YA – These Violent Delights

Gong, Chloe. These Violent Delights. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020. 978-1-534-45769-0. $19.99. 464 p. Grades 9-12.

“These violent delights have violent ends.” It’s 1926, and the city of Shanghai is ruled by two gangs: The White Flowers and The Scarlet Gang. Juliette Cai has just returned to the city after spending four years in America, and she’s ready to forget her past and take on the role of heir to the Scarlets. When she is approached by Roma Montagov, the White Flower heir, he insists they work together to stop a madness plaguing their city and taking the lives of members of both gangs. She reluctantly agrees, although she was betrayed by Roma in the past. Together, as they prepare to hunt down a monster, they can’t ignore the passion that still exists between them, but if their alliance is discovered by either gang, the madness will be the least of their worries, and the blood feud between the two could turn deadly.

THOUGHTS: This novel brings some exciting new aspects to William Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet: 1920s flappers, the setting of Shanghai, monsters, and madness! The Scarlet Gang members are Chinese, The White Flowers are Russian, but the French and English are powerful presences in Shanghai as well, and this brings some diversity to the characters. You’ll be rooting for Roma and Juliette as they discover the secret behind the madness, and against all odds, find their way back to each other. This is perfect for readers who like action and historical fiction, as well as a bit of romance, and the ending will have them impatiently waiting for book two!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Juliette Cai seems to have it all as the eighteen-year-old heir to Shanghai’s revered Scarlet Gang. Juliette’s only problem seems to be her love/hate relationship with Roma Montagov, the heir of the rival gang the White Flowers. The Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers’ criminal networks operate above the law and are continually fighting, often killing each other on the spot when they accidentally cross into the other’s territory. However, a mysterious plague descends upon Shanghai, causing people from both sides to become mad and claw out their own throats. People begin whispering of a monster with glittering eyes, often seen in the water and controlling lice-like insects that burrow into people’s brains. In this retelling of Romeo and Juliet, both Juliette and Roma must put their feelings aside and work together to find the origin of this madness and stop it before Shanghai is destroyed.

THOUGHTS: With her beautiful descriptive language, author Chole Gong puts a riveting twist on a classic story in her debut novel, which promises to delight fans of the fantasy genre. Fans of fantasy sequels and trilogies will also appreciate that this story will continue in a yet-to-be-published sequel.

Fantasy          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central 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 – Kingdom of the Wicked

Maniscalco, Kerri. Kingdom of the Wicked. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-42846-0. $18.99. 448 p. Grades 9-12.

Emilia and Vittoria, twin sisters, are also witches known as streghe. They come from a family of witches who must hide from both humans and The Malvagi, or The Wicked: Princes of Hell who would stop at nothing to capture their souls for themselves. Emilia and Vittoria have grown up hearing stories about the seven Princes of Hell from their grandmother, Nonna, and for protection, each girl wears a cornicello, a horned shaped amulet. According to Nonna, they must never take them off and never put them together because The Malvagi are always watching, and always waiting. When Emilia finds Vittoria murdered, her Nonna’s stories don’t seem so unbelievable anymore, and she finds herself summoning a demon to discover what happened to her sister. When she inadvertently summons Wrath, one of the seven Princes of Hell, she reluctantly accepts his offer to help her find the murderer of her sister and other witches, but from Nonna’s stories, she knows she cannot really trust him or the other princes she meets in her city. However, Wrath is unlike his brothers, and against her better judgement, she starts to rely on their alliance and cannot deny the attraction growing between them. In order to avenge her sister and protect her family, Emilia may just have to make a deal with the devil.

THOUGHTS: Kingdom of the Wicked is a refreshing, new fantasy series that takes place in the 19th century on the Italian island of Sicily. Emilia’s family owns a restaurant called Sea and Vine, and trust me, you’ll be craving some homemade Italian food after finishing this one. Although the time period wasn’t obvious to me when starting the novel, it became more apparent as I continued to read, but to be honest, I had to do a Google search to completely understand the setting of this book. Along with witchcraft, this book introduces the Seven Princes of Hell, referred to as The Wicked, which are basically the embodiments of the seven deadly sins, and they certainly add to the uniqueness and eeriness of this new, historical fantasy.

Fantasy           Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Picture Books – How Kate Warne…; For the Right to Learn; Two Friends…

Van Steenwyk, Elizabeth. How Kate Warne Saved President Lincoln. Chicago: Albert Whitman and Company, 2016. 978-0-8075-4117-3. 32pp. $16.99. Gr. 2-4.

This historical picture book highlights the career of Kate Warne, America’s first female detective. In 1856, Warne arrived in detective Allan Pinkerton’s office looking for a job. Although Pinkerton had never before considered hiring a woman, Warne convinced him that a female would be able to obtain information in ways men couldn’t. She spent her career attending society parties disguised as a wealthy socialite or sometimes as a fortune teller. Warne earned the trust of both men and women and then used the information she gained to help crack some of the nation’s biggest cases. Her most important assignment involved exposing a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln on the way to his inauguration. Disguised as a wealthy southern woman, Warne infiltrated a group called the Golden Circle and verified the details of the plot against Lincoln. Her information was used to develop a plan that allowed a disguised Lincoln to secretly switch trains under the cover of darkness and arrive in Washington DC unharmed.  THOUGHTS: This title provides a fascinating look at how one woman shattered gender stereotypes and bravely left her mark on a formerly male-dominated profession. The story is told with enough suspense and intrigue to hold readers’ attention, and it will be a welcome addition to women’s history month celebrations and to Civil War units.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County



Langston-George, Rebecca. For the Right to Learn. North Mankato, MN: Capstone, 2016.     978-1-4914-6071-9. 40 pp. $16.99. Gr. 3-6.

In a small village in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai attended school.  Her father was a teacher and felt that all children, even girls, should have the right to learn.  This was not the case everywhere in Pakistan.  In many places in that country, only boys were educated.  As the Taliban rose in power, they also condemned girls being educated.  The Taliban threatened the school leaders, including Malala’s father, to stop allowing girls to come to school. Later, those who opposed the Taliban were bombed as warnings to others.  Malala secretly began to blog about her experiences with a reporter from the BBC.  Finally, a Taliban fighter boarded the school bus and shot Malala for her outspoken stance on education for all girls in Pakistan.  She recovered and gave a speech before the United Nations that propelled her to international fame.  She later won a Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous fight for the right to learn.  This vividly illustrated book is powerful and compelling.  The message that Malala shared is clear and precise.  The incident of the shooting is simply illustrated with a book and three small drops of blood on top of it.  While upsetting, students will be inspired by her persistence and perhaps encouraged to appreciate the gift of education that all children in America may take for granted.  THOUGHTS:  This book is a wonderful addition to a unit on children in the Middle East, human rights, or even an inspiration to students to find something that they are passionate about and act to make a change.

Picture Book Biography     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy



Robbins, Dean. Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. New York: Orchard Books, 2016. 978-0-545-39996-8. 32pp. $17.99. Gr. K-4.

On a snowy afternoon, Susan B. Anthony is setting her table for tea. Two cups, two saucers, two slices of cake. She welcomes her friend Frederick Douglass, and the two sip tea by the fireplace, talking about their ideas for equal rights. This book centers on the real-life friendship these two activists shared and highlights similarities in their campaigns for women’s rights and African American rights. Robbins uses parallel text, repeating the lines, “The right to live free. The right to vote. Some people had rights, while others had none. Why shouldn’t he have them too?” as he describes each crusader’s fight. A brief author’s note provides additional background information about both Anthony and Douglass, and a bibliography offers suggestions for further reading. Mixed media illustrations feature paint, collage, and colored pencil. Swirling cursive script highlighting ideas Anthony and Douglass championed is woven into many spreads, adding to the book’s vintage feel. Overall, this is an age-appropriate introduction to two civil rights contemporaries who respected each other’s ideas and admired each other’s resolve to fight for a better future.  THOUGHTS:  This is a valuable addition to social studies units about equal rights or women’s suffrage. It could also be used to supplement a Civil War unit on emancipation or in celebration of Black History Month.

Picture Book    Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County

YA Graphic Novels – Delilah Dirk; Nameless City


Cliff, Tony.  Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling. New York: First Second, 2016. 978-162672-1555. $17.99. 265 pp. Gr. 5-12.

In this sequel to Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (2013), Cliff continues the rapid-pace action, character insights and talented artwork.  Delilah and her partner Selim continue their exploits in exotic locales, but Selim’s cautionary words can’t stop Delilah from striking back at a British soldier who has wounded her pride.  The soldier, in turn, lets Delilah take the blame for his own unsavory activities.  Thus Delilah and Selim return to Britain to clear Delilah’s name.  And, though she grew up there as Alexandra Nichols, she is as uncomfortable in society as Selim and finds it difficult to keep her alter ego hidden from her mother.  There is much to enjoy in characters and artwork, and Cliff leaves the ending open for further adventures.  THOUGHTS: This is a lively story with excellent art connections, interesting to any fan of art or graphic novels.  Cliff acknowledges his at times inaccurate portrayals of early 19th century London, making this more a story for adventure-seekers than history buffs.  Even readers who pick this up casually will likely enter into Delilah and Selim’s story.  

741.5 Graphic Novels        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School




Hicks, Faith Erin. The Nameless City. New York: First Second, 2016. 978-1-62672-157-9.  232p. $18.74. Gr. 5-10.

Erzi wants the boys to defend the city and be ready for war. Kaidu’s father asks about his mom and is shocked to learn that grandfather died six years ago, and mother is the tribe leader. His estranged father gives him a gift of a knife. Rat doesn’t initially like Kai and certainly doesn’t want him to run faster than she can. On the third day in the city Kaidu asks her to teach him to run, and he will bring food in exchange. It takes 27 hard days of training to get close to him. Kai loves all of the books the monks have, but Rat doesn’t know how to read. She shares that she is not lucky and her parents are dead. Eventually she asks for boots, but wearing boots belonging to another class could lead to major disputes. Rat overhears an assassination plan and risks it all to share this with Kai. Will the assassination be thwarted? THOUGHTS: Be sure to add this fast paced and heartfelt graphic novel to your collection and share with your students.  Students will be impressed with the first book to start the series.

Graphic Novel, Adventure          Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

New Picture Books – Dr. Seuss; Lillian; a Tea Party; Small Elephant


Seuss, Dr. The BIG Orange Book of Beginner Books. New York: Random House, 2015. 978-0-553-52425-3. 240p. $15.99. Gr Pre-K-2.

This book includes six individual titles by Dr. Seuss: Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!; The Shape of Me and Other Stuff; In a People House; Hooper Humperdink…? Not Him!; Ten Apples Up On Top! Because a Little Bug went Ka-CHOO!.  The large print and illustrations help emergent reader guess the words they may not know yet while developing reading skills through rhyme and classic, beloved Dr. Seuss characters.  THOUGHTS: Buy if you do not have enough individual copies.

Picture Book Collection      Caroline Romano Wallenpaupack Area School District




Winter, Jonah and Shane W. Evans. Lillian’s Right to Vote. New York: 2015.978-0-385-39028-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr 1 -4.

As hundred year old Lillian journeys to the top of a very steep hill to vote, she is reminded of what it took in order for all African Americans to get the vote: from slave ties to freedom; from an impossible test to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The colorful art and well crafted sentences create a read aloud that will spark a discussion on the hard won right to vote. THOUGHTS: This is an excellent text for extending a study of Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, or Election Day.  It is highly recommended.

Historical Picture Book      Caroline Romano, Wallenpaupack Area




Miyakoshi, Akiko. The Tea Party in the Woods. New York: Kids Can Press, 2015.  978-177138-107-9. Unpaged. $16.95. Gr. K-5.

One wintery, snowy day, a young girl named Kikko realizes her father has forgotten the pie he was supposed to take to Grandma’s house.  When she tries to catch him in the woods, she accidentally follows a bear instead.  She finds herself by a house she does not know but is too curious to leave.  As she looks through the window, a lamb wearing a coat and carrying a purse asks her, “Are you here for the tea party?”  Keikko joins the many animals for a splendid and magical tea party.  Akiko Miyakoshi has beautifully illustrated this tale.  The illustrations are mostly black and white with an occasional stroke of yellow and red.  The story ends with the animals disappearing back into the woods, and one must question whether the story is really happening or a figment of Kikko’s imagination.  Thoughts:  I would recommend this book for any children’s or elementary library.  This story promotes much discussion with students and is a great read aloud.

Picture Book                             Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School




Feeney, Tatyana. Small Elephant’s Bathtime. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.  978-0-553-49721-2. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. PK-2.

Small Elephant likes water, but not being in it.  His mother tries to make bath time fun with toys and games, but Small Elephant does not want to get in the bath!  Small Elephant’s father thinks of a way to get Small Elephant in the bath, but will it work?  THOUGHTS:  This is a very cute book with enjoyable illustrations.  Young students will be able to relate to Small Elephant.  It’s a great addition to storytime!

Picture Book         Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School

Mortal Heart…His Fair Assassins Book 3


LaFevers, Robin. Mortal Heart. New York: HMH Books For Young Readers, 2014. 978-0-547-628400. 464 p. $17.99. Gr 9-12.

LaFevers’ excellent His Fair Assassins series comes to a close with the highly anticipated story of Annith, the gifted sister of St. Mortain, god of Death, who watches impatiently as her sisters are given tasks to serve the convent and their god. Although extremely skilled at warfare and in the art of seduction, Annith discovers that she is being groomed by the abbess as Seeress, a banal life confined to the convent, even though she has shown no skill as a Seer. Confused and suspicious, Annith runs and sleuths, eventually confronting the abbess and learning a secret she never expected, one so deep and treacherous she decides to leave the convent. Annith runs into the hellequin, souls of the damned serving Mortain by bringing him the recent dead, and connects with the dark, brooding, and handsome Balthazaar, a connection that will change her life and life’s purpose forever. While a bit less action packed as Ismae and Sybella’s stories, Annith is a worthy heroine and her story speaks true to her character. LaFever’s brings a satisfying ending to a wonderful, historically researched, well-paced series.

Historical Fantasy    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

While I loved this series, and another teacher loved this series, I can’t seem to get the students on board. It is definitely for an older crowd; I would not recommend to middle schoolers, and right now that is the group that drives our fiction circulation. I keep recommending it to high school students when they ask about books, and I’ve blogged about the series, but so far no luck. LaFever is an excellent writer and this an excellent premise. It mixes history and fantasy in a way that isn’t overdone or unbelievable; the same can be said for the characters and their romantic interests. I am determined to keep recommending.

Willow…a look at Reconstruction in the South


Hegamin, Tonya Cherie.  Willow.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2014.  978-0-7636-5769-7. 374p.  $16.99.  Gr. 7 and Up.

Willow is a fifteen-year-old slave growing up just south of the Mason-Dixon Line in 1848.  Her life is far different than most other slaves.  Her master, Reverend Jeffries, has taught her to read and write.  She believes that they are almost like family and has little desire for a free life.  Willow’s family has been a part of Knotwood Estate for five generations, and although her mother is dead, she is being raised by a loving father and the other slaves of the estate.  Willow knows that change is coming, however.  Willow’s father has been pressuring her to marry and have children, so the next generation will be ensured a place in the Jeffries family Bible.  There are few suitable men for Willow to marry and her father/Reverend Jeffries have chosen Raymond, a slave at a neighboring plantation.  Willow is distraught over this choice, and bemoaning her lack of choice in the decision, rides off on horseback to her mother’s grave.  While she is praying to her mother, she catches her first glimpse of Cato, a free black man who has been helping slaves cross the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom.

Reverend Jeffries is also contemplating marriage to a widow, Mistress Evelyn, and her grown son from Baltimore.  When the widow visits Knotwood, it is clear that many things will change once she is the Reverend’s wife.  Willow has grown closer to Cato, who wants her to come North with him.  However, Willow commits to life on the plantation as a married woman because it is her duty, but she is deeply saddened because she realizes that there is no place for her anymore as an educated slave at Knotwood.  A dramatic series of events finally leads Willow to decide she must leave with Cato, and they try to make their escape in the tense pre- Civil War days of the Fugitive Slave Act.

This novel did not receive a lot of critical attention, but it is both exciting and well-researched.  It would be a useful adjunct to any classroom study of the Civil War Era and the significance of the Mason-Dixon Line. Although Willow becomes romantically involved with Cato, this is not a love story.  Instead, it is the story of a young woman who must escape from a different kind of slavery- the traditions and family ties that can also be imprisoning. Willow’s story is quite relevant to young adults today who must choose between family, duty, and following their own dreams.

Historical Fiction       Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School

Caminar…a story of war, boyhood, and Guatemala

Brown, Skila. Caminar. Somerville: Candlewick Press, 2014. 978-0-7636-6516-6. $15.99. Gr. 7 and up.
Living in the small village of Chopán, Guatemala, Carlos was only a boy when the soldiers arrived.  Friendly at first, the soldiers soon issued a dour warning: the villagers were not to assist the rebel fighters in any way.  Later when the soldiers return, Carlos is in the forest; he does not see the destruction, the loss, or death.  Running blindly up the mountain, sleeping in trees at night, hiding from the army while attempting to reach his abuela, he stumbles across a band of rebel guerrillas.  He travels with them, enjoying their friendly banter, but he’s too afraid to reveal his secret, carrying a guilt that burns in his soul.  He has lost everything.  When the helicopters return, the sound awakens Carlos.  He dashes into his abuela’s mountain village and leads the people into the safety of the trees.  His courage may save a village if this ingenious young boy can harnesses an inner strength to protect his compatriots in a war that is not his.
Based on true events, Skila has written a compelling story about a young boy attempting to become a man.  For forty years, Guatemala had been trying to resist unfair laws penalizing the poor farmers in rural areas all over the country.  Bands of guerrilla rebels fought back, surviving in the mountains by hiding and accepting any generosity from local villages.  Feelings about the war varied from indifference to a fierce loyalty to the rebel forces or a fear of the army who would crush anyone aiding or assisting them.  Carlos desires to become a man and thinks he should fight alongside the other men, but his mother advises him to run at the first sign of fighting.  When he heeds her advice, he find himself alone, questioning his actions.  Written in a beautiful verse, lines emanate the pain, suffering and ultimate gratification of those who survived.  The casualties of war took many innocent lives and changed the survivors forever.
Historical Fiction (Verse)               Christine Massey JWP Middle School

Tsarina…a story of the Fall of the Romanovs and Russia


Patrick, J. Nelle. Tsarina. New York: Razorbill, 2014. 978-1-59514-693-8. 328 p. $17.99. Gr.7-12.

Tsarina takes place in Imperial Russia during the fall of the Romanov Family. Natalya Kutepova is the beloved of the Tsarevich, Alexei Romanov. She is not royal, but she is from a noble family; her father is the head of the Russian Military. She and Alexei have been in love for most of their teenage years. Alexei suffers from hemophilia and was always sickly when he was young. Gregori Rasputin created a Faberge Egg that contained protective magic for the Tsar and those he loved; he called it the Constellation Egg. When Alexei shows Natalya the Egg, he lets her in on two secrets that no one outside of the family knows; that it exists, and where it is kept. The Constellation Egg is the reason that Alexei is not sickly anymore. Turmoil is brewing in Russia. The Reds riot in St. Petersburg, and Natalya flees to free her friend Emilia, a noble. Emilia just wants to go to Paris until things settle down, but getting there turns out to be a problem. Natalya rescues Emilia from her house as the Reds are starting a fire that will end up consuming the house. They run away and end up at the home of their Tailor who promises to shelter them for the night and get them to the train station in the morning. The tailor’s nephew, Leo, picks the girls up, but rather than take them to the train station, he kidnaps them. Leo is a Red. This is just the beginning of this enchanting novel. Leo is kind to the girls, but they are still his prisoners. The key is to find the Constellation Egg, but to claim it and which group? The Reds, the Whites and a surprising third party, The Mystics, all want to lay claim to the egg. St. Petersburg to Moscow to Siberia, they travel across Russia in search of the magical egg, a magic that lives on even though the Romanovs were murdered.

This book is an interesting companion novel for students studying Imperial Russia. Many of the facts are true, the author outlines in the endnote where she deviated from the truth. I have always been fascinated with Russia, and Anastasia was one of my favorite animated movies. The fantasy element was just enough; I imagine it was a very magical time for the nobility, not so much for the peasants, hence, the Russian Revolution.

Historical Fantasy (Imperial Russia)   Kathryn Gilbride, North Pocono High and Middle Schools