Tag Archives: chronicle books

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel

Title: The Other Half of Happy

Author: Rebecca Balcárcel

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Quijana is a girl in pieces. One-half Guatemalan, one-half American: When Quijana’s Guatemalan cousins move to town, her dad seems ashamed that she doesn’t know more about her family’s heritage. One-half crush, one-half buddy: When Quijana meets Zuri and Jayden, she knows she’s found true friends. But she can’t help the growing feelings she has for Jayden. One-half kid, one-half grown-up: Quijana spends her nights Skyping with her ailing grandma and trying to figure out what’s going on with her increasingly hard-to-reach brother. In the course of this immersive and beautifully written novel, Quijana must figure out which parts of herself are most important, and which pieces come together to make her whole. This lyrical debut from Rebecca Balcárcel is a heartfelt poetic portrayal of a girl growing up, fitting in, and learning what it means to belong.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really enjoyed The Other Half of Happy! It was my first time reading a story with a Guatemalan protagonist. Quijiana is a wonderful heroine to follow — she cannot speak Spanish, she doesn’t know how to play guitar, and she spends a lot of the novel fighting her family’s traditions.

This book tells the story of someone who is clearly Americanized but learning how to preserve her family’s culture. When the novel is about Quijana’s family, her interactions with her grandmother or the fights with her father, this book is fabulous and raw. Some of my favourite moments in particular, were any cases where Quijana would text her grandmother for advice or when she was feeling down. It was so pure and sweet! I also love the scenes with Quijana’s father, mainly because I feel for him — he wants to share his family’s heritage and get Quijana to appreciate his roots but he struggles to communicate these feelings to her and so they clash. The way in which family is portrayed in The Other Half of Happyis what makes this story feel so special.

The other half of the novel regarding Quijana’s school life and her crush… I admit, I didn’t dig those parts as much. The parts of the story regarding her crush didn’t add anything special to the story for me, but perhaps for another reader I could see it working for them. I just found those parts of the story to meander and not add anything special to the overarching theme, which was family and cultural identity. I wish I loved that part as much of the rest of the book, but unfortunately it didn’t work for me.

Do I still recommend The Other Half of Happy? Absolutely! I feel like many younger readers will definitely find the story engaging, and I think Quijana is a character many readers will be able to relate to. This is a fantastic story about growing up, accepting parts of your roots, and coming to terms with cultural differences. This is a great book for readers who love a good family-centered narrative.

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Late to the Party ARC Review – Salt by Hannah Moskowitz

Title: Salt

Author: Hannah Moskowitz

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Even though their parents disappeared during a hunt three months ago, seventeen-year-old Indi and his siblings, Beleza, Oscar, and Zulu, continue to roam the Mediterranean on their sailboat and hunt down monsters–but Indi yearns for a more settled life for his family, and he hopes that his parents’ journal with its tantalizing hints of a treasure, will provide them all with the means of escape from their nomadic and dangerous life before it is too late.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This was a fun read. There’s not a lot of pirate stories out there, let alone one with a more modernized twist to it. Salt takes a look at a group of siblings who have a strong desire for adventure, as they hit the high seas.

Salt has a fantastic ensemble cast. Each of the siblings has a distinctive voice, each with memorable quirks and personalities. I think the book captures the good aspects of a pirate novel — there’s plundering, adventure, and a desire for independence. I think what also makes this book interesting is that there’s definitely a sense of existential dread that looms over the characters as well. I think what I struggled with though, is that while the characters felt well developed, the story just plodded along and it didn’t feel like a lot happened. I suppose in a way I thought this would be a more plot intensive book, given that most pirate stories are. Perhaps that was the wrong assumption to go into with this book.

I generally have a mixed relationship to Hannah Moskowitz’s books. I either love them to the ends of the earth, or they are just pretty good. Generally, I find I love her contemporary books over her fantasy novels, and that it true of Salt. This book has fantastic characters, but if you’re looking for a plot intensive book, that isn’t what Salt is about. Sadly for me, as much as I loved the characters and found it to be a quick read, ultimately, it’s going to be a forgettable one as time passes.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee

Title: The House in Poplar Wood

Author:   K.E. Ormsbee

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: For as long as the Vickery twins can remember, they’ve only ever been able to leave the house together once a year, on Halloween. The rest of the year, Lee and his mother serve Memory, while Felix and his father assist Death. This is the Agreement.

But one Halloween, Gretchen Whipple smashes her way into their lives. Her bargain is simple: If the twins help her solve the murder of local girl Essie Hasting, she’ll help them break the Agreement. The more the three investigate, however, the more they realize that something’s gone terribly wrong in their town. Death is on the loose, and if history repeats itself, Essie’s might not be the last murder in Poplar Wood.

Simultaneously heartwarming and delightfully spooky, The House in Poplar Wood is the story about a boy’s desire to be free, a girl’s desire to make a difference, and a family’s desire to be together again.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love a K.E. Ormsbee middle grade novel. Would you like to know why I love her books? Her middle grade novels always have a large mystery in need of unraveling, with wonderfully mysterious child characters who often adventure into the unknown and always come out stronger in the end.

Gretchen, Lee and Felix were so memorable. I do want to praise the disability representation in this book as Felix is blind in one eye and Lee is deaf in one ear. It’s done very well and these two characters are portrayed as though its a part of who they are and its very normalized. Felix and Lee are twins and they are intriguing at times because they were separated in a peculiar way that I do not want to spoil. In fact, that particular moment in the novel made me really feel for the boys!

Then there is Gretchen, who is strong-willed and not afraid of much… well, until a bit later in the story. She gets some interesting growth in the novel and while her behavior is not always likable, its makes sense in the process of the story. Actually, a lot of this book is a slow read, but it’s the engaging, mysterious kind of slow that keeps you interested, wanting to understand more and more about the world, the characters, and the murder of local girl, Essie Hasting, which is a huge part of Gretchen’s narrative.

This is very much a fall read, and one that I think will appeal to those who love the idea of a slow burn mystery. This is not a fast-paced middle grade read, but rather the kind of book that takes its time setting its atmosphere and tone, which are a large draw in this story. Ormsbee is a beautiful writer, and I love her worlds so much! If you like peculiar characters and an eerie but interesting world, check outHouse in Poplar Wood.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Tiny Infinities by J.H. Diehl

Title: Tiny Infinities

Author: J.H. Diehl

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Alice’s dad moves out, leaving her with her troubled mother, she does the only thing that feels right: she retreats to her family’s old Renaissance tent in the backyard, determined to live there until her dad comes home. In an attempt to keep at least one part of her summer from changing, Alice focuses on her quest to swim freestyle fast enough to get on her swim team’s record board. But summers contain multitudes, and soon Alice meets an odd new friend, Harriet, whose obsession with the school’s science fair is equal only to her conviction that Alice’s best stroke is backstroke, not freestyle. Most unexpected of all is an unusual babysitting charge, Piper, who is mute—until Alice hears her speak. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book was very much a slow burn for me as far as middle grade reads are concerned. This is a book about loss, change, friendships, and swimming. When Alice’s father leaves her family, she decides to take refuge in his old Renaissance tent in the backyard. Her summer is showing constant change, as she meets a new girl who loves science, but is a bit odd. She meets a girl who is a mute that she attempts to befriend, and she spends her days learning that perhaps difference and change isn’t such a bad thing.

Alice’s story is one I think a lot of readers will be able to relate to. She’s learning to deal with her family getting a divorce, she’s determined to try and stop her world for changing. Alice is lovable as a heroine — she’s stubborn, determined, and a bit shy. She’s a character I think a lot of readers will connect with because she goes through events in her life that are challenging, and there is such an unknown feeling to the changes she encounters.

I also really liked the writing in this book, even if the story was a tad slow. I did find Harriet, Alice’s newfound friend, to be a bit of a difficult character. At times she read very robotically, though that may stem from the fact that she is very intelligent and somewhat socially awkward. I think she’s a character kids may have some trouble with just because her vocabulary is so advanced compared to other children in the story, but I think given how she is portrayed, it makes a lot of sense.

I enjoyed my time with Tiny Infinities. I loved it’s message about how adapting to change can be wonderful and rewarding, and I loved that as a middle grade story, it had subject matters that kids could relate to, but they were still complex enough to be challenging. I definitely look forward to recommending this to more patient middle grade readers. I don’t recommend this for readers looking for a fast paced adventure, because that doesn’t exist here.

ARC Review – Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young

28645644Title: Hundred Percent

Author: Karen Romano Young

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The last year of elementary school is big for every kid. Christine Gouda faces change at every turn, starting with her own nickname—Tink—which just doesn’t fit anymore. Christine navigates a year’s cringingly painful trials in normalcy—uncomfortable Halloween costumes, premature sleepover parties, crushed crushes, and changing friendships. Throughout all this, Tink learns, what you call yourself, and how you do it, has a lot to do with who you are.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this finished copy!

Sam’s Review:

You know what I love about Hundred Percent? It discusses a topic in middle grade that tends to get ignored, overshadowed, and it just seems like folks are afraid to talk about — puberty. While I am not a fan of the Judy Blume classic, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, I think Hundred Percent might be that book that tackles so many middle grade issues at once, but it definitely does an awesome job looking at how a person can change both physically and mentally.

Tink and Jackie couldn’t be more different — Tink has started to develop while Jackie is still a bit of a twig, and yet they wish in some ways they could switch. There friendship is the larger focus of this story, and I REALLY adored the way Romano Young shows the changes in their friendship and the ways in which Tink and Jackie growing up shows how they can be both closer together, but also be driven further apart.

I mean, they are at that age where they are beginning to transform, feel different, even older, and yet it’s fun to watch Tink in particular fight back. In fact, she spends a lot of this book still throwing childish tantrums and being called out on it by Jackie, and you know what? I can’t even fault her on a lot of those because her mind and body are in two different places. I loved the way all all these feelings were expressed in the novel! I just wish at the same time Tink would have tried to be a bit more thoughtful during some of the arguments, but I also get what the author was trying to do as well.

I think my biggest criticism of this book, however, is that there were just way too many topics being handled at once, particularly when you look it discussing promiscuity, losing your best friend to the popular kids, puberty, forcing to forge on one’s own, it’s a lot packed into a tight squeeze, and sometimes I felt like it was too much. Again, I do think it works given that Tink spends a lot of the novel having so many problems to face at her age and trying to understand each of them head on, but I almost wish the book had been a tad longer to explore a lot of these issues further.

I do think Hundred Percent is a great and important middle grade book, and I love that it doesn’t shy away from the issues it presents in the text. I loved both Tink and Jackie, and I think Romano Young has brought up some important issues with this novel that perhaps need better address in middle grade today. I definitely think if you love contemporary middle grade, especially books focusing on those tough middle years, than Hundred Percent is worth looking into.

ARC Review – This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart

25861945Title: This Is the Story of You

Author: Beth Kephart

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: On Haven, a six-mile long, half-mile-wide stretch of barrier island, Mira Banul and her Year-Rounder friends have proudly risen to every challenge. But when a superstorm defies all predictions and devastates the island, when it strands Mira’s mother and brother on the mainland and upends all logic, nothing will ever be as it was. A stranger appears in the wreck of Mira’s home. A friend obsessed with vanishing is gone. As the mysteries deepen, Mira must find the strength to carry on—to somehow hold her memories in place while learning to trust a radically reinvented future.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Story of You is one of those very quiet books. Everything is slow, methodically put together, wrapped in poetic writing. It’s a very simple story that looks at survival, devastation, self-reflection and family, and it does all this in a very small package.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this novel as I read it, but it’s one of those books where it asks the reader to be patient, and it’s subtle in a lot of ways. Our heroine, Mira, is someone who spends a lot of the novel reflecting on her life, friendships, and the people she has met in her small town on Haven. Interesting, this book doesn’t have a lot of a dialogue, which I thought was great given how the novel was written. It was as if when all the devastation hits that there were no conversations to be had or words needed to be said.

The other thing about The Story of You is that its builds in a very specific way. All the emotion that the read is made to feel is built up, up, up, and then much live the waves of the sea, come crashing down hard and furious. I felt very frightened, uncomfortable, and even nervous at times as I was reading this book, and it just comes from how beautiful and intense a lot of the writing and imagery is in the novel.

If you want a book that will provide an emotionally engaging experience right from the get go, then The Story of You is definitely worth checking out. It’s so beautiful and raw, and while the pacing is something that I think some readers might not enjoy, I think it’s worth sticking through to the end, just to see how Kephart sticks the landing. Emotional and beautiful, The Story of You is a novel made for readers who want gripping, yet quiet experience.

ARC Review – A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz

24905359Title: A History of Glitter and Blood

Author: Hannah Moskowitz

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Beckan and her friends are the only fairies brave enough to stay in Ferrum when war breaks out. Now there is tension between the immortal fairies, the subterranean gnomes, and the mysterious tightropers who arrived to liberate the fairies. But when Beckan’s clan is forced to venture into the gnome underworld to survive, they find themselves tentatively forming unlikely friendships and making sacrifices they couldn’t have imagined. As danger mounts, Beckan finds herself caught between her loyalty to her friends, her desire for peace, and a love she never expected. This stunning, lyrical fantasy is a powerful exploration of what makes a family, what justifies a war, and what it means to truly love.

Huge thank you to Raincoast Books for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am a big fan of Hannah Moskowitz’s books based on the handful I’ve read. I feel like her writing is the equivalent of a chameleon — every book stylistically feels so drastically different, and yet there’s always a small part in the writing that reminds you it’s a Hannah Moskowitz book. I was super excited for A History of Glitter and Blood, and I enjoyed it, but not as much as I was hoping.

First off, this book has a very weird style to it. One of the main things I’ve noticed is all the DNF reviews on Goodreads, and a lot of them complain about the unique style. I don’t blame people for giving up based on the style, it’s very difficult to read at times, often because the narrative jumps around, breaks the fourth wall, and sometimes feels like you’re being pushed away. However, when I gathered that this novel was being written a “history,” the observations and narrative did start to gel with me. Part of this issue is that it’s not entirely obvious right away who is telling the story — we know it’s about Beckan, but she isn’t the narrator.

The story itself, when you get past the style, it’s really interesting. It focuses on a war between fairy and gnomes, and you’re given this sense at first that it’s like “fairies good, gnomes bad” and Moskowitz does this amazing job of turning that mentality upside down and showing how both sides are fault. Moskowitz leads the reader through this violent and destructive war, and it’s described in such a raw and vivid way. If you don’t particularly like gore or graphic description, than this book might turn your stomach. The push and pull of both sides really resonated with me, and I liked that I couldn’t pick a side and point a finger to who was right and who was wrong. The book even ends in a somewhat ambiguous way, which I thought worked.

I think the hardest part of this story for me was while I liked the overall narrative, I struggled somewhat with the characters. I didn’t feel a strong connection to them, nor did I feel like they had enough personality to really differentiate from each other. You learn a lot from who is narrating the story, but it’s from that character’s perspective alone, which works because you get a sense of who this narrator likes and who they dislike. However, it means you’re only given a very limited perspective on the other characters, so you don’t really know if they are as bad or good as the narrator makes them out to be.

And that’s just it: while this book has amazing tension and a twisting narrative, it can be a touch confusing to know what is going on at times. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially because parts that feel confusing do get re-examined and there isn’t loose ends needing to be tied up by the end. I enjoyed my time with A History of Glitter and Blood, but I feel like the narrative style will definitely be something that might be off putting for some readers. Which is a same really, because while the lack of characterization bothered me, I have to admit to the fact that I was so swept up in the war and tension that this novel presents. I feel like those who love fantasy and politics will likely appreciate what A History of Glitter and Blood has to offer.