Thursday, January 21, 2016

Book Review: Crenshaw

Title: Crenshaw
Author: Katherine Applegate

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.

My Review:
I appreciate Applegate tackling difficult social issues like poverty, homelessness, and a parent with MS. Especially on the MG level. This book shows how easy a normal, loving, hardworking family can “slip” into homelessness. To often, we ignorantly assume that poverty comes from laziness, substance abuse, or some character defect. This books shows the truth. It can happen to anyone. I thought the portrayal of Jackson and his family was well done. Although his parents are far from perfect, they are doing their best.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find all the aspects of this novel as well done as the family situation. Crenshaw never really fleshes out. If he’s real to Jackson, then he needs to be real to the reader as well. Instead he comes across as comical, if not fully absurd. A surfing cat who carries an umbrella can certainly be some kids imaginary friend, but there needs to be more to him then that. I wanted a clever imaginary friend, full of humor, and wit. At the very least intriguing. 
Crenshaw is none of these things, and Applegate relies to heavily on creating funny scenes–– like Crenshaw in the bathtub––instead of creating a truly interesting and humorous character.  I understand that perhaps his silliness is to balance out Jackson, a worrier, who is all facts and no-nonsense, but Crenshaw doesn’t quite accomplish that either. Although Crenshaw has his wise moments, it’s not enough, and he could all too easily be written out of the story with little to no plot conflict. 

Overall: Three Stars. I love everything about this book except Crenshaw. Jackson’s giant imaginary cat friend is set up to be the heart of the story, but instead turns out to be an underdeveloped secondary character with little to add. Jackson himself, is a most lovable and interesting character, the family dynamic is well done, as is his friendship with Marisol. I love the concept of a giant cat as an imaginary friend, but unfortunately, Crenshaw did not steal my heart.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Best Children’s Book Beginnings of all time!

Just been thinking about all the ways to start a children's book, and decided to post this list of what I consider to be some of the best first lines of children's books. So here they are, my favorite children's book beginnings (in no particular order):

This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse. ––Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful. ––Roald Dahl, Matilda

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

Most motorcars are conglomerations (this is a long word for bundles) of steel and wire and rubber and plastic, and electricity and oil and gasoline and water, and the toffee papers you pushed down the crack in the back seat last Sunday. ––Ian Fleming, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Once upon a time there lived... 'A king!' my little readers will say immediately. No, children, you are mistaken. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood. ––Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio

All children, except one, grow up.––J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.––Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.––J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 

I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by my family. That is all there is to say. ––Karen Cushman, Catherine Called Birdy

There is no lake at Camp Green Lake––Louis Sachar, Holes

"Where's Papa going with that axe?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.––E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Book Review: Savvy

Title: Savvy
Author: Ingrid Law
Genre: Middle Grade, Urban Fantasy 

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
For generations, the Beaumont family has harbored a magical secret. They each possess a "savvy" -a special supernatural power that strikes when they turn thirteen. Grandpa Bomba moves mountains, her older brothers create hurricanes and spark electricity . . . and now it's the eve of Mibs's big day.
As if waiting weren't hard enough, the family gets scary news two days before Mibs's birthday: Poppa has been in a terrible accident. Mibs develops the singular mission to get to the hospital and prove that her new power can save her dad. So she sneaks onto a salesman's bus . . . only to find the bus heading in the opposite direction. Suddenly Mibs finds herself on an unforgettable odyssey that will force her to make sense of growing up-and of other people, who might also have a few secrets hidden just beneath the skin.

My Review:
The characters are quirky and lovable, and the story is told in Mib’s thick mid-western “story teller” voice––which is to say, a predilection for “old timey” words and a love of alliteration.
Although I liked Mibs and her clear strong voice, I had a difficult time falling into her speech patterns, often finding them jarring and out dated for a teenager (no matter where they live). However, I will point out that the voice of this novel is what most readers love about it. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to settle into a plot where words like “hobbledehoy,” “razzmatazz,” and “niminy-piminy” were being used. 
As I read, I really enjoyed the family dynamic and especially her family history. The set up for Mib’s savvy was brilliantly done, to the point it almost backfired: my expectation were too high. After all that build up, I found Mib’s savvy a disappointment. I guess, like a little kid, I wanted it to be something amazing, especially after all the cool things her brothers coulc do (they’re practically X-men).
None-the-less, this is a good read! It has humor, a great plot, and moves with a light, rollicking pace. Best of all, it has a wonderful cast of characters. Characters you love to love (and a few you love to hate).

Overall: Three Stars. I liked the characters, and the plot was a lot of fun. For me, Mib’s voice was a bit jarring at times and the adjective-soaked imagery can be exhausting to read. I often found myself wishing the focus of the writing was more about the plot than word usage. However, that is my own personal taste, and must point out the voice felt true to Mib’s character: chatty, speculative, and very “country-bumpkin” (in the best sense of the word). 

Next in the Series:


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Book Review: Brutal

Title: Brutal
Author: Michael Harmon
Genre: Realistic YA

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
With her martyr-doctor mother gone to save lives in some South American country, Poe Holly suddenly finds herself on the suburban doorstep of the father she never knew, who also happens to be a counselor at her new high school. She misses Los Angeles. She misses the guys in her punk band. Weirdly, she even misses the shouting matches she used to have with her mom.

But Poe manages to find a few friends: Theo, the cute guy in the anarchy Tshirt, and Velveeta, her oddly likeable neighbor—and a born victim who’s the butt of every prank at Benders High. But when the pranks turn deadly at the hands of invincible football star Colby Morris, Poe knows she’s got to fix the system and take down the hero.

With insightfulness, spot-on dialogue, and a swiftly paced plot, Michael Harmon tells the story of a displaced girl grappling with a truly dangerous bully.

My Review:
The best part of this book is how little Poe Holly really knows herself. Like so many teens, she has an “identity” and sees herself one way and everybody else another. Poe’s spunky and rebellious and not afraid to stand up for what she thinks is right, all admirable characteristics, and certainly what makes her likable. But she’s also very much like her mother, and takes on her own “martyrdom” the moment she steps foot into the school, shoving everyones mistakes in their faces and holding them up to her own unreachable standards. 

Poe is relentless and not always likable, but that’s what makes her the only one who can change Bender High. She takes on the system without flinching, but she’s almost as hard on her friends as she is her enemies, and in her own way, truly brutal.

Overall: Four Stars. As the title suggests, Harmon doesn’t hold back the brutality that is bulling or the damage that it causes. This book certainly has its dark moments, but push through and you’ll find a satisfying ending

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Book Review: One Crazy Summer

Title: One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Genre: Historic Fiction

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
In the summer of 1968, after traveling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

My Review:
This is a story of loyalty and abandonment, of sisterhood love and rivalry. The story centers around three sisters: Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern and the summer they spend with their mother Cecile. 
"Cecile Johnson - mammal birth giver, alive, an abandoner - is our mother. A statement of fact." 
Is she a good mother? No. But does that make her bad person? That’s the question Delphine is struggling to answer.
Delphine is everything her mother is not: dependable,  sensible, and unselfish. But her mother has other strengths and sides that Delphine can’t quite categorize. 

Overall: Five Stars. This book is told from Delphine’s point of view and you will fall in love with her funny and factual perspective.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Book Review: Bloomability

Title: Bloomability
Author: Sharon Creech
Genre: MG Realistic Fiction

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
When she is whisked away to an international school in Switzerland, Dinnie Doone discovers all the "bloomabilities" that life has to offer. From Newbery Award-winning author Sharon Creech is a story about everyday joys.

My Review:
Domenica Santolina Doone or “Dinnie” is a nice, quiet, observant girl, and a striking contrast to those around her. Especially, the vibrant and garrulous Guthrie and the demanding and moody Lila. Dinnie sees the positive side of everyone except herself. Despite her insecurities and her tendency for isolation, Dinnie breaks out of her bubble, makes friends, and “blooms” into a more confident person.

Having students from all over the world attending a “American” school in Switzerland makes for a great setting, and brings multiple cultural differences into play. But I don’t feel like Creech played upon those cultural differences as much as she could have. Rather, she painted a more simplistic “warm and fuzzy” picture with Lila being the single dark spot in an otherwise perfect setting.     

Overall: Three Stars. Although I love the cultural aspects of this book, and I think it has a good message about being open to new things and people, being true to yourself, and overcoming insecurities––there wasn’t much plot. I didn’t find Dinnie’s friend Lila’s transition into becoming a nice person very realistic, nor did I feel the “Middle School” setting was portrayed realistically.