The Orphan Keeper by Camron Wright; Adapted for Young Readers Edition

Based on a miraculous true story!

A young boy, Chellamathu, lives with his family amongst Indian poverty. He has many siblings and it’s difficult for his family to take care of everyone. He’s kidnapped and taken to an orphanage for sale. He’s kidnapped along with a few other children and they ride for three hours before they reach the orphanage. While there, he helps the other children with fear, loneliness and sickness. He’s eventually sold to an American family and moves away. Little by little, he forgets his past and that he was kidnapped. He did tell his American family that he was kidnapped when they first received him but they didn’t speak his language. He learns to participate in school and activities but never truly feels like he belongs anywhere. He can’t understand why he feels that way. His family kept photos, records and a voice recording from when they adopted him and named him Taj. In the recording, he states that he’s been kidnapped. When he’s college age, he meets an Indian family and they hear the recording and tell him what he said. After that, Taj starts on a mission to find his Indian home and family. Through acquaintances, luck and perseverance, he finds them and has a heartwarming reunion! Great story. Even though the writing is dry, the story is touching and miraculous! 4 stars!

Edgewood by Kristen Ciccarelli

Mystery, fantasy, adventure and romance!

Emeline Lark lives in Montreal where she’s trying to leave her forest hometown of Edgewood in the past. She’s on the verge of becoming a singer with a recording company but as she performs she sees signs of the Edgewood Forest creeping onto the stage. Emeline sees a mysterious hooded stranger in the audience who becomes the key to her past and future, unbeknownst to her at the time. Pa, her grandfather, has dementia and when she goes home to take care of him, she’s pulled into the Edgewood Forest and her life is thrown into upheaval and danger. To free herself from the evil and corrupted Wood King, Emeline will have to dig deep and get to the bottom of the forest curse.

5 solid stars!!! Mystery, fantasy, action and romance.

Likes/dislikes:
The writing pulled me into the story with incredible world building and mysterious surroundings and characters. Hawthorn is a fascinating character. The story has action, tenderness and a roller coaster of emotions.
Language: R for 14 swears and 3 f-bombs
Mature content: R for Sex on page 295 that doesn’t mention genitals and is described vaguely; non-detailed oral sex on page 340. The relationship between the two characters is a loving one and the sex is because of this love for each other.
Violence: PG for Stabbing of the Shadowskin creatures, no blood involved; danger and Shadowskins chasing people.
Ethncity: Predominantly white in Montreal and Edgewood but mixed colors of skin in the otherworldly forest of the Wood King.

Daughters of Nri by Reni K. Amayo

Twins, stolen and separated!

Naala gets reprimanded for getting dirt all over her wedding gown that Gini designed and sewed. Sinai is trying to avoid a bully. These two young women are twins separated soon after they were born and they have no idea that the other one exists. Twins are forbidden and usually killed because the leader has heard a prophecy that twins will be his undoing. The girls’ parents were royalty, also unknown to them. Their mother died after giving birth to them and their father planned on keeping them safe afterwards but the girls were stolen and their father died of a broken heart. Now Naala and Sinai are living separate lives and know nothing about each other, their parents or the prophecy. Naala has just escaped the slaying of her village and is living on the run with other survivors of Eze’s army. Sinai has made a pact with a magical older lady and now she’s supposed to be spying on Eze. The mythology was all new to me since I didn’t have much background knowledge of the specific culture and I enjoyed learning about that. I would have liked more action and development of the characters but still a good read, 4 stars!

The Corpse Queen by Heather M. Herrman

Riveting read!

In 1855 Philadelphia, Molly lives at an orphanage until her aunt requests that she live with her. Before she even meets her aunt, she’s told she has to pick up a package first which turns out to be nothing like she expects. Molly is mourning the death of her friend Kitty who drowned in the river. Mother Superior told Molly, with a sneer, that Kitty was pregnant and this made Molly angry because Kitty told that secret in confession and no one else should know except the priest. Tom works for Molly’s aunt Ava and he picks her up from the orphanage, takes her to pick up the package then transports her to Ava’s home. Molly finally meets Ava and is given snippets of information about living there and what she’s required to do to stay. She’s expected to collect bodies for Dr. Lavall’s lectures and usually this requires dishonesty. Molly is eventually allowed to join the lectures and discovers that she wants to become a doctor herself even though she’s not welcomed into the surgical world by society. Molly also becomes deeply entwined in the mystery of The Knifeman and it’s going to take all her cleverness and bravery to keep from becoming a victim herself.

Likes/dislikes:
Suspenseful, creepy and frightening story kept me riveted. Molly’s strength overcomes her insecurities from being left in an orphanage by her parents and the abuse she suffered there. I enjoy the diverse characters and Tom’s personality and perseverance. The mystery is interesting.

Language: R for 43 swears and 4 f-bombs.
Mature content: PG-13 for
premarital sex without details and unwed pregnancy by side characters, kissing with main characters.
Violence: PG-13 for grave robbery and stealing parts from dead bodies, such as teeth, an ear and skin, bloody remains, stabbing.

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Once upon a time, Mer lives in the kingdom of Wales which is full of magic and conflict. Mer is a diviner of magic who wants a peaceful life after she’s escaped from the abusive prince. The spymaster that captured her for the prince years ago offers her a job that will give her revenge on the prince and lots of coin so she can start a new life somewhere safe. She meets the rest of the group that includes a lord’s cousin with a gambling debt, a man who seeks revenge, a man that made a deal with the Otherfolk and a past acquaintance who happens to be an excellent thief. The banter and dynamics keep their journey interesting and the danger builds to intense levels. Mer will have to choose between herself and others and that will help decide her fate and the fate of the kingdom. Incredible world building, 5 stars!

Likes/dislikes:
The prose is beautiful and the world building is incredible. I love the variety of characters, especially the Corgi dog. I like how this book ties into the author’s book, The Bone Houses. The ethnicity is European.
Language: PG for one swear and no f-bombs
Violence: PG-13
Bandits burning homes with families inside. A young girl being taken from her family. Fighting to the death. A knife buried by the prince into a spy’s eye. A water horse bites a man in half. A giant magical boar stabs a man with his tusk.
Mature Content: PG for kissing.

Five Survive by Holly Jackson

The intensity builds to the extreme!

Red is traveling in an RV to Florida with her friends to spend a week celebrating spring break together. They lose cell service and GPS capabilities then end up down a dead end road getting a flat tire. After replacing the flat tire with the spare, Red sees a red dot hovering around the RV and yells at the others to notice. They ignore her until they hear the gunshots that take out all four tires. The group runs into the RV for protection. The shooter leaves a walkie talkie for communication and tells them that one of them has a secret they need to share. The secret is going to be revealed, one way or another!

Likes/dislikes:
Oliver is annoying because he’s a know-it-all with a superiority complex. The mystery is interesting to try to unravel when a few characters allude to having secrets. The suspense builds intensely, which makes a riveting read.

Mature Content:
PG-13 for drinking

Language:
R for 20 swears and 105 f-bombs.

Violence:
PG-13 for Someone shoots at the RV and holds the travelers hostage inside. The sniper fatally shoots an elderly couple that stop to help. Bloody shootings. Attack with a knife.

Ethnicity:
Mixed, Korean, Mexican, white, African American

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

A wonderfully immersive story, 5 stars!

Ryn, Gareth and Ceridwen are siblings living alone since their mother died and their father went to the copper mine and never returned. Ellis is a mapmaker traveling in the mountains when Ryn finds him being attacked by a dead man that’s risen and she promptly saves him. The three siblings are barely scraping a living but they’re loyal to each other. Ellis wants Ryn to be his paid guide through the mountains so he can make a map and try to discover his origins. Ryn agrees because she wants to search for her father in the mine and also stop the rising dead, the bone houses. They travel together through dangerous terrain with bone houses all around and find the reason behind the curse. A wonderfully immersive story, 5 stars!

Language: PG for 8 swears, no f-bombs

Mature content: PG for kissing

Violence: PG for dead bodies rising and trying to harm people. Axe and sword cutting of the risen dead.

Likes/dislikes:
I love this tale of bravery, mystery and loyalty set in a fantasy world. Ryn and Ellis are my favorite characters even though they’re very different from each other. I like that the author wrote this story out of respect for Lloyd Alexander’s books and the love that she has for his writing since her childhood.

Ethnicity:
Mixed

Setting:
An imaginary village, Colbern, is where Ryn lives with her siblings.

A Consuming Fire by Laura Weymouth

A deadly fantasy!

In an imaginary Britain, Anya sends her sister off to give a sacrifice to the god but when Ilva returns she has sacrificed everything and soon dies. Anya vows to kill the god so no one else will ever have to sacrifice to him again. She travels under the guise of a willing sacrifice while learning everything possible to kill the god. Along the way, she learns a great deal about herself, what it means to be a family, loyalty, dedication and love. She meets wanderers and befriends them as they teach her and protect her. She also meets the mysterious thief Tieran who is an enigma to everyone he spends time with.

Likes/dislikes:
I love Anya and her determination. I enjoyed uncovering Tieran’s mysterious nature while reading the story. I like how the story ended and all that was revealed throughout the book.
Language: G for no swears, bitches is used once to describe female dog.
Mature Content: PG for kissing
Violence: PG for mutilations and death

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

A powerful, authentic read!

Starr lives in a rough part of town and after one of her best friends gets shot in a drive by shooting when they’re ten, Starr’s parents have her attend a private school that’s safer. Now Starr is sixteen and she witnesses her other childhood friend getting fatally shot by a police officer. Her friend did nothing to provoke the shooting. This is a powerful novel about much more than racism. It’s also about choices, bravery, integrity and helping others. This book has a lot of swearing which is authentic to the lifestyle of the character’s surroundings but the message of empowerment makes it a must read. 5 stars for a novel that will stick with me.

Likes/dislikes:
I liked how the author shows reality and brings her characters to life to make the readers care about them. I like that two different worlds are brought together by two teens living in both and experiencing the stark differences in each. Character development is abundant and bravery and integrity are a huge factor in the main character’s life and family. I love how the main character’s family is open to discussing everything instead of keeping secrets from each other.
Mature content: PG-13
Underage drinking, marijuana use
Page 81 foreplay (boyfriend touching of girlfriend’s pubic region)
Page 376 arousal (the boyfriend had a bulge in his pants when he kissed his girlfriend)
Violence: PG-13
Fatal Shooting at a party. Police brutality and fatal shooting of a teen male. Riots, gang beatings, starting fires.
Language: R for 100+ swears and 54 f-bombs

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-hate-u-give

The Haunting of Maddy Clare

A haunting spooky thriller!

Sarah Piper is alone in the world. She lives in a little apartment and works temporary jobs for a living. In 1920’s post-war England, live is dreary. Most young adult men have injuries from the war, physically and mentally and jobs aren’t easy to find. When the temp service calls her to assist an unfamiliar male writer, Alistair, Sarah is leery but accepts the meeting and eventually the job as his ghost research assistant. They travel to a haunted barn in a small town and meet the homeowner. Mrs. Clare has told Alistair about the haunting, the ghost Maddy, and that Maddy hates men and recently chased a vicar away who was trying to perform an exorcism. Alistair is hoping for actual evidence of a haunting or manifestation and Sarah just wants the job. Both of them become part of a horrible past tragedy and the terror the tragedy caused. A haunting, spooky thriller! 5 stars!