Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
Classic fantasy. Eight survivers of the Winterian war are still battling to regain the magic conduit that can restore power. Meira, a rescued orphan, has only known this battle. But the evil is strong. Great, thrilling conflicts with an exceptionally strong female lead. Lots of romance but not overt sex. The only qualifying piece might be the violence. But this is war which is actually hell. The continuing theme of sacrifice, self, and value is expecially well done. YA for violence.

The Black Reckoning by John Stephens
Reading this just after Snow Like Ashes probably tainted it. It's a bit weak for me. I did appreciate the complexity of the curse-prophecy, the power of love and sacrifice, and the touches of humor. But the actual theology is a bit new age for me. Lesson for the series--we will all be judged by whether we loved someone or not. Hmm. It did have a very satisfying ending and closed all of its doors, which I appreciate in a book. 5th+ pretty scary.

Arcady's Goal by Eugene Yelchin
in the style of Breaking Stalin's Nose, this is a short novel about Arcady who has been raised in orphanages because his parents were "enemies of the state". His goal is to become the striker for the national Soviet soccer team. Based on the story of the author's father, this has all of the conflict of the fear of the state combined with the desire to do right. Excellent. The reading level is actually pretty low. The emotional level is pretty high. 3rd (Mature) readers+

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Amira has just turned 12. In her small village she has dreams of learning to read and write, but her mother believes that is foolishness. One day an aide worker brings pencils and notepads for all of the children and hers is special--it is red. She dreams on until the Janjaweed of Darfur attack their city. Written in verse this is deeply emotional, but emphasizes the power of dreams and hope. Much like Long Walk to Water by Park. 5th+

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
Unique. Up to date with lots of online graphic stories and references to darknet, etc. Creepy too, though not in an overwhelming way. Libby and May started drawing and writing Princess X stories in fifth grade. Then one night Libby's mother drove off a bridge with Libby in the car. May is devastated. When she is 16 and spending the summer with her dad back in Seattle, May spots a Princess X sticker in a window and discovers someone is writing their stories online. It has to be Libby. This is a great mystery/cybersleuthing/friendship story with some terrific characters. Perfectly fine for 6th graders. The NeedleMan is pretty creepy and dangerous, but not so much so that you would get nightmares. I don't think. Excellent. YA for violence.

Unbroken: an Olympian's Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillenbrand
Louie Zamperini was something of a hoodlum until his brother Pete got him to run. And what a runner--all the way to the Olympics in 1936 where he came in 7th in the mile at the age of 19. But then came the War. This is an almost unbelievable survival story about being lost at sea for weeks and then captured by the Japanese and enduring psychopathic torture. I didn't realize it was also a Christian testimony until the end when the miracle of his recovery was also spine-tingling. This is very graphic about the torture even though it's adapted for young adults. YA

The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton
This is a story that sounds like it's written by 9 year old boys. So funny and ridiculous. Bravo to Andy and Terry for never growing up. Andy and Terry (in the book) write books and live in a 13-story treehouse with a see-through swimming pool, a marshmallow shooting machine, and easily distracted minds. I really liked this. Lots of graphics. good 2nd readers +

The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman
This is was late in Hillerman's stories. Leaphorn has retired and Jim Chee is acting Lieutenant when someone discovers a skeleton near the peak of Ship Rock. It's a man who went missing 11 years ago. That same day a Navajo has been shot at by a sniper. I had forgotten what a great read these are. Lots of complications. Great descriptions of weather and landscapes. Deep understandings of the Navajo Way. Great read. (adult)

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams Garcia
The Gaither girls are back in Brooklyn with their pa and Big Ma who is not happy with their new wild ways and crazy ideas. Or with Pa's new source of happiness--Miss Marva Hendrix. And then Delphine also discovers her favorite teacher is in an exchange program with Mr Mwila who uses words like "decorum". Other storylines include the Jackson Five and Uncle Darnell's return from VietNam. My favorite parts are the letters from Cecile written from the heart. 4th+ Excellent.

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancy
Second book of the 5th Wave. Everyone is dying or dead, sometimes more than once. Cassie Sullivan is the only common ground. Although the story line is moved along (in the most confusing way) at the end by Marika/Ringer. This was hard for me to read through. I'm sure a lot of kids will like this. Just not me. YA for lots of violence and implied sex.

The 26-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton
Once again I was pulled in to the total silliness that is Andy and Terry. Somehow they manage to pull it of with humor that isn't mean or snarky. The illustrations add another level to the story too: The poor boy who is over-protected by his parents can only read books like "Diary of a Well-Disciplined Kid" HA. There is violence, but it is so purely imaginative that it doesn't hurt. Pirates get their heads cut off, but then carve a wooden head replacement. I'd start with a group of kids asking what they would put in their perfect house. Edward Scooperhands at the ice cream parlor? Excellent 2nd+

Spirit's Key by Edith Cohn
Spirit Holden lives on a very closed island where she is considered an outsider. Besides not being a native, she took a "baldie" (wild dog) as a pet and the locals believe are devil animals. Dogs, including her own, Sky, start dying and Spirit is suddenly caught in the transfer of the Holden gift of reading the future by holding a home's key. Ummm. I never got pulled in to this story. Details were spread thin. The island's inhabitants were sometimes mean and sometimes nice. It's an easy read, so maybe good for 3rd grade starters in fantasy. Certainly not bad, but not for me either. OK 3rd+

Dust Lands: Rebel Heart (#2) by Moira Young
Saba and her troupe are trying to meet Jack although her brother and others think that is a mistake. The enemy is looking for her, the Angel of Death and her crow. Complications ensue with switches in allegiance and trust. This is violent. There is also a sexual scene, but like many middle school books they kiss passionately and then wake up naked in bed in the morning. But "it was a mistake" is an understatement. This is well-written, although the lack of quotation marks can be off-putting. YA.

The Dark Stairs by Betsy Byars
a Herculeah Jones Mystery. Darker than I expected for a mid level chapter book. Herculeah gets involved in her PI mother's case which is also her Police detective dad's case involving a mysterious house known as Dead Oaks where the owner disappeared years ago. The plot was certainly good, but the writing is not great. I also got hung up on the friend's cordoroy pants. Who wears cordoroy? 3rd+ OK.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Payton has a bigger than life older brother who is in jail for hurting someone in a drunk driving accident. She is suffering identity issues as she leaves her exclusive high school for a regular public school. But she makes some new friends who help her through this. Lots of family issues, relationships, and trying to see what is the right thing to do. Great as usual. YA for mature thinking.

Snatched (The Bloodwater Mysteries) by Pete Hautman and Mary Logue
Alicia Camden has been assaulted and then abducted. Lots of suspects. Roni Delicata and Brian Bain meet in the principal's office to be suspended. They are, but they also they pick up the investigation. I really liked this. Lots of clues and red herrings. Serious but not overly scary. 4th+ Great.

Raging Star (Dust Lands #3) by Moira Young
Maybe after a month of heavy reading I didn't give this a fair chance. I ended up skimming some parts. This really is a knockoff of Hunger Games. Future earth is devastated by us. Humans are living off the land and hunting. The Pathfinder promises a bright future, for the strong and compliant. The ending was satisfying. And of course I liked the idea of overcoming Seth DeMalo without firearms. Very Good. YA for sex and violence.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
It has taken me a while to pick this up. I was overexposed to YA a year ago, but I needed to give it my attention. Compared to Raging Star which is also s dystopian scifi, this is more action oriented. Excellent plot and characters. David watched the epic Steelheart kill his father and then vowed to seek revenge. But he does it logically and with a plan to join the Reckoners who are destroying epics around the Fractured States. Great twists and good conversations about revenge, terrorism, freedom, etc. Very Good. YA for extreme violence, mild romance.

King of Murder by Betsy Byars
Thought I'd try a different Herculeah Jones Mystery. These are valuable as middle level mysteries. Not complicated but some red herrings and side tracks. Mr King who writes murder mysteries is just a tad suspicious to our heroine and her friend, Meat. OK 4th+

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I picked this up because the entire 6th grade reads it and I couldn't remember anything. The biggest surprise to me is that the print is not small--this isn't a particularly long book--but the vocabulary is so very Victorian. I can't believe they can follow it. "a maze of fantastic tracery in wrought iron". Well they seem to enjoy it. I think it's the movie. Not YA. This would be a difficult read for most 5th graders though.

Queen Bee by Chynna Clugston
Graphic Novel: Haley Madison is a nerd until she moves to a new middle school where her goal is to be Queen. She is doing OK at working her way into the popular "beehive" of girls until Alexa Harmon shows up. Also for some wierd reason both girls have telekenesis powers. This is a pretty shallow book and I'm not a fan of the angry face graphics when Haley loses control. Haley doesn't seem to see beyond surface appearances--really? Meh. I may make it YA just to keep 2nd grade readers from choosing this.

House of Robots by James Patterson (yeah, right) and Chris Grabenstein
Sammy's mom builds robots and they have a house full of them. That's OK until one morning she introduces E who will be going to school with Sammy. Kind of a BroBot. Sammy has enough to deal with due to the class bully, but his mother insists. The story is OK. As far as churned out heavily illustrated middle grade novels goes, it's fine. 3rd+