Ruin and Rising

Before proceeding, you MUST read the first two books in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series, Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm. There may be spoilers ahead.

If you’re still reading this post, you’ve probably figured out that I recently finished reading Ruin and Rising, the third book in the Grisha series. I had every intention of reading this book months ago, but other things kept getting in my way. This week, in an effort to escape reality, I decided that it was time to finish this breathtaking trilogy. That was a good call. (Given that I just wrapped up my fall book fair today, I really needed that escape.)

Ruin and Rising picks up where Siege and Storm ended. Ravka is now firmly in the Darkling’s control, and Alina Starkov is under the thumb of the Apparat, a priest who is “protecting” the Sun Summoner. Alina has been weakened by her recent showdown with the Darkling, and being sequestered in the White Cathedral, deep below ground and away from much-needed sunlight, has not helped matters. Her confidence is crumbling, and she wonders if there’s any way to defeat the Darkling and restore light to the world around her.

Hope is not lost, though. Alina and many of those loyal to her (including Mal, Alina’s fiercest protector and the boy who still has a hold on her heart) manage to escape the White Cathedral and make their way to the surface. They are now on the hunt for the firebird, believed to be the third amplifier and possibly the only thing that will allow them to finally stop the Darkling and his minions.

As Alina and company are searching for a creature that may not even exist, they are reunited with Nikolai, former privateer and current heir to the throne of Ravka. Nikolai arrives in the nick of time and spirits Alina and friends to his stronghold in the mountains. Together, they make plans for their continued quest for the firebird and the upcoming clash with the Darkling.

While in this mountain fortress, Alina also learns more about her adversary than she ever hoped to know. The Darkling’s past has defined his present and explains so much about his quest for power. Alina, in many ways, understands the Darkling and cannot deny that they have a connection, but she still seeks some way to destroy him…especially when he invades her allies’ hideaway, ravages many of her friends, and forces them to flee and regroup.

Now, Alina’s search for the firebird is more dire than ever. But it may be closer than she knows. What if the power to defeat the Darkling has been beside her all along? What will Alina do when she realizes that possessing this power could mean losing the one thing that allows her to hold onto her humanity?

No matter what, Alina and her allies will soon face off with the Darkling. Will they be overcome by his dark power, or will they find some way to unleash the light and defeat this seemingly unbeatable foe? Who will live? Who will die? Who will be left standing when all is said and done? Find out when you read Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo.


If it’s not immediately obvious, let me say that I adore this series. It ended with a bang and was quite satisfying. I have every intention of reading all of the novellas that go along with it as soon as I can. (I’m not sure if I’ll blog about them here, but I will read them.)

I also plan to read Bardugo’s duology, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, very soon. From what I understand, these two books also take place in the Grishaverse, and that’s awesome. I’m not ready to leave this world just yet.

If you or someone you know, teen or adult reader, is into fantasy, I’d definitely recommend Leigh Bardugo’s work. I know she’s got an adult series in the works, as well as Wonder Woman: Warbringer, and I’m eager to read those as well.

For more information on Ruin and Rising, the other books of the Grishaverse, and other books by Leigh Bardugo, check out her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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!

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.

Siege and Storm

Warning: Read Shadow and Bone before proceeding. I’d hate to spoil this amazing book for you, but I will. That’s just the kind of gal I am.

Truth time: It took me over a month to finish Siege and Storm, the second book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. This is not a commentary on how great the book was. The book was just as wonderful as I expected it to be. No, the fault lies with me, my book fair, and the general craziness that comes with this time of year. Honestly, I’m shocked that I found the time to finish the book yesterday.

Anyhoo…I did manage to finish Siege and Storm, and this second installment takes us further into Alina Starkov’s world and her place as the Sun Summoner. Those of you who’ve read the first book know that Alina has escaped the Darkling after his massacre on the Fold (and her part in it), and she’s now on the run with Mal. Well, what little peace these two have managed to find is about to come to an end…

After their close call with the Darkling and his allies, Alina and Mal are in hiding. They’re trying to find their place in a new land, working for pittances and attempting to keep their identities a secret…but at least they’re together. On some level, they know that they won’t stay hidden for long and that the Darkling–who they know did not perish during the horrific events of the Fold– will catch up to them eventually. That reckoning is coming sooner than they think…

What Alina and Mal couldn’t realize is that the Darkling has now tapped into a frightening new power, a darkness they are nearly incapable of fighting. He’s caught up with Alina and Mal, and he seeks to bind Alina more closely to him than she ever was before. But how? What more could the Darkling do to her, and is there anything–or anyone–who will stop him?

Alina and Mal receive the help they so desperately need in the form of Sturmhond, an infamous privateer who is keeping secrets of his own. Why is Sturmhond willing to go up against the Darkling? What is he hoping to gain from an alliance with Alina and Mal? Exactly what is this mysterious figure hiding?

Alina and company are growing ever closer to a showdown with the Darkling and his forces. Alina is doing everything in her considerable power to make sure they emerge victorious, but will it be enough? Can she rely on those closest to her, or are they working on their own agendas? And why is Alina still so drawn to the Darkling and the power he wields? Is she becoming like him? If so, what could that mean for her relationship with Mal and those who look to her for hope?

Join Alina in her continuing battles with the Darkling and the darkness within her own soul when you read Siege and Storm, the powerful second book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy.

_______________

There’s so much going on in Siege and Storm that I know I’ve left out huge chunks of what happened. If I really delved into everything that occurred, this post would take me hours upon hours to finish. (As much as I love this blog, I don’t have that kind of time.) You’ll simply have to read the book to really appreciate everything Alina, Mal, and friends face in this book. I can tell you that it’s definitely whetted my appetite for the no-doubt thrilling conclusion, Ruin and Rising (which I hope to get to sometime during my upcoming winter break).

If you’re still not convinced to pick up Siege and Storm (and the rest of this series), take a look at Fierce Reads’ book trailer below. It’s pretty great.

For more information on The Grisha trilogy and other works by Leigh Bardugo, check out her website and connect with her via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Enjoy!

Shadow and Bone

What can I say about Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo that has not already been said? I’m not sure, but I’ll give it a go…

Shadow and Bone, the first book in The Grisha trilogy, came out three years ago, and it’s been in my TBR pile almost as long. (The entire series is now complete, so I guess I did okay. No waiting for me!) Well, I finally dove into the book a while ago, and I finished it earlier today. Here are my thoughts in a nutshell:

Holy crap on a cracker.

Why did I wait so long to read this book?! It is so freakin’ good that I’m about to unleash my inner (and outer) fangirl. I am super-eager to get my hands on every other book, novella, or anything else I can find in this series. I predict I will be virtually useless this weekend because I’ll be in a Grisha fog. (I am not, of course, counting the time I spend with my nieces on Halloween. That break in reading is non-negotiable.)

Let’s take a quick look at Shadow and Bone so that I can commence with reading book two, Siege and Storm.

Orphaned at an early age, Alina Starkov believes that her life is destined to continue on the same uneventful path. She’s a mapmaker for the First Army, and though the danger of the Shadow Fold is ever present, as long as her childhood friend Mal is close by, nothing can be too terrible.

If only…

When Mal, Alina, and many others are sent into the Fold, they are enveloped in a darkness so absolute that it feels like a living being. Horrible creatures called volcra attack their vessel, and it seems as if all is lost. One of the monsters goes after Mal, and Alina taps into a power that she doesn’t even realize she has. She summons light to push back the darkness…and everything she ever knew about herself or her place in the world changes in an instant.

Alina is spirited away to be trained as a Grisha. The Grisha, who are mysterious and magical beings, are led by the Darkling, the most powerful of them all. The Darkling sees Alina, a Sun Summoner, as the hope for the future of their land, but Alina is not so sure. She struggles in her training, and something seems to be holding her power back. How can she save the world when she’s still trying to figure out how she fits into it?

The Darkling is convinced that Alina is what he needs, and he does whatever he can to convince her of this. Alina eventually discovers the power within herself, and she begins to believe the Darkling. She’s also growing closer to this enigmatic figure and all he represents.

But Alina soon learns that all is not what it seems. After reuniting with Mal and uncovering a terrible truth, Alina must choose between the future offered by the Darkling and one where she is alone in the world once more. No matter which path she chooses, Alina will soon come face-to-face with her destiny. Is she the master of her fate, or is someone else holding the reins?

_______________

With that, I’m going to wrap things up. Read Shadow and Bone. It’s awesome. I’m sure the other books are equally wonderful, and I plan to find out for sure very soon.

For more information on The Grisha trilogy and other works by Leigh Bardugo, check out her website and connect with her via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. It gives a brief glimpse into Shadow and Bone without giving too much away. Enjoy!

Gingersnap

Greetings! This evening, I bring you yet another of the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff. This short yet powerful novel combines historical fiction with a bit of the supernatural, and readers end up with a moving tale of a young girl looking for a sense of family.

The year is 1944, and war continues to hold the world in its grips. Jayna knows it’s just a matter of days before her big brother Rob, the only family she has, will be deployed on a ship headed for the fighting in the Pacific. Jayna tries to put on a brave face, but she’s not happy about being separated from her brother once again, and she doesn’t want to live with Celine, their grumpy landlady, while Rob is away.

After Rob leaves for duty, Jayna is comforted by her turtle Theresa, cooking soup, and by an odd presence that seems vaguely familiar. Is this a ghost? If so, who is it, and what does it want with Jayna?

When Jayna receives the devastating news that her brother is missing in action, this “ghost” leads the girl back to their house and to an old box in a closet. There Jayna finds an old blue cookbook and the address of a Brooklyn bakery called Gingersnap (which happens to be Jayna’s nickname).

Jayna, though scared and unsure, sees the bakery’s name as a sign, and she packs up her turtle, the blue cookbook, and most of her belongings and sets off for an uncertain future and a grandmother she’s never known. Jayna is accompanied by the voice of her ghostly companion, and she eventually arrives in Brooklyn. What she finds there, however, may not be exactly what she expected.

Jayna is very confused about her current circumstances and what will happen to her should her brother never return. She likes being in Brooklyn and the friends she’s made, but what if Rob never comes back to her? What if he’s gone forever? Jayna seeks out her ghostly friend to give her some measure of help, but she doesn’t know if that will be enough to keep her brother safe or to preserve the little family she’s made for herself in Brooklyn.

What will become of young Jayna in this time of turmoil? Read Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff to find out!

_______________

Many of my students may pick up Gingersnap for the length (only 160 pages), but I hope they stick around for this heart-warming story. In just a few pages, Patricia Reilly Giff gives readers a fairly realistic look at what life may have been like for a young girl during World War II. We see how a family can be torn apart by war, how a girl will do whatever she must to survive and thrive, and how scarcity and rationing can have a huge effect on not just a family’s meals but also keeping a business going.

Peppered throughout Gingersnap, readers see Jayna’s soup recipes. These recipes reflect exactly what Jayna is going through, and the instructions are at once charming, funny, and reminiscent of many recipes created by kids–or my own mother, a woman who makes soup by tossing everything but the kitchen sink into a pot and cooking until it tastes right. (Whatever she does, it works. My mom’s soup is the best.)

Even though the ending of this book is a tad predictable, I still appreciated Jayna’s journey. She learned quite a bit about herself, her family’s past, the war going on around her, and what it really feels like to be part of a family and the community around her. And even though everyone around her had their own reasons to be cynical and angered by the circumstances of war, they were all kind and caring, and they showed Jayna just what it meant to be there for one another in difficult times.

As for the “supernatural” bits of Gingersnap, neither I nor Jayna are sure if a ghost was at work. It’s possible. This part of the book is definitely open to interpretation, and the discussions about this presence could be quite interesting.

I think Gingersnap is a great read for those in third grade on up. (Yes, even middle schoolers and teens will find something to enjoy.) This book could lead to further research on World War II and the fighting in the Pacific, and it would be a good novel study presenting a different view of the war. (As my fellow educators likely know, most novels with a WWII-focus tend to center on the fighting in Europe and/or the Holocaust.)

Hourglass

Last year, at YALLFest 2013, I heard a charming, entertaining author speak*, and I’ve been meaning to pick up her books ever since. That author is Myra McEntire, and I finally made time to dive into Hourglass, her first novel, this weekend. It didn’t take long for me to get sucked into the world created by Ms. McEntire, and I can hardly wait to read more. (There are now three books in the Hourglass series, and I plan to devour the others during my upcoming holiday break. Woohoo!)

*I should also note that Ms. McEntire was so entertaining that I recommended her as a guest author at the annual conference of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians. Wonder of wonders, she accepted SCASL’s invitation, so I’ll get to see her once again in March!

Emerson Cole is not exactly a typical seventeen-year-old girl. In fact, almost nothing about Emerson is what one would consider “normal.” When her name pops up, “crazy” is the word most often used to describe this troubled girl.

And why is Emerson so troubled? Nothing big, really. She simply sees ghosts of the past nearly everywhere she goes, she’s traumatized by her parents’ deaths, and she’s recently decided to go off her meds because they make everything feel all fuzzy. Emerson has tried nearly everything to help herself cope with the strangeness that is her life, but she’s never really thought about embracing what makes her different. At least, not until Michael enters her life…

Michael Weaver, a guy not much older than Emerson herself, works for an organization known as the Hourglass, and he’s been hired by Emerson’s older brother to help her through some of her issues. What her dear brother doesn’t know, however, is that the mysterious Michael hasn’t come into the picture to make Emerson “normal;” he’s here to show Emerson the true depth of her power.

Soon after meeting Emerson, Michael explains that her encounters with ghosts are much more than what they seem. They are, in fact, ripples in the fabric of time, and Emerson has the unique ability to actually travel to the past, even change things if she wishes to. Michael wants to help her do just that.

Emerson is soon dealing with some fairly unbelievable information, things that make her question everything she thought she knew about herself and the universe. And as if that’s not enough, she’s also confronting some pretty inconvenient feelings for Michael. There’s this weird electrical charge whenever they touch, and their pull toward each other is undeniable, but Michael rebuffs her at every turn. Why? Is it simply because her brother hired Michael to help Emerson? Or are there other things–other people–getting in the way of a possible relationship between Emerson and Michael?

As Emerson learns more about herself, her abilities, her past, Michael, and the secretive Hourglass organization, she comes face-to-face with some truths that are at once horrific and seemingly impossible. Does she really have the power to change her fate and that of those around her, or have other forces already manipulated Emerson’s life and abilities to achieve their own ends?

Well, as they say, time will tell…

_______________

Hourglass really puts a different spin on the whole time travel concept, and it’s one that I think a lot of readers will enjoy. There’s way too much time travel fiction out there that just glosses over the physics behind the concept. This book doesn’t do that. It actually takes a look at things like the space-time continuum and how changing one thing in the past could have devastating consequences in the present and future. The science nerd within me is rejoicing over this…and trying to decipher what the book’s conclusion could mean for time itself.

Aside from all of the time travel stuff, Hourglass has a flawed, totally relatable protagonist. Emerson is far from perfect. She has huge errors in judgement all the time, but I truly believe that her heart is in the right place. She wants to do the right thing, but it’s not always clear how to do that. And when she finds herself floundering, she does what so many YA characters don’t–she talks to the adults in her life, tells them the truth about her situation, and listens to (even if she doesn’t always follow) their advice. Also, she’s like a mini-ninja, so that makes me like her even more.

So, we’ve got time travel, and we’ve got a likable main character. What am I forgetting? Oh yeah! The totally infuriating (in a good way) love story! The push-pull between Emerson and Michael was both wonderful and exasperating. Every time I thought they were about to confess their feelings for each other, I was thrown for a loop. (So was Emerson, by the way.) I didn’t know which way to turn, or even which way I wanted to turn. And when another swoon-worthy guy entered the picture, I was even more confused. Who should Emerson really be with? Should she be with anyone? It’s all very confusing…for both Emerson and the reader. And the book’s resolution, while it does kind of resolve this one big thing, also makes it clear that Emerson’s immediate future will likely be anything but moonlight and roses.

_______________

If you’re looking for a riveting YA read, I urge you to give Hourglass a try. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

For more information on Hourglass, its sequels, and Myra McEntire, check out the author’s website, Goodreads, and Twitter. Ms. McEntire is also a contributing author in the holiday anthology My True Love Gave to Me, so you may want to give that fabulous book a read as well!