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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Review: Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby

Hurricane SeasonHurricane Season by Nicole Melleby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fig may look like any other 6th grader but she is struggling to stay afloat. She lives alone with her father, a once renowned pianist, who is living with bipolar disorder. As a consequence of this, Fig’s role is often more one of parent than child.

Regardless of daily struggles, Fig loves her father with her whole heart and she knows that he loves her too. He is trying his hardest, he really is, but without any sort of outside assistance or treatment, they are barely getting by.

After an embarrassing incident at school, one of Fig’s concerned teachers ends up contacting Child Protective Services. Now being watched by a social worker, Fig feels even more pressure to maintain their household, projecting as much normalcy as she can.

During an art class, she learns a bit about Vincent Van Gogh and his mental health issues. She can see similarities between Van Gogh’s personality and her father’s so she decides to find out all she can about him in an effort to better understand how her father’s mind works.

Through all of this, Fig is also going through things any 6th grader would go through. Feeling out of place at school, tension with some friends and discovering her own sexuality.

This book is so beautiful and pure. I adore Fig with my whole heart. She was such a precious little bean who is wise beyond her years. Her relationship with her best friend, Danny, was just so precious, as was her crush on Hannah, the girl who works at her local library.

I was very impressed with the writing and feel that Melleby does a seamless job of inserting important topics into the narrative without them seeming forced. The story felt very organic and real.

I was a legit emotional mess upon finishing this. It was just gorgeous. The strength of the bond between Fig and her father. His will to overcome and work through his illness any way he could, it was…ugh…no words. My heart is full.

I would recommend this to anyone. Even though this is a Middle Grade story, I think this can absolutely be enjoyed by readers of all ages!

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Review: Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Sal and Gabi Break the UniverseSal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sal Vidon is a magician. A young magician who has just lost his Mami, moved to a new school and is having a hard time fitting in.

Recently relocated to Miami, Sal quickly finds himself on the wrong side of the school bully, Yasmany.

To escape this run-in, Sal performs his trickiest of tricks yet. He makes a raw chicken appear in the bully’s locker! Take that!

Unfortunately, such antics have the opposite effect he is looking for when accused of being a brujo, the other kids at school become afraid of him. Of him! Sal Vidon, one of the kindest, most gentlest human beings in the world.

While pleading his case in the Principal’s office (again), Sal meets Gabi Real for the first time. Gabi swoops in like a hurricane. Smart, determined and funny, Sal thinks, this is somebody I could work with.

Over the course of the rest of the story, we get to watch Sal and Gabi’s relationship grow as they reveal more and more about themselves to each other and come to rely on one another for support. Sal is still struggling with the grief of losing his Mami and Gabi has an infant brother fighting for his life at a local NICU.

I was so impressed with this book. The writing style is fantastic, very fluid and easy to read. I LOVED the characters. Sal is one of the sweetest characters in any book EVER and Gabi is a true force to be reckoned with!

As a middle grade novel, I feel that this is an excellent introduction to the science-fiction genre. This explores the idea of multiple dimensions and travel between them. I loved that aspect of the story and thought it was really well done. There was just enough of that scifi feel without being overwhelming for readers who may be new to the genre.

My favorite aspect of this story: the humor!!
I was laughing out loud from the very beginning and never let up. The characters are so witty and fun. Very well done by Hernandez.

Another piece of this I really appreciated was the presence of such strong adult characters. I feel like often in YA or Middle Grade stories, the adults are either absent or not very nice people. All of the adults in this were really great, supportive influences in the kid’s lives and that was nice to see for a change. I think it sets a good example, not just for young readers, but for adults reading this as well.

This being said, even though this is a Middle Grade book and I am far from that, this has been one of my most enjoyable reads of the year. Keep in mind people,
there is no age limit on fun!
Everyone needs to read this. Go ahead, now…

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

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