The Young Elites


Lu, Marie. The Young Elites. New York: Putnum Juvenile. 978-0-399167-83-6. $18.99. Gr 6-12.

After surviving the deadly blood fever that ravaged her small village nearly a decade ago, Adelina’s hair turned silver, her lashes paled and all that remains of her left eye is a deep, ghostly scar. She is among the group of survivors who possess mysterious powers that can’t be explained. Instead of being curious and supportive, the townspeople, including Adelina’s mean spirited father, shun the survivors and treat them as abominations. After her father tries to sell her off for marriage, a mysterious and fatal accident sends her on the run, and she is eventually recruited by the Young Elites, a group of blood fever survivors who also possess magical abilities. While Adelina is relieved to meet a welcoming, she is also apprehensive and does not know if she can fully trust the Young Elites. Though not as initially engaging as Lu’s previous Legend series, Adelina is a fierce protagonist, and Lu’s impressive writing will have readers hooked.

Fantasy   Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

I had high hopes for The Young Elites after loving Lu’s Legend series. While I enjoyed it, and it followed the same dual-narrative structure of her previous series, there were tense changes between the characters that I just could not get past. It took me out of the story completely, and therefore feel I didn’t enjoy it was much as if it were all told him first person, instead of switching between first and third. The students here don’t seem to notice, which is good, and it remains one of the more popular titles on our shelves.

Lives of the Explorers


Krull, Kathleen. Lives of the Explorers: Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought).  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 978-0152059101 96 p. $20.99 Gr. 4-8

Krull and Hewitt continue their Lives of the… series (now totaling eight), this time with a look at the lives of 20 famous explorers.  In 2-5 pages per person or group, they give the basics as well as some fun details about the world or the person.  For instance, we learn that Daniel Boone was a peace-loving man who hated coonskin caps; Richard Byrd found fundraising more arduous than months in below-zero temperatures; and Magellan was hated by nearly everyone, especially his crew members.  For each explorer, Krull details the major accomplishments and Hewitt illustrates. The group includes 16 men and 4 women, exploring the earth, ocean, and space. This is an unintimidating, at times humorous, look at intrepid and inquisitive people, which includes further reading but no index.
This is an approachable book, great for browsing, booktalking, and for adding some spark to reports.  It could easily be incorporated into “explorer” units, with students reading these pages before continuing research, or using these mini-biographies as examples for writing their own book on other explorers not included.
920: Collective Biographies; Explorers   Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

A Dark Inheritance…Book 1 of the UNICORNE Files

D’Lacey, Chris. A Dark Inheritance. New York: Scholastic Press, 2014. 978-0-545-60876-3. $16.99. 291p. Gr. 5-8.
Michael Malone was expecting a normal, routine morning when his commute to school was suddenly interrupted by a police-authorized roadblock set up to rescue a stray dog.  Without explanation, he throws open his car door and runs toward the husky, narrowly avoiding careening off the cliff himself.  A moment before he reaches the dog, Michael imagines himself being suspended in time, hovering over the scene.  This is only one inexplicable indicator that his life is about to change forever.  Michael discovers he can alter reality with his newfound paranormal abilities, and all too soon he is drawn into a world of mystery and intrigue.  When UNICORNE, a secret agency that investigates strange behaviors and eccentric incidents, discovers his secret, they attempt to persuade him to join forces, promising to provide crucial information on his missing father.  Now he must solve the mystery encompassing the premature death of a young classmate while attempting to control his newfound powers.  Risking his own life and narrowing avoiding danger and death, Michael learns the answers he desperately desires will cost him dearly.


The first book in the UNICORNE Files, D’Lacey has written a fascinating combination of adventure, mystery and paranormal enigmas that will enthrall readers from beginning to end.  I think of middle school boys who are captivated by the nonfictions books about the unexplained phenomena and mysterious manifestations and believe this would be a great way to introduce them to more fiction.

Adventure             Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

Marina: A Gothic Novel


Zafon, Carlos Ruiz. Marina. New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2014. 978-0-316-04471-4. 326p. $16.20. Gr. 8+.

Tired of the mundane life of his Barcelona boarding school, Oscar travels into the nearby streets, enchanted by the huge, abandoned mansions that were once beautiful. After accidentally stumbling upon Marina and her father, German, in a house he thought was empty, a friendship is formed when Marina takes Oscar to a graveyard to witness a mysterious event. The pair is catapulted into the story of the deceased Mijail Kolvenik, a rags-to-riches man once in charge of a company that made artificial limbs. As they start to find out the details of Mijail’s life, those once involved nearly three decades ago begin to face gruesome deaths. Marina and Oscar must find out the truth before they are faced with their own deaths.

From the bestselling author of The Shadow of the Wind, this book created a weave of mystery that the reader just can’t put down. Ruiz Zafon combines mystery with horror as readers constantly second-guess themselves, but also ask “what if?”

Horror, Mystery     Nicole Starner, Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS

Beetle Boy


Willey, Margaret. Beetle Boy. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Lab, 2014.  978-1-46772-639-9. 198p. $13.51. Gr. 9-12 

Laid up with a leg injury, Charlie is stuck at his girlfriend’s house until he can manage on his own. She is an excellent nurse and a good cook, but when she starts asking questions about Charlie’s past, terrible memories come flooding back. You see, while Charlie may have been known as a great children’s author of the Beetle Boy series when he was only a child himself, that type of life was more glorified than it really was for him. Charlie’s past haunts his present as he wakes up screaming about giant beetles coming after him and remembers the lonely days dressed up as a beetle, lying to his audience about his age and who really is the author of his stories.

Beetle Boy takes the reader through the struggles of a young man who must deal with the emotional difficulties he suffered from an absentee mother and a father who realized he could make money off of his own son. After grasping for love from babysitters and other authors at book conventions, Charlie flounders in a romantic relationship with his current girlfriend.

Realistic Fiction  Nicole Starner, Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS

Like a Flip Turn

Rae, Hannah. Like a Flip Turn. Gettysburg, PA: Hannah Rae, 2014. Available on Kindle Only. 344p. $2.99. Gr. 9-12.
In the little town of Lake Caywood, three women, all of different ages, find their lives intersecting.  Their stories are very different, but each has a struggle of her own; Jenny has just moved into the town after suffering an emotional break-up with a boyfriend; Lydia must come to terms with the death of her brother, and Old Lady Gallagher needs to decide what will become of her home.I can’t say enough good things about this book! I haven’t read much magical realism, but this book really enchanted me with that genre. The characters in the book are so well thought out that I connected with them on many levels, waiting to see how the magic would unfold in each of their lives. I really enjoyed reading about Axa’s (the art teacher) friendship with Jenny, but the real question is – where can I get myself a Petey Goode!?!

This is the first book written by Hannah Rae, so I’m excited about future books by her. With such a great debut novel, she is guaranteed to make an impact in the book world. Word of advice: scoop up anything this author has to offer!

Realistic Fiction; Fantasy      Nicole Starner, Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS

A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery


Marrin, Albert.  A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.  978-0-307-98152-3. 244 p.  $19.99.  Gr. 7 and Up.

John Brown, born in 1800, was a religiously devout white abolitionist.  Brown’s approach to ending slavery was different than many of his contemporaries. Most abolitionists of the time favored a peaceful approach and working through government to end slavery.  John Brown felt that slavery was an affront to the Lord and believed that slavery should be eliminated by any means possible, including violence.  Albert Marrin, author of A Volcano Beneath the Snow, argues that Brown had a major role in inciting the Civil War and was “the Father of American Terrorism.”

John Brown’s anti-slavery actions show that the title may have been earned.  In 1855-1856, the actions of pro-slavery “border ruffians” in the Kansas Territory angered Brown so much that he and his followers killed five pro-slavery settlers who were not actively involved in the Territory conflict.  Brown was even more infamous for his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry (now West) Virginia when he and a group of followers raided the US Armory to obtain weapons for a mass slave rebellion.  Many of Brown’s followers deserted him, but Brown would not surrender and was hung for treason.

This book, aside from being a thorough documentation of historic events, gives the reader a real picture of John Brown’s personality and motives.  It is well-written and should be easy for most students to understand.  Albert Marrin puts John Brown’s life into context by including chapters on the history of slavery and Civil War events.  This book also features an abundance of primary source documentation (photographs, maps, drawings and diagrams) and an extended bibliography.  However, the one thing that sets A Volcano Beneath the Snow above other histories of the Civil War is its discussion of John Brown’s legacy.  The idea that violence is an acceptable way to achieve a Holy purpose (or justifiable revenge) is an integral part of modern terrorist thought.  Although Americans were horrified by the events of September 11, 2001, including the deaths of thousands of innocent people, the members of al-Qaeda viewed it as an act of Holy war against a Godless society, similar to Brown’s views.

This story is a thoroughly-researched and engaging study of a man who is significant to American history than it would first appear.  A Volcano Beneath the Snow is certainly a valuable addition to any secondary school collection.

 973.7; Civil War             Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School

Of Scars and Stardust


Hannah, Andrea. Of Scars and Stardust. New York:  Flux, 2014.   978-0738740829. 336p. $9.99. Gr. 7-12.

If you like psychological thrillers and don’t want to have everything all wrapped up neatly at the end, then this book is for you. Claire is a fifteen year old who has heard stories about the wolves she can hear in her hometown and grows more afraid and fearful of them once she discovers her younger sister bleeding in a cornfield. The story takes some strange twists and turns as Claire is sent to live with her aunt in New York City for two years. When Claire finds out that her sister is missing, she returns to her home and investigates along with her old crush, Grant, only to discover even more disturbing secrets. 

Reading about Claire and uncovering the secrets that surround her is a page tuner. Readers want to know what is going on. Where is Ella, and why did she run away? Are the wolves real or just in Claire’s head? And just when you think you have figured out what is going on, the rug is pulled out beneath you.  Saying anything more about the plot would not be fair to readers or the author, but it was an interesting ride to say the least.

Realistic Fiction       Marian Kohan, Erie School District

Alice and Freda Forever…an eye opening case


Coe, Alexis and Sally Klann, Ill. Alice & Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis. San Francisco: Pulp, 2014. 978-1-936976-60-7. 220p. $16.99.

In August 1892, Lizzie Borden, perhaps the most famous American teenager murderess, killed her father and step-mother with an axe.  This heinous crime and subsequent acquittal overshadowed another heinous crime from the same year, not due to the gruesome nature of either crime, but because the murder of Freda Ward, 17, by her lover, Alice Mitchell, 19, on the streets of Memphis, Tennessee, in January 1892, was never prosecuted as murder, but instead insanity.  Alice & Freda Forever follows the forbidden love between Alice Mitchell and Freda Ward, two female teenagers who love one another and want to build a life together, the murder of Freda by Alice in the streets of Memphis, and the subsequent trials of Lillie Johnson (considered an accomplish even though she did not witness the murder) and Alice Mitchell, who is tried for insanity because of her desire to love and marry Freda, not murder.  This beautifully written portrait of one of the earliest publically recorded lesbian relationships in the United States focuses not only of the love between Alice and Freda, but the obsession, act of murder, and trial of Alice Ward, not for Freda’s murder, but instead for her sanity, for how could one woman love another and want to marry her; she must be insane.  Coe’s research provides not only a human quality to both women, but expands on the history of a stressed South during Reconstruction and a need to maintain the status quo in a time of change.  Each chapter follows the previous chronologically and provides footnotes along with a detailed bibliography.  Pencil drawings are used to illustrate the various characters and actions explained which adds more depth to the women and the society of the time.

364.152; American Crime    Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

Alice & Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis is one of the best nonfiction books of the year.  Not only does it enlighten readers about a high-profile murder that has been lost in history, but it also helps students explore a society in which women had no rights and people were deemed “insane” if their actions did not agree with the white, male society.  The depth of research only adds to the story.  It actually took me quite a while to get through the book because I kept looking at footnotes and reading articles used in researching and writing this book.  I would definitely recommend this for high school libraries and perhaps would use it in conjunction with a criminal justice or American studies course.  This book is heart-wrenching because of the basic fact that Alice was considered insane in her society because she loved another woman and wanted a life with her, but she would have been accepted 120 years later.  I really think this sentiment will stick with students, especially students within the LGBTQ community.

The Chapel Wars


Leavitt, Lindsey. The Chapel Wars. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. 978-1-59990-788-8. 292p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Holly Nolan’s world changed the day her Grandpa Jim died.  Now Holly, a 17 year-old high school student, is owner of the Rose of Sharon wedding chapel in Las Vegas.  Not only has Holly inherited the chapel, but she’s also inherited the enormous debt that is about to sink the chapel, and her family, if she doesn’t find a way to pay back the loan. If that wasn’t enough, Victor Cranston, owner of Cupid’s Dream, the chapel next door, and Grandpa Jim’s arch-nemesis is determined to bring down Holly and her family.   With only a few months until the bank forecloses on the chapel and Holly’s future, she turns to Dax Cranston, grandson of the awful Victor Cranston, to help her navigate her new life.  As Holly and Dax try to figure out their relationship, Holly tries to save her family, Grandpa Jim’s legacy, and her future, while still navigating life at 17 in Sin City.

The Chapel Wars is a fabulous, light read about the ups and downs of a family, teenage relationships, loss, and responsibility.  Although somewhat unrealistic to non-Vegas folk, I loved the peculiarities of the novel because they are totally Vegas.  As someone whose family lives there (which means I’m there often), I loved knowing where Holly and Dax were or picturing the craziness of Vegas (and the costumes people wear on the Strip).  It’s so Vegas.  I can only hope that Lindsey Leavitt begins (or continues) a Vegas-based series or at least sets all of her stand-alones in Vegas.  I can’t think of a setting that is more fun.  This is a great pick for students interested in real problems without the heaviness that often occurs in YA fiction.

Realistic Fiction   Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City