Thursday, September 28, 2017

Shelf Awareness--All The Crooked Saints

YA Review: All The Crooked Saints

All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Press, $18.99 hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780545930802, October 10, 2017)

In 1962, in the "dark, true-dark" of the desert, 18-year-old Beatriz Soria and her cousins transmit their "pirate" radio show from the back of a box truck. Even though the voice of the DJ belongs to the talented Diablo Diablo (otherwise known as Joaquin), it is Beatriz's logical mind that powers this enterprise. Daniel, "the Saint of Bicho Raro," comes along even though he's more concerned with miracles than the clandestine radio station.

The entire Soria family are capable performers of miracles but Daniel is the "best saint that Bicho Raro had experienced for generations." Pilgrims flock to the ranch, where miracles come in twos. The first, performed by the Saint, will make the darkness inside a person visible. It will "draw it out and give it form." But the second, "getting rid of the darkness for good," is up to the pilgrim. One of the most important rules the Sorias have is that the family must not interfere in the second miracle or "a darkness would fall on the Soria as well, and a Saint's darkness" is a "terrible and powerful thing." Yet, unable to forgive themselves, Bicho Raro's current pilgrims have not been able to perform their second miracle and move on. The pilgrims are stuck in drawn-out darkness and the Sorias are stuck with the pilgrims. Until now.

When Tony and Pete drive in, every bed is full. Tony seeks a miracle but Pete just wants to work--he was promised a box truck (the very same one that Beatriz and Joaquin use for their radio station) and a place to stay as payment for a summer job. Tony gets his miracle and Pete gets his job, falling hard for both the desert and Beatriz as he settles in. Meanwhile, Daniel decides to "help someone he was not allowed to help." The Saint of Bicho Raro has fallen in love with Marisita, a girl whose first miracle left her in the center of her own personal rainstorm with a dress covered in butterflies. Despite the taboo, Daniel interferes, and his darkness has already started coming. To protect his family, he takes off for the desert, demanding that no one follow as he faces his demons alone. He brings only a small pack with water and food and the kitchen radio, so he can listen to Diablo Diablo in the evenings.

Skimming back and forth through time, Stiefvater's (The Scorpio Races, The Raven Cycle) tale is gorgeously told, unfurling like the black roses Francisco Soria obsessively cultivates in his greenhouse. Beatriz, who even as a 10-year-old child realized that the darkness is more about shame than being "terrible," has never wanted to be the Soria's Saint. But she must push through her own fear and darkness and, using her magic, her intellect and her "complicated and wiry heart," save her beloved cousin. A miraculous work. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Shelf Talker: A saint, a scientist and a DJ perform miracles (and science) in the Colorado desert.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Shelf Awareness--Jane, Unlimited

YA Review: Jane, Unlimited

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, (Kathy Dawson/Penguin, $18.99 hardcover, 464p., ages 14-up, 9780803741492)

Ever since her beloved Aunt Magnolia was lost while on a photography expedition to Antarctica, Jane has floundered, "trapped in the wrong version of [her] life." She drops out of college, works part time in the campus bookstore and rents a bedroom the size of "a glorified closet." She becomes obsessed with making umbrellas, her art form of choice, "almost as if one perfect umbrella might make Aunt Magnolia come back." 

Before she left on her final trip, Aunt Magnolia inexplicably made Jane promise never to turn down an invitation to Tu Reviens, the family estate of Jane's old writing tutor, Kiran Thrash. Now, Kiran chances upon Jane in the bookstore and invites her to a gala at the mansion. Jane hasn't seen Kiran in almost a year, but she quits her job, packs her umbrellas and joins Kiran at Tu Reviens. Jane quickly finds that mysteries abound: strange comings and goings (including a man carrying a diaper bag and a gun), missing art, people who may or may not have known her aunt, and a basset hound who's preoccupied by a painting.

As Jane faces a universe of possibilities that will determine her future, her friend Kiran says it best: "People tell you that what happens to you is a direct result of the choices you make, but that's not fair. Half the time, you don't realize that the choice you're about to make is significant." With references to the Bront√ęs, Edith Wharton, Winnie-the Pooh and many more, Kristin Cashore (Graceling, Fire, Bitterblue) treats readers to an intelligent tale about the meaning of home, the need for compassion and the all-important power of choice. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Discover: When Jane accepts an invitation to her friend's mansion, she is confronted with five life-changing answers to a single question.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shelf Awareness--Fireblood

YA Review: Fireblood

Fireblood by Elly Blake, (Little, Brown, $17.99 hardcover, 416p., ages 12-up, 9780316273329)

As the first installment of the Frostblood Saga concluded, Fireblood Ruby and Frostblood Arcus joined their powerful gifts to destroy the icy throne of Tempesia, that "timeless symbol of Frostblood rule." Rather than defeating its curse, their attempt released the Minax, a "haunting, shadowy creature" trapped within. This creature had influenced the previous Frostblood king, convincing him to butcher all of the Tempesian Firebloods. Although Firebloods still rule in their homeland of Sudesia, in Tempesia only Ruby survived.

Now, in book two, Arcus is king of Tempesia, ruling over a fractious Frostblood Court. Ruby fears the "bone-deep distrust" between Frostbloods and Firebloods makes her presence a liability to the new king's efforts to unite his people. Even though Arcus insists that she stay, Ruby joins the rakish Fireblood Kai on a journey to Sudesia, where the fire throne can be found; trapping and controlling the Minax imprisoned in the fire throne may be her best hope for destroying the murderous Minax back home. Unfortunately, Kai has hidden motives for bringing her to the court of the Fireblood queen. As a Tempesian and close friend of the Frostblood King, Ruby finds herself fighting for her life and her freedom, all the while trying to gather the knowledge she needs to destroy the curse of the Minax, put an end to the growing discord and destruction and mend relations between two bitterly divided countries.

Ruby's fiery nature leads to some rash decisions, but her flaws make her an extremely likable heroine. Her adventuring is balanced with light touches of romance, and there is more than enough intrigue to satisfy. Fans of Frostblood will find themselves smitten with this second installment, and the breathtaking climax will leave them eagerly awaiting the third. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Discover: Fireblood Ruby travels from Tempesia's Frostblood Court to the fire kingdom of Sudesia, where she must destroy the fire throne and gain control of the cursed spirit within.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Shelf Awareness--Landscape with Invisible Hand

YA Review: Landscape with Invisible Hand

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, (Candlewick, $16.99 hardcover, 160p., ages 12-up, 9780763687892)

When the vuvv land in the middle of Wrigley Field, humans initially feel lucky they haven't been invaded: instead of violence, the extraterrestrial creatures offer to "end all work forever and cure all disease." Unfortunately, once they sell their "tech" to Earth's wealthiest, most people around the globe lose their jobs. The "captains of industry" with investments in vuvv firms thrive but, for the rest of humanity, only those who work with the vuvv personally (even in lowly jobs) can get by.

High school senior Adam Costello has been struggling since the vuvv landed. In his neighborhood, almost everyone is unemployed. Adam and new girlfriend Chloe decide to allow the vuvv (who don't experience romantic love but find it fascinating) to pay to watch them go on dates--apparently, the vuvv want to see "1950s love," since that was what they witnessed from their saucers before moving in. But, although Adam and Chloe grow to hate each other, they're trapped, dependent on the income. Adam dreams of becoming a successful painter, so he's thrilled when his art teacher, Mr. Reilly, enters him in a vuvv contest, in which the winner's work will be "exported to the stars." Except the vuvv only want still lifes and paintings of Earth before they came. Adam's strongest pieces show how Earth has been changed, leaving him torn between a possible win and thus providing for his family and doing what he believes is right.

M.T. Anderson (Feed; Symphony for the City of the Dead) has written a biting satire about the world's haves and have-nots, set in an increasingly stratified near-future where the human race has, for the most part, become expendable. It's a strange and wonderful fantasy about seeking love amid the filth, and keeping hope alive, despite unquestionable odds against it. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Discover: When alien technology causes the human economy to collapse, Adam Costello and his fellow Earthlings struggle to survive.

Friday, September 15, 2017

September Recommendations

Novels:

In A PROPERLY UNHAUNTED PLACE, by William Alexander (National Book Award winner for Goblin Secrets), Rosa Romona Diaz is not impressed when she and her mother move to a basement apartment underneath the Ingot Public Library, where Rosa’s mom is the new library appeasement specialist. Usually, the job involves calming down ghosts who get upset, but there are no ghosts in this town. In fact, it’s "the only unhaunted place that Rosa had ever heard of,” and nobody knows why. Except suddenly there’s a massive haunting at the town’s splendid but historically inaccurate Renaissance Festival. A succinct gem promoting respect and the power of listening. (MG)

THE WRATH AND THE DAWN and its follow-up, THE ROSE AND THE DAGGER, by Renee Ahdieh, are a richly imagined duology inspired by A Thousand and One Nights. In the kingdom of Khorsan, the Caliph takes his bride in the evening, only to have her put to death at dawn. When Shahrzad’s best friend becomes victim to this horrific cruelty, Shahrzad vows to get revenge. She marries the monstrous boy-king herself, and stays alive by weaving tales and charming him in her chambers at night. Determined to make sense of the nightmare, she digs into the Caliph's deeply buried secrets. Before long, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love, even as she feels honor-bound to kill this king who has so much blood on his hands. Over the course of the series, their love must survive a devastating curse, betrayals, dangerous magic, and the growing threat to Khalid’s throne, orchestrated by his uncle, the Sultan of Parthia, and Shahrzad's childhood sweetheart, Tariq Imran al-Ziyad. Mesmerizing. (YA)

Picture Books:

WHEN’S MY BIRTHDAY, by Julie Fogliano and Christian Robinson, is an exuberant, poetic celebration of that most personal and universal of holidays, the birthday. Loose, kid-like, collaged art perfectly suits this "happy happy" take on a “happy happy day,” where one can get wishes and kisses and berries and even tiny sandwiches with soup if one is extremely lucky!!

PUG MEETS PIG, written by Sue Lowell Gallion and illustrated by Joyce Wan, is a charming friendship story about contented Pug, who must make room for interloper Pig. It’s not friendship at first sight, but Pug and Pig work things out admirably by the end.

In Pug & Pig, Trick-or-Treat, Pig likes her Halloween costume very much. But Pug does not like his, until it’s scattered in pieces all over the yard. But who will celebrate Halloween with Pig? Pug has a solution so they can both enjoy the festivities!

--Lynn

Saturday, September 2, 2017

September's Book of the Month--Mrs Bixby's Last Day

September’s Book of the Month is MRS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY, by John David Anderson.

Ms. Bixby is one of the Good Ones, a teacher who makes "the torture otherwise known as school somewhat bearable.” She’s got a streak of pink in her hair, she reads The Hobbit aloud in class, and she’s made a personal connection, a substantial difference, in the lives of at least three of her students, Topher, Steve, and Brand.

When she gives her class the news that she’s got cancer and won’t be able to finish out the term, the boys decide to execute a complicated mission to visit her in the hospital. Even though it involves lying to their parents, cutting school, and plenty of nefarious shenanigans, these three boys give their beloved teacher the farewell party of her dreams. And they learn an awful lot about family, friendship, and life itself along the way.

Told in alternating points of view, Anderson does a terrific job of creating three very distinct characters, each with his own rich backstory. Each contributes a piece of the story, and the subplots coalesce into a rewarding novel that is funny, deep, and completely “frawsome.”

--Lynn