It’s not exactly a secret that I have issues with dog books. (The blame goes to Old Yeller.) This is something of a problem when one is an elementary school librarian. They’re everywhere.

Most of the time, I pick up a dog book because I have to read it. It could be a South Carolina Book Award nominee or a pick for my district’s Battle of the Books competition. (There are a couple of rare cases when I actually choose to read a dog book myself.) In the case of my latest read, Dash by Kirby Larson, I read this book because it was chosen for Battle of the Books this year.

Last year, I read Duke by Kirby Larson, so I knew kind of what to expect with Dash. I knew that this book was another historical fiction story, it took place during the Japanese internment of World War II, and it had a dog in it. That’s about as far as my knowledge went for a while.

When I made time to sit down and read this book, I quickly realized that, while the dog is an important part of the book, it’s not the primary focus. That honor goes to Mitsi Kashino, a young Japanese-American girl living on the west coast and dealing with the fallout of life after Pearl Harbor. Her story is one that is often glossed over in history books, but it is one that is extremely important for readers of all ages to know more about.

Things are not easy for Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even though many of them have been in America their entire lives and love their home, people–including neighbors and friends–now view them with suspicion and even hatred.

Mitsi Kashino knows that things are bad, especially when her two best friends suddenly decide that they want nothing to do with her. Now, it seems that Mitsi’s only friend in the world is her beloved dog Dash. He’s always happy to see her, and he doesn’t care about what she looks like or where her family is from.

Not everyone is like Dash, though. Soon, Mitsi’s family is forced to leave their home and move to an internment camp…where pets aren’t allowed. Mitsi is heartbroken that she can’t take Dash with her, but she finds a kind neighbor who agrees to care for her dog until they can be reunited.

Life at the camp is not easy, but Mitsi is eventually cheered by letters from Dash. She writes him back, telling him what the camp is like, but she keeps some things to herself. Like how her brother has started hanging out with troublemakers or how she worries that living in the camp is tearing her family apart.

Eventually, Mitsi makes a new friend and finds a measure of joy, even in a horrible situation. She also thinks of a way to keep Dash with her while they’re far apart. But what will happen when Mitsi and her family are forced to move once again? Is there any hope of ever seeing Dash again? Will life ever return to normal?

Read Dash to learn how a girl holds onto hope–and her dog–even when times are difficult.

Dash, like I’ve mentioned previously, addresses an event that most history books gloss over. I’m ashamed to admit that I knew nothing of the internment of Japanese Americans until I was in college. It’s just not something that was talked about. Books like this one help to remedy that situation, letting young people know that the United States is nowhere near blameless when discussing atrocities committed during World War II. (Further conversations could expand on other cruelties in American history–slavery, the Trail of Tears, the current treatment of immigrants, refugees, and Muslims, just to name a few.) Yes, these are serious issues to discuss with upper elementary and middle grade students, but, given what is happening in the world right now, those discussions are especially timely.

Even though Dash is a dog book, the story itself is one that will stay with me. I actually wanted the book to last a bit longer, giving me a glimpse of Mitsi’s future. Dash is a great book, and I know my students will thoroughly enjoy it. My primary hope is that it will make them think.

For those who enjoy reading Duke and Dash, Kirby Larson has another dog book that was recently released. The book is Liberty, and, like its predecessors, it’s a work of historical fiction set during World War II. From what I’ve gathered from Goodreads, it takes place in 1940s New Orleans, giving yet another look at kids–and dogs–during the war. I’m not sure when/if I’ll get around to reading Liberty, but I’m fairly confident that it will be popular with my students.

If you’d like more information on Duke, Dash, Liberty, and other books by Kirby Larson, check out the author’s website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.

A Million Ways Home

Last night, I finished one more of the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget. Those who know me can take one look at the book’s cover and figure out why I was a little hesitant to read this one.

That’s right. There’s a dog on the cover.

Well, I read the book anyway, and I have to admit that I’m glad I did. Though the dog plays a part in things, he’s not the major focus of the book. That honor goes to Poppy, a girl dealing with much more than any kid should be expected to handle.

After Poppy Parker’s grandmother suffers a stroke, the girl is sent to live in the North Shore Children’s Center. Poppy hates it here (with good reason), and she’s willing to do just about anything to reunite with her grandmother…even run away.

Poppy tries to make her way to the hospital to see Grandma Beth, but things quickly turn south. After a brief stop at a convenience store, Poppy becomes the sole witness to a horrible crime, an armed robbery and murder. The suspect knows her face and her name, so Poppy is placed under police protection, specifically in the home of Detective Trey Brannigan and his mother, Marti.

It doesn’t take long for Poppy to feel safe in this temporary home. She likes her caregivers, and she enjoys helping Marti at the animal shelter. She even manages to make a couple of friends–one human and one canine. Lizzie, the human, is a girl with troubles of her own. Gunner, the canine, is a beautiful German Shepherd who isn’t all that different from Lizzie. Both of them need someone to love them and be patient with them, and that person is Poppy.

Even with all these positives, though, Poppy longs for things to go back to the way they used to be. She wants her grandmother to get better. She wants to go back to their apartment and not have all these worries weighing on her. Surely, life can one day be normal again for Poppy and and her grandmother.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. There’s still the matter of a dangerous criminal on the loose and looking for Poppy. Also, Grandma Beth isn’t recovering like Poppy hoped she would. Things are looking bleak, and Poppy doesn’t know what to do.

Will Poppy ever be able to return home? Will her grandmother get better? Will the police ever catch the guy putting Poppy in danger? And what will happen with Lizzie and Gunner?

Learn how Poppy navigates through the waters of uncertainty, friendship, grief, and love to find her way home when you read A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget.

A Million Ways Home is a quick, moving, and entertaining read that is sure to appeal to upper elementary and middle grade readers. Readers will empathize with Poppy and wonder what they would do if placed in similar situations.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that it is too “busy.” There’s already a lot going on in this book–Poppy’s reluctance to go back to the children’s center, her encounter with a criminal, Grandma Beth’s illness, Gunner’s fate, Lizzie’s problems, etc. Adding revelations about Poppy’s parents, Trey’s regrets, and even Lizzie’s issues with her dad, in my opinion, muddy the waters a bit and make the narrative confusing at times. I understand why the author included these details, but I didn’t feel like they contributed a great deal to the story as a whole. Just my two cents.

My issues aside, I do think my students will enjoy A Million Ways Home, and I’m happy it’s on next year’s SCCBA list. Now, I get to figure out how to sum up this book in a minute-long book trailer to help me with promoting it! (Check my library’s YouTube channel later to see what I come up with.)

For more information on A Million Ways Home and other books by Dianna Dorisi Winget, visit the author’s website.

Happy reading!

I Was Here

It’s difficult to describe my feelings on Gayle Forman‘s latest book, I Was Here, but I’ll do my best. Don’t be surprised, though, if this post is a bit different from most others.

I Was Here deals with something that is hard to discuss. Suicide and those left to pick up the pieces. I won’t go into how suicide has touched my own life, but I will say that this book brought back all of the feelings of pain, grief, and guilt. No matter what anyone says, suicide doesn’t just impact the one contemplating or going through with it. It leaves total wreckage behind, and that’s what Cody, this book’s protagonist, is facing.

Cody and Meg were once as close as sisters, so how is it possible that Cody had no idea that her best friend was suicidal? Is there anything Cody could have done to stop Meg from carrying out the elaborate plan that would end her life? How can Cody go on without her other half, the friend who meant the world to her? And how can she figure out just what drove Meg to do the unthinkable?

All of these questions are plaguing Cody, and she is determined to find the answers that she needs. Her search leads her to Meg’s college apartment and a life that Cody was never a part of. She talks to Meg’s roommates and her friends in Seattle, including the enigmatic Ben McCallister, a young man with his own guilt about what happened to Meg. No one seems to know why Meg would have committed suicide, and Cody is growing frustrated with what seems to be a fruitless quest for the truth…until she discovers an encrypted file on Meg’s computer.

With a little help, Cody discovers exactly what Meg was hiding, and her investigation becomes even more intense. Cody becomes obsessed with Meg’s journey to suicide, and she’s getting drawn into something that is taking over her own life. She needs to find a reason for Meg’s decision, someone to blame for this horrible act that threw everything she thought she knew into a tailspin.

But will Cody really be prepared for what she uncovers? What will she do with the information? Will it change anything? And who will be there to help Cody pick up the pieces of her shattered life now that her best friend is gone?

Read I Was Here by Gayle Forman to learn how one young woman tries to live while attempting to find out why her best friend wanted to die.


I Was Here was not an easy book for me to read. I had to put it down several times because I was, quite simply, getting too emotional. I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about some parts of the book. I guess some things may have hit a little too close to home. I will say, however, that I think this is an important book. It deals with subjects–suicide and depression–that many young people are facing…but not talking about. Nothing is glossed over or treated with the least bit of glamour (something the media tends to do with suicide). I Was Here is an honest look at what’s left behind when loved ones end their own lives. The feelings of guilt, loss, and hopelessness. It’s something that never really goes away.

I hope that this book, like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, opens up a dialog about depression and suicidal thoughts. Young people need to realize that they are not alone, and, as trite as it sometimes sounds, things really do get better. The darkness will eventually pass. The road may not be easy, but it’s worth it, and no one has to walk it alone.

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression or suicide, please talk to a trusted friend or adult. Seek help. Call the National Foundation for Suicide Prevention lifeline at 800-273-TALK. Go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website to learn more about warning signs and how to find local support groups for survivors.


Dead Silence

Caution!  You’ve GOT to read the first three books in Kimberly Derting’s creeptastic Body Finder series (The Body Finder, Desires of the Dead, and The Last Echo) before reading the fourth book, Dead Silence. Each book builds on the one before it, and all of them are pretty great. If you’re looking for a wonderful supernatural mystery series, you definitely want to give this one a try!

I’m not sure what’s going on, but lately I’ve been craving a good mystery. Maybe I’m just experiencing Sherlock withdrawals, but the past two books I’ve read have been mysteries, and I’m only craving more. Within the next week or so, I’m hoping to read Social Suicide, the sequel to Deadly Cool, and Game, the sequel to Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers–both mysteries. (Of course, I’m watching my share of mysteries on the telly as well:  Ripper Street, Criminal Minds, all the Law & Order reruns I can handle, etc. Good stuff.)

Anyway, my latest read, Dead Silence is the fourth book in The Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting. This entire series is awesome, and this fourth book definitely went a long way in satisfying my longing for a good mystery. (I’d probably be even more satisfied if I knew there would be more books in this series!) Dead Silence is a real page-turner, and it lives up to the three books that preceded it, and I would definitely recommend the entire series to anyone who likes a bit of woo-woo, supernatural stuff with their mysteries.

Dead Silence continues to follow Violet, who can sense echoes of those who have been murdered. She can also sense the imprints of those echoes on the murderers. Her “gift” has gotten her into some dangerous situations. She’s even been a target of a serial killer herself. That experience left Violet with more than just horrible memories. She now carries an imprint herself, for she had to kill or be killed. It’s a lot for any teenager to handle, but Violet is not like most teenagers…

With the help of a therapist she can’t stand and a team of other “gifted” individuals (who she’s learning to tolerate), Violet is coming to terms with her abilities…even the imprint that disturbs her waking and sleeping hours. She still feels the pull of the echoes of the dead, but maybe–just maybe–she can control her desire to find the dead and those who killed them.

Then again…maybe not.

When Violet is led to a murdered family, it’s clear that she’s leaping before she looks yet again. Once more, she finds herself involved in an investigation that will lead her down some dangerous roads…roads that she may not be ready to travel. For this murder scene is not like most others. A strange symbol has been left in blood at the crime scene, a daughter is missing, and one of the bodies is missing an echo. Violet knows this person was murdered, but where is the echo? And if there’s no echo, is there no imprint on the killer?

Violet will find some of the answers she’s seeking in an unexpected place–her grandmother’s journals. Her grandmother shared the same gift Violet has, and she documented a lot of what she went through…including what a missing echo could mean. Grandma also wrote about a group of individuals gathered together, all of them with odd abilities. Violet will learn more about her gift, but she may also learn more than she expected about her own team…and who may have brought them together.

As Violet searches for answers about her own life and team, she’s also trying to figure out who could have possibly murdered an entire family…and possibly many others. Who is this madman, and how is he controlling those around him, convincing them to do his bidding? What hold could he have on them, and what led him to kill?

Violet will have to lie to everyone she cares about in order to solve this mystery…but is she really prepared for the consequences of so many lies? And when the truth is finally revealed, what could it mean for Violet and those closest to her? Can Violet keep her friends and family safe when chaos, pain, and death seem to follow her? Is there any way to balance her desire to use her gift for good with her need for a “normal” life? Is “normal” even possible? Unravel the mystery when you read Dead Silence by Kimberly Derting.

Once again, this post doesn’t come close to capturing how amazing I think this book is. I was captivated from start to finish, and I REALLY hope there are more books in this series. (Considering the way things ended, I’m hopeful, but I can’t find any mention on the interweb of more Body Finder books. Bummer.) As I was reading Dead Silence, I was also halfway watching a documentary about the Manson family. The similarities between that notorious group and the bad guy(s) in this book are very noticeable and thought-provoking, and it makes this book an even more engrossing read.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book to middle grade readers, simply because some of the imagery is kind of graphic. (Of course, they probably see worse when playing Call of Duty.) There’s also a couple of steamy scenes (nothing gratuitous) that younger readers may not be ready for. (Again, this is not true for all readers. Some young ones are probably have more experience with this than I’m comfortable admitting.) Like I’ve said before, know your readers and what they can handle. Recommend books accordingly.

If you’d like more information about Dead Silence, the rest of the Body Finder series, and other books by Kimberly Derting, visit http://kimberlyderting.com/index.php. You may also want to check out the Dead Silence book trailer below. It doesn’t give too much away, but it kind of makes Violet seem creepier than she is in the books. Just my opinion…

The Last Echo

Warning!  If you haven’t read The Body Finder or Desires of the Dead, please do so before continuing with this post about the third book in The Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting, The Last Echo.  Spoilers ahead!

I don’t know what it says about me that I’m fascinated with books about serial killers.  (Maybe it just means that I’m incredibly interesting.  Probably not, though.)  I don’t mean that I like true crime books.  I don’t.  In fact, if it actually happened, I want very little to do with it.  (Unless we’re talking about Jack the Ripper.  Fictional books based on his crimes are kind of awesome, especially Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star.)  I enjoy fiction that gives me a glimpse of what it *might* be like if a serial killer were running rampant.  I also like it when teenagers are the ones responsible for stopping the killer.  That explains why I’m such a fan of Kimberly Derting’s The Body Finder series.  In each book, the main character, Violet, uses her extrasensory ability to locate the bodies of the dead and match the echo attached to the body with the imprint left on the killer.  (If you’ve read these books, this needs no explanation.  If you haven’t, read the first book, and all will become clear…sort of.)  This unique ability is both a gift and a curse.  Sometimes Violet’s ability helps the dead to find peace.  But sometimes it puts Violet in a killer’s sights…

In The Last Echo, Violet is coming to terms with people finally knowing about her ability.  She’s working with a team of kids with their own psychic connections to the dead.  When she finds the body of a young girl, she’s drawn into the case of a serial killer known only as “the collector.”  This madman kidnaps young women and keeps them as his girlfriends…until they do something that upsets him.  Violet and her team, including the enigmatic Rafe (who shares an unsettling connection with Violet), are using all of their considerable abilities to find this killer.  They might even use a few less-than-legal methods. 

When one of these adventures gets them into a bit of trouble, Violet unwittingly becomes the target of yet another psycho, a gang member who has so many imprints attached to him that Violet wonders just how many people he’s killed.  In addition to tracking “the collector,” Violet is now working to put someone else, someone who may be even more dangerous, behind bars.

Violet’s life is more complicated than ever before.  Her work with the team, while it makes her feel like less of a freak, may be putting her very life in danger.  (And even though she kind of likes working with this special team, she’s getting a little sick of all the secrets being kept from her.)  Her parents and her boyfriend Jay want her to quit, but Violet has this need to help the dead find peace.  The only way to do that is to use her special ability to find their killers and bring them to justice.  Violet may be in more danger, however, than she ever thought possible.  She’s in the sights of not one but two killers.  One wants her to die.  The other wants to make her his…forever.

How can one girl cope with being a target?  How can Violet use her ability to stop more deaths—including her own?  Solve the mystery when you read The Last Echo by Kimberly Derting.

I know this is not my best review/recap, which kind of sucks since I enjoyed this book–the whole series, really–so much.  I totally downplayed the complicated connection between Violet and Rafe and its impact on Violet’s relationship with her super-supportive boyfriend Jay.  (No, that’s not sarcasm.  Jay is almost too-good-to-be-true in his support of Violet and her decisions.)  While I think this is a very important part of the book, I honestly feel that the story—the search for “the collector” and the other psycho fixated on Violet—is more important.  The Last Echo was all about Violet and her issues with her ability, whether it helps her or puts her in the line of fire.  In the end, it was totally up to Violet to save herself.  (Also, I fully expect that the next book in this series will delve even deeper into the connection between Violet and Rafe.  At least, I hope so.)

Speaking of the next book, there’s no word yet on a title, cover, or synopsis, but it is expected to be released sometime in 2013, probably in the spring.

For more information on The Body Finder series, the author, and other books by Kimberly Derting, visit http://kimberlyderting.com/.  You can also follow the author on Twitter @kimberlyderting. 

Still not enough?  Well, check out this book trailer for The Last Echo from HarperTeen.  It’s pretty cool.  Enjoy!

Mad Love

Even though I think Valentine’s Day is a stupid non-holiday (yes, I’m single), I found myself reading a book with a big ol’ heart on it yesterday.  Purely coincidence, I assure you.  When I first started reading Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors, I was expecting standard chick-lit fare.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, by the depth of the main character, Alice, and how she approached issues that no teenager should have to deal with.  It also didn’t hurt that Mad Love threw in some mythology and supernatural goings-on.  That’s always fun.

Alice Amorous is the daughter of world-famous romance novelist Belinda Amorous. People probably think that being the Queen of Romance’s daughter is glamorous and full of flowers, hearts, and candy…but they couldn’t be more wrong. Alice is doing her best to hide the horrible truth from everyone. Her mother is battling a mental illness in a private psychiatric hospital, and she hasn’t written a word in three years. 

It’s up to Alice to make sure the bills get paid, books get autographed (or forged, as the case may be), and eager fans and publishers are kept at bay.  But it’s getting harder and harder to cope…especially when her mom’s publisher wants a completed manuscript or a return of the $100,000 advance for the next book, and the hospital needs payment for Belinda’s care and treatment.  Alice doesn’t have the money needed, and she doesn’t know how she’ll get it…until she gets the bright idea to write a romance novel herself…in her mother’s name, of course.  There are a few problems though:  1.  She’s not a writer.  2.  She’s never even been in love (and how can you write about romance if you’ve never experienced it?).  3.  The publisher needs the novel by the end of the summer, so she’s got about a month to come up with something.  What’s a girl to do?  Well, someone comes along who may just have the answer to all of Alice’s problems…

When Alice first meets Errol, she thinks he’s crazy.  Also, he reeks of clam juice.  After talking to him for a bit, she still thinks he’s crazy, but she’s willing to hear him out if it will ultimately help her mother.  See, Errol thinks he’s Eros, better known as Cupid, and he wants Alice to write the real story of Cupid and Psyche, the story that the gods wanted hushed up.  Alice has quite enough crazy in her life, but she agrees to help Errol–even though he’s wrecking her relationship with Tony, the new guy in town.  As Alice works on the book that she’s sure will fix everything, she learns a little about what a love story truly is and the power of love in all its forms.

Will Alice be able to tell Errol’s story before it’s too late?  Will it be enough to keep her mother’s illness a secret?  Is this guy really Cupid?  Will her mother ever get better?  And will Alice finally get her own love story with Tony?  Answer these questions and many more when you read Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors.

Mad Love is a quick, easy read that will definitely appeal to tween and teen girls.  (It will be a hard sell for most male readers.)  Despite the cover, this is an emotional read that highlights what children of depressed parents go through.  It also gives a new look at a story you might have encountered before.  Many mythology enthusiasts–like myself–know the story of Cupid and Psyche, but Mad Love presents it in a whole new way…without the “happy ending” that we’ve grown accustomed to.  Author Suzanne Selfors does a great job of showing readers how truly powerful love can be, whether it’s the love between parents and children, friends, romantic interests, or even total strangers.  Mad Love is a wonderful, heart-wrenching book that will leave you examining the love in your own life.  I know it did for me.

For more information about Suzanne Selfors and her books, visit http://www.suzanneselfors.com/index_flash.php.  (I’ve only read one of her other books, Saving Juliet, but it, too, was great, so I’ll probably check out a few more!)


I really identified with the main character in my latest read, Vesper by Jeff Sampson.  Emily Webb is a sixteen-year-old geek who gets way too engrossed in books and movies, doesn’t have many friends, stays at home most of the time, and never tries anything new for fear of rocking the boat or looking like an idiot.  I feel like I’ve just written a short autobiography.  I’m just like Emily (except, you know, twice her age), and, like Emily, I often have the urge to jump out of my shell and go a little crazy.  (I never do.)  Well, Emily is about to do what I’ve never had the guts to do.  She’s becoming an adventurous party girl, but she’s not all that thrilled about it…

By day, Emily Webb is still the same geeky, unassuming, often forgotten, run-of-the mill teenager who is simply counting down the days until the next superhero movie.  (Wow.  The similarities never stop.)  By night, however, Emily morphs into a fearless, reckless thrill seeker who lets nothing stand in her way.  What caused this sudden change?  Why does Emily let go of her inhibitions only at night?  And why does this weird transformation begin on the night that a girl is mysteriously killed just blocks from Emily’s house?

Emily knows she should be worried about her sudden personality shifts, but, at the same time, she kind of likes Nighttime Emily.  She likes not worrying about what people think of her.  She likes dressing to impress instead of hiding her figure behind oversized hoodies.  She likes being the daring girl she’s always wanted to be.  But when her transformation takes an unexpected turn, Emily realizes that something is seriously wrong with her.  She doesn’t know why this is happening to her, but she knows that there are others out there like her.  She just has to find them.

After doing a little research, Emily soon figures out that her freaky new self is somehow connected to the death of the other girl, also named Emily, and the attempted murder of another classmate.  What is happening with the teenagers in her small Washington town?  Will Emily be able to reconcile her daytime and nighttime selves long enough to figure out what’s going on?  And can she do it before becoming a killer’s next target?  Read Vesper by Jeff Sampson to find out!

I’ve left a lot about Vesper out of this post, and that was completely intentional.  I don’t want to ruin this book for anyone because, quite honestly, it went places I wasn’t completely prepared for.  At first, I wasn’t thrilled about these unexpected turns, but, as the story progressed, I accepted them and grew to anticipate where the story was taking me.  I look forward to reading more of Emily’s story in the second book of this Deviants series.  That book is Havoc and is scheduled for release January of 2012.  In the meantime, I encourage you to visit the author’s website at http://jeffsampsonbooks.com/ for more information on this exciting new series!