Hi everyone! Wow, Middle Grade March was a very full month of reading for me. Aside from the fact that that MG books tend to be easy and fast to read, most of the ones that we’ve chosen to buddy read for the month of March were very enjoyable as well. In total, I’ve managed to complete 11 novels this month, which was quite a record.
I didn’t only read Middle Grade this month, as I was working towards finishing two adult series – The Winternight Trilogy and The Riyria Revelations, as well as continuing with some classic (horror) short stories from Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury. I also couldn’t resist picking up a self-published stand-alone fantasy novel which everyone was raving about on social media, and I’m so glad that I’ve done so because it was definitely one of my Books of the Month. Yups, I couldn’t pick between two novels for BotM.
So let’s get the show on the road shall we?
NB. Books are rated within its genre.
Books of the Month
Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree
An espresso shot of pure joy, Legends & Lattes was a cosy, slice of life fantasy that was as comforting and delightful as freshly baked cinnamon rolls.
This book was released on my birthday and what a gift it turned out to be as it felt like it was written for me. As an immense lover of coffee and bakes, I adore bakery cafes which offer a kind of solace and comfort that no other food & beverage establishment could for me. Since the pandemic, I’ve even become an avid baker, and it’s still a constant dream of mine to one day own and run a book cafe that serves great coffee and bakes. As such, Viv’s story resonated deeply with me. On top of that, Baldree’s writing was effortlessly engaging with an understated humour which was never cheesy. The characters were very likeable (except the antagonist, of course), and the underlying love story was just beautiful and sweet. No hot, heavy and intense romance here but a spark, a kindling that developed organically throughout the narrative. As much as I really liked all the characters who helped and supported Viv in achieving her dreams, the one I adored the most was Thimble. I pretty much think he’s my spirit animal. Fantasy books like Legends & Lattes are so rare, and so precious. What else can I say except, I want more!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Winter of the Witch (The Winternight Trilogy, #3) by Katherine Arden
I hoped for a spectacular and satisfying conclusion, and The Winter of the Witch was that and a whole lot more. The entire Winternight Trilogy was just simply a gorgeous piece of fiction that managed to portray historically accurate events and even people, while incorporating elements of fantasy through the use of Russian folklore and doing so with a strong feminine voice. The setting was incredibly atmospheric, and its emotional beats were both achingly beautiful and devastating. I absolutely loved these books, which I’ll state once more are adult fairy tales are its finest.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Middle Grade / Young Adult Novels
Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle, #1) by Diana Wynne Jones
It’s always a great pleasure to read middle grade fantasy. Howl’s Moving Castle was no exception with it’s whimsical fun and wonderfully flawed but lovable characters. I think I actually enjoyed this even more the 2nd time around. Howl was so delightfully hilarious with his theatrics that I enjoyed every moment when he appeared on the page. Immediately after I finished the book, I jumped straight into watching the movie for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was a great adaptation – though it was quite different for most part still managed to retain the essence of the story.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Redwall (Redwall, #1) by Brian Jacques
I never had the chance to read this while I was growing up. For one, I was already touching my teens when this was first released, and I didn’t recall coming across these titles at the local bookstores or libraries. I’ve been hearing a lot about it in the community for the past few years and how much it meant to those readers who grew up on these books. My co-blogger, Celeste, also loved the ones that she had read, and with that it became one of the chosen titles for our Middle Grade March BR.
I could almost immediately see why these books were so precious and dear to young readers. And even as an adult reader, I found the book incredibly wholesome and cozy, and my heart basked in those feelings. I’ve a fondness for woodland animals and the way Jacques anthropomorphised these creatures while retaining their natural attributes was simply wonderful. Being a foodie, I was also looking forward to the food descriptions which everyone said was one of the highlights of this series. I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve even bought The Redwall Cookbook, which has the most adorable illustrations.
This won’t be the last Redwall book I’ll be reading, that’s for sure. In fact, I managed to locate a secondhand set of all 22 books in the series, still in really good condition and bought them for a song. Looking forward to reading at least one title every month or so.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.
Nevermoor : The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, #1) by Jessica Townsend
Well, this was an absolutely delightful and magical tale that my much younger self would be obsessed with if I’ve read it at a tender age. Regardless, even as an adult, I enjoyed The Trials of Morrigan Crow thoroughly. I’ve heard about Nevermoor in passing but did not realise that it has been often compared with Harry Potter until Celeste mentioned it. I could see why that was so after reading this, and even thought that it was a more than a worthy comparison. More importantly though, Nevermoor was still very much its own story, and a brilliant one at that. The trope of the outcast child who turned out to be much more than she appeared to be was wonderfully executed here, with a whole cast of wonderful characters including a giant, talking cat. Definitely another MG series that I will eagerly continue reading.
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars.
Soulbinder (Spellslinger, #4) by Sebastien de Castell
I’ve wrote full reviews of the first three books in the series and basically it all boils down to the fact that I generally prefer YA books written by authors whose adult fantasies I’ve enjoyed as they tend to avoid annoying YA tropes. Poor Kellen was not a special snowflake by any measure of the word. An outcast of a powerful clan of sorcerers with just one branch (out of six) magical element in his command and marked with a curse in the form of shadowblack, Kellen gradually gained other skills – though by no means a master of any – that together with his wit enabled him to survive through the countless dangers he faced. His relationship with his mentor, Ferius Parfax, and his business partner, Reichis the squirrel cat, was also a highlight of the books so far.
However, Soulbinder was different from the usual narrative in the previous books as Kellen found himself on his own. I personally found this book to the best entry of the series so far as it was a game-changer that pushes Kellen’s character growth to new heights. On top of that, we also get to learn a lot more about Kellen’s supposed curse and affliction – the shadowblack – and what it could actually do. What has not changed, however, was how fun and entertaining it was to read. While there are serious and dark themes in these stories, Kellen’s first person POV was hilarious and de Castell made it seemed so effortless. This was something that I’ve always enjoyed about his writing since reading The Greatcoats – the laugh-out-loud humour which did not have to lean on being satirical or slapstick to do so.
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars.
Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke
Another well-known title albeit one that first appeared as one of the greatest fantasy/fairy tale movies of its time, before it was transformed into a novel. I’ve actually never watched the movie but have heard a lot about it and seen various images on the Internet. I doubt anyone could ever forget the horrifying image of The Pale Man once seen, and wondered how could this be a children’s book given the nightmarish quality of what this creature represented. I personally think that Pan’s Labyrinth was more of a dark fairy tale for young adults than it is for children, despite the age of the main protagonist, Ofelia. A fairy tale about a missing princess and a hidden kingdom framed against a backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, the narrative ebbed and flowed between the fantastical, albeit dark and disturbing world and the brutal realities of war especially in the hands of the truly evil Captain Vidal, Ofelia’s stepfather. The writing was absolutely beautiful and suited the dark and tragic tone of the story really well. I think I’ll have to move Inkheart by Cornelia Funke up by TBR a fair bit.
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars.
The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain, #1) by Lloyd Alexander
Anyone remembers the Disney animated movie, The Black Cauldron? While it was far from being well-acclaimed, it was one of my favourites when I was young and when I found out a few years back that it was based on a series called The Chronicles of Prydain, I knew I had to read it eventually. Written way back in 1964, The Book of Three was one of those classic fantasy books which was heavily inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In fact, I got very strong Aragorn vibes from one of the warrior-lord characters in the book. Gurgi even made me think of Gollum at the first, but he turned out to be way more endearing and a loyal sidekick to the main protagonist, Taran. Right now, the story felt pretty simple and the writing even more so, but there’s enough development in the plot to keep me interested in continuing with the series. For what it’s worth, these are also short and quick reads with each book clocking under 200 pages.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Lord of the Flies is not exactly a Middle Grade read even though it’s a book about a bunch of young boys being stuck on an island. Most people know about the story even without having read the book, and I was one of them until now. It was more curiosity more than anything which drew me in, and in the end while I respected and appreciated the literary value of Lord of the Flies, I just didn’t find it enjoyable to read. Most of the characters were immensely unlikeable, but I suppose that’s just how it’s meant to be written – its representation of civilisation and parables to how one could degenerate into savagery for the sake of survival. I’ve also noticed how certain aspects of its writing had inspired other stories. So even though entertainment value was not one of its virtues (as far as I’m concerned), there’s plenty of food for thought. The Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition that I’ve read also contained several great contributions and essays from the likes of Stephen King, Lois Lowry and E.M. Forster.
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Heir of Novron (The Riyria Relevations, #5 & #6) by Michael J. Sullivan
Even after so many reads, this concluding omnibus never failed to make me emotional. It truly has one of the most satisfying endings to a series that I’ve ever read.
Michael J. Sullivan wrote all 6 books in The Riyria Revelations before it was published, and it shows. The progression of the story was well-plotted – starting on a how a much lighter note, drawing the reader into the world and introducing the delightful pairing of Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn. With each and every book, the back-stories of Hadrian and Royce were gradually brought to light, the stakes and tension were increased, and the scope of the story expanded.
The characters was where the series truly shines and made it so difficult for me to leave this world – every single time. Words cannot express how much I loved the relationship and dynamics between Hadrian and Royce. Safe to say that I was completely infatuated with the noble and idealistic Hadrian, and fascinated with the complex personality of dangerous and cynical Royce. Myron, the monk (the truest one to ever don the humble robes), and Nimbus, the courtier, were another two of my favourites. Every scene when either one of them appeared in was a joy to read. Sullivan also did something remarkable with his female characters. Arista, Modina and Gwen were truly incredible women that did not need to tread upon the femme fatale mold to be portrayed as strong and formidable in their own right.
On my first read, The Riyria Revelations was simply a captivating story with wonderful characters that I did not want to leave, and each subsequent reread felt like coming home. Now, with the knowledge of the real history in The Legends of the First Empire, it transformed how I experienced these books and I expect this will once again be different after Sullivan finishes the last two books in the The Rise and Fall trilogy – Farilane and Esrahaddon.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Masque of the Red Death, & The Pit and The Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
These are two of the better and more well-known short stories by Poe. The latter especially has an ending which could be interpreted in two ways, and one wonders how much the mind could endure before it breaks.
The Veldt by Ray Bradbury
Well, while I wasn’t exactly a fan of Fahrenheit 451, I’ve to say that I’ve enjoyed the two short stories that I’ve read so far from Bradbury very much. His scifi dystopian ideas are still highly relevant today and the premise in The Veldt didn’t seem too far-fetched in the least, which made it even more scary and disturbing. I’m definitely reading more from him and we’ve even lined up Something Wicked This Way Comes as an October read.
What’s Next in April
We’ll be continuing with the Middle Grade series that we’ve started, namely Howl’s Moving Castle, Redwall, Nevermoor and The Chronicles of Prydain. I’ve two more books to go in the Spellslinger series, which I’m really eager to finish over the next couple of months. April also marks the start of our Mistborn series reread in preparation for The Lost Metal release in November. For the most part of this reread, I’ll be listening to the Graphic Audio production and am really looking forward to the cinematic audio experience.
Until next month, happy reading y’all…