Tag Archives: middle grade

Review of The Beatrice McIlvaine Adventure Books 1&2, by Bruce McCandless III

I won a copy of Beatrice at Bay through Goodreads. And since it happens to be the second book in the series, the authors (Bruce and Carson MacCandles) were kind enough to send along book one, Beatrice and the Basilisk

I admit that I don’t usually bother reviewing children’s’ books here on the blog, even when I read them. But the Beatrice McIlvaine Adventures impressed me, the second one more than the first. So, I’m giving them a place on the blog, even if the reviews are brief.

Description of Beatrice and the Basilisk:

12-year-old Beatrice McIlvaine has a problem. It’s not sixth grade math. It doesn’t involve boys. This problem is bigger than that, and it has a nasty bite. As Beatrice steels herself to fight a threat to the precarious existence she leads with her single mother and a troubled little brother, she finds she has friends in unexpected places. A modern parable about love, family, and killing giant flying reptiles, Beatrice and the Basilisk is short (8,000 words) but not entirely sweet. And there’s a lesson in there somewhere–if you can see through the dismal night sky, and beyond those dangerous teeth…

Review:

As an adult, I had to look over the hows and whys of the story, but otherwise I enjoyed it. (I even got a little teary.) I fully expected my young one to enjoy it. And in fact, she later came back to tell me she’d read and enjoyed it too.


Description of Beatrice at Bay:

Beatrice at Bay is the second installment of the Beatrice McIlvaine Adventure Series, which follows the feisty, freckled, and somewhat telekinetic Texas high schooler Beatrice as she makes her way in a world full of increasingly sophisticated threats. The series started with Beatrice and the Basilisk, a modern-day fairy tale that resonated unexpectedly with readers young and old. While Beatrice was twelve then, she’s fifteen now, and facing different challenges: a potential step-father; her own immense but uncontrollable powers; the weird kids sitting the in the plumber’s van outside; and—possibly most importantly—the end of the world. Can Beatrice channel her troubling destructive energies in the service of something greater than herself? Who can she trust at a beautiful school for gifted kids that isn’t quite what it seems? And what’s up with this Lester White Bull kid creeping on her Instagram feed?

Review:

I have to admit to being very surprised by this book. Whenever I get my hands on a random book I plan to pass to my children, I always give them a quick read just to be sure they’re age and message appropriate. I don’t usually expect to enjoy them much. I’m a 43 yo woman, after all, and this is an upper middle-grade book. (The protagonist is 15.) This time I did though. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, diversity, and plotline. However, I have to admit given the current pandemic it was a little too on the nose! I hope there will be more Beatrice adventures in the future.

Review of Queen Moxie, by Hank Quense

I won a signed paperback of Queen Moxie, by Hank Quense, through Library Thing.

Description from Goodreads:

Moxie’s adventures continue. This time she’s the Queen and her reign is threatened. A tribe of savage Picts have migrated from up north and settled outside her borders. Then there are the forests fairies. Their king, Oberon, claims a vast chunk of her land. In addition, Moxie’s ten-year-old daughter, decides she doesn’t want to be the next Queen. How’s a Queen to deal with all these problems? 

Review:

This is utterly ridiculous and anachronistic, but endearingly so. Think Terry Pratchett.

Unfortunately, it really suffers from amateurish writing and not knowing what it wants to be. The writing feels suited for lower YA audiences, maybe even Middle Grade. But the book includes cursing and references to sex, which I have no problem with in principle but have no place in a Middle Grade book. I suspect that the issue is the author wanted to write and adult book, but only has the skill to craft middle grade complexity in his stories.

Plus, I sense that Quense meant for the book to be gender positive, but it really wasn’t. There are several problematic gender norms that go largely un-critiqued. Pedro and his insistence that he can control Kate simply by virtue of being a man. (None of which contributed to the plot in any way.) And the fact that I don’t think Moxie makes a single decision in the whole book that she doesn’t ask a man about first.

The whole thing was just too clumbsy for me to enjoy. Honestly, I skimmed the last 50 or so pages trying to force myself to finish it. And I wouldn’t even have done that if it didn’t fulfill the Q for my yearly alphabet soup challenge (where I read an author for each letter of the alphabet).

Review of Stumbling On A Tale, by Suzanne Roche

Lately, I’ve been making a concerted effort to read all the Middle Grade books that I’ve shelved with the intention of reading before passing them to my children (but basically forgot about). Today I finished Stumbling on a Tale, by Suzanne Roche. I won it through Goodreads.

Description:

It turns out the trips back in time haven’t ended for Peri, Henry, and Max. In the second book in the TIME TO TIME Series, the children find themselves right in the middle—the Middle Ages that is. And this time they’re lost in a forest, where they stumble upon a group of travelers who seem to be long on medieval tales but short on helpful information.

Peri and her stepbrothers are sure they know what they have to do to get home though, so there won’t be any problems this time. End of story.

Okay, maybe not.

It turns out everything Peri and the boys know is wrong and nothing is how they expect it to be. So when none of their ideas work, they have to rely on a peasant chaperoning his pig, a maiden searching for her dog, a dragon-hunting page, and an unappreciated sorcerer to find the answers. Only everyone seems to be better at losing things than finding them.

At the end of the book, you can get your hands on history—make medieval gingerbread, learn to play Nine Man’s Morris, and solve a riddle from the 10th century, plus more! 

Review:

I found this an interesting miss-mash of a book. It’s eminently readable (even if the editing hitches on occasion and it looks like it’s been formatted in Word *shudder*). And it’s obviously intended to introduce and educate children on aspects of the Middle Ages, the story being the vehicle to drop facts in their laps. It mostly works too.

Where I think it falters is in the pictures. Not the pictures themselves, but that they’re pictures with captions. They seem out of place in a fictional story, as opposed to a textbook. It requires quitting the story to read the caption, which disrupts the flow. I found it really distracting. The only way I actually see this working with a child reader is the time-honored practice of not reading the caption at all.

Having said that, as with so very many books with ignored caption, I can see this doing well in a school library. And for the record, it stands alone just fine. I had no problem with the fact that I hadn’t read book one, Making it Home.

Edit: I noticed, when I cross-posted this review to Amazon, that Making it Home is a freebie. So, it would be easy enough to pick up.