Tag Archives: middle grade

Books I Reviewed For the Library – Issue #1

One thing I now have to do as part of my job is review and curate our Fave Books of the Month lists. I do reviews for both our middle grade selections and young adult, and it’s easily one of the more interesting parts of my job because essentially I am reviewing titles that I want to see succeed in the library’s collection. I’ve also actively been picking titles I don’t have ARCs for or items that have already released so our customers can enjoy them right away. Here’s two reviews I did for our collection maintenance. 🙂


Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co. #1) by Anna James – Have you ever wanted the ability to travel into your favourite books? Anna James’ “Tilly and the Bookwanderers” is a bookworm’s dream! Tilly is a young girl who lives in her grandfather’s book shop, spending her days reading and devouring stories. When she accidentally meets Anne Shirley from “Anne of Green Gables,” shenanigans begin, and Tilly must come to terms with the fact that her favourite stories have come to life and that perhaps, there’s a larger mystery afoot. “Tilly and the Bookwanders” is filled with magic on every page, and is one of those books that feels like a nice warm hug when you read it. One of my favourite elements of this story was anticipating who Tilly would meet next! This is a love-letter to bookworms everywhere, and is a complete must read for those who love to dream about their favourite stories.


Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell – Freddie and Laura have a routine – they fight, the break up, they kiss and then they make up. At least, that was the story for awhile. When Freddie catches Laura in the act of cheating, she begins to question the healthiness of their relationship and what kind of a friend it makes her. This book is an emotional roller-coaster, especially for anyone who has dealt with a toxic relationship. Freddie is forced to question her actions and determine the kind of person she wants to be, which I think many readers will be able to relate to. The artwork in this graphic novel is gorgeous and flows beautifully with the story as well. “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” is about finding your support networks and reminding yourself that you don’t have to put up with people treating you like crap.

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Late to the Party ARC Review – Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

Title: Caterpillar Summer

Author: Gillian McDunn

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Cat and her brother Chicken have always had a very special bond–Cat is one of the few people who can keep Chicken happy. When he has a “meltdown” she’s the one who scratches his back and reads his favorite story. She’s the one who knows what Chicken needs. Since their mom has had to work double-hard to keep their family afloat after their father passed away, Cat has been the glue holding her family together.

But even the strongest glue sometimes struggles to hold. When a summer trip doesn’t go according to plan, Cat and Chicken end up spending three weeks with grandparents they never knew. For the first time in years, Cat has the opportunity to be a kid again, and the journey she takes shows that even the most broken or strained relationships can be healed if people take the time to walk in one another’s shoes.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Caterpillar Summer was a total cover grab for me. There’s something about two adorable children and fishing that just screams a summer read. This book is a gentle look at sibling relationships, grief, and learning to walk in someone else’s shoes, even if it’s for a little while. There’s also a lot about fishing in this book, which definitely gave me fond memories of my childhood at my parent’s cottage.

Cat and Chicken are lovable characters, each with the ability to control each other. It’s very clear that Cat, in particular, has had to grow up very quickly and become responsible for Chicken at such a young age, so it was nice to read a narrative where the author takes that concept and offers the character an opportunity to be a child again. There is such a reluctance from Cat’s character at times, almost as though she is afraid of having the rug swept from under her feet.

There is a kindness and curious nature in that book that makes it a slow, but compelling story. This is very much a character focused story, and one where you are watching both Cat and Chicken grow. I loved their grandparents, and I also appreciated in the story how they were okay with the hesitation from Cat and Chicken given the estrangement. There’s a lot of growing and learning in this story, and I love that both cat and Chicken wear their flaws on their sleeves.

Caterpillar Summer is a lyrical book about childhood and grief, but it’s full of gentleness and hope. Coupled with some beautiful illustrations throughout, if you are someone who loves a softer middle grade story, this one is easily for you.

ARC Review – The Miraculous by Jess Redman

Title: The Miraculous

Author: Jess Redman

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Wunder Ellis is a miracologist. In a journal he calls The Miraculous, he records stories of the inexplicable and the extraordinary. These miracles fill Wunder with the feeling that he is not alone, that the world is magical, that he is part of something brighter than he can imagine.

But then his newborn sister dies, at only eight days old. If that can happen, then miracles don’t exist. So Wunder gets rid of The Miraculous. And he stops believing.

Then Wunder meets Faye—a cape-wearing, outspoken girl with losses of her own. Together, they find an abandoned house by the cemetery and the old woman who lives there—and who might be a witch. The old woman asks for Wunder and Faye’s help. She asks them to go through graveyards and forests, to townhalls and police stations, by bike and by train. She asks them to believe. And together, they go on a journey that leads them to friendship, to healing—and to miracles.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Jess Redman’s debut The Miraculous starts with a hard punch to the gut. It’s seldom that middle grade novels look at the death of a sibling, and even worse an infant. Our main character, Wunder, has stopped believing in miracles, and is convinced that miracles are not real.

That snippet of information should immediately tell you what a rough ride The Miraculous is going to be. Wunder meets Faye, a girl who has also suffered extreme loss, and the two become friends, creating an understanding that grief strikes when it wants to. I could easily connect with this story, especially as someone who has lost people who are valuable to me. Faye’s responses to her trauma are much more aggressive and even vocal, which admittedly, was also something I connected with.

Despite its over arching theme of grief and loss, I want to stress thatThe Miraculous is a hopeful read, and one filled with a lot of magical realism. There’s so many fantastical elements in the story that create such a rich reading experiences, and the larger themes (both positive and negative) are highlighted in interesting or magical ways. What I equally love about this book is that its such a fast-paced read, so much so that I read it in two one hour lunch breaks because I needed to know what was happening to Wunder and Faye throughout the story.

I do think those who love story-driven magical realism will definitely love this book. I won’t lie though, as I do think the harshness of Wunder’s trauma may be difficult for some younger readers to understand or even bear. Even with that in mind, The Miraculous is a beautiful story that will fill readers with both hope and “wunder”!

Three Amazing LGBTQIA+ Reads to Check Out During #Pride

While I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog, I’ve been reading – a lot. With it being #PrideMonth, it also means I’m checking out a lot of great LGBTQIA+ reads in the process. While there’s so many books worth checking out, I thought it would be fun to share three I recently read — one published in the 70’s, one in the mid-2000’s, and one that came out last year. Here’s three books for #Pride that are worth looking into.

See You at Harry’s
by Jo Knowles (Published May 8th 2012 by Candlewick Press)

This was recommended to me by a dear friend who reads a lot of middle grade and we tend to have the exact same taste. This book feels a bit dated in parts, but it’s a beautiful story about a family coming together and learning about acceptance. Holden identifies as gay, and he comes out to Fern, our heroine, and it sparks a wonderful relationship of being able to find trust and acceptance for all walks of life. The handling of family and the pitfalls Fern faces in the story are very sad, but very realistic. A great coming out story with a great ending.

I’m Afraid of Men
by Vivek Shraya (August 28th 2018 by Penguin Books Canada)

Vivek Shraya is an amazing performer and storyteller. I loved her picture book The Boy & The Bindi, and her voice is timely as it is sharp and impeccable. I’m Afraid of Men is an exploration of Shraya’s relationships, her discomfort of being objectified by men. It’s her fears, her anger, and her sorrow as she deals with just how shitty the world is to trans-people, and she offers some important and valuable discussion on prejudice and how people need to get over themselves. This story, 98 page book packs a punch and is worth reading in one sitting.

Biting the Sun
(Four-BEE #1-2)
by Tanith Lee (Published October 5th 1999 by Spectra Books)

I have a love-hate relationship with Tanith Lee’s writing. I personally often find it very dry and dense, even though I always love her handling of different subject matters. What I loved about Biting the Sun is that it is a Utopian society where everyone is gender-fluid. This was being discussed in 70’s science-fiction! There’s also so much pansexuality in this book, and discussion of how gender-normality is trivial. HOW DID I NOT READ THIS SOONER? Seriously, if you can somehow find a copy of this book, it’s worth checking out just for the discusses of gender alone!

ARC Review – Shout Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding

Title: Shout Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts

Author: Esta Spalding

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The plucky Fitzgerald-Trout siblings (who live on a tropical island where the grown-ups are useless but the kids can drive) are back! After losing the boat that had become their home, oldest Fitzgerald-Trout, Kim, has put finding a home back on her to-do list. When her sixth-grade history assignment offers a clue about the ruins of a volcanic house built by an explorer on Mount Muldoon, she and her siblings set out to find it.  The castle they discover surpasses their wildest dreams. But having a permanent home offers more challenges than the Fitzgerald-Trouts expect, especially when they begin to suspect their home is haunted. The siblings must figure out how to fix the cracks in their family foundation before one of them is lost for good.

Huge thank you Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Have you ever read a series that just make you laugh so hard you cry? That’s what I love about the Fitzgerald-Trout series. The Fitzgerald-Trout kids are just so charming and lovable, and they get into some interesting mischief. This particular installment involved a baby, a crazy lady who sells baby products, and what it means to be homeless.

I swear this series is up there with the Penderwicks. It just has such a fantastic balance of humour and heart, and it’s hard not to love all the characters in the story. Kimo continues to be my absolutely favourite, because anything that boy does is pure comedy gold. He also just has such a sweet heart and he means so well in everything he does. Sometimes, I just want to read a series that makes me feel good about the world and this one does it.

What I love about The Fitzgerald-Trout series is that it is full of heart, and it makes you feel so good. This series is such a quick read and so engrossing given how comedic and kind it is. Sometimes you need a light-hearted series to remind you that the world can be a good and gentle place, and every time I read this series it just gives me the warm and fuzzies. I cannot wait to see if this series will continue because I am going to miss the Fitzgerald-Trout kids if they don’t have another adventure soon!

ARC Review – Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis

Title: Extraordinary Birds

Author: Sandy Stark-McGinnis

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old December knows everything about birds, and everything about getting kicked out of foster homes. All she has of her mom is the bird guide she left behind, and a message: “In flight is where you’ll find me.” December believes she’s truly a bird, just waiting for the day she transforms. The scar on her back is where her wings will sprout; she only needs to find the right tree and practice flying.

When she’s placed with foster mom Eleanor, who runs a taxidermy business and volunteers at a wildlife rescue, December begins to see what home means in a new light. But the story she’s told herself about her past is what’s kept her going this long. Can she learn to let go?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Have you ever read a book that was just so weird, yet so captivating? That’s what reading Extraordinary Birds was like for me. It’s the story of girl who believes she is metamorphosing into a bird, and it’s just so wonderful and strange.

December is a fascinating main character and her desire to be a bird who can fly away is intriguing throughout. Given this book looks at foster care, it’s fitting that December has an obsession with birds and flight, and throughout the story you see so many attempts of her trying to find the perfect tree in order to practice flight. This is also a book about trying to find a home when you’ve never truly had one, and I think being in December’s mind for a lot of this story allows the reader to empathize with her need for transformation. She wants someone to want her, to love her, and to need her. It’s really heartbreaking.

I also really adored Eleanor, her foster mother. Eleanor is a taxidermist, she’s sharp a whip, and I love the way in which she allows December to come into her own and build trust. Eleanor is always caring and empathetic — she wants to see December flourish and doesn’t judge her desire for flight or being insecure. It’s really a beautiful relationship to read about! Even the friendships that December forges are just really thoughtful, and I think the author does a great job of portraying issues such as anxiety and even bullying in the story.

The more I read, the more I really believed that December was transforming into the bird. Stark-McGinnis has a style of writing that is so inviting and enticing that it’s so easy to fall into. Extraordinary Birds is an emotional read that will fill the reader with so much hope. It’s a wonderful look into what it’s like being a child in foster care, while also trying to find your own wings to take flight, and finding the courage to transform into who you truly want to be.

ARC Review – This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Title: This Was Our Pact

Author: Ryan Andrews

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: It’s the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they’ll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars, but could that actually be true? This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and to ensure success in their mission, they’ve made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.

The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn’t long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben and (much to Ben’s disappointment) Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn’t seem to fit in.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This Was Our Pact is a very interesting graphic novel. It tells the story of two young boys who during their town’s Autumn Equinox Festival, decide to follow a bunch of paper lanterns down stream. What the uncover, ends up being a surreal experience. Legend has it that the lanterns are transported to the Milky Way and friends Nathaniel and Ben want to find out!

The artwork in this graphic novel is stunning. The choice of such soft colours throughout makes the reader feel like they are going on this journey with Ben and Nate to the Milk Way. There’s something almost comfortable about the artwork, and yet this is a true adventure lover’s story from start to finish. It also has a talking bear who is THECUTESTTHINGEVER. There’s just so many unexpected friendships and twists in this story that I feel like most readers will instantly fall in love with the characters!

This truly is both a magical story that also has a deep focus on friendship. While I have been intentionally vague about the story, its only because the surprises are worth the wait. This graphic novel is great for middle grade readers, or lovers of magical realism. Coupled with the stunning artwork, This Was Our Pact has so much to offer readers of any age.