Author: J.C.

6 Great Book Series for Middle Graders (And Beyond!)

PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

This Peter Pan retelling is intense, but so good! Crazy dramatic storylines full of action and nonstop adventure; deep characters with flaws, relatability, and complex arcs; and a little bit of darkness, too (though not celebrated or promoted – the whole series is a fight of light vs darkness). . It’s definitely deep/dark/intense enough to be enjoyed by an adult, but this was read to me when I was 8 and my brother was 5 – so while it is intense, there is nothing that is inappropriate or too much for the younger audience (they just may not understand the depth as much). 

The Series: Peter and the Starcatchers; Peter and the Shadow Thieves; Peter and the Secret of Rundoon; Peter and the Sword of Mercy; and spinoff novel, The Bridge to Neverland.

SAVVY by Ingrid Law

I didn’t read this series until a few years ago (so it’s not a childhood favorite of mine, per se), but I was so impressed by it! The characters are just SO much fun and the story is equally as enjoyable and captivating. The magic is gentle and unlike magic you typically read about in stories, and there are some very subtle but really cool themes that line up with Christianity as well. Wholesome and fun, and just so creatively written!

The Series: Savvy, Scumble, and Switch




Classics in my opinion, this series is just so unlike all middle grade novels. I have yet to find a writing style as distinct, unique, and quirky as Snicket’s. There are fantastic themes about growing up and independence, trust and loyalty. Violet, Klaus and Sunny are excellent role models, full of flaws no doubt, but yet demonstrate incredible bravery and integrity even under the most harrowing of circumstances. Highly recommend.

The Series: The Bad Beginning; The Reptile Room; The Wide Window; The Miserable Mill; The Austere Academy; The Ersatz Elevator; The Vile Village; The Hostile Hospital; The Carnivorous Carnival; The Slippery Slope; The Grim Grotto; The Penultimate Peril; The End.


Another example of a series full of fun adventures that teach characters valuable lessons, and a series full of genuine characters easy to root for. Well written and thorough, this was such a great series and I enjoyed it so much. Just so masterfully executed!

The Series: The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma. **There is a prequel and a 4th book in the series, but I have read neither. 


THE DOLL PEOPLE by Ann. M Martin & Laura Godwin

This series was the epitome of my 8yr old self’s imagination. The story follows a family of dolls and how they keep their lives hidden from their owners, the kids, and have all sorts of grand, but dramatic, adventures. Fantastic reads for young imaginations, but yet rich stories even for older readers.


The Series: The Doll People, The Meanest Doll in the World, and The Runaway Doll

ON THE EDGE OF THE DARK SEA OF DARKNESS by Andrew Peterson (The Wingfeather Saga)

The Wingfeather Saga pretty much contains my favorite books of all time, ever. I read it for the first time when I was 8 and loved it, and have reread it countless times since, finding more to love about the series each time I read through. I cannot recommend this series enough. Here’s the synopsis: Once, in a cottage above the cliffs on the Dark Sea of Darkness, there lived three children and their trusty dog Nugget. Janner Igiby, his brother Tink, their crippled sister Leeli are gifted children as all children are, loved well by a noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. But they will need all their gifts and all that love to survive the evil pursuit of the venomous Fangs of Dang who have crossed the dark sea to rule the land with malice and pursue the Igibys who hold the secret to the lost legend and jewels of good King Wingfeather of the Shining Isle of Anniera…

The Series: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness; North! Or Be Eaten; The Monster in the Hollows; The Warden and the Wolf King

100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons

100 Days Of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons 

Expected Publication: August 2019

Synopsis: When 16-year-old poetry blogger Tessa Dickinson is involved in a car accident and loses her eyesight for 100 days, she feels like her whole world has been turned upside-down.

Terrified that her vision might never return, Tessa feels like she has nothing left to be happy about. But when her grandparents place an ad in the local newspaper looking for a typist to help Tessa continue writing and blogging, an unlikely answer knocks at their door: Weston Ludovico, a boy her age with bright eyes, an optimistic smile…and no legs.

Knowing how angry and afraid Tessa is feeling, Weston thinks he can help her. But he has one condition — no one can tell Tessa about his disability. And because she can’t see him, she treats him with contempt: screaming at him to get out of her house and never come back. But for Weston, it’s the most amazing feeling: to be treated like a normal person, not just a sob story. So he comes back. Again and again and again.

Tessa spurns Weston’s “obnoxious optimism”, convinced that he has no idea what she’s going through. But Weston knows exactly how she feels and reaches into her darkness to show her that there is more than one way to experience the world. As Tessa grows closer to Weston, she finds it harder and harder to imagine life without him — and Weston can’t imagine life without her. But he still hasn’t told her the truth, and when Tessa’s sight returns he’ll have to make the hardest decision of his life: vanish from Tessa’s world…or overcome his fear of being seen.

100 Days of Sunlight is a poignant and heartfelt novel by author Abbie Emmons. If you like sweet contemporary romance and strong family themes then you’ll love this touching story of hope, healing, and getting back up when life knocks you down. (Taken from Goodreads)

My Review…

** I received a free ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Aaaagh! I’m in love with this book!—which is also the MOST adorablest book I have ever read. It could not get any cuter. End of discussion.


The swearing wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t excessive, and it didn’t affect my overall opinion of the story. But it also added nothing to character development or plot. It was just unnecessary.

The beginning was a *little* convienent. Weston happens to find the ad at just the right time, he happens to be randomly interested, and he suddenly feels like he needs to talk to Tessa, just out not nowhere? It felt a little unrealistic/forced.. Especially since this story takes place in modern times, but people of today don’t really rely on newspaper ads.

Another neutral—I really didn’t like how Tessa was the homeschooler whose closest friends are Internet friends she’s never met… That’s not the reality for most of us…:)


Mmmmkay, so Weston and Tessa were THE most adorablest.

Weston was such a vivid character—I was impressed by his authentic contradictory nature, his genuine emotion, and his transperancy to the reader—and, to an extent, to the other characters. His friendship was Rudy was fantastic! Strong guy friendships aren’t something that shows up a lot in fiction, but Emmons pulled it off so skillfully. I also loved watching Weston interact with his brothers.

Tessa was also phenomenal. Emmons shied away from nothing with Tessa. Tessa could be such a horrid character, but it was still impossible NOT to like her. The growth in her character was so gently painted and soo honest and genuine. It brought me so much joy to watch her grow!

*** SPOILERY ***

Her relationship with Weston, which was, I repeat, THE CUTEST THING EVER, also brought me so much joy 😀 Especially because of how sweetly innocent and clean it was! There was one scene Tessa feels Weston’s face and thinks about what it feels like, but that’s because she’s blind and Weston is being just so sweet and showing her to reconnect with her other senses— like touch! Other than that, they kiss at the end of the story without any details—that’s it. It was so refreshing to read such an adorable love story without any uncomfortable or weird aspects!


Lastly, the story was excellently paced. A little predictable at times, but it didn’t ruin the story. Generally, I just loved this sweet, original, adorable story so much. I can’t wait to see what else the author comes out with!

Characters swear a couple times.

RATING: 4.5 / 5.0

(.5 removed for language)

My Favorite Childhood Novels (Part 1)


While these are certainly not all of them…these are the books I read so many times I had parts memorized, the books that really helped shape me as a writer and a person. Even though they might be labeled as “juvenile fiction,” they are still some of my favorite books of all time and I highly recommend to all ages—though especially for ages 8-12 🙂 * STAY TUNED FOR MORE BOOKS!

LOVE, AUBREY by Suzanne LaFleur

A heartwarming story about a young girl learning to live through grief. LaFleur’s ability to so accurately tap into the eleven-year-old mind is incredible, and her storytelling is fluid and easy to read. Even for children who have never been through anything traumatic, I think they will still identify with young Aubrey’s struggles- for she is so authentic it is nearly impossible to not relate to her on some level, and this is why I think 11-year-old me just inhaled the story. Not because I had been through anything horrific, but because Aubrey was so impossible to not like or not empathize with.


A tragic accident has turned eleven-year-old Aubrey’s world upside down. Starting a new life all alone, Aubrey has everything she thinks she needs: SpaghettiOs and Sammy, her new pet fish. She cannot talk about what happened to her. Writing letters is the only thing that feels right to Aubrey, even if no one ever reads them.
With the aid of her loving grandmother and new friends, Aubrey learns that she is not alone, and gradually, she finds the words to express feelings that once seemed impossible to describe. The healing powers of friendship, love, and memory help Aubrey take her first steps toward the future. (Taken from Goodreads)


EIGHT KEYS by Suzanne LaFleur

A sweet coming-of-age story/mystery about bullying, friendship, and growing up. Like with Love, Aubrey, our main character, Elise, is authentic and relatable, and the story is compelling and full of truth and adventure all at once.


Elise and Franklin have always been best friends. Elise has always lived in the big house with her loving Uncle and Aunt, because Elise’s parents died when she was too young to remember them.  There’s always been a barn behind the house with eight locked doors on the second floor.
When Elise and Franklin start middle school, things feel all wrong. Bullying. Not fitting in. Franklin suddenly seems babyish.  Then, soon after her 12th birthday, Elise receives a mysterious key left for her by her father. A key that unlocks one of the eight doors upstairs in the barn… (Taken from Goodreads)


A thrilling adventure full of clean magic, evil nannies, magical rats, and brave heroines, this unique book is bursting with fun, exploration, and imagination. Jonell writes adventure stories with no fear and a lot of humor, with entertwined themes of family, friends, and bravery. There’s also two more books in the series just as good, if not better: Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls and Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry.


Emmy was a good girl. At least she tried very hard to be good. She did her homework without being told. She ate all her vegetables, even the slimy ones. And she never talked back to her nanny, Miss Barmy, although it was almost impossible to keep quiet, some days.

She really was a little too good. Which is why she liked to sit by the Rat. The Rat was not good at all . . .

Hilarious, inventive, and irresistably rodent-friendly, Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat is a fantastic first novel from acclaimed picture book author Lynne Jonell. (Taken from Goodreads)


This is definitely my favorite series of all time. Adventure, fantasy, family, mythical-esq creatures, crazy characters, action, thrill, suspense, gentle thematics, and so much more. I cannot recommend it enough.

Once, in a cottage above the cliffs on the Dark Sea of Darkness, there lived three children and their trusty dog Nugget. Janner Igiby, his brother Tink, their crippled sister Leeli are gifted children as all children are, loved well by a noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. But they will need all their gifts and all that love to survive the evil pursuit of the venomous Fangs of Dang who have crossed the dark sea to rule the land with malice and pursue the Igibys who hold the secret to the lost legend and jewels of good King Wingfeather of the Shining Isle of Anniera.

Andrew Peterson spins a quirky and riveting tale of the Igibys’ extraordinary journey from Glipwood’s Dragon Day Festival and a secret hidden in the Books and Crannies Bookstore, past the terrifying Black Carriage, clutches of the horned hounds and loathsome toothy cows surrounding AnkleJelly Manor, through the Glipwood Forest and mysterious treehouse of Peet the Sock Man (known for a little softshoe and wearing tattered socks on his hands and arms), to the very edge of the Ice Prairies.

Full of characters rich in heart, smarts, and courage, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness presents a world of wonder and a tale children of all ages will cherish, families can read aloud, and readers’ groups are sure to discuss for its layers of meaning about life’s true treasure and tangle of the beautiful and horrible, temporal and eternal, and good and bad. (Taken from Goodreads)


THE SECRET OF ZOOM by Lynne Jonell

Imagination and suspense combine to create this fantastical novel. I read this book so many times. Jonell so effortlessly taps into that childlike imagination and turns it into carefully crafted stories. There is some more intense content (children get trapped in a garbage truck), but it is all addressed lightheartedly and everything is clean.

Christina lives in an old stone mansion on the edge of a forest surrounded by barbed wire and signs that read TRESPASSERSWILL BE BOILED. Deep within the forest is the laboratory where her father works—and where her mother was blown to bits years ago. Christina is not supposed to talk to the orphans down the road. But when an orphan boy named Taft tells her of a secret tunnel, she finds it and helps him escape. Soon she and Taft discover there is far more to the orphanage and the mystery of her mother’s supposed death than they ever suspected. (Taken from Goodreads)






Until the Mountains Fall by Connilyn Cossette

Title: Until the Mountains Fall (Cities of Refuge, #3)

Author: Connilyn Cossette

Published By: Bethany House Publishers (2019)


Recently widowed, Rivkah refuses to submit to the Torah law compelling her to marry her husband’s brother and instead flees Kedesh, hoping to use her talents as a scribe to support herself. Without the protections of her father, Kedesh’s head priest, and the safety of the city of refuge, Rivkah soon discovers that the cost of recklessness is her own freedom.

Malakhi has secretly loved Rivkah for years, but he never imagined his older brother’s death would mean wedding her himself. After her disappearance, he throws himself into the ongoing fight against the Canaanites instead of dwelling on all he has lost. But with impending war looming over Israel, Rivkah’s father comes to Malakhi with an impossible request.

As the enemies that Rivkah and Malakhi face from without and within Israel grow more threatening each day, is it too late for the restoration their wounded souls seek? (Taken from Goodreads)

My Review:

*** I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.***

Like all of Connilyn Cossette’s books, this was beautiful, breathtaking, inspiring, and moving. I absolutely adore the Biblical setting and have come away from her books with such a richer understanding of these Old Testament times!

While maybe moving a little slower than past novels, with more focus on character development in fewer characters, the richness and impact of this novel is not to be disregarded. The whole story being a Prodigal Son analogy blew me away—and I loved the New Testament/Old Testament crossover. Rivkah was an especially amazing character, her arc so incredible to watch, and so easily to care about. Malahki as well. Both these characters drove the story more powerfully than many plot lines, and held me captive as I watched them unfold into who they were created to be. (SPOILER) Even though their romance was predictable, it did not lessen the enjoyment I found in reading it, nor my smile at their eventual union. (SPOILER). Each character, though many, held a significant part in the plot, creating a very lifelike story. The author does amazing at keeping all the characters straight and distinct and pulling them all in so very carefully.

As with the author’s other novels, this book is one of the very few that I really soaked in its length without feeling dragged out or bogged down by unnecessary scenes. I could have read about Rivkah and Malahki forever!

All in all, this book impressed me in creativity and setting and character and story, held my attention all the way through, and is another amazing installment in the author’s works. I’m already counting down until her next book! 

Coral by Sara Ella

Title: Coral

Author: Sara Ella

Published By: Thomas Nelson (coming Nov. 2019)


There is more than one way to drown.

Coral has always been different, standing out from her mermaid sisters in a society where blending in is key. Worse yet, she fears she has been afflicted with the dreaded Disease, said to be carried by humans—emotions. Can she face the darkness long enough to surface in the light?

Above the sea, Brooke has nothing left to give. Depression and anxiety have left her feeling isolated. Forgotten. The only thing she can rely on is the numbness she finds within the cool and comforting ocean waves. If only she weren’t stuck at Fathoms—a new group therapy home that promises a second chance at life. But what’s the point of living if her soul is destined to bleed?

Merrick may be San Francisco’s golden boy, but he wants nothing more than to escape his controlling father. When his younger sister’s suicide attempt sends Merrick to his breaking point, escape becomes the only option. If he can find their mom, everything will be made right again—right?

When their worlds collide, all three will do whatever it takes to survive, and Coral might even catch a prince in the process. But what—and who—must they leave behind for life to finally begin?

Taking a new twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved—yet tragic—fairy tale, Coral explores mental health from multiple perspectives, questioning what it means to be human in a world where humanity often seems lost. (Taken from Goodreads)


** I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. **

I spent the majority of this novel experiencing intense confusion.


I do not have any personal experience with mental illness, but it seemed to be treated absolutely respectfully and carefully, and I respect the author for that. The descriptions and depictions were very thorough and gentle, leaving me with a very tangible sense for some of these illnesses. And I liked how the aspects worked and grew throughout the plot, giving the reader a full picture, not just a glimpse. As well, I heartily applaud the mantras in this book, such as, “You are Not Nothing” and the side themes reminding readers that no matter what, they do matter and they are not nothing.

Merrick had some fantastic morals and was also surprisingly real. He was easy to emphathize with, even when he held occasional viewpoints I didn’t relate to or condone.

I adored the mermaid setting in the beginning, and found it so thorough and creative.


In my opinion, there were too many characters to keep track of. The fact that SPOILER> two of the characters ended up being the same person under different names, and with different aliases for the same characters, made it even more hard to keep track of <SPOILER. At first, the stories were different enough that I could keep them separated, but by halfway through, the stories intertwined and twisted together so fast I couldn’t keep up.

A huge chunk of the story felt choppy and underdeveloped to me. Major events in the story, critical seasons in the lives of characters, and crucial turning points are jumped over or narrated over, only giving us glimpses into the character’s mind after the fact and not during the transformation.

Furthermore, while I figured out a lot of the twists and reveals fairly quickly, they were not actually revealed until much, much later in the book, leaving me feeling disjointed and doubting the story entirely, wondering what on earth it was supposed to mean if it wasn’t what I thought, and if it was, why the reader was still being treated as if they were in the dark.


So basically Brooke was Coral the whole time, which I guessed pretty fast. The whole mermaid setting and plot in the beginning was just an allegory story-within-the-story, which is a really cool concept, but it wasn’t revealed until the last few pages and that really messed with me because it wasn’t something you can really easily see coming. The whole book I was waiting to find out how on earth Coral turned into a human, why, how she transitioned, and why there was absolutely no detail or description on her transition, and no explanation for it either.  It did occur to me to wonder if it was an allegory or something along those lines, but whenever I started wondering, a character would reference Red Tide or something distinctly from the mermaid world and make me rethink everything. Since this wasn’t cleared up until the last few pages, I was confused for most of the book.

Having the same character—Brooke—as two different people—Brooke and Coral—is super creative and different, but to be honest, I’m not sure it worked. I was endlessly confused, like I’ve already said enough, and it was difficult to keep straight, especially since, as I mentioned earlier, I suspected they were the same person about a quarter of the way through but didn’t get any confirmation until the last few chapters of the novel. Merrick, in theory, could have provided a lot of structure and support to the story, helping hold it together, but he actually just added more confusion with his whole set of characters and how they all worked together and how they somehow tied in with everything?! Also, the fact that two POVs were past, one was present, and the timelines for all three kept changing and bouncing made everything harder to understand.

Brooke’s story lining up with Coral’s was really cool, but I was just still so confused on the aspect the mermaid world never existed to really appreciate it. I do think that mermaid aspect of the story—with Brooke rewriting her life as an allegory—was super creative! I almost think had we known from the beginning that it was a story within a story it would have been a lot more enjoyable and easier to read. Also, whatever became of Coral’s synesthesia? When it was first revealed in her mermaid state, I was so excited because this is something that fascinates me—but halfway through, this aspect just disappears, never to be mentioned again.


I just don’t know how to feel about this book. I really loved some of the themes about an “after” and all the thematics of support and care and not avoiding emotions or treating them like a disease. I really, really liked that. It was excellent. And I do love the whole premise/concept of the story with the differentiating worlds and multiple sides of the same character, and I have to admire the author’s tenacity, bravery, and creativity at this story—but it just didn’t pay off for me.

I do want to mention that a lot of this is aftertaste from the sense that I didn’t necessarily dislike the book as I was reading it; I did enjoy it as I went, and was excited to get back when I had to stop. Once I finished and reflected, a lot just stood out that tainted my overall opinion. I feel like that was mostly because as I was going I could still wonder on how everything would clear up, but looking back after finishing, the fact is I still feel pretty confused and didn’t really see or feel the payoff.

So: Super impressed at the author’s creativity and bravery, but confused and unimpressed in the story as it stands. 3.5 stars.

Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette

Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette

Title: Shelter of the Most High (Cities of Refuge, #2)

Author: Connilyn Cossette

Published By: Bethany House Publishers (2018)


The daughter of a pagan high priest, Sofea finds solace from her troubles in the freedom of the ocean. But when marauders attack her village on the island of Sicily, she and her cousin are taken across the sea to the shores of Canaan.

Eitan has lived in Kedesh, a City of Refuge, for the last eleven years, haunted by a tragedy in his childhood and chafing at the boundaries placed on him. He is immediately captivated by Sofea, but revealing his most guarded secret could mean drawing her into the danger of his past.

As threats from outside the walls loom and traitors are uncovered within, Sofea and Eitan are plunged into the midst of a murder plot. Will they break free from the shackles of the past in time to uncover the betrayal and save their lives and the lives of those they love? (Taken from Goodreads)

My Review:

As the author herself said, pirates in Biblical fiction? What? Who’d have thought? But IT WORKED. I loved this book SO MUCH. I mean, it also ripped my heart out. But it’s fine.


Sofea. Sofea’s story (not that it’s a happy story—it’s just told SO WELL.) Sofea and Prezi…talk about inspiring.

Seriously, though: the intricate way this tied to the previous book, while retaining its own identity. The gentle character arcs of each individual and the way they intertwined together. The detailed Biblical setting and the creative ways the author chose to portray it, making it come alive. It was a great length—honestly, though, I could have kept reading this for much, much longer. 


The only thing I kind of hated is towards the end when Prezi is missing, but after they’ve found Sofea. Prezi’s still out there—Prezi, who Sofea has put her life on the line for multiple times; Prezi, who’s her sister at heart and who she’d do anything for; precious Prezi, but while Prezi is in captivity and they’re waiting around, Sofea and Eitan have a super sweet romantic moment and kiss. I did not like this at all—it was insulting to Prezi, and it felt completely contradictory to Sofea’s character.


The tale is told skillfully, and beautifully. I did feel like Eitan was introduced too soon—compared to Sofea’s story, his felt dull, even though in reality it really wasn’t. Sofea and Prezi’s relationship was gorgeous and had me in sweet tears. The arc of the characters along with the story is phenomenal, showing us themes of love, loyalty, forgiveness, and acceptance. It was easy to keep the characters straight and enjoyable to follow them around; specifically, being able to see the same story unfold from both Sofea and Eitan’s points of view was so cool and so creative. I inhaled this story; it held me fast to its pages and left me with an emotional pull to these carefully constructed characters. Cossette gets better with each book she writes, and I can hardly wait for the third book to be released!

Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Recommended to: 14 & up