Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle

Even though I’ve felt like absolute crap for the past couple of days, I did manage to finish another of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen. (Only two more to go!)

This book, suitable for upper elementary grade readers on up, is a fantastical tale full of mystery, peril, and riddles. It’s a great book for those readers who’ve exhausted the Harry Potter series and are looking for something similar. And given how this book ended, I’m hopeful that we’ll see more of Gabriel Finley and friends in the future.

Gabriel Finley’s father, Adam, has been missing for several years. Gabriel lives in Brooklyn with his aunt, but he never stops wondering what happened to his father. Soon, though, Gabriel will begin to solve the riddle of his missing father…and so much more.

When Gabriel discovers that he can communicate with ravens–who are the most intelligent of all the birds–secrets begin to be revealed. As it turns out, his dad shared this gift, and it could have something to do with his disappearance. Gabriel’s dad worked with his own raven companion, or amicus, to hide a powerful object from the valravens (cursed, fiendish birds) and their leader, Corax, a being who is half-man, half-valraven…and Gabriel’s uncle.

With the help of his own amicus, Paladin, and several friends, Gabriel begins to unravel the truth of what his uncle is seeking and the whereabouts of his father. The journey involves untangling riddles, battle with a magical, music-loving desk, and learning about the Finley family’s secrets. Gabriel is determined to find his way to his father, but forces are at work that are equally determined to stop him.

Is Gabriel ready to descend into Aviopolis, Corax’s horrifying domain, risking the lives of himself and his friends, to prevent Corax from ruling both above and below the surface? Will he be able to rescue his father, save himself and his friends, and defeat the evil Corax? Read Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle to find out!


I barely touched on my favorite part of this book–the riddles. To a word nerd like myself, they were fun and entertaining, and I loved that saving the world in this book relied more on using one’s brain than relying on brawn. I’m hoping my students have as much fun as I did figuring out the answers to the riddles, and I think reading this book could lead to readers crafting their own riddles.

As of right now, there’s no word on future Gabriel Finley books, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout. There are several mysteries in Gabriel’s life that are yet to be solved, and I, for one, would love some answers. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about this great fantasy, visit the Gabriel Finley website. Enjoy!

The Hidden Oracle

Caution: You might want to read the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians (The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, The Last Olympian) and The Heroes of Olympus series (The Lost Hero, The Son of Neptune, The Mark of Athena, The House of Hades, The Blood of Olympus) before proceeding.

It should come as no surprise that I love Rick Riordan’s latest offering. The Hidden Oracle, book one in the new Trials of Apollo series, is as wonderful as everything else I’ve read by this amazing author. It takes readers back to Camp Half-Blood, but the approach is a bit different in this book. As you may have surmised from the series title, we’re seeing the action from Apollo’s perspective.

You may know Apollo as the Greek god of the sun, music, prophecy, archery, poetry, and so on, but there’s a bit of a hiccup in the life of this deity. After the events of the war with Gaea, Zeus is kind of upset with Apollo and decides to punish him. What does dear old dad do? He makes Apollo human, of course, and that is where our fun begins.

What could have been so bad for Apollo to deserve such a fate? Now mortal and stuck in the body of a flabby, acne-ridden sixteen-year-old known as Lester Papadopoulos, this once-perfect specimen must find a way back into Zeus’ good graces. That might prove difficult given that someone is trying take advantage of Apollo’s weakness and kill him.

Unexpected help comes in the form of one Meg McCaffrey, a strange girl–obviously a demigod–who fights like few Apollo has ever seen. Meg’s assistance, however, comes with a price.  Apollo is bound to serve Meg and complete a series of trials to earn back the favor of Zeus. No biggie, right? Yeah…nothing is ever that easy when it comes to Greek gods.

After a rather harrowing beginning in the streets of New York City, Apollo, Meg, and a familiar face make their way to Camp Half-Blood. Surely Apollo can get some sort of help at this refuge for demigods. After all, who wouldn’t want to help him? He’s clearly awesome.

Things at Camp Half-Blood, though, aren’t exactly rosy. Campers are disappearing, communication lines are down, there have been no new prophecies in a while, and no one really knows what’s going on or what to do about it. It’s clear that something major is happening, but what?

Who’s responsible for all this madness and mayhem, and what could Apollo, a once all-powerful, now virtually powerless god, possibly do to remedy the situation and prevent catastrophe from striking Camp Half-Blood? Who will help–or hinder–him in his search for a solution? And what could all of this mean for the future of Camp Half-Blood…and the world as we know it?


Yeah…this post, like so many before it, doesn’t even come close to capturing how fantastic this book is. It’s peppered with snark and sarcasm, like Riordan’s other books, but this book also has something we haven’t seen before from this author–haiku. Each chapter begins with a haiku, written by Apollo, that foreshadows what we’ll encounter. It’s awesome, and I hope that it encourages many readers to write their own haiku, the more ridiculous the better.

In addition to the fabulous haiku, Apollo’s voice in this book–and I’m guessing the rest of the series–is equally exceptional. Just what does a god made human think of himself? Well, wonder no more. At the beginning of the book, Apollo, though humiliated at being made mortal, is also extremely impressed with himself. Sure, there are things he’s done that he’s not 100% proud of, but those don’t give him much pause. Or do they? As the story progresses, we see that Apollo does have regrets and that he’s at least trying to make amends. Is he successful? Well, that’s really for the reader (and Zeus) to decide.

Before I give too much away, I’m going to end this post. Suffice it to say that The Hidden Oracle is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Rick Riordan…and so much more. I can hardly wait to read more of Apollo’s exploits, but waiting is what I’ll have to do (as usual). Book two, The Dark Prophecy, won’t be out until next May.

In the meantime, you might want to learn more about all of Rick Riordan’s fabulous books on his website. You may also want to check out Disney Books’ hilarious, spot-on book trailers for The Hidden Oracle. I’ve included two of them here. There’s one more, focusing on the sun, that I couldn’t get to work.

The Phantom Tollbooth

For the final meeting of my school’s faculty book club this year, we (I) decided to read books we’ve been meaning to read but never made time for. This could mean classics that have been around for decades, new releases that we’ve heard others talking about, or anything in between.

My pick, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, qualifies as a classic, in my opinion. Originally published in 1961, it’s been around a while, and I’d heard it mentioned once or twice. I’d even noticed it on my library shelves, but I never really got the push I needed to read it until my latest book club assignment. Well, I finished reading it last night, and I could kick myself for waiting so long to pick up this wondrous book. Anyone who’s a fan of wordplay, number play, or moral lessons within the pages of children’s books will find something to love in The Phantom Tollbooth, a book that is both timely and timeless.

Milo is bored. Nothing interests him, and he’s not motivated to do much of anything. Everything changes, however, when a tollbooth appears in his bedroom. Milo, lacking anything pressing to do, pays his toll and drives on through. Through to where, you ask? Well, that’s the tricky part…

Milo finds himself outside the Kingdom of Wisdom, and things are a bit different here. This troubled land, ruled by King Azaz the Unabridged of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis, has not been the same since the princesses Rhyme and Reason were banished.

Milo, joined by Tock (a watchdog) and the Humbug, is eventually tasked with rescuing Rhyme and Reason from the Castle in the Air and returning the princesses to their rightful place in the Kingdom of Wisdom. Only then can order be restored.

Along the way, Milo and company encounter many beings who change the way they see the world around them. They begin to see things from different points of view, and they look at things like sound, color, words, and numbers in a whole new way.

They also encounter their share of trouble. Before Milo, Tock, and the Humbug can reach the princesses, they must first pass through the Mountains of Ignorance. Horrible figures like the Gelatinous Giant and the Terrible Trivium seek to stop this heroic quest, but their efforts are for naught. Milo and friends escape with the princesses, and the armies of Wisdom drive away the vicious demons of Ignorance.

All is well–for now–with Rhyme and Reason back in their place. The Kingdom of Wisdom celebrates, and King Azaz and the Mathemagician vow to do all they can to keep Ignorance at bay. His quest complete, Milo says farewell to his friends and returns to his bedroom by way of the phantom tollbooth, ready to look at his own world in a new light.


Unlike King Azaz, the recap above is super-duper abridged. I can’t even begin to go into all of the humorous word and number play in this amazing book, but I will highlight a couple of things.

Lest you think that The Phantom Tollbooth is simply a children’s book, I urge you to think again. It challenges readers to truly appreciate the world around them, experience all that world has to offer, and do whatever they can to fend off ignorance in the world. A timely message, yes? Consider the passage below, wherein the demons of Ignorance are chasing after Milo and friends, and think about how similar this may be to certain political figures:

“From off on the right, his heavy bulbous body lurching dangerously on the spindly legs which barely supported him, came the Overbearing Know-it-all, talking continuously. A dismal demon who was mostly mouth, he was ready at a moment’s notice to offer misinformation on any subject. And, while he often tumbled heavily, it was never he who was hurt, but, rather, the unfortunate person on whom he fell.

Next to him, but just a little behind, came the Gross Exaggeration, whose grotesque features and thoroughly unpleasant manners were hideous to see, and whose rows of wicked teeth were made only to mangle the truth. They hunted together, and were bad luck to anyone they caught.”

Sound familiar?

Even if you’re not at all interested in the similarities to our current political climate, you’re sure to enjoy the often hilarious wordplay in this book, especially if you’re a fan of puns. The Phantom Tollbooth would be an excellent read-aloud in upper elementary and middle grades and is perfect for studying idioms. One of my favorite parts of the book, which occurred early on, was the island of Conclusions. And how does one get to this island? You jump there, of course! That’s just one of the many examples of fun wordplay in this magical book.

The Phantom Tollbooth is a book you need to experience for yourself. This is a book that nearly any reader–from about third grade on up through adulthood–can and should enjoy. There’s definitely something here for everyone, especially those who’ve found joy in Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, or The Wind in the Willows. I look forward to talking to my book club about this read and encouraging all of them to give it a try!

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood

Last year, I read Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, and I immediately became a fan of author Liesl Shurtliff’s work. I promoted Rump to my teachers and students, and every copy of this book stays off my library shelves. (It didn’t hurt that Rump was a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award and also served as one of my district’s Battle of the Books titles.)

Shurtliff’s second fairy tale retelling, Jack: The True Story of Jack & the Beanstalk, is almost as popular as Rump. In fact, Jack is so popular that I haven’t had a chance to check it out for myself yet. So when NetGalley gave me the opportunity to read Shurtliff’s latest book, Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood, I jumped at the chance.

Those who’ve already read Rump know a little about the Red we meet in this novel. (She was Rump’s best friend, after all.) She is not like the Little Red Riding Hood we’ve grown up reading about. She is no sweet little miss who mistakes her grandma for a wily wolf. No, this girl is grumpy, self-sufficient, and crafty in her own right. But in Red, this young girl must face her fears while attempting to figure out what really makes someone into a monster.

Red’s favorite person in the world is probably her granny. Some people call Granny a witch, but Red knows that Granny does whatever she can to help others. She’s even tried to help Red control her own magic, but that usually doesn’t end well. When Granny gets sick, Red vows to do whatever she can to find a cure for Granny’s illness, something to ensure that Granny will live forever.

In her quest for a cure, Red meets another young girl searching for a magical elixir of her own. Goldie (better known to you and me as Goldilocks) is a hyper, chatty girl who Red finds annoying. Red tries to lose Goldie in the Woods, but a dangerous encounter brings the two girls together, and a rather unlikely friendship begins to form.

Now, the two girls are working together to find something that will help Granny. They enlist the assistance of a rather reluctant dwarf who leads them to some possible “cures.” But Red learns quickly that these magical cures come with a price, a price she may not be willing to pay…even if it means making Granny well again.

Throughout this quest, Red also finds herself growing closer to Wolf. She and this lonely animal share a special connection, and she soon realizes that he’s dealing with his own problems, namely a Huntsman who is feared above all others in the Woods. Red is familiar with the Huntsman and does not see him as a threat…until she and her friends get in his way.

Can Red, Goldie, and Wolf escape the trouble following them? What will they encounter along the way? Will Red be able to find what she needs to help her Granny and face her own fears in the process?

Forget what you think you know about Little Red Riding Hood and learn the real story when you read Red by Liesl Shurtliff!


If possible, I think I love Red even more than Rump. Red is an awesomely complicated character who shows enormous growth throughout the course of the book. She goes from a grumpy, annoyed loner frightened of her own magic to a slightly less grumpy friend who faces her fears and is confident in her abilities.

As if Red herself isn’t a big enough deal, don’t even get me started on all of the wonderful appearances from familiar characters. We have references to Goldilocks and the Three Bears (of course), as well as Snow White (who may not have been as beloved by the seven dwarves as previously thought), Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, and a fantastic twist on Beauty and the Beast. I’m sure there are more allusions, but I just can’t recall all of them right now. Suffice it to say, though, that readers will delight in making these connections, and they’ll learn that there may be more than one side to their favorite stories.

Red will be released to the masses next Tuesday, April 12th, and I’ve already got students asking me when we’ll have the book in the library. (I guess I’ll be making a run to the closest bookstore after school next Tuesday.) Most of those students have already read Rump, so I predict they’ll be equally–if not even more–charmed by Red, and they’ll probably want to know when to expect the next offering from Liesl Shurtliff. (I wish I had the answer to that question myself.)

For more information on Red and other works by Liesl Shurtliff, you can connect with the author on her website, TwitterFacebook, and Goodreads. Also, check out the Red book trailer below. It covers a couple of things that I kind of glossed over in this post…and it’s really well done!

Rebel Allies

Turn back now if you haven’t read the following books in the I Am Number Four series:

I read I Am Number Four almost six years ago. If I had known that the series would still be going strong all these years later, would I still have picked up this book? Probably. Sometimes, I’m simply in the mood for some alien adventure, and this series definitely delivers.

This weekend, I devoted some time to reading the latest collection of novellas in the I Am Number Four (or Lorien Legacies) series. This collection, Rebel Allies, contains stories 10-12, and it really adds to the series as a whole.

The first story in this collection, The Fugitive, takes a closer look at a familiar character from this series, Mark James. You might remember Mark as the cocky football star–and Sarah’s ex-boyfriend–from the first book, but his life changed drastically when a bunch of shark-faced aliens (the Mogadorians) blew up his high school. Since then, Mark has been trying to figure out exactly what is going on with both the Mogs and the Loric Garde trying to defeat them.

Now, Sarah is missing, and Mark is determined to track her down. He’s sure that she’s either with Four and the Garde, or the Mogs have captured her. He’s not sure which, but he’ll do whatever it takes to find her…even if it means fighting evil aliens and the government agencies aiding them.

Mark, however, isn’t completely alone. A mysterious figure known only as GUARD provides assistance when Mark needs it the most. Who is this guy, and how does he know so much about Mark, the Loric, and the Mogs? Can GUARD be trusted? Well, Mark will soon find out…


The second two stories, The Navigator and The Guard, introduce a fairly new character in this series, the one known to Mark as GUARD. This person has played a part in both The Fugitive and some of the other stories in the series, but these two novellas delve a bit deeper.

Without giving too much away, I will say that GUARD is not a man as Mark assumed. She is a woman, and she is from Lorien. She was there when the Mogs attacked, and she managed to escape to Earth. Now, this brilliant hacker is doing whatever possible to protect her new home from suffering her planet’s fate.


If the series stays true to pattern, the stories of Rebel Allies lead directly into the next full-length novel, The Fate of Ten. This book was released in September, so I plan to dive right in as soon as I wrap up this post. I feel certain there will be one more novella collection* sometime this year, probably before the final book, United As One, comes out on June 28th.

*If you can’t wait for the print version of the next novellas, one of the stories is already out in ebook form, and another is coming next month. Story #13, Legacies Reborn, was released in November, and story #14, Last Defense, will be out on February 23rd. I don’t know yet if there will be a 15th story.

For much more information on this exciting series, go to the I Am Number Four Fans website. Enjoy!

The Copper Gauntlet

Caution: If you haven’t read The Iron Trial, the first book in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, do that before continuing with this post. Also, if it’s been over a year since you’ve read book one, give it a quick once-over before proceeding with The Copper Gauntlet. (I wish I had.)

I decided that my first book of the new year should be one that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. Truthfully, I’m shocked at myself that I didn’t devour The Copper Gauntlet the minute it came out. (It’s no big secret that I’m a Cassandra Clare fangirl.) This second book in the Magisterium series was released on September 1st, and it’s been staring at me reproachfully from the top of my TBR pile ever since. Thankfully, I’ve now taken care of that little problem.

Since it had been a while since I read The Iron Trial (November 2014), I had forgotten much of what happened in that book. (I’m serious about doing a brief re-read before starting book two.) For that reason, it was a little difficult for my reading of The Copper Gauntlet to pick up momentum at first. Once I got into it, though–and was reminded of the events of the first book–things really got moving, and I was just as invested in this book as I was its predecessor.

Callum Hunt isn’t what one would call a normal kid. Sure, he’s spending the summer at home with his dad, playing with his dog, and getting ready for another school year, but that’s not exactly the whole story.

See, Call is about to enter his second year at the Magisterium, a school for mages, a school that his father absolutely loathes. Also, his dog is actually a Chaos-ridden wolf named Havoc, and this pet could do some serious damage if he really wanted to. Finally, Call might just be the vessel for the Enemy of Death (the big, bad guy in the world of mages). Yeah…Call threw “normal” out the window a while ago.

When Call discovers that his father has some disturbing, dangerous plans for both Call and Havoc, he runs away to the only home he has left…the Magisterium and the friends he’s made there. He finds refuge with his friends, Tamara and Aaron, but he doesn’t reveal his deep, dark secret to them. They wouldn’t understand the whole “I actually possess the soul of the Enemy” thing. Call barely understands it himself. There has to be more to him than he’s been led to believe, and he’ll do whatever he can to convince himself that he won’t turn out to be an Evil Overlord.

When the Alkahest–a powerful copper gauntlet–is stolen, Call knows it’s up to him to find this magical object and return it to the Magisterium. Why? Well, his father may have something to do with it, and Call needs to get to him before either the Magisterium or the minions of the Enemy do. (Also, the Alkahest could be used to destroy Call and his best friend, Aaron. No pressure there.)

Of course, Call can’t possibly get away without his friends and Havoc (plus one more kid he can’t stand), so he goes on the run with some company, and, as one might imagine, the group finds more trouble than they ever expected.

_______________

I’m going to stop before I give too much more away. I will tell you, however, that for every question answered in this book, dozens more pop up. There is some resolution at the end of The Copper Gauntlet, but, given that there are three more books to go in this series, we can deduce that it won’t last.

Speaking of future books, the next installment, The Bronze Key, is expected to be released in September of this year. Book four, The Golden Boy, will be out in 2017, and the final chapter, The Enemy of Death, is expected in 2018. Lots to look forward to.

Like The Iron Trial, I think The Copper Gauntlet is a great read for those in upper elementary grades on up. Fans of Harry Potter and Rick Riordan’s books will delight in this series…and will surely make some interesting comparisons. (The similarities between The Magisterium and Harry Potter are undeniable.) I added this book to my own elementary library collection, and the response has been nothing but positive.

For more information on The Iron Trial, The Copper Gauntlet, and the rest of the Magisterium series, visit the official website. It’s got lots of interactive goodies that you may enjoy.

Now, I must leave you. (Not for long, so no worries.) I return to the “real world” tomorrow, and I have one day left to do all the stuff that I meant to do during my two week break. I can hardly contain my joy.*

*Where’s a sarcasm font when I need one?

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.