Review: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Anna: If you’re looking for a spooky middle-grade read this fall, City of Ghosts is the book for you! Cassidy Blake isn’t a normal girl: after a near-death experience, she can see ghosts and move between the ghost and human world.

I really liked Cassidy as a protagonist, though I did think her relationship with her parents was a little lacking and hope it is developed more in the sequel. Edinburgh is also the perfect ghostly backdrop to this story. Honestly, this would have terrified me as a kid. 

VERDICT: 4 stars 

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Review: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Book Review: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Gracefully Grayson is a great example of the magic of middle grade fiction. Grayson’s parents died in a traumatic car crash, and he now lives with his aunt and uncle and cousins. Grayson has always wanted to be a girl. He knows that acting this way means getting in trouble and getting bullied, so he just daydreams. That is, until he tries out for the part of Persephone, the lead part in the school play.

This book is heartbreaking because Grayson feels lost both in his gender identity and an outsider in his adopted family. Grayson is caught between many adults who believe they are acting with his best interests in heart. When Grayson’s teacher, Mr. Finn, casts Grayson as the lead female role in the play, his Aunt Sally thinks Mr. Finn overstepped his boundaries. In their own household, Uncle Evan disagrees with his wife’s actions, and hints that Grayson’s aunt and uncle might know more about Grayson than they let on. There are lots of opinions from the adults in Grayson’s life about who he should be, which made me think critically about a parent’s role in their children’s identity.

At the end of the book Grayson is still using female gender pronouns, but wears clothes meant for girls. I can’t speak from experience of course, but I think this is a believable account of a young transgender child’s journey. I say this because I also recently read George by Alex Grino and it had hardly any conflict. Everyone was instantly accepting of George and her transition, which is great, but didn’t feel realistic.

This book is everything beautiful about middle grade fiction and more. Grayson faces bullying, he’s outcast by a friend, and he’s ridiculed for his identity. The end of the book also doesn’t wrap everything up perfectly but points Grayson in a hopeful direction, which I think is important in middle grade fiction for a slightly older audience, like this one.

VERDICT: 4 books


Anna’s April Wrap Up!

Anna: I’m excited to share my April wrap up! This month included not one, but TWO five star books for me! Im currently finishing up three books that didn’t make it into this wrap up (classic). I’m also still loving memoir and middle grade!


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: 4 books

George by Alex Gino: 3.5 books

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart: 5 books

Normal People by Sally Rooney: 5 books

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker: 3 books


What books did you love this month?


Review: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor is the first installment in a series about Morrigan Crow, who was born on Eventine, the unluckiest day. Morrigan is cursed to die on midnight of her eleventh birthday. Morrigan is blamed for every misfortune in the town, and she’s kept at arm’s length from everyone, including her family. Before the clock can strike midnight on Eventide, she’s swept away to a magical land called Nevermoor by an equally magical man, Jupiter North. Jupiter prepares Morrigan to compete in four trials that, if she’s successful, will grant her entrance into the legendary Wundrous Society.  

Before reading this, I’d heard Nevermoor compared to Harry Potter, and this is true in a lot of ways (although let’s be honest, nothing can ever truly compare). Nevermoor feels like a mix of The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Goblet of Fire, because of Morrigan’s introduction to magic at age 11, and the trials being like a less deadly Triwizard Tournament. The magic system is difficult to summarize. It feels more eclectic than The Wizarding World. I’ve also heard Nevermoor called a mix of Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland, which I’d call accurate. We also know that there is going to be a special magic school down the line. Jupiter is also a very Dumbledore-y character, as her mentor, and someone who is obviously keeping secrets from Harry. I mean, Morrigan.

Moving on from Harry Potter!

Townsend is a great writer. Nevermoor is fantastically and colorfully written. It’s clever, hilarious, and by far the most creative fantasy I’ve read in a long time. It has great worldbuilding, but still leaves much more to be explored in later books.

I love Morrigan as a character, which is one of the reasons Nevermoor is so compulsively readable. Before Nevermoor, she has never known love. She has been shamed and ostracized by her family for her entire life. She just wants a place to belong. As I mentioned before, It did get a little annoying that Jupiter keeps her in the dark for so much of the book (ahem, Dumbledore) but I understand why that this needs to happen plot-wise. The villains are sufficiently creepy and well-developed, as are the quirky host of characters in the Hotel, and Morrigan’s two close friends, Hawthorne and Jack.

Despite the fact that it’s middle grade, Nevermoor tackles dark themes, such as abuse and death. There’s also a lot of commentary for adults that I never would have picked up on as a kid, such as the discussion of illegal immigration. There’s a scene on page 428 when the Wunderground is experiencing technical difficulties that mirror the MTA subway delay announcements so much that they had me cracking up.

Most importantly, Nevermoor is filled with memorable magic and a story that I can’t wait to keep reading! My one concern is that it’s going to be difficult for the following books in the series to live up to the standard of book number one!

VERDICT: 4.5 out of 5 books

Review: The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night

Hi all! We’re excited to kick off 2019 with a review of a book that we were kindly sent (two copies, too!)

Alexis: Read 12/29/18

The Crowns of Croswald is a fast-paced, solid middle-grade fantasy read. The fantasy world is well-developed and detailed. It’s very Harry Potter-esque, in a good way: the world has creative and alliterative names, a castle-school full of magical students, and fantastic beasts. I enjoyed learning about the history of the world and the crowns.

I found Ivy to be a likable and interesting main character. This is the first book in a series, and I’m interested to see how her relationships with Rebecca and Fyn continue to grow. Besides Ivy, my favorite character was Humboldt.  

I only have a couple of criticisms. The plot is pretty predictable; however, this is middle-grade and it was still a fun read, so it wasn’t a deal breaker. I’m a harsh critic of dialogue, and I found the dialogue to be weak at times. I also wasn’t a fan of Night’s use of exclamation points and question marks together (?!).

All in all, this was a fun read that I definitely recommend for middle-grade readers who love Harry Potter.

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books


Anna: Read 12/27/18

The Crowns of Croswald made me remember how good middle grade can be! I loved the worldbuilding in this. Alexis is right; it is slightly reminiscent of Harry Potter. I thought Professor Fenix a thinly-veiled Flitwick, and Woodley Butterlove. But I know it’s difficult to write anything fantasy without being compared to Harry Potter.

I loved the little details that made Ivy’s new world so magical and creative. Ivy’s allergen-ridden porcupine and her dim hairies are adorable, and they added to her overall scrappiness. There are also some hilarious scenes that made me literally laugh out loud, and I haven’t had that reaction to a book in a while.

Like Alexis, I guessed beginning, which is pretty standard for middle grade. I thought the beginning, when Ivy works as a squaldron maid, was a little rushed, and we don’t quite get to see much of Ivy’s unhappy situation before her world is changed and she goes to The Halls of Ivy. But we get the idea.

I’m confused by Ivy’s age. She is supposed to be fifteen, but reads as much younger. I think the intended audience would also be significantly younger than fifteen, so I don’t know why she wouldn’t be younger.

Overall I enjoyed this. It had all the elements of magic, innocence, and creativity of middle-grade fantasy that I didn’t realize I was missing.

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books


Thank you to Stories Untold Press for sending each of us a copy to review!