Mini Reviews: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society + ARC Review: The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart

MiniIt is by no plan on my part that this month’s set of mini reviews features two middle grade reads. Middle grade novels are always such a delight and it’s a bit disappointing that I haven’t been able to get to more this year. A little off topic, but why is it that so many MG books have long titles? I confess that I secretly love when titles are long-winded though. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society
Author: Janet Sumner Johnson
Series: N/A
Pages: 256
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
Release Date: April 1st 2016
*I received a copy of this book through a giveaway hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl which does not influence my review*

      “Some things are better together. Like peanut butter and jelly. Or Annie and Jason. So when her best friend’s house is threatened with foreclosure, Annie Jenkins is bursting with ideas to save Jason’s home. She could sell her appendix on eBay. (Why not?) Win the lottery. (It’s worth a shot!). Face the evil bankers herself. (She’s one tough cookie, after all.) Or hunt down an elusive (and questionably real) pirate treasure. Whatever the plan, it has to work, or this is undoubtedly THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY.

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“The elephant crashed on top of me, smushing me like a two-liter on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I couldn’t believe. Even from a distance, the words on the sign were clear: For Sale.

In The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society, Janet Sumner Johnson masterfully captures the voice of ten-year-old Annie whose whole world goes topsy-turvy when she finds out her best friend, Jason, may have to move out of state. In a series of well-meaning, but overly-ambitious schemes, Annie and Jason try their best to figure out a way for his family to stay. Annie is the kind of girl with big ideas who can’t quite understand why the adults in her life don’t jump on board immediately. Her personality is nicely balanced with Jason’s, who is much more skeptical and hesitant to go along with Annie’s crazy plans, but does so anyway because that’s what best friends do. Full of amazing friendships, fun adventures, unexpected mysteries, and perfect PB&J sandwiches (yes, you will be craving a PB&J at least once while reading this), this debut middle grade read will both delight and move you.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: N/A
Pages: 208
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Release Date: September 13th 2016
*I received an eARC of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review*

      “Lionel is a wild boy, who doesn’t much like to be around other people. He’d rather be a purring cat or a wolf stalking the woods.
      Marybeth is a nice girl. She doesn’t need to be told to comb her hair or brush her teeth, and she’s kind to everyone at the orphanage . . . Lionel most of all.
      Different though they are, Lionel and Marybeth are best friends in a world that has forgotten about them. So when a mysterious blue spirit possesses Marybeth—and starts to take control—they know they must stop it before the real Marybeth fades away forever.”

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You might recognize Lauren DeStefano’s name from her YA book series, but she’s recently dipped her toe in the Middle Grade genre. Her newest book The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, follows nine-year-old best friends Marybeth and Lionel. The two main characters are very well-developed with their own personalities and ways of looking at the world. Marybeth is the more practical of the two, she is well-behaved and never causes trouble for Mrs. Mannerd, who runs the orphanage where the children live. Lionel on the other hand is quite the handful, always disappearing and rarely willing to interact with other people. Marybeth and Lionel’s relationship is the strongest element in the novel, each is just as devoted to the other, despite their differences. For Lionel, who feels more at home in nature and among animals, Marybeth is his link to the human world. Likewise, Marybeth understands that Lionel belongs to a different kind of world, a world she only catches glimpses of through their friendship. The story itself is rather dark, but DeStefano’s charming writing makes the story accessible for all ages.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

Title: A Curious Tale of the In-Between
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: Pram, #1

Pram Bellamy was born an orphan. The unusual circumstances surrounding her birth have produced a peculiar gift, for eleven-year-old Pram can see ghosts. Growing up with two practical aunts, she has learned to keep this talent a secret. When Pram meets Clarence, a boy seeking his mother’s ghost, she must decide if she should continue to keep her ability hidden. Meanwhile, someone else has become aware of Pram’s gift and is desperate to use her for their own twisted gain.

“She had thought the worst thing that could happen to a girl like her would be the circus. And even the circus didn’t seem so terrible. But she had never thought someone could take her ability away.”

Lauren DeStefano’s A Curious Tale of the In-Between is a highly enjoyable middle grade read with charming ghosts and a heart-stopping adventure. Much of Pram’s story is rather dark. Unbeknownst to her, her mother lost her life to suicide. Having grown up in a nursing home owned by her two aunts, Pram’s companions have been limited to the elderly and the occasional ghost. Her closest friend is Felix, a boy who died long ago and whose relationship with Pram has kept him from wanting to move on. Pram’s thoughts about her parentage is another secret she keeps close. She’s convinced she’s responsible for her mother’s death and is burdened with the question of whether her father knows she exists or if he simply doesn’t want her.

Pram’s happiness is irrevocably tied with the spirit world. While Felix has been her bright spot in the in-between place between the living and what lies beyond death, Clarence becomes her bright spot in the living world. Having pulled away from this world in hopes of seeking answers beyond the grave, Clarence finds a kindred spirit in Pram, who like him has lost her mother. Pram’s aunts, convinced their sister’s death was the result of her flighty ways, have spent the last eleven years raising Pram in the most practical possible, though it’s becoming difficult for them to ignore how much time their niece spends with her imaginary friend Felix. Their pragmatism, which at times can seem stifling, comes from a good place, driven by love and a fear that Pram takes after her mother a little too much.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between is perfect for those who like their ghosts to be more friendly than scary, but also enjoy a darker middle grade read.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

Title: The Uninvited
Author: Cat Winters
Series: N/A

It’s 1918 and the flu epidemic is spreading. When Ivy Rowan recovers from the sickness, she discovers that her town of Buchanan, Illinois has been struck hard. Adding to the grief is her brother’s death in the war overseas. In a fit of anger, her father and younger brother beat a young German to death. Sickened by their behavior, Ivy leaves home for the first time. She reaches out to the victim’s brother, hoping to escape the guilt, but Ivy is haunted by the ghosts of loved ones, apparitions that only appear when someone close to her is about to die.

“Before we reached the last row of cots, I witnessed a little boy bleeding from his ears, as well as his nose, and he cried tears of red.”

Cat Winters paints a grizzly picture in The Uninvited of 1918 America where the war in Europe has bred unrest at home. Immigrants, especially those originating from Germany, are regarded with suspicion. Prejudice has given way to discrimination and even murder. Making matters worse is the deadly influenza pandemic, which has taken a disproportionate number of young. Ivy is one of the lucky ones, having recovered from the sickness, but her father and brother take part in a crime that forever changes her life. Having spent her whole life at her family’s farm, even after graduating from school, Ivy’s life has been ruled by the needs of her family and particularly her brothers. Wanting to protect them, she has sacrificed having her own life and as a result isn’t quite sure how to adjust to the real world that she chooses to enter for the first time at twenty five. Ivy must learn to put her own needs, the ones she’s neglected her whole life, first.

The paranormal element to The Uninvited is really interesting. Ivy, as well as the other female members of her family, has an unusual gift. Ivy sees the ghosts of family members long dead. These apparitions though benign, function as a warning. They are harbingers of death, for death always follows their appearance. When Ivy begins to see visions of her dead brother, she fears for those she cares about. As she grows closer to the brother of the man her father and brother murdered, Ivy fears that she may inadvertently cause his death even as she tries to make amends for her family’s crime.

Cat Winters’s The Uninvited is great for those who enjoy historical fiction. It has a rich setting and a powerful narrative about embracing life before it passes you by.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Title: Shutter
Author: Courtney Alameda
Series: N/A

As a descendant of Abraham Van Helsing, Micheline has spent her life being trained to exorcise ghosts and other entities. As a tetrachromat, Micheline can see the “auras” of ghosts and just happens to be the daughter of Leonard Helsing, leader of Helsing Corps, an organization dedicated to protecting civilians from the paranormal. When her team gets a call about a possession at a hospital, they are quick to respond. But this isn’t a routine exorcism and when Micheline and her team are infected with a paranormal soulchain, they must find a way to track down the ghost that cursed them before it’s too late.

“The empty corpse hit the floor, the mists roiling. The ghost extended a flickering fist toward me, opened its fingers, and dropped a handful of teeth to the ground. They tracked blood on the floor and rebounded off my boot, making pings on the linoleum that rattled in the roots of my molars.”

Courtney Alameda’s Shutter is a thrilling paranormal read that will give you chills and have you reconsidering whether lullabies really are harmless. Micheline’s life has revolved around the family business and the expectations placed on her by her father. She has experienced loss in a way that no one can truly understand and it is this tragedy that shapes her relationship with her father. Convinced he only sees a failure when he looks at her, Micheline, though she may not admit it, is constantly trying to prove herself. There is a power struggle between the two and their mutual grief sometimes expresses itself as contempt, resulting in unwise choices on both sides.

Micheline’s constants are the members of her team, three very different boys that ground her in different ways. Oliver Stoker is best with facts and has been a part of Micheline’s life forever. Ryder, an outsider trained to protect Micheline from physical attacks, feels protective of her in a way that isn’t allowed. Jude, the resident bad boy, has his own unique ability. With a single touch, he can see a person’s potential death. I found Jude to be the most interesting of the three. There is a layer of insecurity in his otherwise confident demeanor and I thought more time could have been spent exploring this along with the other boys’ secondary stories.

Shutter was a fun, ghostly adventure featuring a highly-motivated and complex protagonist. If you’re a fan of the paranormal, I recommend picking this one up.

Rating: 3/5

★★★