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.

Masterminds

Hello, dear readers. I bring greetings from the comfort of my home during my gloriously uneventful spring break. So far, I’ve managed to finish a couple of books, watch way too much TV, and see two rather boring movies. (The movies were Batman vs. Superman and Allegiant. Not impressed with either of those films.)

Anyhoo…let’s move on to one of the books I recently finished, Masterminds by Gordon Korman. This book is another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, and it’s the first book in a trilogy. (The second book, Criminal Destiny, is already out.)

I feel fairly certain that the Masterminds series will be a hit with most upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s full of action, suspense, mystery, a bit of science fiction, and a bunch of kids who discover that their entire lives are basically lies. Good stuff.

The town of Serenity is a lot like Mary Poppins–“practically perfect in every way.” There’s no crime, no poverty, no conflict of any kind. Every backyard has a pool, and no one really wants for anything. Sure, it’s kind of boring sometimes, but that’s to be expected in a town of only thirty kids. Serenity is almost completely closed off from the rest of the world, and most of the residents like it that way.

Most of them.

One day, Eli Frieden and his best friend Randy decide to do a little exploring outside of city limits. They don’t make it far before Eli is doubled over with some weird illness and rushed back to town. When Eli wakes up, he learns that Randy is leaving Serenity to live with his grandparents. Eli doesn’t really know what’s going on, but he’s sure that Randy isn’t telling him everything…and he’s right.

Eli begins to do a little digging, and he discovers that Randy wasn’t sent to live with his grandparents. But if that’s true, where did his best friend go? Why the big secret? What exactly is happening in this small, seemingly perfect town?

Eli enlists the help of a few friends in his quest for answers, and they begin to uncover the horrible truth about their town. Nothing is what it seems in Serenity, not even their own families. What does all this mean for Eli and friends? And what is the town’s strange connection to some of the most vicious criminals in the country?

Can a bunch of kids find out what’s going on, escape the lies surrounding them, and find help in the world outside of Serenity? Discover the truth for yourself when you read Masterminds by Gordon Korman!


Masterminds will probably not be a hard sell with my students. I won’t have to say much more than “a group of kids figure out that they’re parents are totally lying to them about their whole lives, the kids have to discover the truth, and deal with the fact that *spoilers* they have a weird connection to a bunch of criminal masterminds.” The books will fly off the shelves.

Most of my students–and many others, I guess–enjoy a good book that depicts kids getting the jump on adults, especially when those adults are doing something kind of horrible. I think readers who like Masterminds may also enjoy the Runaways graphic novels by Brian K. Vaughan and others. These books follow the children of supervillains. Awesome.

If Masterminds sounds like your cup of tea, you can learn more on author Gordon Korman’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Instagram.

Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile

My latest read is Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells. It’s a great addition to any libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers.

This first book in the Eddie Red Undercover series is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. (See the full list of nominees here.) This is only the third book on the list I’ve read–the others are The Iron Trial and Rain Reign–and I liked it more than I anticipated. It’s an easy, entertaining read with a cool mystery and a diverse cast of characters. The main character’s voice really shines through and makes the story even better. I think that many of my students will adore this first Eddie Red adventure, and they’ll definitely be on the lookout for more stories.

Edmund Xavier Lonnrot is not a typical sixth-grader. He has a photographic memory and the ability to draw nearly anything that passes through his field of vision. This gift comes in especially handy when Edmund and his dad are witnesses to a crime. Edmund is able to show the police exactly who and what he saw, and this ability gives the police an idea. Maybe they can use Edmund to help catch a notorious gang of art thieves.

It takes a bit of convincing, but Edmund’s parents finally agree to let him help the cops…as long as he’s not placed in any danger. And that’s how “Eddie Red” comes to be. Working undercover at various museums on the famous Museum Mile in New York City, Eddie Red takes note of any and all faces he sees and passes his notes and drawings along to the cops. Some people seem familiar, but, for the most part, Edmund’s job is kind of boring…at first.

Edmund knows he could figure things out if he had more information and a bit of help, so that’s exactly what he gets. He uses his photographic memory to take mental snapshots of the case files, maps, etc., and he works with his hyperactive best friend, Jonah, to piece together this confusing puzzle. But how can two kids hope to solve this mystery when the cops are stumped?

Never underestimate a couple of genius-level sixth-graders with a mystery in front of them…

Edmund and company are getting closer and closer to discovering the truth, but danger is also making its way nearer to Edmund. He could be headed for more trouble than he ever anticipated. What is Edmund to do?

Will Edmund give up his quest for the truth and ensure his own safety? Or will Eddie Red throw caution to the wind, try to expose the bad guys, and put himself in the line of fire? What would you do?


I look forward to talking to my students about this wonderful book. Edmund’s voice is spot-on and reminds me a bit of Percy Jackson in Rick Riordan’s fabulous books. He’s sarcastic, exasperated, and a totally realistic example of a sixth grader in the modern world. Even though I’ll be promoting Eddie Red Undercover to third-fifth graders, I have a feeling many of them will relate to Edmund’s thoughts and experiences.

Eddie Red Undercover is also an excellent choice for promoting diverse books. Edmund is a young African-American boy living in New York. His best friend is red-headed, Jewish, and has both ADHD and OCD. Edmund’s supervising officer is a large, rather hard-nosed, Italian man. And those are just the main characters in this book. The supporting cast is equally diverse and is a much more accurate snapshot of American life—particularly in New York City–than other similar stories.

Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile will not be a hard sell to readers who like a good mystery. It’s an enthralling read that will make readers of any age eager to turn the page. But this book is not just a mystery. It’s also full of humor, interesting facts about art, self-defense, and even things like geometry and chess. There’s something here for everyone!

If this first Eddie Red Undercover book sounds like something you’d enjoy, you may also want to take a look at the second book, Mystery in Mayan Mexico. A third book, Doom at Grant’s Tomb, will be out on April 5th.

To learn more about the entire Eddie Red Undercover series, check out author Marcia Wells’ website. You can also learn more about the book’s illustrator, Marcos Calo, here.

Famous Last Words

Today, I bring you one of next year’s nominees for the South Carolina Junior Book Award, Famous Last Words by Katie Alender. The SCJBA nominee list is primarily intended for middle grade readers, but I think Famous Last Words–and probably several others on the list–is a great read for older readers as well. It is an engrossing murder mystery with a supernatural twist that many tween, teen, and adult readers will enjoy.

Willa, a girl struggling with her past, has just moved from Connecticut to sunny Los Angeles. Her mother recently married a movie producer, and now Willa must adjust to an entirely new life. It doesn’t help matters that there’s a serial killer on the prowl in LA, a killer recreating scenes from famous movies. But surely Willa is safe from harm, right? (You can probably guess the answer to that question.)

It doesn’t take long for Willa to realize that something isn’t quite right in her new home. A strange presence tries to drown her in the pool. She sees words and numbers on the walls, and dead bodies and rose petals appear in the bathtub. No one else sees these terrifying images, and even Willa is starting to think she’s crazy. That feeling only increases when she begins to get visions of the Hollywood Killer and his victims. Who is haunting Willa, and what is this being trying to tell her?

As a newcomer in this strange city, there are few people that Willa can go to for help. Her mom and her new husband would never believe her. They’d probably think she was crazy and send her to a mental hospital. Her new “friend” Marnie is a pathological liar and can’t exactly be trusted with something like this. Maybe her stepdad’s cute assistant, Reed? Possibly. What about Wyatt, her sullen lab partner who has a strange obsession with the Hollywood Killer case?

Who can Willa trust to believe her and help her deal with the horrors she’s facing? And can she discover what the ghost in her house is trying to tell her before she’s a deranged killer’s next victim?


I’m going to stop before I give too much away. The fun of a murder mystery is discovering all this stuff for yourself, am I right?!

If I had one problem with this book, it would be the somewhat forced love story. It just didn’t make a ton of sense to me, and, honestly, I’d love to see the occasional book with a strong platonic relationship between a girl and a boy. No mention of lovey-dovey stuff. (Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?) For me, this book would have been more believable–even with the ghost story elements–without the romance. Maybe I’m alone in that. Then again, maybe not.

All in all, Famous Last Words is a a quick, easy, entertaining read that will definitely appeal to anyone looking for a good mystery. It kept me hooked from the first page, and I couldn’t wait to figure out if I was right about “whodunit.” (I called it early on. Let me know if you do, too!)

For more information on Famous Last Words and Katie Alender, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Happy reading!

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.