Tag Archives: middle grade

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!

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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.

ARC Review – All the Ways Home by Elsie Chapman

Title: All the Ways Home

Author: Elsie Chapman

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Sometimes, home isn’t where you expect to find it.

After losing his mom in a fatal car crash, Kaede Hirano–now living with a grandfather who is more stranger than family–developed anger issues and spent his last year of middle school acting out.

Best-friendless and critically in danger repeating the seventh grade, Kaede is given a summer assignment: write an essay about what home means to him, which will be even tougher now that he’s on his way to Japan to reconnect with his estranged father and older half-brother. Still, if there’s a chance Kaede can finally build a new family from an old one, he’s willing to try. But building new relationships isn’t as easy as destroying his old ones, and one last desperate act will change the way Kaede sees everyone–including himself.

This is a book about what home means to us–and that there are many different correct answers.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I felt emotional reading All the Ways Home. Not only did the book make me nostalgic for my recent trip to Japan, but it made me feel for Kaede, a boy who just wants someone to love him after the death of his mother. While I cannot relate to way Kaede’s mother dies, I can in the sense that like him, there are days where I pine for my folks because there is so much I want to tell them, and no way to truly do so.

This is the story of Kaede returning to Tokyo after the death of his mother. He’s on the verge of failing 7th Grade, he’s accidentally hurt his best friend back home in Vancouver, and he’s trying to define what ‘home’ means to him. Arriving in Tokyo, he meets up with his brother Shoma, who takes him in for the three weeks he is there. Hoping to see his famous father while in Tokyo, Kaede learns that not every person is as they seem. The growth of Kaede and Shoma’s relationship is one of my favourite aspects of this story. It’s subtle, it shows how people can move from estrangement to a level of comfort, especially as Shoma recognizes that he hasn’t been around for Kaede in such a long time, but when you learn why, you’re able to empathize with him as much as Kaede.

I also loved the visuals that Chapman provides in this story. There’s so many places that she references that I’ve been to, and it really took me back to my trip. At times I found myself poking my husband and yelling “WE’VE BEEN THERE!” which is silly, but it made me yearn for that kind of adventure again. Tokyo is an intense city, and I loved reading the bits where Kaede gets lost in Kabukicho, which was one of my favourite places to visit. Reading about the hustle and bustle of people’s lives and being able to visualize it so clearly is a wonderful feat and Chapman makes the story feel so authentic, especially when she talks about both Canada and Japan. She reminded me of the beauty of both places in such a short novel.

Kaede’s story is beautiful, and I was invested the whole way. My heart wept when he finally got to “meet” his father, his determination to find the meaning of home, and just how difficult it is to navigate the world when you’re grieving everything you’ve lost. There is so much that me, as a thirty-year-old woman could relate to, even though this story is geared towards a middle grade audience. This is one of the sweet, most difficult middle grade novels I’ve read in a long time, and I urge everyone to check out because it’s an emotional ride.

ARC Review – Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby

Title: Hurricane Season

Author: Nicole Melleby

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Fig, a sixth grader, wants more than anything to see the world as her father does. The once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years and has unpredictable good and bad days, is something of a mystery to Fig. Though she’s a science and math nerd, she tries taking an art class just to be closer to him, to experience life the way an artist does. But then Fig’s dad shows up at school, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig. Not only has the class not brought Fig closer to understanding him, it has brought social services to their door.

Diving into books about Van Gogh to understand the madness of artists, calling on her best friend for advice, and turning to a new neighbor for support, Fig continues to try everything she can think of to understand her father, to save him from himself, and to find space in her life to discover who she is even as the walls are falling down around her.

Huge thank you to Thomas Allen & Sons for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Hurricane Season was a book I grabbed on a whim while I was at the OLA Super Conference early this year. It totally sounded like the kind of middle grade read I would love: a young girl trying to figure herself and her family out, while also learning to deal with large scale change. Fig is a sixth grader who at her tender age, is forced to become a caretaker to her father, a famous pianist, who has had a mental break down. In order to understand her father’s breakdown, Fig enlists in the help of her local library and begins to research Vincent Van Gogh, one of the world’s most well-known painter’s, but is equally known for his decent into madness.

This is a beautiful debut story, and Fig is such a kind, slow, quiet protagonist, making her very different from a lot of the characters you encounter in popular middle grade. She is placed in an uncomfortable position for a younger child, and yet she is determined to both support her father and understand his condition. This is not a fast paced story by any stretch of the imagination, it’s very quiet and thoughtful. Fig also has so much so support in this story, even if most of it comes from unlikely sources such as Hannah, who works at her local library.

I think what I love the most about Hurricane Season is that it’s a book all about taking risks, and how even if they don’t pay off or pay off unexpectedly, they are still worth attempting. There’s a positive message throughout this story that children can find and muster amazing and profound strength when they need to, and it’s very apparent in this story as Fig does this repeatedly, each time more difficult, but she in turn grows stronger for it.

Hurricane Season is beautiful and quiet, and it’s a book that offers so much to its reader, while being somewhat small in size. I highly recommend this book if you love tougher middle grade stories that offer opportunities to reflect on what it means to be a caretaker and how one’s life can easily be transformed in the blink of an eye.

Middle Grade March Wrap Up – Part 2

On Monday, I shared with you all three of the five books  I read during Middle Grade March. If you haven’t seen that post, consider checking it out. Let’s see what the last two reads ended up being for me, shall we?

No Fixed Address
by Susin Nielsen

If you are a Canadian, than Susin Nielsen is likely a household name you know, whether its from her DeGrassi writing days, or her large contribution to middle grade or young adult fiction in Canada. I’ve now read every single one of her middle grade books and I’m never disappointed. I think No Fixed Address might be my favourite book from her. It’s about Felix and his mother who are homeless, and they are trying to do everything that they can to survive in B.C. Felix has a love of trivia and wants to go onto a kids trivia show in hopes of winning money so he and his money can pay off the debts they owe others and start fresh. Oh my god, I ugly cried through this one. It’s sweet, but oh so sad, but also very hopeful. I yelled at the ending. Repeatedly, actually. Susin Nielsen knows how to punch her reader in the feelings and this book was no exception. 5/5 Stars

Nothing but Trouble
by Jacqueline Davies

This book started out a bit slow for me, but as I read on, I laughed quite a bit. Lena and Maggie are clever and cheeky! This book is about Latin, pranking, and what it means to grow up and create friendships. The writing in this book has such a great energy to it, and I would definitely recommend it as a great middle grade read for those who wants a more of a quirky and silly reading experience. 3.5/5 Stars

Thanks for reading! I hope next Middle Grade March sees me some more fantastic middle grade books to read and recommend.

Middle Grade March Wrap-up – Part 1

Over the month of March, I decided to try and read a lot of middle grade. It was inspired by a lot of Booktubers who were doing similar, but also by the first book I finished in the month, All The Ways Home by Elise Chapman (which I keep hinting at and there will be a review closer to its release). Split into two posts, I thought it would be fun to share with you all the middle grade reads I checked out and some quick thoughts. I ended up reading six books, but will only be discussing five between the two posts.

The War I Finally Won
(The War That Saved My Life #2)
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I ADORED the first book in this series, but if I am being honest, I don’t feel like Ada’s story necessarily needed a continuation. This sequel has Ada and her brother Jamie with a legal guardian while World War II rages on. This is a hard one to talk about if you’ve never read the first book (which I highly recommend you do), but this one was a surpisingly slow sequel where I feel like it took its sweet time to get to the story it truly wanted to tell. I gave the first book a five star when I read it, but this one wasn’t the same spark for me. 3.5/5 Stars

The Golden Door
(The Three Doors Trilogy #1)
by Emily Rodda

I wanted to love this book so badly and I had a hard time with it. It’s likely more me than the book because I’ve been in such a weird fantasy slump and just not picking up fantasy books that spark joy in me. This one is such an old school sword, sorcery and dragon story for a middle grade audience and its fabulous in that regard for making that old school genre accessible. I thought the plot was very D&D and the characters just didn’t excite me. However, having since read it, I have recommended it a lot at work, especially for reluctant male readers! But yeah, this sadly wasn’t a hit for me. 2.5/5 Stars

To Night Owl from Dogfish
by Holly Goldberg Sloan &  Meg Wolitzer

A friend of mine described To Night Owl from Dogfish as “The Gap Parent Trap” and it 100% is. This addictive little book about two girls going away to a sleepover camp while trying to keep their dads in a relationship so that they get to become sisters is both funny, heartbreaking, and just charming all around. Avery and Bett will make you grin from ear to ear that’s how wonderful this story was. I think about it a lot and how much fun I had reading it, or how much I thought Bett’s grandmother was just the absolute best grandmother in a book ever. This sweet contemporary book knocked my socks off and I hope more folks check it out. 5/5 Stars

That’s it for part one! I hope you stay tuned because on Friday, I’ll share the other two wonderful reads I checked out for Middle Grade March!