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

Elem. – Pony Girls (Set 2) Series Fiction

Mullarkey, Lisa. Pony Girls (Set 2). Abdo Publishing, 2020. 978-1-532-13646-7. $20.95 ea. $83.80 set of 4. Grades 2-5.

Charlie. 978-1-532-13646-7.
Gracie. 978-1-532 13647-4.
Paisley. 978-1-532-13648-1.
Zoey. 978-1-532-13649-8.

Charlie loves being a camper at Storm Cliff Stables, but some things just make her belly swishy swashy. She wants to be able to go on a full trail ride and jump the vaults, but she just can’t seem to do it without her belly causing troubles and her heart going thump, thump, thump. Thankfully her friends, Aunt Jane, her mom, and Dr. Bell have helped her with different strategies to keep her nerves away. She will become a full Warrior and be able to achieve her goals, if she keeps visualizing them and doing her very best!

THOUGHTS: The ability in this book to discuss anxiety issues and panic attacks is absolutely phenomenal. The coping strategies listed in here are great strategies that readers can use to help keep nerves at bay and help reduce anxiety. A great choice for a young reader who is interested in horses or animals and may be dealing with their own fears and anxieties.

Realistic Fiction         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

MG – Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot

Key, Watt. Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020. 215 p. $16.99 978-0-374-31369-2 Grades 5-8. 

Adam survives the car crash that apparently killed his parents–at least, they have disappeared. When questioned by police, he speaks bewilderedly but honestly of what he saw in the wooded road near the Suwanee River: not a person or a bear, but something bigger than a bear, covered in hair, with a human face and huge black eyes. When the local paper runs a story about the accident including a “Sasquatch-like creature,” Adam regrets saying anything. The questions and the disbelief become overwhelming, especially from his Uncle John, who takes him in while the search for his parents continues. Adam can’t forget the creature, and due to disrupted sleep and nightmares, he begins searching online for information. He learns of a local Sasquatch appearance nearly 30 years ago, and sets out to question the man who reported it. He finds the near-hermit “Stanley” who reluctantly, then completely, tells Adam all he knows about the creatures, with a strong warning that the search for answers destroys your life. Adam decides he needs answers, and sets off on his own with some basic supplies.  What follows is a hard-core survival story wherein Adam becomes so attuned to the forest and animals that he lives as one of them, soon close to starving. Then he sees one of the creatures, then more. The scenes with the creatures shift from past tense to present tense, adding to the sense of unreality. Adam has found what he came for, but can he survive, can he find his parents, and can he get proof of the creatures’ existence?

THOUGHTS: With a likeable narrator, reasonable length (215 pages), and an attractive cover (see the creature in the trees?), Key has written a suspenseful survival story that will attract middle school readers curious about Bigfoot. Key includes helpful explanatory information about Sasquatch sightings.

Fantasy, Paranormal Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Scavenge the Stars

Sim, Tara. Scavenge the Stars. Disney Hyperion,  2020. 978-1-368-05141-5. $12.99. 377 p. Grades 9-12.

“To inherit the sky, you must first scavenge the stars.” In this retelling of the classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, Amaya has been living on a ship called The Brackish for years. She became indentured after she was sold by her family to work off a debt. It’s a rough life, and like the other “water bugs” that share her fate, she’s counting down the days until she’s free. Their cruel captor and captain renames each indentured child, and on his ship, she’s known only as Silverfish. After rescuing a man from drowning, she hopes she will be rewarded with riches. Instead, he makes her an offer she can’t refuse. Meanwhile, Cayo Mercado is trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his father after getting into debt from gambling. He starts working at the family owned shipping company, but when his sister comes down with ash fever, his choices are limited, and he winds up back in the life he tried to leave behind. Unknowingly, Amaya and Cayo’s lives become intertwined, and both characters must untangle a web of secrets and lies to reveal the surprising truths about the people they thought they knew and trusted.

THOUGHTS: This book was fantastic! I was hooked from the very beginning to the last page. It’s full of twists and turns, secrets and betrayals, and characters fueled by revenge and justice. As in The Count of Monte Cristo, the classic novel this book is loosely based upon, revenge is never as simple as it seems, and no one can really be trusted.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel

Currie, Rob. Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel. Tyndale House, 2020. $14.99 253 p. 978-1-496-44034-1  Grades 4-8.

In late 1944, 13-year-old Dirk’s father has gone into hiding as a leader of the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. The chase begins immediately; in chapter one, Dirk learns via a neighbor that his older sister Els has been captured by the Gestapo, to question and torture for information, and to encourage their father’s cooperation. Dirk knows his next move must be to escape with his younger sister, six-year-old Anna, to their grandparents’ home, but questions and worries bombard his mind. Chapter two reveals Els’s perspective as she is starved; questioned; threatened; and worries for her father, brother, and sister.  Most of the story is Dirk’s, but returns to Els’s point-of-view in the final chapters. This tense novel reveals the strength of the Dutch people during what became known as the “Hongerwinter” when Nazi control of resources led to daily food rations of a mere 320 calories per person. Dirk must call upon memories of his father’s instructions and strength to guide him through difficult decisions on his journey, while shielding Anna from the brutal realities of war as best he can.

THOUGHTS: This is a middle-grade novel a step up in complexity and danger for readers who loved Number the Stars and The Devil’s Arithmetic. It will expand readers’ knowledge of Nazi tactics and brave Dutch resistance. An inspiring read.

Historical Fiction; World War II in Netherlands  Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Fable

Young, Adrienne. Fable. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-25437-5. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Four years ago, the day after a storm wrecked his ship and drowned his wife, Fable’s father, legendary sea-trader Saint, abandoned his 14-year-old daughter on the barbaric island of Jeval, leaving her to fend for herself on the brutal colony. Because she inherited her mother’s abilities as a gem sage, someone who can communicate with jewels, Fable survived as a dredger, mining gems from the sea, and making enough money to eventually purchase passage off the island, find Saint, and claim her place with his crew. But once she forces her way onto a trading ship, the Marigold, she wonders what secrets the small, young crew are keeping, even while being drawn in by their tight bond. When Saint refuses her appeal, sending her away with an unexpected inheritance, Fable has nowhere to turn but back to the Marigold and hope they will take her in. This lyrical novel, packed with adventure, quickly grabs the reader and doesn’t let go. Fable was raised on the sea, and she inherently loves being on board a ship. Young vividly conveys the routine of sailing a ship and the rhythm of the sea. Her world building is exquisite, and the port towns come alive, in their grandeur and squalor. Her characters are finely limned, and the hint of romance will satisfy. However, Fable has a flaw of always pushing the limit, and eventually she pays for a momentary slip, leaving readers hanging, awaiting the sequel.

THOUGHTS: This novel should find a wide audience, pleasing both action-adventure and romance fans.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – You Choose: Can You Escape?

You Choose: Can You Escape? Capstone Press, 2020. $24.49 ea. $97.96. set of 4. 112 p. Grades 3-7. 

Braun, Eric. Could You Escape Alcatraz? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57392-3.
Doeden, Matt. Could You Escape the Paris Catacombs? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57394-7.
Hoena, Blake. Could You Escape a Deserted Island? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57395-4.
—. Could You Escape the Tower of London? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57393-0.

Reminiscent of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series from the early 80s, this series takes you on a survivalist journey to various locations. Each book in the series offers 3 paths with 41 different choices and 18 possible endings. This reviewer had the opportunity to choose a path through the Paris Catacombs, 100 feet below the cities of Paris. The path started with a choice to explore the catacombs as a young worker in the 1700s, a modern-day tourist, or as a rescuer of a group of teens lost in the labyrinth. Written for younger adventurers, this is an enjoyable book for grades 3-7 as you get to choose your own destiny during your journey. Filled with photographs of the actual catacombs and artists renderings of Paris, this adventure series is sure to delight students.

THOUGHTS: This is a great modernized version of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that many of us grew up with that will delight this generation of readers. A great read for reluctant readers since the text is not overwhelming and the chance to read the book several times to create new endings will entice them to read more.

Action/Adventure                Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Collins, Suzanne. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Scholastic Press, 2020.  978-1-338-63517-1. $24.99. 528 p. Grades 9-12.

The much-anticipated prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy begins 64 years before Katniss Everdeen enters the arena to fight for her life. The Hunger Games are only ten years old and are not yet the spectacle they go on to become. Coriolanus Snow, future president of Panem, along with his cousin and grandmother, have sold almost all of their possessions after the war drains their finances. The Snow name is synonymous with wealth, and they struggle to maintain a wealthy facade. The Snow family motto demands it: snow lands on top. Head gamemaker Dr. Gaul pairs each tribute with a Capitol Academy mentor. Coriolanus is paired with District 12’s Lucy Gray Baird, who immediately becomes a fan favorite due to her songbird voice. Coriolanus falls for her and, upon seeing the horrific conditions where the tributes are kept before the games, arranges for her to have food and medical care, a precursor to tribute treatment in the later books. But he still has strong loyalty to the Capitol. This is much different from his peer, Sejanus. He views The Hunger Games as unjust, and at times, Coriolanus sees his point. As his love for Lucy Gray deepens, he is conflicted. He believes in her but also in the Capitol. Most of all, he believes he needs to make something of himself in order to keep proving that snow always indeed lands on top.

Thoughts: Readers will want to simultaneously empathize and loathe Coriolanus. He wants to make the right decisions, but there are already glimpses of what he will become in later books. Fans of The Hunger Games will love discovering the origins of the trilogy’s most important symbols, such as the mockingjay and Victors’ Village. For those who have never read The Hunger Games, it serves as a good start. Similar to its predecessors’, the book does have a fair amount of blood and violence and is better suited for high school readers who are sure to enjoy this action-packed origin story.

Dystopian Fiction     Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

MG – 96 Miles

Esplin, J.L. 96 Miles. Starscape, 2020. 978-1-250-19230-1. 266 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

96 Miles by J. L. Esplin has the look and feel of an apocalyptic novel. Twelve-year-old John and eleven-year-old Stewart Lockwood are the offspring of single-parent and survivalist, Jim Lockwood. Their father is away on a business trip when a massive power outage strikes their area of the Nevada desert. The boys are unfazed because they have six months’ worth of water and supplies, plus a generator. What they don’t anticipate is the ruthlessness of people as materials grow scarce and the situation drags on. Forced at gunpoint to abandon their property, the narrator John immediately assumes the role of protector, a position his younger brother sometimes resents. He sets out to walk to Brighton Ranch, the home of a close family friend, 96 miles down the highway, in three days. Before long, the brothers are accompanied by two other children, Cleverly Iverson and her little brother, Will. John reluctantly accepts them on their journey at Stew’s urging, and he soon realizes the benefit of their presence, especially Cleverly, a selfless, intelligent girl who is mature beyond her twelve years. Newcomer J. L. Esplin unpacks the plot gradually, feeding the reader a bit of information to put together the puzzle. She transcends the expected blisters, sunburn, and dehydration to make 96 Miles a page-turner full of surprise and suspense that made this reader gasp aloud at least twice. Though the narrative is dire, the author provides the deftly drawn characters with senses of humor and sufficient depth to deem them worthy of their self-named tag, Battle Born. This moniker takes on a significant meaning when it becomes apparent that “survival of the fittest” is an innate impulse even in these likeable characters.

THOUGHTS: This book gives lots of survivalist tips that teachers may be able to incorporate into science lessons. Critical thinking skills are also relevant because John is challenged to make important decisions that effect his life and the lives of his companions. Different times in the story “survival of the fittest” is put to the test causing discomfort or generating discussion. Is there evidence at the end that the Battle Born are willing to let bygones be bygones? Stew and the family friend have diabetes, a factor that lends to the urgency of the quartet’s travels. Reminiscent of Susan Beth Pfieffer’s Last Survivor series and Mike Mullin’s Ashfall.

Action/Adventure          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

YA – Infinity Son; All Your Twisted Secrets; The Kingdom of Back; The Between; The Upside of Falling; This is My Brain in Love

Silvera, Adam. Infinity Son. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-98378-7. 353 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Twin brothers Emil and Brighton grew up idolizing Spell Walkers, the Celestials who use their powers to maintain order. But now that they’re turning 18, Emil thinks his brother needs to put the hero-worship aside and face the future realistically. But Brighton thrives on subscribers and likes on his Celestials of New York YouTube channel, and he wants fame so bad he can taste it. When the pair are attacked by a Spector, one who drank Celestial blood to acquire powers, mild mannered Emil erupts in rare Phoenix Fire, to his amazement and Brighton’s cold envy. The family is brought to a Spell Walker compound for protection, and Emil is convinced to join the unit, even though he is an introverted pacifist who isn’t sure the Spell Walkers always use their powers for good. As Emil reluctantly assists in missions, Brighton becomes the team’s public relations director, while his jealousy of his brother, and his disgust with Emil’s pacifism, continue to degrade the one invincible bond between them. Silvera adds another dimension to the superhero genre with his action-packed book. Emil’s reluctance to be a hero contrasts sharply with Brighton’s driven need for fame and power. The Celestials are morally ambiguous, even though they believe their actions are done for the greater good. There are no clear heroes and villains here, and Emil illustrates the danger of having powers others desire. Several big reveals later in the book set the stage for an eagerly awaited sequel.

THOUGHTS: Well developed characters paired with action and suspense make this book a winner. Hand this to fans of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades series or other superhero readers.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Urban, Diana. All Your Twisted Secrets. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-90821-6. 390 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

The beginning of the book starts off so tritely: six stereotypical high school students are notified they have won a prestigious scholarship. The music nerd, the jock, the alpha cheerleader, the stoner, the valedictorian, and the genius loner all show up at the restaurant for the dinner/scholarship presentation, only to find out something is horribly wrong. Then the addictive wild ride begins. Narrated by Amber, the music nerd, the six find themselves locked in a basement dining room, with a ticking bomb, a loaded hypodermic needle, and a note that warns the students that within an hour, one of them must be killed with the poison loaded hypodermic, or the bomb will explode and they all will die. Flashbacks fill in the back story, as the minutes tick down and the frantic teens turn on each other in order to survive. As the plot unfolds, the relationships between the six are uncovered, and true feelings ruthlessly rise to the surface. Subtly woven throughout is the backstory of Amber’s brilliant older sister who committed suicide due to cyberbulling.The suspense is top notch, and you cannot put the book down until its shocking, gut wrenching conclusion.

THOUGHTS: This cross between Karen McManus’ One of Us is Lying and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is sure to fly off the shelf. The ending scarred me for weeks.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lu, Marie. The Kingdom of Back. Putnam, 2020. 978-1-524-73901-0. 313 p. $18.99. Grade. 7-12.

Once upon a time there was an extraordinarily talented pianist who was also a gifted composer, by the name of Mozart. Nannerl Mozart. The older sister of the Mozart still adored the world over, Nannerl knows from a young age that, as a woman, her moment in the spotlight will be fleeting. Her father constantly tells her so. He values her musical ability as a means to earn money and recognition for the family, but once she reaches marriageable age, her public performances will end. As for her compositions, well, don’t be ridiculous. Women don’t compose. Lu takes the bare bones of what is known about Mozart’s sister, and weaves an enchanting historical fantasy that pulses with the frustrations Nannerl must have felt being a gifted woman in a society who had no need of such a person. As the siblings toured Europe, performing for royalty and earning the fame and fortune their father desired, they amused themselves by inventing the kingdom of Back. It is this magical realm that drives Lu’s story. In the kingdom, Nannerl is offered the opportunity of lasting fame, to have her name and her music remembered through the ages, but it may be a bargain too costly to make. Lu skillfully crafts the loving relationship between the siblings, and how Nannerl chafes under her father’s restrictions. She tantalizingly creates a scenario where young Mozart is influenced by Nannerl’s compositions, seeks her help with his own compositions, and even has her compositions published under his own name, all the more intriguing  because the world will never know how much Nannerl truly did influence her brother. This unique blend of fact and fantasy creates a world the reader will remember, as well as brings to light a talented woman too long lost to history.

THOUGHTS: This gorgeously written, uniquely plotted book may take some booktalking, but readers will be enthralled once they read a few pages.

Fantasy (Historical)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Hofmeyr, David. The Between. Delacorte, 2020. 978-0-385-74475-1. 376 p. $17.99. Grades 7+.

One moment Ana Moon is a normal high school girl, sneaking out to meet her best friend, Bea. The next, the train they’re riding on freezes in place and time, and a monstrous creature snatches Bea and takes off. When a shocked Ana makes it back to her dad’s flat, everything has changed. Dad is different; the flat is slightly different; and, most disturbingly, when Ana calls Bea, she is told that Bea died a year ago. By the time Malik, a cute guy Ana had been flirting with on the train, shows up at her bedroom window in the middle of the night, it barely registers as odd. Malik explains to Ana that she is no longer in the world she knows. She is a Pathfinder who can fall between the seven worlds. Bea has been taken by a reaper, and Ana must trust Malik, a fellow Pathfinder, if she hopes to find Bea. Ana enters a society she can barely comprehend, joining Malik’s clan and working with him and his team. As Ana is indoctrinated into her new reality, it becomes evident that she is not just a new Pathfinder, but perhaps the one Pathfinder who is the key to the mystical Seventh Gate. She may be the one to stop the war between the Pathfinders and the brutal Order. Hofmeyr compacts what might have been a seven volume series into one energetic, action packed story. Ana is a dynamic heroine, who plausibly grows into her new role while traversing continuously shifting ground. Her single minded goal of rescuing Bea, is never forgotten, and is a rare display of a literary friendship that is not overshadowed by romance. While there is an attraction between Malik and Ana, Bea remains her focus.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: action, friendship, romance, betrayal. It should find a home with Sci Fi readers as well as action/adventure fans who appreciate a few battle scenes in their books.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Light, Alex. The Upside of Falling. Harperteen, 2020. 978-0-062-91805-5. 279 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

Reclusive, bookish Becca flat out does not believe in true love. Not after her parents’ messy, painful divorce. But, aggravated by her former best friend’s taunting about Becca’s lack of a lovelife, Becca spontaneously declares she is in a relationship. This might have fallen flat seconds after it came out of her mouth had not high school hunk Brett Wells come over, thrown his arm around her and confirmed that they are secretly dating. It turns out he is in need of a girlfriend to satisfy his good-old-boy father. So begins a relationship born of mutual convenience, that turns into a needed friendship for both of them. And could it even end up in love? This Wattpad romance doesn’t cover any new territory, but it is light, sweet, fun, and just the sort of addictive story that will be devoured by dedicated romance readers. Sadly, 10 pages from the end, the book loses continuity. While young readers most likely will not notice or care, it reveals the need for an editor’s hand.

THOUGHTS:  I adored this book for 269 pages. Then the characters acknowledge their love by immediately having (off page) sex, despite the fact that Brett’s mother had him when she was 17, and his father repeatedly discusses how he had to give up on his college plans and football future to stay home and help raise Brett. (And despite the fact that a few weeks ago Becca had never even kissed a boy.) This likely will not bother most readers, who will thoroughly enjoy the dreamy romance.  

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gregorio, I. W. This is My Brain in Love. Little, Brown, 2020. 978-0-316-42382-3. 367 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

Jocelyn is stunned when her father announces that the family’s restaurant, A-Plus Chinese Garden, is floundering and he may move the family back to New York City from Utica, NY. Will is crushed when he fails to garner a plum editorial position on the school newspaper. Jocelyn convinces her father to hire a social media consultant to improve the restaurant’s visibility. Will finds himself needing a summer job. Jocelyn hires Will. The pair bring a boatload of baggage to the table from the start. Will, of mixed Nigerian and American heritage, filters the world through the lens of an African American male teenager, and suffers with anxiety. Jocelyn is almost crippled by her family’s emotionally reticent Asian culture. The pair click and begin dragging the restaurant into the digital era. Not unexpectedly, sparks fly, only to meet the disapproval of Jocelyn’s strict, racially prejudiced parents. But what seems like a trope-fulfilling romance veers off into a thoughtful exploration of mental health when Jocelyn’s erratic mood swings begin to trigger Will’s anxiety. Will, who has been in therapy for years, notices that Jocelyn may have some undiagnosed issues herself, but knows broaching the topic could cause a rift in their nascent relationship. As Jocelyn struggles to confront her depression, she finds an unexpected ally in her mother, who reveals she has been taking depression medication for years. Told from the alternating perspectives of Will and Jocelyn, the story maintains its relationship-cute vibe while honestly exploring mental health issues in teens, including the pros and cons of taking medication. A subplot involving Will tutoring Jocelyn’s younger brother, who clearly suffers from ADHD, as well as a reference to a friend with autism, may feel like a few issues too many  but does not detract from the story and might pique recognition in a reader.

THOUGHTS:  This book is a winner. An adorable romance exploring racial issues as well as mental health topics, it should fly off the shelf. Purchase multiple copies.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD