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Gingerbread for Liberty! How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution

Mara Rockliff, illus. by Vincent X. Kirsch. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-544-13001-2

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Rockliff (The Grudge Keeper) and Kirsch (Noah Webster and His Words) pay playful tribute to a Revolutionary War hero whose legacy lies in his culinary talent. Just before the outbreak of the war, Christopher Ludwick emigrated from Germany to Philadelphia, where he set up a bakeshop specializing in gingerbread (“the best in all the thirteen colonies”) and let no one go hungry: “No empty bellies here!” he booms. “Not in my America!” Ludwick shrewdly uses his baking skills after enrolling in Washington’s army to feed both colonial troops and British-hired German soldiers, in an effort to persuade them to defect to the patriots’ side. Working in watercolor, Kirsch takes a cue from Ludwick’s baking to create characters that resemble gingerbread cookies with white icinglike details; speech-balloon comments add another layer of humor to the story. Rockliff’s story celebrates an unheralded historical figure, reinforces the value of creatively employing one’s skills, and reminds readers that heroes can be found in surprising places. A gingerbread cookie recipe appears on the endpapers. Ages 6–9. Author’s agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Christa Heschke, McIntosh & Otis. (Jan.)■

Reviewed on 11/14/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama

Hester Bass, illus. by E. B. Lewis. Candlewick, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6919-5

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A small girl sits on a chair in a store, solemnly holding a piece of paper with the outlines of her feet drawn on it. This is how African Americans shopped for shoes in Huntsville, Ala., prior to the civil rights movement, because their feet weren’t allowed inside shoes that might be touched by whites. It’s one of many indelible vignettes in this engrossing and heart-wrenching history from the duo behind The Secret World of Walter Anderson, which culminates in Huntsville’s schools being the first to integrate in the state. Bass’s forthright, passionate prose and Lewis’s searing, expansively imagined watercolors take readers to a time and place when the New Frontier’s rockets (Huntsville was a NASA field center) heralded American exceptionalism and pride, while bigotry and discrimination were justified as “just the way it is.” As Bass and Lewis show, once the “seeds of freedom” took root, there was no turning back; when ordinary people were willing to speak truth to power and risk everything for justice, they changed the world. Unflinchingly honest and jubilantly hopeful, this is nonfiction storytelling at its best. Ages 5–8. Author's agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/14/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Alex as Well

Alyssa Brugman. Holt, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-62779-014-7

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Despite her parents’ insistence, Alex knows she’s a girl. And while she’s still discovering her personal history, this battle has old roots: born intersex, Alex was declared a boy and put on hormones. Now 14, she has stopped taking her meds, transferred to a co-ed school, and is intent on changing her life. The costs are high: Alex’s father leaves, and her emotionally unstable mother loses whatever grip she had. Brugman (Finding Grace) gives Alex a running dialogue with her male self (also Alex), who was trained in masculinity, and doesn’t always know how to handle himself around girls or during the modeling gigs that Alex lands. Both Alexes are game, clear, and sometimes funny, and watching Alex navigate her new terrain is rewarding. But the book also includes Alex’s mother’s distraught, typo-riddled posts to a parenting website (complete with reader comments), which feels gimmicky and ill advised. While these passages show that parenting an intersex child can be confusing, they give readers information Alex doesn’t have, dramatically lessen sympathy for Alex’s mother, and aren’t needed to make Alex relatable. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/14/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Twisted Fate

Norah Olson. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-227204-1

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Sisters Allyson and Sydney are total opposites, “like two sides of the same coin.” Allyson likes to bake; Sydney likes to get baked. Allyson is sweet-natured but struggles with school; Sydney is smart but sardonic. When a boy named Graham moves into the house across the street, both girls become fascinated with him: Allyson wants to be with him, and Sydney wants to uncover what she is sure are dark secrets in his past. Meanwhile, Graham is psychologically disturbed, medicating himself and obsessively filming everyone around him—an activity his parents allow, even though it ended in tragedy in their former hometown. Debut author Olson alternates points of view among Allyson, Sydney, and Graham, along with occasional interludes from their friends, Graham’s worried parents, and others. Readers will quickly—too quickly—realize that things are not as they seem where Allyson and Sydney are concerned; the clues Olson includes sabotage the very tension she is attempting to build. Some of the surprises hit their marks, but many readers will guess where this thriller is headed long before it gets there. Ages 13–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/14/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Geek Girl

Holly Smale. HarperTeen, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-233357-5

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British teen Harriet Manners is the official school geek, and she suffers constant torment by her peers. When Harriet’s longtime best friend Nat, an aspiring model, drags her to a fashion event, it’s Harriet, not Nat, who gets “discovered,” driving a wedge between them. As 15-year-old Harriet is whisked to Moscow for photo shoots, fashion shows, and the promise of future fame and fortune, she and her father lie to everyone about their whereabouts, creating all manner of complications. Debut author Smale, a former model herself, gives Harriet an instantly appealing narrative voice, full of discursions and self-deprecation—wisecracking, down-on-her-luck Harriet is easy to warm to. If the ugly duckling turned swan is cliché, both Smale and Harriet know it. “I could go from proverbial caterpillar to butterfly, from tadpole to frog,” thinks Harriet. “From larva to dragonfly (which is actually only a half metamorphosis, but still—I think—worth mentioning).” Other overfamiliar types (including Harriet’s extravagantly flamboyant agent and an ultra-severe fashion maven) deflate the story’s fun somewhat, but most readers will thoroughly enjoy Harriet’s uproarious misadventures. Ages 13–up. Agent: Kate Shaw, Viney Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/14/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Undertow

K.R. Conway. K.R. Conway (www.capecodscribe.com), $14.95 paper (390p) ISBN 978-0-9897763-5-6

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While Conway’s debut shows promise, an abundance of clichés may discourage readers from continuing the series. From immortals having both angelic and vampiric traits to the “classic, Abercrombie-esque face” of heroine Eila Walker’s love interest, familiar elements overshadow the novel’s potential. When 17-year-old Eila moves across the country to take possession of a previously unknown family home in Cape Cod, there are several surprises in store: the house is a mansion built more than a century ago, terrifying dreams about an ancestor’s suspicious death begin to plague her, and she meets Raef, a mysterious boy with coal-black eyes. Eila soon learns that she’s descended from a line of warriors who use the power of human souls to fight an ancient evil. With Raef’s help, Eila must find a way to defeat the ruthless clan that’s after her before more innocent lives are lost. In addition to the contrived elements (Eila is the last of her kind; her sole parental figure conveniently leaves town), the dialogue can be stilted, but strong supporting characters should help carry readers past some of these bumps. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/14/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Rose Master

Valentina Cano. Reuts (www.reuts.com), $12.99 paper (194p) ISBN 978-0-9896499-7-1

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In this Gothic fantasy, first-time author Cano evokes both Beauty and the Beast and Jane Eyre while creating something new and strange. Seventeen-year-old Anne Tinning, who has spent much of her life working as a servant for a London household, is sent to serve as a maid for the distant Rosewood Manor. There, she discovers a house drastically understaffed, a grim and oppressive place filled with mystery and ominous events. Worse still is its lord, August Grey, a reclusive young man, mercurial and unpredictable. As Anne tries to settle in, she learns that a dark force haunts Rosewood Manor; only by working with Lord Grey to master her own magical abilities can Anne banish the evil spirit and uncover the secrets of her new employer and home. Cano does a fine job of setting mood and atmosphere, and her characters dance around one another with relentless industry and brooding allure, fighting their inevitable attraction. The conclusion is abrupt, and a major reveal near the end isn’t adequately set up, but otherwise this is a strong, satisfying effort. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/14/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Way We Bared Our Souls

Willa Strayhorn. Razorbill, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-59514-735-6

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In Strayhorn’s debut, high school junior Consuelo “Lo” McDonough is beginning to show symptoms of multiple sclerosis—something that terrifies her, since the disease recently took the life of her aunt. After a mysterious stranger with a coyote offers to take Lo on a healing journey, she sets out to gather four other suffering companions to participate in the ritual with her. The four classmates she enlists are either virtual strangers or abandoned former friends—party girl Ellen, dependent on increasingly dangerous drugs; Kaya, who cannot feel physical pain due to a rare neurological condition; Thomas, a former child soldier from Liberia with a bloody past; and Kit, who is mired in mourning for his dead girlfriend. In the deserts outside Santa Fe, the five magically swap their respective burdens, leading to revelations, fresh perspectives, and tragedy. Rather than deal with one momentous challenge in depth, Strayhorn’s efforts to do justice to five of them results in superficial treatments all around. Similarly, the vague mysticism in which she wraps the characters’ journey feels spiritually thin. Ages 12–up. Agent: Gloria Loomis, Watkins Loomis. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/14/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Leif’s Journey

Terry Hokenson. Namelos, $18.95 (172p) ISBN 978-1-60898-183-0

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Set in 1881 on a snowed-over Minnesota farm, Hokenson’s second novel introduces 17-year-old Leif Eliasson, the youngest son of Swedish immigrants, who embarks on realistic physical and emotional journeys. Leif’s story begins as he volunteers to travel to Freeport to gather supplies and medicine for his mother. Leif’s mother’s pain and Leif’s internal struggles both stem from his father’s dark moods and outbursts, which seem worse since Leif’s siblings left five years before. On the first leg of his trip, Leif meets Anna Sederstrom, who has fled her abusive uncle. Avid readers and open-minded thinkers, Leif and Anna form a fast friendship that blossoms into romance and creates a dilemma: He’s torn between taking over the farm, which would keep him under his father’s thumb, and leaving for a city, where Anna won’t follow. Leif’s contemplative nature and strained relationship with his father combine to create an absorbing read. Hokenson (The Winter Road) creates a strong sense of setting through well-chosen details and his characters’ Swedish-inflected dialogue, yet contemporary readers will easily connect to Leif’s desire to make the most of his life. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/14/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Frostfire

Amanda Hocking. St. Martin’s Griffin, $9.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-04982-7

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Returning to the troll world of her Trylle trilogy, Hocking explores another tribe of trolls in this first book in the Kanin Chronicles. Bryn Aven is a tracker who recovers changelings (Kanin children reared by humans) once they reach adulthood. An outsider in appearance and powers, Bryn straddles the line between Kanin and the Skojare, her mother’s defected tribe. When changelings are threatened by Konstantin Black, a sworn enemy of the Kanin, Bryn weighs her devotion to her father, who was attacked by Black, against her growing conviction that Black is merely a pawn. In addition to tribe rivalries and changeling abductions, Hocking brews sexual tension between Bryn and her boss, Ridley, while introducing secondary plots: a pregnant friend, a mother who doesn’t approve of Bryn’s job, and Bryn’s growing distrust of the royals she is sworn to protect. Those unfamiliar with Hocking’s Trylle novels may find the boundary between the human and troll worlds difficult to discern, but the novel’s lingering questions and the author’s knack for cliffhangers are reason enough to anticipate the next installment. Ages 12–up. Agent: Steven Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/14/2014 | Details & Permalink

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