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

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

Haydu, Corey Ann. One Jar of Magic. Harper Collins, 2021. $16.99 978-0-062-68985-6. Grades 5-8.

Rose Alice Anders isn’t just Rose. She is “Little Luck,” so nicknamed by her father, the luckiest man in Belling Bright, the most magical place in the world. Her father has the most knowledge of magic in this town where magic is revered and frequently used for everything from improving hair quality to crafting a rainbow (though her father cautions Rose and her brother Lyle that interfering with weather is too dangerous). All her life Rose has been striving to live up to her father’s belief that she will be the most magical in their family. Her status–and her father’s–brings ‘honor’ but also trouble into her friendships. So when the new year arrives in her twelfth year, Rose both longs for the day and dreads it for the pressure. Yes, she is magical, yes, her father has answers, but something doesn’t feel right, though she’d never admit it. The town’s New Year’s Day comes, and everyone is out to capture magic in jars of any color or size. Some magic sparkles, some changes colors, some seems to enchant just by being. Rose goes straight to Too Blue Lake, where she’s certain she, of all people, will manage to fill jar after jar after jar. But as the day goes on and her friends gather jars, and her brother tries to help her (should she be grateful or insulted?), Rose is fearful to come to the feast with just one jar of magic. She can feel her father’s anger. To appease his anger, her mother takes Rose and Lyle home, stopping at a store run by “not-meant-for-magic’ people. Though the store is nearby, Rose has never been there and never met these people. Her shame at failing to live up to her name and her heritage mixes with her curiosity in these people, who seem so….free. She wants to see Zelda–the daughter of the family–again, but knows her father (and the town) forbids it. What is going on in her family and in her town?  Where does Rose belong and how can she take a stand when she’s not sure of anything?

THOUGHTS: Haydu crafts a very real town full of questions, possibilities and dangers.  She presents the confusing family dynamics well, as Rose struggles to reconcile her hesitations and doubts with her father’s certainty, her mother’s acquiescence, her brother’s kindness, and the town’s solidarity. Who is she, if she’s not Little Luck?

Magical Realism Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Throwaway Girls

Contos, Andrea. Throwaway Girls. Kids Can Press, 2020. 978-1-525-30314-2. 392 p. $17.30. Grades 9-12.

With only three months left until graduation and a few days after that until she turns 18, Caroline Lawson is more than ready to leave her prep school and unsupportive parents behind. All she has to do is put on a smile and pretend like everything is perfect. Things are anything but perfect, and Caroline can’t wait to leave and be who she truly is meant to be. Caroline’s girlfriend recently broke up with her and left for California, and Caroline’s best friend Madison just disappeared. Having kept secrets from each other and grown apart, Caroline feels partially responsible for Madison’s disappearance. Feeling like the only person capable of finding Madison, Caroline sets off on a dangerous path, determined to find her friend before it’s too late. But Caroline has to face some truths about herself, her relationship, her family, and about her friend. The deeper Caroline digs, the more she uncovers – including other girls who have gone missing. Why hasn’t anyone noticed these girls, and how is Madison connected to them? As Caroline gets closer to uncovering the truth, she realizes she may be the one connection between them all.

THOUGHTS: Despite having endless means, Caroline is extremely unhappy. The adults fail teens over and over. Mystery readers will be absorbed into this twisty narrative (this reviewer had a few jaw-dropping realizations) and will root for Caroline to uncover the truth before it’s too late.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Wrong Way Summer

Lang, Heidi. Wrong Way Summer. Amulet Books, 2020. 978-1-419-73693-3. 268 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

“Claire no longer believed her dad.” She used to, and sometimes she still wanted to, but when she discovered what really happened to her mother, that she wasn’t stolen by a troll king, that she wasn’t a pilot on the world’s fastest jet, a scientist working on a new crayon color, or even a secret agent infiltrating a pride of lions, she stopped believing her out-of-work father’s endless supply of tall tales. So when he pulled into the driveway with an old van and declared that this was a summer of adventure, that they would fix up the van and travel the country living the “hashtag vanlife,” Claire knew there was much more to the story. Told from Claire’s point of view as they travel from one city to the next, the reader slowly learns why the family is living in a van, and why Claire’s mother is no longer in the picture.

THOUGHTS:  Nestled underneath the fantastic tales told by Claire’s dad is a story about homelessness and poverty, although it may not be immediately apparent to a reader who doesn’t recognize the subtle clues. The reveal of the whereabouts of Claire’s mother is quick with few details, but it should be enough to satisfy most readers. There are students in our libraries who need to read a story about an unreliable parent and the burden that is felt when the child has to act as the responsible one.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

YA – The Queen’s Assassin

De la Cruz, Melissa. The Queen’s Assassin. Penguin Random House, 2020. 978-0-525-51591-3. $18.99. 384p. Grades 9-12.

In the land of Renovia, Shadow of the Honey Glade longs to be an official member of the Guild in which she was raised and become an apprentice to Caledon Holt, the Queen’s Assassin like his father before him. When their paths inadvertently cross and he saves her life, she takes advantage of an opportunity to return the favor. When Cal is sent to Deersia prison to protect his identity as an assassin and await his next assignment from the queen, Shadow helps him escape and convinces him that she was sent to break him out and accompany him on his mission to infiltrate the country of Montrice to discover any plots against Renovia. Shadow is actually disobeying her aunts and mother, members of the Guild, to avoid becoming a lady of the queen’s court, but Cal believes her story, especially since her magic makes her a valuable partner as they travel to Montrice. Posing as brother and sister, Cal and Shadow are quickly swept up into Montrice society, making friends with aristocrats and the king, but as they attend hunts and balls for the sake of their mission, they can’t deny their growing attraction to each other. However, Cal’s life won’t be his own unless he can locate the missing Deian scrolls for the queen, and Shadow’s secrets are preventing her from living the life of an assassin. Will their love be enough without their freedom to choose the lives they want?

THOUGHTS: The Queen’s Assassin is perfect for anyone that enjoys fantasy and romance, and I loved this book for that very reason. The story is told from both Shadow’s and Caledon’s perspectives, and I always enjoy books that have more than one POV. Both main characters are essentially trapped in a life they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves, and that’s one of the reasons they are drawn to each other as they work together throughout the novel. The novel is split into three parts, including a prologue that contains some world building information and an epilogue that sets the scene for book two. This would be a great recommendation for readers who enjoy Throne of Glass and Serpent & Dove.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Somebody Told Me

Siegert, Mia. Somebody Told Me. Carolrhoda Lab, 2020. 978-1-5415-7819-7. 272 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

Aleks/Alexis is bigender. Some days she is Alexis, and some days he is Aleks. There’s no telling when the switch will happen, and their parents are very supportive. Alexis/Aleks doesn’t always feel like they fit in, not within the world or within themself, except once upon a time among cosplay friends. But one day something happens, something big enough to ruin anime conventions forever, something big enough to make Alexis/Aleks run. And run they do, to live with Aunt Anne Marie and Uncle Brian, the uncle who just happens to be a Catholic priest, and lives in the rectory of his church. Faced with a choice between relatives who may never accept them or a life they can’t return to, Aleks/Alexis chooses the former, opting to hide half of their true self to fit into a community they don’t quite belong to. A community with its own secrets, some mild, some edging toward serious, and one that Aleks/Alexis just can’t ignore.

THOUGHTS: While parts of the story seemed rushed, the characters are real and raw and up against forces way bigger than themselves. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – The Cousins

McManus, Karen M. The Cousins. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-525-70800-1. 336 p. $22.99. Grades 7-12.

It begins with a most unexpected letter. Teen cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah are invited to spend the summer on Gull Island, the resort home of their wealthy WASP grandmother, Mildred Story, the woman who, decades before, cut off all contact with her children, enigmatically telling them, “You know what you did.” Except the three brothers and their sister have always denied knowing what their mother meant. Now the adult siblings, encouraged by this gesture, bribe, threaten, and cajole the cousins to accept the offer, for a variety of personal reasons, including, but not necessarily limited to, possible access to the immense Story fortune. Sweet Aubrey, bearing a traditional Story family name; sophisticated Milly, named after her grandmother; and extremely disgruntled Jonah meet up on the ferry ride to the island, pondering what the summer will hold. None of them envisions the events that unfold. But when one of the first people they encounter on the island tells them “you shouldn’t have come back,” the cousins become reluctant allies, uncovering lost family history and learning exactly what happened all those years ago. McManus presents another tour de force with her fourth young adult mystery. This character driven plot has the feel of a classic Agatha Christie. Breathtaking suspense takes a back seat as Aubrey, Milly, and Jonah, burdened with parental legacies, expectations, and disappointments, cautiously open up to each other, shedding secrets and personas molded by family legacy. Plot twists keep the reader guessing until the tempestuous climax, but the journey is the true star in this book.

THOUGHTS: McManus just keeps getting better. A first purchase for all middle school and high school collections, and multiple copies will be needed. 

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Cousins Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story did not grow up enjoying extended family vacations on Gull Island or at the resort home of their wealthy grandmother. Instead each has had to deal with a parent who is still – years later – dealing with the fallout of being disinherited by their mother, matriarch Mildred Story. Cut off with only a message of “You know what you did.” the story children are left to fend for themselves which, given their upbringing, they were not prepared to do. When the cousins each receive a postcard from their grandmother inviting them to work on Gull Island’s resort for the summer, they have mixed reactions. Their parents, however, insist. It’s the opportunity to get back into their mother’s good graces, and they’ve been waiting decades. Forced together, the cousins arrive on Gull Island only to be told they “shouldn’t have come back.” They bond together to make the best of their circumstances and learn more about the family they never got to know.

THOUGHTS: This one will keep readers guessing, and fans of McManus’s other books will be happy with this new mystery. A must have for middle and high school libraries.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Twenty-four years ago the Story children were disowned by their mother, Mildred. The children, Adam, Asher, Allison, and Archer received a note with just five words: “You know what you did.” The problem was, and still is, that none of them know what the note means.  Now, 24 years later, the children of Adam, Asher, and Allison received letters inviting them to Gull Coast Island on behalf of their estranged grandmother to work in the resort’s Towhee program. The cousins have not seen each other in years, so when Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah meet up on the ferry to Gull Coast Island, it is as though they are meeting for the first time. As they are introduced to their new boss, Carson, their grandmother arrives and appears very surprised to see them. When Mildred immediately leaves for two weeks, Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah begin to question the entire situation. Who sent the letters inviting them to Gull Coast Island? Why is their grandmother so elusive? What happened over 20 years ago that has kept their grandmother away? But, it isn’t until they are finally introduced to Mildred and a night out that the cousins truly begin to delve deep into the history of the Story family. Told through alternating chapters from Milly, Aubrey, Jonah, and Allison in 1996, The Cousins looks at secrets kept to protect family and secrets hidden to expose mistakes.

THOUGHTS: Karen M. McManus once again weaves a thrilling tale of lies, secrets, and deceit.  Mystery and detective fiction lovers will devour this novel.

Mystery        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – War Stories

Korman, Gordon.  War Stories.  Scholastic Press, 2020.  978-1-338-29020-2.  231 p. $15.67. Grades 3-6.

No matter how many times his father tells him that war is not a video game, 12-year old Trevor Firestone refuses to believe it. Not when his video game seems to line up with what his great grandfather has told him about his experiences in World War II. So when his G.G. has an opportunity to return to France as the guest of honor at a celebration commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the victory in Europe, Trevor can’t wait to tag along. But even before they leave the United States, there are hints that G.G.’s time in France was not as described.  It seems some people remember him differently and would rather he did not return for his hero’s welcome because they see him as anything but a hero. With chapters alternating between present day and 1944, Korman increases the tension the closer Trevor and his family get to Sainte-Régine. G.G.’s stories of war, which had always seemed so exciting to Trevor, start to turn somber, and when the truth is revealed, Trevor will have a better understanding of the price of war.

THOUGHTS: Korman does an excellent job of taking the glamour out of war for students who may experience it only through video games. Ultimately, this is a well-told story about the importance of family.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

MG – Chirp

Messner, Kate. Chirp. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-547-60281-0. 227 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Mia and her family leave Boston to move back to Vermont in order to help Mia’s Gram sell her failing cricket farm. Strange things have been happening at Gram’s cricket farm, and Mia suspects sabotage by the man interested in buying the farm. Mia joins two summer camps, Launch Camp & Warrior Camp, at her mother’s request to keep her busy during the summer. At Launch Camp, Mia meets Clover who is instantly invested in helping Mia figure out what is going on at the cricket farm and in building a business plan to help the farm. Along with Anna, the girls create a robot to harvest crickets, a social media campaign (with the #ChirpChallenge), and a plan to pitch to several local businesses to hopefully gain investors. Clover decides to join Mia at Warrior Camp where Mia’s past gymnastic experience impacts her ability to perform. Each week Mia builds her confidence and strength up in order to confront an uncomfortable situation from her past. The girls form a strong friendship and work together to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill Gram’s cricket farm.

THOUGHTS: Messner does it again! This beautifully written, coming of age story is timely and offers readers a glimpse into the struggle kids face with speaking up. The story approaches the #metoo topic with grace and is appropriate to middle grade readers. Filled with plot twists, red herrings, and other elements of mystery, this book is a quick read and sure to delight fans of Messner’s work!

Mystery          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Mia’s family moves from Boston to Vermont to be near her grandmother, and Mia is glad for the change. Since she broke her arm at gymnastics, and despite her skill and enjoyment of the sport, she is relieved to give it up. She hasn’t told anyone about Coach Phil’s uncomfortable attention. If it wasn’t all right, wouldn’t an adult have stepped in? And besides, everyone likes Phil. Mia did, too, until hugs became too tight, his texts became personal, and finally, he gave her a friendly back rub she didn’t want. Mia felt “icky” around Phil, but nothing was wrong, was it? Now in Vermont, she finds an old photograph of herself and wonders if she can ever again be the brave girl who smiled as she jumped from the rocks into Lake Champlain with friends. In the meantime, she helps with her grandma’s cricket farm, caring for the crickets, working on advertising, and more. However, as more problems occur, her grandma is worried about sabotage and keeping the business afloat. Mia knows her mom wonders about her grandma’s memory and wishes her grandma would slow down.  But as Mia learns more, she and her friends begin to look into the problems. Could an outsider be trying to put her grandma out of business? Mia has spent time lately learning to be quiet, unnoticed, and unquestioned. But finding out the truth, and sticking up for another girl, helps her to find her voice. Mia learns that it’s not about finding her way back to the brave girl she once was, but finding her way forward, and she gets to decide for herself who she will be.

THOUGHTS: Messner expertly molds the serious issue of grooming and abuse into a coming of age mystery appropriate for upper elementary and middle school readers. Mia is a likeable personality, and readers will cheer for her as she stands up for herself and others and uses her voice once more.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Mia’s family is moving back to Vermont after living in Boston for a few years. Mia, a seventh grader, is happy about this move, as she gets to spend more time with her entomologist grandmother who owns a cricket farm. Mia is recovering from a gymnastics accident, but we learn that there was more damage than a broken arm from Tumblers Gymnastics in Boston.  With her parents making her choose two camps to participate in over the summer, Mia chooses Launch, an entrepreneurship camp that helps Mia save her Gram’s farm, and Warrior Camp, a parkour camp that helps Mia come to grips with her inner athlete. In her camps she makes lasting friendships that help her solve the mystery of who is sabotaging her Gram’s cricket farm and gives her the strength to face the secret she has been hiding from her parents.

THOUGHTS: This book is a must purchase for any middle grade library. Addressing all of the controversy surrounding gymnastics recently in a very appropriate way for middle schoolers (Mia’s male coach massages her shoulders and sends “friendly” texts and is generally just a bit too friendly in a creepy way), this novel focuses on female relationships and empowerment.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy