ARC Review: Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Ghost Girl
Author: Ally Malinenko
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: eARC
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: August 10, 2021
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Recommended for fans of: Small Spaces, City of Bones
Content Warnings: absent parents, bullying

SYNOPSIS

Perfect for fans of Small Spaces and Nightbooks, Ally Malinenko’s middle-grade debut is an empowering and triumphant ghost story—with spooky twists sure to give readers a few good goosebumps!

Zee Puckett loves ghost stories. She just never expected to be living one.

It all starts with a dark and stormy night. When the skies clear, everything is different. People are missing. There’s a creepy new principal who seems to know everyone’s darkest dreams. And Zee is seeing frightening things: large, scary dogs that talk and maybe even . . . a ghost.

When she tells her classmates, only her best friend, Elijah, believes her. Worse, mean girl Nellie gives Zee a cruel nickname: Ghost Girl.

But whatever the storm washed up isn’t going away. Everyone’s most selfish wishes start coming true in creepy ways.

To fight for what’s right, Zee will have to embrace what makes her different and what makes her Ghost Girl. And all three of them—Zee, Elijah, and Nellie—will have to work together if they want to give their ghost story a happy ending.

MY THOUGHTS

This spooky middle grade book is perfect for the upcoming Halloween season!

I loved the strong characters. Zee is a headstrong, brave storyteller with a strong sense of justice who learns she can communicate with ghosts. I loved her relationship with her 21-year-old sister Abby who is raising her while their father is away for work. Zee’s best friend Elijah is smart and compassionate, but he has a tense relationship with his father because of his weight and interests. Nellie begins the book as a bully, but there is more to her than meets the eye.

I enjoyed Malinenko’s writing style, and I liked the way she included commentary on gender biases, body image issues, and identify for a middle grade audience.

While the spooky vibes started off strong, the paranormal aspects of the story overall fell flat to me. The writing could be a bit repetitive at times. The backstory and lore were underdeveloped, so there were a lot of pieces without clear connections to each other. While all the big things were resolved at the end, I was left with a lot of questions about things that happened throughout the book.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the eARC.

ARC Review: The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow by Emma Steinkellner

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow
Author: Emma Steinkellner
Series: The Okay Witch #2
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Graphic Novel (eARC)
Length: 256 pages
Publisher: Aladdin
Release Date: July 6, 2021
Source: Publisher via Netgalley

SYNOPSIS

In this hilarious and heartwarming sequel to the bestselling and critically acclaimed graphic novel, The Okay Witch, half-witch Moth Hush uses magic to boost her confidence with disastrous results—perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Molly Ostertag!

Moth Hush is starting to settle into her newfound witch heritage and powers, but life at school continues to be rough. Even her best friend, Charlie, doesn’t entirely understand what it’s like for her to always be the one who gets mocked, and things only get worse when Moth’s mom starts dating one of the dorkiest teachers in the school! Then Moth gets hold of a mysterious charm that can unleash another version of herself—one who is confident, cool, and extremely popular. What could possibly go wrong?

MY THOUGHTS

I love this middle grade graphic novel series!

Moth’s experiences are so relatable to middle grade audiences. In this book, Moth struggles with bullying and her desire to fit in with her classmates, even if it means compromising who she is and doing something dangerous. Moth makes mistakes, but she learns from them. This book also explores Moth’s race more than the first book did.

I liked the first book a little bit more, but this still knocks it out of the park. I adore watching Moth master her developing witchy powers while dealing with typical teenage issues in this heartfelt series. I recommend this series for all ages, but especially upper elementary and middle grade children.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for gifting me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Okay Witch
Author: Emma Steinkellner
Series: The Okay Witch #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 272 pages
Publisher: Aladdin
Release Date: September 3, 2019
Source: Personal collection

SYNOPSIS

Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Roller Girl in this hilarious, one-of-a-kind graphic novel about a half-witch who has just discovered the truth about herself, her family, and her town and is doing her best to survive middle school now that she knows everything!

Magic is harder than it looks.

Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens. It turns out that Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, has a centuries-old history of witch drama. And, surprise: Moth’s family is at the center of it all! When Moth’s new powers show up, things get totally out-of-control. She meets a talking cat, falls into an enchanted diary, and unlocks a hidden witch world. Secrets surface from generations past as Moth unravels the complicated legacy at the heart of her town, her family, and herself.

In this spellbinding graphic novel debut, Emma Steinkellner spins a story packed with humor and heart about the weird and wonderful adventures of a witch-in-progress.

MY THOUGHTS

This middle grade graphic novel was absolutely charming and delightful! I loved Moth as she struggled to fit in at school and grow into her magic. Her new friendship with fellow outcast Charles was so sweet.

This story focuses on three generations of Hush witches. Each complex woman had a very different idea about what it means to be a witch and how to use their powers, but their desires made sense considering their different experiences.

The story explored many important themes for young readers, such as the idea that you are not bound by your legacy and can choose your own path instead. It also had an awesome ending! I can’t wait for the sequel, and I hope everyone reads this. Even though it is targeted for children, readers of all ages can enjoy and learn something from this graphic novel.

Series Review: The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan

BOOK STATS

Overall Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Trials of Apollo
Author: Rick Riodan
Genre: Fantasy/Mythology
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Audiobooks
Narrator: Robbie Daymond
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion; Listening Library
Source: Library (Libby app)
Recommended for fans of: Percy Jackson, The Heroes of Olympus, Greek Mythology
Content Warnings: violence, death

#1 The Hidden Oracle
Pub. Date: May 3, 2016
Length: 13 hours (375 pages)
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

#2 The Dark Prophecy
Pub. Date: May 2, 2017
Length: 12 hours (414 pages)
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

#3 The Burning Maze
Pub. Date: May 1, 2018
Length: 13 hours (448 pages)
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

#4 The Tyrant’s Tomb
Pub. Date: September 24, 2019
Length: 13 hours (439 pages)
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

#5 The Tower of Nero
Pub. Date: October 6, 2020
Length: 12 hours (410 pages)
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

BOOK ONE SYNOPSIS

How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disorientated, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus’s favour.

But Apollo has many enemies—gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go… an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood.

MY THOUGHTS

Even though this is Rick Riordan’s third Greek mythology series, he keeps it fresh by making the main character Apollo cursed into the body of a mortal teenager rather than a demigod. Like The Heroes of Olympus, this series fuses Greek and Roman mythology and history, with the antagonists being ancient Roman emperors.

Apollo was HILARIOUS describing his past godly adventures and current frustrations with mortality. However, with each installment, he gained a greater understanding of what it means to be human. Apollo became a much more endearing protagonist as he was continually forced to embrace his human emotions, confront his past, and make sacrifices for others.

Each book featured a few characters from Riordan’s previous series. I enjoyed getting to check in with each beloved character, but they were integrated into the series in a way that didn’t pull focus away from Apollo’s trials. And as always, I appreciate Riordan’s commitment to writing diverse characters.

Although…Rick Riordan WENT PLACES I DID NOT EXPECT IN A MIDDLE GRADE SERIES! But certain YA authors need to take note, because that’s how it’s done (that’s all I can say without spoilers).

The last book was FANTASTIC. Riordan knows how to write an epic and emotional conclusion to a series. I highly recommend this series to anyone who has read Riordan’s previous Greek mythology series and wants more!

Review: Amari and the Night Brothers

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Amari and the Night Brothers
Author: B.B. Alston
Series: Supernatural Investigations #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Imani Parks
Length: 11 hours (416 pages)
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: January 18, 2021
Source: Library

SYNOPSIS

Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?

Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.

Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.

With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

MY THOUGHTS

This is a fantastic middle grade book about a secret supernatural world. Amari has always felt like an outcast as a poor, black girl attending a private school on a scholarship. When she is invited to a summer camp for supernatural agents on her missing brother’s recommendation, she thinks she may have finally found a place she can belong, but she is still ostracized because she has the powers of a magician, and magic is illegal.

This story is incredibly nuanced in its explorations of race and identity. Amari is an incredible character who just wants to prove herself and save her brother despite the numerous obstacles in her path. I also loved the supporting characters in this story; every character was fully developed, complicated, and real.

There was a major twist at the end that I should have seen coming, but I was totally taken by surprise because the writing and storytelling was so superb. I highly recommend this for young and mature readers alike, and I cannot wait for the next book to come out!

ARC Review: The World Between Blinks by Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: The World Between Blinks
Authors: Amie Kaufman & Ryan Graudin
Series: The World Between Blinks #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: ARC
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Release Date: January 5, 2021
Source: Goodreads giveaway
Recommended for fans of: Alice in Wonderland, whimsical MG fantasies

SYNOPSIS

Discover a magical world where lost things are found.

Whenever cousins Jake and Marisol get together, adventure follows. They have their late Nana to thank for that. Her epic trips and treasure hunts were the stuff of family legend.

This summer, with the whole family reuniting for one last vacation at Nana’s home, the cousins are in for a legendary trip of their own.

Following a map Nana left behind, Jake and Marisol sneak out to a nearby lighthouse—then accidentally slip into another world! The World Between Blinks is a magical place where all kinds of lost things (and people!) end up. Everywhere they turn, the cousins find real mysteries from history—plus a few they thought were only myths.

But the man who holds the key to Jake and Marisol’s return journey doesn’t want to be found . . . and if the cousins don’t catch him fast, they could end up lost in this world for good.

MY THOUGHTS

This middle grade fantasy gave me all the warm fuzzies. It started off a bit slow for me, but I was charmed by the strong characters, whimsical world, and magical adventure featuring people, places, and things that were lost from history.

This book teaches kids important lessons about when to hold on, when to let go, and how to embrace the bad alongside the good.

I expected this book to be cute, but I loved it so much! I am so excited to add this to my classroom library. The World Between Blinks is reminiscent of childhood classics where children separated from their parents navigate fantastical worlds like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, The Phantom Tollbooth, and A Wrinkle in Time.

Review: The Stonekeeper’s Curse by Kazu Kibuishi

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Stonekeeper’s Curse
Author: Kazu Kibuishi
Series: Amulet #2
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 220 pages
Publisher: Graphix
Release Date: September 1, 2009
Source: Personal collection

SYNOPSIS

In this thrilling sequel to AMULET #1: THE STONEKEEPER, Emily and her brother Navin head for Kanalis, a beautiful and mysterious city of waterfalls, where they hope to find the antidote for the poison that felled their mother. That cure lies in the eggs of a giant serpent atop Demon’s Head Mountain, but the kids’ archenemy, Trellis, is headed for the peak, too. A battle that will engulf all of Kanalis is looming. It’s up to Em to triumph over evil while controlling the amulet’s power . . . without losing herself!

MY THOUGHTS

I liked this a lot more than the first book. With the groundwork laid in the first book that introduced readers to Alledia and the magic of the amulet, there was room for so much more world building in this installment. It was so fun to see an actual town full of magical characters, fearsome elves, and talking trees.

I also enjoyed the new characters and the character development. Emily struggles to take control of the Amulet and do the right thing, while Navin earns more agency of his own.

There was more action in this installment as well, and overall it was a more exciting and enjoyable read. I’m excited to continue reading this series!

Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Paranormal
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Length: 8 hours (307 pages)
Publisher: HarperCollins; HarperAudio
Release Date: September 30, 2008
Source: Library (Libby)

SYNOPSIS

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Well, he would be perfectly normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the world of the dead.

There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard: the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer; a gravestone entrance to a desert that leads to the city of ghouls; friendship with a witch, and so much more.

But it is in the land of the living that real danger lurks, for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.

A deliciously dark masterwork by bestselling author Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by award-winning Dave McKean.

MY THOUGHTS

Neil Gaiman is an author that I want to love, but his books have been hit or miss for me. Unfortunately, this book didn’t totally do it for me.

I love the creative and whimsical storytelling, the ghosts and the Jacks, but I just wanted more from this book. I think this is a great spooky choice for middle grade readers, but as an adult I was not fully absorbed in the story.

Review: Lumberjanes, Vol. 2 by Noelle Stevenson et al.

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Lumberjanes, Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max
Author: Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, Maarta Laiho, Aubry Aiese
Series: Lumberjanes #5-8
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 111 pages
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Release Date: October 13, 2015
Source: Personal collection

SYNOPSIS

What a mystery!

Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are not your average campers and Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types is not your average summer camp. Between the river monsters, magic, and the art of friendship bracelets, this summer is only just beginning. Join the Lumberjanes as they take on raptors and a sibling rivalry that only myths are made of.

This New York Times bestseller and Eisner Award-nominated series is written by awesome all-star Noelle Stevenson and brilliant newcomer Grace Ellis, and illustrated by the tremendously talented Brooke Allen.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max includes issues 5-8.

MY THOUGHTS

Lumberjanes is fun and cute, but I’m not totally wowed by the storytelling in this series. Since this nicely wrapped up the plot lines introduced in Volume 1, I don’t feel compelled to continue with the series. I have the first two volumes in my classroom library for my comic book class, but I don’t see myself purchasing additional volumes in the series unless a high student demand develops.

Review: Dead Voices by Katherine Arden

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Dead Voices
Author: Katherine Arden
Series: Small Spaces #2
Genre: Paranormal
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Renee Dorian
Length: 5 hours (256 pages)
Publisher: Listening Library; G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 26, 2019
Source: Library (Libby app)
Recommended for fans of:

SYNOPSIS

Bestselling author Katherine Arden returns with another creepy, spine-tingling adventure in this follow-up to the critically acclaimed Small Spaces.

Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire.

Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the smiling man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE.

With Mr. Voland’s help, Ollie, Coco, and Brian reach out to the dead voices at Mount Hemlock. Maybe the ghosts need their help–or maybe not all ghosts can or should be trusted.

Dead Voices is a terrifying follow-up to Small Spaces with thrills and chills galore and the captive foreboding of a classic ghost story.

MY THOUGHTS

Dead Voices was just as creepy and spooky as Small Spaces. I enjoyed the addition of Coco’s POV to Ollie’s; it was nice to get another perspective (and it was necessary to tell this story) and gain more insights into her character.

The haunted boarding school turned isolated ski lodge was such a creepy setting, because the renovations to the building did nothing to change its ghostly inhabitants. Small Spaces felt very influenced by urban legends, but Dead Voices was more of a traditional ghost story.

I found the conflict to be a bit too similar to the first book’s encounter with the smiling man, but I still really enjoyed this book and I can’t wait for the next book in this series.