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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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: City Spies

So much fun. The best kind of adventure ride possible. You’ve got mystery, intrigue, picturesque settings, smart kids, what’s not to like? This is the first of a trilogy (or more!), and for your middle-grade readers, it is what “fun ” reading should be. This book is made for a day off on the sofa, slurping down tea and cookies while you fly through the story.

The story begins with Sara; she is both a foster kid and a hacker. She’s in court when instead of a public defender, someone else volunteers to represent her provided that she trusts him and plays along with whatever he says in court. It doesn’t take her long to agree, and soon she finds out that he isn’t even a real attorney and works for MI6 as a spy. Also, now she does too!

She joins a group of misfit teens from around the world on a secret team of spies. This story is full of all the twists and turns of an adult spy novel, and your kids will love it!

The teens work together to solve a mystery in Paris, and I’m hoping each book will center on a different worldwide city. You get to know each of the teens a bit, and I can’t wait to read more.

Release Date: March 10, 2020

Book Review: We Could Be Heroes

Oh, my heart. Even if you don’t usually read Middle-Grade novels, this one will yank your heartstrings in the best way. This is an unusual book as the characters are in fourth grade and act more like maybe seventh graders in their actions? In some ways, that will increase the readership range, and I think people on the autism spectrum will enjoy it any age. Although technically it is not a #ownvoices novel, the author does have a daughter with both autism and epilepsy, and both are featured in this story.

The story begins with Hank hating the World War II book that his teacher is reading his class. You can tell right away that he’s a kid filled with empathy, and those books where someone nearly always dies can be rough to navigate at any age. He steals the book, heads to the boys’ bathroom, and sets it on fire, which obviously, was not a great idea. He gets justifiably suspended. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Hank has loving, involved parents, and even with them, and plenty of support from his doctors and the school life is difficult for him.

When he heads back to school, Maisie (a classmate) takes him under her wing and befriends him. It seems like she is the first friend, and their friendship is bumpy as they both make some not wise decisions spurred on from good intentions.

I think the fact that neither Hank or Maisie is mean, or destructive tempers the fact there are a lot of actions in this book you won’t want your kids emulating. But, the love that they show their families and neighbor is both sweet and genuine. They are kids who think a little differently and jump to conclusions that maybe other kids wouldn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and would recommend it up through eighth grade.

Release Date February 25, 2020

Book Review: On Snowden Mountain

Note to parents: We’re using it in our 8th grade Home Ed curriculum this year. I’ll write up a post over at GoodEnoughHomeschool.Com with a book list this weekend.

I adore historical fiction. I’ve based my entire home education program on intertwining great stories with factual spine books, so that my kids not only get the facts of history but the heart of how people were feeling and thinking at those times.
This World War 2 story set in the American Appalachian Mountains is a quiet, moving tale of families at home. Twelve-year-old Ellen knows enough to call for help after her Dad leaves for the War and her Mom won’t get out of bed. What she didn’t realize is that Aunt Pearl will insist on moving both of them from Baltimore to Snowden Mountain. She doesn’t want to move, and yet there is no alternative.
Ellen goes through a bit of culture shock. The mountain world is new and backward to her: outhouses, the one-room schoolhouse, and the lack of electricity are just the beginning. Nearly everything is different from her life so far.
This is a middle-grade book, but I’d lean towards the older end of that age range due to some of the heavy topics that are central parts of this story. Ellen’s new friend Russell has an alcoholic, violent father, and Ellen’s mother’s mental illness is pretty much unavoidable if you are reading this aloud.
I would hand it to a kid struggling with any of these issues at home as the kids and adults involved handle the situations creatively and thoughtfully. Ellen holds a genuine fear that she may inherit her mom’s mental illness, and even though the setting is long ago, that’s still a fear of kids today.

Publication date: October 2019

Book Review: Cub

Shop your local indie bookstore

Let me begin with a general pitch for graphic novels. I was a late adapter, and now they will always be apart of both my recreational reading and the reading I assign in my home school. Today’s middle-grade graphic novels are not the comic books of your youth. (although I’ve come around to those too!) They aren’t a cheater type book, and they aren’t abridged or easier in any way. They are a full-fledged genre of their own told in full-length stories contained in paneled, sequential, graphic format. They are NOT merely collections of comic strips. You can find nearly any genre written in graphic novel format, including fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction, biography, and nonfiction. *Jumps down off soapbox, and stops posting like a recipe blogger*

I was lucky enough to get a copy real copy of this book back in December to read and review. The pay isn’t great with this review gig, but the perks are incredible!

In this book, Cindy is starting seventh grade and endures all that goes along with that age group of friends. The 1970s era atmosphere is sublime. Starting with her dress on the cover, to the outdated way her Dad treats her compared to her brothers, growing up during that time was tricky for a girl. Readers will notice the stark differences in how males treat female career aspirations during that time. Luckily, Cindy has excellent mentors to guide her. Our society has changed in so many ways, but not much in others:

Reporters have huge responsibility, especially now. Our country is in turmoil: chaos in the white house, a senseless war, environmental crises, women having to fight for equal rights…

Cub by Cynthia L. Copeland

I doubt you could get a gig as a cub reporter anywhere these days as newspapers struggle to keep paid reporters on board, and so this peek into history was a refreshing throwback to the days when printed word brought the news to your home. I especially liked the examples of how an article looks in editing. So many kids think that the first draft is the only draft, and this may help young writers see that everyone needs editing. Her writing evolves as she finds her voice and learns the skills of reporting.

Between learning to write (and rewrite), Cindy struggles with typical middle-grade issues of juggling old friends, new friends, boys, and bullies. I enjoyed every bit of it.

Book Release today! January 7, 2020

Book Review: Here In The Real World

This author also wrote the book- Pax, which is now one of our family favorites, so I looked forward to reading this new novel.

Ware is a boy that tries to please his parents by agreeing to what they call “Meaningful Social Interaction” and being normal at a day camp for the Summer. It hadn’t started that way, and he has looked forward to spending his Summer in his world of imagination while staying with his Grandma. When she fell/needed surgery/rehab, they went to plan B, with all those “normal” activities.

Luckily he ends up meeting Jolene, and he ditches the Rec program to help her with her plans of growing papayas in an empty lot. It works for both of them, and he can live out some of his Knight and Code of Chivalry fantasies. His character is just so lovely I wince every time he gets his feelings hurt. His parents are stressed for sure juggling their jobs, grandmas’ care, and saving for a home. They willingly admit they don’t understand him, and although he has a supportive Uncle who tries to help, there is some push and pull as Ware attempts to be himself and please his parents.

I’d go up to 8th grade with this story for the right kind of reader. There is a lot to think about/discuss with each character’s motivations. 

Scheduled for publication February 4, 2020.