Tag Archives: middle grade

Late to the Party ARC Review – A World Below by Wesley King

Title: A World Below

Author: Wesley King

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A class field trips turns into an underground quest for survival.

Mr. Baker’s eighth grade class thought they were in for a normal field trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. But when an earthquake hits, their field trip takes a terrifying turn. The students are plunged into an underground lake…and their teacher goes missing.

They have no choice but to try and make their way back above ground, even though no one can agree on the best course of action. The darkness brings out everyone’s true self. Supplies dwindle and tensions mount. Pretty and popular Silvia does everything she can to hide her panic attacks, even as she tries to step up and be a leader. But the longer she’s underground, the more frequent and debilitating they become. Meanwhile, Eric has always been a social no one, preferring to sit at the back of the class and spend evenings alone. Now, he finds himself separated from his class, totally by himself underground. That is, until he meets an unexpected stranger.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have heard a great deal from children I’ve talked to regarding how much they love Wesley King’s books. I can totally see why, too! A World Below was my first introduction to King’s works, and while I wasn’t in love with this book, I like it and I see the appeal as to why kids would enjoy it as well.

A World Below focuses on a teacher who takes his class to the Carlsbad Caverns. Our main protagonists, Eric and Silvia, are not entirely keen on this trip, and they worry Mr. Baker’s enthusiasm is not entirely warranted. They soon learn that their is a world below the caverns, after an earthquake separates the kids from their teacher. Shenanigans ensue, and we are given a story that is fast paced and full of adventure.

I want to stress that this is a very plot heavy middle grade novel, which sometimes I find a bit difficult because I am very drawn to more character driven stories. This book is not that, as it’s larger focus is definitely on the adventure regarding the kids trying to navigate their way through Carlsbad Caverns. If anything, reading this book reminded me a lot of the 80’s classic, The Goonies, which I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but that was what I was envisioning as I read the novel.

The kids felt a little too interchangeable for me, and I think that was where my struggle came with the novel. I wanted a bit more distinction in terms of personality, and I didn’t entirely feel that way. However, I think the maps and exploration aspects of the story were fabulous, and I think I would have adored this book growing up given it plays to a readers sense of wonder and desire to have answers regarding a situation. There’s also a playfulness in the writing that is utterly delightful as well!

I enjoyed my time with A World Below, but perhaps it wasn’t the best starting point for me regarding Wesley King’s works. I think this is going to be a novel that younger readers will absolutely gobble up and heighten their sense of exploration. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of The Goonies, though!

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ARC Review – Sunny (Track #3) by Jason Reynolds

Title: Sunny (Track #3)

Author:  Jason Reynolds

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Ghost. Patina. Sunny. Lu. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds, with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics. They all have a lot of lose, but they all have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. Sunny is the main character in this novel, the third of four books in Jason Reynold’s electrifying middle grade series.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

As many of you know, I am an insane Jason Reynolds fangirl. I started reading his books last year and since then have read everything he has published to date. When Simon & Schuster Canada sent me a package of Jason Reynolds books, I was rolling on the floor in utter delight. The Track series is one of my favourite middle grade reads and one I constantly recommend to parents who have reluctant readers in their lives.

In Sunny, our track team takes an interesting turn. Sunny finds track too easy and debates leaving his teammates behind to peruse his new passion — dance. Concerned about the feelings of his teammates but struggling with his own desires, Sunny fells somewhat broken as he writes in his diary. I think Sunny’s story is one we all go through just in various stages. A loss of passion for something you’ve done your whole life, letting others down for “selfish desire,” wanting to try to appease both sides, the reader truly gets a sense of Sunny’s struggle throughout.

I loved Sunny’s relationship with Aurelia, who helps him get into dance in the first place. You get to see what a good influence she is on him and she helps Sunny to see that while choices are hard, it’s what makes you the most happy. When you are a kid, that is really hard advice to take (even as an adult it’s hard advice to take). I loved Sunny though, and I kept wanting him to pursue his dreams.

The Track series is just so impeccably written and stories being told are easy to relate to. Ghost, Patty, Sunny and Lu are kids that are easy to connect with and you want to see them succeed no matter what. If you haven’t read this series, I urge you to check it out!

 

ARC Review – Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Title: Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World

Author: Ashley Herring Blake

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm–and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing.

Mysteriously, Ivy’s drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks–and hopes–that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings?

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I learned about the existence of Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, I was intrigued. Middle grade has always been fantastic at teaching diversity, particularly it’s shown vast growth on LGBTQIA+ subject matters. This novel focuses on a twelve-year-old girl whose family home is destroyed by a devastating tornado, and how she begins to find herself.

A lot of this book looks at Ivy’s notion of what it means to be a lesbian in a construct where children are constantly told that “girls like boys” and “boys like girls.” She wants to challenge this given she has strong feelings for her friend June, and the fact that she wants to be treated normally. What I loved about this story is that we feel for Ivy and we see her ups and downs in both her feelings and understanding of the world around her. She behaves like many kids do when they feel different — they try to combat the feelings themselves instead of reaching out, and that makes sense given she has to make herself vulnerable to people she might feel could harm her.

This novel is very raw and heartbreaking. It’s also super hopeful as well. Ivy’s family accepts her for who she is, which is kind of wonderful and it was great to see them being present in the story, which doesn’t happen enough in middle grade or YA. They love her, they try to understand what she is going through and the want to help her in any way they can. I loved that aspect in the story because we just don’t see enough of it anymore.

Having Ivy’s narrative being the core focus, she is a character I know many readers will love and relate with. Ivy’s letter to the world sort-to-speak is powerful, it’s passionate, and most of all, it’s authentic to her experience. We need more middle grade novels like this that can teach great lessons about hope, friendship, sexuality, and personal growth. I cannot wait to read more by Ashley Herring Blake, because she is a fantastic storyteller.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2) by Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Title: The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2)

Author: Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Mona the mouse has finally found a place to call home, the cozy Heartwood Hotel, where she works as a maid and sleeps snuggled up in a room with her best friend. Following the festive St. Slumber celebration, most of the guests have settled in to hibernate, and the staff is looking forward to a relaxing winter. But disruptions abound, from a difficult duchess to a mysterious midnight snacker. As the snow stacks higher, Mona will have to gather friends both old and new to keep the peace, finding help in some of the most unexpected places.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read Heartwood Hotel books one and two back to back. This sequel, The Greatest Gift is a much more gentle book compared to the first one. Mona has now found a place to call her own, and the true villain of this story is winter. I think we can all relate to that, at least here in Canada!

I think The Greatest Gift continues to show the strengths of the first book, focusing on themes of friendship and learning to rely on others for help. This book read so quickly, and compared to the first book I thought the story wasn’t as strong here. It’s enjoyable, but it also just felt like it ended too fast? I’m not sure.

This series is sweet, adorable, and fluffy. I am really happy I read this sequel just so I could read more about Mona and Tilly’s adventures. This continues to be a great middle grade series, and I hope more people will check them out.

Late to the Party ARC Review – A True Home (Heartwood Hotel #1) by Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Title: A True Home (Heartwood Hotel #1)

Author: Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they’ll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn souffle and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Heartwood Hotel is such a cute series, and this first book was such a delight. Mona is such a sweet little heroine who starts out homeless and then stumbles open a beautiful hotel in the forest. I wanted to cuddle Mona throughout the story because she is so kind, but is full of determination. She’s a great role model character for younger readers. Each character is so charming, though! I LOVED bossy Tilly, though she somewhat reminded me of my own mother.

This first book is just so comfortable, warm and cozy. It’s the kind of book that you want to snuggle with a warm blanket and a hot drink. While there is some danger in the story, it’s nothing too frighting, but it teaches children about finding strength in unlikely situations and how friendship can help solve bigger problems.

I also want to praise the illustrations by Stephanie Graegin, which I feel accompany the story so beautifully. I loved having the pictures side-by-side with the text, and I can only imagine how beautiful the artwork looks in the finished edition. This first book is so charming, and it’s definitely one I will be recommending to younger readers when the opportunity arises.

ARC Review – Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy & Ali Fadhil

Title: Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein

Author: Jennifer Roy & Ali Fadhil

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: At the start of 1991, eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil was consumed by his love for soccer, video games, and American television shows. Then, on January 17, Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein went to war with thirty-four nations lead by the United States.

Over the next forty-three days, Ali and his family survived bombings, food shortages, and constant fear. Ali and his brothers played soccer on the abandoned streets of their Basra neighborhood, wondering when or if their medic father would return from the war front. Cinematic, accessible, and timely, this is the story of one ordinary kid’s view of life during war.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was intrigued by Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein when I heard about it during Raincoast’s Fall #TeensReadFeed preview. It’s a story about living through bombings, yet still trying to live life despite constant fears. This book takes place during 1991 when Saddam Hussein goes to war with the United States. Ali Fadhil, an eleven year old boy, who just wants a normal life of loving soccer, video games and American television.

This was an interesting read since it’s grounded in historical events. Ali is such a sweet main character who seeks normalcy with his friends and family. His siblings Ahmed, Shirzad and Shireen are also such wonderful characters. You learn so much about their family life and how as children they have to cope with a war that is surrounding them. I felt so many feelings read this book, from sadness to laughter. There’s a lot of emotion in this very short read and a lot of Ali’s feelings truly pack a punch.

Overall, I really enjoyed Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein. It’s a very compelling read, and the author’s note is really intriguing given Ali’s life situation and who he becomes much later in life. I wish there had been a bit more characterization to all the other characters as they did feel a touch one note, but since this book is more about an event and a family’s connection to it, I can be forgiving. This is a great story and an absorbing read.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas

Title: Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life

Author: Shelley Tougas

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: A life on the prairie is not all it’s cracked up to be in this middle-grade novel where one girl’s mom takes her love of the Little House series just a bit too far. Charlotte’s mom has just moved the family across the country to live in Walnut Grove, “childhood home of pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Mom’s idea is that the spirit of Laura Ingalls will help her write a bestselling book. But Charlotte knows better: Walnut Grove is just another town where Mom can avoid responsibility. And this place is worse than everywhere else the family has lived—it’s freezing in the winter, it’s small with nothing to do, and the people talk about Laura Ingalls all the time. Charlotte’s convinced her family will not be able to make a life on the prairie—until the spirit of Laura Ingalls starts getting to her, too.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I admit, I am not a huge Little House on the Prairie fan. It’s not something I grew up around so I will say I did have a bit of a difficult time with this one. While the story is an adorable tale of a mom moving her kids to the birth place of Laura Ingalls in an attempt to write her masterpiece of a novel, there were a few things that didn’t work for me on this one.

On one hand, this is a story about friendship and growing up, but I won’t lie and say that Charlotte is a likable character. In this regard, I think Tougas does a good idea of showing how easily judgmental children can be. These issues of friendship in particular are handled well and I feel like the children in this story were far better developed than the adult characters. It was great to watch Charlotte develop friendships with Bao and Julia, and I appreciated that their discomfort of each other went both ways.

The adults in this book, however, are the actual problem. They are very flat or lacking in any characterization. Charlotte’s mother in particular was a bit of a caricature as opposed to a character, as her only defining characteristic is her positive attitude. Whenever Charlotte deals with her in the story, those bits were sometimes difficult to shallow because I felt like Charlotte’s mother forcing her positive attitude may not have been what was best for her children. There’s also her obsession with Laura Ingalls, which I admit, I didn’t understand or really care for. I think if I had been a fan of Little Housethis book likely would have appealed more to me.

With all this said, I do think Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life is a delightful read for the most part. There’s moments of well-timed humor and I think Charlotte is a heroine that many kids will be able to relate to whether they like her or not. I am still glad I read this book and gave it a chance, and I’m curious as to what Shelley Tougas has in store for middle grade audiences in the future.