Category Archives: Middle Grade

Calling on Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Welcome to Saturday Shorts, in which we review shorter works such as short stories, novellas, middle-grade books, and graphic novels. Today I’m back with the third review for the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, a series about a feisty princess who’s anything but ordinary.

TitleCalling on Dragons 
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Series: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
Publish Date: March 1, 2003
Genre: MG Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description:
Those wicked wizards are back–and they’ve become very smart. (Sort of.) They intend to take over the Enchanted Forest once and for all . . . unless Cimorene finds a way to stop them. And some people think being queen is easy.


Kat Mandu says…

This is the book three of four in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles and sometimes I find it strange that the author didn’t write the whole series for children. Again, this has a nice little innocent touch to it, and I’m actually surprised that this book turn a turn from its prequel and had more of a lighter plot, more child-like and less complicated. The first two books seemed to have more of an edge and less convenient holes to fall into.

That being said, I loved it; each book has its own way of leading up to the finale and is narrated by different characters. And although I loved the point of views of both Mendenbar, the King of the Enchanted Forest, and Morwen, a sassy witch with lots of cats and a friend to most of the lead characters, I rather wish Cimorene would get her turn in the spotlight again. The first one continues to be my favorite in the series and I think it’s because I’m so drawn to her character.

Again, this book plays with a lot of different fairy tale ideas and songs, from the princess and the pea, to Old MacDonald, to the retelling of Rapunzel. I love books that contain more than one retelling (after all, I’m a fan of all princesses, not just some) and that it does it in a simple way that avoids distracting from the real story.

I wasn’t sure what to think about some of the character conversations in this. The cats were humorous, providing sarcasm in good moments. However, there’s a whole scene where the crew burst into this guy’s house (okay, technically it’s a tower, but he lives there, so) and blame him for not being hospitable…which I find incredibly weird because no one would do that in real life (or at least I’d hope not). But like I said, this book has its innocent kicks and the characters tend to be very headstrong anyway.

Though it’s my least favorite in the series, I still enjoyed it a lot and you will too!

Our reviews in this series…

Other recommendations…

…you might try Susan Fletcher, Tamora Pierce, or Diane Duane.

Prisoner of Ice And Snow by Ruth Lauren

Valor is set on breaking her sister out of prison. But the only way to do that is to be arrested herself and tossed in with the worst of the criminals. Can she prove her sister’s innocence and save the reputation of her family before it’s too late?

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Title: Prisoner of Ice And Snow
Author: Ruth Lauren
Series: Stand-Alone (as of now)
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publish Date: April 4, 2017
Genre: Middle-Grade fantasy
Source: Provided by the publisher

Publisher’s Description: When Valor is arrested, she couldn’t be happier. Demidova’s prison for criminal children is exactly where she wants to be. Valor’s sister Sasha is already serving a life sentence for stealing from the royal family and Valor is going to help her escape . . . from the inside.

Never mind that no one has escaped in three hundred years. Valor has a plan and resources most could only dream about. But she didn’t count on having to outsmart both the guards and her fellow prisoners. If Valor’s plan is to succeed, she’ll need to make unlikely allies. And if the plan fails, she and Sasha could end up with fates worse than prison.

Luna Lovebooks says… 

Likes: Sisterly/familial love is a refreshing change from the many love triangles I normally read. It reminded me a lot of Frozen and Brave. I liked the plot quite a bit. There was a nice twist that I honestly didn’t see coming. I love Valor’s undying loyalty to her sister and the bond she forms with the children she meets in prison.

Dislikes: Everything I have seen or read about this novel says that it is a stand-alone, however the ending is super open. It makes me believe the adventure isn’t over yet. I feel that the world could have done with more information as the world building is sparse. There were some things that made me shake my head such as the ability of a 13-year-old to escape from an inescapable prison, and the fact that the prisoners weren’t watched more closely – especially one who tried to assassinate the prince.

This story is a cute read about sisterly love and the bonds of family. But because of the lack of world building, the open ending, and unrealistic feats, I give this novel 3 icicles.

Other recommendations…

For other Middle Grade reads check out the following:  The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan, The Lost Knight by Candy Atkins, The BFF Bucket List by Dee Romito.

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia Wrede

Cimorene longs to be more than just the ordinary princess – so when she runs away from her kingdom and volunteers to be a dragon’s “captive” princess, all new adventures unfold.


Title: Dealing With Dragons
Author: Patricia Wrede
Series: Enchanted Forrest Chronicles Book 1
Publish Date:  November 1st 2002
Genre: Middle Grade
Cover:  Peter de Sève
Source: Purchased


Publisher’s Description: Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart – and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon – and finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for.

Kat Mandu says…

I used to read this series a lot when I was growing up and like Harry Potter, it still calls to me no matter what age I am. This isn’t your typical middle-grade story, though sometimes it reads like one. Cimorene is technically a teenage princess, she even has that streak of defiance in her that often leads her into trouble – but she embraces it. However, this reads so different from books today that I find its simplicity and innocence the best part about it.

Cimorene sneaks off from her family’s kingdom and discovers a group of dragons. She offers her services – cooking and cleaning mostly – to one of them and finds a companion in Kazul, a female dragon with a feisty spirit. As the two become friends and Cimorene becomes accustomed to her new home, she meets a couple new friends, including another princess named Alianora, a witch named Morwen, and a stone prince who had an unlucky adventure himself and is now looking to redeem himself.

But she also uncovers a plot between the wizards and a shifty dragon that includes killing off the king of the dragons and putting a specific dragon in his place. When she teams up with her friends and Kazul, Cimorene manages to defeat the wizards and save the day.

This is really an enjoyable, funny read that people of all ages should enjoy. I’m eager to read the next in the series.

Other recommendations…

You’ll also love authors like Rick Riordan, Marissa Meyer, and Katherine Roberts.




The New You by Kathleen Leverich

Welcome to Saturday Shorts, in which we review shorter works such as short stories, novellas, middle-grade books, and graphic novels.

In The New You, Abigail is a young girl who just moved to the big city. She’s got a new step-mother as well and as she adjusts, she realizes she has lost who she used to be and wants to find herself a new identity

the-new-youTitle: The New You
Author: Kathleen Leverich
Series: stand alone
Publish Date: June 1, 2000 Scholastic
Genre: MG Magical Realism
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Abigail and self-esteem have not gone hand in hand ever since she transferred to a new school. And the harder she tries to fit in, the more things seem to come out awkward and wrong. But when she makes friends with three savvy older women, gets a fabulously flattering haircut — and ultimately what she earnestly believes is a completely new identity, suddenly things begin to look up. Is it all wishful thinking or a glimpse into the future?

Possible spoilers beyond this point.



Kat Mandu says…

In The New You, Abigail is a young girl who just moved to the big city. She’s got a new step-mother as well and as she adjusts, she realizes she has lost who she used to be and wants to find herself a new identity.

This is an okay coming-of-age story. It’s very young so I put it at lower middle-grade on my mental shelf. The New You was one of the books that I found while going through some of my old books; I couldn’t remember much about it besides that it had a future-meets-present feel, so I reread it. Boy, I wonder if I liked it more back then because my feelings toward it have definitely changed if so.

Abigail has managed to lose her friends, her hometown, and everything else she once was. Now that she’s in a new school and new city, she doesn’t quite know where she fits in. She wants to make friends but doesn’t know how because she doesn’t know if they’ll like her. So she stumbles on a makeover place called The New You in a phone book and decides to go there (a twelve year old wandering around in a NYC type area at dark? *shudder*).

What she finds is three women who treat her kindly and take her in, giving her a makeover. After a few hours of feeling comfortable around them, she starts to become ill, and goes home. She wakes a few days later and discovers she was sick. But when she starts to tell her family about the experiences she had, they tell her they never happened. In fact, she starts to investigate but finds out that the building she went to doesn’t even exist, let alone the people she met.

Yet Abigail remains hopeful and is much more comfortable in her own skin. She makes friends and realizes that these friends and these experiences are more like deja vu, and that her “dream” was just a projection of the future.

badge2v4If you’re looking for something simple and young, this book is for you. It just wasn’t for me. I missed the action that a lot more YA offers these days. Since this is an older book, it’s a lot more innocent. Which, there’s nothing wrong with, but I like my magical-realism a bit grittier.

Simon Thorn Series by Aimee Carter

Welcome to Saturday Shorts, in which we review shorter works such as short stories, novellas, middle-grade books, and graphic novels. Today we have a dual review for the first two books in the Simon Thorn series by Aimee Carter. In this thrilling, middle-grade series featuring animal shapeshifters, Simon Thorn is a twelve-year-old boy who’s about to discover his true heritage – and the dangers that come with it.

I received an ARC or review copy of one of these books from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

st-wolfs-denTitleSimon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den
AuthorAimee Carter
SeriesSimon Thorn, Book 01
Publish Date: February 2, 2016, Bloomsbury
Genre: MG Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionTwelve-year-old Simon Thorn’s life has never been normal-especially since he’s been keeping a big secret: he can talk to animals.

But when his mom is suddenly kidnapped by a herd of New York City rats, Simon finds out that he, his mom, and his uncle are all Animalgams-someone born with the ability to change into an animal at will-and suddenly talking to animals doesn’t seem so crazy after all.

In search of his mom, Simon discovers that Animalgams belong to an ancient world made up of Five Animal Kingdoms (Mammals, Birds, Insects, Reptiles, and Underwater) which are now under attack…and Simon just may be the only one who can save them all.

Imaginative and vivid with themes of bravery, loyalty, and finding one’s true self, this exciting, five-book adventure series is perfect for fans of the Spirit Animals and The School of Good and Evil series.

st-vipers-pitTitleSimon Thorn and the Viper’s Pit
AuthorAimee Carter
SeriesSimon Thorn, Book 02
Publish Date: February 7, 2017, Bloomsbury
Genre: MG Fantasy
Source: Provided by the publisher

Publisher’s DescriptionThe excitement continues for the secret race of animal shape-shifters with a hero “worthy of a young Harry Potter” (Booklist Online).

Simon Thorn’s life is almost unrecognizable from a few months ago. Along with a surprise twin brother and an uncle he never knew, Simon has also found his first real friends to hang out, train, and study with at the secret Animalgam Academy. The only piece missing is his mother, held captive by his evil grandfather, Orion, who’s bent on taking over the five kingdoms.

To rescue his mother, Simon sets off cross-country with his friends to the reptile kingdom, battling rogue Animalgams and their own doubts and torn loyalties along the way. But if he’s going to stop Orion, Simon will need to keep him from gathering together the fragments of a terrible weapon, or the lives of everyone Simon loves will be at risk.

With action and adventure, this story is perfect for fans of Rick Riordan and Brandon Mull.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Kat_Mandu_100Kat Mandu says…

Simon’s young and living in New York City. His best friend is a mouse named Felix because Simon actually doesn’t have any friends. The one he did have has abandoned him for the “cooler crowd” due to an incident in which Simon was caught talking to a few animals. Now he’s the “freaky” kid that no one wants to be around. However, that all changes the day he’s warned by a bald eagle that his life is in danger, his mother makes an unexpected return home, and suddenly, he and his uncle get chased by vicious rats. As Simon realizes there may be more to his ability to talk to animals, he’s pulled into the world of the Animalgams.

In the Animalgam world, there are five kingdoms: mammals, birds, insects, underwater, and reptiles. There’s even a secret academy in Central Park Zoo where he meets an uncle he never knew he had, and more, a twin brother! Finally, Simon is meeting kids close to his age that have known they could turn into animals their whole lives. But the more Simon learns about this world, the more he doesn’t like, especially when he discovers he’s a pawn in a chess game between the mammal Alpha, his mother, his grandfather, and the rest of the kingdom leaders.

In the first book, Simon is dealing with learning about the world he’s never known about and the people who will eventually become his family; not to mention fighting in a war between the five kingdoms. In the second book, the stakes are higher. Simon is trying to figure out his place in the Animalgam world, avoid getting picked off by the warring bird kingdom (which is led by his manipulative grandfather) and the old Alpha of the mammal kingdom, and save his mom from Orion.

For me, these books had most of the usual MG expectations. Good story, albeit having a lot of “convenient” rescues; kids who seem to think they can get away unscathed in sticky situations, no matter who’s trying to protect them; and the absence of any real parenting skills that force the character to adapt and evolve in his own way. It has funny one-liners, lots of “aww” moments, and lots of child-like humor that’s often cute.

However, after having a chat with co-blogger and friend Ivana, I realized that this particular series is missing something huge that all children’s’ books have. Where’s the moral of the story here? I’ve read both books by now and I’m either missing the lesson the lead character learns or it’s just not there. Sure, there’s a great plot. But what is the reader learning?

Frankly, Simon bugs me. I’m not fond of his character. I’m drawn more to Ariana and Jam, two of his friends. Simon is undeniably one of the biggest brats I’ve ever read in MG. I get that he’s twelve. I really do. But he’s unnecessarily defiant and bullheaded. He’s also extremely hypocritical, chastising one of the girls – Winter, who also becomes his friend – for the same things he does, lying and not knowing what side she’s on. He’s not exactly choosing a side when he runs away from the people that want to protect him every chance he gets.

I don’t have any children of my own (yet). But I’m certain if I did, I’d have a hard time allowing my son or daughter to read this series. The reasoning behind Simon’s actions just isn’t enough to excuse his continual lack of respect for the people who care for him. He’s just too defiant for me to like him, and I don’t think he’s a good role model for kids.

badge3v4That being said, I enjoyed the story. It has its ups and down and it’s certainly entertaining! Like I said, I’m very fond of Jam, who’s a dolphin; and Ariana, who’s a Black Widow spy (pretty sure that’s a shout out to Marvel as well). They provide some cool getaways and fun dialogue.

Both these books get three stars from me!

Other recommendations…

Recommended for fans of Brandon Mull and any Animorphs books (multiple authors)!

I received an ARC or review copy of one of these from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.