Elem./MG – Exit 13: The Whispering Pines

Preller, James. Exit 13: The Whispering Pines. Scholastic, 2023. 978-1-338-81044-8. 187 p. $7.99. Grades 3-6.

Lost in the gloom, the McGinn family reluctantly checks into the Exit 13 Motel for the night. Somehow, the young man at the desk, Kristoff, seems to be expecting them… and their rooms are already prepared. Intending only to stay for one night, the family’s stay is extended after Mr. McGinn injures himself and is unable to drive. Since their arrival, the youngest McGinn, Ash, has felt there was something wrong with the motel and is drawn to the woods behind the motel and the wolf-like creature that seems to live in them. As the story develops, the McGinn family seems unable to find a means to leave the hotel area. To escape, Ash and his sister, Willow, along with their newfound friend, Justice, must solve its mystery and that of the woods beyond. Ending on a cliffhanger, this book is part of a series designed to encourage further reading.

THOUGHTS: Lately, my younger students have been requesting “scary books,” and I’ve had a limited selection to offer them. The Whispering Pines presents a balanced scare factor that will appeal to the younger set (without terrifying them) and entice my older readers looking for a quick read. The chapters are short and several graphic novel sequences move the story along, presenting a format that is appealing to fans of graphics but also supporting reluctant readers. Recommended for those seeking to add to their “scary” collections for younger readers or those looking for books with built-in supports for striving readers.


Elem./MG – Misfit Mansion

Davault, Kay. Misfit Mansion. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-665-90308-0. unpaged. $22.99. Grades 3-6.

Iris has lived in the Misfit Mansion for a long time. She doesn’t remember much about her own origin as a horror—just that she simply existed one day. Other horrors live in the mansion, too. They are kept safe from humans by a magic seal placed on the door. When their human protector, Mr. Halloway, has to leave on business for a few days, havoc reigns after someone breaks the door’s sealing spell. Iris and other horrors take the opportunity to explore the nearby town, Dead End Springs. Conveniently, the town is hosting their annual Harvest Festival, and the horrors have the perfect costume disguise: going as themselves. Things seem to go well at first, but someone is out to ruin the horrors’ fun.

THOUGHTS: Misfit Mansion is a not-too-scary supernatural graphic novel to pick up just in time for autumn festivities and Halloween. The themes of inclusion, diversity, and friendship are also explored here and add depth to this story. The art is colorful, imaginative, and friendly.

Graphic Novel

MG – The International House of Dereliction

Davies, Jacqueline. The International House of Dereliction. Clarion, 2023.  978-0-063-25807-5. 230 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Alice and her parents, Professor Cannoli (her mother) and George Potchnik (her father) are facing their eleventh move in Alice’s ten years. Housing is part of Professor Cannoli’s compensation at the college she works for, but the problem is that George and Alice are quite good at fixing things. They fix each house the family moves into so well that the college sells the house for a big profit, then moves them into a new wreck. Professor Cannoli, arguing that Alice is of an age in which being rooted in one home is critical, devises a plan to get the college to let them stay in their new house forever. Rather than fix up their new home, the Cannoli-Potchnick family must accept their new home’s shortcomings without fixing a thing until the college grants it to them as permanent housing. Once moved in, Alice, who is unschooled, feels drawn to the condemned mansion next door, and quickly gets the “Potchnik itch” to begin repairs. As she secretly fixes the house, she discovers that it seems to be alive… and protective of the ghosts who occupy it. The ghosts on their end, believe that Alice has received the “blessing of the house” because SHE can actually see and hear them. As Alice works on her restoration, she gains the trust of The House and unravels clues about the ghosts’ past that will help them move on from the home to become “Settled.” All of this happens as demolition day approaches for the old mansion.

THOUGHTS: This is an absolute gem of a book, with many different layers for middle grade readers to enjoy. Jacqueline Davis successfully creates a unique world of ghosts in which they are classified as Past Dues, Settled Ones, Wanderers, or Captives, depending on their circumstances.  Each ghost appears to Alice in a variety of different forms and with different characteristics (twinkling shards of glass, raindrops, angry squiggles, etc.) that reflect their mood and past. Alice, her parents, and the professors at the college are quirky with unique personalities developed to the author’s descriptions, vocabulary, and writing style for each. This is not a ghost story to scare or thrill, but one to engross middle grade readers in a world of family, the passage of time, character, and storytelling. Highly recommended for all libraries looking for a great story or to expand their readers’ perception of “ghosts.” 

Fantasy (Supernatural)

MG – The Girl in White

Currie, Lindsay. The Girl in White. Sourcebooks, 2022. 978-1-728-23654-4. 302 p. $16.99. Grades 4-9.

Mallory’s family moves to Eastport, Massachusetts from Chicago to run a haunted restaurant. The town is known for its many graveyards and ghost stories…particularly the story of “Sweet Molly.” The town and its tourists are obsessed with the story of Molly who disappeared after her twin brother, Liam, drowns during a storm. To this day, they claim that Molly returns to haunt the town. However, Mallory is skeptical about the whole ghost story, until she becomes plagued by nightmares, finds herself sleepwalking, and experiences visions of a creepy old lady. The timing of these unsettling encounters occur when the town is preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the legend of Sweet Molly. Can Mallory and her friends solve the mystery of this iconic legend?  

THOUGHTS: The setting of this ghost story is perfect – lighthouses, graveyards, the wild ocean, and quaint seaside town. The ghost story was suspenseful without being too scary.    

Fantasy          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Tags:  Ghosts, Massachusetts, Seaside Legends Friendship, Family

YA – The Ghosts of Rose Hill

Romaro, R.M. The Ghosts of Rose Hill. Peachtree Teen, 2022. 978-1-682-63338-0. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 9-12.

“Maybe sixteen is a curse, a time when everyone is stuck between being a child and being something else.” Ilana is 16, and more than anything else, she wants to be a musician. Her parents, both refugees, want Ilana to pick a different career path, one that offers her more stability in her future. When she travels from her hometown of Miami to Prague to spend the summer with her aunt, she discovers an overgrown Jewish cemetery. As a member of the Jewish faith, she feels the need to uncover the forgotten headstones, and while she spends time clearing the cemetery, she meets a ghost named Benjamin and a mysterious man named Rudolph Wasserman. As she befriends Benjamin, Wasserman encourages her to play her music and follow her heart. As Ilana discovers the truth about Benjamin and his connection to the city, Wasserman offers her a place within his house where she can play music and live forever. Although the offer sounds like a dream, Benjamin reveals it’s really a nightmare, and Ilana must find a way to save him and the other children bound to Wasserman and his magic, even if it means risking everything.

THOUGHTS: The Ghosts of Rose Hill is written in prose and incorporates both Jewish and Prague history into this unique ghost story. In many ways, this story reminded me of Coraline. Rudolph Wasserman lures children into his home with promises of a perfect life away from their families before stealing and hiding their souls.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – This Wicked Fate

Bayron, Kaylnn. This Wicked Fate. Bloomsbury, 2022. 978-1-5476-0920-8. 307 pg. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

This Wicked Fate starts right where the first book (This Poison Heart) ends, with Briseis trying to find a way to rescue her mother. However, that means that Briseis needs to put together the pieces of the Absyrtus Heart plant, which is deadly. Throughout this book, Briseis gets to know her relatives that she has never really met while there are others who want the heart. What will Briseis do in order to save her mother, as well as those she loves? Will she be able to rescue her mother, or is this a mission that is doomed to fail no matter what?

THOUGHTS: This was a great ending to this duology!! The way the author delves into the family dynamic as well as the interpersonal relationships between these characters is done spectacularly. The character arcs are very well done, and everything feels very natural. This duology would be great for fans of mythology or fans of a fantasy series. 

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy 

YA – Rise of the Snake Goddess

Elder Moke, Jenny. Rise of the Snake Goddess (Samantha Knox #2). Disney-Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-06727-0. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 7 & up.

Desperate to be a part of the prestigious archaeology program at the University of Chicago, Sam Knox embarks on an impulsive trip to the island of Crete. The clues she deciphers lead her to the legendary girdle of the Snake Goddess. Triumphant with her find, Sam plans to use this find as proof she deserves to be admitted to what has always been a “boys club.” However, before she can show her misogynist professor her find, the girdle is stolen and a series of catastrophic earthquakes suddenly begin to hit the island. Sam and friends Joana and Bennet Steeling must find the thief and return the girdle to its rightful place before the magic of the Snake Goddess is fully released upon the island and the world. As the chase brings them deeper into Cretian and Minoan mythology, deadly encounters with legendary creatures abound, including the infamous Minotaur.

THOUGHTS: This is a fantastic follow up to the first Samantha Knox title, Curse of the Specter Queen. Readers will enjoy the friendships, light romance, and adventures that mark popular YA fiction. A quickly-paced novel paying homage to Indiana Jones and The Mummy movie series, Snake Goddess takes readers through the legends of Knossos and Crete while infusing the story with a touch of magic. Knox herself is tempted by the magic of the Snake Goddess, but the story takes readers on an adventure through archaeological digs, swanky boat parties, and the legendary labyrinth.

Adventure          Natasha Lewis, Whitehall-Coplay SD
Historical Fiction

YA – Wild is the Witch

Griffin, Rachel. Wild is the Witch. Sourcebooks Fire, 2022. 978-1-728-22945-4. 320 p. $18.99. Grades & up.

Iris Gray knows witches aren’t welcome in most towns after being involved in a severe magical explosion and being forced to leave her last town. While the Witches’ Council was lenient in their punishment, Iris knows they’re keeping tabs on her. Now settled in Washington, Iris never lets anyone see who she really is; instead, she vents her frustrations by writing curses she never intends to cast. Then, she meets Pike Alder, the witch-hating aspiring ornithologist who interns with her at a wildlife refuge. She creates the perfect curse for Pike – to turn him into a witch. Just as she is about to disperse it, an owl swoops in and steals the curse. If the bird dies, the curse is unleashed, and with the bird being a powerful amplifier, the entire region is in danger of being turned into witches. With the possibility of her magic being stripped from her if her secret is found out, Iris begs Pike to help her track the bird through the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, Iris learns much about Pike and about herself that has her rethinking her coping mechanisms and Pike himself. Griffin’s language is lyrical and cozy, perfectly matching the setting of the Pacific Northwest forests in which Pike and Iris hike to find the bird and save everything.

THOUGHTS: Readers of paranormal fiction with an interest in hedgewitch/nature-focused practice will enjoy this thoughtful take on magic. The dynamic of Iris’ family is refreshing as they recover from events prior to the book. Of course as the tense situation with the owl builds, so does the journey toward truths that Pike and Iris keep from one another. A solid standalone YA paranormal romance pick for 8th grade and up.

Fantasy          Natasha Lewis, Whitehall-Coplay SD

MG – Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting

Brown, Roseanne A. Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting. Disney Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-06636-5.  400pg. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Serwa knows that fireflies aren’t just harmless bugs; in her world they are vicious vampires known as adza that come from southeastern Ghana. Serwa and her family are slayers, and they are responsible for protecting the public from these creatures. When her parents get called on a special mission, Serwa knows this is her chance to shine but her parents have other plans and leave her with an aunt and cousin to keep her safe. Serwa now has to navigate the most difficult thing she’s ever had to deal with before… middle school! As things are settling down and Serwa is finding her footing, an adza attacks her school and it is up to her to figure out what is going on and protect the school and community. 

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing addition to the Rick Riordan presents books! This book is highly engaging, fast paced, and has wonderful character development throughout the pages. The ending will leave the reader wanting the next book in the series right away. This book is highly recommended for middle school collections. 

Fantasy             Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – The Supernatural Society

Ogle, Rex. The Supernatural Society. Inkyard Press, 2022. 978-1-335-42487-7. 281 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Will moves with his mom and his dog, Fitz, from New York City to a new school in East Emerson because his parents have recently divorced, and he is not pleased. Will deals with quite a bit of culture shock as he acclimates to small-town life and realizes that East Emerson isn’t just a sleepy, boring town; his new home is also overrun with monsters! Eventually, though, he befriends Linus and Ivy, two siblings from his neighborhood who help him deal with the monsters and make him feel as though he has found a “tribe” among all the upheaval and heartbreak in his life.

THOUGHTS: Good for students who want more scary stories, those who are fans of Stranger Things and groups of smart, multicultural kids finding monsters and solving mysteries. Linus is unapologetically smart, Ivy is strong, and Will is the glue that holds the band together. Students will be waiting with excitement for future books as well! This story will also serve as an unusual but interesting way to lead students to Free Lunch, Rex Ogle’s gritty and fascinating memoir.

Mystery Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD
Supernatural Fiction