Category Archives: Middle Grade 8-12

Review: Darkness and Demon Song by M. R. Fournet

Darkness and Demon Song by M.R. Fournet

Darkness and Demon Song (Marius Grey #2)
M. R. Fournet
Feiwel & Friends
Published June 18, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Darkness and Demon Song

A cemetery-boy-turned-monster-hunter must race against time to save his recently-resurrected mother in Darkness and Demon Song, M.R. Fournet’s eerie middle grade follow up to Brick Dust and Bones.

Marius Grey’s mom is back from the dead. After hunting monsters and performing forbidden spells, Marius is just happy she’s there, helping him to take care of their Louisiana cemetery again.

But it soon becomes clear that something has gone wrong. Marius’s mother is growing more distant and strange things start happening around her. Worse yet, sometimes it feels like she’s a completely different person–one who definitely isn’t his mom.

If Marius wants to save her, he’s going to need help. Serious help. Good thing he has a flesh-eating mermaid for a best friend and a classmate with extra strong magic. Add in mysterious clues for new hunts, graveyard hopping from Louisiana to Texas, and a tough ex-hunter he doesn’t know if he can trust, and it’s clear that Marius has his work cut out for him.

My Review

The first book in this series took me completely by surprise last year. I received a copy from the publisher and really didn’t know anything about the book itself before opening it up. I’m not a big horror reader, so that also gave me pause. I couldn’t figure out how horror would work in middle grade.

Once I started reading the book, though, I totally got how it could work. It’s definitely not something I would have been able to read in elementary school myself. I have always been something of a sensitive reader. But now, reading the book, I felt like I couldn’t put it down.

Marius is such a compelling character. He’s doing everything he can do to make the world a safer place and take care of the people counting on him, from his mom to the ghosts in the cemetery in their care.

In the first book, Marius does a lot on his own or with only the help of his best friend, Rhiannon, the flesh-eating mermaid. In this second installment in the series, a community develops around Marius. Partly, this happens because his mom is back, and people try to reconnect with her as well. Partly, it happens because things go sideways, and Marius needs help.

The book focuses on some really cool relationships. Of course, we learn more about the friendship between Marius and Rhiannon. But Marius also makes a new friend his age who harbors her own secrets. He also learns to take risks by trusting a few adults in his life who have helped him in the past.

All in all, I enjoyed this second adventure into the dark, scary world of New Orleans, complete with fishing in the swamp, a Texas entrance to Hell, and an exploration of what truly makes someone a monster. I’ll be eager to see what M.R. Fournet writes next.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 10 to 14.

Representation
Marius is described as being basically shades of gray rather than a member of a specific race. Minor characters are POC.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
A magic book captures monsters through a recited spell. Marius visits various magical shops and encounters other magical creatures and people who possess magic, like witches. His family is responsible for the care of the ghosts in the graveyard where he lives. Some humans open themselves up to possession by a demon through bargains gone wrong or other circumstances.

Violent Content
Situations of peril and scary imagery, such as monsters trying to attack a child. One character relives another’s memories in Hell. Characters fight demons and other monsters.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: The Spindle of Fate by Aimee Lim

The Spindle of Fate
Aimee Lim
Feiwel & Friends
Published June 4, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About The Spindle of Fate

When Evie Mei discovers that her recently passed mother was the head of a guild of magical weavers, she enters the Chinese netherworld to try and bring her back in this middle-grade debut.

Twelve-year-old Evie Mei Huang never did like helping in her mom’s tailor shop. She hated helping to mend fraying clothes, how the measuring tape got all twisted up, and how pushy her mother’s clients were. Most of all, she hates that her mother is dead and isn’t here to help anymore.

But when the universe sends a life preserver, Evie knows to grab it. So yes, it’s weird when a talking monkey shows up and tells her that her plainspoken, hardworking tailor mother was actually the head of a Guild of magical weavers who can change the fate of a person with only a spool of thread. Very weird. But he also comes bearing news that her mother is trapped in Diyu, the Chinese underworld, and that only Evie can get her back. No pressure.

The important thing is that Evie’s mom isn’t dead. And if she’s got this one shot to bring her back and save her family, she’s got to take it.

Inspired by Chinese mythology, Aimee Lim’s debut middle grade peers into the dark and gritty underworld, while showcasing the unbreakable bond between a family and the lengths we’ll go to save them.

My Review

I’ve read a couple of other middle grade books in which someone must journey into the underworld to save a family member or the world, but what makes this story fresh and different is the complex relationship between Evie and her mom. While Evie’s mom was alive, she complained about her, wasn’t interested in her mom’s work, and felt that her mom didn’t understand her at all.

As Evie learns about her mom’s secret life as the leader of a magical Guild, she starts to rethink things she took for granted. Perhaps there was a lot more to her mom than she knew. And if she has a chance to save her, Evie realizes she desperately wants to take it.

I also like the boy who comes with her on her quest. He’s a bit goofy, but the story doesn’t lean too far into that goofiness. He has knowledge and abilities that help Evie, but he provides some comedic relief, too.

Another great element of this book is that her mom’s magic is through sewing. She can sew messages that appear on special fabric in someone else’s possession. She can use thread in magical ways. I loved how this was used in the resolution of the story.

Readers who enjoyed Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao or Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit by Jesse Q. Sutanto will enjoy another chance to delve into Chinese mythology and celebrate family connections.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Most characters are Chinese.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
A man embraces a woman.

Spiritual Content
Evie meets a monkey who is also a powerful spiritual being or demon. She and another person make the journey to Diyu, the Chinese underworld. There they meet several supernatural “staff” members who run Diyu.

Violent Content
Situations of peril and brief battle sequences. Evie and her companion witness people being tortured on the various courts of Diyu. For example, they encounter people who appear to be starving, whose bowls are filled with uncooked rice they can’t eat. They don’t witness any graphic torture.

References to murder.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Boris in Switzerland by Lucinda Gifford

Boris in Switzerland (The Wolves of Greycoat Hall #2)
Lucinda Gifford
Kane Miller Publishing
Published January 21, 2023

Kane Miller Website | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Boris in Switzerland

A romp of a read, with an ingenious mystery to solve, and packed with endearing illustrations.

Boris is attending the Institute of International Excellence, a fancy Swiss boarding school while his parents are staying with Great Aunt Orfilia. Although worried about being the only wolf, and having to navigate around the rude vice principal, he quickly makes friends, learns how to “log in” and heli-board, and has plentiful supply of cake, Boris can’t shake the idea that something funny is going on . . .

My Review

Both the books in this series are so sweet. The plentiful illustrations show Boris, his family, and friends doing all kinds of different activities. From skiing to eating cake to horseback riding, they keep busy. The illustrations show a wheelchair user and a Black girl.

The first half of the book focuses on Boris joining a boarding school and settling in. In the second half, Boris and his friends investigate a mystery on campus. Seemingly unconnected threads weave together to reveal what’s really going on at the elite boarding school. The gentle pacing and engaging characters make this an easy book to read. Pen and ink illustrations add interest and break up the text, making Boris in Switzerland a great book for readers transitioning from chapter books to middle grade fiction.

I had a great time with this sweet, imaginative book. I hope the author writes more adventures of Boris and his family.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Boris is a wolf. One of his friends is a wheelchair-user. Another friend is Black.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
Boris and his friends wonder if a ghost haunts the school. One note about wolves of Morovia specifies the kinds of scary stories wolves tell over a campfire. They’re more silly than scary.

Violent Content
Implications of child abuse. Boris learns that an adult forces a child to work and threatens to prevent them from seeing their family.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: The Pale Queen by Ethan M. Aldridge

The Pale Queen
Ethan M. Aldridge
Quill Tree Press
Published June 25, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About The Pale Queen

From the acclaimed creator of Estranged and The Legend of Brightblade comes a lush fantasy graphic novel about an aspiring astronomer who attracts the attention of a mysterious being known as the Lady. Perfect for fans of Anya’s Ghost and Snapdragon!

Agatha has always dreamed of the stars. But when a chance encounter introduces her to the Lady of the Hills, Agatha is shocked to learn that a secret magical world lays hidden in the mist-shrouded land next to her village. She finds herself quickly captivated by the Lady, but is the Lady who she appears to be?

As Agatha forms a new friendship with a girl in town, she learns that the Lady is far older and more powerful than she could’ve guessed and that her plans aren’t as innocent as they appear. Will Agatha be able to protect the people she loves from the Lady’s sinister agenda?

My Review

This is another one of those books that I read at just the right time. (I’m not sure there could be a bad time to read a book by Ethan Aldridge, honestly.)

It’s been a hard week, so when I started this book, the first thing I appreciated was the soothing color palette. It’s got greens and yellows in softer tones. The woods have deep shadows, which makes them feel old and untouched, just like I’d imagine woods hiding magical creatures at the edge of a small town would be.

I loved Agatha’s character from the first page. She’s smart. Kind. Frustrated by the way her life has boxed her in, but still good to the people around her as much as she can be.

Heather, the girl who comes to stay with the family Agatha works for, also won me over. She constantly quotes authors and is pretty unapologetically nerdy, which is fabulous.

The Lady who makes a bargain with Agatha is also a fascinating character. I love the way her appearance changes depending on what’s happening and how Agatha reacts to her in certain scenes.

There were a couple of places where a chapter or scene ending felt a little abrupt, leaving me wanting a few more panels to really finish the scene. However, I’m now wondering if that was done on purpose to add to the eerie, slightly off-balance feeling the author created in those moments. Either way, it ultimately worked well.

Readers who’ve experienced Aldridge’s work before won’t need me to tell them this one is worth reading. It’s got the same powerful fantasy artwork and immersive storytelling that his fans have come to expect from his books.

Fans of K. O’Neill or Tim Probert will want to check this one out, for sure.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 10 to 14.

Representation
Some characters have brown skin. Two girls have romantic feelings for one another.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between two girls.

Spiritual Content
Some characters can perform magic. A special stone leads one character to another person through a bond.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. A boy doesn’t respect a girl’s boundaries. She wants him to leave her alone. He treats her roughly, making her cry.

Someone turns a person into a pig. Someone freezes a group of people.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Camp Prodigy by Caroline Palmer

Camp Prodigy
Caroline Palmer
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Published June 11, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Camp Prodigy

Perfect for fans of Victoria Jamieson and Raina Telgemeier, this heartwarming middle grade graphic novel follows two nonbinary kids who navigate anxiety and identity while having fun and forming friendships at their summer orchestra camp.

After attending an incredible concert, Tate Seong is inspired to become a professional violist. There’s just one they’re the worst musician at their school. Tate doesn’t even have enough confidence to assert themself with their friends or come out as nonbinary to their family, let alone attempt a solo anytime soon. Things start to look up when Tate attends a summer orchestra camp—Camp Prodigy—and runs into Eli, the remarkable violist who inspired Tate to play in the first place. But Eli has been hiding their skills ever since their time in the spotlight gave them a nervous breakdown.

Together, can they figure out how to turn Tate into a star and have Eli overcome their performance anxieties? Or will the pressure take them both down?

My Review

In the early pages, I found the transitions from one panel to the next a little jarring, but either I acclimated to the storytelling, or the transitions smoothed out by the end of the first chapter. I love the way that Palmer uses color, particularly panels with washed-out colors, to highlight when characters have a strong emotional reaction to something or someone. It made those moments stand out and gave them a huge emotional impact. It was like visually seeing the blood drain from someone’s face.

I liked both Tate and Eli as characters. They have such different personalities, and I enjoyed the way they interacted with one another, pushed each other in healthy ways, and helped give each other space to heal or grow.

The bulk of the story takes place during a month-long overnight summer camp for orchestra students. Tate and Eli both play the viola, so they compete for chair assignments in their section of the orchestra and attend rehearsals. The viola students are a pretty diverse group, both in appearance and personality. Some push for perfection. Others prioritize fun and building social connections in the summer camp environment. The book does a great job balancing and blending scenes showing musical instruction and summer camp activities and using them to show growth in both Tate and Eli.

This graphic novel is a quick, easy read bursting with bright colors and charming personalities. Readers who enjoy summer camp stories, books about musicians and music, or books about exploring identity and building friendships will not want to miss this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Both Tate and Eli are nonbinary. Eli is Black. Tate is Asian American. Characters of other races and ethnicities round out the cast.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
A couple of people make discriminatory comments about someone’s nonbinary identity.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

I’m sharing this post as a part of a weekly round-up of middle-grade posts called Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday. Check out other blogs posting about middle-grade books today on Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays at Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge.

Review: Greenwild: The City Beyond the Sea by Pari Thomson

Greenwild: The City Beyond the Sea (Greenwild #2)
Pari Thomson
MacMillan Children’s Books
Published June 4, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Greenwild: The City Beyond the Sea

Daisy Thistledown’s epic adventure continues in the spellbinding sequel to New York Times bestseller The World Behind the Door by Pari Thomson.

In a land ruled by water, treachery runs deep . . . Daisy Thistledown and the Five O’Clock Club might have defeated a terrifying foe, but their journey to find the missing Botanists is only just beginning.

Desperate to join the long-awaited expedition to the heart of the Amazon, Daisy and her friends abandon the safety of magical Mallowmarsh –only to fall face-first into danger on the high seas when they find themselves pursued across the waves by Grim Reapers. Their only to find the legendary Iffenwild, a mysterious pocket of the Greenwild hidden and lost to time.

But beneath the waves, a strange botanical magic stirs. And it will take all of Daisy’s courage and determination – and the trust of an unexpected new friend – if she is to discover the truth that haunts Iffenwild, and save the Greenwild from a terrible fate.

My Review

I’ve been looking forward to this book all year. Daisy’s new adventure picks up not long after her last one ends. The early chapters offer quick refreshers on some of the key events from the previous book for readers whose memories may have faded a bit. These recollections don’t slow down the action, though, as Daisy immediately has an urgent quest to sneak aboard a ship ultimately bound for Amazeria to rescue her mother.

The story alternates points of view between Daisy and Max, whom I loved immediately. Kidnappers stole Max from his home, injuring his mother, and he’s been desperate to escape since. When his opportunity comes, he seizes it, leaping from a ship into the water without taking time to factor in that he cannot swim. Thankfully, Daisy spots him in time, which leads to the two unwillingly joining forces.

Indigo and Prof, Daisy’s close friends from book one, also help Daisy on her mission. I loved getting to see both of them again. Indigo shines in moments when they discover animals who are injured or in danger, and Prof reminds the group to think things through and study for an important exam that awaits them at home.

One scene late in the book left me in tears, in a good way. Someone who’d grieved so many things had this moment of belonging and things making sense in a new way, and it hit me right in the feels.

I barrelled through this book, so eager to read each page, all the way to the very last one. This series is one of my current favorites, and I’ll absolutely be counting down the days until book three comes out!

Perfect for fans of Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by A. F. Steadman or The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle (a long-time favorite of mine!)

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Daisy’s mom is Iranian. Other characters are described as having amber or brown skin.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
Some characters have the ability to perform magic involving plants or water.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Someone kidnaps a boy and knocks his mother out. Dangerous criminals called Reapers chase Daisy and her allies. One brief battle sequence in which it appears someone gets stabbed. An extended battle sequence in which someone fatally stabs another person.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

I’m sharing this post as a part of a weekly round-up of middle-grade posts called Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday. Check out other blogs posting about middle-grade books today on Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays at Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge.