Middle Grade Monday: The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia

I was super excited when I was granted access to an eARC to The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia. It follows a girl named Lulu who has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. This is an incredibly uncommon phenomenon but it was such a fascinating concept to center the story around. If you don’t know what HSAM is, it essentially means that Lulu remembers every second of her life.

Lulu lives with her parents, little brother, and grandmother. She had a younger sister who I think passed away from SIDs but it wasn’t explicitly stated. Her parents have struggled immensely with this and on top of that her mother is dealing with postpartum depression as well. So Lulu leans on her grandmother heavily, which makes it even scarier when her grandma starts having problems with her memory. When Lulu realizes the scope of her own memory, she tries to collect her grandmother’s in order to help her in day to day life. Lulu wonders if the reason that her grandmother is losing her memory is because of a traumatic event, just as a traumatic event can trigger HSAM, she reads that it could also trigger memory loss. So Lulu goes in search of her grandmother’s past in order to save her memory and save her family.

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So I loved this book. Absolutely loved it. Was it super realistic? No, but it was emotional and heartfelt and deep while at the same time balanced with lighthearted jokes and fun friendship moments. Memory issues are a hard topic for me and I couldn’t help but get emotional a lot throughout this book. I know a few people that have dealt with or are dealing with Alzheimers and I myself have dealt with a great deal of memory loss due to mental health problems. It was painful to see how much Lulu was scared of losing her grandma if anyone found out what she was struggling with.

There was also quite a candid discussion of postpartum depression and grief and it was hard to see how Lulu struggled with her relationship with her parents but eye opening to read from the side of a child in a situation like this.

The side “quest” I guess is what I would call it that followed Lulu and her friends, Max and Olivia, in trying to also uncover Lulu’s grandma’s past was too funny. They took their roles of detectives so seriously and I really enjoyed seeing how their relationships developed and changed as the book progressed. I genuinely loved each of the characters in this book and it warmed my heart to see them heal even just a little by the time the book ended.

Another thing that I really loved about this book was that each chapter opened with a short description of some part of the brain and how it functions. Considering the book centered around a story in which the brain and memory was a central feature, I thought this was really interesting! It was educational and easy to understand and I really liked that.

This book felt reminiscent of The Ghost Collector  in that both main characters are dealing with something really difficult and are doing everything in their power to fix what they are struggling with. I highly recommend both.

 

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Middle Grade Monday: Ghosts & Hauntings & Spooks Oh My

Welcome to another Middle Grade Monday! I spent the weekend reading some spooky middle grade books and I’m going to discuss three of them today.

Growing up, I was a big fan of spooky books and unlike the person I have become now, literally any spooky book scared the pants off me as a kid. I’m still scarred over a Goosebumps book that I vaguely remember in which a kitchen sponge came to life.

One of my favorite spooky middle grade writers has been Mary Downing Hahn. I’ve read a number of her books and the two that I read over the weekend were an older one, Deep and Dark and Dangerous, which was published in 2007; and The Girl in the Locked Room, which was published in 2018. (I stole… borrowed… the latter book from my youngest brother and the former was one that I had in my collection from childhood).

I think that overall Hahn is a master at crafting spooky books for young readers. My sister and I devoured so many of her books. Old Willis Place, The Doll in the Garden, and Wait Till Helen Comes were among our favorites. I’d really like to get my hands on those sometime soon to reread!

Of the two books that I read this weekend, I would recommend The Girl in the Locked Room for younger readers. It’s the story of a ghost who has been trapped in a room for over a hundred years and finally meets a girl who may be able to help her. This story was really well done, had me hooked from the beginning and was interesting enough to keep me on the edge of my seat through the end. It was low on the spooky side of things, more mysterious than outright scary which I think will be appreciated by those who don’t like to get jumpy. The ending was fascinating, though I personally would have wanted it to end slightly differently than what was written.

After rereading Deep and Dark and Dangerous, I found myself disliking the story a lot. The story follows a girl named Ali who has been brought on by her aunt to baby sit her younger cousin at the lake cottage that their family used to visit when her aunt and mother were children. There, Ali and her cousin meet a mysterious girl named Sissy and the painful story of the past begins to reveal itself. It’s definitely spooky but the characters are unlikable, absolutely horrid in cases and it just felt jaded. It actually had a lot of the aspects of the first book that I read this weekend which was Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh which I would like to recommend instead.

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Both of these stories had violent ghosts, unbelieving parents, and older kids trying to save younger ones. Spirit Hunters follows a girl who has moved with her parents and siblings to a new house. From the moment they arrive, something feels wrong and the rumor is that the house is indeed haunted.

While I didn’t personally love Spirit Hunters, I 100% understand why so many people do! I think it would definitely have scared the pants off me as a kid and if I wasn’t such a picky adult it probably would’ve spooked me a bit now too. This book has a diverse cast of characters and is #ownvoices for the Korean American rep. I don’t want to say that this felt like an adult trying to write a middle grade book for the first time, but that’s exactly what it felt like. At times it felt like it was trying way too hard to be a middle grade book and I think that’s what kept me from enjoying it as much as I could have. But if you’ve got a kid who wants to get that real haunted house story, definitely have them give this book a try! It had all those scary vibes and was a tense ride as things played out.

I’m interested to see where the Spirit Hunters series goes and will be checking out the second book whenever that is published to see if it happens to grow on me.

I think that young readers would be fans of any of the books of mentioned in this post but I highly recommend The Girl in the Locked Room for mysterious ghost story vibes and Spirit Hunters for that classic haunted house story.

Next week I’ll be discussing a new release so be sure to check back again next Monday!

Middle Grade Monday: The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills

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I have a Middle Grade Monday post ready for next week about a few books with spooky storylines and ghosts but I felt that there was no way that I could group this book into that post so it’s getting one of it’s own. Today I’ll be discussing and reviewing The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills.

After losing her mother unexpectedly, Shelly begins to hoard ghosts. A gift that has been passed down through generations of women in her family, Shelly has the ability to see ghosts, catch them, and help them move on. When she realizes that her mother has not come back as a ghost, she can’t let the other ghosts go.

Rooted in a Cree worldview, Shelly and her grandmother use their long hair to catch ghosts and then help to guide them onward to whatever comes after death. I thought that The Ghost Collector was a really deep story of a young, grieving girl who has to learn how to let go. It was so interesting to see how different ghosts could be, anywhere from the old, the young, animals, happy, sad, angry… The list goes on.

It was heartbreaking to see what Shelley was going through, just wanting to see her mom one more time. I think this was a unique and beautiful story about death, grief, and learning to let go. It is so important to share stories like this with young readers, to give them a more broad perspective of the topic of death, dying, and more. I really enjoyed reading a “ghost story” that wasn’t scary. I feel like what is often the case is that ghosts are made out to be malevolent and while those stories are definitely fun, it’s good to see stories where ghosts are just existing too.

In terms of reviewing this book, I gave it three stars. I would highly recommend it to anyone but I personally felt that parts of the story were underdeveloped. The origins of a few characters felt unexplained as did the backstory as to why Shelley and her grandmother were able to see ghosts and catch them in their hair. I would have loved more explanation and a bit of world building in that regard… I did try to do some internet research on the topic of ghosts and Cree beliefs but came up with nothing! Regardless of these qualms that I had, I thought this book was spectacular and have definitely thought about this story a lot since originally reading it.

If you are interested in a book that handles grief well and provides a new view on ghosts and death, this might be the book you’re looking for! Definitely worth checking out.

**I received an ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

 

 

Middle Grade Monday: Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt

So in today’s Middle Grade Monday post, I’m going to be talking about a book that’s release tomorrow called Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt. I received an ARC of this from Netgalley in order to review.

This book is about Tam and Kate, two girls who have found their stereotyped places to fit in within their middle school but develop an unlikely friendship… And maybe a little more.

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Redwood and Ponytail is all about two girls who are growing up and learning more about who they are every day. It’s a book about identity and acceptance and I loved it.

I grew up reading books in verse, I devoured every one that I could get my hands on, but every single one was far outside of the range of what I should have been reading at that age. Like I was in seventh grade reading Ellen Hopkins (I was definitely a mature reader but those were some heavy, heavy books). If I could go back in time with this book, I would have loved to hand younger me this to read.

There really needs to be more books out there like this. Even with the world becoming more and more accepting, sometimes it’s still so incredibly hard to accept that you might be different. I mean, I’m 23 and I’m still trying to figure out who I am. Books like these are ones that make it easier to be a young girl and say “hey, maybe I like girls too” or a boy who likes boys or anybody who just doesn’t really like anybody like that.

In terms of books written in verse, I found this to be pretty good. There were some parts that really flowed and other parts that really didn’t. But if you were using this to introduce a younger reader to a book in verse I think this could be a good choice.

One of the things that made me love this book so much was that the author got those first crush feelings so spot on. It was so relatable and I think that anyone could appreciate that. The aspects of this that fell flat for me were the other characters, I think that this story focused so much on Tam and Kate that the development of the other characters was completely neglected. I would have loved to hear more backstory about literally any of the other characters, it was a long book so something could’ve been squeezed in. However, I would definitely pass this on to middle schoolers, it’s a good viewpoint to read from, a nice introduction to books in verse, and in the end I rated it 4/5 stars.

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Before I end this post, I will say that people added the trigger warning of homophobia to their reviews and while I could understand where they’re coming from I think it’s important to add that it is very light (if that’s even a thing). The parts that I’m assuming they’re referring to are definitely hard to read in seeing a mom not really know how to react to what her daughter is telling her, but I don’t want to say that it’s the most painful thing to read. In the end everything turns to a “I just want you to be happy with yourself” type of situation. So yes, very minor homophobia but don’t let that deter you from giving this to kids to read or even reading it yourself!

If you’re interested in getting your own copy you can grab one tomorrow from these links:

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository

Middle Grade Monday: Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Happy Monday and welcome to a new series on Adventures With A Side Of Espresso!

Ever since I created my The Books That Shaped Me (1, 2, 3) posts I have wanted to reread and read so many middle grade books. So without further ado, welcome to the first ever Middle Grade Monday!! This is going to be a series published on random Mondays where I discuss either middle grade books that I have reread or new books that I have picked up. I’m really excited to do this!

And if you have no idea what middle grade is, well that’s the category of books that is geared towards kids aged 8-12!

So when I was in third grade, I picked up Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix from my elementary school library and it very quickly became my new favorite book. I read it once a year after that until I was finished with elementary school and recently picked up my own copy of it from a thrift store so I had to reread it. Margaret Peterson Haddix has so many unique books that I highly recommend checking out any of them if you’re interested in reading middle grade books.

In picking up this to reread I was really interested in seeing if this book held up. It was originally published in 1995 and I think that’s going to be my main purpose in rereading books.

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Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jessie lives with her family in the frontier village of Clifton, Indiana. When diphtheria strikes the village and the children of Clifton start dying, Jessie’s mother sends her on a dangerous mission to bring back help. But beyond the walls of Clifton, Jessie discovers a world even more alien and threatening than she could have imagined, and soon she finds her own life in jeopardy. Can she get help before the children of Clifton, and Jessie herself, run out of time?

Basically, Jessie has grown up for her entire life believing that she’s living in the 1800’s and when kids within her village begin getting sick, Jessie’s mom reveals to her that it’s actually 1996 and they are living in an historical tourist attraction. Now, put yourself into the shoes of a nine year old… Is this not a mind-blowing concept or what??

In terms of this holding up today, I think it does. There are some offhand comments about “Indians” but in looking at this as if the main character in the book was living in the 1800’s, well, it’s a good learning point to explain why viewpoints have changed since then. I found reading this to be stressful even as an adult and I already knew every twist and turn that this book took! And I wish that I could say that this book wouldn’t hold up because of the outrageous concept but like cults happen and other crazy stuff happens even now which still just blows my mind what people can get away with.

If you know of any kids that are into fast paced and stressful books, this is a dang good thriller. It’s 184 pages but it packs a punch, there isn’t a single dull moment in the entire thing. 5/5 stars!

Oh and then, as I was talking to my mom about this book the other day when we were forcing my brothers to pick out books to read at the library she told me that there’s a movie based around this sort of concept too. So catch me watching The Village pretty soon now because I really want to see a cinematic version of this. It still amazes me how much of an impact a book that I read 10+ years ago can have on me even today. I highly recommend.