YA – All These Bodies

Blake, Kendare. All These Bodies. HarperTeen. 2021. 978-0-062-97716-8. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

It is the summer of 1958 and many gruesome murders have been occurring all along the midwest of the United States. It seems that these murders have been traveling, moving throughout the midwest and heading towards Canada. Michael Jenson is relieved to find that the murders seemed to bypass his small town… until he realizes that the murderer did not. In fact, the entire Carlson Family is murdered. This time, however, someone has been left at the scene. A girl, completely covered in blood. Thought as a victim, until everyone realizes she isn’t covered in her own blood, but rather the Carlson Family blood. Not only is she covered in blood, but she refuses to tell anyone what happened… except for young Michael.

THOUGHTS: A gripping horror/murder/thriller novel. Once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop until you hear the full story of what is going on. This novel will make you question whether this girl is telling the truth or lying and whether we really know what goes bump in the night.

Horror/Mystery                    Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – The Dead and the Dark

Gould, Courtney. The Dead and the Dark. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-76201-6. 371 pp. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

What could possibly go wrong in a town called Snakebite? That’s what celebrity TV ghost-hunters Brandon and Alejo are back in their hometown to discover, with their daughter Logan in tow. Unfortunately, Brandon’s recent arrival for location scouting coincided with the disappearance of local teen Tristan, and many in Snakebite suspect his involvement. Hoping to resolve the town’s suspicion about her dads, Logan teams up with local girl Ashley (Tristan’s girlfriend). Not everything in Ashley and Tristan’s relationship was quite as it seemed from the outside looking in, and there are clues that her partnership with Logan (who is gay) may become something more. Meanwhile, their investigation leads them to an abandoned cabin in the woods, where Ashley receives vivid visions of both Tristan and Brandon. Someone, or something, is hunting the teens in this remote Oregon town, and the race to solve this chilling situation is on. So are the ghost-detecting gadgets, which provide both important clues and light-hearted satire of programs such as Ghost Adventures

THOUGHTS: Intergenerational, small-town secrets abound in this supernatural horror novel. Debut author Courtney Gould is a writer that horror fans will want to follow; she’s delivered a compelling brew of elements for spooky book season!

Horror          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – White Smoke

Jackson, Tiffany D. White Smoke. Katherine Tegen Books, 2021. 978-0-063-02909-5. 373 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Marigold’s blended family has just relocated from the sunny California coast to the run-down midwestern town of Cedarville. Their historic house, still under renovation, is part of her mother’s Grow Where You’re Planted residency with the Sterling Foundation. As the artist-in-residence, Raquel and her family will live in the home for free. Free housing means less debt, which is important after Mari’s recent stay at Strawberry Pines Rehabilitation Center. From the first page, it’s clear that she is facing real mental health challenges: programming medication reminders on her phone, repeating calming mantras, and obsessing about bedbugs. Meanwhile, Mari observes unexplained noises and disturbances in the house, including strange smells and items disappearing. The desolate neighborhood adds to the spooky ambiance. Jackson, a prolific and versatile author, is known for her real-life inspiration and plot twists. Indeed, many episodes in this haunted house story are based on real reported ghostly incidents. She also brings elements of a psychological thriller to her first horror novel. 

THOUGHTS: Spooky book season is here, and Jackson’s latest novel is almost too much fun to booktalk with students who enjoy suspenseful, scary stories.

Horror          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City

Heidicker, Christian McKay. Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-25018-144-2. 386 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

O-370 only knows of life on the farm. The elder foxes tell him stories about wild foxes who have adventures beyond anything he can imagine. O-370 and his cousin, R-211 dream of having their own adventures like Mia and Uly, the foxes they hear about in the stories. Even though they want to have adventures, they also know that the farm is a good place for them. All the foxes who live here get food twice a day and have a warm place to sleep. Best of all, when they are done at the farm, they get to go to The Barn, a special place where foxes eat centipedes all day and play with all the foxes that have gone before them. One night, O-370 is desperate for an adventure and slips out of his cage to explore The Barn. What he discovers sends him running into the forest and to the edge of the nearby city. After meeting a group of tough city foxes, O-370 realizes he may not have the skills to survive away from the farm. O-370 decides he must use the strategies in the stories he heard as a young kit to survive in the city.

THOUGHTS: In the follow-up novel to Scary Stories for Young Foxes, author Heidicker follows a similar format. He intersperses the story of O-370 with an older fox storyteller who is relaying O-370’s story to kits. Fans of his first novel will be happy to see previous characters Mia, Uly, Beatrix Potter, and others make appearances throughout the book. This book is a great addition to middle grade libraries, especially for young fans of horror and animal stories.

Horror/Fantasy          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

Mejia, Tehlor Kay. Paola Santiago and the River of Tears. Disney-Hyperion, 2020. 978-1-368-04917-7. 350 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Scientific Paola just eyerolls when her superstitious mother talks of spells, wards, and evil beings like La Llorona, the creature who roams the river stealing children to replace those she lost. But Paola and her friends Emma and Dante do respect the Gila River near their Arizona home. Several local children have drowned in the waters. Not that that stops them from lying to their parents and hanging out on the banks of the river. But when Paola repeatedly has dreams of a creature reaching out of the waters and grabbing her, and Emma disappears one evening, Paola begins to reconsider whether her mother’s superstitions are as ridiculous as she always assumed them to be. When the police refuse to listen to Paola, she and Dante decide to take matters into their own hands. Armed with support and advice from a most surprising source, they venture into a world of legendary monsters battled by lost children, shocked to discover their own roles in this world that shouldn’t exist. Paola Santiago, part of the Rick Riordan imprint, is a page turner from the very beginning. Pao is a delightful protagonist, supported by her two best friends. Scientific-minded, fascinated by space, she is stunned by the existence of magic, myth, and monsters. Dante and Emma are strong characters as well (in every sense of the word), and the various creatures they encounter don’t stand a chance against the combined wiles of the trio. But Pao also learns that there is more to life than what the power of physics can prove and becomes closer to her mother through the ordeal. Paola and Dante are Hispanic; Emma is white.

THOUGHTS: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is an exciting page turner that is hard to put down. Paola is a feisty heroine who is easy to love and is sure to gain legions of fans. Add this to your collection if other mythology-based books are popular.

Fantasy/Mythology          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Gloom Town

Smith, Ronald. L. Gloom Town.  Clarion Books, 2020. 978-1-328-84161-2. 269 p. $16.99. Grades 5-7.

Smith’s latest work is a mixture of horror and fantasy. Twelve year old Rory lives with his mother in the town of Gloom in Europica. In this seafaring town, the flowers are wilted, and it is always overcast. To help with the family’s dire financial situation, Rory takes a job as a valet in the spooky Foxglove Mansion. He quickly learns that something sinister is going on there after meeting the unfriendly butler Malvonius and the eccentric Lord Foxglove. After hearing mysterious sounds coming from behind a red door in the mansion, Rory begins having dreams about a strange woman’s voice coming from a dark mist, who hungers and thirsts. When the butler learns that Rory has discovered a human heart buried in the garden, he barely escapes from the mansion with his life.  With the help of his friend Izzy, a tarot card reading witch, Rory uncovers the dark secrets that are hidden in the mansion and learns about the diabolical plans that are being devised. And when a huge brigantine ship docks in the harbor, Rory learns something about himself that changes his life forever.

THOUGHTS: This book is a bit of a chameleon. The benign looking cover and the likeable main characters seem to put it in the fantasy genre. However, there are some horrific plot elements in the book, such as two murders, including that of a child, that appear to be out of balance with a fantasy and make the story more creepy. The reader may think that these macabre incidents will all be explained away like a Scooby Doo cartoon, but they are not. The book would benefit from better development of the background of the evil supernatural creatures and their effect on the town, as well as that of a mythic figure named Goldenrod. This is a Junior Library Guild selection. Purchase for middle school libraries where horror stories or books by the author are popular.

Horror, Fantasy          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem./MG – Real-Life Ghost Stories

Real-Life Ghost Stories. Capstone, 2020. $21.49 ea. $171.92 set of 8. 32 p. Grades 3-6. 

Andrus, Aubrey. Bloody Mary. 978-1-543-57336-7.
Atwood, Megan. Popper the Poltergeist. 978-1-543-57342-8.
Peterson, Megan Cooley. The Bell Witch. 978-1-543-57335-0.
—. The Brown Lady. 978-1-543-57340-4.
—. The Flying Dutchman. 978-1-543-57338-1.
—. The Greenbrier Ghost. 978-1-543-57339-8.
—. La Llorona. 978-1-543-57337-4.
Wilkins, Ebony Joy. Perron Family Haunting. 978-1-543-57341-1.

Real-Life Ghost Stories features tales of spooky hauntings and happenings from around the world. Each volume focuses on an individual ghost story. The history behind the event or location is related and then readers learn about the subsequent claims of ghostly appearances. Fact boxes and skeptic’s notes offer readers background information as well as alternate explanations for the ghostly sightings. This reviewer had the opportunity to read The Brown Lady: The Ghost of Raynham Hall, a classic example of a haunted English manor house story. Raynham Hall not only has its own ghost (Lady Dorothy Walpole), but it was also the location of a famous photo that supposedly captured the ghost on film in the 1930s. The title features numerous illustrations, as well as photographs of the house, including the famous ghost photo. The cover illustration is also very appealing to potential browsers.

THOUGHTS: These spooky titles are sure to capture the interest of readers interested in haunted tales or mysterious happenings. They would also be a great addition to Halloween/October book displays. Libraries looking to add to their ghostly non-fiction shelves should consider this worthwhile series.
133.1  Ghost stories                Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA – Blood Countess

Popovic, Lana. Blood Countess. ABRAMS, 2020. 978-1-419-73886-9. $14.99. 304 p. Grades 8-12.

Anna Darvulia is the daughter of a cruel father and gentle midwife and healer. Her mother has taught her well, and although she’s only sixteen, when she’s summoned by Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Anna is able to save her son from death. Days later, the countess summons her again, this time to be one of her chambermaids. At first her father refuses the offer, but after his death, she accepts the position to help support her family. The Countess allows her into the household, but as a lowly scullery maid due to her belated acceptance of the position. Anna’s curiosity about the countess grows during her stay in the castle. According to the rumors, she’s wicked and cruel, but in Anna’s presence, she’s always shown mercy and kindness. Anna’s knowledge of healing herbs and medicines eventually land her as a chambermaid to the countess, and it doesn’t take long for the two to become close. As Elizabeth’s lover, Anna begins to enjoy a life of luxury, but although Elizabeth is kind to Anna, she’s terrible to others. Convinced that Elizabeth’s cruel behavior is a result of the abuse she receives from her husband, Anna tries to bring out her gentle side and shows her cruelty doesn’t have to be the answer. As Elizabeth’s behavior crosses into madness, Anna must decide whether to stay with the woman she thought she knew, or escape the castle before she becomes the next victim.

THOUGHTS:  Blood Countess, book one in the Lady Slayers series, is a fictional account of the real historical figure, Countess Elizabeth Bathory. After finishing the story, readers will most likely find themselves researching the facts and legends of this terrifying historical figure. Popovic spins a both sympathetic and horrific narrative for the countess, and readers will see Anna fall into a toxic relationship with someone that she believes loves her in return. Both Elizabeth and Anna are victims of the patriarchy of their world, and this shared circumstance is what ultimately brings them together. “For all the gold and silver of her coffers, in some ways the countess is just like me. A woman, with a man’s cruel hand around her wrist.” In the end, Anna is able to see Elizabeth for who she truly is, and ultimately makes the choice to do what is right. Readers looking for both thrill and romance will enjoy this dark and chilling tale, and it’s the perfect book to read during the month of October if promoting books that fall into the genre of horror or themes of Halloween.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – Monster Histories

Monster Histories. Capstone Press, 2020. $21.49 ea. $171.92 set of 8. 32 p. Grades 3-6. 

Cole, Bradley. Zombies. 978-1-543-57128-8.
—.
Bigfoot. 978-1-543-57121-9.
Gaertner, Meg. Shapeshifters. 978-1-543-57125-7.
Gale, Ryan. Vampires. 978-1-543-57126-4.
Pearson, Marie. Frankenstein’s Monster. 978-1-543-57122-6.
—.
Loch Ness Monster. 978-1-543-57122-6.
—.
Mummies. 978-1-543-57124-0.
—.
Werewolves. 978-1-543-57127-1.

Monster Histories is a non-fiction series chronicling the evolution of famous monsters. This reviewer read Frankenstein’s Monster, a hi-lo illustrated text sure to engage young readers. Beginning with a brief biography of Frankenstein’s Monster writer Mary Shelly along with a brief description of the monster’s origin. Subsequent chapters elaborate on the story of Frankenstein’s Creature as it was written by Shelly (also known as the Queen of Horror) over two hundred years ago. Scattered throughout the text are various images of the monster as depicted in various films and comics over the years.  Finally, readers are treated to a brief but interesting look at the impact of the monster on modern popular culture from cartoons to Halloween and even as the first tale of the horror genre. Young fans of horror, monsters, and the paranormal instantly will be hooked. Back matter includes a glossary, index, trivia challenge, and a thought provoking writing/research prompt.

THOUGHTS: Engaging and modern while full of popular culture and literary history, I would add Frankenstein’s Monster and the rest of the Monster Histories to any elementary or middle grade library in need of  an update in this nonfiction department. (Title Reviewed: Frankenstein’s Monster)

001.944 Monsters and Phenomena          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

YA – Fireborne; The Art of Breaking Things; Enough is Enough; Dreams Come to Life; Who Put This Song On

Munda, Rosaria. Fireborne. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 978-0-525-51821-1. $18.99. 432 p. Grades 9 and up.

Ten years ago in Callipolis, a land of fire-breathing dragons, Atreus led a revolution, a massacre that took the lives of all of the members of the dragonborn families in power… or did it?

Unaware that members of the dragonborn families survived the massacre, Atreus establishes a new system of government, part of which is a tournament to determine the governing members of the new aerial guard and their leader, the firstrider. Prior to the revolution, one had to be of the dragonborn to compete for such a powerful title. Now, Annie, one of those competing for the role of Firstrider, is the epitome of the motivation for the revolution. A member of the lowborn class, her family was killed by the previous regime. In the old system, she would have been doomed to remain a lowborn for life. But thanks to the new, seemingly fairer system and Lee, another orphan who befriended and protected her in the orphanage, Annie has been able to climb to the top. They have been training with their dragons for this opportunity for years. Ironically, Lee is also competing for the role of firstrider. Even more ironic is the truth about Lee’s family history. Told in alternating points of view between Annie and Lee, the story of the Firstrider Tournaments and the secrets these characters must harbor is only the beginning of this exciting fantasy tale as war threatens Callipolis.

THOUGHTS: Equal parts action, politics, fantasy, and love, this novel has a little something for everyone. Hard-core fantasy fans will enjoy the dragons but may find themselves craving even more of Munda’s great world-building (I personally found myself craving a map at times). Munda crafts a complex political conflict that prompts readers to ponder heavy themes like loyalty, abuse of power, propaganda and censorship, and the cost war. Readers who crave a love story will not be disappointed, but those who dislike when a love story overtakes the plot will be satisfied too as the subtle romance in this novel takes a backseat to politics. A solid addition for fans of speculative fiction, and might make for a cool enrichment read in a social studies or philosophy class as Munda explains in her author’s note how Plato’s Republic inspired Fireborne.

Fantasy          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Sibson, Laura. The Art of Breaking Things. Viking, 2019. 978-0-451-48111-5. $18.99. 390 p. Grades 9 and up.

Skye Murray’s primary focus during her senior year is getting into the art school of her dreams and out of her hometown. Until she can physically escape the ghosts of her past by going away to college, she escapes through her art and some poor choices including using drugs and alcohol and engaging in physical relationships with boys that are just that – physical and nothing else. She feels that she is doing a good enough job being tough and coping until the “ghost” – Dan, her mother’s ex-boyfriend who abused her as a child – returns to their lives and reunites with her mother. Skye feels like she needs to reconsider her choices, especially when history threatens to repeat itself with Dan and Skye’s younger sister Emma, but she feels like no one will listen to her or believe her. In addition to dealing with Dan and her past, Skye also must figure out where she stands with Ben. For the last two years they have been drinking and getting high together, sharing their art and Ben’s band’s songs. Her once uncomplicated feelings for her best boy friend are starting to change, but she’s unsure she can handle a serious relationship, or if Ben even wants one because of her reputation. To avoid breaking every meaningful relationship she has, Skye must figure out how to break some other things… her habits, the truth, and a whole lot of plates.

THOUGHTS: I would not recommend this novel to sensitive readers as it contains a lot of mature language, references to drugs and alcohol, and descriptive sexual scenes in both abusive and consensual situations. However, for those readers who can handle it, Sibson’s novel is a powerful one worth reading. A story of family, friendship, love, and overcoming adversity, Sibson also conveys the power that art has to give us a voice when we feel unheard.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


McCann, Michelle Roehm. Enough is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-582-70700-6. $22.99. 300 p. Grades 7 and up. 

Written as a call-to-action for teen readers, Enough is Enough is penned by an active member of Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety. As an adult with activism experience, McCann’s purpose is to prove to teenagers that they too CAN make a difference in the fight to change gun laws, despite hesitating because of their age and abilities. Part One of the book is chock-full of statistics, because, as McCann explains in her introduction, “If you’re going to argue with politicians, other adults, and your peers about why we need gun safety in this country, you will have to understand the issue pretty deeply.” Pages and pages of infographics and narration inform readers on the facts about gun violence and gun ownership in this country and compares America to other countries around the world. Part Two provides a history of gun ownership and laws in America including a thorough explanation of the Second Amendment and the National Rifle Association (NRA). Parts Three and Four provide possible solutions to the problem and practical, specific ways for teens to take action. Each chapter profiles young activists such as Parkland High School survivors who started the #NeverAgain campaign and Julia Spoor, co-founder of Students Demand Action, a group affiliated with Moms Demand Action. McCann does not alienate gun owners though, and at no point does she suggest eliminating guns entirely. She even profiles gun owners and addresses them directly, stressing repeatedly that this issue is not a political issue but a human issue that can be solved by agreeing on some common ground and working together. 

THOUGHTS: This is an excellent addition to any middle school or high school nonfiction collection. The writing is straightforward and full of documented research, and there are a variety of thorough appendices at the back of the book including lists of additional resources both nonfiction and fiction, websites and social media for young activists and activist groups, and more. I would add one new fiction book to her list of additional resources: Every Moment After by Joseph Moldover, a book I reviewed last year that features survivors of an elementary school shooting as they prepare to graduate from high school. Enough is Enough would pair well with this book in an ELA curriculum. The writing style is relatable to teens, too. Perfect example: my favorite chapter, which is titled “The Second Amendment: WTF Is That All about?”

363.33 Gun Control          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Kress, Adrienne. Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-34399-1. 304 p. $9.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life transports readers into the world of Bendy and the Ink Machine, the popular video game. This imaginative horror novel takes place inside Joey Drew Studios in New York circa 1946. Buddy has taken a dream job working as a gopher and future animator for the studio (that is if his boss ever lets him draw). Stepping up in the world means everything for Buddy, especially now that his elderly grandfather has come to live in his mother’s already overcrowded apartment, and they need the extra cash. All seems well until Buddy encounters Sammy, the strange musical director, covered in ink. Slowly Buddy begins to notice that odd things are happening around Joey Drew Studios. People and ink go missing, the latter slipping right off the page, loud thumps in the night, and rumors of a machine that no one has seen. By the time Buddy can figure out what has happened, will it be too late to save the studio?

THOUGHTS: Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life will appeal to fans of the video game, if you’re looking for media tie-ins to add to your collection this book will fit nicely.

Horror          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Parker, Morgan. Who Put This Song On? Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-0-525-70751-6. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Morgan is just trying to figure it all out, and it’s hard. Trying to fit in when you clearly stand out is hard. Getting out of bed is hard. Morgan’s in therapy for her depression but the world just seems like one cruel joke. Her family doesn’t understand her, the world doesn’t get her fashion sense, and her friends know very little about what she’s going through. The only person who seems to get her is David, her new hopefully-more-than-a-friend from art class. Morgan’s world continues to expand and grow, and she struggles to find her place in it. As she and her friends, Meg and James, spend more time together, they begin to realize that they all have secrets and maybe, just maybe, life might be a little easier if they can rely on one another.

THOUGHTS: This is a book that tackles a tough topic like depression in a funny way. Morgan relates to the world around her via song, and the playlist is truly entertaining.

Realistic Fiction           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD