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Late to the Party ARC Review – Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai

Title: Under a Broken Sky

Author: Mariko Nagai

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Natsu and her family live a quiet farm life in Manchuria, near the border of the Soviet Union. But the life they’ve known begins to unravel when her father is recruited to the Japanese army, and Natsu and her little sister, Asa, are left orphaned and destitute.

In a desperate move to keep her sister alive, Natsu sells Asa to a Russian family following the 1945 Soviet occupation. The journey to redemption for Natsu’s broken family is rife with struggles, but Natsu is tenacious and will stop at nothing to get her little sister back.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

While I am not a huge lover of historical fiction, Under the Broken Sky caught my eye because it’s a book rooted in Japanese history. More specifically, the 1945 Soviet occupation, which ended up pushing so many Japanese family apart for a variety of reasons, none of them good.

Under the Broken Sky is a story written in verse, as it looks as twelve-year-old Natsu, who has lived with her family near the Manchurian/Soviet border for her entire life. When the Russian began to push into Manchuria, Natsu and her sister Asa are forced to flee, and become orphaned in the process. Even worse is in this period upon which they are destitute, Natsu is forced to sell her sister Asa to a Russian Family in order to ensure her survival.

This story is heartbreaking from start to finish. It’s a difficult tale of losing everything and having to cope with so much happening at a young age. Natsu’s story is horrific, and you feel for both the destruction that she witnesses, and the sacrifices she must make being only twelve-years-old. While I wouldn’t recommend this book to younger middle grade readers, I feel confident that older readers will enjoy the story. It’s a challenging story to stomach at times, but it’s also a very valuable one to say the least.

ARC Review – Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith

Title: Gloom Town

Author: Ronald L. Smith

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When twelve-year-old Rory applies for a job at a spooky old mansion in his gloomy seaside town, he finds the owner, Lord Foxglove, odd and unpleasant. But he and his mom need the money, so he takes the job anyway. Rory soon finds out that his new boss is not just strange, he’s not even human—and he’s trying to steal the townspeople’s shadows. Together, Rory and his friend Isabella set out to uncover exactly what Foxglove and his otherworldly accomplices are planning and devise a strategy to defeat them. But can two kids defeat a group of ancient evil beings who are determined to take over the world?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Gloom Town is the story of twelve-year-old Rory, who decided to apply for a job at a spooky mansion called Foxglove, as a means to help out his mother who is financially struggling. Rory thinks the job should be easy, until he uncovers that their may be something more sinister going on at the manor. Rory finds out that his new employer is a shadowy figure who likes to steal people’s shadows — he’s not even human! Rory and his new friend Izzy must stop the crazy cultists of Foxglove Manor before more people potentially lose their shadows!

This book was a lot of fun and I quite enjoyed it. It definitely has a spooky Harriet The Spy vibe floating through the narrative and Rory and Izzy make for fun investigators to follow. I sort of wished the big bad in this story felt like a real big bad, but I appreciate the effort that went into this book for understanding that cultists might in fact be hard to pitch to a middle grade audience. The friendship between Izzy and Rory is easily the book’s strongest element, especially as they are trying to uncover the big bad, but I just wish that the big bad and it’s reveal had been stronger.

I do think this is going to be a great book to recommend to middle grader fans, if only because it moves at such a quick pace and the mystery element is good, even if the payoff isn’t as strong. There is a lot of fun and quirkiness in this story, and I truly enjoyed my time reading it.

ARC Review – A Galaxy of Sea Stars by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Title: A Galaxy of Sea Stars

Author: Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: At a time when everything in her small town of Seaside, Rhode Island, seems like it’s changing, eleven-year-old Izzy Vitale wants things to stay the same. She wants her dad to start acting like he did before he was deployed to Afghanistan, she wants her mom to move back to the marina where they live, but most of all, she wants best friends – Piper and Zelda (dubbed the Sea Star Posse by their kindergarten teacher) – to stay best friends as they begin sixth grade at the regional middle school.

Then, Izzy’s father invites his former Army interpreter from Afghanistan and his whole family – including eleven-year-old Sitara — to move into the upstairs apartment at the marina. Izzy doesn’t know what to make of Sitara with her hijab and refusal to eat cafeteria food. She does know that her constant presence has become like a rogue wave disrupting the normally easy flow of the Sea Star Posse. But as Izzy gets to know Sitara, she can’t help but admire her self-confidence and pride in her Muslim faith. Little by little, Izzy begins to realize there exists a world much larger than her safe but insulated harbor in Seaside.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Last year, I fell in love with Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo’s debut Ruby in the Sky — it was an emotional story about a girl whose mother was potential on her way to prison. It was touching, heart-breaking, and full of feelings. This year, she released A Galaxy of Sea Stars, and showed she is going to be a great new voice in middle grade.

A Galaxy of Sea Stars tells the story of Izzy, a girl with many friends, but who wants life to stay the same. She wishes her dad would go back to normal, but he suffers from PTSD after being deployed in Afghanistan, her mom hasn’t been the same either, and she meet a new friend in Sitara, who’s father was an former Army interpreter from Afghanistan, and with him comes his daughter Sitara, who changes Izzy’s life forever.

This book is a hard read, but it depicts middle grade difficulties with gentleness and looks are issues in a very direct way. Izzy and Sitara’s relationship is amazing to read about, and the trials and tribulations of it feel very real. Izzy’s failures at being a good friend to Sitara are uncomfortable, but show great moments for growth and learning. The way in which Izzy’s friends treat Sitara are horrific and uncomfortable, and this book looks at how do you stand up to injustice when you’ve never had to before? Izzy learns so much in this story, and the wrongs that she has done are great learning points for this age group.

This is a story of becoming comfortable in your own skin, finding and championing social inequality, and speaking important truths. It’s about understanding that the world will never be stagnant, and that things always change, and that no person’s course in life stays the same. A Galaxy of Sea Stars offers so much to readers of all ages, and tackles these subject matters effortlessly. I even cried a few times!

Late to the Party ARC Review – Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Wayward Son

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The story is supposed to be over.

Simon Snow did everything he was supposed to do. He beat the villain. He won the war. He even fell in love. Now comes the good part, right? Now comes the happily ever after…

So why can’t Simon Snow get off the couch?

What he needs, according to his best friend, is a change of scenery. He just needs to see himself in a new light…

That’s how Simon and Penny and Baz end up in a vintage convertible, tearing across the American West.

They find trouble, of course. (Dragons, vampires, skunk-headed things with shotguns.) And they get lost. They get so lost, they start to wonder whether they ever knew where they were headed in the first place…

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this finished copy!

Sam’s Review:

I admit, I think I read Carry On at a wrong period in my life and since rereading it, I have a bit more appreciation for the story. I knew when I received Wayward Son, I was going to need to reread the first book because I barely remembered what happened. Wayward Son offers an entertaining road trip story, that is totally fun and fancy free.

What I liked and disliked about this book is that there are more perspectives in it. It was fun to have Penelope’s perspective, but I was sad (even with the plot points) that there wasn’t a lot for Agatha. I didn’t entirely care for a lot of the new characters, but I did adore the shenanigans throughout the story in terms of learning about America, and dealing with a vampire coven.

Wayward Sons is pure fun, but it doesn’t add a lot to this series. I still think I will read the third book when it releases, but I am hoping it will solidly finished up the flufftastic adventures of Simon and Baz. Silly Simon and Baz!

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Crossover by Kwame Alexander & Dawud Anyabwile

Title: The Crossover

Author: Kwame Alexander & Dawud Anyabwile

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: “With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . . The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. ’Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” raps twelve-year-old Josh Bell. Thanks to their dad, he and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood—he’s got mad beats, too, which help him find his rhythm when it’s all on the line.

See the Bell family in a whole new light through Dawud Anyabwile’s illustrations as the brothers’ winning season unfolds, and the world as they know it begins to change.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I adored Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover a few years back. As a person who has very little interest in sports, I loved the way Alexander wove sports and family together through his beautiful poems. I loved the Bell family, I loved Josh’s narration, and there was also something about the twists and turns in Alexander’s prose that just had me completely head-over-heels.

This graphic novel version of The Crossover may even be better than the original. Having Dawud Anyabwile’s gorgeous illustrations accompany Alexander’s poetry is phenomenal. I felt like Anyabwile’s artwork really showcased the heart and soul of the Bell family’s trials and tribulations in such a way where it connected to the text perfectly. I loved the artwork, and how Josh and Jordan were designed, and I loved the attention to detail throughout.

The Crossover is still a wonderful and powerful story about family. A lot of what Alexander’s words stated in 2014, are just as true in 2019. This edition boasts amazing artwork to accompany Alexander’s beautiful words, and is a great addition to anyone’s graphic novel collection or just for anyone who loves story about family and the turbulence than comes with being a part of one.

ARC Review – The Night Country (The Hazel Wood #2) by Melissa Albert

Title: The Night Country (The Hazel Wood #2)

Author: Melissa Albert

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Wood was just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.

With Finch’s help, Alice escaped the Hinterland and her reclusive grandmother’s dark legacy. Now she and the rest of the dregs of the fairy tale world have washed up in New York City, where Alice is trying to make a new, unmagical life. But something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors―and she suspects their deaths may have a darker purpose. Meanwhile, in the winking out world of the Hinterland, Finch seeks his own adventure, and―if he can find it―a way back home…

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have to say, I was surprised to see a sequel to The Hazel Wood. Perhaps it’s because I felt the first book wrapped up everything so well, so I was skeptical going into The Night Country. Turns out I was wrong about the need for a sequel — so very wrong in fact.

Melissa Albert knows how to weave a story. Whether you enjoyed The Hazel Wood or not, I think there is something to be said about writing that has the ability to make you feel discomfort. One element I loved from The Hazel Wood that is very present in this sequel, is how sinister the world feelings, the disjointedness of how everything is collapsing in on itself, and Albert’s ability to make the reader feel uncomfortable and lost.

Alice is still as frustrating as ever, but I think it’s why she is a good protagonist for stories that feature disjointed world-building. She questions things, she is curious, she is angry, and most of all, she has a will to change things for better or worse. The new characters in the book are fairly fascinating as well, and how they play into the world’s transformation feels very original and something out of video game.

There is so much I can’t talk about with this being a sequel, but I feel like if you enjoyed the first book, this one starts immediately after the first book, so rereading or quickly checking a summary is a good plan before hopping into this book. The twist and turns in this sequel are fantastic, the world building is top notch, and there is just so much mystery and intrigue to keep the reader pushing forward. I really enjoyed this sequel, and I’m happy it exists in the world.

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!