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Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat

Kay Frydenborg. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-544-17566-2

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Frydenborg (Wild Horse Scientists) examines the considerable impact, both good and bad, that chocolate and the cacao tree have had and continue to have on cultures around the globe in this wide-ranging treatment of the subject. Primarily a chronological history of the tropical plant and its deliciously addictive by-products, the fascinating, fast-moving narrative also delves into the socioeconomic, scientific, and culinary importance of the cacao bean. Recipes, from Aztec foaming chocolate to Toll House cookies, conclude many of the 13 chapters, which include “Tree of Myth and Money” and “Candy, Food, or Medicine?” A full-color insert includes photos of the tree itself and modern-day Peruvian cacao farmers, as well as reproductions of artwork depicting Mesoamerican people and events touched by chocolate. With a rise in social justice, sustainable food sourcing, and global warming, the author considers how the crop might benefit the Amazonian rainforest and its native peoples: “Could chocolate be the key to preserving this precious, threatened ecosystem and to helping people whose livelihood depends on it?” A bibliography, website list, and time line conclude this expansive chocolate primer. Ages 12–up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The 52nd

Dela. Wise Ink Creative Publishing (dela-author.com), $12.99 paper (472p) ISBN 978-1-940014-38-8

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While driving home from work, 18-year-old college freshman Zara Moss crashes her car trying to avoid a skeletonlike creature. She is rescued by Lucas Castillo, a new transfer student, who is actually an immortal “Watcher.” He informs Zara that every 52 years, 52 female virgins are sacrificed to the Aztec and Mayan underworld as part of a deal to keep its gods in check; Lucas and his family have the job of making sure the abductions go as planned. However, Zara has been prophesied as the sacrifice who can close the portal to the underworld and stop this ritual forever. This series opener offers an intriguing premise born from the bloody mythology of Central America. First-time author Dela’s inclusion of cultural details like Lucas’s family’s tattoos and Cortez’s conquest enriches the novel, while leaving room for quiet moments between Zara and Lucas. While Lucas can be domineering where Zara is concerned (“My muscles flexed as he casually talked about what I felt was my property. The girl belonged to me”), fans of mythology-driven stories will appreciate Dela’s integration of Mayan/Aztec legends into an otherwise typical supernatural romance. Ages 14–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Fig

Sarah Elizabeth Schantz. S&S/McElderry, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4814-2358-8

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In a novel rich with metaphors, newcomer Schantz explores the tender, heartwrenching relationship between a schizophrenic mother and her highly gifted daughter. The book, which spans 15 years, begins when Fiona (aka Fig), then age six, first witnesses her mother’s delusional behavior. During her mother’s subsequent decline and long stays in hospitals and institutions, Fig practices various rituals and self-destructive acts, believing her sacrifices will restore her mother’s sanity. Meanwhile Fig’s patient, hardworking father tries to maintain a sense of normalcy but is plagued by worries. He relies heavily on his mother, who wants to turn Fig into a proper young lady, and his brother, who understands Fig in ways no one else can, to help with Fig’s upbringing while he farms the land. The beautiful and remote rural setting underscores Fig’s isolation among classmates who view her family as strange and her joy during fleeting moments when her mother appears to be cured. Readers will get a strong sense of the powerful bond of love between parents and child as Fig’s family strives to navigate the quagmire of mental illness. Ages 14–up. Agent: Heather Schroder, Compass Talent. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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All the Rage

Courtney Summers. St. Martin’s Griffin, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-02191-5

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As Romy Grey enters her senior year, she learns firsthand that the town of Grebe does not take kindly to girls who accuse the sheriff’s son of rape. Romy’s only escape from the brutal torments she suffers daily at school is her waitressing job, far enough from Grebe that no one there knows what happened to her—including her coworker Leon, whose unassuming romantic interest she hesitantly begins to return. But when Romy attends the town’s infamous senior party and wakes up on the side of the road with the night an awful blank behind her, her life comes crashing down anew: her former best friend Penny has vanished. The book takes a while to gain momentum, but Penny’s disappearance gives direction and purpose to Romy’s harrowing emotional journey as she struggles to reconcile her own fate with Penny’s. The narrative never shies from its charged subject, and Summers (This Is Not a Test) portrays the unforgiving mind-set of Grebe’s citizens with grim realism. Through its resolution is neither tidy nor simple, Romy’s powerful story creates a space for change. Ages 14–up. Agent: Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lies I Told

Michelle Zink. HarperTeen, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-232712-3

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Seventeen-year-old Grace endured the foster care system for years until a pair of thieves adopted her, employing Grace and her older brother, Parker, for their cons. Ever since, Grace has spent four months in one place, five months in another, changing her name, personality, and friends in service of her parents’ schemes. Now the family has landed in Playa Hermosa, Calif., gearing up for their greatest con yet—snagging $20 million in gold bars, hidden in the house of a local family. Grace’s job is to get close to handsome Logan Fairchild to find out where they keep the gold, and Zink (the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy) builds significant tension as Grace begins to fall for her mark and make real friends, throwing her loyalties and decision-making into flux. It’s a gripping, edgy thriller that’s driven as much by the internal conflicts of its sympathetic heroine as by the threats that the con will come crashing down around Grace and her family. A dramatic 11th-hour twist will leave readers eager for more. Ages 13–up. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Extraordinary Means

Robyn Schneider. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-221716-5

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It’s hard to imagine a story about terminally ill teens that isn’t depressing, but Schneider (The Beginning of Everything) has created just that. Set in the not-too-distant future after a deadly strain of tuberculosis has swept across the U.S., the novel is set in Latham House, a residential facility for young people infected with the disease. There, 17-year-old Lane reunites with an old acquaintance, Sadie. Despite their illnesses, the two start falling in love as they test their limits inside the facility and reinvent themselves. Lane and Sadie’s alternating viewpoints sensitively trace how their experiences affect their perspectives of both life and death: Lane, once a serious and disciplined student, learns to live for the moment, and Sadie, an unpopular “disaster in middle school,” is becoming a leader, surrounded by friends. When the residents learn that a cure may become available, they are left to ponder what they will gain and lose by getting well and re-entering society. Balancing the hope of new beginnings against the uncertain fates of victims, it’s a novel that should prompt thoughtful discussions. Ages 13–up. Agent: Merrilee Heifetz, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Zeroboxer

Fonda Lee. Llewellyn/Flux, $11.99 trade paper (350p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4338-7

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Carr Luka is the perfect “zeroboxer”—fast, strong, relentless, capable of maintaining his composure in zero gravity—and he’s on the fast track to winning the championship in the popular sport, which mixes mixed martial arts with freefall. As Carr takes down one opponent after another, the Zero Gravity Fighting Association labels the 17-year-old a rising star, even assigning him a “brandhelm” (a marketing specialist and PR agent) in the form of Risha Ponn, a beautiful Martian colonist who is just as hungry for success. Carr embraces his newfound stardom, but pressure is mounting from all sides. Just as he reaches the height of his career, he learns a devastating secret that could destroy everything he’s worked for, and he’s being blackmailed by someone who knows the truth. This is a strong debut from Lee, combining brutal, visceral athletic scenes with science fiction action, all woven around a complex moral dilemma. The only thing that doesn’t quite ring true is Carr’s rather chaste, underexplored relationship with Risha. Everything else hits as hard as Carr’s punches. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jim McCarthy, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Blank

Trina St. Jean. Orca, $12.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-4598-0807-2

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“My name is Jessica, and I am fifteen years old. And thanks to a bison bull named Ramses on their—our—ranch, my brain is mush.” Jessica’s memories are a blur after she awakens in a hospital from a coma, unable to recognize herself, her family, or her friends. After returning home, Jessica is more comfortable around her playful younger brother, Stephen, than her saddened parents and friends, whose reactions are realistically portrayed. Exploring her old text messages and social media history, Jessica investigates “the Girl in the Mirror”: who she used to be. Her past self seems eerily perfect and contented, which starts to make her suspicious—why was she in the bison pen? And does she really want to know? Debut author St. Jean delicately and thoroughly explores the internal life of a character suffering from amnesia, detailing Jessica’s feelings of separation from herself and the weight of others’ expectations through an introspective first-person narrative. The mystery surrounding Jessica’s accident and a growing fear for what she will discover will keep readers invested in her story. Ages 12–up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Anastasia and Her Sisters

Carolyn Meyer. S&S/Wiseman, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4814-0326-9

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As she has done in Cleopatra Confesses, Victoria Rebels, and other titles, Meyer imagines the life of a historical royal, this time Anastasia Romanova, the teenage daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. On the cusp of the revolution that will doom her family and its way of life, Anastasia chronicles the last days of their glory, as well as the years leading up to their demise. Meyer is on sure footing with this story, her prose lush with vivid detail. That same attention to historical detail can impede the story’s momentum, but the passage of years and looming war, along with Anastasia’s mischievous spying on her sister Olga’s love life and her thoughts on Father Grigory (aka Rasputin), will entice readers onward. Anastasia’s endearing narrative voice, coupled with her intimate observations of her family and their royal adventures, make her chronological account all the more bittersweet. Meyer chooses not to re-imagine the fate that eventually befalls this Russian princess, giving the novel a tragic and moving end, though an epilogue details the family’s deaths and 21st-century efforts to authenticate their remains. Ages 12–up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Archivist Wasp

Nicole Kornher-Stace. Small Beer/Big Mouth House, $14 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-61873-097-8

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Why would an intelligent, skeptical killer allow herself to remain enslaved by a priest? Readers who find enough justification for Wasp’s submission will enjoy the full adrenaline ride of Korner-Stace’s (Desideria) second novel, while those unconvinced by references to two big dogs and the man’s mean streak may be left by the wayside. Wasp was deity-selected to join the “upstarts,” knife-wielding female apprentices who vie for the role of Archivist by battling to the death. Having become Archivist, it’s not surprising that Wasp is willing to do the dirty work of trapping and destroying ghosts that terrorize her isolated village, keeping records, and waiting for her own death-by-upstart. What is surprising is that in 400 years of this torturous cycle, no girl has figured out effective leverage against the controlling priest. Instead, Wasp believes her best hope lies with an articulate, substantial ghost, who offers Wasp a priceless relic if she will help him hunt the ghost of a lost colleague. Kornher-Stace writes a mean action sequence, but going beyond the moment to connect and contextualize plot points is a spottier proposition. Ages 12–up. Agent: Kate McKean, Horward Morhaim Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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