MG – The Cursed Moon

Cervantes, Angela. The Cursed Moon. Scholastic Press, 2023. 978-1-338-81401-9. 224 p. $18.99. Grades 3-7.

Tell a great scary story, and you’re cool. Tell a great scary story under a cursed blood moon, and you’re also in big trouble. Sixth grade Rafa has found his niche in composing the best scary stories for his sister, Brianna, and new friends like Jayden. Together, Rafa and Brianna have moved in with their Abuelo and Abuela. Although their incarcerated mother, Nikki, is about to be released and return home, too, the impending reunion is met with anxiety and distrust by both siblings. In the days leading up to Nikki’s return, an older neighbor gives Rafa an ominous warning not to tell any of his scary stories under that night’s blood moon. Despite this plea, Rafa shares a terrifying tale with friends that night: The story of a spirit named the Caretaker who lures people into a local park’s pond to die. Unfortunately, Rafa should have listened to his neighbor. Now, it is too late. The Caretaker has come to life, and it is searching for new lives to claim. Rafa will have to figure out how to make this story have a happy ending…quickly.

THOUGHTS: The Cursed Moon contains just the right combination of creepy details and caring characters for a middle grade reader to thoroughly enjoy. While some of the focus is on the supernatural story action, Cervantes also weaves in lots of great realistic details that help fully form the characters of Rafa and Brianna. Pieces read like a realistic fiction story. At just over 200 pages, this is also an accessible book for developing middle grade readers who like a good thrill and chill!

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.


YA – Thieves’ Gambit

Lewis, Kayvion. Thieves’ Gambit. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2023. 978-0-593-62536-1. 384 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Ross Quest is about to pull off the biggest heist of her life in order to save her kidnapped mother in this action-packed YA thriller. Ross and her mother have planned many robberies together—as one of the most notorious thief-families in North America, they have a reputation to uphold. When a robbery goes awry, Ross reluctantly must enter into the mysterious and dangerous Thieves’ Gambit, a high-stakes game made up of the best young criminal minds from around the world. If Ross wins, she’ll have one wish granted: in her case, it’s the wish to rescue her mother by paying her mother’s billion dollar ransom. All goes according to plan until feelings for one of the contestants, the handsome British Devroe, threatens to throw Ross off of her game. Filled with twists and turns right until the end, this one will keep your students reading the whole way to the last page.

THOUGHTS: A high-stakes heist must-read title. For teens who love lots of action, twists, turns, and a fast-paced plot, this is the ideal story. Thieves’ Gambit reads like a heist movie on paper as it takes readers on a wild adventure around the world. Ross is a likable and realistic character trying to fulfill quests before time runs out. There is enough romantic tension between Ross and Devroe that will keep romance readers loving this book, too. Ideal for fans of series like The Inheritance Games. Strong diversity and character development.


Elem./MG – The Curious Vanishing of Beatrice Willoughby

Schmidt, G.Z. The Curious Vanishing of Beatrice Willoughby. Holiday House/Peachtree, 2023. $17.99. 267 p. Grades 3-6.

The quirky town of Nevermore’s most auspicious couple, Maribelle and Mort Amadeus, host a grand party at their mansion every All Hallow’s Eve. Thirteen years ago, the despotic Mayor Willoughby’s six-year-old daughter, Beatrice, vanished during the party, and Mort Amadeus was accused of the crime and arrested. The parties have ceased until now. Selective citizens of the town have been invited to convene before the statute of limitations on the crime is up at midnight. Joining them are drifters, Chaucer O’Conner and his inquisitive eleven-year-old son, Dewey. With his trusty notebook and copper goggles, Dewey follows the odd guests from clue to clue to unravel who really took Beatrice and to exonerate the imprisoned Mort Amadeus. Each guest draws on their unique specialty, like Dr. Frankenstein Foozle makes a phantom dog from a vial of ground bone that can sniff out the essence of a person. Intermittently in their investigations, Chaucer interjects a story he collected in his travels that sounds strangely familiar to well-known fairy tales. Author G.Z. Schmidt couples fast-paced narration with creepy descriptions and a dash of subtle humor. The reader’s mind will do double-duty matching up the clues with the townsfolk’s characteristics and Chaucer’s tales until the epilogue that starts the search all over again.

THOUGHTS: What middle schooler doesn’t enjoy a light-hearted, creepy book? The characters have multiple quirks, and Dewey exhibits sufficient charm to sustain interest. Give this book to students who enjoy Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society series or Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm or Michael Buckley’s The Sisters Grimm. This book also made me think of Ronald L. Smith’s Gloom Town, and there are elements in both that can be compared.  I think Gloom Town is more character-driven and has a stronger plot. What The Curious Vanishing of Beatrice Willoughby lacks in craft, it makes up for in a captivating story and its ability to maintain high interest to its targeted audience.


YA – Girl Forgotten

Henry, April. Girl Forgotten. Christy Ottaviano Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, 2023. 978-0-316-32259-1. 260 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

True crime-loving Piper Gray has arrived at Firview High School as the quiet new girl. When the school assigns a required senior year passion project, Piper decides to try her hand at the one thing she loves most: podcasting. Inspired by her favorite podcast, Kelley McBrain’s Dead, Deader, Deadest, Piper decides to investigate a local Firview, Oregon unsolved mystery. Piper enlists the help of a classmate named Jonas who serves as Piper’s podcasting mentor. Piper and Jonas quickly become immersed in a seventeen-year-old mystery involving the unsolved murder of a young girl named Layla Trello. During the pursuit of truth, Piper interviews Layla’s ex-boyfriend, close friends, school employees, and family members about the mysterious murder. Piper gets more than she bargained for after she receives a menacing package and ominous online threats telling her to stop the search for Layla’s killer…or else. Just as Piper begins to sense she is close to uncovering the truth, one of her interviewees ends up dead. Is Piper next? Alongside Layla’s mystery, some of Piper’s own hidden secrets are also bound to spill out. Filled with twists and turns, this story will keep readers guessing until the end.

THOUGHTS: Readers who enjoy suspense, true crime mysteries, and April Henry’s signature fast-paced thriller style will enjoy this newest release. The book is told through news articles, Piper’s narration, and partial transcripts of Piper’s podcast. Characters cue as white. Aside from the action, readers learn a lot about podcasting itself, but the step-by-step nature of Piper’s project doesn’t slow the pacing down too much. There are some big twists near the end, but readers will be so hooked in to the mystery by that point that they may forgive (and perhaps even love) the wildness of the last fifty pages. Henry’s story also would be a hit (and a shorter read!) for those who love stories like A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson or One of us is Lying by Karen McManus.


Piper Gray is starting her senior year in a new house, a new school, and with a new family. She moves in with her dad after an incident with her mother. She now shares a home with two younger siblings, her stepmom, and a dad she has never lived with before. She has no friends at school, and is at a low point in her teenage life. This is until she discovers she has to do a senior passion project. Piper knows exactly what she wants to do – a podcast. She has discovered a cold case of a local 17 year-old girl, Layla Trello, who was murdered 17 years ago. She decides to create a podcast to dive deep into the case. Along the way she discovers a few secrets that some want kept quiet, and Piper finds herself in danger. Will she discover the identity of the killer, or will she have to abandon her project for her own safety?

THOUGHTS: Page turner! Great for those readers who love true crime podcasts and mysteries. There is mention of teens drinking alcohol, so this may be best for older readers.


YA – The Headmaster’s List

de la Cruz, Melissa. The Headmaster’s List. Roaring Book Press, 2023. 978-1-250-82738-8 . 400 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Earning a coveted top spot on the elite Headmaster’s List at Armstrong Prep, senior Spencer Sandoval’s future plans seem to be falling into place. Some people’s family’s have to donate buildings to get them on the list, but that’s not a big problem in L.A. When a high speed car crash ends in tragedy, leaving Chris Moore – son of a Armstrong teacher – dead, Spencer wishes she could remember the details. Why was she in the car with her ex Ethan, who she caught cheating at the party; Chris, an underclassmen; and Tabby, a newer transfer student? Missing the first week of classes definitely wasn’t part of Spencer’s plan. Upon her return to school, Spencer gets plenty of unwanted attention and everyone wants to know what she can’t remember. Perhaps more than anyone else, classmate Peyton Salt wants an exclusive interview to propel her – and her podcast Get Salty – into fame. Recovering from her injuries means Spencer can’t play field hockey, and no one seems to look away new scar on her face. While her new service dog Ripley helps keep Spencer’s emotions in check and wake her from recurring night terrors, she also notices the pitying glances that come her way despite her best friend Olivia’s attempts to shield Spencer. Ethan, who admitted to causing the accident, couldn’t have meant it, and now he’s being charged as an adult. Spencer has a nagging feeling if she just could remember something, all would be resolved. Teaming up with Jackson Chan, Ethan’s best friend, who is helping Spencer catch up from her absence gives Spencer the sense of purpose she’s been missing – and hope that she’ll fill in the pieces of that night.

THOUGHTS: Readers looking for a puzzle will appreciate Spencer’s unreliable narrative as she tries to remember (and accept) what happened and her part in it. Recommended for high school collections where mysteries with memory gaps like We Were Liars and Monday’s Not Coming are popular.

Mystery, Realistic Fiction

YA – Dig Two Graves

McNeil, Gretchen. Dig Two Graves. Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-07284-7. 352 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

Neve’s life seemed to derail from the moment her dad had a mental health breakdown and couldn’t return to his IT job, forcing their family to move into Grandma K’s old house in Carlsbad, CA where Neve’s mom grew up. Things were looking up for a while when Neve and Yasmin, a recent Chicago transplant, became friends. That turned out to be disastrous, and now Neve is even more of a social pariah at school. Before Yasmin, Neve already was considered an outcast due to her love of classic black-and-white film noir and its fashion which earned Neve the nickname “I Love Lucy.” With no friends and an offer of one year’s college tuition plus room and board from Grandma K, Neve accepts a spot at GLAM  Camp (Girls Leadership and Mentorship). While her mom (a former GLAMster) and Grandma K think GLAM will be a great reset before senior year, all Neve sees upon arrival are the types of girls she’d love to avoid. But no one at GLAM knows Yasmin, so even among a sea of fancy luggage and peppy girls, maybe it won’t be all that bad. Neve seems to luck out with her roommate Inara, a returning GLAMster who wears an impressive amount of plaid, but it’s Diane who captures Neve’s attention. Though polar opposites, the two bond over the ways they’ve been wronged by others, and by the end of GLAM they’re the best of friends. When a late night confessional on the last night of camp ends in a bargain – “if I took care of Yasmin and you got rid of Javier” – Neve suddenly feels uncomfortable, but of course it’s just exaggerated, exhausted conversation among friends. No one actually would get rid of anyone, right? But when Neve returns to school and everyone suspects her of foul play, a text from an unrecognizable number, “Your turn, BFF.” chills Neve to the bone. Was Diane serious, and will Neve have to keep her end of the bargain or is there another explanation for this mess she’s gotten herself in?

THOUGHTS: Hand this character driven thriller to classic film fans and those who like books by April Henry (Two Truths and a Lie) or Karen McManus (Nothing More to Tell). Recommended for high school collections where stand alone mysteries are in demand.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Aces Wild

DeWitt, Amanda. Aces Wild. Peachtree Teen, 2022. 978-1-682-63466-0. 345 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

Jack Shannon’s life falls apart when his Las Vegas casino mogul mother is arrested. It’s not that she doesn’t operate afoul of the law; it’s that she’s too smart to get caught. The high school junior knows her rival, Pete Carlevaro, is responsible. Jack and his two sisters, along with their father, gather at their casino suite home. Jack, closest to their mom, is determined to get revenge, with a little help from his friends. Jack has never been good with social relationships at his boarding school, despite running an illegal blackjack club; he met his best friends online, bonding over their ace (asexual) identities. These are the people he can rely on to help vindicate his mother. But when they meet IRL, Jack is disturbed to discover that he has a crush on one of his friends. Is that even possible? This riotous Ocean’s Eleven for teens is fast paced and fun. Jack, a loner from a dysfunctional family, is determined to out-con the con, but makes one bad decision after another, even as he acknowledges he’s making bad decisions. His first person narration is spot on, hooking readers from the first page. The twists and turns continue to the end of the book, although one big reveal is somewhat obvious. Jack’s friends are an amusing, endearing, diverse group: Latinx, Black and a Vietnamese American/German gender-neutral individual. Jack’s middle sister, Kerry, is hearing impaired. The ace issue is casually referred to throughout the book, but does not dominate the narrative, leaving the casino shenanigans to take center stage. 

THOUGHTS: This is a delightful, movie-worthy romp that is suitable for middle school and up. Mild language, but appropriate to the situation. The asexual narrative is deftly handled: informative but not overwhelming. This isn’t a book about ace kids, but rather about an engaging group of friends running a Vegas con, who happen to be ace. 

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Nothing More to Tell

McManus, Karen M. Nothing More to Tell. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-17590-3. 356 p. $19.99. Grades 7-12.

After her school newspaper account was hacked, and pornographic pictures posted under her byline, senior Brynn left her Chicago area high school in disgrace while her family relocated back to her hometown of Sturgis, Massachusetts. Her life and her journalistic reputation in tatters, Brynn interviews for an internship with a true crime show, hoping to pad her college applications, as well as to convince the show to research the unsolved murder of Mr. Larkin, her favorite middle school teacher. To her surprise, she is awarded the position, and hooks the show’s host with her crime story proposal. Re-enrolled in the private school she attended at the time of the crime, Brynn reconnects with old friends and puts her tenacious investigative reporter skills to work. But Brynn eventually realizes that playing reporter is more than fun and games when it becomes obvious someone does not want her digging up the past. In typical McManus style, the suspense rarely lets up, as the narrative alternates between Brynn and Tripp, her former best friend, and one the students who discovered the body of  Mr. Larkin four years ago. Red herrings abound as the threads of the complex plot slowly coalesce. All four main characters cue white, but minor characters are diverse. 

THOUGHTS: McManus presents a challenging mystery with fine character development. A first purchase where her other books are in demand and mysteries are popular. 

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Four years ago, not long after a Mr. Larkin, a beloved Saint Ambrose teacher, was found dead by three classmates in the woods behind the school, Brynn’s family left their Massachusetts home for her dad’s job transfer to Chicago. The move also followed Brynn’s best friend Tripp’s very public rejection about her feelings for him, which helped Brynn leave behind the taunts of peers who dubbed her “Trippstalker.” Life in Chicago was going great until someone used Brynn’s newspaper access to publish a story full of d!%# pics. In quick succession, Brynn lost her job as editor of the school paper, was wait-listed at her dream journalism school, and learned that her family was moving back to Sturgis, MA. Brynn and younger sister Ellie will re-enroll at Saint Ambrose School, and Brynn hopes an internship at Motive, a true crime show, will help pad her college applications. During her interview Brynn shares Mr. Larkin’s unsolved case and her connection to him as her 8th grade English teacher as well as with Tripp, one of the classmates who found Mr. Larkin. Brynn decides to keep her position at Motive to herself, as she’s only planning to be in Sturgis until graduation. Luckily, Brynn feels confident in her ability to pitch Mr. Larkin’s story to the whole Motive team and reconnects with some old friends. Despite everything that happened, things are looking up. But as Brynn gets closer discovering the truth of what happened that day, it seems Mr. Larkin may not have been who she believed him to be, and neither is Tripp. Will Brynn uncover the truth before it’s too late, or is this a story that will stayed buried forever?

THOUGHTS: Told with dual narratives from Brynn and Tripp as well as in dual timelines – now and four years ago – readers will be hooked. Hand this one to fans of other McManus books or fans of unreliable narrators. Recommended for high school collections.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Never Coming Home

Williams, Kate. Never Coming Home. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-30486-0. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

A free, invite only trip to a never before seen, exclusive tropical island resort is too good to pass up for ten young influencers. Following an extensive marketing campaign, the resort has a soft opening for its first ten guests. They represent a variety of backgrounds: the gamer, the beauty blogger, the rich girl, the superstar, the junior politician, the environmentalist, the DJ, the CEO, the chef, and the athlete. But pictures can be deceiving, and Unknown Island isn’t all it was promised to be. Cut off from the rest of the world the guests come to realize the island resort is a trap instead of a treat; then things turn deadly. Each influencer keeps their secrets close, beginning to question who else is on the island with them – or if one of them is the person behind the terror. Who will suffer horribly, and who (if anyone) will make it off alive to tell the tale?

THOUGHTS: Recommended for high school libraries, hand this fast-paced thriller to fans of Gretchen McNeil, Karen McManus, and April Henry.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD