Tag Archives: dial books for young readers

ARC Review – Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Title: Short

Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she’ll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn’t ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. As Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive – one of the adults with dwarfism who’ve joined the production’s motley crew of Munchkins – and with her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia’s own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn’t want to fade into the background and it’s a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia!

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have heard nothing by praise for Holly Goldberg Solan’s Counting by 7s, and it’s a book I’ve been meaning to get to (and will, I hope!). Short is her latest effort, and it’s a pretty endearing little story of life, death, and friendship. In fact, I love the dual meaning of the title given that this book refers to life being “too short” and that Julia is in fact “short.”

Julia’s narrative is absolutely infectious. She’s curious, endearing, kind and understanding. Julia wants to know anything and everything, and it’s so apparent in the story to the reader that she is nothing if not filled with good intentions. There’s a lot of beauty in the way in which she understands the world around her. Julia’s loss of her beloved dog, Ramon, causes her to feel so much sadness, but in her sadness you see a beautiful young woman developing understanding, especially when it comes to Olive, another Munchkin in the production of Wizard of Oz who has dwarfism. Their interactions in the story were easily the bits of the novel that stole the spotlight.

Actually, Julia’s interactions with other characters just felt very genuine and spot on. I loved reading her relationship with Mrs. Chang, especially towards the end of the novel when Julia realizes that they share something in common. I also loved the way Goldberg Sloan integrated The Wizard of Oz into the story, adding such a larger, more important message about life being what you make of it, but you can’t turn back — you can only go forward. This is a huge lesson for Julia throughout the story, and how this gets tied into Oz is really special.

This book is adorable, and oh so cute. It will make you laugh, smile, cry, and it’s simply full of feeling. The book understands how children feel when dealing with loss, and I feel like Julia’s portrayal is very realistic. While I didn’t always enjoy being trapped in Julia’s head, I always appreciated her sentiments towards others. Short is one of the sweetest little middle grade reads that has a huge heart.

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ARC Review – Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

23281892Title: Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible

Author:  Ursula Vernon

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Harriet Hamsterbone is not your typical princess. She may be quite stunning in the rodent realm (you’ll have to trust her on this one), but she is not so great at trailing around the palace looking ethereal or sighing a lot. She finds the royal life rather . . . dull. One day, though, Harriet’s parents tell her of the curse that a rat placed on her at birth, dooming her to prick her finger on a hamster wheel when she’s twelve and fall into a deep sleep. For Harriet, this is most wonderful news: It means she’s invincible until she’s twelve! After all, no good curse goes to waste. And so begins a grand life of adventure with her trusty riding quail, Mumfrey…until her twelfth birthday arrives and the curse manifests in a most unexpected way.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Earlier in the year I had the chance to read Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon and I thought it was a wonderful, quirky read. In this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, Harriet is cursed as a child. However, the curse doesn’t exactly go as planned, because she was made invincible until her twelfth birthday. Harriet, completely in love with her new found powers, enjoys fighting dragons, jumping off high cliffs, and never worrying about the possibilities of a scratch. Until her twelfth birthday hits, and everything goes array.

This book is beyond hilarious. Harriet frequently breaks the fourth wall at her readers with tons of sass and charm. In fact, she’s just completely kick-butt for a twelve year old, and her courage and tenacity is admirable. I feel like she’d be an amazing role model for young readers, as her can-do spirit is quite infectious.

Moreover, Ursula Vernon’s writing is fantastic and vivid. She has this way of capturing the reader’s attention with such humour. Plus, the artwork is fantastic, well-detailed and eye-catching. I found myself whipping through the book, laughing as I was reading on public transit and just having a ball with the cast of characters and Harriet’s overall adventure. I thought her friendship with Prince Wilbur was honest as it was entertaining. Especially there responses at the end of the novel when given the suggestion that they should marry each other. Ick!

I feel like Hamster Princess will be one of those unexpected reads that will even capture the attention of reluctant readers. If there’s any criticism I can impart, is that the cover may not appeal to male readers, which is a shame because I feel like boys would get just as much enjoyment out of this story as girls would.Hamster Princess is worth looking into when it releases, especially for those who love parodies of fairy tales, and sassy heroines.

ARC Review – Like it Never Happened by Emily Adrian

23281823Title: Like it Never Happend

Author: Emily Adrian

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: When Rebecca Rivers lands the lead in her school’s production of The Crucible, she gets to change roles in real life, too. She casts off her old reputation, grows close with her four rowdy cast-mates, and kisses the extremely handsome Charlie Lamb onstage. Even Mr. McFadden, the play’s critical director, can find no fault with Rebecca.

Though “The Essential Five” vow never to date each other, Rebecca can’t help her feelings for Charlie, leaving her both conflicted and lovestruck. But the on and off-stage drama of the cast is eclipsed by a life-altering accusation that threatens to destroy everything…even if some of it is just make believe.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Like it Never Happened. The characters sort of fit into that category that my co-blogger and I love, which is ugly people being ugly. While not all the characters in the story fit that bill, it’s the level of melodrama that really makes this quite the popcorn read.

Rebecca Rivers and her four friends make a pact to never date each other. Except that falls a part fairly fast when Rebecca falls for Charlie. For a kid who wants to be a lawyer, he has some epic moments of dumb in this story, but I enjoyed the fact that as a love interest he was flawed like that. Even though there is a “romance” between Rebecca and Charlie, I hesitate to call it that because a lot of the book really is about the rumours being spread about how much of a “slut” Rebecca is.

… a “slut” whose never had sex. It’s amazing how fast a rumour can spread like wildfire, and it’s even more impressive how fast it can destroy someone’s life. That’s really what this book focuses on — and the characters in this story all self-destruct in fast and rather unpleasant ways. The amount of jealousy in the Essential Five is crucial to the plot development — for a group that supposedly respect each other it’s actually abundantly clear that that is not the case.

What I love about this book is that it is about exploration and experimentation of the self. When you’re a teen, you still don’t entirely know your self-identity, and it’s impressive how people reinvent themselves and the world around them, which is exactly what happens in Like it Never Happened. Furthermore, because of this large over arching theme, I know for me, it made it such a page-turner because I wanted to see if people would even grow. Spoilers: not everyone does.

This book takes a bit to get into, and it may feel at times like it’s not going anywhere, but once the drama begins — the book it quite golden. This is a great summer read, and definitely great for those who don’t mind an unlikeable heroine who has some major growing pains.

ARC Review – Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

22504710Title: Castle Hangnail

Author: Ursula Vernon

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail’s doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle’s minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn’t who she says she is.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

I’ll be honest, Castle Hangnail was a situation where I may have judged a book by its cover. Honestly, it didn’t appeal to me, didn’t speak to me, until one day I felt possessed to pick it up and start reading.

I was hooked from the first page.

On my long commute home from test one of three during this week, I was happy that Castle Hangnail had kept me company through the traffic jam. Being trapped on a bus without a book is my worst nightmare, and having it allowed me to devour a large chunk of the book on the way home. Castle Hangnail is a very engrossing middle grade read with a lot of subtle humour and a cast of wonderfully out there characters. Molly is just so sweet, yet by the end of the book you understand why she’s the “wicked twin,” Majordomo just made me laugh because he has his own self conflict with master and servitude that is written SO CLEVERLY. It’s fun to watch him assert dominance and then all of a sudden backtrack because, wait, he’s a servant.

There’s just something addicting about the way in which Castle Hangnail is written. It’s vivid, animated, and even the artwork within the book is well paced and appropriate to the plot. When the book attempts to share tough issues with the readers, it’s easy stuff that anyone can relate to and it does it very matter-of-factly which I liked. If anything, the only downside of Castle Hangnail might have been how easy the resolve was, yet it worked for the story. I loved the ending itself, which I won’t spoil, but lets just say it made me laugh.

Castle Hangnail cast a spell on me, and I don’t regret reading it. This is one of those middle grade novels that may look a bit childish on the outside, but it’s a lot richer on the inside. Vernon balances humour and realistic issues while still writing a fun story on top of it. This is one of those middle grade reads that would especially be great around Halloween, though really it’s themes and ideas are so universal that anyone, at any time, can simply pick the book up and enjoy it.

ARC Review – I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

20820994Title:  I’ll Give You the Sun

Author: Jandy Nelson

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

Huge thank you to Dial Books for Young Readers/Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’ll admit, I’m one of the few folks out there who hasn’t read The Sky is Everywhere. After completing this book, I realized what it is about Jandy Nelson’s work that people enjoy so much: the woman knows how to tell an intricate, believable, and emotionally gripping story. I was completely swept away with both Jude and Noah’s narratives that I had a hard time putting this down, and I admit, I had to put it down a few times.

The thing about I’ll Give You Sun is that it’s not a read you can do in one sitting. The plot is very carefully crafted, and it often made me stop and reflect on a lot of what I was reading. There’s so much going on in the story that it is easy to feel overwhelmed or even a touch lost. The writing is beautiful, it’s engaging, but perhaps the book is even a touch over-written? I found I had a hard time at first with Nelson’s style (and a hard time believing Noah was thirteen based on how the book was written) and yet once I got into the style and understood how the story and pace was going to move, I found I was able to push through it all. There’s a challenging book here and I feel like it’s not something that is going to grab every reading — the style is unique and it really feels like you’ll either love it or hard it without much in between.

But damn that story. I loved these characters and for me, Jude and Noah’s trials and tribulations felt so real, so sad, and it’s easy to become emotionally invested in their lives. How do you go from being together forever to so far a part? There’s this style that twins have an intense connection, and Nelson really gives you that sense throughout the story. Nelson always keeps her reading thinking and as mysteries are unravelled, the more you realize the amount of threads in this story’s web. I admit a lot of the book and the connections really surprised me! And it’s no like these surprises felt out of the blue either, there’s such a gentle build about it that it’s easy to second guess yourself.

I hope more people check I’ll Give You the Sun out when it releases, because I think it’s a fantastic look at family, life, death, love and separation. Jude and Noah never feel whole, and it’s really heartbreaking. But, they are both so easy to connect to, that you want to see (or hope) that they will come back to each other in the end. I won’t spoil it obviously, but the journey this story presents is certainly worth taking.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

18667800Title:  Love and Other Foreign Words

Author: Erin McCahan

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Can anyone be truly herself–or truly in love–in a language that’s not her own?

Sixteen-year-old Josie lives her life in translation. She speaks High School, College, Friends, Boyfriends, Break-ups, and even the language of Beautiful Girls. But none of these is her native tongue–the only people who speak that are her best friend Stu and her sister Kate. So when Kate gets engaged to an epically insufferable guy, how can Josie see it as anything but the mistake of a lifetime? Kate is determined to bend Josie to her will for the wedding; Josie is determined to break Kate and her fiancé up. As battles are waged over secrets and semantics, Josie is forced to examine her feelings for the boyfriend who says he loves her, the sister she loves but doesn’t always like, and the best friend who hasn’t said a word–at least not in a language Josie understands

Huge thank you to Razorbill CA/Dial Books for Young Readers for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Oh my goodness, this book. This book made me laugh I don’t know how many times outloud. I can’t remember the last time I read such a humorous contemporary novel that was both charming and thoughtful, but this book was a complete package.

Josie is the type of narrator is who insanely logical… about everything, and I think this is what made her so funny a lot of the time. No matter how much she tries to rationalize relationships, love, and even just social contact, it’s all done in such a quirky way. Josie’s voice is so easy to be drawn into because she’s such an oddball, but she’s my favourite kind because behaves as though there is a rational reason for everything.

This book has a romance in it, and one that is surprisingly sweet and a touch awkward. It’s the good kind of awkward, with it’s shy ‘omgIcan’tstoptalkingbutIdon’tknowwhattosay’ sorta way, and I loved that because when it comes to Joise and Stu, they were just so funny and interesting that they were easy to cheer for. Also how Josie tries to sabotage her sister’s marriage plans? She’s such a little brat, and yet I loved how Josie and Kate were able to find each other and repair their relationship, even if how they behaved and took revenge on each other was both perfect and bratty.

I adored Love and Other Foreign Words, and it was so great to read a book that knew when to be serious, but also knew when to be light-hearted and fun. Josie is not an easy protagonist to cheer for, but she’s someone who is wonderfully real and imperfect. McCahan gives us such a fun cast of characters and one strangely whimsical story that I think teens will simply love. Also, humor that is genuine and not forced? Count me in.

ARC Review – Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

18060008Title:  Under the Egg

Author: Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

Huge thank you to Dial Books for Young Readers and Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love middle grade novels, especially ones that have a lot of quirk and mystery to them. Under the Egg stars young Theo, a girl unraveling the mystery of a painting owned by her deceased grandfather, and this painting turns out to be more than she bargained for.

I read this book in one sitting. The pacing is quick, the story does a great job of grabbing the reader’s attention and the humor that does exist within the story is spot on. I loved Theo and I thought she was utterly delightful to follow around, and I often enjoyed that she seemed like the adult in the relationship with her grad school mother. She managed the money, attended to the chores, she’s a lot more mature than most young ladies her age and I appreciate that this is consistent throughout the story. I also loved the secondary characters, especially Bodhi who really does make a lot of the story with her brattiness. She’s a lovable brat and one that I found I was laughing with throughout.

This book also appealed to the Librarian and tea lover in me. In a lot of ways the reader learns a surprising amount about both subjects without really meaning to. However, this might pose an issue though — while this novel is billed as a middle grade novel, the historical and art history topics are not always handled with that level in mind so sometimes you’d get extra explanation about the subjects and sometimes you don’t. I think having that consistency would have made the novel stronger, or I think it would have helped to have an author’s note that went into a bit more detail about these topics. Art and Art history in particular is not something a lot of middle graders would likely know about, so the accessibility level on the subject I feel could have been  a bit better.

However, as a middle grade mystery novel, it’s fantastic. The mystery is at the right level, it takes a bit to piece together and once you do it’s surprisingly rewarding. The mystery aspect really keeps the novel engaging and flowing so quickly that you really don’t realize how fast you’re turning the pages. I really adored this book and I think it’s such a treat for those looking for something a bit more quirky and potentially out of their comfort zone. I think with the right reader too, it could even be a favourite. Laura Marx Fitzgerald has written a touching tale with some truly awesome characters. I was in love from page one.