City of Ghosts & Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

Genre: Middle grade horror
Secondary genre: fantasy/paranormal
Format: hard back, audio
Series: Cassidy Blake vol. 1 & 2
CW: child death
Rep: mixed race
Ratings: 5/5 & 4/5

Cassidy stand in between the living and the dead. When she was eleven, she nearly drowned and was saved by a ghost. Now, a year later, the ghost is her best friend and she continually finds herself facing situations and people that shouldn’t exist–at least not in this time, on this plane.

Just to make things better, her parents are paranormal investigators. When they are offered a chance to film an international show about hauntings, they decide to take Cassidy–and by extension, the ghostly Jacob–with them. Now the Blake family is traveling the world in search of it’s most haunted locations.

Book one is set in Edinburgh, where Cassidy meets Laura, a half-Indian girl who is also stuck “in between.” Laura teaches Cassidy more about her powers and how to use them–both the good and the bad. But Laura’s help might not even be enough when Edinburgh’s most dangerous spirit sets her sights of Cassidy.

All I can really tell you about book two is that it deals with the catacombs of Paris, and involves an extremely powerful poltergeist.

I really liked this series. I love Cassidy and her quirky family. Jacob is a sweetheart who tries so hard to keep Cass on the straight and narrow, but it doesn’t usually work. She’s a clever girl who keeps getting herself into dangerous situations, but she’s always trying to help people, and she’s very brave.

I loved these books and really look forward to a third book in the series.

If you love history and a good ghost story, you’ll probably love these books, too.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Genre: Mystery
Secondary Genre: Historical
CW: Violence, abuse, sexual assault

This dual-timeline novel was not what I was expecting when I saw the name Simone St. James, but it definitely lives up to her reputation.

The book follows Fiona, a journalist in modern day New England. Years before her sister was murdered on the grounds of an abandoned boarding school. When she finds out the school has a new owner who plans to restore and reopen the property, it sets her on a quest to uncover the history of the place–and she soon discovers one murder isn’t enough for the creepy old place.

The second timeline features five students in the 1950s, just before the first murder occurs. Through research and interviews, the past and present begin to intertwine, and Fiona gets the first lead on her sister’s unsolved murder in 20 years.

This book is dark, visceral, and disturbing. It was very hard to read in places, and delved into some very dark subjects (see content warnings above; I don’t want to give too much away here). The girls at the school are “trouble makers” with no where else to go. Some of them don’t have families; some of them have been cast off by their families due to mental or physical health issues. In most cases, the girls are paying for the crimes of their parents and family members, and the teachers and community make sure they know it.

The Broken Girls is both drastically different from St. James previous books, while still holding true to her brand. If you have the mental fortitude to handle the issues mentioned above, it is well worth a read.

Strange and Ever After by Susan Denard

Genre: YA fantasy/sci-fi
Secondary genre: historical romance
Format: audio
Series: Something Strange and Deadly vol. 3
CW: violence
Rep: Chinese, mixed race/Creole
Rating: planchet-3

As much as I loved the first book, I found that the sequels were a little disappointing on several fronts, no only in some of the attempts at representation, but just in general terms of enjoying the story. I disliked the way the characters behaved in some aspects, and how they were unwilling to bend or show understanding for each other. I was angry at a specific character died, even though I saw it coming, and the end of the book felt…off. In a way it was too tidy, but in another way it just didn’t fit and almost seemed to leave lose ends.

The greatest problem I had, however, was the pacing. The book begins with a fair amount of action, to the point that I was shocked to look at my phone and see I was only a third of the way through the book, as the sequence felt more like a climax than part of the rising action.

It’s a shame, because I was completely obsessed with the first book, and series finale just kind of let me down. I don’t want to call it a bad book, because it isn’t. It just left me feeling a bit…unmoved, through most of it. The last quarter of the book was, by far, the best part of it, but it still didn’t match the emotional impact of Something Strange and Deadly.

Spirit Keeper by K. B. Laugheed

Genre: YA historical
Format read: ebook
Series: The Spirit Keeper book 1
Positive rep: Native American (multiple, unspecified), trans/2 spirit (minor character)
CW: racist slurs, character death, miscarriage, violence, rape, abuse
Rating: planchet-4

Not gonna lie: As much as I enjoyed this book, it was pretty problematic from page one.

The main problem I had with it was the slurs and the way the main character (a 17 year old white girl) looked down on anyone who was different from her. She did grown out of this as her worldview expanded, but there were a lot of questionable decisions made by all the characters.

Katie’s family is abusive. There’s no lost love between her and her mother, and her alcoholic father is hard on all of them. What’s more, her older siblings agree with her mother, that she’s a curse on the family who brings them bad luck.

Her plans to run away, however, are thwarted when a group of Natives attack their Pennsylvania farm, killing most of her family. Katie, her mother, and one of her sisters and one brother are taken captive and sent on a grueling hike, the destination of which is a mystery.

But Katie has attracted the attention of two of their captors, who appear to be from a different tribe. With no idea what they want from her, she struggles to learn their language and in the process a tiny spark of friendship grows between her and one of the men, whom she calls Syawa. When offered the chance to leave her family behind for good and follow Syawa and his companion “Hector” west to their home, Katie finds the decision isn’t all that hard, and she steps into the unknown with only two men–whose true names she can’t even pronounce–to protect her.

Despite all the problematic elements in this book, I did enjoy reading it. There were places, especially near the beginning, where the story lagged and I wasn’t sure I would finish it. However, things did pick up around the 30% mark and I enjoyed the rest of the book, even if I didn’t like everything that happened.

There is, apparently, a second book. I haven’t decided yet if I want to read it as it’s set many years in the future, and there were places where I didn’t care for the writing style, which was in journal entries and summarized or skipped over quite a lot.

It is something you should pick up, however, if you are interested in stories of people adopted into native tribes in the 1700s, or frontier life.