Review: My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin

my seventh grade life in tights by brooks benjamin

LIVE IT.

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

WORK IT.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

BRING IT.

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor.

Description taken from Goodreads.


My Seventh Grade Life in Tights had everything I wanted, and more. It was sassy and smart and heartfelt, and I was rooting for Dillon every step of the way. The structure was there, from the pacing to the premise to the world-building. From the start, I loved his voice and character, but what really made the story was the friendships.

love great supporting character friendships, so much so that it’s currently my pinned tweet, and My Seventh Grade Life in Tights delivered. I felt Dillon’s struggles with reconcile his dreams with his relationships with his friends, and it was a great representation of the collection of lows and highs that seventh grade is.

Also a plus on that count, there’s plenty of diversity in this story. Brooks smashed clichés and stereotypes throughout the book, and I loved seeing that.

Another thing that this book has going for it is Dillon, whose passion for dance is inspiring. He’s trying to enter into an adult world at a young age, and I respect that. He tries really hard at what he does, he doesn’t give up, and he’s genuine all at the same time. I enjoy seeing kids who are passionate about something represented in stories, and by the end of the book, I was ready to have more of Dillon! In particular, I would love to see who he becomes as a young adult, if that were ever an option :D

All in all, the book was superb. It hit all the right notes, and I’m even happier that I got the chance to work with Brooks during Tweens Read August. I had a ton of fun with the book, and I’ll be recommending it. 4.5 stars.

Review: Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard

beetle boy by m.g. leonard

The glorious start to a middle-grade trilogy about a brilliant boy, his loyal friends, and some amazingly intelligent beetles that brings together adventure, humor, and real science!

Darkus Cuttle’s dad mysteriously goes missing from his job as Director of Science at the Natural History Museum. Vanished without a trace! From a locked room! So Darkus moves in with his eccentric Uncle Max and next door to Humphrey and Pickering, two lunatic cousins with an enormous beetle infestation. Darkus soon discovers that the beetles are anything but ordinary. They’re an amazing, intelligent super species and they’re in danger of being exterminated. It’s up to Darkus and his friends to save the beetles. But they’re up against an even more terrifying villain–the mad scientist of fashion, haute couture villainess Lucretia Cutter. Lucretia has an alarming interest in insects and dastardly plans for the bugs. She won’t let anyone or anything stop her, including Darkus’s dad, who she has locked up in her dungeons! The beetles and kids join forces to rescue Mr. Cuttle and thwart Lucretia.

Description taken from Goodreads.


This book was a Tweens Read August pick. Check out M.G.’s post on the blog here

I’m no huge lover of beetles or insects, but I was initially interested in M.G. Leonard’s debut because I heard it was reminiscent of the kind of writing in another book I loved as a kid but can’t remember now (has snow and a red machine on the front? anyone?) Anyway, I went into Beetle Boy with high expectations, and almost all of them were met.

Starting with what I liked, I loved the factoids on beetles! M.G. clearly loves beetles, and she worked them into the novel without making it seem unnatural. There weren’t any info-dumps, and I came to appreciate beetles over the course of the story. I went it a bit skeptical of how well that element would be handled, but I was pleasantly surprised. I grew up on movies like Antz, The Ant Bully, and A Bug’s Life, and this book brought many great memories back for me.

Along that same vein, the writing and plot were spot-on. The writing captured the feel that I was looking for. Like some of the other books I’ve reviewed lately, it had this feel of older middle-grade fiction, books that aren’t narrated in such a whimsical way. I appreciated that, and I loved getting to know the characters. Each person was nuanced, and characters were distinctive.

What I disliked had to do with writing though, as much as I loved both of the execution of this story. I can’t truly see myself recommending this story to many kids in its target audience. It’s just too out-there, I guess. It’s a fun story, but enthusiasm for reading about bugs (no matter how cool they are) doesn’t transfer easily. I’d still recommend this to lower middle-grade readers.

Overall, not a bad read by any means. I was entertained, and I enjoyed learning about beetles. However, for the most part, I probably won’t be recommending this one. 3 stars.

Review: School of the Dead by Avi

school of the dead by avi

From Newbery Medalist Avi comes the spine-tingling story of Tony Gilbert, who must solve a mystery surrounding the ghost of his uncle Charlie.

For most of Tony Gilbert’s life, he always thought of his uncle as “Weird Uncle Charlie.” That is, until Uncle Charlie moves in with Tony and his family. He’s still odd, of course—talking about spirits and other supernatural stuff—but Uncle Charlie and Tony become fast friends. Between eating ice cream and going to the movies, Tony is having more fun with Uncle Charlie than he ever could have imagined.

So when Uncle Charlie dies suddenly, Tony is devastated. So sad, in fact, he starts seeing Uncle Charlie everywhere! Tony recently transferred to the Penda School, where Uncle Charlie went as a kid. The school is eerie enough on its own without his uncle’s ghost making it worse. On top of which, rumors have been circulating about a student who went missing shortly before Tony arrived. Could that and Uncle Charlie’s ghost be related?

Full of twists and turns that get spookier by the chapter, School of the Dead is a fast-paced mystery that Avi’s fans will devour!

Description taken from Goodreads.


I’ve never been a huge fan of Avi, but the premise of School of the Dead won me over. I was curious to see what the story would be like, and I ended up enjoying it much more than I expected. However, as others have correctly noted, the twist at the end is a bit easy to guess by the middle of the novel. I’m sure mature middle-grade readers will be able to guess it fairly easily, but I still had a lot of fun with the story, so I don’t think it’ll be a major turn-off.

Even though I enjoyed the plot and the characters, two things wavered for me throughout the story. The first is the fact that the book isn’t scary. I don’t think it would be scary for anyone. It does the ghost cliché, it works within its premise, but it’s nothing shocking or wholly original.

The second is the writing. Avi’s writing doesn’t give me the voice of a middle-grader. Tony felt much older than his age much of the time. Avi’s writing tends to favor the same kind of cool detachment as Kate DiCamillo’s work. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In fact, I enjoyed it, but I don’t know how the target audience will receive it. If you’re looking for whimsical and action-packed, this isn’t the book for you.

It’s lack of originality and it’s writing made me question how easily its target audience will fall in love with it, but I know a few kids who loved books like Anya’s Ghost that could appreciate a story like this. The rest of the book was pretty solid, and I’ll be recommending it. 3 stars.

Review: Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger

fuzzy by tom angleberger and paul dellinger

When Max—Maxine Zealster—befriends her new robot classmate Fuzzy, part of Vanguard One Middle School’s new Robot Integration Program, she helps him learn everything he needs to know about surviving middle school—the good, the bad, and the really, really, ugly. Little do they know that surviving sixth grade is going to become a true matter of life and death, because Vanguard has an evil presence at its heart: a digital student evaluation system named BARBARA that might be taking its mission to shape the perfect student to extremes!

Description taken from Goodreads.


I’m not a Tom Angleberger fan, but that might just have to change if he continues to come out with books like Fuzzy!

The only thing I didn’t like about the story (and didn’t like is a strong phrase) is that it had a slow beginning. I wasn’t drawn in from the very first page, but maybe that’s too much to ask. It’s enough that the rest of book is superb.

Despite my pacing problems in the beginning, I quickly fell in love with Fuzzy. There were a few different reasons for that, most notably because of the world-building and plot.

Fuzzy takes place in the near-future, and it almost has a dystopia-type feel. Dystopia is much harder to come by in middle-grade lit than young-adult lit, to the point where I wasn’t sure what it would even look like. Tom Angleberger did an amazing job of answering that question for me. No, not everything felt natural. There were a few weak spots where I felt like he was over-describing, but I think that’ll do a good job of introducing the subject material to younger students and people unaffiliated with code and technology.

When it really comes down to it, I was completely in love with the world-building of Fuzzy. The entire book did feel a little immature, so it was a bit awkward. I didn’t love the world for its writing or the way it was described, but because of its ideas. For the most part, Angleberger brought together his world spectacularly. I loved the way he (subtly) pointed out the flaws in where we’re heading with education, and his vision of technology-driven schools was fascinating.

As for the plot, it brought the story together. This may seem like a no-brainer, but beyond the obvious, the plot made the book. What I mean by that is it gave life the characters. It provided the world of Fuzzy a home. Not every book does that, and I was impressed by the chain of events in the book.

All in all, I loved Fuzzy. It had a relatively weak beginning, but it gained speed (and a place in my heart). The world was one I could dive into, and the storytelling was refreshing. I’ll be recommending this one! Hopefully, I can make some young STEM-lit fans :D 4 stars.

Review: Lucky Strikes by Louis Bayard

lucky strikes by louis bayard

With her mama recently dead and her pa sight unseen since birth, fourteen-year-old Amelia is suddenly in charge of her younger brother and sister, and of the family gas station. Harley Blevins, local king and emperor of Standard Oil, is in hot pursuit to clinch his fuel monopoly. To keep him at bay and her family out of foster care, Melia must come up with a father, and fast. And so when a hobo rolls out of a passing truck, Melia grabs opportunity by its beard. Can she hold off the hounds till she comes of age?

Description taken from Goodreads.


Two words that, when put together, are immediate turn-offs for me in any book: rural South.

As soon as I cracked open Lucky Strikes, I wanted to stop reading. The narration style just doesn’t do it for me. I figured I would get into the book and see if I could get past it, but it was an issue for me throughout the entire story.

Sure, it’s sad. It’s sweet. It’s quirky. It’s got a nice cover. Theoretically, it’s got the makings of a mainstream MG novel. But no. I can’t see myself recommending to anyone for two reasons. The first is that it wasn’t for me. I can’t try to sell off books I know that I dislike. And the second is that this doesn’t read like a middle-grade novel.

Lucky Strikes is a perfect representation of books that adults think middle-graders will be drawn to. On top of the setting, Amelia didn’t actually feel like a middle-grader and there was next to nothing going on. And when things were happening, they were weird to the point where I couldn’t take the plot seriously. For this one, I would recommend reading a sample before buying or borrowing. 1 star.

Review: The First Last Day by Dorian Cirrone

the first last day by dorian cirrone

The magic of summer comes to life in this enchanting middle grade debut about an eleven-year-old girl who must save the future by restarting time after she realizes that her wish to relive the last day of summer may not have been such a great thing after all.

What if you could get a do-over—a chance to relive a day in your life over and over again until you got it right? Would you?

After finding a mysterious set of paints in her backpack, eleven-year-old Haleigh Adams paints a picture of her last day at the New Jersey shore. When she wakes up the next morning, Haleigh finds that her wish for an endless summer with her new friend Kevin has come true. At first, she’s thrilled, but Haliegh soon learns that staying in one place—and time—comes with a price.

And when Haleigh realizes her parents have been keeping a secret, she is faced with a choice: do nothing and miss out on all the good things that come with growing up or find the secret of the time loop she’s trapped in and face some of the inevitable realities of moving on.

As she and Kevin set out to find the source of the magic paints, Haleigh worries it might be too late. Will she be able to restart time? Or will it be the biggest mistake of her life?

Description taken from Goodreads.


This concept has been multiple times over, most notably in my mind with the movie Groundhog Day, but I think The First Last Day does a good job of keeping it fresh. After all, Kevin and Haleigh are just kids, and they end up foreseeing a huge tragedy with the option to never face it. The actual plot was much more compelling than the premise gave it credit for, and I think Cirrone did an amazing job of displaying the emotional aspects of this book.

What I was even more impressed by was the magical realism. It’s easy to make average magical worlds and average realistic worlds and bring them together, but it’s difficult to make great magical worlds and great realistic worlds collide. In the story, there’s next to no disappearing parent syndrome. Kevin and Haleigh both depend on their parents a lot, and they both have really supportive adult figures in their lives. In a world where middle-grade grows increasingly unrealistic, The First Last Day was a breath of fresh air.

All in all, this was a great book that I would recommend. The writing wasn’t exceptional and the beginning was weak, but certain elements to it were fun and well thought out. The world-building and the characters were done very well, and I ending up loving the concept way more than I initially thought I would. It tugged on my heartstrings without being overly emotional, and all in all, I thought it was a well-rounded story. Will be recommending. 3 stars.

Review: It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm

it's not me, it's you by stephanie kate strohm

One high school girl’s comedic examination of her dating past as told by the friends, family, and boys who were involved!

Avery Dennis is a high school senior and one of the most popular girls in her class. But a majorly public breakup with the guy she’s been dating causes some disastrous waves. It is right before prom and Avery no longer has the perfect date. She runs the prom committee, how could she not show up with somebody?

Post-breakup, Avery gets to thinking about all of the guys that she has ever dated. How come none of those relationships ever worked out? Could it be her fault? Avery decides to investigate. In history class she’s learning about this method of record-keeping called “oral history” and she has a report due. So Avery decides to go directly to the source. Avery tracks down all of the guys she’s ever dated, and uses that information, along with thoughts from her friends, family, and teachers, to compile a total account of her dating history.

Avery discovers some surprises about herself and the guys she’s spent time with — just in time for prom night!

Description taken from Goodreads.


Even though this is categorized as YA, I can’t take it completely seriously as YA. It had much more a mature MG feel to it, and I loved it for that. Many people have compared this to the movie Clueless, and I definitely see 8th grade girls falling in love with the drama, structure, and plot of it all.

It wasn’t exactly for me. I didn’t realize going in that it’s told interview-style, and that system almost never works for me. I like my stories told straight, and this veered off the path by a lot. Because of that, I struggled to get into the novel, but when I did, I found a really cute story underneath all of this. Avery is a lovable heroine who is just a little, well, clueless, and I loved reading about her throughout the course of the novel.

Overall, I did think it was a little too much. In all honesty, it sounds like the author took a bunch of overly stereotypical teens, interviewed them about a certain girl, and put it into a book. It worked at times, and it didn’t work at times. I’ll be recommending this one, but only to the right people. I can’t see this book branching audiences very well. 2 stars.

ARC Review: The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart by Lauren DeStefano

the peculiar night of the blue heart by lauren destefano

Lionel is a wild boy, who doesn’t much like to be around other people. He’d rather be a purring cat or a wolf stalking the woods.

Marybeth is a nice girl. She doesn’t need to be told to comb her hair or brush her teeth, and she’s kind to everyone at the orphanage . . . Lionel most of all.

Different though they are, Lionel and Marybeth are best friends in a world that has forgotten about them. So when a mysterious blue spirit possesses Marybeth—and starts to take control—they know they must stop it before the real Marybeth fades away forever.

Description taken from Goodreads.


As short as this story is, I think it could’ve been a little shorter.

That aside, this is definitely one of the best middle-grade novels I’ve read this year. It has this sleepy quality to it, in the next way possible. I loved DeStefano’s writing throughout the novel, from the world to the descriptions to the underlying humor in some scenes.

 

Oh, and the relationships in this story.

Middle-grade friendships tend to drive me crazy because they can be fragile or ridiculous. Sometimes I get sick of how shallow they are, and very few middle-grade books make me think wow, this is it is to love someone.

The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart did that in a way that was strange and lovely and utterly magical. I loved getting to know both Marybeth and Lionel and follow them on their journey. All of the relationships in the book were spot-on, and I was thoroughly impressed by this story. I haven’t been very interested in DeStefano’s writing up until now, but I’m going to be checking out her other works in the near future.

It’s been a long time since a middle-grade novel truly spoke to me, and The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart did that perfectly. It’s also paced well, though some of the scenes were too drawn out for my taste, and the author did a good job of spreading out the plot events. I was never bored. Although I think it may be a tough sell for boy readers, I’ll be recommending this one.

And, as I mentioned on The Silver Words, if the author is interested in writing another book for Lionel and Marybeth, I’d love to check it out! 4 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 208

Review: The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

the wild robot by peter brown

When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. Why is she there? Where did she come from? And, most important, how will she survive in her harsh surroundings? Roz’s only hope is to learn from the island’s hostile animal inhabitants. When she tries to care for an orphaned gosling, the other animals finally decide to help, and the island starts to feel like home. Until one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her….

Description taken from Goodreads.


This is an adorable, strangely relevant kind of story. It’s scatter throughout with graphics, making it feel like it’s targeted for a younger audience, but I can easily see kids 7 to 13 enjoying this book, give or take a year depending on reader maturity.

The Wild Robot manages to be mature and entertaining despite its child-like voice, and I loved following Roz on her adventures. Honestly, the entire thing struck me as a My Side of the Mountain told from a robot’s perspective on an island.

I don’t know if he had an agenda in writing this, but Brown did a remarkable job of fitting in current issues into the context of The Wild Robot. In my opinion, regardless of whether he did or not, he handled those issues very well. There’s not too much bias throughout the story.

One thing I was very surprised with was how engaging the story was. It would’ve been easy enough to let the potential of the story run through the cracks and right out of his hands, but Brown held onto the book. It almost reads like a slice of life, where every chapter or so is its own adventure. This kept the plot fresh and interesting.

Overall, I’ll be recommending. I was really excited for this one, and it lived up to my expectations. The writing was a bit distant, but I’m almost never a fan of the oh dear reader, Roz was not yet out of her troubles yet type narrative anyway. All in all, it was very well-done. 4 stars.

Review: Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way by William M. Akers

mrs. ravenbach's way

Being a new student at the McKegway School for Clever and Gifted Children is crummy enough, but when Toby Wilcox is stuck in the fourth grade homeroom of Mrs. Ravenbach, a vainglorious German tyrant who worships “the order and the discipline,” he faces a much bigger challenge—fight back or be ground to goo in the gears of Teutonic efficiency.

Toby upends Mrs. Ravenbach’s perfectly ordered universe and risks everything to strike a blow for free-thinkers everywhere!

Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way is the first book in the series: The Amazing Escapades of Toby Wilcox.

Description taken from Goodreads.


Don’t go into this expecting a Roald Dahl-like read. If you’re looking for the Trunchbull, go read about the Trunchbull, but don’t try to find it here.

I went into this story wanting another horrible teacher the likes of which I’ve only ever found in Matilda, and it didn’t really work out that way. Akers’ writing lacks the signature wit and humor of Dahl’s books, and there was nothing remotely endearing about the teacher, the students, or the plot.

Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way is told from the perspective of the teacher, which was surprising. When I found this out, I hoped that Akers would try to justify why Ravenbach is the way that she is. What ended up happening was completely different. This book reads like an angry student wanted to get back at a teacher in a way that was embarrassing (for both parties) and wholly juvenile.

There was no one to champion in the book. The students were horrible, and the teacher was equally so. I’m not even quite sure what the author was trying to prove by writing this. I had hoped for more, maybe a little emotion, some kind of lesson even. Something. But all in all, there are a lot of students v.s. teacher books out there, and there’s nothing to be gained from this one.

1 star.

Series: The Amazing Escapades of Toby Wilcox #1