ARC Mini Reviews: A Curious Tale of In-Between, The Shrunken Head, and more!

Hello brave humans and welcome to another edition of MIDDLE GRADE MINIS.

Do you like Middle Grade? Do I like Middle Grade? Then we are all in the right place because today I am going to be recommending/fangirling about a bunch of awesome middle grade novels I’ve read (relatively) recently! LETS GET THIS PARTY STARTED.


ARC Mini Reviews: A Curious Tale of In-Between, The Shrunken Head, and more!
A Curious Tale of the In-Between
by Lauren DeStefano

Genres: Gothic, Paranormal, Middle Grade
Publication date: September 1st, 2015
by Bloomsbury

Format: ARC


Amazon | Book Depository

Pram Bellamy is special--she can talk to ghosts. She doesn't have too many friends amongst the living, but that's all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.

Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help. But this spiritualist knows the true nature of Pram's power, and what she has planned is more terrifying than any ghost.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

A Curious Tale of In-Between is a very special middle grade novel. I’d go so far to say it’s unlike any middle grade novel I’ve read before just because of the writing style.

This book is filled with a lot of dark undertones and a very gloomy atmosphere yet the book is also middle grade because the main character, Pram, is only 11. Despite her maturity and intelligence, Pram has an innocence to her which makes her all the more endearing and fun to read about. She is a young girl trying to find a place where she feels she belongs. She has been seen as odd her whole life, her best friend is a ghost and she feels unwanted. She feels she killed her mother and she wants to find her father. Pram wants to find a place where her oddness doesn’t cast her out but rather makes her feel like she belongs.

When her aunts send her to school, she meets a boy who has suffered a loss and wants to hide in the shadows as well.   They soon become close friends and help each other seek out the closure they need. Unfortunately, this leads to them being kidnapped by a woman who has other plans for Pram and her ability to see ghosts.

That’s when things take a darker turn. I actually hadn’t expected the novel to take such a turn but it did and that’s when the book actually became scary. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t really meant to be a horror, it’s just when you see a little, innocent kid go through such a horrifying ordeal, you feel terrified and hope that she is okay!

I love how things turn out in this book. It’s so adorable and cute and it makes me want to re-read the entire book so I can just live through those emotions again.

This is an adorable little middle grade novel that features fantastic characters and important themes of finding yourself. I’d definitely recommend it to people looking for a refreshing middle grade novel that will blow their socks.

ARC Mini Reviews: A Curious Tale of In-Between, The Shrunken Head, and more!
Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures
by Jackson Pearce

Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Publication date: April 28th, 2015
by Scholastic

Format: ARC


Amazon | Book Depository

Pip is a girl who can talk to magical creatures. Her aunt is a vet for magical creatures. And her new friend Tomas is allergic to most magical creatures. When things go amok—and they often go amok—Pip consults Jeffrey Higgleston’s Guide to Magical Creatures, a reference work that Pip finds herself constantly amending. Because dealing with magical creatures like unicorns, griffins, and fuzzles doesn’t just require book knowledge—it requires hands-on experience and thinking on your feet. For example, when fuzzles (which have an awful habit of bursting into flame when they’re agitated) invade your town, it’s not enough to know what the fuzzles are—Pip and Tomas also must trace the fuzzles’ agitation to its source, and in doing so, save the whole town.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

I love Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures. In fact, I love it so much I wish I were 8 and I could experience this book as a kid. This is a book filled with great friendships, magic and tons of awesomeness. 

Pip Bartlett is such a fun main character. She has always been able to talk to animals but no one believes she can. They think she lies and they think it’s inappropriate for a 9 year old to tell silly ‘lies’ like that. The thing is she loves talking to animals and she loves animals in general. So, while she hides her abilities, she doesn’t stop using them when in the vicinity of an animal.

Pip finds some solace when her aunt takes her in for the summer because her aunt is a vet for magical creatures. While hanging out in her aunt’s small town, Pip begins to make friends. She makes friends with odd magical creatures and also a human boy who is allergic to a lot of things.  All of the various friendships in this book are SO ADORABLE.

This book revolves around Pip trying to save the town from being burnt down by fuzzles. Pip uses her abilities to talk to animals (which Thomas, her new human friend, is totally on board with) to figure out what is actually going on and she may or may not also end up saving the fuzzles and the town!

Pip Bartlett’s Guide To Magical Creatures is a fun read that comes with various illustrations of magical creatures and fun facts about them but also with a fantastic main character and great secondary characters. If MG is your thing, do NOT miss out on this amazing book!

ARC Mini Reviews: A Curious Tale of In-Between, The Shrunken Head, and more!
The Shrunken Head
by Lauren Oliver

Genres: Mystery, Middle Grade
Publication date: September 29th, 2015
by HarperCollins Children's Books

Format: ARC


Amazon | Book Depository

What you will find in this book:

– A rather attractive bearded lady
– Several scandalous murders
– A deliciously disgusting Amazonian shrunken head
– Four extraordinary children with equally extraordinary abilities
– A quite loquacious talking bird

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-
thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events. When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts.

This sensational new series combines the unparalleled storytelling gifts of Lauren Oliver with the rich
knowledge of the notorious relics collector H.C. Chester.

What you will NOT find in this book:

– An accountant named Seymour
– A never-ending line at the post office
– Brussel sprouts (shudder)
– A lecture on finishing all your homework on time
– A sweet, gooey story for nice little girls and boys.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

This book honestly just wins. The Shrunken Head is one of the best middle grade novels I’ve read in a while and I barely even knew what it was about before diving in. I just saw the pretty cover and that it was by an author whose name I was familiar with so I decided to give it a shot. This book was 1000% worth it.

The Shrunken head is EVERYTHING. This book combines the supernatural, with a historical setting, throws in a little bit of mystery AND also goes on to explore the awkwardness of being a preteen who is starting to go through puberty. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?

This book is a very quick read (even at 360 pages) and you will be flipping pages, BELIEVE ME. You will want to see these kids get down to the bottom of the mystery. You will be cheering them on and you will want to punch all the assholes who refer to them as freaks.

Phillipa, Sam, Thomas and Max are children with special abilities. Phillipa can read minds (kind of), Sam is super strong (and tends to break a lot of things as a result), Thomas can bend his body into various shapes and fit anywhere and Max possesses epic skills with knives. When the only home they all have ever known is in danger, they decide to get down to the bottom of this mystery and find out who is causing the deaths.

The mystery aspects of this book were fantastically done but one of my favorite things was how the 1930s setting was weaved into the book. Oliver doesn’t focus too much on the time period but there are little details that make it evident that the book is set in a time around the great depression. The time period is not forgotten but introduced into the story in little ways that make it all the more interesting.

ALSO the illustrations in this book are GORGEOUS.

I’d definitely recommend this book to readers who love a little bit of magic and mystery. This is a fun read that won’t fail to charm your socks off.

ARC Mini Reviews: A Curious Tale of In-Between, The Shrunken Head, and more!
Rules for Stealing Stars
Genres: Contemporary, Magic Realism, Middle Grade
Publication date: September 29th, 2015
Format: ARC


Amazon | Book Depository

Silly is used to feeling left out. Her three older sisters think she's too little for most things—especially when it comes to dealing with their mother's unpredictable moods and outbursts. This summer, Silly feels more alone than ever when her sisters keep whispering and sneaking away to their rooms together, returning with signs that something mysterious is afoot: sporting sunburned cheeks smudged with glitter and gold hair that looks like tinsel.

When Silly is brought into her sisters' world, the truth is more exciting than she ever imagined. The sisters have discovered a magical place that gives them what they truly need: an escape from the complications of their home life. But there are dark truths there, too. Silly hopes the magic will be the secret to saving their family, but she's soon forced to wonder if it could tear them apart.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

This book is like a dream, a very sad and magical dream. Rules for Stealing Stars is a book about four sisters who are stuck in a heartbreaking situation but find a little bit of magic to make the situation a little more bearable.

This book is about a girl called Silly who learns a lot of important things over the course of a summer (I think? Time is not so well defined in the book.)  This book is the story of four sisters who learn to come together and face a situation instead of dancing around it. It’s about learning to appreciate some of the good things in life when things get really tough. Most of all though, this book is about hope.

This was my first book by Corey Ann Haydu and I think it’s safe to say that I will be back for more. Rules for Stealing Stars is a well written book that will make you hurt.

Silly is the youngest sister so her family thinks she should be protected at all costs. From her mother’s outbursts, from all the bad things happening. She is used to feeling left out and being shooed away into a room while her sisters deal with the worst. So when her sisters finally let them into their magical world, Silly manages to find something that is her very own and helps her escape the situation in her house.

Unfortunately, this also leads to a lot of secret keeping. As some of you might know, secret keeping is not my thing but there was something about Silly’s innocence that just made me sad for her rather than mad. She was keeping secrets, not because she wanted to but because she had no idea how to tell them to her sisters. She has always felt left out so she wasn’t sure how to tell her sisters the things that mattered the most. Instead of speaking up, she hid. Over the course of the book, we get to see her come to the realization that she can count on her sisters in the end and that was beautiful.

The sisters are not as close as one would imagine given the situation but I liked that. They weren’t just one entity but rather separate individuals with different personalities and different ways of approaching the situation they are in. Their relationship was realistically portrayed and I loved that in spite of all their differences, they loved each other at the end of the day.

My only problem with this otherwise amazing book arose from the magical aspects of the book. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them but I tend to be a curious creature who just cannot do without answers. At first, the magic aspect was just the right amount that wouldn’t make me curious but would rather enhance my enjoyment but then there was this twist (of sorts) towards the end of the book that left me wanting more. I feel like there are just certain things you cannot drop on readers without giving actual explanations.

Overall though, this book was heartwarming, heartbreaking and a truly memorable read. I would definitely encourage you to pick up Silly’s story if you like reading books about hard times with a little bit of magic.

ARC Mini Reviews: A Curious Tale of In-Between, The Shrunken Head, and more!
The Nest
Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade
Publication date: October 6th, 2015
by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Format: ARC


Amazon | Book Depository

Steve just wants to save his baby brother—but what will he lose in the bargain? This is a haunting gothic tale for fans of Coraline, from acclaimed author Kenneth Oppel (Silverwing, The Boundless) with illustrations from Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen.

For some kids summer is a sun-soaked season of fun. But for Steve, it’s just another season of worries. Worries about his sick newborn baby brother who is fighting to survive, worries about his parents who are struggling to cope, even worries about the wasp’s nest looming ominously from the eaves. So when a mysterious wasp queen invades his dreams, offering to “fix” the baby, Steve thinks his prayers have been answered.

All he has to do is say “Yes.” But “yes” is a powerful word. It is also a dangerous one. And once it is uttered, can it be taken back?

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Warning: this book contains scary bugs.

If you know me, you know I hate bugs.  I am a scardy-cat and *will* hide in my room in the presence of one. Why did I read the book then you ask? Because KENNETH OPPEL, goddamnit! I adored the Airborn series as a kid so I decided I wanted to read more books by Oppel, and here we are. I am so glad I read this book in spite of my fear of bugs because it is so well written and so adorable and filled with many wonderful messages.

Steve is wonderfully characterized. He is an anxious kid (and probably suffers from a disorder that was not mentioned by the author) and has a tendency to overthink. Things change when his parents have a baby with several complications. Now most of their time is spent running back and forth from the hospital and taking care of the baby. All Steve wants is to be normal but he is about to find out that no one is perfect.

This book has a paranormal/science fiction element to it (not sure which it is since it’s so weird) that involves wasps that have the power to duplicate human babies.

After being stung by a wasp, Steve starts getting visited by a queen wasp in his dreams. One who claims she can fix the baby and she will need his help to do so. Soon Steve realizes that the wasps plan on changing ‘his’ baby with one that has no flaws. One that isn’t sickly. One that is perfect. And the closer the wasps get to ‘finishing’ the baby and making the switch, the more Steve realizes how much he loves ‘his’ baby.

The book asks the very important question of what it means to be normal and we get to see Steve realize that perfection means nothing because no one is really flawless.  I loved seeing Steve grow over the course of the book and I was so proud of him by the end!

This is a book I highly recommend to middle grade readers, in spite of the bugs!

ARC Mini Reviews: A Curious Tale of In-Between, The Shrunken Head, and more!
Finders Keepers
Genres: Mystery, Middle Grade
Publication date: September 1st, 2015
by Roaring Book Press

Format: eARC


Amazon | Book Depository

Christa spends every summer at the most awesome place in the whole world: her family's cabin on Whitefish Lake in Wisconsin. Only her dad recently lost his job and her parents have decided to sell the cabin. But not if Christa can help it. Everyone knows there is Al Capone blood money hidden somewhere in Whitefish Lake, and her friend Alex's cranky grandpa might have the key to finding it. Grumpa says the loot is gone, or worse—cursed!—but Christa knows better. If she finds it, she can keep it and save her family and their beloved cabin.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Why am I not 11 anymore? I demand the answer to this question. I WISH I WERE 11. If I were, my imagination would completely run away with this book and I would totally be imitating some of the ‘adventures’ Alex and Christa went on. I am actually quite tempted to play out some of them even now… DOES ANYONE WANT TO PLAY WITH ME? Nevermind, that sounded really creepy. Let’s pretend I never said that.

Moving on from being my ridiculous self, I really enjoyed this book. It’s so imaginative & fun and so rich with all the joy and drama of being a 10/11 year old, but it’s also mixed with a heavy dose of reality. Something that is prominent in the background of the book is how unemployment affects families, and more specifically, Christa’s family.

Christa is such a fun character to read about. She is weird and is already defying gender roles (YOU GO, GURL) but she is full of imagination and adventure. Christa is adorable and I loved when she’d get all mad at her older sister for being a ‘princess’. I also loved when she stood up for herself when she wasn’t being treated the way she wanted to be (by leaving boys stuck in trees ;))

When Christa hears about Al Capone’s secret loot being buried in the area, she decides to look for it in the hopes of helping her family out (and saving her summer cottage.) Her new friend, Alex joins her and so a very interesting chase begins.

If you, like me, love yourself a fun middle grade mystery, Finders Keepers is worth a read. Its incredibly fun and imaginative and won’t fail to charm you.

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Rashika is a mysterious creature who likes to hide in the shadows. It's impossible to get to know her but if you must know, she is a huge bookworm. She also happens to have a huge sweet tooth so you can always lure her over the dark side by offering her something sweet (or bribing her with books).


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  1. says

    I’m definitely going to look into all of these. I don’t read MG too much but I do every now and then and it is so nice to have good ones lined up for when I do, plus, I have a daughter that I think would really love these. She is an avid reader like me and it is sometimes hard finding her books that she hasn’t already read!
    kindlemom1 recently posted…Review: Fated by Sarah FineMy Profile

  2. says

    Wow, these are a lot of reviews, Rashika! But all of them are great. And godddd, I need to read more Middle Grade! I actually like the genre, but I don’t give too much priority to it. Guess I will fix it soon – porbably with your first rec because I already have it in my TBR.
    Vane J. recently posted…How Books Influence UsMy Profile

  3. says

    I LOVE middle grade and think it is such an underrated genre. People always assume it is going to be immature or “childish” or something but it honestly hardly ever is. These all sound absolutely brilliant and while most of them were on my radar, I am so much more inspired to go pick them up now, especially the Lauren DeStefano one – her writing is gorgeous! Great post, Rashika!
    Rachel Lightwood recently posted…{Bieke Reviews} Never Never by Brianna ShrumMy Profile

  4. says

    I waited and waited for A Curious Tale of the In-Between to show up on Edelweiss because all of Lauren’s other books have been on there, but it never did and then it was too late to ask the publisher for a physical copy. I do so want to read it. Maybe it will go on sale after Christmas as an ebook. I am reading Rules for Stealing Stars as soon as I finish The Heart Goes Last. I had set Stealing Stars aside at the beginning of the month because it was so slow to start for me. I hope the story starts picking up soon after where I left off. I am glad to see you liked it. I really like this MG feature. :)
    La La in the Library recently posted…TELL ME TUESDAY #61My Profile

  5. says

    A Curious Tale of In-Between sounds fantastic and like it’s targeted towards the “older” middle grade spectrum, and for it to be truly scary for us as adults sounds like it did a good job!

    Pip Barlett sounds like such an adorable book with the talking to animals and the friendships.

    I’m a sucker for special abilities and oh the illustrations sound amazing in the Shrunken Head!

    Lovely reviews Rashika <3 so many amazing MG reads!
    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence recently posted…The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon Review: A Hidden World of ClairvoyanceMy Profile

  6. says

    I love this review compilation!! I’m always on the lookout for good MGs because my son loves me to read them to him. He’s only in 2nd grade, so a bit young to read them on his own, but he loves the stories :) I have The Curiosity House and definitely plan on reading that soon, but now I SO want to buy Pip Bartlett and Finders Keepers!! They sounds like books we would love. A Curious Tale of the In-between sounds like something I would like better than my son, so I may read that just for me. And the wasp book sounds totally creepy!!! BUGS!!! They scare me! Great reviews :)
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  7. says

    So glad you enjoyed A Curious Tale of the In-Between because that’s one of my most anticipated books of the fall. It sounds so good and that cover looks awesome too. The Shrunken Head is another novel I’m super excited for! I really enjoyed the books I’ve read by Lauren Oliver so far, so I’m sure I’ll like this one as well. I didn’t even know it was illustrated so thanks for the heads up. :) Haven’t heard about The Nest before but based on what you wrote about it, it sounds really great.
    Amazing reviews, Rashika. :)
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