Archive for the ‘middle-grade’ Category

Review: My Name is Olivia…and I Can’t Do Anything About It – Jowi Schmitz

Title: My Name is Olivia…and I Can’t Do Anything About It
Author: Jowi Schmitz
Publication date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Lemniscaat USA
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-935954-11-8
Length: 178 pages
Genre:  Middle grade fiction

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How do you cope with the loss of your mother, while your father is jolted as well? With wit, courage, humor and improvising.

Olivia is ten years old. The major problem in her life is that her mother died. The second major problem is that her father doesn’t really know what to do …

Olivia and her father live on a small boat in the garden of a barbershop. Temporarily, says her dad. But how long is temporarily? And how do you get away from a boat in a garden with a father who doesn’t know what to do, without a mother, but with lots of memories of how life was before?

If you’ve been following my blog and my reviews for a while then you might know that I really enjoy middle grade and young adult novels dealing with loss and recovery. I don’t know why – I guess I just like emotional stories in general. This is how I stumbled upon My Name is Olivia…and I Can’t Do Anything About It and that is why I was so eager to start reading it. I had a feeling that Jowi Schmitz’s novel was going to be (sorry for the cliché here) an emotional roller-coaster and I was right. My Name is Olivia…and I Can’t Do Anything About It gripped me from the very first word and managed to reduce me to tears many times throughout the story.

Children’s books written from a young kid’s perspective can and do go horribly wrong many times. I’ve read several YA and middle grade stories where youngsters were supposed to be the narrators – while in reality, all I could think about when I was reading them was that 13 year olds do not talk or think like this, for goodness’ sake. As opposed to this, Schmitz’s ability to tell a story from a 10 year old girl’s point of view is just spot on.

It was very easy for me to connect to Olivia, a ten year old girl from Friesland who has to cope with the loss of her mother and look after her father at the same time. Even though I can’t even imagine going through the things Olivia had to face in the novel, I could literally feel her confusion and anger throughout the story. Jowi Schmitz’s depiction of Olivia and her childish father makes it really easy for readers to emotionally connect to this little girl. A girl who has just lost her mum, who has no friends whatsoever, is bullied at school, lives in poverty and on top of that, has to look after her dad, who has no clue how to go on living.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was the fact that the author keeps jumping back and forth in time during the first half of the story – something that made me a little bit confused at times. Schmitz wants to give us some insight into Olivia’s past and tell us what happened to her mum (which is inevitable for the plot), nevertheless I had a hard time separating present from past when I started reading the book.

On the whole, I adored My Name is Olivia…and I Can’t Do Anything About It. Olivia’s charming personality will no doubt grow on you and her attempts to find a friend and move on will make you smile and cry at the same time. It’s a captivating read which I would definitely recommend to anyone who likes emotional but optimistic stories.


Review: Mockingbird – Kathryn Erskine

Title: Mockingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Publication date: January 2012
Publisher: Usborne
Format: Paperback
Length: 236 pages
Genre: YA / Middle grade fiction

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Caitlin misses her brother Devon. Since his death, she has no one to explain the world to her. And for Caitlin, the world is a confusing place, full of emotions and colours she can’t understand. Dad tries to help, but he spends a lot of time crying in the shower.

So when Caitlin reads the definition of “closure” in the dictionary, she decides that’s what they need. And as she struggles to find it, she learns how to let a world of colour into her black-and-white life…

Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird is a touching, poignant, but at the same time utterly hopeful story which will no doubt stay with you for a long time. Narrated by the 11-year-old Caitlin who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, the book deals with how people can deal with the loss of a loved one and how our lives might be different if we understood each other a little bit better. First person narration can be tricky and it can go wrong in so many ways but Erskine nailed it – seeing everything through Caitlin’s eyes is what makes this novel so special and gripping.

After finishing Mockingbird, all I could say was… WOW. Just wow. Even though it’s been a few hours since I put it down, I’m still in a complete awe – I just can’t praise it enough. It’s a beautifully written story that grabs you at the very beginning and makes you keep on reading until the very end.

What I loved about this novel the most was the first person narration. It’s interesting to see everything from Caitlin’s perspective. The author’s aim with this was “to have readers see the world the way she sees it. If they could live in her shoes, they could better understand why she talks and behaves the way she does” and it works. You cannot help imagining what life must be for Caitlin – or anyone else who has a similar illness. You see how each day is a battle for her – going to school and facing everyone when all she would like to do is to hide under the sofa cushions at home. You see how everyone is constantly making fun of her because she’s different and doesn’t behave the way other people do and it’s quite easy to emphasize with her throughout the story. Reading about how she was trying to make people understand her – or at least accept her or talk to her -reduced me to tears several times throughout the book.

Another thing I really enjoyed in the story was Caitlin’s relationship with her brother and her only friend, Michael. Erskine’s description of Caitlin and her brother’s relationship is just spot on. We learn that Devon, her brother who is a victim of a tragic school shooting, was the one who taught her everything. He told her what to do and what not to do at school so that people don’t laugh at her. He was there for her when she was terrified or confused and now that he’s no longer there for her… Caitlin is confused. Michael is a 6-year-old kid from Caitlin’s school who eventually becomes her friend. He’s the only one, after Devon, who gets her – someone who doesn’t laugh even if what she says or does doesn’t make too much sense.

To sum up, I would say that the author managed to get her message across and Mockingbird is a huge wake up call for everyone of every age. It teaches us to be more emphatic towards others and not to judge them since we don’t know what the other person is going through in his or her life. Mockingbirds is a beautifully written, powerful and poignant story which will stay with you for a very long time. Make sure to grab a packet of tissues before you pick it up because you’re in for an emotional ride. Brilliant. Unique. Something I’d be glad to recommend to absolutely everyone – you won’t be disappointed.

* Thank you to Usborne for sending me a copy of this book for review *

Review: BeSwitched Witch – Molly Snow

Title: BeSwitched Witch (Book #2 in the BeSwitched series)
Author: Molly Snow
Publication date: 2011
Publisher: Breezy Reads
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-975-97847-4
Length: 150 pages

Genre: Middle grade/ YA fiction

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Idis, a hot-tempered witch, was prnounced dead Halloween night. Her runaway cat, Surla, has a horrific premonition-come-true, when Idis escapes the morgue and then a mental hospital. These two enemies unexpectedly cross paths in the woords, triggering the curse of being BeSwitched.

A powerful opportunity comes with Surla switching bodies with her witch. She can dominate the now little black furball, giving her an education, teaching her patience and taking the shrewd to the salon for a fun makeover.

The two go to high school together, when Surla passes as a teenage girl with a little help from magic. When Surla is magnetically drawn to the curious new guy, Jax Morreau, she is infatuated. Could ravens, coffins, or a cursed ring keep Surla away from her invitation to the Morreau Family Reunion at Lake Sequoia? An ancient mystery will be revealed but at what cost?

If you’ve read my review of BeSwitched, book 1 in the BeSwitched series then you might remember that it took me a while until I got into the story. BeSwitched Witch in this respect was a pleasant surprise – since I was familiar with the characters and the writing style, I managed to get into the story quite quickly.

BeSwitched Witch is an action filled read for the younger generation – the story focuses on Idis, the witch who is trapped in her cat’s body and Surla, her cat who is trapped in the witch’s body, as the two of them are desperately trying to find the last remaining Spellbook. (a book without which they can’t switch their bodies back) Snow introduces a couple of new characters in the second instalment of the series, a school bully called Brad, a young and extremely handsome boy called Jax, his father and grandfather. I really liked the new characters and I think it made the story even more intriguing.

The only reason why I “only” gave this book 3 stars (which is a fairly good rating, mind you) is that I still feel that the writing style could be much better. Based on the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed the plot itself and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, it could even get 4 or 5 stars if it wasn’t for the style. I always try to compare each book to the other books I’ve previously read from the same genre and I still feel like it’s a bit lukewarm. I’ve read middle-grade and young adult books with much more sophisticated and eloquent style before so that’s the only reason why I’m not fully satisfied with this series. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know.

Other than that, I would definitely recommend that you pick up a copy – the plot certainly makes up for the lack of eloquence and you’ll find yourself not wanting to put it down. I’m looking forward to book 3!


*A review copy was provided by the author for review*

Review: BeSwitched – Molly Snow

Title: BeSwitched
Author: Molly Snow
Publication date: 2011
Publisher: Breezy Reads
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-975-97840-5
Length: 138 pages

Genre: Middle grade/ YA fiction

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When a magical black cat, Surla, runs away from her bombastic witch, Idis, she has no idea that she will soon be living as a teenage girl, confronting both the mean girls and the popular—and very cute—guys of Washington High on a daily basis.

While Surla may look like Cathy, her peers notice a dramatic change in her personality when she starts standing up for herself, dressing differently, snagging dates, and picking up strange habits. Meanwhile, the witch Idis is a flaming red-haired fury as she awkwardly tries to fit into society. She must hunt down her familiar in order to be able to continue performing spells. In spite of their circumstances, Surla and Cathy learn more about themselves and gain great self esteem by being each other. Not only this, but the usual drama and young love in high school life is kindled in BeSwitched as Todd, the handsome quarterback, shows sincere interest in Cathy. The “curse” of being BeSwitched winds up being the most purr-fect secret these new best friends could ever have!

I received a review copy of BeSwitched and its sequel, BeSwitched Witch from the author before the BeSwitched blog tour but I haven’t managed to read it up until now. Being a black cat owner myself, I was quite excited about this book and it turned out to be a cute read.

If I had to make comparisons, I would say that BeSwitched was a bit like Freaky Friday and Sabrina the Teenage Witch rolled into one. To be honest, it took me quite a while to get into the story and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it but it turned out to be a fun read. Surla and Cathy were fun and I started to enjoy all the crazy situations they found themselves in. My favourite character was Todd, a handsome but still not overly popular footballer, who happens to be Cathy’s classmate. He was really sweet and I’m definitely looking forward to finding out what happens to him in BeSwitched Witch.

The reason why I struggled to get into the story was probably down to to things: the book’s target audience is, I would say, somewhere around the age of 13, and the writing itself wasn’t as good as I expected it to be. On the other hand, considering the fact that the author wrote the book when she was 16 herself, it’s quite a good read. The second half of the book certainly makes up for the first half and the ending will no doubt make you want to pick up the sequel. BeSwitched is a fun and cute fairytale and I would say give it a shot if you like middle-grade/ YA fiction with a bit of a twist.

*A review copy was provided by the author*

Review: Seeing Cinderella – Jenny Lundquist

Title: Seeing Cinderella
Jenny Lundquist
Publication date:
2012 March 20
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing (Imprint: Aladdin)
Middle grade fiction

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Meet Calliope Meadow Anderson, an average sixth grade student… with not so average looks. With her red hair, teeth the size of piano keys and huge freckles, she is the weird kid at school – everyone laughs at her and calls her Polka Dot. And it only gets worse when it turns out that she needs to wear glasses – but not just any glasses… Super huge and super freaky glasses! However, during her first day in seventh grade, Callie makes a discovery: her glasses have magic powers and they let her read other people’s thoughts. With the help of her glasses, she finds out what her best friend Ellen and her crush Scott really think of her, that the most popular and most beautiful girls who make fun of her at school were not always as perfect as they want to make us believe and she comes to the conclusion that sometimes you have to come out of your shell and stand up for those who you really love.

It takes a lot to render me speechless but Seeing Cinderella left me in complete awe. It’s been a long time since I read anything from the middle-grade genre but I’m so happy I was offered an advanced review copy of this book because it was brilliant. Lundquist’s work is so much more than a simple “fairytale” for young readers. No matter where you live or how old you are, you will be able to relate to this story and its characters.

Callie was my absolute favourite. I loved Callie because she reminded me of myself back in primary school. I didn’t have to wear glasses, I didn’t have freckles or red frizzy hair, but there were many times when I thought, “I know exactly how she feels”. She’s a quiet, reserved girl who prefers staying at home and writing stories to socializing and going to school events. She prefers to stay in the background, to stay almost invisible – and that’s exactly how I was when I was her age, and maybe how I am even today. In spite of her age, Callie is very smart. I think one of the most powerful and most expressive parts of Callie’s story was when Dr. Ingram, the optometrist, asks her whether she finds reading a book or writing a story in her journal easier than making new friends and she says “Books and journals can’t make fun of you or call you names”.

With its great character development, likeable characters, witty remarks and entertaining dialogues, Seeing Cinderella is definitely something I would recommend to anyone who is looking for an adorable read. It’s definitely something I’d give to my children but it’s perfect for anyone of any age – so make sure to pick up your own copy, lean back and prepare for something extraordinary. But don’t forget to put on your glasses and to read between the lines in order to understand the true meaning of the story: believe me, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Jenny Lundquist grew up in Huntington Beach, California, wearing glasses and wishing they had magic powers. They didn’t, but they did help her earn a degree in intercultural studies at Biola University. Jenny has painted an orphanage in Mexico, taught English at a university in Russia, and hopes one day to write a book at a café in Paris. Jenny and her husband live in Northern California with their two sons and Rambo, the world’s whiniest cat.