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.

See How They Run

Possible spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read All Fall Down, book one in Ally Carter’s Embassy Row series, you might want to take care of that before reading this post.

This week, I finally made time to read See How They Run, the second book in the Embassy Row series. This sequel picks up pretty soon after the first book concludes. I’m not going to rehash everything that happened in All Fall Down, but I will say that our protagonist, Grace Blakely, has uncovered some shocking truths about what really happened to her mother…and her own part in those events. Now, Grace is dealing with the fallout of what she’s discovered as well as attempting to handle a whole new set of problems. Of course, problems seem to be par for the course when a person’s every move has the potential to cause an international incident. Such is life on Embassy Row.

As the granddaughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Adria, Grace should be used to a certain amount of political intrigue. But nothing could really prepare her for what’s being revealed to her. It’s not enough that she’s just realized that she’s largely responsible for her own mother’s death. No, now she’s learning that her mother was part of some secret society charged with manipulating events for the supposed protection of Adria and the small country’s history, secrets, and continued welfare. Grace is supposed to continue the society’s work, but she’s not sure if she can trust this shadowy organization. After all, how can she trust others when she doesn’t even trust herself?

While Grace is processing this new information–while trying to get a handle on her PTSD–she’s also dealing with new arrivals on Embassy Row. Her brother, Jamie, is visiting from West Point, and he’s brought a friend with him. Jamie is worried about Grace, but his friend, Spence, seems interested in her. Why, she wonders? What could Spence possibly see in the crazy girl that everyone else tiptoes around?

To further complicate matters, Alexei, her brother’s former best friend and son of the Russian Ambassador, is back in town, and he’s not thrilled about the new guy sniffing around Grace. Alexei and Spence come to blows, but surely a simple fight over a girl couldn’t lead to an international fiasco, right? Yeah…think again.

When Spence’s body washes up on the Adrian coast, fingers immediately begin pointing Alexei’s way. Grace is certain Alexei did nothing wrong, and she becomes determined to prove that her friend is being framed. Her friends agree to help her, but how can they possibly prove Alexei’s innocence when all evidence seems to point his way? And who could possibly want to kill Spence anyway? Surely a simple fight isn’t enough to lead to murder. Could Spence have been involved in something else that none of them knew about? Could that have been what led to his demise?

Grace is determined to find the answers she seeks, but she may not be ready for what those answers ultimately mean…for Alexei, her past, her family, or herself. What could her discovery mean for her future in Adria? Time will tell…

Before I give too much more away, I’m going to start wrapping things up. I will say, however, that See How They Run ends on a cliffhanger, and there are huge implications for the third (and final?) book, Take the Key and Lock Her Up. Book three is supposed to be released on December 27th of this year.

If you enjoyed All Fall Down, I think you’ll appreciate See How They Run as well. It shines a light on the darkness within Grace’s mind, and readers get a glimpse at what it might be like for someone who suffers with PTSD. (Although, can we really call it post-traumatic stress when the trauma is ongoing?)

If you like mysteries and political thrillers with a YA twist, this is definitely the series for you. To learn more about the Embassy Row series and other books by the fabulous Ally Carter, check out the author’s website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

The Killer in Me

Last night, I finished yet another book that I got to read courtesy of NetGalley. This book, The Killer in Me by Margot Harrison, is due out on July 12th, and it’s a great read for teens and adults who like murder mysteries and psychological thrillers.

The Killer in Me is a somewhat convoluted tale, and readers may stay just as confused as the protagonists…but that’s a good thing. That’s what keeps the pages turning. Am I right about what’s going on? Am I wrong? What’s really happening here and how will everything end? The doubt I experienced while reading this book made me even more eager to keep reading, simply so that I could get the answers I desperately craved. (I actually got so involved in the book that I forgot to eat dinner last night. I looked up at one point, saw that it was 9pm, and just kept right on reading. Dinner could wait.)

Nina Barrows has been plagued by strange dreams for as long as she can remember. Every night when she closes her eyes, she sees the life of another–a man she knows as the Thief. This man is a killer, and he’s good at what he does. He leaves no trace of himself or his victims, and no one suspects what he’s truly capable of.

No one but Nina.

She’s done enough research to believe that the Thief is real, even if she only knows of his exploits through her dreams. She needs to catch him in the act and expose him for the killer that he is. But how? How can one teenage girl expose a serial killer, especially when there’s no evidence–other than the images in her own mind–of what he’s done? Who would believe her if she told the truth about her dreams and their connection to possible criminal activity? Would they think she had something to do with these killings? More to the point, does she have something to do with them?

Eventually, Nina finds help in the form of Warren, a guy from school who would do nearly anything for her. He accompanies her on a quest to find the truth about the Thief, a man they come to realize is a seemingly normal guy named Dylan Shadwell.

Nina and Warren track Shadwell to his home in New Mexico. It is here that Nina uncovers a shocking truth that could change everything she thought she knew about herself, her dreams, and her complicated past.

What is Nina’s connection to Dylan Shadwell? Is he really the normal guy he seems to be, or is he playing an elaborate game with Nina at the center? Will Nina’s obsession with uncovering the truth amount to a wild-goose chase, or will she discover more than she ever wanted to know?

Who is the Thief? Is it Shadwell? Is it Nina? Is this mysterious killer even real…or is he a figment of Nina’s imagination?

Discover the remarkable truth for yourself when you read The Killer in Me by Margot Harrison.

I don’t want to give more away than I already have, so I’m going to wrap things up quickly. It’s enough to say that there are some “Holy crap!” moments in this book. Some you may be able to see coming. Others will likely shock you. You’re in for a thrill ride either way.

In my most humble opinion, The Killer in Me is a good book for upper middle grade, teen, and adult readers. Yes, it’s essentially about a serial killer–who may or may not be real–and that brings with it some gruesome imagery. It’s not, however, gratuitous. It’s true to the story and is not overly graphic (most of the time). Some middle grade readers will be able to handle it. Know your readers, and recommend this book accordingly.

If I’ve whetted your appetite for this book and you’d like to learn more about The Killer in Me, visit author Margot Harrison’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

Happy reading!

The Darkest Corners

I had planned to take a break from blogging during my vacation. Well, that’s just not working out for me. Earlier today, I finished reading The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas, and I have to get my thoughts down while they’re still fresh.

So…The Darkest Corners. How can I best describe this book? It’s a murder mystery, but there’s so much more to it. Tessa, our protagonist, is returning to Fayette, Pennsylvania, after a ten-year absence, and her reasons for returning are just as complicated as those that make her stick around.

Tessa is back in Fayette to say goodbye to her dying father. While she doesn’t get the chance for that last meeting, she does find herself once again pulled into the case that changed her life forever…and will continue to do so.

Ten years ago, a serial killer known as the Ohio River Monster was on the loose in Fayette. Tessa and her friend Callie testified at the trial of a man thought to be the killer, but new evidence may set this man free. What if they were wrong? What if an innocent man is in prison and the real killer is still out there?

When another girl is killed in the same manner as the Monster’s victims, Tessa is more certain than ever that she and Callie got it wrong. But how can they prove it? Will they be able to bring the real killer(s) to justice when the police couldn’t? And what will Tessa uncover about herself and her own family throughout the course of her investigation?

Secrets will be revealed, and the truth will soon come to light. How will this change Tessa and everything she believes about herself? Read The Darkest Corners to find out.

While I thought this book was a little slow to start, I absolutely devoured the last two-thirds of it. I couldn’t read fast enough, and I was thrown by the revelations at the end of the book. Totally didn’t see any of that coming. Kudos to author Kara Thomas for keeping me guessing and delivering a whopper of a surprise at the end.

If you’re considering adding The Darkest Corners to your library, I advise caution with younger readers. In my opinion, this is a YA book. It addresses things like murder, drug use, drinking, and teen prostitution. The language used reflects the seriousness and grittiness of these situations. Keep that in mind.

To learn more about The Darkest Corners and other books by Kara Thomas, visit the author’s website. Enjoy!

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!

Saving Kabul Corner

Last night, I finished yet another of the 16-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. The book was Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai. This book is a companion novel to Shooting Kabul, but you definitely don’t need to read the first book to appreciate the second. The two stories stand on their own. (I haven’t read the first book, but I may change that after reading Saving Kabul Corner. I liked it more than anticipated.)

Before I give a synopsis of Saving Kabul Corner, let me say that I love that this book is on the SCCBA list for next year. It gives readers the opportunity to look at a realistic representation of Afghan-American culture, something that some of them only see portrayed negatively–whether on the news or in conversations they hear. Maybe it will help them to be more empathetic. At the very least, I hope this book will start some conversations, and I am thrilled to bring it to the attention of students, parents, and my fellow educators.

Life was going great for twelve-year-old Ariana until her perfect cousin Laila moved in. Where Ariana is kind of a tomboy who loves television and origami, Laila is the perfect Afghan girl. She speaks Farsi, Pukhto, and English, she cooks, she helps out at the family grocery store, and she has impeccable manners. Ariana doesn’t see how she can possibly measure up, and she’s not too happy that she has to share her room, her school, and now her friends with Laila.

Things go from bad to worse for Ariana (and the rest of her family) when another Afghan grocery store moves into their shopping center. The adults are tense due to this competing store, and there’s talk of a family feud that goes all the way back to Afghanistan. That talk only intensifies when both stores are vandalized. Neither family claims responsibility for these actions. What could possibly be going on?

Ariana, curious by nature, begins to gather clues as to what’s happening with the rival stores, and she eventually enlists the help of cousin Laila (who’s not as bad as Ariana first thought), her best friend Mariam, and Wali, the son of the other grocery store’s owner. These four kids investigate who could have something to gain by destroying the two stores. What they find will surprise everyone.

Can Ariana and company solve this mystery, save their family businesses, and somehow restore peace to their families? Find out when you read Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai.

I think Saving Kabul Corner could shine a light on a culture that many American readers may not be familiar with. I admit that I knew very little about Afghan culture before reading this book. Now, however, I want to know more. I’m hoping that my students feel the same way. This book could serve as a tool for understanding and appreciating differences–and similarities–instead of allowing preconceived notions or fear color how people are treated.

Not only does Saving Kabul Corner educate readers about Afghan culture, it also highlights the political climate in Afghanistan, now and in the past. This book does not shy away from talking about how women are treated in Afghanistan, how the Taliban came to power, and the current circumstances in the country. Many who read this book may just want to do further research about Afghanistan, its volatile history, and how America has impacted the country and its people, both positively and negatively. (An author’s note at the end of the book provides further information.)

Aside from all of the cultural and political stuff, Saving Kabul Corner is a good mystery reminiscent of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and even Scooby-Doo. (There are no dogs in this book, though. That’s a good thing, in my opinion,) I recommended this book to several of my mystery-loving students today, and I’m sure they’ll enjoy putting the puzzle pieces together as much as I did.

If you’d like more information on Saving Kabul Corner and other books by N.H. Senzai, visit her website or Twitter. As for me, I think I’ll now add Shooting Kabul to my staggering TBR pile.

Happy reading!


The Girl I Used to Be

A few minutes ago, I finished reading The Girl I Used to Be, the newest offering from YA suspense author April Henry. This book comes out on May 3rd, and, while I have a couple of issues with it, I do think it will be a good fit for mystery lovers and reluctant readers.

Olivia Reinhart hasn’t always been the girl she is now. Once upon a time, she was Ariel Benson. When she was just three years old, her mother was brutally murdered, her father disappeared, and Ariel was somehow left at a Walmart miles away. For the longest time, everyone thought her father must have killed her mom, but new evidence has come to light indicating that’s not what happened. It seems that Ariel’s dad was killed at the same time as her mom, and the killer was the one who took Ariel to a place he/she knew the little girl would be found.

Now, Olivia/Ariel is returning to her hometown for her father’s memorial service, and she decides to stick around to find out what really happened to her parents. She tells no one who she is. After all, if the killer is still around, she doesn’t want to be his next victim.

As Olivia spends more time in this small town, she learns more about her parents and their friends, she finds herself experiencing flashes of memories, and she begins to form theories on who may have committed such a heinous crime. But she can’t do too much snooping around or people will get suspicious as to her true identity. That’s where Duncan comes in.

Duncan, a childhood friend who recognizes Olivia as Ariel almost immediately, offers to help Olivia get the information she so desperately needs. No one will question a local kid curious about this horrible event and what’s going on with the investigation now. Together, the two begin to piece together a puzzle, but even they aren’t prepared for the truth.

Can Olivia figure out what happened to her parents before the killer strikes again? Is she destined to be the next victim? Find out when you read The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry.

Even though this book kept my interest, I kind of felt like it moved too fast. There wasn’t a ton of build-up, and the big reveal was too abrupt for my taste. Also, I figured out “whodunit” pretty early on, and I was sort of disappointed to learn that I was right. I think a few more chapters and red herrings would have fleshed the book out a bit and made it much stronger.

Another issue I had was the somewhat forced, out-of-nowhere romance between Olivia and Duncan. I just didn’t buy it. Maybe I’m alone in that and in the sentiment that not every book needs a romantic arc.

Aside from all that, though, I did think The Girl I Used to Be was an entertaining book, and it will find its place in many libraries that serve middle and high school readers. It’s a quick read that will appeal to mystery lovers, most especially those who’ve read the author’s previous works.

If you’d like more information on The Girl I Used to Be (which drops on May 3rd) and other mysteries by April Henry, check out the author’s websiteTwitter, and Facebook.