Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

Blog Tour and Excerpt: Cynthia Starts a Band by Olivia Swindler

While this is a blog for kidlit and YA, every now and then there’s space for a book for the bigger folx; whether it’s a new adult book that can cross over to a YA audience, or a book that parents and caregivers will enjoy, it can’t hurt to grow every now and then, right? So please enjoy this excerpt from Olivia Swindler’s Cynthia Starts a Band, a debut novel about a lead singer of a successful band who disappears, seemingly out of nowhere. Meet Eleanor Quinn, a recovering celebrity who decides to start all over again.

Cynthia Starts a Band, by Olivia Swindler,
(Oct. 2019, Morgan James Fiction),
$17.95, ISBN: 978-1631954900

 

Cynthia

I had no idea what day of the week it was, but that was normal for me. Days of the week meant nothing to me when we were touring. My internal calendar instead went like this: today, the bus will take us there, and then tomorrow, we will get back on the bus and be there. It didn’t matter if it was Tuesday or Friday; all days had the same value.

On the other hand, this was the first time in a long time I hadn’t needed to incessantly check the clock on my phone. I wasn’t afraid of being late to a soundcheck. I didn’t feel that familiar pit in my stomach telling me that I had overslept and would be late for hair and makeup.

For the first time in years, my time was mine.

I opened my eyes and peered out the window. We were cruising along a major highway. I was sure that I had been on this road at some point in my life before. Before, this road had meant nothing, but now the same open road meant freedom.

I had told the ticket salesman that I wanted a ticket to get to Seattle—although I had no real idea of how to get there. I wasn’t even sure if I knew precisely where Seattle was. I had visited Seattle plenty of times, but it had been clouded by the tour haze. I knew it was a big city, which meant I would be able to slip into my new life there without standing out.

I hadn’t realized how far away Seattle was from Denver. They were both on the West Coast; somehow, I had figured it would only take a few hours to get from one to the other. They had always been so close together on our schedule.

In Portland, I changed buses. The stop made me surer than ever of my decision.

I had done it. I had gotten out.

It still didn’t feel real. I had dreamed about this moment for so long, without ever actually believing it would happen.

I hadn’t told anyone that I was leaving, but I was sure they knew by now.

After the incident, I had walked out of the arena and gone straight to the bus station. I hadn’t even bothered getting my things from my bus or the dressing room. It hadn’t occurred to me that I should have withdrawn some cash. I would get some money soon. If they wanted to find me, they would check my credit card statements. I had seen enough action movies to know this was usually the first thing checked when looking for a missing person: a credit card trail.

I guessed I also needed to change my name. Or at least go by a different one? I really hadn’t thought this part of the plan through very well.

When we were first starting out, someone had asked me if I planned on using a stage name. “Everyone does it,” I was told. But I was sixteen at the time and thought there was something cool about seeing my name up in lights. That was me! My real name. At no point had I imagined that I would need a pseudonym.

If I had gone by a stage name, this might have been easier. I could have just reverted to who I had been before the world cared about who I had become.

I needed the opposite of a stage name.

I reached for my phone—at least I had had the presence of mind to grab that—and had another realization: I would probably have to get a new phone. After checking the runaway’s credit card activity, people always tracked their phones. There was something techy that could be done by pinging off cell towers. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I had seen it in enough movies to be wary of calling anyone.

I looked down at my lit-up phone screen.

Of course, he had called. It would have been stupid to expect otherwise.

I didn’t have to call him back. A weight lifted from my shoulders, and I took a deep, shuddering breath. I was free! I never had to call him back ever again.

James had called me twenty-three times, to be exact. While I had expected that, I still felt a slight pang of remorse. I had known James since high school. I was just a long-legged teenager when he became our manager. We had walked through everything together. He had turned me from a gangly teenage girl to a polished pop star. And here I was, on a bus, running away.

I needed to let James know I was safe. I felt like I owed him at least that.

I turned off all the location services on my phone. I didn’t know if that would actually do anything, but at least I felt a little more secure.

“I am safe. Promise. Will call if I can.” I texted. But I knew that I was never going to call.

I needed a plan.

While I had been fantasizing about this escape for months, it had always felt like something belonging to the distant future, like a dream that would never come to fruition. Now, it was actually happening, and I needed to figure out my next move.

One of my cousins, Kristy, lived in Seattle. I needed to let her know I was coming. She and I had always been close. If I could stay with her, I wouldn’t have to put something else on my credit card. Maybe she could front me the money for a hotel. I had never had to do any of this by myself before. I wasn’t sure if I even knew how to get a hotel room. Or how to figure out which hotel was decent and safe. These things had always been taken care of for me. In fact, now that I thought about it, this was the first time that I was able to choose for myself. No one was telling me what I needed to wear. No one was telling me what time I needed to go to bed or wake up. No one had made a dinner reservation for me in Seattle. I didn’t have any obligation to make an appearance. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I had the freedom to make my own decisions.

The entire bus ride had been filled with peace and quiet. It was almost too much to take in all at once.

The only decision I had made for myself in the recent past was my decision to leave. I could not have imagined how many subsequent decisions would result.

I could feel myself getting overwhelmed. Was this really what I desired? The events of the previous hours flashed through my mind. I wanted to hide. I had abandoned my life without a second thought or a clear plan of what to do next.

What had I done? I had left the life that most people only dreamed of living, and for what? Nothing? I had no plan. No boyfriend. I had given no warning to my friends or family. There was no promise of another job (though it wasn’t like I would need the money). But I was starting to realize that this was probably not my most responsible decision.

James had once told me that I was his favorite client because I always did what I was told. He never had to worry about me get- ting caught in the wrong bar or getting cited with a DUI. I was a dream client. I did what I was told, and people loved me.

Maybe they just loved the person James had made me into. I wasn’t sure that person had ever been me.

James had texted me back right away, “Ellie, you need to call me right now. Your bus had to leave without you. The plane is already waiting for you in Denver. Go to the airport now, and you will be able to meet us in Dallas by soundcheck.”

I was not going to get on that plane. I was not going to make it in time for soundcheck. A piece of my soul had been slowly suffocating. I knew my choice was not just affecting me; this was James’s life as well. The lives of the rest of the band. But after last night, I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue as Eleanor Quinn.

They could do the set without me. Our publicist would release some statement about how I had come down with bronchitis or lupus. It would be something nasty (but not life-threatening), and I would rejoin the tour as soon as I was cleared.

The publicist would be lying.

I would not be rejoining the tour. After what happened, I couldn’t be Eleanor Quinn, singer extraordinaire from Kittanning. I was going to become someone new.

Outside the window, the road markers flashed past, dimmed by the rain. The bus passed a billboard advertising a weight loss company that had helped a woman named Cynthia lose seventy-five pounds. I was going to be Cynthia. Cynthia, who had just lost more than seventy-five figurative pounds of a band that had been controlling her every waking moment.

I ignored James’s text. I didn’t know how to tell him that I would not be on the plane. It felt unfair to him. I had never intended for him to end up in the crosshairs of my consequences. Our lives had become intertwined; that was just the harsh reality. But I couldn’t let that change my mind. I would figure out how to break the news to him once I had settled. The tour was going to take a week off after Dallas, so that would give them time to regroup.

I tried to focus on that.

Giving up on my vain attempt to shove my guilt aside, I started searching for Kristy’s number. It was almost 8:00 a.m. This, I thought to myself, was when most people got up. I checked my phone and saw that it was a Tuesday. She worked for Amazon, and the last time I’d seen her, she had mentioned how long and crazy the hours were, so it was a safe assumption that she would be either getting ready or on her way to work. Or maybe already there.

Her phone started ringing.

“Hey, El, what’s up! Why are you calling so early? Didn’t you have a show last night?”

Okay, so she hadn’t heard about the incident.

“It’s a long story, and I can’t tell you over the phone.” I was still worried about those nasty cell tower pings, “Basically, I’m on a Grayhen heading to Seattle. Can I stay with you?”

“Wait, what? You mean a . . . Greyhound? Uh . . . yes, of course, what time does your bus get in? I’ll pick you up.”

“Oh, yeah, a Greyhound, and I can’t tell you more over the phone. I think we should be there in, like, two hours. Is that okay?”

“Yes, I’ll be there.”

“Hey, also, could you bring me a change of clothes?”

Kristy was waiting for me on the bus platform, clearly dressed for work, brown hair twisted into an easy, elegant bun. I was impressed. I realized that if I had gotten a call like that, I wouldn’t have even known where the bus stop was, let alone on which platform to wait.

As soon as I stepped off the bus, she burst out laughing. “What on earth are you wearing?”

“This is why I asked for a change of clothes,” I motioned down to my cobalt-blue bejeweled onesie. “Isn’t this what the kids are wearing in Seattle? This is all the rage in New York right now.” I tried to joke.

She looked over the top of her designer glasses at me: “You know, they probably are. I’ve never really been able to keep up with what kids are wearing these days.”

Kristy was eight months older than me. When we were kids, that eight-month gap had felt like years. It meant that she was a grade above me in school. She got her license before me. She experienced everything just a bit before me.

If only we had known as kids that our lives would turn out so differently.

She walked me over to her car. On the passenger seat sat a bottle of wine, a change of clothes, and a bar of chocolate. I knew what this meant.

“Is there a video? Oh gosh. How bad is it?”

“Well, it’s not all bad. You guys went viral, which is something most people only dream of!”

“Kristy, my whole life has been viral for like the past year.” “Okay, fair point.”

We drove in silence for a few blocks. The weight of the unspoken was almost unbearable.

“So,” Kristy broke the silence first, “Do you want to talk about

it?”

I thought about this for a second. The request was expected.

After all, I had just barged into my cousin’s life without any warning. The familiar fear of letting someone down wormed its way into my heart.

I barely managed: “I don’t think I know how to yet.” It was the only honest answer I could give. The incident flashed through my mind. Again.

Kristy smiled warmly from the driver’s seat, “That’s okay.” And, just like that, the weight on my chest lifted just a little more.

Website and Social Media:

https://www.oliviaswindler.com/

FB: @olivia.swindler

IG: @oliviaswindler

Twitter: @oliviaswindler

To Buy:

Amazon

B&N

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

‘Tis the season for great graphic novel reading!

I know, that was awful, but trying to find new graphic novel headlines is tough! With that, let the games begin.

 

Barb the Last Berzerker, by Dan Abso & Jason Patterson, (Sept. 2021, Simon & Schuster), $13.99, ISBN: 9781534485716

Ages 8-12

A young Berzerker warrior is on a mission to save her fellow warriors after a villain named Witch Head takes them captive. With the help of a Yeti named Pork Chop, and wielding the Shadow Blade that she took from Witch Head, Barb goes on a journey that changes her thinking: where she once fought monsters, she’ll learn that monsters – including sausage-eating yetis – aren’t all bad, and not all humans are good. She meets snot goblins, vampire goats, and a giant who’s sensitive about his foot odor while calling on the power of the Shadow Blade to help her in battle. But the Shadow Blade’s power is not something to be used lightly, and Barb may find that relying on it too much could hurt more than it could help. The first in a new series, Barb is chaotic and hilarious, with gross-out jokes and positive messages about independence and unlearning endemic bias. Readers will cheer for Barb and Pork Chop, who are a buddy movie waiting to happen. Dan & Jason are the creators behind the younger readers’ series Blue, Barry, & Pancakes; visit their website to find out more about their graphic novels.

Barb the Last Berzerker has a starred review from Kirkus. It hasn’t been nominated for a CYBILS yet, hint hint!

 

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero, by E. Lockhart/Illustrated by Manuel Preitano, (Sept. 2021, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401293222

Ages 13+

Yet another great DC YA graphic novel, this time from award-winning author and National Book Award Finalist, E. Lockhart. Willow Zimmerman is a 16-year-old Jewish teen activist, living in the Down River section of Gotham. It’s a run-down neighborhood and she’s tired of it being overlooked; she takes to the streets in protest when she’s not at school or at home, caring for her mother, who’s going through treatment for cancer. She works part-time in an animal shelter and feeds her friend, a stray Great Dane she’s named Leibowitz, on the side. When E. Nigma – her mom’s estranged friend – gets in touch with Willow, she learns that he’s cleaned himself up and is a successful real estate entrepreneur who runs an underground gambling promotion on the side, and he wants to give her a job. Faced with mounting bills and the fear of eviction, Willow accepts and starts earning more money than she could have ever imagined. When she and Leibowitz are attacked by Killer Croc, who has a grudge to settle with Nigma, the two realize that they can understand one another – where other people hear assorted growls and barks, Willow hears Leibowitz talking! The two decide to become a superteam and do their part to clean up Gotham: even if it means playing double agents to Nigma, aka The Riddler, and Pamela Isley, who’s helping Nigma out as her alter ego, Poison Ivy. I love the origin stories DC’s YA authors have been putting out, and their new heroes are go good, I can’t help but hope they’ll eventually show up in the big titles. Willow is a smart, likable heroine faced with big, real-world issues: lack of healthcare, a single, ailing parent, and the aggravation of living in a neighborhood that’s ignored by all but real estate developers who will gentrify for cheap and push the incumbent citizens out. She combats this first by taking it to the streets; when that isn’t working fast enough, she learns to play both sides of the game. Leibowitz is her steadfast sidekick with a funny, sly sense of humor (once we can hear him talk), and it’s great to see some Gotham familiar faces (including a surprise cameo) and a new spin on The Riddler. All around, a solid hit from DC yet again.

Whistle has not yet been nominated for a CYBILS yet – you know what to do.

 

 

Friends Forever, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyenPham, (Aug. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250317568

Ages 9-13

The third installment in Shannon Hale’s autobiographical “Friends” series sees Shannon in eighth grade and dealing with anxiety over her looks, her grades, and her popularity. She sees her friends dating, but worries that no one wants to date her. She wants eighth grade to be her perfect year, but she just can’t seem to be happy. She becomes increasingly anxious, with OCD behaviors starting to creep into her daily life. A solidly relatable, realistic picture of the big emotions and worries facing kids as they become teens, Shannon’s adolescence in the 1980s is still every bit as relevant to tweens and teens today; with mental health issues gaining more mainstream attention today, Friends Forever can spark important conversations about the pressures tweens and teens face and coping mechanisms that can help. Friends Forever is about change and finding the courage to accept and love yourself. Beautifully illustrated, and with back matter that includes an author’s note from Shannon Hale that addresses mental health, actual school photos, a peek at LeUyen Pham’s sketchbook, and notes from Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham to one another, just like real friends share. Download a free activity kit with discussion questions and a Readers Theater script, and find activities for all three Friends books at the Real Friends website.

Friends Forever is a first round Graphic Novels CYBILS nominee.

More to come!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

A 40-year old whodunnit! Soccer Trophy Mystery

Soccer Trophy Mystery, by Fred Bowen (Sports Story #24), (Sept. 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $6.99, ISBN: 9781682630792

Ages 7-12

Sports mystery author Fred Bowen’s latest Sports Story looks at a decades-old mystery and examines the impact of Title IX on generations of female athletes. Soccer playing twin siblings Aiden and Ava and their friend Daniel are working hard to get their teams into the championships and get their teams’ names inscribed on the league’s soccer trophy when they learn that this isn’t the first and only soccer trophy for their league: the original one went missing 40 years ago and the mystery has never been solved. While practicing for championships and keeping up with their schoolwork, Aiden and Ava are intrigued by the history of the trophy and start investigating what could have happened to it. Fast-paced action sequences and an intriguing mystery and how it ties into sports history will appeal to readers who love sports, especially soccer. Back matter tells “The Real Story” about the mystery of the original FIFA Word Cup trophy and women’s sports. Give this to your Baseball Mysteries readers, your Ron Roy mystery fans, and your Mike Lupica and Tim Green readers.

Fred Bowen is an award-winning author and Washington Post KidsPost sports columnist. Visit his author website for more information about his books.

 

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Blog Tour: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt

Two blog tours in one day, you ask? YES! That’s whatcha get when a cranky summer storm wrecks your Internet for a day. But look – a new Kathi Appelt book is always cause for celebration, especially one as good as…

Once Upon a Camel, by Kathi Appelt/Illustrated by Eric Rohmann,
(September 2021, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534406438
Ages 8-12

Newbery Honoree and National Book Award Finalist Kathi Appelt delivers an heir apparent to Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (2015) and Sara Pennypacker’s Pax (2016). Set in Texas 1910 Texas, an aging camel named Zada has a life lived: she’s won camel races in Turkey for a high-ranking Turkish officer; she’s felt like she was flying across the fields and led army missions with her best friend, Asiye; she’s outsmarted lions and befriended birds. Now, protecting two baby kestrel chicks during a sandstorm, she keeps them entertained in an escarpment as she reflects on her life and hopes that she’ll find the chicks’ parents when the storm breaks… and before the lion returns. It’s an adventure with a heart as big as the desert, and with moments that will have readers enchanted and white-knuckled. Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann’s gorgeous oil painting, rendered here in blacks, greys, and whites, show sweeping sea voyages and cuddly camels and chicks; thrilling escapes and affectionate moments that give texture and life to Kathi Appelt’s sweet, funny, and bittersweet words. Once Upon a Camel is a gentle story of found family and survival, separation, and reunion. Animal fiction fans and fans of Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate will love this story.
If you don’t trust me, trust Richard the Camel, seen here with author Kathi Appelt during what appears to be an impromptu storytime. Look at Richard’s smile! He’s a member of the Texas Camel Corps – maybe a descendant of Zada’s?
Photo was taken at Texas Camel Corps. Photo credit: Doug Baum

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award Finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swap. Some of her award-winning books include Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and Max Attacks, to name just a few. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, visit her website at Kathi Appelt.com.

Find Kathi on Facebook and Pinterest!

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Middle Grade Twofer: Stella Díaz!

I’ve gotten into a groove (of sorts) when it comes to my middle grade reading; I’ve been reading one upcoming book and one from my TBR, trying to keep both lists copasetic. I had to read Angela Dominguez’s latest two Stella Díaz books back to back because I enjoyed them so much! I wrote about the first Stella book, Stella Díaz Has Something to Say, when I read it in 2018 (and revisited in a book bundles post this past June), and finally read the next two. Stella is such a great young heroine for middle graders; read on and see for yourself.

Stella Díaz Never Gives Up, by Angela Dominguez, (Jan. 2020, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250229113
Ages 6-9
Stella is finished with third grade and is ready to take on saving the world: well, the oceans, to start. She’s found her voice and a new confidence; she’s signed up to attend a special summer camp at the Shedd Aquarium in her Chicago hometown, and she can’t wait! After a trip to visit family in Mexico, she’s ready to meet the marine animals and hopefully, make some new friends. While at the Shedd, she learns about the danger to sea life that water pollution, especially plastics, poses, and is determined to take action. Starting a group called the Sea Musketeers, Stella and her new camp friends work on ways to take action, starting with asking members of her family to sign a pledge to use less plastic. In addition to Stella’s new environmental awareness, she has to navigate new friendships and navigate some bumps in the road with her best friend, Jenny. Stella is such a wonderful and relatable character! She’s working through a lot of feelings in this book: her best friend, Jenny, is interested in saving the oceans, but has her own passion for dance; her older brother, Nick, is about to enter high school and has a part-time job, so their relationship is evolving; her dad is not as active in her life as she’d like, and she’s still uncomfortable with the fact that she’s not fluent in Spanish. Stella shows readers – adults and kids alike – that there’s a lot of growing, evolving, and change in a kid’s life! The story has a great pace, characters that are equally interesting and likable, and a strong call to environmental awareness and action that helps kids see that they can make positive changes in the world. Spanish words throughout the story – translated by Stella for us readers – give a richer feeling to the prose and give readers some new vocabulary. There are black and white illustrations throughout.
Stella has her own website! Visit and find a multitude of resources, including an activity kit, a copy of Stella’s and the Sea Musketeers’s pledge, and links to environmental resources, including the Shedd Aquarium.
Stella Díaz Dreams Big, by Angela Dominguez, (Jan. 2021, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250763082
Ages 6 to 9
Stella’s starting fourth grade! She’s got good friends, she’s president of the Sea Musketeers, and she’s… OVERSCHEDULED. She’s taking swimming lessons, and jumps at the chance to join a new art club at school. She’s also got a lot more homework this year… how is she going to keep all of her projects and studies straight? When things start to slip, Stella realizes that she’s going to have to learn to organize her schedule, and she’s going to have to start sharing some of her responsibilities. A story about growing up and taking responsibility, the narrative and the situations are growing up along with Stella and her readers. As a second grader, she was overcoming her shyness and learning to speak up. Now, a fourth grader, she’s navigating complex feelings and relationships, including sharing responsibility – and the recognition! – with others for her ideas; her feelings about dating when her mother makes a new friend with a single dad who just moved to the town, and when the school bully taunts her and her best friend, Stanley, and the desire to do all the great things we want to do versus the reality of what we have to do. Angela Dominguez takes these challenges on with ease, letting readers know that it is all going to be okay; this is a normal part of growing up, and offers some ideas for how to jump those hurdles.
Put Stella Díaz on your shelves, if you don’t already have her there. She’ll look great next to Jasmine Toguchi, Ramona Quimby, and Dominguita Melendez.
Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

A YA graphic novel about honoring your authentic self: Needle and Thread

Needle and Thread, by David Pinckney, Edited by Chris Sanchez/Illustrated by Ennun Ana Iurov, (Oct. 2021, Mad Cave Studios), $17.99, ISBN: 9781952303234

Ages 12 to 16

Noah is a high school senior who dreams of being a costume designer, but his parents are dead-set against his “hobby” being a viable career and pressure him to apply to more traditional colleges and think of a more “reasonable” career. Azarie is the daughter of a politician determined to show a perfect family picture to the public. Azarie is the lead cheerleader and the perfect student, a young woman who’s in with the in crowd, and nurses a secret love of comic books and a desire to be an actress. The two bond over their shared interests, and Noah introduces Azarie to his friends, who welcome her into their circle – much to the chagrin of the Mean Girls in Azarie’s school social circle, and her image-obsessed parents. When introducing Noah’s family to Azarie’s, her father insists that Noah and his first-responder parents (a firefighter and police officer) enter through the back door – the racial implications, atop the social, cannot be denied. But more than a story about an image-obsessed family of social climbers, Needle and Thread is a story about embracing your passions, honoring yourself and your dreams, and pursuing a supportive community. Azarie is welcomed into Noah’s artistic, cosplaying community and grow with that community’s encouragement, while hitting some bumps along the way. Characters are diverse, the story and artwork are interesting and work together to create a full narrative that YA readers will dive into.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Another good middle grade mystery! Coop Knows the Scoop!

Coop Knows the Scoop, by Taryn Souders, (July 2020, Sourcebooks Young Readers), $7.99, ISBN: 9781492640189

Ages 8-12

I pulled Coop Knows the Scoop off my TBR yesterday morning, and I finished it this morning. That’s how good this middle grade mystery is. Cooper Goodman – call him Coop, please! – lives with his mom and grandfather in Georgia, where he helps out in his mom’s bookstore/coffee shop when he’s not in school. His dad, a Marine, died in action, and his Gramps is the retired town doctor. It’s small town life, where everyone knows one another, and it’s pretty idyllic, until the morning a skeleton is discovered buried at the playground. After some DNA testing, the skeleton is revealed to be Coop’s grandmother, Tabby, whom everyone thought left Gramps years ago, when Coop’s dad was little more than a baby. When Gramps falls under suspicion – they always suspect the spouse, right? – Coop enlists his best friends, twin siblings Liberty and Justice, to help him search for clues and exonerate Gramps.

Written in the first person from Coop’s point of view, I could not put this book down. It’s got all the elements of a good whodunnit: a scandal, a quirky cast of local characters, smart dialogue, fleshed out characters with good backstories that make just about everyone a suspect, and an impending sense of danger that you just know is going to explode when you get these elements mixed together. You and your readers are going to want to know what the real scoop is, and that’s going to keep all of you reading this book until you get to the end, and its very satisfying conclusion. Put this on your mystery lists, for sure.

Read more about Taryn Souders and her books at her author website. Coop Knows the Scoop is a 2021 Edgar Award nominee for Best Juvenile mystery novel. Download a great activity kit, including a recipe for sweet tea, through publisher Sourcebooks, Download a discussion guide from Sourcebooks here, too!

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

A fun Summer mystery! Saltwater Secrets

Saltwater Secrets, by Cindy Callaghan, (Apr. 2021, Aladdin), $7.99, ISBN: 9781534417434

Ages 9-13

Originally published in hardcover last year, the paperback release of this fun Summer mystery is perfect for beach reading while ruminating on how water ices can save the world. Half-sisters Josie and Stella spend every summer together: Josie lives in Australia with her mom, while Stella lives in New York with her mom and stepdad. They share their summers – and their dad – together at the Jersey Shore, where they have their rituals. This year, Stella is pushing back against those rituals, because she’s on the verge of high school and wants to act more adult; Josie revels in their childhood memories. What starts out as a story where two sisters are growing up yet afraid of growing apart gets infinitely more interesting when you realize that chapters alternate between the sisters’ story and a debriefing at a police station. Something big has happened, as the story unfolds through each chapter, and it has to do, somehow, with the new smoothie store that took the place of Josie’s beloved water ice shop; a pop star coming to perform a concert at the pier, and the jellyfish population, currently undergoing a marine life crisis. This family story becomes a co-plot to an environmental mystery that brings the sisters back together to solve as they work out their growing pains, and it is guaranteed to keep readers glued to the pages. There’s a fun cast of supporting characters, great pacing and dialogue, and an eloquent statement about the environment and how we affect it, for better or for worse. Put this on your shelves with other summer books like Kayla Miller’s graphic novel, Camp, Mae Respicio’s Any Day With You, Melissa Savage’s Lemons, and – naturally! – Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Horse Trouble is a guide to tween life!

Horse Trouble, by Kristin Varner, (Oct. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250225887

Ages 8-12

Part horseback riding primer, part guide to tween life, Horse Trouble is the story of Kate, a 12-year-old who loves horses and is frustrated by her body. Her best friend is thin and gets the attention of Kate’s crush; the mean girls at the riding school and her middle school target her appearance and flaunt their expensive clothes and accessories while looking down on her. Kate is focused on riding – she works at the school to help pay for her lessons – and competing, but when she’s home, she’s at war with her reflection. Her brother calls her nicknames like “chubbs”, and her mother offers to join a weight-loss program with her, but Kate needs to find her confidence before she can see results. She finds that confidence at the riding school and through competition, but even there, she gets angry at the number of times she’s thrown from the horses. A strong story of finding one’s passion and inner strength, Horse Trouble hits all the right points: self-esteem and body image; coping with bullies; comparing oneself to others both in terms of body size and possessions; coping with crushes; finding mentors, and that connection to friends that we always come back to. Teal-and-white illustrations are appealing, the characters are all likable, and I love the fun character introductions, illustrated with fun facts about each. Each chapter introduction comes with a fun fact about the riding course, and there are great facts about horseback riding and competing throughout the story.

Inspired by Kristin Varner’s own tween experiences, Horse Trouble is just great reading. See more of her illustration at her website.

Posted in Adventure, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Reading Takes You Everywhere: Into the Clouds!

Into the Clouds, by Tod Olson, (April 2020, Scholastic Focus), $18.99, ISBN: 9781338207361

Ages 8-12

For my latest Reading Takes You Everywhere Summer Reading post, I’m taking you to the Himalayas, where we can – from a safe, much warmer distance – scale the heights of K2, a mountain “more treacherous” than Mount Everest. Fewer than 400 people have been able to successfully climb K2: “four every four mountaineers who have stood on its summit, one has died trying to get there”. Although Everest stands higher, K2 has unpredictable weather and gale-force winds that have swept climbers off its face entirely. Into the Clouds is the story of two parties that attempted K2: the first American Karakoram Expedition in 1938, and the 1953 Third American Expedition, which makes up a greater part of the book. Into the Clouds follows Charlie Houston’s team as they attempt to summit the mountain in the midst of vicious storms, risks of avalanche, frostbite, illness, and rivalry, turning the expedition into a rescue mission.

Tod Olson can write narrative non-fiction like the most exciting adventure/survival novel: if you haven’t read his Lost series, you need to check in with your I Survived readers, who likely have. Here, he puts together an exhaustively researched work filled with photos to set the reader at base camp along with Houston’s team. The biting winds, the constant fear of freezing and the aggravation each team member felt clearly comes through here. Adventure and survival readers who have moved on from I Survived and are ready to read middle grade and middle school narrative non-fiction like Trapped by Marc Aronson and Jennifer Armstrong’s Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World.

Read the book, and tell your readers to visit Tod Olson’s webpage where they can find an Into the Clouds scavenger hunt. Into the Clouds has a starred review from School Library Journal.