One of the Best: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Happy Sunday everyone!

Writing reviews when I truly enjoyed/loved a book can either be difficult (fear of too much gushing) or really easy (the love just flows). Writing my review for Doll Bones by Holly Black was incredibly easy. This book is that good.


Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining Doll Bones by Holly Blacka magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity.


If you asked me for one of the best titles to introduce you to middle grades fiction, Dolly Bones would be the book I pressed into your hands. Everything about this book is well done. This is quality middle grades fiction right here people!

As I look back on some of the best middle grades books I’ve read (and coming of age tales in general) I’m noticing a major commonality between them; that perfect yet strange mix of realism and fantasy mixed together (think the Sandlot with “the beast” for example). When a book succeeds at weaving both the realistic and fantastic together what you get is a blindingly beautiful portrayal of that preadolescence stage in life where you’re stuck in limbo between childhood and the teen years. The characters, Zach, Poppy and Alice are each exploring (in different ways) their new teenage interests, yet are still clinging to the comforts of childhood, like imagining and playing games. This struggle is exemplified so flawlessly well on the cover. I love how this cover sets the stage for a coming of age story (yes the kids are on a physical and emotional journey) set in and spurred on, by the atmosphere of a ghost story.

Another major factor in this whole coming of age theme is realizing that adults, specifically your parents, are human being with flaws. We see this primarily in the strained relationship between Zach and his father. Because it hurts so much to realize that his dad isn’t perfect Zach longs for the days when his father wasn’t there; its easier to ignore him than face the truth. When in reality this often painful father/son relationship is caused by a hurt man doing the best he knows how with a son he doesn’t quite understand. There is just so much truthful emotion going on here!

There are some slightly creepy goings on in Doll Bones, but it is completely appropriate for middle grade readers and up (perhaps even a mature fifth grader) who crave a good adventure tale. The audiobook would make for a good family listen as well, so if you haven’t read Doll Bones yet, please get it added to your (or your reader’s) TBR stack; you wont be disappointed.

Author: Holly Black

Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry Books (May 7, 2013)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library)

Length: 5 hours and 15 minutes

Narrator(s): Nick Podehl

Series: Standalone


Buy the Book:


Mixing the Innocent and the Grisly: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Well hi there!
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was the eleventh of the fifteen Florida Sunshine State books I’ve read this summer.

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimanresidents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family.

I have heard so many good things about this book. After all, it has won tons of awards, so I had very high expectations. To be honest though, I did enjoy the book a lot, but I don’t know if I thought it was as amazing as I expected it to be. Overall, I felt it was pretty slow at times.  Normally a slow start doesn’t turn me off since I like to think I have a good attention span and can push through  slow-moving books, but this one was a bit of a struggle to get through. I wonder how my students will respond to The Graveyard Book if I thought it was slow.

Each chapter is written as a vignette spotlighting a different event in Bod’s life. I liked this way of telling the story of Bod’s experiences and coming of age, as each event has an impact on Bod that will, end the end, him save himself and his friends.

I must mention the illustrations. I completely loved them! I really like it when non picture books use illustrations especially if they’re not overdone and adds to the atmosphere of the story. The drawings in The Graveyard Book are so simple and sweet and creepy all at once – making the mix of the innocent and the grisly that much more palpable.

All in all, although The Graveyard Book wasn’t my favorite of the Sunshine State Books, I did enjoy it and think that others will as well (obviously since it won so many awards!).  Anyone looking for a fantasy mixed with ghost story and coming of age story should give this one a try!

Author: Neil Gaiman

Publisher:  Harper Collins (September 30, 2008)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 320 pages

Series: standalone


Buy the Book:  The Graveyard Book


Top Ten Tuesday: Creepy Reads

Its getting closer and closer to Halloween and my students have been in the mood for some scary reads.  So, today’s list is ten creepy titles that my kids have been checking out recently.

1. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Through twists and turns of fate, orphaned Mary seeks knowledge of life, love, and especially what lies beyond her walled village and the surrounding forest, where dwell the Unconsecrated, aggressive flesh-eating people who were once dead.

2. The Presence: A Ghost Story by Eve Bunting

While visiting her grandmother in California, seventeen-year-old Catherine comes in contact with a mysterious stranger who says he can help her contact a friend who died in a car crash for which Catherine feels responsible.

3. Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn

Molly and Michael dislike their spooky new stepsister Heather but realize that they must try to save her when she seems ready to follow a ghost child to her doom.

4. The Hunt for the Seventh by Christine Morton-Shaw

Jim moves with his dad and sister to Minerva Hall where a ghostly voice urging him to “find the Seventh” draws him into a sort of macabre treasure hunt for clues to an ancient prophecy that threatens them all.

5. Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan

Suspicious and uneasy about the atmosphere at her new boarding school, fourteen-year-old Kit slowly realizes why she and the other three students at the school were selected.

6. The Complete Horowitz Horror by Anthony Horowitz

Presents a collection of eighteen horror stories, set in England, that focus on everyday items that have sinister qualities, and includes computer games, a mysterious elevator, and a deadly cell phone.

7.  any titles by R.L. Stine

8. The Secret of Laurel Oaks by Lois Ruby

While staying with her family in Louisiana’s Laurel Oaks Plantation, purported to be one of the most haunted places in America, thirteen-year-old Lila is contacted by the ghost of a slave girl unjustly convicted of murder.

9. Hide and Shriek: Camp Confidential 14 by Melissa J. Morgan

With rivalries and cliques to blame for the drop in attendance at Camp Lakeview, Bunk 5A is on official warning but after a horror story about a creepy local who tortures campers, Chelsea’s disappearance frightens everyone into joining forces.

10. The House of Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo

When fifteen-year-old Xander and his family move into an old, abandoned house in the middle of a dense forest outside of a small California town, they discover that not only are some of the rooms portals into other places, but that malevolent forces are at work.

Enjoy the spine tingling reads!! Muuuuhahahahaha


Mystery and History: Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon

I was pretty excited to read this mystery for many reasons.  First, Zora Neale Hurston is from Eatonville, Florida and so are many of my students. Second, the authors came to visit our school and talk to our students (which was awesome!).

Told through the eyes of Zora’s friend, Carrie, Zora and Me begins with the discovery of a dead body by the railroad tracks.  Zora, with her incredibly wild imagination believes that a dangerous shape-shifting gator man (from a local myth she read) is prowling the swamps around the town, feeding on the souls of men.  In order to stop more people from getting hurt, and possibly murdered, Zora, Carrie and their friend Teddy spend their time trying to solve the mystery.  The three friends have no idea what they’re in for as they get a peek into the hearts of men; hearts full of jealousy, deceit and betrayal.  Mystery and history wrapped into one! LOVE IT!

This is a fictionalized story about the childhood of Zora Neale Hurtson, famous writer of the Harlem Renaissance, and her time in Eatonville during the early 1900s.  This book is great for a lot of reasons.  First, the authors, Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon grab the readers’ attention within the first few pages as Zora and her friends recount the death of a man by a local alligator. Way to get my students (and me!) hooked!  My students are usually not interested in reading historical fiction, but the authors manage to create a sense of immediacy that makes you want to find out what happens next. Second, I really enjoyed the way in which the authors imagined what Zora Neale Hurston might be like as a young girl.  Knowing her love for learning, people and story-telling they really fleshed out a character who is both believable and interesting.  Zora and Me encourages imagination as it helps readers think beyond the historical figure and wonder “what was that person really like?”.

I also appreciated (as a history major while in college) the fact that the authors didn’t shy away from discussing some of the more disturbing issues that were common in the early 1900s south.  Race and racism is brought up, as well as questions of class and “passing”.  I wasn’t sure how or if my students would really understand any of these concepts (especially the idea of racial “passing”), but they did pretty well and even asked the authors some good questions when they visited the school.

All in all,  this is an exciting historical mystery that younger teens will enjoy.  Some younger readers may have questions about some of the issues mentioned above (and the use of the “n” word- I say so since my students did), which is why I’d tell all parents to read this one too so your kids have someone reliable to answer their questions.


So Spooky: Pemba’s Song, A Ghost Story by Marilyn Nelson & Tonya C Hegamin

Pemba is just your average teenage girl.

She misses her boyfriend and best friend.  She loves music and dancing.  She was deeply affected by the loss of her father. She doesn’t want to move to rural Connecticut and is mad at her mom for making her leave Brooklyn.

The second Pemba and her mother move into their kinda spooky colonial house, strange things start happening.  That very night Pemba has disturbing dreams and wakes up in the attic even though she fell asleep in her room.

Pemba knows she’s not crazy, but her headaches are getting worse and she keeps seeing an apparition in the mirror who is sending her visions.  Pemba befriends an old man, Abraham, who begins to help Pemba understand the history of her town and even her own house.

Soon, Pemba realizes that Phyllis, an 18th century slave girl, is trying to reach out to her from beyond.  Phyllis has a story to tell and she knows Pemba is the only one who can help her. Is she gifted enough to help Phyllis? But how will Pemba be able to solve a mystery that is hundreds of years old?

The story itself is intertwined with Pemba’s journal entries and poems.  Each one provides the reader with insight into Pemba’s heart and emotions.  I really felt like Pemba was a believable and realistic character and I enjoyed getting to know her in this unique way.

Also, this book is pretty spooky at times.  To be honest, I finished this one at night after my husband was already asleep and I was creeping myself out at any noise I heard!

I’m pretty positive that my students are going to love this one.


Top Ten Tuesday: My Childhood/Teenage Favorites

Tuesdays will be a Top Ten list dedicated to a specific topic in Young Adult/Middle Grades fiction.

Lets try it out.  Today’s Top Ten is a list of my favorite books from my childhood/teenage years.

10. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder 

David and his family move to a large old country house.  Soon, David and his siblings realize that unexplained things are happening around the house.  David must solve the headless cupid mystery before it destroy’s his family.      So, this book sounds way darker now then I remember when I read it.  I just remember thinking it was a fun mystery!

9. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Obviously a classic! I may have read a little before I was a teenager, but I LOVED this book so much growing up.  I’m pretty sure I read it more than twice.  Mary Lennox is sent to England to live with her uncle and cousin, Colin, in a huge lonely manor house.  She soon discover a secret garden that had once been built for Mary’s late aunt.  I remember this book as being incredibly beautiful and it may have been the beginning of my love for all things British.    I also watched the Hallmark movie like a billion times, only to find out as an adult that a young Colin Firth played adult Colin (I have strong beliefs that this also foreshadowed a future love)

8. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

The story of a young girl stranded for years on an island off the California coast in the 19th century.   Another major classic that I absolutely loved growing up.  I remember longing for my own island to live alone on!

7. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Exactly what the title suggests!  These were super fun and I have tons of memories of reading them with my brother and friends.  I actually think the illustrations were way creepier than the stories themselves.  These are still popular in my Media Center nearly 20 years later.

6. Choose Your Own Adventure Series by multiple authors

A series of books in which the reader can choose different paths along the way so that the story, and ending, is never the same.  There are so many of these that I have no idea which ones I actually read.  But I remember really liking them!

5. The Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary

This series describes events in the lives of young Ramona and her family, who live in Oregon. These were definitely read before I was a teenager, but I remember enjoying them, especially Ramona Quimby Age 8.

4. The Baby Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin

About a group of middle school girls living in the fictional town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut. They run a business called the Baby-sitters Club that helps parents find babysitters.  The members of the club are also best friends, although they go through many conflicts throughout the series.  I remember my friend, Christy, and I tried on numerous occasions to start our own baby sitters club.  It never worked…sigh.  Everyone had their favorite babysitter too. My favorites were Dawn and Stacey, so I usually read the books about them before reading any others.  Sidenote: I also thought Mary Ann’s boyfriend, Logan was super cute!

3. Sweet Valley Twins/High series by Francine Pascal

SVT and SVH revolved around the lives of twin sisters Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, who lived in the idyllic suburb Sweet Valley, California.  They were blonde, pretty, popular and so cool!  I read a lot of these, but two were my favorites.  1.The Curse of the Ruby Necklace: Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are thrilled when they land small parts in a movie being made in Sweet Valley. The film is based on the true story of the mysterious death of twelve-year-old Lillian Keller, and it’s being filmed at the creepy old Keller mansion.  This literally kept me up on a few occasions! 2. The Magic Christmas After their grandparents give them a pair of matching antique dolls for Christmas, Jessica and Elizabeth are thrown into the most magical adventure of their lives. And along the way they learn what being twins–and best friends–really means.

2. Fear Street series by R.L. Stine

The Fear Street books are a horror series that take place in Shadyside, a fictional city located somewhere on the east coast,  and feature average teenagers, who encounter paranormal, adversaries. While some Fear Street novels have paranormal aspects, others are simply murder mysteries. I literally devoured these books as a teenager.  I would beg my mom for a new one whenever we saw a bookstore!  Although they were all good, my favorites were the Fear Street Sagas and The 99 Fear Street series.   Seriously I LOVED these and would finish them in a day or two.

1. Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by Carolyn Keene

My all time favorite! Centered around 1950-70s teenage detective Nancy Drew and her friends Bess and George who solve mysteries in the fictional town of River Heights.  Yeah.  I know for a fact that I’ve read all 56 of these books.  My mom and I would read them aloud to each other. I absolutely couldn’t put these books down and often finished them in only a few days!  And only the original Mystery Stories, none of those remakes please!

Did anyone else love any of these too?

ADDENDUM:  The Indian in the Cupboard series by Lynne Reid Banks

This is the fantasy story about Omri who receives a cupboard from his brother, for his birthday. Omri discovers that the cupboard is magical and brings to life his plastic figurines. Thank you Lauren P.!  How on Earth could I forget this series!  I read ALL of them and loved them so much!.  These books were so good, too bad the movie wasn’t. 


Book Trailer of the Week: Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carmen

My students absolutely love ghost stories.  I think there is some strange connection to middle school students and a love for scary things.  The Skeleton Creek books are pretty popular amongst the boys at my school.  What I think is interesting is that the author combines the book with videos on the website.  What better way to grab teenagers’ attention? Very smart indeed.