Just like Jackie

by Lindsey Stoddard
First sentence: “Before I know it I have Alex Carter’s nose blood on me.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are a few “damn” and “dammit” and they say “effing”. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

For Robinson Hart’s entire eleven years, it’s just been her and her grandpa together. They’ve gotten along fine: her grandpa taught her how to tap the sugar maples and make syrup and how to fix cars. And even though they don’t match exactly — grandpa is black, and Robbie is lighter skinned — and even though grandpa doesn’t talk about Robbie’s mom, things are fine.

Until they aren’t.  Robbie has noticed that grandpa has started messing up words, forgetting things, putting things away wrong… and she’s sure that if she could just be a good kid, he would stop and things would go back to normal. Except Alex is a bully and Robbie can’t handle it, and she keeps fighting back (literally), which gets her into trouble.

This isn’t really a plot-heavy book. Robbie does learn some lessons about controlling anger, and that everyone has their own issues they’re dealing with. But what kept me coming back was the relationship between Robbie and her grandpa, and how worried and powerless she felt with her grandpa’s increasing Alzheimer’s. I also loved the friends that Robbie eventually realized were on her side. It was a slow process for her, and as a parent I was sometimes irritated at that. But, I realized that an 11-year-old might not see everything I could see, and I thought Stoddard captured that extremely well.

A very good book, overall.


wrinklesby Paco Roca
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! (Kind of; it’s not available in the States, yet.)
Content: There’s really nothing objectionable, content-wise. The subject matter is older adults in a retirement home, so if you’re interested in that, go for it. The book would be in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

One of the members of my in-person book group is a gerontologist, and reads a TON of literature on the subject. She’s always digging up unusual and interesting books that feature older adults and their life experiences, partially for her work, but mostly because it fascinates her. She didn’t pick this book for our discussion however, one of the other members did, hoping that our gerontologist hadn’t read it yet. (She hadn’t, but had seen the movie based on it.)

It’s a very European book, written by a Spanish author and set in France. It’s the story of one gentleman, Ernest, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and whose children can no longer care for him, so he ends up in a care facility. He’s a bit confused and hurt that he ended up there, so he’s initially resistant to settling in. His roommate, Emile,  is more than welcoming, however. He takes Ernest under his wing and shows him around the home, introducing him to all the people who live there.

It’s their story, of their friendship, of the living they do from day-to-day, of the small joys and the larger hardships, of the inevitability of age. There’s a lot to think about, and even though it made me sad — getting old is not for wimps — I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story.


by Ingrid Law
First sentence: “Please, Mrs. Foster– I’ve seen your future, and you really don’t want to buy this soap.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher rep.
Others in the series: Savvy, Scumble
Content: It’s pretty basic for younger kids (though I think it might be a handful for some 3rd graders), and though there’s some kissing and a little bullying and some scary driving in the snow, it’s mostly harmless. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

One of the things I like best about Law’s books is that even though they’re a trilogy, they’re also three stand-alones. Sure, it helps if you know what a savvy is and what scumbling means, but other than that, the whole story is basically self-contained. And that’s wonderful.

This one is Gypsy’s story (who was a wee babe in the first book). It’s a couple months after Gypsy gets her savvy, which is seeing a person’s future (or past) when she looks at them. It’s a tough one to scumble, but she’s trying. Then comes the news that her Grandma Pat (her dad’s mom, one without a savvy and who doesn’t really like the Beaumont kids) is deteriorating and needs to come live with them. This is not something that Gypsy is happy about; she and her grandma don’t really get along. But, she doesn’t have much say in the matter, so she’s dragged along to Colorado when her mom takes her and her brothers Samson and Tucker off to Colorado to fetch Grandma Pat.

And that’s when things get interesting: somehow their savvys are switched. Mom is no longer perfect, Samson went from being invisible to being the Lord of the Fire, and Tucker, who is only eight, got his savvy five years early. And Gypsy discovers she can stop time. Then Grandma escapes the house (she has Alzheimer’s and is determined to go to a school dance) in the middle of a blizzard and it’s up to Gypsy, Samson, Tucker, and their new friend Nola to bring her back.

It had very much the same feel as Law’s other books: sweet, family-centric, with a bit of unbelievableness thrown in. I had a hard time suspending my disbelief: why on EARTH were they wandering around in Denver during a BLIZZARD? But, aside from that I loved Gypsy and Samson (and Tucker was adorable, though acted a bit young for an eight-year-old; he felt more like five). I liked the story, I liked that most of the book was over one night, and I liked that Gypsy learned to understand and accept her grandmother for who she was, not who Gypsy wanted her to be.

I’m not sure it’s my favorite of the series, but it’s a solid addition.

Egg & Spoon

by Gregory Maguire
First sentence: “The heels of military boots, striking marble floors, made a sound like thrown stones.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s nothing objectionable, but it’s a bit long and slow for all but the most advanced middle grade readers. It’s not a Teen book, either, so it’s ended up in the no-man’s land of YA books (grades 6-8) at the bookstore. I’m wondering how it would go as a read-aloud, though.

Elena Rudina is a peasant in pre-Revolution Russia. Her father died in a freak accident, and her mother never quite recovered from that. Her oldest brother is a servant in the baryn’s household and is away in Russia. So when her other brother gets conscripted into the Tsar’s army, Elena decides she needs to do something about that.

Ekaterina is the daughter of semi-noble parents who have dropped her in a London boarding school and gone off gallivanting around the world. The only person who cares about her is her Great-Aunt Sophie, and she’s determined that Ekaterina is going to show up at the Tsar’s party for his godson and be presented as a possible match, which is something Ekaterina does not want.

So, it was quite fortuitous when Elena and Ekaterina meet by accident — the train stops in Elena’s village when the bridge is out — and then (again by accident) switch places. Each get exposure to a different world and are led on the adventure of a lifetime.

I really wanted to like this one. And I did, sometimes. I loved Baba Yaga in all her snarkiness. (In fact, I bookmarked a bunch of her lines. Like: “You’re not going to drink the Kool-Aid?” and “Dumb Doma remodels itself. A nasty habit, like binge shopping.” and “No wonder they call these fairy tales. Tolstoi woudl know better, and a fast train comign into a station would be involved. Blood, tears, regrets. All the fun stuff.”) I sometimes liked the adventure that Elena and Ekaterina were having. (Madame Sophia ended up being a favorite of mine as well.) But, something seemed… off… about this one. Usually I don’t mind intrusive narrators, but this time, he (though I wonder why Maguire chose that particular narrator) was annoying enough that I just wanted him to go away. And that (along with Baba Yaga) got me wondering if this is really a kids’ book, or rather a book for adults who like kids’ books. I found myself hard-pressed to come up with a kid who would enjoy this.

It reminded me most of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in tone and style (though it’s much, much longer), And K really liked having that one read aloud to her. So, maybe there is some hope for this one. I just wish I liked it better.

Audiobook: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

by Rachel Joyce
Read by: Jim Broadbent
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Content: There are a couple of characters with foul mouths and swear quite a bit (including multiple f-bombs), but that’s it. It’s also a book about aging, life, death, and marriage, so I’m not sure how interested younger people would be in it. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I don’t really know what inspired me to pick this one up; I suppose it’s because I’ve heard a lot about it over the months it’s been out, but I guess I needed a journey story, because this one hit home,

Harold Fry is 65 years old and has just retired from 45 years as a salesman at a local brewery. He doesn’t have much to do, and he and his wife, Maureen, haven’t had much of a marriage in 20 years. So, mostly he just sits around. So, when he gets a letter from Queenie Hennessy, a colleague he hasn’t seen in 20 years, that she’s dying of cancer, he sets out to mail a letter back to her. And then just keeps walking.

A girl in a garage inspires Harold: perhaps if he walks the 600 miles from his home in Kingsbrige to were Queenie is in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, perhaps she will live.

What Harold didn’t count on was how much his walk would change his life.

I completely empathized with all the characters in the book. Sometimes, Harold struck home, with his need to do something to feel productive. Sometimes, it was Maureen, with her frustrations about the stagnation of their marriage — though there’s more to that story, which is slowly revealed over the course of the book. And it was a testament to the kindness of strangers. Harold started out spending money and staying at hotels, but over the course of the 87 days he walked, he increasingly became more dependent on other people. And they didn’t disappoint; sure, there are unkind people, but Joyce seems to be affirming that most people in this world are decent.

It did get a bit meandering in the middle, but I was so enthralled with Broadbent’s narration, I didn’t mind. He was spot-on with all the characters, from the Scottish nuns in the hospice to Maureen’s irritation, to the 70-something next door neighbor, Rex, who turns out to be a gem.

I loved it.