YA FIC – Spill Zone; Skinful of Shadows; Race to the Bottom of the Sea; Starfish

Westerfeld, Scott. Spill Zone. First Second, 2017. 978-1-59643-936-8. 224 p. $22.99. Gr. 9-12.

Addison and her sister Lexa live in the seemingly abandoned town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Lexa hasn’t spoken since her parents disappeared three years earlier, when a strange “spill” occurred and changed the town forever. Not many venture into the spill zone, where nightmarish creatures and cruel manifestations lurk around every corner. But in order to support herself and her sister, Addie illegally ventures into the zone to capture pictures of the otherworldly terrors inside, selling them to curious outside collectors for top dollar. While in the zone, Addie has rules for herself that she refuses to break in order to stay alive – that is, until a collector offers her an incredible sum of money for extremely dangerous photographs. So Addie decides to take the risk, putting her life in danger, but to also hopefully to learn more about the spill – which might not be the only one in the world. A haunting, peculiar story from YA staple Westefeld, with surreal artwork from Alex Puvilland. THOUGHTS: A good addition to any graphic novel collection where post-apocalyptic tales are still popular.

Graphic Novel      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Hardinge, Frances. A Skinful of Shadows. New York: Amulet Books, 2017. 978-1-4197-2572-2. 415 p. $19.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Frances Hardinge writes odd, dark, twisty, and cleverly complicated novels, and her most recent offering, A Skinful of Shadows, is no different. This is the story of Makepeace, a girl raised in a strict Puritan community, who has the ability to house spirits inside of her head. Most of her life, Makepeace fought against these spirits and spent her formative years learning defensive tactics to keep them out. However, after a devastating accident leaves Makepeace orphaned, she unwittingly allows the spirit of a once-captive bear to take up residence in her head. Bear, as she calls him, becomes a fierce ally, and he and Makepeace form an unshakeable bond. Sent to live with her mysterious and aristocratic relatives, the Fellmottes, Makepeace learns some disturbing secrets about this side of her family, so when it becomes clear that her life is in danger, Makepeace flees. The novel is set in England during the reign of King Charles I, amidst great political turmoil and upheaval; the civil war between the Royalists and Parliamentarians plays a large role in the plot, with Makepeace both spying for, and subjugating herself to, both sides. While on the run, Makepeace acquires other spirits; watching the interplay between all of the personalities, including Bear, is what makes this story great and drives the action. Makepeace, who has no cause to trust anyone other than herself and Bear, must learn to come to terms with her abilities, and learn to put herself – literally – into the hands of others.  At the same time, she transforms from a girl with no agency into a fully-fledged, autonomous young woman, who is not afraid to get what she wants.

Historical Fantasy     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Eager, Lindsay. Race to the Bottom of the Sea. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2017. 978-0-7636-7923-1. 432 p. $17.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Life is a series of oceanic adventures for Fidelia Quail, daughter of two prominent scientists (a marine biologist and a zoologist) in Lindsay Eager’s Race to the Bottom of the Sea. On track to be as brilliant as her parents, and already with several substantial and successful inventions under her belt (including a two-person submersible), Fidelia’s future looks very bright indeed. When disaster strikes, and Dr. and Dr. Quail are tragically lost during a storm, Fidelia is consumed by grief and guilt and is unsure how to move on. Her mourning is rudely interrupted by Merrick the Monstrous, the most fearsome pirate alive, who kidnaps Fidelia with the intent of using her to find his treasure. Merrick, however, has some secrets of his own, and is, perhaps, not as monstrous as everyone things. THOUGHTS:  This book is at once a fast-paced adventure novel of the high seas, while at the same time it’s also a philosophical look at life, death, and sacrifice. The latter at times feels too heavy for middle-grade readers; this, combined with Merrick’s backstory all about his doomed romance (the reader knows who his love interest is, but Fidelia does not), makes this novel less accessible than it should be.  However, Fidelia is such a feisty, whip-smart heroine, who uses both common sense and her scientific mind to think her way out of trouble, and she will definitely resonate with readers of all levels. Her relationship with Merrick, and her growing empathy towards him, is palpable, and serves to move the plot forward. Hand this to readers who enjoy quirky, outside-the-box tales.

Fantasy      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Bowman, Akemi Dawn.  Starfish.  Simon Pulse, 2017.  978-1-4814-8772-6. 343 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

All her life, Kiko Himura has felt like an outsider.  She suffers from anxiety and wants nothing more than acceptance from her mother, who belittles Kiko’s Japanese descent (which came from her father) as well as her dreams of attending Prism Art School in New York City.  When Kiko receives a rejection letter from Prism, she is devastated.  She cannot stand to live in her house any longer with her emotionally abusive mother and her sexually abusive uncle.  She cannot move in with her father, for he is too preoccupied with his second wife and their newborn twin daughters.  Therefore, when a childhood friend invites her to head to California with him and look at art schools out west, she decide to take advantage of the opportunity.  Once there, Kiko begins to flourish.  Under the mentorship of artist Hiroshi Matsumoto, who befriends her at an art show, Kiko begins to find herself through art, and she finally gains the courage and conviction that had been missing all her life.  A moving story that will speak volumes to any reader who has ever experienced anxiety or self-doubt.  THOUGHTS: Though slow-moving at first, the pace of this novel picks up about halfway through, and readers will find themselves desperately rooting for the realistic and relatable Kiko and hoping that she soon finds her voice.  Besides drawing relatable characters, the author has also interweaved a love story and complicated family dynamics into the novel, creating a narrative that will speak to a variety of readers for different reasons.  A 2018 William C. Morris Award finalist, this novel will have readers anxiously awaiting Bowman’s next release, set to debut in September of 2018.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

A Few More 2016 Titles…The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart; The Fairy Tale Matchmaker; Lost in Ghostville

DeStefano, Lauren. The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart. Bloomsbury, 2016.  978-1-61963-643-9. $16.99. 208pp. Gr. 4-7.

Marybeth is well respected at the orphanage. She befriends Lionel, a boy misunderstood by others. After winding up at a barn unexpectedly for a night, she tells Lionel that she followed the blue spirit and since then things have been very wierd. Mrs. Mannerd is very worried about Marybeth’s recent behavior. Doctors worry that Marybeth is hurting other students, and this upsets Mrs. Mannerd as she would have loved to have a child like Marybeth before these episodes.  The special doctor visit leads Marybeth to be admitted into a hospital where it will be month before visitors are permitted. How can Lionel save his dear friend?  THOUGHTS: This is a powerful novel filled with heart.  The message that bravery is inside resonates throughout the adventures.  Late in the book readers learn that Lionel’s father killed his mother and that is why he wants to be a fierce animal. The spirit shows that Liza was killed and father suggested mother not know  and the guilt rid the older brother.

Fantasy    Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District



Baker, E.D. The Fairy Tale Matchmaker: The Truest Heart. Bloomsbury, 2016. 978-1-61963-849-5. $16.99. 272pp. Gr. 4-7

Cory needs to participate in the Ogre party that includes a kick boulder game, food-eating contest, flatulence contest, and a three-legged race. This is a diversion for the harassment and sabotage that Cory has received since leaving the Tooth Fairy Guild. While Cory is a cupid, this is kept a secret. Her skills make it hard for her to believe that her mother, Delphinium, who disowned her, should pair with FLEA Officer Deads. Cory seeks advice from her grandfather, also a cupid. Will Cory be able to calm the guilds, help her estranged mother, and embrace her Cupid skills?  THOUGHTS:  E.D. Baker writes whimsical novels and has also influenced Walt Disney’s The Frog Princess. The series should be read in order to build on the continuity of the series.

Fantasy    Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District


Bladek, John. Lost in Ghostville. Stone Arch, 2016. 978-1-4965-3360-9. 205pp. $25.32. Gr. 4-8.

Sixth grader Trey embraces adventure and finding ghosts. He basks in the new excitement that celebrity Rex Rangler adds to their low key town.  Trey even brings his ecto-meter to the girl’s bathroom at school, but this leads to trouble. As a result, Trey’s mother drives him and Vicki to Dino-Barn, but it does not feel right. The old theater owner, Mr. Greensock, is there. Vicki remembers that he died last year.  Through his adventure he is shocked to become friends with Vicki, and she wonders if she can find the ghost of her father who died at war. Trey has his ecto-meter and hopes to find his grandma and free Vicki. He has a showdown with Rex to confront his “ghostnapping.”  This book also includes a glossary.  THOUGHTS:  With well developed characters and adventure, this book is more than a ghost story to cause fear.

Fantasy/Paranormal    Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

YA Paranormal – Useless Bay; Holding Smoke; Best Friend’s Exorcism


Beaufrand, M. J. Useless Bay. New York: Amulet Books, 2016. 978-1-4197-2138-0. 229pp. $17.95. Grades 7 and up.

The Gray quintuplets are a remarkable force on the isolated and windswept island they call home.  Pixie Gray and her four brothers are “born of the island itself”; strong and tall, independent and mischievous, and fiercely united .  The Grays and Pixie’s bloodhound, Patience, are the ones the residents of the island turn to in times of trouble; they serve as the official search team for any accidents or missing persons. When Grant Shepard, the 10-year-old son of a millionaire vacation home owner, disappears on a stormy night the Grays are called in for the search, but they are also under suspicion since they may have been the last people to see him.  The story is told through alternating perspectives of Pixie and Grant’s older brother, Henry. The  novel pieces together the events leading to Grant’s disappearance and provides insight into the family dramas in the Gray and Shepard clans.  The Gray search party finds the body of Grant’s mother, and strange and unsettling coincidences begin to pile up.  The realization that a killer is on the loose, and Grant is still missing sets everyone on edge, and the Grays and Henry struggle to find answers before it’s too late.  Paranormal elements mix with gothic intrigue; Whidbey Island is almost a character itself.  Pixie has an unusual connection with her home; she hears voices and has visions from her dreams and the sea which offer warning and clues as the evening’s events unfold   Confusing and complicated at times, but ultimately a satisfying read. THOUGHTS: An atmospheric, brooding mystery with a paranormal twist and a hint of romance.

Paranormal Mystery          Nancy Summers, Abington SHS



Cosimano, Elle.  Holding Smoke. Los Angeles: Disney-Hyperion, 2016. 978-1484725979. 336pp. $17.99. Gr 7 and up.

Weeks after nearly being killed by his own father, John “Smoke” Conlan is convicted of murdering his teacher and a student at his high school.  Now he lives on the toughest block in “The Y”, the Denver Detention Center with the most hardened juvenile offenders. But Smoke stands apart; he has a secret, the ability to leave his body and travel outside the walls.  The knowledge he gets on the street is valuable to his cellmates though no one knows how he gets his information. While tracking down info for a friend he happens upon a former classmate, a girl named Pink who has the ability to see his spirit as he walks outside. With her help, he has the chance to clear his name, but someone is trying to stop anyone from finding out the truth. Pink, Smoke, and the warden’s daughter are now in danger as they each try to find out more about the  circumstances of the double murder. John himself is a compelling and believable character, a damaged individual with a past that may be impossible to escape.  Good character development for each of the boys in juvie, both friends and foes of Smoke, with believable interactions and relationships between the kids on the block. THOUGHTS: A solid mystery with paranormal elements in a gritty and realistic setting that would appeal to fans of Lisa McMann’s Wake trilogy. An interesting author’s note at the end reveals the similarities between Cosimano’s experiences as the daugher of a warden and the details in her novel.

Paranormal Mystery       Nancy Summers, Abington SHS



Hendrix, Grady. My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2016. 978-1-59474-862-2. 330 pp. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Grady Hendrix’s 2014 novel, Horrorstör, was packaged to resemble an IKEA catalog. His latest, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, simulates a 1989 Albemarle Academy yearbook, complete with heartfelt inscriptions inside the covers. It’s the story of sophomores and lifelong besties Abby and Gretchen, who take LSD on a whim after a day of boating with pals. Gretchen disappears into the woods, and when she reappears the next morning, something is a little off. She has strange symptoms and outbursts and feels invisible hands touching her incessantly, and that is just the beginning. Though Abby is determined to help her friend, she’s met with resistance at every turn. Help finally arrives during a school assembly when Christian, a member of the Lemon Brothers Faith and Fitness Show, perceives the demon within Gretchen and challenges it to emerge, and an exorcism is born! THOUGHTS: With 1980s song titles setting the tone for each chapter, and a tip of the hat to Stephen King’s Thinner, this is Grady Hendrix at his humorously horrific (and sometimes just horrifying) best!

Horror (Adult Crossover)       Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library

YouTube has a playlist of all 27 chapter titles!  Playlist: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

MS Series Continuation – Lockwood & Co.


Stroud, Jonathan. Lockwood & Co.: The Hollow Boy. New York: Disney Hyperion, 2015. 978-1484709689. 385p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

This is the much anticipated third volume in the Lockwood & Co. ghost thriller series. Lockwood & Co is the psychic investigation agency (ghost-hunting) led by Anthony Lockwood Esq., and assisted by George Cubbins, the round mound of research, and the gifted Lucy Carlyle, who can hear and communicate with the dead, and narrates the story. For the last 20 years London has had an enormous uptick in paranormal activity and giant agencies staffed with adults are assisting the government’s DEPRAC – Department of Psychic Research and Control – in beating back the attacking ghosts and apparitions at night, enforcing a curfew, cordoning off whole sections of the city, and trying to solve what has caused these clusters of disturbances which in some cases cause loss of life. But, only kids can truly hear and see the ghosts and their warning signs, making the teenage team at Lockwood & Co. almost always successful. In this volume, Stroud introduces the uber-efficient assistant Holly Munro, and she shakes up the group dynamics established in the first two books.  THOUGHTS: Haven’t read the first two Lockwood & Co. books in this series? No worries; jump right in! I did and didn’t feel lost at all, just thrilled, as I turned page after page and read this whopping book in two sittings. If Harry, Ron and Hermione were ghost-hunters, Lockwood & Co. would be their agency. Similar to the Harry Potter series, the writing is crisp, witty, and masterful.  The world is fully inhabited with real people and otherworldly beings readers can visualize, and Stroud has created a full universe with its own reality and vocabulary.  There is a ghost glossary at the end to help readers navigate this complex world. Highly recommended for anyone grade 5 and up.

Paranormal Fantasy    Kathie Jackson, Plymouth Meeting Friends School

YA Fantasy – The Walls Around Us; Nimona


Suma, Nova Ren. The Walls Around Us. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2015. 978-1-61620-372-6. 323 p. $16.99.  Gr. 9-12.

The “Bloody Ballerina” Orianna Speerling is fifteen when she is convicted of murdering two rival dancers. A month after her sentence begins, all forty-two girls interned at the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center are dead as a result of an unexplainable mass killing. Ori’s story is gradually revealed through the eyes of Violet, Ori’s best friend, a fellow dancer who knows more about Ori’s crime than she is willing to admit since she does not want to risk her future career as a professional dancer. The second narrator is Amber, an inmate at Aurora Hills, who is serving a long sentence all while keeping secret the fact that she has visions of girls she’s never met. Suma interlaces the three narratives brilliantly.  THOUGHTS: The Walls Around Us is well-written, and Suma expertly tells the story of Ori through the eyes of Amber and Violet. Creepy, ghostly, and macabre with a twist ending, The Walls Around Us will stay with readers after they have finished.

Paranormal Fantasy      Graig Henshaw, Littlestown Senior HS/Maple Avenue MS




Stevenson, Noelle. Nimona. New York, NY: HarperTeen, 2015. 9780062278234. 266 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 Up.

Ballister Blackheart (a former ex-knight and current supervillain) is focused on the destruction of the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics, but he also has a score to settle with former acquaintance, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Blackheart is putting his plans in motion when in steps Nimona (a shapeshifter) who claims to be his new sidekick. Nimona has little concern for human life and following the rules of villainy leaves Blackheart with the task of keeping her under control. The two soon discover that good and evil are not as separate as they thought. Stevenson creates a tremendous world blending medieval times with modern times and science fiction. Nimona is a flawed and interesting protagonist, and the interactions between the characters are interesting. THOUGHTS: Nimona is an excellent example of a graphic novel getting things right. There is fantastic world building along with dynamic characters. Sometimes bad is good and good is bad in Nimona, which adds to its appeal.

Fantasy; Graphic Novel    Graig Henshaw, Littlestown Senior HS/Maple Avenue MS

YA Fantasy, Paranormal, and Sci-Fi: Darkthaw; The Accident Season; Illuminae; Forget Tomorrow


Boorman, Kate A. Darkthaw. New York: Amulet Books, 2015. 978-1-4197-1663-8. 325 p. $17.95. Gr. 7 and up.

In this sequel to Winterkill, Emmeline and a small band of sympathizers leave the compound where they have had little free will in pursuit of freedom in a place she has seen in her dreams and from which her companion, Matista, has come. The two young women are connected by the foreshadowing dreams that involve each other, and now that the promising thaw has come in terms of both the environment and the fall of the Council that governed the settlement, Emmeline sets out. Her journey is fraught with challenges as she navigates the terrain, confused loyalties, the questions of forgiveness and redemption, illness, hostile tribes, and her relationship with Kane, whom she loves and who has told her he will go with her anywhere until his responsibilities are also tested. THOUGHTS: Emmeline is a strong female character upon whom secondary and male characters depend for modeling behavior, dedication and decision-making. Fans of Winterkill and similar fantasy adventure stories led by dominant female characters will enjoy this sequel. Includes mild sex scenes (kissing with “heat”) and graphic violence.

Fantasy     Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy




Fowley-Doyle, Moira.  The Accident Season.  New York: Kathy Dawson Books, 2015.  978-0-525-42948-7. 291 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Every October, Cara and her family suddenly become extremely accident-prone.  Having
no explanation for all of the cuts, bruises, and tragedies during this time, they refer to this month as the accident season and simply prepare for it as best as they can.  This year, however, Cara notices that a strange girl named Elsie appears in every single one of her photos and begins to wonder if there is a connection between this mysterious girl and the accident season.  As she searches for Elsie, family secrets are uncovered, relationships develop, and Cara’s entire world comes crashing down as everything she thought she knew about the accident season is turned upside down.   THOUGHTS: An interesting mix of mystery, suspense, romance, paranormal fiction, and realistic family dynamics make this an intriguing read.  Although the story starts out slow, the plot picks up about halfway through, and plot twists and turns will keep readers hooked from this point on.  Some sensitive subjects, such as teenage drinking and sexual assault, make this book more appropriate for high school audiences.

Paranormal Fiction        Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School




Kaufman, Amie, and Jay Kristoff. Illuminae: The Illuminae Files_01. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 978-0-553-49911-7. 599 pp. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

When an illegal mining operation on the planet of Kerenza is attacked by BeiTech Corporation, escapees flee to nearby spaceships Alexander, Hypatia, and Copernicus. Among these refugees are recent exes Kady and Ezra, who wind up on different ships but manage to re-connect via pirated communication channels. Ezra is quickly conscripted into the military as a fighter pilot, while Kady is tapped for her computer hacking skills. When the battleship Alexander inexplicably bombs a member of its own fleet, killing thousands of people, it seems the ship’s artificial intelligence (AIDAN) has gone rogue. Kady just might have the skills to stop AIDAN, but at a great personal cost. Oh, and BeiTech’s attack included a highly contagious new virus called Phobos that turns its victims into paranoid space zombies. The novel is packaged as an intelligence report in the form of transcripts, data files, and images, compiled by the mysterious Illuminae group. It will be fun to booktalk with fans of zombies, science fiction, graphic novels, and IM-style narratives. THOUGHTS: Don’t be put off by Illuminae‘s hefty 599 pages; the novel reads at near-warp speed and its many deft plot maneuvers will have readers scanning the galaxy for the sequel, Geminae, coming in 2016!

Illuminae would be a great choice for fans of the movies The Martian and Interstellar. Thanks to the fun, unique format it has appeal for reluctant readers and avid readers alike.

Science Fiction    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School




Dunn, Pintip.  Forget Tomorrow.  Entangled Teen, 2015.  978-1-63375-238-2.  336 p. $16.99.  Grades 6 and up.

Callie Stone, like every other young person turning seventeen in Eden City, looks forward to her birthday with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  Each seventeen-year-old receives a vision sent back from the future to their younger self.  This vision is viewed by society as the definitive course that each person’s life will take.  People have visions of themselves as experts in certain fields, as parents of large families, or even as criminals committing terrible offenses.  Callie hopes to receive a vision of herself as an expert chef,  but in her horrifying dream, she has killed her sister, Jessa.  Callie willingly goes to “limbo”, the prison for future offenders, because she must stop herself from doing something so terrible to her beloved sister.  Her childhood sweetheart, Logan, who has ignored her for the past five years, unexpectedly appears to free her from prison.  Logan is involved in the Underground, a resistance group that helps those seeking to escape their pre-ordained futures. Is the future already written?  Can Callie change her fate?  Logan has now given her the chance to find out.  THOUGHTS: Forget Tomorrow is an exciting novel that creates a richly detailed dystopian society.  Like many of the better offerings in the genre, it asks larger questions about the human condition.  This book tackles the issue of free will and a person’s ability to circumvent fate.  Forget Tomorrow is romantic and somewhat violent, but teen and pre-teen fans of dystopian literature will love it.

This novel hasn’t received a lot of buzz, possibly because it is from a  smaller independent publisher, but it is one of the best dystopian novels to come along in a while.  Callie, Logan, and the other characters are interesting and relatable.  The action is exciting and a number of plot twists will keep the reader guessing.  There is a cliffhanger ending that points to future adventures for Callie, Logan, and Jessa.  Forget Tomorrow is a book that readers won’t forget any time soon.

Dystopian         Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School

Beastly Bones; Annie Van Sinderen; A Step Toward Falling


Ritter, William.  Beastly Bones.  Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2015. 978-1-61620-354-2.  304 p. $17.95.  Gr. 7 and up.

In this sequel to 2014’s Jackaby, paranormal detective R.F. Jackaby and his assistant, Abigail Rook are back with a mystery that has its beginnings in a “chameleomorph”, a supernatural creature that takes on the form of what it has last eaten.  One of New Fiddleham’s residents is murdered shortly after her cat is possessed by a chameleomorph.  Fortunately, Jackaby is able to diminish the creature by feeding it insects.  Shortly after this incident, another strange murder takes Jackaby and Abigail to nearby Gad’s Valley and an unusual archeological dig.  It soon becomes apparent that a chameleomorph (living in the body of a fantastic, destructive creature) is to blame for the increasing number of murders.  The bigger question is, who released the paranormal creature and why would he want to draw Jackaby and Abigail away from New Fiddleham?  THOUGHTS: Beastly Bones is just as funny, interesting, and clever as the first book in the series.  There is an added level of social commentary regarding the role of women that gives this story additional depth.  This book is highly recommended for any junior or senior high school library.

This novel is at least as enjoyable as its predecessor, and it may be even more enjoyable in some ways; characters are more deeply developed, and the plot is a bit easier to follow.  Jackaby is still eccentric, but he is a more fully realized eccentric.  Just when the reader thinks he is being inattentive, Jackaby delivers bits of wisdom including the following, “people think that when we arrive at a crossroads, we can choose only one path, but- as I have often and articulately postulated- people are stupid.  We’re not walking the path. We are the path….Of course, you can choose both.”  This is truly an empowering message for Abigail, and all young women who feel that they must choose between love and adventure/career.  Beastly Bones is truly an entertaining and intelligent book.

Mystery; Paranormal          Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School


Ritter, William. Beastly Bones. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Young Readers, 2015. 978-1-61620-354-2. 295 p. $15.99. Gr. 7-12.

After surviving her first investigation with the eccentric detective R.F. Jackaby, Abigail Rook decides to assist him in this sequel to Jackaby.  When Mrs. Beaumont is discovered dead, Jackaby launches into two separate investigations, but Abigail turns her attention to the mystery of fossils unearthed in Gad’s Valley. Abigail’s father is a paleontologist, and she still wants his approval, so when a body is found near the dig site and the police send for Jackaby, she has the opportunity to combine her love for investigation and paleontology. Joining the investigation is exiled police officer Charlie Cane who also happens to be a shape-shifter. Accompanied by Hank Hudson, the detectives launch a full investigation. After discovering the remains of one the most terrifying creatures to ever exist, bones begin to disappear. Jackaby and company must solve the mystery before the body count increases. Ritter mixes humor, adventure, mystery, gore, and romance exceptionally. With two cases left to solve, readers will have to patiently wait for a third volume in the series. THOUGHTS: Beastly Bones is an enjoyable reading experience that continues to develop Jackaby and Rook as two detectives reminiscent of Holmes and Watson. With multiple cases going on at the same time, readers will be kept guessing.

Fantasy, Paranormal     Graig Henshaw, Littlestown Senior HS/Maple Avenue MS




Howe, Katherine.  The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.  978-0-399-16778-2. 379 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Wes Auckerman is an aspiring filmmaker who is taking a summer course at NYU.  While helping a friend film a seance, Wes meets an intriguing, mysterious girl named Annie.  As he begins to spend time with her, he comes to realize that she is actually a ghost alternating between her previous life in NYC during the 1800s and present-day NYC.  When Wes and Annie begin delving into Annie’s past in search of her missing ring, they uncover some dark secrets and must hurry to rectify things before Annie runs out of time.  All the while, Wes works against his own deadline as he documents their adventures on camera in an attempt to complete a memorable film project for his summer class.  THOUGHTS: The book is an interesting mix of paranormal romance and historical fiction.  Fans of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series will enjoy this novel for its paranormal romance elements, but fans of historical fiction will enjoy the story just as well for its contrast between 19th century NYC and present-day NYC.

Historical Fiction; Paranormal        Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School




McGovern, Cammie. A Step Toward Falling. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. 978-0-06-227113-6. 364 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

When Emily witnesses the sexual assault of a developmentally disabled student named Belinda during a high school football game, she fails to take action. Likewise for team member Lucas Kessler, who also walks away instead of getting help. As a disciplinary action, both teens are required to volunteer with a Boundaries & Relationships class for adults with developmental disabilities at the Lifelong Learning Center. Thrown into volunteering together, the two develop a tentative friendship that blossoms as they work together to stage a production of Pride and Prejudice, featuring Belinda in a lead role, as a way to make things right. Alternating chapters from Belinda’s perspective describe the chain of events leading up to her being outside the locker room, alone and vulnerable on that fateful game night. In her innocent, unfiltered voice she also describes, among other things, her love of Pride and Prejudice. The classic smartly lends A Step Toward Falling some themes of looking beyond appearances and social strata to truly get to know people. McGovern’s second novel (after Say What You Will, 2014) has a relaxed pace, but the dual narration, skillful unraveling of the truth about the night of the attack, and true-to-life relationships will hold the reader’s interest throughout. THOUGHTS: The many important messages in this novel go down easily with a sweet spoonful of realistic romance!

Cammie McGovern’s sister, Elizabeth McGovern, is an actress on Downton Abbey! Learn more about Cammie McGovern, including her role in founding Whole Children, by watching this Epic Author Facts clip.

Realistic Fiction   Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

Fuzzy Mud; Written and Drawn by Henrietta; Forbidden

fuzzy mud

Sachar, Louis. Fuzzy Mud. New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0-375-99129-5. 181p. $16.99. Gr. 4-6.

Tamaya Dhilwaddi is a good student at Woodbridge Academy in western PA, quiet but conscientious. As she navigates the life of a fifth grader, she walks to and from school each day with her older neighbor, Marshall. Marshall was also a good student until Chad, a new student, moves in and starts bullying him. To avoid a confrontation, Marshall takes Tamaya home from school on a not-so-shortcut through the woods. When Chad finds and comes after them, Tamaya grabs a fistful of “fuzzy mud” and throws it at his face. The mud, it seems, has an awful reaction on Tamaya’s hand and when she learns Chad is missing imagines the worst about him. The mystery is fast-paced as she goes looking for him, followed by Marshall, and the three find out the hard way about “fuzzy mud.” It is actually a man-made rapidly multiplying microorganism gone awry, which readers gradually learn about through alternating chapters of testimony from an inquiry into Sun Ray farm.  Thoughts: The story is part mystery, part realistic fiction, and very fast-paced. It is reminiscent of Holes in how neatly the parts come together. Highly recommended for a quick read-aloud worthy of conversation about the environment, bullying and friendship.

Realistic Fiction; Mystery      Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School



Liniers, Ricardo Siri. Written and Drawn by Henrietta. New York: TOON Books, 2015. 978-1-935179-90-0 60p. $12.95. Gr. K-3.

This is a story within a story. Henrietta is given a box of colored pencils which she says is “as close as you can get to owning a piece of the rainbow.” She then uses them to create a story, thinking aloud with her cat, Fellini, as she includes suspense, new ideas, and the “plot thickens.” Her story includes a nod to Narnia, as a three-headed monster comes into her room looking in her messy wardrobe for a hat. As she joins them on the adventure, they meet another monster, a quiet mouse, and ultimately find what they are looking for together.  Thoughts: Through fabulous language about writing and drawing from the start (“A book is like a world you can carry around with you.”) to following Henrietta’s thinking process in creating a story, this book is a great find for budding writers and illustrators. The graphic format is simple but detailed enough that independent readers will enjoy it as well.

Graphic Novel        Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School




Bunting, Eve.  Forbidden.  New York: Clarion Books, 2015.  978-0-544-39092-8. 217 p. $17.99.  Grades 5-8.

Sixteen-year-old Josie Ferguson is sent to live with relatives after her parents succumb to an influenza outbreak in 18th century Scotland.  Josie’s aunt and uncle live along the country’s rocky northern coast and are as menacing as the stormy sea.  Right from the beginning, Josie senses that there is something wrong with her surroundings.  She is determined to discover the town’s secrets and encounters hostility at every turn. While searching for answers she meets a young man named Eli, who is “forbidden” to her.  Josie eventually realizes that the town is preying on ships traveling along the stormy coast, but she cannot foresee the supernatural turn of events, or Eli’s involvement, in stopping the carnage.  THOUGHTS: Forbidden is a solid introduction to the gothic literary genre.  Although older students probably won’t enjoy the hurried nature of the plot, or the chaste romance between Josie and Eli, middle school students will find plenty to keep their interest.  This book is being marketed to a YA audience, but other reviewers have suggested it for younger readers, something that seems to be “on the mark.”

Forbidden is reminiscent of gothic romances by Phyllis Whitney and Mary Stewart and is completely enjoyable.  The plot is somewhat formulaic (innocent girl sent to live with unknown relatives stumbles upon great evil) but the paranormal twist, with the presence of  avenging ghosts, keeps it fresh.  The fact that there is a historical element to the story makes it even more interesting; the deliberate wrecking of ships actually happened along rocky coasts all over the world during the 1800s.  This is a short novel that will be perfect for reluctant readers and young women will enjoy the “romance” between Josie and Eli.

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


New YA Fantasy and Sci-Fi…Silver in the Blood; Armada


George, Jessica Day. Silver in the Blood. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-1-61963-431-2. 358 p. $17.99. Gr. 7-12.

Dacia and Lou are cousins, best friends, and debutantes in New York around the turn of the century. They know little about their Romanian ancestors, the Florescus, just that their mothers left Romania in their late teens and never returned. As they turn 17, Dacia and Lou travel to Romania to meet their mysterious grandmother, Lady Iona, as well as the rest of the Florescus clan. The family matriarch is demanding and harsh but lets the girls in on a family secret; they are descended from a long line of shape shifters who can turn into the Claw (wolf), the Wing (bat), and the Smoke (mist). Lady Iona demands that the girls use their powers to aid Prince Mihai, a descendent of the Dracula clan, to overthrow the current throne. While Lou is empowered and embraces her gift, Dacia struggles to find comfort with her new powers. Unnerved by their grandmother’s demands, the girls find Prince Mihai to be cunning, manipulative, and deadly. Teaming up with two gentleman with secrets of their own, Lou and Dacia find courage in themselves and within one another to go against their family. THOUGHTS: This historical fantasy set in 1897 is a worthy addition to any teen section looking for strong, empowered female characters.  

Fantasy (Paranormal)        Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School




Cline, Ernest. Armada. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015. 978-0-8041-3725-6. 349p. $26.00. Gr 9-12.

Self described “full-time geek” Ernest Cline takes on aliens in his sophomore title. Zack Lightman’s life revolves around sci-fi videogames, books, and movies. His late father left him a journal listing all of his favorites, and Zack explores them all to feel connected to his dad. Zack day-dreams of his favorite video game, Armada, so when he sees the same spaceship from the game outside of his school, he knows it must be his imagination… right? Wrong. Soon Zack is swept up into an impending war with an alien species, and must use his video game skills to fight the enemy. The truth about his father’s past, the world’s long standing fight with aliens, and why we really play video games are all revealed through the course of the story. Pop-culture references seem a bit forced at times, but younger science fiction fans won’t be fazed. THOUGHTS: Critics and readers will inevitably compare this to Cline’s immensely successful debut, Ready Player One, but it’s best to read Armada as it’s own title to fully enjoy the story.

Science Fiction Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

New Fantasy, Dystopian, and Sci-Fi…The Awesome; Prairie Fire; We All Looked Up; 5 to 1


Darrows, Eva. The Awesome. Oxford, UK: Ravenstone, 2015. 978-1-78108-324-6. 246 p. $9.99. Gr. 9-12.

Seventeen-year-old Maggie Cunningham is not your typical teenager, but that’s to be expected considering she is an apprentice monster hunter. Maggie wants one thing: to become federally registered so she can track and hunt vampires, but in order to do so, she has to lose her virginity. She has to lose the “Big V” to kill the “Big V”. Her mother, Janice, tells her it is in order to protect her since most vampires, especially newbies, go wild for virgin blood. However, losing her virginity is easier said than done. Maggie is home schooled, lacks fashion sense, and well, she hunts monsters. It doesn’t help that her mother swears like a sailor and tends to embarrass Maggie. For Maggie, getting The Sex seems almost impossible. She even fails in a hysterical attempt to have sex with a drunk guy at a party which leaves her vulnerable to a virgin blood crazed newbie vampire who tries to kill her, but is unsuccessful because her mother just happens to be a total badass. The killing of the young vampire leads Maggie and her mother to a vampire prince, which is definitely going to make getting deflowered more complicated. THOUGHTS: Filled with inappropriate language, a little bit of sex, violence, and an incredibly likeable heroine, The Awesome is a terrific supernatural comedy that is just plain fun. The Awesome is awesome. Be warned though, it’s definitely only appropriate for upper grades.

Fantasy, Paranormal   Graig Henshaw, Littlestown HS/ Maple Avenue MS



Johnston, E.K. Prairie Fire. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Lab, 2015. 978-1-46773-909-2. 298 p. $18.99. Gr. 7-12

Prairie Fire is the sequel to The Story of Owen and continues the story of Siobhan McQuaid, bard and genius, Owen, and their friends. Prairie Fire is a story of friendship, music, alternative history (Canadian and U.S.), fantasy, fable, ecology, and epic heroism. Every dragon slayer must serve time with the Oil Watch which is basically the military for dragon slayers. Owen, Siobhan, and Sadie join the Oil Watch together. While Siobhan overcomes some setbacks, Owen continues to develop into a dragon slayer capable of any task. Due to their growing popularity, Siobhan and Owen are deployed to one of the coldest, dreariest, and most desolate places, Fort Calgary. It is here that Siobhan, Owen, Sadie, and their friends must band together to face off against one of the rarest and most terrifying dragon species, the Chinook. THOUGHTS: Siobhan McQuaid is responsible for “Uptown Funk” because Owen Thorskard is “too hot, hot damn, make a dragon wanna retire man” and is the hero Bonnie Tyler has been holding out for all these years. Prairie Fire is a story that defines friendship and reminds us why we allow Canada to remain a country. It is superbly written, heart wrenching, and heroic.

Fantasy  Graig Henshaw, Littlestown HS/ Maple Avenue MS



Wallach, Tommy. We All Looked Up. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2015. 978-1-48141-877-5. 370 p. $16.99.  Gr. 9-12.

If we learned anything from The Breakfast Club and about a dozen other eighties movies, it is that high school is supposedly all about labels and cliques. The impending possibility of the end of the world provides an athlete, a slut, a slacker, and an overachiever with the opportunity to make changes. Peter, the athlete, must decide whether it is better to fail at something worthwhile or succeed at something meaningless, and whether or not he should pursue true love even if it isn’t the popular thing to do. Eliza, the artsy and misunderstood slut, must deal with her father’s cancer, chronicling the end of the world (leading to unexpected fame), and her feelings for Peter. Anita, the overachiever, needs to decide if she should follow her parents’ strict rules as always, or if she should pursue her dream of becoming a musician. Lastly, Andy, the slacker, must choose between his new safe friends or his old seedy, dangerous friends. They only have two months until the end of the world. During the next two months, the world becomes far more dangerous as people often give in to their malicious intents. THOUGHTS: Although well-written, Tommy Wallach is pessimistic in his view of mankind since most of humanity turns into complete jerks with drug addicts and criminals ruling the day. Maybe I am naïve, but I like to think that if mankind were to find out that the world were about to end, we would band together rather than give into criminal instincts. In We All Looked Up, society falls apart based on whether an asteroid will hit and wipe out two-thirds of the population. The characters, with the exception of Eliza and Peter, are unlikeable. We All Looked Up had me desperately looking for another book to read and longing to watch The Breakfast Club.

Science Fiction  Graig Henshaw, Littlestown HS/ Maple Avenue MS




Bodger, Holly. 5 to 1. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 978-0-385-39153-5. 244 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Set in a futuristic Indian society run by women, this Dystopian fantasy focuses on a contest where the women get to select their husbands from a group of able suitors. The title refers to the ratio of boys to girls after years of gender selection. Sudasa is the lucky young lady who gets to choose her husband, but she doesn’t even know if she wants to get married yet. Kiran is the young man who’s family wants him to lose in order to escape India altogether. Her grandmother has thrown her cousin into the mix of suitors, so that Sudasa can save him from what her grandmother sees as certain death. Her cousin knows all the right answers; yet Sudasa is drawn to Kiran. Her father offers Sudasa support and a way out if she needs it. What will she choose? Will she pick the cousin and keep the family intact? Will she choose Kiran though she knows he is throwing all of the challenges in order to be discarded? This story told in alternating voices identified by verse and prose proves to be very different from the norm. THOUGHTS: This is a thought-provoking read because of some real world circumstances (India and China). The premise for the society doesn’t seem that far-fetched. A great addition for HS collections as it offers something very fresh and new.

Dystopian    Kathryn Gilbride, North Pocono Middle School