Upper Elementary/MS Fiction – Varmints; Dear Dumb Diary; Royal Wedding Disaster; Sealed with a Secret

Hirsch, Andy. Varmints. New York: First Second, 2016. 978-1-62672-279-8. $16.99. 213 p. Gr. 3-7.

Varmints, set in the Wild Old West, details the journey of a brother and sister on a quest to find their Pa.  Opie and Ned are in for more adventures and skirmishes than they planned in the seven chapters. They come across horse thieves, work at the Silverfish Lodge, escape a fire, survive an eventful train ride, purchase a new donkey, and participate in a downright dangerous derby. The siblings don’t always get along, but their emotional connection and love is clear through the danger and humor. THOUGHTS: This book provides an excellent combination of dialogue, plot, and full color artwork to hook readers. Readers will want more of the adventures of Opie and Ned!

Graphic Novel      Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School


Benton, Jim.  Dear Dumb Diary, Deluxe: Dumbness is a Dish Best Served Cold. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-93228-8. 197 pp. $12.99. Gr. 3-6.

While the narrator, Jamie Kelly, warns the reader to stop reading her diary, they will continue to enjoy the tale filled with humor and full color artwork. In this diary, Jamie is trying to help make her friend feel better. Jamie’s mother secretly tells Jamie that Angeline’s father recently lost his job. This explains why Angeline has been so focused on personal finance and money. To make Angeline feel better, Jamie makes up a story that their handmade plates might make them some money. But, when Angeline learns the truth, she feels betrayed. The book allows reads to value honesty in friendship.  Unexpectedly, Jamie has an invention that will help add to both of their savings accounts. The end concludes with recipe suggestions to make your own “salad glamorizer” and “health-o-plate” allowing readers to continue the fun when the chapters end.

THOUGHTS: This is an ideal choice for fans of the Dork Diaries series.

Realistic Fiction     Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School


Cabot, Meg. Royal Wedding Disaster (From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess Bk. 2). New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2016.  978-1-250-06604-6. 283 p. $16.99  Gr. 4-7.

Helping with the her half-sister Mia’s wedding is consuming for middle schooler Olivia. Finding time to go to school is exhausting. Will she be able to make friends at her new royal school and withstand the teasing of not being a true royal since she is from a mixed family? Grandmother is still a task master and training Olivia to be the best royal possible. Olivia’s best friend will fly in for the wedding from New Jersey, and she misses seeing her since Genovia is far away. A problem on the royal ground is an influx of iguana. PK, passionate about Genovian Herpetology Rescue Society, is able to help with the iguana situation. The wedding turns out to be successful and the purple dresses are a surprise for Mia.  THOUGHTS: This book demonstrates that you don’t have to be locked into a stereotype. You can be royal and have other hobbies like swimming, art, fashion, or reptiles! Mia and Michael’s wedding introduces Lilly, Lana, Boris, and hair dresser, Paolo, into the story.  If readers are new to Meg Cabot, they can read this series and then continue to The Princess Diaries novels.

Realistic Fiction     Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School


Schroeder, Lisa. Sealed with a Secret. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-90734-7. 217 p. Gr. 3-6.

Phoebe keeps the Cartier makeup compact that she purchased at the flea market a secret even though it could be worth a lot of money that her family could use to help with expenses.  The compact has a unique photograph and a letter behind. The letter helps her learn history from 1941 and the ARP (air raid precautions.)  Ned agrees to help her find places in the letter if she helps find a gift for his mum’s 40th birthday. Their travels take them to locations including the Peter Pan Statue, Kensington Gardens, London Music Hall, Trafalgar Square, and a historic crypt! With all of the adventures, will she help find the best gift for Ned’s mum, and what happens when her family learns about the compact? THOUGHTS: This book could be tied to Kate Messner’s The Fourteenth Goldfish (Bloomsbury, 2016) as both books feature a younger sister drifting from their older sister.  Adventure and historical elements make this book come alive.

Realistic Fiction     Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

Elementary/MS Graphic Novels – Margo Maloo; Ogres Awake; Snow White

Weing, Drew. The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo. New York: First Second, 2016. 978-1-62672-339-9. $15.99. Gr. 3-7.

Charles and his family just moved to Echo City. While his dad is busy fixing up their apartment building and his mom is writing grant applications, Charles begins to explore their run-down, drafty building. When he encounters a monster in his closet, he’s not sure what to do until his neighbor Kevin gives him a card for Margo Maloo, monster mediator.  Margo and Charles track down the troll in Charles’ closet, and it seems that Margo is very knowledgeable about all of the monsters in Echo City, trolls, ghosts, goblins, and ogres. As an aspiring blogger, Charles jumps at the opportunity to blog about these underground monsters, but Margo begs him to keep quiet; no one can know that monsters are real. As Charles and Margo work together, it turns out that they’re a really good team, and now they must work to rescue a boy from a ghost and find a missing ogre baby. Weing’s illustrations are excellent and readers of any age will fall in love with Charles and Margo. THOUGHTS: A wonderful addition to any library where comics and graphic novels fly off the shelves.

Graphic Novel; Fiction      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Sturm, James. Ogres Awake! New York: First Second, 2016. 978-1-59643-653-4. Unpaged. $14.99. Gr. K-2.

When Edward the horse and his knight spot some napping ogres outside the kingdom walls, they know they must alert the king. Luckily, the king isn’t worried; there’s a plan in place for ogres. The little knight is ready for battle, but the king’s plan doesn’t involve swords and armies; it involves using the king’s garden harvest to create a delicious sweet potato stew. The hungry ogres storm the castle after their naps and find a wonderful smell awaiting them. With satisfied bellies, the ogres leave the castle to head home and the little knight wishes to use super powers in his next adventure. Ogres Awake! is the newest creation from the authors of Adventures in Cartooning!, and it doesn’t disappoint.  The graphic novel styling is a great introduction to the genre and infuses subtle humor into the story through the plucky knight and hungry ogres. The endpapers include how-to guides on drawing the main characters. THOUGHTS: A delicious, fun graphic novel for young readers who want a good adventure and don’t mind a unique ending.

741.5 Graphic Novel      Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools


Phelan, Matt. Snow White. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016. 978-0-7636-7233-1. 235 pp. $19.99. Gr. 3-6.

Snow White has been transplanted to the Great Depression in Matt Phelan’s mesmerizing new graphic novel retelling of the classic fairy tale. Life is hard for Snow once her mother dies, and her wealthy father finds a ruthless diva of the stage who banishes the beautiful daughter. Once alone in the dark city, a group of street urchins come to Snow’s rescue, and they quickly bond. Tragedy, drama, action, and romance all play out around the cruel Queen of the Follies and her jealous rage. Phelan’s strength comes in the sparse text mixed with emotional illustrations that capture both the story elements (huntsman, apple) with the 20’s city life (ticker tape, Macy’s and Follies). While not everything runs parallel to the fairy tale origin, this unique new take will draw in a wide range of ages to appreciate the skill of Phelan’s graphic design and artistic interpretation.  THOUGHTS: The many references to Great Depression terms like Hooverville will be lost on younger readers, but the opportunity to connect any of Phelan’s graphic novels to history make them an educational incentive. As a collection, they would make for a great course on graphic storytelling and historical fiction alike.   

Graphic Novel; Fractured Fairytale      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

YA Paranormal – Useless Bay; Holding Smoke; Best Friend’s Exorcism


Beaufrand, M. J. Useless Bay. New York: Amulet Books, 2016. 978-1-4197-2138-0. 229pp. $17.95. Grades 7 and up.

The Gray quintuplets are a remarkable force on the isolated and windswept island they call home.  Pixie Gray and her four brothers are “born of the island itself”; strong and tall, independent and mischievous, and fiercely united .  The Grays and Pixie’s bloodhound, Patience, are the ones the residents of the island turn to in times of trouble; they serve as the official search team for any accidents or missing persons. When Grant Shepard, the 10-year-old son of a millionaire vacation home owner, disappears on a stormy night the Grays are called in for the search, but they are also under suspicion since they may have been the last people to see him.  The story is told through alternating perspectives of Pixie and Grant’s older brother, Henry. The  novel pieces together the events leading to Grant’s disappearance and provides insight into the family dramas in the Gray and Shepard clans.  The Gray search party finds the body of Grant’s mother, and strange and unsettling coincidences begin to pile up.  The realization that a killer is on the loose, and Grant is still missing sets everyone on edge, and the Grays and Henry struggle to find answers before it’s too late.  Paranormal elements mix with gothic intrigue; Whidbey Island is almost a character itself.  Pixie has an unusual connection with her home; she hears voices and has visions from her dreams and the sea which offer warning and clues as the evening’s events unfold   Confusing and complicated at times, but ultimately a satisfying read. THOUGHTS: An atmospheric, brooding mystery with a paranormal twist and a hint of romance.

Paranormal Mystery          Nancy Summers, Abington SHS



Cosimano, Elle.  Holding Smoke. Los Angeles: Disney-Hyperion, 2016. 978-1484725979. 336pp. $17.99. Gr 7 and up.

Weeks after nearly being killed by his own father, John “Smoke” Conlan is convicted of murdering his teacher and a student at his high school.  Now he lives on the toughest block in “The Y”, the Denver Detention Center with the most hardened juvenile offenders. But Smoke stands apart; he has a secret, the ability to leave his body and travel outside the walls.  The knowledge he gets on the street is valuable to his cellmates though no one knows how he gets his information. While tracking down info for a friend he happens upon a former classmate, a girl named Pink who has the ability to see his spirit as he walks outside. With her help, he has the chance to clear his name, but someone is trying to stop anyone from finding out the truth. Pink, Smoke, and the warden’s daughter are now in danger as they each try to find out more about the  circumstances of the double murder. John himself is a compelling and believable character, a damaged individual with a past that may be impossible to escape.  Good character development for each of the boys in juvie, both friends and foes of Smoke, with believable interactions and relationships between the kids on the block. THOUGHTS: A solid mystery with paranormal elements in a gritty and realistic setting that would appeal to fans of Lisa McMann’s Wake trilogy. An interesting author’s note at the end reveals the similarities between Cosimano’s experiences as the daugher of a warden and the details in her novel.

Paranormal Mystery       Nancy Summers, Abington SHS



Hendrix, Grady. My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2016. 978-1-59474-862-2. 330 pp. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Grady Hendrix’s 2014 novel, Horrorstör, was packaged to resemble an IKEA catalog. His latest, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, simulates a 1989 Albemarle Academy yearbook, complete with heartfelt inscriptions inside the covers. It’s the story of sophomores and lifelong besties Abby and Gretchen, who take LSD on a whim after a day of boating with pals. Gretchen disappears into the woods, and when she reappears the next morning, something is a little off. She has strange symptoms and outbursts and feels invisible hands touching her incessantly, and that is just the beginning. Though Abby is determined to help her friend, she’s met with resistance at every turn. Help finally arrives during a school assembly when Christian, a member of the Lemon Brothers Faith and Fitness Show, perceives the demon within Gretchen and challenges it to emerge, and an exorcism is born! THOUGHTS: With 1980s song titles setting the tone for each chapter, and a tip of the hat to Stephen King’s Thinner, this is Grady Hendrix at his humorously horrific (and sometimes just horrifying) best!

Horror (Adult Crossover)       Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library

YouTube has a playlist of all 27 chapter titles!  Playlist: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

YA Fantasy and Sci-Fi – Torch Against the Night; The Thousandth Floor


Tahir, Sabaa. A Torch Against the Night. New York: Razorbill, 2016. 978-1-10199-887-8. $19.95. Gr. 8-12.

Sabaa Tahir’s second installment of the Ember in the Ashes series picks up right where the first book left off. Laia and Elias are fugitives on the run from the cold-hearted Commandment, the evil new Emperor Marcus, and the new Blood Shrike, Helene. Laia is still determined to break her brother out of the impenetrable Kauf prison, while Elias is determined to keep them hidden from his former best friend, Helene, who is now on the hunt to kill him. The book’s biggest strength is the development of Helene, a once cold, smitten female warrior who is given a narrative that develops her into a fierce, multi-layered character. Readers need not fear the sophomore slump; this sequel, like the original, is big on intense action and shocking plot-twists. THOUGHTS: An excellent follow-up to An Ember in the Ashes, this series is a must for any fantasy fan. Tahir recently signed on for 2 more books, so expect more from this excellent author.

Fantasy         Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School



McGee, Katharine. The Thousandth Floor. New York: Harper, 2016. 978-0-06-241859-3. 440 pp. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

In the Prologue of Katharine McGee’s The Thousandth Floor, an unidentified young woman falls nearly three miles from the penthouse of “the Tower” to her death on the pavement below. McGee then rewinds the narrative two months before to the summer of 2118 to introduce the cast of characters who inhabit the Tower’s different levels, and whose storylines will all converge at that fateful penthouse party. Avery, genetically engineered for flawless beauty, lives on the top floor with her parents and adopted brother Atlas (her taboo crush). Avery’s best friend Leda is keeping both a recent rehab stay and a tryst with Atlas secret from everyone. Fellow “highlier” Eris about to have her wealth and status ripped away when a family secret comes to light. Meanwhile, “downTower” Rylin starts working for playboy Cord and hacker Watt is hired by Leda to spy on Atlas. Everyone has something to hide and something to gain as McGee weaves these plot threads into quite the scandalously tangled web. THOUGHTS: Friendships and romances develop and dissolve as the characters angle for true love and a better position in the hierarchy of the Tower. The ending reveals the premise for a 2017 sequel to this addictive debut!

For a fun extension activity, check out Epic Reads’ DIY-A video for a jewelry organizer inspired by The Thousandth Floor:

DIY: Jewelry Organizer Inspired by The Thousandth Floor

Science Fiction; Romance       Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library

YA Mystery – Girl I Used to Be; Long Game


Henry, April. The Girl I Used to Be. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016. 978-1-62779-332-2. 229 pp.  $16.99.  Gr. 7 and up.
Seventeen-year-old Ariel Benson, who now goes by Olivia Reinhart, grew up in foster care believing that her father murdered her mother and ran off, abandoning her when she was only three years old.  When authorities find a piece of her father’s jawbone, however, Olivia learns that her father was likely murdered on the same day her mother died.  Now she is back in her hometown of Medford, determined to uncover the truth behind her parents’ murders.  But will she be able to solve the mystery before the murderer realizes who the curious new girl in town is and comes after her?  THOUGHTS:  The short chapters and fast moving, suspenseful plot make this an excellent choice for reluctant readers.  Fans of mystery writers like Mary Higgins Clark, John Grisham, Sara Shepard, James Patterson, and Barry Lyga will also enjoy this title.

Mystery Fiction              Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School



Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Long Game (The Fixer Bk. 2). New York: Bloomsbury, 2016. 978-61963-596-8. $17.99. 358 pp. Gr. 8-11.

Tess Kendrick is back in this sequel to The Fixer (2015).  Finally accepting her position as Ivy Kendrick’s daughter (D.C.’s best fixer) and William Keyes’ granddaughter (a D.C. heavy-weight), Tess has become the Hardwicke School’s “fixer”.  Usually “fixing” school issues or “family” problems, Tess is faced with a more personal “fix” when she takes on a frenemies’ student council campaign against the school bully, who also happens to the the minority whip’s son.  When politics mix with politicians’ children, anything can happen.  Meanwhile, Ivy has taken on a serious case that puts everyone’s lives in jeopardy.  When the Hardwicke School is taken over by a terrorist organization, Tess realizes that Ivy’s case is more than a fix, and it’s up to her to figure out how to save her family, her school, her friends, and hopefully, herself.  THOUGHTS:  The Long Game is another fabulous, fast-paced mystery from Jennifer Lynn Barnes.  If your collection doesn’t include her series, The Fixer and The Naturals get them.  These Scandal-esque and Criminal Minds style series are sure to please all readers.  

Mystery/Suspense      Erin Parkinson, Beaver Area MS/HS

Middle Grades Fiction – Beetle Boy; Winter’s Bullet; Goldi & the Three Vamps; US Spec. Forces


Leonard, M.G. Beetle Boy. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-85346-0. 270 p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

Darkus is sure that his father would not abandon him, but his father is missing nonetheless. As he lives with his uncle and navigates bullies at school, Darkus makes two good friends in Virginia and Bertolt. With his friends, Darkus sets off on a dangerous mission to protect special beetles and find his father. The villain, Lucretia Cutter, an avant garde designer and scientist studying beetles, could be a fiction best friend of Dodie Smith’s Cruella de Vil from The Hundred and One Dalmatians. At the end of the novel suspense is high as the villain escapes leaving an opening for the next book in the series. Included for readers, following the story, is an insect related dictionary.  THOUGHTS: It might be a good idea to ask students who have ever had a pet beetle to get their attention and then promote this novel. An ideal read-a-like is the book In Search of Goliathus Hercules, a book that I reviewed for PSLA in March 2014 – http://pslamediaselectionreview.edublogs.org/2014/03/01/march-2014-bob-fiction-reviews/.

Adventure; Mystery       Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School



Osborne, William. Winter’s Bullet. New York: Chicken House, 2016. 978-0545- 853446. $18.99. 221 pp. Gr. 5-8.

Fifteen-year old Tygo Winter is brave but alone since his Dutch parents were killed and his older sister was taken away (and likely dead). He is hated and hunted by the Resistance for his work for Oberst Kruger, chief of the Gestapo’s “Plunder Squad” of Amsterdam. The Nazis use the ruse of “safekeeping” to loot valuables from Dutch homes, but Tygo has no choice in the matter. His expert locksmith father had worked for Kruger rather than watch his family be killed. Now it’s Tygo’s turn, and the Resistance may kill him as they did his father. Kruger has fittingly named him “Frettchen” (ferret) and keeps careful tabs on everything Tygo does, says, or thinks. While searching yet another Dutch home, Tygo finds a girl hiding in the chimney. He keeps the knowledge to himself (or so he thinks) but returns when he realizes who she is and what she may have: the “Red Queen” diamond that Kruger wants for Hitler himself. Meanwhile, Tygo learns of a secret weapon Hitler has commissioned, a weapon that can destroy New York City. All of this comes together in the last days of the war, and Tygo is an important part of it all. THOUGHTS: This offers a look at an important time in World War II history, the gains and losses of the final days of the war. Tygo’s desperate situation sheds light on the Plunder Squad, the Resistance movement, the atomic bomb, and Argentina’s support of the Nazis. Readers get to know Tygo, but only scratch the surface with other characters, despite Osborne’s occasional narrative switch from Tygo to Kruger or Heinrich Muller. The fact that Osborne has long been a screenwriter explains the fact that this novel reads like a movie. Despite this, middle school readers will be drawn to the topic and enjoy the action.

Historical Fiction      Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Sutton, Laurie, and C. S. Jennings. Goldilocks and the Three Vampires: A Graphic Novel. North Mankato, MN: Stone Arch , 2017. 978-1-4965-3783-6.  33 pp. $17.99. Gr 3-6.

This isn’t your grandparents version of Goldilocks, but it sure makes for an interesting adventure! In the Far Out Fairy tale, we find the spunky, dark skinned Goldi acting more like a tomb raider than a nosy porridge eater. She is searching for King Arthur’s treasure and cherishes the traps and tricks that await her. Finding three treasure rooms, Goldi begins to borrow some items when she hears some surprising voices just waking up from the dead. The vampires are historical, somewhat hysterical, and only slightly evil as they chase Goldilocks away. Though she certainly hasn’t learned her lesson, with more adventures likely ahead.  THOUGHTS: I think it’s worth getting the whole Far Out Fairy tale series for the crazy hybrid comparisons to the originals. The end pages after the story are also valuable, as they include the original tale and comparison to the new twist, plus some great visual questions and a glossary.

Graphic Novel; Fairytale       Dustin Brackbill, State College Area



Manning, Matthew K., and Jeremy Enecio. U.S. Special Forces: Ghosts of the Night. North Mankato, MN: Stone Arch,  2017. 978-1-4965-3475-0.  90 pp. $17.99. Gr 4-7.

Go behind a special ops mission in Afghanistan with this realistic military adventure. The story starts out of sequence, with the special forces team and its rescued reporters trapped in a possibly haunted house. Then, through various viewpoints, readers learn brief backstories and see the action unravel. There are several moments to consider military decisions and realize the danger and threats which affect soldiers and civilians every day in war zones. This eye opening narrative will end too quickly, with many unanswered questions for readers to ponder and discuss. THOUGHTS: There are nonfiction texts from Capstone to connect those who want more information. Also, readers and librarians should realize that there are casualties in this book. While not graphic, and fortunately glossed over, a pilot, a soldier, and several combatants are killed in action. Still, this story is a fair way to bring those realizations to life for early chapter book readers.

Action/Adventure; Military     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area

YA Realistic Fiction – The Romantics; 7 Ways to Lie; 20?s for Gloria; P.S. I Like You


Konen, Leah. The Romantics. New York: Amulet Books, 2016. Print. 978-1419721939. 336p. $18.95. Gr. 9 and up.

Leah Konen has written a lively, sweet, and engaging novel of love and loss among teens as well as adults. There is, however, a slight twist to this typical teen novel: Love narrates the story, interjecting opinions, facts, and definitions throughout. Love gives a specific definition to how each character experiences love and relationships. Main character Gael is a Romantic, a lover of love. He is a senior attending high school in the college town of Chapel Hill, and decides, against better judgement, to declare his love for his girlfriend of two months. His love is not only not reciprocated, but he soon sees his girlfriend kissing his best friend.  Gael’s belief in love is challenged, especially in light of the fact that his parents recently decided to separate.  Teens and adults alike will be able to easily relate to one or more characters and the definitions provided by Love. Love is, of course, a serious subject, but Konen reminds us that we should have fun and enjoy ourselves along the way. THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this for teens who enjoy positive and fun romantic novels.

Realistic Fiction       Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

I did truly enjoy this novel. After suffering through the usual teen fair of angst, unrequited love, and “serious” relationships, it was refreshing to read a novel that was honest yet heartwarming about human relationships and teens’ lives in general. When this is published in November, I cannot wait to purchase a hardcover copy for my library.



Redgate, Riley. Seven Ways We Lie. New York: Abrams, 2016. Print. 978-1419719448. 352p. $17.95. Gr. 9 and up.

The multiple perspectives in this novel truly set it apart from the general teen novel, which are often told from only one’ character’s first person perspective. In Seven Ways We Lie, debut author Riley Redgate has succeeded in authentically representing a diverse group of individuals and providing a convincing voice for each. The story opens with students in Paloma High School at an all-school assembly where the principal announces that they will be investigating allegations of a teacher-student relationship. The students are shocked, and rumors abound. The chapters alternate between 7 characters and their experience of the situation. These characters offer a good representation of the variety of students in high school settings, how their hopes and dreams differ, and what affects each student in different ways. The story deals with real issues in a mature way, not vilifying but also not exonerating the characters for their faults.  Redgate, only a recent college graduate, provides true insight into teen lives and how these lives overlap. THOUGHTS:  I found myself wanting to stay up late to finish this story, and teens will, too.

Realistic Fiction        Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

I was pleasantly surprised with this title, as it did keep my attention and make me think about all of the different experiences that teens can face in high school, and how these experiences shape their lives and friendships. I cannot wait until Redgate publishes a new novel.



Bedford, Martyn. Twenty Questions for Gloria. New York: Wendy Lamb, 2016. 978-0-553-53939-4. 273p. $16.99. Gr. 9-12.

In present day Yorkshire, England, 15 year old Gloria has just returned home after running away for two weeks with a classmate. Bedford utilizes flashbacks as well as questioning of Gloria by a police inspector upon her return to gradually reveal the events surrounding the pair’s time on the run. Gloria was living a typical British teenage life, when one day, Uman Padeem transferred into her school. Uman is smart and passionate. He defies authority and seemingly does whatever he wants. In Unman, Gloria sees everything she is not. So, when he suggests they leave town, Gloria sees a chance to escape her mundane existence and embark on an adventure. But after two weeks on the run, and after learning more about Uman, the adventure doesn’t look so appealing. THOUGHTS: This unique story will keep readers turning the page to discover what will happen next in Gloria’s story. Teens will relate to Gloria’s desire to have choices in her life and to determine her own future. Recommend to fans of contemporary fiction and mysteries.

Realistic Fiction            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS



West, Kasie. P.S. I Like You. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-85097-1. 326p. $17.99. Gr. 7-12.

Lily finds chemistry class dull, so one day to pass the time, she jots down some song lyrics on her desk. To her surprise, the next day in class she discovers a reply to her lyrics. It seems that someone who shares her desk enjoys the same music as she does. Soon these two strangers are exchanging notes in which they gradually reveal more about their innermost thoughts and feelings to one another. When Lily realizes that she has developed romantic feelings for this anonymous pen pal, she decides it’s time to discover his true identity. Could it be someone she already knows?  THOUGHTS: This enjoyable read is perfect for tween and teen fans of contemporary YA romance. Astute readers may notice some similarities to the movie You’ve Got Mail (I mean this as a compliment; it’s an enjoyable film). Lily’s life is more than just romance; a major plot point follows her as gains in confidence in her songwriting abilities. Recommended for both middle school and high school collections.  

Realistic Fiction       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

YA Fantasy – HP & the Cursed Child; Labyrinth Lost; Ghosts


Rowling, J.K., John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. New York: Scholastic, Inc, 2016. 978-1-33809-913-3. $29.99. 343 pp. Gr. 6-12.

The eighth book in the Harry Potter series is set nineteen years after the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, taking readers back to the enchanting world of wizards. Harry, Ron and Hermione all work at the Ministry of Magic, balancing careers with their family life; all have children attending Hogwarts. In his first year at Hogwarts, Harry and Ginny’s youngest son, Albus, is sorted into Slytherin, and instantly befriends Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpious. The two seclude themselves from others and grow up mostly as outcasts. As Albus enters his teen years, he struggles with having famous Harry Potter as a father, and Harry struggles to understand his adolescent son. Meanwhile, a time-turner is uncovered at the Ministry of Magic, and Amos Diggory pleads with Harry to travel back and save his son Cedric. Fans of the original series will love the journey back in time, happy to meet old characters and new. THOUGHTS:  The play format might seem sparse to seasoned Harry Potter readers, but fanatics and fans alike will love traveling back to Hogwarts to see what Harry, Ron, and Hermione are up to.

Fantasy        Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School



Córdova, Zoraida. Labyrinth Lost. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Fire, 2016. 978-1-4926-2094-5. 324 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Alejandra just wants to be a normal Brooklyn teenager who hangs out with her friends, goes to concerts, and definitely does not come from a long line of brujas (witches). Instead, she’s a burgeoning encantrix whose Deathday ceremony (a chance to connect with and be blessed by her ancestors) is fast approaching. So Alex, who hates her magic, devises a risky plan to perform a spell that will cast out her powers. When the spell backfires, Alex’s whole family disappears into the spirit realm of Los Lagos. With the help of cute but mysterious Nova, Alex opens a portal to Los Lagos so she can rescue her family. Suddenly, everything depends on the powers she’s never bothered to hone. It’s truly a bruja‘s odyssey, complete with challenges, obstacles, and tricksters. The cliffhanger ending will either frustrate readers or entice them to read the forthcoming sequel. THOUGHTS: Cordova has crafted a fully realized world and a beguiling mythology that more than compensates for the novel’s slightly slow start (Alex’s family doesn’t disappear until nearly a third of the way into the book’s 300+ pages).

Fantasy Fiction        Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library



Telgemeier, Raina. Ghosts. New York: Graphix, 2016. 978-0-54554-062-9. $24.99. Gr. 6-12.

Cat and her family are moving to Northern California. The salty sea air there is better for her younger sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis. While her family is excited for the change, Cat is sad to leave her friends back in Southern California and anxious about her new town which is said to be very haunted. Cat and Maya’s neighbor, Carlos, takes them on a ghost tour through town, and an encounter with the spirits leaves Maya hospitalized. Cat is determined to keep her sister safely away from the ghosts, but when Maya returns home, she is determined to see them again. Cat is scared, and not just of ghosts; Dia de los Muertos is coming up, and meeting with the many ghosts may be too much for Maya. Telgemeier once again creates an excellent middle grade graphic novel that explores tough issues through relatable text and beautiful illustrations. For those who loved Telgemeier’s previous books Smile, Drama and Sisters, this will be another popular graphic novel in your Middle School. THOUGHTS: An exciting opportunity to incorporate a supplemental text and a graphic novel into a language class that studies Dia de los Muertos. Students really relate to and love Telgemeier’s story and artwork. While relatable to tweens and teens, readers also get a chance to explore cultural traditions they may not be familiar with.

Paranormal Fantasy        Victoria Schoewbel, Friends’ Central School

YA Dystopian – Black River Falls; The Rains


Hirsch, Jeff. Black River Falls. New York: Clarion Books, 2016. 978-544-390997.  $17.99. 328 pp. Gr. 7-12.

The residents of Black River, New York, have been hit with a virus (specifically, Lassiter’s Viral Retrograde Amnesia), which leaves them physically healthy but robbed of their past memories of family, occupation, and self.  Seventeen-year-old Cardinal Cassidy is writing this book as a letter to his older brother in college to explain the drastic changes in their town and family (both parents were infected).  As an uninfected person, Cardinal is now best friends with his former bully, Greer, and in a mountain camp in the quarantined city they try to protect younger infected children from falling victim to the increasingly lawless city.  Piecing together their pasts or their futures would be helpful too.  A green-haired girl they call Hannah joins them, and they deduce that she came to Black River to be infected and forget…but what?  As time goes on, the government wants to erase the existence of the disease and the city, and Cardinal and his friends are caught in the crossfire.   THOUGHTS: This is an odd book to categorize.  The setup is appealing and seems to promise either action or thoughtful introspection about memory and identity.  Instead, the intriguing premise falls flat; the book lacks both action and depth of insight.  While Hirsch does offer some action, it’s not until the final chapters. He does attempt thought on character choices (seeing how happy she is, Cardinal chooses not to reveal his mom’s sometimes happy, sometimes painful past to her; when immune Cardinal has a chance to be infected and thus forget his own awful memories, he chooses to keep his life as it is).  Ultimately, a quote from Cardinal himself sums up the book: “I…got moving without any real destination in mind” (301).  The book is refreshingly free from explicit relationships or language, and the action, while deadly, is handled with care.  Recommended for collections where stand-alone dystopian fiction is in high demand.   

Dystopian       Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Hurwitz, Gregg. The Rains. New York: Tor Teen. 2016. 978-0765382672. 352 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Something is terribly wrong in the isolated community of Creek’s Cause, home to 16-year old Chance Rain and his older brother, Patrick. A recent meteor shower has unleashed a “Dusting” of malignant spores that infected everyone over age eighteen. With eyeholes bored straight through their skulls, the Hosts waste no time in capturing, caging, and transporting the town’s children to parts unknown. Some of the kids seek shelter at the high school and try to organize a resistance. But with Patrick’s eighteenth birthday just a week away, the Rains and Patrick’s girlfriend, Alex, decide to go in search of help. On the way, they discover that what’s happening in Creek’s Cause is only a prelude to infection on a much greater scale. Incorporating elements of classic zombie and alien invasion stories, The Rains gets off to a gruesome start and a quick pace that Hurwitz maintains throughout. The brothers’ race against time adds extra suspense to this YA horror series-starter. THOUGHTS: It’s the best of all the recent zombie novels, and it’s recommended for fans of Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin series. Hopefully the sequel isn’t far behind!

Dystopian (Zombies)      Amy Pickett, Ridley High School



New YA Fiction (Gr. 9+) – Shallow Graves; Unexpected Everything; It’s All Your Fault


Wallace, Kali. Shallow Graves. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016. 978-0-06236-0620-7. $17.99. 360pp. Gr. 9-12.

Breezy Lin wakes up in a shallow grave, clinging to a man who was unburying her and killing him in the process. She doesn’t remember who killed her or how she died, but she knows the man who woke her was a murderer. Now Breezy is wandering, not dead but not alive, trying to discover all she can about the year that’s passed since her unsolved murder. One thing’s for sure, Breezy can sense when someone has murdered, and she can kill them with a touch of her hand. Her mysterious peculiarity leads her to a youth ministry, where she hopes to find friends but finds only demon hunters instead. On the run, Breezy teams up with some interesting, paranormal creatures to escape the hunters. While Breezy’s murder storyline is engaging and there’s an interesting mix of paranormal with reality, Wallace doesn’t commit to any particular plot line. Readers are often confused about what’s going on and why they should care. THOUGHTS: There’s potential here for a good mystery, but the story and characters end up flat.

Paranormal Mystery; Horror      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School



Matson, Morgan. The Unexpected Everything. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016. 978-1481404549. 528 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Andi has lived her life in the public eye, always worrying about how her appearance, actions, and reactions will affect the political life of her Congressman father. She has a longtime set of friends that act more like her family, since her mother died a few years ago and Andi’s father focused even more attention on his political agenda. Now, the summer before her senior year, Andi is prepared to leave home and attend a Young Scholars Program at John Hopkins University, and she can’t get out quick enough. Suddenly, a scandal rocks her father’s world, and all of Andi’s summer plans are null and void. Desperate for a job, she interviews for a dog-walking position and soon finds herself juggling 3-4 active canines multiple times a day. She takes an interest in one young man and his dog, and a beautiful summer romance begins, but could she find something more with the shy, sweet young writer, who, of course, is dealing with his own demons? The characters are well-drawn and likeable, especially Andi’s group of fun and feisty friends. The romances can seem a bit cliche at times, but what high school romance is not fraught with angst and sighs of longing, with parties on the beach and chiseled bodies? Yet, Matson gives depth and space to Andi’s father throughout the story, and his development seems to mirror that of his daughter’s and separates this novel from the normal teen romance. THOUGHTS: This is an excellent summer romance book and would be perfect for teens who think they know what they want, but are wondering if something can be found on a distant and uncharted horizon.

Realistic Fiction     Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

This was a sweet yet slightly imperfect read for a summer break. The characters were fun, but the story was drawn out a bit too much at times, and might lose the attention of a more reluctant reader unable to make it through the 500+ pages. Parts do include text message exchanges between the friends, and these are hilarious and fast-paced, giving the reader a break from the heavy inner monologue going on at times. I will probably be recommending this to mostly freshman, sophomores and juniors, as it is a bit young for seniors.



Rudnick, Paul. It’s All Your Fault. New York, Scholastic Press, 2016. 978-0545464284. 304p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Rudnick’s novel reads a bit like a Disney Channel movie, with a dash of PG-13 action mixed in, which makes for a fun and easy read. Caitlin Singleberry is one of 9 siblings and has been homeschooled her whole life. She loves her knee socks and singing in her family’s group, the Singing Singleberries. She does, however, have a movie-star cousin/former best friend who their mothers decide is in need of Caitlin’s help. The aptly-named Heller is the star of a new movie based on a popular book series (think Hunger Games meets Harry Potter), and must participate in numerous public events. Due to past indiscretions, her production team and mother need someone to watch over her and keep her on the straight and narrow. Who better to do this than Caitlin, who sees herself as a good, Christian, law-abiding girl? What ensues is a fast-paced romp that might help Caitlin realize what she needed in life all along. Rudnick slowly reveals what happened between Heller and Caitlin to end their friendship, though this technique does seem a bit contrived at times. Yet, Caitlin and Heller both face inner demons, and young adults will appreciate the authentic portrayal of teen issues, even if the experiences the girls go through might not be relatable.  THOUGHTS: The plot does move fast and the writing is fresh and fun, so reluctant readers will eat this up.

Realistic Fiction   Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

Against my better judgement, I did find myself enjoying this novel. I did love Disney Channel movies as a child (and I sometimes feel nostalgic for them as an adult!), so this novel was a simple and fun read after a summer heavy with non-fiction. I found myself laughing out loud at times, and thoroughly engrossed in the antics of the two young protagonists. There is some alcohol use involved, which raises it above the level of the Disney movie, where characters sometimes never even kiss. I can see younger students enjoying this, and will probably be recommending it to my freshmen this fall.