Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Dark Room Etiquette: A taut YA thriller

Dark Room Etiquette, by Robin Roe, (Oct. 2022, HarperTeen), $18.99, ISBN: 9780063051737

Ages 13+

Sayers Wayte is a 16-year-old with an easy life, and he knows it. Everything he knows is upended when he’s kidnapped by a man who tells Sayers that he isn’t who he believes he is. As Sayers endures imprisonment and his captor, he begins questioning his reality. A tense thriller that examines PTSD, Dark Room Etiquette becomes an intense character study as readers accompany Sayers on his journey through trauma. The story goes very dark, but is ultimately a hopeful story that readers will white-knuckle through.

Dark Room Etiquette has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Goodnight, Boy is beautiful and raw

Goodnight, Boy, by Nikki Sheehan, (July 2017, One World), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-78607-210-8

Recommended for readers 12+

The novel of a boy and his dog is brutal and beautiful, all at once. JC is a Haitian child who’s already experienced a brutal life on the streets and orphanages of Haiti when the earthquake strikes. He’s adopted by a rescue worker and her husband and brought to America, but when his new mother is back in Haiti, his stepfather locks JC and his dog, Boy, in a kennel. The story, told in the form of conversations JC has with Boy, unfolds and we learn about JC’s life, and the terrible moment where he and Boy were banished to the kennel.

Goodnight, Boy goes to dark places, but JC’s voice is strong, clear, and stands as a beacon for Boy and for readers. He always holds out hope that things will get better, taking comfort in the smallest moments of light, like hearing children play or seeing balloons from the kennel. As he tells Boy – and us – his story, we learn about grief and loss, but we learn about perseverance and hope, all the same. An intense read, Goodnight Boy is a strong addition to YA bookshelves and can easily cross over to adult reading. It’s a great book for discussion.

Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Middle School, Tween Reads

Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard series: a good series for Alex Rider fans

As pop culture phenomenons get younger, the need for these teens can only increase. From pop stars and young stars and starlets to trust fund kids and scions of political powerhouses, everyone is a potential target. Now, imagine if there were an elite team of teens that receive Special Forces training to be that next line in defense. They’re trained to blend in with the crowd, to be a member of an entourage; they’re trained to protect. The teens of Guardian are a private, elite force, and Connor Reeves is their newest member.

Bodyguard is an interesting series. Part Alex Rider, part Jack Bauer from 24, it’s the story of 14 year-old Connor Reeves, a new recruit to the Guardian organization. Most of the first book chronicles Connor’s recruitment and training, with an interesting subplot that frames the series on a larger level. There’s a big terror plot afoot, and a Yemeni group is behind it, creating havoc on each of Connor’s missions as they progress toward their as-yet unknown greater goal. The first four books chronicle Connor’s first two missions; each mission spans two novels. In the first two books, Recruit and Hostage, Connor is sent to protect the US President’s headstrong, rebellious daughter; in Hijack and Ransom, he and a fellow Guardian protect an Aussie media mogul’s daughters as they vacation on their luxury yacht.


The writing is fast-paced and action-packed, with interesting characters and the potential for an exciting conclusion to this building subplot. I had some issues with the author’s initial descriptions of the terrorists, though: it’s a bit discomfiting, especially for someone like me, who works in one of the most diverse library systems in the country. Happily, Bradford puts more emphasis on plot development as the novels progress. Connor tends to come across as a white knight, and Bradford needs to let his female characters breathe a little more, but overall, this is a good middle school-level series for kids who wants to read a series similar to Alex Rider.

Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard series was originally released in the UK; the first four books are available in the States now, with three more to come. The Bodyguard series webpage offers a rundown on the books, plus audio excerpts; bodyguard training tips, and a teacher’s guide for the series.

Want a shot at winning your own BODYGUARD set? Enter my raffle by filling out this Google Form! Good luck!

Bodyguard: Recruit, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524736972
Bodyguard: Hostage, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524736996
Bodyguard: Hijack, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524737016
Bodyguard: Ransom, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524737030

Posted in Historical Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Regency romance and mystery: Duels & Deception

Duels & Deception, by Cindy Anstey, (Apr. 2017, Macmillan/Swoon Reads), $10.99, ISBN: 9781250119094

Recommended for readers 12+

It’s 1817, and Lydia Whitfield is an English society heiress with her future planned out for her – even her marriage partner is planned for her, thanks to her departed father. She will run the family estate until her marriage, when Lord Aldershot, her intended, will take over the day to day work. Until then, her drunkard uncle and his unbearable wife and daughters are living at Roseberry Hall with Lydia and her mother. She wants to be free of her meddling uncle, so she contacts Mr. Robert Newton, a law clerk, to begin drawing up marriage contracts, and everything seems to be progressing nicely. Until Lydia is kidnapped!

Lydia is taken as she’s about to meet with Mr. Newton regarding the contracts, and he ends up a victim of circumstance; first kidnapped with her, then rudely thrown out of the coach. But the kidnappers aren’t very thorough, and make it way too easy for Lydia to escape (with Robert’s help). Lydia starts wondering if the kidnapping had far deeper motives than a ransom, and Mr. Newton is too happy to help her investigate. After all, it keeps him close to Lydia, who he finds himself falling for… and she feels the same about him. Can the two get to the bottom of the plot and work through their feelings for one another while maintaining a sense of propriety?

Duels & Deception is a fun mix of proper Regency romance and a complex whodunit. The kidnapping comes with an interesting twist that stands out, and the main characters engage in witty, flirty banter that is sweet and funny. I did struggle with the pace of the novel at times, but overall, romance and historical fiction fans will enjoy this one. A glossary and discussion questions round out the book.

Duels & Deception was named one of Entertainment Weekly‘s 35 Most Anticipated YA Novels of 2017 and received a starred review from Voya magazine. Add Cindy Anstey’s previous historical romance, Love, Lies & Spies to your booktalking list, and spice it up a little with some superpowers, courtesy of Tarun Shanker’s These Vicious Masks series.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Can you escape Monsterville?

monstervilleMonsterville: A Lissa Black Production, by Sarah S. Reida, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510707337

Recommended for readers 9-13

Jumanji meets Goosebumps in this fun and unexpectedly touching novel. Lissa Black is not happy with her family’s decision to move out of their Manhattan apartment to a house in Freeburg, Pennsylvania, inherited when her great-aunt passes away. She’s away from her friends, her school, and the conveniences of living in New York City; she’s only got the neighbor kid, Adam, who’s set on making her appreciate life outside of the city, and this weird game, Monsterville, that she found in her aunt’s basement. Just as Lissa is set on languishing in the wilds of PA, she discovers a sad, shape-shifting goblin she calls Blue, who’s escaped from Down Under. Blue’s so sad that Lissa and Adam feed him and check in on him, but when Lissa discovers he can shape-shift, she decides to make a documentary starring Blue. But an interview with the goblin uncovers secrets that put Lissa’s family at risk. When her little sister is kidnapped and taken Down Under on Halloween, Lissa and Adam have to go in after her, and the Monsterville game is their only hope of making it back.

Lissa is hard to like at first: she’s a great older sister, but largely self-centered and snobbish at the novel’s outset. As the story progresses, and the urgency not only of Blue’s situation, but her sister’s, hits home, though, Lissa rises to the occasion and grows into a strong female character that I was rooting for. I liked her supportive, loving family and I really liked the glimpse we got of her mysterious aunt. I think a Monsterville prequel is in order, to tell her story! There was great world-building Up Above and Down Below, with Adam acting as Lissa’s – and the reader’s – guide to rural life, and the Monsterville game laying out Down Below for us before we even get there. I ended up loving this book and can’t wait to booktalk this. A film glossary at the end introduces readers to film terms, most of which show up in Monsterville – Lissa is a filmmaker, after all.

Challenge your readers to make up their own version of Monsterville! What monsters would inhabit their Down Under? What would counteract the monsters and help humans escape? This could be a great summer reading group program, just saying…

Monsterville is Sarah S. Reida’s debut novel. Find teacher resources at, which also links to Sarah’s author blog and appearances.


Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Audacity Jones to the Rescue: New Historical Fiction Fun!

audacity jonjesAudacity Jones to the Rescue (Audacity Jones #1), by Kirby Larson (Jan. 2016, Scholastic), $16.99, ISBN: 9780545840569

Recommended for ages 8-12

A spunky orphan with a sense for adventure, a faithful cat, and a home for wayward girls are all the right ingredients for this fun new historical fiction series from Scholastic! Audacity Jones lives with her friends at Miss Maisie’s Home for Wayward Girls. Miss Maisie is no Miss Hannigan (it’s a Little Orphan Annie reference, and I’ve really  just dated myself), though – she’s more benign than awful, more concerned with sweets than school, but the girls do just fine, largely thanks to Audacity’s keen sense of keeping things in order. School benefactor Commodore Crutchfield visits one day and tells the girls that he needs an orphan for a very special mission, and before she realizes it, Audacity is on her way to a very important adventure – before she’s done, she may have the gratitude of some very important people!

What Little Orphan Annie was to previous generations, Audacity Jones could well be for this generation. An smart orphan with a natural talent for knowing when something’s fishy, she and Min, a cat she’s befriended at Miss Maisie’s Home for Wayward Girls, find themselves pulled into a plot to kidnap President Taft’s niece. There’s intrigue, there’s excitement, and while Audacity is clearly the main character, her friends are very much integral to the plot. The characters are well-thought out and just plain fun to read about; the villains are bumbling, mustache-twirling goofs, easily outwitted by Audacity & Co. Audacity herself is just a great character: she’s upbeat, she loves books (the “Punishment Room” at Miss Maisie’s is a library, and Audacity finds herself being sent there often), and she’s always thinking – or trying to think – a few steps ahead.

This is a great new historical fiction series for middle grade readers – I loved it, and think it’s a must-have for collections. The book has received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. I’ve got a lot of kids asking for historical fiction in my library, and this is a great period to introduce to readers who usually end up with the Old West or World War II. If you’re going to booktalk this, make sure to check out the author note at the end of the book – this story was inspired by a real-life event involving a distant relative of then-President Taft, which the author tweaked into this story.

Kirby Larson is the author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book Hattie Big Sky; its sequel, Hattie Ever After; The Friendship Doll; Dear America: The Fences Between Us; Duke; and Dash. She has also written a number of picture books, including the award-winning Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Tween Reads

Book Review: The Guardians of Ga’Hoole Book One: The Capture by Kathryn Lasky (Scholastic, June 2003)

Recommended for ages 9-12

Newbery Award winning author Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’Hoole series has been hugely popular since the publication of the first book in the series, The Capture. In 2010, Warner Brothers released a movie based on the first three books in the series and its companion website offers quizzes, games and book facts. A Guardians of Ga’Hoole wiki offers exhaustive information about characters and storylines. The series has taken on a life of its own in many ways, similar to such literary touchstones as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.
The book begins with Soren, a young barn owl born into a loving family in the forest of Tyto. He has a cruel older brother, Kludd, a sweet younger sister, Eglantine, and a beloved snake nursemaid, Mrs. Plithiver. One day, Soren falls out of his nest and is kidnapped, taken to the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls, where he meets Gylfie, a small Elf Owlet.

St. Aggie’s, as the Academy is referred to, is a thinly veiled deprogramming center/work camp for owls where they are subjected to sleep deprivation and corporal punishment in order to break them down and create a blank slate upon which the St. Aggie’s owls can build and create an army for owl domination. By sticking together and focusing on their families, each other, and the mythical stories of the Ga’Hoole, the guardians of owlkind, Soren and Gylfie defy the odds and retain their individuality. They ultimately escape St. Aggie’s with some help on the inside and head out in search of the Great Ga’Hoole Tree, where they hope to find help to save the owls from the St. Aggie’s army. They meet two other escapees, Digger and Twilight, who join them in their search.

I found myself having trouble enjoying The Capture. I vacillated between being taken aback at the brutality of a book written for a relatively young audience and just not connecting with the story. The book is graphic in its depiction of the punishment heaped on the younger owls and Lasky does not shy away from writing about murder and cruelty. The terror of losing one’s own identity, coupled with cold-blooded murder, make for a potentially terrifying read to some readers on the younger half of the age range, and I’d recommend parents reading the book with their children to address any fears that may come up. The book speaks to the fear of being taken, the terror of not knowing how to get back to one’s family, and the sense of hopelessness that can overpower someone in that situation.
Other times, I was frustrated with the use of owl jargon – the owls have their own phrases and terms, and it appeared haphazard in its usage – and bored with some of the more plodding scenes at St. Aggie’s. I wanted more from the book than it was ready to give me – perhaps reading further into the series will help me connect at a later point.

Kathryn Lasky has written over 100 books for children and has a great website that offers video messages for her fans, a section detailing her awards and information about her upcoming books. Naturally, there is a section devoted to the Guardians series, and she even features fan art dedicated to the series. I really liked that Lasky, who exhaustively researches both her fiction and nonfiction writing, shares her research and links for books she’s working on.