The Next Great Paulie Fink

Psychological twists and cultural myths are explored, albeit through the small medium of rurual Mitchell School. Don’t underestimate Ali Benjamin though – The Next Great Paulie Fink brings character, wit, and thoughtful perusal of an intellectual topic that goes beyond a simple children’s story.

The Story: How does one go from being a nobody to being a legend? Simple: have many stories. For Paulie Fink, it doesn’t matter that he’s missing. The entirety of his school knows who he is and they’ve all got opinions on the boy they thought they knew. But is Paulie Fink really the class clown, who always had a quippy comeback? Is he the evil genius, who always had a trick up his sleeve? No matter who he was, Caitlyn now has to find a replacement, an individual who can live up to the name. The only problem? Caitlyn doesn’t really know who Paulie Fink was, which means she has no idea who she’s looking for now. Through the stories and interviews from across Mitchell School and a couple of rather intriguing philosophy classes (plus some, um, interesting goat shenanigans), Caitlyn is discovering more about Paulie, her school, and even herself than she ever thought possible.

My Thoughts: I genuinely enjoyed the concept and reading of this book. Paulie Fink was an interesting enigma and the unique format of the book (told via Caitlyn’s point of view, interviews, written entries, etc) made this fun to page through. I actually really recommend this book for reader anywhere from early elementary to junior high or the beginning of high school just for the kind of philosophical topics discussed.

Parental Advisories: Typical juvenile humor sprinkled liberally throughout, but clean in the ways that most parents would be concerned with.

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Lizzie Flying Solo

For animal fans and middle grade readers who are looking for stories with lots of heart and hope, I would recommend checking out this week’s read Lizzie Flying Solo written by Nanci Turner Stevenson.

The Story: Once upon a time Lizzie had a home and a complete family with her dad, who was not a criminal. Now she has neither of those things and instead she’s living with her mom in an inbetween home. Waiting for her father’s trial and life to land back in normal-town is hardly easy. Still, she has Bryce, an equally new student at her school, as a friend and even better, she has the stables nearby where she can watch Fire. Lizzie has never been able to forget about the difficulty of her life like she can when she watches this horse. If only she could ride him; better yet, Lizzie really wants to own Fire. But with the financial situation her family is in, there’s no way she’s going to be able to pay for a pony. Still, Lizzie’s fortunes may worsen, but her spirit is not beaten. She knows that she and Fire are destined to ride together and if she can’t fix the broken things then she will rise above them.

My Thoughts: This is a quaint and straightforward story that is what it claims to be. Lizzie is an engaging main character surrounded by genuine characters who have lives of their own, engaging backstories and complicated stories of their own. The plucky spirit of ambition and drive that Lizzie has to get her goals is actually a pretty great example for middle graders. This is definitely a middle grade book, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t well written or interesting. I’d definitely recommend this for younger readers.

Parental Advisories: Child abuse is made mention of and divorce is a heavily explored topic in this book, so this is definitely a book that you want to discuss if you’re handing this off to younger readers.

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The Camelot Code

King Arthur is revived in this middle-grade novel that brings urban fantasy to the modern century. Mari Mancusi brings this innovative new story to life in her newest novel The Camelot Code: The Once and Future Geek.

The Story: Sophie is not exactly the most popular girl. Stuart is not exactly the most athletic boy. Guinevere is not exactly the most normal girl. Arthur is not exactly the most powerful boy. The only difference? The two pairs of kids live centuries apart and one pair of kids are destined to be some of the most important in English legend. Together, though, this unlikely crew might have to be something more. When Arthur finds himself in a present without his best friend, where his tragic story is well known, and where he’s disheartened. The world as Stuart and Sophie know it is getting a whole lot stranger, but luckily they’re something of experts in this field. Well, more or less. Surely years of fantasy video gaming has to count for something, right? Either way, Stuart and Sophie have been tasked by Merlin to help Arthur get back to his own time before England collapses. Worse, Arthur’s enemies have come to the future as well and they’re not going to stop until they have taken control of both the past and present.

My Thoughts: Mari Mancusi does an excellent job of playing with the psychological aspects of the King Arthur story. What would have happened had Arthur known about his legend? For middle grade and younger readers, this is an exciting adventure/fantasy story with a good emotional backbone and relatable characters. The plot is well woven and the pacing is great.

Parental Advisories: This is a clean read, though there is a bit of romance intertwined (but one can expect that in a story about King Arthur).

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As You Wish

I promised more YA reads via my IG (@_little_reader if you haven’t checked it out previously) and this week we’re reading one that I definitely think is worth at least one read in a lifetime (though THAT in of itself is an interesting argument).

The Story: Madison, Arizona is about as boring as boring gets. At least, that’s what the inhabitants do their best to convince visitors and passerby of. For Eldon, Madison is about as boring as he lies it is, even with the magnificent secret. Because, oh yeah, Madison’s caves out in the desert hide more than just rocks and hot springs: they have a special cave where every eighteen year old gets to make a wish. Not just any wish of course, the citizens of their backwater town aren’t that dense. Like anything else, there are rules. But even with rules hearts are broken and lives are ruined. Even with rules, Eldon knows the truth about how even the most harmless wishes can do the worst damage. His eighteenth birthday is fast approaching but he has no idea what to wish for, what will hurt the least. Maybe with the help of his best friend, Merritt, and the weird religious girl, Norie, Eldon can discover the truth about wishes – and maybe make the craziest wish of all.

My Thoughts: Right off the bat, I would not recommend this to readers younger than 17+. Sadly, like the majority of YA novels these days, the language scattered throughout is vulgar and there is made mention of explicit actions (though nothing is detailed). That having been said, Chelsea Sedoti does a really good job with this book. I’ve heard complaints of the main character being a jerk who is hard to like (agreed 100%) and of the plot being slow (somewhat), but I would argue that this is the kind of read that you have to have the taste for. I enjoy character exploration and that is what this book is supreme at. The audience really gets to see the repercussions of getting what you wish for told through flashbacks that – for some at least – had me moved. Eldon, while a selfish jerk, is actually a fairly engaging narrator.  The philosophical aspects are not to be ignored as well, as the entirety of the book is spent making the reader think of the implications of such a powerful choice. All in all, if I were to rate this book I’d give it 3/5 stars. It’s not exceptional, but it’s much better than it’s been made out to be.

Parental Advisories: As previously stated, this is a book filled with language not appropriate for anyone, let alone younger readers. Parents who see their teens with this novel should be well advised to understand that despite the lessons built into the novel, poor decisions, explicit actions, and crude language is scattered throughout the book.

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 This week on the blog we’re reading a heartfelt story by author Adam P. Schmitt. This is a read that can be enjoyed by anyone, with its more psychological themes and mature character dynamics. Lets take a look.

The Story: The last thing Jimmy wants to do is go to his cousin’s funeral. Ok, the last thing he wants to do is go in pants that threaten to cut off the circulation below his waist. No, scratch that, the very last thing he wants to do is give a speech in too-tight pants at his cousin’s wake. Did Jimmy dislike his cousin? That would be light way to put it. It’s not as if he doesn’t have reason – Patrick made a mess of everything he touched, even the stuff that matters most. No wonder he’s having such a hard time finding something to speak about when it comes to his cousin. What can one say about a boy he hardly liked, let alone can find a really good memory about. But as Jimmy remembers his cousin and goes over his memories he realizes that maybe, just maybe, there’s more to the boy he’s grown up with then he’s given him credit for – and maybe Patrick has given him something to say after all.

My Thoughts: From the first sentence of this book, my attention was grabbed. This is an interesting read that really grabs one’s attention. It’s superbly well written, with a voice that feels real and a protagonist who is at turns alarming and sympathetic. This is a book that one can enjoy, regardless of age. With its mature themes, subtle character relationships, and satisfying ending, this is a book that will leave you thoughtful and wanting to read more from the author.

Parental Advisories: This book has one almost cuss (b****) and one obvious cuss a**hole. Parental discretion advised, but it’s up to you. This is definitely a good book to discuss with the reader no matter their age.

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A is for Audra

Bringing light to the glowing ladies of the stage, this week’s read by John Robert Allman and Peter Emmerich.

Summary: What easier way to learn about the glittering stars of Broadway’s fascinating history than with an ABC primer for children? Featuring such women as Barbara Streisand, Lea Salonga, and more, this delightfully illustrated picture book counts down some of the most famous names in musicals past. For adults and children alike this is a delightful way to either be introduced to or connect to the world of musical theater – and the stars that populate it. From modern femme fatales to classic screwballs, there are plenty of unique roles and talented performers who filled them to discover, whether this is your first time encountering them or not.

My Thoughts: Charmingly illustrated with a pleasing color palette, this is a read that is enjoyable to look at as well as read. As a mild fan of musicals, especially classic ones, this was a gem of a read, a clever way to introduce younger readers to the theater. I definitely recommend it.

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Amazing Decisions

This week we’re reading a nonfiction read that is both entertaining and informative. Adults, teens, and children alike can enjoy this book – Amazing Decisions: The Illustrated Guide to Improving Business Deals and Family Meals by Dan Ariely and Matt Trower – that helps them to navigate the world in a clearer way.

Summary: Ever found yourself wondering how to decide on a gift for that hard to pick for friend? Or what do you do to incentivize employees? Better yet, what do you do as the employee? Have to hire someone for babysitting or need to sign a contract? Dan Ariely crafts a quick-paced story molded around basic economic and social principles that makes learning fun. Through the clever everyman character Adam, readers will learn how to truly make the best decisions and how to view everyday choices with clarity and wisdom. Are they trying to get a social exchange? A monetary investment? Both sides have their place – but do you know them? Written with wit and illustrated in a charmingly simple graphic style that keeps the attention focused on the lesson, Amazing Decisions is a book that’s well worth your time and effort.

I truly enjoyed this one and found myself having learned at least a few tips on how to manage everyday life. It’s amazing how much we don’t think about in everyday life and how much this volume teaches that could be put into practice.

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Tis the Season Day 25

We’ve reached Christmas Day! I can’t picture any better story to read this holiday than the most important one of all:

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

We can’t thank God enough for what he’s done for us. This is only the beginning of the greatest story ever told, but it is a powerful one. Whether you are Christian or not – though I’d hope you’d come into a loving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ – one can hardly deny the power of this mythos. Few stories can match the grandeur of such a birth which would lead to an even deeper story of forgiveness, compassion, and love.

Merry Christmas everyone! May you be warm, filled, and blessed by family and friends.


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Tis the Season – Day 24

Merry Christmas season everyone! To celebrate all the holiday festivities, every day in December I’m posting a review on a Christmas book. I hope you all join me this December to enjoy some fun and seasonal cheer.

Santa and Joe have a great relationship. Joe is very specific with what he wants and Santa always complies. Like with the fire-engine-red car he wanted a few years ago and Santa came through…mostly. But this year, Joe was very, very specific. What he wants this year most of all is a penguin! And on Christmas Day when Joe gets his penguin, Osbert, he couldn’t be happier! That is, he’s happy until he realizes how hard it is to be a best friend and companion to someone who loves the freezing cold, pickled fish for breakfast, and ice-cold baths. So Joe writes one more letter to Santa to thank him for listening to what he wants – and to fix everything up for Osbert just right in his new home.

My Penguin Osbert is a really fun book to read. Written by Elizabeth Cody Kimmell and illustrated by H.B. Lewis, this story will be fun for kids to read, especially if they harbor some imaginative Christmas wishes themselves. The narrative is cute and easy to follow and the pictures are colorful and childlike. Pick up My Penguin Osbert for some winter laughs before the end of the holidays!

QoTD: I’m probably asking for my own head, but which are cuter: penguins or polar bears?

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Tis the Season – Day 23

Merry Christmas season everyone! To celebrate all the holiday festivities, every day in December I’m posting a review on a Christmas book. I hope you all join me this December to enjoy some fun and seasonal cheer.

We all know the pain of losing a loved one and how hard finding things to celebrate can be after they are gone. The Christmas Thingamajig tells the story of a small family as they try to find the joy of Christmas after Chloe’s grandma is no longer around to spend it with them. Though Grandpa is still around, it’s not the same without Grandma’s goofy traditions and all her old “thingamajigs” that she can make out of anything. Chloe can’t bear being in the same house and trying to make Christmas when Christmas won’t ever be the same again – that is, until Grandpa shares a lesson on what it means to let go of the people we love while still remembering all the best times shared.

Written sweetly by Lynn Manuel and illustrated quaintly by Carol Benioff, The Christmas Thingamajig is a great story to share with children when going through a loss or just discovering what it means to make new traditions. I liked the way the tale was told and found the ending to be satisfying and bittersweet. I recommend having a laugh-out-loud book to read after you finish this, as you might find yourself feeling a little sad and sentimental after finishing.

QoTD:What’s your best pick-me-up after reading something sad?

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