Amanda’s 2019 Middle Grade Favorites

Hi, lovelies! As I said last week, I have lots of lists prepared for you this month. Today’s list is going to be my middle-grade favorites. I’ve been trying to expand the genres and age groups that I read and I successfully did that by reading a bunch of middle grade books this year. So, these are my favorite middle-grade books that I read in 2019.

1. Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

2. The Battle of the Labirynth by Rick Riordan

3. Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

4. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

5. The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I read probably ten middle grade books in 2019 and absolutely loved the five books that I listed aboce. Have you read any middle-grade this year that you adored? Leave a comment and let me know!

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

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Blogmas Book Review: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

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GoodReads Summary:
Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan chases after it-–is that a doll?-–and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1)Review:
I’ve only really started getting into middle-grade books this year. I’m so happy that I have because I’ve found some absolutely incredible books. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is one of those books.
We follow Tristian Strong as he falls into a world where all the myths he was taught growing up, actually exist and live. His entrance into their world had caused some pretty bad things, so he must stay and help fix them before he can figure out how to get back home.
I loved this. I loved Tristian, and I loved seeing him learn that all the stories are true. I also really loved all of the Gods and characters we meet. Specifically, Gum Baby. Gum Baby absolutely was the best part of this story. She was hilarious and sassy and I loved her so much. I really loved learning about African mythology that I’ve never known previously. They were just fascinating.
This story was action-packed. Every time the squad finished their latest task, something else goes wrong. I really enjoyed that because this book was almost 500 pages long, but I felt like it flew by. I was paced well and I didn’t want to put it down because so much was going on.
Overall, I cannot wait to read the next one. I loved the mythology this story is based on. I loved the messages brought up. I thought it was well written and more than entertaining. Also, I loved Gum Baby. I also really liked that this book can stand on its own as a whole story. There will be another book, but even if there wasn’t. This story had an ending that was good enough for this to be a standalone.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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GoodReads Summary:
Told in alternating points of view from Chess, Emma, and Finn Greystone, Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers is the beginning of a new page-turning adventure that examines assumptions about identity, family, and home, from the master of middle grade suspense.
What makes you you?
The Greystone kids thought they knew. Chess has always been the protector over his younger siblings, Emma loves math, and Finn does what Finn does best—acting silly and being adored. They’ve been a happy family, just the three of them and their mom.
But everything changes when reports of three kidnapped children—who share the same first and middle names, ages, and exact birth dates as the Greystone kids—reach the Greystone family. This bizarre coincidence makes them wonder: Who exactly are these strangers? Before Chess, Emma, and Finn can question their mom about it, she takes off on a mysterious work trip. But puzzling clues left behind lead to complex codes, hidden rooms, and a dangerous secret that will turn their world upside down.
The Strangers (Greystone Secrets, #1)Review:
The Strangers was such a fun and suspenseful story. I loved Haddix’s books when I was growing up so now that I’ve been starting to read middle-grade books again I had to get this when I saw it. I’m so glad that I did.
The Strangers was wholesome and bizarre in the best ways. I thought this was just going to be a fun mystery, which it was, but it took a turn toward science fiction that I was not expecting, but definitely loved.
I adored all three kids that we follow. Emma was smart and clever, but still very clearly loved her siblings and mom. Chess was the oldest and felt responsible for all the others, even though he really shouldn’t have all that weight on him. I liked Finn most of all. He was the youngest and always being underestimated. He played a role just as important as the others.
I loved how obvious their love for one another was. And their love for their mother fueled their mission. I also really enjoyed how they got Natalie in on helping them.
Overall, this book was an absolute delight. I really had fun reading it. The characters were easy to love. I definitely suggest this one to anyone that liked middle-grade books.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

GoodReads Summary:
Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual.
She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.
When Cass accidentally awakens a frighteningly strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghosthunter — and turn to friends both old and new to help her unravel a mystery. But time is running out, and the spirit is only growing stronger.
And if Cass fails, the force she’s unleashed could haunt the city forever.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Schwab returns to the spooky and heart-pounding world of City of Ghosts, delivering thrilling new adventures and an unforgettable spin on friendship. (Because sometimes, even psychic ghost best friends have secrets. . .)
Tunnel of Bones (Cassidy Blake, #2)Review:
Another buddy read on the books! I love buddy reading with Alana, Rae, & Books in the Skye. We always have such fun conversations about the books we read, even when we all have very different opinions.
While I had fun with the story, much like the first book, I just didn’t love it. Cassidy is brave and I really admired that. She even makes a Spiderman reference when her best friend Jacob tries to convince her that this particular ghost really isn’t their problem. “With great power comes great responsibility.” There was actually quite a bit of pop culture references, mostly Harry Potter, which made me smile.
Jacob honestly just annoyed me for most of the book. He didn’t want Cassidy to help the ghost she found, but he came around eventually. We got to learn a bit of his back story toward the end of the book and I liked that.
I wanted more of Lara, the friend she made in the previous book. She was the wise mentor that Cassidy called when she needed help. But it was only over the phone, and I want them to team up again.
I adored the Paris setting. Seeing all the haunted areas of Paris was really interesting. I think it was a great choice for this second book.
Overall, this was an average read for me. I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m still undecided whether I’ll continue the series because both books have been pretty average. But they are great reads for the spooky season.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

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GoodReads Summary: In this prequel to Ella Enchanted, which can stand on its own, young healer Evie is transformed into an ogre by the meddling fairy Lucinda. She’ll turn back only if someone proposes and she accepts!

Returning to the land and many of the characters from her beloved Newbery Honor–winning Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine has written a delightful tale about a clever and endearing heroine who is determined to defy expectations.

Evie is happiest when she is healing people, diagnosing symptoms, and prescribing medications, with the help of her devoted friend (and test subject) Wormy. So when Wormy unexpectedly proposes to her, she kindly turns him down; she has far too much to do to be marrying anyone. And besides, she simply isn’t in love with him.

But a certain meddling fairy named Lucinda has been listening in, and she doesn’t approve of Evie’s rejection. Suddenly, Evie finds herself transformed from a girl into a hideous, hungry ogre. Evie now has only sixty-two days to accept another proposal—or else be stuck as an ogre forever.

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Review: First off, thanks to Emily at Wunderkind PR for sending me a finished copy in exchange for an honest review. It’s not something I usually do, especially because I hardly write reviews anymore but I’ve loved Levine’s books in the past and I just had to say yes to this one.

Unfortunately, I ended up being really disappointed by the ending. I’m going to give some general thoughts first and then go into the things I had issues with at the end so anyone who wants to avoid spoilers can skip that part.

Overall I enjoyed the characters. Evie is smart and kind and I loved the fact that the main character is basically a monster for most of the book. Yes, she’s still human inside but her ogre side takes over sometimes. She finds herself suddenly thinking humans might taste pretty good and she frequently has to resist the urge to eat her friends. She’s constantly hungry and isn’t too picky about what she eats as long as it’s meat. She smells terrible and the other characters comment on it a lot. She’s angry all the time about tiny things. They’re such unique traits to give a heroine and I enjoyed watching how she deals with these obstacles to try to break the curse and even just survive. Evie is a strong, brave young woman and I liked getting to see her learn more about herself throughout this adventure.

I liked Wormy as well though he wasn’t there for a big chunk of the book. I would have liked to have seen more of him especially because the change he makes by the end seemed a little unrealistic but that’s probably because I wasn’t able to see him actually go through the change. He was just suddenly different when he comes back into the storyline later on.

Eleanor was probably my favorite character (another reason the ending made me so angry). She was fun, kind and the most amazing friend to Evie.

The fairy Lucinda is obviously very annoying. If you’ve read Ella Enchanted (or even seen the movie) you know she just buts into everyone’s business randomly and ruins their lives because she can. I think the most annoying part is that in her twisted mind she honestly thinks she’s helping people. I get that she’s super powerful but it still astounds me that no one even tries to do anything about her, they just sort of let it happen.

The plot was decent. It’s exactly what you expect from a story inspired by fairy tales. Now that I’m older I find I don’t have as much patience for how unrealistic stories like this can be. Don’t get me wrong, I love the magic and mythical creatures but wish the characters didn’t act so ridiculous sometimes. However, given that this book is middle-grade it’s kind of to be expected.

**Now is where I’ll talk about the spoilers for the ending so please stop reading if you want to be surprised.

I’m not sure why I expected anything different but when I first read the description for this book I was like, “Finally! A girl who doesn’t want to get married at fifteen. Who has a guy friend she doesn’t fall in love with. This is great!” Guess what happens by the end of the book? They have a long engagement (which was something they said at the beginning Lucinda wouldn’t let them do so I don’t understand what changed) but they’re still engaged at sixteen and married at eighteen which is something we seriously need to stop portraying in books and film. I’m so sick of this trope of girls falling in love with their best friend. Just because he loves her does not mean she has to reciprocate.

Eleanor’s fate is what upset me the most though. Before everyone finds out he’s the villain, Eleanor gets engaged to Sir Peter and, of course, Lucinda shows up. Her “gift” is basically that Eleanor can’t back out of marrying Peter which she obviously doesn’t mind at the time. However, once everyone found out he was a traitor I assumed they’d figure something out, most likely that the king would execute him for treason (yes it’s middle-grade but there were ogres literally eating people). Nope. They all agree that they’ll pardon him for poor Eleanor’s sake and send him off to be a travelling merchant. As though being married to someone she hates is in any way a good thing. The part that really got to me though is that in the epilogue she’s pregnant. Why was that necessary? Their baby is Ella from Ella Enchanted so she had to exist somehow but since Eleanor hates Peter I’m trying really hard not to imagine how that baby was made.

**End spoilers.

Long story short: sorry guys. I really wanted to like this book but the ending absolutely ruined it for me. I’ve liked Levine’s work in the past so if you enjoy middle-grade and fairytales you should still give it a try. Thanks for reading.

-Antonia.

The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes

Summary:
Zane Obispo spends every day exploring the sleeping volcano in his backyard. “The Beast,” as he calls it, is the one place where he can escape other kids, who make fun of him because he has a limp and walks with a cane.
After a twin-engine plane crashes into the Beast, a mysterious girl named Brooks shows up at Zane’s doorstep insisting that they meet at the volcano, where she will reveal a terrible secret. Zane agrees, mostly because beautiful girls like her don’t usually talk to him. Brooks tells him that the volcano is actually a centuries-old prison for the Maya god of death, whose destiny is directly tied to Zane’s.
No way, Zane thinks. He’s just a thirteen-year-old nobody, and destiny or no destiny, he wants nothing to do with any of it, especially some god of death. But Brooks opens his eyes to the truth: magic, monsters, and gods are real, and Zane is at the center of an ancient prophecy that could mean the destruction of the world. Suddenly finding himself entangled in a web of dangerous secrets, Zane embarks on a quest that will take him far from home and test him to the very core.
Feisty heroes, tricky gods, murderous demons, and spirited giants are just some of the pleasures that await in this fresh and funny take on Maya mythology, as rich and delicious as a mug of authentic hot chocolate.
The Storm Runner (The Storm Runner, #1)Review:
The Storm Runner is a book that follows an unlikely hero on a quest to save the world. Where have I heard that one before? There were things I liked about this book and I wouldn’t say that there were things I didn’t like; I just think that this book didn’t hit the mark for me.
I liked the mythology that we learned about in this story. I thought it was the most interest part of the story. I would have liked to have more vivid and descriptive settings though. Zane finds himself in some pretty interesting places, but I think they could have been built up a little more.
I didn’t find myself connecting with the characters as much as I have with some of the others I’ve read that are middle-grade books. I’m not sure if that’s due to my reading so many middle-grade books that focus on mythology or that I’ve really loved the others that I’ve read.
I don’t want to say that there was anything wrong with The Storm Runner because there certainly wasn’t. It was fun to read. It was fast-paced, but not too much so. There was adventure and mystery. I just didn’t connect to the story in the way I expected to.
Overall, this was a fun story but it was average for me. I think it’s definitely worth reading. The mythology was fascinating and we follow the main character who has a physical disability. I liked this book and will be continuing the series without a doubt.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Summary:
How did a raw chicken get inside Yasmany’s locker? When Sal Vidon meets Gabi Real for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow, Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared. Sal prides himself on being an excellent magician, but for this sleight of hand, he relied on a talent no one would guess . . . except maybe Gabi, whose sharp eyes never miss a trick. When Gabi learns that he’s capable of conjuring things much bigger than a chicken–including his dead mother–and she takes it all in stride, Sal knows that she is someone he can work with. There’s only one slight problem: their manipulation of time and space could put the entire universe at risk. A sassy entropy sweeper, a documentary about wedgies, a principal who wears a Venetian bauta mask, and heaping platefuls of Cuban food are just some of the delights that await in his mind-blowing novel gift-wrapped in love and laughter.
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe (Sal and Gabi, #1)Review:
Rick Riordan is doing absolutely everything right with his publishing imprint. I will absolutely buy every book that has his name on it because I have loved every single one that I have read so far. Sal and Gabi Break the Universe was so much fun to read.
First things first, I don’t know WHY people aren’t talking about how this story follows Sal, who is a young Cuban boy that lives with diabetes. There really are not enough books out there that have characters that live with illnesses. The diabetes part of this book was so well represented. Though it slowly was mentioned less and less as the book went on. I really loved how Sal taught others about his experiences.
Sal as a whol, was such a fun character. He was such a ham, always pulling pranks and doing magic tricks. The way his mind worked was such a ride. I love the way he thought out his tricks but made sure to think about how they would make people feel.
My favorite part about this book was the family aspects. I actually had to look up an alternative for the phrase ‘broken family’that ares typically used when talking about an atypical family. But there was nothing broken about these families. Sal has a stepmother that he calls ‘American Stepmother’ which just cracked me up. I loved the relationship the family had. It was sweet and heartwarming. I also really enjoyed (and sometimes couldn’t keep up with) Gabi’s family. She has about a hundred different dad’s and they all have their own dad nicknames. One of them was even a robot. I loved every page.
I loved the science-based magic. Sal’s ability to see alternate realities really was fascinating. I thought it was so interesting the way the author used science and what not to explain Sal’s abilities.
Overall, this book had me grinning like a fool and cracking up. It was a bit less action filled than I thought it was going to be, but I still absolutely adored it.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.