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The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

Two hundred years ago, the Swan sisters were drowned as witches by the townspeople of Sparrow.  And every summer since, the three sisters have returned for three weeks in June, inhabiting the bodies of three local girls, luring boys into the harbor, and drowning them before returning to the sea.  Two centuries of death and revenge have haunted this small coastal town, and this summer promises to be no different.

Penny Talbot has lived on Lumiere Island in the Sparrow harbor her entire life, helping her father maintain the lighthouse before his disappearance three summers ago.  Now, Penny manages the light on her own, her mother so lost in her own grief that she rarely ventures out of bed.  Until Bo Carter turns up on the dock on the last day of May – the day before the Swan season begins.  He tells Penny he’s looking for work and he’s in Sparrow because it was the last stop on the bus line – true, but Penny knows there’s something he isn’t telling her.  Bo claims not to know about the Swan sisters, or the season, but it can’t be a coincidence that he has arrived just as the season is beginning.  She initially rejects his offer of help but, after he defends her at the Swan party that night on the beach, pulling her from the water before a Swan sister can take her, she takes him home to the island.

Penny knows the next three weeks of the Swan season will be a test.  She must protect Bo at all costs – protect him from the sisters who will want to take him below the waves and keep him there with them.  She also must protect her own secrets – secrets that would be deadly if Bo, or anyone, discovered them.  But, as the days pass, and drowned boys are discovered, Penny finds herself falling for the mysterious stranger.  If she can keep Bo, and herself, and her secrets safe until the summer solstice, then she’ll allow herself to fall in love – but some secrets can’t stay hidden forever.

This lush, atmospheric romance with a razor sharp edge is the perfect book to take you into October!  The story of the three Swan sisters is slowly unspooled as the mystery deepens and the secrets pile up for Penny and Bo.  Ghost witches haunting the sea and a small town on an endless quest for revenge is deliciously creepy, but throw in a little paranormal body stealing, a harbor full of shipwrecks, a little magic, and some star-crossed lovers, and you’ve got the perfect fall book date.  Enjoy The Wicked Deep after dark with a cup of hot herbal tea, more than a few candles lit, and a slice of cake – and be prepared to fall under its spell.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead rose up from the battlefield at Gettysburg and began to stalk the fields and forests of our reeling nation.  Two days before the War Between the States became the War Against the Dead.  The South was lost, overrun by shamblers, horses all but vanished, and the survivors in the East live in fortified towns and cities, protected by walls and citizen soldiers trained to put down the dead.  Citizens like Jane, forcibly sent to combat training schools as children with the passing of the Negro and Native Reeducation Act.

Over a decade after Rising Day, the cities in the East have been declared mostly free and safe of the undead, but there is still a need to keep the living safe, especially when travelling.  A student at one of the best ladies’ combat training schools, Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Maryland, Jane is training to be an Attendant, a companion who will guard her future employer’s life – and virtue, depending on what the situation may call for.  She misses her mama, her Aunt Aggie, and her Kentucky home on Rose Hill plantation something fierce, but, as one of the best in her class, she hopes to have the choice to return and protect her home when she graduates.  Even if she does find herself in more trouble than she ought due to her inability to keep quiet and follow the rules of decorum, Jane’s combat skills are unmatched by any of her classmates.

When whole Baltimore families start disappearing, without a hint as to where they’ve vanished, Jane knows something dirty is happening – there’s no way folks are headed out West without making a peep about it, and a shambler attack could never be mistaken for anything else.  When Jane and her Miss Preston’s archrival, fussy, fashionable, and lovely Katherine Deveraux (do not call her Kate), attend a lecture on a possible cure for the undead plague at a Baltimore university, Jane finds herself an unexpected hero when she is forced to put down a recently turned man, which results in an unwelcome invitation to serve at a dinner hosted by the mayor’s wife.  It does, however, seem like the perfect opportunity to do a little snooping around for answers, which, as usual, lands Jane – and Katherine – in a whole heap of trouble she definitely wasn’t looking for.

Fierce, strong, determined, and awfully handy with a blade, Jane is a girl you’ll totally want on your zombie defense team.  With incredible world-building that weaves in the real history of medical research, the end of slavery and the Reconstruction, westward expansion and Native American boarding schools, and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation has created a very real picture of just what the world might have looked like if the dead had risen up from the battlefield in Gettysburg.  I’m not usually a big zombie fan, but I’m all about historical fiction with a smart twist (plus the buzz on this book was so, so good!), so I’ve had this book on my teetering to-be-read pile for well over a year.  Although part of me wonders why I waited so long to read this reimagined history of a shattered nation, a big part of me is sooooo relieved that now I have way less time to wait for the sequel, Deathless Divide, coming to a library near you in February of 2020!

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara Batista is a girl who isn’t sure where – or how – she belongs.  A twin and one half of her Dominican parents’ miracle, Xiomara is everything her devout mother is afraid of – full of questions, especially when it comes to faith, possessed of fierce fists she learned how to use a long time ago to protect her twin brother, and with a body she always feels takes up too much space, especially when boys and men are always calling attention to it.  She’s also a girl who loves words and loves to write, her most prized possession a journal her twin, Xavier, gave to her on her birthday.

When her new English teacher, Ms. Galiano, invites Xiomara to join her after-school slam poetry club, Xiomara knows she can’t go.  Confirmation class is at the same time, and there’s no way Mami will allow her to switch it up, even though Xiomara isn’t too sure she’s ready to be confirmed yet – she’s full of too many questions that no one seems to want to hear, much less answer.

But a friendship – and maybe more, although there’s no way Mami will allow her to date – with a boy in her bio class starts to change the ways Xiomara tries to fit in to her world.  Aman feels like the first person to really listen to her – listen, and not judge.  Listen, with respect.  Listen, and understand.  Listen, and give words back to her.  As Xiomara fills up the pages of her journal with poetry, she starts to move toward becoming a girl who can let her words out – and even be proud of them.  But when something happens that sends her words up in smoke, can she be brave enough to keep working her way toward herself?

This book has been on my radar for months, so, after it basically picked up All The Awards this year, I knew I had to take a break from my annual Harry Potter re-read and make some time for Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel.  And OH WOW am I glad I did.  Beautiful, compelling, heart-breaking, raw and emotional, and stunning in its expression of one girl’s truth, this has got to be one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.  Written in free verse, The Poet X is the story of Xiomara’s sophomore year of high school – the story of how one girl finds the words inside herself and uses them to set her true self free.