Review: Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn

*Note: We were sent this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I started reading this in July, got through the first 30 pages and then gave up because the writing style was too bogged down with adjectives. I picked it back up again because royalty and boarding schools are two of my favourite buzzwords and I really wanted to be impressed. But, I think I’m a decade too old to really enjoy it. A lot of the story had a more middle-grade vibe than YA, so this would be the perfect book for 10-12 year old girls who love princesses because they play a huge role in this story.

The boarding school element of the story was one of the most underdeveloped aspects. Lottie wants to go to Rosewood. It’s prestigious but it’s not magical, it’s just where some royal and wealthy kids go. The lessons are completely regular and besides one maths lesson, you don’t get a lot of insight into them. The book takes place over one school year, but it’s the end of Christmas break, Valentine’s Day and results day at the end of May all in the span of 20 pages. What the heck? Am I meant to believe that nothing nefarious happened in five months to Ellie and Lottie who were in danger at Christmas break? It was ridiculously paced!

The plot is a bit all over the place as well. Obviously the focus is on Lottie taking the place of Ellie, Princess Protection Program style, but then there are all these boarding-school-by-numbers moments like sneaking out to the library in the middle of the night that didn’t do anything to enhance the main story line.

And let’s not forget Olly, who’s posed as Lottie’s best friend from back home. Rosewood has rules against mobile phones and the internet (if only that was the case in the identically named hometown of Pretty Little Liars!) which is a convenient way to justify Olly being completely forgotten and replaced by Ellie. It was like Lottie didn’t even care about him anymore even though I was always thinking ‘what about Olly?’

Ellie and Lottie’s friendship was built out of nowhere too. They go from being seemingly enemies as Lottie steals Ellie’s real identity, to best friends when they realise that’s actually a good thing. I wanted them to have Sophie and Agatha traits, but it felt a little stilted to be that. Still, I appreciate a strong female friendship, even if it was instantaneous.

With the little world building it did have, I was reminded of the character dynamics in ‘Vampire Academy’ and ‘Rebel Belle’, but posed for a younger audience. Important royals have Partizans, who are essentially guardians that protect them. Lottie’s role of switching place with Ellie is called a Portman. Those terms and one curse word are as far as the world building goes for the country of Maradova. You get no other sense of where it is, what it’s like or why Ellie is in danger as the princess. Frustrating, right?

I won’t be continuing on with the series, but if a middle-grade version of the two comp titles above appeals to you, definitely pick this one up!

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Review: The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine

Because this gorgeous purple book is the last book in The Sinclair’s Mysteries series, I don’t want to say too much about what goes on. Instead, I thought I’d give you five reasons to read the series if you haven’t already so you can get to this glorious finale that really delivers on everything you want from a mystery and conclusion. Historical Setting

1. Historical Setting!

The Sinclair’s Mysteries all take place in the 20th century, and while 1910 may not sound that long ago, it’s been over 100 years since departments stores like Sinclair’s first opened. It’s the time of the suffragette movement, the attitude of which definitely plays into our main female characters. It’s a time of fancy, where going to the shops was an event and there’s something so pleasant about the luxury of it all that makes me want to just fall through the pages. If you’ve got a soft spot for atmospheric setting, this series is perfect. (The Midnight Peacock also takes place around Christmas and New Year, so the setting is ten times more delightful and festive than usual!)

2. Female Friendship!

The story is mostly routed in the relationship between Sophie and Lil. They have entirely different personalities, Sophie being from a slightly poorer background and more reserved, Lil being a gorgeous model who oozes confidence. The girls work together at the store (and at solving mysteries) and always have each other’s backs. I can’t wait for their spin off!

3. Diversity!

While Sophie and Lil, along with Billy and Joe, make up the core members of the mystery solving crew, but as the books go on more secondary characters get added (my fave being Leo from The Painted Dragon). They have repeated appearances and are never forgotten about. There’s representation of the Chinese community in Mei and Song, and Leo is disabled. It’s the perfect example of what all middle grade stories should be striving for.

4. Mysteries! 

Why is this only number 4 when it’s the most important part of the plot? Well, I’m so jazzed about everything else, the actual body of the books slipped my mind…I’d read about these characters if they were just baking cakes, let alone solving crime. I’m a sucker for a good mystery, especially ones that play across a whole series. It makes the finishing of each book feel so rewarding.

5. The covers + extras!

I know that you should never judge a book by its cover, (it’s the inside that counts!) but aren’t these covers gorgeous? The jewel tones work perfectly together and with each silhouette, you get a real sense of what’s going on in each book. There are also some really beautiful end papers and illustrations at the beginning of each part which I love, love, love. Additionally, there are always letters and invitations inserted into the narrative to keep things interesting.

I hope I’ve convinced you enough to read The Sinclair’s Mysteries, especially The Midnight Peacock because the pay off is just SO great. The world expands as Sophie learns more about what happened to her parents and how the Baron might not be the only suspicious member of the secret society. It’s no doubt my favourite in the series, earning 4 stars. I can’t wait to see what Katherine Woodfine does with these characters next!

Review: Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power by Mariko Tamaki

Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

This review is going to be short and sweet, just like this book. Lumberjanes, if you don’t know already, is a graphic novel series created by a bunch of awesome ladies about a group of awesome girls who spend their summers earning badges for doing outrageously fun things. For example, finding unicorns, or deep sea diving with mermaids. There are already five+ graphic novels in the series, and Unicorn Power is the first middle grade novel to be added to the series that takes the essence of the artwork and puts it in prose form.

The great thing about this book was how authentic it was to the already established Lumberjanes brand. The girls all act exactly how they would, and we even learn more about them in different situations because full prose allows for me background info than a graphic novel would.

As the cover suggests, April is definitely the central character of the story, so if she’s your fave, this one’s for you – but each girl gets a moment to shine.

There are also small illustrations that accompany the text and chapter headings, as well as the classic badge descriptions at the beginning of each part. Just like a GN, there are four different badges to focus on.

My favourite part of the story, though, was the introduction of Barney, who identifies with ‘they/them’ pronouns and only just became a Lumberjane after being part of the male equivalent group. This representation is so important, especially in a middle grade novel, and I hope Barney is more prominent in the next books.

Overall, this is perfect for Lumberjanes fans looking for a fun and quick read, but also does wonders to introduce an established world to new audiences. Hurrah for hard-core lady types!

Mini Review: The Mystery of the Painted Dragon by Katherine Woodfine

31202255The Mystery of the Painted Dragon by Katherine Woodbine
Genre: 
Mystery, Middle Grade
Publisher: Egmont Books
Pages: 352
Format: ARC e-book
Rating: ★★★
Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

This summer, I read the first book in the Sinclair Mystery series. It was my first new Middle Grade book in a decade, and I was really excited to find something that was a genre I love, in a historical setting (also LOVE), just with younger protagonists. The third book in the series, The Mystery of the Painted Dragon is no different from the first in the lovely vibes it gave me, and the pure rush of enjoyment I get from reading a mystery, and solving it along with the protagonists.

Katherine Woodfine knows how to put together a great mystery, one with interesting characters, a devious hidden plot and historical markers that always put a smile on my face.  Continue reading “Mini Review: The Mystery of the Painted Dragon by Katherine Woodfine”

Review: The Hetty Feather Series by Jacqueline Wilson

The Hetty Feather Series by Jacqueline Wilson
Genre: 
Historical
Published by: Doubleday Children’s
Pages: 400 | 400 | 432 | 304 | 512
Format: Paperback
Rating: ★★★★
Note: As this is a review of the entire series, certain plot points and outcomes are discussed that may spoil the series for first time readers, or people that haven’t completed the series!

H  E  T  T  Y     F  E  A  T  H  E  R

Hetty Feather is such a change of pace from anything Jacqueline Wilson has written before. Set in the 1890s, it is the first in her Victorian series, featuring Hetty, a foundling girl with ambitions to join the circus and becoming a published author, whichever comes first. Hetty Feather is so unique because it reads like usual middle grade fiction, but has the makings of a classic. Hetty’s journey is structured very much like Jane Eyre’s, except it spans across three books! The first book is pastoral, fascinating and exciting. The circus makes such a wonderful setting, in stark contrast to the Foundling Hospital. Reading as Hetty gets torn away from everyone she loves: her mother, foster family and beloved Jem, is heartbreaking. No matter what she goes through, mischief, mayhem or injustice, you always root for her! It’s hard to think that the sequels are going to match up to such a marvellous beginning!  Continue reading “Review: The Hetty Feather Series by Jacqueline Wilson”

Review: Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson

28501489Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson
Genre: 
Historical, Middle Grade
Publisher: Doubleday Childrens
Pages: 400
Format: e-book
Rating: ★★★★
Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

After reading and loving the Hetty Feather series, we were both super excited to dive into Jacqueline Wilson’s latest Victorian historical adventure, that even promises a cameo from Hetty herself. This year, we’ve been rediscovering our old favourite Jacqueline Wilson books, along with keeping ourselves up to date with all the releases that came out the decade we stopped reading. It’s so exciting to read the most recently release, and Clover has worked her way into our hearts just as Hetty did. Continue reading “Review: Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson”

Review: A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson

cover98899-medium.pngA Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson
Genre: 
Fairy-tale, Retelling
Published by: Pan Macmillan
Pages: Under 300
Format: ARC e-book
Rating: ★★.5
Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Just from the blurb, I knew there was going to be a lot to like about A Girl Called Owl. It’s got a fairy tale retelling element to it, though the source material is some I’ve never seen tackled before, and it’s marketed as middle grade, which I’ve been trying to read a lot more of recently, so it feels great to read something up and coming from this genre!

Continue reading “Review: A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson”

Series Review: Stella Etc by Karen McCombie

Frankie, Peaches and Me, Sweet-Talking TJ, Meet the Real World, Rachel, Truly, Madly Megan, Amber and the Hot Pepper Jelly, Twists, Turns and 100% Tilda, and Forever and Ever and Evie
Genre: 
Contemporary, Adventure, Humour | Published by: Scholastic
Rating: ★★★★★

Stella Etc. was another one of our all-time favourites. Back when the summers were only six weeks long, we’d read one book a week (always skipping the final book because it was when Stella went back to London so you did’t see all her Portbay friends). This time Maddie and I managed to read all seven books in one day! Stella Etc. is full of summer adventures, friends and sea-side fun!

Continue reading “Series Review: Stella Etc by Karen McCombie”

Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

15944406Doll Bones by Holly Black
Genre: Magical-Realism, Middle-Grade
Published by: Corgi Children’s
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Rating: ★★

Okay, so I’ve sampled Holly Black’s YA books and her MG that’s co-written, so this is actually the first middle grade book of hers where there isn’t a secondary contributor. I feel like her writing is a bit hit-and-miss in general, and I’m sad to say that Doll Bones was a bit of a miss for me. It was an engaging story but completely over the top and I think I would’ve needed more elements of realism to properly enjoy it.

Continue reading “Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black”

Review: Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy

1239697Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Family
Published by: Puffin
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback
Rating: ★★.5

Maddie and I have wanted to start reading more Middle Grade recently, so we decided to start with some of our favourite books from when we were tweens! Cathy Cassidy was a complete staple in my reading life when I was 11-14. I loved her(!) and Scarlett was the first of her books that I read, so I decided to start here.

Scarlett follows an angry girl who is misunderstood. She’s been booted from one school to the next and lives with her single mother who’s a little tired of Scarlett’s antics, so she sends her to live with her dad. But Scarlett’s dad started a new family…in Ireland.

Continue reading “Review: Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy”