Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay

How Tia Lola Came to Visit Stay
by Julia Alvarez


Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  Moving to Vermont after his parents split, Miguel has plenty to worry about! Tía Lola, his quirky, carismática, and maybe magical aunt makes his life even more unpredictable when she arrives from the Dominican Republic to help out his Mami. Like her stories for adults, Julia Alvarez’s first middle-grade book sparkles with magic as it illuminates a child’s experiences living in two cultures.
from GoodReads

Review:  This was a book about Miguel, his sister, mom and eccentric aunt from the Dominican Republic.  Miguel and his sister are dealing with not living with their father and moving somewhere where there are no other Latinos and sticking out a bit at first.  Miguel also has to deal with being embarrassed by his aunt who as I said before is quite eccentric.  This book is not very deep and problems seem to be resolved fairly simply which makes it a good book for middle elementary children.

Rating: 3 stars

A Piece of the World

A Piece of the World
by Christina Baker Kline

Genre: Historical fiction

Synopsis: To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family's remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine.  Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life.  Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and become the subject of one of the best-known paintings for the twentieth century, Christina's World.

As she did in her beloved bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America's history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, Kline vividly imagines her life-with her complicated relationship to her family and her past, and her special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.
from the book jacket

Review:  Perhaps this was not the right kind of book for me but I loved Orphan Train and the writer's style but this book was just so dull.  I should have abandoned it but for some reason I stuck with it probably because I thought it would get more interesting.  The story just dragged on and on with it not going anywhere.  The timeline jumps back and forth between when Christina is an adult, child, teen and young adult.  I found this to be distracting. So many characters were introduced and I did not know who they were but yet it seemed like I was already supposed to know who they were.  It was an interesting premise however just not well executed.

Rating: 2 stars

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Tequila Worm

The Tequila Worm
by Viola Canales

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: Sofia comes from a family of storytellers.  Here are the tales of growing up in the barrio, full of the magic and mystery of family traditions: making Easter cascarones, celebrating el Dia de los Muertos, preparing for a quincenera, rejoicing in the Christmas nacimiento, and curing homesickness by eating a tequila worm.  When Sofia is signaled out to receive a scholarship  to an elite boarding school, she longs to explore life beyond the barrio, even though it means leaving her family to navigate a strange world of rich, privileged kids.  It's a different mundo, but one where Sofia's traditions take on new meaning and illuminate her path.
from the back of the book

Review:  This was definitely a cultural look into Sofia's life growing up in a tight knit group of Latinos in Texas.  The book shares so many traditions from storytelling, cascarones at Easter, quincenera to cooking frijoles (beans).   There was humor in this book as well as sadness.  The characters are down to earth  and one that readers will connect to. There were mature topics in this book including underage drinking of alcohol, so that should factor into how young of a student reads this book plus Sofia herself is 14-16 years old when most of the book takes place so while the reading level may be a little lower, the intended audience may be higher.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Girl Who Came Home

The Girl Who Came Home
by Hazel Gaynor

Genre: Historical fiction

Synopsis:  A voyage across the ocean becomes the odyssey of a lifetime for a young Irish woman. . . .

Ireland, 1912 . . .

Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.

Chicago, 1982 . . .

Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about the Titanic that she's harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.

Inspired by true events, The Girl Who Came Home poignantly blends fact and fiction to explore the Titanic tragedy's impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their descendants.
from GoodReads

Review:  I listened to the audiobook version of this story and it was not the right choice to listen to as I drove to and from work as it made me cry on many occasions!  Nothing like showing up to work with a tear streaked face!  The heartbreak in this story was palpable.  The story is told in alternating perspectives and the story bounces around in time a bit.  Most of the time we hear either Maggie's or Grace's perspectives.  Grace is often looking back at Maggie's story in the form of her diary.  The modern story of Grace and what happens in her life was not deep and did not add much to the story except to discover Maggie's story and bring it out into the open.  The story of what happened on the Titanic was not extremely original.  At times I was reminded of the movie Titanic as I listened to what was happening in the story.  That being said, I still truly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to people who like historical fiction.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maximilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel

Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel
by Xavier Garza

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: Margarito acts like any other eleven-year-old aficionado of lucha libre. He worships all the players. But in the summer just before sixth grade, he tumbles over the railing at a match in San Antonio and makes a connection to the world of Mexican wrestling that will ultimately connect him—maybe by blood!—to the greatest hero of all time: the Guardian Angel.
from GoodReads

Review:  I know absolutely nothing about lucha libre which I think was a disadvantage when reading this book as I had no background knowledge to which I could relate the events of the story.  However, there was enough other content in the story that I was able to follow along without too much of a problem and I even learned a little about lucha libre!  Max is a huge fan of lucha libre and his hero is the Guardian Angel.  This story is face paced and contains some humor.  I think this book would greatly appeal to middle grade readers, especially to those who may have seen a lucha libre match.  This book is presented in both English and Spanish with English being on the left page and Spanish on the right.  I think once kids discover this book, they will want to read the other ones in the series.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Taking Sides

Taking Sides
by Gary Soto

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: Lincoln Mendoza is brown, not white.  Moving from the barrio to the tree-lined streets of the suburbs won't change that.  Tony Contreras is still his main man, and he's still loyal to his team at Franklin Junior High, even though he's playing basketball for Columbus now.  But when Franklin and Columbus are scheduled to face each other in a league game, Lincoln is worried-how can he play his best with his white friends at his new school, decked out in Air Jordans, against his old buddies in their worn-out sneakers?

When the day of the game arrives, Lincoln's own internal conflict is as intense as the battle between the two teams.  But when the game is over, Lincoln has learned something about winning-and about loyalty, about change, and about friendship.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book was published in 1991 and the language, mainly slang, in this book shows its age.  I think that kids could relate to the story about a boy who is able to move out of barrio but Lincoln seems to have moved straight into a very wealthy suburb which is less realistic.  The conflict of not knowing who to be loyal to is also relate-able but the terminology used is just too 90s (i.e. talking about Montgomery Wards!)  There is somewhat mature topics such as Lincoln having an ex-girlfriend and liking a new girl at school, theft, and fighting which makes this book a solid junior high book in my mind.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Most Beautiful Place in the World

The Most Beautiful Place in the World
by Ann Cameron
Illustrated by Thomas B. Allen

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  Seven-year-old Juan lives in Guatemala, a place of stunning beauty and grim economic reality. Abandoned by his mother, Juan lives with his grandmother and shines shoes. He passionately wants to attend school, but fears Grandmother will say no. Finally gathering his courage, he is surprised when she not only agrees to send him to school but also chides him about the importance of standing up for himself. Juan tells this bittersweet story, which reads smoothly and powerfully on several levels, with warmth and dignity.
from GoodReads

Review:  This is an early chapter book that is written at a more mature level.  The writing style is simple but the topic is far from it.  Juan has a lot stacked against him in his life.  His father left, he was abandoned by his mother, he needs to work to make money for him and his grandma to live off of but that doesn't make him give up on his dreams.  This is a heartwarming story a little boy with such a positive outlook on life.  This is a book that could be read by younger children and older students who may be reading at a lower level.

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Reluctant Midwife

The Reluctant Midwife
by Patricia Harman

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: The Great Depression has hit West Virginia hard. Men are out of work; women struggle to feed hungry children. Luckily, Nurse Becky Myers has returned to care for them. While she can handle most situations, Becky is still uneasy helping women deliver their babies. For these mothers-to-be, she relies on an experienced midwife, her dear friend Patience Murphy. 

Though she is happy to be back in Hope River, time and experience have tempered Becky’s cheerfulness-as tragedy has destroyed the vibrant spirit of her former employer Dr Isaac Blum, who has accompanied her. Patience too has changed. Married and expecting a baby herself, she is relying on Becky to keep the mothers of Hope River safe. 

But becoming a midwife and ushering precious new life into the world is not Becky’s only challenge. Her skills and courage will be tested when a calamitous forest fire blazes through a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. And she must find a way to bring Isaac back to life and rediscover the hope they both need to go on.
from GoodReads

Review: I enjoyed the characters I met in The Midwife of Hope River so when I saw that there was a sequel and that characters were returning, I eagerly picked this book up.  I didn't enjoy this book as much.  Becky wasn't as compelling of a character as Patience was and the story of her being a midwife was too similar to Patience's story.  Once she stopped delivering babies and starting working at the CCC camp, the story became more interesting to me.  The men she met were interesting and engaging.  The story of Dr. Blum was captivating as I wanted to know how and when he was going snap out of his catatonic state.  I found the excerpts into Dr. Blum's mind to be distracting and it was hard to tell (when listening to the audiobook) when he was talking.  I wish the story had stayed in just Becky's perspective.  I did like the ending until the last chapter when I feel that Harman thought she needed to add in some social issues that weren't present in the rest of the book.  I still enjoyed the story and would read another book about these characters if there happens to be one but this one wasn't as good as the first.

Rating: 3 stars

To see my review of The Midwife of Hope River, click here.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Traveling Light

Traveling Light
by Lynne Branard


Genre: Women's Fiction

Synopsis:  It all starts when Alissa impulsively puts a bid on an abandoned storage unit, only to become the proud new owner of Roger Hart's remains.  Two weeks later, she jumps in her car and heads west, thinking that returning the ashes of a dead man might be the first step on her way to a new life.

She isn't wrong.

Especially when Blossom, who just graduated from high school, hitches a ride with her to Texas, and Alissa has to get used to letting someone else take the wheel.  Posting about their road trip on Facebook, complete with photos of Roger at every stop, Blossom opens Alissa's eyes to the road in front of her-and to how sometimes the best things in life are the ones you never see coming...
from the back of the book.

Review:  This book was a light, easy to read but yet somewhat quirky book about Al, a thirty-something year old woman who takes a backseat in life.  She lived in the same town, still lives in her childhood home, and works for her father's newspaper in a small town.  She spontaneously decides to take a road trip to New Mexico after finding a box of ashes in a storage unit she bought.  Along the way, she meets 17 year old Blossom who asks Al for a ride.  Blossom is a free spirit but not without some baggage.  Blossom and Al have adventures along the way with the remains of Roger and Al's 3 legged dog Casserole.  Al learns to tighten the reigns on her life and just live through her trip.  This was enjoyable read with out of the box characters.

Thank you to Berkley (Penguin Random House) for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Return to Sender

Return to Sender
by Julia Alvarez


Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  After Tyler's father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm.  Tyler isn't sure what to make of these workers.  Are they undocumented?  And what about the tree daughters, particularly Mari, the oldest, who is proud of her Mexican heritage but also increasingly connected to her American life?  Mari's family lives in constant fear of being discovered by the authorities and sent back to the poverty they left behind in Mexico.  Can Tyler and Mari find a way to be friends despite their differences?
from the book jacket

Review:  This book is written in two forms: one, a narrative about Tyler and two, letters written by Mari to various people.  Tyler is forced to confront his feelings about having Mexican workers on his family's farm and how he should act around Mari.  Mari and her family live in fear that la migra (ICE) is going to find them and take them back to Mexico.  Mari's mother has been missing for almost a year but Mari still believes that she is alive and will find her and her family.  This book gives a look into what undocumented workers have to face and how they must feel.  Mari and Tyler develop a friendship that bonds the two of them together as they face a struggle.  There are terrible events that happen in this story so I would recommend it for older readers, not middle grades.  It also has one line that I thought was completely inappropriate (about a character being laid) for students and unnecessary.

Rating: 4 stars

Love, Amalia

Love.Amalia
by Alma Flor Ada & Gabriel M. Zubizarreta

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  Amalia's best friend, Martha, is moving away, and Amalia is feeling sad and angry.  And yet, even when life seems unfair, the loving, wise words of Amalia's abuelita have a way of making everything a little bit brighter.  Amalia finds great comfort in times shared with her grandmother: cooking, listening to stories and music, learning, and looking through her treasured box of family cards.

But when another loss racks Amalia's life, nothing makes sense anymore.  In her sorrow, will Amalia realize just how special she is, even when the ones she loves are no longer near?
from the book jacket

Review:  In this book, Amalia struggles with her feelings about her best friend, Martha, moving.  Her grandmother tries to help her but before Amalia can feel better a tragic event happens in Amalia's life.  Amalia's grandmother has always been a huge part of her life and someone who helped her with many things.  Amalia loved learning about her heritage through her grandmother's stories and baking.  This book was just too simple for me and was very flat.  Amalia was one dimensional as were the other characters.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Saturday, April 1, 2017

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
by Bryn Greenwood

Genre:  Fiction

Synopsis: As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents.  It's safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight.  Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around.  Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night when her stargazing causes an accident.  After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.

By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery.  When tragedy rips Wavy's family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world.
from the book jacket

Review:  Reading about the life that Wavy and Donal had was hard as they grew up with drug addict parents who didn't care about them at all.  Wavy clearly had so many emotional issues that could only be healed by a lot of therapy.  At first the relationship between Wavy and Kellen started off as very innocent and I love how much Kellen watched out for Wavy and how Wavy changed when she was with him.  But then the relationship got stranger and much less appropriate.  Clearly Wavy needed love and any type of love was OK with her.  She needed boundaries but Kellen got not give them to her.   As the book progressed it was harder and harder to read about their relationship.  I was disturbed by the end.  This book is somewhat graphic and vulgar.  Go into this book knowing that you will be torn by what you know is wrong but what may have been the best for a character.

Rating: 3 stars