Middle Grade Review: Rocket to the Moon!

Rocket to the Moon! by Don Brown

Series: Big Ideas that Changed the World
Genres: Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Graphic Novel
Maturity Level: 1
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” when the Apollo 11 landed on the moon. But it wasn’t just one man who got us to the moon. Rocket to the Moon! explores the people and technology that made the moon landing possible. Instead of examining one person’s life, it focuses on the moon landing itself, showing the events leading up to it and how it changed the world. The book takes readers through the history of rocket building: from ancient Chinese rockets, to “bombs bursting in air” during the War of 1812, to Russia’s Sputnik program, to the moon landing.

For kids who enjoyed learning about science from The Magic School Bus, learning about history from Big Ideas might be a great fit. But ultimately I found that graphic novel was maybe not the best medium for a non-fiction title.

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Review: The Angel of the Crows

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

Genre: Fantasy
Maturity Level: 4- (non-graphic disembowelment)
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings under a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.

Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

I loved this book! Sherlock fan-fiction set in a London with every supernatural creature you’ve ever thought of (and some you haven’t) and a vaugly steampunk vibe, plus Jack the Ripper. What’s not to love?

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Review: Caterpillar Summer

Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

Genre: Middle Grade
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Cat and her brother Chicken have always had a very special bond–Cat is one of the few people who can keep Chicken happy. When he has a “meltdown” she’s the one who scratches his back and reads his favorite story. She’s the one who knows what Chicken needs. Since their mom has had to work double-hard to keep their family afloat after their father passed away, Cat has been the glue holding her family together.

But even the strongest glue sometimes struggles to hold. When a summer trip doesn’t go according to plan, Cat and Chicken end up spending three weeks with grandparents they never knew. For the first time in years, Cat has the opportunity to be a kid again, and the journey she takes shows that even the most broken or strained relationships can be healed if people take the time to walk in one another’s shoes.

This book hit me right in the feels. As a daughter, as a mother, as a sister, I related to this book in so many ways and on so many levels. It was gut wrenching but heart warming.

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Review: I’ll Be the One

I’ll be the One by Lyla Lee

Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her.

She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.

When Skye nails her audition, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality TV. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.

But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself.

This book was so fun! I wish it had been available back in June when I was really craving light, feel-good books because it would have really hit the spot. It’s exactly what you would expect based on the cover and blurb.

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5-Star Prediction Posts Confuse Me

This is going to be a short discussion today, but I’ve been seeing a lot of posts in which the author predicts their next five-star read, or books they think will be five-stars for them in the next month/6 months/whatever.

The main thing that confuses me about this is… do you read books you don’t think will be five-star reads? I mean, I’m not here to tell you what to do, but there are SO MANY amazing books out there, and it seems like a waste of time to read something you’re not expecting to LOVE. I’m pretty excited about every single book on my 2020 must-read list, I’m definitely not going to interrupt that with a book I’m like, “meh, this will probably be okay” about.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect that every book I read will be a five-star book. If I’m being honest, I pretty much assume books will be four-star reads (four-stars means LOVED it!), and then the five-star books are always a happy surprise. But that’s just it, they’re always a surprise! How can you predict when and where lightning will strike?

If anything, when I go into a book saying “I KNOW this is going to be my favorite book of the year” I’m almost always disappointed. I think we’ve all experienced the let-down of over-hyping a book, which is maybe another reason those posts confuse me.

Do you try to predict your five-star books? How successful are you? Let me know in the comments!

Middle Grade Review: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Genre: Middle Grade
Maturity Level: 1
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who treated him with the utmost care and adored him completely.

And then, one day, he was lost.

Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the top of a garbage heap to the fireside of a hoboes’ camp, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. And along the way, we are shown a true miracle — that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again.

Kate DiCamillo’s books are always whimsical and heartwarming and never fail to make me cry. Edward Tulane was no exception.

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Review: The Year of the Witching

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Genre: Fantasy
Maturity Level: 3
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her. 

If you like atmospheric, brooding novels about witches toppling the patriarchy, look no further! If you’re looking for something mature and nuanced, or if you’re looking for terrifying horror, this isn’t the right book for you.

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Middle Grade Review: Shadow Weaver

Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

Series: Shadow Weaver
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 1
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

Emmeline’s gift of controlling shadows has isolated her from the rest of the world, but she’s grown to be content, hidden away in her mansion with Dar, her own shadow, as her only company.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.

Having made my way through the other Texas Bluebonnet nominees for 2019-2020, I’m just not sure how this book made the list. It was fine, but there are so many better middle-grade fantasies out there with more nuance and depth. Nor was this book exciting enough that you could categorize it as a “fun” read.

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Review: Harrow the Ninth

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Series: The Locked Tomb
Genre: Fantasy
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

WARNING: Gideon the Ninth spoilers ahead!

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

This book is going to be very difficult to talk about this book without spoiling it, so forgive me if this review is short and vague.

My biggest concern about this book going in was that I was worried that without reading from Gideon’s point of view I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. I mean, Gideon’s amazing voice was 1,000% of why I enjoyed the first Locked Tomb novel so much. And I was right, I didn’t enjoy Harrow quite as much. But Muir somehow still managed to deliver the feel of a locked-door mystery, which was the other 25% of what I loved about Gideon.

And I ended up becoming rather fond of Harrow. It was nice to get to know her and understand what made her so … bitchy. While I can’t claim to understand any of the magic involved with Lyctorhood (and therefore this book), getting insights into her past was fascinating.

What really kept me reading was my desperation to figure out what was going on. Without giving anything away this is hard to explain, but Harrow is written in such a way that the reader is going to be VERY confused. While I kind of loved that about Gideon, especially since it was mostly because Gideon herself couldn’t be bothered to understand anything, in Harrow I found it aggravating.

Muir’s writing (and her world-building) is, in general, so odd that I’m never fully sure I understand what’s happening in her books, especially when the climax comes around. But I didn’t get the end of Harrow at all. If someone wants to explain it to me in the comments, much appreciated. This is definitely a book I’ll have to re-read before I’ll feel I understand it well.

In the end I went ahead and gave this book four stars because of course I am going to buy book 3. But it was really more of a 4- for me. Obviously recommended for fans of Gideon the Ninth, but for everyone else READ GIDEON FIRST!

Middle Grade Review: Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen

Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen by Niki Lenz

Genres: Middle Grade, Humor
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

When you’re a Buttman, the label “bully” comes with the territory, and Bernice lives up to her name. But life as a bully is lonely, and if there’s one thing Bernice really wants (even more than becoming a Hollywood stuntwoman), it’s a true friend.

After her mom skedaddles and leaves her in a new town with her aunt (who is also a real live nun), Bernice decides to mend her ways and become a model citizen. If her plan works, she just might be able to get herself to Hollywood Hills Stunt Camp! But it’s hard to be kind when no one shows you kindness, so a few cheesy pranks may still be up her sleeve. . . .

This was a moderately funny book, but most of the humor relied on classist stereotypes that made me uncomfortable. Kids will probably enjoy this modern update of The Worst School Year Ever, but it shouldn’t be considered the meat-and-potatoes of their reading diet.

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