought-provoking, and often filled with small explanations or events of the day that make each character's life seem real, but not disjointed. The novel explores such concepts as trauma and its big and small effects, feminism (and Tab's misunderstanding of it), and pride in one's body, but it always does this through the eyes of its characters, thereby never talking down to readers. Finally, nearly every chapter of the novel adds in a pleasant experience, however small, that makes this book so incredibly enjoyable to read and reread (which I have done at least four times). Every person who reads this book will be glad they did, as it will stay with them and touch them for the rest of their lives!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

MMGM (12/18/2017): Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

For MMGM, I am recommending Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

Sunny Lewin has been packed off to Florida to live with her grandfather for the summer.  At first she thought Florida might be fun — it is the home of Disney World, after all.  But the place where Gramps lives is no amusement park.  It’s full of . . . old people.  Really old people.

Luckily, Sunny isn’t the only kid around.  She meets Buzz, a boy who is completely obsessed with comic books, and soon they’re having adventures of their own: facing off against golfball-eating alligators, runaway cats, and mysteriously disappearing neighbors.  But the question remains — why is Sunny down in Florida in the first place?  The answer lies in a family secret that won’t be secret to Sunny much longer. . .

I enjoyed this graphic novel, which combines humor and some sadness in an easy-to-read package! Sunny’s stay with her grandfather at his retirement home is marked by boredom, as she has nothing to do (not even using a smartphone, as the book is set in the 1970s) except accompany her grandfather on errands. Eventually, she befriends a boy named Buzz whose father works at the retirement home, and their efforts to inject some fun into their lives are fun to read about. The book moves quickly and switches between flashbacks and the present day, both marked by dates at the beginning of each chapter. The flashbacks help show Sunny’s family’s struggles as her brother, Dale, befriends questionable people and makes questionable choices (I won’t spoil these; readers will find them out as they proceed through the book). Dale’s issues are handled well and inspired by the authors’ own experiences with a relative. The art in the book, if not stunning, is a pleasant backdrop for the story to take place against. Sunny Side Up is a fun, speedy read that all readers will enjoy!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The winners of the Holiday Signed Book Extravaganza have been chosen!

I have chosen the winners of the Holiday Signed Book Extravaganza from a group of 7 entrants! Here they are:

The winner of Nightfall (Keeper of the Lost Cities #6) by Shannon Messenger is:


The winner of Turtles All the Way Down by John Green is:


The winner of Kids of Appetite by David Arnold is:


The winner of Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash is:


Finally, the winner of Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs is also:


If you are a winner listed above, I have sent you an email informing you that you have won (be sure to check your spam or junk inboxes!). Please respond to this email within 48 hours with a mailing address that I can ship your book(s) to (even if you have already won one of my giveaways before); if you fail to respond, I will unfortunately have to choose another winner for your books. Thanks so much to everyone who entered, and congratulations to the winners!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

MMGM (12/11/2017): New and Upcoming MG Books!

First, the Holiday Signed Book Extravaganza doesn't end until Tuesday, so click here to enter! Next, for today's MMGM, I have posted a list of new books to from authors of books I have previously recommended! Some of these are sequels, while some are not; most have come out, but some won't until after the holidays. Note that I have read none of these books (although I do own some of them), and this post is not a recommendation, but rather just a list of things to look forward to.

The first book I want people to know about is The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. The book, which is available now, is the sequel to The War that Saved My Life, a Newbery Honor book that I reviewed here. The publisher's description is as follows:

Like the classic heroines of Sarah, Plain and TallLittle Women, and Anne of Green Gables, Ada is a fighter for the ages. Her triumphant World War II journey continues in this sequel to the Newbery Honor–winning The War that Saved My Life
When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—damaged, deranged, crippled mentally as well as physically. She’s not a daughter anymore, either. Who is she now?

World War II rages on, and Ada and her brother, Jamie, move with their guardian, Susan, into a cottage with the iron-faced Lady Thorton and her daughter, Maggie. Life in the crowded home is tense. Then Ruth moves in. Ruth, a Jewish girl, from
Germany. A German? Could Ruth be a spy?

As the fallout from war intensifies, calamity creeps closer, and life during wartime grows even more complicated. Who will Ada decide to be? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?

Ada’s first story,
The War that Saved My Life, was a #1 New York Times bestseller and won a Newbery Honor, the Schneider Family Book Award, and the Josette Frank Award, in addition to appearing on multiple best-of-the-year lists. This second masterwork of historical fiction continues Ada’s journey of family, faith, and identity, showing us that real freedom is not just the ability to choose, but the courage to make the right choice.

The next book is also out now, and it is the sequel to Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall, which I reviewed here. The book is called Shadow of a Pug (Howard Wallace, P.I., Book 2), and here is its publisher's description:

“My partner scanned the message and a slow grin took over her face as she said our four favorite words: We have a case.’
Middle-school detectives Howard Wallace and Ivy Mason are itching for a juicy case. But when their friend and cohort Marvin hires them to prove his nephew— über-bully Carl Dean—didn’t pugnap the school mascot, they’re less than thrilled. To succeed, not only must Howard and Ivy play nice with Carl, they’ll have to dodge a scrappy, snoopy reporter and come face-to-face with Howard’s worst enemy, his ex-best friend Miles Fletcher. Can Howard deal with all these complications and still be there for Ivy when her life is turned upside down? Or will he once again find himself a friendless P.I.?

One of my favorite books, Greenglass House by Kate Milford (reviewed here), now has a sequel! The book is called Ghosts of Greenglass House, and it, too, is available now. Here's the publisher's description:

Welcome back to the irresistible world of Greenglass House where thirteen-year-old Milo is, once again, spending the winter holidays stuck in a house full of strange guests who are not what they seem. There are fresh clues to uncover as friends old and new join in his search for a mysterious map and a famous smuggler’s lost haul. 
This exciting sequel to a beloved book that was praised in a starred review as "an enchanting, empowering read" is sure to thrill both fans and newcomers. Like its predecessor, it's a smart, suspenseful tale that offers ghosts, friendships, and a cast of unforgettable characters, all wrapped up in a cozy mystery.

A series that I read about on MMGM also has a new book! This series, the Wells & Wong Mysteries by Robin Stevens (the U.S. editions are reviewed here), now has a new book, A Spoonful of Murder. Note that the series is published first in the U.K. with different covers (such as this one), so it will be released soon after the 4th book, Jolly Foul Play, will be released in the U.S. Before you read this book, which comes out on February 8, 2018 in the U.K., you will need to read Jolly Foul Play and Mistletoe and Murder (the 5th book), and you can also read the Cream Buns and Crime short story compilation. All of these can be ordered online, even from the U.S., and you can pre-order A Spoonful of Murder on here. Here's the publisher's description (with no spoilers from the so-far-U.K.-only books):

When Hazel Wong's beloved grandfather passes away, Daisy Wells is all too happy to accompany her friend (and Detective Society Vice President) to Hazel's family estate in beautiful, bustling Hong Kong. 

But when they arrive they discover something they didn't expect: there's a new member of the Wong family. Daisy and Hazel think baby Teddy is enough to deal with, but as always the girls are never far from a mystery. Tragedy strikes very close to home, and this time Hazel isn't just the detective. She's been framed for murder! 

The girls must work together like never before, confronting dangerous gangs, mysterious suspects and sinister private detectives to solve the murder and clear Hazel's name - before it's too late . . . 

Finally, in what may be the most exciting news yet, authors Rebecca Stead (I have reviewed her books here and here) and Wendy Mass (I have reviewed her books here, here, and here) are collaborating on a new book called Bob, with illustrations by Nicholas Gannon! The book comes out on May 1, 2018, and the publisher's description is here:

It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.

It turns out she’s right.

Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can’t remember who―or what―he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.

Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, two masterminds of classic, middle-grade fiction come together to craft this magical story about the enduring power of friendship.

I am certainly looking forward to reading all of these books, and I hope you are too! Next week, I will hopefully have read a book which I can review, but, until then, I thank you for continuing to read this blog through its messier periods! Also, look out for the announcement of the Holiday Signed Book Extravaganza winners, coming this week!