Tag Archives: middle grade

Late to the Party ARC Review – Lintang and the Pirate Queen (Lintang #1) by Tamara Moss

Title: Lintang and the Pirate Queen (Lintang #1)

Author: Tamara Moss

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Lintang is an island girl who longs for daring and danger. When she meets the feared pirate Captain Shafira and her all-female crew, Lintang is determined to join them. Secrets within secrets, life-or-death battles with spectacular monsters, and hair’s breadth escapes keep readers turning the pages of a story populated by women of color who are fighters, adventurers, and leaders. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

Lintang and the Pirate Queen is a wonderful fantasy romp starring a young and adventurous heroine who dreams of escaping her day-to-day life in hopes of sailing the high seas and battling mystical creatures. Sporting fantastic characters, a vivid world, and gripping storytelling, this middle grade fantasy is the complete package for even reader’s who may be reluctant.

Lintang is such a fantastic heroine who is flawed, but spunky. She has a lot of energy, she’s resourceful, and she’s a fun character to follow around because she has just the right amount of innocence. Bayani, her best friend, is kind and quiet and his storyline is truly something special. All the characters in this story have strong will, they make mistakes (and learn from them). The writing is rich in adventure and whimsy, that its the kind of fantasy where you are whisked away and the world is eye-catching and visible.

Moss weaves a wonderful tale of hope, adventure, friendship, and trust. I think readers will fall in love with the cast of characters, and I look forward to sharing this wonderful book with a variety of readers. I also hope that the sequels come to North America because I couldn’t put this book down!

ARC Review – The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith

Title: The Deep & Dark Blue

Author: Niki Smith

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: After a terrible political coup usurps their noble house, Hawke and Grayson flee to stay alive and assume new identities, Hanna and Grayce. Desperation and chance lead them to the Communion of Blue, an order of magical women who spin the threads of reality to their will.

As the twins learn more about the Communion, and themselves, they begin to hatch a plan to avenge their family and retake their royal home.While Hawke wants to return to his old life, Grayce struggles to keep the threads of her new life from unraveling, and realizes she wants to stay in the one place that will allow her to finally live as a girl.

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

Sam’s Review:

The Deep & Dark Blue is a graphic novel that tells the story of Hawke and Grayson, who have to flee a politic coup. In order to survive, the two take on the identities of Hanna and Grayce. while seeking shelter, they come across the Communion of Blue, an order of magical women who have the ability to manipulate reality and bend its will. With the help of the Communion of Blue, the twins begin to hatch a plan to save their family’s name and and reclaim their royal heritage.

I loved this story. Hanna and Gracye are wonderful and well fleshed out. Their desire to protect their family home, while working through their personal identities, makes for fantastic storytelling. Given the coup that has destroyed their family and forced them apart, it’s easy to empathize with Hanna and Gracye. There is also a story about transition in The Deep & Dark Blue that is both simple, but effectively portrayed. I truly loved Gracye’s character so much.

While the ARC was in black and white, I am excited to see what the finished product looks like. I think those who love Faith Erin Hick’s stories will easily find The Deep & Dark Blue to be right up their alley. This is a fantastic story about family, identity, and what it means to survive in a time of oppression.

ARC Review – Give and Take by Elly Swartz

Title: Give & Take

Author: Elly Swartz

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Maggie knows her new baby sister who smells like powder isn’t her sister for keeps. Izzie is a foster baby awaiting adoption. So in a day or a week, she’ll go to her forever family and all that sweetness will be gone. Except for those things Maggie’s secretly saving in the cardboard boxes in her closet and under her bed. Baby socks, binkies, and a button from Bud the Bear. Rocks, sticks, and candy wrappers. Maggie holds on tight. To her things. Her pet turtle. Her memories of Nana. And her friends. But when Maggie has to say goodbye to Izzie, and her friend gets bumped from their all-girl trapshooting squad to make room for a boy, Maggie’s hoarding grows far beyond her control and she needs to find the courage to let go.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am clearly a huge fan of books featuring turtle pets in them.

All hail Bert the Turtle.

Anyways,

Years ago, I read Elly Swartz’s debut novel Finding Perfect, and adored it. Swartz has this amazing ability to tackle tough subjects in middle grade in such a way where it is both gentle and effective. Give & Take looks at twelve-year-old Maggie, who falls in love with a baby her parents are fostering, but is forced to learn that not everything in permanent and change can be challenging.

What I love about this book is it’s portrayal of coping mechanisms. In this story Maggie hordes anything and everything. She has an compulsion to keep things like candy wrappers and garbage, but treats it with the utmost care. She knows where everything is in her room, and throughout the story is grasping with two concepts: the idea that she has a lot of things but struggles to part with them, and the understanding that she attributes value to items that are deemed valueless. When Izzie, the baby her parents are fostering comes and goes in the story, Maggie’s triggers become clearer in the story and she is aware in a lot of ways that she is grieving something beyond her control.

This book is beautiful and sad, but super hopeful as well. Maggie learning to manage herself is difficult to read at times, but Swartz does it in a way where the reader is rooting for her. We want to see her succeed, we want to see her grow, we want her to know that grieving is a natural thing. There’s a lot of emotional impact in this story, but it’s very subtle throughout.

Give & Take is a fantastic read for those who love gentler books but want them to still have an emotional punch. This book took me awhile to read, and that’s mainly because I was so absorbed in Maggie’s world and wanting to understand her and her thought process. I think many readers will be able to identify with Maggie in some way, and her voice and charm really do make her the MVP of this very emotional read.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack

Title: Anya and the Dragon

Author: Sofiya Pasternack

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Headstrong Anya is the daughter of the only Jewish family in her village. When her family’s livelihood is threatened by a bigoted magistrate, Anya is lured in by a friendly family of Fools, who promise her money in exchange for helping them capture the last dragon in Kievan Rus. This seems easy enough—until she finds out that the scary old dragon isn’t as old—or as scary—as everyone thought. Now Anya is faced with a choice: save the dragon, or save her family.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I enjoyed Anya and the Dragon. It weirdly reminded me of the 1996 film Dragonheart. This book features a Russian-Jewish heroine who is trying to protect her family’s livelihood. Anya is lured by a group called The Fools into finding the last dragon in exchange to be able to provide for her family. She accepts, but doesn’t realize what the mission is truly about.

I want to stress a few things about this book: this book is slow and thoughtful. If you are not a patient reader, this book is 100% not for you. Everything takes a lot of time to develop and the build is very thoughtful throughout. Anya’s relationship with the dragon is easily the best part of the book, and those moments show the more subtle side to the story. There were times due to pacing where I was definitely into the story and curious about where it was going to move, and other times where I admit, I was bored and skimmed. For me, it wasn’t a story that was consistently interesting, and that is okay.

But I will say there are some excellent themes in this story — particularly what it means to love and protect your family, being brave when you’ve never had to, and finding courage to speak up and speak out against injustice. The friendship between Anya and Ivan and the dragon is easily one of the most heartwarming and charming I’ve ever read about, and it was easily some of my favourite moments in the story.

Anya and the Dragon is a great debut for a specific kind of reader. I think if you’re someone who loves a gentler story and doesn’t mind a slow pace, this book will hook you very easily. If you’re like me and you need a bit more movement and flow, this book can feel a bit rocky at times. In spite of my criticisms, I think overall it’s an interesting debut, and I’d definitely read another book from Sofiya Pasternack in the future.

ARC Review – The Humiliations of Pipi McGee by Beth Vrabel

Title: The Humiliations of Pipi McGee

Author: Beth Vrabel

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: From her kindergarten self-portrait as a bacon with boobs, to fourth grade when she peed her pants in the library thanks to a stuck zipper to seventh grade where…well, she doesn’t talk about seventh grade. Ever.

After hearing the guidance counselor lecturing them on how high school will be a clean slate for everyone, Pipi–fearing that her eight humiliations will follow her into the halls of Northbrook High School–decides to use her last year in middle school to right the wrongs of her early education and save other innocents from the same picked-on, laughed-at fate. Pipi McGee is seeking redemption, but she’ll take revenge, too.

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

Sam’s Review:

I think everyone may be able to relate to having middle school blunders. While I don’t think a lot of drew ourselves as bacon with boobs in kindergarten only to have it haunt you on your first day of grade eight, I The Humiliations of Pipi McGee is a book that will make you laugh, smile, and empathize.

Pipi McGee is a girl who has had some struggles throughout her middle school career. Some of them infamous, others more subtle, and Pipi just can’t catch a break. Moving into eighth grade, Pipi is hoping for a fresh start, especially because she will not talk about seventh grade no matter how hard you try. Armed with Myrtle the Turtle and her best friend, Tasha, Pipi is hoping for a prank free year.

This book is genuine on so many levels. It’s humour is delightful, the characters are recognizable and ones you can sympathize with throughout. Pipi’s hardships are difficult, yet this story is very gentle in how it handles issues of humiliation and discouragement. Pipi spends a lot of the novel having to learn with her past mistakes, while also grow as an individual. She does awful things in the story, often ending up flat on her butt as punishment, and yet she is always learning, and that makes a great character. This book also features such a diverse cast of friends and family, and I like that Pipi has a close support network with her family. Her dad made me chuckle a few times!

This is a great read for middle graders who are struggling to figure out who they want to be in a time where they are moving to high school. Pipi is funny, quirky, and totally adorable as a heroine. This book is definitely recommend for readers who love Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but who also recognize that Greg is a terrible friend, where Pipi is not. Fast-paced and cheekily written, The Humiliations of Pipi McGee is a memorable romp in surviving the last year of middle school.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel

Title: The Other Half of Happy

Author: Rebecca Balcárcel

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Quijana is a girl in pieces. One-half Guatemalan, one-half American: When Quijana’s Guatemalan cousins move to town, her dad seems ashamed that she doesn’t know more about her family’s heritage. One-half crush, one-half buddy: When Quijana meets Zuri and Jayden, she knows she’s found true friends. But she can’t help the growing feelings she has for Jayden. One-half kid, one-half grown-up: Quijana spends her nights Skyping with her ailing grandma and trying to figure out what’s going on with her increasingly hard-to-reach brother. In the course of this immersive and beautifully written novel, Quijana must figure out which parts of herself are most important, and which pieces come together to make her whole. This lyrical debut from Rebecca Balcárcel is a heartfelt poetic portrayal of a girl growing up, fitting in, and learning what it means to belong.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really enjoyed The Other Half of Happy! It was my first time reading a story with a Guatemalan protagonist. Quijiana is a wonderful heroine to follow — she cannot speak Spanish, she doesn’t know how to play guitar, and she spends a lot of the novel fighting her family’s traditions.

This book tells the story of someone who is clearly Americanized but learning how to preserve her family’s culture. When the novel is about Quijana’s family, her interactions with her grandmother or the fights with her father, this book is fabulous and raw. Some of my favourite moments in particular, were any cases where Quijana would text her grandmother for advice or when she was feeling down. It was so pure and sweet! I also love the scenes with Quijana’s father, mainly because I feel for him — he wants to share his family’s heritage and get Quijana to appreciate his roots but he struggles to communicate these feelings to her and so they clash. The way in which family is portrayed in The Other Half of Happyis what makes this story feel so special.

The other half of the novel regarding Quijana’s school life and her crush… I admit, I didn’t dig those parts as much. The parts of the story regarding her crush didn’t add anything special to the story for me, but perhaps for another reader I could see it working for them. I just found those parts of the story to meander and not add anything special to the overarching theme, which was family and cultural identity. I wish I loved that part as much of the rest of the book, but unfortunately it didn’t work for me.

Do I still recommend The Other Half of Happy? Absolutely! I feel like many younger readers will definitely find the story engaging, and I think Quijana is a character many readers will be able to relate to. This is a fantastic story about growing up, accepting parts of your roots, and coming to terms with cultural differences. This is a great book for readers who love a good family-centered narrative.

ARC Review – Stargazing by Jen Wang

Title: Stargazing

Author: Jen Wang

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Moon’s family moves in next door to Christine’s, Moon goes from unlikely friend to best friend―maybe even the perfect friend. The girls share their favorite music videos, paint their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around, and make plans to enter the school talent show together. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.

But when they’re least expecting it, catastrophe strikes. After relying on Moon for everything, can Christine find it in herself to be the friend Moon needs?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Jen Wang does no wrong in my eyes. I’ve loved every single graphic novel she has put out and her art style and stories are always engaging. Stargazing is an amazing story about friendship, and it packs a surprise gut punch that the reader won’t see coming.

Christine has grown up with strict parents and a lack of fun in her life — that was until Moon and her family become her next door neighbors. Moon is a Buddhist, she is a vegetarian, she’s tough, and assertive. She’s everything Christine isn’t, and yet they create a very unlikely friendship. This book looks at how friendships are formed, even in the strangest of circumstances and how being different gives us strength. Both girls are characters I think readers will be able to relate to, and I feel like they will offering dueling perspectives for those trying to understand what it means to be unique.

As always, Wang’s artwork is vibrant and gorgeous, with such beautifully fleshed out characters. I loved both Christine and Moon and I found I could relate to them even if I’m much older than the characters in the story. Seriously, though, the plot twist in this book — it killed me! I loved it and was so surprised by it as well. Stargazing is an amazing edition to anyone’s graphic novel collection, as this heartfelt book packs an emotional and memorable gut punch that will remind readers how powerful friendship and empathy can be.