Showing posts with label middle grade. Show all posts
Showing posts with label middle grade. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Double Fall Middle Grade & YA Book Spotlights: The Restless Dark by Erica Waters & Monster Club by Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel

Today I wanted to make a special post to highlight two fall releases that I'm really excited about: The Restless Dark by Erica Waters and Monster Club by Darrren Aronofsky (yes, that Darren Aronofsky of Requiem for a Dream, one of my favorite movies!) and Ari Handel! I've just finished Monster Club and thought it was such a fun read, overflowing with imagination really great storytelling. It's an amazing Halloween for middle grade readers and adult readers alike. I'll definitely be recommending it to some middle grade readers that I know. :) The Restless Dark is up next!

I'll be sharing some general information about the books below, so be sure to check them out if you're looking for an MG and/or YA spooky fall read! Huge thanks to Leilani Fitzpatrick for sending me copies of these to read! 

Author:  Erica Waters
Pub. Date: October 4th, 2022
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 400

Find it: Amazon |  

Enter Cloudkiss Canyon at your own risk. 
The Cloudkiss Killer is dead. Now a true-crime podcast is hosting a contest to find his bones. 
Lucy was almost the serial killer’s final victim. Carolina is a true-crime fan who fears her own rage. Maggie is a psychology student with a little too much to hide. 
All of them are looking for answers, for a new identity, for a place to bury their secrets. 
But there are more than bones hiding in the shadows…sometimes the darkness inside is more frightening than anything the dead leave behind. 
Perfect for fans of Sadie and Wilder Girls, this newest novel from Erica Waters follows three girls at a true-crime contest to find the bones of a lost killer—even as a mysterious force pulls at the contestants’ darkest desires."

Author:  Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel
Pub. Date: September 13th, 2022
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 352

Find it: Amazon |  

From the award-winning screenwriter-director Darren Aronofsky and his screenwriting partner, Ari Handel, comes Monster Club. Their debut novel is the first book in a thrilling, new adventure series about growing up, letting go, and facing down your monsters. 
Like almost everything in eleven-year-old Eric "Doodles" King's life, King's Wonderland--the amusement park his great-great grandfather founded--was seriously damaged when a hurricane hit his beloved Coney Island neighborhood. Now hungry property developers are circling the wreckage of the once-awesome King's Wonderland, and Eric's family is falling apart from the threat of losing it all. 
If it weren't for Monster Club--the epic roleplaying game that Eric and his friends created--Eric's life would be pretty terrible. Drawing his favorite monster battling with his best friends' creations is the one thing that still gets Eric excited. So when his friends start to think of Monster Club as a kid's game and get more interested in other things, Eric just can't deal. But then Eric happens across a long-lost vial of magic ink that brings their monster drawings to life, and suddenly, Monster Club isn't just for fun anymore. 
The monsters Eric and his friends created are wreaking havoc across Coney, and it's on the Monster Club to save their city, the amusement park, and maybe, just maybe, Eric's family, too. It's a hilarious, heartfelt adventure from the creative minds of Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel that fans of Last Kids on Earth and Spy School are sure to love."

Monday, June 20, 2022

Review: The Clackity by Lora Senf


The Clackity by Lora Senf
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: June 28th, 2022
Hardcover. 288 pages.

About The Clackity:

"Evie Von Rathe lives in Blight Harbor—the seventh-most haunted town in America—with her Aunt Desdemona, the local paranormal expert. Des doesn’t have many rules except one: Stay out of the abandoned slaughterhouse at the edge of town. But when her aunt disappears into the building, Evie goes searching for her. 

There she meets The Clackity, a creature who lives in the shadows and seams of the slaughterhouse. The Clackity makes a deal with Evie to help get Des back in exchange for the ghost of John Jeffrey Pope, a serial killer who stalked Blight Harbor a hundred years earlier. Evie must embark on a journey into a strange otherworld filled with hungry witches, penny-eyed ghosts, and a memory-thief, all while being pursued by a dead man whose only goal is to add Evie to his collection of lost souls."

The Clackity is a horror-tinged middle grade fantasy story that I absolutely loved. It had the perfect mix of spooky, creepy, hopeful, and quirky elements to capture the attention of pretty much any age. 

The Clackity follows Evie von Rathe who now lives with her Aunt Desdemona in Blight Harbor after her parents went missing four years earlier. Blight Harbor is the seventh-most haunted town in America–and also one of my new favorite fictional towns. Aunt Desdemona is considered a paranormal expert in the town of Blight Harbor and regularly writes articles and investigates the paranormal, as well as answers a column where people write in to ask all about their paranormal woes (you know, like what you’re supposed to do when you can’t get a ghost to move out of your home!). One day, Aunt Desdemona goes missing after visiting the mysterious abandoned slaughterhouse that Evie has been forbidden to enter. Of course, Evie decides she has to go find her aunt because she refuses to let yet another family member go missing and thus begins a dark, unpredictable, and disturbing journey through the shadowy  depths of the slaughterhouse, where Evie enters a place that is both familiar and anything but. 

Evie is a true delight of a character and I absolutely adored her as we followed her on this terrifying and unpredictable journey. Evie appears to struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, and I related to this quite a lot and I really enjoyed seeing her using different techniques to try to calm herself down whenever she was confronted with a particularly frightening or difficult challenge. It was also really nice to see her as a very self-aware character who is constantly aware of and mindful of her own health, safety, and general wellbeing. She was also always very concerned for others around her, both those she already knows and those she meets on her dangerous journey, whether or not they seemed friendly towards her. The best part of this journey, however, was getting to see Evie find her own strength piece by piece along the way and realize that she did have the ability to overcome any fear or obstacle standing in her way when she needed to. 

Lora Senf's writing is captivating and charismatic. I was constantly enraptured by this story, the characters, and the incredible descriptions and imaginative components that Senf created.  I really loved the general setup through the slaughterhouse of having multiple houses with different themes and obstacles that existed within each one that Evie had to explore and overcome. I was always really excited to explore a new house and a new setting and see what was going to come at us this next time, and I think it was a really great way to explore a lot of the different ideas that the author wanted to in this book, and I think it did so in a really imaginative way. There are also a few illustrations littered throughout the story that are lovely and match the overall tone and atmosphere really well.
The Clackity is both really cute and really creepy at the same time. It definitely is a middle grade novel, but it also felt fairly scary at times, almost in the same vein of the creepiness level that Neil Gaiman’s Coraline has: it's great for kids, but at the same time as an adult you're almost constantly caught up thinking how dark and creepy it actually is. It doesn't really talk down to kids or hold their hands too much; rather, it lets you explore everything on your own in a way that feels explained and compelling. There were a lot of really wonderful themes and messages explored in this book, including those about self acceptance, grief, what it means to be yourself, finding your own strength amidst despair and feelings of hopelessness, and much more. I can definitely see fans of The Thickety by J.A. White, Coraline, or Katherine Arden's middle grade series really enjoying this one as well. 

Overall, I've given The Clackity 4.5 stars!

*I received a copy of The Clackity courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Friday Face-Off: Middle Grade


Friday Face Off New
Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme at Books by Proxy. Join us every Friday as we pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in our literary universe. You can find a list of upcoming topics at Lynn's Books.

This week's topic is:
Middle Grade

I love reading middle grade fantasy, so I have quite a variety of books to choose from, especially since it seems like middle grade always gets the most fun and beautiful covers?? And do you have any idea how difficult it was to pick just one book? So... I didn't! Instead, enjoy a few covers from three throwback middle grade fantasy books that I loved as a kid. 

Magyk (Septimus Heap #1) by Angie Sage
Magyk (Septimus Heap, #1)Magyk: Septimus Heap Book 1Magyk (Septimus Heap, #1)
2005 US Hardcover | 2012 US Kindle | 2008 German

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flame by Michael Scott:
The Alchemyst (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, #1)Der unsterbliche Alchemyst (Die Geheimnisse des Nicholas Flamel, #1)L'Alchimiste (Les secrets de l'immortel Nicolas Flamel, #1)
2007 US Hardcover | 2008 German | 2019 French

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke:
Tintenherz (Tintenwelt, #1)Inkheart (Inkworld, #1)Corazón de tinta
2003 German | 2003 US Hardcover | 2008 Spanish

Inkheart (Inkworld #1)InkheartЧорнильне серце
2020 Chicken House | 2009 Gift Edition | 2009 Ukrainian 

My choice(s):
Honestly, there's no point because so many of these are so gorgeous! I love the original US hardcover designs for the Septimus Heap series (you can see the rest here), I love all of the The Alchemyst covers and their beautiful designs, and don't even get me started on how utterly stunning the Inkheart covers all are. I just love all of these on this page (with the exception of the 2012 US Kindle and 2008 German editions of Magyk--those are just fine, haha).  I also now wish I had all of these editions of Inkheart

What cover(s) do you like the most!?

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Read As A Kid

This week's topic is:  Books I Wish I Read As A Kid

I feel like this topic could be interpreted in a number of ways! Even though I do still read and enjoy middle grade books, there are some that I just know I would have fallen so madly in love with when I was younger so I'm bummed I either still haven't read it, or didn't read it until I was older. Some of these I've read now that I'm older and still really enjoyed, but I just wish I had experienced the magic as a kid, and some I still haven't read!

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)
Howl's Moving Castle by Dianna-Wynne Jones
I actually just read this one earlier this year for the first time. I'll be honest: in general, I loved the concept and the writing and the characters, but I found myself losing interest in the latter portion of the book! I think I would've fully appreciated it more as a kid, though.

Sabriel (Abhorsen, #1)
Sabriel by Garth Nix
When I was a kid, I read Nix's Keys to the Kingdom and Seventh Tower series and loved those to death. I wish I had gotten my hands on the Abhorsen series as well, because now I have a hard time getting into them for some reason. Maybe I always would've had that issue, but maybe not.

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Okay, so I've definitely read The Hobbit and I absolutely love it, but I can only imagine how much I would've fallen for the hobbits and this story if I'd read it at an even younger age! But I still love it, so in the end it all worked out.

Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, #1)
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
My sister actually read and adored this series, so I'm not sure why I never picked it up, but I do wish I had gotten around it.

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark is Rising, #1)
Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark is Rising) by Susan Cooper
I don't know a lot about this series, but from what I've heard I think I would've (and still would) really like it.

Fablehaven (Fablehaven, #1)
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
This series sounds totally up my alley, and even today whenever I see the covers for various books int he series, I'm always so drawn to them because they absolutely seem like something I would've read as a kid.

The Field Guide (The Spiderwick Chronicles, #1)
Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi
I remember seeing this series as a kid, but I don't know why I never got into it. It absolutely sounds like something I'd love and I still want to check it out someday.

Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)
Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Okay, I'm going to say something probably blasphemous...when I was a kid, my sister and I watched the movie version of Eragon before being aware that there was a book series and we had such a fun time with the movie! I know everyone seems to think it's awful and it honestly probably is (it's been ages since I've seen it, so I have my doubts on its quality now), but I really wish I would've managed to pick up the book to check out around that time also. I hear some really conflicting things about the series and it seems to be a consensus that it's best read at a younger age, so I worry I wouldn't enjoy it now.

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain, #1)
The Book of Three (Chronicles of Prydain) by Lloyd Alexander
This is one series that I don't think I knew existed as a kid, but now that I've heard about it I think it sounds delightful! I hear some really excellent thins about these books, so I plan to look into them one day still.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1)
The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson) by Rick Riordan
I realize this is number eleven, but I sort of forgot about it until the end... I lament that I never got around to these as a kid! As someone who is currently a Classics grad student, something tells me I would've liked it a decent bit. I do still consider checking it out now, but there are so many books and even related series (???) that it just feels like a lot to try to catch up with. Still, I like knowing that it's always an option and that so many people love it. I will, however, respect Rick Riordan, and not see the movie adaptation that doesn't exist.

Have you read any of these books? What books do you wish you read as a kid?

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Review: Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy

Brightstorm (Sky-Ship Adventure, #1)
Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy
Publication Date: March 17th, 2020
Hardcover. 336 pages

About Brightstorm:

"Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm receive devastating news: their famous explorer father has died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris. To make matters worse, the Lontown Geographical Society finds Ernest Brightstorm guilty of sabotaging the expedition of his competitor, Eudora Vane. But a mysterious clue leads the twins to question the story they’ve been told—and to uncover the truth, they must undertake the journey of a lifetime.

Joining the ragtag crew of a homemade sky-ship captained by the intrepid Harriet Culpepper, Arthur and Maudie race to South Polaris to salvage their family’s reputation and find out what really happened on their father’s doomed expedition. Brightstorm is a propulsive and compelling fantasy adventure set among the vibrant landscapes and dynamic characters of Vashti Hardy’s vividly imagined world."

Brightstorm is an adventurous middle grade novel that is full of exploration, fascinating characters and settings, and some really great messages about family and friendship.

I love books that center on explorers and adventurers, so Brightstorm right away seemed like something that I would like. It did not disappoint when it comes to the exploratory aspect and I had such an incredibly time following Arthur and Maudie along their journey to reach South Polaris, a relatively untouched piece of land (that is, untouched from humans, at least) that is at the heart of a competition by the LonTown Geographical Society to reach.

Arthur and Maudie are twins who are suddenly left to fend for themselves and I found their journey to be such a compelling one, filled with some heartbreaking moments, but also filled with sense of finding oneself and one's place in the world. Arthur is the slightly more outgoing and adventurous one, whereas Maudie is more on the scholarly side of things. Both complemented each other so wonderfully in this book and I loved seeing how they worked together to use both of their strengths and stick together to be successful on their journey. I also really enjoyed the secondary characters that Arthur and Maudie meet on their journey, such as their Captain, Harriet Culpepper, Felicity, and Welby. Each character had such a unique personality and genuinely brought so much joy and character to the story--Hardy really crafts some strong characters. The main villain was also well-crafted, and though she did seem slightly cliche'd to me at times, she still fit the story well and had some really interesting elements to her character and motivations.

If you're at all animal-obsessed like I am, then you'll appreciate Parthena, the hawk that belonged to Brightstorm's father, and the thought-wolves that are also discovered along their journey. It was details and additions such as these that really added to the adventure and excitement of the story and that made me enjoy it as much as I did. The setting and atmosphere also brings a lot to the story, and if you like the His Dark Materials/The Golden Compass books, then I have a feeling you'll also enjoy this one. It probably has a slightly younger target audience, but the adventure components are there and the airships, animals, and general exploratory adventure that they embark on all gave me those His Dark Material vibes.

Lastly, I just want to touch on how well this book handles grief, figuring out one's place in the world, and the importance of friendships. This story starts off with the Brightstorm twins finding out that their father has likely been killed in an accident (not a spoiler, it's in the synopsis!), so this is something new that they have to struggle with throughout the book. Hardy balances the struggles of moving through that pain and shock while also navigating life and learning that there can still be joy in it really well, and I say that as someone who also lost a father at a young age. I really appreciate the effort that went into developing this particular storyline and for capturing that tiny bit of hope that Arthur holds onto for as long as he can. In addition, Arthur and Maudie both struggle a lot with not knowing what to do next in their life, and I think hardy explores this sense of uncertainty extremely well, especially for two children who are as young as they are.

I really don't have anything negative to say about this book. It was compelling, so much fun, and full of interesting characters and an exciting plot. Overall, I've given it five stars!

*I received a copy of Brightstorm courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Monday, March 18, 2019

Middle Grade Mini-Review: Winterhouse by Ben Guterson

Winterhouse (Winterhouse, #1)Winterhouse by Ben Guterson
Henry Holt and Co., 2018
Hardcover. 384 pages.

About Winterhouse:
"An enchanting urban fantasy middle-grade debut―the first book in a trilogy―set in a magical hotel full of secrets. 

Orphan Elizabeth Somers’s malevolent aunt and uncle ship her off to the ominous Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the peculiar Norbridge Falls. Upon arrival, Elizabeth quickly discovers that Winterhouse has many charms―most notably its massive library. It’s not long before she locates a magical book of puzzles that will unlock a mystery involving Norbridge and his sinister family. But the deeper she delves into the hotel’s secrets, the more Elizabeth starts to realize that she is somehow connected to Winterhouse. As fate would have it, Elizabeth is the only person who can break the hotel’s curse and solve the mystery. But will it be at the cost of losing the people she has come to care for, and even Winterhouse itself? Mystery, adventure, and beautiful writing combine in this exciting debut richly set in a hotel full of secrets."

It seemed like it was time to do another mini grade review, so here we are!

LIKES: I had a blast reading Winterhouse. The story takes place in a friendly hotel that ends up being full of clever quirks and surprises and that encompasses everything I love in a middle grade mystery adventure. This book also loves puzzles and riddles, which are all set up in a way that allows the reader to engage and attempt to solve them along with the main characters. The setting is wintry and perfectly cozy, complete with a beautiful, expansive library open to all guests. There are daily activities at the hotel for guests to partake in and all meals are served at set times so that everyone at the hotel can come together and get to know one another.

I found Elizabeth Somers to be a very charismatic and relatable protagonist, one that I feel people of all ages can relate to in different ways. She's very independent, which stands out for someone as young as she is, and I would say that a lot of it is due to the adversity that she has faced so far in life. I also loved the small call outs to some of her favorite books, such as Anne of Green Gables and The Mysterious Benedict Society--I thought that was a really fun and clever way to include other great middle grade books.

There is a wide supporting cast of characters, from the friendly hotel owner, Norbridge Falls, to Elizabeth's new friend, Freddy, and to the mysterious and slightly creepy Marcus and Selena. All of these characters work together to create an atmosphere full of surprises and intrigue. I particularly loved some of the side characters that remained minor, but that still played an important role and provided some strong personality and excitement, such as the two men that work on the same enormous puzzle every time they come, slowly but surely hoping to complete it one day.

DISLIKES: The 'villain' characters were really well drawn, though I would have loved to have a little more in the way of backstory or development to better understand them. I also had a few issues regarding Elizabeth and Freddy's friendship, namely due to how Elizabeth treated him at times, but I think this was meant to show that even Elizabeth has faults and can get caught up in different things. I also found it a little predictable at times, but I don't entirely fault the author for that because I'm quite a bit older than the intended audience, so I am sure that they would not find it as predictable.

Overall, I've given Winterhouse four stars! If you're looking for a cozy yet exciting middle grade with a cast of unique and quirky characters, then definitely check this book out. 

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Middle Grade Review: Nightbooks by J.A. White

Nightbooks by J.A. White
Katherine Tegen Books, 2018
Hardcover. 304 pages.

About Nightbooks:

"A boy is imprisoned by a witch and must tell her a new scary story each night to stay alive. This thrilling contemporary fantasy from J. A. White, the acclaimed author of the Thickety series, brings to life the magic and craft of storytelling. 

Alex’s original hair-raising tales are the only thing keeping the witch Natacha happy, but soon he’ll run out of pages to read from and be trapped forever. He’s loved scary stories his whole life, and he knows most don’t have a happily ever after. Now that Alex is trapped in a true terrifying tale, he’s desperate for a different ending—and a way out of this twisted place. 

This modern spin on the Scheherazade story is perfect for fans of Coraline and A Tale Dark and Grimm. With interwoven tips on writing with suspense, adding in plot twists, hooks, interior logic, and dealing with writer’s block, this is the ideal book for budding writers and all readers of delightfully just-dark-enough tales."

I've been reading and enjoying J.A. White's The Thickety series immensely over the past few years and I was thrilled so see last year that he was releasing a new book. I didn't have a chance to read it until just recently, but my excitement never waned and I'm happy to say that this was another great book from White.

The story centers around a young boy named Alex who finds himself lured into a witch's lair (currently masquerading as an apartment) and is subsequently trapped, forced to write and read the witch scary stories every night. This premise hooked me immediately because it has a storytelling aspect much in the vein of Scheherazade, the fairy tale influence of fairy tales, and that dark, quirky undertone that you can readily find in middle grade books like Coraline and other slightly darker middle grade fantasy books.

Nightbooks really comes through in the scary story department, not so much through the frame story, but within Alex's own stories and a few additional surprising elements throughout the book. When Alex reads his stories to the witch, the reader also gets to read and experience them. I don't generally enjoy reading stories or documents within a book, but I genuinely enjoyed reading all of Alex's short scary stories. They were perfectly creepy in ways that were appropriate for kids, but also still unsettling enough for adults such as myself to enjoy them. There is also a wide variety of surprises in this book that kept me entertained and guessing at every corner.

Alex is an intriguing character. In a lot of ways, Alex is very similar to many other middle grade characters I've read, but there were definitely some things that set him apart in positive ways as well. His interest in the dark and scary side of movies and entertainment was one of them, and I really liked that White made his interest such a prominent role and example of it. I thought White did a wonderful job of showcasing that it's okay for kids to be interested in scary movies and monsters and that it doesn't make them "weird" for following their personal interests. I also liked seeing Alex's character grow, including how his insecurity grew into something more confident and sure as the story progressed.

The only problems I had with this book are actually hard to put my finger on. There were moments where the narrative just felt a bit lacking and some scenes acted as fillers instead of substantive. I was also a little thrown by how easily Alex felt comfortable at the apartment at times and almost looked forward to having her listen to his stories. I also found the witch a little lackluster; she's supposed to be scary and powerful--and she certainly does seem powerful--but I really didn't find her all that intimidating and it was hard for me to understand the fear that Alex and another character he meets, Yasmine, had at times. Despite these issues, it's still a strong and enjoyable story that I'd recommend to any kid or adult who tends to like scary stories and movies--and who is always ready for a good story.

Overall, Nightbooks is another success from J.A. White! I really can't wait to see what he writes next. Four stars from me!

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

Monday, December 17, 2018

Double Reviews: Katherine Arden Edition! The Bear and the Nightingale & Small Space

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Del Rey Books, 2017
Hardcover. 323 pages.

About The Bear and the Nightingale:
"At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn't mind--she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil. 

After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa's new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. 

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa's stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent. 

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed--this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales."

I have been wanting to read The Bear and the Nightingale since I first saw it was coming out in 2017, but somehow, because I who I am, I've just now gotten around to reading it. This is partially because I wanted to read it in December or January, so my timing was always limited. All that aside, I'm so glad I finally read this book!

I had extremely high expectations for this book which did make me nervous about whether it'd actually be able to live up to them. I think it took me a little while to get into this book as well, as there seemed to be quite a few different things going on at once. The very first chapters drew me in, but then there was a brief portion in the beginning where I felt uncertain about the direction the story was headed in. And then something shifted the story hit it's stride.

I can't place where it was in this book that my enjoyment really took off, but before I knew it I was glued to the pages and absolutely falling in love with the story, the setting, and the characters. The protagonist, Vasilisa (Vasya), really grew on me throughout the story, much as she grew and developed into her own personality. From the very beginning, Vasya is a strong, powerful girl, but as she grows she somewhat hones this trait and is still just as outspoken, but in a more direct, determined way. I loved watching her start to grow up and following her on this journey.

And then we have Morozko, aka "Frost," "the demon of winter," and a character that I desperately want to know more about. I can't really tell you much about this figure because of the crucial role he plays in this story, but he is definitely one of the most intriguing characters. Other characters include Vasya's father, brothers, stepmother and stepsister, and their nurse who helped raised them, Dunya (and of course a few others that I'll let you discover). I really think Arden created some truly interesting characters that really felt multi-layered. It was really apparent when they were conflicted or when they were struggling with themselves and dealing with those around them, so I appreciated this effort into all of the supporting characters to make them multi-dimensional.

I also loved the setting of this small village sort of sequestered away near the forest. There was a general cold and bleak atmosphere that permeated most of the book, which is something I really do love in books like these, as I feel that they fit the magical qualities and influences perfectly. The historical Russian backdrop that mixed fantasy with reality was also perfectly on target and really added to the depth of the setting. Also, as an added point--after a certain point Vasya is able to communicate with some of the horses, and let me just say, if you put any form of talking animal into a book--I'm in love.

Since this is a Russian-influenced book, you do have to pay close attention to the names, as there are often multiple iterations given to each character name. There are also times when it feels like a lot of different places, names, etc. are thrown at the reader, but none of this majorly infringes on the storytelling experience.

Overall, I've given The Bear and the Nightingale a well-earned five stars!

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

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Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Small Spaces (Small Spaces #1)Mini-Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2018
Hardcover. 218 pages.

About Small Spaces:
"After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn't think--she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with "the smiling man," a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. 

Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she's been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn't have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: "Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you." Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie's previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN."

I read Small Spaces back in October because it seemed like a perfect atmospheric and spooky read for the fall/Halloween season. Plus, there are a bunch of creepy scarecrows on the cover and what screams fall more than scarecrows?

Small Spaces is a book with some really interesting ideas and a particularly unique plot. Without going into too many details, it's safe to say this book has made me completely hesitant and wary of scarecrows--I'll probably never look at them in quite the same way. You've been warned. 

Our main character is a young girl named Ollie, a somewhat stubborn, independent, and thoughtful person. Her mom has recently died, so there is a good showcase of how her and her father have been dealing with with this struggle. I thought Arden displayed this dynamic particularly well, as Ollie didn't have the general 'we're sad, but everything's' fine,' sort of display common in middle grade books, but she instead has some sharp edges as a result of this tragedy and she lets them show to both her father and the kids at school. She's not always necessarily the nicest to others at times, but she has a good heart and that always wins out at the end of the day. This is really what made me love her as a character, as she's not perfect or a perfect example, but she's a real kid. The way Arden handled her depression was really carefully and beautifully done. There are some of other main kids that accompany Ollie on her journey that I also thought Arden portrayed well, with unique personalities and interesting contributions.

I've decided to keep this a brief mini-review because anticipation, the unknown, and discovery are some of the best elements in any spooky book, so I'd like to leave the rest up to you to find out. If you enjoy mature middle grade, a unique plot involving a creepy farm, a watch that's oddly helpful, and an unpredictable journey, then this one's for you!

Overall, I've given Small Spaces four stars!

Buy the book:  Amazon | Book Depository

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Review: The Snow Witch by Rosie Boyes

The Snow Witch
The Snow Witch by Rosie Boyes
Self-published, 2018
Ebook. 259 pages.

About The Snow Witch:


Twelve-year-old Kitty Wigeon can't wait for Christmas at St Flurries, a grand old manor house in the countryside, until one chilly night she vanishes without a trace. 

One hundred years later… Still grieving over the death of their mother, Kes Bunting and his younger sister Star, are sent to live at St Flurries. They find a house steeped in mystery and brimming with secrets. 

Who, or what, is making footprints in the snow? 

And what evil force is taking a cold grip on Star? 

Wrap up warm as you join Kes, and a cast of eccentric snow creatures, in a race against time to solve a hundred-year-old curse. Will he succeed? Or will the fate of his sister be decided by a shivery kiss from… the Snow Witch?"

If you're looking for the perfect holiday-vibe book with a bit of mystery, magic, and entertaining characters, then The Snow Witch is the book for you. This is a delightful middle grade story that follows a young brother and sister, Kes and Star, as they move into a new house in the countryside with their grandmother whom they've just met for the first time. This book was such a lovely blend of fairy tale, fantasy, and family that I truly enjoyed reading and that felt like the perfect book to start off the month of December with. There are some serious themes and moments explored, but there are also plenty of lighthearted moments that help to keep the spirit of this story high.

The Snow Witch is told from two main perspectives, one from Kes' POV in the present day and one from Kitty's POV from the early twentieth century. I really liked that Boyes decided to tell the story in this way because it really helped bring both storylines lines to life, and they ended up connecting in a really clever and well-written manner. Since Kitty's POV took place in the early twentieth century, the first World War did play a bit of a background role and I found it very interesting how Boyes incorporated that element into the story itself and its impact in the lives of her and her family. 

The characters were well varied in personality and a delight to read. Kes and Star are curious, kind children who have had to make the best of a rather unfortunate life situation. I admired Kes for his caring nature and how he had to take on such a mature role to take care of his younger sister; it really put into perspective what these two kids were going through in their lives and their apprehensive nature towards new people. Kitty was also a character that I found to be very endearing, and I appreciated how authentic her actions felt throughout the story. The rest of the characters that inhabit St. Flurries were such fun, from the harried cook to the stern yet merry staff members.  

As much as I enjoyed this book, there were still a few inconsistencies in the writing that I noticed. Most of these seemed to be more of the early writer types of issues and weren't anything that majorly took away from my experience. One of these was a bit of consistency with the dialogue, such as when Kes, an eleven year old, used some words and phrases that just did not seem to fit in with his age or the time period. There were also times when Kes was described in a way that also felt younger than his current age, as well as older, which felt a bit off. There were also a few metaphors and sentences here and there that felt slightly overdone or unnecessary and it seemed like a bit of editing could tweak those into perfection. That being said, these issues were definitely minor and I think that the more Boyes writes, the better and better they'll get because this book was so fun and shows so much potential.

Overall, I've given The Snow Witch four stars! I honestly enjoyed every minute of reading this book and think it would be perfect any kid or adult looking for a lighthearted and entertaining wintry read. I really look forward to seeing what Boyes writes next!

Buy the book: Amazon

*I received a copy of The Snow Witch courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Middle Grade Review: The Thorn Queen by Elisa Holland

The Thorn Queen by Elise Holland
SparkPress, 2018
256 pages. Ebook.
About The Thorn Queen:

"Welcome to Glendoch! 

Hidden to most, this glacial world once crackled with alchemy. Now it waits for war—divided and bound by strict rules. So when twelve-year-old Meylyne falls from a tree onto Glendoch’s sickly prince, she must flee or face imprisonment in the Shadow-Cellars. The only way she may return home is with a cure for the prince’s peculiar disease. 

Convinced she will perish, Meylyne and her companions embark on their journey—and before they know it, they are knee-deep in a plot to sink Glendoch into shadow, like other worlds before it. Poisoned guardians, cursed wizards, and cunning witch-spirits bound into wands are just some of the dangers that dot the way of their travels. 

And behind it all is the Thorn Queen. Mysteriously magnetic (or murderously vengeful, depending on whose side you’re on), she is always one step ahead of them . . ."

The Thorn Queen is a delightful middle grade fantasy adventure novel filled with imaginative characters, magic, and world-building.

Our protagonist is Meylyne, a young girl who is suddenly thrust into a much larger role in her world than she ever anticipated--or wanted. Meylyne is a bold, endearing girl who is not so great at performing her Alchemy magic and is also shunned by most of society for being half human/half garsyle, while they are all full garsyle. Meylyne is a great character, full of her own ideas and the penchant for being strong-willed, but she also has many insecurities and struggles with trying be a normal kid.

We meet many other characters along the way that made this book a true delight: Grimorex, an unexpected ogre; Blue, an accidentally one-foot tall boy; Hope, a stallynx; and so many more! I found Holland's characters to be wonderfully developed and each had a really interesting personality that always seemed to surprise me. I would say that characters are one of Holland's strong points in writing, as she managed to mostly stray from stereotypes--besides one villain-type character--and create her own roles for them.

Another area that Holland does really well is her physical world-building. Glendoch is a world that I would love to see because of how beautiful it sounds. This is one of those books where I would love to have more illustrations and artwork of some of the locations featured, particularly some of the castles. As much as I loved the descriptions of the world itself, I did have some issues with the intricacies of how the world itself was organized--mainly that there wasn't enough explanation. I understood the basics of how the world was set up (the 'Above-World,' etc.), but I didn't understand the why or how the places were developed in the first place.

This leads me to one of my biggest issues with this book which was simply how complex the politics and secrets were. There were a lot of info-dumping conversations between characters that were actually a little difficult to keep up with at times, which isn't something that normally pops up in middle grade books.

Overall, I enjoyed The Thorn Queen a lot and found it really inventive, so I've given it four stars! I am unsure whether or not there will be more books, but if there are then I will certainly read them and see what adventures Meylyne is up to next.

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

*I received an ARC of The Thorn Queen courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

MIddle Grade Mini-Reviews: The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente & The Language of Spells by Garrety Weyr

The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017
Hardcover. 544 pages.

The Glass Town Game is one hundred percent pure Catherynne Valente imagination, and that basically just means that this is an incredibly creative, magical, and exceptionally fun story. This book is about Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell Bronte as they accidentally end up in a fantasy world where things take some unexpected turns. The weird part about this fantasy world? It's based entirely off of the pretend game they themselves invented called Glass Town.

This is a truly stunning piece of fiction with a vibrant, completely unpredictable world and plot. Valente's prose, as always, is so gorgeous that it's almost as if you can feel the magic coming out of the pages. In addition to the writing itself being so wonderful, the content is also just as fun, with dazzling characters and plot points as well as tiny little tidbits/easter eggs littered throughout regarding various elements of the book and the history it is related to. There were so many little details and ideas that I just loved. There are Willy Wonka-esque food experiences and personified luggage that are adorable. Plus, we get some awesome cameos and characters based off of other historical figures, such as Jane Austen and Lord Byron. This book is a blast.

I will say that this if you're looking at this book for a young reader in life and not yourself, I'd recommend it to the older side of middle grade simply because of the size and prose. It's not that it's not kid-friendly, but it is pretty dense and Valente loves her creative wordplay, so a younger reader might not enjoy all aspects of that. Things also did start to feel slightly excessive and convoluted near the end, which is what took this away from being a five-star read for me, but I still really enjoyed it and can absolutely see myself re-reading it in the future. Overall, I've given The Glass Town Game four-and-a-half stars!

Buy the book: Amazon Book Depository

The Language of Spells by Garrett Weyr, illustrated by Katie Harnett
Chronicle Books, 2018
Hardcover. 256 pages. 

The Language of Spells is one of the sweetest, most heartwarming stories I have ever read. I truly fell in love with our two main protagonists: Grisha the dragon & Maggie, a young girl, and I guarantee that you will too. This is a historical-based story in a world in which dragons once existed alongside humans, but during World War II their freedom was taken away and now there only a few still around. This story follows both Maggie and Grisha through a small variety of topics, but the main issue that Maggie sets out to solve is what happened to all the missing dragons.

This is a very calm sort of story without much action or fast-moving plot, but it's still one that really gripped me. I thought the writing was so carefully done and has a lovely magical narration that almost borders on what I would call a sense of melancholy that simply envelopes you and sucks you in. The start of this book is a bit on the slower side, but once you get into it it really does start to pick up.

I really can't recommend this one enough. If you ever just want a break from the stress of your own life or from high conflict books, then this is the perfect book to read through. It's fairly short and it's also middle grade, so it's an easy read. I don't have any kids and I haven't spoken to any kids that have read this, but I do personally feel that this would be a good one. A bit of warning that it has the most bittersweet ending, and I was not at all prepared for it, so it felt like punch to the stomach... but it also felt so wonderful? Overall, I've given The Language of Spells five stars!

Buy the book: Amazon

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Middle Grade Mini-Reviews: The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd & Witchborn by Nicholas Bowling

The Problim Children by Nataie Lloyd
Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. Hardcover. 304 pages.
About the book
I loved The Problim Children! This was an incredibly fun, imaginative, and entertaining read. The Problim children are probably one of my new favorite fictional families--perfectly wacky, yet incredibly adorable all at the same time. There are seven children, each child for a different day of the week: Mona, Toot, Wendell, Thea, Fida, Sal, and Sundae--and, of course, their pet pig, Ichabod. I worried that such a large cast of main characters would be confusing, but I quickly caught on and was able to discern each character due to each one's unique and endearing personality.

There were a few minor aspects of this book that seemed to drag on on a bit too much or that were simply given too much focus, but these did not overtake my enjoyment in any way.The best part of this book was how Lloyd managed to work in a very open-minded mentality among the children about being accepting of different personalities and lifestyles in a way that was completely subtle yet incredibly effective. It was beautifully done, and I am absolutely going to be buying a copy for every child I know once they hit the middle grade age (or any fellow adult who wants a fun book!). Overall, I gave The Problim Children four stars!
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

*I received an ARC of The Problim Children in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the book.*

Witchborn by Nicholas Bowling
Chicken House Ltd, 2017. Paperback. 368 pages.
About the book
Witchborn was probably seventy-percent cover-buy/thirty-percent "ooh a witch story!" purchase. This cover grabbed me because I have such a thing for gorgeous detailed covers like these and I love ravens. Then I discovered that this was about witches and takes place in 1577, and well, I was sold.

I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as I expected,  but nonetheless it was still a really interesting book. It was fairly slow-paced, which is why I might recommend it for an older or more mature middle-grade reader, as felt that there were times when it balanced on the line of middle grade and young adult both in subject matter and style. It's definitely middle grade, but almost in the Tamora Pierce-sense where it can easily be read by any age. I wanted to see more magic from Alyce rather than simply moving the plot along to reach a destination. I did, however, love the dark and mysterious atmosphere that permeated this entire book.
Overall, I gave Witchborn four stars! This would be a great read for any witch fans!
Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

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