Two 2017 Middle Grade Spec Fic Releases

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest dragon there is. And she’s ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when the human she finds tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw.

But she’s still the fiercest creature in the mountains — and now she’s found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is get herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time…won’t she?

  • The cover and genre of this book appealed to me, but when I came to the plot, I thought “That’s a bit too quirky for me” and didn’t add it to my TBR. After positive reviews from Ms. Yingling Reads, Charlotte’s Library, and Random Musings of a Bibliophile, I decided it might be worth a shot.
  • The story itself is a simple one. The appeal is in the combination of elements not usually taken together – dragons, apprenticeship, chocolate making, royal politics and elitism.
  • Aventurine, being a young dragon transformed into a human, brings a unique perspective to this style of fantasy. Youthful energy and dragon stubbornness combine for some interesting moments in Aventurine’s human form. I enjoyed reading about her new found passion for the craft of making chocolate.
  • The relationships Aventurine develops as she learns to trust in the love and support of others give this story some warmth.
  • I would enjoy a sequel that features more of Aventurine’s dragon family and the difficulty Aventurine may face in balancing her two identities.
  • The Bottom Line: A fun bedtime read that served its purpose in distracting me from grad school life.

Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eagar

Race to the bottom of the SeaWhen her parents, the great marine scientists Dr. and Dr. Quail, are killed in a tragic accident, eleven-year-old Fidelia Quail is racked by grief — and guilt. It was a submarine of Fidelia’s invention that her parents were in when they died, and it was she who pressed them to stay out longer when the raging Undertow was looming. But Fidelia is forced out of her mourning when she’s kidnapped by Merrick the Monstrous, a pirate whose list of treasons stretches longer than a ribbon eel. Her task? Use her marine know-how to retrieve his treasure, lost on the ocean floor. But as Fidelia and the pirates close in on the prize, with the navy hot on their heels, she realizes that Merrick doesn’t expect to live long enough to enjoy his loot. Could something other than black-hearted greed be driving him? Will Fidelia be able to master the perils of the ocean without her parents — and piece together the mystery of Merrick the Monstrous before it’s too late?

  • Not quite sure where to start with this book. It turned out to be a lot more mature, and fairly dark, than I expected.
  • The details of Fidelia’s parents’ death alarmed me a bit. I had expected them to have died prior to the start of the story. The fact that the Fidelia had invented the submarine in which they died was tough enough. But then add the fact that she decided to ignore an incoming storm, when her mom explicitly asked if they needed to head in for safety… ouch.
  • I generally enjoy having adult characters interact equally with the younger main characters in middle grade novels. However, all the characters aside from Fidelia are adults, and most of the story is really their story. I often felt like Fidelia was just along for the ride. For her part of the story, she does learn to be herself again after the death of her parents, but the plot is driven by the actions of the adults.
  • My opinion of this book isn’t as bad as you might think! There are a lot of fun elements that made this an entertaining read – pirates, ocean faring, sea creatures, and Fidelia’s inventions.
  • The Bottom Line: Another fun read, but darker and more mature than The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. Not recommended for sensitive readers.

Have you read any speculative fiction releases (especially middle grade) from this year? What are your favourites?

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday #4

Diversity Spotlight Thursday
Hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks

Read and Enjoyed: The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutsie

The Abyss Surrounds UsFor Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Goodreads | While The Abyss Surrounds Us didn’t have the vivid world building that I was hoping for, I’d recommend it for the human relationships. I expected Santa Elena to be Cas’s love interest (which may have been a bit Stockholm syndrome-y), but that role goes to another female crew member. I liked how Cas’s crush develops subtly and naturally. There is also some interesting exploration of us vs. them mentalities (good guys vs bad guys, rich people vs poor people). As far as I can tell, this is not an own voices novel (please let me know if you can confirm otherwise).

Released but Not Yet Read: One Half From the East by Nadia Hashimi

One Half from the EastObayda’s family is in need of some good fortune. Her father lost one of his legs in a bomb explosion, forcing the family to move from their home city of Kabul to a small village, where life is very different and Obayda’s father almost never leaves his room. One day, Obayda’s aunt has an idea to bring the family luck—dress Obayda, the youngest of her sisters, as a boy, a bacha posh. Now Obayda is Obayd. Life in this in-between place is confusing, but once Obayda meets another bacha posh, everything changes. The two of them can explore the village on their own, climbing trees, playing sports, and more. But their transformation won’t last forever—unless the two best friends can figure out a way to make it stick and make their newfound freedoms endure.

Goodreads | My sister brought this book home from a HarperCollins event. The setting caught my eye. Not own voices – Hashimi was born and raised in America to first-generation Afghani immigrants. Her website states she was “surrounded by a large family of aunts, uncles and cousins, keeping the Afghan culture an integral part of their daily lives”.

Not Yet Released: Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

Beasts Made of NightIn the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

Goodreads | Look at the cover! Then read that description! Are you sold on this one now? 😛 This debut comes from a Black American author.

What books would you select for Diversity Spotlight Thursday? Leave a link in the comment if you’ve already written about it!
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Diversity Spotlight Thursday #2

Diversity Spotlight Thursday
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Read and Enjoyed: Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

Star-Crossed by Barbara DeeMattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Goodreads | Whoohoo,  I finally get to review this book! I had it on hold at the library for sometime before it was released March 14. I felt like I had to wait agggeeees for it to come in. I would have bought it at Chapters but they didn’t have it in store. Anyway. I was able to enjoy the entire book last Sunday while I was out at the lake.

What I love most about Star-Crossed is that it doesn’t complicate Mattie’s feeling. Mattie recently had a crush on a boy, and now she has a crush on a girl. Some of her friends try to comment on that (Can you like boys and girls? Is she gay now?) but Mattie avoids any attempt to label herself. She’s only in grade eight, and all she knows for now is that she has a crush on a girl (and that doesn’t mean she can’t have a crush on a boy). I imagine at that age, when you’re just figuring things out, it’s not necessary to come away with a concrete definition of your sexual or romantic identity.

Mattie does fret a little about what her classmates may think of her. She wonders that while hypothetically her classmates aren’t homophobic, how would they react around a real girl who likes another real girl? The overall arc of the story is less about Mattie coming to terms with her feelings (she likes girls and boys, she knows that) and more about Mattie making her own decisions. The people she comes out to don’t make a big deal about it and are supportive. I cheered for Mattie at the end, which I thought was a perfect conclusion.

The story also feels very realistic and grounded in how Mattie’s crush develops and how she interacts with her friends and classmates. I thought the development of her crush on Gemma in particular was very cute. I recognize myself going through similar motions when I was in middle school!

How Dee incorporated Shakespeare both through the class play and classroom lessons also really impressed me. I actually just saw a production of Romeo and Juliet a few weeks ago, so the play was fresh in my mind. I remember studying the play in high school. My classmates had many similar reactions as Mattie’s classmates. Dee makes Shakespeare intriguing and fun, showing that his work doesn’t have to be indecipherable for young people.

Further reading: Review by Danika @ The Lesbrary | “Please Don’t Talk About Your LGBTQ+ Book”: Barbara Dee on “Star-Crossed” and Her Recent School Visit Experience (interview @ SLJ)

 Released but Not Yet Read: The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

The People of Forever ARe Not AfraidYael, Avishag, and Lea grow up together in a tiny, dusty Israeli village, attending a high school made up of caravan classrooms, passing notes to each other to alleviate the universal boredom of teenage life. When they are conscripted into the army, their lives change in unpredictable ways, influencing the women they become and the friendship that they struggle to sustain. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines the stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view. They drill, constantly, for a moment that may never come. They live inside that single, intense second just before danger erupts.

Goodreads | This book has been on my TBR for a veery long time (#78 out of 718). I don’t think I’ve read any novels set in Israel. This own voices book sounds like an intense read.

Not Yet Released: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Girls Made of Snow and GlassAt sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

Goodreads | This one popped up in my GoodReads feed just the other day. Sounds like a retelling I can get behind! It’s not clear from the description, but reviewers have been mentioning a relationship between two girls. Look for it on September 5.

What books would you select for Diversity Spotlight Thursday? Leave a link in the comment if you’ve already written about it!
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Read Diverse 2017
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Spring 2017 Diverse Reads

2017 Diverse Reads banner

  • March (disability – club foot) – Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
  • April (mental health – depression) – More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
  • June (sexuality and gender identity – transboy) When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

Handbook for Dragon Slayer'sThirteen-year-old Princess Matilda, whose lame foot brings fear of the evil eye, has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess’s responsibilities.

When a greedy cousin steals Tilda’s lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.

 

  • First book I read by Merrie Haskell, though I have already read another!
  • This book received a positive own voices review at Disability in Kid Lit, which led me to select it for the March topic. Aimee Louw writes far more eloquently about Tilda’s club foot than I could, so be sure to check out her post. I especially agree with her observation that the “dichotomy between the desire to improve or better oneself and the perceived need to overcompensate for the lower expectations placed on oneself because of disability was portrayed exceptionally well.”
  • One aspect of the book I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did was the setting. Handbook for Dragonslayers takes place in a more realistic medieval setting than I’ve encountered in most children’s literature. The presence of religion plays a significant role in that. I love that Tilda wanted to join a cloister so she could copy books. The concept of sin influences Tilda’s actions; she celebrates Christmas Day. Other details that added realism for me included Tilda’s duties as a princess and the design of the castle.
  • I found it a little heartbreaking that part of the reason Tilda wants to become a grand writer is to disprove the cruel things people believe about her. I don’t have the direct quote, but there was a line about how Tilda wanted to be free of people who thought they knew her (pg. 52). That’s a feeling I think many readers have experienced at one time or the other. It gives able-bodied readers like myself a better insight into what Tilda experiences.
  • Although not much else about the plot or characters stands out for me now, fans of the genre will likely enjoy Handbook for Dragon Slayers  (as long as they don’t expect too much of the dragons!).

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than NotIn the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

 

  • Finally read a book by Adam Silvera! He’s a popular author in my Twittersphere. If it weren’t for this challenge, I wouldn’t have read any of his books as I’m generally not a fan of the genre (contemporary) or the type of stories (mostly dark, romance-centric) he writes. That’s the main reason for my low rating. More Happy Than Not just isn’t the my thing.
  • That being said, I thought the story picked up when the Leteo Institute started to play a role, and I enjoyed the later part of the novel far more than the earlier part.
  • A lot of things about the book didn’t suite my tastes; that doesn’t mean they were poorly written or objectively bad. Own voices reviewers have highlighted how important the story is to them and how realistic it is (1 | 2 | 3 ; thanks to Taryn for bringing some of these to my attention). However, I found Aaron’s stubborn opinion on Thomas’ sexuality frustrating and wish it could have been identified as problematic within the story. And I’m not even talking about bierasure – I was thinking about making assumptions about other people and taking that as truth with no truth from the person themself.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

When the Moon Was OursTo everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

 

  • Thanks to Monika @ The Lovely Bookshelf, from whom I won a copy of this book in a giveaway! You can read her review here.
  • Ooh, what to say about this one? When the Moon Was Ours exemplifies why I love magical realism (it can make me fall in love with a YA novel!). All those wonderful things you’ve heard about it are true.
  • McLemore’s prose elevates this book to a high rating for me. In crafting a magical realism tale, she takes the opportunity to describe wonderous sights and miraculous happenings. Her descriptions of the colour of pumpkins and roses, the relationship between the Bonner girls, and the glows of Sam’s moons are just a few examples that come to mind.
  • McLemore’s prose creates not only beautiful imagery; she also builds her characters through evocative descriptions. One example that stood out to me: “Because together they had so much shared gravity they pulled toward that navy blue houses anything they wanted. Because they were four brilliant red lynxes, and she could not run” (pg. 44).
  • I was totally into the romantic relationship. Gasp, a romance I can get behind?! I liked that Sam and Miel already had a strong relationship at the start of the novel and were essentially ready to proceed to a romantic relationship. There are some steamy scenes in this book, which I credit entirely to McLemore’s evocative and creative writing. She addresses physical interaction without being too explicit – i.e. it’s still beautiful prose without turning to clunky descriptions of physical movement, yet it is also specific enough to clearly portray the interactions (and the complexity of those interactions) between Miel and Sam.
  • Even the afterword I found touching. It sounds like McLemore drew a lot of inspiration from her and her husband (who is trans)’s relationship in writing this novel.
  • Highly recommended. Will likely be in my top ten reads of the year.

These last three books are pretty diverse in their genres, let alone their characters. Have you read any of them? Which one would you be most interested in reading?
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Read Diverse 2017
This post counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 reviewing challenge!

Diversity Spotlight Thursday #1

Diversity Spotlight Thursday
Hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks

Finally, I’ve written a Diversity Spotlight Thursday post! The purpose of this meme is to share three diverse books: One you’ve read and enjoyed, one release that you haven’t yet read, and one that hasn’t yet been released. I actually enjoy reading this meme on other blogs. It’s a great way to promote diverse books and find new ones to add to the TBR. (I haven’t seen many posts about this lately so I’m not sure it’s a still a thing?? I like the idea anyway, haha.)

Read and Enjoyed: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Amina's Voice

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Goodreads | I’m also participating in the 2017 Diverse Reads Challenge, which has a theme for each month. I somehow mixed up April and May’s themes, which meant I read Amina’s Voice in April. (I had selected it to keep with May’s themes of ‘religious diversity’.)

I’m going to talk about this book from my personal perspective, a White girl who attended church as a kid. (I think this book would be a great read for Pakistani-American kids, but that’s not really my case to make.) Many of my friends also attended Sunday school. I didn’t know anyone who was particularly zealous about it. For most of us, it was just something we did. In Amina’s Voice, going to a mosque, participating in a religious community, etc. are everyday activities – ones that won’t seem so ‘foreign’ for church going kids.

Some of Amina’s problems come from those activities (she has to participate in a Qu’ran recitation competition but she has severe stage fright), but she worries about her friendships as much as you would except a middle grader to. The relationships Amina has with her friends and family felt very realistic. Her parents are positive figures in her life. In particular, I appreciated the missteps and assumptions she made about her friendships with Soojin and Emily. There is a lot for readers to connect with in this book, whether in the joys and trials Amina finds in her religion or in her relationships with friends and family.

The book that I should have read in April (mental health) but am going to read this month instead is…

Released but Not Yet Read: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

Goodreads | More Happy Than NotTwitter brought Adam Silvera to my attention. I decided to give him a go for the Diverse Reads challenge, as I likely wouldn’t pick up his books otherwise (I’m not big on contemporary YA). I have heard a lot about his new release, History is All You Left Me, but MHTN’s premise appeals to me more. I always forget about that little scifi bit at the end – I’m definitely curious as to how it plays out.

Not Yet Released: the Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

The Library of FatesNo one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The unthinkable happens, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos of a palace under siege. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Goodreads | That gorgeous cover and library reference in the title convinced me to add this to my TBR without even knowing what it is about. Look for it on July 18.

This post focuses all on 2017 releases. I hope to highlight more backlist diverse books in future posts. What books would you select for Diversity Spotlight Thursday? Leave a link in the comment if you’ve already written about it!
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Read Diverse 2017
This post counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 reviewing challenge!