Middle Grade March Wrap-up – Part 1

Over the month of March, I decided to try and read a lot of middle grade. It was inspired by a lot of Booktubers who were doing similar, but also by the first book I finished in the month, All The Ways Home by Elise Chapman (which I keep hinting at and there will be a review closer to its release). Split into two posts, I thought it would be fun to share with you all the middle grade reads I checked out and some quick thoughts. I ended up reading six books, but will only be discussing five between the two posts.

The War I Finally Won
(The War That Saved My Life #2)
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I ADORED the first book in this series, but if I am being honest, I don’t feel like Ada’s story necessarily needed a continuation. This sequel has Ada and her brother Jamie with a legal guardian while World War II rages on. This is a hard one to talk about if you’ve never read the first book (which I highly recommend you do), but this one was a surpisingly slow sequel where I feel like it took its sweet time to get to the story it truly wanted to tell. I gave the first book a five star when I read it, but this one wasn’t the same spark for me. 3.5/5 Stars

The Golden Door
(The Three Doors Trilogy #1)
by Emily Rodda

I wanted to love this book so badly and I had a hard time with it. It’s likely more me than the book because I’ve been in such a weird fantasy slump and just not picking up fantasy books that spark joy in me. This one is such an old school sword, sorcery and dragon story for a middle grade audience and its fabulous in that regard for making that old school genre accessible. I thought the plot was very D&D and the characters just didn’t excite me. However, having since read it, I have recommended it a lot at work, especially for reluctant male readers! But yeah, this sadly wasn’t a hit for me. 2.5/5 Stars

To Night Owl from Dogfish
by Holly Goldberg Sloan &  Meg Wolitzer

A friend of mine described To Night Owl from Dogfish as “The Gap Parent Trap” and it 100% is. This addictive little book about two girls going away to a sleepover camp while trying to keep their dads in a relationship so that they get to become sisters is both funny, heartbreaking, and just charming all around. Avery and Bett will make you grin from ear to ear that’s how wonderful this story was. I think about it a lot and how much fun I had reading it, or how much I thought Bett’s grandmother was just the absolute best grandmother in a book ever. This sweet contemporary book knocked my socks off and I hope more folks check it out. 5/5 Stars

That’s it for part one! I hope you stay tuned because on Friday, I’ll share the other two wonderful reads I checked out for Middle Grade March!

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ARC Review – You Must Not Miss by Katrina Leno

Title: You Must Not Miss

Author: Katrina Leno

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Magpie Lewis started writing in her yellow notebook the day her family self-destructed. That was the night Eryn, Magpie’s sister, skipped town and left her to fend for herself. That was the night of Brandon Phipp’s party.

Now, Magpie is called a slut whenever she walks down the hallways of her high school, her former best friend won’t speak to her, and she spends her lunch period with a group of misfits who’ve all been socially exiled like she has. And so, feeling trapped and forgotten, Magpie retreats to her notebook, dreaming up a place called Near.

Near is perfect–somewhere where her father never cheated, her mother never drank, and Magpie’s own life never derailed so suddenly. She imagines Near so completely, so fully, that she writes it into existence, right in her own backyard. It’s a place where she can have anything she wants…even revenge.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I adore Katrina Leno’s writing, and You Must Not Miss reminded me of the level of versatility that she has when creating stories. While a lot of Leno’s books have a magical or fantastical element, they are still deeply rooted in the real world and often its the overall tone that provides a uniqueness to each and everyone one of her books.

Magpie is wonderfully intense and destructive as a character. Her overall suffering and deep hatred of herself places the reader in a difficult position when reading this book. There’s a lot of anger, there’s so much venom being spouted throughout this story from both those that surround our heroine, but also Magpie herself. I won’t lie, trying to be supportive of Magpie is challenging in this story, especially given some of the “decisions” she makes, but I think it’s a great deconstruction of dealing with mental illness or dealing with immediate crisis even.

The suffering and self-sabotage by Magpie’s character in this story is oddly a draw. Leno has this amazing way of dragging the reader into the minds of her heroines — sometimes you feel like you are steps ahead of them, and others, like Magpie make you feel lost or question what will happen next. This reminded me a lot of Leno’s first novel, The Half Life of Molly Pierce where I was so emotionally exhausted but equally invested in what was happening.

I recognize that I am being purposely vague about the plot in You Must Not Miss and it’s with good intention. It’s one of those books where the twists and turns feel weird, crazy, and often you’ll ask yourself what the heck you read — but that is actually what makes this story so appealing in my eyes. I got completely lost in it, but didn’t feel a compulsive need to rush through the story. It’s a difficult read, no questions asked, but it’s equally a rewarding, twisty, mess of a story that keeps you guessing from the get-go.

Fave of the Month – March!

March was such an up and down month for me. I didn’t feel like I accomplished as much as I had hoped, but my bullet journal reminded me otherwise. I went on some adventures, I worked and worked out, I’m in the process of digitizing a lot of my old paper files because the clutter is getting to me (more in a different blog post). However, as always, with the end of a new month comes a favourite book. My favourite book of the month was All The Ways Home by Elsie Chapman, which doesn’t release until May. Let’s just say, it is one of the best middle grade books I’ve read this year outside of Ruby in the Sky. Both those are worth putting on your TBR if you love middle grade.

My favourite book of the month was an adult literary novel. The book itself was a pleasant surprise from an author I fell in love with last year. Let’s reveal it, shall we?

Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Published July 9th 2013 by Washington Square Press)

This is the story of a woman who asks her husband to by her Fruity Pebbles and he ends up not coming home because he is killed by a truck driver. Elise has barely been married to her husband and he is sudden taken. This book is an amazing look at grief and how we cope. I found myself understanding Elise’s actions all too well, if I’m being honest. I also loved the bits that were set in the past where Elise and Ben met and how they fell for each other. I’m somewhat of a closeted romantic, but bits of this book did have some swoon, but mostly I cried my eyes out. This is my second Taylor Jenkins Reid book and I know I am smitten with he writing now after this one and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

Let’s see what April brings me!

ARC Review – Megabat and Fancy Cat (Megabat #2) by Anna Humphrey & Kass Reich

Title: Megabat and Fancy Cat (Megabat #2) b

Author: Anna Humphrey & Kass Reich

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Daniel Misumi has just moved to a new house. It’s big and old and far away from his friends and his life before. AND it’s haunted . . . or is it?

Megabat was just napping on a papaya one day when he was stuffed in a box and shipped halfway across the world. Now he’s living in an old house far from home, feeling sorry for himself and accidentally scaring the people who live there.

Daniel realizes it’s not a ghost in his new house. It’s a bat. And he can talk. And he’s actually kind of cute. Megabat realizes that not every human wants to whack him with a broom. This one shares his smooshfruit. Add some buttermelon, juice boxes, a lightsaber and a common enemy and you’ve got a new friendship in the making!

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have not read the first Mega Bat book, but now I kinda want to. This is a chapter book series that I’m positive you don’t need to read in order, but considering how fun this book was, I wanna check out the first book. I can totally see why kids would love this chapter book series — it’s funny, clever, and super duper sweet.

This is a quick read, and Daniel, our main hooman character is wonderful. This book has a wonderful lesson teaching what it means to be different and how to love comes in different forms. Mega Bat and the cat’s relationship is funny and I love how the author teaches these lessons through the two characters. Also I LOVED the artwork in this book and I think it reflects the characters and story well. It’s cute, detailed, and very soft looking.

I look forward to sharing this series with parents and kids looking for chapter books that are great for beginner readers moving into that realm. It’s so so so so adorable!

ARC Review – The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara

Title: The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick

Author: Mallory O’Meara

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: As a teenager, Mallory O’Meara was thrilled to discover that one of her favorite movies, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, featured a monster designed by a woman, Milicent Patrick. But for someone who should have been hailed as a pioneer in the genre there was little information available. For, as O’Meara soon discovered, Patrick’s contribution had been claimed by a jealous male colleague, her career had been cut short and she soon after had disappeared from film history. No one even knew if she was still alive.

As a young woman working in the horror film industry, O’Meara set out to right the wrong, and in the process discovered the full, fascinating story of an ambitious, artistic woman ahead of her time. Patrick’s contribution to special effects proved to be just the latest chapter in a remarkable, unconventional life, from her youth growing up in the shadow of Hearst Castle, to her career as one of Disney’s first female animators. And at last, O’Meara discovered what really had happened to Patrick after The Creature’s success, and where she went.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

San’s Review:

I love Mallory O’Meara on the Reading Glasses podcast. She’s crass, sassy, and just very entertaining when it comes to the discussion of reading and writing. She’s a very passionate individual and her first book The Lady from the Black Lagoonnot only focuses on the life of Milicent Patrick, who crafted monsters for a living, but O’Meara also parallels Patrick’s struggles of being a woman in Hollywood with her own personal struggles as a young genre film producer.

I was to first comment on how personal the writing felt in this book. It’s very conversational, very open-faced and honest. Reflecting on Milicent Patrick’s life and trying to uncover who she was, O’Meara goes through great lengths to learn about how Patrick survived in male dominated Hollywood as a woman who worked in Disney’s animation Department (she was responsible for “Night on Bald Mountain” and Chernabog design in Disney’s Fantasia!) to what it was like designing the suit for The Creature from the Black Lagoon. O’Meara shares her discovery of Patrick’s lack of credit for her various accomplishments and the toxic culture that unfortunately, still exists in Hollywood today.

I think what I loved about this book was just reading Mallory’s experience is doing research about someone who was fairly elusive. It was amazing to read about the lengths she went from doing specialized research with the L.A Library, to situations involving special collections, to even just stepping foot on Disney property to uncover as much as she could about Milicent Patrick. The library nerd in me was very into the deep dive of what it meant to go into an intense research frenzy. You feel O’Meara’s highs and lows while reading this book. Learning about the horror industry as well was very fascinating as someone who is fairly unfamiliar. Learning about how the horror industry is fairly sexist and misogynistic was of course, known, but reading about both O’Meara and Patrick’s experiences definitely made my blood boil at times.

I love when I get to read a book that is all about uncovering new truths about someone or something. Not only was Lady from the Black Lagoon a very approachable read, but it was one that allowed me to learn so much about an industry and a genre that I’m not the most familiar with. All in all Lady from the Black Lagoon was an enjoyable romp into uncovering the bright and darksides of what it means to be a female in the film industry.

ARC Review – The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena

Title: The Beauty of the Moment

Author: Tanaz Bhathena

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Susan is the new girl—she’s sharp and driven, and strives to meet her parents’ expectations of excellence. Malcolm is the bad boy—he started raising hell at age fifteen, after his mom died of cancer, and has had a reputation ever since.

Susan’s parents are on the verge of divorce. Malcolm’s dad is a known adulterer.

Susan hasn’t told anyone, but she wants to be an artist. Malcolm doesn’t know what he wants—until he meets her.

Love is messy and families are messier, but in spite of their burdens, Susan and Malcolm fall for each other. The ways they drift apart and come back together are testaments to family, culture, and being true to who you are.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really enjoyed this book! Did I love it as much as Bhathena’s debut? No, but to be far her sophomore book is such a delicate book compared to A Girl Like That. This book looks at immigration, parental expectations and forbidden romance. This book looks at Malcolm and Susan, two teens who fall for each other despite their religious backgrounds. Susan dreams of being an artist, while Malcolm is still trying to figure out who he wants be and hasn’t thought that far regarding his own future.

My favourite aspect of this book was easily the family dynamics of both Malcolm and Susan’s families. They couldn’t be more different in terms of their beliefs. The discussion of immigration is very key to this story, especially when we are reading Susan’s perspective and learning about their parent’s struggles of adapting to Canadian society, and how certain professions don’t transfer over the same way. As someone who works in a library that is populated by newcomers, this is something I learn about from my clientele every day. Canada is a place of opportunity and safety to a lot of new immigrants, and it’s unsurprising that Susan’s family is very strict when it comes to wanting her to have the best opportunities possible. Malcolm’s family has similar ambitions for him as well, but Malcolm is very much of a case of “finding himself.”

I struggled with our main characters somewhat when reading this. Perhaps it’s because I found the beginning a bit slow, but Susan in particular is a difficult character for me: she’s a bit of a doormat through a lot of this book and it isn’t until towards the end that we see her grow into someone with a lot more insight into themselves. I did find myself yelling at the book being like “Stop being so passive! Stop being afraid!” and I had to remember that I was very fortunate growing up that my parents were supportive of anything I wanted to do and that is not Susan’s situation at all. Malcolm at times for me was too much of a stereotypical bad boy, which I know for some folks is swoon-worthy, but he’s not my taste.

I think The Beauty of the Moment will appeal to a lot of readers, especially those who love family stories and romance. While this book is no Girl Like That, I will say that I think this is a much more accessible follow-up novel, and one where I believe many readers will easily connect with.

#YearofLess Update 2 – Small Changes, Part 1

2019 has been an interesting year so far. I am finding myself to be more environmentally conscious these days, especially in the time of rising and excessive plastic consumption. Ever since I moved out of my childhood home and into a rental, I’ve been trying to become more focused on how I spend my money and I’m fixated more on having experiences over having new things. My goal is to work towards a low waste lifestyle, so I thought I would share my journey from time to time here on the blog, and this first post is looking at some small changes I’ve made in the last year and a bit,

Reusable Stainless Steel Bottle and Reusable Ceramic Tea Cup

I was never a huge fan of takeaway cups, but when I was grieving, or stressed out I often found myself opting into the convenience of a takeaway cup. I also grew up in a household with a parent who was obsessed with the idea that bottled water was better for you (it wasn’t), but again convenience was a large thing when taking care of a cancer patient. After my mother passed away in 2016, my husband and I broke free from some of her bad habits and decided enough was enough. We weren’t really people who went out to Tims or Starbucks for coffee, and we got into the habit of making a lot of things at home (more on that in a different, upcoming post).

The big and obvious thing here is that if your tap water is considered drinkable, DRINK IT. If you are afraid to drink it, boil it, store it in the fridge and then drink it. Consider getting a filter for your tap or water pitcher if that’s something you are concerned about. For me, I am content filling up my bottle wherever I am, and I keep it on me at all times in my backpack. My stainless steel bottle came from my work (I did a presentation and it was a nice gift). It’s a little beat up, but I love it just the same as it keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. Also, gasp! You now know I work for a library!

My tea cup came from David’s Tea on an occasions where I needed to restock my tea pile (I had Frequent Steeper points to play with!) and it was a gift for spending over a certain amount. I used to use a cup that I got from my work, but since my husband got his full time job, that cup goes along with him some mornings, so I use my flamingo one when needed and it does the trick. Remember you don’t need to invest in something if it can already be found at home.

Soda Stream

I used to be a heavy pop drinker. I blamed a lot of it on the where I was emotionally given I spent my entire twenties taking care of two cancer patients on and off. Although my parents were super self-sufficient, this was another item that we always had in our house because mum liked her pop. I don’t fault her, pop can be tasty, and I would go through periods of pure excess. Towards the end of 2018, after talking with two of my favourite girlfriends, I realized I already had an item in my house that would satisfy the need for carbonation — my Soda Stream!

I decided to cut out pop cold turkey in 2018 and did so. Hilarious, I don’t have a taste for pop anymore. I remember getting a Dr. Pepper a few weeks ago when I had to work extra hours at my job and didn’t have a lunch. I took a sip and realized I didn’t have the taste for it anymore. I won’t lie and say it’s perfect because once in a blue moon, I do have a ginger ale, but even so, I live almost entirely on water, soda water and tea. The Soda Stream came in handy because I was craving carbonation, not necessarily the sugar or the caffeine. You can also make your own syrups for the machine as well to add a flavour boost!

If you’re like me and just want carbonation, this is the most economical way of doing it than going out and buying bottled carbonated water or pop. It means less goes to landfill and the bottles can be reused over and over again. While mine doesn’t have a glass carafe, the PET bottles on my machine last up to three years and can be recycled once they can no longer handle the job anymore. Again, it’s not the greatest, but I am finding this change has definitely helps me consume less plastic and be more thoughtful about ways in which I was consuming.

Soda Streams do go on sale a fair bit so it’s worth shopping around, or check out second hand markets and see if anyone is willing to sell or trade for one.

There you have it! These are two changes I’ve made that have had a better impact on both my finances and the planet. I hope to share more with you all as I continue to work my way through this journey and my goals list.