Sunday, April 22, 2018

MMGM (4/23/2018): Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

For MMGM, I am recommending Snow Lane by Josie Angelini.

Here's the publisher's description:

By turns harrowing and heartbreaking, this middle-grade novel tells a story of a family of nine kids and one very dark secret.

Fifth grader Annie is just like every other girl in her small suburban town. Except she’s starting to realize that she isn’t.

Annie is the youngest of nine children. Instead of being condemned to the bottom of the pecking order, she wants to carve out place for herself in the world. But it’s hard to find your destiny when the only thing you’re good at is being cheerful. Annie is learning that it’s difficult to be Annie, period, and not just because her clothes are worn-out hand-me-downs, and she suffers from a crippling case of dyslexia, but also because there are secrets in her life no one in her family is willing to face.

In Snow Lane, Josie Angelini presents a story about a resilient girl who, in spite of many hardships, can still find light in the darkest of places.

I first read about this book in an MMGM post on Greg Pattridge's blog, and I decided to purchase and read it, which was a great choice! Snow Lane is one of the most touching, incredible books I have ever read. The novel centers around Annie's life in a family of nine children and their parents. Annie's father works several jobs to support the family and is almost never around, leaving her mother to try (and often fail) to take care of the family. Annie's siblings (all but one of whom are girls) each have their own struggles, such as Miriam, who essentially raised Annie when she was born, Aurora, a dancer who is unhealthily thin, or Fay, who bullies her fellow siblings. The family is very dysfunctional, as illustrated by the immense clutter of their home or by the disturbing beatings the children receive when their mother is especially stressed (luckily, this awful event only happens once in the story). Angelini balances the horrible events of the book with pleasant parts, such as Annie's friendship with a quiet boy named Jordan who shares many interests with Annie, which do a wonderful job of preventing the book from being too depressing to read. Annie is a great narrator who is able to balance sympathy for her family members (even her mother) with knowledge that their family is severely damaged. Getting to know the personalities and backstories of each of the nine siblings will keep readers interested, as none of the siblings ever become copies of each other. The story ends happily, so readers won't finish the novel and feel unsatisfied. Snow Lane is a vivid look into the workings of a messed-up family, but it is also a wonderful, even humorous novel that will quickly become a favorite of all readers!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

MMGM (4/16/2018): Nightfall by Shannon Messenger

For MMGM, I am reviewing Nightfall (the sixth book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series) by Shannon Messenger.

Here's the publisher's description:

Sophie and her friends face battles unlike anything they’ve seen before in this thrilling sixth book of the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

Sophie Foster is struggling. Grieving. Scrambling. But she knows one thing: she will not be defeated.

The Neverseen have had their victories—but the battle is far from over. It’s time to change tactics. Make sacrifices. Reexamine everything. Maybe even time for Sophie to trust her enemies.

All paths lead to Nightfall—an ominous door to an even more ominous place—and Sophie and her friends strike a dangerous bargain to get there. But nothing can prepare them for what they discover. The problems they’re facing stretch deep into their history. And with time running out, and mistakes catching up with them, Sophie and her allies must join forces in ways they never have before.

In this spectacular sixth book in the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Sophie must uncover the truth about the Lost Cities’ insidious past, before it repeats itself and changes reality.

I've been a fan of the Keeper of the Lost Cities series since before the third book came out; it's actually the reason I discovered MMGM (which was until recently run by Messenger) and joined it! This book has many of the same qualities that have made the rest of the series great. The characters are so true to their personalities and so layered that I literally could imagine meeting one of them in real life. Parts of the novel are deep and poignant (the struggles involving characters' families and friends make sure of that), while others are hilarious and break the tension (just flipping through the book, I found several amusing lines). This novel has a special emphasis on the relations between the world's different intelligent species: new members of the warlike ogres are introduced, and the history  between the elves and humans is further explored (Nightfall itself plays a major part in this history). If I had one criticism of the novel, it would be that very few of the series's plot lines have been tied up, making the book seem slow at times. The seventh and final novel (unless Messenger extends the series again), Flashback, must now end the series properly without seeming disjointed. With all of the events that have occurred in this most recent book, however, I am still desperately excited to read the next book in the series, as any reader will be!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

MMGM (4/9/2018): The Magic Mirror by Susan Hill Long

After being sick one week and having a crazy Easter the next, I finally have a review! This week, I am reviewing The Magic Mirror by Susan Hill Long.

Here's the publisher's description:

The twisty-turny journey of a girl searching for her heart’s desire—glimpsed in a magic mirror. Perfect for fans of Rump or Catherine, Called Birdy

A foundling girl with a crooked leg and a crutch doesn’t expect life to be easy. Indeed, Maggie’s dearest wish is to simply not feel so alone. So when she spies a man behind bars in a magic mirror said to show one’s truest desire, she feels sure he is the father she’s always longed for—and she sets off on a quest to find him.

Along the way, Maggie meets both kindly pilgrims and dastardly highwaymen. She discovers she bears a striking resemblance to the princess Petronilla. Their connection is so remarkable that Petra believes Maggie must be her lost sister who fell from the castle wall and was swept downriver as a baby.

What a turn of fate! From reviled foundling to beloved royal! But being the lost princess turns out to be more curse than blessing given the schemes of the current king…  And if Maggie’s a princess, then who is the man she spied in the magic mirror?

This is a grand middle grade adventure story full of mistaken identities, lost loves, found families, and a tantalizing tinge of magic.

The Magic Mirror has numerous good qualities, but it also has several bad ones that should serve as a warning for authors. One of the good qualities is the vivid world that Long creates in the story. Every description and event contributes to the medieval setting that is at times a good representation of life during the era and at times a magical, mysterious place to be in. The plot starts out wonderfully, with Margaret leaving her small hometown and brusque, rude guardian to find a person that she saw in a magic mirror. She gains kind, fun friends, has exciting encounters with different villains, and passes through all sorts of areas, while her guardian, Minka, who had not left her home in years, goes on a quest to find her. However, the end of the story is simply not satisfying. One major mistake in the novel is that several characters who become important later in the story, such as a girl named Urchin, are never developed at all. In Urchin’s case, she never develops any personality or even does anything at all of relevance to the story, making a major plot twist involving her fall flat. Another character, Lucy, seems to be almost involved in some sort of conspiracy as she runs through the background of the story several times; however, there is no real conspiracy, and her earlier appearances foreshadow excitement that simply does not come. In the last several chapters, the plot becomes exceedingly hard to follow, and the villain at the end of the book is “defeated” by being knocked unconscious (what happens when he wakes up?). And to seal the deal, an arranged marriage between one of the characters and a rumored imbecile (who is much older than her) is validated at the end of the story when the man turns out to be a fine husband (who is still much older than her). First, then why was he rumored to be an imbecile? Second, are we now trying to teach children that arranged marriages between adult men and underage women don’t lead to horrible abuse and violations of basic human freedom? The point of this review is to show that the great qualities of a book can be undone extremely easily at the end If the author loses sight of the book’s main ideas and simply races to the finish line. If you don’t give up at the end of writing or accomplishing any other task, the result will be so much more satisfying to others and to you, as you will know that you gave the task your all and made something extraordinary!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

No post this week!

I'm sick for the third time this year! :( Therefore, I don't have any posts for this week. I hope to be back with a post the Monday after Easter, so be sure to check back!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

MMGM (3/19/2018): A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (with bonus movie review!)

Just after its new movie adaptation has been released, I am recommending A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle for MMGM (and including a bonus movie review below!).

A Wrinkle in Time revolves around a young girl named Meg Murry, whose father, a scientist, vanished several years before the book's events. When her younger brother, Charles Wallace, befriends three strange women (who turn out to be magic), both of the kids, along with a kind classmate from Meg's school named Calvin, end up going on a quest across the universe to find their father. I loved this book when I read it as a young kid (I was only about 5 or 6), and I still love it now! One of the best parts of the novel is how it is not like other fantasy or sci-fi books. Instead of filling the book with tons of background information about the universe and its workings, L'Engle instead gives just enough information to understand how the characters are traveling across the universe (or "tessering") and what exactly they are fighting against (although a main point of the book is that the human brain is simply incapable of fully understanding the universe). Despite keeping the book simple enough for readers to understand, L'Engle still creates imaginative settings of unique, beautiful planets (and one dystopian one where everyone has to act exactly the same, fill out forms for nearly every event in their lives, and face vague yet disturbing punishments). Another great part of the book is Meg's development throughout the story. Toward the beginning of the story (and during most of the middle), she often gets irritated and impatient, annoying those around her, but she does desperately want to locate her father. As the book goes on, however, Meg becomes more brave and is able to use her intelligence to fight against the book's main villain, IT, in an ingenious way. A Wrinkle in Time is simple enough for young children to understand, yet complex enough to hold the attention of older kids or adults and become a favorite book of theirs!

Bonus movie review: As soon as I saw the preview for the new movie adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, I was thrilled! In sixth grade, I had to read the novel yet again and see the awful 2003 movie version, which was made for TV and featured horrendous acting, cheesy effects, and scenes that detracted from the original point of the book (and had sets so ugly that I couldn't even focus on the action!). I worried a little after seeing the very mixed reviews of the new movie (it has a very low score on Rotten Tomatoes), but, after seeing it, I think anyone who has read the book will love the new movie! The new movie is not completely the same as the book: the formerly all-white characters have been changed to include a mixture of races (which I'm all for!), irrelevant characters such as Meg's siblings Sandy and Dennys have been erased, and several new scenes have been added. However, as I watched the movie, I wished that the new scenes had been in the book, as they helped to highlight some of the book's main themes (such as Meg's growing maturity) even better! The movie has fantastic actors: Storm Reid, who plays Meg, does a great job of showing her emotions, struggles, and personality during the movie. The three magic women who guide Meg and her companions, Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Whatsit (played by famous actresses Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon, respectively) are depicted fabulously, with their unique outfits and great lines (sometimes wise, sometimes funny) helping to show their magic and magnificence even more than in the book! Finally, the new movie has great special effects that take exactly what readers imagine the book to be like and make it even better! As I saw the new film, I was practically glued to my seat, as any viewer will be if they take my advice: ignore the bad reviews, and go see this movie NOW!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

MMGM (3/12/2018): The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

For MMGM, I am recommending The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech.

Here's the publisher's description:

Fans of Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech's Ruby Holler will love her latest tween novel about finding family when you least expect it.

When a young couple finds a boy asleep on their porch, their lives take a surprising turn. Unable to speak, the boy Jacob can't explain his history. All John and Marta know is that they have been chosen to care for him.

And, as their connection and friendship with Jacob grow, they embrace his exuberant spirit and talents. The three of them blossom into an unlikely family and begin to see the world in brand-new ways.

The Boy on the Porch is a singular story about opening your heart and discovering home in unexpected places.

I am a fan of several other books by Sharon Creech, and this novel did not disappoint! The "parents" in the story, John and Marta, do not have kids, so they are caught completely off guard when they find Jacob on their porch and take him in. The novel is told from Marta and John's points of view as they find themselves opening up and feeling worry about Jacob, pride in him, and a need to provide for him and give him a good home, even if that means trying to find his parents. The couple's kindheartedness and depth make them great characters for the story to be told through. The boy, Jacob, quickly adapts to his new home and, despite refusing to speak at all during the story, displays his feelings through his activities (such as playing with animals, drawing, or making music), allowing us to see, albeit blurrily, into his past and current lives. Creech describes each scene so perfectly that it feels like you are actually looking down into a new world. Toward the end of the book, seeing all of the new kids that John and Marta begin fostering acts as a perfect closing to the story. All in all, The Boy on the Porch is a lovely novel that provides a peek into the lives of both parents and children!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

MMGM (3/5/2018): Tell Me by Joan Bauer

For MMGM, I am recommending Tell Me by Joan Bauer.

Here's the publisher's description:

Award-winning author Joan Bauer's latest novel is full of warmth, humor, hope, and a healthy dose of suspense

The unofficial town motto is “Nothing bad ever happens in Rosemont” where twelve-year-old Anna has come to stay with her grandmother, Mim, hoping to forget her worries about her parents’ troubled marriage.  She’ll be busy with the town’s annual Flower Festival, a celebration with floats and bands that requires weeks of preparations.

But before long, Anna finds herself involved in a very big problem. When she observes a girl her own age who seems to be being held against her will, Anna can’t forget the girl’s frightened eyes and she is determined to investigate. “When you see something, say something” she’s been told—but what good does it do to speak if no one will listen? Luckily, a take-charge girl like Anna is not going to give up.

Told with Joan Bauer’s trademark mixture of humor and heart, Tell Me will enthrall her many fans and win her new ones.

This is an absolutely fantastic book! I haven't meant to, but my last several recommendations have all intended to broaden one's understanding of people's situations, and this book is no different. The main conflict of the novel is Anna's finding of a girl who seems to have been imprisoned, in a way, by several people. As Anna shares the information she has found with the police and government, she helps to uncover a conspiracy of human trafficking and save those who were being trafficked. This book showed me, as it will other readers, how common human trafficking can be and how paying attention can save many people. This main plot point does not make the book overly upsetting, however, as the novel is filled with all sorts of fun characters (Anna meets several students who are in their school's band and befriends a teenage girl named Taylor and her horse, Zoe) and is set in a wonderful small town filled with personality and unique traditions. Finally, the struggles of Anna's parents as her father tries to deal with his anger issues are depicted very well. Anna's father is shown to care about Anna and his wife and to simply have flaws, however major, that he is working to control. All in all, Tell Me is a great novel that packages great writing and many unique situations into one book that anyone will enjoy!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

MMGM (2/26/2018): Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

For MMGM, I am recommending Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin.

Here's the publisher's description:

From Newbery Honor author Ann M. Martin, who wrote the Baby-sitters Club series, comes a New York Times-bestselling middle grade novel about a girl, her dog, and the trials of growing up in a complicated and often scary world.

Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She's thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose's rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose's obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different—not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father.

When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose's father shouldn't have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search.

Like last week's review here, this novel is one that absolutely everyone needs to read to be a knowledgeable person. Rain Reign's main character and narrator, Rose, has Asperger's disorder, a relatively mild form of autism. Rose's obsessions with homonyms and prime numbers express themselves when she randomly blurts facts out while stressed or cannot stop talking about her obsessions in conversations, usually those that Mrs. Leibler, an adult who accompanies Rose during the school day, encourages her to participate in. Rose's actions, which she cannot really explain, and her struggles at school (she is bullied by several of her classmates and also is distracted by most noises, such as the fan of her teacher's laptop) will help readers, as they helped me, to understand more about how the minds of people with Asperger's disorder or more severe forms of autism operate and how these people certainly still have thoughts and feelings like those of anyone else. This story is also one of poor parenting, as Rose lives alone with her father, whose experiences first with an abusive father and later as a foster child with his brother and Rose's uncle, Weldon, make him both determined to provide for Rose without help and unstable, unable to understand Rose's issues, and, on rare occasions, even violent. The author, Ann M. Martin (author of another book I recommended here), does a good job of balancing the idea that Rose's father just makes occasional mistakes with the idea that he is not able to remain stable and act as a father for Rose. Rose's Uncle Weldon acts as a counterbalance to his brother, always being kind to Rose and trying to participate in her hunt for new homonyms. Finally, a review of Rain Reign would not be complete without mentioning Rain, Rose's dog in the story (whose name she chose because of its two homonyms, reign and rein). Rose looks to Rain for comfort and friendship, but her father accidentally lets her run during a major storm, leaving Rose to try and find her. Rain ends up not being dead, but what Rose does find out about her forces her to make a hard choice. Rain, Uncle Weldon, and the occasional kindness of Rose's classmates (usually from a girl named Parvani) prevents the story from being too depressing to actually be read. Rain Reign is a touching, painful, wonderful story that will change the way people think about mental disorders and will be remembered by every single one of its readers.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

MMGM (2/19/2018) Classic Critique: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

I have had to read yet another classic novel for school, so I've decided to review it this week. For MMGM, I am reviewing The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

Here's the publisher's description:

The best-selling coming-of-age classic, acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught in schools and universities alike, and translated around the world.

The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Told in a series of vignettes—sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous—Sandra Cisneros’ masterpiece is a classic story of childhood and self-discovery. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.

  • The characters. One of the best parts of The House on Mango Street is the characters. The main character and narrator, Esperanza, is a true-to-life combination of a girl who tries to have fun and enjoy her childhood and a young adult who has come/is coming to terms with the world she lives in and how its harshness is further amplified for those who are impoverished. She describes (consciously, as she often writes poems and later her own story) the story's many other characters. These include her family members, such as her young, oblivious sister, Nenny, and her now-deceased aunt, who she loved and regrets her behavior towards; her friends, such as harmless, happy sisters Rachel and Lucy and Sally, an abused girl who Esperanza befriends but later blames for an awful event; and other members of the neighborhood, who often have regrets, people they miss, and unique personalities.
  • The setting. There certainly are not an excess of books set in poor neighborhoods, which makes this novel very unique. Cisneros as Esperanza describes the setting vividly, making every location in the novel seem real. Every home's objects and flaws, every building's shape and color, every field or garden's appearance are all depicted, drawing the reader in and making them feel as if they are actually living Esperanza's life.
  • The writing. By now, you might have guessed (if you didn't already know) that Cisneros is a fabulous author. Her writing is filled with personality, with sentences that sound like the dialects of those who say them and a unique story setup consisting of many 2-to-4-page short stories, keeping each page fresh. Cisneros is also able to depict the characters' thoughts and troubles extremely well, in a way that makes it easy to understand them. The novel is filled with fun phrases and sentences that will make readers think, "That's genius!," cementing the novel's place as a great classic.
Cons (although not really):
  • The content is important, but it may not suit younger ages. In the introduction to The House on Mango Street, Cisneros discusses her experience at a school helping students who often had bad home situations. These experiences made their way into the novel, through characters whose spouses imprison them at home, whose parents beat them, or who are even sexually harassed or assaulted. This content is all dealt with realistically and intelligently, but I do want to warn everyone that younger middle-grade readers may struggle with the novel's content. For older readers, however, the novel provides a realistic introduction to the awful circumstances that many people face every day.
  • The novel is often sad, albeit necessarily. With all of the characters' hardships, whether they are simply being too poor to live in a nicer neighborhood or something else, the novel is obviously sad. For someone looking for an upbeat, happy read, you should probably look elsewhere until you want to read something else. However, for those who are willing to read some unhappy content (which, luckily, does not drag on for too long or overwhelm the book at all), The House on Mango Street will broaden your horizons and leave you a better, more knowledgeable person.

There is certainly a reason why The House on Mango Street has become a widely-read classic. It features an incredible combination of real-life topics, genius writing, and rich characters, making it one of the rare novels that everyone will enjoy and be impacted by for the rest of their lives.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

MMGM (2/12/2018): Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

For MMGM, I am recommending Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend.

Here's the publisher's description:

An instant New York Times bestseller!

“A Harry Potter-esque adventure.” — Time Magazine

A breathtaking, enchanting new series by debut author Jessica Townsend, about a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world–but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart–an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests–or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.

Perfect for fans of the Harry Potter series and Neil Gaiman, this fast-paced plot and imaginative world has a fresh new take on magic that will appeal to a new generation of readers.

This novel is one of my new favorites! There's so much to love that I don't know where to begin, but I'll try! The plot of the novel is well-balanced, including slow, sad portions that set the stage for the book, action-packed scenes (often chases) that are actually early in the book, calmer moments as Morrigan gets used to her new home, and a part-ominous, part-thrilling climax that ends off the novel (the first in a series). The world of the book is incredibly vivid—I read an article about how the author had been thinking about the series for about a decade (I liked the book so much that I looked it up), and it shows! There are many clever new creatures, inventions, and myths that are described in the perfect amount of detail. The novel also has many great characters. Morrigan is an excellent protagonist who has a personality clearly influenced by the events of the story. Other characters include adults who are children at heart, kids who can be serious and grouchy or fun and caring, a number of antagonists ranging from essentially harmless to incredibly destructive and terrifying, and a giant, grouchy, talking cat (see the cover)! To round the novel off, Townsend also adds in a bit of conflict that overtly parallels the real world: the government tries to get Morrigan expelled from Nevermoor for having entered the city illegally. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is an excellent start to a series that has immense potential, and I know that every reader will wait for every new novel (and the upcoming movie!) with unconfined anticipation and excitement!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

MMGM (2/5/2018): The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

For MMGM, I am recommending The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt.

Here's the publisher's description:

“Librarians often say that every book is not for every child, but The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is” (The New York Times). Meet Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp in this rollicking tale and National Book Award Finalist from Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt.

Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man—the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp—is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.

Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.

And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.

The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four…

Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt’s story of care and conservation has received five starred reviews, was selected as a National Book Award finalist, and is funny as all get out and ripe for reading aloud.

When I first discovered this book at Half Price Books, I was unsure of whether or not I would actually enjoy it. Luckily, I did, enough so that, several years later, I remembered it and decided to review it today! Despite some sad topics, this novel ends up being absolute fun from beginning to end (providing a break from the many relentlessly-sad MG books currently being published). Even during points of the plot holding sadness or fear, the humorous, just-colloquial-enough narration will hold any reader's attention. The book switches between events involving adventurous Bingo and nervous J'miah, which add in bits of action and suspense as they find out new information and try to fight against the swamp's issues, and those involving Chap, his anxiety about Jaeger Stitch's plans, and just enough grief about the recent loss of his grandfather, who dearly enjoyed the swamp. The plot of the book will suck readers in, while the writing will make them want to savor each word. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, its characters, and its ideas will make it a favorite of any reader!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

MMGM (1/28/2018): Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, & a Very Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans

For MMGM, I am recommending Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, & a Very Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans.

Here's the publisher's description:

Enter a wonderful world filled with real magic, mystery … and danger.

As if being small for his age and also having S. Horten as his name isn't bad enough, now 10-year-old Stuart is forced to move far away from all his friends. But on his very first day in his new home, Stuart's swept up in an extraordinary adventure: the quest to find his great-uncle Tony--a famous magician who literally disappeared off the face of the earth--and Tony's marvelous, long-lost workshop. Along the way, Stuart reluctantly accepts help from the annoying triplets next door… and encounters trouble from another magician who's also desperate to get hold of Tony's treasures.

A quirky, smart, charming page-turner, Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms will enchant young readers--as well as teachers, librarians, and parents.

I really enjoyed this book! When I was browsing back through it today (I read it several years ago), I found myself completely absorbed in Stuart's mission to find the workshop. The plot is fast-paced, moving from place to place and from clue to clue, but with ample moments of calm, such as when Stuart talks to an old woman named Leonora who knew his great-uncle. The clues (consisting of various magic tricks and machines) that make up the mystery of the book are fascinating, and the final revelations of the book make the whole journey worthwhile. Readers will eventually grow to love Stuart's annoying neighbors, April, May, and June, especially April, who helps Stuart figure out the meaning of the later clues. Also, Stuart and April's struggles with their own physical flaws (Stuart is short as mentioned and will probably stay that way, while April sometimes makes mistakes due to her poor vision) help add in a bit of a moral, which is that people are not defined by these physical traits (as evidenced by Stuart's famed great-uncle also being very short). Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms is an excellent novel that any reader will zip through and thoroughly enjoy!

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.