VIII…The Tudors are Back!


Castor, H.M. VIII. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. 978-1-4424-7418-5. 415p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

King Henry VIII was one of the most notorious kings in all of British history.  From a young age, Hal was viewed by his father, King Henry VII, as weak and coddled by his mother, Elizabeth of York.  His grandmother resented him and his mother, since the throne of Henry VII actually belonged to Elizabeth of York.  His older brother, Arthur, looked down upon him because he, Arthur, would be king, and Hal would only inherit the title of Duke of York.  And although Hal was a bit smaller and much younger than Arthur, he had a drive and conviction that would turn him into the king he would become all because of a prophecy, heard at a young age, that the Duke of York would one day be King.  A prophecy that remained in the back of Hal’s mind as he grew in the shadows of his family.  H.M. Castor masterfully captures the struggles of King Henry VIII’s early life that lead him to become the most infamous King of England and began the demise of the Tudor Dynasty.

Historical Fiction        Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

VIII is a fabulous look at the early life of King Henry VIII.  It provides readers with a masterful portrayal of how one king could cause so much destruction and demise and become a notorious leader, all because of his family.  It is a fabulous TV tie-in novel to the series, Reign, on the CW, because it establishes the history of the Tudor dynasty prior to the struggle for power between Mary, Queen of Scots, the rightful monarch, and Henry VIII’s illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth.  Students interested in the show will love this novel because it establishes where Reign begins and includes many references viewers and readers will recognize.  As a fan of The Tudors, I loved this novel because it established the violent and disreputable figure that was King Henry VIII, but also provided a story of a young man, Hal, with love in his heart, but cruelty surrounding him.  This is a great novel for British history courses to connect back to PA Core literary and informational reading, not only for the quick read and interesting read it is, but to establish more background about the Tudor family and how they gained power.  I cannot wait for Castor’s next book (or more, hopefully) about Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary) and Elizabeth I.

ACID…It’s not the London You Remember


Pass, Emma. ACID: Agency for Crime Investigation and Defense. New York: Delacorte, 2013. 978-0-385-74387-7. 381p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Jenna Strong is a 17 year-old living in Upper London when her world collapses around her.  Arrested by ACID (Agency for Crime Investigation and Defense), the totalitarian government controlling London in the year 2113, Jenna is accused of murdering her parents and is sent to the all-male, high security prison, Mileway.  As Jenna tries to figure out what happened (she has no memory of the murders except what ACID has told her), Dr. Fisher, the only caring person in Mileway, plots Jenna’s escape.  Once at “The Facility” somewhere in London, Jenna is nursed back to health by a rebel group plotting to overthrow ACID and return London to a more democratic state.  As Jenna regains her strength and more memories, she tries to return to life, in poverty stricken Outer London, a world she never saw growing up.  When her alias is made by ACID, she takes off with part of the reason she was found out, Max Fisher, Dr. Fisher’s son, but he doesn’t know she’s Jenna Strong, a wanted murderer.  As the two continue running from ACID, they encounter more ACID traitors, but these traitors are different from those at The Facility.  As Jenna’s identify is again compromised, she must learn who to trust, when to run, and how to hide, but will it be enough to keep her alive and away from ACID?

Dystopian      Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

ACID: Agency for Crime Investigation and Defense is not the typical YA dystopian.  Instead, it provides more “meat” to the story and intertwines characters and plot that force the reader to truly think about the possibility of ACID as a government.  The novel could be placed in present day instead of 2113, especially when considering terrorist groups and the governmental control they have in countries.  This book could easily be used in English, or a government or current events class, as a fictional representation of government structure in comparison to how some governments and terrorist organizations control people.

As a final note, ACID is written and ends as though more should come.  I do not know if it is set for a series or will become a series.  According to Emma Pass’s website, her next book is due out in 2015 and is about building stronger soldiers.


The Grisha Trilogy – Book 2, Siege and Storm


Bardugo, Leigh. Seige and Storm (Grisha Trilogy, Book 2). New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2013. 978-0-8050-9460-2. 432p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up. 

Following their escape from The Darkling and The Fold at the end of Shadow and Bone, Alina, the Sun Summoner, and Mal, her best friend and member of the First Army, are fleeing for their lives in Novyi Zem.  After weeks of looking over their shoulders in fear, Alina slips with her powers, and her  new feeling of safety is quickly stolen when The Darkling appears and captures them.  As the connection between Alina and The Darkling, due to Morozova’s Collar, increases, Alina realizes she will never truly be able to escape his power over her.  That is until the pirate, Strumhond, hired by The Darkling to carry Alina and Mal back to Ravka turns on The Darkling and claims the prisoners as his own.  As Alina and Mal learn that Strumhold truly is their ally, Alina’s power grows as she takes a second amplifier, the sea whip’s, scales and learns that the legend of Morozova is true.  Now it is up to Alina to find Morozova’s third amplifier, the firebird, and defeat The Darkling, as their bond from Morozova’s amplifier only multiplies as Alina gains strength.  Bardugo once again captivates readers through imagery of Ravka, The Darkling, and the power of magic, while solidifying realistic relationships and conflicts that provide a basis for the fantasy.

Fantasy                 Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

This is a fabulous series for fantasy and non-fantasy lovers alike.  For me, the relationship between The Darkling and Alina is like a raw version of Voldemort and Harry Potter.  Good vs. Evil.  But it is also so much deeper.  Bardugo transfixes readers into the relationships, places, characters, and conflicts, without them ever realizing it (much like Harry Potter).  Her story is amplified by her use of language to establish a classic piece of YA fantasy literature.  I could not put this novel down.  At no point does it lack for action, adventure, romance, and amazing story.  This is truly a trilogy for all readers and all libraries. I cannot wait to read the final chapter, Ruin and Rising.


Heaven is Paved…With Oreos


Murdock, Catherine Gilbert. Heaven is Paved with Oreos. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 978-0-547-62538-6. 201 p. $14.49. Gr. 5-9.

In this companion to Murdock’s YA novel Dairy Queen, Sarah Zorn is a science-loving, fourteen year-old, who just wants to spend her summer working with her best friend, Curtis, on their ninth grade science project, Boris, a decaying calf.  But instead of full-science-fair-focus, Sarah and Curtis must continue their “Brilliant Outflanking Strategy,” their appearance to others, especially awful Emily Friend (or as Sarah likes to call her Emily Enemy), as dating for it’s the only way Sarah and Curtis have figured out to not be made fun of for being best friends. In addition to keeping up appearances, Sarah’s grandmother, Z, wants to take Sarah to Rome with her to celebrate her 64th birthday and re-visit a pilgrimage she took many years ago.  While in Rome, Sarah learns the truth about her grandmother, and her family, and realizes that perhaps the “Brilliant Outflanking Strategy” isn’t so brilliant at all.  As Sarah deals with many teen realities of liking someone, friendship, enemies, and family, Murdock also provides a real outlet for students to consider-journaling, the format of the novel.  D.J. Schwenk (Dairy Queen) returns in this novel, but in a much smaller role.

Realistic         Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

Having never read Dairy Queen, but knowing that it was a YA novel, I expected more from Heaven is Paved with Oreos.  Instead, I feel like a got a great middle school novel but wanted more.  This novel is a great portrayal of friendship, familial relationships, and the development of more romantic feelings as people grow up, but it lacked a bit of development with the story.  I liked the notion of Rome and why Z wanted to go and share her experience with Sarah, but I felt like it dropped the story as soon as they returned to Wisconsin.  I wanted more from this storyline because I felt that it was very important, but perhaps for the target audience it is not important.

This would be a wonderful novel for literature circles or independent reading because of the use of a journal.  The format allows readers to explore their own use of journaling to “figure stuff out” and share parts of them that they may not share with others.


Why We Took the Car…a Translation


Herrndorf, Wolfgang. Why We Took the Car. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014. 978-0-545-48180-9. 245p. $15.34. Gr. 9-12.

Any way you look at it, Mike Klingenberg is pretty boring. He doesn’t have many friends, and he doesn’t have a chance at getting the girl of his dreams, Tatiana, to ever take notice of him. But as boring as Mike is, Tschick is pretty unpopular too, for different reasons. Tschick is a newbie, but his clothes aren’t quite right and he has yet to stay awake for an entire class. When neither of the boys are invited to Tatiana’s birthday party when everyone else is going, Tschick hijacks a car and picks up Mike to crash the party. But why stop at the party when there is the rest of the autobahn to travel? Suddenly, the boys aren’t so boring and unpopular as they meet new friends, get shot at, wind up in the hospital, and are chased by the police!
Realistic        Nicole Starner, Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS
This is the first American translation of the German author Herrnorff, whose story of two boys trying to figure out life makes the reader laugh out loud. Readers will sympathize with Mike, whose dad is having an affair and whose mother is often traveling, but will enjoy the exploits he finds himself in. Perfect for the student who may not be the most popular but can enjoy a good adventure.

The Riverman…New YA Fantasy


Starmer, Aaron. The Riverman. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014. 978-0-374-36309-3. 310p. $13.64. Gr. 8 and up.

Fantasy meets the real world when Fiona Loomis asks Alistair to write the biography of her life and what has happened to her recently. While the two were friends and neighbors when they were younger, Alistair hesitates to take on this task from the very odd not-so-typical girl next door. But when he begins to listen to her story, Alistair must put life as he knows it aside and decide if this girl is telling truth, or if she is mentally troubled. Is there a parallel world where Fiona travels to, where anything she wishes comes true? And if Alistair believes this, then he has to accept the idea of the Riverman, the being of the other world who has been snatching the lives of the children that live there. But if that’s true, then it’s possible the Riverman exists in this world too, and that all of their lives are in danger.
Fantasy        Nicole Starner, Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS
This is the first book in what will be a trilogy – the second book The Whisper will be released in March of 2015. While the publishers recommend the book for students in grades 5 through 8, the difficult web of universes might be more suitable for older readers. Students who enjoy Neil Gaiman and his young adult fantasy/supernatural books will definitely enjoy Aaron Starmer.  I am eager to get my hands on an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Book 2!

The Boy Problem…a sequel :)


Kinard, Kami. The Boy Problem: (notes and Observations of Tabitha Reddy). New York: Scholastic, 2014. 978-0-545-57586-7. 256 p. $12.99. Gr. 5-8.

In this sequel to The Boy Project, Tabitha Reddy is obsessed with predictions.  Self-proclaimed nerd, Tabbi and her best friend, Kara, return in The Boy Problem to tackle a number of middle school problems.  Kara tends to be the sensible one in the pair, while Tabbi sees everything as a predestined sign.  Using her superstitions to predict the future, Tabbi depends on these tools to make things happen.  A “cootie catcher”, fortune cookies, Magic 8 balls, and even a fortune teller at the fair—Tabbi seeks help in search of her next boyfriend. After a new math teacher assigns a probability project, a disappointed Tabbi is paired up with Pri, an exuberant cupcake queen in her Algebra class. While planning the project, tragedy strikes Tabbi’s extended family in New England, and the girls use their probability project idea to help. Filled with cupcakes, love and friendship, this novel is an example of ­­­­friendships, quirky middle school students, and how to make a difference in the world.

Realistic Fiction         Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School

The Boy Problem not only takes characters and places them in middle school conflicts, but also takes female characters outside of traditional, stereotypical roles and has them excel in Algebra.  The text is mixed with mathematical equations, creating word problems.  Even more, the friends brainstorm ideas and use technology to survey students.  In the same style as Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries, Kinard appeals to the reader who needs to break up text with illustrations and examples. This book is a perfect step up for readers who enjoy those books.

Better off…not to be Played: New YA Realistic Fiction


Eulberg, Elizabeth. Better Off Friends. New York: Scholastic, 2014. 978-0-545-55145-8. 288p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.
Levi and Macallan have been best friends since shortly after they met when Levi moved to Wisconsin from California at the start of seventh grade. Better Off Friends follows this friendship as it develops over the following five years. As time passes, Levi and Macallan must deal with competing friendships, their individual romantic relationships, and the misunderstandings and fights that all friends encounter. Will their friendship be able to survive? And what about the realization that Levi and Macallan separately reach—that they have romantic feelings for one another.  They’ve always said they are better off as friends, but are they really?

Realistic                   Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

Some professional reviewers have compared the plot of Better Off Friends to that of the film When Harry Met Sally. In fact, it’s no secret that this film inspired the novel—Eulberg mentions the fact on her website, and it is mentioned in the acknowledgements in the book. While this might render the overall plot somewhat predictable to viewers of the movie, it is still an enjoyable read (after all, there’s a reason When Harry Met Sally remains such a popular film). While an overall romantic comedy tone is present in the novel, Eulberg also includes realistic plot points such as Macallan’s ongoing grief at the loss of her mother a few years earlier as well as Levi’s struggles to fit in to the guy cliques at school. Recommend to fans of YA romances.



Fichera, Liz. Played. Don Mills, Ontario: HarlequinTeen, 2014. 978-0-373-21094-7. 341p. $9.99. Gr. 9 and up. 

At first glance, Sam Tracy and Riley Berenger seem to come from two different worlds. Sam, a Native American likes to hang out with his friends on the reservation and works to not draw attention to himself. Riley loves the color pink and is concerned with improving her social status at school. When Sam rescues Riley after she falls off a mountain ridge while they are attending a school-sponsored camp, Riley decides to return the favor and help Sam out. Her goal: break up the relationship between Fred (Sam’s longtime crush) and her new boyfriend Ryan. The complication: Ryan is Riley’s older brother. As to be expected, problems and misunderstandings ensue in the alternating chapters told from both Sam and Riley’s viewpoints. In the midst of all the drama, Riley and Sam discover that perhaps they have more in common than they initially thought.

Realistic Fiction        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

Played serves as a companion of sorts to Fichera’s 2013 book Hooked, which detailed the relationship of Riley’s older brother Ryan and Sam’s crush, Fred(ricka). Readers need not have read the prior book in order to understand and appreciate Played. While I did feel that the ultimate conclusion of Played was somewhat predictable and Sam had to rescue Riley a few too many times for my tastes, what makes this book blog-worthy in my opinion is the integration of issues related to Southwestern Native Americans throughout the story. Sam and Riley encounter issues such as stereotypes, race and class throughout the novel. Through Sam’s eyes, the reader gains an insight into modern-day reservation life and some of the issues facing today’s Native American teens. Sam was the most well-rounded and fully developed character in the story—I would gladly have read a book totally from his perspective!

A “Heartbeat”…in YA Realistic Fiction


Scott, Elizabeth. Heartbeat. Don Mills, Ontario: HarlequinTeen, 2014. 978-0-373-21096-1. 244 p. $16.99. Gr. 9-12.

Emma is a high school senior who is dealing with losing her mother at a young age. She has to deal with it every day because her mother is being kept alive by machines. Emma’s stepfather, Dan, decided to keep Lisa, Emma’s mom, on life support in order to give the child Lisa was carrying at the time of her death a chance at life. Emma goes to the hospital to visit her dead mother every day.  Prior to her mother’s death, Emma was on a path to be valedictorian of her class, but now she doesn’t even think about school. All she can think about is how much she hates Dan, a man she once loved. Her friend Olivia doesn’t go to the hospital because Emma doesn’t want her there. Olivia is the one person, besides Dan, who knew how it was before Emma’s mom died. As Emma’s life happens around her, she is drawn to Caleb, a “bad boy.” He understands what Emma is going through because he lost his sister when he was younger. Caleb is helpful to Emma in her time of grief, and even Olivia’s disapproval does not deter Emma.   But will Caleb really help her heal?

Realistic Fiction                 Kathryn Gilbride, North Pocono High and Middle Schools

I read this book in just two sittings! (I would have finished in one if I didn’t have to cook dinner for my family.) The entire premise intrigued me, and Elizabeth Scott did not let me down. The opening scene, Emma’s anger at Dan, her feelings for Caleb, and the final page were all poignant. I read it just for pleasure, but I’m certain that you could easily use it in a Psychology class where students don’t do much reading of fiction. The book could also be paired with a non-fiction book on Brain Injury and Brain Death.

The Secrets of Tree Taylor


Mackall, Dandi Daley. The Secrets of Tree Taylor. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 978-0-375-86897-9. 282 p. $16.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Tree Taylor has always wanted to write. Her goal is to write a story over the summer that gets her on to the staff of The Blue and Gold; her school newspaper. She has a writer’s notebook all set to go, with daily inspirational quotes. When a gunshot rings out down the street, she knows she has her big story. Now all she needs to do is find out what happened. As she investigates, she learns more about herself and the circumstances surrounding the shooting. She feels the weight of people’s secrets coming down on her and she is not sure if she is doing the right thing by writing the article or telling other secrets she learns during her investigation. She has a great support system within her family and they help guide her to know when telling a secret is important and when it will cause damage.

Historical Fiction (Vietnam War)      Kathryn Gilbride, North Pocono High and Middle Schools

This book would be wonderful in an English class that concentrates on journalism. Tree is a likeable girl who only wants to write. She sees an opportunity for a big story, and she has inner conflict about whether to reveal all she knows. She writes questions for further investigation and interviews quite a few people. The Vietnam Conflict story line is very interesting, and may educate some of our students on a time period they don’t know much about, which may cause further investigation. There is one story line that doesn’t materialize into much of a story, her friend Sarah is moving to another state. When I was young, I would be consumed by this thought, and Tree rarely mentions it. That was the only implausible part, and it was minor.