Black Widow: Forever Red

After the success of nearly every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many people–myself included–have been clamoring for a Black Widow feature film. Sure, she’s one of the Avengers, and she played a vital role in Captain America: Winter Soldier, but where’s her movie?! Where’s the story of Natasha Romanoff?

Well, thanks to the brilliant Margaret Stohl (co-author of the fantastic Beautiful Creatures series), I think we have a pretty amazing basis for a Black Widow film. Black Widow: Forever Red takes a look at what–or who–made Natasha into the kick-butt assassin we know and love. (This was briefly alluded to in Age of Ultron, but this book gives a much more in-depth, gritty peek into Natasha’s disturbing past.) Now, though, there are two more people Natasha has to worry about, a girl who shares remarkable similarities to the famed Black Widow and a boy who is somehow connected to both of them.

Natasha Romanoff didn’t have a typical childhood. Very few other girls know what it was like to be trained by the evil Ivan Somodorov in his infamous Red Room in Moscow. This horrible man taught Natasha how to be lethal, how to lie with conviction, and how to follow orders blindly.

Natasha is not that girl anymore. She’s moved on from her life as one of Ivan’s girls, and she’s done all she can to put things behind her. Unfortunately for Natasha, the past has a way of catching up to her…

Ava Orlova once encountered the woman the world now knows as the Black Widow. After Ava was rescued from the clutches of Ivan Somodorov, Natasha Romanoff promised to look out for Ava. That was the last time Ava saw her. After escaping SHIELD custody, Ava is now on her own, virtually homeless on the streets of Brooklyn. She fences at the Y, sketches the boy who haunts her dreams, and takes care of Sasha Cat, a stray like herself. Like Natasha, though, the past that has always haunted Ava is about to become a very real part of her present…

Alex Manor is a normal kid. He goes to school, he hangs out with friends, and he argues with his mom. Typical stuff, right? So what if he often feels like he’s being watched. So what if his instincts completely take over when he fences or fights. So what if he doesn’t seem to fit in his own life. Well, Alex will soon realize that “normal” is not a word that should ever be used to describe him. Especially not after he encounters Ava, a girl he’s immediately drawn to, and Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow herself.

Natasha, Ava, and Alex come together at a fencing tournament…and nothing is ever the same. Almost immediately, they must escape an enemy threat, unravel a convoluted mystery, and figure out just what they mean to each other. None of them are truly prepared for the answers they find…or the sacrifices they’ll have to make to get out of this alive.


I don’t want to give away too much more about this book, so I’m going to wrap this up. I think it’s enough to say that this Black Widow fan is ecstatic about this book–which will be released next Tuesday, October 13th–and I hope to see more Black Widow (or Red Widow) novels in the future. (There may have been a spoiler in that last sentence. I guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out.)

Many thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book a little early. I loved everything about it, particularly the awesome female characters (who displayed many different kinds of strength) and appearances from Agent Coulson and Tony Stark. Black Widow: Forever Red whetted my appetite for all things Marvel, so I see a movie and comic book marathon in my immediate future.

If you are a Marvel nerd, I strongly urge you to read Black Widow: Forever Red (which I think is fine for libraries that serve middle grade and teen readers). You will not be disappointed.

If you’d like to learn a bit more about this wonderful book, check out the video below for an interview with author Margaret Stohl.

Published in: on October 5, 2015 at 5:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Furiously Happy

After following Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess, on her blog and Twitter and reading her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, I knew that I would absolutely read her second book, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, as soon as possible. (Also, who doesn’t want to read a book with a lovely, ecstatic, taxidermied raccoon on the cover? Who, I ask you?!) Well, “as soon as possible” turned out to be this week. (The book came out last week, so I guess I’m doing okay.)

Furiously Happy is a candid–and hilarious–look at Lawson’s own struggles with depression, anxiety, and a few other issues. As it turns out, I really needed that this week. Like this beautifully broken author, I also deal with depression and anxiety, and the depression hit me pretty hard this week. (And no, I cannot pinpoint why. That’s not really how depression works. At least, not for me.) This book was just what I needed to make me laugh until I cried and to let me know that I was not alone. I have a whole tribe of weirdos out there who are just like me. (Well, maybe not just like me. I don’t know of any other 36-year-old spinster librarians with depression and social anxiety who have a fondness for Star Wars, Doctor Who, and playing the tuba.)

If you have a somewhat twisted, irreverent sense of humor–or if you’re broken in your own particular way–I strongly suggest you read Furiously Happy. It’s crazy, uproariously funny, eye-opening, comforting, and just plain awesome. I love it.

For those who are still not convinced to read this amazing book, check out the video below. It brings me to tears–and gives me hope–each time I look at it.

*Note: Furiously Happy is NOT a YA book. I would not put it in a high school library or YA collection. This book, in my opinion, is meant for adult readers.*

Published in: on October 1, 2015 at 12:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Saint Anything

This next statement may shock some of you. Until a few days ago, I had never read a Sarah Dessen book. I know, I know. It’s a true scandal for someone who loves YA literature as much as I do. The good news is that I have remedied that situation, and I’m now prepared to read everything that Dessen has ever written. Her newest book, Saint Anything, is outstanding, and if her other books are in any way comparable, I’m already hooked.

In Saint Anything, we meet Sydney, a girl dealing with the fallout of her brother Peyton’s mistakes. Several months ago, Peyton, after claiming that he was finally going to get his act together, had a few drinks at a party and proceeded to get behind the wheel of a car. On his way home, Peyton hit a kid named David Ibarra, paralyzing him for life.

Now, Peyton is in prison, and Sydney is left to deal with her guilt and shame over her brother’s actions. And with all of her parents’ focus on Peyton and his issues, Sydney wonders if they really see her. Even her decision to transfer to public school doesn’t seem to faze them. (They don’t appear to realize that Sydney’s decision was based partly on the financial burdens created by Peyton’s actions.) She’s invisible in her own home.

At first, Sydney feels invisible at her new school as well, but that changes rather quickly. When Sydney encounters the Chatham family, she feels like she’s finally seen.

The Chathams are a close-knit family with their own share of issues. The family owns a local pizza parlor, and, almost immediately, they treat Sydney as one of their own. Layla soon becomes Sydney’s closest friend. Layla has no luck with guys, but she’s always searching for the one who will be true to her. (Also, she has a weird obsession with fries.) Then there’s Rosie, a recovering addict who is trying to get her figure skating career back on track. Mr. Chatham runs the pizza parlor and plays in a bluegrass band in his spare time. Mrs. Chatham struggles with multiple sclerosis, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping her entire family in line. And then there’s Mac…

Mac is Layla’s older brother, and Sydney is drawn to his quiet, protective nature. Even though she knows it could damage her friendship with Layla, Sydney can’t seem to help growing closer to Mac…and he feels the same way. Sydney finally feels like there’s someone who really gets her, and she won’t let go of that without a fight.

After an argument with Peyton and discovering Sydney breaking a couple of rules, Sydney’s parents finally turn their attention to their daughter. (I say “they,” but I really mean “her mother.” She leads, and Sydney’s dad sort of follows along.) They don’t want her to go down the same path that Peyton did, and they seem to think that the Chathams have something to do with what they perceive as changes in their daughter’s behavior. (They don’t see their own lack of attention as a problem, in my opinion.) They tighten the reins on Sydney, talk about transferring schools, and basically try to keep Sydney away from anything that could be a “bad influence.” What they don’t realize is that the true danger to their daughter has been right under their noses all along.

Sydney knows her parents are being unreasonable, but she doesn’t know how to convince them that a couple of mistakes do not mean she’s headed for trouble. She’s tired of being punished for Peyton’s actions, and she’s unwilling to let go of the relationships that have come to mean so much to her. What can she do to make her parents finally see her? Can Sydney reconcile her own feelings about her brother while helping her parents to see her for herself? And how will her closeness with the Chatham family help–or hinder–her efforts? Discover the answers to these questions and many more when you read Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.


I adored this book. The characters were wholly relatable, and I honestly felt like the Chathams made me a member of their family as I was reading. I was charmed by that entire family, particularly Layla, Mac, and Mrs. Chatham. This family was a beautiful example of how a family should come together in tough times. That provided a perfect counterpoint to Sydney’s own family.

Sydney’s parents, blinded by the experiences with their son, were exasperating. At several points during the book, I wanted to reach through the pages and smack Sydney’s mom. (I’m sure I’m not alone in this.) I know she was dealing with a hard situation the only way she knew how, but it was still frustrating to read, and Sydney’s dad didn’t really help matters. When he was around, he meekly followed along with whatever his wife wanted, even though it was clear that he often disagreed with her. Neither of them paid enough attention to their daughter…until something happened that forced them to.

Saint Anything, which I think is suitable for both middle grade and teen readers, is a wonderful book about a girl discovering herself and what it truly means to be part of a family. The Chathams provide her with the love and attention she’s craved, but they also show her that every family experiences difficulties. Those connections help Sydney cope with what is happening at home. In her own family, Sydney comes to realize that her perceptions, of her brother and her parents, may not always reflect what’s really going on.

I hope you enjoy Saint Anything as much as I did. If you’d like to learn more about it and author Sarah Dessen, click here. You may also want to connect with the lovely Ms. Dessen on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

As for me, I’m now going to add every other Sarah Dessen book to my already staggering TBR pile. Wish me luck!

The Fiery Trial

I’m tired of giving spoiler alerts before these Shadowhunter Academy posts. Do what you will.

It’s time, once again, to discuss Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. The latest installment, The Fiery Trial, was released on Tuesday, and I finally have enough energy to share my thoughts. (I actually did read the story on Tuesday, but I didn’t get around to posting on it until today. It’s been a trying week.)

As usual, I enjoyed learning more about Simon’s perception of the Shadowhunter world, and, even more, I loved seeing glimpses of what we might encounter in the next full-length Shadowhunter novel, Lady Midnight. Special appearances by Magnus Bane and Jem Carstairs didn’t hurt, either.

The Fiery Trial continues Simon’s journey through the Shadowhunter Academy. He’s nearing the end of his second year, and he’s thinking of the whole parabatai thing. Two of his classmates have already decided to form this nearly unbreakable bond, and Simon wonders if it is even a possibility for him.

Luckily (depending on one’s point of view), Simon is still eligible to form the parabatai bond, and Clary is his obvious choice. Even with his memory loss, Simon realizes that he and Clary have something special, a relationship that goes beyond that of best friends. They are family, and they’d do anything for each other. Well, that love is soon put to the test.

Unbeknownst to both Simon and Clary, a few familiar characters–Magnus Bane, Jem Carstairs, and Catarina Loss–are about to lead them through a trial of sorts, to see if they are truly suited to be parabatai.

This strange test precedes Simon and Clary serving as witnesses for the parabatai ceremony, or Fiery Trial, of Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs. After his own recent ordeal, Simon looks for signs that Julian and Emma are as close as he and Clary. They are, but…something is a little off. Does it have anything to do with the recent tragedies the two young Shadowhunters have endured? Or could it be something else? And what could it mean for their new parabatai bond?


If you, like me, have been wondering when/if Simon will get all of his memories back, I think The Fiery Trial offers a little more hope than some of the previous stories. Simon may not always know what some of his glimpses into the past may mean, but, in this story at least, he’s showing signs of understanding. And he’s working harder to really remember. (Clary and Jace help with this a bit.) You’ll know what I mean when you read this story, particularly the “test” Simon and Clary are subjected to.

So, The Fiery Trial is the eighth story in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. That means we only have two more to go, and I’m honestly not ready for the end. The next story, Born to Endless Night, will be out on October 20th, and it should revolve around Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood. (Woohoo! Love me some Malec!) The tenth and final story, Angels Twice Descending, out on November 17th, is the tale of Simon’s Ascension. I’ve already got goosebumps over this one, and it’s nearly two months away.

When this collection of stories comes to an end, we’ve only got a short-ish wait for Lady Midnight, book one of The Dark Artifices, which really delves into Emma’s and Julian’s stories in the larger Shadowhunter world. This highly anticipated book will be out on March 8th, 2016.

For more information on this collection and all things Shadowhunter, click here. Have fun out there.

Published in: on September 24, 2015 at 2:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fall

It seems fitting that a book like The Fall should be released during National Suicide Prevention Month. This latest book from James Preller is out today, and it takes a look at one boy’s reaction to a classmate’s suicide.

While The Fall is a quick read, I think it forces readers to examine their own actions and reactions to things that are happening in schools, on social media, and everywhere in between. If this book can help just one person to be a little kinder, then it’s done its job.

When Morgan Mallen jumped off the town water tower, Sam was forced to take a long, hard look at himself and his actions (or inactions, as the case may be). Everyone knew that Morgan had been bullied relentlessly at school and online. Even Sam participated. What everyone didn’t realize was that Sam knew Morgan. He was perhaps one of her only friends.

Why, then, did Sam take part in tormenting Morgan even though he knew it was wrong? Why didn’t he want anyone to know they hung out? Was he partly to blame for her suicide, and could he have done anything to prevent it?

Sam explores his friendship with Morgan and the aftermath of her suicide through writing in a journal. He’s brutally honest with himself about his relationship with Morgan, his own weaknesses, and his part in this tragedy.

Sam knows that he wasn’t the only one making Morgan unhappy–and on some level, he realizes that Morgan’s decision was her own–but he’s struggling with all of the events that led up to that fateful day. Why was she bullied in the first place? Could anything have stopped Morgan from ending her life? Why did she feel she had no other option?

As Sam works through his feelings and all of the questions plaguing him, he comes to understand that, even though he can’t change what happened with Morgan, he can change his own behavior. He can do whatever possible to somehow make amends. He can confront those who were the worst offenders and own up to his own mistakes. And he can try to be kinder to everyone around him. After all, no one really knows what demons someone is battling. A little bit of kindness could make all the difference in the world.


I think The Fall and other books on the subjects of suicide and bullying are vitally important to young people (and even adults). These books make us examine what we say and how we act toward others. We really never know how one cruel or kind word can impact the people around us.

I would pair The Fall with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why to give a gritty glimpse at the aftermath of a person’s suicide. Some parents may not be entirely comfortable with the subject matter, but it’s something that will likely touch their children in some way. I’d much rather a young person explore this topic through fiction than have to face the horrible reality. (A friend of mine committed suicide when I was in the 8th grade. It would have been nice if I’d had a book that let me know that I was not alone.) For that reason, I would recommend this book for libraries that serve both middle grade and teen readers.

For those who’d like to learn more about The Fall, visit author James Preller’s website. And if you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please get help. Talk to someone–a parent, a friend, a guidance couselor, a librarian, a religious leader, someone. Go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or It Get’s Better. You are not alone, and things will get better.


Published in: on September 22, 2015 at 12:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Diviners

My favorite historical period (in America, at least) is the Roaring Twenties. I also enjoy reading books about people with supernatural abilities. Well, my latest read combined those two things in an amazing story that I’m still thinking about.

This book, The Diviners by Libba Bray, was a lengthy tome, and I couldn’t read it much at night because I’m a wuss, so it took me longer than I would have liked to finish. That being said, I adored this book, and I look forward to reading the second book, Lair of Dreams, which came out last month. I’m fairly certain it will give me the same case of heebie-jeebies that I got while reading the first book.

Evie O’Neill doesn’t quite fit in her boring Ohio hometown…and everyone knows it. When scandal erupts–a scandal that Evie had a part in revealing–she is sent to live with her uncle in Manhattan, and Evie couldn’t be happier. She knows she’ll find the life she’s always wanted in the Big Apple, and she’s ready to take the city by storm.

As Evie explores the speakeasies, parties, and good times that are so much a part of New York in the 20’s, she’s also being introduced to her Uncle Will’s work in the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. Uncle Will is soon called to assist with a strange murder investigation, and Evie finds herself right in the middle of it.

You see, Evie has a special ability that helps her to know much more about these gruesome murders than she should…and this ability may just make Evie a target herself. Evie is quickly caught up in an investigation that leads her to learn more about a dangerous cult, ritualistic killings, ghosts come back to life, and someone’s quest to bring about the end of the world.

How can one girl hope to stop such horrible events? Evie will have to use all of her considerable wits to combat the evil to come, but it still may not be enough. She’s on a collision course with a vicious killer, and her charms and abilities may not get her out of this mess.

And Evie is not the only person with abilities that put her in a killer’s cross-hairs. Theta, a chorus girl with a tragic past, has her own dangerous secret. Memphis once had sought-after healing abilities that left him after his mother’s death. His brother, Isaiah, is showing signs of his own special–and disturbing–gifts. Then there’s Sam, a pickpocket who has the handy ability of going completely unnoticed when he wishes to. And let’s not forget Jericho, a student of Evie’s uncle, and a young man who isn’t completely what he seems.

All of these people will, on some level, come face-to-face with the horrendous evil that is waking in New York, and each of them will have to do what they can to protect themselves and those they love. Will they be able to stop what’s coming before it’s too late? Or will one of them be a murderer’s next victim?

Answer these questions and many more* when you read The Diviners by the fantastic Libba Bray.

*Warning: For every answer you receive, about a thousand questions will pop up in its place. It’s kind of awesome.


To say that I like The Diviners would be a major understatement. This book was rich, terrifying, entertaining, complex, and filled with characters that I want to know more about. (If you’re familiar with Libba Bray’s other books, this is probably not news.) Luckily, The Diviners is only the first book. Lair of Dreams was released on August 25th, and there are rumored to be two more books in this captivating series.

In my most humble opinion, The Diviners a series more suited to teen readers, but some mature middle grade readers may be able to handle it. There’s a certain amount of rule-breaking and alcohol use–completely true to the historical period–that might keep it from being a must-purchase for libraries that serve middle grade students. (For instance, I definitely wouldn’t put this book in the hands of sixth or seventh grader.) I simply think mature teen readers will be able to read this book and keep social and historical context in mind. That’s all, really.

If you like your historical fiction with a supernatural twist (or vice versa), I’d highly recommend The Diviners. To learn more about the series as a whole, I urge you to visit the series website. There’s loads of information on The Diviners, Lair of Dreams, and the amazing Libba Bray.

Another Day

Another Day is a companion novel to Every Day by David Levithan. I strongly recommend you read Every Day first. Is it absolutely essential? Well, no…but it will help to alleviate a bit of confusion if you read A’s story first. (There will still be some confusion, but that’s to be expected with books like these. If you don’t already, you’ll soon realize what I mean.)

Two years ago, I read Every Day by the wonderful David Levithan. I admit that I wasn’t totally sold on the book at first. The more I thought about it, though, the more intrigued I became. So when I got the opportunity to read the long-awaited companion novel, Another Day, via NetGalley, I jumped on it. Well, as it so often does, life interfered with my reading plans, and I wasn’t able to finish Another Day as quickly as I would have liked. (I wanted to read it before its release on August 25th, but I didn’t quite make it.) Anyway, I finally finished the book last night, and I think I liked it even more than I did the first book. It may have had something to do with the protagonist being a little more relatable. I don’t know, but I’m hoping another book in this series will help me–and the characters–figure things out.

For Rhiannon, each day is basically just like every other. She deals with her parents (who seem to be totally checked out), she goes to school, and she tries to figure out what kind of mood her boyfriend Justin is in. Sometimes he notices and seems to appreciate her presence; at other times, he’s distant, moody, and even mean. She never really knows what she’s going to get with him, but it’s never what she wants.

One day, though, Rhiannon notices a change in Justin. He’s nice to her. He’s attentive. He wants to spend the day with her. Has he turned a corner and realized just what she means to him? It certainly seems so when he suggests they skip school and spend the entire day at the beach. They really talk to each other for the first time, and Rhiannon feels like she’s seeing a whole new Justin, a Justin who is the boyfriend she’s always hoped for. Unfortunately for Rhiannon, this perfect day cannot last…

When Rhiannon encounters Justin the next day, he’s distant once more and doesn’t remember much about their day at the beach. Rhiannon isn’t sure what’s going on, but she knows it’s something big. She just doesn’t realize how big or how this something is going to change her life, her relationships, and how she perceives the world as a whole.

On that one perfect day, Justin wasn’t really Justin. He was A, a boy (?) who inhabits a new body each day. Every day, A is someone different, and when Rhiannon is confronted with the reality of what’s happening, she’s confused, disbelieving…and enthralled with this being who goes to great lengths to be with her when her own boyfriend barely notices her.

As A and Rhiannon grow closer, Rhiannon is torn by the double life she’s leading. Part of her still loves Justin, but another part realizes that A is the one who truly loves and sees her. How can she reconcile these two existences? Should she stay with Justin because he’s always the same, or should she take a risk on a very uncertain future with A? Can she cope with the fact that she never knows what A will look like–or even what gender he will be–from day to day?

Very soon, both Rhiannon and A will have to make some difficult choices. Will they try to work things out despite the obstacles? Or will they go back to the lives they knew before? Is that even possible now?

Read Another Day to learn how a seemingly impossible situation opens one girl’s eyes to the truth about love, perception, and relationships worth keeping at all costs.


Another Day takes a close look at a girl in a bad relationship. No, Justin never hit Rhiannon or anything like that, but he chipped at her self-esteem and made her feel like she had to walk on eggshells all the time. I imagine that quite a few teens (and adults) will relate to this experience. Maybe Rhiannon’s relationships with both Justin and A will help some people to realize that there’s more out there. They don’t have to stay with a person who treats them badly. “At least he doesn’t hit me” is no reason to keep someone around. Good guys (and girls) are out there…but even being alone is better than being with someone who’s bad for you. (I’m personally a big fan of being alone…but that’s just me.)

I don’t know what else I can say about this book. I enjoyed it. I think it was better than Every Day. (I do admit that it’s been two years since I read the first book. I might feel differently if I reread it.) The series as a whole is rather different from most other stuff out there, and I really hope that there’s another book coming out in the future. (I have reason to hope that there will be.)

If you’re intrigued by the premise of both Every Day and Another Day (and the prequel novella Six Earlier Days), you can learn more at author David Levithan’s website. Enjoy!

Published in: on September 16, 2015 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

Let us all do the Dance of Joy! I’ve finally finished the last of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees! I’m pleased as punch that I can finally return to the books that I actually want to read…not that most of the SCCBA nominees weren’t great. I enjoyed most of them, but some weren’t books that I would’ve chosen to read. And I guess that’s one of the great things about the Book Award program.

Anyhoo, my last SCCBA nominee is probably the weirdest of the bunch. (I say that with love.) The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is unlike any book I’ve ever read. It has a crazy cast of characters, including two raccoons, a very large snake named Gertrude, feral hogs, an alligator wrestler, a con-artist, a pie-maker and her son, and, of course, the Sugar Man, cousin of Sasquatch and guardian of the swamp. Like I said…weird. But weird is good, at least in my book.

Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers, are the newest Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. They gather information vital to the survival of the swamp, and, should they ever need to, they wake the Sugar Man if the swamp is in danger. Pretty soon, they’ll have to do just that. A band of nasty, vile, feral hogs are on their way to the Sugar Man Swamp, and they’re sure to destroy anything in their path. Our loyal, beloved Scouts simply can’t let that happen. They must find a way to wake the Sugar Man, who has been sleeping for over sixty years.

While Bingo and J’miah are working for–and trying to wake–the Sugar Man, a twelve-year-old boy named Chap is doing his own part to protect the swamp where he lives. An awful man, Sonny Boy Beaucoup, wants to pave over the swamp and create an alligator wrestling theme park. In the process, he’d force Chap and his mom out of their pie-making business and the only home they’ve ever known, not to mention all of the plants and animals that would be destroyed. Chap just can’t let that happen, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep his home…even if that means coming face-to-face with the Sugar Man himself.

As hogs are coming from one direction and theme park developers come from another, Chap and the Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp are both working to save their homes. They’ll have to be both creative and relentless in their quests to protect the swamp.

Will the raccoons wake the Sugar Man in time to beat back the horrible hogs? Will Chap find some way to convince Sonny Boy to abandon his theme park schemes?

Trouble is surely coming for this precious swamp, and only one thing can really set things right. It’s time for the Sugar Man to wake up!


Now, some of you might be asking why I’m posting on a book like this, one featuring talking swamp creatures, here. After all, this blog typically focuses on middle grade and YA fiction. Well, I have to say that this particular book has something for everyone. Yes, younger readers will like the precocious animal characters, but, in my most humble opinion, the humor in this book is geared more to older readers, even adults in some cases. There’s a reason this book was a National Book Award finalist.

The narrator of The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is what really sets this book apart. I got the sense that the narrator was speaking directly to me (and my fellow readers), and he/she (in my head, it was a feisty, Southern woman) made the book come alive. I don’t quite know how to explain this particular aspect of the book any better. It’s something you have to experience for yourself.

This book also featured some fairly complex vocabulary. That could deter some younger readers–and some older readers–from picking up or finishing the book, but I would encourage them to persevere. The challenge is worth it, and they’ll expand their vocabularies in the process. It’s a win-win!

If you’re at all intrigued by The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, I urge you to learn a bit more on the author’s website. Her site includes a book description, a short video, and activity pages that go along with this excellent book. (I plan to use some of the activities with my students very soon.)


Now, my dear friends, it’s time for me to bid you adieu. I’m headed to Myrtle Beach for a few days, so I will be incommunicado for a while. Hopefully, I’ll be able to finish a few books during my much-needed vacation, and I’ll share those with you as soon as I return to real life. Happy reading!

Published in: on September 9, 2015 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Girl from Felony Bay

So, I’ve been struggling to finish the last of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. For whatever reason, it’s taken me longer to finish the twenty nominated books than ever before. (I think the abundance of animal books may be to blame.)

Well, last night, I finished another SCCBA nominee (only one more to go!), and this one was probably one of the best of this year’s list. The book was The Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson. Even though the book was nearly 400 pages long, I devoured it in less than twenty-four hours. It was excellent.

Abbey Force has had a rough time of it lately. Her father is in a coma and can’t defend himself against some fairly awful accusations. Her beautiful home, Reward Plantation in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, had to be sold to pay off her dad’s supposed debts. And Abbey had to move in with her horrible Uncle Charlie and his wife, Ruth.

But it’s not all bad…

Abbey soon meets the daughter of Reward Plantation’s new owner. Bee Force (no relation) is Abbey’s age, and their families have a connection that goes back to before the Civil War. It appears that Abbey’s ancestors kept Bee’s ancestors as slaves, and Bee’s family took on Force as their last name after the war was over. Even though their family stories could have driven a wedge between these two girls, instead it brings them closer together, and they soon become as close as sisters…and they’ll need that closeness to weather the storm that’s headed their way.

Abbey is determined to prove to everyone that her father is innocent, and Bee wants to help her new friend. It quickly becomes clear that the two girls are on to something, but what? Why are there “No trespassing” signs and big holes around Felony Bay? Why was this parcel of land sold separately from Reward Plantation? Why is Uncle Charlie so smug all of a sudden, and what does the Deputy Sheriff have to do with his new attitude? What’s the connection with Abbey’s dad and the accusations made against him? Can two twelve-year-old girls really prove that something sinister is going on?

Abbey and Bee are working to solve this mystery, and their investigation takes them all over Charleston and Reward Plantation. Danger abounds, and the girls eventually uncover a plot that dates back over a century. Can they reveal the truth before it’s too late? Or will all of their sleuthing make them the next target of whoever is trying to frame Abbey’s dad?

Join Abbey and Bee Force in their quest for the truth when you read The Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson!


I’m sure the South Carolina connection had a little to do with why I enjoyed this book so much. More than that, though, was the excellent, compelling story. I was eager to turn each page and find out what Abbey and Bee were going to get into next. I can only hope my students feel the same way (especially since this book is also one of our Battle of the Books titles this year). Rest assured, I will talk The Girl from Felony Bay up at every opportunity.

In addition to being a great example of a mystery, The Girl from Felony Bay could also serve as a mentor text for studies on figurative language. J.E. Thompson, like many other Southern writers, doesn’t just tell the reader what something looks or feels like. He paints a picture, and he uses vivid, descriptive language to do it. The similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and other literary tools in this book are great examples that students may want to employ in their own writing.

I wish I had more time to extoll all of the virtues of this book, but I’m late for supper at my mom’s house, so I’ll wrap it up. Read this book. Share this book with your students. I recommend it to all readers in upper elementary and middle grades, but I think it’s a mystery that readers of all ages can and will enjoy.

And that’s not all, folks!

If you want more of Abbey and Bee, there’s another Felony Bay book out there. Disappearance at Hangman’s Bluff follows these two girls into another mystery. I’ll be ordering this book for my school library as soon as I return to work tomorrow.

For even more information on The Girl from Felony Bay, Disappearance at Hangman’s Bluff, and author J.E. Thompson, I invite you to visit the author’s website. Happy reading!

Published in: on September 7, 2015 at 4:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything for the past couple of weeks. (If you didn’t notice, well…I don’t know what to do with that.) Anyway, I promise I have very good reasons for my absence. Beginning-of-school-year craziness (technology is a you-know-what when it doesn’t work right), home repairs, and minor illnesses have been to blame. Simply put, even the energy to read left me until just a couple of days ago. With any luck, I’ve turned a corner.

Now, on with the show…

Thursday evening, I manged to finish another of the nominees for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. This book, Duke by Kirby Larson, is also one of my county’s Battle of the Books titles. So, even though it’s a dreaded “dog book,” I knew I had to read it, and, like so many others before it, Duke wasn’t the chore of a read that I anticipated. It was actually kind of sweet, and it shed a bit of light on something I’d never really heard of before, the Dogs for Defense program of World War II.

It’s 1944, and Hobie Hanson is doing what he can for the war effort at home. With his dad fighting in Europe, Hobie is the man of the house, and he tries to help his country in ways both small and large. Hobie’s feeling the pressure, though, to do something bigger than anything he’s ever considered–donate his beloved dog, Duke, to the war effort.

The Dogs for Defense program asks Americans to donate their well-trained family pets to the armed forces–as guard and patrol dogs and even bomb sniffers. Hobie knows that Duke is an excellent prospect for this program…but he doesn’t want to let go of his dog. Isn’t it enough that his dad is fighting in this war? Does Hobie have to put his dog in danger as well?

Eventually, Hobie gives in and loans Duke to the Marines…and immediately wants to change his mind. In fact, he does everything he can think of to get Duke home. Hobie even betrays a new friend in his quest to be reunited with Duke. None of his efforts work, and Hobie decides to be brave and deal with his situation as best he can…and that decision could have far-reaching consequences.

Soon, Hobie will realize that there are many different kinds of bravery. His father, who is in more danger than ever, is brave for leaving his home and fighting for his country. Duke is brave when he follows orders and keeps others safe. But maybe Hobie is brave, too. Maybe loaning Duke to the Marines–even though he didn’t want to–was brave. Maybe looking after his mom and little sister is brave. And maybe apologizing to his new friend and standing by his side is brave.

Will Hobie’s bravery be enough to hold things together until he’s reunited with those he loves? Will his father come home soon? Will Duke?

Discover just how much bravery and love mean to a boy, his dog, his family, and those around him when you read Duke by Kirby Larson!


Given that I don’t usually favor dog books or historical fiction, I liked Duke more than expected. It was at once heart-warming and heart-breaking. Truthfully, this was more Hobie’s story than Duke’s, and that probably factored into my feelings on it. It examined what one eleven-year-old boy likely faced while his father was fighting in World War II. Hobie was asked to take on more responsibility than a kid should…and do it without complaining or thinking of what he really wanted. (That’s kind of hard to fathom today.) He didn’t want to loan Duke to the Marines, but he did it anyway. Yes, he regretted his decision and looked for a way out of it, but he eventually realized it was for the greater good. I don’t know many dog owners today who would have done that.

I think Duke would be a great World War II novel study in upper elementary and middle school classrooms. It highlights the rather unknown Dogs for Defense program, and that could lead readers to further research. It could also lead them to examine their own feelings on what they would or wouldn’t give up for an important cause.

Those who read Duke may also want to take a look at another book by Kirby Larson, Dash. This book, which also takes place during World War II, focuses on a Japanese-American girl who is separated from her dog when the girl and her family are sent to an internment camp. Even though Dash is also one of those dreaded “dog books,” I think this book would provide an interesting perspective on what Japanese-American children experienced during World War II. At any rate, it’s moved near the top of my school to-read list.

If you’d like more information on Duke, Dash, and other books by Kirby Larson, check out the author’s website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. You may also want to take a quick look at the video below. In it, Kirby Larson herself talks a bit about Duke.

Published in: on September 5, 2015 at 7:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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