Creating a Middle Grade Book Rec List

My sister-in-law requested some series recommendations to help expand my nieces love of stories, so I’ve been on the hunt for a handful that I can gift her for her birthday/Christmas.

In my adult life, after realizing how hectic the holiday season gets, I’ve tried to get gifts for my family members as early as September. With my niece I keep track of things that she mentions throughout the year and buy them later. Shopping early also stops my wallet from crying after the holidays. December is the busiest month of the year for me outside of work, so planning my gifts and getting them wrapped up by the end of November saves me time and alleviates stress.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that I have to get a really good feel for a book before passing it along to my niece. Often I’ll read them first, because I would hate to give her something that she might not enjoy, and on top of it something that might be too scary or too mature for her at this time in her life.

I’d say 9-12 is a hard age group to navigate when it comes to young readers, because on top of each kid being an individual with their own unique interests, there are also different levels of maturity in each of the books and series one might encounter when shopping in this section. I was definitely one of those kids who read books intended for an older audience between 9 and 13…however, much of these books were manga and graphic novels. My experience as a reader definitely effects how I approach recommending books for kids, especially kids I don’t know personally like my niece. That’s why I don’t like to recommend books I haven’t read.

For adults who aren’t big readers themselves, I can imagine choosing books for others is a challenge. I salute you. My personal recommendation, if you have absolutely no idea what to buy the bookworm in your life is to just give them a gift card for your local bookstore. It’ll save you the headache, and they can pick out something they like. You can always pair it with a bookmark, or a mug if you want the gift to feel a little more personal.

I’m thinking of reading through a handful of middle grade books over the next month so that I can get a good idea of what might actually peak my nieces interest. When I can’t think of a series, one thing I try to do is to recommend people specific authors who I’ve read extensively like Judy Bloom, Jerry Spinelli, or Kenneth Oppel. All authors who I’ve read multiple works from, and really enjoyed despite not all of their books being contained within a series.

There are just so many great reads to choose from, but each person has their own preference and I feel it’s important to take that into consideration.

Another little project that I’ve started is that I’ve been creating lists of middle-grade books based on certain topics such as sports, theatre, mystery, family, spooky, pirates…etc…because this can really help figure out what books to recommend. Once my list is a little more organized, I’m going to post it on my blog, with the description. This is is going to include a chunk of books that I haven’t read, but just because something isn’t my cup of tea doesn’t mean it isn’t good and I want this list to be filled with books that I can come back to with my niece or a family friend with kids and go, “You really like basket ball, there’s this entire series on that, or you can read this book over here where the kids on the team have to hunt down a thief.”

I love helping people find their next favourite book, so for me this is kind of just a fun little project to do in between working and writing. I hope this list is useful, and I can’t wait to add more to it as I go.

Mint Chocolate Vol. 2 – Manga Review

Summary

Nanami is not thrilled. In fact, she’s about at her wits’ end. Her crush is living in her house as her stepbrother, he keeps teasing her, and now he’s in the hospital?! Between unexpected guests, nursing the stubborn Kyouhei, and the approach of Christmas, she just can’t catch a break…Without a little bit of Kyouhei’s sweet chocolate, she just might break. – Goodreads


Thoughts

If you read my last review of this series, you will know that I found it very similar to Marmalade Boy, and felt that the pacing was a little off. If you haven’t read that review, that’s okay, to summarize one of the things I liked was that readers were offered insight into Nanami’s thoughts throughout the book, however I did notice that readers who had already been exposed to Marmalade Boy, seemed less likely to enjoy volume one.

Unfortunately, I found that volume 2 of Mint Chocolate also had the same awkward pacing as volume 1. The pace, really doesn’t allow for the reader to fully grasp where the characters are at in their development. Certain scenes felt very rushed, to the point where sometimes it felt like I had missed a panel or a page, but I didn’t. It mentions Kyouhei going to the hospital, and I don’t remember that at all. In fact, all I remember is him getting sick, and Nanami caring for him at home.

Another thing I found was I that I was getting bored during certain scenes. It tended to be the ones that were recycling material from other “and they were roommates” type manga’s. Truthfully the “and they were roommates” trope is one of my favourites but in order for it to work, the characters need to develop naturally, as does their relationship. Here, it seemed like Nanami and Kyouhei were being thrown into different scenarios like, being home alone together, someone having a cold, and Christmas and meanwhile the two of them remained in the same state. I could actually, relate more to Andou, Kyouhei’s friend thinking, “What is wrong with you two?”

In both the first and second volumes the seasons changed so frequently, that it’s nearly impossible to figure out how much time has passed. As a reader it seems bizarre that these large amounts of time keep going by but the characters still seem to be at the same stage they were in volume one. There just wasn’t any real character growth or development. The only thing that we were given was insight into Nanami’s dad dying and more reasoning about Kyouhei being hesitant about being in a relationship after his parents divorce. This insight was good, but it could have been executed better…and possibly not given to us so quickly?

By the end of the second volume, I was still debating on whether or not I wanted to continue this series. I have other series that I absolutely adored but am still trying to track down because of the manga shortage, which is why I decided to try some new ones, but…I can’t tell if this series is worth giving another shot.

That fact is, that I don’t dislike the characters. There are times when I find Kyouhei is unnecessarily mean to Nanami, and I can’t understand why she would have a crush on him, but I wouldn’t say I dislike Kyouhei. Out of all the characters, I actually prefer the oblivious parents and Andou. My only comment on Nanami’s friends is that two of them look like her, and it gets confusing in the panels they’re in. Her one nosy classmate from volume one seemed interesting, and I think it would have been nice to see her make a reappearance but it seems like many of the ther characters were brushed aside in order to squeeze in these different, fast paced scenarios during this volume.

Strangely enough, my favourite scenes were between Kyouhei and Andou. It was more interesting seeing the two of them discussing Nanami, versus following Nanami around while she got lost in her head thinking about whether or not Kyouhei liked her.

The very end of the Christmas scene was cute, but again it felt very rushed. I’m not going to give away any spoilers about the details of this scene, other than the fact that this portion was done well. The rest of the manga made me think of a poorly done retelling of Marmalade Boy and for the vast majority I was bored.

I honestly hoped the second volume would surprise me, and that the story would pick up but it just felt flat until that final chapter. There was no sense of urgency, or any tension between the characters, and when it comes to the many categories within the forbidden love trope, I feel that having that it is necessary.


Rating

How I do my ratings

5 stars means the book was fantastic and went beyond my expectations.

4 stars means the book was great.

3 stars means a book was good, but could improve in some areas.

2 stars means it was just okay.

1 star means it wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I’ve decided to rate volume 2 of Mint Chocolate a little less than volume 1. I feel like I’m being generous by giving it 2.5 stars, but I found that the first volume had more potential. This volume on the other hand, fell flat.

I still think that this series can redeem itself, and I truly believe that those of us who had already been introduced to Marmalade Boy when we were younger, already have high expectations for a shojo manga using this trope. However series like Andante, Me and my Brothers and more recently Love Me Love Me Not, have used this same branch of the forbidden love trope and all of them executed it flawlessly. Many focusing more on the characters personal growth than their living situation.

I would definitely recommend this series to someone who hasn’t already been introduced to this trope through Marmalade Boy, because I believe based on other peoples reviews, it is actually a good series, but when you’ve been exposed to other books within this trope, it feels lacking in comparison. I also don’t normally like to compare books when reading but because of the title in relation to the characters, and the whole set up it really makes it difficult not to.

My Fave Childhood Summer Reads (9-12 readers)

Back when I was a member of the 9-12 readers age group, I had was going through books like crazy, especially during summer vacation. So I thought I’d share some of my favourite summer reads from back in the day.

Camp Confidential

I was obsessed with this series when I was a sixth grader. I borrowed them from the library, all of the time and managed to get two copies of my own one summer before going on a road trip to my uncle and aunts place. I never went to camp as a kid, so this series helped me imagine what it might be like. As an adult I worked as a camp counsellor at a day camp and had a blast! I believe people can still find the earlier books in this series in print. I always loved the cameo print covers.

I Want to Go Home

I still go back to this book and read it. It’s hilarious! I got this book from my teacher in the fourth grade. It was my introduction to Gordon Korman books. When my family and I went camping I made sure to bring a copy of one of his books to read before bed. This book just got a cover update an is definitely worth adding to a summer reading list!

Smiles to Go

“I feel like I’m playing chess underwater. The pieces keep floating away. I don’t know where things are. I can’t figure out tomorrow.”

I adore this book and wish I owned it. I’ll have to get a copy for myself someday. It’s definitely underrated in terms of Spinelli’s other work. This novel falls in a weird place between middle grade and young adult…but I definitely would recommend it to older tween readers. It’s such a good story.

The saddle club

I loved this series…and for some reason I believe it was also made into a TV show? My favourite character was Stevie. I thought she had a cool name. I wouldn’t say I was ever a “horse girl” growing up, but one of my older cousins road horses and I always thought her horses were beautiful. I think that’s what got me into these books, was being able to pet and feed the horses on my uncle’s farm.

The Babysitters Club

This series doesn’t need an introduction. Who doesn’t love The Babysitters Club? I wanted to join! It was the reason why I got my babysitting license and ended up becoming a babysitter all through high school to one of the coolest little kids I have ever met!

The Babysitters Club taught me so much about life, friendship and just…having fun! I reread the comic versions with my niece and am so happy she loves the series as much as I do. I have to watch the show on Netflix!

I loved the movies growing up, plus when I saw Claudia’s outfits I almost lost it. They’re so perfect!

Princess School

This series is no longer in print which makes me so sad. These books were fantastic and would fit in so well with the current fairytale retelling trend that’s happening right now!

I read these books in the fourth grade and still own the entire series. I believe it was the first series that I picked out for my self, and the first time I asked for books as a Christmas gift from Santa (although I always got books for Christmas from my grandparents and uncle).

I highly recommend this series if you’re able to find a copy. I hope it comes back into print one day.

Shadow Children

I just got my niece into this series because she thought it had something to do with the game Among Us. When she started reading it with me, she was both surprised and intrigued. I read this series between grades six and eight and absolutely adored it till the end. I was a bit worried that my niece might be too young for the content in the book, but as we read together it was clear that the book was perfectly fine for a soon to be fifth grader, and it looks like this might be a new favourite of hers!

Reviewers Wanted!

Title: Vermin: The Vermin Series Book One

Author: Ardin Patterson

Publisher: Loveknot Books (LKB)

Genre/Subgenre: YA, Paranormal Urban Fantasy, Romance

ARC Format: ebook

Pages: 296

Available at: ARC Reviewers, July 6th 2021

Language: English

Description:

A dying boy

A rebellious girl

History poised to repeat itself

Left for dead at the side of the road in an outlawed town, Nicholas is rescued by a human girl. Plagued by fevered dreams and a lethal illness, Nicholas doesn’t know what to make of her kindness. If she knew what he was, death would be a merciful gift.

Rose takes it upon herself to show the boy hospitality, despite her uncle Roland forbidding her from going near him. She survived the brutal sickness and knows exactly what their guest is going through—he needs a friend.

When Rose’s uncle discovers what Nicholas is, Roland stands to lose everything when he turns Nicholas into a test subject. Dire circumstances force him to coax an old flame into helping domesticate the beast, turning this supposed opportunity into a cruel experiment on himself.

As Rose and Nicholas grow closer, Roland’s decision to keep the boy’s identity a secret threatens to bring history full circle. Can Roland guard two hearts as he struggles to keep his future and the boy alive?

Photo by Adrienne Andersen on Pexels.com
Photo by Anna Urlapova on Pexels.com

Request an ARC


Check out 5th Grade Challenge on Audible!

“Ted, the 5th grade genius and Veronica, his arch-rival, are constantly pranking each other. When the pranks spill over and ignite a grade-wide war, the teachers organize a girls vs. boys competition.”

This is a project I’ve been working on during 2020 with author Jamaal Fridge! I absolutely loved voicing his characters and discussing his work with him. It was so much fun and such a great learning experience as both an actor and an author!

You can find the audiobook on audible and read along!

Mexican Gothic, Full Review

I was engulfed by the pages of this book. Completely captivated by the imagery, the characters, the eeriness of the setting. The vividness of the passages was so intense, that when I was disturbed during my read I felt as though reality were a mere illusion. It created a haze, like a wonderfully, haunting daydream…and it lingered.

Over the years I’ve longed for a book like this. A book that made me want to devour every word. Where each sentence was worth losing sleep over…was worth losing track of time for.

The characters and setting felt real. I could see them, feel them, smell them. I got lost in this world which only existed for them, and I, merely a spectator was granted the opportunity to be invited inside.

It was dark. It was dark and yet, somehow as I read I begged for some way to illuminate it. For the glow to be a way out. For hope.

It’s hard to explain that last sentence without spoiling the book, but I truly believe this novel is worth reading.


The Characters

Naomi was an excellent leading lady. She was smart, witty and extremely fashionable. She never bowed her head, always staying true to herself. Thinking through each of her actions as she tried to figure out how to both help and protect her cousin Catalina, and later Francis.

I also adored the strong bond between Catalina and Naomi. Being able to see Catalina through Naomi’ eyes, and how living with her husbands family had changed her was heartbreaking. To be able to see this beautiful, kind soul, withering away like that…I truly felt Naomi’s pain as she interacted with her cousin.

Francis surprised me. He appears weaker and more timid than Virgil, almost like if one were to compare say the classic trope of the jock and the nerd. I immediately liked Francis, mainly because of his name and the fact that he spends much of his time reading or drawing. His quietness was a comfort, which is strange because the silence in this house is so eerie. It was his small gestures that really made him stand out. Subtle actions, like lending Naomi his sweater, or driving her to town. Little things that truly showed the depth of his character.


I purchased a copy of The Gods of Jade and Shadow before I reached the conclusion of this book, and was again immediately drawn in by the passages. I may have found a new favourite author, which is a wonderful feeling. I love that these books are also #ownvoices and written by a fellow Canadian author. Initially I was drawn in by the title of Mexican Gothic, as I do enjoy gothic literature and thought it might be nice to read a modern take on the genre. I’m so glad I did because if I would I would give this book a 10 star rating. It was perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing.

To keep with the usual 5 star rating though, it gets a full 5 star from me. Well done.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewing a book I auditioned for!

I decided to request an ARC copy of a book I auditioned for earlier this month and was accepted. I loved the passages for the little sister that I got to read for my audition.

I love audio book auditions because I get a sneak peak at new books before they’re even offered as ARCs and before I unbox them at work. One of my favourite things to do at my part-time job is unbox the new releases. It’s so exciting seeing that final cover design, and…the new book smell. It is a thing! It is so comforting. Old book smell is its own comfort, but to me the most comforting thing about an old book is the bends in the spine, the gently crumbled pages and the slight browning of the paper.

I’m so excited to read this book. I was actually going to buy it when it released and review it anyway! It was already on my TBR.

I was also accepted for a bunch of other ARCs, but I’m currently reading the one and am hoping to finish it by the end of the week so that I can post the review. I’m going to be reviewing the Anne of Green Gables manga sometime this month as well, since I was accepted for that.

Fun fact: I’m that typical Canadian who loves L.M Montgomery. Anne, Emily. My favourite adaptation of Emily was the anime actually! I liked the live action show and I’d actually love if Netflix picked it up and revamped it…but they should definitely do it the way the anime was done because it followed the books. No one was turning into a kelpie. I mean, yah I’m Scottish on my Dad’s side but like…the random Scottish folklore being thrown in during those later seasons was…out of genre for how the series started. If they’d always talked about her having second sight and such earlier on, it wouldn’t have been so random. I liked it, but the genre switch was completely random.

Anne with an E was definitely well done in my opinion. I know of a handful of people who didn’t like it because it wasn’t as light and cheery as the previous adaptations (I own a bunch of those on VHS). I have yet to see a version of Anne that I can say I absolutely hate. The films and Anne with an E in my personal opinion, captured Anne, Diana and Gilbert well. Actually, I’ve found that the show versions of Diana truly grasp how important her friendship is to Anne in a way that the films (mainly because of the time length) aren’t able to capture.

Well, that’s enough about Anne.

I’m looking forward to reading these ARCs! I have high hopes for several of these books, but I’m also a bit nervous. I’m always open to reading new authors but I’m not always open to delving into new genres. I read a fair amount of different ones and will read anything ranging from Middle Grade to General Fiction. I love comics. If I’m being 100% honest, I adore them. Still, for me its all about the authors writing style and how quickly I connect with the characters. The plot draws me in and entices me to read but the character’s are what keep me invested.

Fingers crossed I like them all! I’ve already had one disappointing review for this year and I definitely need to read something to make up for it!

Book Review: Why Scott Pilgrim is Brilliant

It’s rare that I give a series such a compliment but after rereading Scott Pilgrim after all these years, I think that the compliment is well deserved.

I loved the series as a teenager and of course watched the film, like most of my friends (back when we could still rent videos in person) and most importantly we felt apart of something. Scott Pilgrim was a Canadian story. We knew the places it referenced. We could hear them, smell them, taste them…and that longing for representation in a country that is constantly bombarded with outside influences in media was such a wonderful thing to have.

Reading it again (in three days!) I was drawn in more than before. Captivated even. To be a twenty-something figuring out life and love and jobs and navigating dreams versus expectations. It was too real. Way too real…and yet comforting. Watching Scott and his friends struggle was sadly comforting.

I loved that there was comic book an video game elements put into a graphic novel series that was in the end a love story. A love story that didn’t always feel like a love story (especially when Scott had to fight all those evil exes) but somehow managed to be one. I suppose it also acted as a coming of age story…a story about a boy and his band and his girlfriend and his roommate Wallace who will forever be my favourite character. I cannot believe I forgot how much I loved his commentary.

I think most of this series still holds up well today. It’s definitely 5 stars. It deserves it. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a comic book series with that amount of character development…and that is wild because I read a lot of them.

“Hey it’s that one guy!”

“Sweet coins!”

Books to Read in October

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”


― L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

As we near the end of September, we are greeted with the warm comforts of Fall: pumpkin spice, reds, yellows, oranges and purples, scarves, hats and sweaters and cozy blankets for those chilly afternoons when we want to curl up with a book in our lap.

I find that I tend to read more in the Fall. I like being wrapped up in a soft blanket with a cup of tea or sitting up late at night with a book in my lap until I nod off to sleep. I also find that the books I read during the Fall tend to be either comforting or have me on the end of my seat, especially as October comes around.

Last night I started reading Mexican Gothic, which had me hooked in the first chapter. I also found my name in the book which never happens. Of course it was a reference to Elizabeth Arden and not me, Ardin but that is who I was named after so I like to think of it as…I was meant to read this book. It’s not every day I buy a book solely based on the title and synopsis. I got three chapters in before I fell asleep and it is exactly what I was hoping for. Gothic literature at it’s finest. I don’t know what it is about the genre that I like so much but it is one that sucks me in.

A slightly less spooky book that I think would be perfect to reread in the Fall is Fake Blood. The book makes so many references to Twilight and it’s a great read for a younger audience (ages 9-12). I had so much fun reading it and I’ve never read the Twilight series or watched or read Vampire Diaries. It was the perfect mixture of funny, sweet and spooky!

Another book which is for the YA audience is Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Now don’t be confused CAOS fans, this graphic novel isn’t chilling. It’s fun, it’s full of what I call Sabrina oopsies and Salem talks and is as sassy as ever. I also recommend Jughead and Sabrina because again Sabrina is absolutely hilarious along with all of the spookiness that goes on in Greendale. No matter how bad things or how big of a mess she makes she somehow manages to find a way to fix things (or at least temporarily).

I don’t know what it is about L.M Montgomery and Fall but I’m often drawn to her work at this time of the year. I suppose her stories, because of their familiarity in Canadian culture are comforting. Despite my love for Anne however I want to recommend Emily. I adore Emily’s story just as much. Her friendship with Ilsa, her unwavering dream to write. Emily is often viewed as rebellious by those around her but it is this side of her that makes her strong and resilient. I feel like she’s seriously underrated. A lot of people don’t know she exists, and so I think it would be nice to introduce yourself to Emily this October (there’s also an anime if anyone is interested).

Lastly a book series that I continue to recommend over and over, Monster. Monster is incredibly chilling, incredibly thrilling and is a story that draws you in with its characters and plot. Not only is it a manga, it’s a historical fiction set in Germany which follows a Japanese Doctor as he tries to track down a patient that he never should have saved. Trust me, this series will have you staying up all kinds of hours reading. You won’t want to put it down!

What books are you looking forward to reading this Fall?