Tag Archives: middle grade

ARC Review – Blueberry Pancakes Forever (Tuesday McGillycuddy #3) by Angelica Banks

Title: Blueberry Pancakes Forever (Tuesday McGillycuddy #3)

Author:  Angelica Banks

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Winter has fallen in the world of story, and at Brown Street, Tuesday’s typewriter lies silent. Far away in the Peppermint Forest, Vivienne Small fears that she will never again feel the touch of the sun…But when the mysterious Loddon appears in Vivienne’s treehouse, he brings with him terrible danger. Without warning, Tuesday is swept up into the world of story as she has never seen it before. In this forbidding and unfamiliar place – and without her beloved dog Baxterr at her side – Tuesday becomes Loddon’s captive. But who exactly is this strange boy? And will she find a way to defeat him?..Blueberry Pancakes Forever will capture the hearts of everyone who is entranced by the power of story.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am so depressed that the Tuesday McGillycuddy series is completed. This has been one of my “go-to” middle grade series that I love to recommend to kids at my work. It’s funny, it’s enchanting, the writing is stunning, the characters are delightful — it’s the complete package for any middle grade lover. I loved each installment of this series, but reading Blueberry Pancakes Forever was both wonderful and bittersweet all the same.

I can’t go into too much detail for this review because it is a series and there are events leading into this finale. There’s a lot of drama in this book, particularly involving Vivian Small, Tuesday’s mother’s leading character in her popular children’s series. Baxterr the dog also has some awesome moments in the story as well (although let’s be real here, Baxterr is always the best). I also love the incorporation of food in Blueberry Pancakes Forever, and we get to see more of Tuesday’s family dynamic as well.

There’s also some very heavy moments in this story. For all this series’ humour, there are some gut-punching moments that I know got me as I was reading along. Especially in the first few pages, even! But in all honesty, if you’ve never read the Tuesday McGillycuddy series and you love middle grade, this is A+, will read again material. If you have a young one who loves magic and fun characters, this series is equally for them. While I am sad that this is the last book in the series, I really cannot wait to see what Angelica Banks has in store next.

ARC Review – The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

26828816Title: The Pants Project

Author: Cat Clarke

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A Transformer is a robot in disguise. Liv is a boy in disguise. It’s that simple. Liv knows he was always meant to be a boy, but with his new school’s terrible dress code, he can’t even wear pants. Only skirts.

Operation: Pants Project begins! The only way for Live to get what he wants is to go after it himself. But to Liv, this isn’t just a mission to change the policy- it’s a mission to change his life. And that’s a pretty big deal.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Pants Project is one of those books I knew I had to read when I first discovered it. It is the story of Liv who is transgendered, but goes to a uniformed school that has some strict policies regarding gender and the clothing that must be worn. Liv launches “The Pants Project” in an attempt to show that gender norms shouldn’t be the norm, and since Liv is a boy, he feels that he shouldn’t be subjected to wearing a skirt if he doesn’t identify as female.

This book is an amazing little gem that offers big discussion about being transgendered, as well as rights for those who are transgendered. Liv is a great hero who often discusses with the reader what his identity is like (he states it’s like a Transformer, which I can totally see), what people see on the surface and why people need to dig a bit deeper. Liv’s narration is a wonderful tour de force, showcasing in such simple but powerful ways the kinds of discussion that needs to be had at schools regarding students who are transgendered. Liv’s quest in providing this knowledge doesn’t come without challenges, but he has great support in Jakob, who is just an amazing and sharply written character. Seriously, he and Liv are a delight when they are on the page together.

Also I loved that Liv had two moms. In fact, if I am being honest, the moms were my favourite characters in the story because I love how different their personalities were, but the joke of the story is that they are called “The moms.” I love how their personalities differed on somethings, but they always come together. If anything I wish their had been more of them in the story because they were seriously delightful.

The Pants Project is a fantastic discussion about transgender identity told through a fantastic and clever hero. Much like George before it, Cat Clarke weaves a courageous tale about a young boy who wants to be treated properly, and at the end of the day isn’t that what anyone wants? If you loved George then The Pants Project should easily be your next go to book, as it is both touching as it is smart.

Blog Tour – Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner (Review)

I’m going to be frank: I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I was approached by Raincoast to host this stop on the Fish Girl blog tour. If I am being even more honest, I was worried about how I would feel about the book as well. I love when a book proves my feelings wrong, and that is exactly what Fish by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner has done.

Plus, check out this artwork:

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Looks dreamy, doesn’t, it?

Once again, huge thank you to Raincoast for allowing me to share my thoughts on this blog tour stop, and I do hope you check out Fish Girl when it releases on March 7th, 2017.


30971730Title: Fish Girl

Author: Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: In this graphic novel, a young mermaid, called Fish Girl, living in a boardwalk aquarium has a chance encounter with an ordinary girl. Their growing friendship inspires Fish Girl’s longing for freedom, independence, and a life beyond the aquarium tank.

Sam’s Review:

I’m going to be completely honest: I wasn’t sure I was going to like Fish Girl. In fact, when I received it in the mail I did that dreaded thing you sometimes shouldn’t do: judge a book by it’s cover. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the artwork, and the story sounded merely all right. I was colourfully surprised by how much I enjoyed Fish Girl

However, I say this with an air of caution: Fish Girl is a misleading book. While it’s aimed at middle grade audiences, it does shed light on themes of abuse and abduction in a way that is creepy, and seeing it from that point of view can make it a tough read. On the other side of it, this book reads like a fairy tale as well, sharing both consequences and the potential for a positive outcome. It’s a rough read all around, and I think it definitely offers some interesting discussions that can be had with younger readers on these topics.

I actually do think Mira, our Fish Girl, is a wonderful character. She longs to not be an aquarium attraction and wishes to be like the people on the land who come to see her. She wants legs, and adventures, and yet she’s trapped in a fish bowl by a man who wants nothing more than to gain profit from her existence. It’s a solid story, and it shows that people can take destiny into their own hands. Or in this case, also escape abuse. I like the message that this book presents, and I think the ending does a great job of highlighting ways in which people need to stir a course towards what they truly want from life.

I admit, at times I did have a heart time with the artwork, but it did grow on me as I read on. There’s a lot of very realistic looking artwork, the use of pastel colours is really pretty, and there are moments where the artwork is breathe-taking. There are also moments where it doesn’t fit either, which I found somewhat disappointing. That being said, once I got over my initial feelings, I found myself really digging the art style and coming to the consensus that it actually does a great job fitting the story that is being told.

Fish Girl is definitely not for your average middle grader, and that is okay. I think it teaches a lot to the reader, and it doesn’t feel heavy handed in its approach either. I will say I don’t think the art style will be for everyone, but I do believe there is a very special story being told in this book.


Huge thank you to Raincoast for organizing and allowing me the opportunity to participate in the blog tour. Still curious about Fish Girl? Please check out the other tour stops, and consider purchasing the book when it releases this March!
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Blog Tour – The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander (Review & Excerpt)

Kwame Alexander, though not a new name for middle grade, is a new name for me. I had the pleasure of reading his short story in the collection Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh, and his was easily my favourite. Kwame Alexander has an amazing way with words, and I found his hero in that particular story be so honest and funny, it made me want to explore more of his work.

Raincoast approached me to share a review of The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life, which is a book of mixed media. In it contains Kwame’s beautiful words alongside Thai Neave’s stunning photography. Please enjoy my review, an excerpt, and some wonderfully wise words from Kwame Alexander.

Huge love to Raincoast again for allowing me to participate in this blog tour. Your friendship and kindness is always appreciated.


31193387Title: The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life

Author: Kwame Alexander

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: You gotta know the rules to play the game. Ball is life. Take it to the hoop. Soar. What can we imagine for our lives? What if we were the star players, moving and grooving through the game of life? What if we had our own rules of the game to help us get what we want, what we aspire to, what will enrich our lives?  Illustrated with photographs by Thai Neave, The Playbook is intended to provide inspiration on the court of life. Each rule contains wisdom from inspiring athletes and role models such as Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Carli Lloyd, Steph Curry and Michelle Obama. Kwame Alexander also provides his own poetic and uplifting words, as he shares stories of overcoming obstacles and winning games in this motivational and inspirational book just right for graduates of any age and anyone needing a little encouragement.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am very new to Kwame Alexander’s work, and I am not going to deny that. When I was asked to help promote The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot and Score in This Game Called Life, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to be getting into. I admit, I’m not the biggest sports fan, which was my first worry, but I actually loved the way in which sports were used in this beautiful piece of non-fiction.

imageFirst off, I adore the writing in this book. Kwame Alexander is a true poet, and I think there is a wonderful simplicity in his poetry that allows for a lot of extra thinking in terms of multiple meanings. I also love that his poems are inspirational, confident and will inspire confidence in others. This book is filled with passion, kindness, and strength. I also loved the way the inspirational quotes were woven into the text, featuring the likes of Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin. I think the quick anecdotes about different athletes and their rise to fame framing each section of the book was also fantastic, as learning about Lebron James and the William sisters was very interesting.

Second, I want to praise the use of photography in this book. I think that Thai Neave’s photographs do a stunning job of complimenting the poems and adding support to the text. I love photography and some of the images in this book are just so beautiful, and the way in which they match the text is often quite spot on. When Alexander is writing about the key feelings for the playbook of life such as passion, motivation, determination, etc, the photographs do an amazing job reflecting these emotions and the poem that is written to coincide it. While the writing in this book is stellar, just flipping through it for the breath-taking photographs is equally worth your time.

After reading The Playbook, I am very much a newfound Kwame Alexander fan, and I cannot wait to read more of his books. I love how even though this is considered middle grade there is so much wisdom in these pages for anyone or any age group. I think this book would be helpful for parents, teachers, librarians as well, as I feel like they can use this book to help teach some of these “rules” that Alexander shares with his readers. There is so much beauty in these pages, and even if you aren’t a sports fan, the metaphors that are present are completely universal. If you are looking for some inspiration or need some confidence, then check out The Playbook because it will give you with hard truths and a pick-me-up that you didn’t realize you needed.


About the Author

kwame

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and New York Times Bestselling author of 21 books, including THE CROSSOVER, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Passaic Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children of all ages. His other works include SURF’S UP, a picture book; BOOKED, a middle grade novel; and He Said She Said, a YA novel.


A huge thank you to Raincoast for providing me with this opportunity to share more about The Playbook, as well as Kwame Alexander for writing this wonderful book. If you are curious to learn more about The Playbook, make sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

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Ten Comics & Graphic Novels, and Manga You Should Check Out! January 2017 Edition

A new year means a whole lot more comics, graphic novels and manga to devour. While the year has just started, I have actually managed to check out a lot of great new stuff that I want to recommend to you all. I have some new middle grade reads, some manga, and well, let’s just say I have a bit of everything. Let’s get started!

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Hexed by by Michael Alan Nelson et al.

Hexed is a very addictive, if short series. It focuses on a heroine named Luci (short of Lucifer), a thief who dabbles in the occult, and the occult wants nothing more than to devour her. This series is only three volumes, but each volume series packs a wallop. There’s an intense amount of detail in the world building, the characters are a blast, and it’s just action-packed. Definitely for fans of Jessica Jones, especially those who love a little street with their magic. 30220713

Space Battle Lunchtime, Volume 1: Lights, Camera, Snacktion! by Natalie Riess

Can I gush for a second about Space Battle Lunctime? Because I REALLY adored Space Battle Lunchtime. I am a sucker for tournament stories, and in this case we have Iron Chef in SPAAAAAAAAACE. There is so much comedy gold in this series, and Peony will totally steal your heart… and you’ll want her to bake you cupcakes. Great for kids of all ages, and adults who happen to just be big kids.

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Snow White: A Graphic Novel
by Matt Phelan

This is a very unique retelling of Snow White, and one that I think will surprise a lot of readers. Transplanting the story to New York City, 1928, we are given a a beautifully illustrated story that feels both fresh and familiar. The artwork is breathtaking by the way, and while there is minimal text, there’s still a very vivid story being told. If you love noir and fairytale retelling, this one is definitely worth checking out.

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Mockingbird, Vol. 1: I Can Explain by Chelsea Cain &  Kate Niemczyk

Can I explain to you all my intense love of Chelsea Cain’s version of Mockingbird, because holy crap it is amazeballz. Seriously, she breathes new life into the character of Bobbi Morse, and given how comics have treated her over the years, it’s great to see Bobbi back in action and potentially the best version of herself. I am super sad that this is going to be a very short run, because the writing in this is witty, clever, and quite dark at times. I need more Bobbi in my life.

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Another Castle by Andrew Wheeler & Paulina Ganucheau 

A super feminist comic about swords and sorcery, and my goodness is it a lot of fun to read. Wheeler’s writing is very clever and cheeky, and Ganucheau’s art is absolutely vivid and stellar. Again this short series (five issues total) has an amazingly diverse cast of characters, romance, girl-power and more. A comic for fantasy lovers, and a love letter to those who adore Dungeons and Dragons.

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Princess Princess Ever After
by Katie O’Neill

This is a beautiful LGBTQIA+ comic that features two heroines who couldn’t be more opposite of each other, but fall in love. Princess Amira and Princess Sadie are delightful, adorkable, and easy to root for. Diverse, queer friendly, and all ages appropriate, Princess Princess Ever After is just buckets of fun. Too bad it is so darn short, though!

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JUDGE by Yoshiki Tonogai

Told in six twisted volumes, JUDGE is not for the faint of heart. Much like Danganronpa, we have people thrown into a horrific game where each person is labelled a seven deadly sin that represents their personality. People die, and people die horrifically in this series. There’s some great twists and turns, and though I wasn’t huge on the ending, I found the build up to be exceptionally worthwhile. I definitely want to check out more of Yoshiki Tonogai’s work, but I need to remember to breathe while reading it!

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Adventure Time by Various

I have intense feelings for Adventure Time. The show makes me laugh, it makes me smile, it gives me all the feelings. The comics are no different, though admittedly they vary in quality. I’ve enjoyed the majority of the ones I’ve read, and I think they are great for fans of the series. Some personal favourites include President BubblegumMarceline and the Scream Queens & Marceline Adrift, Candy Capers, and any of the ones written by Ryan North because they are made of LULZ.

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Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

I have adored every one of Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels, but I think this one has got some of the best emotion in it. This book is not only about sisters, but it’s also about what it means to help others (in this case, Cat’s sister has cystic fibrosis). There are ghosts of friends, families, loved ones, and the setting in this novel is just absolutely stunning. I LOVED Maya and Cat’s relationship and it felt so authentic. If you haven’t read this gem yet, do so.

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Jessica Jones (2016-) by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos & David W. Mack

I had a love-hate relationship with both the original Alias series, and Brian Michael Bendis. When Bendis writes street, hes fabulous, when he goes beyond that… it’s often a hot mess (see the ending of Alias). However, my bestie has been loaning me this ongoing run and right now I am super intrigued by it. Luke Cage is chasing Jessica Jones, asking about their daughter. Jessica also feels so distant in this series (to the point where she rubs it in Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman’s face that she is the superior detective). I like this so far, but I don’t want to jinx myself either. I do think at this point, however, it’s solid and worth the recommendation.

Have you guys been reading any new comics lately? I am always looking for recommendations! I am hoping 2017 is a solid year of more comics, graphic novels and manga. We shall see!

ARC Review – Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

28114583Title: Midnight Without a Moon

Author: Linda Williams Jackson

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955. Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Midnight Without A Moon is a timely read given the world’s political state at the moment. While it is a historical novel based on the event of Emmett Till’s murder in the summer of 1955, a lot of the events in this story are sadly things that are still happening in today’s world. While Rose’s story is not new, but what Linda Williams Jackson presents in this story is reminder of the world before and a world we need to need to make better.

I loved Rose, by the way. I loved her curiosity, her tenacity and her kindness. She’s a character I feel like a lot of young women can identify with and respect, as she holds such strong ideals for a better world. What’s heartbreaking is that Mississippi seems to be a place that no one can escape from, and if you do return back, you are forever changed. What really saddened me was Ma Pearl’s response to Rose’s desire to leave, especially because there is this mentality to keep your head low and just do what you are supposed to — in a way I couldn’t fault Ma Pearl, but again it’s a mentality that is a product of the time period.

There is so much hardship and prejudice in this story, and it’s so easy to engage with and be reminded that we’ve both come a long way, but also have reverted back into primitive forms of dealing with racial prejudice and oppression. Rose is a fantastic character because she believes in bigger, better, ideals, and I found myself nodding along to her values and what she wanted throughout the story — to have acceptance.

I felt like I learned so much from this novel, and the way in which the historical information was presented was truly well done. It never felt overpowering (which can sometimes be an issue in historical fiction) and its integrated in a way where it just feels organic to the progression of the story. Jackson’s prose is also just so beautiful and raw, making this book so wonderful and thoughtful to read.

Midnight Without a Moon is a very powerful middle grade novel, and one that offers a lot of thought even after the book has long been completed. It’s timely, it’s smart, and it reminds that the world has a lot of growing still to do. Beautifully written and emotionally charged, this is an amazing debut novel that should be read by everyone.

ARC Review – The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston

30142002Title: The Sweetest Sound

Author: Sherri Winston

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For ten-year-old Cadence Jolly, birthdays are a constant reminder of all that has changed since her mother skipped town with dreams of becoming a singing star. Cadence inherited that musical soul, she can’t deny it, but otherwise she couldn’t be more different – she’s as shy as can be.

She did make a promise last year that she would try to break out of her shell, just a little. And she prayed that she’d get the courage to do it. As her eleventh birthday draws near, she realizes time is running out. And when a secret recording of her singing leaks and catches the attention of her whole church, she needs to decide what’s better: deceiving everyone by pretending it belongs to someone else, or finally stepping into the spotlight.  

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

Sam’s Review:

I discovered The Sweetest Sound by its cover. I full admit that — I think it is beautiful, and having now read the book, I think it’s also spot on to the subject matter in this story. This is a lovely story about finding your voice, overcoming fear, and coming out of your shell, and Winston does this with a lot of grace and elegance.

I found myself really connecting with Cadence throughout this novel, mostly because of how her shyiness tends to overpower her. She is so afraid to share her gift of singing with others that she would do anything to hide it. Why? Because she is afraid of the kind of response she’ll get. I think this is something we can all relate to given that at one point in our lives we’ve been afraid to share our gifts or talents with others for fear of judgement. I think Winston paints a wonderful message of how to overcome shyiness in this story, and it was easily my favourite part of the book.

I didn’t always agree with some of the things that Cadence, but I think in terms of the storytelling that was kind of the point. She isn’t always the greatest with her friends and family, and I think it’s something she spends a lot of the novel trying to reconcile because she is so afraid of letting loose and singing her heart out. Cadence also suffers from not having her mother around, and she dreams of becoming like her mother and being a fantastic singer. I felt sad that Cadence didn’t have her mother throughout the story given that her father wasn’t the most well-adjusted to handle some of Cadence’s problems throughout the story.

At times the story felt very safe and on-the-nose in terms of message, and while I didn’t mind that, I wish it had felt a bit braver given that that is a huge theme in the story. This book is also quite religious, which I do think might affect the enjoyment for some readers. While I am not religious, I honestly didn’t mind this aspect, though I will concede that at times it borderlines on preachy. I also felt like her father was a bit too much of a stereotype in that he was way too over protective of Cadence, but at times I felt like it didn’t seem justified.

This is a very sweet, if safe, middle grade read. I think it will offer a lot to those who love stories about characters overcoming their fears and moving towards their passions. Cadence is a wonderful protagonist and I think she has a lot of growth in this story, which is something I appreciate in middle grade fiction. I am definitely curious to see what kinds of stories Sherri Winston will write next.