Tag Archives: first second

Five 2016 Middle Grade Novels that Deserve Your Attention

It’s been awhile since I’ve really focused on middle grade, even though it is my bread and butter. While I’ve posted a lot of reviews for middle grade titles, I will say that 2016 was an exceptionally solid year for this age group, with some absolutely fantastic titles that really stole my heart given what an emotionally draining year it’s been for me. Here’s five middle grade titles that came out in 2016 that you really should make some time for.

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The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

This is the miraculous tale of Roz, a robot who gets lost in the wildness and is forced to survive, despite the fact that she is a robot with no survival instincts. Trapped on a remote island, Roz must figure out how to survive given her own limitations. This novel is beautifully written, very descriptive, and Roz is such a wonderful heroine. Yes, she’s a robot, but she is a robot who I felt great sympathy towards throughout this novel, and I think Peter Brown does an amazing job capturing her limited emotions in a way that makes the reader really grow to love Roz.

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Pax by Sara Pennypacker

This book is a gut-punch of emotions. It’s the story of a boy who raises a fox kit and is forced by his father to set it back in the wild. Both the boy and the kit need one another, and it’s the story of how they are lost and then found. This book has left me an emotional mess at times, and I think it’s why I read it as slowly as I did. Coupled with Jon Klassen’s beautiful illustrations, Pax is one of those reads that you need to make sure you have a Kleenex box handy for.

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Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

Finding Perfect is an amazing debut middle grade novel. Molly is a heroine that lovable and I think she is someone readers will also be able to relate to regardless of age. More importantly, I am glad this novel exists given that it does an amazing job depicting what life is like with OCD, let alone for a young girl who has suffered a lot of loss and disappointment in her life. However, despite all the sadness she faces, Molly’s kindness is admirable and her journey is wonderful, yet hard. This is definitely one of those middle grade novels that leaves you thinking once the story is long over.

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The Magnificent Mya Tibbs and the Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen

This gem was a random surprise I received from an associate at Harper Collins Canada who found out my mother had died and wanted to send me a pick-me-up. Mya Tibbs is now one of my most recommended middle grade novels at the library I work at. Why? Because Crystal Allen’s amazing heroine teaches so much to her readers and does it with humour, kindness and a lot of sass. Mya is fun, and I keep hoping she’ll receive more books in her future. This book is amazing and it does a great job of showing how different people can be, and how we can work with each other’s differences to do unstoppable things.

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Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Ben Hatke is one of my favourite writer’s and artist’s out there. He often has this amazing ability to tell a story and craft some very genuine characters on top of his amazing and well-defined artwork. This story is not only a retelling of Jack and the Beanstock, but it also discusses disability, friendship, and it takes the tale and spins it on its head. The only downer? The nasty cliffhanger which still has be going “I NEED BOOK TWO NAAAAAO.” This is an amazing graphic novel, and easily one of the best that came out in 2016.

Seriously, it was hard to narrow down a lot of the best 2016 middle grade reads, but I feel like these ones are all winners. Here’s hoping 2017 has some amazing and equally thoughtful middle grade reads. 🙂

ARC Review – The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

29102807Title: The Stone Heart

Author: Faith Erin Hicks

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself.

To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he’s stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. . . . But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?

Huge thank you to First Second and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Nameless City was one of my favourite graphic novels that I read last year when I received it as a galley. Faith Erin Hicks has created a fantastic group of characters for the reader to follow and such an enchanting world to inhabit. It has been an insanely hard wait to read The Stone Heart, and while it didn’t wow me the same way the first book did, it is still worth the read. Too bad it isn’t out until April 2017. You definitely need to check out the first book in this series because this sequel very much picks up right after the first book.

Rat and Kaidu are fantastic characters, and I could sing their praises that is how much I love them. This story feels more like Kaidu’s tale, and it focuses on him finding an ancient lost weapon that is somehow connected to The Nameless City. There’s a lot of good suspense and build up in this sequel, but it definitely suffers at times for being the middle book considering this is a trilogy. Still Rat and Kaidu definitely have some antics in this installment, and that alone made it golden in my books. I just wish Rat was in the book more. She is still my favourite.

I also REALLY adored the ending of this sequel, but it’s kinda cliffhanger-y and when I finished the book I was so sad that now I have to wait another year and a bit until I get to read the third book in this series. I really do hate when I do this to myself. But yes, check out The Nameless City, then definitely get in on The Stone Heart. This series should not be missing by graphic novel fans who love a sweeping adventure!

ARC Review – Mighty Jack (Mighty Jack #1) by Ben Hatke

25648247Title: Mighty Jack (Mighty Jack #1)

Author: Ben Hatke

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Jack might be the only kid in the world who’s dreading summer. But he’s got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s boring, too, because Maddy doesn’t talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom’s car for a box of mysterious seeds. It’s the best mistake Jack has ever made.

What starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this book!

Sam’s Review:

I am mad at myself for putting this book off. Why? Because it was one I was crazy excited to get my hands on and then life took over and it fell by the wayside. I say this given that in a lot of ways this is how Mighty Jack begins. Jack wants to sleep in, he wants to be able to get a job to help support his mother who is already working two jobs to support the family, and he has an autistic sister, Maddy, who doesn’t speak. This beginning proves my point about life trying to escape past you.

However, in true Ben Hatke form, this is a wonderful friendship oriented story, retelling the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. I’ll admit, as a child I never really liked that story, and often found it to be a frustrating narrative for one thing. However, there is something so fresh about Hatke’s take on the story that it makes up for my distaste of the original tale. It is so easy to love the characters in this story: Jack, Lilly, Maddy, their mother, and they are characters that Hatke does a great job providing empathy towards. I really, in particular, loved Maddy’s portrayal, and after the cliffhanger of an ending at this book, I NEED to see what will happen next.

This is a great start to a series, and Ben Hatke’s artwork continues to be so vibrant and delightful that I always enjoy my time with his books. There is a lot of great commentary and ideas in Mighty Jack and I can’t wait to see where the next book goes. There’s so much to love in Ben Hatke’s stories, and he does a good job of showing us how strong humans can be when they are faced with crisis. I really loved this story, and definitely check out if you love fairy tale retellings or just awesome comics.

ARC Review – Paths & Portals (Secret Coders #2) by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

25688979Title: Paths & Portals (Secret Coders #2)

Author:  Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

Rating:  ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: There’s something lurking beneath the surface of Stately Academy—literally. In a secret underground classroom Hopper, Eni, and Josh discover that the campus was once home to the Bee School, an institute where teachers, students, and robots worked together to unravel the mysteries of coding. Hopper and her friends are eager to follow in this tradition and become top-rate coders. But why are Principal Dean and the rugby team suddenly so interested in their extracurricular activities?

From graphic novel superstar (and high school computer programming teacher) Gene Luen Yang comes the second volume of Secret Coders, a wildly entertaining new series that combines logic puzzles and basic programming instruction with a page-turning mystery plot!

Huge thank you to First Second and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read the first installment of Secret Coders back in January and thought it was pretty cute. I’m not a fan of math, and I find programming to be both fascinating and terrifying at the same time. The first volume ends on quite the cliffhanger, but I’d argue the cliffhanger in Paths & Portals is much difficult to endure — I need to know what happens!

One aspect I loved about this second installment is how much more character development we get for Hopper, Eni, and Josh. They unfortunately get bullied by the school principal and rugby team due to their love of coding, programming and math. There’s a lot of mayhem and shenanigans in this second volume, and my goodness are they funny to boot. I also love the illustrations in Secret Coders, and I love the simplified approach to try and make coding and math a much more accessible and interesting subject matter. Still, while these comics are very fun and cute, it still feels a little heavy handed and dense at times, which I think could be a turn off for some readers.

Still, I’m eager to read the next installment of Secret Coders because I have to know what happens next. There’s definitely a ton of fun to be had here, even if you may not be a fan of math.

ARC Review – Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

25689038Title: Nobody Likes a Goblin

Author: Ben Hatke

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Goblin, a cheerful little homebody, lives in a cosy, rat-infested dungeon, with his only friend, Skeleton. Every day, Goblin and Skeleton play with the treasure in their dungeon. But one day, a gang of “heroic” adventurers bursts in. These marauders trash the place, steal all the treasure, and make off with Skeleton—leaving Goblin all alone!

It’s up to Goblin to save the day. But first he’s going to have to leave the dungeon and find out how the rest of the world feels about goblins.

Huge thank you to First Second for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Ben Hatke seldom does wrong in my eyes, and if I’m being honest, I think he may easily be one of my favourite graphic novelists and picture book writers. Nobody Likes a Goblin is an adorable look at difference, friendship, and acceptance, and it’s whimsical in its approach to these topics.

If there’s one thing I love about Ben Hatke’s stories, it’s that the art and words do an amazing job at evoking emotion. You laugh, smile, frown, and it always comes full circle. This particular book has a goblin for a protagonist and goblins are always unloved in fantasy stories. It was great to see the kinds of lessons that the Goblin was learning. Plus, it has really great appeal for those parents who are into tabletop gaming, as this felt like a children’s D&D story. If you have little ones who love a fantasy story, or creatures, then Nobody Likes a Goblin is a worthy picture book to share with your little one

Ten Comics & Graphic Novels You Should Check Out! May 2016 Edition

Despite all the sad that’s been in my life lately, graphic novels and comics have definitely been a thing I’ve been clinging towards. They are quick, easy reads that can be enjoyed in a lot of different forms. I haven’t done a recommendation post for comics and graphic novels in awhile, so here’s some new favourites and others I think are worth checking out.

Previous Posts:

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Goldie Vance #1
by Hope Larson, Brittany Williams, & Sarah Stern

My best friend tossed this little gem of a comic over to me recently and let me tell you: it’s spunky, cheeky, and a whole heck of a lot of fun. It feels like a fresher take on Scooby-Doo and stories that are inspired by that era. The characters, especially our heroine, Goldie, are just really cleverly written and delightfully charming. I’ve only read the first issue (of four) and considering where the plot line is going, i think it’s going to continue to win my heart over.

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The Pitiful Human-Lizard series
by Jason Loo

OH MY GOD THIS SERIES. It is perfect in so many ways, and if you are a Torontoian, there’s a lot more you can appreciate as a reader of this comic. Pitiful Human Lizard is a very weird hero, a loser who we can all root for. But he isn’t even the star in his own comics, because Mother Wonder is just… she’s the best. Oh, and Lizard’s mom. I love his tiger mom. There’s currently six issues out of this comic, and it’s definitely worth grabbing for those who love twists on the superhero formula along with great writing and artwork.

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Zatanna: The Mistress of Magic 
by Paul Dini, Stephane Roux, et al.

Zatanna is an amazing superheroine who really never gets her due. It’s a shame really, because she’s such a clever little minx, who offers readers tons of magic and fun. Plus this series is written by Paul Dini, the ultime Zatanna fanboy. But seriously, her solo run is easily one of the most fun I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and there’s a lot of creativity that is done with her character that other DC heroines just don’t get. There’s only two trades for this series, and both are worth checking out.

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Soppy: A Love Story
by Philippa Rice

Everyone should read Soppy, regardless of whether you’ve been in a relationship or not. It’s such a true to life series of comics that remind you what it’s like to be so in love with someone, that even the simplest things can bring you joy. I couldn’t help but yell at my husband about this book and some of the stuff that was happening in it and screaming “THIS IS US HONEY!!!” and him going “Okay, Sam. You’re nuts.” Then looking and agreeing. This book with make your heart flutter with fluffiness, and we all need some fluffiness every now and again.

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Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir
by Liz Prince

Tomboy by Liz Prince is a graphic memoir that really spoke to me. It is about Liz Prince’s experience growing up as a “tomboy” and how she dislikes gender stereotypes of what it means to be male or female. In a lot of ways she reminds us how cruel those stereotypes can be, and how people regardless of age she be able to promote themselves any way they want. There’s a lot of heart and soul in this memoir, and I loved my time with it. Definitely worth the read for those who want more meaningful exchanges in their graphic novels.

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Power Up 
by Kate Leth, Matt Cummings

I LOVE POWER UP! This is a comic that bends gender norms and stereotypes and it is HILARIOUS! Amazing characters, quirky adventures, beautiful artwork, this is one of those graphic novels for those who love crazy characters with hearts of gold. How can you not love an art student, a stay at home mom, an ageing athlete and a goldfish as a superhero team? Best superhero team ever! (Screw you, Justice League and Avengers!)

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Descender, Vol 1: Tin Stars (Descender #1)
by Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, & Steve Wands

Descender is a wonderful, mysterious series penned by Jeff Lemire. This means it’s an instant read for considering how much I adore his work. It also features Dustin Nguyen’s stunning artwork, which is AMAZING and wonderfully detailed. TIM-21 will steal your heart on his quest to survive in a world where bounty hunters wish to capture robots for… various gains. I really am excited to see where this series goes, and it’s one of those comics that makes you long for space adventures. Fantastic comic series for those who love space and robots… or both!

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Giant Days 
by John Allison, Whitney Cogar, Max Sarin & Lissa Treiman

GIANT DAAAAAAYS. It is a fantastic ongoing series about college adventures, personal relationships, and how to survive adulthood. This series is charming, funny, and it’s easy to love Esther, Susan and Daisy. Every time my best friend hands her her physical issues when she’s done with them, I immediately devour them because that is how much this series makes happy. This is definitely a good recommendation if you love series like Lumberjanes. READ THIS SERIES!

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Bitch Planet
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Taki Soma, & Robert Wilson

Meet your new favourite feminist series starring ladies who can probably kick your ass. Kelly Sue DeConnick continues to impress me with her work, but Bitch Planet may be my favourite of hers. These are woman of various backgrounds, identities, social backgrounds and they refuse to give up who they are to an institution that wishes to change them. The stories in this series are rich, personal and thoughtful. This series kicks so much ass and you will love the ladies of Bitch Planet, I promise.

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Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride
by Lucy Knisley

You may have saw my recent review for this one, and I stand by my thoughts on it. Truthfully though, I’ll read graphic memoir that Lucy Knisley pens. Each of her graphic novels is very personal and full of a lot of inspiration. She just tells everything like it is and she eases the reader into so many situations that they can relate to. Something New is great for those who are married, but I’d even argue those who are single would find value in this as well. Any of her books are worth checking out, but this recent one is pretty spectacular.

What are some of your new favourite graphic novels? Let me know in the comments, and trust me, there will be more of these coming up, as I read more stuff worth recommending.

ARC Review – Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley

22694572Title:  Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride

Author: Lucy Knisley

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: A funny and whip-smart new book about the institution of marriage in America told through the lens of her recent engagement and wedding…. The graphic novel tackles the all-too-common wedding issues that go along with being a modern woman: feminism, expectations, getting knocked over the head with gender stereotypes, family drama, and overall wedding chaos and confusion.

Huge thank you to First Second for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’ve read all of Lucy Knisley’s memoirs of travelogues, but this was the one I think I connected with the most. A lot of the stories she was sharing in this graphic novel about the perils of engagement and the different mentalities people have about marriage really struck a chord with me. Getting engaged is one of the weirdest experiences I think a person can have, especially because it’s something that feels so surreal at first glance.

Knisley captures a lot of the jitters, confusion and crazy that comes with being a newly engaged individual and I loved her honesty. She walks the reader through her engagement, the reactions from friends and family, the process of trying to plan a wedding on a budget, and sticking with the budget. There’s so much anxiety that comes with the planning of a wedding, and she makes no bones about it either. I remember talking with my own spouse when we were engaged about how we wanted our wedding, the dos and don’ts from other weddings we had been forced to attend, and the realities of how much we wanted to spend and what we wanted our guests to experience.

I really loved Something New, and I think it will speak to a variety of readers: singletons, newly weds, those who have been married for awhile… I think each person would get something different from the experiences that Knisley shares with her readers. Plus, as always, Knisley’s artwork is lovely to look at, and it captures such a rawness that comes with all the heavy topics she is discussing. Her latest release is definitely something to enjoy if you’ve never experienced her works!