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My Progress:

9 / 30 books. 30% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

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My Progress:

16 / 51 states. 31% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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13 / 50 books. 26% done!

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19 / 50 books. 38% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

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37 / 50 books. 74% done!

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30 / 52 books. 58% done!

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22 / 40 books. 55% done!

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5 / 25 books. 20% done!

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22 / 26.2 miles. 84% done!

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19 / 100 books. 19% done!

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45 / 104 books. 43% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

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36 / 52 books. 69% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

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40 / 165 books. 24% done!
Saturday, December 26, 2020

Debut MG Novel a Spuderrific Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Potatoes have never been good to 12-year-old Ben Hardy.  Now that he's living in small-town Idaho in the heart of spud country, he feels positively cursed by his least favored vegetable.  A for-instance: after accidentally causing the school mascot to fall and sprain his ankle, Ben is sentenced to finishing out the season as Steve the Spud.  There are only two weeks left, but that's plenty of time for all of Ben's popularity plans to go straight down the toilet.  If his classmates know he's the one inside the dorky potato man suit?  That's it for Ben.  He'll go down forever as the nerdiest of nerds.  Since that absolutely cannot happen, he vows to keep his substitute Steve the Spud act top secret.  What could possibly go wrong?

I've read several dozen middle grade novels for the Cybils Awards over the past few months.  Most of them have told heavy, issue-y stories about everything from grief to neglect to homophobia to sexual abuse to drug addiction.  While these topics are timely and important, they also make for tough, sometimes depressing, reading.  After consuming book after book like this, I was definitely ready for something less weighty.  And guess what?  My Life As a Potato, a debut novel by Arianne Costner, was just the ticket!  It's a quick, funny, light-hearted novel that doesn't pretend to be anything but.  Ben's plight might be silly, but it makes for a lot of laughs while teaching some good lessons about honesty, being yourself, and putting in the effort to make the best out of an unpleasant situation.  If you're looking for diversity (this is rural Idaho we're talking about); deep, meaningful subject matter (it's hard to be serious about potatoes); or controversial topics (mashed vs. baked?), you're not going to find it here.  My Life As a Potato is simply a humorous, upbeat, enjoyable novel.  It's never going to win the Newbery, but there's still something to be said for a book that seeks only to entertain.  Personally, I loved it.  Hand this one to reluctant readers and fans of silly humor à
la Gordon Korman, Lincoln Peirce, and Jeff Kinney.

(Readalikes:  books by the authors mentioned above)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of My Life As a Potato with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

MG Challenger Novel a Liked-It-Didn't-Love-It Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Cash, Fitch, and Bird Thomas are three siblings in seventh grade together in Park, Delaware. In 1986, as the country waits expectantly for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, they each struggle with their own personal anxieties.

Cash, who loves basketball but has a newly broken wrist, is in danger of failing seventh grade for the second time. Fitch spends every afternoon playing Major Havoc at the arcade on Main and wrestles with an explosive temper that he doesn’t understand. And Bird, his twelve-year-old twin, dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander, but feels like she’s disappearing. 

The Thomas children exist in their own orbits, circling a tense and unpredictable household, with little in common except an enthusiastic science teacher named Ms. Salonga. As the launch of the Challenger approaches, Ms. Salonga gives her students a project—they are separated into spacecraft crews and must create and complete a mission. When the fated day finally arrives, it changes all of their lives and brings them together in unexpected ways.

Told in three alternating points of view, We Dream of Space is an unforgettable and thematically rich novel for middle grade readers.  (Plot summary from publisher)

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly is an atmospheric novel that highlights an important historical event that I haven't seen addressed in fiction before.  Kelly uses enough detail to vividly recreate the 80's for her 21st Century audience and capture the Challenger-inspired fervor that I remember well, although I was only 10 when the shuttle launched.  These are the elements I enjoyed most in the novel, especially since I found it difficult to connect with the Thomas children.  They all seemed cold, self-absorbed, and just not very likable.  Plotwise, there's not tons going on in We Dream of Space, so it dragged a little bit for me.  While I was particularly moved by Kelly's depiction of the characters' reactions in the immediate aftermath of the Challenger explosion, overall, this book was definitely a liked-it-didn't-love-it read for me.  Too bad.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for difficult subject matter (Challenger explosion, dysfunctional families, anger, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

MG Novel-in-Verse Realistic and Relatable

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Hannah Lincoln's life has always been safe and stable.  The 12-year-old has two caring parents, plenty of friends, and a love of gymnastics and dancing that sustains her.  Her cousin, Cal Pace, has had the opposite experience.  His mother died three years ago leaving him with his drug-addicted father.  His chaotic home life ended with his dad going to prison and Cal coming to live with the Lincolns.  Hannah's childhood has given her confidence and balance.  Cal's has left him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  

Hannah gets that her cousin's been through a lot, but she can't help feeling resentful of his sudden presence in her life.  Cal acts strangely and has serious anger management issues.  Not only is he bullied at school, but his behavior is causing contention in Hannah's home.  She's trying to be patient and understanding, but Hannah feels like her nice, quiet life is spinning out of control.  Will her family ever go back to normal?  Or will Cal's antics tear them apart for good?

Told in verse, Ellen Hopkins' first novel for middle-grade readers tells a poignant story about two cousins with very different life experiences trying to find common ground.  Closer to Nowhere is a quick read that's realistic and relatable.  Based on the author's own experience, the story paints a vivid, sympathetic picture of how addiction impacts not just the addict but his/her whole family.  While Closer to Nowhere deals with tough subjects, overall it's a hopeful book.  I've enjoyed other books by Hopkins and this one is no exception.  It's a heart-wrenching, empathy-inducing novel that spoke to me.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of Christmas After All by Kathryn Lasky)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and difficult subject matter (drug abuse, alcoholism, divorce, school shootings, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Closer to Nowhere from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

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