Trouble Is a Friend of Mine

Given that school starts this week and I still have 795, 463 things to do, I’ll endeavor to keep this post short. Here goes…

If you or any teen readers you know like Sherlock, then you definitely need to give Trouble Is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly a try. If Sherlock Holmes were a 16-year-old American boy, he would be Digby…and awesome. In this highly entertaining book, Zoe (a teen girl version of Watson) encounters Digby after moving to a new area, and life as she knows it is about to get a lot more interesting.

Zoe Webster is just biding her time. All she really wants to do is transfer to the elite Prentiss Academy and get out of this new town, but she’s got to deal with her present circumstances first. A clueless mom, a new school, and no friends.

Well, the “no friends” thing may be easier to change than Zoe thinks. One day, a weird kid named Digby shows up at her door and basically informs Zoe that they’re going to be friends. Almost against Zoe’s will, Digby is right. Even when it leads her directly into the path of trouble, Zoe follows Digby into odd and often dangerous situations, but this strange and brilliant young man usually manages to talk their way out of nearly anything.

Digby and Zoe, along with a couple other colorful characters, manage to find themselves involved in a mystery that includes drugs, kidnapping, cults, attempted murder, and more mayhem than they ever could have expected. (Well, Digby may have expected some of it. Not much gets by him.) They’ll have to break every rule on the books–and some laws of common sense–in their attempt to uncover what’s really going on.

But why is Digby so invested in this stuff? And why does he insist on bringing Zoe along? Is Digby just a manic genius, or is something more going on? Read Trouble Is a Friend of Mine to find out.

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After reading Trouble Is a Friend of Mine, I must say that Digby is one of the most entertaining, charming characters I’ve encountered lately. He really keeps this book going simply because the reader never knows what he’s going to do or say next.

The parallels between Digby and Sherlock Holmes (as played by the delightful Benedict Cumberbatch) are unmistakable and wonderful. Digby has his own version of the Homeless Network, he bends the rules to get answers, he works with law enforcement (when it suits him), and he observes every little detail around him.

Zoe, for her part, is something of a stabilizing force for Digby, much like Dr. John Watson. Yes, she follows him into danger, but she also, in my opinion, keeps him grounded and lets him know that she’ll be his backup. Through the course of their friendship, both Zoe and Digby learn more about themselves, who they can really count on, and just how important their relationship is.

At various points, I think this story wanted to be a romance between Digby and Zoe. It didn’t quite happen, but I can see how it might if there were a sequel. (If there is one on the works, I haven’t heard about it yet.) Part of me wants Digby and Zoe to get together, but a bigger part wants them to be “just friends.” There are too many books out there that force a romantic relationship between two characters, and it would be nice to see a story–or series of stories–where male and female characters can keep things platonic. It would be refreshing, to say the least, and these two characters simply don’t need to hook up to continue being their hilarious, charming selves.

Trouble Is a Friend of Mine was released on August 4th, so it’s available wherever books are sold. I highly recommend it to any library serving teens (or older readers) who love Sherlock.

If you’d like more information on this excellent book, you can connect with author Stephanie Tromly on Twitter. As far as I can tell, Trouble Is a Friend of Mine is her first book. I sincerely hope this is only the beginning.

Double Dog Dare

First of all, let me wish a happy Independence Day to all of my American friends and followers. It’s pouring rain here in South Carolina, but that’s not stopping my neighbors from shooting off fireworks every time there’s a break in the thunderstorms. It’s kind of annoying, but I can’t begrudge them celebrating this holiday (unless they persist with the fireworks when I’m ready to go to sleep…like they did last night). However you decide to celebrate–fireworks, cookouts, camping, staying inside reading, whatever–I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July!

Moving on…I’ve just finished reading yet another of the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. (For those keeping track, I’ve now read sixteen of the nominated titles. Only four to go!) My latest read is Double Dog Dare by Lisa Graff, and, in my opinion, it is a great addition to libraries and classrooms that serve both elementary and middle grade students. Double Dog Dare, told in alternating voices, revolves around two fourth-graders, but I do think a lot of middle school students will find this story both relatable and entertaining. (The title alone, which brings to mind the fantastic movie A Christmas Story, may be enough of a hook to get some more precocious readers interested in this charming book.)

Kansas Bloom and Francine Halata are up for the same job. Both of them have been nominated to be the fourth grade Media Club’s news anchor for next semester, and their teacher is leaving it up to them to figure out who should get the job. Well, that may not be the smartest idea when a group of fourth-graders is involved. It seems that the job will go to whoever wins a Dare War. The members of the Media Club will vote on dares for Kansas and Francine to complete, and the person who finishes the most dares before winter break will win the anchor job. What could go wrong? (If you guessed pretty much everything, you’re on the right track.)

Almost immediately, the dares in this war get both Kansas and Francine into a bit of trouble. But their troubles are not limited to vying for the anchor position. Kansas has just moved to California from Oregon, and his mom is divorcing his dad after years of turmoil. His little sister is convinced that Dad will eventually return for good, but Kansas isn’t so sure. Kansas is sure, though, that he absolutely must win this Dare War…even though he didn’t really want the anchor job at first.

Francine, who has longed to be anchor for a while, will do whatever it takes to get the job…even if it means eating eighty-seven packets of ketchup, dying her hair green, or going into the boys bathroom. But there may be something she wants more than this position. She wants her parents to get back together. Her dad has moved out, and he and her mom are getting divorced. Francine wonders if there’s anything she could do to fix her family, but how can she do that when her own life is quickly spiraling out of control?

It’s clear than Kansas and Francine have more in common than either of them realize. And when the Dare War comes to a head, will they be able to put aside their battle, work together, and form a friendship in the midst of so much uncertainty? Who will win the coveted anchor job? I double dog dare you to find out when you read Double Dog Dare by Lisa Graff!

Double Dog Dare was equal parts entertaining and moving. I think many readers will find the dares (and their results) very funny (even though the responsible adult in me cringes at some of these antics). I also think this might be a good book for young readers dealing with divorce. Both of the main characters are dealing with different–yet similar–divorce situations, and this book may let readers experiencing this trauma know that they’re not alone.

This book is also a good fit for any student who has ever been a part of his/her school news team or media/broadcasting club. (As a matter of fact, I may have found a Christmas gift for my own school news team. Shhh! Don’t tell!)

If you’d like more information on Double Dog Dare and other books by author Lisa Graff, visit http://www.lisagraff.com/index.html.

How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog)

So, one of my goals this summer is to read all of the nominees for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.  (Those that regularly follow this blog have probably already figured that out.)  I’m about halfway through the list, and there have already been some standouts (The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and a couple of others).  Unfortunately, there have also been a couple that I wasn’t overly fond of.  (The worst was probably What’s for Dinner?, a poetry book about animals’ eating habits.  It was nothing short of disgusting.  Then again, I probably shouldn’t have read it right before lunch.  Lesson learned.)  Anyway, my latest read, How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog) by Art Corriveau, is one of the SCCBA nominees that I didn’t particularly like.  Don’t get me wrong.  The story was decent.  I just didn’t find the main character, Nicky Flynn, to be especially likeable or admirable.  Maybe my students will disagree with me, but I kind of hope they use Nicky’s character as an example of what not to do in most circumstances.

Nothing is going well for eleven-year-old Nicky Flynn. His parents are getting divorced. He’s been forced to move from his big house in a great neighborhood to a small apartment in a less-than-great neighborhood. Nicky’s mad at his mom because he thinks she always lies to him and tries to keep him away from his dad.  He’s in a new school and is becoming the target of bullies. He has to go to therapy every week to talk about his feelings. And now, his mom has decided to bring a dog into his life (totally without talking to him about it, by the way).  She got Reggie, a German Shepherd, from the animal shelter, but this is no ordinary dog.  Reggie is a retired seeing-eye dog, and, right away, he makes Nicky’s life a bit more interesting…

Nicky and Reggie grow closer (become best friends, really), and Nicky wants to know more about Reggie’s former life as a guide dog.  He investigates a little and learns more about Reggie’s previous owner.  He lies A LOT in his quest for the truth about Reggie’s past.  Will he ever figure out what happened between Reggie and his former owner?  Well, kind of, but that won’t really help with the mess his life is becoming…

Nicky is on the verge of losing everything, including Reggie.  As his whole life spirals out of control–and his lies are uncovered–how can Nicky hold on to the one being that is always there for him?  And what will Nicky do when his own selfishness and recklessness places both him and his beloved dog in a situation that is more dangerous than he can possibly realize?  Will Nicky ever get back in control of his own life?  And will he be able to stay with Reggie when the truth is revealed?  Find out when you read How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog) by Art Corriveau.

As an elementary librarian in South Carolina, I will promote this book as part of the SC Book Award program, but I definitely plan to discuss this book with my students.  I’d like to talk to them about why Nicky is not a character to be emulated.  Sure, he had some strong points–his love for his dog, for one–but, like I said before, he was not a very admirable character.  He lied at the drop of a hat, he had a rather bad temper, and he didn’t think about how his actions impacted those around him.  He did learn a few things in the end, but the adult in me still cringes at some of the stunts he pulled throughout the book.  (I wasn’t impressed with the adults in this book either.  They were clueless.)

There were a few things I did like about this book (lest you think I’m being completely negative).  I enjoyed how Nicky wanted to learn more about seeing-eye dogs.  He applied his research and knowledge to strengthen his relationship with Reggie.  I also liked the setting of this book.  It’s set in and around Boston, and Nicky and Reggie explore several sites that are of interest to readers learning about the American Revolution.  The ending was also kind of satisfying.  Nicky learned a little about himself and his mom, and I think, if there are future books about this character, those lessons might make him a little more likeable.

There are a couple of instances of bad language (not too bad, though) in this book.  That, in combination with the discussions that need to take place about Nicky’s behavior, make this book more suitable for upper elementary (mature 4th and 5th graders) and middle school students.

For more information about this book and others by author Art Corriveau, visit http://www.artcorriveau.com/.

Born at Midnight

I’m back!  After thinking I was going to be stranded in Indianapolis thanks to four inches of snow (which would practically cripple us here in South Carolina), I am finally home and ready to get back to normal.  I did finish one YA novel on my trip, an ARC of C.C. Hunter’s new book, Born at Midnight.  This book isn’t scheduled to be released until March 29th, so I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance proof of this first book in what is sure to be a wonderful new supernatural series for teen (and adult) readers.

In Born at Midnight, readers are introduced to Kylie Galen.  Kylie is going through some tough stuff.  Her parents are getting divorced, she and her boyfriend just broke up, and she gets caught at a party where drugs and alcohol are prevalent.  (She was innocent, of course.)  After the party incident, Kylie’s cold, distant mother decides to ship her off to Shadow Falls Camp for the summer.  This camp deals with troubled teens…but neither Kylie nor her mom truly realize how troubled these teens may actually be.

Kylie soon learns that Shadow Falls Camp is a refuge for troubled supernatural teens–witches, vampires, werewolves, fairies, and shapeshifters.  At first, Kylie denies she is anything like these “freaks” and does everything she can to make that point clear with anyone who will listen.  Gradually, however, she comes to accept that she may not be all that normal.  She becomes best friends with a witch and a vampire, and she has not one but two love interests.  Derek is a seemingly safe fairy, and Lucas is an anything-but-safe werewolf that Kylie has encountered previously.  While Kylie is dealing with new friendships and love interests, she’s also coming to terms with her own abilities and what this might mean for her future.

Strange things are afoot at Shadow Falls Camp.  Will Kylie embrace who she is and be a part of this new world, or will she do everything she can to return to her so-called “normal” life?  Read Born at Midnight by C.C. Hunter to find out!

In this post, I just hit the basics of this awesome book.  Since I’m one of the first to review it, I didn’t want to give too much away.  I will say that the book left a lot of room for sequels, and I hope to see several of them.  There is so much the author can do with the characters at Shadow Falls Camp.  It should be a fun ride!

For more information on C.C. Hunter, Born at Midnight, and the Shadow Falls series, visit http://www.cchunterbooks.com/news.html.

Happyface

When I started reading Happyface by Stephen Emond, I was prepared for a light-hearted, humorous read.  (The big yellow smiley-face on the cover led me to that assumption.)  Well, let’s just say that I didn’t exactly get what I was expecting.  While the journal format was different from a lot of young adult novels, the whiny, self-centered protagonist was not.  I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Many young adults I know are whiny and self-centered, so they’ll be able to easily relate to this character, also known as Happyface.

We begin our story in a seemingly normal situation–a teen boy is out of school for the summer; his older brother Everett is home from college; they live with their parents who have their problems but seem to fit together; and this teen boy is in love with his best friend Chloe.  Everything’s great, right?  Um, no.  Fast forward to August, and our young friend is entering a new school, he and his mom have moved into a tiny apartment, and there is little to no mention of Dad, Everett, or Chloe.  What happened in just a couple of short months?  (Note:  I’m not going to tell you.  You’ll have to read to find out.)

With all these changes, our main character decides to make some changes of his own.  At his old school, he was kind of a nerd, always apart from everyone else (except Chloe).  Now, he is determined to be different.  He wants to be outgoing, popular, active.  It all begins when he meets Gretchen.  He makes an effort to be nice and happy around her, and Happyface is born.  That’s the nickname Gretchen gives him because he’s always smiling.  Happyface thinks if he’s smiling and acting like nothing bothers him, people will like him and not care (or know) about the mess his life is at home.  For a while, it works.  He’s going to all the parties, breaking curfew, hanging out with new friends, and basically becoming the popular guy he’s always wanted to be.

As with most things, however, this new-found popularity cannot last.  People begin to find out just what Happyface is hiding.  They discover what happened with his parents, his brother, and his best friend.  Happyface is back to square one, and he’s not, well, happy about it.  How can one person experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in one short year?  (Trust me, it can happen.  I speak from experience.)  How can Happyface reconcile his new life with the one he thought he left behind?  Read Happyface by Stephen Emond to find out.

If you like books written in journal format with lots of illustrations, Happyface might be the book for you.  If you enjoy it, I also encourage you to check out Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  The books have similar formats, but, while Happyface takes himself way too seriously most of the time, the main character in Alexie’s book uses a lot of humor to get him through some tough situations.

For more information on Happyface and Stephen Emond, visit http://www.stephenemond.com/.

How to Build a House

No, this is not a do-it-yourself manual on how to actually build a house.  In this novel, Dana Reinhardt tells the story of Harper, a teen girl who is escaping the drama of her family life for the summer.  She’s going to Tennessee to help build a house for a family who lost nearly everything in a tornado.

How to Build a House alternates between Harper’s present building the house for this family and the past and the mess her home life became when her dad and stepmother divorced.  Harper is dealing with her father’s faults, her relationship with her former stepsister and best friend Tess, and a new relationship with Teddy, the teen son of the family for whom this house is being built.  Harper seems to find peace this summer, both because of helping out this family and the love she finds with Teddy.

How to Build a House was, at times, a very sweet book.  At other times, being the responsible adult I am, I had issues with how casually rules and sex were treated by the book’s characters.  I am not, however, naive enough to believe that the treatment of these issues in this book were unrealistic.  I would recommend this book for those who want a light summer read.  This book is not terribly deep or hard to read, but it does offer a good message about finding peace with oneself.