Poignant, important, and all about discovering your own space--your space within yourself, your space amongst other people, and your space in the world. (Puns, yes, but serious meanings? Also yes.)
Emotional resonance: ★★★★★
Handling of topics: ★★★★★
Pluto is going through a difficult time. Recently diagnosed with depression and anxiety, it's not exactly what she had planned for the end of her seventh grade experience. 13-year-olds don't have to deal with this, do they? And if they do, why can't Pluto seem to handle it better? (Those are Pluto's harsh questions for herself.)
Not only is Pluto navigating her own struggle and trying to figure out how to get through it--her dad, located in New York City, thinks he knows what's best and wants Pluto to come to the city in order to get better.
Pluto doesn't want to leave her mom, and she doesn't want to go to the city. So it's time to make a list of what she needs to do in order to be "Pluto" again. If she can find herself and act like she used to, then she can stay...right?
Pluto is about to discover just what it means to be herself. And how, at the end of the day, she can chart her own path through the stars.
, My thoughts:
Wow, is this book filled with heart. I cried, I ached, I laughed, I smiled. Pluto's journey through love, self acceptance, and personal growth was something special to witness.
One of the poignant elements to me was Pluto's support system. Unlike other novels I've read, where the main character(s) might occasionally be unmoored without a robust group of loved ones around them, How to Become a Planet showcased a loving group of folks around Pluto wishing her the best, trying to help her, and helping her each step of the way in the best way they could. I found that added to the story immensely and left me with a feeling of warmth and safeness. I can only imagine how this would resonate with younger readers going through similar circumstances.
This is an important novel for young LGBT+ teens, and especially those at the younger end. I look forward to having this in my arsenal for book recommendations for children and parents alike.
I demand to know where books like these were when I was a kid! This was so much fun—humor, dark lords and unicorns, a young protagonist with Goals and Things to Do, and a whole lot of quirky adventures.
As the sole heir of the infamous Dark Lord Elithor, 12-year-old Clementine Morcerous has been groomed since birth to be the best (worst?) Evil Overlord she can be. This includes Dastardly Deeds, general rules about Evildoing from the Council of Dark Lords, and more.
Who knew the life of a Dark Lord could be so...whimsical?
Clementine, our young protagonist, is upset to discover that one day her father seems to be...chipping away. As if his body parts are being whittled down by some exterior force. At first, she's not concerned. Her father is often cursed by the other Dark Lords, that's par for the course in the Council. But usually those events are...flashier. More direct. And not a months on end process that her father actually seems to be losing.
What's a girl to do, besides get to the bottom of it?
With Clementine, her grimoire-turned-rogue-chicken "Gricken," a knight-in-training village boy, and a unicorn hunter in hiding, things are about to get INTERESTING.
I loved this story. For a middle grade novel, this was packed with humor, sophisticated language, and a lot of relevant moral messaging for kids and adults alike.
Clementine was a fantastic main character. I enjoyed the side characters, even as they were more trope-y and filled their humor niches. You always need some predictable comedic relief!
Honestly, I'm running out of things to say besides... I loved it all. If you like humor, fantasies that don't take themselves too seriously, and books that are more character-driven as opposed to plot-driven, check this one out!
Thank you to Algonquin for Young Readers for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
What does a small mom-and-pop haunted hotel do when a big chain business comes into town? Up their game, of course. Ghost-y style. This was so fun to read!
Characters: ★★★ 1/2
Do you like ghosts? Do you like light-hearted fun? Do you like middle grade? If you answered yes to any of those questions, I'd love to recommend this book directly to you.
I picked this up on a whim from my local bookstore because I was immediately drawn in by the title, The Second-Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street. It's a mouthful (true) but it's also the kind of title that screams to be read (ahhh!).
In this book, you can expect: a 6th grade girl doing her best in a family reeling from a recent tragedy, an eclectic family of ghosts that leap off of the page, a dramatic showdown between characters that reminded me heavily of the sense of drama in A Series of Unfortunate Events, and a whole lotta cool dialogue surrounding ghosts and their integrations into our "living" society.
Read it! I promise you'll have a good time.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
A family-run haunted hotel’s livelihood is threatened when a bigger haunted hotel opens nearby in this hilarious, spooky story...
Twelve-year-old Willow Ivan’s family has run the Hotel Ivan for four hundred years. Through thick and thin, they’ve held on tight to their title as the Best Haunted Hotel on Mercer Street. That is, until the Hauntery—a corporate chain of haunted hotels—moves in down the street. As the Ivan’s business fades, so do their ghostly staff. And Willow begins to worry that The Ivan’s days are numbered.
Then Willow meets Evie, a Hauntery ghost who’s forced to play the part of a Spooky Little Girl even though she longs to be a Terrifying Phantasm. So when Willow offers her a job at The Ivan, Evie accepts—but she doesn’t tell Willow that she’s still working for The Ivan’s competition, for fear of losing her new job and friend.
Together, the girls come up with a plan to save The Ivan. But with The Ivan ghosts already fading and Evie’s secret threatening to come out, will it be too late?
Oh Myrtle, Myrtle, Myrtle. She just keeps finding herself smack in the middle of a crime scene. What’s a smart, bored Young Lady of Quality stranded in a washed-up carnival town to do but follow the evidence to find out which of her fellow travelers is a thief and a murderer? This sequel was so much fun.
This sequel to the Myrtle Hardcastle mysteries was even more fun than the first one, and to be honest could be read first—up to you as the reader!
Myrtle is such a great character. Stuck in a time period where girls and women are usually confined to oppressive and restricted roles, Myrtle shucks tradition and decides to pursue her true passion: crime and science.
In this latest installment, things have seriously gone awry. Myrtle, her terrible Aunt Helena, her governess, and their cat, Peony, have all gone on a train trip to a far away seaside town. The last thing they expect to discover is a dead body on the train—pierced by Aunt Helena's own shears.
Can Myrtle solve the case and get to the bottom of it before it's too late?
Ah! There's something so special about discovering a middle grade series that holds up for us adults, too. Not that there is any expectation for a book to do so—if it's middle grade, the MOST important thing is that is should resonate with its young audience. But isn't it nice when a book crosses those age boundaries and becomes something for all?
That's what I would say this series excels at doing. Myrtle Hardcastle might be a 12 year old (with young moods and opinions) but her humor and situations appeal to all audiences. I loved watching Myrtle get to the bottom of the case in this one, too, and couldn't get enough of her adventures with Peony and the gang.
You go, Myrtle!
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
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The perfect mystery series for the young Sherlock Holmes in your life—or for anyone who enjoys historical mysteries with a modern sense of humor. Myrtle was a HOOT!
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Mystery: ★★★ 1/2
Myrtle Hardcastle has an Unconventional Obsession with crime. Unlike other Proper Young Ladies during these olden times, Myrtle doesn't like tea time, dresses, or spending time sitting still. She likes to investigate. And what's better to investigate than murders and crimes?
One morning, Myrtle is observing her neighbor's estate through her telescope and she notices something odd. Something is afoot at Redgraves, and the mistress of the house hasn't gotten up yet. As this highly irregular behavior, Myrtle calls it in to the police.
Turns out, her wealthy spinster neighbor has been murdered.
Myrtle Hardcastle is on the case. With her sharp-witted governess in tow and her prosecutor father in the background, Myrtle is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery—no matter what is at stake.
What a clever, funny, and engaging middle grade mystery novel. As someone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes-inspired tales and has a soft spot for plucky historical female characters, this was a win-win for me. While this series IS meant for a middle grade audience—and it is an excellent novel for that group—I would also highly recommend it to adults who love Deanna Raybourn and other such historical mystery writers as the tone and feel is quite similar.
A fun-filled ride from start to finish! Looking forward to catching more of Myrtle's antics in the sequel, How to Get Away with Myrtle.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
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This was adorable and nostalgic and everything we need to save us from 2020. A badger in a rut meets a skunk looking for a roommate—things will never be the same. Oh, and also there are chickens.
Badger is an Important Rock Scientist. He does Important Rock Things in his rock room, which is the living room of a brownstone building that his Aunt Lula lets him live in. Badger doesn't explore the city, he eats cereal everyday, and he never—ever—receives guests.
Then one day there is a knock at the door. Skunk has arrived.
Skunk was also told that he could live in Aunt Lula's brownstone. Aunt Lula thinks Badger needs a roommate. Aunt Lula also thinks Skunk needs a place to call home. (Life isn't easy for a skunk.) Badger didn't think he needed a roommate, but Lula owns the house so... Skunk is here to stay.
But it quickly becomes clear that Badger and Skunk have different ideas about life, noise, and...chickens?
What a cute, beautiful, heartwarming, and beautifully illustrated tale about two unlikely characters discovering what it means to be good. Skunk and Badger is the perfect tale for kids—the pleasing repetition of themes and sentence structure begs to be read aloud—and the themes of acceptance and love are applicable for all ages.
I loved reading this as an adult, so don't be shy! Beautiful story.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for Young Readers for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Filled with whimsy, adult-worthy dialogue, and the magic at the heart of the best types of middle grade. Fantastic book.
Concepts/World building: ★★★★★
The Trials of Morrigan Crow is one of those extremely rare middle grade novels: it's just as fun for us adults, too.
I think it's the MOST fun for those of us who grew up with Harry Potter, because this has something similar going for it. It's new, it's exciting, and the plot is too good to put down. I loved every aspect of this book, except for the fact that it ended. (Good thing it's a series.)
Morrigan Crow was born cursed. Because she's "cursed," everything that ever happens in her small town is blamed on her—from someone's pimple to a death to a surprise hail storm—and she's been told that she's going to die on her 11th birthday. Yep. Her life is...not the best.
But at the stroke of midnight on her 11th birthday, a strange man appears and says that Morrigan has a choice: run with him now, fast, and escape her fate. He says there's more out there, and Morrigan believes him because...well, anything is better than dying, right?
Just a hop, skip, and jump into another dimension and whole new world... Nevermoor.
So from my 5 stars, you should be able to tell that I loved this. I don't have negative thoughts, or "meh" thoughts. Just good ones. It's rare for me to read something and not have at least one thing to critique, or wish was more "my" taste, but this one did it. I loved it all.
If you like any of the following, pick this up immediately: portal fantasy, girl protagonists, magical hotels, endless rooms of whimsy, shadows, umbrellas, competitions, boarding schools, magical schools, colorful settings, cats, friendship plots, morbid humor, adventure, chosen one trope.
What a FANTASTIC middle grade series. Wild woods, magical creatures, conflicts, and a girl with the power of a queen inside her - oh my!
Character development: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
The Unready Queen is the sequel to Changeling, the first novel in the Oddmire series. Please read my review on Changeling here to avoid spoilers for the first novel.
So let's start of with a simple "wow," because this was such a great read. The Unready Queen picks up on the threads of the Wild Wood's story left behind at the end of Changeling and expands them in new directions. And not just any new direction, but toward a testy one: the Wild Wood's relationship with humans.
Fable is the daughter of the Queen of the Deep Dark, the protector of the Wild Wood and its magical inhabitants. At the end of the first book, when twins Tinn and Cole restore magic to the magical folk of the woods, they think their problems are over. Magic has returned, Fable can now be friends with humans, and all is well.
Well, not exactly.
There's a new man in town, and his name is Jacob Hill. He's interested in oil drilling—a topic instantly triggering for environmentalists, so I can bet you can see where this is going—and yep, you guessed it, he's decided to start crumbling away at the borders of the Wild Wood for financial gain. What could go wrong? To Hill, the woods are woods and the townsfolk's hesitation to go into the woods is a weakness he can exploit.
Rousing the town against the Wild Wood, Jacob Hill makes one very big, unforgivable mistake: he takes down an ancient magical tree.
Now the folk of the Wild Wood are pissed, and with their magic returned to them it is time for a reckoning—and the half-human Queen of the Deep Dark isn't to be trusted.
But what about Fable?
With the threads of destiny twining Fable, Tinn, Cole, and the usual cast tighter and tighter, it's only a matter of time before Fable has to decide who she's going to be and how that decision will impact those around her.
As this is a sequel, my initial reading experience was comparing it to the first one, and to answer the obvious, YES, this one was not only just as good, but better. I loved that this novel did not rehash the same messages or tropes—whereas the first novel deal with self-identity and ideas of family, The Unready Queen tackles concepts of responsibility, environmentalism, and finding your voice. This is very much Fable's story.
I will say that this novel is not as laugh-out-loud funny as the first one, but given the subject matter that makes a lot of sense. I appreciated the more somber tones interspersed with small moments of humor, love, and typical pre-teen antics.
My only real complaint is that it took a while for the story to get off the ground. I'm not sure if that was a pacing issue or just a personal thing for me as a reader, but I found the beginning much slower than the first book and extremely slow compared to its second half.
Thrilled to hear there will be a third book in 2021. Can't wait!
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
I was primed to love this because I love creepy woods, magic, goblins, and fairy tales... but this still surprised me anyway.
Changeling was such a fun middle grade read. Obviously I'm not the target audience, but this story entranced me and stuck out regardless. Good writing is good writing.
We all know the changeling story: in the dead of the night, a magical creature steals your baby and replaces it with an identical copy—the changeling. You then raise the being as your own. You never see your own human baby again.
But what if the goblin in charge of the switch messed up?
Kull the goblin stole his goblin horde's last changeling and is determined to do it himself. Golbin magic is fading, and Kull knows he must perform the historic ritual of stealing a human baby to set magic's balance in order again.
But as Kull places the changeling in the crib, the human baby's mother wakes up and interrupts him, forcing Kull to leave BOTH babies behind. Uh oh.
Tinn and Cole grow up as twins, knowing that one of them isn't the "real" boy. It doesn't bother them much. Annie Burton, their mother, is amazing--a boy is a boy, and she loves both of her troublesome boys equally. So what if she only gave birth to one? Now she has two.
But Kull hasn't forgotten. He spends 12 years watching, waiting, and trying to figure out which of the boys is his boy, the goblin. And he's running out of time... when the changeling turns 13 years old, he NEEDS to be back home in the magical world or he'll be in a lot of trouble—deadly trouble.
But how is a goblin to convince two wayward boys to come to the goblin horde?
It's time to draw them into the Wild Wood. With a map, they'll make it through just fine. The woods are only dangerous if you don't know where you're going. But these are two 12 year old boys...
...and they've just lost the map.
Wow. I loved this. My favorite aspect was easily Annie Burton, the boys' mother. The author's description of her determined to find her wayward boys is surprisingly both heartfelt and hilarious. This is not fairy tale where the mother finds the note that her children are missing and spends it wailing - she's their mother, darn it, and she's going to find them and bring them home. The theme of resilient motherhood is extremely strong in this novel.
I also LOVED the humor. Like the best of the middle grade genre, this novel has humor for both kids and parents alike - the adult asides are funny for adults, and yet the jokes and antics are funny for the kids too. It's a delicate balance to strike, but the author does this really well as I spent a lot of time laughing.
Overall, a fantastic read. Looking forward to the next installment!
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.