Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little

The Time of the Fireflies
by Kimberley Griffiths Little
July 29, 2014

Critically acclaimed author Kimberley Griffiths Little spins a thrilling story of one girl's race to unravel the curse that has haunted her family for generations. 

When Larissa Renaud starts receiving eerie phone calls on a disconnected old phone in her family's antique shop, she knows she's in for a strange summer. A series of clues leads her to the muddy river banks, where clouds of fireflies dance among the cypress knees and cattails each evening at twilight. The fireflies are beautiful and mysterious, and they take her on a magical journey through time, where Larissa learns secrets about her family's tragic past--deadly, curse-ridden secrets that could harm the future of her family as she knows it. It soon becomes clear that it is up to Larissa to prevent history from repeating itself and a fatal tragedy from striking the people she loves. 

With her signature lyricism, Kimberley Griffiths Little weaves a thrilling tale filled with family secrets, haunting mystery, and dangerous adventure.

Mysterious phones calls + a very creepy doll + time travel + buried family secrets + one determined and courageous young heroine = a thrilling middle-grade adventure full of addicting mystery, captivating storytelling, and immensely felt heart...Kimberley Griffiths Little’s The Time of the Fireflies is all this and more!

Haunted by a near-death accident, young Larissa Renaud is not having an ideal summer. When she receives a mysterious phone call, from an unplugged, not hooked up to anything antique phone in her parents’ antique shop, she’s sure it’s just a prank. Follow the fireflies. Trust the fireflies the voice on the other end says. And when she does find and follow the fireflies they lead her across time and straight into her family’s tragic, mysterious past. A creepy doll and family curse are determined to ruin Larissa’s family once again, but, with the help of a surprising friend, Larissa must find the courage to end the curse and right some heavy wrongs.

Beautifully and hauntingly atmospheric, with rich, lyrical writing, The Time of the Fireflies is a book that grabs hold and doesn’t let go! Kimberley Griffiths Little weaves a lovely tale that is equal parts heart-warming, heart-wrenching, and heart-pounding. From the moment Larissa receives that mysterious phone call and the creepy, eerie Anna Marie doll is introduced, I just knew this was going to be deliciously spine-tingling, and it was! A jumbled antiques shop, abandoned island, and several different time periods, make for a spellbinding setting. The haunting, vivid atmosphere Little creates really is superb and there’s a genuine spookiness to the whole story...but a fun, delightful spookiness! The awesomely sinister Anna Marie doll is frighteningly fascinating in a way that younger readers will go crazy for. The Time of the Fireflies isn’t all fun scares though; Larissa’s time-travel adventures are full of poignancy and thought-provoking moments as well. Little does a wonderful job of exploring topics like grief, bullying, prejudice, and acceptance.

I so enjoyed following the fireflies and solving the hundred year mystery with Larissa! Larissa, with her determination, courage, and compassion is an admirable, yet completely relatable young heroine. And she’s surrounded by an eclectic group of characters, both in her present and the past. Little crafts complex, compelling characters, with a lot of personality, intrigue, and heart.

My Final Thoughts: The Time of the Fireflies has it all- magic, mystery, time-travel, thrills, chills, and engaging characters! Kimberley Griffiths Little’s beautiful writing and storytelling will entertain and dazzle young readers.


Kimberley Griffiths Little is the critically acclaimed author of the Southwest Book Award, Winner of the Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, Bank Street College Best Books of 2011, Crystal Kit Finalist, and New Mexico Book Award Finalist. Her books have sold several hundred thousand copies in the Scholastic Book Fairs and have been chosen for many state reading lists. She lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her husband, a robotics engineer, and their three sons. Kimberley is a favorite speaker at schools around the country, presenting "The Creative Diary", a highly successful writing workshop and has also been a keynote speaker at various conferences. She is a co-founder of SPELLBINDERS, a national newsletter for Educators and Librarians to create life-long readers.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: Welcome To The Dark House by Laurie Stolarz

Welcome To The Dark House
(Dark House #1)
by Laurie Stolarz
July 22, 2014

What’s your worst nightmare?

For Ivy Jensen, it’s the eyes of a killer that haunt her nights. For Parker Bradley, it’s bloodthirsty sea serpents that slither in his dreams.

And for seven essay contestants, it’s their worst nightmares that win them an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at director Justin Blake’s latest, confidential project. Ivy doesn’t even like scary movies, but she’s ready to face her real-world fears. Parker’s sympathetic words and perfect smile help keep her spirits up. . . at least for now.

Not everyone is so charming, though. Horror-film fanatic Garth Vader wants to stir up trouble. It’s bad enough he has to stay in the middle of nowhere with this group—the girl who locks herself in her room; the know-it-all roommate; “Mister Sensitive”; and the one who’s too cheery for her own good. Someone has to make things interesting.

Except, things are already a little weird. The hostess is a serial-killer look-alike, the dream-stealing Nightmare Elf is lurking about, and the seventh member of the group is missing.

By the time Ivy and Parker realize what’s really at stake, it’s too late to wake up and run.

I love me a campy, scream-fest B horror movie, and that’ exactly what Laurie Faria Stolarz’s Welcome to the Dark House feels like, right down to the cliche, yet fun scare tactics; predictable, yet entertaining plot; and rigidly characterized, yet amusing cast.

Everyone has nightmares, some people are just more haunted by there’s than others. Seven essay contest winners are given the opportunity of a lifetime and win a trip to an exclusive, behind the scenes look at the new horror movie from famous Justin Blake. The seven strangers find themselves in a luxurious replica of the Dark House from one of Blake’s movies, but the thrills and frights suddenly feel too real. One of the seven is missing, one is talking to herself, three are caught up in a love triangle, and Ivy and Parker are enjoying getting to know each other...but when literally faced with their nightmares, things turn awesomely, creepily deadly!

Cinematic in scope, Welcome to the Dark House combines many horror movie elements, in both predictable and new ways, creating a genuinely fun and spooky reading experience. Yet, like many of those movies, Welcome to the Dark House suffers from a character overload, cheesy dialogue, and slow pacing.

What Welcome to the Dark House and Stolarz get right is the creepy, spine-tingling atmosphere. From the whole Justin Blake horror movie world the author has created, to the isolated Dark House and amusement park, this is an atmosphere and world that will keep readers fully engaged and on the edge of their seats. Blake’s Nightmare Elf and Hotel 9 movies and characters are creeptastic and over-the-top in the best ways possible. The frights and thrills are plentiful, at least in the last half of the book.  The first half is pretty slow as it is spent getting to know the characters and introducing us and them to the Dark House.

The story unfolds from six different perspectives (Ivy, Parker, Natalie, Frankie, Shayla, and Garth), but Ivy is the main character and focused on the most. We get a detailed glimpse into Ivy’s past, nightmare, and general personality, but the other characters not so much. All six essay winner’s each clearly have their role and trope to play (perky, hot girl; bad/tough boy, freak, All-American guy, goth chick, innocent/virginal girl) and are rigidly characterized as such, with little complexity (which may have been totally intentional!). But, that doesn’t mean these characters aren’t amusing and entertaining, because they are!

Once the characters find themselves in the amusement park and must face their nightmares, the real thrills and chills start! Stolarz offers an awesome mix of gory, heart-pounding, outrageous, psychological scare-tactics and frights. This part of the book is a lot fun, even if some of it is predictable and cheesy. However, I was disappointed by the rushed ending and the many questions left unanswered.

My Final Thoughts: Far from perfect, but entertaining nonetheless, Welcome To The Dark House is a fun story to escape into for a few hours. Campy horror fans, who don’t take their horror too seriously, will get a kick out of this book!


Laurie Faria Stolarz grew up in Salem, MA, attended Merrimack College, and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Interview and Review: S.A. Bodeen, author of Shipwreck Island

I'm stoked to have author S.A. Bodeen stopping by today to chat about her new middle-grade adventure, Shipwreck Island! You can also read my review below...

Shipwreck Island
by S.A. Bodeen
July 29, 2014

Sarah Robinson is deeply troubled in the wake of her dad’s second marriage. She now has to deal with a new stepmom and two stepbrothers, Marco, who is her age, and Nacho, who’s younger. Even though they’ve all moved from Texas to California to start life as a new, blended family, none of the kids seem remotely happy about it.
Sarah’s dad and stepmom then decide to take the whole family on a special vacation in order to break the ice and have everyone get to know one another. They’ll fly to Tahiti, charter a boat, and go sailing for a few days. It’ll be an adventure, right? 
Wrong. Dead wrong.  

Shipwreck Island is the first installment in a series from S.A. Bodeen.

S.A. Bodeen’s Shipwreck Island is an exciting middle-grade adventure, full of thrills, laughs, and fantastical creatures.

Sarah Robinson is not happy that her dad has remarried a woman he met online. She’s even more unhappy that her new stepmother and two new step-brothers, Marco and Nacho, have moved into the Robinson’s California home. Sarah, Marco, and Nacho get an even bigger nasty surprise when their parents tell them that they will all be taking a private cruise vacation, as a way to get to know each other. A luxurious boat, experienced captain, and cruise around Tahiti: what could go wrong? EVERYTHING! Shipwrecked on a mysterious island, this new blended family must learn to work together if they are going to survive.

Bodeen combines everything a captivating middle-grade read needs- excitement, humor, great storytelling, and likable characters- in Shipwreck Island, to create a fun, edge-of-your seat story that will keep younger readers anxiously turning pages until the cliffhanger ending!

With a mix of adventure, relatable contemporary aspects, and fantastical sci-fi elements, Shipwreck Island will easily amuse and entertain younger readers from beginning to end. From the first moments these characters become a blended family to their less than fun ocean journey and their perilous island adventures, Bodeen crafts an atmosphere ripe with anticipation, mystery, and fun chills. The island this family finds themselves marooned on, dubbed Shipwreck Island, makes for a wonderfully eerie and twisty setting! Giant crabs, kangaroos with claws, terrifying birds, weird sounds and sights- this island is full of the unexpected, the impossible, dark whimsy, and spine-tingling fun!

Sarah, Marco, and Nacho are all likable, endearing characters in their own ways, and I had fun getting to know each of them. Young readers will love Sarah’s humor, Marco’s bravery, and Nacho’s sweetness, and their engaging interactions with each other.

Shipwreck Island is a shorter read and, while I would have happily welcomed more, younger readers will love this bite-sized size book and easily gobble the story up in one sitting. Bodeen leaves us with a shocking, exciting cliffhanger ending and I’m definitely excited for more.

My Final Thoughts: With thrills, humor, fantastical elements, and engaging characters, this middle-grade adventure will please young and older readers alike!


What three words best describe Shipwreck Island?  
Peril. Adventure.  Suspense.

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give Shipwreck Island a try?
Shipwreck Island is like Swiss Family Robinson meets Lost

Grab a copy of Shipwreck Island and answer the following:
favorite chapter? 16

favorite page? 180

favorite setting/place? I like their camp under the monkey pod trees.

flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser: His eyes locked with hers. “I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the worst of this place. Not at all.”

What inspired Shipwreck Island? How did the story come to be?
Jean Feiwel suggested I write a middle grade series reboot of The Swiss Family Robinson, and I knew it needed a very contemporary  spin with a big dose of creepy. Shipwreck Island is where my imagination led.  

Young Sarah, Marco, and Nacho make for three different, yet equally likable characters. Can you briefly tell us a bit about each of them and what makes them special?
Sarah likes her life the way it is. She sees her new step-brothers as invaders to the life she has with her father. She stands up for herself and her family. Whether the boys and their mom will ever be considered family to her remains to be seen…

Marco is a big brother, often annoyed by his younger sibling. He is tough, strong, and doesn’t like having to pull up roots to move in with a new family. He doesn’t let his fear get the best of him, and down deep, he’d do anything to protect his mother and brother.

Nacho is a collector of information, much of which he retains. He wants his older brother to respect him, but time after time he gives Marco reasons to make fun of him. He is the most open-minded of the kids, the only one willing to make a go of their new family situation.  

The characters in Shipwreck Island end up on quite a mysterious, unique island and must rely on some serious survival skills...what would say are the top three things one must have or do to survive being shipwrecked?
Fire-making: top of the list. Shelter-building: also an asset. Common sense/a level head: also important. If you run around freaking out, you won’t be able to build a fire or cook or do anything you need  to.

Shipwreck Island ends in such an exciting, yet cliffhang-ery way...can you tell us anything about what’s to come in book two?
Book 2 starts up seconds after Book 1 ends and the reader will learn much more about the new character and possibly that eerie message in the sand…

As a middle-grade author, why do you think middle-grade is so important? Who is your absolute favorite MG hero and heroine?
I think middle grade is when independent readers really branch out, discover what they like to read, and begin to form lifelong solo reading habits. Providing terrific books at this age is crucial in order to develop/ foster/maintain that love of reading. Oh, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Hero: Charlie Bucket  Heroine: Karana, from Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at baking desserts.

I’m really embarrassed to admit that I can’t swim.

The last great book I read was She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick.

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Shipwreck Island, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
I think it would be marbled Madagascar vanilla and mango, with cream cheese frosting and green-tinted shredded coconut on top. I would call it The Moonflight Delight, of course.

Thank you so much for stopping by, S.A. Bodeen!

S.A. Bodeen is the author of The Garden and The Compound, which earned her an ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults, a Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year, and a Publishers Weekly "Flying Start." She is also the author of several picture books, including  Elizabeti’s Doll, winner of the Ezra Jack Keats Award. Bodeen grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. Her first friends were cows, which she named after characters in books. From there she went on to be a Peace Corps volunteer in East Africa, and has lived in seven states, as well as a remote Pacific island. She adores books and is a big fan of cheese. She lives in Oregon.