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 Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

As of this afternoon, I’ve now read four of April Henry’s books. In addition to The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, I’ve read The Night She Disappeared, The Body in the Woods, and Torched. All of these books have convinced me that April Henry is one of my go-to authors for YA suspense. These books are fast-paced, thrilling reads that captured my attention and wouldn’t let go…and they’re all perfect when it’s gloomy and grim outside and you want a book to match that feeling.

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, which has been out for a couple of years now, is probably the quickest read of all of the April Henry books I’ve read. The chapters are short, but they pack quite a punch…as does the book’s protagonist.

She comes to in a cabin. She doesn’t know where she is, what’s happened to her, or how she got here. She can’t even remember who she is. All she knows is that two men are standing over her, and it’s crystal clear that they intend to kill her. Why? What exactly do they think she knows?

When opportunity strikes, so does she. She does what she must to get free of one of her attackers, and she’s amazed at the defensive skills she displays. Where did she learn these skills…and why would she need them in the first place?

She’s now on the run, and she doesn’t know who to trust. She simply knows she must find some way to access her memories, no matter how painful they may be. With killers closing in and the possibility of being framed for heinous crimes, this girl needs to find help…fast.

Help comes in the form of Ty, a young man working the late shift at McDonald’s. He recognizes something in this girl that he’s experienced himself: desperation. Even though it could cost him his very life, he offers assistance and works to help her uncover the truth…about herself and the terrible circumstances that have led to this horrific, unimaginable situation.

As the truth comes to light, this girl–whose name is Cady–finally understands what’s going on around her: why she’s a target, what’s happened to her family, and why those hunting her must be stopped. It’s not just her life on the line. The fate of the entire world could be at risk.

Can one teenage girl and her unexpected companion possibly stop someone who’s willing to put the entire world in danger in the name of greed? Just what will become of this girl who was supposed to die?

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I feel like I’ve given way too much away here, and I apologize for that. I didn’t mention several of the major points in the book, so there are still a few surprises in store for those who choose to pick up this thriller. I would recommend the book to any middle grade, YA, or adult reader who is in the mood for a good mystery or suspense novel.

All that being said, I did have one issue with The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die. In my humble opinion, the ending was a little too abrupt. It seemed like there was a ton of build-up, and–BOOM–it’s over. Maybe I’m the only one who feels that way. Read the book for yourself, and let me know what you think.

If you’d like more information on this book and other mysteries by April Henry, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter and Facebook.

Published in: on December 30, 2015 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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NEED

NEED by Joelle Charbonneau hits stores tomorrow. If you’re looking for a book that will scare people away from social media, this may be the book for you. Some aspects of the book seem a bit outlandish, but most of it is all too plausible, especially when one considers how gullible some younger (and older) social media users tend to be.

It all seems fairly innocuous in the beginning. NEED, a new social media platform just for students at Nottawa High School, promises to meet every need…for a small price. At first, all users have to do is forward a NEED invitation to a few friends, and then they get what they’ve asked for–cell phones, gaming systems, cash, and more.

Soon, though, NEED begins asking users to do more than just forward an email or two. As the number of users grows, so do the demands of NEED. A special delivery here, a forged signature there. A picture of bank or government records. A harmless act of vandalism. Some students abandon NEED when they see what’s going on, but the majority go along with the site. How else will their needs be met?

But when people start committing truly heinous crimes–even murder–some begin to realize that NEED is more than just a simple social media site. Who is in charge of NEED? What is their endgame? Why are they targeting the students of Nottawa High, and is there anything that can be done to stop them?

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Given what I witness on social media every day–as well as all of the time I spend around young people–it’s easy to imagine the events of NEED as a reality.

Many people are looking to get “something for nothing,” and that’s just what NEED offers in the beginning. I bet we can all think of someone–perhaps even ourselves–who would fall prey to a site like NEED without asking the important questions. Why would a site like this exist? Who is in charge of it? Where does it get its funding? What is it trying to accomplish? Why would it focus only on teenagers? Would it all come tumbling down if–insert gasp of horror here–a teen were to confide in (and be believed by) a trusted adult?

I think those who read NEED will find themselves wanting to discuss its implications and likelihood of becoming a reality. (As for me, I would hope that it wouldn’t, but I don’t have that much faith in my fellow man. Perhaps that’s a failing of mine.)

Anyhoo, if you’d like more information on NEED, visit author Joelle Charbonneau’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

For those still not convinced to give NEED a read, check out the book trailer below. It makes me want to read the book all over again.

Published in: on November 2, 2015 at 3:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Unspoken

Spoilers ahead! This post focuses on Unspoken, book 3 in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls After Dark series. If you haven’t read the entire Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series, you might want to take care of that before proceeding. Here’s a list of books you need to read posthaste:

Now that we’ve taken care of that, let’s move on to Unspoken, the third and final (?) book in the Shadow Falls After Dark series…

Unspoken, which will be released to the masses tomorrow, continues the story of Della Tsang, a young vampire who is struggling with more than anyone should have to bear. Her father, who barely speaks to her, is about to go on trial for murdering his sister many years ago. Della knows he didn’t do it, but gathering the evidence to prove his innocence is difficult. She’s convinced that her uncle, long thought to be dead, knows something–or is guilty of the crime himself–but she can’t find him and get answers to her questions. And why is her uncle so elusive? Well, Chase Tallman may be partly to blame for that.

Chase wants to do everything he possibly can to help Della, but, just like Della is convinced of her father’s innocence, Chase is certain that Eddie, Della’s uncle, didn’t commit this horrible crime. But if neither of the brothers killed their sister, who did? And how can two vampires with their own issues work together to find a killer who’s been on the run for decades?

Part of Della wants to trust Chase, but another part feels like she’s being forced to rely on him. Yes, they are bonded, but is that the only reason they are so drawn to each other? Does Della really have any choice in her mixed-up feelings for Chase? She’s spinning out of control, and Chase isn’t exactly helping. He’s trying to be honest with Della, but his omissions are just as bad (in Della’s eyes) as outright lies. What exactly is he hiding? Is he trying to shield Della from the truth, or is he protecting someone else?

As Della, Chase, and an assortment of other friends at Shadow Falls work to reveal what really happened in Della’s father’s case, another heinous act is also demanding their attention. And, as they begin to examine evidence (and as Della gets information from a couple of ghosts), it seems that the two crimes are somehow linked. How is this possible? And can they find the real culprit before time runs out?

Are Della and Chase ready for what lies ahead? Read Unspoken by C.C. Hunter to find out.

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I thought Unspoken was a rather satisfying end to Della’s story in the world of Shadow Falls. I liked how things worked out for the main characters, and the story made me feel okay about how they’ll move forward. (I’m trying really hard here not to spoil anything for anyone. Can you tell?)

One thing that I didn’t really touch on in the recap above was Della’s relationship with her father. If you’ve read any of the previous books, you know it’s strained. Well, it definitely gets worse in Unspoken. By the end of the book, I sort of understood why her father acted the way he did, but that did not help my urge to give him a good smack. He was horrible to Della, and here she was, busting her tail to keep him out of prison–something he wasn’t even aware of. She could have turned her back on him–just like he did to her–but her love and loyalty were more powerful than anything, including what her father believed she was capable of. (You’ll have to read the book to figure out what I’m talking about here.)

I’m hoping we’ll see more of Della and the gang in future books. Although things are cool now with Della–and with Kylie from the Shadow Falls series–Miranda’s future is still up in the air. We saw a bit of her story in Spellbinder, but I’m thinking there’s a lot more to come–hopefully in a full-length novel or even an entire series.

Speaking of more to come, all of the e-novellas in the series are finally coming out in print. All four of them will be released in one volume, Almost Midnight, which will be out on February 2nd. According to C.C. Hunter’s website, this collection will also feature a new story from another Shadow Falls character. No idea who at this point.

For those considering adding Unspoken or any of the other books in the series to your libraries, I would recommend these stories to libraries that serve teen readers. It’s not that I don’t think some middle school students can handle it. Some likely can, but the books do have some mature situations that are more suited to young adults. Just my two cents.

In closing, I’d like to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read Unspoken and the rest of Della’s story. I truly appreciate it!

 

Published in: on October 26, 2015 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lair of Dreams

Caution: Read The Diviners by Libba Bray before proceeding. There may be spoilers ahead!

Last month, I finally made time to read the first book in a thrilling, terrifying series. That series, of course, began with The Diviners. Yesterday, I finished reading the second book in the series, Lair of Dreams. Well, if The Diviners scared me, Lair of Dreams terrified me to the depths of my soul. Thanks to the fabulous Libba Bray, I can now add dreaming to the long list of things that scare me. (If you’re curious, that list includes–but is not limited to–clowns, balloons, thunderstorms, zombies, most forms of social interaction, the dark, and failure. Yes, I’m aware I have issues.)

Moving on…

Lair of Dreams picks up where The Diviners left off. Let’s dive in, shall we?

After the horrendous battle against Naughty John, the whole world knows of the existence of Diviners, and Evie O’Neill is determined to be the most famous of them all. She is now the “Sweetheart Seer,” and she performs her object readings on a very popular radio show. Evie is a media darling, and she’ll do almost anything to keep it that way…even aligning with her nemesis, Sam Lloyd.

As for Sam, he has own agenda, and he needs Evie’s help to finally discover what really happened to his mother. He knows she’s still out there somewhere, but he’s having no luck in uncovering the truth behind “Project Buffalo,” the shady government project that may have something to do with locating (or even creating?) Diviners. Sam knows his mother was involved in the project, but he doesn’t know how…or why. He’s hoping that Evie’s object-reading ability will clear things up, but can he work with Evie, a girl who craves the spotlight, while keeping his own abilities a secret?

Evie and Sam have the media’s attention at the moment…but something else is in the news as well. A mysterious sleeping sickness has taken hold, and it has all of New York on edge. People are being trapped in their dreams, and there appears to be no cause or cure for this strange illness. Is there anyone who can figure out what is happening?

As it turns out, there is. Two young Diviners, Ling Chan and Henry DuBois, are dream-walkers, and the ability to discover what–or who–is responsible for the sleeping sickness may reside with them. But what if they don’t want to leave the dream world? What if it’s so much better than the prejudice and ridicule they face every day?

For many people–Ling and Henry included–dreams are quickly turning to nightmares, and there appears to be no escape. Diviners and their allies will have to work together to stop this evil from spreading and taking those they hold dear. But how? How can they stop an evil that exists in dreams?

On the fringes of this terror, there’s always the odd gray man in the stovepipe hat, known to some as the King of Crows. This shadowy figure, who was also present during the Naughty John fiasco, seems to thrive on terror, but his endgame is unclear. What does he have to do with the sleeping sickness, and how will the Diviners play into his plans?

As the Diviners navigate the terrifying dream world threatening to invade even their waking hours, they must also unite to face the uncertain future ahead of them. Something big is headed their way. Will their abilities be enough to fight it? Who or what will try to get in their way? And what will they discover about themselves and their “gifts” in the process?

Find out just how dangerous dreams can be when you read Lair of Dreams, the thrilling second installment in Libba Bray’s Diviners series.

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To say that I liked Lair of Dreams would be something of an understatement. Granted, I could not read it at night, especially right before bed, but I still enjoyed every bit of it. This book, like The Diviners, is rich, complex, and provides a rather interesting, alternate-history type look at life in the 1920s. Those who read this book may just find themselves doing a bit of research into just how much of it is historically accurate. (A lot of it, by the way.)

If you, like me, are already eager for more of The Diviners, well…we’re all out of luck for now. According to Goodreads, there will be two more books in the series, but there is no timeline on when we can expect them. Given that the two books we already have come in at around 600 pages each, I imagine it takes the wonderful Libba Bray quite some time to research, write, rewrite, and otherwise prepare the books for publication. So, I guess we’ll just have to be patient.

As news of future books in The Diviners is released, I imagine it will be on Libba Bray’s website first, so check there often. You can also follow the fantastic Ms. Bray on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram.

If you’d like to hear more about Lair of Dreams from Libba Bray herself, check out the interview below from BookCon 2015. Enjoy!

The Diviners

My favorite historical period (in America, at least) is the Roaring Twenties. I also enjoy reading books about people with supernatural abilities. Well, my latest read combined those two things in an amazing story that I’m still thinking about.

This book, The Diviners by Libba Bray, was a lengthy tome, and I couldn’t read it much at night because I’m a wuss, so it took me longer than I would have liked to finish. That being said, I adored this book, and I look forward to reading the second book, Lair of Dreams, which came out last month. I’m fairly certain it will give me the same case of heebie-jeebies that I got while reading the first book.

Evie O’Neill doesn’t quite fit in her boring Ohio hometown…and everyone knows it. When scandal erupts–a scandal that Evie had a part in revealing–she is sent to live with her uncle in Manhattan, and Evie couldn’t be happier. She knows she’ll find the life she’s always wanted in the Big Apple, and she’s ready to take the city by storm.

As Evie explores the speakeasies, parties, and good times that are so much a part of New York in the 20’s, she’s also being introduced to her Uncle Will’s work in the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. Uncle Will is soon called to assist with a strange murder investigation, and Evie finds herself right in the middle of it.

You see, Evie has a special ability that helps her to know much more about these gruesome murders than she should…and this ability may just make Evie a target herself. Evie is quickly caught up in an investigation that leads her to learn more about a dangerous cult, ritualistic killings, ghosts come back to life, and someone’s quest to bring about the end of the world.

How can one girl hope to stop such horrible events? Evie will have to use all of her considerable wits to combat the evil to come, but it still may not be enough. She’s on a collision course with a vicious killer, and her charms and abilities may not get her out of this mess.

And Evie is not the only person with abilities that put her in a killer’s cross-hairs. Theta, a chorus girl with a tragic past, has her own dangerous secret. Memphis once had sought-after healing abilities that left him after his mother’s death. His brother, Isaiah, is showing signs of his own special–and disturbing–gifts. Then there’s Sam, a pickpocket who has the handy ability of going completely unnoticed when he wishes to. And let’s not forget Jericho, a student of Evie’s uncle, and a young man who isn’t completely what he seems.

All of these people will, on some level, come face-to-face with the horrendous evil that is waking in New York, and each of them will have to do what they can to protect themselves and those they love. Will they be able to stop what’s coming before it’s too late? Or will one of them be a murderer’s next victim?

Answer these questions and many more* when you read The Diviners by the fantastic Libba Bray.

*Warning: For every answer you receive, about a thousand questions will pop up in its place. It’s kind of awesome.

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To say that I like The Diviners would be a major understatement. This book was rich, terrifying, entertaining, complex, and filled with characters that I want to know more about. (If you’re familiar with Libba Bray’s other books, this is probably not news.) Luckily, The Diviners is only the first book. Lair of Dreams was released on August 25th, and there are rumored to be two more books in this captivating series.

In my most humble opinion, The Diviners a series more suited to teen readers, but some mature middle grade readers may be able to handle it. There’s a certain amount of rule-breaking and alcohol use–completely true to the historical period–that might keep it from being a must-purchase for libraries that serve middle grade students. (For instance, I definitely wouldn’t put this book in the hands of sixth or seventh grader.) I simply think mature teen readers will be able to read this book and keep social and historical context in mind. That’s all, really.

If you like your historical fiction with a supernatural twist (or vice versa), I’d highly recommend The Diviners. To learn more about the series as a whole, I urge you to visit the series website. There’s loads of information on The Diviners, Lair of Dreams, and the amazing Libba Bray.

The Girl from Felony Bay

So, I’ve been struggling to finish the last of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. For whatever reason, it’s taken me longer to finish the twenty nominated books than ever before. (I think the abundance of animal books may be to blame.)

Well, last night, I finished another SCCBA nominee (only one more to go!), and this one was probably one of the best of this year’s list. The book was The Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson. Even though the book was nearly 400 pages long, I devoured it in less than twenty-four hours. It was excellent.

Abbey Force has had a rough time of it lately. Her father is in a coma and can’t defend himself against some fairly awful accusations. Her beautiful home, Reward Plantation in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, had to be sold to pay off her dad’s supposed debts. And Abbey had to move in with her horrible Uncle Charlie and his wife, Ruth.

But it’s not all bad…

Abbey soon meets the daughter of Reward Plantation’s new owner. Bee Force (no relation) is Abbey’s age, and their families have a connection that goes back to before the Civil War. It appears that Abbey’s ancestors kept Bee’s ancestors as slaves, and Bee’s family took on Force as their last name after the war was over. Even though their family stories could have driven a wedge between these two girls, instead it brings them closer together, and they soon become as close as sisters…and they’ll need that closeness to weather the storm that’s headed their way.

Abbey is determined to prove to everyone that her father is innocent, and Bee wants to help her new friend. It quickly becomes clear that the two girls are on to something, but what? Why are there “No trespassing” signs and big holes around Felony Bay? Why was this parcel of land sold separately from Reward Plantation? Why is Uncle Charlie so smug all of a sudden, and what does the Deputy Sheriff have to do with his new attitude? What’s the connection with Abbey’s dad and the accusations made against him? Can two twelve-year-old girls really prove that something sinister is going on?

Abbey and Bee are working to solve this mystery, and their investigation takes them all over Charleston and Reward Plantation. Danger abounds, and the girls eventually uncover a plot that dates back over a century. Can they reveal the truth before it’s too late? Or will all of their sleuthing make them the next target of whoever is trying to frame Abbey’s dad?

Join Abbey and Bee Force in their quest for the truth when you read The Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson!

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I’m sure the South Carolina connection had a little to do with why I enjoyed this book so much. More than that, though, was the excellent, compelling story. I was eager to turn each page and find out what Abbey and Bee were going to get into next. I can only hope my students feel the same way (especially since this book is also one of our Battle of the Books titles this year). Rest assured, I will talk The Girl from Felony Bay up at every opportunity.

In addition to being a great example of a mystery, The Girl from Felony Bay could also serve as a mentor text for studies on figurative language. J.E. Thompson, like many other Southern writers, doesn’t just tell the reader what something looks or feels like. He paints a picture, and he uses vivid, descriptive language to do it. The similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and other literary tools in this book are great examples that students may want to employ in their own writing.

I wish I had more time to extoll all of the virtues of this book, but I’m late for supper at my mom’s house, so I’ll wrap it up. Read this book. Share this book with your students. I recommend it to all readers in upper elementary and middle grades, but I think it’s a mystery that readers of all ages can and will enjoy.

And that’s not all, folks!

If you want more of Abbey and Bee, there’s another Felony Bay book out there. Disappearance at Hangman’s Bluff follows these two girls into another mystery. I’ll be ordering this book for my school library as soon as I return to work tomorrow.

For even more information on The Girl from Felony Bay, Disappearance at Hangman’s Bluff, and author J.E. Thompson, I invite you to visit the author’s website. Happy reading!

Published in: on September 7, 2015 at 4:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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.

Published in: on August 16, 2015 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Spellbinder

If you’re not caught up on C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series, you might want to take care of that before reading this post or Spellbinder, the upcoming novella set in this magical world. The books in these series thus far are:

And now we have Spellbinder, a story that takes place after the events of Eternal, the second Shadow Falls After Dark novel. This novella will be released in eBook format on June 30th, and it centers around Miranda, a young witch who is trying to live up to the expectations of those around her…even when it could put her very life at risk.

Miranda Kane has always been something of a klutz when it comes to managing her magic. She can never seem to please her exacting mother, who wants nothing more than for Miranda to be a Wiccan high priestess. Miranda never gets her spells quite right, and she’s sure that’s not going to change in the latest spell-casting competition her mother’s dragged her into, especially when Tabitha, Miranda’s nemesis, is also competing.

Almost immediately, things get off to a rocky start for Miranda, and she can’t seem to shake the feeling of foreboding that surrounds her. Something is off about this competition, and Miranda’s not the only one that senses it. She shares her concerns with her best friends, Kylie and Della, and all of them eventually realize that someone–or something–is targeting the witches in this competition. Why? Who would care so much about a spell-casting competition for teenage witches?

As the competition leads Miranda and company to Paris, the threat intensifies, as does Miranda’s confusion about the turmoil that is her life. Why does Tabitha seem to hate her so much? Why are her parents keeping secrets? What’s going on with her ex-boyfriend, a shapeshifter currently living in Paris, and why does she even care?

Miranda Kane is about to get the answers she needs, but she may not be ready for what those answers might mean. How will they change her life and what she’s always believed about herself? And how will they impact her future?

_______________

I know we’ll see more of Miranda in the third Shadow Falls After Dark novel, Unspoken, but Spellbinder has really whet my appetite for a meatier story centering on Miranda. Given what happened in this novella, I’m certain she’ll get another story, but I don’t know at this point if it will be a full-length novel. I hope it is.

Remember that this story will be released to the masses on June 30th. (Thank you, NetGalley, for allowing me to read it early!) If you’re new to the world of Shadow Falls, you’ve got a bit of time to catch up before then. If you’re all caught up, I think you’ll be as pleased with Spellbinder–and its connections to the other books–as I was.

For those who’d like to learn a bit more about the Shadow Falls books and C.C. Hunter, you can connect with the author on her website, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. Enjoy!

I Am the Traitor

Warning: Read the first two books in Allen Zadoff’s The Unknown Assassin series, I Am the Weapon and I Am the Mission, before proceeding.

Happy publication day to Allen Zadoff! The third and final book of The Unknown Assassin trilogy, I Am the Traitor, drops today. Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to finish this book yesterday, so now I’m sharing what I think about it (and the series as a whole) with all of you. You’re welcome.

I Am the Traitor continues the story of a sixteen-year-old boy involved with a shadow organization known only as The Program. In the previous two books, this boy began to question his place in The Program, his orders, and the bits of information they chose to reveal. Now, he’s on the run, and he’s trying to uncover the truth about his past and what The Program is really trying to do. He doesn’t know who to trust, and the odds of getting out of this mess alive aren’t looking good…

He’s sixteen years old, he’s a highly trained assassin, and he’s on a collision course with the truth about himself and his past.

He’s been known by many names–Ben, Daniel, and others on dozens of missions with The Program. Now, though, he’s returning to his true name, Zach Abram, and he’s doing everything possible to find out what really happened when he was enlisted as a child soldier in The Program. But Zach may not be prepared for some of the answers he receives.

As Zach searches for answers, he must also find a way to rescue the only friend he’s ever really had. Howard, a tech genius Zach met on a previous mission, has been captured by The Program. Zach knows Howard is likely being tortured, all because he tried to help find the truth.

When Zach finds Howard, however, he also finds another kid–a girl named Tanya. Zach doesn’t completely trust this girl, but there’s also something about her that manages to draw him in. In any case, he now has two other people to worry about, and The Program–and one of its top assassins–is closing in.

Even with the constant threat of The Program looming, Zach, Howard, and Tanya manage to find bits and pieces of information on the biggest mystery in Zach’s life: What really happened to his parents? Did The Program assassinate them like he’s always been told? Were they killed in an accident? Or is the truth much more sinister and complicated? What’s really going on, and is Zach prepared to handle what’s revealed about his family and his origins with The Program?

A showdown with those who run The Program is coming, and Zach must gear up for the fight of his life. Is he prepared to do what must be done to finally be free? Or will he choose to stay with The Program, an organization that has been the only constant in his life for the past five years? And who can he really trust in this life-changing dilemma?

Decisions must be made, and Zach has to be ready–using all of his Program training–to deal with whatever consequences come his way. Who will he ultimately betray in the end–The Program, his friends, or himself?

Join Zach and company on their quest for the truth when you read I Am the Traitor, the thrilling conclusion to a gripping series by Allen Zadoff!

_______________

Now that I’ve finished this entire series (I’m guessing), I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It was action-packed, and it definitely kept me guessing. The twist at the end of this final book threw me for a loop, and, though I probably should have seen it coming, I was as surprised as our anti-hero, Zach.

Even though I like a clear-cut ending as much as the next person, I did kind of like that I Am the Traitor left things a bit open. It’s really up to the reader (at least at this point) to determine how the story proceeds for Zach and what the ramifications of his decisions will be. My hope is that young writers will develop some interesting fanfiction and show us how things progress for the remaining characters in this series. (Yeah, I said “remaining.” Big shocker that not everyone survives in a series about teen assassins.)

Given that violence is a huge part of this entire series, I don’t know how comfortable I feel recommending these books to middle grade readers. (Yes, I realize they likely see this stuff all the time in video games, TV, and movies, not to mention the evening news. I don’t have to pile on, though.) Also, I Am the Traitor has an instance or two of sexy times. (Again, I’m not so naive that I think younger readers don’t experience or know anything about sex. Again, I don’t have to pile on.) With all of that stuff together, I would say the series as a whole is better suited to those in high school and beyond. Ultimately, however, it’s up to you to decide what belongs in your classroom, school, or personal library. I’m just a messenger.

In closing, if you like The Bourne Identity and other psychological thrillers with a bit of political intrigue thrown in, give the Unknown Assassin trilogy a try. I hope you enjoy this wild ride as much as I did!

For more information about I Am the Traitor, the rest of the series, and author Allen Zadoff, check out the author’s website, Twitter feed, the series Facebook page, and Goodreads.

*Note: You may often find this series referred to by different names, Boy Nobody being the most prevalent.*

Published in: on June 9, 2015 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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