Part Stranger Things and part Twin Peaks, Whispering Pines is a wonderfully spooky middle grade novel from Heidi Land and Kati Bartkowski. Written in alternating points of view, Whispering Pines tells the story of Rae, a young girl still reeling from her father’s sudden disappearance, and Caden, an outsider whose mother is an expert in the ghost-hunting business. Things have always been a little strange in Whispering Pines (due in no small part to the mysterious energy company that’s set up shop in town), but when a serial eye snatcher starts targeting school kids Rae and Caden join forces to try and end the horrible attacks once and for all. It’s clear that Lang and Bartkowski have a love for the strange and unexplained (and X-Files) and whatever adventures lie in store for Rae and Caden are sure to be hair raising ones.
Sometimes a story that you already know the ending to can still shock and astonish you. It just so happens that The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep by Allan Wolf is exactly this kind of story. Written in verse and narrated by the ever present voice of Hunger, The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep tells the story of the ill fated Donner Party and their voyage across the Sierra Nevada during the harrowing winter of 1846 - 1847. What unfolds during those months is horrifying. The winter is long, cold, unforgiving, and Wolf’s writing stunningly imagines every hardship endured by eighty-plus souls as they made their way to the west coast. It's an impressive feat of imagination and meticulous research. I’ve never read a book quite like it before and I doubt I’ll ever read something like it again.
Set in a New York City where Superheroes (and villains) are real, Katie the Catsitter poses the question: what would happen if Selina Kyle was in need of a catsitter. Of course, in this case, Selina Kyle isn’t Selina Kyle at all but a beautiful and mysterious young woman with 217 cats and a “job” that keeps her out late at night. And her catsitter, Katie, is a twelve-year-old girl determined to make enough money to spend the summer at camp with her best friends. Katie the Catsitter is an uproariously funny start to a series about friendship, growing up and, naturally, cats. Lots and lots of cats. Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yu have knocked it out of the park and I cannot wait to find out what their next book has in store for Katie.
He's Back! Finally, twelve long years after Kenny and the Dragon, Tony DiTerlizzi - by way of Flit Shrewsbury - has returned to the wonderful, bucolic world of Roundbrook. A lot has changed for Kenny Rabbit; he has a dozen little sisters to look out for, his friends are all going to different schools, and Sir George is almost always off adventuring. The only thing that hasn’t changed is his friendship with Grahame. But all of that takes an unexpected turn when one of Grahame's oldest acquaintances arrives on the scene. Kenny and the Book of Beasts is exquisitely detailed and as warm and inviting as a hug from an old friend.
The Daughters of Ys, written by the indomitable M.T. Anderson and stunningly illustrated by Jo Rioux, is a gorgeous adaptation of an ancient Breton folktale about an ill-fated city. After their mother's sudden and inexplicable death, it falls to Rozenn and Dahut to keep the city of Ys flourishing behind its protective sea walls. But when an incident drives the girls apart, the fate of their home hangs perilously in the balance. Anderson and Rioux are a powerhouse together and it shows in this tale of devastating secrets, family legacy and, ultimately, love.
Deeply rooted in gothic tradition, Flyaway takes place in a small Western Queensland town where people tend to go missing. Two of those people are Bettina Scott's brothers. But when she receives a mysterious note from one of them, Bettina begins to question her perfect, pastel-colored life. Her search for the truth soon unveils a world that is full of cursed monsters, disappearing schools, and eerie ghost dogs. Kathleen Jennings has crafted an original and engrossing fairy tale about how damaging family secrets can be.
If you're a fan of gothic lit, tales of cult-like religion, examinations of race and misogyny, and powerful witches, then I guarantee you'll love The Year of the Witching. Alexis Henderson has crafted a terrifying, heart-pounding and surprisingly romantic debut that you'll devour in a day.
Mexican Gothic is a strange and sumptuous book that follows in the footsteps of the gothic tales that came before it while still managing to turn the genre on its head. Drawing from scandalous stories full of madness and murder as well as the dark side of Mexico’s history, Mexican Gothic begins when Noemí’s father receives an unsettling letter from her cousin. Despite her reservations, Noemí heads to High Place, the distant house that her cousin has been calling home. What she discovers there is equal parts menacing and alluring, and impossible to escape.
So often, the world depends on the young to try fix the mistakes of past generations so that history does not repeat itself. It’s a daunting task, and one that each of the teenagers in A.S. King’s Printz-winning YA novel, Dig , will have to face as they uncover their family’s tangled maze of long-kept secrets. Dig is an unapologetic examination of multi-generational racism, white privilege, toxic masculinity, and the far-reaching consequences of hate & abuse. It is the kind of book that you’ll want to talk about once you’re done reading it, and you should.
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires starts with an author's note that reads, "I wanted to pit Dracula against my mom. As you'll see, it's not a fair fight." If that's not enough to get you to read Grady Hendrix's latest novel then I hope the rest of this review will be. Set in Charleston during the late 90s, The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires chronicles the story of Patricia Campbell and the true crime-obsessed women in her book club. Patricia's life is far from exciting. Her husband is too busy to pay attention to her, her children don't listen, and her mother-in-law needs constant care. And then, one day, James Harris shows up. James is handsome, well-read, and mysterious. There's also something strange and unsettling about him that Patricia can't quite place. Grady Hendrix is a modern master of horror and he really hammers home that vampires can be charming and attractive, but are absolutely terrifying.
Let's Pretend This Never Happened chronicles Jenny Lawson's unconventional life growing up as the daughter of a taxidermist in small town Texas. It's laugh-out-loud funny (seriously, you'll be in stitches by the end of "The Psychopath on the Other Side of the Bathroom Door"), sometimes heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting. Her self-deprecating sense of humor is honest and poignant in a way that readers will find themselves connecting to and that makes Lawson herself feel more like an old friend than an essayist. Fans of Carrie Fisher, Caitlin Moran, and Lindy West are sure to enjoy this book.
The Compton Cowboys is an insightful and enlightening look at the black men (and women) who have defied stereotypes by taking care of and riding horses since the Compton Junior Posse was founded in 1988. While black cowboys have existed throughout history, Walter Thompson-Hernández focused on telling the stories of ten riders in particular. This new generation of cowboys face personal hardships as they pursue rodeo championships, donors to keep their organization afloat, and try to remake their image for generations of cowboys to come. Hernández has painted a compassionate portrait of the city of Compton, its complicated history, and the people who continue to push back against stereotypes by continuing an age-old tradition.
Set during the 1800s in Joseon, Korea, The Silence of Bones is the story of a young woman, Seol, who has been indentured to the police bureau during a time when silence is golden and curiosity can be fatal. When a noblewoman is brutally murdered, Seol is tasked with assisting a well-respected young inspector. Their friendship and her loyalty is put to the test when signs begin to point to him being the prime suspect. June Hur has crafted a masterful piece of historical fiction about an oft-overlooked period of political unrest and religious conflict.
It's been a while since I've read a book that has built a sense of disquiet and dread as masterfully as Sarah Moss's novel Ghost Wall does. It's a quick and brutal read, and Moss ratchets up the tension with each page as the past seamlessly blends with the present.
Gideon Belman's life is abruptly uprooted when his family is forced to leave Bath and move to Ormesleep Farm. It's an ancient and agrarian homestead that harbors resentment, jealously, and possibly, at least according to legend, a sleeping dragon. Grounded in realism, Ormeshadow is a remarkable story about family legacy, the depths of what it means to be human, and the power of storytelling. It's part complex coming-of-age drama and part enchanting fairytale.
With the debut of Stepping Stones, Lucy Knisley is poised to join the ever-growing pantheon of poignant middle grade graphic novelists. Moving to the middle of nowhere and learning new chores is already difficult enough, but having to deal with two new step-sisters and a stepfather who can be a bit of a jerk only makes matters more difficult for Stepping Stone's protagonist, Jen. Knisley perfectly captures the triumphs and tribulations of pre-teen life, and soon enough Jen is forced to confront her own insecurities (and learns how to stick up for herself in the process). Based on Knisley's own childhood experiences living on a farm in upstate New Yoprk, Stepping Stones is a story full of unlikely friendships, sisters, and adorable (and messy) chickens.
Linus Baker is a by-the-books case worker for DICOMY (the Department in Charge of Magical Youth) where he oversees the well-being of magical children housed in government sanctioned orphanages. His life has been safe, simple and, to be perfectly frank, dreadfully boring. But when Upper Management calls on him to investigate a curious and highly classified case, all that starts to change. I haven't read a book that is as sweet, heartwarming, or as wholesome as The House in the Cerulean Sea in a long time and it's exactly what sci-fi and fantasy (and genre fiction in general) needs right now.
The Monster of Elendhaven is a compulsively readable debut that draws from gothic tradition and is not for the faint of heart. Its characters are vengeful and violent, and you can't help but cheer them on in their quest for retributive justice. Fantasy readers won't want to miss out on this unsettling tale.
A small group of men and boys arrive at an isolated sea stac in the Scottish St. Kilda archipelago, during the summer of 1727, on a seasonal fowling expedition. When no one returns to the stac to collect them at the end of their three-week stint, their faith in God and in each other is tested as they face abandonment, devastating storms, and starvation. McCaughrean has crafted a brutal and emotionally tumultuous tale of friendship and survival. It is stunningly visualized, ultimately heartbreaking, and the kind of story that will stick with you long after you've finished reading it.
If you're in the mood for a tale that is jam-packed with Eastern European folklore, magical creatures, terrifying vikings, unlikely heroes, and high-stakes adventure, then Anya and the Dragon is exactly what you're looking for. Sofiya Pasternack has crafted a truly magical debut that feels as much like a fresh take on the genre as it does like an old favorite. Anya and the Dragon is a gorgeous story of friendship, bravery, and discovering that power comes in all shapes and sizes.
In Little Weirds, Jenny Slate embraces her weirdness with open arms and encourages others to do the same. It's clear that she has poured her heart and soul into this book. It's compulsively readable (you'll finish it in one sitting), relatable, and righteously angry at the state of the world we live in. Little Weirds is as much a collection of introspective essays as it is a call to arms for women to realize that nothing and no one can (or should) hold them back.
Galaxy "Alex" Stern, the only survivor of an extremely horrific and as-yet unsolved multiple homicide, is given a much-needed second chance when she is offered a full ride to one of the country's most prestigious (and notorious) universities. The catch? She'll have to keep a close eye on Yale's secret societies and the dark deeds that they get up to. Their occult activities are as dangerous as they are alluring and, with each passing day, Alex realized that not everyone is who (or what) they say they are. Ninth House is the best book that I have read in 2019 and I guarantee you'll be hooked from the very first page.
Half fairy tale and half horror story, The Bone Houses is an atmospheric and magical adventure that transports readers to a remote village where the dead don't always stay that way. While Aderyn verch Gwyn's job as an amateur grave digger has kept her family afloat, a decades-old curse on the land where they live has made life less than easy. When Ellis, an apprentice map maker with a secret, arrives in town the undead Ryn has been keeping at bay begin to attack with newfound ferocity. Eliis and Ryn soon embark on a hunt for the truth and an ancient and long forgotten magic.
Part Star Wars and part Thor: Ragnarok, Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl is an extremely satisfying (and heartwarming) conclusion to Hatke's extended universe. In this intergalactic showdown, Hatke brings together Jack, Zita, and their friends for one final adventure. This time around Jack and Zita will have to join forces to contend with an army of bloodthirsty giants determined to invade our planet and bring the age of man to an end. And while they're no strangers to heroics, saving the world is far from a walk in the park.
While the questions in Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? were written by kids, Caitlin Doughty's new collection isn't exclusively for younger readers. These enlightening and informative essays are for anyone who might be curious to find out what happens to our bodies (both inside and out) after we die. Doughty answers each question using her personal experiences as a mortician and vast knowledge in a way that is both affable and highly informative, proving that your "morbid" curiosity might not be so strange after all.
Where there's a private school for magical people, chances are that there will be--or already has been--a murder. And, as it turns out, Osthorne Academy is no exception. Magic for Liars is a strange and unsettling mystery that makes for a real page-turner.
Lock Every Door is a fun, heart-pounding thriller and a modern take on ghost stories like Rebecca and The Turn of the Screw. What unfolds is a convoluted tale that pits its down-on-her-luck hero, Jules, against the clock to try and uncover the truth.
Amanda Montell's self-professed feminist guide to taking back the English language is an insightful and enlightening manifesto that deserves all of the same hype that Dreyer's English received. Montell breaks down the use of gendered language and shines a much needed light on everyday biases with a playfulness that challenges how we use language today.
SS&DGM is as much a self-help book as it is a joint memoir, and it is every bit as charming, acerbic and unflinchingly honest as the true-crime podcast ( My Favorite Murder) that preceded it.
Every year, in the grasslands of Mongolia, a competition takes place that has been dubbed the "longest and toughest horse race." It's a brutal test of endurance, and Lara Prior-Palmer's stunning debut will leave you feeling every bruise, callus, and heartache she experienced during the race.
What do you get when you cross American Gods with Mad Max? The answer is this action-packed, blood-soaked book. The world as we know it has come to an end in a global warming-related apocalypse and it's up to Maggie Hoskie, a kick-butt, supernaturally gifted monster killer, to protect what's left of humankind.
Aidan Bishop has been having a bad day. In fact, he's been mysteriously experiencing the same bad day over and over again. But unlike "Groundhog Day," Aidan wakes up in a different body every morning. The only way for him to escape the loop he's stuck in is by solving the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle before it happens at 11 PM. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is the type of thriller that you'll finish in a day. It's strange, and fun, and the plot twists don't stop coming. Stuart Turton's debut novel will keep you guessing right up until the end
Jarrett Krosoczka's graphic novel memoir, Hey, Kiddo, is a story that will tear your heart into pieces only to put it back together again as it follows Krosoczka's life from the time that his mother, a heroin addict, is incarcerated to the search for his biological father as a teenager. This graphic novel marks his first work for an older crowd. Hey, Kiddo tackles themes and issues such as neglect and addiction, the latter of which helps to make this a timely and important story.
Until I picked up a copy of Maeve In America, I had never heard of Maeve Higgins. What I quickly discovered was that she is hilarious, poignant, charming, whip-smart and, on top of all that, a wonderful essayist whose writing ranges from laugh-out-loud funny to engaging and insightful. This book contains a lot of intelligence, compassion, and a biting self-awareness -- all qualities I love in my non-fiction reading.
Rice Moore is no stranger to trouble. It seems to follow him wherever he goes, including the remote forest preserve for which he is responsible. Someone has been poaching black bears, so Rice sets into motion a plan that could dredge up his violent past. This debut is a taught, unsettling tale of justice and retribution, and it's perfect for fans of Longmire or Elmore Leonard.
Every good nerd knows that with great power comes great responsibilities. And lots of enemies! Will Dando wakes up one morning with over a hundred predictions of the future in his head, some seem insignificant, others have the 'powers that be' scrambling to find him. Told through alternating voices and interweaving narration, this is fun, action-packed, and a surprisingly touching look at human nature.
This one is full of adventure, danger at every turn, thieves, knights, and of course, magic. When Drest's father, the legendary Mad Wolf himself, and his fearsome warband are captured by invading knights, Drest is left utterly alone for the first time in her life. Armed with her wit, a sword much too big for a twelve year old girl, and her stalwart determination, Drest sets forth on a wild and dangerous rescue attempt to save her family before it's too late.
Raina Telgemeier has written and illustrated a beautiful and powerful coming-of-age story. Catrina and her family are moving to the foggy coast of Northern California because her sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis. Moving is tough, but she understands that the cold, clean air is what's best for her sister. When a new neighbor tells the girls about the ghosts of Bahía de la Luna, Maya becomes determined to meet one. Readers who loved Wonder won't be able to put Ghosts down, and might find themselves wiping away a tear or two at the end.
Heidi Heilig does a brilliant job of weaving myth with history as she tells the story of Nixie Song, a young woman living aboard the pirate ship Temptation with her charming, opiate addicted father and his ragtag crew - a former monk, a warrior woman and her ghost-wife, and a Persian thief, wise beyond his years, plucked from the world of One Thousand and One Nights. Together they navigate the ship, sailing from modern day New York, to the distant shores of Hawaii during the nineteenth century, to lands that exist only in fairy tales. With Heilig's fluid prose and clever dialogue, I felt as though I had been transported through time.
Told through a series of redacted documents, interviews, IMs, schematics, military reports, and surveillance reports, Illuminae starts with a bang (literally) and never slows down.