MG – Super Puzzletastic Mysteries: Short Stories for Young Sleuths from Mystery Writers of America

Grabenstein, Chris, et. al. Super Puzzletastic Mysteries: Short Stories for Young Sleuths from Mystery Writers of America. 978-0-062-88420-6. 378 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Inspired by Encyclopedia Brown books, Chris Grabenstein assembled a collection of short story mysteries to challenge readers’ deduction skills. Written by twenty middle grade and YA authors, each mystery offers the opportunity to see if you can find the clues, eliminate the red herrings, and arrive at the correct solution. Answers and explanations are provided at the end of the book. The contributing authors range from famous (Alane Ferguson, Stuart Gibbs, Chris Grabenstein, Lauren Magaziner) to familiar (Lamar Giles, Kate Milford, Peter Lerangis) to new discoveries (Tyler Whitesides, Bruce Hale, Gigi Pandian), and mysteries skip from fairly easy to totally devious. These stories will definitely challenge readers’ critical thinking skills.The anthology will please diehard mystery fans of all ages, or provide a fun read-aloud classroom activity. Readers will enjoy connecting with the work of favorite authors, but more exciting, will be introduced to new authors and books.

THOUGHTS: This is a delightful, long overdue modernization of the Encyclopedia Brown two-minute mysteries. The puzzles are generally challenging, but fair, although one or two seemed like the solution required a large leap of logic. A recommended purchase for middle grade libraries.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA Story Collection – Meet Cute

Meet Cute: some people are destined to meet. Alloy Entertainment, 2018. 978-1328759870. 320. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

This sweet collection of stories from a variety of popular young adult authors is a welcome respite from our current contentious reality. Each story revolves around the first meeting of two individuals in a variety of settings and situations, some realistic and some based in the future or an alternate reality. There is a diverse cast of characters throughout, and many different genders and sexual orientation preferences are represented. I found myself engrossed in each story, wondering how the characters will ultimately be brought together. Two of my particular favorites were “Hourglass” by Ibi Zoboi, which highlighted one girl’s struggle with body image, and “Department of Dead Love” by Nicola Yoon, a futuristic take on dealing with broken relationships. I found myself wishing that both stories would continue! THOUGHTS: This is a great collection of stories to serve diverse audiences in a high school setting. Highly recommended!

Short Stories     Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

YA FIC – Wild Beauty; Language of Thorns; Optimists Die First; The List

McLemore, Anna-Marie. Wild Beauty. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2017. 978-1-250-122455-5. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Anna Marie-McLemore has become the undisputed queen of Magical Realism.  Her third book in as many years, Wild Beauty, is even more nuanced, sophisticated, and breathtakingly beautiful than her first two novels, and that is saying quite a lot.  Wild Beauty describes this story perfectly; it is a story about a family of women who have the ability – a compulsion, really – to grow flowers simply by reaching into the soil and willing them into existence.  As with all good stories, however, it is much more complex. Up until about a century ago, the Nomeolvides women had been persecuted, hunted, shunned, or killed because of their gifts. When they are offered sanctuary at La Pradera on the estate of the wealthy Briar family, they take it gratefully. It comes with a price, of course: the Nomeolvides women can never leave; if they try to escape, or outrun their destiny, they will die. La Pradera also takes their lovers; if a Nomeolvides woman loves someone too hard, they disappear. The current generation of cousins, Estrella, Azalea, Gloria, Calla, and Dalia, are all in love with the same girl, Bay Briar, and they are determined to keep her from disappearing. When they make a sacrifice to the land, the land gives them back a boy, a boy who can’t remember how he got there, where he came from, or who he is. This is a story of love, betrayal, heartbreak, jealousy, but above all, family, and the lengths one will go to to protect those she loves. Thoughts: Every page of Wild Beauty is a sensuous, tactile, graceful dance, and while the steps can be challenging, it is absolutely well worth the effort.

Magical Realism      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Bardugo, Leigh. The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. New York: Macmillan, 2017. 978-1250122520. 288 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Leigh Bardugo reimagines classic tales in her newest collection of stories, The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. Each of the six stories are set in Bardugo’s Grishaverse, but readers don’t have to be familiar with that world in order to understand or appreciate them.  There is something warm and familiar about each, but with a dark, and often subversive, twist to them; these are stories meant to be read aloud around a roaring fire on a blustery evening; the lovely and whimsical illustrations by Sara Kipin add to the magic, as well. Every story here is a gem, but there are two standouts.  “Amaya and the Thorn Wood” is a spin on the Minotaur myth, with a hint of “Beauty and the Beast.” Bardugo does a wonderful job playing with rhythm, repetition, and pacing; as it’s a story about a storyteller, it’s cleverly done. It is a story of two outcasts, both of whom are ostracized because of their looks, and both of whom are second-fiddle to their more attractive, more talented siblings. Through a shared love of stories, they redefine the idea of a “happy ending.” “The Witch of Duva,” a take on “Hansel and Gretel,” challenges the tropes of the evil stepmother, and the child-snatching witch, and explores the ways in which women mistrust each other; it is richly told, and Bardugo once again utilizes repetition to great effect. The ending is exceedingly disturbing, but will hopefully imbue a sense of caution to any young person who reads it; at the very least, it will leave a lasting impression. A common thread throughout the book is the complexity and diversity of women; each tale forces the reader to confront their own preconceived notions of how women should behave. Thoughts: Give this to lovers of fairy tales, self-proclaimed feminists, and anyone who needs a wake-up call about a woman’s place in society.

Fantasy     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Nielsen, Susin. Optimists Die First. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2017. 978-0-553-49690-1. 240 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Petula is scared of everything and spends her days thinking of the myriad ways in which people can be killed. Before the accident that killed her little sister, Petula was an average adolescent girl with a passion for crafting.  Petula, however, has never stopped blaming herself for what happened, and she has cut herself off from everything that reminds her of that time, including crafting, and her best friend. When Petula meets Jacob, a new boy with a prosthetic arm, a warm and open demeanor, and a tragic past of his own, her life slowly starts to knit back together. Jacob, however, is keeping a huge secret, and when Petula inevitably finds out, it completely alters the way she views him.  Nielsen does a wonderful job getting into Petula’s psyche; the way her grief and guilt manifests will hit home to a lot of people.  Petula is constantly hounded by that little voice going “If only…,” a voice that beleaguers everyone at some point in their lives.  Jacob’s prosthetic is sensitively portrayed, and is only one small part of him; it does not define who he is.  THOUGHTS:  While the heavy emphasis on crafting may turn some people off, at its heart, it is a story about two lost, grieving souls finding each other, and finding joy.

Realistic Fiction    Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Forde, Patricia. The List. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017. 978-1-4926-4796-6 353p. $16.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

The Melting (of the icebergs) has happened and much of life as we know it has disappeared.  John Noa has set up a settlement he calls “Ark” where he tries to make sure humans survive by not making the same mistakes.  He thinks one of those is language, so he limits what people in Ark are allowed to say, by approving a “list” of words.  Letta, the wordsmith’s  apprentice, is overwhelmed by the order to take more and more words off of the list.  At the same time, she is trying to preserve old wordsn her master disappears, leaving Letta to become the wordsmith.  She meets a boy who speaks more eloquently than the list will allow and Letta discovers much about the artists and others who are forced to live outside of Ark.   Letta has to make a lot of decisions that she never thought she would have to, much bigger than what words to take away from the citizens of Ark.  THOUGHTS: A book that will make everyone think about the importance of words, and of language, this would be a great purchase for libraries with lovers of fantasy, especially dystopian stories.

Dystopian     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Forde, Patricia. The List. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017. 978-1-492-64796-6. 368 p. $16.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Ark is a gated post-apocalyptic community that only survives because of the extreme planning and strict rationing of John Noah, Ark’s founding leader. With food, water, and even words strictly limited to only what is essential, life is not always easy. Sentences like “We ready now.” and “I no wait.” are considered speaking in List and take some getting used to. Reading List sometimes requires more than one glance. Letta lives in Ark and is the apprentice to the Wordsmith, a highly respected job. Almost immediately, her master Benjamin, the Wordsmith, heads out on a journey for a few days to hunt for new words to be preserved. This is considered a typical task of the Wordsmith. Letta is left behind to run the shop, where she transcribes boxes of List words for the Ark teacher, and creates special request List words for various trades.  Shortly after Benjamin leaves, an injured boy enters the shop, requesting a box of List words. Though she does not recognize him, Letta is intrigued by Marlo, and without thinking she quickly hides him before the gavvers (police or military equivalent) arrive. As she attempts to nurse Marlo back to health, Letta learns information about life outside of Ark, and she begins to question all she’s ever known. Thus begins Letta’s dissent from Ark.  THOUGHTS: As a former English teacher, my mind was racing with fun activities for using this book in the classroom: What words would be on your list? Could you figure out all of the words on Ark’s list? Would you eliminate/add any words to Ark’s list? The focus on the importance of words can lead to many great discussions, regardless of age. Though this book is marketed as middle grade, I could absolutely see using it in a high school classroom.

Dystopian   Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

New YA Fiction (Gr. 7-12) – Stars Above; Cure for the Common Universe; The Lie Tree; 12 Days of Dash and Lily

starsabove

Meyer, Marissa. Stars Above. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2016. 978-1-25009-184-0. $17.99. 400pp. Gr. 6-12.

Just when you thought The Lunar Chronicles had come to an end, Meyer publishes this fantastic collection of short stories! A compilation of previously published and never before published stories, Stars Above brings together favorite characters from the entire Lunar Chronicles series.  Stories take place before, during, and after the series and answer questions such as: How did Cinder arrive in New Beijing? What was Wolf’s childhood like? And what happens to Wolf and Scarlet? Cress and Thorne? Cinder and Kai? The real gem of the collection is Meyer’s new story, Something Old, Something New, which will have many fans swooning. THOUGHTS: A great addition to any library where the Lunar Chronicles reigns, plus a wonderful bonus collection for fans of the series.

Fantasy; Story Collection     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

cure

Heidicker, Christian McKay. Cure for the Common Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. 978-1-48145-027-0. $17.99. Gr. 7-12.

Sixteen year old Jaxon spends a lot of time inside playing video games. So much time that he often fights about it with his dad and stepmom, who think he’s too antisocial and reclusive. One such fight has Jaxon storming off to the carwash, and while there, he meets the most amazing, incredible girl, Selena, and scores a date with her at the end of the week. But, when Jaxon gets home, he finds out his parents are sending him away to video game rehab. Determined to get out in time for his date, Jaxon is willing to lie and cheat his way out, even if it means hurting his fellow rehabbers in the process. A slew of video game references, ranging from uncommon to super popular, will appeal to readers of all ages. Jaxon and the other teens he’s in rehab with aren’t just struggling with video game addiction, but other common issues teens face on a day to day basis. THOUGHTS: A fun, refreshing read that will fit in nicely next to anything by Ernest Cline or Cory Doctorow.

Realistic Fiction     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

lietree

Hardinge, Frances. The Lie Tree. New York: Amulet, 2016.  978-1-4197-1895-3. 377 p.  $17.95.  Gr. 7 and up.


When Faith Sunderly’s father, a renowned naturalist, is accused of faking his most famous discovery, the family flees to the fictional island of Vane to escape the rumors.  Shortly thereafter, Faith’s father is found dead, a suspected suicide, and Faith is determined to prove that he was murdered.  Her investigation leads her to her father’s most prized specimen, a mysterious tree that only bears fruit when lies are spread.  After spreading a lie of her own, Faith eats the fruit and begins hallucinating and having visions of secret truths.  Convinced that she can use the tree to discover the truth about her father, she continues spreading lies and eating the fruit.  What she doesn’t anticipate is that her quest to solve her father’s murder may put her directly on the murderer’s radar.  THOUGHTS: I had a hard time classifying this book, as it has elements of fantasy, history, science, and mystery and would therefore resonate with a variety of readers.  The book would serve as a great discussion starter on creationism vs. evolution or on customs and rituals of the late nineteenth century (the era during which the book is set).  It is also a clear portrait of the extreme sexism that prevailed during this time, for Faith is incredibly intelligent and yet society restricts her from doing much of what she desires to do.  Because the book includes philosophical themes (for instance, the way rumors can spread like wildfire and cause major repercussions), it may be better suited to stronger readers.  However, fans of historical fiction, fantasy fiction, and books with strong female characters will thoroughly enjoy this title.

Historical Fantasy          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School​

 

12days

Cohn, Rachel and David Levithan. The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016. 978-0-399-55380-6. $12.97. 224p. Gr. 6 and up.

The follow-up to Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is not one to miss. Life has been complicated for the teenage couple, starting with a beloved grandfather falling ill. Now, busy schedules and difficulties communicating threaten to push Dash and Lily apart. The Christmas-loving Lily isn’t even remotely in the holiday mood. Can her brother (who, adding to the chaos, is moving out to live with his boyfriend) and Dash restore Lily’s holiday cheer? Or is it gone forever? THOUGHTS: It was painful to see one of my favorite couples in trouble! If you haven’t read the first novel, this new one will still be fun to read, although you likely won’t be as invested in the outcome. This book got me laughing with Christmas puns (a pair in a partridge tree), a friendly attack dog, and glitter that seriously maims a bunch of ice skating librarians.

Realistic Fiction  Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School