YA – Killing Time

Ehrlich, Brenna. Killing Time. Inkyard Press, 2022. 978-1-335-41867-8. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Natalie has lived a pretty sheltered life in Ferry, Connecticut, thanks to her mom’s overprotective rules. Working in their family diner, it’s always just been the two of them. When Natalie, who recently graduated from high school, learns that her favorite teacher died under suspicious circumstances she’s determined to honor Mrs. Halsey’s memory. Though their last conversation didn’t end well, Mrs. Halsey understood Natalie’s interest in true crime and supported her (and Nat’s best friend Katie) as the true crime club advisor. They even started their own podcast – Killing Time – where they evolve in their discussion of legendary killers. All of this “true crime stuff” is done, of course, without her mom’s knowledge or permission. But Nat, who wants to go to college to be a journalist, is determined to tell her teacher’s story and honor her life. When she finds a threatening note telling her to “Stay out of it. I’m warning you.” she’s even more motivated to piece together what happened to Mrs. Halsey. Between the conversations among customers at the diner, her internship at the paper, and some convenient friendships, Nat seems to be getting closer to the truth. But how likely is a teenager operating on her own to solve a crime, especially when someone doesn’t want the truth to come to light? Interspersed throughout the novel are “Then” chapters that flash back to Helen’s college days which shed some light onto the strained relationship between mother and daughter and some of Helen’s overprotective tendencies.

THOUGHTS: Fans of true crime will like this one. I especially enjoyed the Then chapters which seemed to have more suspense and keep the story moving. A supplemental purchase where mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Family of Liars

Lockhart, E. Family of Liars. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-48585-9. 299 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

In this prequel to We Were Liars,  we are transported back to the 1980s on the small private island off the coast of Massachusetts that belongs to the Sinclair family. As the title states, this is a family of liars. A family that has many dark secrets. This story takes place over a summer and focuses on the Sinclair sisters and the events that will alter the lives of the Sinclairs. They are joined on their summer vacation by their cousin, Yardley Sinclair who has brought three teenage boys with her. This will not be a normal summer of picnics, fireworks, and swimming for the Sinclairs. The boys bring about a change of atmosphere to the island that will end with tragedy. The family will have to live up to their reputation as liars once again in order to survive.

THOUGHTS: First, this is a prequel and should be read AFTER reading We Were Liars.  This book will appeal to those who enjoy intrigue, mystery, drama, and ghost stories. Lockhart is able to write a story that flows so smoothly that students want more.

Mystery Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Readers of We Were Liars (2014) are taken back in time to meet the Sinclair family, each a liar in their own way. Welcome to summer at Beechwood, the Sinclair family’s private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Appearances are everything, and the family lives by their father Harris’s mottoes: “Here in the Sinclair family…We make the best of things.” At the end of the summer of 1986 Rosemary, the youngest Sinclair sister, drowns, and each family member copes separately. Rosemary is rarely mentioned after her death, though, and Carrie, the oldest of the four sisters, struggles immensely with this loss. Just two weeks after losing Rosemary, Carrie and her sisters Penny and Bess leave Beechwood for the North Forest Academy boarding school where Carrie continues to struggle. Returning to Beechwood in the summer of 1987 isn’t much help, as Rosemary’s things have been taken to the attic. Uncle Dean arrives with his kids, Yardley and Tomkin, and Yardley has a surprise: she’s brought “the boys” (her boyfriend George and his friends Major and Pfeff). And so ensues another summer – however different – on Beechwood. Lines in the sand will be drawn and crossed, relationships will be tested, and lies will be told. But above all else, “We make the best of things.”

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – All the Best Liars

Kahaney, Amelia. All the Best Liars. Flatiron Books, 2022. 978-1-250-31270-9. 324 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

At the age of nine, Syd, Rain, and Brie are inseparable as friends until Brie moves to a more upscale neighborhood and leaves Syd and Rain behind. Fast forward to their senior year when tragedy strikes these three teenagers. It is a few weeks before they graduate, and they all attend a huge party. At this party, everything comes to a head and that night will see one of the trio dead. This book is for fans of a slow burn thriller that revolves around high school friendships and drama. The twists and turns of the story will keep the reader engaged until the last page.

THOUGHTS: I read this book quickly and really enjoyed the character development. The story does involve high school parties with drinking and drug use. This is a book geared towards high school students. Fans of Karen McManus would enjoy.

Mystery          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Thriller

MG – Hazard

Dowell, Frances O’Roark. Hazard. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-481-42466-0. 146 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Hazard Pay Stokes, or Haz as he is known to his friends and family, has found himself temporarily suspended from football over an incident with a teammate. Haz’s coach believes he needs some help with managing his anger before he is allowed back on the team. At the same time, his father has returned home from Afghanistan, which should be a happy moment for Haz. However, the reason his father came home is a tough one for the entire family, especially for Haz’s dad who has to live with the consequences of what happened in Afghanistan. Even though Haz believes therapy isn’t going to help him work through his feelings, he decides to play along and complete the assignments anyway and does in fact start to work through all of the tough emotions brewing inside of him.

THOUGHTS: Told through a series of emails, texts, reports, and assignments, the reader gets a close look at the events through Haz’s point of view. Haz’s lyrical way with words will keep the reader engaged. The topic and the format of the writing will appeal to more reluctant middle grade readers, especially boys.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Growing Pangs

Ormsbee, Kathryn. Growing Pangs. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-30129-6. 249 p. $20.99. Grades 4-7.

As a homeschooled kid with bright red hair, freckles, and crooked teeth, Katie knows she is a little different from most kids her age. But as long as she has her best friend Kacey, none of that matters. The pair head off to spend their summer at Camp Aldridge, and that’s when things begin to change. Katie notices that Kacey gets very jealous when Katie hangs out with other people at camp. When they both start at their homeschool co-op for the year, Katie’s circle of friends continues to grow while Kacey shrinks back into the sidelines of Katie’s life. One aspect of Katie’s life that hasn’t gotten smaller is the “buzzing” in her mind. The buzzing orders her to accomplish tasks like turning a faucet on and off ten times. If she completes the task, nothing bad will happen to Katie or the people in her life. When Katie finds out she needs oral surgery and that Kacey is moving away before their friendship can be repaired, the buzzing gets louder and louder. Katie realizes she needs help from her parents to take control of her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

THOUGHTS: Katie is insightful for her age yet also relatable. Her struggles mirror the pressure and anxiety tweens face every day. This semi-autobiographical graphic novel will most definitely appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier and the Sunny series.

Graphic Novel           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – A Magic Steeped in Poison

Lin, Judy I. A Magic Steeped in Poison. Feiwel and Friends, 2022. 978-1-250-76708-0. 364 p. $18.99. Grades 5-8.

This debut fantasy novel revolves around a magical competition to find the kingdom’s best Master of the Art of brewing tea. Ning is desperate to compete and win this competition after her mother dies from a poisoned tea and her sister is slowly dying from the same tea. Ning is hopeful that winning the competition will give her access to the antidote to save her sister. However, she becomes caught up in the politics and magic of the kingdom. She is clever and determined to win this competition and save her sister at any cost.

THOUGHTS: This book is for students who are huge fantasy lovers as well as those who love mythology. The characters are well-written, and the action starts slowly but it builds fast. There is a glossary in the back for Chinese terms and pronunciation which was quite helpful while reading.

Fantasy          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

YA – Tin Man

Madson, Justin. Tin Man. Amulet Books, 2022. 978-1-419-75104-2. 219 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Solar is a senior but instead of feeling like her whole life is ahead of her, she feels scared and uncertain. The death of her grandmother, who was also her best friend and mentor, has shaken Solar to her core. Fenn, her little brother, is confused and saddened by her change in personality. The two of them used to work on building a rocket together, but now Solar has little interest in much of anything, especially if it involves Fenn. Campbell is a tin man, a woodsman who wants more in his life than just chopping down trees. Against his father’s wishes, Campbell receives a heart and leaves home to work through all of the feelings he suddenly has. Fenn, Solar, and Campbell become unlikely friends and together, they work through all of their difficult feelings to understand what life has to offer them.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is a heart-warming story of how friendship can help heal feelings of loss and confusion. Read closely to see other objects and symbols from The Wizard of Oz peppered throughout Tin Man. 

Graphic Novel                Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Sir Ladybug

Tabor, Corey R. Sir Ladybug. Balzer + Bray, 2022. 978-0-063-06906-0. $12.99.  68 p. Grades PK-3.

This epic insect tale is constructed as an early-reader graphic novel. In four chapters, an introduction, two interludes, and an epilogue, readers will be delighted with the antics of Sir Ladybug, his Herald, Pell (an anxious pill bug), and his Trusty Squire, Sterling (a gamer snail with a penchant for cake). The three friends are on an epic quest to save a yellow caterpillar from the dreaded monster, Chickadee. Though initially tempted to hide in Sterling’s shell to avoid being eaten, the friends devise an amusing plan to befriend their nemesis. Delightful and bright comic illustrations highlight the action, which is packed with non-stop humor.

THOUGHTS: At first glance this early-reader graphic novel is pure fun. Silliness abounds in both the text and illustrations. New readers and graphic novel enthusiasts will be completely amused. Dig a little deeper, and it is clear the book is also cleverly teaching literary vocabulary and structure. A fabulous read aloud or independent reading selection.

Early Reader          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD
Graphic Novel

Elem. – The Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chan

Giang, Kristen Mai. The Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chan. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-12192-4. $18.99. 40 p. Grades PK-3.

Cheng Long, or Jackie Chan as he is more commonly known, was born in China to poor, hard-working parents. Jackie’s father tried to instill the values of discipline and hard work into his young son, but Jackie struggled as a student and often found himself in trouble. When his parents were forced to find work in Australia, Jackie was enrolled in the China Drama Academy where he studied martial arts, acting, singing, and acrobatics for the next ten years. The training was often brutal and other students bullied Jackie, but with hard work and persistence he became one of the Academy’s premier performers, traveling throughout China. As Chinese Opera fell out of popularity, martial arts movies became all the rage. Jackie worked as a stuntman, eventually meeting Bruce Lee. As his career took off, Jackie developed his own style of martial arts stunts infused with a great deal of physical comedy. Illustrated by Alina Chau, with amusing onomatopoeia action words scattered throughout the story. Includes a Glossary of Chinese characters with Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciations, Bibliography, and Author’s Note, which further explores Jackie Chan’s extensive career.

THOUGHTS: This delightful picture book biography has a number of wonderful messages. Hard work and persistence are important, but so are staying true to yourself and sticking up for your friends. A wonderful selection for fans of martial arts, physical comedy, and movie legend Jackie Chan.

Picture Book Biography           Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped this Country

Yang, Kelly, and various illustrators. Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped this Country. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-46305-5. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Yes We Will, a picture book biography by acclaimed middle grade and young adult author Kelly Yang, explores the many ways that Asian Americans have found to belong and thrive in the United States. Yang opens with a little information about the Transcontinental Railroad and the Chinese Exclusion Act, establishing some essential historical context. She then transitions to spotlighting individuals and their accomplishments. Very spare text accompanies showstopping illustrations by fifteen different artists. For example, “We’ll soar to new heights” is paired with Dan Santat’s two-page illustration of NBA player Jeremy Lin flying toward the hoop. Featured individuals include I.M. Pei, Kamala Harris, Vera Wang, Sunisa Lee, Yo-Yo Ma, and many others. Each illustrator’s style is perfectly matched to their subject. An Author’s Note provides more detail on each luminary, including notable quotes, firsts, and awards.

THOUGHTS: While this inspiring book can be read in minutes, it’s worth rereading to fully appreciate the stunning and varied artwork, as well as the range of achievements. Yes We Will is also a great way to kick off biographical research on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from the past and the present.

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD