Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

It was the party that soured things for Ali. His block in Brooklyn might not be the best neighborhood, but it was home. It wasn’t exciting, just he and Needles and Noodles hanging out on the stoop. They avoided trouble, avoided the gangs.

But that party. Yeah, that’s where things went wrong.

Sure his younger sister, Jazz irritated him. Moms was strict. She wanted the best for her kids. She wouldn’t want him to be involved in the party. It was for older people, not fifteen and sixteen-year-olds.

Yeah, things didn’t go down well there.

This is a story about families and how they watch out for one another. I like how Mr. Reynolds carried the family theme from a family unit to the family of friends and the family of neighborhood. Everyone on the block watched out for Needles who has Tourette’s Syndrome.

Jason Reynolds is an up coming author, a definite companion author to be read alongside Walter Dean Myers whose books like this one, does a great job of describing the people and streets of New York City.


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Life in 1870, is hard for ten-year-old Sugar. Sugar is her name and sugar is her life. She hates sugar. Most of the younger people have moved on, north. But Sugar remains, working the cane fields. Her mother’s dead. Her father was sold before the war. So far he hasn’t come back. Sugar wants more than working the sugar cane fields on River Road Plantation.

Then her life changes when she escapes the Beales, the couple who care for her, and she plays with the son of the plantation owner. Life changes for everyone when the Chinese men arrive to work the fields.

I never knew Chinese workers worked the fields in the South. It turns out thousands of Chinese workers were brought to Mississippi and Louisiana. When African Americans migrated north after the Civil war, they created a labor shortage and this was filled by the Chinese. Make sure to read the Note from the Author to learn more.

Ms. Rhodes’ description of cutting sugar cane was fascinating. I found out sugar cane leaves have sharp edges that cut at the workers arms and hand. The whole process was interesting. I can’t leave out the characters especially Sugar who only wants to be a kid, yet has to work. I loved the part where Billy, the owner’s son works in the field one day so he could learn more about and his mother says the work isn’t meant for a child. And there is Sugar working the field every day.

This book will well in a unit of the Reconstruction era.

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Annie is new to school and worried about finding friends. One girl latches onto her. ‘We’re going to be friends,” she says. Annie does not like her. She likes her even less when Elsie follows her home and breaks her beloved doll.

Elsie lies. She’s a tattletail. Annie isn’t free of her until she, Elsie is gone for a few days. Now Annie’s able to be friends with most popular girls in school. No more Elsie. No more until Elsie dies of the Spanish Flu and comes back to haunt Annie. ‘Soon everyone will hate you even more than they hated me,” Elsie tells her. Annie is going to be her friend no matter what.


This is set in the year of 1918 in the backdrop of the first World War and the deadly flu. Ms. Hahn brings to life the scenes of hearses rolling down the streets and the wreaths on door as well the clique of kids roaming living through those times.

I liked how she made used a character, Jane, to help us sympathize with Elsie, who really is a horrible girl. I wouldn’t have wanted to be friends with her either. And, as mean as some of Annie’s friends were to Elsie, I identified with that because there were times I was just like them – following a leader and making fun of someone even though I knew inside it was wrong.

Ms. Hahn writes nice, creepy ghost stories. Scary, but not too scary and always with a satisfying ending. If you have someone who’s fond of horror, make sure to recommend this one.

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Twelve-year-old Mia does not want to be here. She’d much rather be home with her friends than in North Korea with her father and brother. She can’t even use her cell phone. It’s more of a punishment than a vacation. Seriously, who goes on a tour of this country? Why couldn’t they have gone to South Korea where she’d been born?

The trip goes from bad to worse when her adoptive father, an aid-worker, is arrested and she and her brother are on the run, trying to get out of North Korea with a phone containing pictures of abuse in local camps.


This is a timely novel of North Korea by someone who has lived years in South Korea and has done their homework. After reading this, I checked my local library to see if they had some of the resources she recommended.

Besides the resources, there are pages of information on the county in the guise of pages from a tour booklet. I thought that an inventive way to introduce the reader to the country especially those who may know little about it.

Ms. O’Brien even mentions Otto Warmbier who, at the time of the story was still in North Korea. It all struck home the harsh reality of this country.


I admit at first I was hesitant to read this story as I thought it a bit implausible, but once I started, I couldn’t put the book down. Ms. O’Brien makes the story quite believable and exciting. I liked the short chapters from the viewpoints of North Koreans such as the young student who is so fearful she’ll make a mistake at a performance with flip cards.

This book would be a great companion when studying the country as it interweaves truth with a great adventure story

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Fifteen-year-old Rachel is free to ride her beloved Peaches, but the move to Boston forces the spirited girl to face the 1872 reality of her life. Men rule. What Father says goes. Her future is lace, clothes, and the home.

But that’s not what Rachel wants and a fire horse, The Governor’s Girl, helps her. Even though the horse is badly burned, Rachel takes care her not expecting a fire to burn around them.

This is a very nice and infuriating insight to the year 1872 where Rachel’s dreams are threatened to be quashed by society’s norms. Girls today will find it a shock that back then girls couldn’t go to veterinary school. Others will be shocked at the state of animals medicine at the time. I was and I already knew about that era. I found the father was quite maddening with his ‘A woman’s place is in the home’ belief.

I learned quite a bit about fire fighting and about the horses that pulled the engines. Plus I learned quite a bit about Boston. Only certain families could go to certain churches? Wow.

Good story. It was a bit of a romance as well as a horse story. As I read it I wondered if there were still horse mad girls as when I was growing up. I had a friend who loved anything horses, but I can’t bring up a single name of the kids I know today who are.

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To twelve-year-old Rose, the cello and Bach and math are everything. They run through her veins, her brain. They will get her through the upcoming Bach Cello Suites Competition and her dream of working with Mestro Waldenstein. But life conspires against her in the form of a giant pumpkin. It’s the pumpkin that reinforces the different between her and twin, Thomas. For one, she’s five eleven and he’s four six, and she hates being so tall. It’s the pumpkin that changes her summer for the worse. But it’s the pumpkin that brings everything and everyone together.


Giant Pumpkins and music. That’s a combination I couldn’t resist. Ever since I’ve read Joan Bauer’s ‘Squashed’, I’ve been fascinated with giant pumpkins. And although I can’t play a lick of music, I enjoy books on the subject, rock or classical. The dedication to master an instrument amazes me. I love how the author portrays this dedication, how Rose practices and lets the music flow around her.

I learned more about pumpkins in this book. Unlike in ‘Squashed’, Rose, Thomas, and her neighbor who planted the seed, know nothing about growing the pumpkin. Not that I’m ever going to grow a giant pumpkin, but it’s interesting. One can plan a pumpkin growing lesson around the book. It would have been interesting to have the pumpkin respond to Bach as Rose plays the cello.

Another thing I learned was about a neighbor’s kintsugi bowl, a bowl that had been broken, but repaired in such a way as to add to the beauty of the object. There are master in Japan who do this. The bowl story interweaves with the plot of the book.

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David just bought a hot dog for $2000. Correction, a half a hot dog for $2000. A half-eaten hot dog to be more specific. Okay, it was supposed to be $20, but a few extra zeros got added and now he’s trying to earn the money back before his mom finds out. Because he bought it on her credit card, you know. She will never understand the significance of the hot dog. But, seriously, David only meant to pay $20.

Somehow he has to raise that money and repay it before his mother finds out. With being too young to drive, there aren’t a lot of jobs available. Make that no jobs. Providence delivers him a plan with the Super Pigarino Bowl Pizza eating contest. David can eat a sixteen inch pizza in four minutes and thirty-six minutes. He’s all into the competition eating thing. If he wins that, he’s good.

I have never understood competitive eating and I don’t know a lot about it so this was a new topic for me. But it’s more than just eating contests. David’s the easy middle child between his attention needing, college age sister and his autistic younger brother. He doesn’t like being the middle child. He doesn’t like having to be the one always baby sitting his brother, Mal, even if there is a bond between the two no one else has.

I enjoyed the characters although I wished there was more with his friends, HeyMan and Cyn. The description of the state fair brought back memories of the SC state fair. It made me wonder if the cow made of butter in Iowa is the same butter cow I see in South Carolina. Wouldn’t that be weird.

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