Review: Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Clean GetawayClean Getaway by Nic Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Clean Getaway follows 11-year old, Scoob, as he goes on an unexpected RV adventure with his beloved Grandma, nicknamed, G-Ma.

G-Ma is an extra special lady, one who Scoob loves to be around. She always seems to understand him and have the right thing to say.

Scoob’s Dad has been pretty tough on him lately. Particularly after he got into a little trouble at school just prior to Spring Break.

As far as Scoob and his Dad are concerned, any plans Scoob may have had for fun during Spring Break are cancelled.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, G-Ma arrives in a legitimate house on wheels and tells Scoob they are going on an adventure.

He packs a bag and off they go. It seems G-Ma has a plan, the specifics of which are a mystery to Scoob.

Once on the road, G-Ma gives Scoob a copy of a book called, The Green Book. She tells him that she, and his Grandpa, had to use this book while traveling together in the 1960s.

The Green Book was used as a guide by black people in the United States initially, and then I believe in other countries around the world, seeking safe lodging and amenities during their travels.

While I knew of the existence and use of The Green Book, I have never read about it as part of a fictional story.

I thought this was a tremendously clever plot device to open up communication between the characters. I think as a discussion point for adults, with children, it is an easily understandable way for children to begin to learn about the history of race relations in our country.

Scoob is initially surprised by the book. Sure, he knows a bit about the Civil Rights Movement and the people involved, but he never really considered the real life implications on his own family.

As an interracial couple in the 1960s, G-Ma and Grandpa faced a lot of hostility and discrimination when they were seen together in public. Scoob begins to understand that more as him and G-Ma are given nasty looks when they stop at a diner in a remote town.

Apparently, a white woman together with a black boy can still raise some eyebrows. Scoob doesn’t like the feeling at all, it makes him so uncomfortable. Later, thinking about it more, he even comes to fear that some of the hateful people from the diner may follow them with the intent to do them harm.

Yeah, as you can tell, there are definitely some serious issues tackled in this book. Scoob and his G-Ma have some great, candid discussions about things that G-Ma has experienced and I think Scoob learned a lot about his family and himself over the course of the story.

Stone is such a gifted writer. Her stories, while full of serious, topical issues, also contain such wit and humor. It really makes them so accessible to every reader.

Scoob is a sweet, funny, caring boy; a great protagonist to follow along with. And don’t get me started on G-Ma. I love that woman.

Although this is a fairly short story, even for Middle Grade, it packs a serious punch. There is so much emotion and heart in this story. It is truly lovely. I just find Stone’s style of writing so engaging. It is more than writing, it is absolutely storytelling in its purest form.

I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages. I do feel that this would be a great book for parents to read with their children this summer though!!!

So, add it to your summer reading list and prepare for a great adventure! Don’t forget to pack your tissues.

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Review: King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

King and the DragonfliesKing and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Poignant Queer Middle Grade.

After Kingston’s brother, Khalid, unexpectedly passes away, King is convinced he has transformed into a dragonfly.

He spends his afternoons down by the bayou where the dragonflies flit about in great numbers. He’s constantly searching for the one. The one that is Khalid.

One of King’s most distinct memories of his brother was when Khalid told him he should stop hanging out with his close friend, Sandy Sanders.

The reason, people think Sandy is gay. Khalid urges King to stay away from him because, ‘you don’t want people to think you’re gay too, do you?’

This hurt King. He never thought his brother could hurt him, but this did and he doesn’t truly understand why.

Now he fears something in him is wrong. There’s a pretty girl at school, his friend Jasmine, that likes him. King’s not sure he likes her that way though. He knows people expect him too, but it doesn’t feel right.

When Sandy goes missing, the entire town begins to search.

King is surprised when he ends up finding Sandy in a tent in his backyard. Sandy tells him his Father, who also happens to be local law enforcement, has been physically abusing him.

Devastated to hear what Sandy has been suffering through alone, King vows to help him. As the two rekindle their friendship, King begins to vocalize how he is feeling about himself and his sexuality.

This is such a beautifully told story with so many great discussion points for young readers. And let’s be honest, older readers as well.

In addition to being a story of a boy discovering his truth, there are also examinations of grief, race and power.

I enjoyed the scenes between King and his parents, who are both struggling with their own grief after the loss of Khalid. The conversations between King and his Father were especially moving.

Callender did a phenomenal job of writing King’s character in regards to his feelings of trying to fit the mould that others expected him to fit; like trying to fit a circle into a square hole.

His inner dialogue as he tried to work out for himself what he was feeling seemed so real. I wanted to grab his hand and tell him it would be okay, but in our world, maybe that’s not true. I want to believe that it is and Callender definitely makes it seem like that is possible.

I highly recommend this story, well, to the world.

Everyone should read this.

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Review: In the Role of Brie Hutchens by Nicole Melleby

In the Role of Brie Hutchens...In the Role of Brie Hutchens… by Nicole Melleby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Brie Hutchens is a dramatic girl, but she sort of has to be!

She wants to be an actress and she’s learned most of her craft from the Soaps she watches with her Mom.

As an 8th grader, she currently has her sights set on the school play, which she will use as a stepping stone for her application to a Performing Arts High School.

Additionally, at her private Catholic School, it is tradition for one of the 8th grade students to ‘crown Mary’ at a May Crowning ceremony. An acting gig of sorts. Perhaps she could do that too?

One afternoon, her mom catches her looking at scandalous photos of her favorite Soap star, Kelly Monaco, and she sort of jumps the gun on the crowning Mary thing. She tells her Mom, in haste, that she has been selected for the honor.

Her Mother, distracted by this tremendous news, seemingly forgets about the dirty photos. Crisis averted.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg for poor Brie.

In the Role of Brie Hutchens is an Own-Voices LGBTQ+ Middle Grade story that examines one girl’s discovery of her own sexual identity while trying to navigate the complexities of family, friendship and faith.

It’s a lot to juggle for anyone at any age, but for Brie the complexities quickly begin to feel overwhelming.

My heart absolutely ached for Brie. You can tell, as the reader, how personal this story is. It is written from the heart with passion, and compassion, for any young person dealing with a less than sympathetic world while they try to discover their truth.

For the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Brie.

The drama is real people, but as the story continues, you learn, that is just who Brie is. She certainly doesn’t mean anything by it. It is absolutely how she deals with the world around her.

With each turn of the page, my heart was more attached to her. I yearned for it all to just be okay. In my opinion, Melleby is absolutely brilliant at eliciting such emotions from her readers.

This was true for Hurricane Season and I believe it will be the same here.

The relationships in this book, particularly between Brie and her Mom, they were so moving. I have no words to describe how poignant those scenes were.

I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a sweet, yet deep, coming out tale. Some scenes were uncomfortable, but I believe the overall take away is worth it.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I will continue to read anything Melleby has published. She is a gem!

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Review: Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe (Sal and Gabi #2) by Carlos Hernandez

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe (Sal and Gabi, #2)Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

My favorite Middle Grade magician, Sal Vidon, returns in this second installment of the Sal and Gabi series.

Pairing with his whirlwind best friend, Gabi Real, and their wild and wacky families, this installment continues to bring the humor and good heart.

There is no other way to describe these stories, but: FUN, FUN, FUN!!

Low-key scifi ideas are explored and allow for a lot of flexibility with reality. Magical and heartwarming, I think so many kids are going to fall in love with these characters.

Even as an adult reader, I was fully engaged the entire way through. You just never know where it is going or what is going to happen next.

There are so many important lessons woven throughout as well; just tidbits on how to be a good human and put your most positive side out to the world.

Sal and Gabi attend a private school in Miami called, Cuelco. My interpretation is that it is a kind of performing arts school. This school is an absolute utopia for kids that are different.

I love reading everything about the school and how it functioned. The kids in this one prepare a performance for their parents based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and it was EVERYTHING!

Although I did enjoy this so, so much, I didn’t love it quite as much as I did the first book. It did have all of the humor, seriously, I laugh all the time reading from Sal’s perspective, and all of the great characters, but I found the plot to be a little choppy.

It didn’t flow as well as the first one did scene-to-scene, in my opinion. Obviously, this is coming from the perspective of an adult, I think for kids reading this, they will likely not feel that same way.

Overall, I am obsessed with this Middle Grade series. I am not sure how many more of these books are in the works, but I do know, I will read any that are released!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity!

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Review: Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Race to the SunRace to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

When Nizhoni Begay notices a mysterious man in a suit sitting in the bleachers at her Junior High basketball game, she can’t take her eyes off him. So much so, she misses the game winning shot.

The thing is, she knows instinctively that this man is a monster in disguise.

After the game, she learns the monster is her Dad’s new boss, Mr. Charles, and he is very interested in Nizhoni and her little brother, Mac.

Nizhoni calls out Mr. Charles to her Dad, who doesn’t believe her.

In fact, he seems disappointed in her outburst, but when Mr. Begay ends up getting kidnapped by Mr. Charles and his cronies, it is up to Nizhoni to save him!

Nizhoni has always wanted to be a hero and this is her chance.

Along with her best friend, Davery, and her little brother, Mac, they set out on a quest to rescue Mr. Begay and stop Mr. Charles from releasing a horde of ancient monsters upon the world.

Working off the Navajo legend of the Hero Twins, this adventurous Middle Grade novel tackles facing our fears and the importance of family.

While it started out a little slow for me, once the kids finally got into the quest, meeting the Spider Woman and finding the Rainbow Road, I really started to enjoy it.

I didn’t find this quite as humorous as earlier releases by this imprint, but that is really personal taste more than an issue with the book itself.

Overall, this is a great story for Middle Grade readers. I loved learning more about the legends of the Navajo culture and if more books release in this series, I would absolutely read them.

Nizhoni and Davery’s friendship was so pure and I loved little Mac as well!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group, as well as Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with an early copy of this to read and review.

I have enjoyed so many of the books in this imprint and this one is no exception!

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Review: Remarkables by Margaret Peterson Haddix

RemarkablesRemarkables by Margaret Peterson Haddix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

When Marin moves to a new town, right before starting the 6th grade, she struggles with thoughts of not fitting in. Through flashbacks, you can tell that Marin may have been victimized by some bullies at her previous school and this has left a mark on her.

While wandering through the woods by her new house, she comes across a group of teens. They seem so alive, laughing and having fun together, then they mysteriously disappear.

She soon finds out, she’s not the only person that can see them. Her neighbor, Charley, a boy about her age, can see them as well. He has been watching them and named them ‘the remarkables’. But who are they and why can just Charley and Marin see them?

Together they come up with some theories, why this could be and what they should do about it. Not always agreeing but definitely both believing that it means something important.

This gripping Middle Grade story explores a lot of important topics: bullying, self confidence, guilt, grief and addiction. I appreciate the conversations had by many of the characters within the story, they were all age appropriate and overall, I enjoyed reading it.

In regards to the ‘bullying’ – I thought this was an interesting perspective on it. Usually in novels where bullying is explored as a topic, it is perpetuated by characters that would be assumed enemies of the character they are tormenting.

In this case, the characters tormenting Marin were actually very close friends of hers. She was scared to speak out against them and even to scared to let her parents know she didn’t want to be friends with them anymore. This topic was explored in its entirety and brought to a conclusion. I thought it was very well done!

It did get a little muddled for me towards the end but perhaps that was just where my head space was at while I was reading it. I think if the synopsis sounds interesting for you, you should definitely pick it up. It delivered more than I even expected.

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Review: Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1)Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Holy smokes!!! That was a debut?

Y’all, Tristan Strong is a hella ambitious first novel that felt like an entire world being built in front of your eyes. I am really dang impressed with this!

Okay, now with the initial swooning out of the way, let’s get into it.

Tristan Strong is a 7th grader who has had a tough time of late. After losing his best friend, Eddie, in a horrific bus crash, Tristan is struggling with his grief and feels like no one understands him.

His parents decide to send him to Alabama for a month with his grandparents to help with his recovery.

Yeah, he’s not super crazy about the idea either. Nonetheless, he heads off with them with only his best friend’s journal to truly remind him of home.

On his first night there, the most bizarre thing happens. Some sort of little doll baby thing steals Eddie’s journal from him and takes off.

Tristan gives chase. It’s all he has left of Eddie. He needs that thing back. He follows the doll baby into some creepy woods and around the mysterious bottle tree.

There as he is wrestling to retrieve the journal, he inadvertently punches a hole in the fabric of the universe, opening up a hole to another world, named MidPass.

This is where things get crazy. I can’t even go on to describe all that happens next, you will just have to read for yourself. This story is full of action, African folklore, mythology, African-American history, the power of words, stories coming to life and a boy finding the hero within himself.

I was so impressed with the level of Mbalia’s writing. So detailed, so funny, so engaging. All of the things. You may wonder why I decided to give this 4.5-stars versus a full 5 and really it boils down to the scope.

I think the book was a little long for my taste. I sort of feel like this story could have been broken down into two books. There were moments too, that there was so much going on, I felt a little confused.

However, with that being said, that is such a minor thing and totally personal preference. This is such a fantastic, important story. I urge everyone to pick it up!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I greatly appreciate it. Kwame Mbalia is a gift to the world and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

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Guest Post: Author Chat with Kwame Mbalia

On Tuesday, October 15, 2019, the latest edition to the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, is set to be released. Pitched as a Middle Grade version of American Gods, this fast-paced, fantastical novel is a debut for author, Kwame Mbalia.

I had the opportunity, thanks to, CAKE LITERARY, to ask Kwame a few questions about his work and what this release means to him. Before we get into that however, for those who may not be aware, let’s go over a bit about the Rick Riordan Presents imprint; its purpose and why its so important.

I think we would all agree that being able to see yourself in a story, to be able to relate to characters in some way, can be an important part of the reading experience. Unfortunately, not all readers are able to easily access books that they can relate to in this way. The Rick Riordan Presents imprint was developed with this issue in mind.

Their goal is to publish stories from Middle Grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds. The stories are heavily inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage. This imprint, a part of the larger Disney-Hyperion Publishing family, provides a huge platform for these much needed, underrepresented stories to find a wide audience of readers.

I have greatly enjoyed the books released from this imprint so far and many of you may have read reviews for these titles on this blog. Tristan Strong has been one of my most anticipated releases, mainly because it is inspired by West African mythology and African-American folk tales, something I rarely have the opportunity to read about.

I can tell you, as I am currently reading it, this is one of the BEST releases yet! Kwame Mbalia has a fluid, organic writing style and is clearly a very gifted storyteller. Without further ado, let’s get into my questions for Kwame and his responses:

Meg: I would love to know what advice you have for young people who may want to grow up to become writers themselves?

Kwame: The best advice I can give to anyone who wants to be a writer is to write. Write write write. You can’t get at something, whether it’s a sport or a skill, unless you practice. Writing is no different. Find something you enjoy and write about it! Essays. Poetry. Fan fiction. Start with different elements of the craft, like dialogue or description, and just write!

Second to that is to read. Read in the genre you want to write, and then read outside of it. Read fiction and nonfiction. Read short stories and novellas as well as novels. There are some brilliant writers out there and whenever I feel the need for inspiration, I look at what others have done and are doing.

Meg: Can you tell me a little bit about why you chose  to write in the Middle Grade genre specifically?

Kwame: There’s a special sense of wonder and exploration that you find in the Middle Grade genre that appeals to me. There’s this idea that you’re just realizing how enormous the world is, and you learn how varied and diverse the different people and creatures that occupy it, and combining that idea and that wonder with a little bit of history and magic brings me joy.

Meg: What does it mean to you to have your debut story out in the world?

Kwame: Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh, don’t remind me!!!! PEOPLE ARE GOING TO READ MY WORDS!!! How dare y’all? No one informed me this would be the case. I would like to crawl back into my bed and pretend the floor is lava.

I can’t do that?

Well then, fine. I guess I’ll just thank everyone who has read or will read or wants to read my book. It’s been an incredible journey so far and hopefully it’s only just beginning.

I want to thank, Kwame, for being so kind as to answer my questions for him. I feel so blessed that CAKE LITERARY provided me with the opportunity to be included on this blog tour. Also, as always, a huge thank you to the publisher, Disney Book Group and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with an early copy of the book to read and review.

I am seriously loving this one, guys, and am anticipating finishing up on Monday, at which time I will post my full review. All I will say thus far is that Mbalia’s writing style is super impressive and I love Tristan so much and the journey he is on. I hope to read more about him in the future!!!

This story can definitely be enjoyed by readers of all ages, so be sure to pick up your copy on release day, Tuesday, October 15th!!!

 

Review: The Fire Keeper (The Storm Runner #2) by J.C. Cervantes

The Fire Keeper (The Storm Runner #2)The Fire Keeper by J.C. Cervantes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Prophecy of Fire was only the beginning.

After the tumultuous events of the first book, The Storm Runner, our young protagonist, Zane Obispo, is living a fairly cushy life on a private island with his closest companions. All should be good from here on out but unfortunately, as life often goes, it’s not.

He discovers that the book he recently wrote, detailing his time with the Mayan Gods, has endangered other Godborns. They are being kidnapped at an alarming rate and being spirited away to the Gods don’t even know where!

Making matters worse, his own father, Hurakan, the Mayan God of wind, storm and fire, is set to be executed for reasons I won’t go into here.

Zane sets out to save them all. A quest is no fun alone however, so he brings along his hellhound, Rosie, a new friend, fellow Godborn, Ren, and an old enemy. As to be expected severe hijinks ensue.

As with the first book, The Fire Keeper keeps up the action-packed adventure we have come to expect from Zane and the crew. I love this group. They are caring, loyal, funny and fearless.

Zane’s Uncle Hondo is one of my favorite characters. I just find his energy so charming but Zane himself is the true hero. He is just the sweetest boy and I am enjoying watching him grow. He has been put through so much but always faces what is in front of him with optimism and spunk!

This is a really great Middle Grade series. I am going to be impatiently waiting for the third book to release in the Fall of 2020. It sounds like we are going to have some sort of training for the Godborns, which y’all know, is one of my all time favorite tropes.

Bring it on!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. As always, I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to more from J.C. Cervantes!

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Review: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

City of GhostsCity of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

There is no doubt that I flew through this.

I loved the premise and am planning to continue on with this series. However, while it was good, there was just something about it that kept me from truly being immersed in the story.

I actually read quite a bit of Middle Grade and for me, this was lacking the level of humor and fun that I am used to seeing in MG stories. I know this is supposed to be on the darker side, as far as content, but there still could have been humorous banter or something of that nature to keep me engaged.

Confession:
While Victoria Schwab is a beloved author, this is actually the first book I have ever read from her.

Her writing is great. Very fluid and experienced but for Middle Grade…I don’t know, something about it just never clicked for me.

Again, the premise is great. I love the idea of Cassidy’s, the main character’s, parents being paranormal investigators. The whole concept of their new television series and having to travel to different locations for filming.

I also enjoyed that Cass can actually see ghosts, and interact with them, even though no one else in her family can. I think maybe as the series continues on the plots will become more involved and perhaps we will have more of a chance to connect with the characters.

Overall, I feel this is definitely a good book and a solid start to a series. Obviously, I am not the intended audience for this so a room full of Middle Graders may have a different opinion than me.

I think if the concept of this sounds good to you, pick it up and give it a shot!

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