Denton Little’s Deathdate

What would you do if you knew the exact date of your death? I like to think I’d do all the stuff I was too scared, inhibited, or lazy to do normally, but I know myself well enough to realize that’s probably not how things would play out. The more likely scenario is that I would read as much as possible and take lots of naps. Know thyself, my friends.

I say all that to introduce my latest read, Denton Little’s Deathdate. In this morbidly funny book, our title character ponders what to do before he kicks the bucket. As a matter of fact, most people in the world deal with this big question. Thanks to an “advance” in medical technology, everyone knows his/her deathdate. They don’t know the exact minute or how they’re going to die, but the date appears to be set in stone. For seventeen-year-old Denton Little, that date is just a couple days away, and he’s got a lot to process before the big day.

Two days before his deathdate, Denton Little wakes up in a strange bed with his very first (and possibly last) hangover. Why is he in his best friend’s sister’s bed? He remembers flashes of the previous night, but most of it is a blur. Did something awesome happen with Veronica, or did he embarrass himself completely…or both?

Eventually, Denton Little manages to piece together some semblance of last night’s events, but he’s got other things to worry about today. For one thing, he has to get ready for his funeral. Oh joy. A night for everyone to say how sorry they are that he’ll no longer be with them. A night in which he has to make a speech and dole out hugs to relatives, friends, and treasured acquaintances. Denton can hardly wait.

Another thing worrying Denton in his last hours is the weird purple rash that is spreading all over his body. Did his activities with Veronica give him some sort of disease, or is it something else? Whatever it is, his entire body is turning purple, and it seems that he’s spreading this unknown virus to anyone he–ahem–shares saliva with. (There are a couple more people on that list than there should be, especially considering that Denton has a girlfriend whose name is most definitely not Veronica.)

To make things even more confusing for Denton, a weird guy shows up at his funeral, claims to have information about Denton’s mother, a woman who died shortly after giving birth to Denton, and warns Denton to beware of government officials. What could this guy want now, and how could this make any difference to Denton when he’s only got hours to live? And what could the government have to do with Denton or his mother? It’s quite the puzzle, and Denton’s running out of time to solve it.

Join Denton as he and his friends try to piece together what’s going on around them. What’s up with the weird purple rash? What does Denton’s mom have to do with his deathdate? And is there a way for Denton to cheat death when no one else has managed to? It’s a mystery…


Here’s a major spoiler if you’re still reading this post: Denton lives. I don’t feel too bad about revealing that since there is a second book to look forward to. The title itself could be considered spoilery to those who haven’t done their homework. It’s Denton Little’s Still Not Dead, and it was released in February. Given that book one ended on a pretty large cliffhanger, I’m hoping to make time to read book two as soon as possible.

Denton Little’s Deathdate is a nominee for the 2017-18 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. Often, titles on this list are appropriate for middle grade readers. In my opinion, this is not one of those titles. Denton Little’s Deathdate is an awesome book, but I don’t think it’s a good fit for tweens and younger teens. It has a fair amount of sexy times and innuendo, alcohol and drug use, and irreverent humor (which is my favorite part of the book), and all of those things combined make it more suited to a mature teen audience. Before you recommend this book to younger teens, read it for yourself. You likely know best which of your readers are ready for a book like this and which aren’t.

To learn more about Denton Little’s Deathdate, visit author Lance Rubin’s cool, fun website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter and Instagram. For an extra bit of fun, check out the video below featuring Lance Rubin singing a lovely song about Denton Little’s Deathdate. The song alone makes me want to read everything this guy cares to write. Enjoy!

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Nooks & Crannies

Greetings, earthlings. I realize it’s been a while since my last post, and the reason for my absence can be explained in two words–book fair. Yes, my spring book fair pretty much consumed my life for about ten days, and I barely had the energy to drive home from work and fall into bed, much less form coherent thoughts about what I was reading. But I was reading during this stressful event, and I bring you my thoughts on my latest read today.

Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson was recently named as a nominee for the 2017-18 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. It’s being marketed as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue, and I’d say that’s a fairly fitting description. It’s funny, perplexing, sometimes infuriating, and rather entertaining. I look forward to discussing this book with my students and getting their take on this engrossing and somewhat convoluted mystery.

Tabitha Crum never expected a piece of paper to change her life. But when she and five other children are invited to the estate of the Countess of Windemere, she knows some type of change is coming. Maybe that’s a good thing. After all, her life thus far has been anything but grand. Her parents barely tolerate her presence, her only friend is a mouse named Pemberley, and her future may involve washing dishes at the local orphanage.

When Tabitha arrives at Hollingsworth Hall, she quickly realizes that all is not what it seems…and her inner detective comes to life. She and the other five children have been invited here for a very specific reason–something that rocks them all to their cores–but the eccentric Countess appears to have more sinister motives for this invitation. And when, one by one, the children begin disappearing, Tabitha knows she–and her trusty mouse, Pemberley–must investigate all of the strange happenings around her.

What–or who–could be to blame for this unfolding mystery? Could the rumored ghosts that inhabit the manor truly exist? Is the butler responsible, or could it be the Countess herself? Whatever’s going on, Tabitha is determined to get to the bottom of it, but even she may be unprepared for what she uncovers.

Secrets will be revealed, and those secrets could have the power to change Tabitha’s life and the lives of those around her. What will Tabitha discover in the nooks and crannies of Hollingsworth Hall? You’ll have to see for yourself…


As is the case in many children’s books similar to this one, most of the adults in the book are absolutely horrendous. This is especially true of Tabitha Crum’s parents. I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and give both of them a good shake. Truly horrible people. The same is true for many of the other adults depicted…and some of their kids as well. (The apple doesn’t fall far, does it?) Luckily, those bad apples ultimately get what’s coming to them in the end, so karma (or the Golden Rule, if you prefer) is, in my opinion, a big deal in this book.

I think Nooks & Crannies is a great selection for upper elementary and middle grade readers–or anyone who likes a good mystery, really. I also think this book might make for a good class read-aloud. A book like this one is sure to keep kids engaged and eager for more.

If you like Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, or Sherlock Holmes, you’ll find something to love in Nooks & Crannies. I found this book to be charming, thrilling, delightfully whimsical, and absorbing. I’m hoping my students feel the same way. (If I do my job well promoting the book, I’m sure they will.)

To learn more about Nooks & Crannies and Jessica Lawson, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Sometime next week, I’ll put together a book trailer for this book. If you’d like to see it when I finally post it, visit my YouTube channel.

Serafina and the Twisted Staff

Warning: Read Serafina and the Black Cloak before proceeding. Spoilers ahead.

Late last night, I finished reading Serafina and the Twisted Staff, the sequel to Robert Beatty’s acclaimed Serafina and the Black Cloak. I kind of knew what to expect going into this second book, but I don’t think I was prepared for exactly how terrifying it would be. If the first book was dark, this one was pitch black. I read the bulk of this book at night, and I was jumping at every little sound I heard. (If you know me at all, this is not surprising. I’m a wuss.) At any rate, Serafina and the Twisted Staff definitely delivers if you’re looking for a good story and a good scare.

Our tale begins almost immediately following the events of the first book. The year is 1899, and the Biltmore Estate is beginning preparations for Christmas.

Serafina, now known to all who inhabit the Biltmore, is searching for her place in the world, but she doesn’t know exactly where she belongs. Is it with Braeden Vanderbilt and her pa at Biltmore? Or is it with her mother and the catamounts in the surrounding forest? And how can she possibly find a measure of peace when her home is once again in danger?

While patrolling the forest surrounding Biltmore one night, Serafina notices that animals are fleeing the area. What could possibly make so many animals behave so oddly? Serafina isn’t sure, but she thinks it has something to do with the strange man and his vicious wolfhounds who attempt to kill her. She’s saved by her mother and a new ally, but it’s clear that the forest is no longer safe…for anyone or anything.

Serafina knows the old man in the forest is not working alone. He comes onto the scene at the same time that a mysterious carriage arrives at Biltmore. But who is in the carriage, and what danger could this person be bringing to Biltmore?

As odd things begin happening at the palatial estate–and Serafina is blamed–she grows more convinced that danger is afoot, but she doesn’t know how she can help. Someone is trying to drive Serafina out and tear her from her one and only friend. But who? And why?

Serafina leaves Biltmore and tries to find some solace in the forest, but danger surrounds her on all fronts. She soon realizes that there’s no way to escape the horror unfolding, and she will have to do everything in her power to save both Biltmore and everything and everyone around it.

Who will join her in the fight to come? Who will betray her? And will Serafina finally be able to unleash her true self before the evil forces targeting Biltmore succeed in their ghastly mission? Read Serafina and the Twisted Staff to find out!


I’ve left a ton out of this post, but it would take forever to cover everything. I don’t have that kind of time (and I’m ready for my Sunday afternoon nap). Read the book for yourself. You can also check out the official book trailer below. It’s a little spoilery, but it covers a lot of what I’ve left out.

Given how this second book ended, I’m confident that we’ll see more of Serafina in the future. At this time, however, there’s no word yet on a third book.

For more Serafina fun, visit author Robert Beatty’s website or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Being Sloane Jacobs

After recent events, I decided that I needed to read something on the lighter side of things. Thanks to the list of 16-17 South Carolina Junior Book Award nominees, I was led to Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill.

I like to read as many of the SCJBA nominees as possible to see if any are okay for the upper elementary crowd. While I don’t think Being Sloane Jacobs is a good fit for elementary libraries–it’s definitely more suited to middle grade and teen readers–I do think it has tons of potential for a Disney Channel movie. (Seriously. If someone’s not on this already, they really should be.) Combine The Parent Trap with doses of The Mighty Ducks and The Cutting Edge, and you’re close to this entertaining read.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

In Washington, DC, we have Sloane Emily Jacobs, a girl who knows something about stress. After a disastrous fall years earlier, she’s making her return to competitive figure skating. But Sloane isn’t sure that she has what it takes anymore. She doesn’t know that spending time at a Montreal skating camp this summer will help with her nerves…but it could provide a much-needed break from her overbearing mother and her secretive father, a senator who will do almost anything to hold onto his position.

In Philadelphia, we have Sloane Devon Jacobs, a tough hockey player trying to get back into her groove. She’s somehow lost the ability to score, so she’s taking her frustrations out on other players. Her coach arranges her attendance in a summer hockey camp in Montreal, hoping to help Sloane with her aggression issues and prepare her to impress scouts in the coming year. Sloane doesn’t want to give up her summer, but she won’t deny she needs to escape the fact of her mom’s absence and her dad’s supposed indifference. Maybe this camp will be what she needs.

As luck would have it, these two vastly different girls with the same names meet in a Montreal hotel, and it doesn’t take long for a wild plan to emerge. No one at either camp knows much about Sloane Jacobs, so what if they just switched places? Each Sloane Jacobs would get a fresh start, a chance to be someone completely new, and they could avoid all of the expectations that have been weighing on them. Should be easy, right?

At first, things seem to be okay, but these two girls soon realize that there’s more to this switch than just changing wardrobes. Sloane Emily has to toughen up and learn the basics of hockey. She has to tap into her aggressive side, stand up to bullies, and show that she’s got what it takes to be part of a team. Sloane Devon realizes that figure skating isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s murder on every part of her body, and now she doesn’t have pads to cushion the blow every time she falls on the ice. And that’s just the skating. She also has to deal with a particularly vicious mean girl who sees her (or the other Sloane) as a threat.

And if keeping stories straight and learning new sports isn’t enough, both girls have potential romances brewing. Sloane Emily meets a hockey player–emphasis on the word player–who vows she can trust him. She wants to, even knowing that she’s hiding her true self from him. As for Sloane Devon, she runs into an old friend from home at a neighborhood pub. She knows there could be a potential relationship there, but what would he think if he knew she gave up hockey for figure skating this summer? How could he possibly understand something so out of character for her?

Both girls are learning a lot about themselves this summer, and, as it turns out, both are stronger than they ever realized. They have the drive to succeed in totally new sports, and they’re growing comfortable with their new personas. But what will happen when the truth comes to light? Will they lose all they’ve worked for this summer, or will they use their experiences to become entirely new versions of Sloane Jacobs, girls with the confidence to face anything that comes their way?


Even though both girls in this book had to deal with some big issues–chief among them an alcoholic mom and a dad caught in an affair–I found Being Sloane Jacobs to be a light, fun, and somewhat stressful read. Will the girls be caught? When? What will happen after that? Like I said…stressful. But in a good way. I was eager to turn the pages (or swipe the screen) to see what awaited each girl next and to see how each of them handled the switch. I think middle grade and teen readers will feel the same way.

The school librarian in me is usually looking for life lessons in the books I read. If I could point to just one in this book it would be empathy. On the outside, these two girls have nothing in common aside from their names. It takes actually walking–or skating–in the other person’s shoes to see that not everything is as simple as it seems. Having money doesn’t mean having a worry-free life. Living outside of the spotlight doesn’t mean everything is simple and hunky-dory. Each girl learns a great deal about the other during this whole process, and I think each of them emerges as a more compassionate person.

Like I said before, I think Being Sloane Jacobs would make an excellent Disney Channel movie, and I think you’ll agree when you give this book a read.

If you’d like more information on this book and others by Lauren Morrill, you can connect with her on Twitter or her website.

Happy reading!

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing

A word to the wise: Read Three Times Lucky before diving into The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing…or this post. While it’s not absolutely necessary to read the first book before the second, it is a good idea. Also, if you read the second book, you’re going to want to see what preceded it, so you might as well read the books in order.

A few years ago, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage was a nominee for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Now, the sequel, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, has made it to the same list for 2016-17. If you go back and read my post on the first book, all the same stuff applies to this one. This series–which currently includes three books–has one of the best examples of character voice and descriptive language that I’ve come across in my six years as an elementary school librarian. Readers of all ages are sure to adore Mo LoBeau and her trusty sidekick, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, and the trouble they find with their work in the Desperado Detective Agency.

All anyone can talk about lately in the small town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, is the auction of the old–supposedly haunted–inn. Mo LoBeau, co-founder of the Desperado Detective Agency, doesn’t go looking to take on a haunted inn as one of her cases, but things have a way of falling into her lap, especially when Miss Lana and Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton sort of accidentally purchase the inn in question.

Pretty soon, Mo and Dale are doing their best to solve the big mystery of the Tupelo Inn…while getting a bona fide supernatural source for their big history report. Sure, it gets scary at times, but these Mo and Dale–along with a new and unexpected ally–are on the case, and they’re determined to find out what this ghost’s story is.

As often happens, especially when it comes to matters involving Mo LoBeau, things get complicated quickly. Someone–or something–is trying to keep Mo and company out of the inn. What could anyone else possibly want with an old, broken down inn? Besides a ghost, what other secrets could this old place be hiding?

Mo and Dale are getting closer and closer to discovering the truth about the Tupelo Inn and its ghostly inhabitant, but what else will they discover along the way? Some people may not encounter an actual ghost, but they may be haunted by their pasts just the same. Can Mo and Dale solve more than one mystery surrounding this inn…before it’s too late?

Help Mo and Dale unravel the mystery of the Tupelo Inn when you read The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage!


I don’t think this post in any way captures what an outstanding book this is. It is moving, mysterious, and laugh-out-loud funny. That’s not a combo one sees all that often, but Sheila Turnage makes it look effortless. I am now super-eager to get my hands on the third Mo and Dale book, The Odds of Getting Even. Like Three Times Lucky and The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, the third installment stays checked out of my library, so I’ve got a wait ahead of me.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing and the other books in this series would serve as excellent class read-alouds, particularly when discussing voice or figurative language. Readers will fall in love with the character of Mo, but they’ll also appreciate all of the other unique characters in these books. Many readers who live in small towns may find something familiar–and rather comforting–about Tupelo Landing and its odd assortment of citizens. Maybe they’ll be inspired to write their own hometown tales.

If you’d like to learn more about The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing and the other books in this series, be sure to visit author Sheila Turnage’s website. You can also like her Facebook page and check out the totally spoiler-free book trailer below. Enjoy!

Serafina and the Black Cloak

My latest read, Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty, was recommended by several of my students (and one teacher). It takes place at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Now, given that I live roughly 80 miles from the historic home, you’d think that I would have visited it more than twice in my life. You would be wrong. (Tickets are kind of expensive, and I hate driving.) If my memory serves me, the last time I toured the Biltmore Estate was on a field trip when I was in the third grade. (Yeah…it’s been a while.) Now that I’ve read Serafina and the Black Cloak, though, I may have to remedy that situation. It would be nice to rely on fresh memories when envisioning the events of this book.

The year is 1899. Serafina lives at the famous Biltmore Estate. The only person who knows of her existence is her pa, one of the home’s maintenance men, and no one realizes that the two of them secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore. Serafina’s pa cautions her to remain out of sight. Should her presence be discovered, it could mean the loss of her father’s job and their home.

When children begin disappearing from the estate, however, Serafina may need to make herself known. She witnesses a strange figure in a black cloak take a child, and she knows she must tell someone what she saw. But who would believe her? And can she confide in someone without losing the only home she’s ever known?

Serafina finds an unlikely ally in the form of Braeden Vanderbilt, the nephew of the Biltmore’s owner. He vows to keep her secret and somehow help her discover who–or what–is taking children from the house and grounds. The two look all over the estate for clues as to the identity of the mysterious figure in the black cloak, but children continue to disappear without a trace.

Serafina’s search for answers leads her to the forest surrounding the Biltmore. Her pa always taught her to fear the darkness of the forest, but Serafina feels oddly at home here. Yes, there are strange things happening in the forest, but it may just hold the key to the mystery of the black cloak…and Serafina’s past.

What will Serafina discover about herself during the course of her investigation? And can she and Braeden uncover the terrifying truth…before they are the next victims of the Man in the Black Cloak?


It’s easy for me to see why Serafina and the Black Cloak is so popular with my students. It’s an enthralling, multi-layered mystery–with some spooky supernatural elements–set in a fairly familiar place. Many of the kids requesting this book do so after they’ve visited the Biltmore Estate. This book might also make a good class read-aloud or novel study before a field trip to the estate.

Local connection aside, this book is a great fit for those who devour the works of Mary Downing Hahn. If you have upper elementary or middle grade readers looking for a good scare, point them to Serafina.

There is at least one more Serafina book to look forward to. Serafina and the Twisted Staff, which also takes place in and around the Biltmore Estate, will be released on August 6th. I’ll definitely need this sequel on hand when we start back to school in the fall.

To learn more about Serafina and the Black Cloak, visit author Robert Beatty’s website or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. While the video totally captures the mood of the book, I think it gives a little too much away. Proceed with caution.

If you’re intrigued by Serafina and the Black Cloak and would like to visit the home that inspired the book, click here. I have a feeling I’ll be paying the Biltmore Estate a visit myself in the not-too-distant future.

 

The Sword of Summer

I’ve been a huge fan of Rick Riordan’s books since I first picked up The Lightning Thief nearly six years ago. (Notice I said “books.” The movie adaptations of The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters are horrible and should be avoided. I’m pretty sure Mr. Riordan agrees with me.) Since then, I’ve devoured the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Kane Chronicles, and The Heroes of Olympus. (I still have Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods and Greek Heroes in my to-read pile. I’ll get to those soon.)

Anyhoo, I say all that to introduce Riordan’s latest book–the first book in a new series–The Sword of Summer. Previous series gave us tastes of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. This one, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, provides readers with a closer look at Norse mythology. As you’ve likely guessed, this series focuses on Magnus Chase (notice the familiar last name) and the realization that he’s got a pretty major role to play in preventing the end of the world, or Ragnarok. No biggie, right?

For the past couple of years, Magnus Chase has been on his own. Following the traumatic death of his mother, Magnus left his home behind and survived on Boston’s streets, relying only on the help of friends Blitz and Hearth to get by.

Magnus always feels as though he’s being watched, and he soon realizes that people are actively searching for him. His Uncle Randolph eventually does track him down only to saddle Magnus with some rather huge pieces of news: Magnus is a Norse demigod, he must find his father’s sword–the Sword of Summer–and do whatever he can to delay Ragnarok. No pressure.

As soon as Magnus learns the truth about his father (or some of it, at least), he knows a huge target is on his back. It quickly becomes abundantly clear that he’s absolutely correct. The fire giant, Surt, is determined to get the Sword of Summer, and he’ll do everything in his considerable power to obtain the weapon, including kill Magnus.

For Magnus, though, death is when the real adventure begins…

_______________

I’m going to stop here before I give too much more away. A lot happens in this book, and it’s really something you need to experience for yourself. Suffice it to say that Magnus Chase is everything we’ve come to expect from one of Rick Riordan’s heroes. He’s sarcastic, brave, and totally real…and he’s only one of the amazing characters in this book. I haven’t even touched on the wonderfully diverse cast of this book. I will say, though, that it includes a fashion-savvy dwarf, a deaf elf who doesn’t let his “disability” slow him down, and a Muslim Valkyrie. (Yes, you read that last bit right. It’s awesome.)

Now, I must confess that most of what I know about Norse mythology comes from Marvel, both comic books and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I had to throw a lot of that out the window almost immediately. I’m only a little sad about that. I do love Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki…so much so that I’m looking at a stand-up of him as I write this. Don’t believe me?

2015-12-22 20.01.38

The view from here…

At any rate, even though I had to forget most of what I thought I knew about Norse mythology, that didn’t slow my reading down at all. Riordan is great about explaining unfamiliar phrases (and there is a handy glossary in the back of the book), so it didn’t take very long to become familiar with the Norse gods and other assorted creatures. (After reading The Sword of Summer, I have to say that I’m particularly intrigued by Ratatosk, the immortal squirrel that terrorizes people in Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Makes me think twice about making the squirrels in my yard mad at me.)

I would say that The Sword of Summer is a must-purchase for libraries that serve middle grade and teen readers. Upper elementary may be a bit of a question mark, depending on your population. There are a couple of instances of cursing, but it’s really nothing gratuitous. I made the decision to place a couple of copies of this book in my elementary library, and I’ve had no complaints. It’s mostly 4th and 5th graders reading the book, and they’re gobbling it up. My students who love all of Riordan’s other books love The Sword of Summer just as much, and they’ve only had positive things to say. I call that a win.

The next book in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series is The Hammer of Thor. (One guess what that focuses on!) It’s slated for an October 4th, 2016, release. As usual, we’ve got a wait ahead of us.

Never fear, though, my fellow Riordan fans! There’s another series to look forward to! On May 3rd, we’ll get our hands on The Hidden Oracle, the first book in The Trials of Apollo. In this series, the god Apollo is made a human teenager after angering Zeus. (The horror!) He has to navigate the human world and try to find a way to be welcomed back to Olympus. And where does he go for help? Camp Half-Blood, of course! Exciting stuff!

If you’d like to learn more about The Sword of Summer and the other outstanding books by Rick Riordan, check out the author’s website. You can also catch up with him on Twitter, Tumblr, Blogspot, and Facebook. Additionally, here’s a trailer for The Sword of Summer produced by Disney Books. It doesn’t give too much away, but I hope it whets your appetite for this wonderful book.