Elem. – A Flicker of Courage: Tales of Triumph and Disaster!

Caletti, Deb. A Flicker of Courage: Tales of Triumph and Disaster! Putnam, 2020. 978-1-984-81305-3. 243 p. $13.99, Grades 3-6.

Henry is a nice boy, but quiet and shy with miserable, abusive parents. He longs to have friends, be brave, and be a hero. He gets his chance the morning he hears Apollo, the charming boy next door, shrieking in agony, and discovers Vlad Luxor, the HRM (Horrible Ruler with Magic), has turned Apollo’s younger brother Rocco into a lizard. What, you say, can two young boys do in the face of such terrible evil? Henry has a plan! He is shocked to discover his need to aid Apollo is stronger than his need not to be noticed. The boys, together with the lovely, kind Jo, Pirate Girl and Henry’s dog, Button, look, listen, ponder, and follow their hearts. They learn of their true identities, face down the cruel Vlad Luxor, save the day, and Rocco. This humorous adventure-story spoof, is highly reminiscent of M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series. The third-person omniscient narration rarely allows the characters to show action, resulting in a somewhat stilted style that takes some getting used to. But if you let it grow on you, it’s worth the wait. There is a map! Old photos! Spell-breakers and fights! Fearsome events! And a sequel! This book may require some booktalking and encouragement, as the genre Caletti spoofs belongs to the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew era, but the general silliness and good vs evil plot may draw readers in. Most of the characters are presumed white (and appear so on the book cover), but Jo hints at being Latino.

THOUGHTS: This story, and series, has potential, but it’s hard to tell if this is a book that will appeal more to adults than children. Get it in the hands of the right reader, and it could take off.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Tristan Strong Destroys the World

Mbalia, Kwame. Tristan Strong Destroys the World. Disney, 2020. 978-1-368-04238-3. 390 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

There’s no rest for the weary. Tristan Strong may be the hero of the Battle of the Bay, having saved the mythical land of Alke, home to the West African gods and the legends of African-American folktales, but a battle means winners and losers, and it appears someone is not happy with Tristan. Barely a month has passed since Tristan returned from Alke when he’s alerted that a shadowy figure called the Shamble Man is coming after Tristan. When he comes, he destroys Tristan’s grandparents’ farm and kidnaps his grandmother. It’s time to return to Alke. Luckily Tristan has his SBP (Story Box Phone), inhabited by Anansi the spider, who is doing a little magical app development while cooped up in the SBP. Soon they are on their way to the mythical lands to try and discover the identity of the Shamble Man, rescue Nana and set Alke right again. As Tristan attempts to uncover the identity of the Shamble Man, friends old and new come to his assistance, but it looks like time might be running out on Tristan. Mbalia’s conversational narration (the audio book, read by Amir Abdullah, is sensational) grabs readers from the first words. Tristan is eminently likeable, as he struggles with fears and self doubt, but the surrounding cast of characters really brings the book to life. Once again, Tristan’s tiny, gooey sidekick, Gum Baby, steals the show, offering a steady stream of tongue-twisted patter and comic relief. Fortunately for readers, the ending leaves plenty of room for further sequels, because we all need more Gum Baby.

THOUGHTS: There is no sophomore slump for Mbalia. This second entry in the series is easily as good as the first, if not better. The characters from African American folk tales and West African gods may not be familiar to young readers, but they will have a very good time meeting them. Hand this series to readers who enjoy mythology based books, but also those who like to laugh.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Danger on the Reef

Maddox, Jake. Danger on the Reef. Stone Arch Books, 2020. 978-1-496-58700-8. 72 p. $5.95. Grades 2-4.

Jasmine is already a certified scuba diver, and she loves diving with her parents who are marine biologists. She knows how far she is allowed to dive, how to check her diving buddy for safety, and how to calmly react in any situation. Her younger brother Arjun, however, has not been a good diving buddy. He tries to swim farther than he is allowed, interact with the wildlife, and doesn’t listen to his diving buddy. Jasmine is frustrated with him…how can he learn to be a marine biologist if he isn’t safe? Things can take a deadly turn when you are deep in the water, and they just might if Arjun doesn’t learn to be a good diving buddy!

THOUGHTS: An enjoyable Jake Maddox adventure story! Fans of Jake Maddox’s sport series will love reading his adventure books.

Realistic Fiction          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – The Court of Miracles

Grant, Kester. The Court of Miracles. Random House Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-524-77285-7. $18.99. 399 p. Grades 9-12.

In an alternate 1829 Paris, one in which the French Revolution has failed, Nina Thenardier thrives as the Black Cat of the Thieves Guild, one of the nine criminal guilds of The Miracle Court. Her allegiance lies with her guild lord, Tomasis Vano, whom she refers to as her father, a custom among the children of the Miracle Court. Once, Nina lived with her older sister, but she was sold to the Guild of Flesh, and when Nina could not save her, she vowed to someday have her revenge. Years later, when Lord Kaplan of the Flesh Guild, the Tiger, decides he must have Cosette, a young girl who has become like a younger sister to Nina, she must do everything in her power to stop him, not only to save Cosette, but to avenge her sister and any other girl unlucky enough to be sold into his guild. Nina and Ettie look for protection from the Guild of Assassins, the Guild of Beggars, wind up in the palace of Louis XVII, and are caught up within a group of revolutionaries, still intent on overthrowing the monarchy. Loosely based upon Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Nina must find a way to save Ettie and avenge her sister without starting a war within the guilds and unintentionally throwing the city back into turmoil.

THOUGHTS:  I thought this was such a unique story, especially since the author chose to draw inspiration from two classic novels while creating an alternate, historical world within Paris, France. Readers may want to pick up The Jungle Book or Les Mis after reading The Court of Miracles, and I also found myself doing some research on the French Revolution throughout my reading. The plot is complex and full of many characters, settings, and time jumps, and I’d recommend this to any reader who enjoys action, adventure, and historical fiction.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Hood

Moke, Jenny Elder. Hood. Hyperion, 2020. 978-1-368-04745-6. 310 p. $15.69. Grades 7-12.

Follow teenager Isablle, who recently discovered she is the daughter of the infamous Robin Hood, as she travels with the Merry Men to meet her father for the first time. Isabelle is being hunted by the notorious Wolf who knows her true identity and has captured her mother. Traveling with the Merry Men after living in a priory her whole life is full of new experiences and daring acts. Will the Merry Men accept her after learning her true identity, and can her own skill with a bow and arrow live up to her father’s?

THOUGHTS: Adventure lovers will enjoy this new twist on a classic tale with its familiar characters, noble quest, and strong female antagonist.

Adventure          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – The Princess Will Save You

Henning, Sarah. The Princess Will Save You. Tor Teen, 2020. 978-1-250-23742-2. $19.99. 352 p. Grades 9-12.

The Princess Will Save You is loosely based upon The Princess Bride, but puts a twist on the classic tale: What if Buttercup saved Westley? Princess Aramande lives in the kingdom of Ardenia. She’s the only child of King Sendoa, and when he suddenly dies, Aramande is told she cannot rule unless she marries. Although she’s suspicious of his death, and doesn’t believe it to be an accident, princes and suitors of neighboring kingdoms have already arrived hoping to win her hand. The last thing she wants to do at sixteen is marry a stranger and give up control of the kingdom, but it doesn’t seem as if she’ll have much of a choice. When Luca, the stableboy and her true love, is kidnapped to be used as ransom against her, she immediately goes after him. Although she hasn’t spent much time outside of her kingdom, she has been trained as a warrior, and finally has a chance to put her skills to the test. Aramande encounters hardships along the way, and when Prince Renard, the man who intends to marry her, finds out she is missing, he sets after her to reclaim his runaway prize. Meanwhile, Luca, who is being held captive by pirates, has no doubt in his mind that his princess will save him.

THOUGHTS: Like The Princess Bride, The Princess Will Save You is full of action and adventure, and yes, it is a kissing book! The plot has similarities to The Princess Bride, but it’s in no way an exact retelling, just a loose adaptation. This book has a number of strong, female characters, and I loved the surprise plot twists packed into both the ending and epilogue!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Princess Amarande of Ardenia is not like other princesses in the Kingdom of Sand and Sky. She spends more time in the stables training with stableboy Luca than she does in the castle. Though just as well-suited for the battlefield as she is the throne, Amarande is the only child of her father, King Sendoa, which means she can’t inherit her crown unless she marries a prince in this very patriarchal society. When her father dies unexpectedly, 16-year old Amarande is not ready to marry, especially not to a power-hungry prince she doesn’t even know. She doesn’t understand what marrying a prince has to do with her bloodline. And then there’s the fact that, while they’ve never openly admitted it to each other, Amarande and the stableboy Luca are in love. Though she tries to convince the elders of the kingdom that she can rule without a husband, they deny her requests and begin inviting other princes to draw up marriage contracts. When Amarande refuses to cooperate, Prince Renard from neighboring Pyranee and his family of equally power-hungry villains arrange to have Luca kidnapped. The pirates who kidnap Luca leave behind a note stating, “Marry Renard or you will never see your love again.” Amarande cannot marry Renard. She also cannot let anything happen to Luca. Her only choice is to go after him. The pirates who kidnap Luca mock him when he proclaims that Amarande will come after them. “Sure, the Princess will save you,” they joke. But they don’t know this princess.

THOUGHTS: Full of adventure, a lovable rag-tag supporting cast, and a kick-butt female protagonist, this YA fantasy is based on The Princess Bride, and fans of the beloved classic will definitely pick up on several nods to the film including the famous line, “As you wish.” The last 20 pages are full of proverbial dropped bombs, and readers will be salivating for the sequel when it releases this summer.

Fantasy          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – All These Monsters

Tintera, Amy. All These Monsters. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-01240-5. 450 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up. 

The world has been overtaken by vicious man-eating monsters that randomly pop up from underground. No one knows where or when they’ll attack next, all must be on guard, and deaths are staggering. Clara Pratt’s home life is still worse. Her abusive father is violent, angry, and manipulative, and anything can set him off in an instant. When Clara discovers her brother is about to leave, she knows she needs to too. After learning about Grayston St. John’s plan to send teams to fight the monsters (the scrabs as they’re called) overseas in Europe where America has refused to send help, Clara knows that’s her way out. Only if she can make the team and leave the country. But all is not as it seems in the world of the scrabs, and to face it she will have to fight her inner demons.

THOUGHTS: An action-packed novel, All These Monsters has earned a spot on my shelf right between The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.

Dystopian            Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD
Science Fiction

YA – Skyhunter

Lu, Marie. Skyhunter. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-250-22168-1. $19.99. 384 p. Grades 9-12.

Talin lives in the futuristic nation of Mara, and she is a striker. Every striker has a shield, a partner during a fight against the ghosts, the once human turned zombie experiments created by the Karensa Federation. If a striker’s shield is attacked by a ghost, it becomes their responsibility to end their shield’s life before he or she turns into a federation ghost as well. Mara and Karensa are at war, but Mara is losing since they do not have the technology of the “early ones” that Karensa has discovered and used to its advantage. Although Talin lives and fights for Mara, it hasn’t always been her home. Talin and her mother fled from Basea to Mara years ago when it was under attack from Karensa, and after inhaling poisonous gas, she lost her ability to speak when her throat was badly damaged. Referred to as a “rat” by many Marans, she found her place among the strikers who commonly communicate with sign language in order to sneak up on the ghosts they hunt. When the strikers capture a strange Karensa prisoner, Talin steps in to save his life, and as a punishment for her actions, he becomes her shield and her responsibility. It doesn’t take long for Talin and her fellow strikers to discover that this prisoner, called Red, is a new “weapon” of the Federation and possibly the key to their salvation from Karensa. Talin and Red soon form an inseparable bond, and together, they plot to bring down the Federation that has taken so much and caused them both so much pain.

THOUGHTS: Readers will quickly discover that when Talin speaks of “the early ones” she is speaking of the world in which we currently live. It certainly adds some mystery to the story since Talin isn’t sure exactly what destroyed the early one’s civilization and brought upon the current nation of Mara and the Federation of Karensa. Talin, who is Basean, not Maran, must endure some pretty harsh racism from the Marans who consider her to be beneath them, along with the rest of the Baseans living in poverty within the nation of Mara since Basea was destroyed and conquered. So many of the same issues that exist in today’s world are present in this futuristic society, and fans of Marie Lu, science fiction, action, or popular shows like The Walking Dead will enjoy Skyhunter. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – The Loop

Oliver, Ben. The Loop. Chicken House, 2020. 978-1-338-58930-6. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

The Loop. The high-tech prison serving adolescent death-row inmates is a unique hellscape. With torture every night and isolation most of the day, these juveniles are the dregs of society, committers of crimes so unspeakable as to be sentenced to death before they ever turn 18. But one thing can “save” them; choosing a ‘Delay’ extends their sentence by 6 months. Another 6 months to live, but only if they partake in scientific experiments including experimental surgeries, that’s assuming they survive. Everything runs like clockwork, down to the minute the same thing happens every day. Until it doesn’t. Until the rain doesn’t come. Set in a society where the government has the control, even over the weather, what will happen when things go awry, when the people revolt?

THOUGHTS: A thrilling-fast paced dystopia, The Loop will appeal to fans of The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games.

Dystopian          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

MG – Fighting to Survive (Series NF)

Fighting to Survive. Capstone, 2020. $26.49 ea. $161.64 set of 6. 64 p. Grades 5-8.

Braun, Eric. Fighting to Survive in the Wilderness. 978-0-756-56187-1.
Dickmann, Nancy. Fighting to Survive Animal Attacks. 978-0-756-56184-0.
Dickmann, Nancy. Fighting to Survive World War II. 978-0-756-56188-8.
Raum, Elizabeth. Fighting to Survive Being Lost at Sea. 978-0-756-56185-7.
Raum, Elizabeth. Fighting to Survive Space Disasters. 978-0-756-56186-4.

Readers looking to experience action-packed true stories will want to pick up the latest titles in Capstone’s Fighting to Survive series. Each volume features multiple stories (some from in the past; others from more recent history), of individuals and groups fighting to survive potentially life-threatening situations. This reviewer had the opportunity to read Fighting to Survive Being Lost at Sea. Chapters related tales of those experienced adventures on the ocean, from being aboard the Titanic, to surviving a U-Boat attack during WWII to a present day tale of a teen on a round-the-world sailing trip who encounters difficulties. Sidebars highlight points of interest and historical facts. The text is accompanied by photos, paintings and maps.

THOUGHTS: This engaging series is a worthy purchase for libraries serving upper elementary and middle school students. Each action-packed tale will have readers on the edge of their seats wondering how the individual/group will ultimately survive. These volumes would also pair nicely with fictional stories of survival.

613 Survival          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD