Friday, December 15, 2017

December Recommendations


In SONG OF THE CURRENT, by Sarah Tolcser, Caroline Oresteia comes from a long line of wherry folk, who listen when the river god speaks in the language of small things. But the river god hasn’t called her yet, and she’s afraid he never will. When her father is arrested for refusing to carry a shipment for the Margravina’s soldiers, Caroline knows she’s ready to take the helm of the family boat. Romance, magic, and a strong heroine make this one fun read. (YA)

FAR FROM THE TREE, by Robin Benway, recently won the National Book Award in the YA category. Grace, Maya, and Joaquin are siblings who share the same birth mother. When Grace has a baby at sixteen, who she puts up for adoption, she suddenly needs to find out about her biological family. (YA)

THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE, by Cynthia Hand, is a witty modern take on A Christmas Carol. Mean girl Holly Chase is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve, but chooses to ignore their warnings until it’s too late. She ends up working for top-secret Project Scrooge as the Ghost of Christmas Past, trying to get others to mend their ways before it’s too late. She's bored out of her mind, until one year a Scrooge turns out to be totally hot… (YA)

Picture books:

TONY, by Ed Galing, illustrated by Erin E. Stead, depicts the quiet beauty of a long ago, pre-dawn ritual: a horse named Tony, "all white,/ large, sturdy,/ with wide gentle eyes/ and a ton of love,” pulls a wagon loaded with milk, butter, and eggs, and is met every morning by the narrator. Exquisite!

In FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, by Matt Forrest Esenwine, illustrated by Fred Koehler, three kids, having a sleepover in a tree house, find that their flashlight beam "opens up the night.” The rhyming text takes the kids (and readers) on a spectacular adventure, and the art has plenty of details to pore over in this ode to imagination.

And in THE WAY HOME IN THE NIGHT, by Akiko Miyakoshi, a city-dwelling bunny in her mother’s arms is carried “through the quiet streets,” catching glimpses of neighbors who are already home. Evocative text and a gorgeously rendered world where animals live in apartment buildings.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Shelf Awareness--The Cruel Prince

YA Review: The Cruel Prince

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (Little, Brown, $18.99 hardcover, 384p., ages 14-up, 9780316310277, January 2, 2018)

A tall stranger mysteriously appears in the home of seven-year-old twins Jude and Taryn, "as if stepping between one shadow and the next." He proceeds to murder their parents in front of them, then whisks away the twins and their older sister, Vivi, to live with him in Faerie. Although the twins are human, Vivi, with her "split-pupiled gaze" and the "lightly furred points of her ears," is the stranger's heir, fathered when the girls' mother was his wife. Before Mom renounced her vows, that is, and escaped Faerie with her unborn child.

Now Jude is 17, and being raised like "a trueborn child of Faerie." She is frequently reminded by the fey servants how fortunate she is that her adoptive father, Madoc, treats all three sisters as Gentry, because to most of the Folk she will always be "a bastard daughter of a faithless wife, a human without a drop of faerie blood." Even after being given True Sight and charms to resist most enchantments, Jude knows that life as a mortal in Faerie will never be easy. Regardless, she feels at home there and revels in the spectacle, pageantry and "beautiful nightmare" of the Faerie Court.

Determined to win a place at Court through skill rather than marriage, she hones her bladesmanship. She aims to be granted a knighthood, and with it a place in one of the royals' personal guards. This would allow her "a kind of power, a kind of protection." For a time, her biggest obstacle is brutal Prince Cardan, the sixth child of High King Eldred, and his nasty friends Valerian, Nicasia and Locke, who despise Jude and Taryn for the crime of being human. Insults, violence, threats of ensorcellment and near drowning are some of the indignities the sisters endure before the stakes begin to rise. High King Eldred, who "has lost his taste for bloodshed," decides it's time to "abdicate his throne in favor of one of his children." Madoc denies Jude the right to try for a knighthood, leaving her with a desperate need to prove she's not weak. When she is recruited to spy for third-born Prince Dain, she takes the opportunity to prove herself and is drawn into dangerous games of Faerie power and intrigue.

Holly Black (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown; Doll Bones; The Darkest Part of the Forest) works her magic with this story, effortlessly giving all things fey a thoroughly modern sensibility. With The Cruel Prince, she introduces a stunning new series, full of all the glamour and brutality that Faerie can deliver. Secret strategies, twisted loyalties, love, lust and betrayal all come into play as Jude struggles to find her way among the Folk. And ultimately only she can decide how far she is willing to go to save her family, the royal line and possibly the whole of Faerie itself. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Seventeen-year-old mortal Jude vies for power as she struggles to live among the stronger, more beautiful and deeply wicked inhabitants of Faerie.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December's Book of the Month--My Sister Rosa

Hello! December’s Book of the Month is the wonderfully dark and creepy psychological thriller, MY SISTER ROSA, by Justine Larbalestier:

Che’s sister Rosa may look like a doll, with her big blue eyes, dimples, and blonde ringlets, but Che knows she’s no doll. She’s a ticking time bomb, call it "psychopathy, sociopathy, personality disorder, evil, or the devil within.” The trouble is that Che and Rosa’s parents don’t believe there’s anything wrong. Clever Rosa lets only Che see her dangerous side. He’s always got to be paying attention so she won’t set things on fire or kill small animals for the fun of it.

When the family moves to New York, “city of angry police and constant emergencies,” Che knows Rosa will be delighted with all the new opportunities to wreak her increasingly damaging havoc. She preys on the twin daughters of her parents' new business partners, as well as insinuating herself—menacingly-- into Che’s budding relationship with a woman he meets at his gym. Seventeen-year-old Che does his best, but his brilliant sister remains two steps ahead of him and his parents never seem to notice or care.

Larbalestier builds a complex portrait of a troubled child, a troubled family, and a whole lot of trouble for the mostly innocent bystanders they encounter. New York City serves as a vibrant and diverse backdrop, filled with believable secondary characters and opportunities for trouble of all kinds.

This is one creepy and thoroughly addicting book!


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Shelf Awareness--A Line in the Dark

YA Review: A Line In The Dark

A Line In The Dark by Malinda Lo (Dutton, $17.99 hardcover, 288p., ages 14-up, 9780735227422)

Even though Angie Redmond seems oblivious, high school junior Jess Wong is very interested in the two of them sharing a romantic "happy ending." But no matter what happens, Jess needs to first make sure her longtime best friend is "okay." When a girl from the exclusive Pearson Brooke boarding school, exuding the usual "we-are-the-sh*t aura," walks into the Creamery where Angie works, Jess immediately senses trouble. And this is before she watches "the Peeb" steal a bag of candy. Afterward, Angie admits she thinks the Peeb (whose name is Margot) is cute, and she and Margot quickly begin dating.

Jess knows she should be happy for her best friend, but watching Angie and Margot together is like "a punch in [the] face." The girls clash repeatedly over Jess's jealousy and dislike of Margot (Jess is sure Angie is "not seeing the real Margot") and the two don't speak for weeks. When they finally make up, Angie convinces Jess to go with her to a small Christmas party at Margot's summer house. The party includes Margot's best friend Ryan, Ryan's boyfriend and four other entitled Peebs. Tensions mount--helped by a healthy dose of alcohol--and secrets, lies and a gun turn into a recipe for disaster.

Jess is a talented comic book artist who draws what she can't say out loud. Her well-thought-out, alternate magical world helps her make sense of her own life, which in turn feeds her art. Her characters Kestrel, Raven and Laney form a familiar love triangle, with passions building out of control. Malinda Lo (Ash) delivers an enthralling mystery full of twists, turns, dark heroics... and high school. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Discover: When Jess Wong's longtime best friend and crush Angie begins dating another girl, buried secrets come to light with disastrous results.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

November Recommendations

TRAIN I RIDE, by Paul Mosier, brings us Rydr’s story as she heads east from California via Amtrak. Her mother is dead, her Gramma just died, and she’s bound for a distant relative who lives in Chicago. It’s an emotional journey full of longing, regret, plenty of fun, and some very clever antics courtesy of a unique and absorbing main character. (MG)

ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD, by Samantha Mabry, tells of Sarah and James who harvest maguey (a plant that gets made into mescal and tequila) in New Mexico. A sudden dust storm and a terrible accident send the two fleeing east, to work at a supposedly cursed ranch called The Real Marvelous. It’s got gorgeous, lyrical prose, fully fleshed out characters and setting, romance, and a touch of magic. Long-listed for the National Book Award this year, this will be a Book Talk discussion book early next year. (YA)

In JANE UNLIMITED, by Kristin Cashore (author of Graceling), Jane has floundered since her beloved Aunt Magnolia was lost while on a photography expedition to Antartica. Because of a bizarre promise, Jane accepts an invitation to the mansion of her former writing tutor, where she is confronted with five life-changing answers to a single question. An intelligent, quirky literary treat. (YA)

ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS, by Maggie Stiefvater, takes place in the "dark, true-dark" of the desert, where 18-year-old Beatriz Soria and her cousins transmit their pirate radio show from the back of a box truck. The entire Soria family are performers of miracles, and pilgrims flock to their ranch, where the darkness inside a person becomes visible. Read it for the language, for the way Stiefvater effortlessly weaves the narrative back and forth in time, and to savor the magic she conjures. (YA)

Also, two great paranormal series have just wound up:

LOCKWOOD & CO., by Jonathan Stroud (Bartimaeus books), caps off a terrific five book run with THE EMPTY GRAVE, an extremely satisfying wrap-up to this series about ghosts and other specters running amok in present-day England. It’s witty, snarky, charming, filled with action, and maybe a bit gross. Teenage Psychic Detective Agent Lucy Carlyle’s sidekick is a ghost in a jar. Not to be missed! (Upper MG)

And JACKABY, by William Ritter concludes in epic fashion with THE DIRE KING. This quartet of novels takes place in the 1890s and features eccentric detective R. F. Jackaby (who rightly understands the supernatural are everywhere). He is ably assisted by Abigail Rook from their offices in New Twiddleham, New England. There’s also shape-shifting police detective Charlie Cane and the very ghostly Jenny Cavanaugh, owner of the New Twiddleham building. It’s Sherlock Holmes meets Harry Potter. (YA)


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Shelf Awareness--The Secret of Nightingale Wood

MG Review: The Secret of Nightingale Wood

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange (Chicken House, $16.99 hardcover, 304p., ages 8-12, 9781338157475)

When 12-year-old Henrietta Abbott (who has "always been Henry") and her family move to a large old home in the English countryside called Hope House, it's supposed to be a fresh start. But Mama is still "confused and upset" by the tragic death of Henry's older brother, Robert, and Father escapes by taking a job abroad. Henry and her baby sister (affectionately called Piglet) are looked after by Nanny Jane, while Mama is cared for by Doctor Hardy, who keeps her sedated with increasing doses of his "special medicine." Asserting that Mama is too ill to see her remaining children, the doctor chases Henry away.

Henry explores nearby Nightingale Wood, and stumbles upon a fragile woman living in a caravan whom she comes to know as Moth. Even though Moth has her own sadness, she understands that to "lighten the darkness," Mama "needs stories, music, sunshine, birdsong, the smell of a rose, the smile of her daughter." Even with the growing certainty that Mama will be committed to Helldon, "a ghastly gray tomb of a building," Moth helps Henry believe "there will be a way to help."

Literature and fairy tales allow Henry to make sense of her world. Moth is like "a forgotten, fairy-tale princess," while Doctor Hardy "fill[s] the doorway like an ogre." Mama, trapped in her room, is Rapunzel, and numerous literary nightingales allude to freedom. In her debut novel, Strange tells a lovely, extraordinarily enchanting coming-of-age tale. Henry is determined to put things right, even while Dr. Hardy and the other adults begin to question her own sanity. As the cook's husband puts it, "we've all been tossed by the waves... the [t]rick is not to sink." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Discover: When her family moves to the English countryside after the death of her older brother, 12-year-old Henrietta Abbott struggles to put her increasingly fragmented world back together.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Novermber's Book of the Month--Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

November’s Book of the Month is the National Book Award-nominated middle-grade novel CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND, by Rita Williams-Garcia. She's also the Newbery Honor, Scott O’Dell and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author of One Crazy Summer and the sequels P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama.

All Clayton Byrd wants is a twelve bar solo when he plays blues harp with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the Bluesmen in Washington Square Park. When Cool Papa dies, Clayton loses so much--his best friend, someone he could talk to, tell anything, ask anything—someone who made him feel like a person instead of a little kid. Clayton’s mother has never approved of her father or his blues playing, and when Cool Papa dies, she gets rid of all his things, including guitars and mementos that were meant for Clayton. Not only is Clayton furious, he feels completely lost. With no one to turn to, he grabs his now-confiscated harmonica, cuts school, and heads for Washington Square Park, hoping to hook up with the Bluesmen and join them when they hit the road. His adventures on the subway help him figure out a few things about himself, his family, and what it means to be “cool.” A little jail time and a sympathetic ear from his dad also help to turn things around!

Most central to this story is the relationship between Clayton and Cool Papa Byrd, the grandfather he idolizes, but the scope also widens to address a complex web of dynamics among other members of the family, including his mother, Ms. Byrd, and his father, Mr. Miller. Given the low page count, this examination is remarkably nuanced.

Williams-Garcia lets music define the deep bond that Clayton enjoys with his grandfather, and the way this shared love informs his entire world view. She infuses her prose with plenty of “rhythm and slow-burning funk” in this novel of loss, forgiveness, and the “deep-down cry” of the blues.