YA – Down Comes the Night

Saft, Allison. Down Comes the Night. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-62363-8. $18.99. 400 p. Grades 9-12.

Wren Southerland is a healer in the queen’s guard, but when she disobeys orders to heal a young man, she’s dismissed from the guard by her aunt, Queen Isabel. This also separates her from the best friend she’s in love with: Una. As a captain of the queen’s guard and Wren’s superior, Una cannot understand why Wren disobeyed orders, and returns to her post in the guard without her. When Wren receives a letter from Lord Lowry asking her to come to his home, Colwick Hall, to heal one of his servants of a mysterious illness, she decides to accept the position rather than head to the mines as the queen commanded. With the hope that this decision will get her back in the good graces of the queen, she travels to Colwick Hall only to discover that the ill servant is actually Hal Cavendish, the enemy of her kingdom. Known as the reaper, Hal has taken many lives, but like Wren, he’s at Colwick Hall looking for redemption, and together, they discover they may be able to stop the war and save both of their kingdoms from destruction.

THOUGHTS: Down Comes the Night is perfect for readers looking for a standalone fantasy. Saft’s tale is also a dark, gothic romance. Wren is grieving the loss of one relationship while discovering another, and even though Wren possesses the power to heal through magic, readers will still be able to connect with her as she struggles to please her aunt while staying true to herself as she discovers her place in the world.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – Xtreme Armed Forces (Series NF)

Xtreme Armed Forces. ABDO Books, 2021. 48 p. $22.00 Grades 5-8.

Hamilton, John. Green Berets. 978-1-532-19455-9.
—. Navy SEALs. 978-1-532-19456-6.
—. United States Air Force. 978-1-532-19457-3.
—. United States Army. 978-1-532-19458-0.
—. United States Marine Corps. 978-1-532-19459-7.
—. United States Navy. 978-1-532-19460-3.

This series focuses on the special forces of the military. Despite their average size of 48 pages, much helpful information and interesting photos are packed into the books. Green Berets (available for this review) covers history of the elite group, training and special survival skills, headgear and weapons, and typical assignments. The Green Berets use their skills all over the globe primarily to meet their mission to “free the oppressed.” Their skills and stealth are admirable, and largely kept quiet, earning them the nickname ‘the quiet professionals.’ They carry out reconnaissance missions, train foreign troops to defend their homelands, and fight against drug trafficking. They are often used to rescue downed pilots, or in counterterrorism measures. The efforts of this elite group are largely unknown publicly, but lead to greater worldwide peace and safety. The book includes a quiz, glossary, index, and QR code for online resources. This QR code leads to three active links, one of which proved to offer even more interesting details about the group. 

THOUGHTS: An impressive series choice for middle and high school libraries.  

356 Military           Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem./MG – Tales of Great Goddesses (Series NF)

Greenberg, Imogen, and Isabel Greenberg. Tales of Great Goddesses. Amulet Books, 2021, $14.99 ea. $26. set of 26.78 91 p. Grades 3-6.

Athena: Goddess of War and Wisdom.  978-1-419-74859-2.
Gaia. 978-1-419-74861-5. (July 2022)

From the time Athena emerges from a split in her father’s skull, the goddess is always creating drama on Mount Olympus, whether she tries to or not. Although she is strong and wise, some of the other gods and goddesses on Olympus do not like her, especially her uncle Poseidon. Athena does not much care for him either, especially when he roots against her in a weaving contest against the mortal Arachne and prevents Odysseus, Athena’s favorite hero, from returning home to his wife and child after a long journey at sea. Although he loves his youngest daughter, Zeus becomes frustrated with Athena from time to time. He becomes especially angry when she tries to meddle in mortal business even when they do not ask for her help. Athena must learn to balance helping mortals with the wishes of her father.

THOUGHTS: Although there are countless books on Greek gods and goddesses, this graphic novel about Athena proves even stories that have been told over and over can be fresh again. The Greenberg sisters write and illustrate Athena’s greatest adventures in a way that ties all of her stories together and proves that even goddesses have a lot to learn. Back matter in the book includes a glossary and further reading. While Greek Mythology can sometimes be a bit problematic for younger grades (violence, nudity, etc.), the authors handle the content and illustrations with care. This is a perfect addition to upper elementary and middle grade libraries.

292.2 Mythology           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Graphic Novel

MG – Ground Zero

Gratz, Alan. Ground Zero. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-24575-2. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Brandon, 9 years old, suspended from school for fighting, is spending the day with his father, who works at the Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. He sneaks away from his dad to run an errand when a plane flies into the building. It is September 11, 2001. Brandon’s life has changed forever. Decades later, and a world away, Reshmina, a young Afghan girl, also lives with the fallout of that horrific day. Life in rural Afghanistan changed drastically when the US armed forces came to push back the Taliban. While no one likes the American soldiers, most Afghans fear the Taliban as well. Alan Gratz’s take on the 9/11, attack follows the two young people, alternating between their stories. While Brandon fights for his life as he tries to escape the burning tower, Reshmina struggles with the burden of Pashtunwali, providing aid to those who request it. Reshmina comes across an American soldier injured during a Taliban ambush. Despite her hatred of the Americans, she cannot leave him to die after he asks for help. The move places her family in danger; her twin brother has begun working with the Taliban and threatens to notify them of the soldier’s presence at their home. It won’t surprise any reader that the soldier is Brandon, 18 years later. There is nothing subtle about this book. Gratz had a point to make, and he hammers it home. The two stories aren’t just parallel, but painfully structured to be identical stories – an event in one story is mirrored by a similar event in the other narrative. And Gratz does not couch his opinion that everything the US did in Afghanistan was wrong and hurtful. While the current generation of readers looks for books set around 9/11, Gratz, a master of historical fiction adventure, who single handedly has converted young readers to historical fiction fans, falls a bit flat with this story. Gratz fans will want to read it, but it will not replace gems like Refugee or Projekt 1065.

THOUGHTS: Purchase where Alan Gratz is popular, but readers may be disappointed.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

It’s September 11th, 2001, and Brandon Chavez is accompanying his dad to work after getting suspended from school. His dad, a kitchen manager at Windows on the World on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center, is not thrilled that his son has to go with him today. He has told Brandon several times that they have to be a team, especially since Brandon’s mother passed away from cancer. While his dad is busy at work, Brandon decides to take the elevator down to the North Tower’s underground mall – but his plans are interrupted by the crash, stopping the elevator car between floors. Fast forward to September of 2019 and we meet Reshmina, who lives in a small village in Afghanistan. Her family barely scrapes by financially, mostly because the American army is fighting alongside the Afghan National Army to defeat the Taliban in what is practically her backyard. Reshmina has plenty of reasons to hate their war – her sister Hila was accidentally killed by the American army and her brother Pasoon is eager to join the Taliban, a fact that leaves Reshmina worried for his safety. She keeps out of the way of both armies until she stumbles upon an American soldier in need of help after a Taliban attack. Risking her family’s safety, she offers him refuge at their home. Pasoon, angered that Reshmina wants to help an enemy, decides to join the Taliban sooner rather than later and divulge the wounded soldier’s location. Each chapter alternates between Brandon and Reshmina, and their stories mirror each other until a twist is revealed at the end.

THOUGHTS: Author Alan Gratz is well-known for his action-packed historical fiction stories that are beloved by middle grade students. Ground Zero is no exception and is a must-have for middle grade libraries.

Historical Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – The Princess Will Save You

Henning, Sarah. The Princess Will Save You. Tor Teen, 2020. 978-1-250-23742-2. $19.99. 352 p. Grades 9-12.

The Princess Will Save You is loosely based upon The Princess Bride, but puts a twist on the classic tale: What if Buttercup saved Westley? Princess Aramande lives in the kingdom of Ardenia. She’s the only child of King Sendoa, and when he suddenly dies, Aramande is told she cannot rule unless she marries. Although she’s suspicious of his death, and doesn’t believe it to be an accident, princes and suitors of neighboring kingdoms have already arrived hoping to win her hand. The last thing she wants to do at sixteen is marry a stranger and give up control of the kingdom, but it doesn’t seem as if she’ll have much of a choice. When Luca, the stableboy and her true love, is kidnapped to be used as ransom against her, she immediately goes after him. Although she hasn’t spent much time outside of her kingdom, she has been trained as a warrior, and finally has a chance to put her skills to the test. Aramande encounters hardships along the way, and when Prince Renard, the man who intends to marry her, finds out she is missing, he sets after her to reclaim his runaway prize. Meanwhile, Luca, who is being held captive by pirates, has no doubt in his mind that his princess will save him.

THOUGHTS: Like The Princess Bride, The Princess Will Save You is full of action and adventure, and yes, it is a kissing book! The plot has similarities to The Princess Bride, but it’s in no way an exact retelling, just a loose adaptation. This book has a number of strong, female characters, and I loved the surprise plot twists packed into both the ending and epilogue!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Princess Amarande of Ardenia is not like other princesses in the Kingdom of Sand and Sky. She spends more time in the stables training with stableboy Luca than she does in the castle. Though just as well-suited for the battlefield as she is the throne, Amarande is the only child of her father, King Sendoa, which means she can’t inherit her crown unless she marries a prince in this very patriarchal society. When her father dies unexpectedly, 16-year old Amarande is not ready to marry, especially not to a power-hungry prince she doesn’t even know. She doesn’t understand what marrying a prince has to do with her bloodline. And then there’s the fact that, while they’ve never openly admitted it to each other, Amarande and the stableboy Luca are in love. Though she tries to convince the elders of the kingdom that she can rule without a husband, they deny her requests and begin inviting other princes to draw up marriage contracts. When Amarande refuses to cooperate, Prince Renard from neighboring Pyranee and his family of equally power-hungry villains arrange to have Luca kidnapped. The pirates who kidnap Luca leave behind a note stating, “Marry Renard or you will never see your love again.” Amarande cannot marry Renard. She also cannot let anything happen to Luca. Her only choice is to go after him. The pirates who kidnap Luca mock him when he proclaims that Amarande will come after them. “Sure, the Princess will save you,” they joke. But they don’t know this princess.

THOUGHTS: Full of adventure, a lovable rag-tag supporting cast, and a kick-butt female protagonist, this YA fantasy is based on The Princess Bride, and fans of the beloved classic will definitely pick up on several nods to the film including the famous line, “As you wish.” The last 20 pages are full of proverbial dropped bombs, and readers will be salivating for the sequel when it releases this summer.

Fantasy          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

MG – Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield

Rubin, Susan Goldman. Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield. Candlewick, 2020. 978-0-763-67994-1. 48 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

The true nursing hero of the Crimean War was born in Jamaica and wanted to help others with natural remedies, kindness, and good food since she was young. Mary Seacole is an unsung hero of the nursing world, and this book tells the story of Mary’s interest in medicine from a young girl, watching her mother, the doctress, and practicing on her dolls, pets, and herself to be able to follow in her mother’s footsteps. The frequent full-page illustrations are colorful and a way for a young reader to imagine what Mary’s life was like. Although her story has a lot of focus on healthcare, this book is just as much about prejudice in various countries during the 1800s. In 48 pages, the reader can learn about the tenacity of one person and her ability to help all in any way she could. There is a brief mention of the first modern war correspondent and how Mami Seacole’s fame spread through many countries. The book includes source notes and a bibliography.

THOUGHTS: If you have any biographical books on Florence Nightingale in your library, this needs to sit right beside it on the shelf. Mary Seacole’s story of determination and perseverance is one with which all students should be familiar. This book could find a home in elementary through high school libraries.

973 Biography          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

MG – War Machines Series NF

West, David. War Machines. Crabtree Publishing, 2020. $20.70 ea. $124.50 set of 6. Grades 5-9.

Combat Planes. 978-0-778-76666-7.
Combat Helicopters. 978-0-778-76679-7.
Rockets and Missiles. 978-0-778-76667-4.
Submarines. 978-0-778-76668-1.
Tanks. 978-0-778-76684-1.
Warships. 978-1-427-12412-8.

Combat Helicopters and Tanks is a comprehensive resource filled with information on combat helicopters and tanks. Using a historical timeline approach, this book informs readers of the development of the combat helicopter or tanks through various stages of its development and updates through several wars and battles that have occurred in history. Realistic photographs show the different types of helicopters and tanks, as well as the situations in which they were used. The back of the book contains a glossary and a page listing with the helicopters or tanks mentioned in this book. This book allows readers to see the way that combat helicopters and tanks have changed the way war is strategically planned throughout history.

THOUGHTS: Readers interested in the military will love this comprehensive guide to the specific machinery listed in this book. Readers will be able to receive a snapshot of history, while learning about specific war machines.

358.4 WES          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

MS NF – Peace & War; Ecosystems Research Journal

Ogden, Charlie. Peace & War. Crabtree, 2018. 978-0-778739074. $8.95.  32pp. Gr. 4-6.

This book is a good introduction to the subject of war and peace for the younger reader (about 10 to 12). It includes bolded vocabulary that is included in a glossary, a Table of Contents, an index, and discussion questions. At 32 pages the book does not go in-depth into the subject matter, but it does offer a decent overview to different types of war, consequences of war, and significant wars in history (significant to American readers). The photographs, type, and layout are visually appealing.THOUGHTS: This is a good introductory resource for children about a difficult subject: war. This book handles the atrocities of war well. The visuals and text are suitable to the young reader, but the images chosen (the pile of shoes from the Holocaust, the 911 memorial, napalm burning, etc.) are just horrible enough to make an impact but not so graphic as to cause nightmares. This would be a good, not overwhelming resource about the subject of war and peace for younger readers.

Juvenile Nonfiction                                                Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Ecosystems Research Journal (series). Crabtree Publishing, 2017. $27.60 Hardcover, $8.95 Paperback. 32p. Gr. 4 – 7.

Hyde, Natalie. Amazon Rainforest Research Journal. 978-0778734925.

Hyde, Natalie. Great Barrier Reef Research Journal. 978-0778734956.

Hyde, Natalie. Rocky Mountains Research Journal. 978-0778734963.

Johnson, Robin. Everglades Research Journal. 978-0778734949.

Johnson, Robin. Sonoran Desert Journal. 978-0778734970.

Rodger, Ellen. Arctic Research Journal. 978-0778734932.

The hands-on reporting style and colorful photographs will catch students attention. The information about environment, animals, and the attention to detail will impress teachers and librarians. Every journal has a mission, unique to the area the research takes place in. The arctic is focused on climate and environmental changes whereas the everglades has a wildlife biologist studying loss of freshwater and if there are other concerns such as pollution or invasive species. All the journals have 11 entries chock full of status reports (how an animal or landmark is doing), sightings of animals, and descriptive facts.  THOUGHTS: I think the layout of the book will appeal to students. Many have words written as if the author is keeping a journal on a tablet, iPad, or phone. This series also has more titles to offer that will be coming out in the next year or so.

Series Nonfiction; Ecosystems       Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

YA FIC – Wrong Train; Very, Very Bad Thing; Furyborn

De Quidt, Jeremy. The Wrong Train.  David Fickling Books, 2017. 9781338121254. 206 p.  $18.99.  Gr. 7-10.

This collection of eight truly creepy short stories has an equally creepy framing device:  a boy gets on a train going the wrong way and decides to get off as soon as he can. Unfortunately, the stop turns out to be dimly lit and nearly deserted. Train after train passes by without picking him up. The boy meets a strange old man who persists in telling him tales of terror to pass the time. Each story has a unique setting and characters, and each story has an ending more spine-tingling than the last. As the evening wears on, the boy does everything except beg the old man to stop telling the stories, but he persists, and there is an especially chilling twist at the end. THOUGHTS: This book is perfect for fans of R.L. Stine and for kids who are eager to read, but not quite ready for, Stephen King. Note that The Wrong Train isn’t for the faint of heart: there are no happy endings to any of these stories, including the frame story. Recommended for all middle school and high school libraries, as it’s almost impossible to have too much good horror fiction on hand.

Story Collection, Horror                   Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Self, Jeffrey. A Very, Very Bad Thing. New York: PUSH, 2017. 978-1-338-11840-7. 240 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Jeffrey Self’s A Very, Very Bad Thing reads like a modern take on John Knowles’ classic A Separate Peace. Marley is an average teen, who struggles with finding something he’s passionate about and mostly wants to be left alone. When he meets new boy Christopher, his worldview completely changes, and he falls hard and fast. Unfortunately, Christopher’s father is an evangelical preacher who believes homosexuality is a sin, and who has sent his son to numerous conversion therapy camps in the hopes of stamping out all of Christopher’s unnatural urges. Despite this, Christopher and Marley find support from Marley’s parents – former hippies with a penchant for meditative circles and extreme creative expression – his theater loving best friend, Audrey, who often acts as his conscience, and Christopher’s aunt, who does not support her brother-in-law’s views in the least. When Christopher’s father sends him to yet another conversion therapy camp, disaster strikes. The book toggles back in forth between the present and several months in the past; the present day chapters slowly reveal details about Marley’s rise to fame, and his shame about the circumstances that lead him there.  THOUGHTS:  This is not a subtle story; the message is loud, and clear, and gets in the way of could be a compelling tale. While the characters are charming at times, for the majority of the book they are all stereotypical archetypes, which hinders the reader’s ability to fully connect with any of them.

Realistic Fiction     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Legrand, Claire. Furyborn. New York: Sourcebooks, 2018. 978-1492656623. 512 p. $18.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Legrand has stepped out of her middle-grade shoes and leapt right into the heart of YA literature with a blockbuster of a novel. Furyborn, the first book in the Emperium trilogy, is an epic (in both scope and length – it’s a whopping 512 pages) fantasy adventure written from two different points of view: Rielle’s and Eliana’s, two strong-minded, fierce, and conflicted women whose loyalties are tested over and over again. There is a prophecy that two queens will rise: the Sun Queen and the Blood Queen, both of whom will have the ability to control all seven elemental magics – wind, fire, water, shadow, light, metal, and earth. After Rielle inadvertently displays her astounding magical abilities, it is discovered that she, in fact, can manipulate all of the elements. She is put through a series of trials to test not just her abilities, but also her control – when she was five years old, she lost her temper, and set her house on fire, resulting in the death of her mother. But Rielle has another secret: she has been communicating with an angel inside her head, an angel who’s help comes at a steep cost. One thousand years later, almost all of the lands have been conquered by the Emperor, and Rielle, her magic, and angels are nothing but myths and legends that few believe ever existed in the first place.  Eliana, known as the Dread of Orline, is one of those people; she is a hired assassin, working for the Emperor, hunting down rebels. She, too, has a secret: she cannot be injured; wounds close up, bones reknit, burns heal. She is forced to confront who or what she is when she learns some shocking secrets about her past. Legrand is a natural storyteller, and has imbued her novel with a cast of complex and diverse characters; she cleverly ends every chapter with a cliffhanger, and since each chapter flips between Rielle and Eliana, it’s almost impossible to put down. This is a very mature read, however, and not appropriate for younger readers – there is an extremely graphic sex scene, and the text is peppered with casual swearing. Thoughts: This is a perfect novel for fans of Kate Elliott’s Court of Five series, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series, and Kiersten White’s And I Darken series.

Fantasy      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

YA – Ready to Fall; Thunderhead

Pixley, Marcella. Ready to Fall.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2017. 9780374303587. $17.99. 360 p. Gr. 8 and up.

After the death of his beloved mother, 16-year-old Max Friedman struggles with his spiraling depression and an unhealthy obsession with an imaginary brain tumor.  Withdrawing from his grieving father and completely unable to cope at his public school, he is given the opportunity to switch to a progressive private high school.  The school matches new students with a student fellow and a faculty mentor, and so Max meets Felicia, the pink-haired free spirit who goes by the name Fish and the demanding professor Gates. The change is a lifeline for Max.  With the help of his new circle of creative friends, some inspiring teachers and his supportive father and grandmother, Max hopes to lift the heavy veil of his depression and make a fresh start. Many of the characters in the book are intriguing;  well-developed and flawed or struggling in some way and Max’s relationships with all of them ring true. The writing is emotionally charged and Max’s grief is palpable. Pixley peppers the pages with scenes from Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, writings that mirror Max’s pain and depression, but also help him come to terms with his own struggles. THOUGHTS: Could be used as a contemporary companion piece for classes studying either of these classic works.

Realistic Fiction       Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Shusterman, Neal. Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe Book 2).  Simon and Schuster, 2017. $18.99. 504 p. 9781442472457. Gr. 7 and up.

Thunderhead, the second novel in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, is a compelling sequel to the boldly original Scythe. The series is set in a dystopian future in which the Thunderhead, an omniscient, advanced AI system, has solved most of humanity’s problems including war and mortality.  The Scythdom was created to maintain a sustainable population and scythes are the individuals selected and trained to be the benevolent guardians of death, gleaning people as necessary to prevent overpopulation.  But now within the Scythdom, the Old Guard and the New Order factions are at war with each other. Cintra, as Scythe Anastasia, is revered as an inspiring Junior Scythe, respected for her adherence to the Old Guard principles.  Rowan, who has been denied his initiation, has assumed the mantle of Scythe Lucifer, a vigilante out to bring justice to the New Order scythes who relish their power and the perks of their positions. The Thunderhead itself features as a narrator and provides us with glimpses into its consciousness, objectives, and motivations as the defacto government head and deity. As the two sides of the Scythedom fight for control,  the Thunderhead is forbidden from intervening in their struggle and is unable to resolve the battle between the noblest and basest instincts of individual human beings. THOUGHTS: Yet another winning series from Shusterman, the master storyteller; readers will be eagerly awaiting the final book in this trilogy. A recommended purchase for all YA collections.

Science Fiction, Dystopian     Nancy Summers, Abington School District