Reviews: Middle Grade Marvels

Hello everybody! Today, I’m sharing some more reviews, this time for some absolutely fantastic middle grade I read during July. Onto the post!

Sunny by Jason Reynolds

I’ve really enjoyed both books in the Run series so far, so I was very excited to pick up Sunny as part of this post. This, as you may have guessed, follows Sunny, and it focuses on his shift from running the mile to throwing a discus, while navigating his complex feelings about his mum’s death and his difficult relationship with his dad. Don’t get me wrong, I adored Ghost and Patina, but Sunny was just absolutely lovely and I wanted him to be happy so, so desperately. Although I could understand why his dad didn’t always treat him very well, it absolutely broke my heart, and watching them heal over the course of the book was really special. His relationship with his tutor/mum’s best friend was just a joy, and I’m still obsessed with the way that the newest members of the Run club always have each others’ backs no matter what. This may be a quick read, but it packs a real punch and crams a lot of heart and humanity into its pages. I’m definitely hoping to pick Lu up soon, but I’ll be super sad to say goodbye to these wonderful characters and amazingly written books.

Sequins and Secrets by Lucy Ivison and illustrated by Catherine Collinridge

Lucy is the co-writer of one of my favourite YA books ever (Lobsters, for anyone wondering!) so I was absolutely thrilled when her middle grade debut was announced and just had to pick it up very soon after its release. It’s about a maid named Myrtle, who is a very talented dressmaker, going to work at the magnificent Serendipity House, where she befriends Sylvia, the youngest lady of the house, who happens to be very talented at designing clothes. Soon, they make a name for themselves within 1920s society and prominent debutante Agapantha Portland-Prince enlists their services to help her accomplish her dreams. I loved the relationship between Myrtle and Sylvia, as while they have a lovely friendship, the difference in their backgrounds and economic status are highlighted, and they aren’t perfect as individuals but are still so very likeable. I also liked Stan, and Agapantha was an absolute delight to read about! The 1920s setting really captures the glamour of the era and reminded me why it’s one of my favourite periods of history to read about, but I liked that it didn’t shy away from the less savoury parts of the era, such as sexism and classism. The fashion sketches and descriptions of the clothes are just divine, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book, which is going to be set in Hollywood!

Rules for Vampires by Alex Foulkes and illustrated by Sara Ogilvie (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)

I know it’s a bit early to be thinking about Halloween, but if you’re looking for something delightfully spooky to pick up for it, this is the book for you. It’s about a young(ish) vampire named Leo, who accidentally awakens a war with a ghost on arguably the most important night of her life so far, and must team up with Mina (who is another ghost killed in the same fire), to try and defeat the evil spirit before it wreaks destruction on the town and the people within it. I was a huge fan of the My Sister the Vampire series when I was younger so I’ve been delighted to see a resurgence of vampire books in 2021, and I think that Alex did a great job of including vampire tropes while also putting her own unique spin on the vampire world. Leo was such a fun main character with a heart of gold, Mina was hilarious and I loved her frequent spats with Leo but also their friendship as it went on and Emmeline was a brilliant character to hate to love and there’s an illustration of her at one point that made me laugh out loud. My favourite character was undoubtedly Rodri the spider, but the villain deserves a shoutout for being terrifying, and so does Marged, but for the opposite reason that she’s absolutely lovely. The plot zipped along at a fantastic pace, and I loved the quirky writing style that made it feel as though the narrator was directly speaking to the reader. Based on something that happens close to the end, I’m assuming this won’t be the last we see of Leo, and I’m very much looking forward to the next installment.

The Week at World’s End by Emma Carroll (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)

Emma Carroll is one of my favourite authors of all time, as you probably know by now if you’ve read this blog before, and as I said on social media recently I can’t express how honoured I am that I sometimes get to read early copies of her book and champion them before they’re released into the world. This is Emma’s 10th book for Faber (and I think her 12th overall, though I could be wrong), and with every single book, she somehow manages to craft a thrilling new story and an amazing cast of characters, while retaining that really special Emma Carroll magic her books always have. This one takes place in 1962 and is the story of Stevie, who finds a runaway girl hiding in her coal shed and vows to help her hide from the people who are trying to poison her, with the help of her trusty best friend Ray. Meanwhile, the Cuban Missile Crisis is happening and everyone is terrified that the world will be ended by the end of the week. This is such a clever setting in time for a story, because it’s incredibly exciting, and in all the books I’ve read, I’ve never learnt about this before. The 60s setting was also really fun in terms of the references to pop culture, and I loved the discussions of activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and Rosa Parks and their incredible work. Stevie starts the book being very shy, and it was a joy to watch her confidence grow by helping Anna and using her voice to talk about things that matter. Ray was such a good friend, Anna was super mysterious and interesting, and I ADORED Stevie’s big sister Bev. I hope this review has convinced you to pick this up if you’re not already a fan of Emma’s, and I’m already so excited for her next book.

How I Saved the World in a Week by Polly Ho-Yen and illustrated by George Ermos

I feel kind of like a stuck record here, but Polly Ho-Yen wrote one of my favourite books of all time, and another that I absolutely love and need to read again, so I couldn’t have been happier when I realised she was releasing her first middle grade book in four years in 2021. I’m so obsessed with Polly’s writing, and I love this new story that she’s created. It’s about Billy, whose mum is obsessed with him learning survival skills, and how they become very useful when a mysterious virus that turns people grey. Billy is such a wonderful, compassionate and clever boy, and I adored him, especially as certain things about him reminded me of Ade from Boy in the Tower. I also loved his friendships with Angharad and Anwar, as well as both of them as characters in their own right, and I found Sylvia, Steve and Julie really interesting as they’re all quite complex and show that adults don’t always know best or have all the answers. It was really interesting to learn so much about survival skills throughout this, and I loved how everything Billy learned became vital after the Greys started attacking the world. The plot, as with all of Polly’s books, is so unique and interesting and I’m obsessed with her apocalyptic yet gentle sci fi ones especially. At its core though, like with Boy in the Tower, this is about heart and humanity coming together under unamiginable conditions, and it’s a beautiful book that I really just couldn’t put down. I don’t know when Polly’s next book is due out, but I’ll be picking it up the moment I’m able to.

The Astonishing Future of Alex Nobody by Kate Gilby Smith

I picked this up after seeing lots of buzz about it on social media, because it has such an interesting concept, and I think it was so well executed. It’s about a girl called Alex, who lives a fairly average life, other than the fact strangers seem to pop up out of the blue to watch her going about her day, and this is basically the story of her discovering why, via a trip to 2100. I can’t really say much more than that or it’ll give everything away, but it’s definitely worth a read if you like books about time travel and light sci-fi. Alex was a fabulous main character and I really loved how passionate she was about learning, and also her relationships with Henry and Jasper. Uncle Henry was a brilliantly eccentric guardian figure as well; I loved how much he cared for Alex, even though he didn’t always know exactly what to do or say, and it was really sweet to see her and Jasper become friends and develop a really special bond. Gerty was another great addition to the supporting cast, and the worldbuilding of the time travel and what the future may be like were great as well. I also really appreciated all the references to important figures throughout history, and while I’m fairly sure this is a standalone, I definitely want to read whatever Kate Gilby Smith writes next!

Twelve and the Frozen Forest by Aisling Fowler (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going into this, but something about the synopsis really intrigued me and I’m so thrilled I picked it up because it’s an absolutely epic MG fantasy and I’m probably not going to shut up about it for a really long time! It follows a girl named Twelve, who has given up her name and her past to the Hunting Lodge, where people train to become Hunters and protect the world of Ember from the many monsters that plague it. When the Hunting Lodge is attacked and a huntling is put in grave danger, Twelve and a group of other huntlings and the guardian of the lodge set out to save her. I honestly don’t even know where to start because there were so many things about this that I loved. Twelve is such an incredible heroine; flawed and brave and utterly badass, and learning about her past gradually in the dream sequences made me cry, multiple times. The secondary characters were all amazing too. Six was an absolute sweetie, Seven is absolutely fascinating and I can’t wait to see more of her as the series progresses, and I did a full 180 on my feelings about Five as the book went on; I started out really disliking him and by the end I wanted nothing more than to hug him and keep him safe from all the baddies. Widge and Dog were phenomenal sidekicks who added loads of humour to the book, which balanced out some of the darker elements and heart-stopping levels of danger the characters faced. There are some twists towards the end of this that literally made me gasp, and on one occasion, do a little squeal, and I’m just obsessed with the astonishing world Aisling has created. I need the next book URGENTLY.

The Howling Hag Mystery by Nicki Thornton (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)

I’ve been a fan of the Seth Seppi series since the first book came out, not least because I love sassy talking cat Nightshade with my whole heart, so when I heard she was also starring in this new sort of spinoff story I was absolutely thrilled. It follows a girl called Raven Charming, who is desperate to find her magical affinity as she’s sick of feeling inferior to the rest of her magically talented family, as she seems up with Nightshade and the new boy in town Morti Scratch to unravel the mystery of the curses that seem to be tormenting her school. Much like Seth, Raven is a bit of an underdog, and I absolutely adored her. She very definitely was good enough from the very beginning, if you ask me, but I loved seeing her realise that about herself. Morti was also a really fun character, I enjoyed Rookery and Finch and the cast of suspects were very interesting, but Nightshade was undoubtedly the star of the show. The chapters from her point of view can only be described as joyful, and she made me laugh so much, as she always does. This is a fantastic new magical mystery from Nicki Thornton, and while it does stand alone, I’m kind of hoping for a series following Raven, or perhaps seeing Nightshade solving more crimes.

GIRL (In Real Life) by Tamsin Winter

I’ve been a diehard Tamsin Winter fangirl since her debut Being Miss Nobody was released the month I started blogging, but I think her 3rd book is definitely her best yet. It follows Eva Andersen, whose parents run a hugely successful YouTube channel all about her life, and her mission to sabotage the channel after a video of her getting her first period goes viral. First up, I just really loved Eva; I felt so much sympathy for her and I just found her incredibly likeable. I also thought Spud and Carys were excellent friends to her, which she really needed with everything that goes on this book. My feelings about her parents are much more complicated and I don’t want to get on my high horse and have opinions, but I personally really disagree with family vlogging and I found it heartbreaking to imagine the impact it must have on real life children and teenagers like Eva. I did like that Lars and Jen weren’t presented solely as villains, but at the same time, I just couldn’t fathom why they were putting their daughter through humiliation and misery for profit. The book also touches on bereavement and bullying, and handles both brilliantly in my opinion, and I just couldn’t put it down because I was so invested in Eva’s story. Amidst all of the more serious topics handled, there’s also some properly laugh out loud moments and overall I just thought this was the perfect upper middle contemporary.

The Crackledawn Dragon by Abi Elphinstone

This is the 3rd book in the Unmapped Kingdoms series, which follows runaway Zebedee Bolt as he is tricked into helping the evil harpy Morg, until he realises just how horrific her plan is and teams up with a formidable girl named Oonie, a very chatty chameleon and a whole host of other incredible characters to find the Ember Scroll before Morg and give the Unmapped Kingdoms a happy ending. Zeb has real issues with trusting people due to his background, and my heart just broke for him so much of the time. His friendships with Oonie and Mrs Fickletint were so heartwarming, though, and I also loved his relationships with Fox (who returns as an adult in this book!) and the titular dragon. Oonie was a wonderful Unmapper companion for him and I really appreciated the disability rep, as she is blind, but her disability does not define her yet it’s shown as an important part of who she is. Mrs Fickletint was so lovely, and there are so many other characters I loved but don’t want to give any spoilers about. Morg, however, is still as terrifying as ever, and this is possibly the most thrilling, unputdownable book of the trilogy. It was great to see more of Crackledawn, and although I was disappointed not to see much of Silvercrag, I really enjoyed learning more about it. I can’t believe this series is over already, but I’m already very excited to read whatever Abi writes next, which is sure to be just as magical and uplifting as this was.

City of Rust by Gemma Fowler (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)

This is a futuristic sci-fi adventure following Railey and her robotic pet gecko Atti, as their dreams of winning a drone race are destroyed and they are instead thrust into an adventure in the skies, where they must stop a gigantic trash bomb from destroying the planet. The worldbuilding in this is so complex and original, and I really liked the concept of it. I especially loved the idea of the drone races, as it reminded me a little of the Jinxed duology, and I felt like the world was really well fleshed out. Railey is a brilliant heroine and I loved her determination and talent for engineering, but her relationship with Atti was what really endeared me to her, because Atti’s wit and cynicism made him my absolute favourite thing in this. Their bickering sibling-like bond was so special, and I even teared up at a few moments because of it! Care was absolutely wonderful as a secondary character, as was Laurie, and I defy anyone not to adore Tring, who is an AI NannyBot. Izmae is a very interesting villain, and as the book goes on, the tension really ramps up and I was very glad I could sit and read it in one day.

The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

This is a really difficult book to explain without giving spoilers, so you’ll have to forgive me for being a bit vague. It’s the story of Lonny, who has to live in the forest because he is a lifeling, which means he has the incredible power of being able to heal dying animals and humans. However, each time he saves someone, time is drained from his own life, and being in society would pose a huge danger to him based on what has happened to other lifelings. I really enjoyed Lonny’s 1st person narrative, and the story of this just hooked me in and didn’t let me go until I’d got to the end. The concept of this is just absolutely incredible and I love this idea that Kirsty has come up with, and her highly original middle grade novels just keep getting better and better. Something else I really enjoyed in this that isn’t a spoiler to talk about is the sort of fairytale/fable feel it sometimes, and I particularly liked the stories from Lonny’s grandma’s workbook in this regard. I can’t really say much more because I’d say it’s better going in knowing just what’s on the blurb, but I’d definitely recommend this.

Thank you so much for reading! What middle grade have you read recently? Do you have any thoughts on the ones I’ve reviewed here? Are you planning to add any of them to your TBR after reading this post? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Amy x


Author: goldenbooksgirl

Disabled book blogger who also writes TV, film, music and other posts from time to time | UKYABA Champion Teen 2018 | Email: | she/her

8 thoughts on “Reviews: Middle Grade Marvels”

    1. I definitely think you’ll enjoy the ones you’re already excited for, and my answer to if you’ll like Twelve is a resounding YES- I’m very biased, but I think it’s an absolute epic and not to be missed. Think Nevermoor/Amari but set in a prehistoric worlds xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely think you’ll enjoy House of Serendipity, it’s such a lovely book, much like Taylor and Rose without the mystery element! And I think you’ll really like Lonny Quicke too, it was amazing

      Liked by 2 people

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