YA – Ace of Spades

Abike-Iyimide, Faridah. Ace of Spades. Feiwel & Friends, 2021. 978-1-250-83488-1. 440 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

In Ace of Spades readers enter the private world of Niveus Academy where everything is expensive and perfect, until it isn’t. This YA thriller follows two characters, Chiamaka and Devon, who could not be more different; however, they are both struggling with the same issue. They both are being harassed by a mysterious person known only as Aces. Chiamaka and Devon are worried about what this person could reveal for different reasons, but they decide to team up to figure out who is behind all of the text messages.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing, well told thriller that will keep the reader hooked from the beginning to the end. The set up for the reveals throughout the book are so well crafted, and the ending just leaves the reader wanting more. Highly recommended for any YA reader, or any thriller fan!

Thriller/Mystery          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – King & Kayla and the Case of the Gold Ring

Butler, Dori Hillestad. King & Kayla and the Case of the Gold Ring. Peachtree, 2021. 978-1-68263-208-6. 47 p. $6.99. Grades K-2. 

The King & Kayla mystery/detective series for young readers is back with another enjoyable installment. As the story opens, narrator King (a dog) and Kayla (his human) are playing outside in the snow when they are joined by some friends. Kayla’s friend Asia shows the group the special ring she is wearing that used to belong to her grandmother. After they finish playing, the group goes inside Kayla’s house, where they dry off, eat a snack, and settle down to watch some television. Suddenly Asia realizes her ring is missing! Working together the youngsters (and King) embark on a search for the ring. In order to solve the mystery, they must employ skills including teamwork, gathering facts, and analyzing clues. The text is accompanied by numerous pencil and digital illustrations by Nancy Myers.

THOUGHTS: This delightful early chapter book will hold great appeal for readers. It serves as an excellent gateway to mystery/detective stories and could also be used in lessons about problem solving. The book also incorporates humor through the character of King, who can be somewhat excitable and is always ready to enjoy a snack. Recommended.

Early Chapter Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – Ali Cross Like Father, Like Son

Patterson, James. Ali Cross Like Father, Like Son. Little, Brown, 2021. 978-0-316-50013-5. 294 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Ali Cross, son of Patterson’s famous literary detective, Alex Cross, is back in the second book of the series. Ali loves his father’s work, and when his friends are in trouble, he jumps into the situation, determined to use his own talents to solve the problem. Ali and his best friends are at a local D.C. music festival, waiting to see their friend Zoe’s mom perform, when gunshots ring out. Ali races to see if Zoe is OK. He eventually finds her in the backstage maze of semi trucks, RVs and trailers, only to realize she has been shot. Ali rallies his investigative team to discover what happened, but they run into a roadblock in Zoe, who seems determined to keep Ali from finding out the truth. Ali Cross is a delightful upper middle grade and middle school series. Ali is one of the most realistic characters in tween detective fiction. He lies to his Nana Mama and gets in trouble (then lies again). He feels guilty, he makes mistakes, and he loves his family. The plot embraces current issues such as homelessness, police violence, and the proliferation of black shooting victims, balanced with Ali’s personal experience with police work. Ali and Zoe are Black, and other friends are diverse.

THOUGHTS: A well-crafted story from a master storyteller. Patterson is the king of pacing, and the story will keep even reluctant readers engaged. Topical issues add some depth to the book. Mystery fans should enjoy the series, which will lead them to Alex Cross books when they’re older.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Long Distance

Gardner, Whitney. Long Distance. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-45566-5. 315 p. $21.99. Grades 5-8.

Author and illustrator Whitney Gardner’s latest, Long Distance, is a charming middle grade graphic novel with something for almost every reader to love. When 10-year old Vega’s family relocates from Portland to Seattle, she has to leave her best (and only) friend Halley behind. To help her make new friends, Vega’s dads send her to a remote camp in the Washington woods called Very Best Friend. Vega is skeptical; she has Halley, after all, although her bestie hasn’t returned her last few texts. And the camp itself is unusual, with nonstop overcast skies, zero cell reception, and awkward counselors. Vega and her fellow campers discover surveillance gear hidden inside a pinecone, fake rocks scattered in the forest, and other clues that something is amiss. Vega, twins Gemma and Isaac, and chatty Qwerty join forces to gather more information in some of the book’s most entertaining sequences. Whitney Gardner’s illustrations are digitally rendered, with camp scenes depicting the natural world in earthy tones of green, rust, and slate blue. Bright, otherworldly colors cue the graphic novel’s big reveals.

THOUGHTS: This fish-out-of-water story blossoms into a science fiction-infused mystery, all while delivering some heartfelt lessons about how to make (and be) a real friend, no matter the distance.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – The Hawthorne Legacy

Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Hawthorne Legacy (The Inheritance Games Book 2). Hachette, 2021. 978-0-759-55763-5. $17.99. 368 p. Grades 7 and up.

“A Very Risky Gamble,” that’s what Avery Kylie Grambs is to Tobias Hawthorne, the famous billionaire that left his entire fortune and estate to her upon his death, instead of to his children and grandsons. Avery and the Hawthornes are still trying to figure out the game Tobias is playing with them and the events that connect each of them, and a history of tragedy, together. With Avery’s realization that Toby Hawthorne, Tobias’s long-lost son, is still alive and possibly the secret her mother never got to share with her before her death, she, Jameson, Grayson, and Alexander set out to find Toby and figure out the mystery that connects them all together. But, what happens when Toby doesn’t want to be found, and the others want answers? As the four dig deeper into Hawthorne history and legend, they must accept the faults of one another, a family history of secrets and lies, and overcome threats to their lives. In the end, though, are answers worth all that must be revealed in the search?

THOUGHTS: Once again, Jennifer Lynn Barnes does not disappoint. Her writing style and storytelling keeps readers on the edge of their seats for all 368 pages (and more as they look forward to the next installment). Her character development connects the reader with Avery and each member of the Hawthorne family, so as to pull the reader into the story to solve the mystery right alongside Avery, Grayson, Jameson, and Alexander. This is a must-have for all middle school and high school collections.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Picking right up where The Inheritance Games leaves off, Barnes takes readers on another puzzle-filled, mystery/adventure. Avery, Jameson, Grayson, and Alexander aren’t satisfied without having all of the answers – or as much information as they can extract from Tobias Hawthorne’s clues. Though threats still are very real, Avery and the Hawthorne brothers persist, uncovering long buried secrets that send them in new directions. Finding possible connections to her past, Avery thinks she’s finally cracking the case, only to be left with someone who doesn’t want to be found. Digging deeper into the past with some who want to leave it in the past, Avery, find some uncomfortable truths about their family histories. Sometimes past mistakes are best left in the past, but is finding out the truth worth all of the pain that comes with it?

THOUGHTS: Fans of Barnes’ other novels will devour this addition and anticipate the next installment (The Final Gambit, 2022). While reading book one first makes for a more clear understanding of the events in the second book, it could be read by itself (I’d recommend enjoying both). Highly recommended for secondary collections.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Beatrice Bly’s Rules for Spies

Fliess, Sue. Beatrice Bly’s Rules for Spies. Pixel Ink, 2021. 978-1-645-95028-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Beatrice is a spy, but not any spy, a SUPER spy! She is ready to put her skills to the test when the class pet Edgar the hamster goes missing. She uses all of her spy skills to track down Edgar. Beatrice ends up tracking Edgar to the teacher’s lounge, where the teachers are getting ready to have a luncheon! She is very pleased that her skills have led her to be able to solve this mystery. The illustrations are done in a way that lends to the plot with the great uses of shadows.

THOUGHTS: This is a cute picture book with a fun plot! This book is also a great way to introduce the mystery genre to readers who might be ready to take that step from picture books into early reader books, or even chapter books.

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – That Weekend

Thomas, Kara. That Weekend. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-1-524-71836-7. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Claire’s – who had been unconscious – senses suddenly start becoming alert when a hiker and her dog approach on Bobcat Mountain. Claire doesn’t know if she’s alone, and she has a splitting headache. The woman and her dog leave to get help, and Claire begins to piece together what little she does remember: it’s prom weekend, but she didn’t go; she lied to her parents about being on Fire Island; and she’s hurt. Arriving at Sunfish Creek Hospital in the Catskill Mountains, Claire realizes she wouldn’t have hiked without friends Kat and Jesse, since Kat’s grandmother has a lake house nearby. After glimpsing herself in the ER bathroom mirror, Claire wonders, “Who are you?” and “What happened to you?” Then readers are taken back three days before Clair’s trip to Sunfish Creek. Told in alternating time, readers travel back and forth as Claire tries to puzzle out what happened to her and to her friends up on Bobcat Mountain.

THOUGHTS: When readers think they have another puzzle piece, the timeline switches, and this fast-paced mystery goes in another direction. Mental health, drug/alcohol abuse, and domestic violence make this thriller best suited for high school collections.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Ivies

Donne, Alexa. The Ivies. Crown, 2021. 978-0-593-30370-2. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Olivia and her four best friends rule Claflin Academy and loving refer the themselves as The Ivies. Together they work to edge out their classmates for every opportunity to improve their chances at one of the coveted Ivy League spaces. Olivia, a scholarship student, is Penn, even though she had her heart set on Harvard and The Harvard Crimson. She’s accepted her role as Penn for friendship, though, since Avery, a triple legacy student has her sights set on Harvard. Each friend represents a different Ivy: Emma, Brown; Sierra, Yale; Margot, Princeton. By cataloging their classmates, The Ivies know exactly whom to target to make sure they each have ideal class ranks, club leadership positions, summer internships, academic competitions, and athletic/musical auditions. Teamwork only works when everyone plays by the same rules, and as Olivia discovers she doesn’t know everything – or everyone – she thought she did. Beginning with ED (early decision) day, this thriller will leave readers wondering who the Ivies crossed one too many times, and who’s next?

THOUGHTS: Readers will want to unravel the mystery behind The Ivies and all that they’ve done. They’ll root for Olivia even when her role in The Ivies doesn’t paint her in the best light. Recommended for high school collections where fast-paced mysteries/thrillers are in demand.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Box in the Woods

Johnson, Maureen. The Box in the Woods. Katherine Tegen Books, 2021. 978-0-063-03260-6. 383 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

In July of 1978, Sabrina Abbott was breaking the rules, something this too good girl had never done. She and her friends paid dearly. Student sleuth Stevie Bell, known for solving the unsolvable Ellingham Academy case is home for the summer, working the second shift at the deli counter of her town’s local grocery store in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Desperate for her next case – or something more interesting than thinly sliced meat and cheese – Stevie receives an email referencing Camp Wonder Falls, and Stevie being Stevie knows this is the Camp Wonder Falls with the box in the woods murders. The email’s sender, Carson Buchwald, knows of Stevie’s talent for crime solving, and he wants to give Stevie full access to the camp, now known as Camp Sunny Pines, in exchange for her help in creating a true-crime podcast/documentary. Stevie and her friends will be counselors at camp, but Stevie really will focus on the case. Of course, her parents never will let her go for a decades old murder investigation, so Stevie has to get creative. Once at camp, Stevie enjoys time with her friends and barely tolerates the outdoors, but having real life family members of victims is harder than Stevie thought. Then an eerie message appears on Stevie’s bedroom wall – much like the one at Ellingham – and Stevie realizes not everyone is happy with Carson’s plan to  drudge up buried memories. Someone definitely doesn’t want the truth to surface, but that’s never stopped Stevie before.

THOUGHTS: Fast-paced and twisty, this thriller/mystery works best if you have the context of the series, but it can be read as a stand alone. A must purchase for high schools where mysteries are in demand.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Stevie Bell is back. With the Ellingham mystery solved and summer in full swing, Stevie’s life has returned to “normal” until she receives an email from Carson Buchwald, owner of Camp Sunny Pines in Massachusetts. Previously Camp Wonder Falls, where four gruesome murders happened in July 1978, Carson wants Stevie’s help to solve the “Box in the Woods” murders for his podcast. Stevie is intrigued by the request and accepts a position at the camp, along with Nate and Janelle, so that she can investigate the murders further. As Stevie learns more about the murders, she realizes that the town, and those who were there in 1978, are not sharing the whole truth. While she delves into the details and ultimately figures everything out, Stevie must also deal with David and her relationship, whatever it may be, with him.

THOUGHTS: Told through alternating chapters of present day with Stevie and flashbacks to July 1978, Maureen Johnson adds another delightful mystery to her repertoire. The only downside to this stand-alone is that I wish it weren’t a stand-alone. Stevie Bell is a fantastic character who is the perfect 21st Century detective. Readers want (and need) more of Stevie, Nate, Janelle, and David.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Fans of Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious series will be delighted with this new stand-alone mystery featuring the cast of characters from Truly Devious. It’s summer break and real crime buff Stevie, fresh off solving the notorious Truly, Devious murders at her school, Ellingham Academy, is at loose ends at home. Then comes an offer too good to refuse. Wealthy, eccentric, entrepreneur Carson Buchwald purchased a summer camp that was the location of the notorious Box in the Wood murders over 40 years ago, and he offers Stevie and her friends summer jobs at the camp, with the expectation that Stevie will identify the killer of the four teen camp counselors. (So he can make a podcast on the murders.) Stevie, Nate, and Janelle head to camp, bringing their unique skill sets to help Stevie uncover what happened in the summer of 1978. A sprawling cast of characters past and present offers red herrings galore. But Johnson plays fair with the reader, offering enough clues for an astute reader to determine who-done-it, but the how and the why are largely revealed in the big, Agatha Christie inspired denouement. It is a gloriously fun book, which can be read as a stand-alone, but readers of the Truly Devious series will be delighted to reconnect with familiar characters, and hope for more books. While most characters are white, Janelle is black and queer. Stevie’s struggle with anxiety is well portrayed.

THOUGHTS: A sophisticated mystery with a dynamic, enjoyable cast of characters, this book has it all: action, danger, suspense, clues, red herring and good, loyal friends. Readers of The Box in the Woods who haven’t read Truly Devious will definitely seek the series out.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – 14 Ways to Die

Ralph, Vincent. 14 Ways to Die. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-728-23186-0. 378 p. $10.99. Grades 9-12.

Jessica was seven years old when her mother was murdered by a serial killer known as the Magpie Man. A cloud of grief settles over Jessica and her father in the wake of her death, especially as leads on the serial killer turn cold and the case goes unsolved. But ten years and thirteen more victims later, Jessica has had enough: she wants justice for her mother and the other victims of the Magpie Man. Jessica auditions for a YouTube reality show called The Eye which would allow viewers to watch her every waking minute. A spot on the show would mean Jessica can use the platform to bring attention back to the Magpie Man and, hopefully, find someone who knows something about this uncatchable killer. When Jessica is chosen for The Eye, she begins her campaign right away and bravely puts herself out on the web for the whole world to watch – including the killer. After Jessica starts receiving threats from the killer himself, she realizes the danger this puts her in – and just how close the killer actually is. But until she gets justice for her mother’s senseless death, she isn’t going to stop, no matter how frightening her reality becomes.

THOUGHTS: Vincent Ralph’s book is a gripping thriller that leaves the reader wanting to turn the page and find out what happens next. His chapters are written in short bursts, perfect for keeping readers on edge. This is a fantastic addition to high school libraries, especially for students who are fans of murder mystery books like One of Us is Lying and They Wish They Were Us.

Mystery/Thriller          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD