Tag Archives: Fiction

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. September 4, 2018. Katherine Tegen Books, 330 p. ISBN: 9780062696724.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Based on interviews with young women who were kidnapped by Boko Haram, this poignant novel by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani tells the timely story of one girl who was taken from her home in Nigeria and her harrowing fight for survival. Includes an afterword by award-winning journalist Viviana Mazza.

A new pair of shoes, a university degree, a husband—these are the things that a girl dreams of in a Nigerian village. And with a government scholarship right around the corner, everyone—her mother, her five brothers, her best friend, her teachers—can see that these dreams aren’t too far out of reach.

But the girl’s dreams turn to nightmares when her village is attacked by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. Kidnapped, she is taken with other girls and women into the forest where she is forced to follow her captors’ radical beliefs and watch as her best friend slowly accepts everything she’s been told. Still, the girl defends her existence. As impossible as escape may seem, her life—her future—is hers to fight for.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Rape, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (June 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 19))
Grades 8-12. The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped girls from the country’s villages in the early to mid-2010s and kept them captive as slaves or wives in the forest. Based on interviews with some of the girls who were taken, this story follows one such girl in a fictionalized account of real-life events. Never named, the narrator reveals her life leading up to her capture—one marked by relatable experiences, such as harboring crushes and watching movies with friends, and a bright future—which makes the abduction all the more heart-wrenching. Nwaubani uses short chapters, ranging from a few sentences to no more than two pages, to emphasize the youth and innocence of the narrator and the terrible acts she and the other kidnapped girls must endure. It is, unsurprisingly, a difficult read that elicits great sympathy and horror, but it is a necessary story to educate readers on what can happen in the world. Nwaubani’s novel is an excellent choice for classroom reading and for those who don’t wish to turn a blind eye to injustice. A substantial afterword by journalist Viviana Mazza shares actual stories of some of the victims, along with more detailed information on the Boko Haram kidnappings. Poignant and powerful, this is a story that will be hard for any reader to forget.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2018)
The unnamed young Nigerian narrator of this novel, with a loving family and academic aspirations, is kidnapped by Boko Haram along with many other girls and women from her village. On the day the terrorists came and destroyed her village, they murdered her father and brothers, sparing only the one brother young enough to be taught their way of life. The story chronicles her cheerful, promising life before her abduction as well as the suffering and abuse she endures after being forced to part with her dreams of getting a university scholarship, becoming a teacher, and having her own family. It traverses the girl’s life from dutiful Christian daughter and loyal friend to becoming a slave under her kidnappers’ radical rule—and pays tribute to the fortitude and grace it takes to not only survive such an ordeal, but to escape it. Nigerian author Nwaubani (I Do Not Come to You by Chance, 2009, etc.) smoothly pulls readers into this narrative. Her words paint beautiful portraits of the joy, hope, and traditions experienced by this girl, her friends, and family with the same masterful strokes as the ones depicting the dreadful agony, loss, and grief they endure. A heavy but necessary story based on the horrendous 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 Chibok girls, described in an afterword by Italian journalist Mazza. A worthy piece of work that superbly and empathetically tells a heartbreaking tale. (afterword, references, resources) (Fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is a Nigerian writer and journalist. The author of the award-winning novel I Do Not Come to You by Chance, Adaobi has had her writing featured in the New York Times, the Guardian, and the New Yorker.

Her website is www.adaobitricia.com

Teacher Resources

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree on Common Sense Media

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The Third Mushroom by Jennifer L. Holm

The Third Mushroom by Jennifer L. Holm. September 4, 2018. Random House Books for Young Readers, 240 p. ISBN: 9781524719814.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.7; Lexile: 500.

Ellie’s grandpa Melvin is a world-renowned scientist . . . in the body of a fourteen-year-old boy. His feet stink, and he eats everything in the refrigerator–and Ellie is so happy to have him around. Grandpa may not exactly fit in at middle school, but he certainly keeps things interesting. When he and Ellie team up for the county science fair, no one realizes just how groundbreaking their experiment will be. The formula for eternal youth may be within their reach! And when Ellie’s cat, Jonas Salk, gets sick, the stakes become even higher. But is the key to eternal life really the key to happiness? Sometimes even the most careful experiments yield unexpected–and wonderful–results.

Sequel to: The Fourteenth Goldfish

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Talk

Reviews

Booklist (June 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 19))
Grades 4-7. In Holm’s The Thirteenth Goldfish (2014), Elle’s grandfather Melvin, a 76-year-old widowed scientist trapped in the body of a teenage boy after discovering a substance with antiaging properties, came to live with his daughter and granddaughter. More than a year after those events, seventh-grader Elle now cajoles her “cousin” Melvin into helping her conduct a science experiment for extra credit. Their project, which involves fruit flies and a mutant salamander, seems promising as a way of helping animals to regenerate lost body parts, but it has unintended consequences as well. Meanwhile, Elle navigates the awkwardness of her first date, and her grandpa/cousin Melvin deals with unsettling changes of his own. Always entertaining and often amusing, Elle’s first-person narrative offers fresh perspectives on the strength of middle-school friendships and family ties, as well as the pain of losing a beloved pet. A STEM thread runs throughout the book, in references to famous scientists, while an appended section profiles several of them and recommends related books. Lively, funny, and thought-provoking, here’s a must-read sequel to a memorable chapter book.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2018)
Some experiments don’t work out as expected. In a satisfying sequel to The Fourteenth Goldfish (2014), seventh-grader Ellie chronicles a tentative attempt at romance, a science fair experiment with her grandfather (still in the body of a 14-year-old boy), and a new appreciation for mushrooms, a once-loathed food. She and Raj, current best friend and lunch partner, have an unsuccessful movie date. A new relationship status is not in the cards, but the unexpected consequences include the rekindling of an old friendship with Brianna—someone with shared memories—and a renewed understanding of Raj’s important role as best friend. Short, readable chapters are filled with lively dialogue and gentle humor. In her first-person, present-tense narrative, Ellie describes Raj as “goth:” “he’s got piercings and is dressed entirely in black….Even his thick hair is black…except for the long blue streak in front.” Ellie’s lack of race consciousness makes her presumably white. Her divorced parents and stepfather are shadows in this account, which focuses on her strong connection with her grandfather, who’s growing and changing as well. Most unexpected in this lightly fantastic story is a tender account of the death of a beloved pet. An ongoing STEM connection is reinforced with a backmatter “gallery” of information and suggestions for further reading about the scientists mentioned. An appealing middle school friendship story that won’t disappoint the author’s many fans. (Fiction. 9-14)

About the Author

Jennifer L. Holm is a New York Times bestselling children’s author and the recipient of three Newbery Honors for her novels Our Only May Amelia, Penny From Heaven,and Turtle in Paradise. Jennifer collaborates with her brother, Matthew Holm, on two graphic novel series—the Eisner Award-winning Babymouse series and the bestselling Squish series. She lives in California with her husband and two children.

Her website is www.jenniferholm.com/

Teacher Resources

The Third Mushroom on Common Sense Media

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The Third Mushroom on Amazon

The Third Mushroom on Barnes and Noble

The Third Mushroom on Goodreads

The Third Mushroom Publisher Page

Dodger Boy by Sarah Ellis

Dodger Boy by Sarah Ellis. September 1, 2018. Groundwood Books, 176 p. ISBN: 9781773060729.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.2; Lexile:.

In 1970 Vancouver, thirteen-year-old Charlotte and her best friend, Dawn, are keen to avoid the pitfalls of adolescence. Couldn’t they just skip teenhood altogether, along with its annoying behaviors – showing off just because you have a boyfriend, obsessing about marriage and a ring and matching dining-room furniture? Couldn’t one just learn about life from Jane Austen and spend the days eating breakfast at noon, watching “People in Conflict,” and thrift-store shopping for cool castoffs to tie-dye for the upcoming outdoor hippie music festival?

But life becomes more complicated when the girls meet a Texan draft dodger who comes to live with Charlotte’s Quaker family. Tom Ed expands Charlotte’s horizons as they discuss everything from war to civil disobedience to women’s liberation. Grappling with exhilarating and disturbing new ideas, faced with a censorship challenge to her beloved English teacher and trying to decode the charismatic draft dodger himself, Charlotte finds it harder and harder to stick to her unteen philosophy, and to see eye to eye with Dawn.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: References to marijuana, Harsh realities of war, Homophobic slur, Mild language, Cruelty to animals reference

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 4))
Grades 5-8. As far as 13-year-old Charlotte is concerned, one of the best things about her longtime friendship with Dawn is their Unteen Pact, an agreement to skip the “bizarre behavior of boy-crazy girls acting fake-stupid.” But when 19-year-old Tom Ed, a draft dodger from Texas, comes to stay for a while with Charlotte’s Quaker family in Vancouver, B.C., Dawn develops a crush on him. And after he abruptly leaves the city, she rashly follows him without telling anyone. In a subplot, Charlotte gathers her courage to challenge a book-banning attempt at school without Dawn’s support. Meanwhile, she struggles with the knowledge that someone close to her is gay. Well-drawn individual characters and their relationships are at the heart of the story. Writing in third person from Charlotte’s point of view, Ellis realistically depicts the stresses on the girls’ increasingly ragged friendship, from disappointments, petty annoyances, and painful barbs to larger issues of trust and loyalty. An appended note fills in basic information about draft-eligible immigrants from the U.S. to Canada during the Vietnam War. An involving Canadian novel.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2018)
Draft dodging and literary censorship come to a head in this Canadian bildungsroman set in the 1970s. While the Vietnam War rages, 13-year-old Charlotte and her best friend, Dawn, are doing their best to grow up without becoming awful teenagers in the process. While attending a supremely muddy be-in in full hippie regalia, the two befriend clean-cut Tom Ed, a well-mannered Texan draft dodger in need of a place to crash. Charlotte’s Quaker family takes him in, and Charlotte finds a true friend in the American guest. Meanwhile, the girls’ favorite English teacher is facing a censorship battle over Catcher in the Rye, and Charlotte feels a calling to help. Scintillating prose, rich dialogue, and charming characterizations mark a novel that straddles the boundary between middle-grade and YA. Charlotte, despite her determination to be an Unteen, has an age-appropriate fascination with menstruation and the concept of sex, and Tom Ed occasionally forgets his boundaries to drop the occasional swearword (“faggot,” “asshole”), adding to the book’s liminal feel. Charlotte, part of an all-white cast of characters, is a curious, confused, and delightful companion, wrestling with questions about her best friend’s flakiness and her brother’s emerging same-sex attraction. Ellis extends her insightful characterizations to the secondary cast, such as a censor’s daughter who is “snobby and scary, like she was just getting ready to be mean.” A whip-smart historical that highlights that transitionary period to which few would ever desire to return. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Writer, columnist, and librarian Sarah Ellis has become one of the best-known authors for young adults in her native Canada with titles such as The Baby Project, Pick-Up Sticks, and Back of Beyond: Stories of the Supernatural. In addition to young adult novels, Ellis has also written for younger children and has authored several books about the craft of writing.

Ellis was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 1952, the youngest of three children in her family. As she once noted, “[My] joy in embroidering the truth probably comes from my own childhood. My father was a rich mine of anecdotes and jokes. He knew more variations on the ‘once there were three men in a rowboat’ joke than anyone I’ve encountered since.

Her website is sarahellis.ca

Around the Web

Dodger Boy on Amazon

Dodger Boy on Barnes and Noble

Dodger Boy on Goodreads

Dodger Boy Publisher Page

Love a la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Love a la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm. November 27, 2018. Disney-Hyperion, 304 p. ISBN: 9781368019040.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile:.

Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . .

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Henry’s dying to prove to his strict Korean mother that he can hack it in the world of fine cooking. Rosie’s hungry to see a world outside of tiny East Liberty, Ohio, and she thinks her pastry skills might be just the trick. Sound like a recipe for sparks? It sure is: after their transatlantic meet-cute on the flight to culinary school in Paris, they seem destined for a sweet end. But when the pressure of their high-stakes program makes Henry distant and a fellow pastry chef sets his sights on Rosie, their fledgling romance starts to sour. Strohm’s delectable novel perfectly captures the mania of food obsession, from celebrity chefs to cooking-competition shows to the pleasure of running your hands through a new kind of flour, and her descriptions of food are salivatingly good. The snappy banter and camaraderie among the rich cast of well-rounded characters crackles, and the halting, awkward romantic tension between Rosie and Henry simmers tantalizingly through every page. It’s got the lighthearted, cinematic pace of a rom-com and some comfortably familiar tropes, but Strohm folds in enough witty humor, believable stakes, and emotional growth—not to mention dreamy, envy-inducing descriptions of Paris—that it never feels stale. Best of all, the story is as much about Rosie finding herself and falling in love with a place as it is about her growing relationship with Henry. An utterly satisfying, delicious delight.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2018)
Boy meets girl meets Paris meets Chopped. Bound for a prestigious culinary program in Paris, high school junior Henry Yi exchanges glances with aisle mate and—surprise!—fellow aspiring pastry chef Rosie Radeke in a requisite meet-cute. Their romance, replete with distracting detours, minor miscommunications, and Parisian pastries galore, unfurls in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Henry and Rosie. This story has the feeling of the many reality shows that it references, with a multinational, multiracial cast of students frantically cooking for a chance to return for spring semester and all of the friendships, relationships, and drama that a boarding school entails. Characterizations are a bit glib at times: When the classmates create a meal of their favorite foods, a black American brings mac and cheese, a South Asian girl brings samosas, and a Swedish character brings meatballs with gravy and lingonberry jam. Rosie, a white girl from Ohio, has a backstory that feels a bit rushed. Henry, though, a third-generation Korean-American with fully-fleshed, complicated parents, is at once recognizable and original. Ultimately, despite an entirely inevitable ending that borders on saccharine, the story is infused with such joy and love—and delectable dishes—that readers will simply gobble it up whole. Like a souffle: bright, frothy, and entirely delicious. (Fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Stephanie Kate Strohm is also the author of Prince in Disguise; The Date to Save; It’s Not Me, It’s YouThe Taming of the Drew; Confederates Don’t Wear Couture; and Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink. She works as an actress and teacher in Chicago.

Her website is www.stephaniekatestrohm.com

Around the Web

Love a la Mode on Amazon

Love a la Mode on Barnes and Noble

Love a la Mode on Goodreads

Love a la Mode Publisher Page

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason by Virginia Boecker

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason by Virginia Boecker. October 23, 2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 374 p. ISBN: 9780316327343.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

When Lady Katherine’s father is killed for being an illegally practicing Catholic, she discovers treason wasn’t the only secret he’s been hiding: he was also involved in a murder plot against the reigning Queen Elizabeth I. With nothing left to lose, Katherine disguises herself as a boy and travels to London to fulfill her father’s mission, and to take it one step further–kill the queen herself.

Katherine’s opportunity comes in the form of William Shakespeare’s newest play, which is to be performed in front of Her Majesty. But what she doesn’t know is that the play is not just a play–it’s a plot to root out insurrectionists and destroy the rebellion once and for all.

The mastermind behind this ruse is Toby Ellis, a young spy for the queen with secrets of his own. When Toby and Katherine are cast opposite each other as the play’s leads, they find themselves inexplicably drawn to one another. But the closer they grow, the more precarious their positions become. And soon they learn that star-crossed love, mistaken identity, and betrayal are far more dangerous off the stage than on.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Smoking, Alcohol, Homophobia

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. It’s Elizabethan England: practicing Catholicism can lead to execution, William Shakespeare is working on As You Like It, and Tobias Ellis spies for Queen Elizabeth herself. In Cornwall, Lady Katherine Arundell watches as her father is murdered for his faith, and she becomes entangled in a plot to assassinate the queen. When he catches wind of this plot, Toby sets a trap—Shakespeare’s new play, Twelfth Night, will be performed exclusively for Her Majesty—and Katherine walks right in. Disguised as a boy called Kit, she joins the troupe, playing opposite a watchful Toby. But Toby, bisexual in a time when same-sex relationships were dangerous, is beginning to fall for Kit, and Katherine has feelings for him as well, despite her guilt over lying to him about her true identity. Opening night approaches, and, one way or another, the truth will out. Boecker (The King Slayer, 2016) spins themes from Twelfth Night into her narrative, while neatly working ideas of gender and sexual identity into historical context. A romantic, swashbuckling adventure that will tempt Shakespeare buffs.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2018)
A spy for the queen and a vengeful Catholic intent on regicide bend genders and battle their lovesick hearts in Elizabethan England. When Katherine’s father (a Catholic and therefore heretic) is killed by order of Queen Elizabeth I, Katherine escapes and, assuming the male identity of Kit Alban, stage actor, vows to avenge his death. Toby is a royal spy, intercepting coded letters, unraveling secrets, and unveiling traitors (it was his skill that unearthed Katherine’s father’s plot to kill the queen). Besotted with power and Toby’s dreamy blue eyes, HRH enlists him to ensnare her would-be-assassin. His solution? Bait the zealot with a role in Twelfth Night, to be performed mere feet from the monarch. Kit and a team of co-conspiring Catholics bite, arming Kit with a dagger and little hope for escape. Enter stage right: unexpected attraction between Toby and Kit. The first-person, present-tense dual narration of Kit/Katherine and Toby shows their tandem turmoil of pretense: hiding true missions, veiling sexual identity and orientation (Toby is bisexual), simultaneously hoping to actualize and be unfettered from their mutual affection. Though the author’s note declares liberties in storytelling, the meticulous design and execution make it read as a scrumptious slice of history. The conflicts of religion, sexuality, class, and gender identity are apropos to contemporary times. Victor, Victoria and Shakespeare in Love: Meet your thrilling new sister. Or brother. (author’s note, maps, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 12-adult)

About the Author

Virginia Boecker is the author of The Witch Hunter series and An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason. A graduate of the University of Texas, she had a decade-long career in technology before quitting to become a full-time writer. When she isn’t writing, Virginia likes running, reading, traveling, and trying new things (most recently: learning to drive a boat). She has lived all over the world but currently resides in beautiful Lake Oswego, Oregon with her husband, children, a dog called George and a cat named Thomas.

Her website is www.virginiaboecker.com

Around the Web

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason on Amazon

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason on Barnes and Noble

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason on Goodreads

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason Publisher Page

Crown of Thunder by Tochi Onyebuchi

Crown of Thunder by Tochi Onyebuchi. October 16, 2018. Razorbill, 336 p. ISBN: 9780448493930.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In the sequel to the acclaimed Beasts Made of Night, Taj has escaped Kos, but Queen Karima will go to any means necessary—including using the most deadly magic—to track him down.

Taj is headed west, but the consequences of leaving Kos behind confront him at every turn. Innocent civilians flee to refugee camps as Karima’s dark magic continues to descend on the city. Taj must return, but first he needs a plan.

With Arzu’s help, Taj and Aliya make it to the village of her ancestors, home of the tastahlik—sin-eaters with Taj’s same ability to both battle and call forth sins. As Taj comes to terms with his new magic, he realizes there are two very different groups of tastahlik—one using their powers for good, the other for more selfish ends.

Aliya is struggling with her own unique capabilities. She’s immersed in her work to uncover the secret to Karima’s magic, but her health begins to mysteriously deteriorate. With the help of a local western mage, Aliya uncovers her true destiny—a future she’s not sure she wants.

As Taj and Aliya explore their feelings for each other and Arzu connects with her homeland, the local westerners begin to question Taj’s true identity. Karima is on his heels, sending dark warnings to the little village where he’s hiding. Taj will have to go back and face her before she sends her mostly deadly weapon—Taj’s former best friend, Bo.

Sequel to: Beasts Made of Night

Part of Series: Beasts Made of Night (Book #2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Discrimination, War, Violence, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Gore

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 3))
Grades 7-10. Taj, Aliya, and Arzu have fled their ruined city of Kos in the wake of now Queen Karima’s betrayal and violence, eventually ending up in Arzu’s home village, where aki (sin-eaters) are revered as public servants. Being honored instead of reviled makes Taj reluctant to turn back to his lost home, until the body count rises so high he realizes he has no choice. While he grapples with his violent feelings, Aliya is trying to survive the gifts of the Unnamed (God) and learning to write the world in algebraic proofs. Together their talents may be enough to overthrow the woman who seems to have harnessed everything evil in nature. Readers will want to start with Beasts Made of Night (2017) to better follow the story line, and the naming conventions are a mouthful at times. Taj continues his first-person narration of this rich stew of street smarts, myth, and almost nonstop action. The tie to mathematics is appealing for STEM programs, although the “proofs” are figuratively, rather than literally, presented.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
After having escaped Kos and the clutches of Karima, Taj is on the run. With the help of other aki (sin-eaters) and some Mages, including Aliya, Taj finds himself having to come to terms with the fallout of leaving his city. Karima will do anything, including destroying innocent lives, to find Taj. With each step away from Kos, he learns just how far she is willing to go—including turning his former best friend, Bo, against him. Grappling with feelings of remorse, survivor’s guilt, and conflict over how to use his powers, Taj finds himself at a pivotal crossroads—choose self or choose to fight for one’s people. With the help of Arzu, Taj and Aliya make it to a village that has other aki, the tastahlik. Unlike Taj and his ilk in Kos, they are revered for their powers and have honed them to use for selfless and selfish reasons alike. Taj discovers that he can learn how to control and develop his talents, but he must decide what purpose he wants them to serve. Aliya also comes to terms with her own powers, though her path to knowledge and mastery takes a severe toll. Following the lauded Beasts Made of Night (2017), Onyebuchi’s tale carries us on a journey of forgiveness, growth, and sacrifice. The action is fast-paced and captivating, but transitions at times feel a bit rushed as a result. A satisfying sequel. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

About the Author

Tochi Onyebuchi is a writer based in Connecticut. He holds a MFA in Screenwriting from Tisch and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. His writing has appeared in Asimov’s and Ideomancer, among other places. Beasts Made of Night is his debut.

 

 

Around the Web

Beasts Made of Night on Amazon

Beasts Made of Night on Barnes & Noble

Beasts Made of Night on Goodreads

Beasts Made of Night Publisher Page

Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore. October 9, 2018. Fiewel + Friends.  375 p. ISBN: 9781250162717.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 760.

The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.

The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. Sisters Blanca and Roja del Cisne have grown up understanding their family’s curse. Long ago, their ancestor bargained with the swans for a daughter. Every generation, the Del Cisnes have two daughters, but eventually, the swans always take one back. Roja, fierce and willful, has always believed she’d be the sister turned into a swan, while graceful, compliant Blanca would remain a girl. But if there’s anything Blanca is willing to fight for, it’s her sister. As their days together wane, two boys with curses of their own enter their lives. Barclay Holt, once the son of a wealthy, treacherous family, who has been trapped for a year in the body of a bear; and his best friend, Page Ashby, child of apple farmers, who identifies as a boy but finds that the pronouns she and her fit comfortably as well. As the four come closer together, their fates may become unalterably linked. In her fourth novel, McLemore (Wild Beauty​, 2017) is at her finest; she twines Latino folklore through the fairy tales of Swan Lake and Snow White & Rose Red to create a story that is wholly original. She writes openheartedly about families found and families given, the weight of expectation and the price of duty, and in the end offers up something that’s vibrant, wondrously strange, and filled to the brim with love of all kinds.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2018)
Blanca and Roja, the del Cisne sisters, have grown up knowing their family is cursed as a result of a bargain made generations ago, and that eventually either Blanca or Roja will be trapped in the body of a swan and live among them. Blanca, fair-haired and sweet, and Roja, flame-haired and difficult, spend their lives trying to become more like each other so that they will be intertwined and ultimately impossible to separate when the swans finally arrive to claim their due. When a bear who is also a boy called Yearling arrives on their doorstep, followed by his friend Page (who uses both he and she pronouns), their story becomes more complicated and their fates much less clear. This tale reimagines Snow White and Rose Red as young Latinx women, and it mixes their stories with details and themes from “The Ugly Duckling,” Swan Lake, and “The Wild Swans.” Depth of character is sometimes sacrificed in order to incorporate so many threads (e.g., Yearling’s story of dealing with family corruption is less well drawn than other narrative elements). But McLemore’s vivid descriptions create a tale rich with visual detail, and readers will be compelled to keep reading to find out the fate of these sisters. christina l. dobbs

About the Author

Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, raised in the same town as the world’s largest wisteria vine, and taught by her family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. Her debut novel The Weight of Feathers was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults book, and a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award.

Her website is author.annamariemclemore.com.

Around the Web

Blanca and Roja on Amazon

Blanca and Roja on Barnes and Noble

Blanca and Roja on Goodreads

Blanca and Roja Publisher Page

Call of the Wraith by Kevin Sands

Call of the Wraith by Kevin Sands. September 25, 2018. Aladdin Books, 544 p. ISBN: 9781534428478.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.7.

Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this fourth novel of the award-winning Blackthorn Key series.

Christopher Rowe has no idea who he is. After being shipwrecked in Devonshire, he wakes up alone, his memories gone. Villagers tell him he was possessed by an unseen evil, and only became conscious after being visited by the local witch.

As Christopher tries to get his bearings, he realizes his current state may be far from coincidence. Dark events have been happening in this corner of Britain—village children are disappearing without a trace. There are whispers that the malevolent ghost of the White Lady has returned to steal the children away, one by one, and consume their souls.

Thankfully, friends Tom and Sally find Christopher and help him reconnect with his unique skills and talents, even as his memories elude him. But as motives and secrets are revealed, Christopher finds himself in a desperate race to reclaim his memories and discover the missing children before it’s too late

Sequel to: The Assassin’s Curse

Part of Series: The Blackthorn Key (Book 4)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Grotesque imagery, Violence, Child abuse

 

About the Author

Since escaping from university with a pair of degrees in theoretical physics, Kevin Sands has worked as a researcher, a business consultant, and a teacher.

His website is kevinsandsbooks.com.

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Mech Cadet Yu by Greg Pak

Mech Cadet Yu, Vol. 1 by Greg Pak. June 5, 2018. BOOM! Studios, 128 p. ISBN: 9781684151950.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

A young boy gets the opportunity of a lifetime when he bonds with a giant sentient robot and joins the ranks of the illustrious Sky Corps Academy to protect the world from alien threats.
Every year, giant sentient robots from outer space come to Earth and bond forever with a brand new crop of cadets at Sky Corps Academy to help keep the planet safe. But this year, instead of making a connection with a cadet, one of the mechs bonds with Stanford, a young kid working with his Mom as a janitor at Sky Corps. Stanford has the opportunity of a lifetime but he’ll first have to earn the trust of his classmates if he’s to defend the planet from the monstrous Sharg.

From bestselling author Greg Pak (The Hulk, Superman) and fan favorite artist Takeshi Miyazawa (Runaways, Ms. Marvel), Mech Cadet Yu is a heartfelt underdog story set in a bright and bold sci fi world, uncovering the true makings of heroism and friendship in the face of overwhelming odds. This collection includes an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of Mech Cadet Yu, including the comic short story that inspired the series.

Part of series: Mech Cadet Yu (Book #1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

School Library Journal (September 1, 2018)
Gr 5-8-Every year giant robots from outer space come to Earth and bond with cadets at Sky Corps Academy to protect the planet. This year, one of the robots connects with Stanford Yu, a young kid who works with his mom as a janitor at Sky Corps. What follows is an underdog tale in which Stanford plays catch-up with cadet training, attempts to get closer to his classmates and his robot, and eventually faces off with the planet’s greatest threat, the Sharg. Set in the near future in Arizona, the tale strikes the perfect balance between action and drama. The battle sequences are thrilling and the characterization, writing, and dialogue strong. Asterisks note that the conversations between Stanford and his mother are translated from Cantonese. Each chapter ends on a cliff-hanger, and the volume concludes with a great battle won and a war on the horizon. Included in back matter is the original ten-page story that inspired this book, “Los Robos,” first published in Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology in 2012. Superstar duo Pak (“Planet Hulk”; “Batman/Superman”) and Miyazawa, who has illustrated “Runaways” and “Ms. Marvel,” have paired up for a compelling “chosen one” offering with broad appeal. VERDICT A must-have series starter.-Samantha Lumetta, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

About the Author

Greg Pak is an award-winning Korean American comic book writer and filmmaker currently writing “Mech Cadet Yu” for BOOM and “Totally Awesome Hulk” and “Weapon X” for Marvel Comics. Pak wrote the “Princess Who Saved Herself” children’s book and the “Code Monkey Save World” graphic novel based on the songs of Jonathan Coulton and co-wrote (with Fred Van Lente) the acclaimed “Make Comics Like the Pros” how-to book. Pak’s other work includes “Planet Hulk,” “World War Hulk,” “Storm,” “Action Comics,” and “Magneto Testament.”

His website is www.gregpak.com

Around the Web

Mech Cadet Yu on Amazon

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Mech Cadet Yu Publisher Page

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson. October 23, 2018. Simon Schuster, 336 p. ISBN: 9781501194368.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl is a poignant novel about three generations of the Wise family—Evelyn, Laura, and Grace—as they hunt for contentment amid chaos of their own making.

Evelyn set aside her career to marry, late, and motherhood never became her. Her daughter Laura felt this acutely and wants desperately to marry, but she soon discovers her husband Gabe to be a man who expects too much of everyone in his life, especially his musician son. Grace has moved out from Laura and Gabe’s house, but can’t seem to live up to her potential—whatever that might be.

In A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl we see these women and their trials, small and large: social slights and heartbreaks; marital disappointments and infidelities; familial dysfunction; mortality. Spanning from World War II to the present, Thompson reveals a matrilineal love story that is so perfectly grounded in our time—a story of three women regressing, stalling, and yes, evolving, over decades. One of the burning questions she asks is: by serving her family, is a woman destined to repeat the mistakes of previous generations, or can she transcend the expectations of a place, and a time? Can she truly be free?

Evelyn, Laura, and Grace are the glue that binds their family together. Tethered to their small Midwestern town—by choice or chance—Jean Thompson seamlessly weaves together the stories of the Wise women with humanity and elegance, through their heartbreaks, setbacks, triumphs, and tragedies.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
With low-key yet piercing humor, caustic observations balanced with compassion, and entrancing storytelling mojo, Thompson (She Poured Out Her Heart​, 2016) masterfully uncovers the contrary emotions surging beneath the flat, orderly landscapes and tidy homes of the Midwest. Grace, the youngest of three narrators who propel this college-town tale of duty and regret, muses on her “legacy of unhappy women,” and she doesn’t know the half of it. Both her grandmother, Evelyn, who is dying, and Grace’s mother, Laura, have kept secrets about why they married men they did not love. As conflicts escalate among Laura; her angry, hard-drinking husband; and their drug-addicted musician son, Grace works in a health-food store and tries to be helpful while keeping her distance. As storms, gardens, and trees punctuate and embody the richly reverberating family drama Thompson so astutely orchestrates, she unflinchingly examines desire and resignation, death and inheritance, while tracing women’s generational struggles for genuine independence. As Evelyn tells Grace approvingly, “You’re not the suffering type.” Like those of Jane Hamilton and Antonya Nelson, Thompson’s embracing domestic novel invites reflection and discussion.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
Thompson (She Poured out Her Heart, 2016, etc.) constructs her latest novel around the parallel themes and variations in the unhappy lives of three generations of women in an unnamed Midwestern college town. Pillar-of-the-community Evelyn, her frazzled, overstretched daughter, Laura, and Laura’s independent-minded daughter, Grace, appear to have little in common, but when scrutinized in separate sections, their lives follow an alarmingly similar pattern of deferring dreams for disappointing men. As a young woman, Evelyn has serious academic ambitions and is working toward a Ph.D. when World War II ends. Then she falls into a love affair with Rusty, a veteran who’s attending college on the GI Bill but has no interest in academia. He’s left town to return to farming before Evelyn realizes she’s pregnant. In desperation she quickly manipulates straight-laced and clueless Andrew, a smitten law professor, into marrying her. Ironically, she miscarries. She considers leaving Andrew but doesn’t, for reasons left unexplained. Instead, she commits to her marriage and eventual children but never quite overcomes her unrealized academic aspirations. Laura, who considers Evelyn “detached,” lacks her mother’s career ambitions and is perhaps too attached. She loves her computer-whiz husband, Gabe, but early in their marriage, his off-putting behavior alienates her friends. In her loneliness, she carries on a short, passionate affair with her brother’s former high school friend Bob, a car mechanic. Grace is the result. As Laura trudges on in her marriage, she carries the weight of care for the dying Evelyn, increasingly alcoholic Gabe, and Grace’s younger brother, Michael, a talented musician with addiction issues. By the time family crises turn tragic, Grace has not yet defined her career or romantic ambitions. She falls into an affair with an inappropriate man who, unlike Bob or Rusty, is genuinely creepy; fortunately, 25-year-old Grace avoids pregnancy. She also stumbles upon family secrets and begins to imagine a future with possibilities. Thompson, who wrote movingly about another Midwestern family in The Year We left Home (2011), here creates a plot and characters that feel more diagrammed than lived.

About the Author

Jean Thompson is a novelist and short story writer. Her works include the novels A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl, She Poured Out Her Heart, The Humanity Project, The Year We Left Home, City Boy, Wide Blue Yonder, The Woman Driver, and My Wisdom and the short story collections The Witch and Other Tales ReTold, Do Not Deny Me, Throw Like a Girl, Who Do You Love (a National Book Award finalist), Little Face and Other Stories, and The Gasoline Wars. 

Thompson’s short fiction has been published in many magazines and journals, including the New Yorker, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize. Thompson has been the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among other accolades, and has taught creative writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Reed College, Northwestern University, and other colleges and universities.

She lives in Urbana, Illinois. Her website is www.jeanthompsononline.com/

Around the Web

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl on Amazon

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