Tag Archives: Middle Grade

Autumn Adventures: A Review of The Neighbourhood Squirrel

The Neighbourhood Squirrel by Wilfredo Gonzalez book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a dog waving at a squirrel sitting on a fire hydrant as a full moon shines above them at night. Title: The Neighbourhood Squirrel

Author: Wilfredo Gonzalez

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 14, 2021

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 67 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Every neighborhood has a neighborhood squirrel. This includes your neighborhood too. You have not known this because people don’t need to know, in most cases. The neighborhood squirrel has an occupation that is most important, as you shall see.

Review:

Content Warning: Bullying and fighting (between kids at a middle school). I will be discussing these things briefly in my review.

Have you ever wondered why some kids are so mean? If so, this tale might have a few answers for you.

I appreciated the nuanced approach this book took to the topic of bullying. It never shied away from the fact that Hector had harmed his classmates both physically and emotionally, but it didn’t demonize him for these choices. He had reasons for his behaviour that, while they weren’t framed as excuses for his terrible deeds in any way, did provide a satisfactory explanation for how someone so young could cause so much chaos at school. It was also cool to see how his peers reacted to the idea of bullying and what kept them from lashing out the same way he did. There were so many opportunities here for self-reflection for kids who may have bullied others in the past or refrained from standing up for classmates who were being mistreated.

It would have been helpful for me to see the narrator include more connections between the storyline about the intelligent talking squirrel who protected the neighbourhood and the uneasy relationship between Gonzalo and Hector. As excited as I was by the idea of animals taking note of the conflicts between children and trying to help them, it was tricky at times to understand why the squirrel was so interested in the affairs of humans. He could have easily lived a quiet life in the park and ignored them. I was glad he made such a noble choice, but from a reader’s perspective I did wish his motivation for getting involved was explored in greater detail. There was so much room here for exposition and world building.

Some of my favourite passages were the ones that described how the world changes from the beginning to the end of autumn. A warm September day is generally nothing at all like a chilly December one when winter is around the corner. Mr. Gonzalez did a wonderful job of describing this process in detail. Not only was it important for the plot, it was just plain fascinating to read about all of the things that children and maybe even your neighbourhood squirrel might think about as the leaves fall and the first few snowflakes tremble with anticipation in the sky.

The Neighbourhood Squirrel was a thought-provoking read.

A Review of Curse of the Nain Rouge: The Legend of Detroit’s Red Devil

Curse of the Nain Rouge: The Legend of Detroit’s Red Devil by Michelle Nunley book cover. Image on cover is of a red, black, and white drawing of a devilish character. Title: Curse of the Nain Rouge: The Legend of Detroit’s Red Devil

Author: Michelle Nunley

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 20, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade 

Length: 5 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author. 

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

There are many urban legends of hauntings throughout Michigan. Some tell of an ominous white ghost, others of mysterious dog-headed creatures. But none is quite as haunting as that of the curse placed on the city of Detroit by a small red devilish-looking creature . . .  The Nain Rouge.

A short 1200 word story that tells the tale of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, founder of Detroit, and a curse placed on the city by a small red, sharp toothed devilish looking creature. Detroiter’s call him the Nain Rouge. Based on encounters and sightings throughout history, it is said the creature appears before every disaster throughout the city’s history and long list of misfortunes.

Review:

Some curses exist for good reasons. 

I was surprised in a good way by fact that Antoine was such an unlikeable protagonist. There’s something interesting about seeing how such a selfish, egotistical man reacted to a threat to his city that he didn’t believe in or think should be taken seriously. We all have our own blind spots, of course, but Antoine’s blind spots much bigger and more dangerous than most. 

This story could have used a little more character development. I had trouble empathizing with Antoine because nearly everything I learned about him was negative. Yes, he was a villain, and arguably even more so than the Nain Rouge itself, but even the worst person in the world is bound to have some good in him or herself. While I understand that this isn’t the strong suite of most folktales, there was definitely room here to humanize him a tad before he met up with his nemesis. 

My favorite part of this tale was the ending. It tied up the most important plot strings but also explained why this legend continues to be shared three hundred years after it was said to begin. I couldn’t help but the turn the unresolved portions of the storyline over and over in my mind to see if I could think of a good way to resolve them. There’s something to be said for a legend that could still yet have more chapters added to it!

 Curse of the Nain Rouge was a thought-provoking tale that I enjoyed reading. 

Bedroom Battle: A Review of The Teddy Bear’s War

The Teddy Bear's War by Alex Cross book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a teddy bear holding a sword. Title: The Teddy Bear’s War

Author: Alex Cross

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 17, 2021

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 9 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Every little kid is afraid of the dark in some way. The unknown scares us all to some extent. John is no exception. Is there a monster under the bed? A ghost in the closet? Or something else…something we don’t even have a name for? Luckily for John, he has someone looking out for him. When the thing in John’s closet goes bump in the night, it has to go through a Teddy Bear first.

Review:

Bedtime is anything but restful for this bear.

Teddy Bear was an incredibly brave toy. While John slept, he was responsible for protecting the boy from anything that might cause him harm. The reasons why Teddy Bear had taken on this role and what would happen if he failed were fascinating and well developed. I can’t go into more detail about them than that for spoiler reasons, but I was thrilled with how the author explained it all.

I also adored this story’s explanations for where nightmares come from and why they can be so terrifying, especially for kids. Not only did they make perfect sense for the plot, they made me wish that our world worked this way as well.

While I enjoyed every word of this story, the ending was particularly meaningful. It resolved all of the most important plot points while also leaving plenty of room for a sequel if the author ever decides to write one. I loved getting to know these characters and would be first in line to revisit them if we ever get a chance to see what John and Teddy Bear get up to as John grows older and Teddy Bear grows even wiser than he already is.

I can’t recommend The Teddy Bear’s War highly enough! It made my heart sing.

Lost but Not Alone: A Review of Boo and the Boy 

Boo and the Boy - A Ghost Story by Wayne Barrett book cover. Image on cover shows drawing of a large bison skull with a fairy perched on top of it. Inside of the skull is the silhoutte of a young person walking in the desert by a cactus.Title: Boo and the Boy – A Ghost Story

Author: Wayne Barrett

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 23, 2020

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary 

Length: 24 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author. 

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

In the heart of the Mojave Desert, a little boy wanders, lost and frightened. Coming upon a giant bison skull, he makes a discovery that turns his fear into a night of magic. 

A ghost, fairies, and a talking rattlesnake bring an atmosphere of fantasy to this haunting tale. Boo and the Boy is a ghost story, but it is one that will not only tug at your heartstrings, but will bring a smile to your face as well. 

Join Boo and the Boy at their haunted home, a skull that, in ages past, belonged to the granddaddy of all bison’s.

Review:

Every haunting exists for a reason even if that reason isn’t immediately revealed. 

As soon as I met Boo, I was instantly endeared to him. Since he didn’t remember anything about his life before began haunting the giant bison skull, everything I learned about him was based on his kind, curious personality. He truly cared about others, and he showed his feelings in gestures both grand and small. There was no limit to what he’d do to help someone who seemed to be in trouble even though his powers were limited as a ghost who was firmly bound to such a small area of land. 

The world building was lovely. At first I thought we’d get a better understanding of what the fairies were hoping to accomplish. While some of their motives were eventually explained, I ended up really liking the fact that there were unanswered questions there as well. I had enough hints to form my own hypothesis, and the rest I could chalk up to the unpredictable nature of fairies in general. This struck me as something quite true to their species, especially since they honestly did seem to have good intentions in the end. 

I also appreciated the friendships between Boo, the boy, and Alfred. While I can’t go into much detail about the identities of those last two characters for spoiler reasons, I can say that their personalities complemented each other nicely. They had much more in common than I would have originally guessed. Discovering what those things were was delightful. 

Don’t be frightened by the horror tag if it’s not a genre you typically read. Yes, there is an underbelly to this tale that will gradually be revealed, but nothing about it was gory or gross. In fact, there was something surprisingly sweet about this portion of the storyline in the end. 

Boo and the Boy was a hauntingly beautiful ghost story that I heartily recommend to adult and young adult readers alike. 

The Day Before Christmas Eve: A Review of The Yule Cat

The Yule Cat - a Christmas Short Story by Eldritch Black book cover. Image on coer shows drawing of a blue cat sitting in the snow outside of a village at night. The cat is staring ahead at the reader. Title: The Yule Cat – a Christmas Short Story

Author: Eldritch Black

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 25, 2020

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Holidays

Length: 46 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Strange, scary rumors are flying about the tiny, snowy town below the mountains. Some say a tiger sprang loose from a circus train and roams the snowy meadows. Some say it stalks in the wintry forests. Some say it’s a monster. 

But feisty Maisie Crompton knows that can’t be true. Such things never happen in their sleepy alpine village. 
Or do they?

For soon, Maisie finds herself crossing the path of a spine-chilling legend. The Yule Cat; a fearsome mythical beast collecting snacks for his winter feast. And should Maisie fail in the cat-and-mouse hunt that follows, she might well become the next morsel on his menu…

From the author of Krampus and The Thief of Christmas, The Yule Cat is a short Christmas story brimming with magic, trolls, spooky mythology, and fun and festive chills for readers of all ages

Review:

Be careful what you wish for.

If only I could read that introduction to this review to Maisie! Her envious attitude in the first scene certainly gave me a strong impression of her. I sympathized with her frustration over having to count every last cent so carefully. The holidays are a tough time to be poor, especially for a kid who is watching her best friend show off an expensive new coat. I know the narrator probably wanted us to hope Maisie would learn a valuable lesson about gratitude for what one has. While I had those thoughts as well, I also hoped she’d get a wonderful Christmas gift that matched all of her dreams.

There were a few things about the climax of this story that didn’t quite make sense to me, especially when it came to exactly what Jólakötturinn (The Yule Cat) was capable of. It was never clear to me exactly what the limits of his powers were. Sometimes he seemed capable of things that he hadn’t been a scene before, so I was never sure what to expect from him. It would have been nice to have a firmer understanding of this creature as he was definitely a scary one!

The world building was handled nicely. I appreciated the fact that the author explained a little bit about the backstory of Jólakötturinn for anyone who wasn’t already familiar with that. That attention to detail continued on with the descriptions of the other characters, too. All of their histories were important in order to fully understand how Maisie ended up in such a dangerous predicament on December 23.

Let me end this review with my favourite quote from this tale. It captured the themes of it all nicely.

“He grows when he senses fear, and shrinks when he’s content.”