Tag Archives: middle school

2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 3

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

Before being killed by pirates, Bronte Mettlestone’s parents leave a will requiring their daughter to deliver a series of gifts to her many aunts. If she fails, the world ends. NBD. Precocious heroine, odd adventure, cast of caricature characters…you know the type. At the end of the day, a wonderful story that tugged on my heartstrings. It deals with grief, laughter, extended family, and the memories that bring us together. It was very sweet, very heart-aching, and satisfying. Generally aimed at middle school readers but good for all ages. 

Transformed: The Perils of the Frog Prince by Megan Morrison

Megan Morrison is one of my favorite authors and her fairy-tale retellings are creative and wonderful.  Transformed–book 3 in the Tyme series–did not disappoint. The series provides a wonderfully developed world with great, memorable characters, solid, believable character change, and unexpected endings. I do recommend reading the first one, Grounded, and the second, Disenchanted, before tackling this one. That is why I am keeping my description vague. But let me tell you, it is worth it. Highly recommend for all adults, but series aimed at high grade school/middle school readers. 

When You Read This by Mary Adkins

This is the story of a woman given six months to live. Of a blog where she processes chemo and dreams and memories. A boss left grieving. A sister unable to move on. Like Where’d You Go, Bernadette or a book by Jaclyn Moriarty, it tells a story through texts, e-mails, and blog posts. It shows and it tells. Most of the action happens off-screen but it works because the real power of the story comes from the grief of the characters and the way they process it. And that’s not something you see up close. It is something that happens slowly and over time. I loved this book from the first chapter. Almost made me cry.

The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants: A Foundation CEO Reveals the Secrets You Need to Know by Martin Teitel

An odd book for this list of favorites but I found it an interesting and informative read. It reached 5 stars because of the writing. I really liked the engaging tone. This isn’t where you go to find something mind-boggling, or even specific advice. You go because it feels like grabbing coffee with someone who knows more than you and sometimes that’s just the encouragement you need.

Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits: Real-World Strategies That Work by Ilona Bray

Where The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants gives general advice, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits provides strategy.  The book covers a very wide range of topics, is chalk full of relevant information, and left me with several new ideas. (I particularly appreciated the chapter about non-profit websites.) The writing is easy and enthusiastic, yet also structured enough that you can pick it up and jump around as needed. I’ll definitely keep my eye out for more from Nolo generally and Ilona Bray specifically. (And if that is not high, albeit odd, commendation for a reference guide, I don’t know what is.)

The Tyranny of Clichés by Jonah Goldberg

Some political books do not age well. They feed off the outrage of the moment and rely heavily on names and places. So despite its 2012 publishing date, The Tyranny of Clichés reached five stars because it did not fall into this trap. The book (at its heart) deals with ideas and languages. No references to popular politicians date it because any reference circles back to the idea being discussed. It was a very thoughtful discussion packaged more controversially than it actually is. 


#TBT Skulduggery Pleasant

In the spirit of re-reading more, I thought it might be fun to do a few #TBT (Throwback Thursday) posts with books I really enjoyed but never re-read. The first one I chose was Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. Unfortunately, I think I hyped this one up too much to myself over the years. It wasn’t nearly as funny as I remember it being. I originally rated it 3 stars and I think that is fairly accurate. 

Plot: When 12-year-old Stephanie’s uncle dies, she inherits his entire estate and the friendship of the very strange Skulduggery Pleasant. Skulduggery is a skeleton. He should have died centuries ago but he never did so, instead he became a detective. When Stephanie’s new possessions put her in the path of her uncle’s killer, she teams up with the skeleton detective and enters a hidden world of magic to stop an evil maniac bent on destroying the world. 

My thoughts: This is a very creative story with lots of snappy dialogue and unique characters. The action starts right at the beginning and never lets up. Considering that hidden, magical worlds are not exactly new territory, this is book manages to stay fresh and fun even when handling occasionally old tropes.

However…I never found my care-factor fully engaged. Ultimately, I blame the constant action. Someone is always being kidnapped or betrayed or tortured or shot at. There is hardly a moment to catch your breath and actually process what is all going on. The characters are clever and snappy but experience very little character change. It isn’t that I would want this book to be longer, it is already too long, but it needs to be a bit more developed to appeal to a wider audience. Then again, perhaps it has no plans to appeal to a wider audience, and is simply aimed at the Middle School crowd. 

Originally I wanted to re-read this entire series but I don’t think I will. My former reviews and ratings of this series get lower as the books progress and there are other series better worth re-reading. It is a pity, really. I remember this book being so funny. However, I don’t think I laughed out loud once. It merely amused me. 


Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent

I stumbled upon Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent while browsing at a local library and I am so glad I did. The book was surprisingly charming and adorable while also handling real life issues in a believable way. 

The plot follows 14-year-old Joseph Calderaro, Korean by birth but raised Italian by his adopted parents in New Jersey. He doesn’t fee like he belongs in either world. When his social studies teacher assigns an essay about heritage, Joseph struggles to merge his two worlds and discover who he truly is. 

The book’s main focus is adoption, but also balances the struggles of middle school, girls, and the meaning of family. I like that the ending doesn’t get corny and wrap up with a perfectly written essay or something. I really thought it would. While it has a “happy” ending, Joseph’s struggles are never underplayed or overplayed. They were realistic. He is a middle school kid who just wants to figure out where he comes from. 

I definitely recommend this one for older grade school/middle school readers and anyone interested in adoption, Korean/Italian culture, or just a good, “coming of age” story.