Book Review: Sparks!

Sparks is a hero and man’s best friend, but nobody suspects he’s two cats!
This Super Dog is the Cat’s Meow!

August is a brilliant inventor who is afraid of the outside. Charlie is a crack pilot who isn’t afraid of anything. Together these pals save lives every day. They also happen to be cats who pilot a powerful, mechanical dog suit! 

Always eager to leap into danger, this feline duo have their work cut out for them as they try to thwart Princess, an evil alien bent on enslaving mankind. Don’t let the fact that Princess looks like a cute, diaper-wearing baby fool you. She’s clever, determined, and totally ruthless. So when Princess and the browbeaten fools she calls servants enact a brilliant and dastardly plan to conquer Earth, August and Charlie pull out all the stops to save the day.

Published February 27th 2018 by Graphix

What did I think?

I read this in between virus naps and then had fabulous dreams about it. I don’t recommend the virus, but I’m pretty sure this story holds up regardless.
I’m so in love with graphic novels right now. They really can be the “gateway drug” to lifelong reading.
This story, in particular, is going to resonate with readers/viewers who love The Simpsons, Powder Puff Girls, Adventure Time, or Gravity Falls. That means you, older parents, and siblings, you too will laugh out loud.
These two cats, their litter box, and the ingenious way they go about battling evil are masterful—bonus points for diversity and having main characters that do hard things. There isn’t anything not to love. Also, there is a sequel due out this Summer!

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Book Review: Blue Skies

For fans of Louisiana’s Way Home, this heartwarming novel tells the story of ten-year-old Glory Bea as she prepares for a miracle of her very own—her father’s return home.

Glory Bea Bennett knows that miracles happen in Gladiola, Texas, population 3,421. After all, her grandmother—the best matchmaker in the whole county—is responsible for thirty-nine of them.

Now, Glory Bea needs a miracle of her own.

The war ended three years ago, but Glory Bea’s father never returned home from the front in France. Glory Bea understands what Mama and Grams and Grandpa say—that Daddy died a hero on Omaha Beach—yet deep down in her heart, she believes Daddy is still out there.

When the Gladiola Gazette reports that one of the boxcars from the Merci Train (the “thank you” train)—a train filled with gifts of gratitude from the people of France—will be stopping in Gladiola, she just knows daddy will be its surprise cargo.

But miracles, like people, are always changing, until at last they find their way home. 

Expected publication: March 1st 2020 by Simon & Schuster

What did I think?

This Middle-Grade WW2 novel is about all about the grief of the people left on the home front. Glory Bea Bennett is looking for a miracle. She believes her father could still come home three years after D Day and the battle on Omaha Beach. There is also a funny side plot containing the adventures of her Gram, the matchmaker which tempers the sadness that surrounds having to adjust your dreams to reality.

It’s a solid choice for Middle Grade World War 2 reading lists.

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Book Review: The Inside Battle

Thirteen-year-old Rebel Mercer lives in west Texas with his dad, Nathan, and his aunt Birdie. His dad is finally home after serving in the military, and Rebel longs for his approval. But something isn’t right. His dad has PTSD, and lately he has been spending his time communicating with a racist, anti-government militia group called the Flag Bearers. Rebel doesn’t agree with his dad’s newfound ideas, but he turns a blind eye to them. So when his best friend Ajeet beats Rebel at a robotics tournament by using one of Rebel’s pieces, Rebel begins to wonder if there’s some truth to what his dad has been saying, and he lashes out at Ajeet.

Expelled from school, Rebel’s dad takes him to the mountains of Oklahoma, where they meet up with the Flag Bearers. Soon his dad is engulfed in the group and its activities, and they’re becoming more and more dangerous. When Rebel gets wind of a planned attack on an African American church, he knows that this group has gone too far and innocent people could get hurt. Can Rebel find his voice and stop the Flag Bearers from carrying out their plans before it’s too late?

The Inside Battle is a gripping story of family, bravery, and speaking up for what’s right from author Melanie Sumrow.

Expected publication: March 3rd 2020 by Yellow Jacket

What did I think?

I enjoyed The Prophet Calls so much that when I saw that Melanie had another Middle Grade novel I jumped at the chance to get a early review up here. The Inside Battle did not disappoint. Melanie has a way of helping the reader to feel what it must be like to live inside a counter-cultural family.

Even as an adult reader I was enthralled with the subject matter. She captured exactly how people can be led into a group such as the Flag Bearers. This world will (hopefully) be foreign to young readers and the story takes a scenario that they can relate to and shows all sides of it.

This is the kind of story that should be taught in every public school and homeschool. We can’t come together unless we understand each other. I’m adding it to our 9th grade booklist.

I’d hand this to Middle School readers right on through adults.

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Book Review: Quintessence

I attempt to read my advance reader copies in order of release date, although, more often than not one of them peaks my interest early. I have like zero self control when it comes to new books.

I console myself knowing that early reader buzz leads to pre orders which helps the author get a deal to write their next book. That said, you’ve got awhile before you’ll get your hands on this one.


Alma moved to Four Points after her parents bought a law practice in the small Her anxiety is off the charts as she navigates starting a new school in a new town. Her parents are not much help when night after night they encourage her to try harder. She doesn’t want to let them down and hides her increasing panic attacks from them.

One day she meets the Shopkeeper in town and he gives her a telescope and cryptically told to: Find the Elements, Grow the Light and Save the Starling.

At school she joins the Astronomy club and hooks up with the club members who come together help her and the celestial being that she sees falling out of a star. Together they learn about astronomy, alchemy, friendship, and loyalty.


It is magical realism at it’s best. I adore this story. I think even readers who are solidly typically in the YA genre will like it.

Book Release Date: May 19, 2020

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Book Review: Gold Rush Girl

Newbery Medalist Avi brings us mud-caked, tent-filled San Francisco in 1848 with a willful heroine who goes on an unintended — and perilous — adventure to save her brother.

Victoria Blaisdell longs for independence and adventure, and she yearns to accompany her father as he sails west in search of real gold! But it is 1848, and Tory isn’t even allowed to go to school, much less travel all the way from Rhode Island to California. Determined to take control of her own destiny, Tory stows away on the ship. Though San Francisco is frenzied and full of wild and dangerous men, Tory finds freedom and friendship there. Until one day, when Father is in the gold fields, her younger brother, Jacob, is kidnapped. And so Tory is spurred on a treacherous search for him in Rotten Row, a part of San Francisco Bay crowded with hundreds of abandoned ships. Beloved storyteller Avi is at the top of his form as he ushers us back to an extraordinary time of hope and risk, brought to life by a heroine readers will cheer for. Spot-on details and high suspense make this a vivid, absorbing historical adventure.

Expected publication: March 10th 2020 by Candlewick Press

What did I think?

I’m a huge Avi fangirl. Some of my very favorite MG books have inspired long rabbit trails through history in our homeschool. If you have a kid who loved Charlotte Doyle or even his Oliver Cromwell books this one is a bit like that. It’s deliciously long, most MG books will cut the adventure off to make the book easier to get through for reluctant readers, not the case with Avi at all. The reader gets to read every twist and turn of the adventure as if you are a fly on the wall.

I liked Tory and was rooting for her to succeed in her quest for a more “free”? life for herself. I actually didn’t care whether she found her brother or not as he annoyed me with his constant whining. I was rooting for her and her friends and hoping they didn’t get hurt in the search. In the end the story is more centered on all of them, and it’s set up for a sequel, which is awesome.

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A Treasure Trove of February MG New Release Books

What’s better than one new book review? How about four at once? I try not to write batch reviews, but I am struggling to catch up this week. If you would like any more details on any of these amazing new titles: please comment here or on any of my social links.

When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she’s recovering from the broken arm she got falling off a balance beam. And packed away in the moving boxes under her clothes and gymnastics trophies is a secret she’d rather forget.

Mia’s change in scenery brings day camp, new friends, and time with her beloved grandmother. But Gram is convinced someone is trying to destroy her cricket farm. Is it sabotage or is Gram’s thinking impaired from the stroke she suffered months ago? Mia and her friends set out to investigate, but can they uncover the truth in time to save Gram’s farm? And will that discovery empower Mia to confront the secret she’s been hiding–and find the courage she never knew she had?

Published February 4th 2020 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

I think: this is a critical (possibly future award winning) book to hand to the pre-teens in your life. The simple solidarity of all the women in the story amazed me. The author told some hard truths in a simple, believable way. In short, it has two plotlines: the mystery of who is sabatoging Mia’s grandma’s cricket farm and Mia figuring out how to find her voice to share why she is avoiding gymnastics. Best for Middle Grade- YA readers

When Big Ben sounds the stroke of midnight, Emily’s parents vanish.

As an adventurous eleven year old, Emily packs her sandwiches and her hedgehog, Hoggin, and heads into the Midnight Hour. A Victorian London frozen in time, the Midnight Hour is a magical place of sanctuary and of peril dreamt up by children – and inhabited by monsters of legend, creatures of the imagination, and a Postal Service determined to save the day (and night!). To save her mum and dad, Emily must be brave enough to embrace her own inner magic …

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere meets The Phantom Tollbooth in this classic-feeling adventure, full of astonishing world-building.

Published February 7th 2019 by Chicken House Books

What I thought: We’ll be listening to this one on Audible soon. Modern girl meets Victorian London with magical creatures? That’s our love language. 5 stars.

Lydia knows more about death than most thirteen-year-olds. Her mother was already sick when her father left them six years ago. When her mother dies, it is Lydia who sits by her side.

Fully orphaned now, Lydia follows the plan her mother made with her. She uproots to rural Connecticut to live with her “last of kin.” Aunt Brat, her jovial wife Eileen, and their ancient live-in landlord Elloroy welcome Lydia. Only days after her arrival the women adopt a big yellow dog.

Expected publication: February 25th 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books

What do I think?

Bring on the tissues. (in a good way.) Sometimes life is full of hard things and I firmly believe that the more kids read about real life troubles the easier they will have dealing with them in their own lives.

After a harrowing summer camp, Arlo Finch is back in Pine Mountain, Colorado, preparing to face a new school, new threats, and two new Rangers in Blue Patrol.

Arlo is about to undertake his most dangerous journey yet: all the way to China to try to bring his father home.

But when the mysterious Eldritch reveal their true agenda, Arlo must make an impossible choice: save his friends and family, or save the Long Woods. Both worlds will never be the same. 

Published February 4th 2020 by Roaring Brook Press

What did we think?

This was an excellent wrap up to the Arlo Finch Trilogy. If you haven’t read these, now is the time when you can binge through all three at once.

Book Review: Homerooms and Hall Passes (Homerooms and Hall Passes #1)

In the mystical realm of Bríandalör, every day the brave and the bold delve into hidden temples or forgotten dungeons, battling vile monsters and evil wizards to loot their treasure hoards for sweet, sweet magic items.

But in their free time, our heroes—Thromdurr the mighty barbarian, Devis the shifty thief, Vela the noble paladin, Sorrowshade the Gloom Elf assassin, and Albiorix the (good!) wizard—need to relax and unwind.

That’s why they meet up once a week to play Homerooms & Hall Passes: a role-playing game where they assume the characters of average American eighth graders.

But when the five young adventurers are magically transported into their H&H game by an ancient curse, they must band together to survive their toughest challenge yet: middle school.

Who knew that battling ogres would be easier than passing algebra or navigating the cafeteria social scene? They must use what they’ve learned from playing Homerooms & Hall Passes to figure out how to save their game world (which might actually be real…).

Published October 8th 2019 by Balzer + Bray

What I think:

The very premise of this story had me giggling like I was a pre-teen. I mean, magical creatures playing at Earth Life? Sign me up. There is so much discussion fodder packed into this middle grade fantasy novel.

This would be a fantastic read aloud for families with kids of all ages who will get the idea behind the story. The plot rolls along quickly with no slow sections at all. Thank goodness it isn’t a stand alone as I have some real questions about both realms (ours on Earth and theirs)

I stole the book description above from the publisher but: It won’t spoil it if I tell you that the kids encounter a cursed object and then get transported straight into Suburbia where things happen.

You don’t have to have played D&D to think this book is hilarious, but if you are familiar with the world building involved this will have you rolling on the ground laughing.