‘S.T.A.G.S.’ by M. A. Bennett Is a Thrilling Young Adult That Will Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Seats

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In “S.T.A.G.S.” by M. A. Bennett, the reader is introduced to the life of the rich and elite through the eyes of a scholarship student who attends a posh British boarding school.

Greer MacDonald, a middle-class girl, is the one token scholarship student attending the $50,000 a year private school attended by Britain’s ultra-wealthy, ultra-upper-class teens. Also attending the school are others who don’t quite fit in with the snobbish students,  especially the group of power students, the Medievals, who practically run the school.

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‘The Atomic City Girls’ by Janet Beard Is an In-Depth Look at Oak Ridge, TN — Its Part in the Atomic Bomb and the Lives of Workers

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“The Atomic City Girls” by Janet Beard is fiction. But the author grew up near Oak Ridge in Eastern Tennessee and as a child learned about the facility and its part in creating the atom bomb. With this novel, she manages to share the lives of those who worked there from respected scientist to lowly laborer.

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7 Fabulous Choices in Children’s Picture Books for Black History Month

With the increase in diversity in children’s books, there is a plethora of wonderful books for children of all ages that are perfect picks for February and the celebration of Black History.

“Dream Big Dreams: Photographs from Barack Obama’s Inspiring and Historic dreambigdreamsPresidency” by Pete Souza, the former chief official White House photographer, is a beautiful book filled with touching and insightful images of a president who could be solemn when the occasion called for it, caring when compassion was needed, loving with his family, and fun when children were involved. The images show a man who wasn’t afraid to be real with people and to show them that he cared. The photographs show a man who radiates confidence and charm. It’s a really lovely book. (Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers)

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Ten Perfectly Poignant Picture Books for Valentine’s Day

It’s not too late to get the perfect Valentine’s Day present for your favorite picture book reader. Here are ten picture-perfect choices.

Dog lovers who are book lovers know that almost no one writes nonfiction dog books IMG_3995like Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, author of “Made for Each Other: Why Dogs and People Are Perfect Partners.” This small picture book is aimed at older picture book readers, although younger readers will love the beautiful photographs by William Muñoz. The book is filled with all the nonfiction features teachers love to teach, like Contents (Part One: A Perfect Partnership; Part Two: The Science of Love; and Part Three: Sharing Our Lives), Resources for Young Readers (books, websites and videos with more information), Source Notes and Additional Sources (a bibliography of resources used for the information in the book), and an Index. Within the book’s pages is information ranging from how dogs differ from wolves and how they may have parted ways in the past to how dogs help us now by being our best friends, guiding us, protecting us, providing us with therapy, and just loving us. It’s a beautiful, completely true love story. (Crown Books for Young Readers)

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‘The Demon Crown: A Sigma Force Novel’ by James Rollins Delivers Action

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James Rollins fans will not be disappointed with “The Demon Crown,” his latest “Sigma Force” novel detailing yet one more way the world as we know it might end. This thriller is filled with action, adventure, science, and a roller-coaster of plot twists and turns.

One of Rollins’ many talents in writing a series is his ability to make each novel as much a stand-alone book as possible given that the characters reappear in most of the “Sigma Force” novels. Sigma Force is the shadowy, secret arm of the government agency DARPA, run by Painter Crowe and his able team. Rollins manages to give new readers a real sense of the characters while not boring those who have read other books in the series — it’s a talent.

In this story, the team is fighting an enemy who has unleashed what are clearly wasps from hell. These huge creatures are truly nightmarish, and even worse is what results after they sting someone. Let’s just say they leave behind more than only a stinger. And Rollins describes it all in excruciating detail — really. Some readers may not want to be eating a meal while reading about the effect of the wasps’ attacks.

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Remembering Nugget: Blacky’s Brother and Beloved Cat

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Nugget, my ten-year-old cat just died. He was not only a huge cat physically, he also had a huge personality.

Loss is difficult. Any loss. The loss of a pet, especially one in the prime of life, is hard, and some losses are more difficult to bear than others. When an old dog or cat dies, it’s sad but expected. But Nugget was not old; in fact, he was much younger than my oldest cat, Sally.

Few visitors to my house ever saw Nugget. Twelve years ago, he was a feral kitten who was already wild by the time I trapped his brother and him. At four months old, after being neutered and vaccinated, they cowered in their large crate and hissed and scratched when approached.

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‘The Piper’s Apprentice’ Is the Last Novel in ‘The Secrets of the Pied Piper’ series by Matthew Cody

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Matthew Cody’s books are much beloved by middle grade readers and with good cause. Like his latest trilogy, “The Secrets of the Pied Piper,” all his books feature fabulous characters, thrilling plots, and some really good writing.

In “The Piper’s Apprentice,” the last book in the series, Cody does what is all-too-often missing from last books in a series, he manages to include enough information about what has happened that the reader isn’t lost by reading this book without having just reread the first two books. And if the reader is reading all three books in a row (lucky reader!), he or she will not even notice that bit of extra information that keeps someone who read the second book in the series a year ago from feeling lost.

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‘Truly Devious’ by Maureen Johnson Is a Thrilling Mystery

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“Truly Devious” by much-loved young adult author Maureen Johnson is a fabulous novel. It begins as a mystery about a murder that took place over 80 years ago at an elite private school in Vermont.

The novel is really two stories combined into one mystery. There is the decades-old mystery of Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter, who disappeared while on a car ride. The wife’s body was found, but there has been no trace of the three-year-old daughter, and what happened to her remains a mystery. The kidnappers did contact Ellingham, demanded a huge sum of money, and escaped with the money.

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How Important is Customer Service? Chewy.com Knows; Diamondback Drugs Needs Some Lessons

See update from Diamondback Drugs below.

It’s rare to experience in one day both the pinnacle of excellent customer service and the opposite — a customer service experience so bad that the consumer would rather spend more money elsewhere than to give a bad company good business.

When you have many pets in your home, a lot of money flies out for many purchases. Cats need kitty litter and food; dogs need food and toys. I’ve been using Chewy.com for many supplies because getting 40 pound bags of dog food and kitty litter delivered to my front door just makes sense. It wasn’t until there was a problem with my most recent delivery that I realized how superb their customer service is. Continue reading

‘Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow’ by Jessica Townsend Is a Fantasy Trip Through a Magical Country

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“Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow” by Jessica Townsend is a middle grade fantasy about Morrigan Crow who, at the start of the novel, is fated to die before her eleventh birthday. She is a “cursed” child, whose very presence brings bad luck to those around her.

Her mother is dead, and she lives with her extremely horrible father, her emotionally distant stepmother, and her grandmother. Only her grandmother even marginally appears to feel affection for Morrigan. In one terribly sad scene, Morrigan hears her father talking about how it would make more sense to educate his hunting dogs because Morrigan will not live much longer.

But Morrigan’s life changes when she is allowed to attend a kind of graduation ceremony at which children are given bids by different entities to enable them to continue their education. To everyone’s surprise, include Morrigan’s most of all, she gets four bids. She ends up with Jupiter North, and they make a daring escape from the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow, who are set to kill Morrigan, and go to Nevermoor.

The story is filled with lovely fantastic ideas. Morrigan lives in Jupiter North’s hotel, the Deucalion, which contains myriad mystical rooms. One room is the Smoking Parlor. Townsend describes it:

“The Smoking Parlor wasn’t a room where guests were allowed to smoke pipes and cigars, to Morrigan’s relief, but in fact a room that emitted great rolling clouds of colored, scented smoke that seems to pour from the walls themselves. This afternoon it was a murky green sage smoke (‘to promote the art of philosophization,’ Jupiter told her), but a schedule on the door informed her that later that evening the smoke would change to honeysuckle (‘for romance’) and, late at night, to lavender (‘to aid the sleepless’).”

There is the brolly line, where it’s necessary to have an umbrella to ride. There is the secret room that Morrigan is able to unlock with her special umbrella, gifted to her by Jupiter North. There is Jupiter himself, a sweet and kind man who is half father-figure and half friend and mentor, but also extremely mysterious. He disappears for long stretches of time on various missions and appears, often at the last minute, when necessary.

Other characters include a human-sized cat, Fenestra, who is the main housekeeper at the hotel and Frank, the vampire dwarf. Her best friend is Hawthorne, and he is competing in the trials as well.

Morrigan must vie for entrance to the Wundrous Society, an elite society where once accepted, one’s life of comfort is assured. Everyone who is trying to be accepted in the society has a knack, or skill, that they will use during the trials. Of the many hundreds vying for entrance, only nine will be accepted.

Morrigan is also worried about failing the trials because Jupiter brought her to Nevermoor illegally, and if she fails, she will be deported and then found and killed by the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow. Other residents of Nevermoor make much of the fact that Morrigan is an illegal, an unpleasant reminder of current political times in real life.

The trials are all different, and Morrigan seems to win at least one of them purely by chance. But the twist at the end explains several of the mysterious things that have happened to Morrigan throughout the almost 500-page novel.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Little, Brown and Company, for review purposes.

‘Unearthed’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner Is a Thrilling Young Adult SciFi Ride

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It’s being billed as a cross between Indiana Jones and Star Wars, and “Unearthed” by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner comes close. It’s the story of a future Earth when climate change has destroyed much of our planet. Scientists on Earth find a message from an extinct alien race that explains how to build a portal to Gaia, another planet, where the astronauts find a piece of technology that powers a clean water supply for all of Los Angeles. Then the astronauts are killed while exploring one of the temples there.

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