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ARC Review: Spineless by Samantha San Miguel

Publication Date: June 7, 2022


This exciting middle-grade adventure is Hoot for the Gilded Age—with scientific discoveries, secret plots, and surprisingly enormous fauna.              
When his asthma lands him at a health resort in the wilds of Gilded Age South Florida, twelve-year-old Algie Emsworth is over the moon. The scientific treasure trove of unexplored swamps may launch his dream career as a naturalist. But even Algie is startled when he happens upon a brand-new species and her brood in the karst springs surrounding the resort. Algie quickly realizes he must keep his discovery a secret: a famous collector of exotic animals is also staying at the hotel, and the new species is threatened by his very presence. An apparent curse has also descended upon the hotel, bringing with it a deadly red tide. But when the pool starts filling with ink and guests start getting mysterious, sucker-shaped wounds, Algie must pluck up his courage to find the truth about the goings-on at the Grand Hotel—and save the new species from destruction.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was super cute. It was a wild rollicking adventure that didn’t slow down for a minute once it got going and I read it in one sitting. I was first attracted to the cover, which is gorgeous, and I’m happy to say that the story inside lived up to the cover.

Algie is an endearing protagonist who learns a lot about what you can expect from people, how they always surprise you, and how much he is capable of despite his asthma. together with his friends, he makes scientific discoveries, saves the day, and has quite the adventure whilst doing so.

The events in this novel were… completely, utterly, ridiculously unbelievable. Once you accept that, however, it’s a marvellously fun ride. There are even some science facts sprinkled in to add flavor.

I would definitely recommend this for any 3rd grader (and up) who enjoys adventure and doesn’t mind a little bit of suspense.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Union Square Kids for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: Loteria by Karla Valenti

Book Cover

Publishing Date: September 7, 2021


Acclaimed author Karla Arenas Valenti weaves an adventure steeped in magic and mythology, exploring the notion of free will in a world where fate holds all the cards.

It is the hottest hour of the hottest day in Oaxaca City when Life and Death walk into town, ready to begin a new game of Lotería. But first, they need a pawn, a child whose fate will be determined by the winner of the game: a long and prosperous life or an untimely death. Fate finds this child in a robin-egg blue house, tucked beneath a massive jacaranda tree. And so, the game begins.

Every card reveals a new twist in Clara’s fate: a tree, a scorpion, a fateful arrow, a mermaid, a deer, a treacherous rose. But Clara knows none of this. All she knows is that her cousin Esteban has vanished, and she’ll do whatever it takes to save him, traveling to the mythical Kingdom of Las Pozas in her search. And although it seems her fate was sealed as soon as the cards were dealt, Clara just might have what it takes to shatter the game and choose a new path.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was SO GOOD. I was expecting a magical middle grade adventure and it was, but it was also surprisingly dark. Like. I would not give this to a young or sensitive kid unless you’re prepared for a lot of tears and possible nightmares. I even cried at the end. It was beautiful, and the darkness only enhanced that beauty.

It was also not focused solely on the kids as I expected. The story revolves around Clara, who is around middle-school age, and Esteban, who is 8, but also focuses on Life and Catrina (Death) who are immortal adults.

The illustrations were lovely and I enjoyed seeing some of the scenes that were described. Which brings me to the descriptions: they were lush and beautiful and made me feel like I was transported to the setting of the book. So many of the foods and plants and other details were unfamiliar to me, but they were described so well I felt I could almost taste and see them.

I also really enjoyed the book-long debate between Life and Catarina about whether anyone had choices / free will or if everything in life was predetermined, and how the story flowed around that framework and offered evidence for both sides.

Highly recommend.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Children’s for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: Even and Odd by Sarah Beth Durst

Even and Odd

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first – the twins are young and read like it, and the young unicorn named Jeremy obsessed with the mundane world was a bit weird, and the kids’ dad had rainbow hair. I thought it was going to be too young for me and the rare Sarah Beth Durst book that didn’t really grab me. And then it grabbed me.

Yes, the characters are young – and aimed at young readers – but their adventure gets more complex as they go and acquire real consequences, and they learn some valuable lessons. I thoroughly enjoyed this once it got going, and even the details I at first found ridiculous ended up fitting and feeling right by the end.

My one quibble is that the plot twists are very predictable — I saw each one coming from a mile away. Now, young readers might not, having not read as many books, but I feel like it could have been a bit more subtle.

Overall very enjoyable and I think kids will love it. Even getting stuck transformed into a skunk (complete with requisite skunk stink humor), Jeremy’s obsession with soda and farmcats card game, the details and displacement of the magical world, the flying surfboards… It’s a lot of fun. I’ll definitely be reading it to my 7 year old soon.

It also deftly handles such issues as the problem with hurting people while thinking you’re doing what’s best for them (without consulting them) and what it’s like to be a refugee when your home is destroyed by a natural (or not-so-natural) disaster. And that you don’t have to wait until you’re grown up to be a hero and save the day (and sometimes even the grownups don’t know what to do, and sometimes they lie because they think it’s best for you).

*Thanks to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group for providing an e-arc to review.

ARC Review: The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kiddo (6) says four stars because it was good (and about trains) but also a little scary.

I say four stars because the moral lessons (which I agree with) were not particularly subtle.

Update: changing my rating to 5 stars because it’s 10 days after we finished the library copy and they have their own copy and we’re rereading it – but this time they’re willing to alternate reading chapters with me. They love it just as much this time around. We’ve discussed the bits about endangered animals and the things we can do to help. I thought the endangered animals bits were a bit too ‘hit you over the head’ the first time around, but they seem to have made my kiddo think so I’m willing to admit that Lev Grossman might just know what he’s doing.

Also, note that while they normally try to get out of reading picture books they are perfectly happy reading entire chapters of this book. We get done with school for the day and they immediately go, “can we read the Silver Arrow? You read 2 chapters and I’ll read a chapter?” Sometimes they even read two.

They draw pictures of the Silver Arrow and Twilight Star. They build them in LEGO. They are basically obsessed lol. Any book that can kick off a kid’s love of reading deserves 5 stars in my opinion.

They’ve even decided we’ll read a new book once we finish this one – another book about a magical train I’ve suggested but they were hesitant about. (They are skeptical of new books because I guess new books are more stressful than familiar books.)

So, anyone with middle-grade magical train book recommendations — send ’em my way.