Book Review: Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai – An Exuberant Illustrated Adventure about Love, Helicopter Parents, and Finding Your Independence

Blurb:

Henry Khoo’s family treats him like a baby. He’s not allowed to go anywhere without his sister/chaperone/bodyguard. His (former) best friend knows to expect his family’s mafia-style interrogation when Henry’s actually allowed to hang out at her house. And he definitely CAN’T take a journey halfway around the world all by himself!

But that’s exactly his plan. After his family’s annual trip to visit his father in Singapore is cancelled, Henry decides he doesn’t want to be cooped up at home with his overprotective family and BFF turned NRFF (Not Really Friend Forever). Plus, he’s hiding a your-life-is-over-if-you’re-caught secret: he’s the creator of an anonymous gossip cartoon, and he’s on the verge of getting caught. Determined to prove his independence and avoid punishment for his crimes, Henry embarks on the greatest adventure everrr. . . hoping it won’t turn into the greatest disaster ever.

I was provided an ARC of this book by the author; this does not influence my book review.

If you know me, then you’ll know that I loved Lai’s debut middle-grade book, Pie in the Sky, with my entire being. Pie in the Sky was a book that made me laugh with its warm yet incisive humour and made me sob my eyes out for its phenomenal portrayal of grief. Needless to say, Pie in the Sky is one of my favourite middle-grade books of all time – and you can thus imagine how excited I received a copy of Fly on the Wall from Remy herself.

Read More »

Book Review: Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston – Listen Up: This Imaginative Middle-Grade Fantasy with Black Girl Magic Should Be the Next Big Series

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston.
Blurb:

Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?

Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.

Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.

With an evil magican threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Wow, wow, wow. I was immediately pulled in by the intriguing premise for Amari and the Night Brothers: about a girl who discovers a briefcase left by her missing big brother, and its contents leads her on a journey of discovery, a world of magic that has always co-existed with the mundane one. My curiosity was sufficiently piqued; sign me up any day for a contemporary fantasy.

Read More »

Book Review: A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong – A Vibrant Graphic Novel about the Struggles of Being a Teen, the Friendships That Hold Us Up and Basketball

A map to the sun by Sloane Leong.
Blurb:

One summer day, Ren meets Luna at a beachside basketball court and a friendship is born. But when Luna moves to back to Oahu, Ren’s messages to her friend go unanswered.

Years go by. Then Luna returns, hoping to rekindle their friendship. Ren is hesitant. She’s dealing with a lot, including family troubles, dropping grades, and the newly formed women’s basketball team at their highschool. With Ren’s new friends and Luna all on the basketball team, the lines between their lives on and off the court begin to blur. During their first season, this diverse and endearing group of teens are challenged in ways that make them reevaluate just who and how they trust.

Sloane Leong’s evocative storytelling about the lives of these young women is an ode to the dynamic nature of friendship.

I was provided an ARC in exchange for an honest review by the author; this does not impact or influence my opinion.

I genuinely cannot remember the last time I read something in one sitting. I struggle a lot with focusing on one task for extended periods of time; even with novellas or short works of fiction that I can easily finish in an hour, it’ll probably take me more than a few sittings to finish it. With A Map to the Sun though, I read it all in one sitting, engrossed by its vibrant and beautiful pages and hopelessly compelled by the graphic novel’s cast of flawed and imperfect teenage girls. That, for me, is a testament to how wonderful I thought this graphic novel was.

Read More »

Book Review: Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles – A Phenomenal Contemporary Middle-Grade about Activism, Gentrification, and Growing Up

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles. A badge at the bottom-left that says, 'Reviewed by CW, The Quiet Pond'. In the centre is a image of Xiaolong, the pink axolotl wearing a flower hat, waving at you.
Blurb:

Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, royal-blue Supreme tee—Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with the crew (his best friends since little kid days) and playing video games–is what Wes wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks– the neighborhood Wes has lived in his whole life, everything changes. The grown-ups are supposed to have all the answers. But all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known without a fight. He’s always been good at puzzles and he knows there must be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it…before it’s too late?

Exploring community, justice, family and friendship with a irresistibly deft and relatable touch, Take Back the Block introduces Wes, a 6th grader readers will fall in love with and asks what it means to belong, to a place and a movement, and to fight for a cause you believe in. 

I was provided an eARC by the publisher via the author in exchange for an honest review.

If people ask me, why do you read middle-grade books? I think, from now on, instead of giving people a long-winded answer about how I think middle-grade stories offer a window and mirror to the realities and issues that young people face today, I’ll just wordlessly hand them a copy of Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles instead. That’s right: Take Back the Block is an example of why children’s literature is such an exciting space right now – it’s timely, brilliantly told, and just so undeniably good.

Read More »

Book Review: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland – An Unforgettable Genre-Bending Story that Explores the Beauty and Power of Love, Loss and the Violence of Deportation

Blurb:

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe meets Roswell by way of Laurie Halse Anderson in this astonishing, genre-bending novel about a Mexican American teen who discovers profound connections between immigration, folklore, and alien life.

It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”

Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.

Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.

As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous in this stunning and inventive exploration of first love, family, immigration, and our vast, limitless universe.

I was provided an Audiobook Listening Copy by Libro.fm in exchange for an honest review.

When I picked up Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything on a whim, I had absolutely no idea that this magnificent book would take me on this incredible emotional genre-bending rollercoaster. I had no idea, because I often don’t read the synopsis of books before I read them. A leap of faith, I know, but with Sia Martinez? The surprise and whiplash that I felt was absolutely worth it.

Read More »