Tag Archives: feiwel & friends

Late to the Party ARC Review – Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Blanca & Roja

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Can I just say how much I love Anna-Marie McLemore’s books? They are such a whirlwind of magic, curiosity, and discomfort. At least, that is definitely what reading Blanca & Roja was like. This story is a dark fairy tale about two sisters, swans, and familial expectations. There are four protagonists, each who get wrapped up into this weird, wild story about sisters, and how they all must face what demons posses them in order to feel a sense of freedom.

I read this book in a day as I was trapped in my car while waiting for my sick dog to be checked out at the vet. I was completely engrossed in the story from the first page, and totally loved the twists and turns of who the “liar” was between Blanca and Roja. In the end, I was more a Roja fan in that her anger and frustrations felt so real and something I could in a way, identify with. There is an amazing discussion in this book about being non-binary and gender-fluid, and they are done in a way that for those who are unfamiliar can understand it well.

Anna-Marie McLemore is one of those writers where they have an amazing grasp of the written language. Their books are beautifully written and they truly transport readers into worlds that are not familiar, but feel familiar, which is always a challenge when writing magical realism. I am sad it took me so long to finally read this book, and I cannot wait to read the other two books I have by them that are sitting on my shelf. If you want something dark, twisted, that will keep you guessing, then read Blanca & Roja as it will not disappoint.


ARC Review – Bob by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead

Title: Bob

Author: Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.

It turns out she’s right.

Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.

Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read Bob in one sitting while I was waiting for work to be done on my car. Written by two middle grade titans, Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, Bob follows the story of a little zombie creature who has been hiding in a closet for over five years, having been left behind by a little girl named Livy, who has recently returned to Australia to visit her grandmother’s house.

This book is charming and very gentle. It’s the kind of book that shows warmth, friendship, teaching younger readers about the value of forgiveness. This is a story is also about Livy trying to help Bob get home, because while she failed him once before, she doesn’t want to fail him again. Livy and Bob are just so cute and they have such a sweet friendship. The dual-perspective in this story also adds just another wonderful layer, making you want to cheer for Bob to get home.

Bob is a sweet read that will appeal to sensitive readers who love stories of friendship. While the story isn’t ground-breaking, it’s enjoyable and easy to snuggle down with. If you love Wendy Mass or Rebecca Stead’s writing, you’ll definitely love this joint effort.

ARC Review – Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Wild Beauty

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I LOVED When the Moon Was Ours, and it is a book I recommend so easily to teens who come into the library looks for magic realism or diverse reads. I have yet to read The Weight of Feathers, but I knew after my first Anna-Marie McLemore book that I would be sold on her for life. She’s an amazing writer who weaves such unique stories together while also featuring under-represented groups of people as the leads.

Wild Beauty and I actually didn’t connect right away. This book is slow, thoughtful, and it marches to the beat of its own drum. Apart of me as I was reading it felt like I didn’t entirely understand what was going or who the characters were becoming. However, the more I read, the more captivated I was by all the feelings I was having. This book just has such an ethereal quality to it — it’s like getting lost in something so beautiful, yet simple. There is so much mystery, intrigue, and I feel like I was being swept away.

And that’s really all I am going to say about Wild Beauty. While it has moments where it’s very slow, it’s a book that you need to keep going with it because it will grab you and when it does it doesn’t let go. The characters, the world, the writing, it’s so magical, and it’s an experience to say the least.

ARC Review – Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Title: Wishtree

Author: Katherine Applegate

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Katherine Applegate is a household name in middle grade fiction when it comes to writing emotionally charged stories that linger with you long after reading. Much like The One and Only Ivan, Wishtree is one of those stories that seems simple on the surface, but offers so much more below the surface.

This story is about a tree named Red, who is the neighbourhood ‘wishtree.’ They are a large part of the community, with people in the area pinning their wishes on them, hoping they would come true. Not only does Applegate give us the stories of all the neighbourhood residents, but we see this all through Red’s perspective, with our tree offering their opinion, sympathy and kindness.

I also want to point out how much I learned about trees when reading this book. I didn’t realize that trees are multigendered! I also loved learning about their growth as well. It seems appropriate that Red doesn’t have a gender construct given how all-knowing they are. I also liked Red’s friendship with Bongo the crow, and how they would watch the neighbours, trying to understand their wishes.

This is a book was difference and a community coming together. Given the fear of ‘others’ that exists in the world right now, this story shows multiculturalism in a way that shows difference, but how people <i>should</i> be better to one another. The families in this story all want what is best for themselves, but they also wish to help others. It’s a good message, and for those who love stories from a more unique perspective, look no further than Wishtree.

ARC Review – Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Title: Forget Me Not

Author: Ellie Terry

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A girl with Tourette syndrome starts a new school and tries to hide her quirks in this debut middle-grade novel in verse.

Calliope June has Tourette syndrome. Sometimes she can’t control the noises that come out of her mouth, or even her body language. When she and her mother move yet again, she tries to hide her TS. But soon the kids in her class realize she’s different. Only her neighbor, who is also the class president, sees her as she truly is—a quirky kid, and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public?

As Callie navigates school, she must also face her mother’s new relationship and the fact that she might be moving again—just as she’s starting to make friends and finally accept her differences. This story of being true to yourself will speak to a wide audience.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!
Sam’s Review:

Forget Me Not is a very unique read with an important message. I think Ellie Terry’s novel has so much value in teaching readers about Tourette syndrome. Her protagonist, Calliope suffers from Tourette syndrome, is forced to go to a new place every year, and she never feels like she gets to settle or be herself. A lot of kids look at her strangely because of her tics, and she struggles to make friends due to this condition. She meets a boy named Jinsong who takes a shine to her and they embark on a wonderful friendship.

Calli is an easy character to love and feel sympathy for. She wants to feel like everyone else, wants to feel as though her Tourette syndrome doesn’t define her, and simply, she wants to feel normal. These are all very reasonable things. However, I will admit that I struggled with this book half being written in verse. As much as the poems were beautiful, I found they made me feel distanced from Calli a lot of the time. I felt like could understand her feelings, but by the other side of it, I struggled to really connect with her. In a lot of ways, I did love this story and I do feel it is super important, I think I just wish I could have connected more with the writing. I also think books in verse can be a hard sell to middle grade audiences, regardless of how amazing the story or subject matter is.

Jinsong’s sections were written much more traditionally, and I actually found his sections worked much better for me as a reader, and I loved the way Terry merged the two narratives together. Jinsong and Calli’s relationship is insanely sweet and so genuine. Their moments were easily some of my favourites in the story.

What I adored about Forget Me Not is its sheer honesty. I have never read a book where a character had Tourette syndrome, and I found this read to be very eye opening as well. I think it’s also amazing of the author to share her personal experiences with Tourette syndrome with the reader, just to give them a sense of how truly close to the topic they are. This book was a learning experience for me in a lot of ways, and I appreciate so much of what the author was doing in using her characters to not only educate the reader, but offer a perspective that perhaps they weren’t thinking about. Forget Me Not is a beautiful story through-and-through, and I can only hope more readers pick it up as a means to educate themselves a bit more about life with Tourette syndrome.


ARC Review – Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin, Annie Parnell, & Ben Hatke

27414477Title: Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure

Author: Ann M. Martin, Annie Parnell, & Ben Hatke

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has gone away unexpectedly and left her niece, Missy Piggle-Wiggle, in charge of the Upside-Down House and the beloved animals who live there: Lester the pig, Wag the dog, and Penelope the parrot, among others. Families in town soon realize that like her great-aunt, Missy Piggle-Wiggle has inventive cures for all sorts of childhood (mis)behavior: The Whatever Cure and the Just-a-Minute Cure, for instance. What is a stressed out parent to do? Why, call Missy Piggle-Wiggle, of course!

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

After the #TeensReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast, this actually ended up being my most anticipated read from the event. I admit, I had never ever heard of the Miss Piggle-Wiggle series, I thought I’d be missing out on something having read this book. Thankfully, that is not the case.

This is the tale of Missy Piggle-Wiggle, who has taken over the Upside-Down House while her aunt Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has gone on a journey to find her husband. It is Missy’s job to help the people of Little Spring Valley with whatever problems they might be having, while also conjuring up cures to assist with their problems.

I thought this book was utterly delightful and very cheeky. Missy is a delightful heroine and Wag the dog was a great companion character. What is great about this book is that the focus is on how MIssy Piggle-Wiggle helps all the different children in Little Spring Valley with their ailments. My particular favourite was Samantha, especially given that her problem is that everything is “just one more minute”! I will say, I laughed at that pretty hard, but only because it’s my own namesake and every so often (and my husband can attest to it) I like to pull that same card out. I liked that each interaction with a different child felt self-contained, and there was always a touch of humour and heart to each situation.

Plus, Ben Hatke’s artwork (well, what was present in the ARC) was absolutely fantastic and I really cannot wait to see how the resent of the illusrations look when a finished copy arrives on shelves. His art does an amazing job complementing the story.

And really, there’s just a lot to love about Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure. It’s charming, funny, and it will make you grin like a fool as you’re reading it. These are my favourite kinds of middle grade novels, and with the cliffhanger of an event, I hope this becomes a new series, because I really want to see what other whacky adventures Missy gets herself into.

ARC Review – Circle of Jinn (Becoming Jinn #2) by Lori Goldstein

18046383Title: Circle of Jinn (Becoming Jinn #2)

Author: Lori Goldstein

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Being Jinn is Azra’s new reality. As she grants wishes under the watchful eye of the Afrit council, she remains torn between her two worlds—human and Jinn. Soon, secrets spill. Zars are broken. Humans become pawns. And rumors of an uprising become real as the Afrit’s reach extends beyond the underground world of Janna.

Straddling the line becomes impossible. Aware of her unique abilities, Azra must not just face but embrace her destiny. But when the role she must play and those she must protect expand to include a circle of Jinn greater than her own, Azra will be forced to risk everything. A risk that means there’s everything to lose, and at the same time, everything to gain—for herself and her entire Jinn race.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this for review!

Molly’s Review:

This is the perfect conclusion to the Jinn duology. If you were a fan of the first book then you’ll enjoy this one! This story picks up where the first book left off, and you can see how Goldstein has grown as a writer. The writing is very clean and she has a very strong YA voice. I really enjoyed how much Azra and her Zar sister’s have grown in this book too.

I actually ended up enjoying this book even more than the first one. Azra has a lot of hard choices to make and she’s much smarter about the things that she does. She also makes new friends and finds out a lot of secrets. There are some sad parts in this that really got to me, and the end was very heartwarming.

Overall I really enjoyed these books and I can’t wait to see what Goldstein write’s next!

ARC Review – Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

23310699Title:  Crenshaw

Author: Katherine Applegate

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Huge thank you to Raincoast Books for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read Crenshaw in an afternoon. It’s one of those books that does a great job of sucking the reader into a story that is about family, childhood, homelessness and big kitty cats. Jackson is a boy who thinks he’s too old for an imaginary friend, but when his family falls on rough times, a large, loveable cat named Crenshaw comes to his aid.

The story itself is quite simplistic, but very sweet in nature. Jackson and his sister Robyn are trying to comprehend their parent’s financial situation. Their parents work so many jobs and can barely make ends me. This book is quite relevant in a lot of ways to the economic situation in the world — there’s more part-time work being created, but the money is never enough to support a whole family, let alone a single person. It made me so sad in a lot of ways, especially when Jackson would describe how they would all sleep in the van every night, dreaming of a place to call home.

What I loved in this story was Crenshaw himself. Crenshaw would appear in a lot of humorous ways, my favourite being the bathtub incident at the beginning of the story. I love the message that he represents as well, that people in times of need turn to something else as means to survive, to keep living. Imaginary friends, as Crenshaw puts it, will always be a part of who you are, and that’s regardless of age. Especially because Jackson thinks at age twelve, that am imaginary friend is just a silly concept.

It’s heartbreaking that homelessness is just such a common problem that people choose to ignore. This book looks at both the consequences of being homeless, and how hard people must work to at their lives and family to keep things afloat. While I did think the story wrapped up too easily, I appreciate the simplicity in the story, because it felt like a warm blanket. Reading this book didn’t make me feel alone, it made me feel a sense of love. The book has a beautiful message about life and family, and I think it’s definitely worth checking out for lovers of gentler middle grade stories.

ARC Review – The Fall by James Preller

21936978Title: The Fall

Author: James Preller

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Through his journal a boy deals with the death of a classmate, who committed suicide as a result of bullying.

The summer before school starts, Sam’s friend and classmate Morgan Mallen kills herself. Morgan had been bullied. Maybe she kissed the wrong boy. Or said the wrong thing. What about that selfie that made the rounds? Morgan was this, and Morgan was that. But who really knows what happened?

As Sam explores the events leading up to the tragedy, he must face a difficult and life-changing question: Why did he keep his friendship with Morgan a secret? And could he have done something—anything—to prevent her final actions?

Huge thank you to the publisher for letting me read an advanced copy of this book!

River’s Review:

Overall this is a solid look at suicide, bullying, and peer pressure. It’s told in journal entries by our narrator, Sam, who is trying to figure out and come to terms with the suicide of a classmate. We get to see that Morgan, the girl who jumped to her death, wasn’t just a random classmate. She was the outcast, the social leper, the one that everyone ganged up on. And she was also Sam’s friend.

And he liked her. Like-liked her. And she liked him back.

But we learn that Sam is just your average kid trying to get through high school without making waves. He’s a baseball player, decently liked, and gets along well enough with the popular kids that he is involved in their games. And their favorite game is a sick version of tag where if you’re “it” you have to write something super nasty (and anonymous) on Morgan’s social media site. And Sam admits that he’s a follower and that he follows the flow and that this is what he does.

I liked the voice of this. The writing was simple but clear, and I think it worked well for the story that was being told. Sadly, thought, I think it also didn’t lend well to a lot of depth and emotion which is why I’m giving it a 3 instead of a 4. I liked this, but it didn’t really make me feel anything. It made me think, which is what books like this should do, but it didn’t really rip me up or anything (which is what I want books like this to do).

Overall this is a nice addition to an important genre that explores bullying, suicide, and the ramifications it has on not just those directly effected, but everyone in a peer group.

ARC Review – The Book of Dares for Lost Friends by Jane Kelley

22718719Title:  The Book of Dares for Lost Friends

Author:  Jane Kelley

Rating:  ★★★

Synopsis: Val and Lanora have been friends forever. Val expects their relationship to stay the same. But after they start middle school, Lanora decides to reinvent herself. Her parents have split up, and she wants to rise above that. Unfortunately Lanoraʼs choices lead her into trouble. Val hates watching her friend lose her way. She wants to rescue Lanora, but how? Val doesnʼt know what to do until a stray cat leads her to a strange boy who lives in an even stranger bookshop. Together they embark on a quest. Will they be able to save a lost friend? Will they get lost themselves? Or will they find a way to help each other become who they want to be . . .

Huge thank you to Raincoast Books for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started The Book of Dares for Lost Friends by Jane Kelley. I admit, I’m not familiar with her work, but what I was from this novel was a beautiful written, if somewhat confusing narrative.

What you need for this novel is that it’s very much an adventurer’s quest — Val wishes to save her friend Lanora from becoming someone different. From growing up and being forgotten. Interestingly what we have are two female heroines, both seemingly voiced as being older than they are, but with the maturity not quite being there yet. I actually appreciated that portrayal of the characters because it seemed very fitting as they are both in an awkward age where they want to be grown up but still are very childlike in their innocence. I just wish there had been more development in the characters, because I still feel like I didn’t know them as well as I would have liked.

This novel is beautiful written, but I admit at times it confused me. You’d get these very detailed descriptions and I found myself having to read them more than once to ensure that I understood what was happening. The setting of the story jumps around a lot, so trying to keep up and stay consistent requires slow reading. This novel took me awhile to get through, not because it was bad, but because it wants and demands your full attention. If your mind wanders, it’s easy to forget what you just read.

I appreciate a lot of the issues that Kelley presents in the novel, from divorce, fitting in, being lost, it’s all integral to growing up and learning what kind of person you are going to grow into. While the characters in this story lacked depth, the author made up for it in how she approached the issues — it’s done in a very sensitive and thoughtful manner that I feel the age group this book is targeted to could understand with ease. She never dumbed it down or make it feel shoe-horned in, and I like how Lanora and Val respond to the issues. There’s fear, uncertainty, challenge, and it felt very real at times.

I feel like The Book of Dares for Lost Friends offers a lot to a reader who is patient and methodical. Although this is very much an adventure story, it’s not a book I would recommend to a reader who is impatient and simply wanting action and instant discovery. This book is layered, it’s challenging, and I think with a patient reader, it could easily be a favourite. I admit, I feel like I wanted so much more from this story, and while I adore some of it’s approaches to topics, as a reader I struggled to connect. I think The Book of Dares for Lost Friends, while beautiful in it’s prose, may be a very polarizing book for some readers, and that’s okay too. Still, if you’re a patient reader and love a middle grade novel with a slow unravel, then definitely check this book out.