Bear by Ben Queen – MG eARC Book Review

Title: Bear
Author: Ben Queen, Joe Todd-Stanton (Illustrator)
Genre: Graphic Novel / Middle Grade
Publication Date: 18 August 2020

Bear is a guide dog who would do anything for his owner Patrick – and embarks on an epic quest from the forest to the city to regain his sight so he can protect his best friend.

Bear is a service dog who would do anything for his owner and best friend Patrick who is blind. But when Bear suddenly loses his vision, he worries he’s lost his purpose in life—protecting Patrick! Following the misguided advice from some self-serving raccoons, Bear embarks on a transformative journey to regain his eyesight. Out of both necessity and survival, he learns to tap into his other senses and begins to see the world from a new perspective that is at times more rich and colorful than the world he’s always known. 

Bear was just as it had appeared to be: a heart-warming story of a charming dog named Bear and his relationship with his owner Patrick (AKA: his best friend. Also AKA: his purpose in life).

Bear’s child-like nature and innate goodness were delightful to read. Simple thoughts were shared across a bright spread of illustrative artwork with bold colours and colour-coordinated speech making Bear’s thoughts easily distinguishable. This allowed me to follow the story without any confusion and I was transfixed enough to finish the book all in one sitting.

Patrick’s inclusion in the story not only aided the reader’s understanding of Bear’s purpose as a Guide Dog but their relationship was also really sweet to read about. It’s not often you have someone so dependable and close in your life however, Patrick was lucky enough to experience this after adopting Bear. Their relationship was a unique blend of friendship, love and a strong sense of purpose.

When Bear suddenly loses his vision, all of this is set to disappear. The loving home he has finally found with Patrick and the loss of his one purpose in life. With an ensuing adventure full of midnight escapades and being lost in a large city, Bear faces it all in the hope of being able to restore his vision. While this book had a jaunty pace there was the impression that a few areas had been quickly glanced over in the hope of maintaining the pace and removing some of the cumbersome time elements from the story. Bear read as if it had been set all in one day and yet… it felt like too much had happened for this to be logistically possible. Additionally, there was the inclusion of a family-like HEA at the end that felt unnecessary and a bit out-of-the-blue. I would have preferred the story without this element.

Overall, Bear was a fun and entertaining story that I would recommend for people of all ages. This is a delight that can be enjoyed by all!

4 Stars

*Arc kindly provided by BOOM! Studios via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

The Coffee Book Tag

Hey all!

How is it another month gone already? Seriously, this year is going too fast for me to keep up. COFFEE was my first thought this morning followed quickly by… it’s going to be a two cup morning after testing the freezing outdoor temps. As an Aussie gal winter mornings are just about the coldest it gets.

I was tagged (an embarrassingly long time ago) in this tag by KitKat from KB Book Reviews – AKA one of the sweetest bloggers out there – and knew it was the perfect theme for my morning. I’m not entirely sure who created this tag, so if you know please leave a comment below so that I can acknowledge them!

Side note: If you haven’t checked out KB’s blog before GO THERE NOW. It’s brilliant!

LONG BLACK

Name a series that’s tough to get into, but has hardcore fans.

I’d have to go with LOTR. Its fans are present far and wide and seem endlessly loyal to the series. Unfortunately, this is just one series I struggled to get in to. I enjoyed the Hobbit but not the trilogy.

PEPPERMINT MOCHA

Name a book that gets more popular during the winter or festive time of the year.

It would have to be P&P. It seems that I’m not the only one to reread this during the holiday season! I’d also like to add in here: P&P retellings. Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavours by Sonali Dev is one retelling I have my eye on. Have you read any noteworthy P&P retellings?

HOT CHOCOLATE

Name your favourite children’s book.

The Magic Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton was my all-time fav read as a child. I remember my mother reading the adventures to me and eventually learning to read it myself. I still go back and read it from time-to-time.

DOUBLE SHOT ESPRESSO

Name a book that kept you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

This prompt was probably looking for a more heart-pounding, terror-inducing book but since I’m the wimpiest of wimps I avoid anything ‘too scary’ (AKA most thrillers and horrors). This is as about as scary as it gets for me. I couldn’t put this one down though!

STARBUCKS

Name a book you see everywhere.

I’ve been seeing Schwab’s books EVERYWHERE lately. She’s an author I have on my TBR but I haven’t tried any of her books/series yet. I’m particularly keen on trying A Darker Shade of Magic as the premise of parallel Londons sounds interesting.

THE HIPSTER COFFEE SHOP

Give a book by an indie author a shout-out.

I’m not content to just give one indie author a shout-out when I’ve recently ADORED these two books by indie-authors. Madeline Ash’s self-published series, Cowboy Princes, is a quirky and oh-so-sweet romance that I cannot recommend enough. Beneath Cruel Fathoms by Anela Deen also makes this list because it’s a brilliant fantasy filled with merfolk, intrigue and adventure. If you’re unsure JUST READ THEM. I promise they’re worth the try.

OOPS! ACCIDENTALLY GOT DECAF

Name a book you were expecting more from.

Oh man, these were such disappointments for me. My excitement during the WAIT for the release of these books was very quickly turned around once I started reading them. Undercover Bromance had many of the same elements I loved from the first book in the series but unfortunately an annoying female MC and dragged out investigative side plot let this one down.

The Arc of a Scythe trilogy started out as one of my all-time faves. I still think back fondly on the time I first read Scythe. It completely captured my interest. The Toll however, has been an incredibly hard book to finish. I’m still trying to read it after two months of chipping away at it. I’m now trying to make the hard decision of either continuing to push through or DNFing this.

THE PERFECT BLEND

Name a book or series that’s bitter sweet yet satisfying.

This ending was more bitter than sweet for me. By that I mean: I was utterly destroyed and ugly-cry sobbed. It completely broke my heart and yet… there was some happiness in there too. Everybody deserves the right to their own choices and final decisions. It took me a long while after reading the book to come to terms with that. I finally realised you don’t often have to agree with others’ choices, or even fully understand them, to be supportive of their wishes.

I TAG

As always, if you choose to participate in this I’d love to see your responses so please link back in to one of my posts.

Top Ten Tuesday – Reasons Why I Love Middle Grade Books

It’s TOP TEN TUESDAY TIME. As ever, I’m so thankful to Jana over at That Artsy Reader Girl for this delightful meme and topic this week.

Middle grade has been my go-to reading over the past month (with a dash of romantic fiction added in there). In a time when anxiety is high (mine is from currently moving house which is a CHORE) middle grade books allow me the perfect, calming escape (REASON #1).

REASON #2

The lack of romance. Yes, I know. I actually said (or is it technically typed?) that. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a die hard rom-com fan but occasionally it’s nice to have a genre that isn’t focused on squeezing in romantic plots in the background (or as the WHOLE plot, as is the case in romance). That’s not to say there aren’t MG books with romance but it’s less common I find.

REASON #3

The friendships! It’s so sweet to read about a band of misfit BFFs taking on the Wicked Witch of the West [or insert alternative villain here]. The wholesome innocence of it is beautiful, especially in contrast to my current living situation which means FRIENDS ARE SO FAR AWAY. It makes me melancholy and eager to see them again!

REASON #4

The fantasy kicks ass. Not quite literally (although I’m sure there’s at least one example of this somewhere…) but in the sense that there ARE NO RULES. Their creativity and imagination is sometimes far more vivid than YA or adult fantasy: genres that tend to lean toward ‘the realm of possibility’ with their fantastical ideas. Whereas some MG fantasy books just GO BANANAS in terms of realism and flying pigs go by in the next chapter. Who doesn’t want a healthy does of whimsy like this in their life?

REASON #5

They’re shorter. There are times when I want to sit down to a beastly tomb and spend 15 hours of my life compelled by the pages (Kingdom of Ash)… and then there are times when I want to sit on the couch, be lazy, pick up a book and finish it before I feel the urge to get back up again. MG novels tend to be at least 100 pages shorter than your average adult novel and this can come in handy when you’re in the mood for a quick escape.

REASON #6

PICTURES. Okay, so MG books don’t actually have pictures in them but the COVERS are SO CUTE majority of the time. If you don’t believe me check out these MG books below. Who could resist picking these up off the shelf???!! Yes, they’re all mermaid related. Because mermaids are cool like that.

REASON #7

ARCs. My luck with MG ARCs is generally far better than with YA or adult novels. Maybe it’s just me? I could be overly critical of YA and adult books and lenient on MG? Regardless of the reason, my track record with higher star ratings and enjoyment is definitely higher in MG than in any other genre. They’re just so FEEL GOOD. I can’t help but be happy and give a happiness-induced high rating!

REASON #8

The series DON’T LET YOU DOWN. At least in Rick Riordan’s case. And isn’t he kinda the King of Greek myth fantasy for MG? I feel like he is (in my completely biased opinion due to a love of Percy J). I’ve had some bad luck lately with bad sequels and endings to series (looking at you Neal Shusterman…) and having a genre where the sequel is generally as good as the first is a win-win in my book!

REASON #9

They cover some deep topics. With a host of books in MG being dedicated to the fantastic there isn’t often a highlight on the OTHER books for this age group. One of my favourite topics, quite often covered, is that of immigrating as a child and adjusting to a new culture. This is something I experienced as a child and being able to relate to characters going through the same thing gets me all teared up! It’s such a hard thing to handle when you’re young (especially if you’re the kid with the weird accent) and these books tackle the subject so well. I wish I’d had them as a child so that I could have read and related to this back then. It would have certainly helped with the discomfort of being ‘The New Girl’ in a very strange new school.

REASON #10

THEY’RE ADDICTIVELY FUN AND FUNNY. I’ll admit that I can be quite the staid reader. You’d probably think I looked dead bored if you chanced a peek at me reading (when in reality I’m so engrossed that my awareness of the surroundings just disappears). Like resting b*tch face, my resting reading face leaves a lot to be desired. That’s why MG is so fun to read. I genuinely find myself laughing out loud and talking to my invisible neighbour (I’m calling him George for the time being) about how amazing/brilliant/funny/ [insert adjective here] the characters are.

The Witches of Willow Cove by Josh Roberts – MG ARC Book Review

Title: The Witches of Willow Cove
Author: Josh Roberts
Genre: Fantasy / Middle Grade
Publication Date: 26 May 2020

Six teenage witches. One mysterious stranger. A secret that could destroy them all.

It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Seventh grader Abby Shepherd is just getting the hang of it when weird stuff starts happening all around her hometown of Willow Cove. Green slime bubbling to life in science class. Giant snakes slithering around the middle school gym. Her best friend suddenly keeping secrets and telling lies.

Things only begin to make sense when a stranger named Miss Winters reveals that Abby isn’t the only young witch in town–and that Willow Cove is home to a secret past that connects them all. Miss Winters, herself a witch, even offers to teach Abby and the others everything she knows about witchcraft.

But as Abby learns more about Miss Winters’ past, she begins to suspect her new mentor is keeping secrets of her own. Can Abby trust her, or does Miss Winters have something wicked planned for the young witches of Willow Cove?

The Witches of Willow Cove was a journey of magic, friendship and mysterious disappearances. Roberts’ writing was reminiscent of J.K Rowlings in Harry Potter (BIG statement… but let me explain) in regards to building young adult characters that had a bravery, curiosity and maturity that defied their years (but was also believable).

While the cover and synopsis of this story seemed to hint at a darker theme, the sudden disappearance of characters throughout the book made me uncomfortable. It seemed as if integral members of the community had suddenly gone missing… and no one noticed. Usually the disappearance of a character in a small town is easily noticed and is followed up with a sense of panic. The lack of this had me uneasy as a reader. Roberts created a foreboding atmosphere without having to resort to dramatic means.

The main characters in this story, Abby and Robby (yes, the synopsis only states Abby as the MC but it felt like they were equally as important) had a youthful friendship that brought back a feeling of sentiment for me. Their ‘BFF’ label was an innocent sort that hadn’t been tested with conflict. This book’s exploration of their friendship amidst a sea of secrets and lies was fascinating to read. I enjoyed following their friendship as it cracked under pressure and then slowly built again to become something able to stand the test of time. Roberts expertly dealt with youth-like emotions in a way that was relatable for an adult reader. Oftentimes the emotional arc of an MG story can feel a bit angsty or become frustrating to follow but that wasn’t the case with The Witches of Willow Cove.

The only downside to this story was its predictability. There were aspects of the plot I predicted from a mile away and yet there remained a few events toward the end that had me smiling in surprise. As this is pitched for a younger audience it’s to be expected that some predictability is present.

I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

4.5 Stars

*ARC kindly provided by Owl Hollow Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

Nevertell by Katharine Orton – MG eARC Book Review

Title: Nevertell
Author: Katharine Orton
GenreMiddle Grade / Fantasy
Publication Date: April 2020

A snowy adventure, set in the wilds of Siberia, full of magic and wonder.

Born in a Soviet prison camp, Lina has never seen the world outside until the night she escapes with her best friend, Bogdan. As the pair journey across a snowy wilderness, they are pursued by a vengeful sorceress and her pack of shadow wolves. The children will need every ounce of courage – and a whisper of magic – if they are to survive…
 (Goodreads).

I’ve been in an MG mood lately with everything still being so intense and crazy out in the wide world. MG books have been a saving grace. Their wonder, whimsy and wholesome themes have kept my sanity safely in place and anxiety at bay. So this ARC couldn’t have come along at a better time.

Nevertell was a perfect read for my mood this week. With fantastical wolf-beasts, a vengeful sorceress and themes of friendship and love this story kept me happily entertained! Orton’s writing is fast-paced and full of energy. I was expecting a wild, adventurous ride and Nevertell certainly delivered on that.

Lina and Bogdan were easy-to-like characters that had a level of strength I hadn’t been expecting, considering their age. Forced to grow up fast in the Soviet Camp, these children faced battles head-on with a maturity well beyond their young teen years. While this would usually be considered to be a lack of effort to accurately portray a younger character, in this case it seemed appropriate. These children had suffered so much. Anything extra in the fight for freedom just seemed like the norm to them.

That said, the characters’ complete and unwavering strength made it hard to connect with them and story overall. I was expecting there to be a lot of emotional impact in this book due to the Soviet Camp and their fight for freedom but it didn’t really come across that way. Instead Lina and Bogdan took me on a fantastical, adventurous ride but I wasn’t overly invested in their plight. I hoped for a happy ending but would have been okay without one.

Additionally, I was expecting a lot more depth with the inclusion of Lina’s magical powers and soviet themes in this book. There was some growth of powers and the camp was present however, I wish Orton would have gone in to more detail on these. These issues made me reduce my rating to 3.5 stars, as opposed to 4.

3.5 Stars

*ARC provided via Walker Books Ltd via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Wish Had Been Published When I was a Child

Hey all,

It’s been a LONG while since I’ve done a Top Ten Tuesday post but it seems I came back perfectly in time for this week’s fun theme: Books I Wish I’d Read as a Child. I was an avid reader when I was a child and there are so many good books released now that I wish I’d have had a chance to experience reading as a child/young teen. This is my list of books I wish would go back in time and be published 20 years early, haha.

As always, thanks go to the lovely Jana over at That Artsy Reader Girl for this week’s topic and for creating this meme.

The Trials of Apollo Series by Rick RiordanI fell in love with Riordan’s writing from reading the Percy Jackson series after having seen the movie (yes… the book is certainly better!). After that I was excited to try another series by this author, The Trials of Apollo, and was not disappointed!

Percy Jackson and The Lightening Thief by Rick RiordanMy beginning in to the love that I currently have for Riordan’s writing. It’s fast paced, exciting and has just the right amount of mythology to spark and keep my interest!

The School for Good and Evil by Soman ChainaniI read this book as part of a tutoring program, to help a young teen read and gain interest in reading but was surprised to find myself immersed in the story along the way. I picked up on this series where the tutoring left off and devoured the rest of the series. This is good vs evil drama without all of the angst that usually is associated with books of this theme.

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney I saw the movie and it pulled on my heart strings. I had to give the books a try after that. They’re so quick and easy to read – I was hooked!

The Treehouse Series by Andy GriffithsThis is another series I initially read for tutoring and was swept up in it’s whimsy, fun and The Faraway Tree vibes. I was obsessed with the Magic Faraway Tree as a kid and this has some serious links to that. It spurred on my sentimental heart and I fell in love with this series which felt like an extension of The Faraway books of my childhood.

Nevermoor by Jessica TownsendI loved the cover and blurb of this book when in the book shop. This is one of those perfect fantasy series that can be appreciated by children and adults alike. If you haven’t tried it yet, you really should!

Star Wars Box SetI only discovered Star Wars in my early 20s by watching the movies (yes, I know I was waaaaaay behind the ball on this one) and loved them so much I decided to buy the children’s box set. It’s fun, easy to read and perfect for when you’re in the mood to escape current reality.

The Red Pyramid by Rick RiordanYes, yet another Riordan book on my list but in my defence: they’re awesome. Carter and Sadie’s adventure was so thrilling to read and the story itself was full of sibling banter, whimsy, magic and featured a Goddess Cat. What more could you want??

The Ranger’s Apprentice Series by John FlanaganI found this series through a friend’s recommendation and was hooked from the very first chapter. Flanagan writes stories that remind me of Tamora Pierce’s writing. It’s a magical world full of brave characters, bows and arrows and exciting adventure.

Wonder by R J PalacioI watched Wonder the movie when it came out and was completely caught off guard by how emotional it made me. Picking up the book after that was a foregone conclusion and I loved it! Wonder is the perfect story to teach children that it’s okay to be different – and adults too it seems. This was a wholesome delight!

Have you read any of these? Do you also wish you’d had a chance to read them when you were younger??

Top 5 Sat: MG Books Under 300 Pages

Hey all,

I hope you’re all enjoying the start of your weekend. I don’t have much planned for mine but it feels like we’ve been cooped up inside for AGES now. This week’s Top 5 Sat theme, created by the wonderfully kind Mandy over at Devouring Books, involves books Under 300 Pages. I’ve been reading Middle Grade books lately and have decided to list my most anticipated upcoming MG reads. These are the perfect length to read in my current mindset. They’re short and easy to read but can still pack the same intense punch as longer novels.

Here they are:

The Witches of Willow Cove by Josh Roberts – It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Seventh grader Abby Shepherd is just getting the hang of it when weird stuff starts happening all around her hometown of Willow Cove. Things only begin to make sense when a stranger named Miss Winters reveals that Abby isn’t the only young witch in town—and that Willow Cove is home to a secret past that connects them all.

ReStart by Gordon Korman – Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. He doesn’t remember hitting his head. He doesn’t, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name. He knows he’s Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed – The compelling story of a girl’s fight to regain her life and dreams after being forced into indentured servitude. Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when–as the eldest daughter–she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Then the unimaginable happens–after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.

Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga – Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives. At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman – When Viji and her sister, Rukku, whose developmental disability makes her overly trusting and vulnerable to the perils of the world, run away to live on their own, the situation could not be more grim. The sisters manage to find shelter on an abandoned bridge. There they befriend Muthi and Arul, two boys in a similar predicament, and the four children bond together and form a family of sorts. As their predicament worsens, Viji and Arul must decide whether to risk going for help–when most adults in their lives have proven themselves untrustworthy–or to continue holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.

What do you think, do any of these spark your interest? Do you read MG as well when you’re in the mood for a shorter read?