Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle

Even though I’ve felt like absolute crap for the past couple of days, I did manage to finish another of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen. (Only two more to go!)

This book, suitable for upper elementary grade readers on up, is a fantastical tale full of mystery, peril, and riddles. It’s a great book for those readers who’ve exhausted the Harry Potter series and are looking for something similar. And given how this book ended, I’m hopeful that we’ll see more of Gabriel Finley and friends in the future.

Gabriel Finley’s father, Adam, has been missing for several years. Gabriel lives in Brooklyn with his aunt, but he never stops wondering what happened to his father. Soon, though, Gabriel will begin to solve the riddle of his missing father…and so much more.

When Gabriel discovers that he can communicate with ravens–who are the most intelligent of all the birds–secrets begin to be revealed. As it turns out, his dad shared this gift, and it could have something to do with his disappearance. Gabriel’s dad worked with his own raven companion, or amicus, to hide a powerful object from the valravens (cursed, fiendish birds) and their leader, Corax, a being who is half-man, half-valraven…and Gabriel’s uncle.

With the help of his own amicus, Paladin, and several friends, Gabriel begins to unravel the truth of what his uncle is seeking and the whereabouts of his father. The journey involves untangling riddles, battle with a magical, music-loving desk, and learning about the Finley family’s secrets. Gabriel is determined to find his way to his father, but forces are at work that are equally determined to stop him.

Is Gabriel ready to descend into Aviopolis, Corax’s horrifying domain, risking the lives of himself and his friends, to prevent Corax from ruling both above and below the surface? Will he be able to rescue his father, save himself and his friends, and defeat the evil Corax? Read Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle to find out!


I barely touched on my favorite part of this book–the riddles. To a word nerd like myself, they were fun and entertaining, and I loved that saving the world in this book relied more on using one’s brain than relying on brawn. I’m hoping my students have as much fun as I did figuring out the answers to the riddles, and I think reading this book could lead to readers crafting their own riddles.

As of right now, there’s no word on future Gabriel Finley books, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout. There are several mysteries in Gabriel’s life that are yet to be solved, and I, for one, would love some answers. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about this great fantasy, visit the Gabriel Finley website. Enjoy!

Serafina and the Twisted Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Lady Midnight

Unless you are brand new to this blog, you know that I have a mild obsession with Cassandra Clare’s writing. Despite the current controversy (which I won’t go into here) and the less-than-spectacular movie and TV adaptations of her work, I remain a loyal fan. My enjoyment of her writing has only increased with her latest novel, Lady Midnight, the first book in the new Dark Artifices trilogy.

But before we move on to Lady Midnight, if you’re not already familiar with Clare’s Shadowhunter novels, you’ve got a bit of catching up to do. Read these books first:

For whatever reason, I neglected to write posts on City of Ashes or The Bane Chronicles. Trust me, they’re just as awesome as the other books. In the case of The Bane Chronicles, probably more awesome. (It’s no secret that the High Warlock of Brooklyn is my favorite character.)


Now, let’s turn our attention to Lady Midnight. Some may be a little shocked that I’m just now getting around to posting on this book, especially considering my love of Clare’s books. I promise I have very good reasons.

  1. I pre-ordered the book through Barnes & Noble, and it didn’t arrive at my house until March 11th, three days after the release date. (I can’t complain too much, though. I did get an autographed copy.)
  2. My school book fair kicked off on March 10th and didn’t wrap up until yesterday. If you’ve ever run an elementary school book fair, you know how exhausting it is. I barely had enough energy to read more than a couple of chapters before passing out each night.
  3. My Battle of the Books team has been preparing for competition. Our regionals were this past Tuesday, and I’m pleased to report that we’re moving on to finals next week.

Even with all of that going on, I did manage to finish Lady Midnight last night, and, like I expected, it made me want to weep, rage, and throw things. I mean that in the best possible way.

Lady Midnight takes place in Los Angeles and focuses primarily on Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn. These parabatai live at the LA Institute with the younger Blackthorn children–Ty, Livvy, Dru, and Tavvy–their mostly absent uncle Arthur, and Cristina, a Shadowhunter visiting from Mexico (and possibly escaping her own past).

It’s been five years since the Dark War that took so many Shadowhunters from them, including Emma’s parents and Julian’s father, and time has molded both Emma and Julian into much more than the children they once were. Emma is bent on finding out what really happened to her parents, and Julian is doing everything he can to keep his family together while hiding his wealth of feelings from everyone around him.

When strange murders with possible demonic ties begin occurring in LA, Emma and Julian know they must investigate…but there’s a problem. Some of the victims are Faeries, and the Cold Peace prevents Shadowhunters from investigating crimes involving Faeries. That doesn’t exactly stop Emma and Julian, and the waters get even more muddied when a Faerie convoy arrives at the Institute with an incentive for the young Shadowhunters to provide assistance. In return for their help in capturing the killer and handing him/her over to the Fey, they’ll return Mark Blackthorn–half-Fey, half-Shadowhunter, member of the Wild Hunt, and Julian’s older brother–back to his family.

Mark’s sudden return to his family is an adjustment for everyone…most especially Mark. He struggles with what it means to be part of the human world once more. Part of him longs to return to the Wild Hunt…and what he left behind. Another part of him wants to contribute to his family, but so much has changed since he left. Where exactly does he fit?

As Mark is dealing with his own turmoil, so are Emma and Julian. Emma is certain that the odd murders in LA are somehow tied to her parents. She recklessly follows every lead she can, leading herself and others into more danger than they expected.

As for Julian, he’s finding it harder and harder to hold everything and everyone together. So much has been placed on his young shoulders, and he’s not sure how much more he can handle. Throw in the fact that he’s in love with Emma, his parabatai, and things get even more complicated.

Even as Emma and Julian grow closer together, closer than is allowed by Shadowhunter law, danger and betrayal are making their way toward the Los Angeles Institute and its inhabitants. Who will be left standing when all is said and done? What will be unleashed should these young Shadowhunters fail to stop the maniacal killer? What could it all mean for the Blackthorns and their closest allies?

Read Lady Midnight, the first book of The Dark Artifices, to learn the answers to these questions and many more…


Oh, I have left out sooooo much here. I didn’t even really touch on Cristina’s issues, Ty and how the Clave views those who are “different,” or the appearance of the “Lost Herondale.” I couldn’t possibly cover everything in one blog post, so I’m not even going to try. Suffice it to say that a LOT happens in the nearly 700 pages of this book, and everything is important.

If you’re also a Shadowhunter fan, you’ll be pleased to know that we do see some old favorites in Lady Midnight. Tessa, Jem, Magnus, Jace, Clary, and Church all make appearances, and I’m confident we’ll see more of them as the series progresses.

Speaking of the rest of the series, the next book, Lord of Shadows, is set to be released in May of 2017, and book three, The Queen of Air and Darkness will be out sometime in 2018. Long waits ahead, people.

If you’d like more information on Lady Midnight and all things Shadowhunter, visit Cassie Clare’s website, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Mundie Moms. You may also want to check out the video below from Cassie herself.

That’s all from me for now. I hope you enjoy Lady Midnight as much as I did!

Almost Midnight

If you haven’t read C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls: After Dark series, proceed with caution.

This post is going to look a bit different than others. Today, I’ll be focusing on Almost Midnight, the Shadow Falls novella collection, which will be released in print on February 2nd. There are five stories in this book, and, prior to being approved to read the compilation via NetGalley, I’d already read four of them–and written blog posts for two.

The novellas in this book are:

  • Turned at Dark
  • Saved at Sunrise
  • Unbreakable
  • Spellbinder
  • Fierce (This is the brand new story.)

Now, I’m going to take things in chronological order–not the order the stories were published but when they occur in the Shadow Falls world. I’ll write a bit on the stories I haven’t posted on yet and provide links to the stories–both novellas and full-length novels–I’ve already written. Let’s begin…


Turned at Dark (Shadow Falls, #0.5)

This short story is essentially Della Tsang’s origin story. Readers get a brief glimpse into what life is like for her before she is turned into a vampire. Della is loyal to her family and her boyfriend, Lee. Everything changes, though, when she thinks she sees her cousin one night–a cousin who’s supposedly been dead for a year.

This leads Della into a terrifying confrontation with some werewolves. Her cousin, Chan, saves her, but he also activates the dormant vampirism virus within Della. After that, Della begins to turn, and, though she wants nothing more than to go back to her old life, she must reconcile herself to these new circumstances. She’s now a vampire, and nothing will ever be the same.

Born at Midnight (Shadow Falls, #1)

Awake at Dawn (Shadow Falls, #2)

Taken at Dusk (Shadow Falls, #3)

Whispers at Moonrise (Shadow Falls, #4)

Saved at Sunrise (Shadow Falls, #4.5)

Della Tsang returns for more fun in this novella. In this story, Della is being given her first mission from her mentor, Burnett. She’s eager to prove herself, and she’s not entirely thrilled that she’ll have company on this mission. Steve, a shapeshifter, is accompanying her for her own protection, something Della swears she doesn’t need.

Before their assignment gets underway, however, Della sneaks away for a glimpse of the life she left behind. She sees her family happy without her, and she runs into her ex-boyfriend–enjoying a night out with his new fiancée. Della is at a loss for words when she comes face-to-face with Lee. Luckily, Steve–the back-up she swore she didn’t need–steps in to save the day.

As it turns out, Della needs Steve for more than just a way to save face with Lee. When she and Steve finally get to their mission, they realize that it’s more dangerous than either of them–or Burnett–could have possible predicted.

But what if a rogue vampire den isn’t what’s really dangerous here? What about the danger that Steve poses to Della’s heart?

Chosen at Nightfall (Shadow Falls, #5)

Unbreakable (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #0.5)

Reborn (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #1)

Eternal (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #2)

Spellbinder (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #2.5)

Unspoken (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #3)

Fierce (Shadow Falls: After Dark, #???)*

*I’m not entirely sure where this one fits in the Shadow Falls chronology. Some of the action in the story seems familiar, so it may take place within one of the Shadow Falls: After Dark novels. If you can enlighten me, send me a quick note in the comments. For now, though, I’m putting Fierce at the end of the series because it’s the latest story to be released.

Fierce takes a look at Fredericka Lakota, a werewolf new to Shadow Falls. The daughter of a rogue were, Fredericka got off to a rough start among the other supernaturals here, but she wants to show them that there’s more to her than they know. She finds joy in making beautiful jewelry, and she’s trying to make a go of a relationship with Cary, another were at Shadow Falls.

As so often happens, though, things begin to change in Fredericka’s life. She realizes that Cary may not be the guy she needs in her life. He doesn’t really see her, and she decides to end things. He does not take it well.

Fredericka also lands a coveted spot selling her jewelry in a nearby gallery, and she’s oddly drawn to the gallery’s owner, Brandon. What is it about this guy? Why does she feel so connected to him so quickly? And what is his connection to the supernatural world?

While all of this is going on, Fredericka also feels the presence of a ghost who needs her help. She’s not exactly prepared for this…or much of anything else that’s happening around her. Can Fredericka somehow make sense of everything–and learn to trust those around her–before the life she’s trying so desperately to build crumbles before her eyes?


So that’s it. That’s all of the Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls: After Dark stories…so far. I probably don’t have to tell you that I really like these series. I mean, I’ve read every single story, and I still come back for more. Sadly, “more” is about to come to and end.

There is one final book in the Shadow Falls world, Midnight Hour. I have no idea what this book will be about or who the primary characters will be, but I do know that it’s scheduled to be out this October. You can be sure that I will get my hands on it as soon as humanly possible.

If, after all this, I still haven’t given you enough information on the Shadow Falls series, check out C.C. Hunter’s website for more.

I’ll close this post with just two little words…

GO BRONCOS!!!

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.

 

Angels Twice Descending

If you are not totally caught up with all things Shadowhunter, go no further. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that should tell you something. Stop right now, go to your nearest library or bookstore, and read everything Cassandra Clare has ever written. Start with City of Bones.)

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s proceed, shall we?

Last night, I read Angels Twice Descending, the tenth and final installment in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, a collection of short stories centered on Simon Lewis, his struggle to restore his memories, and his journey toward becoming a Shadowhunter. This last novella focuses on Simon’s Ascension, and, while I was expecting something big to happen, I wasn’t totally prepared for how hard it would hit me. (After reading so many of these stories, one would think I’d know better. One would be wrong.)

Simon and his fellow Academy students are getting ready to finally enter the world of the Nephilim. For mundanes like Simon, this means going through the Ascension ceremony and drinking from the Mortal Cup. After two years of grueling work, it should be a no-brainer on whether or not to go through with this final step…except for the whole “drinking from the cup could kill you” thing.

After one of the mundane students decides not to Ascend, Simon is forced to reflect on his own feelings. Does he truly want to become a Shadowhunter? Who is he doing all this for? Will he get his memories back once he Ascends? If he does, what could that mean for the person he is now? How will he deal with never seeing his mom or sister again? And what if the worst happens? What if he doesn’t have what it takes to be a Shadowhunter and drinking from the Mortal Cup destroys him?

In the end, Simon follows his heart and decides to become a Shadowhunter. But the Ascension ceremony is not without its heartbreak. One of the Academy students does not survive the process, and Simon is once again faced with the question, “Is it worth it?”

_______________

I can’t go any further here without some major spoilers. (I already feel like I’ve written too much.) It’s enough to say that I cried…a lot.

Now that we have all ten of the Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy stories, we also have the full picture formed by the covers. Check it out:

shadowhunter academy

As for when the entire volume of stories will be released in print, I’m not sure. From what I’ve heard, it will be sometime in 2016.

So, where do we go from here?

The next Shadowhunter story is the full-length novel Lady Midnight, due out on March 8th. This begins the Dark Artifices storyline and centers on Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs at the Los Angeles Institute. We also have the new TV series to look forward to, and that starts on Freeform (aka ABC Family) on January 12th.

If you, like me, still want more Shadowhunter goodness, click here for the official TV series website and here for the novels’ website.

Enjoy!

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.

_______________

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!