Category Archives: Review

Review: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (read by Bahni Turpin)

Published: print: Hyperion, 2007
audio: Books on Tape, 2010

Source: school library

Why I chose to read

2011 Winner of the Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production.


Gratuity “Tip” Tucci is about to embark on a road trip to Florida, where all U.S. citizens have been relocated following the Boov invasion of Earth. Even worse, Gratuity’s mother was abducted on Christmas Eve, so she is alone. On Moving Day, Tip packs up her car – and her cat, Pig – and sets out from Pennsylvania, only to find her journey turned upside down and inside out when she meets J.Lo, a Boov mechanic.

What I enjoyed

  • J.Lo – he absolutely stole the show!
  • The loving relationship depicted between Gratuity and her mother.
  • Author Rex may be well known for his drawing skills, but he flexes some serious linguistic muscles.
  • Rex uses flashbacks and intersperses the narrative with other character voices/perspectives.
  • The flashback technique used by Rex is effective at engaging the reader. Tip’s first essay attempt raised so many questions, I was impatient for the story to continue so I could find the answers!
  • Gratuity’s voice is sharp, perceptive, and dredged in dry humor.
  • The parallel drawn between alien invasion of Earth and European exploration of North America.
  • Although this is science fiction, the book doesn’t take itself too seriously and pokes a little fun at the genre.

What detracted from my enjoyment

  • I had a difficult time visualizing the aliens – they were so different from Hollywood depictions! That is good, but I sometimes couldn’t keep the image in my head.
  • Happy Mouse Kingdom was clearly meant to be Disney World, but I wondered if this was in order to satirize it, or due to fear of copyright infringement. I was preoccupied by this, but I’m sure most readers wouldn’t be.

It is obvious why this audiobook won an Odyssey – it is extraordinary! Adam Rex created the characters and the story, but Bahni Turpin breathed new life into them. I don’t think I could imagine J.Lo sounding any different. A marvelous listening experience, one that an entire family could enjoy.

Related reads

Stories with alien characters

Stuck on Earth by David Klass
Boom (or 70,000 light years) by Mark Haddon
The Doom Machine by Mark Teague

Books that feature humorous road trips

Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham


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Review: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Published: print – Clarion Books, 2007
audio – Scholastic Audio Books, 2007

Source: School library copy

Why I chose to read

The novel is used in our sixth-grade English classes. I thought it was about time I read it!


It is 1967, and Holling Hoodhood is the only Presbyterian in his seventh-grade homeroom class. Consequently, he is the only student left behind on Wednesdays when everyone else goes to Hebrew school or catechism. In his opinion, this draws the ire of his teacher, Mrs. Baker. Why else would she force him to read Shakespeare?

Shakespeare is not Holling’s only concern. He also has to deal with rats, avoid Doug Swieteck’s brother, confront his father’s expectations of his future position with Hoodhood and Associates, and scrape together enough money for 24 cream puffs – twice. And that is just the beginning.

What I enjoyed

  • The humor, oh, the humor! The humor was highlighted particularly by Joel Johnstone’s hilarious narration.
  • Schmidt captured the tentative dynamic of middle-school romance perfectly.
  • The rat subplot.
  • Once again, Joel Johnstone – this time for the voice of the principal.
  • Mrs. Baker – she is the teacher I aspire to be.
  • Following Holling’s journey as he finds his “guts.”
  • Introducing today’s students to the joys of sentence diagramming.

What detracted from my enjoyment

The main plot did take a while to get going. I was distracted by the myriad deviations from the subplots early on. Many of them did end up tying back in later on, so it wasn’t wasted time, and all played an important role building an understanding of Holling and his world.

Related reads

Stories set in the Vietnam era
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Kaleidoscope Eyes by Jen Bryant

Humorous school stories
Frindle by Andrew Clements
Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

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Review: A True Princess by Diane Zahler

A True Princess coverA True Princess by Diane Zahler

Published: Harper Collins, 2011
Source: ARC borrowed from friend

Why I chose to read

I was asked if I’d like to participate in the blog tour, and I am thrilled to spread the word about this charming novel.


Lilia decides to leave the only home she has ever known before she is sold to the miller for work. She heads north in hopes of finding her origins and clues to her true identity, accompanied by her foster siblings. Their journey is long, and when they get lost in Bitra Forest, Kai falls victim to an enchantment by the Elf King’s daughter. Now, Lilia and Karina must find a rare jewel in order to save Kai.

What I enjoyed

  • I relished the Scandinavian setting and influences. My inner movie maker was working overtime during this read!
  • The bond between Karina and Lilia. They are as close as real sisters.
  • Subtle romantic tension between Lilia and Kai, perfect for middle grade readers.
  • The Elf King is an excellent villain.
  • Lilia’s growth from incompetent daydreamer to confident young woman is believable and empowering.

What detracted from my enjoyment

  • Lilia is smart, but she is slow to see some of the clues that are obvious to the reader (regarding her origins). I kept wanting to snap my fingers and say, “Lilia! Pay attention to this!”
  • Karina’s romance is based on appearance.

Fairy tale retellings are such fun, and A True Princess is no exception. This will be a popular read in my library for sure!

Related reads

The Princess and the Pea versions

The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine
Hans Christian Anderson’s The Princess and the Pea: The graphic novel by Stephanie True Peters

Stories with evil creature encounters

The Stonekeeper’s Curse (Amulet #2) by Kazu Kibuishi
The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

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Review: The Girl Who Became a Beatle by Greg Taylor

The Girl Who Became a Beatle by Greg Taylor

Published: Feiwel and Friends, 2011
Source: ARC picked up at ALA Midwinter

Why I chose to read

The cover grabbed my attention. Also, there are not enough books about girl musicians.


Regina’s band has just broken up, and she feels humiliated and depressed. In her misery, she wishes she were as famous as the Beatles, her favorite band. She wakes up the next morning to find that her band, the Caverns, are hugely famous, she is a rock star and the songwriter for all the songs once belonging to the Beatles. Her anonymous “Fairy Godmother” reveals that Regina has six days to decide whether to stay in her new reality, sans Beatles, or return to her ordinary life.

What I enjoyed

  • Regina’s father is present, loving, and a good influence.
  • The book features a girl rocker!
  • Romantic tension, not too dramatic.
  • The catfight was amusing.
  • A character’s journey to discovering her self worth, confidence, and true self is perhaps not new, but Regina’s journey is flawed and realistic, punctuated with humor.
  • Regina is very vulnerable and appealing in the beginning, drawing the sympathy of the reader, which comes in handy during Part II, when she starts acting bitchy.

What detracted from my enjoyment

  • On page 9 (of the ARC) Regina says, “There it was, staring back at me from the mirror. No, not my face. Well, come to think of it, that’s a good place to start. I’m not all that confident about how I look.” My reaction: groaning. I didn’t want to a book filled with the narrator’s self-deprecating remarks. Thankfully, this thread seems to have faded away, and any further references to appearance are fringe, not focus.
  • There are times when Regina is a little too self-aware, far beyond her years. Example: (page 19 of ARC) “Are all teenagers like that? Ricocheting from despair to euphoria within one turn of the minute hand?”
  • There is a point where Regina sees a Monkees album and thinks that they shouldn’t exist if the Beatles didn’t. I wondered about that – all the musicians who consider the Beatles to be an influence, what happens to them if the Beatles don’t exist? I wish that were more fully explored.

Although I knew, based on reading experience, that eventually Regina would return to her original life, I kept reading because I wanted to know just how far she would get swept up in the fame before realizing it wasn’t for her. Teens readers will get caught up in the anticipation of waiting for Regina to have that “aha” moment.

Related reads

Stories with characters thrust into a new reality
Airhead by Meg Cabot
The Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti
Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers

Books that feature musical teens
I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert
Beat the Band by Don Calame
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
So Punk Rock: And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother by Micol Ostow

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Review: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

Published: The Chicken House, 2010
Source: personal copy

Why I chose to read

Recommended to me by many librarian friends.


While traveling through Asia with her parents, Gemma is abducted from the Bangkok airport. Her kidnapper, Ty, takes Gemma to a remote desert in Australia, where he plans for them to spend the rest of their lives together.

What I enjoyed

Just thinking about the book, my heart starts pounding. I could not put the book down while reading, and it wasn’t due to breakneck pacing. I found the story so compelling, I was so anxious and worried about Gemma. Although I suppose I knew from the beginning she would get away from Ty, based on the format and subtitle, her experience is still harrowing, and how she comes to be writing this letter to him is what generates suspense.

Ty is a complex character. As the story unfolds, and I learned more about Ty, I felt sympathy for him. Although I knew he had committed an atrocious crime, I wanted Gemma to help him stop suffering. That confusion is what makes this book so remarkable. Along with Gemma, I experience that strange conflict: Yes, he flips out, he stole Gemma from her life without her consent, he has creepily stalked her for six years. But, wait! He just wants her to love him, and he has an artistic side, and he is smart and strong, and he is gentle with the animals. Being conflicted about something that I rationally understood to be cut-and-dry freaked me out.

Then there is the conflict Ty taunts Gemma with: why would she trade the peace and beauty of this place for the impersonal and hectic city? He begins to convince Gemma that her former life is not worth returning to, her parents didn’t want her around, and that she is better off with him. Eventually, she starts to believe him.

Other key points:

  • Gemma is a fighter. She is not a passive victim.
  • The stark beauty and inherent danger of this desert region of Australia is convincingly depicted through the poetry of Ms. Christopher’s words.
  • The symbolism is subtle and effective.
  • Part of Gemma’s trauma lies in not knowing what to believe and who to trust. Her disorientation is not just physical, but psychological.
  • The writing is brilliant, from the framing of the story, addressing Ty directly through the use of pronoun “you”, and the strong characterization.

This is a psychological thriller, a beautiful piece of literary fiction, a haunting victim’s tale, and an exploration of what we value most in our lives.

Related reads:

Stories featuring kidnapped characters
Taken by Edward Bloor
Girl, Stolen by April Henry
The Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer

Stories in which place is a character (not kidnapping stories)
The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Peak by Roland Smith

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