YA – Killing Time

Ehrlich, Brenna. Killing Time. Inkyard Press, 2022. 978-1-335-41867-8. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Natalie has lived a pretty sheltered life in Ferry, Connecticut, thanks to her mom’s overprotective rules. Working in their family diner, it’s always just been the two of them. When Natalie, who recently graduated from high school, learns that her favorite teacher died under suspicious circumstances she’s determined to honor Mrs. Halsey’s memory. Though their last conversation didn’t end well, Mrs. Halsey understood Natalie’s interest in true crime and supported her (and Nat’s best friend Katie) as the true crime club advisor. They even started their own podcast – Killing Time – where they evolve in their discussion of legendary killers. All of this “true crime stuff” is done, of course, without her mom’s knowledge or permission. But Nat, who wants to go to college to be a journalist, is determined to tell her teacher’s story and honor her life. When she finds a threatening note telling her to “Stay out of it. I’m warning you.” she’s even more motivated to piece together what happened to Mrs. Halsey. Between the conversations among customers at the diner, her internship at the paper, and some convenient friendships, Nat seems to be getting closer to the truth. But how likely is a teenager operating on her own to solve a crime, especially when someone doesn’t want the truth to come to light? Interspersed throughout the novel are “Then” chapters that flash back to Helen’s college days which shed some light onto the strained relationship between mother and daughter and some of Helen’s overprotective tendencies.

THOUGHTS: Fans of true crime will like this one. I especially enjoyed the Then chapters which seemed to have more suspense and keep the story moving. A supplemental purchase where mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG/YA – A Forgery of Roses

Olson, Jessica S. A Forgery of Roses. Inkyard Press, 2022. 978-1335418661. $19.99. 384p. Grades 7-12.

Myra Whitlock has a secret: she’s a prodigy. When she paints, she can access her magic, and heal her subjects. Not everyone is accepting of prodigies, especially the governor, but when his wife discovers her secret, she hires Myra to paint her recently deceased son, Will, in the hopes of bringing him back to life. Myra has never resurrected a person before, but the reward is too great to pass up. Money has been tight since her parents’ disappearance, and her sick, younger sister needs to see a doctor, a luxury they no longer can afford. When she arrives at the governor’s house, she befriends the governor’s oldest son, August, and together, they discover that Will’s death was not an accident, and if Myra has any chance of bringing him back, she must first discover the mysterious circumstances of his death and avoid becoming the next victim herself.

THOUGHTS:  A Forgery of Roses is a magical, murder mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end. Although two of the main characters develop feelings for each other, it goes no further than a few embraces and kisses, making this title a good fit for middle school libraries as well as high school ones. Myra is hired to use her magic to bring a person back to life, and the book does contain descriptions of blood and gore among murder victims and within art work. One of the main characters suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, and that’s not always a trait readers get to see in main characters.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – The Agathas

Glasgow, Kathleen, and Liz Lawson. The Agathas. Delacorte Press, 2022. 416 p. 978-0-593-43112-2. Grades 9-12. $18.99.

Once one of the “Mains” – wealthy kids at Castle Cove High who go by their last names – Alice Ogilve has been a social pariah since disappearing for five days last summer, causing her friends, family, and especially her ex-boyfriend Steve a lot of heartache and costing the town of Castle Cove a lot of money. Since then Alice has been homeschooled while on house arrest, and her only friend was the complete works of Agatha Christie. Now it’s Halloween (Alice is under dressed for the occasion.), and the message: “Alice Ogilve is crazy.” greets her on her locker. Alice’s former best friends are less than thrilled to see her. To make matters worse, Alice is called out of class to visit Ms. Westmacott’s counseling office, and she’s assigned a peer tutor. One of the “Zoners” – kids who seem to be thrown together out of necessity because they’re poor – Iris prefers to fly under the radar and focus on her studies. Though they’ve gone to school together since kindergarten, Iris only accepted the tutoring job because of the promise of a nice paycheck, regardless of how well Alice does. Besides, she has other things on her mind like getting herself and her mother “out of Castle Cove and away from the Thing.” When Alice’s former best friend goes missing, the town thinks she’s “pulling an Alice,” but Alice knows Brooke never would run away. Though unlikely, Alice teams up with Iris, and the two have to work together to figure out what happened, especially when the local police and Brooke’s own father think nothing is wrong. But each with their own secrets, it won’t be easy to let someone new in, especially someone so different.

THOUGHTS: There are a few mysteries within this character driven thriller, and readers will root for different people throughout, unsure of exactly what happened until the big aha moment. Recommended for high school collections where compelling mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

The previous summer, Alice suddenly disappears, and the small oceanside town of Castle Cove goes into a panic trying to locate her. She shows up unharmed without an explanation five days later. Her friends are not willing to welcome her back with open arms, and she begins to struggle with school. It is a year later, and another girl goes missing. It is believed that this is a copycat of what Alice did before, so no one is in a hurry to find her. Except Alice and her mysterious tutor, Iris. When the girl’s body is discovered, the police immediately make an arrest. Alice and Iris believe they have arrested the wrong person, and with the help of Iris’s friends they channel Agatha Christie to solve the mystery.

THOUGHTS: This book is for fans of One of us is Lying and We Were Liars. The story revolves around a small town with many mysterious characters. I really enjoyed the back and forth between Alice and Iris since the chapters alternate between their voices. It also has a map in the beginning of the book. Who doesn’t love a map?

Mystery Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

YA – These Deadly Games

Urban, Diana. These Deadly Games. Wednesday Books, 2022. 978-1-250-79719-3. $18.99. 416 p. Grades 9-12.

Crystal loves getting lost in the world of multiplayer game Mortal Dusk. Her team is so skilled that they could even overtake a local gaming celebrity in an upcoming tournament. Crystal hopes to do well in the individual contest, as the prize money would go a long way in helping her single mother pay the mortgage. The team of six basically lives in the game world to increase their scores and determine which five players will earn a spot in the team competition. But they all have to go to school too… During class Crystal gets an odd text with a video of Caelyn, her younger sister (who is supposed to be away for a weekend field trip), gagged and bound. The message is clear: “You have 24 hours to win. If you break my rules, she dies. If you call the police, she dies. If you tell your parents or anyone else, she dies.” Initially, filled with shock and disbelief, Crystal flees her classroom to make sure she read the message right. But each new message replaces the last, and she quickly realizes she will go to any lengths, will do anything to rescue her sister. Besides, the game seems fairly harmless at first. When Crystal realizes she has to choose saving her sister or her friends, her desperation increases. Told over a rapid, deadly game with brief flashbacks to a hidden secret, Crystal races against the clock to win what seems like an unwinable game.

THOUGHTS: Thriller and gamer fans will devour this mystery, desperate to uncover who is behind the anonymous messages. If you have April Henry and Karen McManus fans in your library, you’ll want to add Urban’s titles (All Your Twisted Secrets, 2020) too.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – You’ll be the Death of Me

McManus, Karen M. You’ll be the Death of Me. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-593-17586-6. 326 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Ivy, Cal, and Mateo used to be friends, but then high school happened.  Now in their senior year, things aren’t quite going as they had hoped.  After losing the senior class presidential election, Ivy doesn’t want to be at school to hear the winner’s speech. Cal was stood up for a breakfast date, so he’s not in the mood for school, and Mateo’s just in the right place at the right time. Cal suggests the three recreate “The Greatest Day Ever” when they skipped a class field trip in Boston, and they agree. Once in Boston, the three end up following another classmate, Boney Mahoney, into an abandoned warehouse where Ivy finds him dead. Caught up in a murder-mystery, with Ivy as the prime suspect (according to all of the gossip and “news” reports), the three try to figure out what happened and how to get out of this mess. Things only get worse as history is revealed and current situations are realized.

THOUGHTS: Although it started out slow, You’ll Be the Death of Me keeps the reader questioning what they know and don’t know. Ivy, Cal, and Mateo are all unreliable narrators who continually hide information from one another leading to more mystery beyond the death of Boney Mahoney. This title will fly off the shelves with all of McManus’s books.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – You’ll be the Death of Me

McManus, Karen. You’ll be the Death of Me. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-593-17586-6. 336 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

She’s back again. New characters, same sticky mystery style that has the reader guessing until the end. In McManus’ newest novel, we meet Ivy, Mateo, and Cal who used to be friends in middle school, but now as seniors, it’s been a long time since they’ve hung out. Enter: The worst day ever. McManus has yet to shy away from heavy and uncomfortable topics like the opioid crisis, death, and on the periphery, racism. This story starts with a student death, from an overdose or murder, and genuinely keeps the pages turning faster and faster as tiny clues and back stories surface through this varying point-of-view novel. Ivy, Mateo, and Cal work together to solve how their classmate died, and to keep themselves out of trouble.

THOUGHTS: If McManus’ novels aren’t on your high school shelves yet, purchase all of them, but don’t expect them to stay on your shelf long. Her classic whodunit style is laced perfectly with an authentic take on the high school experience (hopefully with a lot less drugs, drama, and death!). 

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem./MG – The Beatryce Prophecy

DiCamillo, Kate. The Beatryce Prophecy.Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-536-21361-4. $19.99. 247 p. Grades 3-8.

“There will one day come a girl child who will unseat a king and bring about a great change,” reads the fearsome prophecy which the reader soon discovers is The Beatryce Prophecy. This magical story involves a bald, brave girl in monk’s robes; a gentle monk named Brother Edik who hands out maple candies; a slip of a boy, Jack Dory, orphaned by thieves and nurtured by an old woman—now deceased—Granny Bibspeak; a laughing, runaway king, Cannoc; and a wayward, stubborn but loyal goat, Answelica. Brother Edik comes upon a sickly Beatryce with her goat companion and nurses the girl back to health. He well knows the prophecy and when he discovers Beatryce can read and write, thanks to the foresight of her parents, he protects her by shaving her locks and disguising her as a monk. Twelve-year-old Jack Dory gets dispensed to the Brothers of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing to fetch a monk who can record the last words of a dying soldier and returns with Beatryce and Answelica with the strong directive from the monastery’s abbot not to return. Beatryce, though, cannot stomach the soldier’s confession and abandons the task. She and Jack Dory find themselves in the dangerous dark forest where they meet the jovial Cannoc who eventually tells them he once walked away from the gruesome responsibility of being the king. They seek safety from the king who threatens Beatryce’s life in Cannoc’s cozy tree- trunk home and are soon joined by Brother Edik. When Beatryce is abducted, the remaining four (the goat is included) vow to rescue her. A proverb comes to mind, Pride goes before a fall. The foolish king and his sinister counselor choose murder and lies to soothe their fragile pride: They cannot accept that a girl can read and write at a time when, as Brother Edik tell her, “Only men of God can read, and the king. And tutors and counselors. The people do not know their letters” (140). At its root, The Beatryce Prophecy is a simple good vs. evil story. But simply written it is not. Can any other author repeat a phrase or line with more meaning than Kate DiCamillo? DiCamillo illuminates this unenlightened world with characters who radiate kindness, goodness, and joy. They also turn out to be the strong ones. Perhaps The Beatryce Prophecy is a feminist story, but it is also a story of courage and friendship. In the capable hands of this author, the reader is ever more convinced that what makes the difference in people’s lives is love. . .and stories.

THOUGHTS: As a vehicle for teaching language and imagery, an example of characterization and plot development, The Beatryce Prophecy is a key tool. The story sweeps you up and the words envelope you. A good read aloud.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  SD Philadelphia

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 – They’ll Never Catch Us

Goodman, Jessica. They’ll Never Catch Us. Razorbill, 2021. 978-0-593-11432-2. 330 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Did Stella Steckler do something to Mila Keene? That’s the question at the heart of Jessica Goodman’s taut sports mystery set in New York’s Catskill Mountains. In Edgewater, the cross country team reigns supreme, and Stella is the star. Her main competitor is her younger sister, Ellie, who is more of a “people person” than Stella. In fact, Stella has a history of violence; she hurt another runner in an incident that is alluded to and fleshed out throughout the novel. But, after spending the summer at Breakbridge Elite Track and Field Center, Stella is back on a good path and clocking her best times yet. Ellie, meanwhile, is in a relationship with another runner’s boyfriend, and dealing with her complicated feelings about the abortion she had over the summer. When champion runner Mila Keene transfers to Edgewater High, both sisters are drawn to her kindness and ability to listen without judgment. When Mila disappears, the town is plunged back into its years as “Deadwater,” when three girls disappeared from the local resort’s running trails and were later found, murdered, with their shoelaces missing. The cases were never solved, and with a fresh missing person’s case, everyone is a suspect … and Stella isn’t the only one with secrets (and first place finishes) to protect. 

THOUGHTS: With chapters alternating between Stella’s and Ellie’s points of view, They’ll Never Catch Us is both a fast-paced mystery and a nuanced portrayal of sisters who fiercely protect each other’s secrets despite their deep mutual distrust. Fans of Karen McManus will run to this one!

Mystery          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – The Forest of Stolen Girls

Hur, June. The Forest of Stolen Girls. Feiwel and Friends, 2021. 978-1-250-22958-8. 369 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Min Hwani and her younger sister, Maewol, were raised on the Korean island of Jeju, in the small village of Nowon. In 1421 (five years before the events of The Forest of Stolen Girls), Hwani and her father, a renowned detective, relocated to the mainland while Maewol stayed in Nowon as a shaman’s apprentice. During those five years, Detective Min returned to Jeju many times to try and crack the only case he ever failed to solve: the “Forest Incident,” in which his own daughters were found nearly frozen to death, near the body – a possible suicide – of a village girl. Hwani has no memory of the incident, and Maewol has only a fleeting recollection of a masked man. Indeed, the forest is a dangerous place for the girls of Nowon: thirteen of them have vanished over the years. And a year ago, Detective Min failed to return from his journey to Jeju; he has been declared dead, though his remains were never found. Now in possession of her father’s investigative journal, Min is desperate to locate her father and solve the mystery of his disappearance before she is recalled to the mainland and an arranged marriage. June Hur’s expertly crafted blend of clues, suspicions, memories, and suspects builds slowly but surely to a nail-biting boil.

THOUGHTS: The Forest of Stolen Girls is a gripping and deeply immersive historical mystery, depicting a time period and setting that will be new to many readers. 

Historical Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD
Mystery