Posted in Book Reviews, MG Book Reviews, Middle Grade Books, Ramblings

The Way Past Winter

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Magical Realism – Middle-Grade

My Synopsis:

Mila lives in the dark cold, woods with her brother and two sisters in a small cabin. Their mother is dead, and their father left them for unknown reasons five years ago. Since then, the forest has become perpetual winter, and memories of Springtime and happiness are fading. One evening a stranger and his fellow travelers come to their home asking for food and shelter, but the next day when they are gone, Mila’s brother is missing. The sisters debate whether he left them to join the traveling men or was he taken against his will. Mila insists on going after their brother and so begins a daring adventure north through fierce winter landscapes mixed with magic and folklore that she and her sisters are afraid may actually be true.

Why I Picked This Book:

I love Middle-Grade books, and I was looking for something with a simple feel to it. I didn’t want a modern story and, (being on winter break), I was hoping for somethings snowy and cozy. It seemed to have the perfect amount of magic laced through it without being doused in magic and fantasy, and oh yeah – the book jacket mentioned sled dogs.

What Was Disappointing: 

I read it too fast. I wanted a book to last me through the winter break, but I finished this in about two days.

Why I Kept Reading:

I read it so fast because the author took me away from reality. The characters were so well-rounded I easily felt apart of their family. The simplicity of their home and family life was akin to that of Laura Ingalls, albeit without all the details. Although there was a bit of predictability, being a middle-grade novel, it was the perfect amount. The story unfolded not in a way that makes a reader disappointed because they knew the writer’s secrets, but in a way we all say in life “I knew it!” when we really didn’t, but suspected to arrive at a certain point or outcome. The longing for that affirmation and for the reveal of what we didn’t know, kept me going on almost as fast as Mila’s sled dogs flew across the frozen north.

Take Away: 

I will read this book again. I know I will. There are stories inside of stories with this book. Although the author could make this into a series of spin-off books and tales it doesn’t need to. It stands alone and stands strong. Much like its characters. The bond between sisters and the strength of their spirit is so beautiful and well done. The author very simply has females in most of the roles and if I weren’t telling you this now you may not have even noticed. There is no talk about being tom-girls, no talk about expectations for women, and the author also doesn’t shy away from letting the girls swoon over men. They are just unapologetically who they are, and they happen to be girls. I also love how there is no really clear “hero” in this story. Pieces of the puzzle unfold so naturally and those who need to be there to play their parts arrive to be in place so naturally it felt more like a true story than one about cursed forests and magical islands in the icy seas of the north.

Final Thoughts:

It’s been a long time since someone created a new fairy tale that had all the elements of actual folklore. No pretty princesses or beautiful castles, or handsome heroes. This is a simple tale and is told in a minimalist way without a ton of flare and fantasy that is saturating novels these days. This book has plenty of myth, gore, truth, and good old fashioned storytelling that will have a reader of any age turning the pages while pulling up their blankets around them to keep out the haunting winter that seeps out of its very pages.

Post-Script:

I have to wonder if Dusha and Dayna would have liked Flora the pig.

Posted in Book Reviews, MG Book Reviews, Middle Grade Books

Little Bird Flies (book review)

by Karen McCombie
Historical Fiction – Middle Grade (book 1) 

My Synopsis:

12-year-old Bridie lives with her family on a remote island of Scotland in 1861. As much as she loves her island, her family, and her best friend, she fears being “stuck” on the island forever. She’d never admit this to her hardworking family or anyone else for that matter, but when change comes to the island in a bad way, they are all forced to think about options beyond their island home. It’s not exactly the adventure Bridie had hoped for but she must face life’s challenges and make the best of some very difficult situations.

Why I Picked This Book:

This was a no-brainer for me. I love middle-grade books, I love historical fiction, and I love Scotland. I bought this before I traveled to Scotland last year as something to have upon my return to sort of “keep me in Scotland”.

What Was Disappointing: 

Me. I was disappointing. I have such a difficult time committing to books, it’s in almost every book review I write; “slow start”. I know it’s me, but I also know I can’t be the only person out there to have a form of ADD, possible dyslexia, and/or simply be bogged down with so much in life that concentration is difficult. So yes, this book had a very slow start for me. So much so that I’ve started and stopped reading it more times than I’d like to admit. I guess the first chapter didn’t draw me in enough. It was a bit too much internal dialogue from a character I didn’t know enough about or care about yet. But by all means, DO NOT let that stop you if you are a reader like me who struggles with getting attached to books. I IMPLORE you to continue reading!

Why I Kept Reading:

I can’t say I kept reading because the adventure kicked in and the paced quickened. I mean, it picks up and I sped read through the entire second half, but this is definitly more of a “quiet” book. What made me keep reading was how the writer made me fall in love. I fell in love with the island, with Bridie, and fell deeply into the entire isle setting of 1861. Karen McCombie is a time travler and made me one too. She made me fall in love with Bridie’s home as much as her characters did. I became and islander. I was one of them. I was there. When a writer can make me love a character, that’s always great. But when a writer can make me love a place, that’s amazing to me. So when that place is threatened by the new Laird of the island, I was absolutley emotionally invested.

Take Away: 

Admittingly, I don’t believe my younger self would have read this book. It’s a slow book along the lines of “The Secret Garden” or even “Treasure Island”. Stories I loved as a child in movie versions, but could not hold still long enough to read them. There were points in my reading that I thought “how is this a kid’s book?” but had to remember loads of kids (my sister and all four of her children included) who read ferociously without any troubles at all. And beyond taking one to 1861 island life in Scotland, this book deals with family, death, being ‘different’, responsibilities, cultural barriers, class wars, and of course, history.  And all of this is brought to you from a 12-year-old girl’s perspective as she deals with her own grief, guilt, and hopes as she watches her world change in ways she never could imagine. She’s a powerful young character that would do anyone well to get to know.

Final Thoughts:

This book was such a nice surprise. I thought it would be interesting, I didn’t know it would grip me in such a way that I would be crying a bit while writing it’s review. Good tears and sad tears, because that’s just how life is right? The writing in this book does everything I hope to acheive as a writer. Yes, I finished this book last week or so and I am STILL emotional over it. Every synopsis I have read makes it seem as though there isn’t much to it: She lives and an island and you know she gets off because there’s already a sequel that takes place in America so really, what’s left to find out? Do not deprive yourself of reading about Bridie’s adventures. Even if you start slow like me, dive deep into this story because it has much to tell.

Post-Script:

To the author – thank you for Patch the dog!

 

Posted in Book Reviews, MG Book Reviews, Middle Grade Books

The Serpent’s Secret (book review)

by Sayantani DasGupta
Fantasy – Middle Grade (book 1) 

Before I get started on this review, let me just say a quick personal note. I realize our current state of things as we all deal with the coronavirus presents writers and bloggers with new topics. Perhaps posts about dealing with our isolation, or tips to stay creative, how to make a mask, but that is not me. If I had any answers of any kind in this world, my life would be much different. Suffice it to say that I have my own struggles and this simple easy post about the most recent book I’ve read is my way of getting back into my creative brain. Plus, let’s be honest, this blog is still more for me than any readers. I have yet to have any such “readership” for various reasons which no one cares about. 

So let us begin. Here is my very simple book review format:

My Synopsis:

Kiranmala (or just Kiran) lives in New Jersey with her slightly odd parents. She wishes her parents were more “normal” and wishes they’d stop calling her a princess. Not only does she dislike the idea of helpless princesses, but she also hates the color pink. Unfortunately for her, she is, in fact, a very real Indian Princess from a very real other-dimensional world. This reality crashes in quite literally when a giant (and gross) demon smashes her home and two princes from another world show up to help. She needs help because mostly she is clueless as to why her parents are missing, how the heck she’s supposed to get them back, and how she could possibly be an actual princess.

Why I picked this book: 

Last June I attended the Rutgers Writing Conference (oddly enough in NJ) and it was a fascinating weekend of learning and meeting new people. One of the classes I took was taught by Sayantani DasGupta and she was absolutely amazing in so many ways. I was inspired by her and of course, needed to have a copy of her book (which she kindly signed for me). For no good reason, I hadn’t actually read the book until now. Books I purchase often stay on my shelf as the ones loaned from the library get priority due to the time limit I have with them. So this was the first quarantine book I choose once the library shut down.

What was disappointing: 

Nothing really. I mean, sure it starts out in New Jersey and I live in Philly so nothing exciting there. But New Jersey isn’t meant to be exciting and we certainly do not stay there very long. Maybe a part of me didn’t want to like this character at first because she seemed to try to hard to dislike princesses, but she is unswayed in her opinion and the reader is not forced into predictable clichés that you may expect.

Why I kept reading:

This is usually the part where I explain why I kept reading despite my a) slow start because I always have trouble getting emotionally attached, or b) feeling that things are rather predictable. But this had a very quick start, and I can honestly say I had no idea what was going to happen one page to the next. This was very refreshing in that it really does take you on a new journey.

Takeaway:

The main character is twelve years old and most of the time I felt she was much older. That is not to say that the author did a poor job of depicting a 12-year-old. Actually, this character is very well rounded and has a nice balance of emotions perfect for that age, something I’m not used to seeing in books. There is also a lot of science in this book that was unexpected for me. By no means is this a STEM book and the author’s notes clearly state that this is NOT to be used as a reference for real science in any way. However, using scientific theories and ideas to back up a fantasy world was very interesting. It keeps with the tone the MC has about “magic worlds and princesses” in that she is always looking for some fact in all of the madness. Like if Alice actually questioned her trip down the rabbit hole with a bit more thought process than just “curiouser and curiouser”.  I don’t even need a lot of explanation while I read fantasy as long is it makes sense in that world, but this was a nice new way to be in a made-up realm.

Final Thoughts:

As a white female born in America, this was a very refreshing story. I have pretty much zero knowledge of the folklores and myths used for the basis of the author’s story so I had no idea what to expect from the demons or lands they encountered. Nothing at all was predictable for me and I LOVED that! New customs, new foods, new monsters, new everything – I was so happy to escape from the same familiar fairy tales and mythology so I highly recommend this book.  There are three books in this series and I am so glad for it. All the characters are well fleshed out and believable, the adventure and action is super fun, and yeah, Kiran is a great heroin that is much welcomed in the Middle-Grade Fantasy genre. I’m looking forward to the next two books that I’m sure will be just as endearing, funny, and action-packed!

Post-Script:

I failed at all the riddles and definitely would not have survived. 

 

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews, MG Book Reviews, YA Book Reviews

Remembering the Good Times

by Richard Peck

 

NOTE: THIS IS A REBLOG FROM ONE YEAR AGO. I decided to repost because summertime often brings back memories of the time I spent with these kids. 

When I think back on this book it is very much like thinking on old friends. Such an incredible book that it absolutely has to be on my list of the three most influential books from my childhood. Previously I wrote about Prince Ombra and Out of the Bug Jar. They were both fairly innocent introductions to the world of fantasy and adventures, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience I had while reading Richard Peck’s book, which is not a fantasy at all. It is a drama for young adults, which seems very boring and certainly not anything I was interested in at the time. Continue reading “Remembering the Good Times”

Posted in Book Reviews, MG Book Reviews, page challenge

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig

By Chris Kurtz.

At my last library visit, I found a gem of a book that was the one I thought I’d like least of all. The library only had one of the six books I was searching for so I had to browse for good stories instead. I picked up this book because it was small and I liked the illustrations. I read a few pages from the middle and decided I liked the tone. I read the book flap and thought, “This will be a typical cute story. Maybe boring but good for research.” (I write middle grade so I like to read middle grade) I was surprisingly incorrect. Continue reading “The Adventures of a South Pole Pig”