Tag Archives: Book Review

Review : The Swap by Megan Shull

Middle-grade book review of

The SwapThe Swap by Megan Shull

Goodreads Blurb

“You be me…and I’ll be you.”

ELLIE spent the summer before seventh grade getting dropped by her best friend since forever. JACK spent it training in “The Cage” with his tough-as-nails brothers and hard-to-please dad. By the time middle school starts, they’re both ready for a change. And just as Jack’s thinking girls have it so easy, Ellie’s wishing she could be anyone but herself.

Then, BAM! They swap lives – and bodies!

Now Jack’s fending off mean girls at sleepover parties, while Ellie’s reigning as The Prince of Thatcher Middle School.

As their crazy weekend races on – and their feeling for each other grow – Elli and Jack begin to wonder if maybe the best way to learn how to be yourself is to spend a little time being somebody else.

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about the souls of a boy and a girl swapping into the bodies of the other.

One Friday afternoon during the last lesson, Elle and Jack happen to be in the nurse’s office at the same time. The next minute they find themselves in each other’s bodies. They have less than ten minutes to come to terms with the swap and agree to meet up on Monday morning to find that missing nurse-on-duty. In the meantime, they have to lead each other’s live for the weekend. Both agreed to lock themselves in their rooms all weekend. Except it was a lot harder to do that.

This book is written in alternate POVs. Elle has friendship issues with the mean girls at school. Jack trains hard at hockey with his four brothers. If you can look past the gender-stereotyped characters, the rest of the book is good fun. I enjoyed how the ‘typically’ male or female lingo flew over the heads of each other and how they had to guess their way through, making hilarious and embarrassing mistakes along the way. Because they live in such opposite worlds, they experience a whole universe and see a new perspective in life.

I would recommend this book, with a warning sign to the intended target audience about gender-stereotypes in the story. 4/5

Review: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

YA book review of Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer (Raybearer, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Nothing is more important than loyalty. But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?

My Thoughts after Reading

This YA book is about a girl brought up to kill her mother’s nemesis.

All her life, our heroine craves the love of her mother, who hardly sees her and on the rare occasions when she does, plays with her affections. Without warning, her mother sends her away to be selected as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of Eleven. If this was not traumatic enough, her mother’s parting words were strict instructions to kill the prince as soon as she gains his trust.

It is very easy to root for our heroine who, on one hand craves her mother’s affections and on the other, wants to be true to her conscience and not kill the innocent prince. The concept of the Council of Eleven is unique.

If you enjoy dystopian fantasy, check out this one. 3/5

Review : The Chessman Thief by Barbara Henderson

Middle-grade book review of The Chessmen Thief by Barbara Henderson

The Chessmen Thief with Lewis Chess Pieces

The Chessmen ThiefGoodreads Blurb

Win. Lose. Survive.

I was the boy with a plan. Now I am the boy with nothing.

From the moment 12-year-old Kylan hatches a plan to escape from his Norse captors, and return to Scotland to find his mother, his life becomes a dangerous game.
The precious Lewis Chessmen pieces—which he helped carve—hold the key to his freedom, but he will need all his courage and wit to triumph against Sven Asleifsson, the cruellest Viking in the realm.
One false move could cost him his life.

Barbara Henderson has woven a thrilling origin story around the enduring mystery of the Lewis Chessmen, their creation in Norway, and how they ended up buried in the Hebrides before being discovered on Lewis in 1831.

My Thoughts after Reading

This story is perfectly pitched for middle-grade.

Our protagonist is a slave boy determined to return to his roots and find his mother. His ability to speak Gaelic and carve ivory into chess pieces convinces a prominent man to take him away from Norway on this journey to Scotland.

This books has Vikings, pirates and sea adventures. It also has plenty of heart: a young slave separated from his mother, seeking his freedom.

I love it that this story was inspired by the famous 12th century Lewis chess pieces found on a Scottish beach. A must read for chess and history lovers. 4/5

If you are looking for middle-grade books with a chess theme, also check out Check Mates.

Review : Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

YA book review of Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Gods of Jade and ShadowGoodreads Blurb

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

My Thoughts after Reading

Set in Mexico, this YA book interweaves their myths and legends with contemporary life in the 1920s.

Our heroine is the Cinderella equivalent in her family home. Her widowed mother struggled to make ends meet after her father died and came crawling back to her haughty family. Casiopea is her grandfather’s carer. She has to put up with his bad-temper and her golden-boy cousin’s taunts. The only thing that keeps her going is his promise of inheritance after his passing.

One day her defiance gets her into trouble and she is left behind in a family excursion. She finds the key that her grandfather usually hangs round his neck and opens the mysterious box in her room. Her adventure begins.

In similar vein to Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson and Greek mythology, this story is imbued with Mayan gods and beliefs. The detailed description of places took me to the heart of Mexico. I enjoyed getting to know the two main characters and their development as the book progressed.

If you are looking for a book set in South America, check out this one. 3/5

Review : The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

YA book review of The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.

My Thoughts after Reading

This YA book of time-travel, sea adventures and history has a great opening line and scene that pulls you right in.

Our main character is the daughter of the captain of the time-travelling ship. They travel round the world and through time to acquire rare and mystical artefacts, especially maps.

I part-listened to the audio book and part-read the paperback. In each destination, I enjoyed learning about the time and place. The author has done a great job giving us a feel of the places and the eras. I got to know the characters and really liked the Kashmir. The author has also taken pains to sneak in nautical terms in the narration, reminding us that our heroine grew up in a tall ship. 3.5*

Review : Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

YA book review of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1)Goodreads Blurb

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.


Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

My Thoughts after Reading

This YA fantasy is about a down-trodden magical tribe under the dictatorship of a cruel king.

Our heroine has inherited her late mother’s magical powers. Together with her non-magical brother and father, they eke out a living as the maggots of society. Fate takes a turn when brother and sister go to the city to make a trade. There Zelie gets entangled with the runaway princess and a stolen scroll that could bring magic back to these maji and diviners.

The story is told in 3-POVs: our heroine, the runaway princess and the crown prince who is trying to stop them. The author has done a brilliant job with both the plot and the characters. There is tension in every scene, and I felt for every character. It felt slow to begin with, as world-building takes time. But once this is established, the story just sweeps you along.

A brilliant read. 4.5/5

Review : Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang Anyi

Book Review of The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai by Wang Anyi

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of ShanghaiMy Thoughts after Reading

This literary fiction is translated from a Chinese work. It takes its title from a classic Tang dynasty poem about the tragic love between the Emperor and his favourite concubine.

Right from the opening chapter, the author invites you to step inside the world and relish in every minutiae of Shanghai life. I am amazed at how the author is able to describe so much about everyday things we take for granted, from apartment blocks to pigeons.

I recognised some of the expressions in Chinese. In some ways, I would say the beauty of the language in the original text is lost in translation. I say this because a single word in Chinese, after translation, becomes a three syllable word in English, or a string of words to describe the same context. When the rhythm is lost, the reader can only grasp about 70-80% of the author’s original intent.

This story centres on Wang Qiyao, from a high-schooler all the way to her death decades later. Although she is the main character, this account is narrated from a detached omniscient view. Right to the end, I didn’t really understand her. I felt as if I’ve seen her entire life through frosted glass. People came and went in her life. They seem to be drawn to her, but apart from her beauty, I could not understand why. She lived through the tumultuous times in China history, but the author has skirted round these historical events. We get little hints that it’s going on outside.

Nonetheless, the unhurried pace allows you to immerse completely in every aspect of Shanghai life. 3/5

Goodreads Blurb

Set in post-World War II Shanghai, “The Song of Everlasting Sorrow” follows the adventures of Wang Qiyao, a girl born of the “longtong,” the crowded, labyrinthine alleys of Shanghai’s working-class neighborhoods.

Infatuated with the glitz and glamour of 1940s Hollywood, Wang Qiyao seeks fame in the Miss Shanghai beauty pageant, and this fleeting moment of stardom becomes the pinnacle of her life. During the next four decades, Wang Qiyao indulges in the decadent pleasures of pre-liberation Shanghai, secretly playing mahjong during the antirightist Movement and exchanging lovers on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. Surviving the vicissitudes of modern Chinese history, Wang Qiyao emerges in the 1980s as a purveyor of “old Shanghai”–a living incarnation of a new, commodified nostalgia that prizes splendor and sophistication–only to become embroiled in a tragedy that echoes the pulpy Hollywood noirs of her youth.

From the violent persecution of communism to the liberalism and openness of the age of reform, this sorrowful tale of old China versus new, of perseverance in the face of adversity, is a timeless rendering of our never-ending quest for transformation and beauty. 

Review : Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Middle-grade book review Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front DeskMy Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about the struggles of a family of Chinese immigrants who went to America to escape the Cultural Revolution in China.

Mia’s parents took up this job running a motel as it offered free accommodation. However, the package was not an perfect as they were led to believe and the family have to work very hard just to make ends meet. Mia enrols in a new school and makes a new friend. At home, she takes care of the front desk duties. We are introduced to the weekly tenants and fellow Chinese immigrants. Before long, she shows us how efficient and resourceful she is.

Moving to a new country is never easy, even more so if you don’t speak the language. In this account, we also see the struggles of fellow immigrants, their culture shocks and gaffs and the traps they fall into. There is also a strong theme on racial prejudice she experiences and witnesses. This book has several themes that can be explored in a classroom. Mia’s approach to seeking justice on behalf of her friends is worthy of discussion.

Mia’s struggles means her maturity is higher than your average middle-grade reader. This book can be extended to a young YA reader. If you are looking for a similar theme aimed for a younger reader, Pie in the Sky is worth checking out. 3/5

Goodreads Blurb

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Review : The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley

Middle-grade book review of The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley

The Wild Way HomeGoodreads Blurb

When Charlie’s longed-for brother is born with a serious heart condition, Charlie’s world is turned upside down. Upset and afraid, Charlie flees the hospital and makes for the ancient forest on the edge of town. There Charlie finds a boy floating face-down in the stream, injured, but alive. But when Charlie sets off back to the hospital to fetch help, it seems the forest has changed. It’s become a place as strange and wild as the boy dressed in deerskins. For Charlie has unwittingly fled into the Stone Age, with no way to help the boy or return to the present day. Or is there … ?

What follows is a wild, big-hearted adventure as Charlie and the Stone Age boy set out together to find what they have lost – their courage, their hope, their family and their way home.

My Thoughts after Reading

This is a time-travel middle-grade story.

Charlie and his friends live near a forest where they spend a lot of time playing make-believe. On his birthday, Charlie is unsettled about his new-born brother. He runs away from his friends in the forest and ventures even deeper for solace. He finds himself in the forest during the stone-age.

I like how the author describes what was in the forest that Charlie recognises, from the river to the cave to the elevated point. Then we see the passage of time when he spots the differences, like a missing footpath, or animals that used to live in the wild there.

I couldn’t put my finger why I was more invested in his time back in the stone age than the present time. Nonetheless, the writing is good. Succinct but enough description to picture the place. The pacing and tension kept me turning the pages. Overall I rate it 3.5*.

Review : Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt

Middle-grade book review of Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt

Up a Road Slowly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle grade book grabs you immediately as our protagonist’s world is turned upside down at age seven. Not only does she lose her mother, but she finds out through the neighbourhood gossip that she will be sent to live with her aunt’s while her older sister continues to live with their father.

We follow her life until high school. In the process we also get to know the other people in her life from her teacher-aunt, her prodigal uncle, her school friends and and finally, boyfriends.

The pacing is good. The writing is easy to follow. I liked how she matured in her relationship with her sister. Most of all I liked how her opinion of her aunt changed. There was a key scene towards the end regarding her aunt and uncle that was stellar. So much was said in that incident.

If you want to travel back to the mid 20th century, this is a book to read.

Goodreads Blurb

The author of Across Five Aprils and No Promises in the Wind presents one of her most beloved novels, the Newbery award-winning story of a girl’s coming of age…Julie would remember her happy days at Aunt Cordelia’s forever. Running through the spacious rooms, singing on rainy nights in front of the fireplace. There were the rides in the woods on Peter the Great and the races with Danny Trevort. There were the precious moments alone in her room at night, gazing at the sea of stars.

But there were sad times too—the painful jealousy Julie felt after her sister married, the tragic death of a schoolmate and the bitter disappointment of her first love. Julie was having a hard time believing life was fair. But Julie would have to be fair to herself before she could even think about new beginnings…