MonsterStreet: Camp of No Return by J.H. Reynolds

5 stars Middle School

Every time I read one of these MonsterStreet books, I swear it’s the best one that I have read. So, I will say it again, these books just keep getting better and better! I’m hooked on this series! Every time that I hear that a new one is coming out, I’m all over it, just waiting for release day and I’m over 50 years old. This book had it all. It had the creep factor, the suspense, the cliff hangers at the ends of some of the chapters and fantastic characters. Do you need to start at the beginning of this series to enjoy this? No, but I guarantee that you’ll be inhaling them, once you start reading them.

As you read books in this series, you’ll come across aspects in the mystery that you know or you feel that you know, are not as scary as they come across. What I like about this series is that the author, dismisses many of these aspects immediately, instead of letting them add up, and then dismissing them later in the book. An example: if a character in the book finds a cloth with red liquid on it. Instead of having the reader believe that this cloth is a bloody towel throughout the book, the author lets the characters uncover what the cloth might be immediately and dismisses it as a napkin with ketchup on it. I feel that helps put the important pieces of the mystery together in the book.

Riding to summer camp on the bus, a few of the kids, made friends. They each felt special, as they were amongst a selected group to be invited to Camp Moon Lake. It was said to be magical yet they have promised, like all previous campers before them, not to disclose what occurs while at camp.

When Brodie tells Harper and Darla the rumor that he heard about the camp, this summer camp just took on a chill. As a fog smothers the camp and a scream welcomes the campers, this week at camp will be one that everyone will remember.

I enjoyed the horror aspects of this for young readers. No blood or gore but I would know your audience before letting young elementary children read this. Some children might not be able to handle it, and I’d hate to hear about someone having a nightmare. If a child is able to distinguish reality from everything else, they should be okay reading this. I’m not going to go into what this book was about as I don’t want to spoil it. I really loved the book and the ending was amazing! I can’t wait for the next one!

Issues: bullying, friendship, family,

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O’Connor

5 stars Middle School

Covers can be deceiving and this one truly was.  I thought the cover of this book looked dull yet the inside of the book was just the opposite.  Written in letter correspondence, I found myself on an incredible journey with Reen, as she tries to save her family.  What started out as a business correspondence between Reen and Mr. Marsworth turned into something more impressive than they both expected. 

Reen and her older two brothers have been living with their grandma, since their mother’s death. Since Reen has no other friends, she hangs out with her youngest brother Dare.

Mr. Marsworth was a customer on Reen’s paper route and she needed important information to do her job.  Known as a loner/recluse, Reen (11), takes to paper and pencil to get the answers she needs.  In his responsive letter, he’s right to the point but that’s not the end of this. Reen keeps the letters flying a few times back and forth. Reen is a talker but in this case, a writer, and so she does, to Mr. Marsworth.  Soon, it’s just Reen writing and waiting, waiting for a reply from her new friend.  I really got impatient and angry too, why wasn’t he responding to her and when she pleaded to him to respond, what was he doing?

Reen begins to pour out her heart to Mr. Marsworth in her letters. It’s not just the newspaper information she needs now but she needs a friend, someone she can talk to. I could feel the love, the anxiety and the desperation in her words as she wrote.  She wrote him about her day, her issues and she’d ask him some questions.  She found that there are some questions that Mr. Marsworth just couldn’t answer.  Those questions were too difficult and/or he just wasn’t ready to answer them for her.   How Reen handled this really said a lot about Reen, I thought.  What she had with Mr. Marsworth meant more to her than the answers.  Now, that is good stuff!

The story occurs in 1968 when the Vietnam War was on everyone’s mind including Reen’s. Her old brother, Billy’s future is on the line: college, sign up for the military, or be drafted?  For Reen, there is only one answer and she’s determined to make that happen.

Reen also has been corresponding with a soldier in the war.  She received his name from her teacher as part of a project. Reen now knows first-hand what war is all about.  I loved how she takes this project seriously and how much time she devotes to it.  

That ending was fabulous!  I had suspected something an ending like that but nothing as involved as that.  I had to get out the tissues as the tears were flowing and I couldn’t stop them.  What an awesome book!!  Good heavens!! Can someone erase my brain so I can read it over again??  I loved it!

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Rauf

5 stars Middle School

Loved, loved, loved this book!  Why?  It’s about three boys who have “adopted” a new student in their classroom.  I loved how they just took him under their wings and how they all matured and grew throughout the book.  The book addresses bullying, friendship, family issues, and cultural differences.

I’ve been singing high praises for his book since I finished it. I didn’t think I would love this book so much but after every page, I loved London so much!

London has three best friends.  When the school year starts, there is one empty chair in the classroom.  That chair is right next to Clarissa, the girl who hates boys, for boys are stupid and smelly. They’ve been in a school almost a month, when Ahmet joins their classroom.  Looking sad and scared, Ahmet sits in that empty chair while London watches.  Later, London talks to his friends and he asks them to take on the promise that he has made: to be Ahmet friend.

I found myself smiling and enjoying this read as the boys get to know one another.  It’s a difficult task with a language barrier (Ahmet speaks Kurdish)and with time constraints at school but they try different tactics including fuzzy-coated lemon drops, fruit, and listening to other people’s conversations.  

I especially loved chapter five.  The emotions just poured out of this chapter. London talks about his mother and his love and respect for her.  He speaks about his father and his feeling about him.  London discusses his admiration for his Uncle Lenny. London has a heart-to-heart conversation with his mother, he then asks, “What is a refugee kid?” and she explains this to him.  London makes a list of questions that he wants to ask Ahmet, this list is so cute. 

“I always sit in the chair next to the fridge because I like being able to open the fridge door without getting up.  It’s like looking into an extra room in the house – but one that’s filled with food.”

I enjoyed listening to Ahmet tell his own story to the class, about his life in Syria and his journey. The book included a variety of reactions that show the positive and the negative views that individuals (children and adults) have about refugees in our society today.  I think it’s good that children see this difference in opinion, so they can understand and learn how to handle the diverse opinions.   

I had many goosebump moments, many yes! moments and I did shed some tears while reading this book.  I can’t believe that this is the author’s debut novel.  I’ve got you on my radar now, Orjali Rauf.  You are a rock star!  I absolutely adored this book from start to finish. This book was an absolute joy to read.

“Sometimes words hung around longer than people, even when you don’t want them to.”

“words can hurt more than punches, because when you get a bruise or a bump after being punched, it disappears after a while and you can forget all about it. But words can stick around for a long time, and the meanest words stick around the longest. “

Caleb and Kit

4.5 stars Middle School

I felt more compassion for the secondary character in this book than the main character. At first, I thought perhaps Kit was imaginary but then as the story progressed, I wanted to know more about Kit’s situation as it seemed she had no one, except the rock.

Caleb’s best friend is now into sports, leaving all the things they used to do together behind. Caleb feels like he lives in the shadow of his perfect, older brother Patrick.  To escape his brother, Caleb heads off into the woods by their house.  Spying some crawfish, Caleb stops to try to catch them.  He thought she was an angel the way the sun surrounded her face, but it was only Kit, the new girl who was now telling Caleb how to fish.

This was where she hung out at.  This area inside the woods. She invited him to return the next day and he definitely would!  Finally, he had someone to hang out with and a special place that no one knew about. 

I liked reading about the friendship these two started and how things progressed. They both had issues that they were trying to hide/avoid.  Kit was doing a great job of hiding hers and then, there was Caleb, who couldn’t get away from his.  Caleb had a father who was unpredictable, a mother who was over-protective, and a brother who thought he could do no wrong.

Caleb starts to question Kit about her carefree life and her responses were short and matter-of-fact. I felt there was some kind of jealousy at times, as Caleb watched Kit.  I wanted and needed to know about Kit, as there’s something going on there.  Yet, Kit remains silent, not questioning Caleb about his life.  Caleb wonders if she notices that he’s different than other kids.

It’s a great book that covers a lot of different topics. Caleb has cystic fibrosis and Kit is being abused and neglected but these issues don’t take center stage.  It’s quite an adventure.

Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

4 stars Children’s

I’m working my way through Dan Gemeinhart’s books and when I saw the cover of this book, my initial thought was that this would be an emotional, sweet story yet the synopsis told me something different.  Even after reading the synopsis, I wasn’t prepared for what I read. 

This was an emotional story about the love between a dog named Brodie and his boy. I liked how Dan wrote the story from the dog’s point of view. Like many people, I always talk to animals like they understand every word I say, and in Good Dog, the animals converse like humans. 

When Brodie awakens, words engulfed his mind.  He knew precisely what each word meant, yet he sensed that something was missing. Brodie didn’t know where he was, but he felt that this place where he was, was perfect. This was a dog’s paradise.  Sasha, another dog, explains to Brodie that he’s dead, that he used to have a life and knew people, and soon his memories would come and he would remember what his life was like before arriving there.

Brodie mind is soon flooded with words, memories and emotions as his previous life starts to come back to him.  Suddenly, that emptiness that Brodie had been feeling is filled.  A memory washes over Brodie and motivates him to leave his dog paradise and return to his boy.

Brodie is determined to return to his boy. To do so, he pays a price.  Returning to the human world, I had a hard time believing that this is a children’s book.  I liked the idea behind what happens but the details to make that happen, I thought were intense and alarming on a children’s level.  Perhaps on a middle school or YA level, they would be okay but not on a children’s level. 

I liked Brodie’s commitment to his boy and the friendships that he made. He had quite the journey.   There were moments that I found myself laughing, on-edge, and then, I had tears at 4 am this morning, it was an emotional story.  I enjoyed the author’s creativity and how the story ended.  There were a couple parts in the story, I was reluctant to read every word.  I skipped a few paragraphs.

I don’t think this is really a children’s book.  The violent description of the dog fighting is why I’m not giving it 5 stars.  The violence is rather descriptive for my taste in children’s book.  I liked the idea of the story; it was very creative.

“All this stuff (room full of books, old toys, video game system).  And the only thing the boy asked for was this picture of him and his dog.”

Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

3 stars Graphic Novel

Have you ever read a book and even though it stretches your imagination, you’re actually liking it, and then……bam, they’ve totally lost their minds and you wished, you could undo what you’ve just read?  That’s what I felt as I read Making Friends. This middle school graphic novel was dealing with some typical teen issues in a unique way when suddenly the main character cracked.

Dany’s Aunt Elma died, leaving the family to sort out her estate on their own.  Dany finds herself in the possession of one of her aunt’s sketchbooks, one of the few items the family didn’t fight over. Labeled, “handle with care,” Dany finds many of the pages empty and after a hard day at school, she begins to sketch in it.

Life was easier in elementary school when Dany had Joan and Leah at her side but now in middle school, it was getting more complicated.  Dany decides to draw Prince Neptune, yet she stopped after only drawing his head.  Neptune would protect her, if he was real.  Dany talks to her drawing as her pencil slides over the paper. Admiring her finished drawing, Dany is stunned when the image pops off the paper and becomes a living thing! Remember, she only drew his head so the Prince is now a talking head.

Prince Neptune is immediately head-over-heels in love with Dany and calls her Princess Dany and boy, how fun is this!? Dany is enchanted and scared at the same time.  What has just happened?  The prince is compassionate, caring, and supportive to Dany (even though, sometimes his ideas are a bit extreme) but you need to remember that he’s just a head, that was drawn to protect Dany and he doesn’t know that much about this world and then you’ll understand why he says what he does. 

Having the prince around does help Dany but it’s not like the prince can be out and around everyone else.  Dany wants other friends and she wants to fit in, but how? You guessed it!  She takes her pencil and she begins drawing in her aunt’s sketchbook. I see the dangers of this right away but Dany, she thinks it’s going to work out wonderfully.

Now, Dany is on a roll and she can’t stop now.  It’s as if someone has taken over this girl and she has become a different person, who is she? Dany is this loud, screaming individual who rants and yells. Her face takes up the whole text box.  Someone, please push her off button.  I was liking this book until Dany got greedy.

Overall, it was a fun book that I was enjoying until things got out of hand.  Why Dany had to go extreme, I have no idea but it was a turn-off for me. 

I loved it so much! The Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-El

5 stars Children’s/Middle School

I absolutely loved The Very, Very Far North!  Immediately after finishing it, I had to know if this was going to be a series, as I didn’t want this to be the end of Duane and his adventures in the Far Far North.  This story captured my attention immediately and entertained me until I turned the very last page (make sure you read the letter from Duane at the very end).  Filled with engaging adventures and exciting stories, this book made me laugh, smile, and touched my heart.

It wasn’t until after I read the book, did I read what others thought of this book.  I have to agree with what many other readers reported, this book does have that Winnie the Pooh feel to it.  As Duane makes himself comfortable in his new home in the Very, Very Far North, Duane has that comfortable, quizzical state about him and the adventures that he has, are quite fun and enlightening.

Duane loves three things in life: napping, eating, and exploring.  For Duane, the polar bear, finding C.C. and the shipwreck was the perfect beginning for him.  He learns and forms so many great friendships in the Very, Very Far North, I’m so glad that he went.

As they have new experiences, met new friends, and help each other, I enjoyed that there was no major rivalry or conflicts between them.  Any struggles that they did have, were addressed, handled and then the parties dropped it.  I also liked that each individual in the book was different and had their own personality.  I really loved the way the book was written; it was reader friendly as the text spoke to you. I think young readers will enjoy this.

I can’t wait to read more about Duane, Major Puff, Magic, C.C., Sun Girl, Boo, Twitch, and Handsome in the next book. I’m really hooked on this book and think it would make a great read aloud for elementary-age children.  I can’t wait to share it with others. 

If you have young children, pick this one up.  If you have grandchildren or work in a school-setting with young children, this is one you will want to look into.  It definitely is a keeper!

“You or I might have responded to a polar bear crashing into our home with a little more alarm, perhaps. I won’t speak for you, but I would definitely have screamed at least once, or five times.”

The Halloweeners (MonsterStreet #3) by J. H. Reynolds

5 stars Middle School

This series is fantastic! All the books are stand alones but you’ll want to read them all, once you get started. This is book #2 and it was loads of fun.

Fisher is getting tired of moving. He’s finally making friends at school and now, his mom notifies him that they’ll be moving soon. Fisher can’t hold back his frustration and he voices his opinion. Now grounded, he doesn’t want to miss trick-or-treating tonight, with the guys from school, so he sneaks away after his mother left to attend a school function.

Meeting up with Champ, Fisher meets the rest of the boys in a tree house and this section of the book, reminded me of the movie, Stand By Me. The boys gather for a meeting and now a serious tone takes over, as they discuss the night before them. They must win at Halloween Games and they talk about their secret weapon. The information that they discuss is important and it sets the mood for the rest of the night. The boys tell Fisher about the Halloweeners and Fisher decides that he would also like to be a member of this group.

Throwing on their costumes, the boys get ready to head out to collect their candy. It’s almost as if I’m out on the street with them as they tell their stories, encounter other individuals carrying their bags, and try to fill their bags. As they view the end house, the Halloweeners know that this house is off-limits yet Fisher is drawn to the mansion and what’s sitting on its front porch. As they approach the house, being a winner of the Halloween Games takes over their thinking and the boys see an opportunity. What an opportunity! An opportunity that changes the course of their lives.

What a fun, adventurous story. I liked what happened when the boys came up to the cauldron and they didn’t abide by the rules. What a ride! What a great imagination! Another great read in the MonsterStreet series.

Carnevil (MonsterStreet #3) by J.H. Reynolds

5 stars Middle School/ Children’s Chapter

The two brothers hadn’t spent much time with their aunt and now, their parents expected them to spend an entire week with her while they went on a trip. When she arrived at the depo to pick them up, they didn’t expect to see her in a hearse. Little did the boys know, but their adventure was just beginning. Aunt Winnie was, what I would call a Fun Aunt. She was this radiant individual who was full of life and positive energy. The boys had arrived close to Halloween and Aunt Winnie was excited about the approaching holiday. Now that the boys were here, she wanted them too, get involved in the celebration.

Aunt Winnie was transforming her workplace into a haunted manor for the residents but the boys didn’t quite see things the way that she did. Twelve-year old Ren and nine-year old Kip see the nursing home residents as old and close to Halloween creatures already. It isn’t until Ren is bribed into checking on a resident, do the stories that Aunt Winnie claims these residents have, start to become a reality. As Mrs. Wellshire rambles about the carnies and the harvest, the mention of the man’s name begins to make “his blood turn cold.”

Armed with a twenty, the boys attend the carnival which had popped up overnight. A carnival unlike any other carnival that they had attended. It was dreamlike, and from the looks of the other kids attending, they felt the same way. It was fantastic!
The rides were amazing and the food delicious. Out of money, the boys visited Zora and her magic crystal ball, to have her look into their futures. If only, they had gone in to see Zora a minute or two earlier or they had left the carnival after their money was gone, the stories the boys told of that night might have been different but as it stands, Kip loved the carnival and he was staying. As the boys stay at the carnival, the night becomes interesting and dark. I can’t stop reading now, the prices at the carnival are worth talking about.

I really enjoyed this book. The action never lets up and there aren’t a lot of characters to keep track of. There was no way that I could stop reading as I needed to know what happened to the brothers at the carnival and I wanted to know how things worked out with the aunt. Even though it’s labeled a middle school book/upper elementary chapter book, I devoured this book. I feel that kids of this age will really enjoy reading this and scream for more.

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

3.5 stars Middle School

I thought this graphic novel was okay. I liked the characters and I liked how things were progressing but there was something about the flow of the story that didn’t feel right. 

Moth doesn’t fit in and she’s basically accepted that.  She’s now thirteen-years old and suddenly things start to change for her on Halloween.  No one has told her the truth about her mom and that Moth’s obsession with witches might have something to do with her mom but now, someone might have to.  Moth was born a half witch but suddenly now, she’s showing her powers.  Moth is excited about her new identity but her mother, a witch herself, tells her that it’s not such a great thing. 

There’s some time travel as Moth learns about the craft and its history.  We find out how old mom really is and what mom has been through.  Mom has told Moth not to practice her new craft yet Moth feels she wants to help her friend and does so without anyone knowing.  

I liked that there was this emphasis on family and friendship in the book.  I liked how Moth tried to do things on her own and make her own decisions which at thirteen, has its positive and negative aspects. I thought the book at times felt too wordy.  It felt heavy and the flow felt off.  I thought the illustrations were well done and I liked how the cat was used in the book.